a/n: I wrote this a year ago, and finally decided to post it. Spoilers for the short story Old Habits. Set in 1928, for Reasons (i.e. I originally conceived this as a coda to another novella-length story, but that story is still stagnating on my computer, so I suppose this can be read as stand-alone). Title from the song Somebody That I Used To Know by Goyte.
Addicted to a Certain Kind of Sadness
- : -
"He always asked about you. The last king" - she unfastened her sundress - "I thought of telling you sometimes. More than once, he asked me to come to him right after I'd lain in your arms."
Niall stilled. Did you? Why? How often? There was nothing he could think to say that didn't sound bizarre - not that she would be fazed by a bizarre statement. The Summer Girls were unflappable.
Old Habits by Melissa Marr, Ch 7
- : -
As the Dark King, Irial could taste emotions without extending a shred of effort, but that didn't mean he understood them. Fear and excitement bled from the girl in equal measures, underpinned by a steadily growing undercurrent of lust, but as for the 'why's and the 'how's... Irial wouldn't know until he coaxed them out of Siobhan's mouth.
And reading a Summer Girl's depths, presuming they had any, would be a difficult task even if her lips weren't pressed against his. Irial's hands slid up her thighs, tearing at the leafy skirt that made her such an oddity, against the torrent of raven feathers in the room. She was pressed so close the warmth of summer was an imprint against his belly. Siobhan's moan was low, making his entire body throb, as his lips slipped down to graze against the curve of her neck; he buried his face in the mass of brown curls.
He chose Siobhan because she never objected to this arrangement. Because she rarely asked questions, and didn't withhold answers to his.
(He felt viscerally, in the river of her sunlit desire, the most simple, pleasurable reasons she might want him too; but the reasons behind the emotions, he could barely guess at.)
Perhaps his appreciation was based on her individuality: unlike the other Summer Girls, she had a sharp mind hidden within that golden joy. Maybe that was why Niall's hands touched Siobhan's body with such passion, so often. As he had once touched—
Her relationship with Niall was not one of the reasons he liked Siobhan, though he did appreciate it; because when she took his mouth again, demanding, he could deepen the kiss and search. Maybe it was just wishful thinking to feel like there was still a trace of Niall in the contours of her once-mortal body; maybe he liked hoping.
Niall had never passed up the chance to run his tongue around a woman's navel, and Siobhan's skin there was exceptionally smooth, when Irial explored down there too. The vines splayed just beneath her skin began to crinkle: his touch, as the Dark King, drained their life away temporarily. Her breath stuttered as his mouth closed around a sensitive spot, and Irial opened the floodgates to the hopes in his heart, but mingled in the flood pouring in was the realization, still recent enough to be raw, that this was probably as close to Niall as he would ever get.
- : -
They curled up side by side, his chest a sturdy presence against her back, his hand splayed casually over her side—a position not unlike the one Niall had slumbered in, barely an hour earlier, when she'd ducked under his arm and left his bed. Siobhan was not surprised, merely curious about who mirrored who. Did Niall fall into old habits, or was Irial trying to get as close to Niall as he could?
Unlike Niall, Irial didn't sleep afterwards. His thumb traced circles on the gold of her skin, and she hummed, low and content. She didn't close her eyes; they'd done this often enough by now that Siobhan knew what to expect.
"Do you have any news for me, darling?" he whispered into the shell of her ear. There was a different quality of eagerness in the words his mouth shaped now, but the intensity was still the same.
She rolled over, watching the deceptively calm mask fall across his face once more. Another broken parallel between the Dark King and his former lover. It didn't matter that he refused to show her, she decided; she'd always known these things anyway, and she was comfortable enough too, by now, to answer his question with one of her own. "Why do you want more from me, every time I come?"
Irial shrugged, indulging her with a lazy grin. "Curiosity, I suppose. Political scheming."
It was his attempt to be charming, and she treated it as such. His eyes burned into her back as she sat up properly, like the new distance between them took away his hold, his temptation.
"What do you want me to say?" she asked mildly.
His grin faltered, though she had been careful to keep her tone neutral, and his eyes narrowed a touch. "Are you actually trying to play a game with me?"
She shrugged. "Curiosity, I suppose." He didn't say anything for a full, weighted minute, like there were too many thoughts among his corner of shadows and not enough seconds to verbalize them. Impatient, she took the first step. "You're torturing yourself, Irial." Familiar, but she could not call him her king, because he wasn't. "I don't have an answer for you that won't cause you pain, one way or another."
Irial's laughter was a touch bitter. He pulled himself up too, slipping out of the bed—she couldn't call it "their" bed, even when she was the Summer Girl he shared it with most. "And you wouldn't want that."
"I'm not of your kind," Siobhan said. "I don't want revenge."
He stopped, turning to study her face, honest curiosity in his expression. "Niall is my kind, whether he hides among you harmless flowers or not. Is that what it is between you and him?"
The reply to her first question was there in the darkening of his eyes, what he wanted her to say painfully clear, so she answered his. "It's a bit of everything. I think part of what Niall and I have is because he wants to hurt you as much as you hurt him."
Had Irial even noticed that he'd been holding the breath he now let go of? "So he still cares."
"He's still hurt," she corrected, crossing her arms over her knees. She hesitated, and added, "He said your name." Just like Irial had said Niall's, she knew better than to say.
She knew how far to push, and that was why she came to Irial's bed without fear.
Other faeries thought the Summer Girls were slaves to pleasure, but they were wrong. The transformation into fey didn't strip away their burdens. No, Siobhan had no worries because she had the ability to push them away. They all did. How else would they manage to survive an eternity where their families had long since died of old age? How else would they be able, willing, to stand beside the not-mortal who stole their humanity, and then promptly moved on?
And because they were of summer, it was so very easy to learn to stop caring.
All this crossed her mind in the step that brought Irial back in front of her. His hand cupping her face was almost warm. "Did he do this?"
"Irial," she said gently. She had always been the nurturing sort - another dream Keenan took away when he made her unable to sustain even herself.
"I want to know, darling," Irial told her, and the affectation sounded even more like a taunt this time. "You don't need to protect me."
She covered his hand with hers, never breaking eye contact. "Yes. Barely an hour earlier, because I did as you asked and came to you." She lifted his hand, guiding him to the skin of her shoulder, gliding slantwise to the hollow between her collarbones. "And here, and here..."
Irial's eyes were dark whirlpools, teasing promises of the pleasures that his court, too, held in between their bouts of cruelty. He tempted the most apathetic of enemies, but in that instant, it was written so clearly in his eyes. Desire, hot and burning and merciless, and Irial its slave as much as he was its king. He pressed kisses to her shoulders. Her eyelids fluttered closed, drowning in the pleasure that was her right as Summer Girl, as he trailed down the length of her collarbone towards her navel.
- : -
The next time Niall slipped into her bed, she let him trace circles down her lower back.
He looked right through the withered vines patterning her skin, passing Irial's marks by without a thought, for all that once upon a time, the two never-mortal fey had belonged to no one but each other. But then, Niall didn't know to look.
He didn't ask why she wanted his company either, and no other's, as she had - wondering why he favored her. For someone born over a millennium past, someone who could addict mortal women to his touch, he failed spectacularly at actually understanding them. He didn't see the truth behind Summer Girls' eyes at all.
(And Niall was blind to her heart's other truth: that there was something amazing about his steadiness, about friendship, about someone being there for her.)
Niall came to her for their simplicity, so she didn't tell him. Niall wanted to lose himself from the hurt of being betrayed again and again, even though he ought to be beyond caring, beyond Irial's capacity to hurt him, by now. His life was already balanced on razor's edge, and so she gave him sanctuary in direct contrast to the unbearable sharpness Irial offered. She offered him that simplicity of bodies.
And in a world where happiness was losing yourself? Siobhan didn't mind being seen as someone who focused only on now, in present tense.
- : -
She almost wanted to cry that it wasn't one of her faeries, but the new Winter Girl of all people, who noticed.
Rika had packed her meager belongings and fled toward the desert. Keenan would have followed, if only for a proper goodbye, but the moment the new Winter Girl arrived all other thought seemed to vanish.
("Your fingers are swollen," he had whispered, though Donia flinched back from his heat.
"I don't need your help," Donia said, turning on her heel in the opposite direction to the vanishing Rika. He could only go after one.)
If Keenan had looked at her that way, in the month when they first courted (the turn of the century, a town of Irish families who had arrived to find their land of plenty less plentiful than they'd expected) would she have picked up the Hawthorne staff too? If he had loved her so, would she have risked the cold?
But had she ever looked at Keenan the way Donia still did, even with the weight of winter in her bones? Siobhan had felt betrayed enough to stop loving Keenan, and she had only been taken into eternal sunlight. If Donia still cared, after suffering worse... then maybe Siobhan's love hadn't been as strong as she thought. Maybe, even with Keenan's love, she would have walked away after all.
It was that intensity, that devotion, that made her follow Donia. She'd never known a girl who would have sacrificed everything for the Summer King. (And Keenan was, whatever else, Siobhan's king still.) She'd only known Rika, and only as Winter Girl; the girl Rika had once been, the one who loved Keenan, long since ground away by her burden. There had been a dozen Summer Girls since Siobhan joined the family; Donia was new. A new space, a new presence to ponder.
Donia waited for her outside the doorway to her home. "I should have listened to you."
"You should have joined us," Siobhan agreed, somehow wistful. As much as Donia fascinated her, she would still have enjoyed teaching Donia their ways.
It was too much for Donia, whose pain was too raw, too new, to have her mistakes discussed in the open. She turned her back. "Go away." Cold washed outwards in an arc, dewdrops freezing in the brittle grass. "And tell Keenan not to come looking for me."
Siobhan didn't move. "Keenan loves you."
He wouldn't listen, she meant; wouldn't be able to stay away without confirmation from Donia herself.
She had not made herself clear.
"I'm learning quickly," Donia said, the cold intensifying. "Leave. Now, or your withered vines will freeze completely." She did turn, and there was such despair in her expression, such anger.
Of course the men in her life wouldn't notice the traces of Irial's marks, but another girl trapped in the false fairytale would. The Dark King couldn't nourish a Summer Girl; he could only draw the life out of the greenery clinging to her skin, even as he tried to find so much else in her body. Funny that in the end, Siobhan was still at peace.
"He loves you," Siobhan insisted.
"That means nothing to me," Donia said, almost scornfully.
That unconditional love, never smothered, no matter how much each side hurt one another, meant everything. Donia would learn it soon enough or she'd be doomed to spend eternity like Niall did, a slave to his pain like the fey thought the Summer Girls were to their pleasures.
- : -
The Dark King could read emotions better than anyone else, but Siobhan had always had the clearest sight of them all.
She knew: he wasn't sure why she came willingly to his bed, when she loved Niall as he did. (But not as destructively.) Irial might understand many things better than the other men in her life, but he failed here, like they had, because when he touched her, it wasn't her he wanted to see. It was the ghosts on her skin. The faded scents of her other lover's sweat.
At least part of him believed she cared little whose arms she found pleasure in. That she was a slave to temptation, to pleasure.
The irony was in the face he saw beneath his eyelids, its incongruity with the body beneath him: because for all that he was the King of Temptations, the slave to temptation, to pleasure - that was him.
- : -