I should have had Aren fissure me to some place hot, like Florida or Texas. The cool Colorado air will make this challenge worse than it needs to be, but my clothes – and everything from my normal life – are here at Naito’s house. I’m not worried about being cold, though. I’ve been through the In-Between often enough that a bucket of ice water over my head will feel like an easy swim in the Imyth Sea.
I set a bucket under the faucet. The bottom third is filled with ice from Naito’s freezer. I let the water run until it almost reaches the top then I lug it toward the middle of the backyard.
“Need help with that?” Aren asks. He’s sitting on the porch, lounged back with his arms crossed, looking all bemused. He doesn’t get why I’m doing this. The only incurable ailment the fae have in the Realm is the insanity and broken magic of the tor’um.
“I’m good,” I say. “But you can hit record on the camera if you want.” My voice is a mix of tease and dare. Tech and fae don’t get along. A quick push of a button won’t hurt Aren – it takes a lot more tech and a lot longer exposure time to permanently injure them – but most fae avoid direct interaction with it.
“For you, my nalkin-shom,” he says, adding an aristocratic accent to his voice that doesn’t fit him at all, “I’d do anything.” He grins as he rises, and it feels like the blue lightning striking across his skin strikes inside my stomach as well. I love him like this, when he’s relaxed and bathed in an easy-going happiness. We were enemies then allies then lovers. It’s a relief to know we’re friends, too.
“What do I hit?” he asks, stopping a pace away from the camcorder I set up on a tripod. He’s good at acting like tech doesn’t bother him, but I note with a smile the hand he rests on his sheathed sword. Even though the Realm’s latest war is over, he doesn’t go anywhere without it. That could be because he’s pissed off enough people that he needs to watch his back. Or it could be he’s hanging onto the past.
My smile falters. Aren misses the war. I’m almost sure of it. It gave him purpose. Something to fight for. Something to protect. He excelled at creating turmoil and subverting his enemies. That’s all changed now. He’s not even part of the new Court anymore, and sometimes, I think he feels lost.
Aren looks up from the camcorder, eyebrows raised.
And other times, I think he’s one hundred percent content to just be with me.
“The red button on top,” I say, finally answering his question. “And don’t hit it. Gently push.”
His attention returns to the tech. “And why are you recording this?”
“For evidence and to pass it on.” I’ve told him this a dozen times already, but he doesn’t get the concept of viral videos. The only thing that goes viral in the Realm is the rumors he spreads about the deadly, dangerous shadow-witch, a stealer of magic and tracker of souls who slays her enemies with her alluring lightning, her poison touch, and whatever other myths Aren pulls out of the sky. I’m none of those things. I’m just a girl who can map a fae’s shadows.
Aren finds the button, presses it, and a red light turns on. He moves away from the camcorder and leans a shoulder against the side of the house, that bemused little half-smile curving his lips.
Lightning ricochets through my stomach again. I tear my gaze away from him then focus on the camcorder.
“Hi, guys. My name is McKenzie Lewis, and I’ve been called out by my friend, Paige, to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I’m way past my 24 hour deadline-“ due to a shadow-reading that took way longer than it should have “-so I’ve already donated to the foundation. I’m going to nominate two kickass women you really should get to know: Devi Morris and Kate Prospero. Thanks and here it goes.”
I pick up the bucket. It’s heavy, but my time practicing my newly acquired fighting skills has paid off. I’m stronger than I was before.
I tip the bucket over. Ice cold water sluices over my body. My muscles tense. I gasp and jump, but it’s definitely not as bad as passing through the In-
A sharp shrrip to my left and a blur of movement to my right is my only warning. Aren’s there, pressing an anchor-stone into my hand.
“Don’t you d-“
His body and momentum propels us into the strip of white light that serves as a portal between worlds. The In-Between closes around us.
Now, I’m cold. Freezing. Numb.
I’d scream but there’s no air to fill my lungs.
An eternity passes. Then another. And another.
By the time the In-Between releases us, I’m glacier cold.
I’d call Aren a dozen unflattering words but my lips aren’t working. Neither are my legs. I stumble backward until I hit something.
Aren isn’t saving me; he’s falling with me, on top of me. I don’t realize where we are until the softness of my bed catches us. Then his mouth melts mine.
He tastes of the Realm, like light and nature, and I feel his strength in the way he holds me tight, containing my shivers. I return his kiss even though I should be pissed, but I always lose my good sense when I’m around him.
He releases his grip, lets his hands slide down my arms. Heat trails behind his touch, and I know if I looked, I’d see chaos lusters leap from his skin to mine.
Wrapping my arms around him, I pull him close.
He stiffens, then laughs, then lifts himself off me. “You’re freezing.”
“Oh, really?” I say, grinning up at him. His shirt soaked up some of the water from mine. The black material clings to his chest and the lightning striking across his left arm doesn’t hide his goosebumps.
He sits up, pulling me with him. “We’ll be warmer without clothes.”
I shiver again, but this time, it’s not from the ice water or the bitter cold of the In-Between. I pull him close and we kiss until the world becomes nothing but heat and light and sensation.