Fever Dreams
By for an LJSanta deadbeat.




It happened after Thea left, of course.

Blaise went to the Convent, to that remote barren place where Aunt Ursula studied dusty old books all day, building power for who-knew-what. Blaise had a strict tutor who made her do heaps of work--on the history of metallurgy, the ancient wars with the Dragons, astrological charts--whatever dreadfully tedious thing that could be dredged up.

It was penance, but Blaise didn't feel penitent. She didn't feel she'd learned a lesson, other than to be more careful.

Loneliness and solitude set a fire in her mind. Her dreams took on a desperate vividness, so real that the waking world paled in comparison. She dreamed of cool sheets, intertwined limbs, the trickle of passion's sweat between her breasts.

She dreamed of release.

***

In that time, they had very few visitors. Grandma Harmen came there a few times, seemingly only to consult with her daughter Ursula over some bit or another of Inner Circle business. Thierry Descouedres, the Thierry, came to tea once too. Ursula brought in a fleet of minions to clean the place before his arrival, and laid out her best china. Blaise was shocked, too, to find out that she was invited to join them.

He was the first man Blaise had seen in months. They had never really met before, although Blaise had seen him from across a room often enough. He was quiet and yet--magnetic. He said very little; this must have all seemed so banal to him, to one so ancient. Blaise had always been fascinated by his story--how he was an outcast from the world of witches, not due to birth, like all the lamia descendents of Maya, but against his will. Due to something that wasn't really his fault at all.

It reminded her of Thea.

After tea, Thierry had gone away in private with Ursula, to be blessed, and Blaise didn't see him again before he left the Convent.

They didn't have another visitor for over a month, and when they did, it was entirely a surprise.

One night most of the household--except Blaise, who was up late practicing a spell to color her nails, since Aunt Ursula forbade the use of nail polish--was awakened by the great "GOOOONNNNG" of the doorbell. (Blaise often wondered why there even was a bell, considering the remoteness of the place, but had never dared to ask about it.)

At the door was one of those nondescript chauffeur/security people one often saw accompanying members of the Inner Circle, and on his arm was Aradia, the Maiden.

Aunt Ursula--in her sleeping cap and bathrobe--brushed Blaise aside to lead Aradia in the house. Pleasantries were exchanged, bags were brought in from the towncar parked outside, and then (of course) Blaise was sent back to her room. She left quietly but once her door was closed she clenched her fists, kicked some furniture, growled. This was the lovely, serene Aradia, with whom she shared a secret, who more than anyone was likely to have news of her cousin. And that damned Ursula had shut them away from each other.

Blaise finally calmed herself down to the point where she knew she could be mousey-quiet, put on some soft socks, and opened her door again--silently, slowly. She crept down the hall to the landing, where she could hear--if not overlook--what went on in the sitting room.

"...I do realize it's unorthodox, Ursula, but I trust that this dream should be followed," Aradia was saying. Blaise thought of her own dreams, and clenched her fists again, this time for a different reason. "I can't explain all the details right now--some things must remain between the Goddess and I. But Blaise needs to come with me. That's all you need to know."

Blaise didn't even let herself wonder what this was about. She did't really think at all.

She just went to her room and started packing.

***

The next morning, it was pretty hard to look surprised when Aunt Ursula said Blaise would be leaving with Aradia that afternoon, but she managed all right. While she was supposed to be getting her things together, Blaise instead broke out her forbidden stash of makeup and went to work. Of course, that was probably pretty silly considering Aradia was blind...but it made her feel like a real person again, with her armor all brushed on.

She didn't see Aradia again until she went out to the car with her suitcase. "I'm sorry for not telling you myself," Aradia said right away, "but I had a late night, and I'm not really a morning person. Don't be surprised if I doze off during the drive." She smiled, just slightly, but it was beautiful.

Aradia was something really special. She always dressed casually, bordering on boring, no accessories or anything. And yet she was flawless, stunning, maybe even more beautiful than Blaise herself--but with one-quarter, at the most, of the effort involved. She wasn't a show-stopper, and her presence didn't demand attention like Blaise, but she could speak at barely above a whisper and everyone in the room would stop to listen to her.

It was power that did it, real power, tempered with kindness of a variety Blaise didn't think she would ever possess.

Jealousy is a form of adoration.

During the drive to the airport in Hartford, and then on the private flight that came afterward, Blaise kept wanting to ask what she was doing there. Why me? But something stopped her. She didn't know what it was. But it was so much easier to talk about old friends, news of the outside world, and all the delicious little gossipy bits that she had missed in Ursula's frigid little palace.

After arriving at Chicago O'Hare, they went to Aradia's home, a quiet place in the Elmwood Park neighborhood. Aradia was an orphan, like her, but the Inner Circle had made sure she had everyone she needed to make her life more than comfortable--an in-house nanny, driver, cook. Dinner was waiting when they arrived.

"Your room's upstairs, next to mine. We'll get you settled in there after we eat," Aradia said. "You must be beat!"

Blaise smiled. "No, actually. I'm wide awake. I don't think my brain's processed being in the real world again yet. It's worried if I go to sleep I'll wake up back in the Convent."

"I know what you mean. My brain's had a lot to adjust to lately as well." Aradia gave her an inscrutable look, so hard to parse, with those wide, blank eyes. "Say, do you want wine with dinner?"

Blaise blinked. "I didn't think either of us were over 21."

"Would that stop you if I wasn't here, if I weren't the Maiden?"

"Well, no..."

"And since when did you abide by human rules, anyway?"

Blaise couldn't argue with that, so a bottle of pinot grigio was opened, and after that, another. It was perfect with their fish, and it was even more perfect to just let go.

Aradia was a real person--it was so strange. They had so much more in common than Blaise thought. And even though she had known Aradia was young, she'd had no idea they were only a year apart. At first, Blaise told her about what it was like being the granddaughter of the great Grandmother Harman, and Aradia talked about what it had been like when her visions first started, but as the food disappeared and the wine glasses kept getting filled, things were getting more and more personal. At some point the chandelier was hurting her eyes, so Blaise turned it off and they kept talking by the light of the candles on the table.

Blaise talked about what it was like to have a boy in thrall--the power, the heat, the thrill. Aradia talked about the first time she'd performed the public Great Rite. And then: "Hey," Aradia said, "Want to see something really cool?"

She held out her hands, palms facing away from her, and had Blaise place hers against them. Aradia's skin was smooth and soft, cool and yielding. "Deep breaths," she said. "Close your eyes. Focus on my hands touching yours. Tell me when you can't tell where the barrier is between our skins."

After a few minutes--or maybe seconds, who knew?--Blaise murmered, "Now."

"Okay. Now we'll slowly pull our hands apart. Don't look, just back them away. Just a few inches." Blaise did as she was told. "Now open your eyes."

She did, and what she saw made her almost gasp. There was a...a cord of energy between their hands, still binding them. She realized she still couldn't feel where her hand ended and Aradia's began, despite the distance. The cord shimmered, out of focus, just on the edge of visibility, but strong and silver and sort of humming in an inaudible way. It was beautiful.

She met Aradia's gaze and realized that in this moment they could see each other, really see, more clearly than perhaps either of them had seen anyone else.

"Oh," Blaise said, and as she looked back at the cord it seemed to warm, and her flesh with it, the silver becoming liquid copper, the heat rushing up from her palm, her arm, into her whole body and settling in her center. All her feverish, hyper-real dreams of the past few months came flooding back, washing over her in a wave of desire. "Oh."

"Yes," Aradia said, and bridged the gap between them again, so that Blaise could feel the cord pull taut like a rope. Their fingers intertwined, and then then edge of the table was too much distance between them and they were somehow sort of in each other's laps, and then the insufferable distance was their clothes, and--

--and Blaise remembered the desperation and hunger in all her ensnared boys' eyes, that look she had always borderline pitied, and she realized she had misunderstood what it was to be in thrall.

It was wonderful.
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