Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sunday Story Time

This is a complete short story, set in the Eight Thrones universe. It was originally published in A Dark Roasted Christmas

One Gift at a Time

“Tanis?” Steven's voice rumbled through their apartment. He hoped Tanis wasn't
hiding from him again. She hadn't done that for a long time, though. He'd already had a
trying day. James had been out of temper and demanding. Any day the boss was difficult,
Steven had a difficult day. David being petulant all day hadn't helped either. Steven had
seen David's careful movements and half-hidden winces. James was not always careful of
the physical frailties of his body-slave, before demanding hard mental labor from him as
chief of staff.

“Minx?” he called. He set down his handheld on his desk, took a deep breath and
smiled. The smell of roasting turkey and other good things filled the room. She'd hung
holly garland about the doors and set up a decorated tree. He wondered where she'd
requisitioned one. James was an observant Jew and the Confederated States of America
banned Christmas trees as pagan. “Where are you, girl?”

“Kitchen.” Tanis' voice sounded harried. “Dinner is at a difficult stage.”

Steven shed his jacket, frowning at the nativity set she had placed under the tree.
Mary was a blue-eyed redhead, Joseph was blond and the baby was as white as snow. He
knew the statues should look more like their Greek employer. But everyone used the
symbols they felt comfortable with, or what they could get. Although he'd grown up with
a set that looked like his family, he was sure all Confederated nativities were white. The
Mary of his childhood had been coffee-colored and Joseph's hair black and tightly curled
like his father's and his own.

Tanis beamed at him as he entered the kitchen, tendrils of her fiery hair escaping
the tight braid. “Merry Christmas, lover.”

“How can I help?” Steven rolled up his sleeves and looked around. He hadn't seen
a real Christmas dinner since he'd taken service with James Ligatos. “Girl, have you been
cooking all day?”

“Two days, actually.” Tanis stretched way up to kiss him.

She never initiated contact. Every touch, every kiss for the last year had been
Steven's doing. He smiled down and kissed her back, wrapping her in his massive arms.

“Oops!” she giggled. She squirmed out of his embrace and turned off the green
beans which had just boiled over. “Can you carve?” She gestured to a small turkey
resting on a platter. She bent to get a pan of rolls out of the oven.

Steven carved the turkey and watched her put sweet potatoes and green beans,
cranberries and rolls, dressing and gravy on the table. Tanis took off the green apron with
holly trim and stood in a simple red dress with a high neckline that covered the leather
collar on her throat. James had ordered Steven to rivet it there two years before. She still
had five years left on her indenture. Most proteges ended up in the collar. Steven had
escaped it, barely, during his own training period.

“I'm afraid I didn't dress for dinner,” Steven said. He reached out and ran a finger
down the side of her face. She'd found cosmetics somewhere and applied just enough to
enhance herself. He caught a whiff of a spicy sweet fragrance as well.

“It's all right.” She lit candles, poured out white wine into glasses and set water
goblets beside them. “David said this would be a good wine. When I told him what I was
planning, he made the arrangements.”

Steven nodded. Of course, David had seen to it all. The man doted on Tanis, for
all that he was strictly attracted to men. She had but to ask and the Best Mind of the
Twenty-First Century would make it happen for her. A tree, decorations, make-up,
perfume, wine...Steven wondered what other contraband David had acquired for her.

Steven served the turkey and seated himself. Tanis dimmed the lights. “Our first
Christmas together, lover,” she said. “The Master is a brute to keep you working on a
holiday. Don't see him working Saturdays.” She smiled at him, done with her grumbling.

“Say grace? God doesn't hear the prayers of women when they come from this benighted

Steven hesitated. She was still testing him. He'd been raised African Methodist
Episcopal in St. Louis, but after the crimes he'd committed in his youth, he'd found peace
through Zen Buddhism during his training. A multifaith blessing came back to him.

“Today may we appreciate this food and remember those who are hungry. May we
appreciate our family and friends and remember those who are alone. May we appreciate
our health and remember those who are sick. May we walk, ever mindful of the path at
our feet. Peace on earth and a light in this darkest of seasons.”

“Amen,” Tanis said, looking vaguely dissatisfied. She filled their plates and they
ate quietly.

Steven cleared up as Tanis put the leftovers away. It felt good to just work beside
her, with no strife or fear. She had been very sweet all evening.

Once the last pot was drying in the drainer, she took his hand. The lights were off
in the front room but she flipped on the Christmas tree lights.

“Presents and then pie,” she said. Steven smiled indulgently. She wasn't the only
one with surprises tonight. He had a doozy for her.

“This is for you, lover,” she said, pulling out a very large, flat present from
between the tree and the wall.

Steven felt the edges of the frame through the wrapping paper. He eased the tape
open, teasing. Tanis nearly bounced with excitement. Steven gave her a wicked grin and
shredded the colorful paper away with a swipe of his massive hand.

A painting of him, dressed as Othello, seated and brooding, stared back. Tanis
chewed her lip, waiting. He smiled.

“It will look lovely right over there.” He gestured to the wall above his favorite
chair. He touched the portrait. It was actual paint applied to a canvas, not a print. “This is
magnificent, Tanis. Who did it?”

She shrugged. “I don't know. One of the in-house artists. David found him. But
I'm glad you like it.” She kissed his cheek. “My handsome Othello.”

It was time. Steven took the box out of his pocket. It looked tiny in his palm, the
blue box with it's white bow. “This is for you, Tanis.”

She opened the package, her fingers trembling. The Tiffany logo on the box made
her catch her breath. Tanis originally came from the California Conglomerate and Steven
knew she'd been part of a heist on the Los Angeles Tiffany and Company.

A single diamond solitaire winked in the lights of the tree. She looked up at him,
her pale face gone sheet-white. The very act of them living in the same building was
illegal, never mind the same apartment. Were they not under the protection of
Ambassador Ligatos, the gift would mean certain death for them both in this country.
Miscegenation laws in the Confederation were as strict as the sodomy laws and carried
the same penalty. Tanis stared at him, still shocked at his boldness.

Steven, feeling more bold still, said, “Tanis, I love you. I don't want to live
without you. Nor could I bear returning you to James when your training time with me is
finished. I've bought your indenture.” He laid a piece of parchment on the table. “Your
choice, Minx. A ring or a collar. Marry me and I'll free you from the indenture. If you
choose the collar, I will keep the ring, in hopes that you'll choose to stay after your time
is served.”

Tanis stared, breathing hard. Steven busied himself with hanging the painting,
giving her time to decide. When Othello stared down from over his chair, Steven turned
back to find Tanis still staring between the box and the parchment. One hand lay at the
collar on her throat.

She looked up and he saw the deep fear in her eyes. She'd been afraid from the
moment she'd come to Memphis, terrified of them all, but mostly of him. All his
gentleness had eased her fears but now she sat beside the tree, paralyzed.

Careful not to loom over her, he joined her there. He reached out one hand, nearly
as large as her whole head, and stroked her hair, loosening the braid. She pressed into his

“What does your heart tell you, Tanis?” He picked up her free hand and laid it on
his chest. “Mine tells me I love you more than life and will spend all my days making
you happy, if you allow it.”

She closed her eyes and shook her head, her lips pressed into a narrow line.

He caught his breath. She had never used his name, not once in the year she'd
been with him. “Yes?”

She nodded, her green eyes gleaming. “Yes.”

Steven took her in his arms, cradling her gently in the light of the tree. “Forever.
my dearest Tanis.” He heard the small gasp and felt her tense when she saw the silvery
blade. He sliced away the leather strap riveted around her delicate neck. Softly, he kissed
the pale skin where it had been.

Steven opened the box and picked up the ring. “My life I pledge to thee, Tanis.
Until death takes me or the world ends.” He slid the ring onto her finger, undermining the
laws of the land, but fulfilling the law of his heart.

She stared at the sparkling stone for a moment and then kissed him, opening to his
tongue. Then, for the first time, she thrust into his mouth, dominating and taking charge
of the kiss. When they parted, Steven saw the glint of mischief in her eye and it pleased
him mightily.

“Now about that pie, Minx,” he teased.

She flung her arms around his neck and kissed him again, bearing him to the
floor. Steven decided the pie could wait, no matter how good it was.

No comments: