44. Desire

Another episode of Man Raised by Spiders, the coming-of-age story of Valentine Shelawn.

Valentine’s desire for Valykria has an entirely different feel from his love for Ariadne. It may be as simple as the difference between consummated and unconsummated passion. Because he knew that Ariadne loved him and was his, Valentine felt satisfied, calm and happy with her. Being young and male, he wanted her all the time, but the fact that he’d had her before and would have her again moderated some of his natural frenzy, converting it alchemically into deep affection.

His love for Valykria is entirely different. Officially, she’s his. They are an engaged couple, just as he and Ariadne were. However, she is both less innocent and more elusive than Ariadne was. Valykria knows what he wants, and though she’s hardly a tease, she has mixed feelings about providing it.

When he approaches Valykria, Valentine’s never certain what he’ll find. On rare occasions, she’s entirely anxious, cold and evasive. More often, she’s a troubling mix of fear and answering desire. As long as he’s calm, controlled, and romantic rather than passionate, she’s able to feel answering desire, to joke and laugh with him, to kiss him back. The moment his desire runs truly hot, she’s fearful and disgusted, and retreats absolutely. He feels anxious and remorseful immediately, but each time his physical desire burns beyond the actual crisis, shocking her and shaming him.

Because it worked so well with Ariadne, Valentine imagines that a romantic wilderness setting will settle matters with Valykria. He takes his roan, then, and she borrows a pretty little mare of Sieia’s, and they ride into the mountains. They’re both cheerful and happy and relaxed. As sunset draws near, Valentine persuades Valykria to tie up the horses and rest for awhile. She’s enjoying riding and would prefer to keep going — she’s an intrepid and tireless horsewoman, and doesn’t get enough opportunities to gallop. They’re already subtly at odds, then: He wants to make out and watch the sunset, and she wants to keep riding like the centaur she is. Nonetheless, after some persuasion she agrees to lie down on a bank with him, surrounded by ferns that smell vividly green and bitter when crushed.

She’s beautiful. Her skin is flushed and dewy from riding. Here, in Liamelia, she always rides astride, which Valentine finds provocative because it’s unfamiliar. She looks beautiful in breeches and a linen shirt — perhaps more than she would in the pastel muslin dresses of a debutante. She’s dressed for practicality, but Valentine has a confusing, tantalizing sense that she’s in drag. He’s aware of a mirroring effect from the similarity of their clothing and the absolute difference in their figures and features.

He gets her hat off, frees her curls. He’s teasing her about something, and they’re both laughing. She glances up at him with a wicked smile — the kind of pure knowing that Ariadne never showed about anything, sexual or otherwise. He feels a bolt of desire so pure and strong that he’s rendered stupid, can hardly catch his breath.

“Oh, God — oh, darling,” he says, “You’re so beautiful.” He catches her up in his arms and starts to kiss her — he’s saying something, he hardly knows what. In truth, every sensation is dulled except for an urgent rush of need. She’s kissing him back, still laughing. He feels the pliancy of her body. She’s hesitant, but not entirely unwilling and stiff. One of his hands is twined in her hair, holding her steady for his passionate kisses. Quite naturally, his other hand starts to roam, to cup her breasts. He can feel her nipples through the fabric. He gets her shirt untucked and unbuttoned. He hasn’t seen her breasts yet, and they’re incredible: Pale, creamy, perfectly shaped and surprisingly weighty. Her nipples are dark, almost crimson. He’s sucking and nibbling them greedily, and he would swear that she’s enjoying it. Certainly her back is arched, she’s running her hands over his shoulders and back.

He pulls back just for a moment, looks at her. She’s wildly beautiful — her curls spilling across the grass, violet eyes dark with desire. Her nipples are hard, she’s short of breath. She doesn’t pull him back down against her, but also doesn’t seem to object to his ardor.

“Oh, God,” he moans. “You’re amazing. I want you so much.” He slides his hands down her sides, grabs her hips, and pulls her against him so that she can feel his hard-on.

It’s a gesture that would have filled Ariadne with joy — that would have made her feel desired, loved and claimed, and that would have kindled answering feminine passion in her. Valykria gives a little yelp as if she’s been burned, and struggles violently in his grasp. He releases her the instant he feels her terror. She pulls away, curls up on her side as if she’s been wounded.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he says. His impulse in the moment is to hold and comfort her, to reassure her that he loves her and won’t hurt her. Her strongest need is for privacy in which to master herself in the wake of a cold rush of panic. It takes a moment for them to sort this out — for him to realize that physical comfort isn’t welcome, and for her to realize that he’s trying to reassure her, not pursue her further. Though she knows his intent is kind, she feels threatened, and longs desperately to be alone.

After a moment of confusion, he turns away. He wants to give her privacy, but also needs to organize his own feelings. He feels tender concern, but some animal part of him desperately, bitterly wants to hold her down and rut on her, and his arousal fades only slowly. He’s appalled and ashamed of his desire — it seems monstrous. Any kind male relative could explain the situation, put it in perspective. He can control his actions, but physical desire can only dissipate at a set rate.

After a moment, Valykria’s panic abates. She uncoils and relaxes slightly. She, too, feels mingled shame and resentment, and feels that her body has betrayed her. By this time he’s seated uncomfortably a couple of paces away, explicitly giving her time and space to catch her breath. “I’m sorry, Valentine,” she says.

“It’s OK, honey,” he says. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he adds humbly. “I didn’t realize —” he breaks off, because there are so many things he didn’t realize. He can’t possibly list them all. “I’m sorry. Are you OK?”

“Yeah. I just get scared sometimes. I’m sorry.”

“It’s OK.” He actually has to fold his arms over his chest to keep himself from reaching out to comfort her.

From this moment forward, his interactions with Valykria will lose their purity. They both feel that that his desire for her is unnatural and dangerous. At the same time, his remorse will take on a shade of hurt and anger, because he genuinely loves her, and she fears and resents his urge to protect and cherish her. She treats him as a threat, not a potential ally and source of solace.

When Valykria said that she wanted to be a true wife to him, he took it to be a promise. He allowed himself to fall in love with her based on an earnest hope, a wish — something she longs for, but may never feel. They’re both good, faithful and true. Neither of them can imagine that more might be required, or that the task might prove impossible.

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