Redemption Part 3


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Justin entered the tavern with little fanfare, carrying a four-foot long stick in one hand.  Around his neck hung a small pewter pendant of a dragon coiled slighting into a somewhat triangular shape.  He wore a dark blue cloak draped over his shoulders, mostly hiding his soft, cotton shirt, of the same color blue.  His jeans were visible from the front and anywhere below the knees, and both those and his shirt were torn badly, but sewn back together to keep out the cold.  Over his back, a rucksack was slung, and a bundle of sticks, all four feet long at least.  He made his way to the bar, getting himself a glass of ice water before sitting down and giving his cloak a slight push, so as to make it fall behind the stool and almost to the floor.

Natalie slipped into the tavern semi-unnoticed, her luxurious ebony tresses tamed into a long, single braid that stretched down the center of her back.  Her mauve dress swished as she walked, and her steps were measured and careful, her dark eyes searching the room as if to seek out and avoid any danger.  Her lips, usually full, were pressed into a thin line from weariness, and she clutched a long, ornately carved staff some six feet tall.  Examining the occupants of the room, she chose a seat at the bar, close, but not too close, to Justin.  A few wayward strands of her silken hair had worked themselves free, and she pushed them behind her pointed ears with a slender hand.  Idle chatter surrounded her and she felt almost cocooned in her own little world of thoughts and ponderings.

Nodding to Natalie, Justin raised an eyebrow at her, taking a long sip of his water.  “You seem tired,” he offered, his own eyes sporting bags that looked almost as heavy as the rucksack slung over his shoulder, although this was commonplace.  “Didn’t sleep well last night?” he asked with concern, her nose still slightly pink, but all other traces of his cold now long gone, save the occasional sniffle.

With a glance over at Justin, Natalie made a slight humming noise, barely noticeable over all the din of the tavern.  Taking the end of her braid in her hands, she idly played with it, pondering his observation.  “Perhaps I am a bit tired,” she conceded, her voice unmistakably strained and her eyes bright but slightly red-rimmed.  “Last night…” she began, then trailed off.  “No, I slept fine last night,” she countered, though her voice was quiet and held no sharpness.  She missed his company more than she wished to admit, and felt a sting of rejection after their last conversation in bed, only a few nights prior.  “And yourself?”  More than just courtesy, her question aimed to discover if he had again spent another night outside in the cold, especially after trying to recover from being sick.

He shrugged and leaned back on his stool, setting the glass of water down and balancing the stick against the countertop.  “Not bad.  I’ve slept better, but I’ve slept worse.”  He smiled lightly, almost amused.  “The wolves have backed off as of late.  It’s rather a nice change.  This thing hasn’t gotten a single tear in it.”  He idly played with the hem of the dark blue cloak that folded around his shoulders.  A slight sniffle escaped his nose, but he paid it no mind.

Natalie looked at the cloak quietly, as if to verify that there were no tears in it.  Her eyes took in his form, from the patched tears on his clothes to the dark circles under his eyes, and she sighed softly.  “You really shouldn’t be sleeping outside.  You know…” here she stopped and shook her head, as if reconsidering what she was about to say.  Conjuring a bloodwyne, she sipped on it and measured her words, then began to speak, her voice low and soft, almost soothing, as it were.  “I know you are strong, but even you do not deny that you are mortal.  Could you not give it a day or two before going back to that?  Another night in a bed would do you good,” she insisted.  A silent whisper, “With me,” added itself in her mind, but she brushed it away.

He shook his head slowly, giving the faintest of sighs.  “I’m alright.  I’ve been in worse situations.  Actually, that’s a lie.  I haven’t, really.”  He gave a soft, half-laugh.  “But I’m getting used to it.  Once it warms up, it will be nice.  This cloak helps me more than I thought it would, actually.  And with the wolves leaving me alone lately, I’m getting a better chance to heal.  Now all I need is a job.”  He rolled his eyes and continued.  “Not that I can do anything that’s worth money in this realm.”

Sighing quietly, she shook her head, then eyed the mends in his clothes.  “Couldn’t you find work as a tailor?  I’m sure someone around here needs things mended,” she suggested, not entirely certain what occupations humans had available.  Abandoning the slight tug on her braid in favor of twisting the silver goddess ring on her pinky, she suppressed another sigh and pondered quietly.  So much had changed, so much was strange and complicated.  It seemed as though she was a stranger now, a stranger to him when she thought things would get closer, more familiar.  Now, in the moment, when she needed his friendship the most, he seemed galaxies away.  She blinked slowly and sipped more on her bloodwyne, the taste scalding her throat and bringing back memories from years and years ago.

Justin smiled.  “I’m not that good with the needle.  Good enough to mend my clothes, but I can’t compete with the people in these places that sling magic around like it were nothing; snap their fingers and clothes are fixed, good as new.”  He laughed.  “And most of them do it for free.  I mean, look around.”  Here he paused and gestured to the tavern, though if he had looked over them, he had done it well enough that it went unnoticed.  “None of them have tears in their clothing.”

She heard his words and nodded quietly, realizing that he head a point.  What did she know about the workings of humans?  It was not her place, as a Goddess, to presuppose, and she hung her head, feeling a light aching begin in her temples.  The last bit of her cold lingered tenaciously, giving her the occasional migraine or soreness in her joints, though her stuffiness, coughing, and sneezing had abated.  A sigh escaped her lips and she fell silent, not really knowing what to say to him.  So much welled up in her, but then was not the time, nor the place, and she knew better, and so contented herself with sipping on her bloodwyne and avoiding eye contact.

Raising an eyebrow, he drank about a quarter of his glass of water before looking over to Natalie, noting her odd silence.  “Natalie… is something bothering you?  You’re more… I don’t know, withdrawn? …than usual.  Or at least that’s how it seems.”  His own posture, his manner, everything about him seemed to actually be relaxed for once, and not just the sort of relaxed state that he normally enforced upon himself, but a truthfully pleasant manner.  His hand did occasionally wander to the hem of his cloak, or the pendant about his neck, but that was just a habit.  Sniffling softly, but not bothering to rub his nose, he continued to look at Natalie with thinly veiled concern.

She watched Justin drink his water, her own bloodwyne mostly gone by that point.  Reaching back, she grasped her braid and brought it around, undoing the clasp that held it together, then slowly unbraided it, shaking it free so that it fell around her shoulders and face like a waterfall of liquid onyx.  “I am merely tired, that is all,” she murmured, her voice just loud enough for him to hear, but low enough to remain unnoticed by the other inhabitants of the tavern.  Fingering the silver goddess ring on her pinky, she did something rather uncharacteristic, and drew her knees to her chest, resting the arches of her feet on the stool so that she was in the fetal position.

He nodded slightly, somewhat suspicious that there was something more, but he said nothing in case he was wrong.  “I see.  Then perhaps you should get some sleep?”  He gave a much longer than normal glance at the cascade of hair, followed with an undeniably warm smile and a soft sniffle.  “You…” he began, then let his voice trail off, unable to hide his worry any more.  “You honestly don’t look like you’re just tired, you know.   You look like something’s really bothering you.”

Natalie looked up and caught the smile, feeling something inside her almost break at it.  “I am truly just tired, truly,” she insisted, biting down on her lower lip and nodding to that.  “It is nothing,” she lied, trying to hide the sheer exhaustion in her voice and demeanor.  Unable to stop herself, she began to rock back and forth, almost like an autistic child, her eyes going opaque and her skin becoming covered in goose bumps.  A slow trickle of blood oozed from a previously unseen cut just below her left ear, sliding down her skin and pooling in the small crevice of her collarbone.

He raised an eyebrow and stood, eyeing the stick that leaned against the bar, before putting it into the sheath with the rest of them.  He knew full well that the stick could almost be seen as a symbol for his personal barriers, as he put them away; it was no small thing.  He reached around behind the bar and grabbed a cloth, then walked to Natalie, wiping the bit of blood from her ear, neck, and collarbone.  “Nothing’s wrong, hmm?  I see.  I think we’re close enough that I don’t need to be hiding the fact that I don’t believe you for a moment that you’re only tired.”  His words, though seemingly harsh, were spoken in a tone that rang with nothing but worry and compassion.

Continuing to rock back and forth, she trembled a bit from some mysterious cause, her jaw slack and her eyes unfocussed, her pupils dilated.  The voices in her head did not give up, not even for a moment as she twitched almost convulsively, fighting desperately against the inevitable.  She had held out for so long, so, so long.  Through Darren’s death, Casen’s death and subsequent re-birth, through the pain of losing all contact with Casen, and then his brutal rape of her already ravaged body.  The legal entanglements with the Hierarchy, the further involvement of Cetric in the act of raping her, the loss of her only dear friend, and now the most recent scary experience with Justin, as she bonded with him in such a personal and sexual way… her mind reeled and she gasped like a fish, a cold sweat breaking out over her skin.  Blinking quietly, her eyes cleared somewhat and she looked at him, not entirely registering his presence.  Her brain was fried and she could barely function; it was the onset of an emotional breakdown.      

Justin frowned, not knowing what was wrong as he wrapped his arms around Natalie tightly, his mouth close to her ear.  “Natalie, whatever’s going on, I’m here.”  He let the worry show in his voice, confused as to what to do, as he was fairly certain that whatever was happening was not physical, despite the worrying cut below her ear.  He knew full well that it was possible (though hopefully not likely) that she did it herself.  “Tell me what to do.  I don’t know….”

Blinking quietly, she felt a few salty tears slip down her cheeks, leaving a shimmering path on her pale skin.  “Here…” she repeated uncertainly, her voice shaky and confused-sounding.  “To do, I don’t know… don’t know…” she echoed, blinking quietly and leaning against him, her brain now much.  Just barely remembering who she was, she could not recall why she was on earth, whose arms she was in, and why he was talking to her.  Something about him seemed wrong, though, and she half-struggled to pull away, the cut below her ear re-opening and her hand reaching down to her thigh for the knife strapped under her soft skirts.  “Just to cut away the fog,” she murmured, “It is thick; I need to cut it.”  She slipped her hand under her skirt and unsheathed the dagger, bringing it up to her neck quietly, her hand shaking.  “Thick, so thick.  Must cut through it.  It is thick.  It is choking me.”  Her words were almost slurred, though they had a scarily clear quality to them, as well, as she parted her lips and placed the blade against her soft flesh.  “To do, I don’t know… I don’t know what to do.  Tell me.  Tell me what to do, I don’t know… I’m here… Thick.  Too thick… to do… tell me… I don’t know…” she whispered.

His eyes opened wide at the sight of the dagger drawn to her neck, and his right hand circled around her shoulders to grab at her arm, anchoring it and the dagger away from her neck.  His other hand gripped the blade of the knife tightly, trying to wrench it free without hurting her.  “Natalie… you don’t need to do this.  We can get through this.  Let go of the dagger, we can get rid of the fog together without it.”  He forced his voice to be steady, replacing worry with a soothing calm as he did so.  “Let me help you.”

She shuddered and clung to the dagger, her skin white with the force of keeping it in her hand, her eyes open wide and staring blankly.  “Need to do this… help you…” she stuttered, shivering and inhaling the sharp scent of her own blood from the fresh wound below her ear.  “Together… help… together… get through this… together,” she whispered, her skin iced and her lips almost azure.  “The fog… get rid of the fog,” she insisted, though she was merely picking and choosing from his words, subconsciously.  The hand holding the dagger strained against him, moving to place the blade back against her neck.

Justin let his grip on the dagger tighten, not caring even though it bit into the skin of his palm, as he let his own blood flow along it, ensuring that his hand was between the blade and her neck.  “Natalie, please… think about what you’re doing.  Please.”  Again his voice faltered, showing a hurried, worried tone, letting a tear fall from his eye as he pressed his cheek to hers, mouth almost directly at her ear.  “It’ll be alright, I’m here.”

Trembling at his words, her eyes closed as she fought the fog, desperately battling, trying so hard.  “Please… please… here…” she muttered.  Trying to tell him that she needed him, that she could not handle this, she could only parrot him at this point, struggling to pierce the dense fog that had settled in her mind.  “Love,” she whispered, almost triumphantly, having spoken a word all her own.  “Love,” she repeated, bringing his hand to her heart, the hand still clinging to the dagger, her own still gripping the blade.  A smear of both his blood and hers spread on her dress, right above her left breast, right over her heart.  “Love,” she pleaded.

He nodded.  “I do.  I love you, Natalie.  But please… don’t give in to this!  Let go of the dagger, we’ll get you through this.  There are other ways of fighting, if you’ll only let me help you.  And I will help you, because I do love you.”  This last sentence was strongly accentuated, showing the truthfulness and the emotion behind it.  The tear reached the point where their cheeks touched, and he barely seemed to notice the dagger.

She slowly, reluctantly released her grip on the dagger, grabbing his hand instead, holding it to her heart, the blood filling the crevices between her fingers, staining the light fabric of her dress, though she did not notice.  “I do.  I love you… through this… I do love you…” she murmured repeatedly, rocking back and forth, her eyes slowly opening though she was still not much better.  The cut below her ear had stopped bleeding again, and her expression was vacant and empty, her skin pale as the snow and her voice strained and fuzzed.  “Love you… I do… I do love you….”

Justin could not help but wonder to himself within the logical part of his brain if she was simply parroting again, or if she actually felt that way, but in his heart, he knew full well that she did.  He smiled and seemed to consider a few things.  “Come on, we should probably get you to a more comfortable place.”  He nodded to his own words and did not pull his hand away, having barely noticed the clatter of the dagger on the hardwood floor of the tavern.

She tried to cut through the fog, to tell him that she loved him, but she could not.  Her eyes closed with the effort of concentrating, but she could not find her own words through the fog; they were lost, hidden, obscured.  “Come… come…” she murmured.  She had not stopped rocking back and forth, and her pale skin was still burning cold to the touch, her words choked but soft.  Fluttering open, her eyes still retained a glazed look, unable to focus on anything as she did not even register the sound of the dagger as it hit the wooden floorboards.

“Come on, let’s get you somewhere where you’ll have a back to rock against.”  He gave a wry smile, having absolutely no idea what Goddesses weighed, though it didn’t matter, as he knew full well that he could lift at least a hundred pounds, and when needed, more.  Removing his hand from her chest, forcibly if needed, he gathered himself, drawing in a deep breath of preparation before placing one hand behind her shoulder blades.  He slid the other under her knees and lifted with carefully measured strength, giving his muscles a moment to adjust properly to her weight before trying to move over to the chairs.

She allowed herself to be raised and held like that, her body hanging limp in his arms.  Due to flying and the necessity of smoothness in the air, Goddesses have hollow bones, so her weight was little to nothing, even with her beautifully crafted wings.  With the absence of his hand at her heart, she gripped the fabric there, as if trying to squeeze out the stain of blood, though she desperately needed to cling to something solid.  Her other hand shook and twitched, needing something to hold onto, to stop the constant shivering, the inability to control her actions while she was in that state.  A faint tickle began to build in her nose, the beginnings of a series of sneezes, quite possibly the return of the cold due to her weakened emotional state and lack of meditation as of late.  The fog thickened and choked her, her eyes rolling back in her head as she gave up fighting it, saving her strength to hold on to consciousness, not vision, as she deemed it more important.

Justin was pleased to note the lightness, giving a quick mental thanks for small things as he carried Natalie to a couch, setting her down gently and taking her hand in his.  “There, a bit safer here, at least,” he began, nodding slightly to his own words.  “Now come on.  Natalie, I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s wrong, or how to help.  I’m just not a miracle worker, I’m afraid.”  He sighed softly, not quite sure what to say.  “Please, you have to tell me.”  Closing his eyes lightly, he took a seat next to her, still holding her hand.

She shivered, her eyes closed against the darkness, and against the tickle in her nose that threatened to build into those tickly sneezes.  Knowing the sneezes would interrupt her train of thought as she searched for the words to say, she tried desperately to fight them off in the suffocating blanket of the fog.  “Sa… ahh… aahhetchhhoo!! Ishh… ishhhooo!!  Heh… hehkisshh! Ishh!!!”   Sneezing very wetly and not even having the ability to cover her mouth, the resulting spray landed on Justin, coating him with the shimmering wetness.  Not moving or making an attempt to wipe it away, he remained there and kept his silence, waiting for her to continue.  “Safer here,” she trieda gain, trying to tell him that she was scared.  “What’s wrong… I’m afraid… I’m afraid,” she repeated his words, frustrated that she could not use her own.  “Please, please,” she whispered, trying to ask him for reassurance of how he felt.  Channeling all of her energy into one word, she stopped concentrating on breathing, or on her heartbeat, and managed to murmur a single syllable.  “Love,” she begged, her hand going limp in his own, though she still retained consciousness.

He nodded.  “I do, Natalie.  I love you; you know that.”  Smiling softly, warmly, he continued.  “I want to help, but I don’t know what’s happening.  Are you sick?”  He tilted his head, still not realizing that she had only repeated words that he’d said.  The blood still dripped from his hand, unnoticed as he looked into Natalie’s eyes, trying to see past the haze and hopefully find some sort of answer that didn’t require words.

Natalie took a few soft breaths and rocked back and forth, trying to overcome the fog that had settled permanently in her head, clouding her thoughts and strangling her words.  “What’s happening…” she muttered.  “Sick,” she nodded, her hand squeezing his, reassured by his love.  “I love you… I do… know that….”  The curtain of her silken hair had fallen into her face, and she slumped down a bit in the chair, the scent of blood causing her to open her eyes.  Reaching for him, she took his hand and brought it to her heart once more.  “Love.  I love you,” she breathed, then brought it to her mouth, licking away the blood, not because she was trying to feed, or because she wanted to taste it, but because she wanted to apologize for causing the wound, though she could not speak it.

He nodded again and smiled, though he eyed the licking, realizing for the first time that he had been hurt.  He didn’t pull away, but simply eyed it questioningly.  “It’s alright, Natalie.  I’ll be fine, it’s just a little wound.  Right now, I need to try to find a way to help you, because this simply doesn’t seem to be doing the trick.  Is there anything here that could help?”

She was becoming increasingly frustrated with the fog that hid her words.  Wanting to tell him that she needed to be held, that she needed him to tell her over and over again that he loved her, she could only settle for his words, picking and choosing between them to try to get her point across.  “Just a little… help… help… right now…” she tried, not having any success at all.  Returning to lick away the last of the blood, she withdrew her tongue from his skin and regarded him quietly, staring into his eyes, her own still glazed and vacant, though her nose still tickled intensely.

Justin had no idea what exactly was needed, and he started to realize that her word selection was limited, though it hadn’t registered how yet.  He closed his eyes, his manner showing the effort being put into trying to think of something that he’d seen or read before to try to draw on for experience, but failed.  Instead, he simply drew her into his arms, quietly pondering.  “I don’t know anymore, Natalie.  I love you, but I just don’t know how to help.”

Curling up in his arms, she brought her right hand to her face and slowly sucked on her thumb.  It appeared that she had gone through something of an age regression, as she was now acting like a little child.  Clinging to him quietly, she buried her head in his shoulder and shivered some, curled up into a little ball, almost, her skin still ice cold to the touch.  “I love you,” she repeated, her voice somewhat muffled by her thumb and the placement of her head, “I love you.”  Hoping he would keep holding her close and comforting her, she shuddered and continued to suck on her thumb, her ebony tresses falling into her face as a curtain, protecting her from the world at large.

He alternated between petting her hair and stroking her back soothingly, his voice quiet and reassuring.  “Don’t worry, I’m here.  I love you, and I’m not going anywhere…. I want to make sure that you get better, whatever this is.”  He smiled.  “Because I love you, and… well… that’s the only reasons I need, isn’t it?  Because I love you, you’re my friend, and I always protect my friends.”

Natalie sucked more on her thumb and gazed up at him, the blankness receding, replaced by her usual wide-awareness, her dark eyes open and alert.  The fog was beginning to dissipate, but it still managed to choke her words for the most part.  Selecting a few from his sentences, she removed her thumb from her mouth and blinked, her tone soft and even.  “I’m here… I love you… don’t worry….”  Still only echoing him, she was at least making eye contact, her gaze piercing through the fog to settle on Justin, searching him to weigh the truth of his words.

He smiled as he saw the fog lift from her eyes, knowing that his own eyes shone with nothing but the purest truth.  Hoping that this meant that she was getting better, he tilted his head and eyed her.  “You getting better now?  Your eyes seem to be clearing, at least.”  He gazed deeply into her eyes, as though searching for something.  “I hope so.  I love you too much to let you go like this, without me being able to help you.”

Trembling quietly, she slowly removed her fingernails from the soft flesh of her leg, where she had been surreptitiously scratching and piercing her skin while taking to him.  The intense pain and scent of blood helped to clear the fog and she rocked back and forth, bringing her fingers to her lips to lick away the red smears on her flesh.  “Better now,” she nodded, blood trickling from the twenty-one wounds.  “Better now…” she repeated, her voice soft and thin sounding.

Tears pooled in his eyes as she suckled on her fingertips, and he drew her into his arms, wrapping her in a tight embrace to reassure her and show her that his love is pure and true.  His body was warm, more so than usual, and he wonder for the faintest of moments if he was coming down sick again, perhaps catching a different strain of the same cold.  Pushing the thought away, he let go of Natalie just long enough to rub at his nose, staving off a tickle, before holding her tightly once more.

She sucked her thumb quietly, not being able to say anything, since he did not say anything that she could use with words.  Just his touch was enough to help calm her, though, and she clung to him with her free arm, scared that he would disappear or be taken away from her.  Her silken tresses stuck to her cheeks from the wetness of the tears and her dress was now badly stained from the blood, both hers and his.  The twenty-one wounds on her leg stung and begged to be nursed, to be cleaned, to be cared for, but the words could not come to her mouth through the fog, and so she simply rested against him, sucking her thumb, and letting the blood flow freely down her leg and onto the floor, soft splashing sounds going unheard through the chatter of the tavern.

Justin frowned at her leg, trying to decide what to do.  He could either leave Natalie, just for a moment, to get the items to take care of it, or he could let it continue to bleed.  “Natalie…” he began, and then sighed, not angry or upset with her, but instead worried beyond words.  “You’ve hurt yourself; we should go take care of it.  Do you want me to go and get the stuff, or would you rather it just bleed?  Or… if you want, I could carry you to where we could take care of it?”

She shivered and followed his gaze to her leg, then looked up at his face, trying to pick his words to tell him what she wanted.  “Take care of it… carry… carry…” she begged, not wanting to be left alone, even for a moment.  Though her words were slightly obscured by her thumb, which was still in her mouth, they were intelligible, and she hoped he understood that she was scared of being abandoned.  “Carry, carry,” she begged again, echoing him and holding him more tightly, to tell him not to let go

Nodding slightly, he rather expected that response, but he didn’t want to make pre-judgments.  Standing, he kept himself close enough to still be held, as she again placed his arms under her knees, and behind her shoulder blades, this time prepared for the weight as he carried her toward the washroom.  Once there, he set her down on a wooden chair in the corner before lighting a candle and rummaging through a chest set up on the wall for a medic kit.  “Are you alright, Natalie?  Still with me?”

Unable to find the words to tell him that she is okay, she shivered quietly, wanting to reassure him, though she was far from okay.  Not knowing how to soothe him, she picked a few of his words to parrot, her head still immersed in thick fog.  “Alright…” she repeated.  “Alright.”  Shaking and wanting to be held by him, she tried to wait patiently for him to find the materials in the medic kit, so he could tend to her wounds.  She knew he would not have set her down if he wasn’t looking for a way to heal the wounds that she herself had inflicted, but she could not help feeling abandoned without his touch.  Shivering on the hard wooden chair, she slumped against the wall quietly, closing her eyes to concentrate on breathing.

He found what he was looking for: a well-stocked medic kit.  Bringing it over to Natalie, he set it down on the floor and opened it, withdrawing a small vial of some strange looking liquid, eyeing it and then looking up to meet her eyes.  “This is going to sting, but it’s to clean the wound, and it doesn’t sting all that much.  It’ll keep it from getting infected, so it’s somewhat important.”  Pleased with his little speech, but still somewhat disturbed by the fact that he has to hurt Natalie to clean the wound, he pushes aside the thoughts.  Pouring a bit of the potion over the wounds, he dabbed it and any bubbles away with a soft cloth, continuing until all the bubbling stopped.

Natalie flinched at the singing, part of her enjoying the pain, especially because it was at his hands.  Something in her twisted delightfully at the idea that she made him hurt her.  Trying to shove those feelings away, she blinked at him, trembling quietly and concentrating on the sensation of the pain, hoping it would clear the fog that was still settled densely around her mind.  She closed her eyes and rocked back and forth slowly, then opened them, looking down at the wounds and watching the frothing of the potion.  “Dirty girl… I am a dirty girl.”  She nodded to this, then closed her eyes again, the blood rising up from the bubbles.

He shook his head vehemently.  “No, you’re not.  You’re beautiful, and I love you.”  He finished with potion and put it away.  “Don’t let anything else ever make you think otherwise, Natalie.”  While he spoke, he reached into the medic kit and took a few cloth strips, wrapping them around the series of wounds and tying them not so tightly as to cut off circulation, but not so loosely as to slip.  He seemed to have found the problem behind her speech, in part, as evidenced by his next questions.  “Better?  Yes, no?”

Natalie relaxed under his touches and his words as they seeped into her heart, paired with his tender affections.  Unused to such gentle care, she relished every moment, trying to make up for years and years of mistreatment and abuse.  “Beautiful… I love you…” she echoed, trying to tell him how much she truly does love him.  “Better… yes,” she admitted, thankful that he had finally discovered something about the fog that she continued to battle.  “Better,” she repeated, nodding her head and wrapping her arms around him, holding him close and shivering a bit.  “Love… I love you…” she murmured against his neck, thankful to have such a wonderful friend who actually cared about her well-being and showed it with his actions.

Smiling lightly, he laid the soiled cloth near the wash bin.  “I know you do, Natalie.  Now, how should I try to help you get through whatever this is?  Have you ever been through something like this?  I mean… whatever it is that’s playing with your mind, do you know how to fix it?”  He raised an eyebrow, despite the fact that it wouldn’t be seen.  “Yes, no?”

She tried to decide how to answer his multiple questions, clinging to him quietly and wishing he would take her off of the painfully hard wooden chair, because she was tired and needed to be held in his arms.  “Been through something like this… no…” she began, hoping he would understand.  “Fix it… know how to fix it… yes…” she started, knowing that the only way to fix an emotional breakdown like this would be for her to feel loved and accepted and treasured by him, to know that he was not just using her that night, to know that he truly did care, and wanted to be her friend, at her side, to love her for always, forever.

He nodded a bit, trying to figure out how best to word his next question as he again gathered Natalie into his arms, extinguishing the candle and carrying her back to the couch.  Sitting down, he lowered her onto his lap, smiling warmly, before he paused, a  panicked look on his face.  The phantom tickle had returned in full, most likely due to the smoke from the candle, though he could not be sure that it was not a burgeoning cold.  “The…. There.  Your leg is cleaned up and wrapped, at lehh… ehhtCHOO!! Heh.. HETchhoo!! Eehh…. Eyhh… Iiixxshhh!!”  He tried valiantly to stifle the series of wet, powerful sneezes, lest he spray Natalie, who was still perched in his lap, but he only managed to close off the very last one.  By then, it was too late, and the result of his tickle now covered Natalie’s face and neck.

Her entire body shivered as he sneezed, her breathing quickening and her panties instantly growing damp, much to her complete embarrassment, as they were still in the middle of the tavern.  Unable to bless Justin, she settled for looking deeply into his eyes and then kissing him, softly, passionately, trying to show both her love and desire, and wishing he would take her away from all these people, all these prying eyes.

Trying to continue after the interruption of the sneezes, he searched for his train of thought.  “Your leg is cleaned up and wrapped, at least.  Now then… how best to take care of the other problem.  I love you and all, but it’s hard for me to tell what you need sometimes, you know?”  He laughed just a little, not at her, but to diffuse his frustration at not being able to figure out how to fix her.

She curled up in his lap quietly, clinging to him and looking up into his eyes quietly, her own rather dark but soft, her gaze searching.  The waterfall of her hair was out of her face for once, and though her leg was still stinging from the potion, she was warm and comfortable in his arms.  “I love you… know, know…” she echoed, trying to tell him that she could not expect him to be telepathic.  Reaching into the folds of her skirt, she handed him a few gold pieces, wondering how she could explain to him that she needed him to stay with her through the night, to hold her and comfort her.  “There…” she repeated.  “There… need… tell what… need….”

Justin raised an eyebrow, glancing at the gold for a moment unbelievingly.  “But I don’t need any payment.  I love you, that’s why I’m doing…” he begins, then lets his voice trail off as another thought occurs to him, and he gives a slight nod.  “Wait, you want me to get you a room?  Probably the best choice of action right now.”  Sniffling softly, he waited for her answer, praying to the Powers that Be, hoping that his nose would not betray him with another set of spraying sneezes.

Beginning to shake her head as he started to speak of payment, she stopped as he mentioned the room.  It was so frustrating to not be able to clear the dense fog in her head, to use her own words instead of merely echoing his.  “A room,” she nodded, hearing his idea, “Get… a room…” she asked, wanting to say please but not being able to, since he did not use to word himself.  Clinging to him fiercely, she tried to show him by her actions that she did not want him to put her down or leave her alone, even if it was just a moment while he bought the room.  Her grip on him tightened even more and she whispered, “I love you…” once again repeating his earlier words, hoping it would convey the message.

He smiled softly and picked her up, his arms getting tired, though that was the farthest thing from his mind at the moment as he approached the bartender, dropping the coins into an outstretched hand, and picking up the keys.  “I love you, too, Natalie, which is why I’m going to get you into a room, get a good night’s sleep… though it might help if you weren’t clinging so hard.”  Hoping that she knew he was only teasing, he paused and sniffed again, his nose beginning to seriously tickle.  Pausing to brace himself against the wall at the foot of the stairs, his hands were full with Natalie in his arms, and he had no choice but to stifle the sneezes into her shoulder, though most fell on her ample bosom.  “Natalie… I thih… think I’m … going to snee… ehhh… ethMMPHH!!  Heh… hehISHHH!! ISSSHH!!  Iiyehh…. Ehh-KMMMPHH!”

A soft shiver of ardent desire swept through Natalie’s body, causing goose bumps to rise on her tender flesh.  Her eyes fluttered open to see the messy spray that now coated her chest, turning the fabric of her dress to a dark mauve color.  Unable to bless Justin, though she wished to with all of her heart, she could only settle for a physical response, and so leaned up and licked away the spray from his nose and mouth, her tongue so wet and soft.  Keeping contact for a bit longer than was strictly necessary, she sniffled a little herself and tried to make sense of the tickle in her nose, wondering if it was indeed the return of the cold.

Unsure what to say or do at this point, especially since the entire tavern could see them (not that anyone was watching, though), Justin sniffled a little self-consciously and continued up the stairs with Natalie in his arms, too flustered to even utter an apology for sneezing on her, though he was rather certain from her response that she enjoyed it.  He managed a light smile as he opened the door to their room, rather proud of himself for the ability to insert the key and unlock the door while still holding Natalie.  Entering quietly, he smiled down at the goddess in his arms, using his nose to nuzzle her own.  “Now, you can have some space to yourself, or I could join you in the bed.”

Natalie smiled softly at his words and nodded, repeating the last part for emphasis.  “Join… in the bed…” she begged, leaning up and kissing his cheek softly, eternally thankful to have him as a friend.  Her dark eyes were shining and she blinked frequently, her arms around his neck, holding close to him for love and support, mentally pleading with him to leave her, not to abandon her.  Tiredness overcame her and she stifled a yawn, not entirely sure if her understood what she was trying to say or communicate, but hoping that he realized she could not be left alone, not in this state of relative emotional distress.  Unsure if she would “get better” any time soon, she merely clung to him, relaxing her hold just a bit at his words, desperately wanting him to be with her, to hold her all night long and never let her go.

Nodding, he used his foot to close the door softly, carrying Natalie to the bed and sitting on the edge, resting her weight on his legs.  “Now… you want to get changed, or something, before bed?  Get out of those dirty clothes, get something more comfortable on?”  He raised an eyebrow, noting her shining eyes, before he smiled warmly, adding, “Yes, no?” as an afterthought, and sniffling rather discretely, the tickle returning in full to plague him.  Suddenly realizing that they were in near-dark, with the exception of the moonlight coming through a very high window, he lit a few candles on the nightstand, being extra careful of her presence in his arms.  The soft glow of the candle light illuminated their faces, hers still drawn and pale, though her eyes seemed a little less hollow; his etched with lines of worry, but smiling with warmth and affection for her.

She hugged him to her body tightly at the sight of his warm smile and the delicious sound of his sniffle, her eyes closing from the softness of his touch.  Not knowing how to ask him for a shower, she simply settled for the next best option.  “Yes,” she repeated, pushing the waves of hair from her face, tucking a few strands behind her ears and gazing at him tenderly.  Wanting to tell him that she loves him, she settled for a soft kiss to his cheek, trying to show him just how much she cares and appreciates him.  “Yes,” she said again, her eyes slowly opening as she pulled back a bit to look at him.

Justin gestured to the dresser – the same one from a few days ago, as the bartender gave them the same room, number seven.  “I’m sure you can find something that you’ll like in there,” he said, smiling softly at the kiss.  “I love you, too, Natalie.  I get the distinct feeling that you don’t want to let go of me, but you’ll have to in order to get changed.  I’ll be right here, though.”

She smiled at his knowledge of what she wanted to say.  “I love you…” she echoed, kissing his other cheek and hugging him closely.  She pondered his last comment and slowly let go of his neck, slipping off of his lap and standing, though it hurt to put weight on her legs.  “Don’t… go…” she pleaded as she walked to the dresser, her eyes wide and begging, not entirely sure if he would abandon her now that she had let go.  “Don’t… go… right here…” she repeated softly, then opened the dresser and pawed through the clothes, finally finding a cotton nightgown not unlike the one Justin had ripped a few nights ago.  Not caring if he watched, she fumbled with the buttons of her dress, the same one from before, then sighed with exasperation and turned to him quietly, her eyes big question-marks. 

He laughed and nodded, again standing and helping her with the two dozen buttons along the back of her clothing.  “You know, I don’t know how you deal with this in the morning.”  He didn’t fumble in the least with them this time around, and was able to get them undone, not making an overly large point of looking away, but just simply not staring.  “There you go, all taken care of for yuhh… yuhhh… eehh… ettCHOO!! Heh… hepTCHHOO!! ESHHoooo!!”  The trio of sneezes interrupted his sentence and he sniffled urgently, thankful that he had at least turned to the side so as not to spray Natalie with the wetness.

Managing a small smile at his comment about mornings and his beautiful and sensual sneezes, she shook her head, wishing she could bless him, or even just pres to him and show him with her body what he was making her feel with each little explosion.  She took his hand in hers and squeezed it softly, then let it go, slipping the heavy, bloodstained dress over her head, tossing it to the floor and shivering in her underclothes, the air of the room causing a pleasant chill to run down her spine, goose bumps breaking out all over her slender frame.  She slid into the cotton nightgown and turned slightly, motioning to the half-dozen buttons on the back of it, then paused, deciding to leave them unbuttoned, and turned around again, smiling softly at him.

He returned the smile, and in the time that it had taken her to change into the nightgown, he had changed into a pair of pajama bottoms similar to the ones he wore last time; his shirt, cloak, and jeans all sat in a pile at his feet.  Gesturing to the bed, he gave a short nod of his head and extended a hand to her.  “I’m a firm believe in ladies first, where it should count,” he commented with a grin, his voice sounding just a little stuffy, but not so much that it had started to affect his pronunciation.

Natalie laughed at his words and his quickness to change clothes, her eyes shimmering with mirth, the healing slowly beginning with each tender word he spoke.  Taking his hand, she laced her fingers through his and gave it a soft squeeze, then pulled him close in a warm, gentle hug, wanting to tell him that she loves him, but not being able to find the words.  Concentrating very carefully, she took a few slow breaths, then closed her eyes.  “I… I love you,” she breathed, surprising herself with the words, her eyes opening to gaze at him before she slipped under the covers, never letting go of his hand for a moment.

Joining her in the bed, Justin pulled the covers up to their chins and wrapped his arms around her securely, pressing his nose to her neck to ease the tickly itch.  Almost as an afterthought, he turned ever so slightly and extinguished the candles with a single exhalation, before returning to his previous position.  Snuggling tightly to Natalie, not letting go of her for a moment, he twined his now-healed leg around her, keeping her safe and warm, knowing that his friendly affection was fast becoming deeper than that.  The worry on his face changed to a different kind as he tried to figure out how he had let himself begin to fall in love with a goddess. 

*          *           

Justin woke quietly, his eyes focusing slowly to see Natalie, still wrapped up in his arms under the covers of the bed.  Perplexed, he remained still, before the memories of the night before raced through his mind again and made everything clear.  Smiling softly, he kissed the back of her head, assuming that she was still asleep as he attempted to think of ways that could possibly bring her back from wherever it was that she went to last night.

Snuggling closer to him in her sleep, Natalie then felt the kiss and slowly fluttered her eyes open to look up at him.  A bit confused, she studied his expression, and then opened her mouth to speak, but could not, a flood of memories returning from the previous evening. Wanting to tell him good morning, wanting to tell him that she loves him, she could do neither, but could only wait, leaning up to kiss his cheek in an attempt to convey her emotions.  She took a great amount of comfort in his embrace, and loved the feeling of waking up in his arms, and the security that he brings. 

He smiled softly, realizing that she was awake, and kissed her again before whispering gently, “Good morning, Natalie.”  He almost seemed to feel the comfort that she took, smiling a bit more, and resting his head against her.  “Did you sleep well?  I guess you haven’t recovered yet.  I’m sorry… I still haven’t been able to think of a way to help.  I wish I had.”

Natalie savored the kiss and smiled back, nuzzling against him before trying to speak once more.  “Good morning… sleep well…” she murmured, trying to tell him that she did indeed sleep well, since he was there to hold her close.  “I’m sorry…” she began, thinking to apologize for being so much trouble for him.  Her soft waves of hair had fallen partially into her face and she brushed them back with a pale, slender hand, exposing her dark eyes and loving expression.  She leaned up and kissed his cheek again, hoping he would know just how much she cared, though she could not find the words.  The fog had lessened now, and but it was still present, choking her efforts to think clearly, and giving her something of a headache.        

He ran a hand through her hair softly, giving a light sigh.  “Don’t be sorry.  You don’t have anything to be sorry for.  I just wouldn’t let you be alone, not when you seemed to need someone there so badly.  Besides, I love you, and would never want you to be sorry for anything.  I’ll always be here for you, Natalie, there’s no need to worry about that.”  Offering a warm smile, he knew instinctively how much she cared, despite the lack of words.

Smiling back at him and loving the feel of his hand in her hair, she took immense comfort in his calming words.  “Not… alone… Need… you… I love you… always…” she managed to whisper, leaning up and wrapping her arms around him, holding him close.  She listened to the sound of his breathing and took a few breaths of her own, then matched the pace to his, breathing with him, breath for breath.  After a few moments of this, she focused on his heartbeat, internalizing the particular rhythm, and matching that as well, until she was breathing with him, and her heartbeat was in the same cadence.  Closing her eyes, she made a small noise, almost like humming, and then shuddered, the rest of the fog lifting, leaving her feeling weary but alive.  “Justin,” she murmured, “I love you so much.”

Justin smiled, noticing that he had not used his own name and that her voice hadn’t seemed so strained when she used it, putting those things together and nodding.  “I love you, too, Natalie.  I’m glad that you’re back.  You had me worried for awhile there.”  His hand continued to stroke her hair, his subconscious picking up the fact that her breath had matched his, though he did not realize that their heartbeats were in rhythm as well.

Natalie leaned against him quietly, still keeping the rhythm with her body, a tenuous link to his soul as she tried to decide exactly what happened.  Strain, stress, something of that sort.  She’d heard of other goddesses having emotional breakdowns after particularly difficult missions, but the recovery was almost instantaneous, in most cases.  Perhaps she was just a slow healer, or perhaps….  She sighed and tried to ignore the questions running through her head.  It was enough that she was alive, right then, in that moment, in his arms, and for that she truly was grateful.  Cuddling him, she planted a very small kiss on the side of his neck, nibbling just a bit before laying her head on his shoulder.                     

He gave a very slight shiver at the nibbling, goose bumps rising over his skin and being forced away as quickly as they arouse.  A happy sigh escaped his mouth, taking as much comfort in her return from… whatever that had been, as she was taking in his presence.  “You are alright, aren’t you?  I mean… you’re back, right?”  His voice was a low whisper, almost afraid of breaking the moment, but it showed clearly his worry for her – even through the light stuffiness - and his hope that she was truly all right.

Smiling softly at his worry, she thought about how sweet he was to even care about her when she felt so neglected and used sometimes.  “In a manner of speaking, yes,” she noted, eyeing the goose bumps and pondering on the idea of trying to give him more.  “I am doing much better, as you can tell,” she amended, drawing him into her arms and softly nibbling on his ear, her mouth warm and wet.  Still clad in the thin cotton nightgown, but no longer embarrassed by it, she pressed against him and smiled softly to herself, holding him close.

Feeling her on his body, nibbling on his ear, he had to force himself not to think back to a few nights ago, not wanting to start an embarrassing situation.  While he had enjoyed it, they had agreed, hadn’t they?  Ignoring his inner voices, both natural and otherwise, he nodded, smiling warmly, while trying to fight a growing tickle in his nose.  “Yes, I can tell.  I’m very relieved.  But Natalie… what brought it on?  And what exactly happened?”

She didn’t know quite what to say in response to his questions.  Though she had an idea of what triggered it, she didn’t want to tell him, for fear that he would leave or maybe never touch her again, especially when she wanted him so badly, in so many ways.  “I’m not sure,” she responded truthfully, her head swimming with thoughts and implications, her body shivering with needs and desires.  She was torn between exploring his flesh, and just sitting in his arms, and she sighed softly, waiting to see what he would do.

“I see…” he began, nodding slightly, then sighing, somewhat worried that something might trigger it again, not knowing what did before, and hoping that if it ever happened again, that she could still recover.  Pausing in his thoughts, he turned to the side, holding up a finger on the hand that was not wrapped around Natalie, as if to tell her to wait just a moment.  Struggling for breath, he shivered involuntarily, then allowed the sneezes to come freely.  “Ehh… etCHOO!! Heh… HETCHOO!!  Iyehhh… ehhhh… Eshhoooo!! SSHHOOO!!”  A nearby flame flickered nervously from the sudden gusts of air, its light serving to illuminate the fine spray aimed downwards at the hardwood floor.

A low moan threatened to escape Natalie’s mouth, but she bit down forcefully on her lower lip, trapping the sound inside, where it only fueled her growing passion.  Once she could be certain that opening her mouth would not betray her, she paused, took a few deep breaths, and then managed a slight smile.  “Bless… bless you,” she murmured, touching a hand to his cheek, her fingertips stroking over his skin with remarkable tenderness considering the waves of desire that coursed through her small frame.  Shifting slightly in his lap so as not to reveal the dampness that laced her panties, she practiced her best angelic look.

Recovering from the force of the sneezes, Justin sniffled adorably, then tried to pick up his train of thought.  Oh, yes… the fog.  He decided, for the moment, to be thankful that it ended, regardless of what the future might bring, and he held her tightly, kissing her forehead.  “I’b just worried for you, dat’s all.  I dod’t like to see you like dat; it scares be.  Bud do batter what, do batter what happeds to you, I’ll be here.  I’ll neber abandod you whed you deed be, I probise.  Because I love you.”

Natalie sighed softly at his words and just curled up in his arms, not really knowing what to do.  She wanted to be held by him, but she also felt that soft tingling in her body, both from being near him and from his delicious sneezes, and she could not help but want to give him pleasure.  Trying to find the words to explain, she decided on a sigh and settled for something half-way informative, though she had no idea if he would understand what she meant.  “I’m fine, really.  Thank you,” she added, almost as an afterthought, still amazed that he cared and would not leave her.  “I love you, too,” she whispered, pressing her cheek to his chest.

He smiled lightly, realizing that his chest was bare, as he figured that there was little need for a shirt.  Currently in pajama bottoms and nothing else, he felt each little wiggle and twist of her body, his own struggling not to respond.  “I’b glad, bud are you sure?  I would’d wahd you do jusd say subding do dry do appease be, so dad I don’d ged hurd.  I can hadle id if you wanded do say subding.  I prefer do be dold a hurdful druf over finding oud dad I’f beed dold a pleasadt lie lader od.”  He knew he was rambling with his relief, and he tried to stop himself.  “I guess… whad I’b gedding ad, is dad if you deed adyding else, dod’d be afraid do ask.”

Hugging him gently, Natalie leaned up and kissed his cheek.  “I am still very weak, and very, very fragile,” she admitted, noting that this was emotionally the case, not physically.  “It will take a bit for me to heal completely.  Goddesses have undergone something like this before, or so I have heard, but never to this degree.”  A little perturbed at the unusualness of her case, she shook her head, then rubbed his back a little, her fingers warm against his bare skin and her body registering the pleasant sensations it gave.  Gently kissing his lips, she then licked the side of his neck and nibbled softly, her teeth biting into his flesh and sending light pangs of pain through his body.

He gasped at the feel of teeth on his neck, his chest expanding as it filled with air, before being let out slowly, with a smile.  “God, Dadalie… I dod’d dow how do describe dat, excebd dat id hurds soooo good.”  Giving a low, soft laugh, almost embarrassed, he closed his eyes, torn between the pleasurable sensations at his neck, and another rising tickle in his reddened nose.  Bringing his left hand to rub at his nose, he carefully massaged the tip, not wanting to sneeze at the particular moment and cause Natalie to stop her actions.

She smiled at the sound of his gasp, eyeing his expression and gently kissing his lips.  As he rubbed his nose, she placed one hand on his chest, rubbing a bit.  “You like that?” she whispered softly, shifting positions in his lap so that she now had access to his waist and lower body, her free hand stroking his hair.  Her eyes were dancing, and she pressed her nose to yours, nuzzling a bit, hoping to encourage a tickle.  Wondering exactly how much she could get away with, she then wondered if she should press those limits, whatever they were.  The hand on his chest moved over until her fingers found his nipple, and she rolled it between her thumb and forefinger, pondering the idea of watching what he would do if she pinched it.

Still looking somewhat embarrassed as he nodded to her question, he felt almost as though it was wrong in some way to like what he did.  Giving a strong sniff, he finally managed to clear his nose, though the tickle still teased him mercilessly.  “I do… I’m sure you noticed a few nights ago, that I’ve got something of a thing for pain.”  Turning his head down slightly, he watched her hand at his nipple, another long sigh escaping him, but this one of pleasure.  Moving his eyes up to meet hers, he paused, searching them for something.

She looked deeply into his eyes, as if answering a question.  “I did notice that,” she murmured, continuing to rub his nipple, her expression almost serious.  Not entirely sure what he was searching for, she merely opened herself up to his perusal, almost inviting him in to probe her thoughts.  Leaning in to like the side of his neck, she lapped quietly at his skin, lulling him into a rhythm of pleasure, then quickly pinching his nipple between her thumb and forefinger, the movement sudden and unexpected.

Justin seemed to find what he was looking for, though he was not exactly sure himself, sensing her near-invitation somewhere in the back of his mind.  As her mouth neared his neck, he tilted his head away, giving her better access and letting just the tiniest mumbled sound escape his throat, unmistakably pleased.  At the pinch, his back arched, and the mumbled sound became a moan, still not overly loud, but a sign of his obvious enjoyment.

Shaking her head, she scratched down his back, her fingernails digging into his soft skin ever so slightly.  “Justin… you’re being very wiggly,” she admonished, her tone soft and seductive.  “If you can’t hold still, I might have to tie you up,” she threatened, shivering happily at the sound of his moan, her fingers relaxing on his nipple as she slid the tip of one finger under the waistline of his pajamas.  “And you wouldn’t want that, I’m sure,” she added, pausing to bite the edge of his ear, the sharp points of her teeth just barely piercing his skin.

He shook quietly a bit at the mention of being tied up, for the second time in his life running the idea through his head – and, for the second time, finding the idea very attractive.  Instinctively, he pulled his head gently away from her teeth as he gasped, a natural human instinct, and one quickly suppressed as the pleasure followed the shock.  His voice was low, almost a whisper, but thick with emotion (and a bit of the sniffles), “I just want you to be happy, Natalie.  I wouldn’t object if you wanted to.”  He gave the faintest hint of a smile, his arms wrapping around her a bit, though not so tight as to restrict movement, momentarily ignoring the tickle in his nose.

Natalie loved the tenderness in his actions, wanting to give him pleasure and be everything that he desired, but also knowing her own limitations.  Too weak and insecure to be able to come across as detached and cruel, she would not only need to lapse into gentleness every once and awhile, but she would also need periodic verification that he was truly enjoying himself, and that he loved her.  Cuddling into his arms, she nipped a bit more at his ear and smiled to herself, licking the softness of her skin.  She tugged gently at his pajama bottoms, her hands brushing up against him as she worked them down, pausing more than was strictly necessary between his legs.

He shivered a little more, moaning a bit louder at the nips, the muscles in his lower body shaking with nervousness, despite the fact that they had already been together.  Not sure what exactly she liked, with a single notable exception, he gently kissed her cheek, though somehow it seemed to be more than a kiss that just a friend would give.  His eyes closed slowly, taking in everything she did and “seeing” with his skin, letting the sensations be amplified as much as possible.  “I love you, Natalie.”  His voice was still that same whisper, directed softly toward her ear.

Natalie enjoyed the sound of his moan, thankful that she was giving him pleasure.  Her hands worked his pajama bottoms all the way off of his legs and she tossed them on the chair, holding him very, very close and savoring his kiss.  “And I love you, Justin,” she murmured, stroking his hips through the fabric of his boxers, her fingers warm and her touch gentle.  Cradling him in her arms, she smiled to herself, then pushed him down against the bed rather roughly, licking and biting his neck, her movements almost harsh but not malicious.  She held him down with one hand and rummaged around underneath the bed, searching for the cloth bindings that she dropped from the last time they had this room.  Finally finding them, she straightened and smirked, straddling him and looking into his eyes.  “Mine,” she whispered.  “All mine.  You’re mine, and I’m going to have you now, just the way I like you.”

He raised both eyebrows, and smirked, his body tensing up and almost quivering with anticipation.  “If that's what you want, Natalie,” he murmured.  Forcing the smirk into a winning smile, he offered his wrists to her, letting his eyes meet hers so that she could see the rising lust there.  A willingness to do whatever she asked, and a need to make her happy could be seen within their brown depths.  “I’ll do whatever you ask me to,” he whispered, holding back the need to sneeze, though it continued to plague his reddened nose.

Laughing happily, she leaned in and kissed his lips warmly and richly.  “Mmh, I love you, Justin,” she said with a smile.  “You’re here to give me pleasure.”  Taking his wrists in her hands, she paused and looked at the skin there, then brought them to her mouth, kissing and suckling, her tongue sliding up his palm, then back down to his forearm, repeating this with his other hand.  Seemingly satisfied, she began to tie him up, her movements soft but determined as she held his right wrist against the bedpost, using the cloth to secure it there.  Doing the same with his left wrist, she leaned down and nuzzled his nose, planting another kiss on his lips.  “You can’t move,” she teased, lightly tickling his sides, still straddling him in her soft, white nightgown.

Justin wriggled vainly against the tickling, laughing despite his best efforts not to, grinning the entire time.  “Stop! Stop!  That tickles! Tickl…” he began, then collapsed into a bout of happy giggling, still rocking back and forth, despite knowing that it would do no good.  His face was bright red, from a combination of being flushed at the situation, and from laughing.  In fact, his entire body seemed to have taken a bit of additional color, turning a bit pinker than usual.

Reluctantly, she relented and stopped tickling, leaning down and kissing him gently.  “I think I’d better tie up your feet, too, so you don’t accidentally kick me, little wiggle worm,” she grinned, turning to bind his feet to the posts, not so tight that it hurt, but tight enough so that he knew he truly could not move or work himself free.  “Try to escape that, Houdini,” she smirked, sliding her hand up the insides of his thighs and stopping at his boxers, watching for his reaction as she reached up to scratch the tip of his nipple.

He smirked slightly, almost wickedly.  “I don’t know… I might not want to try.”  While he said this, he quietly tested the binds, finding them to be as secure as before, which, if his memory served, they were powerful enough to hold while he sneezed.  His head raised off the bed to watch her hands, his body tingling, nipples actually hard as she scratched them.  His chest rose quickly, filling with the air he drew in through his mouth in a quick gasp, his head falling back to the bed and seeming to try to bury itself for a moment.

Natalie eyed him with a smirk, watching as he surreptitiously tested her bindings, finding them very strong.  Recalling memories of the last time she had him tied up, she made a small noise, almost a moan.  The recollection of his cold and his sneezes was fresh in her mind and she treasured it, pondering as she thought about ways to play with him, that gave her as much pleasure as he was feeling.  She shivered at his gaps and pinched ever so slightly, her other hand creeping up just inside his boxers to feel him, testing to see just how aroused he really was.

Still seeming to be burying his head into the bed as her fingers tightened around his nipple, her touches elicited another low moan of pleasure.  No doubt was left at all at his arousal, as his hard cock was eagerly showing.  A small sniffle interrupted his thoughts, and though he tried to resist it, it began to blossom into a sneeze.  “Natalie, I… I need to snee… Etchoo!!!  EtCHOOO!!!  Heh… iihhhhh… sneee…. EeehCHOOO!!”  Straining against the binds with each powerful sneeze, he sprayed Natalie’s skin lightly with the cool mist, then sniffled a little more.

Feeling up his shaft, raising an eyebrow at the generous length and girth, she began to stroke just a bit, the paused as the sneezes landed on her body.  Unable to contain the almost primal noises of pleasure, she moaned with passion, shivering a little, her hand contracting gently on his shaft with each sneeze he gave.  “Mmmm… oh, bless you.”  Her voice was barely a whisper, and she blushed a little more, then regained control. 

“I,” she declared with a smirk, “Should get a few things,” she continued.  Hopping off of the bed, leaving him there, she stalked into the bathroom and poked around in the cabinets, making strange noises and talking to herself.  “Know there has to be one… sure I saw it just last… Ooh, that looks sharp!”  He blinked a few times, taking a moment to recover as he was left, feeling both pleased to have a moment to collect himself, and missing her touch at the same time. 

Shivering quietly to himself as he heard her messing around, looking for something, talking to herself, he heard her mention something sharp, and he felt his body tense up in something akin to anticipation.  Emerging from the bathroom with a towel over what appeared to be a shallow box or tray of sorts, she climbed back onto the bed and grinned at him.  “Heya.”  As she exited the bathroom, his eyes were on her, following her as she made her way back to the bed.  “Welcome back?”

She smirked a bit more because she just couldn’t help herself, or contain her obvious happiness at being near him.  “Thank you,” she said in mock-seriousness.  “It was ever so long of a journey.”  Grinning and setting the mysterious shape on the nightstand, she gently pushed his head back onto the pillow and glanced down to the tent in his boxers.  “Aww, does someone want to come out and play?  I should make it easier, she cooed with a laugh, sliding her hand under the towel and reaching for something.  Clanging metal could be heard and she finally withdrew a long handled pair of metal scissors, which looked very sharp and dangerous.  Purposefully bringing them past his face, she rested them on his left thigh, just under the bottom of his boxers, then opened them with a sharp scraping sound.

Justin shivered at the sight of the scissors, feeling the flush of his body seem to intensify, goose bumps forming over his chest and arms.  The sound of the scissors seemed to only drive him to shake harder, his muscles tensing as he attempted to control his body, knowing that the scissors could do quite a bit of damage, if they were to say… slip, and end up cutting something that they weren’t intended to.  His nose continued to tickle, but he fought it with a panicked sensation, not wanting to sneeze while she cut, for obvious reasons.

She watched his shivering and placed her free hand on his chest, tracing the goose bumps, her fingers cool and dry against his skin, catching against the little hairs and multiplying the sensations in his body.  The cold metal feeling slid down his leg just enough for the edge of his boxers to be caught in the wide, gaping mouth of the scissors and she removed her hand from his chest to slip around his erection, supervising to make sure nothing important was… damaged. 

Gripping the handle of the scissors and bringing them together with a defined “snick” sound, the fabric separated flawlessly, falling to either side of his body as she worked her way up to the waistline.  Tensing visibly at the sound of the scissors being closed, his body froze, every visible muscle more defined.  A soft whimper, both pleased and frightened, escaped him at the feel of the cold against his dick, a violent shiver trying to run through his body but being suppressed.  She paused to rearrange her hold on his dick. 

“Oops,” she said with a smile, sliding the scissors up and down for a second before moving to snip the last bit of cloth that held his boxers together.  Now fully exposed, her hand stroked his cock, slowly at the moment, the gleaming metal of the scissors still dangerously perched in her other hand.  “That wasn’t so bad, was it?” she asked, setting the tool on the nightstand near the towel and giving his erection a playful squeeze.  His erection seemed to try to come alive in her hand as his hips moved slightly, rocking side to side at the feel of her touch, as he obviously enjoyed every single thing that she was doing, and he was not afraid to show it.

Natalie licked her lips at the sound of his whimper, hearing the tone of his voice and knowing he was enjoying every moment of her touches.  She moaned softly as his body rocked a bit, his pleasure at her hands being very obvious, from his tensed muscles to his rhythmic movements.  “Ooh, you’re wiggling again.  Maybe I should have tied you up tighter,” she mused aloud, squeezing a bit more and reaching for the tray.  More clashing and clanging sounds could be heard, metal against metal, though it was muffled by the presence of the towel.  A dull thud could be heard, something that was most definitely not metal, and she grinned as her fingers found it, her face lighting up as though she almost forgot it was under there.  Her hand slid back out from under the towel, her fingers grasping something long and smooth, and unlit tapered candle of a bluish hue.  “It’s a bit dark in here,” she commented, almost nonchalantly, bringing the wick of the candle to her lips and kissing it, then blowing on it, a flame igniting as though by magick.  It flickered in the semi-darkness of the room, casting shadows on his bare skin and she held it near her body, inhaling the scent.  Her other hand still stroked his beautiful cock, her movements speeding up a bit as she gauged his reaction, leaning over him a bit and pressing her lips to his chest, her tongue finding his nipple to lick, holding the flame away for now.  “I should be careful with this.  I wouldn’t want it to… drip… on you,” she purred seductively, pausing in her words to bite his nipple gently, almost tenderly, her teeth grazing his skin.

Stilling his body as much as possible, he could feel it wanting to respond to being tied up tighter, though that would do little good.  He could still move his hips with his hands and feet tied, no matter how tightly.  He couldn’t help but try to strain his ears, his imagination stretching to try to figure out what she was getting – wasted effort, obviously, when he watched her light the candle with a breath.  Giving a quiet, muffled shudder, he watched carefully, the beauty of the flames and shadows only serving to accentuate her own as he tried to control his hips, just barely moving them now.  A nearly continuous moan escaped him, only getting louder, more passionate at the touch of her tongue to his flesh.  His breath came in short pants through the moans, the idea of the hot wax and the various applications of it running through his mind, and not helping his self-control in the least.

She slowly removed her mouth from his chest, leaving a moist remnant of her touch.  “You are still wiggling,” she observed with a smile.  “Perhaps I should go ahead and let you free,” she decided, moving to untie the bindings, her fingers making quick work of the cloth strips around his wrists and ankles, granting him freedom.  With the candle still perched precariously in her hand, she leaned over to him and pressed her lips to his, kissing him deeply but gently, then sat up, helping him into a sitting position and darting her hand under the towel to find the holder that went with the candle.  Fitting is securely in place, she set it on the nightstand and watched as a slow drip of wax trailed down and pooled on the dark wood.

Returning the kiss passionately, he let his tongue slide gently into her mouth, playing over hers slowly as he wrapped his arms around her.  One was wrapped around her shoulders, that hand gently stroking her hair, the other closer to her waist, hand resting on her hip.  As they both sat, he eyed the candle for a moment, then let his gaze move back to her, an almost mischievous questioning look in his eyes.

She followed his gaze and laughed lightly, loving his touches.  “I don’t think so,” she said with a smile.  “I don’t quite have the same penchant for pain as you,” she added.  Smiling again, she reached her hand across her body to squeeze his, her eyes moving to search his, and her lips full and rich.  “I think you know what I enjoy,” she whispered softly, using her other hand to stroke a soft path down his chest to his stomach, then down a bit more, rubbing slightly.

Justin smirked wickedly and nodded.  “I think I do, too… though I’ve got a hunch that there’s quite a bit more that you do.  I guess you’ll just have to show me eventually.”  He grinned and slid the arm wrapped around her waist slowly back, along her hip and down to her thigh, slowly rubbing her there.  His eyes never lose hers, holding the same wicked smirk that his lips did.

Natalie shivered at his touches, her body growing warm and responsive to his fingers as he rubbed through the fabric of her nightgown and her panties.  “Maybe I should,” she countered, reaching up and over just a bit to draw something out from under the towel.  It was a small, clear cylindrical container, about two inches in diameter and one inch high, containing what appeared to be a powdery substance.  Taking his hand and holding it palm-up, she spread his fingers and set the container in his hand, closing his fingers around it with a smile.  “Maybe you should smell this,” she suggested.

He raised an eyebrow at her, eyeing the container for a moment ponderously.  Carefully, he lowered his head to the container, seeming to recognize is from somewhere, and thus being very careful.  As his nose came within a full two inches of it, it was obvious enough that he could barely smell it, though his nose wrinkled up – but having expected this, he continued to put his nose closer, breath hitching slightly.  Once his nose reached an inch from the container, his eyes watered, and his shoulders shook, trying to suppress the physical symptoms.  Justin moved the container far enough away from himself just in time, as a powerful “HehKISHHHHHH!” wracked his nose, his body shaking to try to stop itself from being flung forward.  The container shook just enough in his hand to send a spray of the fine white powder in his direction, drawn directly to the hitches of breath in his nose.  “Heh-hitchuu!  Hi-TCHUUU! KISHHUUU!”

Moaning softly, the sound froth with passion, she pounced on top of him, pinning him down on the bed and licking at his nose, kissing his lips and sliding her tongue inside of his mouth.  “Mmmh, blessings, my sweet one, such blessings for you,” she murmured, devouring him with her eyes, then moving to taste his lips once more, licking and suckling at the soft flesh of his neck, her pleasure evident.  “More,” she commanded, her eyes half-closing at the thought of more delicious sneezes from him.  Trembling a bit at the idea of hearing him sneeze again, she placed his hand on his and slowly slid out of her nightgown and panties, guiding his hand to the warmth that blossomed between her thighs.

He nodded obediently, letting his hand be guided as she wished, the other still clutching the container.  Moving his head away from her, assuming that while she liked sneezes, she didn’t like to sneeze herself, he gave the container a little shake to send more of the power into the air, eliciting another chorus of sneezes from his nose.  “Heh… KISSHHH!!”  He paused, sniffling, then continued.  “HASHUU!  HISSHOOOO!!”  His eyes were watering, but he didn’t bother to wipe them, instead resting his hand over her for a moment, unsure if she intended to show him something she liked, or if she wanted him to do as he would.

Natalie shivered and moaned again, the sound low and insistent as she listened to his wonderful sneezes.  “Mmmh, bless you, sweetheart,” she whispered.  “Sneeze on me there,” she commanded, using her hand to rub at her pussy, wanting to feel your sneezes in that dark and secret place of hers.  Taking the container from his hand, she set it on the nightstand, then pushed him back against the bed and sat on his chest for a moment, her juices dripping onto his skin.   

He shivered, though it could not be told if was as a result of the cold air, the sneezes, or anticipation.  Trapped beneath her lithe body, he continued to quiver as she took the container and shook the power above his head, and just in front of it, the miniscule white particles floating downward through the air.  As the first few reached his nose, Natalie moved up, sitting on his face, setting the container back on the nightstand, and stroking a hand through his hair.  He began to lick, the blade of his tongue pressing itself between her lips and stroking firmly.  His breath hitched as the first of the tiny particles entered his nose, his tongue leaping along with the breath.

She closed her eyes, her body tensing expectantly at what was to come.  A fine sweat formed on her breasts, the nipples fully erect as she pressed her pussy firmly against his face, rocking her hips ever so slightly.  The beautiful waterfall of her ebony hair was spread about her shoulders and face like silk, and her cheeks were radiantly flushed with desire, a sign of her obvious arousal.  “Justin… Oooh…” she murmured as he slid his tongue inside her pussy, licking and tasting her juices.  She began to rock a little more, her back arching with each stroke of his, listening to his breath hitch as she realized she was very close to reaching orgasm.

Trying to consider deepening his strokes, he felt his breath hitching instead, obviously getting stronger despite his best attempts to suppress the sneezes for as long as he could.  More of the white dust found its way to his nose, being drawn in quickly, just as he expected.  His tongue pulled back into his mouth as he drew in one last deep breath, before his nose seemed to explode.  “Ha-CHOOOO!!  HISSSHUUU!! Hih… Heh… KISSHHUU!!”  By the time he was halfway through sneezing, his nose was practically buried against her clit, staying there for the remainder of the attack and forcing every sneeze through it, every soft but powerful eruption of air and spray being felt.

Shivering, she rubbed her left hip with one hand, her other slipping into his hair once more and stroking it, her breathing rapid and shallow.  “Oooh…ooaaa… Justin…” she moaned as he began to sneeze, her hand a blur on her hip and her other hand grasping his hair strongly, almost painfully.  She reached her orgasm in the middle of his sneezing fit, then bit down hard on her lower lip, gripping his hair even harder as she readied for a second.  “Mmmh, Justin… I’m gonna… cummm… again…” she managed to moan as he continued to sneeze, her body tensing as her juices overflowed into his mouth, drenching his face.  “Mmmmh… oh, goddess… ohh…” she breathed, shuddering from the force.

Justin sniffled as the sneezes ended, then lapped almost hungrily at her juices with a surprisingly dexterous tongue, strong and flexible, doing the best he could to clean off every last drop, and seeming to love every minute of it.  After cleaning her off as much as he could, he wriggled a little, almost smothered by her pussy on top of his face.  She moved ever so slightly, just enough to let him breath and speak.  “I take it you enjoyed that?”

Sliding the rest of the way off of him, she extinguished the candle and curled up against him, spent from her powerful orgasms.  “Mmmh, yes,” she purred, nuzzling against him and drawing comfort and security from his quiet warmth.  “I love you,” she whispered, softly kissing his lips, her eyes closing both from exhaustion and from pleasure, her body still very warm and willing, ready to go all night if he was so inclined.  However, he looked rather sleepy, and so she pulled out of the kiss and smiled.  “Bedtime,” she said with a nod, taking him into her arms and sliding underneath the covers, not letting go of him as she squirmed around a bit.  “Sweet dreams,” she murmured against his neck, smiling to herself as he answered with a light snore, already fast asleep.