Highwater
Author: Peony Black

Chapter 21
21

"Shh," she uttered between muffled giggles. They stumbled into the backroom, arms wrapped around each other, and Gunn stifled his laughter as he stooped under the low ceiling beans and then lower, to nibble on her ear. 

Ignoring the soiled couch, she pressed her back to the wall, grasping his arm to pull him closer - and then over her, with a sense of emergency that made his toes curl and his breath come faster. Gunn put one palm flat on the rough panel, and pinned her there under his weight. Chipped off paint scratched his fingers, pink-hued from the tacky light that bathed the room, falling oblique on battered furniture and dirty floors. Jangled voices and the occasional drunken cry broke through from the neighbouring room, and the air was heavy with the stench of alcohol and cheap food. But her body under his was melting hot, at once thrilling and comforting, and he sunk into that heat, his free hand running up to touch, all hard and eager. 

"Don't leave marks," she whispered. 

"Your loss." His lips trailed across her neck slowly, teasing. "I am very good at marks, baby." 

She rolled her eyes, pulse fluttering under his lips, head falling back against the wall. "And I'm good with you still breathing, idiot." 

He stroked her hair, dark, wild locks that curled around his fingers like they had a mind of their own, thinking he was good with that, also, and especially right now. 

"Hey, he's welcome to try." 

"It's not funny," she said, with a scowl. 

Gunn put his head in the crook of her neck. 

"Not meant to." Frustration he'd held back for too long returned for another cruel bite. It had been fun at first, the chase, the thrill of hiding and the taste of the forbidden fruit. But he'd grown tired of stolen moments and clandestine meetings, now that he couldn't get her out of his mid. He traced the line of her jaw with his mouth, feeling restless, out of his skin with the burst of nervous energy that prompted him to break bones and spill blood if it was what it took to claim this woman as his for the world to see. 

I'm falling for youhe thoughtInstead, he said, 

"Let's go back in there and tell him." 

He felt her tremble and then freeze in his arms. 

"Stop it." 

Bitterness flooded him, streaming from anger and jealousy. "If you want him so much, then why do you always come back to me?" 

"Don't talk stupid, Skylight." Usually, Mara's English was good, but now her accent got through, melodious and more than a little intimidating, matching the scowl on her pretty face. She pushed him away suddenly, broke from the wall with unexpected force, angry flames dancing in her dark irises. 

"There is no always for you and me." 

He registered soft pressure, warm and a bit uncertain, a faint taste of oranges tingling on his lips, cold fingers resting below his ear, a tentative touch on his cheek. And then, nothing. He blinked against blue light, and released a shaky, shallow breath. He couldn't tell when in hell he'd closed his eyes; but he was met by wide, grey ones, their metallic shine piercing like bullets as she slowly pulled away from him. 

"Stupid idea, Brighton." 

The room collapsed into static silence. She kept gazing at him in the dim light, and returned a wry smile that denied the faint blush to her cheeks. 

"Self-destructive." 

He shook his head, feeling suddenly guilty, since he'd flirted with her just moments ago, there was no denying it; and embarrassed, for feeling anything at all. 

"You're not." 

"I still mean you, Gunn." 

She slid further back, putting more distance between them, and curled her legs under her body with the graceful calm of a cat perching on a window sill. He was forced to shift in place to face her, a position that put him at disadvantage. He suspected she knew it, too, but couldn't imagine what if anything she was hoping to gain here. Maybe, back in the beginning. Seduction was, after all, as good a mean as any other to convert an enemy to fight for your side. She hadn't attempted to use it, though, and he'd already agreed, hadn't he? So, then, this, however deliberate, was real. Whatever it was. 

A range of indistinct emotions flickered across her face, there one second and gone the next, but Gunn didn't bother trying to decipher them, because she was able to speak – goddamn it, she was in fact overqualified. He inhaled sharply, painfully aware of the contrast with the quiet rhythm of her breathing. "Explain." 

She splayed her fingers in front of him and held one up, counting. "First," she stated firmly, "you intend to get on the helo tomorrow, or die trying. No in-betweens." 

He shrugged. He couldn't exactly contradict her, for all that, to him, it was more a matter of self-preservation. "I'm not about to argue the point." 

"How very nice of you. And unusual. But thanks anyway." Her wry smile widened, and she held up another finger. "Second, the oranges. Who on earth even asks for food they actually hate? And third-" She tilted her head, weighting him with a focused, absorbed expression, like an opponent on a battlefield. "Stupid was never a deal-breaker for you." 

True; but he'd kind of hoped it might be a deal-breaker for her. "So, what is it, then? A pity thing?" He chuckled bitterly, and shook his head. "I might die tomorrow, but it's OK, because it's for the mission, and today you'll just kiss it better?" A terrible thought kicked the breath out of him. "Or a daddy thing? Not done playing with his toys yet?" 

"Or maybe you're being an idiot right now and I just don't want to be alone tonight." 

He shook his head. That he could understand, the need for company before action; but she didn't know him, not really. Did she look at him and saw the wronged war hero? He was a soldier. He shot. He bombed. He killed. Sometimes, he enjoyed it. She'd get to see tomorrow just how good he'd gotten at his job, and he knew enough about her by now to realize she'd hate it – hate himjust like Mara had by the end.

She bit her lips and drummed her fingers against the couch. 

"You know, daddy's toys may simply say no if they're all that uninterested." 

He met her words with surprise and resentment, which Gunn was sure showed plainly on his face. "That's exactly what I said." 

Amusement flickered in the grey irises. "Oh, did you?" 

God damn this woman! He clenched his jaw, his frustration raising and falling like the tide, and leaned forward, fully intent on answering her. She steadfastly held his eyes, and her sinful pink lips curled into a challenging smile. His hand closed of its own accord around her wrist. As always, her fingers were cold, but alive nonetheless, throbbing with the inflow of blood under soft, white skin. His anger suddenly evaporated, replaced with something else, that he couldn't name and that settled deep in his bone, like an ache. He might die tomorrow. They all might. 

I just don't want to be alone tonight. 

"It really is a bad idea, Brighton." 

She shook her head slowly. "I really don't care right now, Gunn." 

He wound his arm around her neck and crashed their mouths together. It was the wrong kind of kiss, like answering a question with another, and also the right kind, lips and tongue and teeth that desperately searched for him. 

"My room?" she breathed against his lips. 

He'd known he was done for, the moment she'd stepped foot into the camp. This was long overdue. Tightening his grip of her wrist, he bolted up right, and rushed them both out of the living room and up the stairs. He was familiar with the way his stomach fluttered and his heart pounded in his ears. This felt just like an ambush, just like back when he was running for his life.   

 

 

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