Kaching! After much work, I have finally completed another one-shot!!! Huzzah!
Title: Counting Kisses
Fandom: Kiesha'ra series by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
Pairing: Urban/Marus (obviously)
Beta-ed bybrevityofwit. Many thanks!
“You are entitled to two kisses a day.”
I gaped at his declaration open mouthed and then laughed loudly with a tinge of unease. I reached for Marus, but he scooted away. It was going to be one of those days, I could tell. If I pushed it, I would end up on the couch—metaphorically speaking. I really would rather curl up with Marus than sleep with the other serpiente. There was just something about sleeping with Marus and Marus only. That this body was mine and mine alone. But clearly this was not going to be one of those nights where I could not begin to tell where I started and he ended.
“I kid you not.” Marus’ lush lips did not even curl into a tuck away smile.
“That’s crazy! You can’t expect me to survive with only two kisses a day! That’s unfair.” I positively pouted.
“I am being lenient. In avian society, a mated bond only shares a single kiss. On the hand.”
“Don’t I get a voice in this?”
Despite what Marus said, I began to haggle like I did with the turnip dealer. I always managed to get the extra turnip. “Ten kisses, at least. If I don’t get ten kisses a day, we serpentine will explode. Fragile creatures, we are.”
“Three kisses, and that is not true.”
“Eight kisses, and how would you know?”
“Four kisses, because it is simply illogical to die from the lack of mouth to mouth contact.”
“Five kisses, and I love you.”
“Four and a half—” A kiss full on the mouth stopped Marus from finishing.
“My dear, I think I just proved to you that I don’t do half-assed kisses.”
“Does this include nightly activities?”
I got a playful shove for that, and then Marus began to tuck into bed.
“So does it?”
I didn’t get an answer for that. It was then that I began to worry just a little.
The next morning, I woke to the full force of sunshine and immediately smothered my face into the cozy space where shoulder meets neck. My hiding place shifted to better accompany me and a hand came to rest reverently on the back of my head. I hummed in contentment.
“Good morning,” said a voice husky with sleep.
“G’m’rning.” I grumbled a guttural reply and my head lifted up to meet the soft, beautiful face of my love awash with sunlight. His hair was ruffled like feathers fluttering in flight. My heart immediately went to mush, and I knew my eyes reflected the light feeling in Marus’ eyes.
I hummed and stretched up to close the distance between us in a chaste and sweet kiss, feeling rather than seeing the smile on Marus’ lips.
“That is one out of five for today.”
I balked and jolted back. “You were serious?”
“Of course I was.” He said gravely, extracting from my octopus hold to hide the smile I saw worming its way onto his expression.
“We had this discussion yesterday, Urban.” He light-heartedly reprimanded me, leaning over a washing bowl to splash water on his face.
“I don’t remember agreeing to anything.”
“You did,” he looked at me pointedly, though I didn’t pay any attention to that. You can’t exactly blame me—Marus was stripping out of his sleeping ware. “Five kisses, remember? And I am going out to the market today to purchase some more herbs for Thalia to prepare for the upcoming festival. Is there anything you would like me to get?”
“How about hugs? Are you telling me I have to go without hugging my mate?” I asked.
Marus rolled his eyes and finished dressing. He looked like he was about to come over and give me the usual goodbye kiss but halted. Then with a fierce look of resolve that made me fall in love with him all the more, he exited onto the balcony. I waited for the heavy flap of wings and the gush of air that signalled his departure before sinking into the bountiful bedding and pillows. I felt distinctly winded by how fast the situation went out of my hands.
A smile slowly made its way onto my face. If five kisses were all I get, then five kisses it will be.
I bounced towards Marus as he ducked behind the heavy curtains separating the room the dancers practiced in from the common room in which we gathered for day meals. I grinned at his adorable antics as he fussed with his short black locks, tussled from his flight, trying to make them neat and tidy.
“I just saw Thalia, and she sent me to get you. Something about turnips?”
Clearly everyone had heard about my prowess with haggling. I was about to tell Marus this when I noticed the tension in his jaw line and the tightness in the corner of his eyes.
“Are you alright?” I asked lowly.
“Of course I am.” Damn that avian reserve! Obviously, something was wrong. Why must he hide his problems from me? As usual, Marus was able to read whatever I was feeling. This time it was frustration and hurt. His eyes flickered quickly to the left and with a tilt of his head, I understood that he wanted us leave the other dancers to talk in private.
As we entered the empty common room, Marus shifted almost unnoticeably closer to me. I clasped a cool hand to cup the bare skin of his shoulder, seeing the goose bumps rise on his arms. The heat of the weather combined with the naturally well-insulated nest made it uncomfortable for his avian body, so he took to wearing the white garment which made him especially fetching. It was loose and sleeveless with two long slits at the back to allow wing mobility.
He began to speak. “I ran into my mother at the market.”
“Your mother doesn’t usually shop in this district,” I said suspiciously. Most of the vendors near the nest were serpentine.
“I know that. I believe it to be one of those staged accidental-meetings, so my mother would not be accused of looking for her son.”
“Did you talk with her?”
“That’s great, Marus!” I grinned and ruffled his hair, making it untidy again.
“You would think so,” Marus tried to scowl at me, but ended up giving me a small, amused smile. “You go to great lengths to seek an audience with my parents. I remember that time you brought flowers to their doorstep....”
“Well, I have to get to know the in-laws sometime.” I trailed my hand from his shoulder to gently grasp his elbow, drawing him closer. “Tell me, what did you talk about?”
He bit his bottom lip and avoided eye contact with me. It made me want to kiss him.
‘Touch him, touch him, touch him’ part of me urged. ‘Careful, careful, careful’ the other warned. So instead, my fingertips brushed the barest of touches on his cheek. “You can tell me.”
“She asked me to return. That my father missed me. That my friends missed me.”
I felt vaguely guilty—guilty for something I could not control and could not change, try as though I might. But I sensed that this wasn’t everything she said.
“She informed me how—” he struggled for the correct word, “How un-avian-like I am behaving.” Typically I would have teased him about his word choice, but this time I pressed my lips shut to hear his story. “In less sophisticated societies, what my mother means is that I am going against my very nature to dorm with snakes.”
“You’re doing a little bit more than dorm with a snake.” I teased to hide my worry, although I couldn’t resist adding the leer.
He jabbed his elbow in my ribs, then continued as if I hadn’t spoken, “But I believe that I can be avian-like with avian traditions and still be with the serpiente, with you. That our cultures can mesh together somehow, and we can live together.”
“You’ve given this some thought, haven’t you, Marus?” This had to be some kind of arrangement that involved making Oliza proud. Honestly, if Oliza weren’t already happily mated, I would have been paranoid and jealous.
“I have. This meeting with my mother has only solidified my beliefs.”
I narrowed my eyes, the hold on his elbow tightening, “Your beliefs are what brought on the accursed Five Kiss Rule? What are you saying, Marus. Are you saying that you believe I’m a bad kisser?”
In all seriousness he said, “Well no,” I noticed he didn’t specify what he was saying ‘no’ to. “But if it is too much work, we can, of course, go with the other tradition. We can find worms and prepare a real feast in the morrow. In fact, I know of the perfect place just a little ways off Ah’nova Hill.”
Finally breaking into a smile, he kissed closed my gaping mouth.
“That is your second kiss for today.” He guffawed cutely as he stepped back. “Thalia is waiting for you in the kitchens. I will see you later.”
“This was about the crack I made about ‘the early bird gets the worm’, isn’t it?” I shouted to his retreating back.
This was a perfect opportunity.
Marus was talking quietly with Shania, a gentle garter snake, politely giving her all of his attention. Shania was the niece of the cook, Thalia, so I assumed they were talking about the festival’s feast.
As I crept up behind Marus, Shania saw me. The shift in her eyes made Marus start to turn around, but it was already too late. For I, with all my stealth, had enveloped Marus in my embrace. I took minor amusement in the startled jump of his shoulders, but my satisfaction lied within the realization of who held him and then the trusting relaxation. Living under the avian society had drilled Marus into believing that contact was the enemy, but I was his mate and that allowed me special privileges.
“Marus,” I rumbled leaning to whisper in his ear, “I ache for you.”
Predictably, Marus’ face flamed and he twisted his neck around to look back at me. “Urban, you just saw me naught but an hour ago!”
“I know, but I want a kiss from you! Didn’t you miss me?”
“You smell of turnips, and you are embarrassing me in front of Sha—” But she had already slithered away. I’d have to remember to get a little present for Shania the next time I went out.
“Looks like it’s just you and me, Marus.” I pressed closer so my chest pressed snugly against his back. My arms rested comfortably around his waist, leaving his hands free to cautiously touch the back of my own.
He tilted his head to the side, probably to look at me better, but I took it as an invitation to lay peppering kisses on his neck.
“Hey,” he protested, one hand coming to land on the back of my head either as a warning or a plea for me to stay. “This is a violation of our five kiss deal.”
“But you never specified if those kisses included non-mouth-to-mouth contact. I’m just reading between the lines.”
“You mean taking advantage of loopholes.”
There was something vastly erotic about Marus’ neck, bare and vulnerable for an easy predator to take a tasty bite.
“Quit slobbering all over me,” he complained as I lay a mark on a juncture near his collarbone.
“Mmm, but you are so tasty.” My hands drew easy circles on his abdomen and his mouth parted just a little and I closed the distance. I loved it when Marus was so soft and compliant. I rocked us soothingly from side to side and licked his lower lip once to end the kiss.
“Love you,” I said, and he smiled.
Dinner was delicious as usual. I enjoyed feasting on the delight of Marus’ face when Maenir, an especially renowned picky eater, complimented Marus on the dish he had prepared. Not a dancer—Marus was learning to become an exceptional chef under the aging cook.
When he caught my bright smile, he blushed looking puzzled and then raised an eyebrow in my direction. I shook my head to dismiss his concern. “What’s for dessert?”
“I think Thalia might have prepared a chocolate pastry, though I am not sure.” His eyes glazed over at the thought of her pastry, and it was worthy of a little drool. “What would you like to eat? I can try to prepare it for you tomorrow,” he offered with an inviting smile. He looked particularly alluring with the candlelight casting shadows on his face from where he sat on the mat.
I placed down my eating utensils and leaned to whisper in his ear. “Are you on the menu?”
My eyes dared him, Go on. Kiss me. Kiss me right here where everyone in the room can see.
And if you really knew my Marus, you’d know that he would never back down from a challenge. With eyes narrowed in a look that could have been intense concentration or desire, he leaned forward so his hands where on the ground next to my hips, bracketing around me. When he opened his mouth mere centimetres from mine, I could smell the honeyed chicken, sweet on his breath. He lingered just hair breaths away, heightening my desire before he crashed down upon me in a sea of soft and wet.
I was absently aware of the other serpiente like I would be aware of a fly buzzing in my peripheral vision—unwanted and unimportant. The kiss was heavy, thoroughly passionate as if I were the one on the menu being devotedly devoured.
I kissed back so it wouldn’t be like kissing a dead fish, but I mostly let my breath be taken away. Then, someone cleared their throat and said with amusement, “Boys, I have your dessert.”
Immediately after Thalia spoke, my fellow dancers hooted and wolf-whistled enthusiastically. A few propositioned Marus. Some complimented me on my fine catch—as if I didn’t already know that.
Marus jumped away as if he had been shot by a poisoned arrow and looked guiltily at the cook. “Thank you, Thalia.” He bluntly did not acknowledge the leering grins. Despite the interruption, I quite liked my fourth kiss.
“To smooch, to pucker up, to osculate, to make out, to peck—that one should appeal to your bird-ish-nesses—to touch one’s lips to another...”
“Urban.” Marus finally looked up from his book. “We filled our quota of five kisses already.”
“I know that, obviously.” I harrumphed for good measure. The look on Marus’ face had been so relaxed, as if he were basking in the simple motions of folding the melos I left on the bed, and I just kissed him right there. I had wasted my last kiss! Well, not wasted, per say. Kissing Marus would never be wasted, but I had planned that kiss to be so adoring, fervent, and good that Marus would obliterate the stupid Rule. But nooo, Marus just had to smile at me and—
“No need to get all hissy at me, snake.”
“Oh haha, that’s a good one. I’ve never heard of that one before. Hissy. You could be one of those bards that come during the spring, really you should, with all your wit and charm.”
“You know, by the way you are going you are not going to get a—what did you call it? A peck?”
“As if I’d want one from you.” Marus was right. I’m so not getting kissed tonight. Forget getting kissed, I’m not even going to be sleeping in the same cot!
But Marus was looking at me with those amused, sardonic eyes so it couldn’t be that bad. “Come here,” He beckoned and put away his book. I sunk in the bed space beside him.
“Come closer,” I hurriedly shuffled into his open arms, ear conveniently pressed over his heart. It was very, very rare that Marus would voice out his desire for contact. “You got particularly prickly, just now. Usually you take my taunts with a little more grace than that.”
He paused, looking at me thoughtfully. Whatever he found in my face made him sigh and put his cheek against the top of my head, “I apologize, Urban. I hope you are not too cross with me. I should have known that kissing was an important part of who you are and your way of life. It was wrong of me to deny that of you for my own selfish purposes.”
“It wasn’t selfish!” I interrupted, though a part of me agreed.
Marus looked at me knowingly.
I continued, “You live in the nest! You tried to dance. The least I can do is try one of your avian traditions.” I mentally berated myself for supporting the Rule, but Marus looked so sorry and guilty.
Marus shook his head as if denying something, and then quite unsuspectingly gave me a peck on the cheek. My hand shot up to touch the spot, and I lay still and silent as he kissed my other cheek, my forehead, my nose and then just as reverently pressed our lips together.
“We’re one kiss over.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
Marus just kissed me again.