Hands Off

Y’all remember Demetri, right? Sorry that you won’t get to read the whole story until I publish it. Which I will. (If I don’t ever, then I’ll post it here.) This short little splurp of a story, entitled “Hands Off,” is mostly between Demetri and a character you haven’t met yet, a girl named Alla. It does contain some things which are spoilers if you haven’t read the whole thing of SoD, but since you haven’t, none of them will make sense anyway and it won’t matter.

Hands Off

A short story of Demetri attempt to get Alla’s attention and failing.

“Hey, Alla,” Demetri called hesitantly. Big chance, bozo, the happy half of his mind said. Don’t blow it again.

Alla wandered over, a bored expression on her face to mask her suspicion. “Yes?”

“Do you believe in angels?” he blurted, smiling mischievously. “Because I think I just saw one.” He hoped he looked and sounded as suave as he felt. It had taken him a month to come up with that line.

Alla’s expression changed almost indiscernibly to her you’re-a-psycho-why-do-I-even-talk-to-you face. “Say what?” Obviously not suave enough.

Demetri felt grateful for the darkness and the firelight as his face flushed red. “Um, forget it,” he mumbled. He scooched over on his log bench. “Come sit?”

“Why?”

He shrugged. “Talk.”

“Why?” Alla could be impossible sometimes.

“Well… we haven’t really talked in a while. And they’re talking.” Demetri gestured at Paul and the three elves on the other side of the fire, laughing and sharing stories.

Alla glanced over at the others, then began nodding. “Okay,” she complied, sitting on the bench, but being sure to leave twelve inches of space between them. “Let’s talk.”

Demetri found himself at a loss here. He’d only planned the one line, nothing after it. So he spit out the first thing that came to mind, which probably wasn’t the smartest move. “So… do you think of Jink often?”

To his credit, he immediately regretted his words. From the way her face hardened, he could tell he’d reopened that wound most unfeelingly. “Yes,” she replied shortly. “Every day. Every minute.” She paused and sighed. “I know it wasn’t my fault, but every day I have this new wave of guilt when I think of every little thing we could have done differently that night, or that I could have done, in the past.” She began talking faster and more frantically. “What if I’d tried to change his mind those four years ago? What if I’d forgiven him earlier? What if I had woken sooner and stopped Arran? What if-”

Demetri cut the distance between them in half and put a hand on her shoulder. “Stop,” he told her. “It is how it is. No matter how much you tell yourself that you could have changed things, you couldn’t have. None of us could. I’m sorry.” This is good, he told himself.

Alla buried her face in her hands. “No, it’s all right. I needed to get that off my chest.” For the first time since they’d begun their talk, she turned to look at him. “Every once in a while I have to vent. I don’t realize I need to until someone says something like you just did. It kind of… opens a door.”

“Or a floodgate,” Demetri added. Alla half smiled and huffed a passable laugh.

“Thanks for opening the floodgate,” she said.

“You can vent to me any time you feel like it,” Demetri told her. He remembered what had happened the first time he’d let her off on a tangeant about Jink. This time seemed to be going the same direction.

Alla rested her chin in her hand and gazed intently into the fire. The flames danced a little lower than before, but they had a whole stack of ruined wood from the shelter project to last them as far into the night as they wanted.

His hand still rested on her shoulder. Thinking of the first moment he’d been close to Alla, Demetri made up his mind. As subtly as he could, he shaved inches off the distance between them from six to five, then to four, then three, two, one… none. He and Alla now sat side by side, just as close as they’d been that night long ago, back in Dreemon.

He waited for a moment to see how she’d react, but she made move to show she’d even noticed. He glanced over at Paul and the elves to see if they noticed anything, but Darr had just finished an account of a prank he’d played on Lianeot years ago, and the four laughed raucously. Paul launched abruptly into the tale of when Demetri had caught his pants on a pot hook while jumping out the inn window in Mahzi.

Though somewhat irritated that Paul had decided to make that particular incident known to the elves, Demetri did his best to ignore them. Slowly and carefully, he eased his arm around Alla’s shoulders without actually touching her. She still made no move. Demetri got the sneaking suspicion that she was listening to Paul’s story. Throwing all caution to the wind, he dropped his arm across her shoulders in a one armed hug.

Alla tensed under his hand. All he thought was, Uh-oh.

Her right hand slapped on top of his, pinning him to her shoulder. Then her left elbow slammed into his gut like a ballistic missile. As he struggled for breath, her fist crashed into his thigh with the force of a hammer. As a finale, her elbow immediately jumped up to his face, bashing him on the chin. She released his hand at the same moment, and he tumbled backward off the log. As he lay on his back and gasped for breath in the cold darkness out of the firelight, the point of a sword materialized in front of his face. He followed the sword up with his eyes until he looked Alla in the face. He gave her his best please-don’t-impale-me look.

“You forgot, Demetri,” she smiled at him, “that I can beat you. Do. Not. Touch. Me.” She shoved her short sword back into its scabbard and returned to her original seat on the log beside Paul and the elves in time to hear the end of the Demetri’s Pants story, where Demetri fell from the pot hook to get a mouthful of dirt. The whole party, minus Demetri, exploded into uncontrollable laughter.

Demetri just sulked behind the log. Another time, he told himself. An idea struck him, and he immediately started planning how many times he could bring up Jink in the next week. After all, he reasoned. I get closer every time.

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