Buffalo Run rose and he, too, was naked. He was completely without body hair, except for his armpits and his groin, so I could see every muscle ripple as he stretched and walked toward us. Since he had looked me over thoroughly, I did the same to him and smiled as his cock rose.
The sound of a sharp intake of breath alerted me that Niklas, at least, was also awake, and enjoying looking at the chief’s body. Buffalo Run heard it, too, and gave him a full frontal view. Niklas turned to Ronus, and his lover smiled and nodded. Butter Voice stood and walked into Buffalo Run, taking his chin between thumb and forefinger and tilting his face up for a kiss. The approach was slow — the chief had plenty of time to pull back if he’d wanted to. Their lips touched for an instant; Niklas gave him another unused chance to step away. After a few moments, his arms came up and he encircled my husband, pulling him so close I wondered why they remained two separate beings. I could hear Niklas murmuring into the chief’s mouth. The chief slid his hands to Niklas’ ass and squeezed hard enough to blanch the flesh.
Ronus, I asked, this doesn’t hurt you?
No, Marie-Celeste. He asked first. It seems the chief needs to fuck one of us.
He … he asked you, not just that glance and nod?
Yes, of course. Why —? Oh. He did not ask you.
No. No, he didn’t and the only reason the chief and I aren’t fucking our eyeballs out is because I wouldn’t without asking him first.
I sensed Ronus’ attention shifting to Niklas, and halted him. No, don’t. It makes no difference now. The hurt doesn’t come from them fucking, but from knowing he loves you enough to ask and me not nearly as much, maybe not at all.
He knew you would not deny him.
Perhaps. But I suspect there is more to it. He is falling out of love with me, Ronus.
Niklas and Buffalo Run had taken it to the bedroll and were exploring each other, groaning and panting with desire. I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch, but had nowhere to go.
Ronus came to me, shifting to move silently and then shifting back, since Snows at Night’s attention was completely on the two men. “Let me love you,” Ronus whispered in my ear as he nuzzled my neck.
I turned to him for a kiss, but pulled away after a moment. “No. Thank you, but no. I need my clothes, to dress and walk outside, away from here.”
Ronus reached behind us for the pannier I hadn’t noticed, the one that had our clothing near the top. I pulled a blouse and riding skirt out along with a pair of stockings and garters. Screw underwear; fuck propriety. I needed to get out.
I’ve never hated button-up shoes as much as I did sitting there working the hook through the holes, but finally I was dressed, and the men were just getting to the serious part of fucking. I walked around the other side of the tipi, close to the exterior, and stepped through the entrance. Ronus was right behind me.
“You don’t have to comfort me.”
“I am not. I am shielding you. We do not know what someone may decide to do.”
I nodded. “All right, I accept that. Come, walk with me.”
We’d gone only a few steps when Snows at Night joined us. “You do not speak the language well enough to go about alone,” she said. “Though I do not mean you do not speak it well.”
I smiled. “I know what you’re saying, my dear. It’s all right. Thank you for coming along. I just need to walk around a bit.”
She cocked a brow at me. “You know I know that is not all of it. You are hurting because our men are at each other.”
I shook my head. “No, not really.” I sighed. She deserved an explanation since it was her husband in there fucking mine. “It’s not that. It’s that Niklas asked Ronus if he minded that, and didn’t ask me.”
Damn. My eyes were filling up. I cursed my own stupidity for crying over it, but I simply could not stop. Snows at Night took hold of my arm and pulled me to a quiet spot, where there were a few logs pulled around the remnants of a fire. People had obviously sat here and cooked or talked. She tugged me down to sit beside her and said softly. “Do not show tears. It is not our way, and you must not let the others think you are weak.”
I nodded and shut the hurt off, stuffed it back into a dark room and pulled the door firmly to. Ronus leaned in and ran his fingers under my eyes, drying the tears that had spilled.
“Can you talk without crying, my Marie-Celeste?”
“I don’t think there’s anything to talk about, Ronus. He’s falling out of love with me. You know it as well as I do.”
I wanted for him to deny it. And waited. I squeezed my eyes tight shut. Just stop it, you stupid sniveling bitch! Don’t you dare cry!
After a few more well-deserved curses at myself, I took a deep breath and opened my eyes again. “Well, Snows at Night, what are the plans for breakfast? Do we need to be starting a fire?”
“There is Cheyenne blood in you. Why did you not say?” She laid a hand on my arm as she spoke.
I shook my head. “No, not Cheyenne. My ancestors were strong, but not Cheyenne.”
“But you are Cheyenne, whether the blood is in you or not. You are no longer Marie-Celeste, though the sounds of that are pleasing. You are White Woman Sees.”
Among the Choctaw and Cherokee, names are very significant, and being given a new name is a mark of a change, a transition from one thing to another. I sensed it was the same for the Cheyenne, perhaps for all Indians. “This is my name. May I wear it well.” I smiled at her and cupped her cheek.
She closed her eyes and shivered almost imperceptibly. Ronus raised an eyebrow and said through our link, It would seem the chief is not the only one who desires you.
I raised an eyebrow and opened the link to Snows at Night. You are beautiful, Snows at Night. I would like to kiss you.
She opened her eyes into mine and whispered, “Take me to your blanket.”
I shook my head. “Not when those two are using it. When I make love to you, it will be for us alone, and not to share with our — with the men.” I tried lying to myself that it didn’t hurt, knowing he wasn’t ‘my man’ anymore. I know me too well to believe my lies, though. Still, I wouldn’t let myself cry.
Snows at Night mirrored my cupping of her cheek and that time, it was I who shivered.
We’d finished breakfast — a simple sort of cornmeal porridge brought to us by some young women — before the men left the tipi, looking relaxed and at ease. When Niklas’ eyes fell on Ronus, he smiled broadly. And that smile vanished when he saw me. The bloom was definitely off the rose.
Ronus smiled back at Niklas for a moment and then reached for my hand. “I love you, Marie-Celeste.”
I pulled away. “Don’t, Ronus. Don’t ruin what you have with him. It’s not worth it.”
“It will work —”
“Do not disobey your Mistress, Sciath.” It was the only defense I had against the looming darkness that threatened to swallow me whole, though it felt like a slap in the face to both of us. I could almost see Ronus’ cheek turning red with the imprint of my hand. But I couldn’t let the love they had be destroyed. They needed each other, I told myself.
Perhaps that was it. Perhaps it was simply that I needed to believe that love still existed, somewhere, for someone, even if not for me. Now more than ever, I understood the shelter of the Great Rule, the protection it was and not the restriction it had seemed to be. I’d known at one level before, but now … stars above, now I knew it all the way into myself, through me, out the other side.
And so I never would again. My heart was my own, as it should be. As it should have always been. Those around me were things. Weapons, perhaps. Or simply tools to further my goals. To bring me pleasure. My heart was locked away, deep in a vault far beneath the layers of every moment of more than four hundred years of life.
“Excuse me, please,” I said as Buffalo Run and Niklas walked in our direction. “I’d like to go for a walk.” Snows at Night stood. “Alone.”
I could see the surprise and hurt in her. I didn’t care. I had to think, to determine how this changed my plans and what use these tools were to me now. If no use at all, I’d leave and if they objected, I’d … remove them.
I turned in the direction the horses had been taken, located Reviens with my mind and then turned back, moving off in the opposite direction. If I decided that was the best course of action, I would take a few twists and turns and then call her to me. We’d be gone before anyone could stop us.
I don’t know whether I was pleased or disappointed that no one followed me. I don’t know that I felt anything at all for a considerable period of time. I was only vaguely aware of the activity around me, the breaking of camp.
When I returned to awareness of the world, I was alone, sitting on a boulder. The Cheyenne were moving out. I knew without looking that Niklas and Ronus were going with them. Perhaps voluntarily, more likely as captives. Ronus at least would have wanted to bid me farewell.
I shrugged. There was nothing I could do to free them. Or nothing I could do that I actually wanted to do, nothing that would be worth the effort. Love? I didn’t know the meaning of the word. It was sounds in the mouth, squiggles on paper to me, touching nothing in the real world, as meaningless as a pile of bird guano.
Not even their desertion touched me now. I was alone. I was impervious. I was the Master’s assassin. I was Marie-Celeste Teresa Duquesne. Johansen, a part of me screamed, but I throttled it thoroughly, stood over it until its tongue bulged and turned black below its protruding eyes, and then cast it from me, a lifeless husk. I’d returned to who I’d been, who I’d always been meant to be.
May god have mercy on my soul.