Chapter 4, part 3

In which dancing with Marie becomes more than Naj had bargained for.

“If I stay like this, I’ll fall asleep again.” Marie pushed herself up to her elbows and knees, finally sitting up to stretch her back out. “I liked the dance though, it was very relaxing.” She grinned. “Mine’s a bit more… Energetic.”


He sat up as well, bunching at the stomach. His senses may be sloppy, but he was pleased to see his muscles at least were still in top form. An energetic dance would be just the thing.

“Yeah, it’s more traditional for burlesque.” She laced her fingers overhead as she grinned. “It plays on the reversal of roles—all I really need is someone to play off of, so your part will be pretty easy.”

She bounced to her feet. “But I’ll need music and a chair.”

Naj blinked, absolutely bewildered. “A chair?”

But Marie was already off, leaving Naj to his imagination. He could recall several acts with props, but nothing in particular. The memories of his serpent were somewhat difficult to understand.

She grabbed a chair from the main floor, nimbly carrying it up the steps back to the stage. She placed it in the middle, then bounded over towards one of the back curtains. “I’ll need music for this one,” she explained. “It’s all based on a particular song.”

As she fiddled with the controls, she kept explaining a bit about what she was doing. “All the recorded music is controlled here, usually Travis works it, but if we need specialty lighting for an act, then he’ll do that up in the rafters and someone else will take over the soundboard.” She laughed. “I don’t really know much about it other than how to cue up songs.”

Marie held up the small remote control as she came back. “But this thing’s handy if you need to work the music for practice and you’re the only one on the stage.”

Ah. Travis was the wolf from the night before, if his memory served. Which it seldom did, but never mind that. Naj was more concerned with her explanations of the musical devices. He eyed the little box she was offering, stepping up close so he could see.

“And what is this?” he asked, peering down his nose curiously.

“The remote control.” She offered it to him when he seemed interested in it. “This way you can hit play or pause, restart the song if you need to without having to go back to the control panel every time.”

The triangles and bars she pointed out were strangely familiar, but off. He doubted the “play” and “pause” were at all related to the pri’mn letters they resembled, but it still made him feel at home. He’d make a study of them later, but for now he handed the remote back to Marie.

“It’s seems quite useful, I’ll have to remember it.”

“Yep.” The way he studied it was a bit odd, but she figured he probably just wasn’t familiar with it. “If you ever have problems figuring out the soundboard or remote, feel free to ask. Most of us know how to work it, at least enough to help.” She offered a reassuring grin, remembering the first time she’d tried to work the soundboard. She’d managed to unplug the whole thing on accident.

He returned her smile, clasping her hands in his. “Thank you. Again. For everything.” He wished she could feel the gratitude pulsing off of him. He would just have to hope his words were enough.

Maleo tensed when the reptile grabbed her hand, but forced himself to remain still. Wait, he just had to wait…

Marie giggled, then threw her arms around him to hug him. “You’re welcome.” She was glad he was happy. It always made her happy when someone she cared about was happy.

She pulled back, wrinkling her nose in mirth. “Ready to get started?”

Waiting was so much harder when she gave him heart attacks like that. To throw her arms around that snake, to expose herself like that…

How was he going to be able to protect her? All he could see was the glint of fang, rearing back, that rasping, hissing laughter…

It was a physical relief when she pulled away again.

It was impossible for Seth to shield the waves of intense emotion without absorbing some of them himself. The fear, the panic, the impatience—there was too much to simply block or deflect. If he hadn’t been too incensed by the negativity to even think, Seth would have reconsidered the possibility of the source being avian. No self-respecting bird would ever let themselves go quite to this degree. But Seth was too overcome for such idle thoughts. All of his attention was on holding the buffer keeping the hostile energies out, and the friendly energies blossoming between Naj and his fox friend in.

Marie’s answering emotions let him know she heard him loud and clear. Naj’s joy reflected her own, each building on the other, as it should. He was more than ready to dance with her, and let their bodies join the connection their hearts were already wrapped in.

“Yes, please. I’ll follow your lead?”

“Alright!” She pulled him over to the chair, pushing him slightly so he’d sit. “Your part’s pretty easy to start with, all you have to do is sit. Usually how this starts is that you’d be in the audience and I’d pull you up here with me – kinda like picking a volunteer for the part, gives the audience a sense of participation.”

She laughed again. “Usually Ro plays this part, but we don’t do it too often because otherwise it gets really obvious that it’s all rehearsed. Sometimes Mal sits in, but he gets too caught up in the dance to play it right.”

In the shadows, Mal scowled. He hoped the piece she was referring to wasn’t the one he was thinking of. He had a hard enough time watching her perform with Rowan, at least he knew that Rowan was too timid to follow through with Marie.

He couldn’t imagine how it would hurt to watch her perform it with this snake. Part of him whispered that he should just walk away, but he couldn’t stand leaving her alone with the reptile. As painful as watching them would be, he just knew that something would happen if he turned away.

Naj didn’t quite follow the volunteer idea, but he did understand that mastering this dance would give them another face to work with, so he was eager to learn. And with how simple Marie made it sound… Naj bounced in the chair, thrilled at the idea of being useful so quickly.

“Sounds like the perfect introductory piece to me—just let me know what you need from me”

A thought occurred to her—when he’d taught her his dance, she’d had a chance to watch him first. “I could start with just the empty chair, to give you an idea of how the piece looks at the beginning, if you like?”

As eager as Naj was to dance, the idea of having a chance to simply study appealed to him even more.

“Yes please—if you don’t mind.”

He’d jumped half out of the chair before realizing he might be making more work for her. Naj hovered, half-sitting, waiting for her cue.

She grinned and waved a hand to let him know that he could stand towards the front. “Okay, the best view will probably be in front—that way you’ll see what the audience sees when we’re dancing.”

He rushed to obey, as much out of excitement as old habits. The stiff, at attention posture was mostly due to the latter. Seth rolled his eyes– they’d have a lot of work to do to break Naj of such things, but he was more concerned with the tinge of dread that was coloring the bird’s rage. Whatever was about to happen, it might be the tipping point.

She took her place behind the chair, hands behind her back and feet apart. Despite her giddy excitement, years of practice kept her body relaxed and ready to move. Marie clicked the controller and slipped it into the band of her pants. The music to “Can’t Fight the Moonlight” started and her right leg beat out the first two drum beats. The second two beats she turned halfway around the chair and tapped them out with her other leg, into view of the participant. As the lyrics started, her body undulated with the melody, letting her form trail down the side of the chair and follow the beat around, dancing and undulating around the base of the chair before rising in a wave up the other side. The goal was to essentially frame the ‘volunteer’, to make the dance about them, but keep the action all within her.

Her hands trailed the top of the chair, then down the arms of the invisible participant. She circled back around the chair, using her trailing right arm to draw the invisible dancer to their feet. Marie moved against their bodies together in a line, then moved again as if the person had backed away. She twirled around the chair for the chorus, as if she were chasing the person leisurely, occasionally beckoning her arms and moving her body as if she were enticing and capturing the reluctant volunteer.

As the music geared up to finish the chorus, she kicked the chair back and out of the dance, leaving the person nothing to hide behind for the second verse. This time the verse consisted mostly of her pulling the person closer and surrounding them while letting her pelvis draw small circles within a larger circle, deliberately pressing in and away from her partner. As she made her way back to the start of her circle, she swayed downward, looking up at the other dancer as she traced a hand back up and followed it to entangle both around their neck.

Here she stumbled, as if the other dancer had darted back out of her reach. She started forward again determinedly, this time swaying her hips more definitively and tilting her chest out more, pausing only give a more obvious hip gyration when the singer mentioned ‘rhythm so right’. As she seduced harder for the start of this chorus, she ran the last couple of steps and obviously mimed pulling someone back towards the center of the stage.

This time for the chorus, she placed her hands on their face and trailed her hands downward, following their progress with body undulations, then using their hips/waist to pull herself around them. One hand trailed back around to the chest of the invisible dancer at the song’s mention of a heart and she spun them around to face her. This time as she slid down, her hands rose behind her own neck and here she paused both the music and her motion.

“Aaand now we’ve hit the point where I need a visible and solid partner, because the next part involves them trying to get away again, but this time I draw them back by the sash I tied around their waist.”

Well. He’d been told to expect more energy, but something about Marie was just so childlike—not just her size, but her entire demeanor—he simply hadn’t been ready for something so very adult. He’d been so caught off guard, he’d forgotten he’d meant to be studying for his role as her partner.

She straightened and fetched the chair to put it back into place. “Your parts are pretty simple, in the beginning, just sit with your hands on your knees, let me pull you up when I tug on your arm and then just stand there—he idea is that you’re uncomfortable with the attention, so your arms will be loose at your sides. As I approach, you back away, just keep circling the chair until the music swells and I kick the chair out of the way. Hold still again and I’ll dance around you, finally drawing my arms around your neck and leaning in as if for a kiss—that’s your cue to duck your head out of my arms and back pedal, just keep backing up until I start pursuing, then freeze like you don’t know where to escape to. I’ll drag you back and dance in a circle again, but this time I’ll spin you around once I’ve tied us together. We’ll stop there and then I can show you what’s supposed to come next, alright?”

Mal clenched his hands into fists and willed himself to stay still. He had to stay to make sure she was safe. Soon others would be awake and then he told himself he could go for another flight since the snake wouldn’t be so stupid as to try something with a house full of people watching him. Even if they didn’t see the inherent danger, they wouldn’t allow anything to happen to her. No, the danger lie when they allowed the pair of them to be alone like this. That was when Maleo needed to be his most vigilant.

Naj swallowed and nodded, unsure of himself. It’s not that he’d never seen a seductive dance before, but this… There wasn’t anything wrong with it exactly, he just… He just couldn’t seem to think of Marie that way. He’d watched human culture fluctuate back and forth between promiscuous and prude, the modern era seemed to be all about pushing boundaries. Still, if this was the current norm…Besides, his role was to be somewhat uncomfortable, wasn’t it? He certainly hoped so, because no matter how he tried to relax, his spine stayed ramrod straight against the back of the chair, waiting for his impending dance.

Seth was at his wit’s end. Between the bird and Naj’s sudden attack of propriety—was he a serpent or wasn’t he—and now having to just sit and wait as part of a dance? He couldn’t handle any more inactivity. But the bird seemed quite content with not acting, so Seth retreated, pushing some of his pent up ki’n at Naj and leaving the reluctant serpent to his more harmless huntress. He’d had enough of Naj’s cold feet—the only way to warm them up was to dance. But Seth himself desperately needed to cool down, before he did something unfortunate. He’d keep an eye on Naj, but Seth couldn’t keep allowing the emotional heat to consume him. For the first time in too many days—weeks? Gods he was as bad as Naj—Seth allowed himself to sleep.

Marie grinned as he agreed, then pushed him into the chair she’d repositioned. She stepped back, then moved his hands to his knees. “Alright, just follow my lead and remember when I get close this first time, you back away, just keep circling the chair ‘til I kick it away from us and then I’ll put my hands around your neck and you’ll run away again.”

She patted his shoulder as she moved to stand at his back in position, then paused and adjusted the tie on the back of her top. The music started again and she tapped out the beat, first one foot, then the other.

Naj nodded, a rapid, frantic bobbing. He could do this, it was just a dance, he could do this… His heart beat faster, a buzzing filling his veins. He hoped he could channel it, shape his anxiety to fuel Li’Daea’s fire. He warmed under her touch, heat radiating from her hand, chasing the buzzing in his blood. He hardly heard the music as it queued up.

She made her way back up, letting her back move against his arm, then turned circles, using his body to maneuver herself, hands on top of his, reaching around his calves, until she was pressing against him as she rose.

Now her hands trailed his shoulders and back down his arm until she tugged him to his feet and against her body in a firm line.

His muscles locked as a long line of heat seared him where they touched. This was not a fire he could shape. This was wild and untamable and he was powerless against it.

“Back away, around the chair,” she said, giving him a little shove. All his instincts concurred, sending him stumbling away from her with a quickness. She proceeded to chase him, catching him just long enough to reestablish contact between their bodies. At the swell, she kicked the chair across the stage and caught Naj, pulling him against her again. Each contact added a fresh surge of power to the fire raging between them. Naj was helpless against Marie’s directions and the roaring of wild flames.

She kept her hands on him, guiding herself around him as she drew circles with her pelvis, so that they alternated touching and not. When she reached his front again, she lowered herself against him, then followed her hands back up to wrap them around his neck, pressing their bodies together even more firmly than before.

Marie moved her hands, queuing him to duck through them and away. She smiled happily and gave chase, putting more heat in her motion and seduction as she got into the music. The last few beats, she ran gracefully and grabbed his arms, pulling him back to the center. This time when she circled him, she upped the ante, letting her body move his more and letting her hands make firmer contact with his.

Halfway through a move, she paused, her attention pulled towards the front of the club. Marie stepped away from Naj, ignoring the continuing pound of the music.

A woman was stepping down from the balcony stairs, gracefully making her way towards the stage. She was tall, with short auburn hair that spiked over her head haphazardly. Her skin was a warm, rich gold accented by the black of her short halter and flowing pants.

When her attention turned to Marie, the fox suddenly realized the music was still pounding and she fumbled for the remote to turn it off again.

“…Nica?” Her voice was breathy, full of subdued excitement and hope.

Previous: Chapter 4 part 2                                                                                                          Next: Interlude between 4 and 5