a tight-pressed line keeping a wildfire on the inside
A handful of months have passed since Halcyon had first noticed the gentle bulge of Titanya's barrel. Slowly it had become more prominent, something that drew his golden eyes each time she approached him from across the sands, but he had never outright asked. He simply hadn't wanted to know who had helped her to create the life harbored safely in her womb. And though his first inklings of her pregnancy had caused a cold, angry tightness in the pit of his own stomach, the stallion knew that jealousy and irritation were not his to behold.
The pair had never discussed exclusivity, and Halcyon had even encouraged the she-tiger to continue her explorations outside of Ischia. Ever the wanderer, the predator, he had not wanted to tie her down. He had even been fearful, at first, that the birth of their own twins would cause her to feel far too rooted in one place.
But it would seem that she could wear those ropes and still weave more.
“How are you feeling, love?” he asks her indifferently as his feline frame moves through the darkness and to her side by the small pond they'd first fished together. He growls low, the sound endearing as he can muster, as he curls at the pondside with her. Surely the birth of her child is close at hand, and though they are swathed in what feels like eternal darkness, he can sense the beginnings of change in her.
“The children seem to be spending much of their time with Asena lately,” he muses quietly, realizing that their first birthday will soon come to pass, “though I worry about them in this darkness.”
Titanya (i'm SO SORRY i've been so slow lately! have some hal words!) “”
At first, she is sprawled out on the banks of their little inland pool with only the soft susurrus of water and her thoughts to keep her company. Her long tail flicks the ground in off-beat percussive accompaniment. It would be peaceful, she thinks, if her thoughts weren’t loudly demonstrating against the calm.
It is why she wears her stripes today. Putting on the tiger is like becoming the most accurate version of herself, the most form-fitting and flattering skin she can wear. She’s never more at home than when she has her claws to dig furrows into the earth and sharp teeth to tear into the flesh of her prey. Several fish skeletons lie beside her in testament. She’s worried, and when she’s worried she’s voracious and insatiable; even now, she considers diving back into the pond and making its population of fish go extinct. But she’s heavily pregnant, too. The swell of her belly is unmistakable now for what secret it contains. She’s tired and frustrated and cannot believe what she has gotten herself into again. Nothing has gone to plan these last few years and it is all because she tried to be somebody she wasn’t, tried to play a role she is vastly unsuited to play.
And then there is the matter of the darkness which feels fitting, in a way.
He comes out of it, the darkness, like a specter from the shadows. It is only Hal, not a monster, but this fact does not make her worry less. The tiger curls next to her and she closes her eyes tightly once he’s settled. She pictures that first day they came here, him younger and she new to this island. The sun had been radiantly streaming down despite the thick canopy above, gilding the surface of the water and brightening their own smiling faces, warming them to each other.
When Titanya opens her eyes again, Halcyon is still there but so is the dark.
She lets his first question hang in the gloom between them until she can muster the strength for it. It’s easier to talk about their children, easier to worry for them than herself. “Asena seems like a bright and confident girl. They could do far worse for role-models, at least.”Like their own mother, she thinks, but bites her tongue. “They have each other, too. I can’t imagine anything coming between those two, thick as thieves as they are.”
Pleasant thoughts of the twins blot out her urgency to address what is next. But when the silence stretches for an uncomfortable amount of time, Titanya looks at the man beside her. “I know what I’ve done doesn’t make sense to you, maybe.” She thinks about explaining further, but it is obvious what she is referring to. “It doesn’t make sense to me either. We were hunting together - it was just supposed to be one night, no repercussions, never see each other again. I never wanted this.” She never wanted any kids, even, but she doesn’t elaborate that far. The tigress looks to where the water should be bubbling up from the ground, now it is only another spot of darkness.
“I do not belong to you anymore than you belong to me, but I can see where this would still be unbearable.” A low growl starts in her throat when she looks back to Hal. There is something almost unrecognizable in her gaze. “Tell me what to do next. If you want, I will deliver it away from Ischia and come home alone.”
a tight-pressed line keeping a wildfire on the inside
It's easy to talk about their children; to worry for their safety, to feel pride in their accomplishments, and to reminesce about the time that has come and gone. As soon as he mentions them, Halcyon silently scolds himself for taking the easy way out of a difficult conversation. He knows Titanya will cling to his topic of choice; she is no more comfortable being vulnerable than he is asking her to be, and so their brief diluge into the twins' relationship with their cousin works as an easy buffer to the conversation they should be having.
He even finds it in him to chuckle under his breath, though his brief toothy grin lost in the darkness. “I agree,” he muses softly before another thought hits him, “I'm sure they'll be asking shortly to leave the island.” They had both inherited their mother's wanderlust, and for that he is thankful. While the man has loved his life in the tropics and is content with being tucked to bed each night by the same familiar sounds, he wants his children to see more. To experience more.
He thinks to tell Titanya this, that he is pleased with how headstrong they are, but the silence has drawn on too long now and she has found the courage to breach the topic neither of them had wanted to discuss.
At first, he stiffens. Taut with the desire to vacate this conversation, the feline clenches his sharp teeth and lets a long, slow exhale fall from his whiskered snout. But he stays, and his silence urges Titanya to continue with details he'd rather not hear. Easier, the whole situation is, when he has no context to play in his head over and over.
I do not belong to you anymore than you belong to me. He has known this to be true, has used it as a mantra to settle his jealousy, and yet to hear the woman he loves say it aloud thrusts a sharp knife into his chest. His feline tail flicks with displeasure behind him, but Halcyon is otherwise silent until she is done.
Until she offers to abandon the child, should he desire.
“I will not make such a decision for you,” his words are sharp, barbed. “But I am not so cruel that I would have you abandon your child.” His eyes, hurt and narrowed, seek her out in the darkness, but there is only a faint silhouette for his gaze to settle upon. “I would raise the child as my own, should you have them live with us here.” He pauses, the faint beginnings of a low growl clicking in the back of his throat.
She wants to dig her claws deeply into the topic of their children so that it cannot get away from them, so that she does not have to face what is next. Talking about Nekane and Volos is easy because she loves them more than she ever thought possible. Her love had been a fierce and hard thing chiseled and worn down every time she saw them, every time they looked at her with their wide, innocent eyes full of complete trust. Now, she can’t imagine her life without the twins tumbling and shouting and existing within it.
That’s not to say she knows what she is doing or that she is doing anything right along the way. Mostly, it is like fumbling around in this darkness, hoping to occasionally find a smooth stone on an otherwise rocky path. But they are worth the uncertainty. They are worth her feelings of inadequacy. They are worth her loss of freedom, even, for now.
Is this though? She continues staring at the man beside her, or at least the warm, vague space where she knows him to be. But she doesn’t have any more time to continue musing on that rapidly unspooling and unsettling thought before Halcyon brings up another that hasn’t yet occurred to her. Of course the twins could leave the island when they were older and ready, but time has seemed to speed up since the day they were born on the warm sands of paradise. Will she be ready herself when they leave the Ischian shores sooner rather than later? How is it even possible that that day is already approaching like the first dawn sunbeam on the ocean’s horizon? Titanya realizes she has no further words for him on this matter. None that will untangle the knot that forms at the back of her throat when she imagines the retreating forms of their children leaving with the morning’s low tide.
Besides, they have reached the rotten root of their rendezvous.
She feels his sudden tension like a live wire as she spills her secrets. They seem to echo like reverb back at her when they are met with the darkness. So, too, do her words seem somehow amplified when they find Hal. She should feel guilt, perhaps, should be moved by the almost physical push she feels after her words have left her lips. Instead, she feels herself drawing back and away from him. Why should she blame herself for what she has done? Why should she be sorry for reveling in the freedom he allowed and even encouraged in her? They do not belong to one another, as she tells him, so why does a small part of her ache with regret?
Titanya’s growl fades and disappears into the dense jungle foliage around them. She hears the tell-tale smack of his tail on the earth and tries her best to ignore it, to not let it fuel her words anymore when they come again. His voice is discordant to what he says. She closes her eyes at the sting of his tone but is surprised to find she is grateful, in all this mess. He proves his character to her yet again by agreeing to raise the child as his own. But where do they go from here?
“I don’t know how to do this,” she says. What she actually means is I’m sorry, but she doesn’t know how to apologize either. Like talking about the twins, it’s far easier to exist in her uncertainties than to admit fault; she’s still not sure she has anything to apologize for, anyway. “Any of this.” The tigress reaches out to bury her muzzle into his neck but stops herself short. There is still too much tension pushing her away like the two same poles of a magnet. She feels defeated in a way that is wholly unlike the battlefield. She finds she does not mind this loss, this vulnerability, nearly as much.
“Is this what you want, Hal? To tie yourself down to such a selfish, unruly creature? I don’t know how to change. No one has asked it of me before.”
a tight-pressed line keeping a wildfire on the inside
I don't know how to do this.
He can feel her sudden closeness and the unexpected chemistry, roiling now with tension, that remains rooted between them. Without meaning to, Halcyon holds his breath to see if she will close the space that lingers between them in the dark to plant her muzzle just under the ridge of his jaw. He waits for it, hopes for it, but it does not come and he finds himself feeling cold now in the dark despite the heat of the jungle.
Nevertheless, he knows Titanya well enough to recognize her statement for what it is. A half-apology - tentative, because even he is unsure if there is anything for either of them to apologize for; an olive branch to defuse whatever tension she may be able to. He is familiar with her inability to be vulnerable, and comfortable, even, in his own hesitancy to ask her to be. But this leaves them at an impasse, and so without asking her to be vulnerable he makes his own wishes known -
The child may stay. The father most certainly cannot.
His lover's voice bursts again through the darkness, prompting the low click of a growl to reverberate deep in his throat. But the instinctive sound fades quickly, replaced by a quiet and exasperated sigh that fills the silence left by her declaration. His feline eyes turn to gaze at where he knows the water to be and takes a few silent moments before his voice finally reaches out to her again.
This time, quieter. Gentler.
“You would not be the Titanya I fell in love with if I asked you to change.” It's easier, here in the dark where neither of them can see the other's face, to voice whatever naïve hopes or ideas he houses inside his heart. “Titanya, let's just... be. Without commitment, and without sacrificing the wild parts of you. We can be ourselves and still love each other. To hell with conventional.”
A wild idea for a usually tame man. But to have such an idea to hold onto, one that allows them both love and freedom, helps to dampen the fiery jealousy he had felt just minutes before.
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