“Hello, Ivan,” I called cheerily, still a ways off from the house, but my call brought him out immediately.
“Have you been flooded too?” he asked, wading through the thigh deep water toward me, shaking platinum blonde hair out of his eyes.
“Yep,” I said, “First floor, three feet. Thank god I kept the insurance for water damage. Who knew it was going to be this bad?”
“It was a bad storm,” he agreed, glancing at the heads of his sunflowers, floating loosely on the surface of the gently pulsing water like a bunch of lilies.
“Sorry about your sunflowers,” I said, taking his arm as he pulled me along through the water to his front porch were the water was only knee high because of the step up. “I know how you slave over them every spring and summer.”
“It’s fall already,” he said, waving my concern away with a hand, “They would have been finished soon anyway.” We sloshed our way through the door and up the stairs, out of the water.
“I’m sorry, all the same,” I said, yanking my boots off and stepping onto the dry, wooden floor of the second floor hallway with my socks. I shook my waders over the railing of the stairs and then left them with Ivan’s boots on the top stair.
“Where are Irina and Natalia?” I asked as I followed Ivan to his room. There was a little camping grill set up next to the open window, and he put a teakettle on it, coaxing the coals still there into flame.
“Still sleeping,” he replied, “We all stayed awake a long while last night. Natalia has never liked storms, and she wouldn’t let Irina sleep. Eventually, they were both arguing too loudly for me to sleep, so we sat up and played a card game around the lantern.”
“Well, at least they’re getting some rest now,” I said with a shrug as I turned his desk chair around and straddled the back of it, “I bet you’re tired.”
“A little,” he said with a shrug, retrieving two mugs and two tea bags. I laughed a little at him.
“If I had had to deal with that, I wouldn’t be awake right now,” I admitted while Ivan used a hand fan to blow the smoke out the window.
“I do what I must,” he replied very humbly, and I couldn’t help my smile. Ivan, for being as tall and all the intimidation that came with it, was really a very gentle person. Still, he knew how to use his height and solid build to great effect if he felt threatened, or was protecting someone. That was Ivan too, always protecting someone else, whether it was his sisters, simply someone being bullied that he had taken a shine to, or I.
“Here,” he said, handing me a mug of steaming tea, taking the kettle off the fire before it started whistling.
“Thanks,” I murmured, wrapping my fingers around the cup to warm them. I curled my toes under the balls of my feet as I sipped and watched Ivan put everything back in order. He was such a neat freak during storms when he had to pack everything onto the second floor. He settled on his bed, mug of hot tea in hand, and hauled my chair over the floor and in front of him with the other. He leaned forward to kiss me briefly and I let him before he pulled away and began sipping at his tea.
“Have you heard how high the storm surge was?” he asked, scrutinizing me with violet-lavender eyes.
“No,” I said, blowing on my tea and then sipping at it again. It was simple black tea and it needed honey, but I wasn’t about to ask for it. “I’m guessing it was about five feet, from the marks on my walls this morning.
“Probably,” he answered, “Are you going to move in with us again?” I wrinkled my nose.
“I don’t know,” I said honestly, “The water’s already going down and it should be gone by tomorrow night so I wasn’t planning on it.”
“You shouldn’t be alone and by yourself,” Ivan said, glaring at me. His overprotective irritation made me uncomfortable and I looked away. He did, of course, have a very good reason to insist that I move in with them temporarily. The first year that the Braginskys had moved in, the storm had been pretty bad. Some of the boys in town, it was never known exactly who although it was very strongly suspected, had gotten together and looted several houses and even raped a woman the night after a fairly bad storm. The incident had colored Ivan’s perception of the people here in town, and he became nervous during storm season since he had two sisters. My involvement in his life had compounded the problem, despite the fact that it had never happened again.
“It’s only for one night, really,” I said, studying the dull light reflecting off the surface of my tea, “It should be fine.” It bothered me a bit, the way Ivan liked to act like some amalgam of an overprotective brother and an overprotective boyfriend because while we had some sort of relationship, there was nothing official or exclusive about it. We’d slept together a few times, spent several times that number of sessions kissing, and we had still dated a few other people. Ivan had dated three other girls in the past year alone, and I another guy. What we had was something open and undefined, and it worked. I had no desire to label it and attempt to follow any rules regarding relationship statuses. But most of the people in town assumed that we were dating, or would at least soon be dating, not least of all, Irina and Natalia.
“I don’t like it,” Ivan said, resting his mug on his knee. I glared back at him.
“You don’t have to like it,” I snapped. He didn’t necessarily deserve my anger, but I didn’t like feeling caged. I tried to mediate the situation. “I can stay with you, but at least let’s go back to my house to get some stuff. Food, water, a change of clothes. That sort of thing.” I hated giving in, but I didn’t want to fight with him when his sisters were sleeping in the next two rooms.
“Fine,” he said, still a little put out with me though he was obviously relieved that I’d be coming in temporarily. Again.
We had spent most of the morning in my house, packing up the things I thought I’d need, plus the things that I wanted to bring with me to the Braginskys. Ivan had carried the duffle bag since he was tall enough to carry it on his shoulder without it hitting the water, unlike me. Lunch with Natalia and Irina was, as always, rather a production. Natalia was tough enough to take while on her meds, I couldn’t imagine what she was like without them. She had a fairly mild form of schizophrenia, but Ivan and Irina taking care of her together was enough to keep her out of the hospital for the most part. Irina took the lion’s share of the care because Natalia apparently had a tendency to attempt to seduce Ivan when she was having a particularly bad episode. According to Irina, Natalia, as the youngest, had had the usual childhood crush on her older brother, but never quite outgrown it. Other than that and the occasional bout with “the voices”, she was a fairly normal girl, if a little obsessive-compulsive. Playing cards with her could be an absolute nightmare (she would protest if she lost, saying that some ritual she’d performed meant she couldn’t lose the game and therefore hadn’t lost or wasn’t out), but that was what we spent most of the afternoon doing because it kept all of us entertained and particularly pleased Natalia.
At about six-thirty in the evening, after we had eaten, both Natalia and Irina were drooping, still tired from having not slept much the night before, and went to bed. Ivan and I cleaned up everything and did the dishes in a bucket on the stairs before heading to his room for another mug or two of tea.
“Thanks for playing cards with us,” he said, “Natalia really enjoys it, especially when you come over.”
“Of course,” I said, pouring hot water over the same teabags from this morning, “Just glad I can help.” Ivan, from behind me, very deliberately took the kettle from my hand and set it back on the grill, leaving it open so that it wouldn’t whistle as the coals beneath it hadn’t completely cooled yet. He lifted my hair out of the way, bending to place his lips against the back of my neck. Suddenly, there wasn’t enough oxygen in the room, and my breath was shaky and my face hot. His lips whispered across my skin, his nose brushing the nape of my neck where the hairline started. His hands settled around my waist, squeezing my sides gently.
“I’ve been waiting all day for this,” he murmured against my skin, the vibration of his words passing through his lips and onto me. The oscillation of it seemed to pass into my vertebra and it traveled down my spine, pooling somewhere below my waist in a puddle of liquid heat that began pulsing its way through my veins and body.
“Ivan, your sisters-” I couldn’t finished, moaning softly instead when his hands drifted upward to cup my breasts. They were suddenly heavy on my chest, his thumbs and forefingers finding the nipples through not only my bra, but also three shirts I had layered over each other because it had been so cold today. I shivered and gave up, leaning into him and sliding my hands up and behind his neck and winding the hair there between my fingers as I fisted them. He growled when I tugged unintentionally, nipping me for punishment.
“You’ll just have to be quiet,” he rumbled, his voice dropping a few tones and rough besides. I bit my lip because he had a point: I was the loud one. He grumbled as he tried to decipher the maze of tops I was wearing.
“How many shirts did you wear?” he growled, pawing at the hems. I laughed, letting go of him and sliding his hands beneath the last layer, shivering when his fingertips touched my skin.
“Better?” I asked, running my hands up his arms, pushing his sleeves up as I went. Ivan had large hands, slender wrists, and strong forearms corded with muscle. There was something so graceful about his arms, something powerful in the set of his shoulders. I bit my lip again as he forced the mass of fabric over the curve of my breast and palmed it roughly. Quiet; I had to remember to keep quiet. A whine I couldn’t contain broke from between my teeth.
“Hush,” Ivan murmured, a devious smile curling the corners of his mouth up as he turned me around, “Or I’ll make you.” His lips came down on mine, and I closed my eyes, fumbling with the buttons on his shirt. There was a pause as he pulled everything bunched around the upper part of my chest over my head, struggling only briefly with it. It would have taken me fifteen minutes to get it all off by myself, but then again, I’d have put everything back into place before taking each piece off one by one.
“Not fair,” I whispered, plucking at the buttons of his shirt, fumbling as I popped them through the infuriatingly tiny holes. His hand buried itself in my hair, pulling my head back so that he could kiss me again, pressing harder as he laughed softly.
“Who said anything about fair?” he asked, violet eyes half-lidded with pale lashes as he teased me.
“I’m not responsible for your clothes,” I answered, hooking the fingers of one hand in the collar of the t-shirt underneath the button-down and using the other to yank more buttons free.
“You bought me clothes last year for Christmas,” Ivan reminded, me, tugging both shirts over his head and dropping them on the floor, “I think you have the right to destroy a shirt here and there.” I was so pleased by this that I couldn’t find anything to say, so instead I braced my hands against his well-defined chest and nipped his collarbone. He pulled me closer with both hands on my lower back, reaching for my ear with his teeth, closing them around the curve of it. I wriggled against him, dropping my hands to the waistband of his jeans and jerking the button open and the zipper down. He half-shoved, half-walked me back to his bed so that we fell against his mattress, pinning my hands and looming over me with a satisfied smirk. At that moment, the sun either found a break in the clouds or was low enough to sneak under them, because the room was bathed in the autumnal, vermillion light. It limned Ivan’s body in red-gold lines and stark indigo shadows and I inhaled sharply as I stared at him. God, he was beautiful.
“Your eyes,” he whispered, the same look of awe on my face reflected on his, “They’re translucent. ”
“Shut up and kiss me,” I suggested, and he did, running his tongue over my bottom lip before delving deep into the confines of my mouth, settling his body over mine while I wrestled with his jeans and briefs. He lifted himself from me briefly to assist, and I hooked the toes of one foot around the waistband of both and dragged them down, hands searching for the warm length of him. His thickness filled my palms, and I weighed it briefly, hoping he wouldn’t drag this out much longer, while he kicked both jeans and underwear off in one go. His fingers hooked inside of my pants and yanked them down without bothering with the zipper of button. The skin over my hipbones stung with the abuse, but I wanted to watch him strip me with the same efficiency he applied to everything in his life. His attention to detail meant that I couldn’t even keep my socks, not that I minded, and they were soon discarded with everything else on the floor. He paused to rip open a condom with his teeth and roll it on with quick, sure fingers, and then he was inside me.
It was always the same. It was like he was filling an emptiness I’d never been aware of, that I’d somehow forgotten about between the times we did this. I was just barely aware that I was digging my fingernails into his biceps, so I loosened my fingers and rested them on his shoulders instead as he gathered me to him. I crossed my ankles behind the small of his back as he began to move, biting my lip to keep from moaning out loud. God, it felt so good. He dropped his face into the crook of my neck, his breath hot and moist against my skin. I nuzzled his cheek and ear, my breath coming in shaky pants as his fingers gripped my buttocks and squeezed. I gritted my teeth, strangled whimpers still escaping from my throat.
“Be my girlfriend,” Ivan mumbled suddenly, surging inside of me.
“Is this the time to ask that?” I gasped, a little annoyed that he was asking now of all times. He had me pinned, physically and emotionally, when we had sex, and he knew that if he just manipulated me properly, I’d eventually say yes. Case in point: that time he convinced me to let him take me out to dinner. I would never have done it otherwise, but he’d made me promise dinner in exchange for not stopping our sixty-nine session. Unfair, but I’d promised.
“It’s the perfect time to ask,” he said, grinning as he lifted his head and slowed. I tried to grip him with my pelvic muscles, but he slipped out anyway and I hissed at him like an angry cat. He shook a finger in my face, clicking his tongue in disapproval.
“Behave,” he admonished me, “I have to ask now because this is the only time you’ll say yes.” I narrowed my eyes at him, snaking my hands down between us to touch myself.
“Well, then, I don’t need you,” I growled, dropping my head back on the pillow, but he snatched my wrists up and pinned them down on either side of me. I struggled, but he was much stronger and heavier than I was.
“I’ll bite you,” I warned him, and he laughed in my face.
“Just be my girlfriend already. Everyone thinks you are anyway,” he said, clearly amused. I latched my teeth onto the junction of his neck and shoulder and bit down hard. He sucked in a breath, and then grunted with the pain when I didn’t let go.
“Stop that,” he snapped, jerking his shoulder away from my teeth.
“Then stop telling me to be your girlfriend and just do me already,” I retorted.
“No,” he said, sounding frustrated, “I won’t do anything else until you agree to be my girlfriend.”
“Fuck me,” I groaned, “You’re serious?” He laughed at me again.
“Yes, you’re well and truly fucked,” he said, finding this highly amusing. I glanced down to see that he was still ready, but…
“You’re killing my buzz, Ivan,” I grumbled, then moaned, forgetting that we needed to be quiet when he slid back inside me on his first try.
“I think I can get you going again,” he said with a sly smile, “And I’ll stop as many times as I have to. To make you say yes.” It was just so unfair. His self-control was ridiculous, because here we were and he was threatening to just leave me hanging until I agreed to be his girlfriend. I could, of course, just go home and finish myself off, but it would be so much less satisfying… I narrowed my eyes at him.
“I think I’ll just go home and find that stupid vibrator I never use,” I said, glowering at him.
“As if I’m going to just let you get up and walk away,” he answered, “I can stay here all night if I have to.” I tried slipping my wrists out of his grip, but he tightened his fingers until I could almost feel the bones there grinding together.
“Stop that,” I scolded him, “What are you going to do if you cause permanent damage to my hands?” I hoped that making him feel guilty would make him more willing to let me go, but then he surprised me by kissing the tip of my nose with a warm smile.
“Then I will be your hands,” he murmured. I could feel something inside me melting into a puddle of goo while I cringed at the saccharine sweetness of what he’d said.
“That is so… so cliché…” I mumbled, blushing furiously, “You think you’re going to win me over with romcom lines?”
“I’ll do whatever it takes to make you mine,” he corrected me, rolling his hips and I closed my eyes to enjoy it while it lasted. To my delight, he didn’t stop there, but kept going, controlling his breathing as he tried not to show me how much he wanted to forget about his words and keep going.
“Is this not enough for you?” I breathed, “I’ve dated other guys, but I’ve never let them-” He kissed me roughly, shutting me up.
“Don’t you dare talk about them while I’m in bed with you,” he snapped, his features twisting, but still undeniably attractive. He pulled away from me suddenly, seizing me and flinging me onto my stomach while my eyes went wide with panic. I’d never provoked him like this while we were in bed; I’d seen him angry before and it had been frightening. I was in a whirl of confusion and irritation and fear. I couldn’t decide who was to blame in this situation, him for bringing all this crap up in the middle of having sex or me for getting mouthy with him because of it. His body covered mine, bruising hands lifting my hips to his, his chin dropping over my shoulder so that his mouth was next to my ear.
“No one’s ever made you feel the way I do,” he snarled, “Don’t even try to lie about that. That’s why you never let them touch you.” He was all male, all aggression now as his hips made contact with my ass over and over, but there was no pain, only an inexorable, flooding tide of ecstasy like the water that had swept through our houses less than twenty-four hours ago. I buried my face in his pillow, clenching my teeth around the fabric to muffle my cries, gripping the sheets. His hands covered my own, prying my fingers up and lacing them with his own, to pin me more effectively to his mattress as I mewled helplessly beneath him. I was shaking, coming apart, breaking beneath him as I sobbed my way through my orgasm. Ivan buried himself deep one last time, growling like an animal as he reached his peak, and then he rested, panting, his front pressed against my back as I touched my cheek and found tears there. I’d heard of girls crying if the sex was amazing, but never thought it’d happen to me.
“Did I hurt you?” Ivan asked a little gruffly, pulling my fingers away from my face and catching a tear with the tip of his index finger.
“No,” I said, my voice small, “I’ve heard of this happening, but…”
“You’re sure you’re okay?” he asked again, sounding a little anxious.
“Yes, I’m fine, I’m fine,” I mumbled. He rolled off of me, going to drop the used condom in the trash by his desk before he came back to me, sitting on the bed and stretching out along the edge of it. I scooted over to give him some room and he took it before he pulled me back to him. I was quiet as I laid my head on his shoulder, silent as I settled next to his body and basked in his warmth.
“Why are you so quiet?” he asked softly after a few minutes. I twisted my mouth, trying to decide what to say first.
“Because you’re right,” I said at last.
“About what?” he inquired, sounding the tiniest bit apprehensive.
“About what everyone thinks. About the way you make me feel,” I said, blowing out my cheeks, “About why I never… well, you know.” It was awkward, trying to tell him that I could never let the other guys I dated touch me because their kisses and affectionate touches had made me feel nothing. There had been no spark of lust or desire, just the affection a person might feel for a friendly neighborhood cat.
“Does that mean you agree?” he asked, sounding rather calm considering that he was about the win.
“I guess,” I said uncertainly, “I can’t really find a reason to refuse…” I chanced a glance up at him and found him smiling gently.
“I love you,” he said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, “It only makes sense for us to be together.” He said it with such confidence, and I let it carry me up to his level.
“Yeah, I guess it does,” I replied.