** Poppy **
We lay on the grass, facing each other, our fingers entwined between us as we talked. The contact of our joined hands ensured a steady, unrelenting trickle of warmth leaked through my body, leaving me floating in a semi-drugged state. Resting my head on my other arm, I watched Anson as he spoke, remitting every detail of him to my memory; the way the fans of his bronze lashes swept against his cheeks when he blinked; the slight, charming crookedness of his smile; the stunning lapis blue shade of his eyes, spangled with gold flecks when he turned his face to the sunlight.
I also noticed the differences in him. His skin had always been fair, but it was a couple of shades paler since he was Turned, and every so often while he spoke, I caught a glimpse of his now-razor-sharp canines, filed to fine points even without his fangs extended. But it was more than the physical changes. Vampirism suited him. There was a confidence about him, a self-assuredness that hadn't been there before. There was genuine happiness in the way he spoke about his classes, and I knew he really enjoyed them – he hadn't been challenged enough, intellectually, at his last school.
Thinking of the way he'd looked as I watched him with the bow, I realised that The Academy wasn't just flexing his mind, that being a vampire – and popular, too, even if he wasn't aware of it – wasn't just giving him confidence; it was bringing out a side of him I'd only glimpsed. The darker, stronger side of him. On the outside, he was still the smart, charming, occasionally awkward boy I'd met months ago in a human English class – the one who daydreamed and wrote poetry and got himself into mischief, painting on walls and drawing on desks.
But with the bow in his hands, he'd been so focussed, so controlled – nothing like the impulsive boy I knew. The fierce concentration on his face, the visible strength in his coiled muscles, the potential violence in his body language…they showed a harder, darker side of him. With a weapon in his hands, one he obviously knew how to use with lethal precision, he was dangerous. More warrior than poet. More man than boy.
And I'd be lying if I said that didn't scare me, just a little. Or that it didn't turn me on.
** Anson **
Seeing Poppy's attention had turned inward – I could tell because her eyes finally stopped roaming my face and her expression turned distant, thoughtful – I squeezed her hand lightly, a delicious shiver tingling through my fingers. "What are you thinking about?" I asked.
Poppy blinked, and a smile crossed her lips as she returned her attention to the present time and place. She looked down, her lashes fluttering shy as a blush touched the tops of her cheekbones. "Nothing," she murmured quietly.
I looked at her expectantly, made suspicious by her blush. She flicked a glance at me and I raised an eyebrow. She giggled, the sweet sound making my heart soar, even if it no longer beat. I leaned forward, my head propped on my hand, and said, "You lie. And not very well, I might add."
Her eyes widened slightly at my closeness, and she bit her lip. My gaze dropped to her mouth. I both loved and hated it when she chewed her lip – it was unbearably sexy, like she was just tempting me to kiss it. Not that I needed much more tempting, what with the outfit she was wearing. I wondered where the hell she'd gotten that scrap of a shirt, and if she'd worn it just to torture me. I was having a hard time keeping my gaze from going to the flat expanse of her stomach, or the smooth curves rising from the gaping collar of her shirt.
Kelly and her mini-skirt had nothing on Poppy's outfit. And Kelly didn't have this effect on me – nor did April, or any of the other girls. Only Poppy could make me feel this…intoxicated.
"Sunshine?" Poppy murmured.
Swallowing, I brought my gaze back to her face. I smiled at the nickname. "Yes, Poppy?"
She hesitated, looking at our twined hands. There was something in her expression that made me sit up. I reached out and placed a hand against her cheek. Quietly, I asked, "What is it?"
With a sigh, she looked up at me, and I saw the sadness and regret in her eyes. "I don't want to go back," she whispered. I knew she was talking about Retraining. I didn't want her to go back either – I wanted her to stay here, with me. I wanted time to stop so we could stretch this moment forever. An hour wasn't nearly long enough, and one glance at my watch showed that our hour was almost up.
I sighed, too, and leaned down to press my forehead to hers. I hated that I had to be rational – that we both had to stick to the rules, or else things could get worse. We both knew I'd been lucky to survive the transformation with my sanity intact, that Poppy's punishment could have been worse than a couple of months in Retraining; Kell had made that much obvious. And I wouldn't risk her getting hurt or sent away from The Academy just so I could have a few more selfish hours with her. "I know," I said softly, "But it's only for another three weeks. It's more than half-way over, and once you're out, we'll have all the time in the world together."
She rolled onto her back staring up at the hot blue sky, her eyes the cool, pale blue of topaz. Her strawberry blonde hair – longer now than when I'd seen her last – spilled out on the grass, like one of those halos you always saw in stained-glass church windows. "Yeah, I know. It still sucks, though. Every day in that place feels like a week, and I'm so sick of hearing about how we're meant to behave, the rules we're meant to follow, why we aren't supposed to form emotional attachments to a human, whether they're a recruit or not…I hate all these rules."
I couldn't help but laugh. She scowled at me, but I just grinned. "Everyone hates rules, Pops. But rules, and fear of the consequences for breaking them, are all that keep a school full of fast and powerful supernatural teenagers in line. Plus, it makes the grown-ups, like Mr Watson and Kell, feel like they've got some control over us."
She smirked, giving me a wry look. "You never seem to fear the consequences. I heard about the new graffiti on the Inner Wall around the dorms. Blake, was it?"
I chuckled and prodded her in the ribs, making her squeak. I hadn't realised she was so ticklish. "You're one to talk. I'm a living, breathing example of your lack of respect for the rules – except for the living and breathing part."
She laughed, whacking my hand away from her ribs. I disentangled my fingers from hers and leaned over, planting my hands on either side of her body. Her laughter faded on her lips, and I smiled wickedly as I pinned her under me. Her eyes grew very large and dark, her lips parting with a soft breath. "Anson."
I stared down at her, so small and soft-looking. Her eyes met mine, so bright. Like stars in the night sky. A line of poetry floated through my head:
'Your eyes control my very soul.'
The way she said my name was an invitation, one that eagerly I accepted. Tilting her head up with a finger under her chin, I lowered my mouth to hers and kissed her the way I'd wanted to since the second I saw her. The way I'd been dying to kiss her for weeks now. Delectable shivers coursed through me, making my muscles tense as I slid my arms around her slight body and gathered her against me. A now-familiar ache spread along my gums – hunger. Only my hunger wasn't for blood this time. It was a craving that could only be sated by the taste of Poppy's lips.
We tangled together on the grass, heat and chills and electricity flowing between us. And then my watch started beeping, a shrill, irritating noise I started to ignore before I realised what it meant. Our time was up. Poppy needed to get back to Retraining.
Reluctantly, I pulled away. It felt like I breaking the surface of a lake after being deep underwater for hours, drowning in sensation. One perk of not needing to breathe anymore – we could kiss endlessly without ever coming up for air. Poppy whined unhappily as I began to sit up, trying to pull me back to her. I laughed against her mouth. "Poppy– Poppy, you need to– go. You need– to go now," I said in the brief instances her lips left mine.
Finally, she seemed to get what I was saying, and her hands dropped to her sides like stones. She looked up at me, her cheeks flushed pink, her eyes glittering with desire and frustration. "Oh," she said sadly as I held up my watch for her to see.
I stood up, holding out my hands to pull her to her feet. As soon as she was standing, she threw her arms around my waist. I smiled, but it wasn't a happy smile. My chest ached and she wasn't even gone yet. "It's okay, Pops. Just three more weeks. Three more weeks and we can be together every minute of every day if that's what you want," I murmured soothingly, stroking her hair.
She sniffled, nodding against my collarbones. Then she stepped back and wiped a tear off her cheek hastily. "Okay. I can make it three more weeks – I just wish you were allowed to visit, like Leo. It's so hard being stuck in that place, not knowing what you're doing. I feel like I'm missing out on so much of your first experiences of being a vampire."
Gently, I brushed her hair back and kissed her forehead. "Don't worry. I'll still be here when you get out, and I'll only be slightly less clueless than I am now. There are plenty of things I haven't experienced yet, and you're the only one I want to experience them with. That's certainly not going to change any time soon."
With a sigh, she finally gave me a watery smile. I smiled back and made a shooing motion with my hand. "Go on now. You better get back, before I decide to keep you here a little longer."
Poppy giggled and, placing one last, lingering kiss on my lips, she turned and ran out of the Training Yard, leaving me standing there with my bow at my feet and my heart in my throat.