Aviators Chapter 3

One of the most difficult things to do in front of others is cry. Be it a scrunch of the face with an upturned lip, the free flowing of tears, or giving voice to emotion, none of it is easy. A full release of inhibitions is the only thing that allows someone to openly cry in front of others— even alone it can be difficult. At funerals, events created for the sole purpose of mourning the dead, still place people in each other’s presence. Adults always told me, “Don’t make a scene,” “Don’t look weak,” “Don’t show it,” “If it’s the last thing you do, hold it in.”

Dreams held me with no such chains.

“Jeff! Hey!”

My eyes peeled open to the dark apparition of a Stella’s face. The eye sockets stung. I was in bed.

“What, what?” I muttered, blinking several times to dispel the pain in my eyes.

She sighed, her breath blanketing my forehead in soothing warm air. Settling back on her side of the bed (the right), and said, “You were talking in your sleep. Sounded bad.” The memory of the dream was already fuzzy. Something about my parents’ house? “You okay?” One of her claws stroked my cheek. Only then did I realize my cheeks were damp.

I wracked my brain for what the dream was about, cycling through places and faces both real and imagined. It was definitely at my parents’ house, their hardwood floors and pure white walls iconic of my childhood. The door rang. That’s right. It was one of those lively bells that played a little tune that I never recognized. I opened the door. Goosebumps crawled up my shoulders when I realized who was there.

“Dreamed about my grandpa.” Simply remembering how it felt to see him in the doorway, grayer than he ever was, made my eyes water once more.

Stella cocked her head. “I don’t think you ever told me about him.”

I used the covers to wipe the water from my eyes. “Probably not.”

“You don’t gotta if you don’t wanna, though.” She tread quite carefully.

I skipped the pleasantries. “He died right after I graduated high school.” As if to get the story straight in my head, I continued. “He was in the air force in Viet Nam. Taught me how to fly when I was a teenager.”

She perked up. “Whoa, he taught you himself?”

“Yeah. He,” I paused, “He died flying his plane. Crashed it on the way to visit me and my family. He didn’t check his engine right and… fell out of the sky.” I sighed and put an arm around her shoulders. “Sorry if I woke you up.”

“It’s fine, man. But‘re you okay?” Stella gave me a worried look that I could just barely discern in the darkness.

“Yeah, I’m good. Just,” I looked up toward the ceiling absentmindedly, “he never saw me get my pilot’s license.”

* * *

The mornings got colder and later in the mid-November hours. Night steadily crept into the day as the sun lazed across its lonely corner of the sky. Plane wings often iced over mid-flight in the winter months, prompting use of anti-freeze and careful planning. My prep time and lists nearly doubled.

Above the landscape the blue glow of the winter morning signaled clear skies, if only at the moment. Innocent until proven guilty. After Stella and I took off, a storm was already brewing inside my own cockpit.

“The sun sets before six today,” I said to the harpy in my copilot seat, “I just don’t think you should be pushing your luck like this.”

“I’m not pushing my luck. I’m basically working normal hours, just in winter.”

“Stella, we have shorter work days during winter for a reason: there are less hours of daylight to work with.”

“Well yeah. That’s why I’m just going sunrise to sunset.” She adjusted the band of her goggles around her head with her thumbs (which I recently discovered are called “alula”). The strap was getting a bit worn. “I’m not flying blind here, Jeff. I know what I’m doing.”

“Still, what if you fall behind schedule again? The winds and weather will only get worse. Hell, last night you told me you were too sore to go to the gym!”

“The burn means these extra hours are working. Do you never work out ever? Besides, I have some painkillers if it gets bad.”

A tremor of turbulence rocked the aircraft up and down, tossing my breakfast around in my stomach. “Painkillers won’t help if you break a bone against the wind.”

Stella rolled her eyes. “I’m not going to break a fucking wing, Jeff.”

“How do you know? You opted out of flying any winter hours last year because you were afraid of just that.”

“And now I’m not. Funny how that works. The hours were already approved. Let it go already.” She rested her chin on her wing and looked out the window.

I gave her a sarcastic laugh. “I’m not just letting this go. I don’t want you to end up hurting yourself.”

Slapping her wing against the armrest, she shouted, “Stop telling me what to do! I’m not stupid!”

“I’m not saying you are! If you just want to get better at flying, there are better ways to go about that! The benefits of flying so much in the winter don’t outweigh the risks.”

“There’s a reason I want to do this, and it’s none of your business. Why can’t you trust me on this?”

“Stella. You’ve seen the winter weather. You know it won’t play nice.”

“It’s just for two weeks— only until the season ends. I can handle it.”

“Do you want to know what’s going on in the next two weeks? The middle of November; the biggest weather shift of the year!”

“So?”

“Oh, come on. You practically limped home last night.”

“I wasn’t. Limping!”

“You won’t be able to keep this up! It won’t be your radio that breaks this time.” A sigh escaped me. “I just have a feeling that—”

“Seriously, Jeff? A ‘feeling?’ That’s why you’re telling me not to do what I wanna do? If I wanted to sit on my ass for a living I’d’ve stayed in New York.”

I stopped myself before I could say anything else. Shaking my head and exhaling my frustration through clenched teeth, I checked our position on the GPS. We hit the next airborne speed bump in silence.

“We’re coming up on your drop-off point around Koyuk,” I muttered.

I heard her unbuckle her harness. She scooted between our seats and snapped her backpack straps over her shoulders. Her talons scraped against the floor as she got all of her gear situated.

Before heading back to the hatch, she said, “We’re finishing this later.”

“Uh huh.”

She approached me from behind and leaned over my shoulder. Forced to look her in the eye, I could see a sizzling indignation within her. “You’re not my favorite person right now.” It was such a matter-of-fact statement I wondered if it was even Stella speaking. “You might be my boyfriend now, but you’re not the boss of me. Boss is the boss of me during the day, and he trusts me enough to fly these hours. So you’ll just have to deal.”

The finality of her words was earth-shattering.

The look in her eyes softened slightly. “But ‘til later, fly safe.” Her expression was no longer one of anger and frustration. Instead she simply looked worried. About what, I couldn’t tell.

Better to part on a good note, at least. I sighed, pulled her close by the collar of her flight suit, and gave her a quick goodbye kiss. “I love you.”

She blushed slightly at the kiss before saying, “You’re still a big fat jerk.” With that, she headed back for the hatch.

“Fly safe!” I called.

“I will!”

After she opened the hatch, letting in a whirlwind of chilled air, she swung out and closed the door. Once she flew off toward Koyuk, I changed direction for Nome. Once again, she did not say “I love you” back. As much as I hate to say it, it was business as usual.

* * *

“Check,” I muttered. It all came down to the next few turns. Save for the two of us, the pilots lounge was empty.

Russell scratched his chin, hunched over the chess board like a gargoyle. A stream of smoke rose from the cigarette he was munching between his lips. He lifted a tentative finger to a few of his black pieces before deciding on his next move. His move ultimately blocked my check. Foiled again. Luckily, I had a plan. I just hoped it would work.

With a puff from his cigarette Russell said, “What’s so wrong with your girl working more hours, huh?”

I shook my head. “She’ll just hurt herself. Wrong time of year to ask for more hours.”

“Sure. Wrong job to be workin’ longer, ‘f ya ask me.”

I moved a pawn forward. “So you agree with me?”

He quickly moved a knight to take one of my pieces. “Didn’t say that. ‘t’s not wrong to worry ‘bout ‘er, but if she wants to do it, who gives a fuck?”

I massaged the bridge of my nose. “I just hate the idea of her getting hurt because of it.”

Russell took another drag. “If she’s gonna do it, just have a bit ah faith.”

“I’m atheist,” I said. It was almost automatic.

His features scrunched up in disapproval, as if every wrinkle was ordered to move into the proper well-drilled scowl formation. “That’s not the kind of faith I’m talkin’ about. Jackass.”

I didn’t need this. “What did you expect? You have a cross tattoo on your arm.”

“And you need to take yer turn.”

I blindly moved a rook across the board and took one of his pawns.

He continued. “I’m not talking about faith in God or nothin’ like that.” I watched as he made his next move. Quicker than I could see, he swapped his own rook with his King, ruining my plan in the process, not to mention— “Checkmate, atheist.”

My eyes did not deceive me. Through some crazy magic cheating bullshit, he set up a checkmate.

“The hell was that?”

Russell let out a hearty laugh, followed by a cough. “Dontcha know what castling is?”

“How is that even a thing?”

“You never learned the rules, did you?”

“I—” Shit. The game board that we were using didn’t have the little instruction sheet with it when we started playing. “My dad just showed me how all the pieces moved. He wanted me to play chess with him, but I lost too much and stopped playing. I never really went over everything because I knew I’d suck at it if he didn’t let me win.”

He pointed his cigarette at me. “That’s it right there. You don’t got a lotta faith in yourself, so you don’t got much faith in other people neither. Not everyone’s a fuck-up like you.”

“Ha, thanks. I really need this right now.”

“No, no. Folks’ll fool ya.” The man reached for the camping knife on his belt. With it he cut a tick on his side of the table. My side was empty. “If it’s chess or a woman, ya can’t tell what they can do ‘til ya look past the obvious. Like right now. You didn’t have faith I can still whoop yer ass.”

Why you inbred bible-thumping low-brow piece of— damn it he’s right.

* * *

The evening wind wasn’t as bad as I expected, making my walk home along somewhat pleasant relative to what it could have been. Although, it was cold as tits. The sun ducked over the horizon at the other end of the world, giving off a warm glow that shot off streaks of orange to mingle with the blue of the oncoming night sky. The dimming light and low sun reminded me how short the days were getting. It was barely six and the daylight hours were almost over. The lights in the cabin were not yet lit.

The homeostasis the cabin usually kept while we were inside all but disappeared during the day. I sometimes wondered why we even had a refrigerator. A ghostly light broke through the blinds from outside, giving an ephemeral glow to everything it touched, from the bed posts to the silent mess on the floor to my steady breaths.

Once more I found myself wishing Stella got home first, and for a moment wondered if that made me something like her husband. Then again, I was the one who cooked and cleaned, so maybe a househusband? The thought gave me a chuckle as I tidied up some of Stella’s clothes and magazines. If she was going to work longer she at least deserved to come home to a clean house.

After tossing some dirty clothes into her hamper, I noticed a stack of magazines near one of the bed posts. Each and every one of them was some monthly fitness publication or another. Most of them featured oni women on the cover. Flipping through them I came across one with a harpy on the cover. She may as well have been photo shopped. Unlike Stella’s lean and functional muscle, cover girl was thick and bulky with artificially tanned plastic-wrapped skin and all. Too much eagle-woman for me.

Curious, I flipped through the pages of the magazine. It was a special one-month focus on harpies, covering everything from stretching techniques to healthy eating tips for carnivores. Harpies of all shapes and sizes were represented. There was fitness advice for hawks, feather care for blue birds, and relaxation methods for hummingbirds (ha).

I was about to put it away when an ad caught my eye. Most of the other ads were for gyms or nutritional supplements, but this one was for a massage parlor in Anchorage. It showed several pictures of their facilities along with a pair of women getting warm towels draped across their bare backs.

An idea popped into my head as soon as I saw the ad.

I closed the magazine and headed for the bathroom. It was a tiny room with a tiny tub and a tiny toilet. I quickly grabbed a few towels from the rack on the wall and turned on the bath for a few seconds. After they soaked in water to a chilled dampness, I wrung them out and brought them to the radiator in the main room.

Not knowing how long it would take before they got warm enough, I fired up the stove for dinner. We had fish in the freezer. And by that I mean that there was a single trout taking up the entire freezer. I highly doubted Stella would appreciate coming home to no food after a long day.

It was around the time I set the fish on the frying pan that I heard the door unlatch. Stella stumbled into the cabin, her wings clutched around her body for warmth. She wore her skydiving outfit, probably to keep the wind from freezing her skin off. Through the doorway I only saw snow and sleet and the desperate glow of streetlights.

“Hoo! It was cold today!” she cried out with a shake of her feathers that puffed her up like a chia pet. Even her hair seemed to stand on end.

“Hey,” I said, probably too subdued for her not to notice. I already felt shitty about our argument. Although, seeing her acting so normal made me wonder if she even remembered it.

“You okay?” She glanced at the towels hanging across the radiator and cocked her head. “What’ve you been doing, man?”

I poked at the slab of fish I was making and said, “Just making dinner. Hungry?”

Though she gave me a raised eyebrow and look of suspicion, she set her backpack down and said, “Yes I am.”

The meal was more or less silent, save for her sloppy chomps and slurps as she devoured the fish. She sat in my desk chair facing away from me while I ate in the kitchen. Though she ate with every bit as much vigor as normal, she wasn’t trying very hard to hide she was still mad. Guess she remembered after all.

Then she set her plate on my desk and left it there. I hate that. She knew this. She needed to be stopped.

“Hey,” I said, putting my plate on the counter and heading for the radiator.

“Uh huh?” She still didn’t turn around.

I felt at the air above the towels and decided they were warm enough. “Could you get up on the bed?”

She raised an eyebrow. “What for? And what’s with those?”

“It’s my way of saying sorry.” Draping the towels over my arm, I motioned for her to get on the bed.

Almost reflexively she covered herself with her wings. “Is it anything weird?”

I shot her a look and sighed through my nose. “No, it’s not. Come on.”

While I was busy getting myself situated, she milled around for a few seconds below. A clatter sounded from the far side of the cabin. She must have put the plates in the sink or something. Then she hauled herself up onto the bed with her talons and claws.

I motioned her to lay down. “On your stomach, please.” She complied, but not without furrowing her brow in curiosity. “Sorry, but could you take off your shirt, too?”

Though reluctant, she slid her wings through the hoops in her tank top. “It’s getting kind of, uh, weird. Don’tcha think?” She left her ponytail untouched, which was fine for my purposes.

“Ha. There’s a reason, I promise. You’ll love it.”

Once she lay back down on the bed, she made it a point to grab my pillow instead of hers. Her lightly tanned bare back glistened in the ceiling light, every curve above her shorts showing as she moved around to get comfortable. I grabbed one of the gently steaming towels as soon as I stopped staring and laid it across her back without saying a word.

“Oh-hoho wow!” Her back arched sharply, then she slowly melted back into the bed.

“Warm enough for you?” I asked with a chuckle. Next I put the remaining two towels across her upper wings and shoulders.

She let out a sigh, practically deflating beneath them. “Where’d all this come from?”

As I gently rubbed her back through the towels, working some heat into her muscles, I said, “Saw it in one of your monthlies when I was cleaning up earlier.”

“Mm. Good monthly.”

“Right?”

A few minutes passed and I peeled the towels from her skin, leaving her back shining and flushed. Seeing her bare back still excited me in a strange way. Actually, that’s wrong. It wasn’t strange at all; it was just new. Ever since we got together I saw sides of her I never knew existed. I suppose her back counts.

“What now?” She asked.

I rubbed my hands together. “Now I need you to tell me…” I pressed my thumbs into the backs of her shoulders, “… where you’re most sore.”

Stella let out a laugh that I felt through her skin with my fingers. “Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

She pondered for a moment before resting her head on my pillow. “Around my shoulder blades and the back of my ne-ECK!” Her voice rose as soon as I pressed into the dense cord-like muscles of her upper spine.

“Around here?”

“A-around there.”

“I don’t have much to compare it to,” I said as I kneaded her back, “but you feel wound-up as hell.”

“Ah-ah! Bit gentler, please.”

I pulled my hands back for a moment before going back in. “Sorry.” My thumbs found a hard cord of sinew.

“It’s fi-INE! Ah~ hoo.” One of her talons popped up from the bed. I went ahead and worked over that hard spot for her. Soon I moved further down her back to her waist. I traced my fingers along and felt at her skin. Eventually I uncovered a knot, hard as rock.

“Whoa. You feel that?” I lightly dug a finger into the knot, to which she gave a muffled cry into the pillow.

Stella came up gasping for air. “Ah~ yeah. Yeah, I feel it.”

Moving to get a better vantage point, I rolled up my sleeves and placed an elbow against her back. “Always wanted to try this.”

“Huh? T-try what?”

Too late. My elbow dug into the knot as best I could. Stella instinctively pushed against it, arching her back and pulling her head from the pillow. Biting her lower lip she held her breath until I stopped grinding my elbow against her. The moment I did, she flopped back down into a puddle.

Paying no heed, I went back to her shoulder blades. “Are you stretching enough in the morning?”

“I dunno~ ah-ah! Go a bit lower.”

“Hey.” My fingers found their way to her sides. Her breath caught in her throat. “Don’t make me tickle you, because I’ll fucking do it. Seriously, have you been stretching enough?”

A sigh escaped her and she turned her head away from me. “I might’ve done the Cliff Notes version a few times this week.”

I moved on to her shoulders and arms. “Why’s that?” Her biceps and triceps were hard as rock; I couldn’t tell if they had knots or were just that well-conditioned, yet they were thinner than mine.

“I don’t know. Every morning it’s like I can’t wait to take off. I get excited, you know? So I skip some steps and head to the hangar a bit early.” She started kicking her legs up and down absent-mindedly.

A sigh pushed out through my teeth. “If you’re going to work these winter hours you can’t skimp on anything. Especially stretching.”

The kicking stopped. “Wait. You’re suddenly okay with me working extra and junk?”

I tightened my grip on her arms. “Only if you be smart about it and keep safe.”

She sighed. “I said this already, Jeff. I’m not stupid, and I can take care of myself out there.”

“I know, but you don’t stretch properly and then wonder why I worry, it’s just—” I took my hands off her. “Remember how I said my grandpa crashed his plane? How he didn’t check his engine right?” She froze and turned her head to look up at me. That got her attention. “That’s why I have my lists, so I don’t fuck up. I don’t want someone I care about to get hurt because they cut corners— especially when I know about it.” I went back to the knot near her shoulder blade, this time with a gentler touch. “If you at least let me do this for you, then I’ll trust you without a word.”

She remained silent for a time. “I’m sorry about your grandpa and everything, but you don’t need to guilt trip me on this.” I actually didn’t mean to. My gut dropped when the thought of her taking it the wrong way ran through my head. “I know why you worry, Jeff. I worry about you, too, you know.” Her talons curled and her back arched as I went from hard to soft and back again on the knot. “Hah. I mean, flying a screaming metal death trap with spinning blades of doom and everything every day? It’s scary! I just never said anything because I really think you’re a great pilot.” She sighed and let herself face plant into the pillow. “If you trust me, then I’ll trust you, too.”

Knowing that she had the same worries as me lifted a heavy burden from my shoulders. I could have sworn I was alone with those thoughts. She claimed to have more faith in me than I knew; I never expected her to worry in secret. Was it for me? I wanted to ask, but couldn’t put together the words. Instead, I continued with the massage I promised her.

Wordlessly I moved on to other muscles along her lightly curved lower back. Around where a human’s tailbone would have ended, she had a short tail with dozens of feathers sticking out in a fan shape. Perfect for maneuvering and maintaining flight. The base of those feathers had a bunch of smaller, fluffier feathers that led up to the bare skin of her spine. I spread out my fingers and felt at the tight strands of muscle and tendons connected to her tail feathers, only able to imagine what kind of fine motor skills and practice it too to precisely control flight.

“Mm, that’s a good spot,” Stella mumbled, “Right around there.”

I let my fingers wander, tracing up her narrow waist and letting my thumbs dig into her flesh. If I wrapped my hands around her my fingers would almost touch on the other side. Strangely enough, the massage didn’t tickle her at all. If anything she looked more relaxed than I’ve ever seen her. That was my initial intent and all, but it felt gratifying to actually do it.

“My legs hurt a bit, too,” she said, keeping her face partially covered by the pillow. “Since I tuck them up when I fly.”

My eyes were drawn to her shapely thighs. Though partially hidden by tail feathers, her fit and cute backside gave my heart a nice jolt. As she lay flat on her stomach it became all the more pronounced and stunning, clad in a pair of black shorts. The skin of her legs only went as far as her knees before giving way to the harder skin that covered her talons.

I straddled her legs to get a better vantage point.

Almost instinctively my hands moved to touch the goosebump-laden skin of her thighs. Her legs squeezed together slightly at the contact. I could tell she was doing her best not to move her legs as her hooked talons clenched and unclenched in tandem with my massage. Her cries of relieved pain all but stopped, replaced by her barely audible gasps.

Stella lifted her head and took a quick breath before saying, “Do you plan on doing the front, too?”

My hands stopped. “I didn’t think that far ahead, to be honest. This was all kind of, uh, spur-of-the-moment.” My eyes fidgeted every which way, as if looking at her suddenly became a crime.

“Would you?”

Without waiting for me to move, she twisted herself around onto her back. One wing covered her chest while she let the other rest on the pillow near her head. Her belly had the consistency of worked clay. It was shaped so perfectly that I started to think maybe there is a God. She stared off to the side, biting her lower lip nervously and eyes half closed. Her legs brushed up against mine as she moved, a knee lingering against my inner thigh for a moment.

“Jeff?” she said.

“Hm?”

“Do you hafta stare?”

I brought my hands down to her again almost automatically. “Sorry.” Nonetheless, I ran my fingers up her sides. “Where does it hurt?”

She pointed a claw at her lower belly. “It’s a bit sore around my abs.”

“Got it.”

I couldn’t help but take in the sights as I dug my thumbs into her abs. The pelvic bones just above the strap of her shorts traced sensual lines leading between her legs and beyond. Even with my thoughts clouded I felt at the tightness in her abs and did my utmost to ease her aches.

“How’s that?” I asked, working my way up. Her definition extended along her sides as well, her ribs barely noticeable underneath her healthy taut flesh and skin. My breathing deepened despite my attempts to quaff it. I was intoxicated by her.

Stella’s breaths grew heavy as well. “My, uh,” she started, pausing to swallow and glance at me with anxious eyes. “My chest hurts the most.”

Her wing moved away from her front.

A sight to behold; I couldn’t tear my eyes away. As soon as she lifted the shadows from her breasts my eyes latched onto her. She didn’t need to give me permission a second time. Try as I might to concentrate on the massage and relieving her aches and pains, I couldn’t suppress the obvious reaction to her display. Her skin developed goosebumps at my touch, her droplet-shaped breasts easily small enough to fit in my hands.

Remembering my mission, I pressed my fingers just below her collarbones and felt at the sinew connecting her arms to her shoulders. With her wings resting above her head, I got a clear view of her underarms and all of the skin around her chest.

“Ow,” she winced as I pressed against her deltoid. She took a deep breath through her nose. “Around there.” Not once did she look my way. The errant thoughts never stopped popping into my head. Every beautiful and terrible thing I wanted to do with her poked and prodded at my self-control. A few articles of clothing and what meager threads of restraint I had left were the only things stopping us. My breathing grew a little heavier; the only sign that showed what she could do to me just by being there. Everything else I bottled up as my hands ran across her skin.

“Hey.”

I looked up to see her raise her head from the pillow. Her eyes locked with mine and her lips shut together into a nervous flat line, as if telling me she didn’t want any more talking. While she lifted herself towards me, our quiet breaths mingled in the narrow space between us. My heart couldn’t stop pounding and my vision grew hazy as Stella’s thin lips touched mine.

This wasn’t like our usual quick goodbye kisses or pecks. We slowly— lovingly— melted together as she pushed me back with her lips. Oblivious, one of my hands reached to grope a breast while the other held me up until she got me on my back. Breaking away from the kiss for a moment, she crawled on top of me and pressed herself against my chest. With a claw she yanked my collar down and kissed my neck.

She stopped for a moment, panting, and said, “Undo your shirt before I tear it off.”

Before I processed her words, my hands already moved to flick each button out of its hole. She shoved her way above my hands and planted kisses down my chest the lower my shirt opened. I wasn’t much to look at compared to the rugged men and lumberjacks that populated Unalakleet, but she hungrily held me down to kiss and nibble me as she pleased.

Every brush of her lips and tickle of her breath sent a jolt up my back. Soon she planted a trail of kisses and bites up my chest and to my neck. Straddling me from above, her shorts pressed against my firm groin, before holding me down with her wings on my shoulders and directing her full attention to my lips once more.

Like hell I wasn’t going to participate. When I tried to push back, however, her hold on me was too strong.

“Stella,” I whispered into her lips.

She nibbled my lower lip and said through her teeth, “Shut up. You had your turn. Now me.”

I did my best to wriggle out from under her. “Massages don’t count!”

Stella sat up and took a deep breath. “Could you just— let me do this? I’m not good at this kind of thing, and can’t even imagine how to do this too well. Hell, I’ve been thinking about this stuff for weeks and can’t figure it out! I just can’t… concentrate if you move around.” She looked me dead in the eye, more serious than I’d ever seen her. “For just a while, let me be in control.”

My mind went in circles at her words. Did this mean we weren’t compatible or something? Or was she just so nervous she didn’t want anything to go wrong? Sometimes I don’t get her.

I turned my head to check the clock on the wall. “Six minutes. Same as the massage.”

Her eyes lit up with a determined glint. “That’s plenty.”

Leaning down, she picked up my right hand with her claw and brought it up to her face. She nuzzled it against her cheek with closed eyes as if basking in its feeling, as if trying to experience it in every way she could. The touch of my fingertips against her cheeks, the scent of my knuckles, the taste of the back of my hand against her lips, the sight of the lines along my palm— she took in all of it in every way she knew. Once she ran my hand through her hair, it was as if she lost herself in her own fantasy world.

Quickly moving on to something else, she kissed my collarbones and chest again. The goosebumps on my skin rose and fell along with contact with her lips. It was all I could do to keep myself from giving voice to how good it felt. It didn’t take long for her blushing attention to turn to my belt buckle. Clinking around my equipment with her claws, the band slowly slid free of the loops as she pulled it off me with her teeth. She tossed the belt to the floor with a jerk of her head. It hit something on the way down. After she got through the button and zipper, she yanked my pants down by the waist band.

I was ready for her for a long time already.

Stella took a deep steady breath at seeing me for the first time. Calmly she slid her shorts off her legs and talons, letting them fall to the floor without a care. I breathed in at the sight of her as well. Hips and nether region completely bare, my gaze scanned her up and down uninterrupted by clothing or fabric or feathers.

She fidgeted for a moment. “Quit staring.”

“Sorry.” Then it hit me. “But first?”

“What?”

“The, uh, condom.”

Her eyes grew round as plates and she stuttered out, “I just— uh. Yeah, I— oh jeez. I’m so sorry, I—”

“Hey.” I gently held up her chin before she could even attempt to look down in shame. “We both forgot.” When I tried to move, I realized my pants were still around my ankles. “Could you, uh…”

“Yeah.”

“It’s—”

“Shut up, I know where it is.”

Stella dove off the edge of the bed, carelessly flashing her taut rear at me in the process, and disappeared. While she shuffled around with some stuff in the drawer, I took my pants off the rest of the way. By the time they hit the floor, Stella poked her head above the edge of the bed. The condom was held gingerly between her teeth. If I became flaccid at all during her time away, I became hard as a rock upon her return.

My hand reflexively reached out and grabbed a corner of the square package. As I pulled, she bit down on the edge of it, tearing the wrapping ever so slowly until one side was stripped away. Left with wide eyes and an opened condom, I put it on with all haste while she climbed back up. The eagerness in her blushing smirk was palpable as she heaved a leg over mine and straddled me once more.

Stella wrapped her wings around me and tapped her forehead to mine. Her breathing was steady but hot. My tip brushed up against her lower lips until I found her opening, eliciting a gasp from her. We gave each other a nod of readiness, and she let herself lower onto me.

Her claws dug into my back and she could no longer hold back her voice. I slid into her for what felt like an eternity, her steaming inner walls tightening and releasing with every heartbeat. A grunt escaped me and, without thinking, I ran a hand through her hair and wrapped my other arm around her waist as I penetrated her further. I felt like she would disappear if I didn’t.

I was inside her. That single thought pervaded my senses. The rub of her groin against mine, the stickiness of our sweat, the smell of her hair, and the sound of her breaths all served to fan my flames.

But she couldn’t hold back anymore.

Suddenly she pushed her pelvis into mine, making me take a sharp breath. Taking control, she pulled back and pushed again. I slipped in and out of her, free of my will, with a rhythm I couldn’t seem to match.

“S-Stella, slow down,” I said before she shut me up with a forceful kiss that left my tongue unable to do much but relish hers. A part of me couldn’t help but let her do as she pleased to me, but I did not plan to let her overtake me. Quickly I reached up and grabbed at one of her breasts.

Letting out a cry of surprise, she gave me the chance to push back against her with my lips until she leaned backwards. We almost knocked our foreheads together. I took my time to work my way into her, grasping at her thighs to pull her close. With her laid bare before me, I leaned forward and kissed her lovely, compact breasts. Stella moaned and arched her back in response. The tenuous grasp her wings held on my shoulders kept her suspended above the sheets.

After a moment of working over her chest, she cried out, “S-stop that! Haha!” She smacked a wing against the top of my head, unable to hold back a smile.

Somehow I felt relieved. We had a little trouble connecting at first, but that one little laugh pulled aside my inhibitions like a curtain.

I smirked. “Make me.”

Competitive sparks flew between us as she lunged forward and did her best to push me down. Despite my struggling, she managed to twist her legs around my waist and topple me to the side. She somehow managed to keep us coupled. I almost hit the wall, but didn’t really notice as I began my counter attack. I pulled one of her legs up and hooked it under my arm, teasing her inner thighs with my fingers.

With the better vantage point, I thrust into her before she had the chance to get on top. Biting her lower lip, she gave me an aggressive grin. With her talons she grasped the edges of the bed behind me and pushed her pelvis into mine, toppling me onto my back where she sat over me in dominance. My head hanged in the open air above our room as she got situated.

“Gonna have to do better than that,” she said as she started cycling her hips back and forth, her tail feathers tickling my knees behind her. Voracious, she leaned forward and kissed me over and over again. The rhythm we achieved made her groan in pleasure while she held my arms down with her claws. Every inch I went inside her made me go mad while every inch I pulled out made me want her all over again.

This vicious cycle continued until I got my fighting spirit back.

My arms broke free and wrapped around to her waist. I leaned forward in an attempt to get on top again, but she rolled us to the side and flipped us over so she was once more dominant. Not to take any more of that garbage, I sat up and planted my face between her breasts, causing her to cry out in laughter as she fell back once more. My turn.

Sitting on my knees and holding her legs to either side of me, I started thrusting in earnest. For a change of pace, she didn’t try to stop me. Instead she decided to look at me. Sweat dripped down my chest and legs while various bodily fluids drenched my loins. My usually messy black hair matted against my forehead.

I twisted myself around inside her, trying to find the spot that pleased her the most. A few attempts later and her moans never really changed intensity. Just as I was about to give up that endeavor, I thrust a little to the left.

Stella let out a cry. “Oh~! Mm, right there right there right there!”

Stopping wasn’t on list of things to do, so I continued as well as I was able on that spot. She let out cries I never imagined she could. I leaned forward and kissed her as she moaned into my mouth.

“Jeff! Jeff!” She clenched her eyes shut and for a moment I thought she would climax. “Ahh, you lost it! Hah.” Damn it.

I nibbled her neck, trying to hide myself from her disappointment. “I’ll get it next time.”

She turned her head and looked at me with an embarrassed smile. “Shut up.” With that, Stella flipped me over with ease and grinded me from above once more.

“Oh no you don’t!” I yelled. With all my might I sat up and bit one of her breasts. Lightly, of course.

“Ah~haha!” She cried and wrapped her wings around my head, as if encouraging me not to stop.

We wrestled back and forth, biting each others necks and ears. It felt like we’d turned into a pair of animals vying for dominance over each other. The heat and sweat between our bodies was enough to make the room stuffy. My head grew lighter as we continued. It all felt so dreamlike that I refused to hold back my every want. Holding her down by the wings I kissing her as gently as I could and felt every curve of her lips with my own. I went in and out of her slowly at first and let my inhibitions go until we were slapping ourselves together. She met my roughness with her own, along with great shouts of joy.

As I felt myself approaching climax I looked into her lovely brown eyes and whispered, “Almost.”

Stella simply bit her lip and nodded.

I let go of her wings so she could sit on my lap, her legs wrapped around my lower back. Her front plastered against mine as we moved against each other in tandem. As I tried to keep my voice from coming out, Stella’s cries grew louder and louder with every thrust. We wrapped our arms around each other, her claws digging into my back as if she never wanted to let me go, and we reached our mutual peak together in one final thrust.

I might have moaned aloud; I wasn’t sure. My seed spilled into her undulating walls as if it was the last thing I would ever do. Her breaths and voice grew ragged as she pressed her cheek against my chest.

Some immeasurable time of bliss later and I still felt like I was coming. The two of us clumsily collapsed onto each other, a witless pile of heat, shining skin, and bodily fluids. We struggled to catch our breath in the wake of what was, in my twenty seven years of life, the most fun I’d ever had.

* * *

“Hoo man,” Stella said with a massive sigh, sprawled across the bed as I brushed my teeth. “I’m so gonna be sore tomorrow.”

I put a hand at the base of my back and leaned backward, sending several cracks up my spine. “Oh yeah, me too.” All those muscles I just exercised hadn’t gotten much use in the past few years.

“Your whole massage thing kinda backfired.” She let herself hang half off the edge of the bed so she could see into the bathroom. We sheepishly smiled at each other when we made eye contact through the mirror.

“I wouldn’t say ‘backfired,’ but I see what you mean.”

Once I spat, Stella floated down to the floor and came up behind me. “Is your back okay?”

I turned to see her standing there, beautifully nude and still shining in afterglow. Though I almost had a laugh when I noticed my bite mark on her boob. Nonetheless she had a look of concern on her face that just tore my heart out of my chest.

A few gauze patches were taped to my back around my shoulder blades. “It’s fine. It stopped bleeding pretty quick, so it can’t be too bad. Don’t worry about it.”

“I’m really real sorry. Anything I can do?”

I set my toothbrush down on the counter and hugged her. “Right now, not a thing.” As she leaned against my chest, my heart beating against her ear, I thought to myself for a few moments. “It’s really been awhile.”

“Hm? Since what?”

“Since I’ve felt so… at ease, I guess.” Never during our time together did I expect to stand around the cabin naked with her. Now it seemed like the most natural thing.

Stella let go of me and flashed a happy smile before she skipped into the bathroom. “Could you help me brush my teeth?” Between her claws she clumsily picked her toothbrush out of the cup on the counter.

Good, she didn’t notice the bite mark, or at least didn’t care. “Don’t I always?”

The first time she asked for help brushing her teeth, it sort of weirded me out. Her lack of fine motor control certainly kept her from doing a good job on her own, so I grudgingly helped her out. That was more than a year ago. Now, it was basic routine.

I hunched over and motioned for her to open her mouth. With one hand on her chin to keep her stable, I started. It was difficult the first time we tried it— she even bled a little— I soon became an expert on harpy oral hygiene, for all that’s worth in Alaska.

After a solid minute of brushing, I motioned for her to spit. While she gargled and finished up, I put away the rest of my toiletries with my back to her.

Suddenly, “Hey.” I felt one of her wings slap me on my bare ass.

I jumped a good ways. “Ah! Whoa, what’s up?”

When I turned her way she stood up on the tips of her talons and kissed me. She said, “Breath check. You pass,” and walked away.

Before she got too far I spanked her right back with a loud slap. She hopped out of the bathroom with a joyous laugh; she probably expected it. As she turned to look back at me, I leaned against the door frame and couldn’t help but stare at her loveliness. One leg bent a bit more than the other, her wings tucked behind her, head tilted a bit, and her eyes gave me a flirtatious sidelong gaze. Among the dim light of the cabin she was positively glowing.

“I could just kick myself,” I said as I walked toward the bed.

She chuckled. “How come?”

“I only had one condom.”

With a shove to my shoulder she climbed up the bed posts. “Oh, shut up. It’s bedtime, so get in bed.”

I followed suit, climbing up the bed post at the opposite end. When I hauled myself to the top, she was already laying down. Unlike previous nights, however, she faced me with an embarrassed smile.

“You want to be the big spoon tonight?” I asked, preparing to turn around for her.

Stella delicately took my hand in one of her claws. “Nope.” With a yank she pulled me down to the pillows. Before I could ask what she was doing, she held my hand in her claws. She studied it closely with serene interest. I let her examine and manipulate my fingers in silence, brushing my fingertips against her cheek, smelling my palm, and kissing the back.

I said, “You did this earlier, too.”

“Yeah,” she mumbled under her breath, clearly on the verge of sleep. “Hands are so cool. I don’t have them, so I always wanted to look at one up close like this.”

I pulled our comforters over us and adjusted myself, letting her have my hand. “What do you think?” I whispered.

She closed her eyes and nuzzled my hand with a smile. “Better than I thought.”

As she shut her eyes, I did the same, leaving my fingers in her care as I drifted off to sleep. Before I allowed my mind to settle, I felt a light peck on my lips.

“What is it?” I asked, stretching my legs to the end of the bed before relaxing them once more.

Another peck and a soft laugh. Stella hooked a wing around my arm, held it close, and muttered, “I think I love you, Jeff,” before snuggling closer to me for the rest of the night.

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