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Chiaroscuro: Aurora

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The trip back to the Blue Rooms is fast, thanks to the ghouls who show up to blink the three of you there. Jonas is already preparing for the evening, shining his dress boots and talking with Johannes and Henrik, and he lights up when he sees his other two spouses, standing and striding toward you. He kisses Papa, then kisses you with an added spin, his hands around your waist. “My flower. Do I have a treat for you.” He winks at Papa, and also at Johannes, who comes up to wrap his arms around the pope. “You thought she was radiant in that emerald dress, wait until you see what she will be wearing tonight.”

“Oh no,” you moan, pushing at Jonas’s chest weakly. “You didn’t need to, Jonas! I’ve got dresses I haven’t even tried on yet in that closet, one of them is fine!” You look to Papa and Johannes for support, knowing you probably won’t get it.

“I’m not sure why you think we would talk him out of it, my goddess,” Papa says with a chuckle as Johannes laughs into Papa’s hair.

Jonas snorts at your suggestion, a decidedly un-regal sound. “No, none of those are suitable for a state dinner, my flower.” He looks around and smiles when he spots Aether. “My friend, you are so talented at highlighting her beauty and helping her get ready. Would you do the honors once again? The dress is already in her closet.”

Aether bows and gently tugs you toward him, smiling as he tucks your hand into his arm. “It would be my pleasure.”

In mere moments, Aether has you in the king’s bathroom, undressing you with smooth movements. As he pulls your garments off, his hands glide across your skin, cupping your breasts, thumbing your nipples, caressing your thighs...

“Aether,” you sigh, “if you keep that up I’ll—”

“You’ll what?” he whispers.

“I’ll end up being late.” You smile in a way that says you wouldn’t really mind.

“Mmmm but can you blame me?” the ghoul whispers again. “You are so tempting.” A lingering kiss...another.... “In the tub, my darling girl, before I take you where you stand.”

Once you’re soaking, he blinks out and returns with a garment bag.

“I’m not sure that I’ll ever be used to the way he spoils me,” you murmur, side-eyeing the bag as you wash.

“Good,” Aether replies happily, hanging the bag up and setting down a jewelry box next to it. “Oh, my darling girl...what he’s chosen for you is nothing short of divine. I might have you sit down when you open the jewelry though.”

“What did he do?!” you gasp, and you make to get out of the tub.

“Ah! No, finish washing!” Aether points to the tub, and you scowl at him, but lower your leg back into the water.

“That’s my good girl,” he says softly, and the praise warms your insides, swirls of heat spinning from your core outward. He moves near. “How are you doing? Let me get your back.”

“...just my back though,” you say warily, and he chuckles as he kneels by the edge of the tub.

“Yes, darling. You’re no fun today.” You watch him over your shoulder as he rolls his sleeves up to the elbow, and the sight makes goosebumps raise on your own arms.

“Keep flashing those arms at me like that, and I’ll be all sorts of fun,” you reply cheekily, hardly believing you said the words out loud.

“Such a flirt,” the ghoul says with a laugh as he starts soaping you up. “I had no idea.”

You shudder at the feel of his warm, slick hands gliding over your skin. “Seems that when I’ve been seriously worked up I turn as witty as Papa,” you reply, grinning faintly.

“Oh? Well, these new beautiful men around are certainly enough to work anyone up,” Aether replies, blowing a puff of air on the back of your neck just to hear you gasp.

“You think they’re beautiful too?” you ask, your tone starting to sound a little woozy.

“Oh yes. The grim are all extremely beautiful. Don’t tell Fire I said this, but I think Erik may be more attractive than he is.”

You gasp again, this time in shock. “You really think so? Fire won’t like that…”

Aether nudges you. “I said don’t tell him, you minx.” You giggle as the ghoul continues. “As for Rammstein...well, all fae are beautiful in some way. It’s how they operate, my darling girl...drawing the unsuspecting in with ethereal beauty, then snatching them away.” He kisses the back of your head. “Kind of like you with us.”

You roll your eyes. “Unlike them, I didn’t snatch you away with ethereal beauty, or on purpose.”

Aether rolls his eyes right back. “You are talking nonsense. Hush.” He rinses your back and kisses your shoulder. “There, squeaky clean. Come on, get out and dry off.”

“You’re impatient today, unholy shit,” you mutter.

“Well, it’s either hustle so we can get you ready, or give in to the siren call of your body and fuck. Which would you like?” He grins. “Keep in mind I’m leaning toward the latter, and I’m easily persuaded.”

“You tempt me, sir,” you groan, stepping out of the water and leaning up to kiss him deeply. He groans back, wrapping his arms around you tightly and turning to press you against the wall.

“Says the spider to the fly,” he mumbles into your mouth, uncaring about his clothes getting wet. Your arms slide around his neck as you meet his passion with your own. And when you grind against him a little, he tears his lips away from yours. “Both. We’ll do both,” he breathes as one hand starts unfastening his pants, releasing his erection with a moan that you echo.

“Ok, hurry, hurry,” you whisper.

He kisses you again before plunging into you, making you both cry out. He’s not slow, neither of you having the time for a drawn-out session. He maneuvers your leg over his arm, making you gasp as he rails against your g-spot.

As your orgasm nears, he growls, sensing it. “Yes, fuck, please, come all over me, fuck,” he groans, slamming into you over and over. “I’m...close...”

His little strangled choke as he speaks does it. Your leg slung over his arm snaps straight as the orgasm races through you.

Your scream seems to come from your toes, your eyes unseeing as Aether roars into your shoulder and pulls out, coming all over your belly. You shudder hard at the feeling, pressing your forehead to Aether’s temple, panting against his cheek.

Three short, sharp knocks sound on the door. “I wasn’t aware that getting her ready included fucking her til she screams,” the king says, his voice muffled, but you can hear the amusement there.

Aether lets out a puff of laughter. “I offer full service, your majesty.”

There’s a soft laugh, and then footsteps walk away from the door. You laugh as well, grinning like an idiot as Aether carries you back to the tub. “All right, wash up again. Then you can see the dress.”

You do as he says, giggling and moving as quickly as you can despite the tremors that are still moving through you. He straightens himself up as well, and is ready with huge towels when you get out of the tub.

You smile as he wraps the towels around you, fully capable of wicking the water away with your powers, but liking his embrace too much to end it prematurely. He chuckles and kisses your nose, drying you off before bidding you to sit as he blow dries your hair.

You eye up the garment bag as Aether works his magic on your hair. “Let me guess... I’m not wearing underwear tonight, am I?”

“Do you ever?” Aether snickers.

“I do!...sometimes!” you huff, and Aether’s snicker turns into a full laugh.

“Well, you can’t even if you want to tonight, my darling,” he says as he finishes your hair and turns to your makeup.

He goes very light on the makeup, more for artistry’s sake than hiding any perceived blemishes. He leaves your lips natural, and gives your eyes some smokey shadow, and to your surprise a small line of three jewels that go from the corner of your eye up.

“Pretty,” you say, smiling.

“Merely decorating what is already there, my darling girl,” he says, and you smile. He straightens and gives you a mock-serious look. “Are you ready?” You hesitate, then nod. He laughs. “You look like you’re about to be executed! It’s a new dress, not a fight to the death.”

“Too soon, Aether,” you say, frowning even though there was a hint of mirth shining in your eyes. He chuckles and starts fiddling with the garment bag and before you can reply, he pulls out the dress. But not just any dress.

“Unholy shit!” you blurt out.

It’s leather. Jonas got you a leather dress. The sleeves are short, almost nonexistent, only really covering your shoulders. Metal chains hang from the sides of the...almost pauldrons, hanging partway down your bicep. On the left side of the skirt are more chains in an elegant design, and the skirt stops mid-thigh. The back of the dress, however, sweeps to the floor. “This is...gorgeous,” you breathe, grinning widely as you reach out and run your fingers over the supple leather. “And also a lot simpler than I thought it was going to be! I love it!”

Aether’s smile is wide as he helps you into the form-fitting dress. “Ah, we’ve found the way to your heart...leather.”

You laugh as he fastens the back, tugs here and there, arranges the back skirt in a pleasing drape, and adjusts the neckline, which bares quite a bit of skin. As you pull on matching thigh-high leather boots, you peer up at the ghoul. “I assume that’s a necklace?” You nod at the jewelry box. “There’s too much skin here for there not to be a chain or something.”

Aether smiles, and he walks over to get the chair you’d just left. “You’re going to want to sit down.”

You gulp. “Aether. What did he do?”

“Just remember, he’s a newlywed, and he loves you very much,” he says cryptically, and hands you the box.

You gulp again, look to the ghoul one last time, and open it up.

Rubies blaze in the light...so many rubies, dozens of them, in all shapes and sizes, pieced together to make a huge triangle of glittering, flaming beauty. You gasp at the piece, touching it gingerly, shocked by the weight, the sheer mass of it. “Oh...my...gods...”

Aether smiles. “It’s called PhoenixFire.”

“The necklace has a name?” you rasp. At his nod, you shake your head. “Of course it does, it probably has its own zip code. Aether, I can’t wear this.”

“Sure you can,” he says, carefully picking it up out of the case. “He had it made specially for you after all.” He steps behind you and lays it carefully around your throat, fastening the clasp. It is still heavy...but since it is from Jonas it is a comforting heavy, like having his arm around your shoulders.

You look down at yourself, at the fiery ornament blazing on you, and then at the mirror. “This is too much. It’s just...it’s too much, Aether. I can’t accept this. I’m not...I don’t deserve this.”

“You literally saved his life and his kingdom. Why wouldn’t you deserve it?” he asks you gently. “Besides. It’s already made, and not wearing it would make him sad. You don’t want to do that, do you?”

You pout up at him. “Low blow, Aether. Low blow.”

“Is it working?” he asks, his voice still gentle.

“Yes,” you whisper, hating to admit it.

“Excellent. Then it’s worth it.” He kneels down next to you. “More importantly, you are worth it.”

You look back to the mirror, then back to Aether. The ghoul, just a little enraptured, offers you his hand, and you take it and stand up. The dress fits you perfectly, and the necklace blazes in the light with every movement. You take a deep breath, letting it out slowly, before managing a faint smile. “It really is beautiful.”

“It is a handful of pebbles compared to you, my darling girl,” he murmurs back.

You blush faintly. “Will I ever get used to hearing compliments from all of you?”

“I should hope so, seeing as how we heap them upon you.” You laugh, and he kisses you, a light, fast touch; you know he’s trying to avoid messing up your makeup.

He beams to you and offers you his arm, before walking you out and into the main rooms. The others are there, talking, mostly ready to go. Papa is looking resplendent in full papal attire; all the ghouls’ uniforms are pristine. Jonas is in full kingly regalia, looking imposing and beautiful, but some of the imposingness drops as he sees you and his jaw drops open.

He manages to snap his jaws shut as he moves toward you. “My radiant flower...you look even better than I expected.”

You curtsy, and when he gets close enough, he grabs your hands and brings them to his lips.

You smile to him. “My husband. This is entirely too much...but thank you.” He just smiles, and you see joyful tears swimming in his eyes.

Then Papa steps up, eyes dark as he looks you over. “Leather suits you so well, my goddess. Later...I’m going to worship you while you’re in nothing but that necklace.”

Desire floods through you at his words. “You...you promise?” you say, your voice husky with the sudden need pulsing in you.

“Indeed I do, my love,” he says, a wicked grin crossing his features. “And I think I might know a few others who will do the same if you let them.”

You shiver, a grin curling your lips. “I can’t wait. Come on, the sooner we get this done, the sooner we can get back.” You head for the door, making your loves laugh and follow.

“Look at that confidence!” Jonas says happily.

“Mmmm, I was actually looking at that ass,” Johannes murmurs, “it looks fucking amazing in leather. But the confidence looks good too.”

“She’s not the same person we first rescued, is she?” Papa says, looking to his ghouls.

Fire grins and shakes his head. “Not at all. She’s...a little more wild.”

“More alive,” Aether says with a nod.

“More everything,” Earth murmurs, one of Beta’s arms around him.

“And she’s all ours,” Johannes growls as he follows you. “Come on, she’s right, sooner we go, sooner we’re done, sooner we can play with our favorite toy.”

John laughs but holds up one hand. “We can’t all just barge downstairs and into the ballroom. It’s a state dinner...people get announced at the doors, and there’s an order to follow.”

Johannes sighs as Henrik nudges him. “Have you forgotten already, Mr. King’s Bodyguard?” Johannes shoves him playfully, and Henrik shoves back.

“All right, all right,” Jonas says, amused. “Come on, we can do this the right way.”

It is controlled chaos for the next several minutes as John leads all of you to a space he calls “the staging room,” which gradually fills to near overflowing as massive fae and leapy grim join ghouls and wolves. As John and several assistants try to bring order and assign places, you giggle. “It’s like herding cats,” you whisper to Papa, who will be escorting you in to the ballroom.

Papa grins. “No, my love, herding cats is easy so long as you give them what they want. This group? They all want something different.” He pauses. “Well, save for one thing...” And he gives you a pointed look, which makes you turn as red as the rubies around our throat.

You suddenly hear Till’s deep voice in your ear. “Leather looks fucking incredible on you.”

Erik bounces over to your other side and murmurs, “You really are a goddess, aren’t you?” before he’s off again.

You try to answer, one of them, both of them, but all you can do is shake your head as your blush deepens. Papa smiles. “She is our goddess...everything looks incredible on her....even nothing at all.”

You can’t see it, but you know that Till is smirking. “I cannot wait to see that. One day soon, I’m going to—”

But what he would do is cut off as John has finally had enough and transforms into his white tiger form. He roars, the sound making decorative plates rattle on the walls, and there’s instantly quiet. He shifts back, looking unruffled. “Thank you. Now, if you all would line up in the order of entry. My king, Johannes, and Henrik, you’re all last.”

Soon the ghouls and Beta are in position, followed by you and Papa. The fae are next, and the grim follow (“because they are the official reason for the state dinner,” John whispers to you when he catches your confused look, “the official guests are introduced right before the king.”). Tim bows and leaves, as he will be with the highest-ranking members of the army in attendance.

“Why doesn’t Tim get introduced?” you ask, trying to understand everything.

“None of us do,” John says. “Just the king. It’s the way we do things...just watch, babygirl. It’s like a pageant.” He winks and then he moves to the doors to give final directions.

John looks to Jonas, who nods, and he opens the doors to give the announcer the final lineup. The man, dressed to the nines, pounds the end of a staff on the ground, and the band on stage plays a complicated-sounding lick to get everyone’s attention. You bite your lip to keep from laughing—it’s better than a trumpet, in your opinion.

It’s quiet enough that you now hear an argument...no one is shouting because they’re keeping their voices controlled, but someone is pissed.

Before you can ask what’s going on, Damiano swoops into the staging room, a smaller man chasing after him, reaching for his arm.

“Touch my arm again and you will find yourself with a serious problem,” Damiano snarls.

Papa groans, and comes over. “Fratello, you were supposed to be here ten minutes ago.”

Damiano fixes his brother with a look that would wither lesser men. “I would have been. But I had to re-iron my chasuble, because it was not good enough.”

“For Satan’s sake,” Papa starts, “no one is looking at the crease lines of—”

“Get in line, Emeritus,” John hisses. “This is a state dinner, and it’s starting late. Here.” And, much to Damiano’s displeasure, John grabs his arm and yanks him into place in front of you and Papa.

You hear grumbles from the Second as he pulls out of John’s grip and straightens the drape of his sleeves, and Ann scuttles in quickly, looking vaguely windblown. “Papa, you walk too fucking fast!” she hisses as she takes her place next to him. John glares, and if looks could kill...he yanks the paper back from the doorman just as he is about to announce the first name, and quickly scribbles Ann’s name next to Damiano’s.

The man at the door pounds his staff against the floor, and shouts, “Hear ye, citizens of Avatar Country! Welcome and raise horns for our newest citizens! Earth Ghoul, esteemed Clergy member of the Church of Ghost, escorted by Beta, special appointed bodyguard to the savior of this land!” Earth trembles only a little as Beta guides him through the door, down a short flight of stairs, and into the ballroom.

There’s polite clapping as Earth and Beta take their positions, the little ghoul all but glued to Beta’s side, who looks...almost bored, if it weren’t for the tightness in his shoulders.

“Fire Ghoul and Water Ghoul, esteemed Clergy members of the Church of Ghost!”

The two ghouls leap down the stairs, and when they land Fire has three flaming spheres, juggling them skillfully. The crowd applauds, some cheers ringing out, which are quickly replaced with laughter as what amounts to a bucketful of water is suddenly poured on the taller ghoul. Water laughs, before Fire has him in a wet headlock and drags him into their places.

Air and Aether go out next, followed by Special, and you suddenly grip Papa’s hand super tight. “Everyone’s going to be staring at me,” you whisper.

“Everyone should stare at you,” he whispers back. “You are a vision.”

“You know what I mean,” you hiss as you watch Damiano fuss with the sleeves of his robes once more.

“Papa Emeritus the Second, advisor to the head of the Church of Ghost, escorted by Ilaria de la Diavolo, Sister of Sin and personal assistant to the Second Emeritus!” You hear her mutter under her breath as they step through the doorway, but you can’t make out her words.

They walk regally down to where everyone else is waiting. You take a deep breath as you step up to the doors.

“Papa Emeritus the Third, head of the Avatar Country branch of the Church of Ghost, escorted by his wife and the savior of Avatar Country!”

Applause erupts from below, and you say, “Jesus,” under your breath.

“Wrong deity, my beloved,” Papa answers with a chuckle and just like that, he manages to settle you enough that you’re able to make your way down the steps without freaking out that all eyes are on you.

They’re cheering for you, is the only thought able to pierce your mind at having so many people staring at you. That thought is so bizarre that it keeps you from panicking on Papa’s arms, and even smile to some people as you walk.

“Magnificent,” Papa whispers in your ear as he guides you to your places next to Damiano and Ann. “You are absolutely magnificent, my wife.” You shiver at his praise and he brings your hand to his lips, eyes fixed on yours.

You stare into his mismatched eyes, and you smile to him, hoping you can convey just how much you love him through your eyes. You think he gets it, but then the announcer is calling, “Citizens of Avatar Country, welcome and raise horns for our honorable diplomatic guests, Rammstein! Oliver Riedel, bassist!” The tall, thin man walks down the stairs, graceful and enigmatic, dressed in black and gold.

At the bottom step, he stops and bows low before stepping off to where his place is and staring at the ceiling as Schneider’s name is pronounced to the room.

Schneider smiles and waves as he walks down the stairs, stepping next to Oli. The crowd is very enthusiastic about them being here, as pretty much everyone there are fans.

“Christian ‘Flake’ Lorenz, keyboardist!” More cheers follow the tall, lanky man as he waves happily.

When “Paul Landers, rhythm guitarist” is announced, the applause rises a notch, even though Paul himself doesn’t make a grand bow or wave much. He just smiles, shakes a few hands, then stands next to Flake. And when Richard bounces down the stairs, the response he receives is even more enthusiastic.

Richard hams it up, waving and throwing kisses and shaking hands, and the crowd loves it. He finally takes his place, much to the relief of the announcer, who’s waited a full five minutes while Richard stole the show for a moment. Papa’s trying not to laugh, and you’re biting your lip against some giggles—because Papa does the same thing when given half the chance.

“Till Lindemann, vocal—” The announcer doesn’t get to finish, because the roars and cheers of the crowd are very nearly deafening. Till steps out and offers an apologetic shrug to the man, before descending the steps, nodding a few times, but generally ignoring the fact that there is even a crowd there.

As he saunters by you, his gaze travels the length of your body before he catches your eye and nods once. You tremble a little as he takes his spot, and you feel more than hear Papa’s chuckle.

There is a pause as the crowd calms down a bit, the announcer staring imperiously at a few people before he slams his staff in the floor once again and calls out, “Citizens of Avatar Country, we bid you welcome our new Ambassadors from the fine land of Sweden, raise horns for the honorable H.E.A.T.!” All around you, guests raise their hands in salute as the announcer continues, “Crash, drummer and esteemed ambassador!”

The drummer, with a happy smile on his lips, descends the stairs and makes a short bow to both sides of the room before taking his place across from Till.

“Jimmy Jay, bassist and esteemed ambassador!”

Jimmy takes the steps two at a time, waving to the assembled before Crash grabs him, throws an arm around his neck and tries to rub his knuckles on his head. You giggle as Jimmy squirms out of Crash’s hold and punches his arm.

The announcer loudly clears his throat, and Jimmy and Crash go still, though their lips are obviously holding back grins. They look like two kids being reprimanded by their teachers.

“Jona Tee, keyboardist and esteemed ambassador.”

Laughter ripples through the crowd as Crash and Jimmy continue nudging and punching each other in short little bursts, when they think no one is looking, as Jona barrels down the steps, leaping a little and letting out a howl that many onlookers return.
“Shifters are awesome!” Jona declares, leading to cheers from the crowd as he takes his place next to Jimmy.

The announcer, looking much put upon, calls out, “Dave Dalone, guitarist and esteemed ambassador.”

This man is calmer, smiling as he walks down the steps, waving as people cheer for him.

The other three try to pull him into their antics, but Dave just smiles and whacks Jona upside the back of his head. You are hanging on to Papa’s arms, trying not to dissolve into helpless giggles, but failing miserably.

“Erik Gronwall, vocalist and esteemed ambass—”

Erik’s metal scream drowns out the announcer as the grim raises his arms and his face to the ceiling. The citizenry join him, responding immediately to his excitement, their reaction exploding further when he jumps from the top of the stairs to the bottom in one gravity-defying leap.

You can see John shaking his head, and the helpless giggles you’ve been fighting take over. “So much for the dignity of a state dinner,” Special chuckles.

“It’s a country ruled by metal,” Papa laughs. “I suspect there’s a certain lack of dignity in all these affairs.”

“The poor announcer,” you hear Flake say sympathetically, and that just makes you laugh all the harder into Papa’s shoulder, who’s biting his own lip against further mirth.

Erik is amped up on the crowd’s energy, shaking hands and high-fiving people and giving hugs and some kisses out. The announcer bangs his staff against the floor, but to no avail. Finally, Erik takes his place next to Dave, beaming, all but glowing, and he throws a wink your way, making you blush faintly.

Ann leans over, beckons to you, and you lean across Damiano’s stern, unimpressed form so that Ann can whisper in your ear, “I’d love to see him in bed....a damn energizer bunny is my guess.”

Your face is fire engine red and you can’t help but glance at Erik. His grin is saucy and you hope he can’t tell what Ann said or, worse, what you’re thinking.

You swallow thickly and whisper back, “Well, maybe if you ask him he’d be glad to show you.” You grin faintly as, to your delight, she turns red now and straightens back up.

There’s finally peace, or at least, less chaos, in the room as the announcer finally bangs his staff again. You notice how quiet it goes now as he calls, “Ladies and gentlemen, shifters, fae, ghouls, and demons. I present the King of Avatar Country, Jonas Jarlsby!”

The band begins to play, and as Jonas steps out, you hear Johannes yell, “Glory to our King!” Everyone in the ballroom, you included, respond, “Glory to our King!” Jonas stands at the top and looks out over the sea of citizenry, expression serious, Henrik and Johannes behind him. Johannes yells “Glory to our King” over and over, the crowd responding in turn each time.

Jonas holds up his hands, and the crowd goes silent. “HORNS IN THE AIR!” Johannes roars, and every single hand, including those of the assembled diplomats and Clergy, raise into devil horns as Jonas begins his descent. The guitarists on the stage play a complicated, beautiful, regal-sounding solo as the king walks down the aisle, and takes his place on the throne.

At the end of the solo, Johannes begins to sing, his rich voice belting out the words to the national anthem. Everyone joins in but not too loud—no one seems to want to miss hearing Johannes sing.

You see Till and Erik nodding in approval at Johannes’s performance, and it makes you smile, pride for your husband welling in your heart.

The bodyguard’s voice falls away, and Jonas raises his hands. “My friends, my country, my family. Today we honor the new bond that we have with H.E.A.T., a wonderful band from one of the greatest nations on Earth. A nation that loves metal almost as much as we do.” There’s some laughter, and you see the grim nodding in agreement. “We also welcome Rammstein, a name that I doubt anyone here doesn’t know, and we thank them for their warning, without which we’d be very much still sitting on our hands.”

A wave of murmured agreement rolls across the room, accompanied by cheers and someone shouting, “Hear hear!” The fae say nothing, just nod.

Jonas smiles, and spreads his hands. “My friends. Dinner will be soon, and until then, have fun!” The band strikes a chord, and then a space is cleared before the stage for dancing (and moshing).

Papa whirls you into his arms and spins you about. “I can already tell you’re going to be in high demand, so I’m getting my time with you now.” He kisses you deeply, and you wrap your arms around his neck, letting the thoughts of what was to come filter out. After all, who can concentrate on anything when being kissed by Papa?