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Liminality

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Isobel paused in brushing Uvnee to let her arm dangle at her side, wincing at the pull of the muscles in her back. When she left Flood to do the Devil's bidding, she'd not known what to expect. She would have laid good odds against her work including helping repair the axel on the wagon of a young family that had annoyed a demon, but she'd come to learn that the Road and it's offerings were always unexpected.

And painful. Frequently painful.

Uvnee whickered and lipped at Isobel's wrist. Isobel groaned and stroked the mare's soft nose before she finished brushing her down and setting her a picket. She checked Steady and Flatfoot, scratching ears and long noses before making her way back to the campsite.

Their camp was in a small bowl, flanked on one side by the small silvery creek, and on another by a towering tooth of rock that curved like a cupped hand. The Road was nearby, a thin presence here on what was little more than a footpath through the rough, rocky terrain. Isobel let herself feel along it, feeling the pull and sweep and the song of it. The face of the rock was smooth as glass, mottled brown and blue and glimmers of pure white. The colors swam like water in the dancing firelight.

Gabriel had set his wards, and Isobel was surprised to feel the ward go through the rock itself, making the stone more than a physical barrier. She ran her hand over the surface, feeling the power running through it like a web.

"It's like salt," Gabriel said. "See the blue that runs through it. It picks up any wards that meet up with it. You don't often find big outcroppings like this." Gabriel put his hand on the rock next to hers, and Isobel felt the ward pulse at his touch. "Good place to hole up, maybe rest for a couple days."

He glanced sidelong at her, and Isobel felt herself bristle at the insinuation that she was the one who needed the extra rest. She rolled that thought around like a stone, examining it carefully, then set it aside, nodding at Gabriel. "Could do us both some good to rest a bit. That and Flatfoot seems a bit low. He's due some rest as well."

Across the camp the mule snorted as if he understood, then went back to cropping the grass noisily.

Gabriel laugh and set about heating a meal for them over a small, crackling fire. They ate in silence, and Isobel washed the dishes in the nearby stream, noting the sleek shapes of fish in the water. The air was warm and filled with the chorus of insects and nightbirds, the song of the creek, the swish of the wind high in the trees. Behind her the fire snapped invitingly.

Gabriel sat with his back to the rock, his a pack cushion behind him. He rolled a tin between his hands, the metal catching the light of the fire. It was the ointment they used on the horses after a long, rough day, an ease for sore and tired muscles. He held it up silently, eyes questioning.

It had been far too long between resupplying, and Isobel knew they had precious little left. She also knew her back would ache for days, the hard trail they were on making the ache dig it's talons in and keep hold for even longer than warranted. She nodded her agreement, fingers working loose the buttons of her blouse, sitting it aside on her pack. Her skirt followed, leaving her in the light summer chemise that months ago would have left her feeling naked as a babe. The Road washed away modesty like a river a weak bank, and Isobel padded easily across the camp, the thin cloth swishing around her legs.

Isobel sat in the vee of Gabriel's legs, her back to him, facing the fire. He scratched his fingers lightly over her back, sliding under her hair to drag against the fabric of the chemise. She popped the buttons of her chemise free, then pulled her hair over ones shoulder, away from Gabriel's hands. Isobel shrugged her shoulders out of the chemise, letting the fabric slip down her arms. She held the front in one hand, keeping it bunched over her breasts. She shivered despite the warmth of the night and the fire.

Gabriel's hand was firm on her back, the gentling touch he used with the horses when they were spooked. He held his hand still over the aching spot, heat melting into her skin, her muscles, deep into her bones. When he moved, it was so slight she barely noticed, a small pressure as he flexed his fingers against her. He tipped his fingers on end and pushed harder, probing at her back until he hit a spot that made her hiss.

"Quite a knot there," he said.

"I never thought tangling with a wagon would be worse than a demon."

Gabriel chuckled and pressed his thumb into the knot. Isobel winced and forced herself not to flinch away. His thumb moved in a circle over the knot, pressing harder with each pass. The circle widened, and he switched to the ball of his hand, and Isobel sighed in contentment as the tightness ebbed away.

The smell of the ointment was pungent in the air, beeswax, and ginger, and cloves. It was cool at first, then warmed as Gabriel worked it into her skin, the warmth tingling and spreading as his fingers moved over her skin. She was near to dozing when Gabriel patted her shoulder.

"That should help, I'd reckon."

She pulled her chemise back into place, fingers closing the buttons. "Thank you."

"De nada," Gabriel said, his voice nearly soundless behind her.

Isobel sighed, looking to her blankets on the other side of the fire and feeling no desire whatsoever to go to them. She dropped a hand to the ground, ready to push herself to her feet when Gabriel's arm wrapped around the middle of her, pulling her back. She slumped against him, sinking into the solid heat of his body. Gabriel exhaled, and Isobel could feel him relax behind her, uncertainty fleeing leaving only the animal comfort of his body next to hers.

Their hands tangled together, resting on her belly. Gabriel's right hand stroked over her left, tracing the shape of her knuckles, her fingers, the silver ring on her smallest finger. He covered her smaller hand with his. Gabriel's thumb pressed into her palm, and she felt dizzy for a moment when he touched the sigil that was etched into her skin. His thumb traced the line of the infinitas over and over, a path that looped back on itself again and again.

Isobel tipped her head back and looked up at the sky, at the stars that glittered like grains of salt, a vast circle that arched protectively over their heads. She closed her eyes and sought the wards around them, the line Gabriel had laid, the Bones of the earth at their back. She was no fool - no ward held everything, no circle unbreakable, but at that moment she felt as safe as she ever had back in Flood, living in the Devil's own house.

She turned where she sat, twisting to lay her head on Gabriel's chest, her hands bunching the worn cloth of his shirt at his sides. The whooshthud of his heart beat under her ear, a steady counterpoint to the sounds of the night around them.

Gabriel shifted, tucking his chin down so it rested on the top of her head. His arms came around her, a tight circle that felt like another warding, like salt ringed around her in a glittering line. She sighed into his chest, turning her face into him, filling her nose with the spicy scent of him, of leather and trail dust and warm skin.

His hands moved over her back again, soothing now, caresses that eased her toward slumber. Isobel let her eyes close, let the breadth of the world narrow to the circle of their camp, the circle of Gabriel's arms. She let the weight of the stars cover her like a blanket, and let the Road sing her to sleep.