Fortalezan Fortal
by Farad
March: Choice 2: Write something out of your comfort zone. For example, Stan (I think it was Stan) nailed me on glossing over dark details, because they make me uncomfortable. In my Sons of Anarchy-M7 crossover, I gave minimal details in the gang bang scene; February: Choice 2: Smooching challenge - a kissing scene. December: Choice 2: Write a story using NO DIALOG, just all narrative. November: Choice 1: Write a "scene you'd like to see" -- In other words, using any episode, rewrite an existing scene the way you would have liked to see it had you had the control.

Especial thanks to Zeke for the thorough and wonderful comments.

Author's note: Fortaleza is one of the large cities on the coast of northern Brazil; it was founded in the early 1500's by the Spaniards and has remained and economic and commercial center for the region and the country. Like Rio, it celebrates carnival, the pre-Lent celebration upon which Mardi Gras is also based; it involves days of parades, street entertainment in the form of dancers, acrobats, musicians, and entertainers, and rich costumes and masques, creating an air of fantasy and wonder. Fortaleza's carnival is called 'Fortal'.

It wasn't at all what he'd expected.

He'd kissed women before - wasn't like he was unknowing in that regard, hadn't been since MaryCatherine, the preacher's girl, had dragged him into the shed behind the church one Sunday afternoon and taught him the way of things. He wasn't sure how old he'd been then - hell, he wasn't sure how old he was now, but he'd been old enough.

Old enough to laugh with her when she teased him about his fumbling and about how he'd gone off like a dry pine cone in a hot fire when she touched him down there. But a few minutes later, she'd taught him how to kiss her the way she liked, slow and soft, and then she'd taught him how to do a few other things that were even slower, at first, anyway.

He'd had a couple of other girls after that, most in hay stacks and sheds or wherever they could sneak away. Most times it was quick - neither one of them wanted to get caught by her father or brothers, and he certainly didn't want to get caught out by Mrs. Miriam, who'd have beat him over the head with her big Bible and locked him up in the barn for the rest of his life, telling him he was worse than his father.

Later, when he was on his own, he'd learned more about women, mostly from the saloon girls he sometimes found the money to spend time with, and every now and then from some lonely woman who found his company passable for a short time. He didn't often say 'no' - it was too easy to get tired of his own hand.

Every woman was different in what they liked and what they wanted, but for the most part, they all wanted the kissing to last for a long time, liked for it to start off slow and gentle, with his hands on their shoulders or above - not touching anything he wanted to touch. After they kissed a while, she'd lean in closer, rubbing up against him, and that was usually his cue to move things a little further along.

But Charlotte - Charlotte wasn't like any woman he'd ever been with. He hadn't set out to woo her - hell, she was a married woman and even though he'd had a share of those, he didn't think it right smart to do with while her husband was underfoot. He'd only offered his help.

He wasn't right sure how it had come to this, her sitting his lap, resting her head against his shoulder, telling him - telling him she wanted to be with him. Wanted to go to Brazil.

Their first kiss hadn't been soft or easy - it'd been hard, her body slamming into his with such force that he'd almost stumbled before he'd caught himself. But then, she was pressing hard against him, her hands clutching at his shirt and pulling so hard that it hurt.

If he'd had a minute, he might have thought better of it, but she didn't give him the time. It was only after, the rain drizzling around them, that he wondered what he was doing.

She was a married woman, a woman who still, despite it all, loved her husband. He knew that, could see it in her eyes when she talked of Will - and she talked of him a lot.

Worse, though, was that he knew his own heart.

Which was why they rode back into the camp that next morning, and why he didn't kill Will Richmond when the son of a bitch came at him.

'Ain't soft-heartedness,' Mrs. Miriam used to say, 'but soft-headedness.' She'd never liked it when he stood between her and one of the others - said it was defiance.

But she'd died before she'd beat it out of him, and it seemed to have only gotten worse as he'd come to be a man. Or maybe it was just that the stakes seemed to be higher, and standing up for someone or something he cared about meant holding a gun.

Mrs. Miriam might have been right, he thought as he rounded the turn on the river's beach and saw Charlotte standing there, a bag in her hand. Charlotte, who had told him it was over and to leave her alone.

As he stared at her, all he could think of was Richmond's hands yanking her away, her little cry of pain.

Of the way her lips had been on his, hard, her teeth cutting as she plunged her tongue into his mouth.

It started after this, though, perhaps during the ride through the countryside, away from the homesteaders. They rode fast, her arms tight around his waist, her breasts flat against his shoulder blades, her thighs cushioning his ass.

When they stopped, finally, the night black and crisp, the river throwing arcs of light mist at them, they had curled up in his bedroll under a sliver of moon and stars. They'd made love - only it wasn't love for either of them, and he thought they both knew it.

It wasn't as hard this time, as desperate, and as they lay together after, her fingers warm over his heart and her hair catching in his whiskers, she spoke once more of her husband's grief and the fire of pain that burned inside him.

He thought he knew then what it was between him and Charlotte. 'Like calling like', as Mrs. Miriam used to say - but as with most things she said, it was never meant to be more than a statement on his bad character.

And maybe that was the thing with Charlotte. Maybe it was his bad character calling to her bad character - even though he didn't think either one of them had any reason to be ashamed. Richmond had no right to treat her the way he did.

Vin hadn't lied to her. If he had someone like her, he'd never let go. If he'd had her, he - might not ever let go. But he didn't have her, and no matter how much he tried to pretend otherwise - no matter how much she tried to, it was impossible to ignore. If nothing else, the constant mention of Richmond's name was a sign.

Vin knew where his heart was, had for a while now. But he knew, too, that his heart was more like Charlotte's - given to someone who was lost in grief and anger.

Brazil. He'd known it for what it was, even as she said it - a dream that wasn't meant to be.

Seeing her on the ground, those three men trying to rape her - that had set off something in him he'd rarely known, an anger so pure as to blind him to any reason. It had burned away every other thought, so that when the man on the other end of his gun had told of the reinforcements coming, the first emotion to rise from the ashes of his fury had been fear.

Fear of losing something he knew he'd never have, but that didn't matter.

Charlotte was afraid, too. She told him clearly that if they went back, she didn't know if she could leave again - but that wasn't enough to change his mind, not for a dream.

Afterwards, he'd felt the stab of it, the loss of her - but it wasn't really of her. It was the loss of the dream, the loss of a few hours of having that feeling of loving and being loved. It wouldn't have lasted - he knew that every time he looked at her with Will, saw the way she cared for him - and how he cared for her, now that he knew what it was like to lose her. Maybe Charlotte would get what she wanted after all. Because it wasn't really Brazil that she was after.

And it wasn't Brazil he was really after. 'I need to know I can depend on you, Vin. Let me know when I can.'

He'd almost laughed, Chris' words burning like bile in his gut. Hadn't he come back? Hadn't he been there for Chris from the first they'd seen of each other?

He wasn't thinking that, though, when he ran up the hill, chasing after the men who weren't running, the men setting off dynamite instead. He wasn't thinking much of anything at all after the explosion that bounced him down the hill.

Until a hand caught at his shoulder, and a warm voice asked if he was all right. A warm, worried voice that went with the hand helping him to his feet, helping him to catch his balance.

The question was asked again, and he glanced back to find worried eyes on him. Everything fell away, the bile, the anger, the pain. He wasn't sure what he answered, something stupid most like, but it didn't seem to matter. Chris blinked then flashed a grin. His hand was warm on Vin's elbow, gripping just a little harder before it let go.

It rose then, fingers catching in Vin's hair, tugging - pulling at the grass that was caught in it. Nathan asked something but Vin barely heard him, more caught up in Chris' touch.

Later, when it was all over and done, Charlotte said the words once more, even cried a tear or two - but her words were empty, as empty as the dream.

Billy rode in front of Chris, but that didn't stop Chris from asking. It wasn't in the words he chose, but they both knew the question and the answer. Vin was back and he was staying. And he was all right.

It wasn't at all what he expected but it was as close he knew he was ever going to come.

The End

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