Part I: Lyran the Fearless
Condensation clouded the windows of the café. The glass rattled with each gust of wind. Winter had arrived in Arcadia City and brought with her a deadening cold that mouthed at the wood and bricks of buildings, searching for cracks.
Maddie held her coffee mug to her face, the heat rising from her brew made her cheeks, still cold from her four-block walk, prickle. This made sense last night, she thought, cringing in spite of the comforting aroma of chicory rising from her cup. All the sense…
She slung a glance at her purse, calculating the time it would take to pack her things and be on her way.
All I need is a minute. I can leave and avert this disaster before it has a chance to happen, but… fuckity, fuck. Wind blustered, whipping snow in the faces of those unfortunate enough to be outside. The current temperature hovered in the single digits. But I’m not leaving because only an asshole would stand someone up in this weather.
"I'm not an asshole. I'm not an asshole. I'm not an asshole," she chanted under her breath like an affirmation meant to keep her planted in her seat.
The door opened, a gust of freezing air swept into the room, and a collective shudder ran through the cafe's patrons. Studying the newcomer, she wondered if this was the moment that she had been hoping (dreading) for the past three months.
Stubbled cheeks and a crooked nose emerged from a balaclava.
Nope, not them, she thought.
Her good manners and the cold weren’t the only reasons she fought the urge to run. She needed to see this through for her own sake, prove to herself that she was comfortable enough in her own skin to chase after a happy ending.
Even if I end up a puddle of babbling nerves, she thought.
Taking another sip of her coffee, she pulled her coat around her shoulders and settled in to wait.
The events that led to Maddie's impending debacle began three months ago. Maddie had chosen her couch over a night of adventure with her best and brightest. It had seemed like a good idea at the time.
Time out from the madness is what I need, she thought. Let go and relax. There was plenty of smut to read, poems to write, and at least one movie that promised beautiful boys kissing.
Nothing she tried held her interest for more than a few minutes. The words she chose for her newest poem made her nerves jangle with frustration. Kissing aside, it was obvious from the opening credits that the film would end in tragedy. And the dating apps her friends had goaded her into downloading only reminded her of her ex, Sarah.
Shitbird, she thought.
The breakup was six months in her rearview. Unfortunately, time didn't matter to the squirming embarrassment that flared up when she thought of their last conversation.
Kink-shaming shitbird, she added, sucking in a cleansing breath.
"Healing takes time, healing takes time, healing takes time,” she chanted.
Her heart was still bruised from the Sarah incident. It was a six-month tragedy in three acts, complete with betrayal and judgment disguised as concern. The mere thought of opening up about her particular needs brought all the cluster-fuckery to the surface.
The itching restlessness beneath her skin was infuriating. She reached down between her legs and rocked on her hand, relishing the heavy arousal that flared low in the cradle of her hips. Her thoughts slowed to a crawl, the relief spreading like sunlight across her skin.
“Next time, start here and save yourself some grief, sister. There’s nothing so wrong with you that an orgasm can’t fix.”
Reclaiming her fantasies was an ongoing, post-Sarah process.
Stripping down to her curves, Maddie clicked her way over to her go-to queer site, Lock & Key. The subscription had been a birthday present to herself because Maddie paid for her porn.
"Documented proof that I'm not an asshole," she said, cruising past the videos to the blogs.
The blog-to-watch was a newcomer to the Lock & Key family, Lyran the Fearless. Their site was a mixture of short fiction, D/s how-to's, and Dom-like commands for subs practicing solo-kink. She clicked on the most recent post:
Edge for 1 hour. I don't care where you are. No toys. Just you. Pump those slippery fingers in and out of your cunt, pet your clit. Dance along the precipice without falling until the hour is finished. If you're a good girl and last all 60 minutes, you can send me a picture of you licking the slick from your fingers. Just your face, though. Anything else will get you blocked.
It was directive and sensual, everything she had ever imagined the perfect Domme would purr in her ear while they teased her until she wept.
"And we have a winner," she said.
Maddie set the timer on her phone and conjured her favorite fantasy. A lover watching her, directing her hands as they plucked at her nipples and circled her clit. They watched, demanding she spread herself open and display her pussy while they praised her submission.
Plunging two fingers into her body, she fucked herself, stopping every few thrusts, massaging the silken walls of her sex. The clenching sweetness at the juncture of her thighs rushed through her limbs, release just a breath or two away. She forced her hands to her sides.
Broken whimpers rose in her throat. The urgency of her climax was superseded by gauzy quiet, like a scrim fluttering down between her and her pleasure. Her need was on the other side, a faint outline visible and familiar, yet far enough away that she was able to resist the chase. It was a delicate balance, her desire to be good tempering the want rippling beneath her skin. The words of a stranger creating the perfect equation.
She fought to control her breath, counting each inhalation and exhalation until the need to come receded. It was then her imaginary lover demanded that she resume courting her orgasm and begin again.
Maddie flirted with the edge, rushing up to it with abandon one time, and courting it with gentle, deliberate touches the next. When her timer finally sounded, the resulting orgasm left her bathed in sweat and shuddering.
The gentle pulsing at her core served as a worthy companion for the glowing sense of accomplishment which set her mind alight. Grabbing her phone, she snapped a picture of herself and emailed it to Lyran the Fearless before her insecurities began clamoring for attention. She studied her image after she hit send. Her cheeks were dusted pink and her hair was tousled. Sweat shined on her forehead and her lips were bitten red and swollen.
I look beautiful, she thought, sparing a moment for the novelty of seeing herself with kindness. Well-fucked and beautiful.
Maddie was hooked. She went back every night, sampling each set of instructions. By the end of the second week, she soaked her panties every time she looked at her laptop.
Discovering all she could about the mysterious writer soon became an obsession.
Their handle and pronouns (they/them) were the only identifiers on their site. Lyran the Fearless hadn't even posted an artfully blurred portrait. Frustrating as it was, Maddie understood. The internet was a dangerous place. The mystery was like another layer of teasing.
She wondered about them throughout the day. Did they smell of cedar and smoke? Was their stern demeanor softened by gentle caring in the same way the fire in a shot of bourbon is tempered by the sugary caramel of its finish?
Every evening she followed the path Lyran forged through the wilderness. She sent photo after photo of herself, loving how each moment captured a confidence she hadn’t recognized in herself before now.
After a week, they began to answer her with praise. At first, their replies were simple and gracious: “Thank you for sharing this with me,” or “You're marvelous.” Then the messages began to evolve from complements to questions and observations. Soon the two were trading snippets from their day-to-day lives as often as they played with power exchange.
Circumspect about sharing her anonymous affair with friends, Maddie stayed mum about the strange intimacy that was growing between Lyran and herself. The folks she let in may be opinionated and would have plenty to say about a nameless, faceless lover, but they were good people. Their litmus test for relationships centered around acceptance and honesty. Based on the mitigating givens of some of their relationships, this thing with Lyran would clear those hurdles without breaking stride.
It wasn’t like unique relationships were a revelation. Her closest friend Jo had married her lover Quinn after dating him for a few weeks. The bride and groom had joked about the importance of measuring the strength of their bond in “dog years.”
Her reticence was more about her own excitement. She wanted to keep her secret stash of happiness to herself and hoard it like a jealous dragon curling its tail around a pile of gold it would never spend.
If the earth spins off its axis, and I get to meet Lyran the Fearless, so will they, she thought. The reality that this person might be on the other side of the world did nothing to squash her fantasies. She imagined chance meetings where a turn-of-phrase uttered by a stranger would reveal that Lyran had been in her personal orbit all along. Practicing those moments became her new favorite past-time.
Then her Lyran-specific notification had trilled while she was having lunch with her chosen-sister, Jo. The furious way she ripped through her purse to find to her phone and her delighted smile gave her away.
"You've been all heart eyes since you sat down,” Jo said, attempting to snatch the device from Maddie's hand. "Who are they?"
"Handsy," she pulled it out of Jo's reach, but she couldn't stifle the joy in her expression. "And can't I just be having a good day?"
"Are you kidding? Come on, give me a name."
"I don't have one?" she confessed frowning.
"Nice try, sister. Once again, with feeling."
"There is someone,” Maddie pushed the crust of her sandwich around on her plate, “but I don't know their name. Does a web handle count?"
Jo dropped her fork, eyes narrowing, "I'm gonna need more details, Mads."
"I found them while I was poking around the blogs on Lock & Key a few months ago. They're all about the domming with dignity, service stuff, edging. They had a page with safe soloing for subs."
"They let you email them a pic as a reward if you follow the directions,” Maddie said.
"Get down from that rickety soapbox, sister. I'm willing to bet Quinn has more than one picture of your boobs."
"Touché,” Jo shrugged. “So how many naked pictures did you send?”
"They wanted post-orgasm faces, no nudes. You’re so judgy. I emailed a few."
Jo's brow ticked up. "A few?”
“I don’t know. How many is a few?"
"Two,” Jo said, struggling to remain stern-faced as Maddie squirmed. Teasing her friend was a delicious pastime, but not at the expense of Maddie feeling crumby about herself. She relented and smiled.
Crawling beneath the table is not an option, she reminded herself.
"I sent more than a few,” she confessed. “Anyway, we started emailing and DM'ing. They're kind and funny, on top of having a filthy-sexy mind. And they're from around here, too."
"You don't know their name, but they told you where they live?"
"They didn't give me their address. I was bemoaning Café Pizetti's shitty cappuccino, and they agreed with me. Oh, and they said they know your bosses."
"Really? I'm going to have to ask Vera about her kinky friends.” The protectiveness in Jo's voice was unmistakable.
"Don't, please? Swear to me you're not going to hunt them down and give them the shovel talk."
"I promise... for now, but only because happy-giddy-Maddie has been missed. This crush looks good on you."
"I don't..." Maddie paused, thinking of the dizzy lightness in her chest accompanying anything Lyran-related. "Crap. I have a fucking crush."
"What was I thinking?"
"Perhaps that you're ready to open up to someone again. Also, this person makes you feel all kinds of wonderful."
The barriers that separated her from Lyran appeared insurmountable. To them, she was nothing but a series of pictures and fawning messages. Maddie's smile faded.
"Stop," Jo said.
"I don't even know their name or what they look like."
"Nope, that's Sarah-talk."
"They've probably got hundreds of subs hounding them," she moped.
"I adore you, but sometimes you're a bit of a chicken-shit."
Maddie spluttered, indignant, "I can't just DM them and ask them out for coffee."
"Why not? It sounds like they're into you and it's obvious you're smitten. Maybe you meet, fall in love, and live a happy kink-filled life together?"
"And maybe they end up hating me, and I never hear from them again."
"Sure, if they're an idiot."
This is where listening to Jo lands you, she thought just as the door opened, letting in another blast of frigid air.
The person in the doorway was a few inches taller than Maddie. They cut a striking silhouette with their broad-shoulders and great-coat. A black fur ushanka hat framed their rosy cheeks.
Stomping the snow from their boots, they scanned the cafe until their eyes landed on Maddie. A bright smile bloomed on their lips.
Her stomach dove and swooped like a kite dancing on the wind.
Oh fuck, I'm in trouble.
The newcomer yanked off their hat. Their head was shaved to the scalp on the right. The shorn area was bordered by an intricate braid, hair woven like the illustrations in an illuminated manuscript.
A fall of loose curls the color of wheat cascaded down the opposite side of their head. The tail of another braid peeked out from behind their left ear and fell past their chin.
They made their way over to Maddie's table.
"Hey, you must be Maddie," they held a hand out in greeting, "I'm Lyran the Fearless. Rylan in the real world, they/them."
Entranced by their long, slender fingers, Maddie missed the question. Artist's hands, she thought and was inundated with fantasies featuring them curled around her throat or tangled in her hair.
"You are Maddie, aren't you?” they said. “I... Crap, this is about to become the most awkward moment of my day, isn't it?"
It was the lilt in their voice, soft and teasing without a wisp of insecurity, that brought Maddie out her fugue.
"Is that real fur?" Words sprung out of her mouth without her permission. "I mean, if it is, okay, I guess. No. Wait. Fur is horrible. Is it a hand-me-down? Did some ancient aunt leave you a dead animal, and now you wear it as a statement? Oh shit—” She buried her face in her hands and considered leaving before making more of a fool of herself. No, you’re staying put, she thought. "I'm a hopeless blurter. Can I start again?"
Rylan laughed. It was filled with joy, not derision. She saw amusement in their expression, not cruelty. She was glad she’d stayed put instead of making a break for the door.
"Why? That was marvelous, and this is fake fur," they said, amused. "I'm going to grab a coffee. Want a refill?"
Maddie handed over her cup. "Please."
They made their way over to the counter and placed their order, charming the Barista with a devastating grin. Maddie willed the ground to crack beneath her feet and slurp her up like a noodle.
No such luck, she thought, I wonder if spontaneous combustion is real?
“I didn't know how you like it.” They set down her mug and a plate with a miniature ewer of cream and a rainbow collection of sugar packets. "Your coffee, I mean."
Barking a short, sharp laugh, the tension in Maddie's shoulders eased. "Thanks, and bonus points for the sex pun."
"I couldn't help myself.”
Their eyes were fixed on her, searching and intense. She fidgeted with a spoon, the open regard in Rylan's stare was disconcerting. "You come here often?” she asked.
"Sometimes, my studio is a few streets over. What about you?"
"I save this spot for moments of maximum humiliation.”
"Then why are we here?"
Maddie's brows climbed to her hairline.
"I'm serious," they said. "You blurt. So what? I came here to meet you, not the version of you that you think I'll like best."
"Fair." She stretched her hand out across the table. "Hi, I'm Maddie Soares, she/her. Art therapist and professional disaster. You've made me come harder and more often in the past three months than I have since I discovered my clit.”
Coffee led to dinner and later, a knee-buckling kiss goodnight. Maddie's back was pressed flat against her front door as Rylan sucked on her tongue. Her hands fluttered from their shoulders to their hips, pushing inside their coat.
They groaned, slipping their thigh between her legs. Maddie bore down, hips undulating. The sudden, delicious pressure at her center left her gasping. The resulting rumble of laughter in Rylan's throat was addicting, she was sure she would do anything to keep hearing that sound.
Rylan licked a stripe up her neck, and she clasped her thighs tight around their leg. A high whine erupted from her mouth.
"Are you okay?" they asked, dropping a kiss on her forehead.
Maddie's head fell back, clonking against her door. Her body pulsed with hunger. "Sorry if I got carried away.”
"No apologizing. Though we don't have to do it all tonight."
Nodding, her mind started to clear, she said, “It would be fun, wouldn't it?"
"No doubt, but…"
Here it comes, she thought, bracing herself. With the excitement fizzling, Maddie's mood teetered on the cliff's edge of disappointment.
Rylan recognized the change and dove in with an unrelenting display of passion. Frantic kisses evolved as they embraced Maddie, then slowing, but losing none of their intensity.
There was craving in their eyes when they pulled away. "There is nothing I'd like more than taking you apart right now,” they said. "The thing is, I'm greedy. I want more than one night with you.” Rylan stepped away, giving Maddie space. "Is that alright? Did I read this wrong? I mean, are you looking for a casual thing?"
"I'd like more than one night, too," Maddie said, sure she had been thrown into an alternate dimension.
It's been known to happen, she thought. Water stain above the hall light? Check. I haven't fallen through the floor or floated up to the ceiling. Laws of physics. Check. The world around her was solid and real as it had always been.
Yet there was Rylan, staring at her like she had tossed the stars into the sky.
"Maddie," they searched her eyes, "are you with me?"
"I'm here, although I'm 48.7% certain that you're a trans-dimensional hallucination."
"Do you have a lot of experience with those?"
"No, but it doesn't hurt to check.” She reached out and tapped the tip of Rylan's nose. "You seem real enough. If you have extra arms or tentacles, tell me before you bust them out."
"Talk before tentacles, got it."
Maddie stretched her neck, tilting her head from side-to-side. "I'm on board with spending more time with you. Horny and onboard."
Rylan brushed one last kiss across Maddie's lips. They hovered there, no space between their bodies.
"Taking our time doesn't mean we can't play the way we have been. Does that work for you?"
Nuzzling her ear, each of Rylan’s breaths ghosted over Maddie's skin.
"Do you have a full-length mirror in your room?" they asked.
"Stand in front of it and strip. Make love to yourself. Watch every moment and send me a picture of your face when you're fucked out and satisfied. What do you say? Give me a stoplight color, red, yellow, or green?"
"Yes. Green. Green. So very green."
The freedom Maddie saw in the photo was astonishing. Her hair was tousled, lips bit berry-ripe, and a relaxed softness around her eyes. Hitting send, she flopped back into her pillows, one hand petting her clit to prolong the glow of her orgasm.
Rylan responded a minute later. "Fucking lovely. Would you like to hang out on Friday night? Dinner, my place?"
Definitely, in trouble, Maggie thought as she typed: "Yes."