Content: Pansexual Characters, Genderqueer Character, Erotic Romance, a Smidgen of Kink and a Dash of Magic, and a Character Making Bad Hiking Choices.
This story has been languishing in a folder for a few months. This past week, as I thought about contributing to Mx. Nillin’s One Rainbow Part 2020 Meme, I remembered this piece. I dusted it off and re-acquainted myself with the characters.
I always felt I’d missed something critical in the characterization of the character, Deryn Hellebore.
Then I realized I’d written this piece before coming out as genderqueer.
At the time I wrote this piece, I was struggling with how to live this truth I’d carried with me in silence for 40 years. The story’s theme, losing one’s way only to find the stillness of mind you sought in an unexpected place, was a little scary.
Seeing this story from the other side of the life-affirming personal landmark of coming out allowed me to see Deryn with far more clarity. They’re genderqueer, fluid in their gender identity. In short, they possess the confidence and sense of self I work each day to cultivate.
I’m so happy to share “Lost and Found” with you for both Mx. Nillin’s Pride 2020 #OneRainbowApart meme.
Be well, be wonderful, and above all, be you,
Lost and Found
Beryl rucked her backpack up on her shoulders.
Fingers tingling with pins and needles, she fought back her panic and dropped to a crouch.
“In, two, three. Out, two, three,” Beryl said, counting out loud until her breathing slowed.
“You’re lost,” she announced to herself. A hush descended as dusk rounded on her heel to evening. The timbre of her voice sounded dampened, making her sound small.
She stood, her vision swimming with the change in posture.
“It’s going to be alright.”
Pulling out her phone, she waved it above her head. There was a patch of sky visible through the tree canopy. She hoped to find a signal, but the network bars remained grey.
Hiking had seemed like such a good idea this morning. It was a warm autumn day, sunny with tatters of clouds racing across the blue. The temperature climbed high enough, even beneath the trees, that Beryl shed her sweater after a few minutes.
A day in the woods was supposed to help clear her head. Give her space to think with no distractions. No text alerts. No tumbling down internet rabbit holes for hours.
Knowing how to make a tiny house out of wooden pallets might come in handy in the zombie apocalypse. But her thesis was on LGBTQIA+ youth and homelessness, not surviving throngs of undead.
The plan had been to go on a walkabout and think deep thoughts. An experienced hiker, Beryl hadn’t intended to leave the trail, but a sharp-shinned hawk caught her attention.
Beryl loved birds. Her most cherished childhood memories were of birdwatching with her grandmother. She could still see the excitement shining in her gran’s eyes as she pointed out a hermit thrush or a shrike.
Raptors had been her favorite. Beryl’s, too.
The bird kik-kik-kik’d at her like an invitation, and she followed. It was small, slightly bigger than her closed fist, with feathers the same blue-grey of a stormy sea.
Each time it flew to a different tree, Beryl told herself to turn back. But an emptiness yawned in her chest and eased when she returned to her new companion.
Darkness was coming fast, and she knew she couldn’t continue walking at night. The idea of spending the night in the woods wasn’t comforting. But neither was falling into a ravine and breaking her neck.
A branch above her creaked. The hawk studied her from its perch.
“This is your fault,” she said.
Kik-kik-kik, the bird stuttered, head cocked to the side.
“Are you laughing at me?”
Kik-kik-kik. Its golden eyes glowed in the low light.
“Yup, I figured as much.”
Beryl knelt at the foot of a broad-topped maple and took inventory. A half a bottle of water and a granola bar were all the provisions she had left.
She found waterproof matches in her first aid kit. After collecting sticks and dried leaves, she cleared a circle on the ground.
“Panicking will get you killed,” she told herself as she worked. “You’re smart. When the sun comes up, backtrack to the creek, you passed earlier. You can follow that until you find someone.”
Feeling better, she started a fire. The sudden light threw the forest into stark relief. Long shadows dissolved into the darkness beyond the firelight. The snap and rustle of night music echoed through the trees.
A high squeal from above startled a shout out of Beryl. She saw the silhouette of the hawk lift its wings and disappear into the night.
Beryl thought the cold had woken her.
She’d tried to tend the fire with care, but the warmth made her drowsy. Falling into a fitful sleep, she dreamt of cider redolent with the scent of apple and clove.
Her teeth chattered. She scrubbed at her eyes. The flames burned down to embers as she’d slept, and darkness had filled the space like floodwaters following a storm surge.
Something close-by snapped.
A shadow, darker than the night surrounding them, stood nearby. It was a human silhouette. Or a bear on standing on its hind legs. Her unhelpful imagination provided. Whatever was out there in the dark, it was tall.
Beryl’s breath froze in her throat, and she stifled the impulse to scream.
A soft click cut through the darkness. Beryl blinked into the bright glow of a camping lantern. She scurried backward, whining in fear like a wounded animal.
“Hey, I’m not going to hurt you,” The owner of the light kept their voice gentle. Calm suffused a rich, lilting accent Beryl couldn’t place.” You’re safe. I promise.”
The stranger’s face became visible as they lifted the lamp. They were stunning. Large, dark eyes glinted in the lamp-light. A fall of silver hair framed their sharp jaw and plush mouth.
I want a kiss from those lips. Beryl shook her head, chasing the stray thought away. Not now, stupid.
They held out a hand, “I’m Deryn Hellebore. You’re on my property.”
“What time is it?” Beryl asked.
“Just past midnight.”
“I don’t -” she stuttered, confused. Between the cold and the fear, she struggled to make sense of the situation, “Why are you out here?”
“I’ve been having some trouble with poachers. I was out walking the borders when Nia caught a whiff of you.”
Beryl jumped when she heard grumbling woof to her right. A dog bounded out of the darkness and snuffled at her hair.
“Meet Nia,” Deryn smiled, clapping once. “Down girl, not everyone is your best friend.”
The dog leaned against Beryl’s side, and she carded her fingers through her coat. It was comforting. There’s no point in being embarrassed, she told herself, and they don’t seem like an ax murderer.
“Nice to meet you Nia,” she said. “I’m Beryl and I’m very lost.”
“I figured. Either that or you’ve got some strange ideas about camping.”
Shaking her head, she chuckled, “My idea of camping involves Wi-Fi and hot chocolate.”
“Point taken,” Deryn smiled, a teasing thing that tugged one corner of their mouth higher than the other. “I know you have no reason to trust that I’m not going to murder you,” Deryn began.
Beryl’s eyes widened, surprised the woman guessed her thoughts.
They continued, “But you might as well be sleeping on my front lawn. Why don’t you come inside? You can warm-up and get some rest. Nia and I will guide you out of here in the morning.”
The walk to Deryn’s home took less than ten minutes. Beryl figured if she had kept walking earlier, she would have found it herself.
The cottage squatted in the center of a circular clearing bordered by old-growth trees. Even in the dark, Beryl could tell it was small. Smoke rose from a stone chimney and light spilled from the windows on either side of the front door.
It reminded her of a fairy-tale. She wondered if she was still dreaming, “You’re not going to try to bake me into a pie, are you?” Beryl asked.
“No,” Deryn said, laughing as they opened the door. “But how about something hot to drink before bed?”
Beryl stood on the threshold, mouth agape as the scent of clove and apple wound around her like a shawl.
The smell of baking apples woke Beryl.
Through the window, she could see a whey-colored sky smudged with streaks of grey. She blinked into the pale morning. Waking in unfamiliar surroundings had her breath hitching. But soon, the events of the past day rushed back to her. The panic subsided as quickly as it came.
Stretching head to toe, Beryl pointed her toes and savored the pull of her muscles. She’d assumed sleeping on the ground for half a night would have left her stiff. But Deryn’s bed cradled her body, and she had fallen asleep the second her head hit the pillow.
“They haven’t made a meal of you yet,” she said to herself, happiness bubbling in her chest.
Light streamed through the window beside the bed, painting slashes of illumination across the counterpane. Spotting a robe draped across the foot of the bed, Beryl reached out and pulled it to her, moaning as her fingers sunk into the soft flannel. She rubbed the fabric against her cheek, relishing the softness and lavender fragrance, before slipping it over her shoulders.
The weirdness of the past 24-hours was incontrovertible. Beryl had never wandered off a trail without a map, before yesterday.
“And alone,” she chided herself.
The strange compulsion to follow the hawk scared her. It was blind luck the dog had found her. Deryn had been so welcoming. Bundling her in blankets and fetching her a mug of hot cider and toasted slices of honeyed-wheat bread.
They had talked until Beryl’s eyes had drooped. A gracious host, she had given her the cottage’s only bed, along with a set of fleece pajamas and thick wool socks.
Beryl poked her head out of the bedroom door. Her host sat on the sofa, reading, with Nia lying beside them. A fire blazed in an open hearth that occupied an entire wall.
They’re breathtaking, she thought.
Even at rest, Deryn occupied their space like a monarch. But the command of their body wasn’t intimidating. The previous night, they hadn’t attempted to lord their height or the strength over her.
In daylight, and awake, Beryl appreciated the finer details. The corded muscles in their forearms and the ever-shifting expression as they read.
Their long fingers stroked Nia’s coat, graceful sweeps of their palm, coupled by the occasional scratch behind her ear. Beryl’s stomach swooped as she imaged those fingers, stroking her belly and thighs. Tilting her head while they took her mouth in a delicious kiss.
I’m jealous of a dog. Beryl fought the urge to crawl into their lap and kiss them until they were both breathless. You’ve always been a soft touch for a person with strong hands, she thought.
Looking up, Deryn grinned at her, like she had spoken aloud.
“Morning,” she said, studying her feet.
“Good morning. Did you sleep well?”
“I did, thanks,” she took a seat on the couch.
“Are you hungry? I figured I’d make breakfast when you woke-up. Unless you’re in a hurry to get back to town.”
A hint of loneliness hovered beneath Deryn’s cheerful offer, a brittleness to her open expression. Beryl ached to drag them back to bed and ease their sadness.
Whoa. Slow down, sister.
Beryl stroked Nia to keep her hands busy, “I can’t tell you how grateful I am for all this. I’m mortified I managed to get lost.”
“Losing your way is simple,” Deryn winked, and Beryl’s stomach somersaulted. “Being found is much harder.”
She laughed, “After last night, I’m inclined to agree with you.”
“Always a wise choice. May I make you something to eat?”
Can I have a kiss, too? Beryl thought.
“Yes, please, that’d be great if it’s not too much trouble. If you need help, I take direction well.”
Ugh, god, you are a messy flirt, she told herself.
“Nope. I wouldn’t have asked if it were. And you can stay right there. Feeding someone is a gift, one I don’t have the pleasure of giving too often.” Deryn’s gaze darkened with unmistakable passion.
Beryl was struck again by the idea Deryn could hear her thoughts. Stop being ridiculous, you goof, her inner voice scolded.
After a day of hiking, the simple meal Deryn prepared was a feast. Scrambled eggs fragrant with fresh herbs, toasted rye bread, and baked apples with cream were laid out on the dining table. Beryl tucked in with unfettered delight.
A steady rain began to fall as they ate.
The sound of water tapping against the windows wove between the ebb and flow of their conversation. Time sped by, and soon Deryn started clearing the table while Beryl lingered by the window.
There was a patch of garden prepped for winter and a chicken coop situated near the house. Further away, she saw a barn with a handful of goats staring out at the barnyard.
She knew she should be getting dressed. Instead, she stalled, walking a circuit around the main room. Stopping to scan the shelves of a bookcase, she plucked one off the top shelf and opened it to the first page.
“What’ve you got there?” Deryn asked. Their voice nearer than Beryl expected.
Her shoulders crawled up around her ears, and she shoved the book back into place, “Sorry, I’m nosy.”
Deryn moved closer until there was less than an arm’s length between them. “No worries,” they reached past Beryl, to touch the book’s spine. “I love that one,” their face was close enough their breath tickled Beryl’s cheek.
“I’ve never read it,” she said, throat dry.
“You can borrow it if you like.”
“Thank you,” she whispered, turning her head.
A craving surged through her, and arousal settled low in the cradle of her hips. She longed to know how an orgasm shaded Deryn’s voice and learn the secrets of their body – how they liked to be touched, and where.
You don’t even know how they identify, much less if they’re into you. Dial it back.
Despite her inner monologue, Beryl hovered in that second, falling toward Deryn in a series of half-steps. To Beryl, the space separating them felt both minuscule and infinite.
“I’m pan. Pansexual. She/her. You know. In case you were wondering,” Beryl blurted, and the puff of air from Deryn’s huff of laughter ghosted over her lips.
“I’m pan, too. Genderqueer, they/them. And you’re beautiful,” Deryn whispered. “May I kiss you?”
Brushing their lips together in lazy swipes, They nipped at Beryl’s neck in between kisses. Their tongue swept across the seam of Beryl’s mouth.
The heat of their body reminded Beryl of summer evenings when the air is humid and close. She thought of midnight walks, empty streets, of everything feeling like it was weighted down by a muggy slowness.
Beryl moaned, molding their bodies together. When they parted, both gasped, hands roaming with no purpose other than to feel.
Her fingers toyed with the button on Deryn’s jeans. “Will you tell me about your body, teach me how to touch you?”
Guiding Beryl’s wrist, Deryn placed her hand between their thighs. The heat of their sex warmed her palm, and she felt a thick, stiff nub of flesh beneath her fingers.
Deryn thrust their hips forward, growling as their lips brushing against her forehead, “That’s my clit. I want to fuck your mouth. Will you let me?”
“Ask for it.”
She pulled away and regarded Deryn. It was hard to think, her new lover inspired an all-encompassing, primal need.
Choosing to give voice to her craving was frightening. But every step in the past 24-hours led to this one moment. Why not reach out and grasp the gift the universe had given her?
“Please use me. Will you fuck my mouth?”
Deryn threaded a hand through her hair, making a loose fist. They tugged her head back, “If you need to stop or I do something you don’t like, you say red. Okay? Can you do that for me?”
“Yes,” Beryl said.
Releasing her, Deryn took their hand and led her to the bedroom. Though dizzy with lust, Beryl’s mind was quiet, still. It was why she had come to the woods. She had needed to find silence in her mind. She chuckled.
“What’s funny?” Deryn asked.
“It turns out you’re the solution to a problem I was trying to solve.”
Tilting their head, they smiled, joyful. Their movement reminded Beryl of the way the hawk had stared at her. Deryn had the same curious head tilt. She dismissed the thought and answered Deryn’s tender expression with one of her own.
They stripped each other with impatience, tugging, and pulling at fabric. The buttons on Beryl’s borrowed pajama top pinged off when Deryn ripped it open.
Nude, they considered one another, exploring with their eyes.
Deryn’s body was a lovely balance. Their soft breasts and the swell of their hips balanced the firmness of the musculature flexing beneath their skin.
One hand slid down their abdomen to the thatch of grey streaked hair at the juncture of their thighs. They pulled back the hood of flesh over their clit, revealing the delicate pink of its head. Beryl’s mouth watered, she yearned to worship Deryn’s body. She fell to her knees.
Deryn tilted her Beryl’s chin up, “Remember. Red to stop, yeah?” They said.
“Got it, red.”
“Good. Now, I believe you said you wanted to suck me.”
Beryl fell forward, nosing at the coarse hair, breathing in Deryn’s earthen scent. It was a heady mixture of clean sweat and salt. Her tongue fluttered over the glistening folds of their cunt.
Deryn palmed the back of her head, holding Beryl in place. She clutched her thighs, resisting the urge to touch herself and ease the clutching desire building in the well of her sex.
Pulling Beryl’s face away, Deryn said, “You’re such a good girl.”
Beryl groaned, tongue snaking out, chasing the taste of Deryn on her lips.
“Do you like that? Being my good girl?”
“I do,” Beryl rasped.
“Then show me how good you can be. Get on the bed, legs spread, hands out to the side. Don’t touch yourself until I say.”
Beryl whined, but climbed on the bed, collapsing on her back. She circled her hips, passion, and need mounting in intensity.
Reclining at the foot of the bed, Deryn watched her chest heaving, a hungry smile on their face. Thighs wide, Beryl’s face heated as Deryn regarded her with a ravenous gaze.
“Your pussy is perfect. Open yourself. Let me see it all.”
Beryl burned as she parted her labia.
“Look at you,” they said, hands sliding up Beryl’s sides and then back down. Tracks of light pink rose on her skin in the wake of their fingers. “You’re so wet.”
She nodded, and Deryn traced her sex with a light touch, stopping to swirl circles over her clit. Sobbing, Beryl held her hips still, even though she wanted to thrust up into their touch.
“You’re dripping. I bet your fingers can slide right in, do it.”
Whimpering, Beryl slid two fingers inside herself. The sensation of exposure was thrilling. She’d played at power exchange with other lovers. But there was always a small piece of herself that she held back. A single sliver of control, she refused to give away.
“Suck your finger for me, pretty. Show me how you taste.”
In that moment, pinned to the bed by Deryn’s eyes, she trembled, a sweet cascade of pleasure surging through her. She knew she would give this new lover everything, leaving no part of herself hidden.
Even if this were a one-time experience, she wouldn’t settle for living with a single regret. Sighing, she curled both fingers in her pussy and gathered her own slick, before thrusting them into her mouth.
The gunmetal grey of false dawn blanketed the room.
It was the second morning Beryl woke in Deryn’s bed. She reached out to check the time on her phone. Sunrise was still hours away. Deryn huffed a tender breath on the nape of her neck, their arm draped across her stomach.
The two made love as the sun climbed over the horizon, bodies coming together in an endless circle, like the turn of the seasons. Mouthing at each other’s sex, they fed off each other’s passion until they were left shuddering in the aftermath.
After another scrumptious breakfast, Deryn hiked back to Beryl’s car with her. Beryl was near tears when they reached the lot.
“It’s not like you’re never going to see me again, pretty,” Deryn said, brushing the hair from Beryl’s face.
“I know. It’s just…fuck…the past two days have been amazing.”
“Yeah, they have,” Deryn slid their arms around Beryl’s waist. “And next week you won’t even have to get lost in the woods to see me.”
“Right,” Beryl said, turning her face up for a kiss. Their lips slid together, and they lingered in the embrace until they both started chuckling.
“Okay, this is ridiculous. I’ll text you when I get home,” Beryl said.
“Looking forward to it.”
The brittleness that Beryl had seen in Deryn’s face the day before was gone.
Deryn stole one last kiss and walked back toward the tree line. Beryl watched them go, staying put until she could no longer see them through the trees.
Shaking her head, she climbed into her car. Before she pulled away, she cast one last look at the forest where Deryn lived. A hawk sat on a low branch at the edge of the woods. It watched her for a moment before it called, kik, kik, kik, and flew away.