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Wings of Desire

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I watched him for a long time before the perfect chance presented itself. The moment came while I was dozing, concealed among the high branches of a tall pine tree, my face tucked snug beneath a wing as I tried to ignore the aching of my talons and the rumble of hunger in my stomach.

Human shouting woke me. Unlike some of my sisters, I cannot understand even the most basic words of their language, so what they were saying was a mystery to me. But I understood the tone – it was high and angry.

He was arguing with the female he shared his home with. I had no idea why. Human relationships are bafflingly complex. She stood at the entrance of their habitation shouting at him as he stalked away from her through the area of broken ground where they grow and tend the plants that humans like to eat. Halfway he turned and shouted something back at her.

I had heard similar things over the past few days as I had waited and watched. Usually they fought inside their habitation. Another human male had been involved. At least, I had seen one earlier. He had visited the female while the male I had chosen had been absent. That visit seemed to be the cause for their argument now.

The female shouted one last time and then went back inside, slamming closed the slab of wood that protected their habitation. The male took a hesitant step back towards his home then turned and walked away, his eyes downcast. I unfurled my wings and eased my talons and waited until he was close to the edge of the woods. Then I swooped. He didn’t see me since I had the sun at my back. I was on him even as he noticed my shadow. I grasped his shoulders in my talons and dragged him up into the air.

He cried out in terror, but louder still were the cries of the female. She had seen me swoop and had burst out of their habitation, that sharp length of metal that humans favour as a replacement for claws clutched in those feeble things called ‘hands’. I laughed, soaring far out the reach of her wild swipes, my wings beating the air with a new-found vigour born of my success. Yes! If she’d wished to keep hold of her male she should have watched him more closely, and now he was mine!

I left the valley far behind and climbed into where the air was thinner and cooler. The human’s struggling at last stopped. The air was thinner here, and humans cope badly with it. I glanced down, worried by his lack of movement, but he was still alive. I had heard from my sisters that the inexperienced sometimes forget how fragile humans are and inadvertently kill them with their first swoop, not realising until they’ve brought the body home that their hunting has been in vain.

I loosened the grip of my talons just in case, but only a little. Humans have also often fallen to their deaths from the talons of a sloppy huntress.

I was careful. I had spent too long on the hunt, expended too much of my precious energy to have wasted it all. This time I had refused to give up the hunt until I had succeeded - I would not suffer the agony of ‘must’ again! Those hideous nights of fever and itchiness, the swollen, sickening need of my body, the pity of my sisters far worse than the whispered jokes at my expense. I was not young anymore and a lack of success could no longer be put down to inexperience. For that I had endured burning hot shame far worse than unfulfilled lust.

But at last my efforts had paid off. I had watched, waited patiently, learned the movement of my chosen prey. I had been ready even to risk a fight with the female to take him, and so the luck of the opportunity given to me was all the more welcome.

He was small, it had to be admitted, and very young, although how young I was not sure. The female was older, that I knew. I had seen her boss him around as only human females can.

The air above grew chill. I felt the updrafts of warmer air from beneath and felt before I saw that I had come to the edge of the mountains. I knew my eyrie was not far away. My eyes scanned the sky, the grey and white of the mountains’ rock and snow. Sometimes a sister would try and take your prey from you. It was frowned upon, but in the agony of must many things that are frowned upon are known to happen.

I had worried in vain. I encountered no-one. My eyrie beckoned with its little ledge of rock and deep, inviting cave. It was an excellent eyrie and one I had had to defend on many an occasion. The morning sun warmed it delightfully and it faced away from the worst of the nightly winds that scour the mountains.

I dipped the leading edge of my wings, taking into account the heavier load I was carrying, heavier than any rabbit or small game I had carried there before. I was careful not to let go of my prey until I was well inside the cave. He fell a short distance into my nest, the soft fresh hay and foliage mixed with the lining of my down-feathers cushioning his fall. I landed beside him, perching on the edge of my nest. I leaned close to see how he had fared.

He was indeed a small specimen for his kind, and yet there had been something about his manner that had led me to choose him. I suppose humans might call such a thing ‘cuteness’, at least that is what I have heard my sisters who know something of the human language call such attractive vulnerability. He was being very ‘cute’ now, the way he cowered from me as he scrambled backwards against the far end of the nest.

I hopped into the nest and he scrambled backwards out of it. I pursued him, grinning. It was a fun game. There was nowhere he could run to. He came up against the wall of the cave and froze. He knew he was trapped.

I stepped over to him, awkward on my talons, but thinking perhaps that my hopping was alarming him. I did not want him to panic and fling himself from the ledge. It had happened to others of my sisters before. I made low sounds in my throat, the sounds you use to calm chicks, and spread out my wings so that I could block him should he choose to dart around me. Humans can move fast when they wish to.

He lay back, eyes wide, too scared to try and escape. Or perhaps he was injured? I leaned close and he shivered. I examined his shoulders: his hide - or rather the hides of other animals that humans wear to protect them from the elements - was torn, ripped by my talons. The flesh was broken and there was blood.

I brought my face to one shoulder and began to lick at it. A shudder spread through his body and I was afraid that he had been injured to the point of shock. But the wounds were light, barely skin-deep, although they bled freely.

Then I realised he thought I was going to eat him, that licking his blood was me tasting him, a prelude to devouring. I cooed to him with what I hoped were mollifying sounds and then turned my attention to his other shoulder. I licked the bloody wounds there clean as well.

I wondered what stories he had heard about my kind. I knew that humans call us ‘harpies’ and that they tell tales of us devouring their kind, but I had thought it unlikely that they could believe such ludicrous things. Our mouths, after all, though full of teeth sharp compared to theirs, are unsuited for prey bigger than a large rodent. We feed only on small animals: to kill anything larger requires far too much precious energy. And yet the way this human shivered I knew that he must have heard and believed such stories.

I licked my lips. His blood was indeed tasty but I had no intention of devouring him. I wondered how I could communicate to him that I was healing him, that a harpy’s saliva is filled with qualities that slow blood-flow, resist infection and cleanse impurities? I thought it better just to step back and give him room. Perhaps if I made no quick movements he would stop shivering.

It took a long while for him to regain his courage. His eyes glued to where I sat in my nest and with his back to the wall, he sidled outside onto the ledge. I tensed my legs, ready to fly should he leap off the ledge or commit some similar foolishness. But after staring down and then out across the landscape I knew he understood there was no escape for him.

The wind buffeted his hair and he pushed it out of his eyes. They were pretty eyes, even prettier with fear in them. He came back inside and I watched him explore my cave. He was likely looking for some other way of escape. After a while he even began to periodically take his eyes off me for periods longer than a heartbeat. Perhaps he had already grown used to me.

I decided I could risk leaving him there for a short moment. If he desired to throw his life away he would already have done so. I clambered from my nest and onto the ledge before plummeting out into the delicious freedom of the air. I caught an updraft and went soaring over the mountain meadows that lie high above my little eyrie. It wasn’t long until I had caught a rabbit, one of the white-furred ones that live among the everlasting snow. I clutched the rabbit safe in a talon as I flew the short distance to the little pool with its waterfall where I like to bathe. Rainbows scattered as I dipped my head into the fresh, clean water and took a long drink. I filled my mouth and then flew back down to the cave. The human had come part way out onto the ledge, perhaps still harbouring some hope of finding a way of escape he had missed earlier. I startled him and he ran back inside. I dropped the warm rabbit and stalked in after him. He was cowering again and this time it worked to my advantage. I crowded him against the wall, pinning his arms with the wrists of my wings, and brought my mouth against his.

He gasped. I locked my lips around his so that the water wouldn’t escape as I poured it into his mouth. He choked a little but drank a deal of it. I left him wiping his mouth and staring at me as I tore the rabbit into strips of flesh. I lifted some in my mouth and offered them to him, but he shook his head in a human gesture I recognised: no.

I remembered then that humans do not favour the raw flesh of creatures but prefer it dried or burnt. I worried that he was hungry, but when he refused again I put back my head and swallowed down the delicious sweetness of freshly killed rabbit so it would not go to waste.

The slick meat slid down my throat. As I licked at the blood on my lips and lifted a talon to lick the blood there too, I felt a stirring inside me. I had felt it earlier, I realised: a melting in my joints. I had thought it over-exertion from my hunt. But now, as the heat spread down my spine and my loins tightened and grew liquid, I recognised it for what it was: the first stirrings of must.

-----

The human was lying down against the far wall of the cave. It was warmer there. The sun was not long for the sky. I called to him, trying to remember the sounds humans greet each other with. My vocalisations must have sounded similar enough for he looked at me in surprise. I shuffled to one edge of the nest and lifted a wing, displaying the empty space. He stared at it, then at me again. He shook his head. No.

I gestured again. Again, a shake of the head: no. I sighed. The temperature would drop soon and humans with their featherless skin have little endurance against the cold.

I sat there and waited.

The cave grew dim. The air grew cold. The human shivered. He pulled his hides closer around himself. It would do him no good.

Soon he began to shiver uncontrollably. Still he did not move. I lost patience and hopped over to him. He could only stare up at me and shiver as I scooped him up in my wings and carried him to the nest. I placed him in it and lay down beside him. He tried to shy away from me, but lacked the energy to do so. And so he ceased struggling and allowed me to cover him with my wing. His body was soft and small beneath it and I felt a strange twinge of pleasure. He was like a little chick, his naked down needing to be warmed by his mother. I shook my head at such foolish thoughts. I had been watching the humans for too long and had grown sentimental.

Soon he stopped shivering. The rhythm of his breathing changed and I thought he might be sick, so I leaned down to check on him.

His eyes were shut, his lips pursed. He was just sleeping.

I fluffed up my feathers and drew him closer to me in the centre of the nest. His body warm against mine, sleep soon stole over me as well.

-------

I woke to find the human still nestled against my chest, his face against my breasts. He was fast asleep. I smiled to think that he had become used to me so quickly, but I knew that it was just exhaustion that gripped him.

I removed myself from his embrace so that he would not wake and left him in the nest as I flew up to the little waterfall and pool to wash myself. It was my usual ritual: plunging my face straight into the icy pool and then dunking my back and wings underneath the falling water. The iciness invigorated me and I ruffled my wings, letting the water cleanse my feathers of the previous day’s sweat. I plunged into the deeper part of the pool and surfaced, the water sluicing over my breasts and between them. My nipples were hard, and not just with the cold, and I felt my heart quicken and the blood rush through my limbs.

I ran my wrists through my hair, loosening the knots and then preened first one wing and then the other. The sun was just now clearing the foothills in the east bringing its delicious warmth. I swept my wings, dislodging the worst of the water that loaded them down, and then flew over to the little flat ledge of rock away from the spray of the waterfall. The rock was already sun-warm and so I lay down flat on my belly to dry. The warm smoothness of the rock beneath me did little to calm my racing heart.

There was no mistaking this feeling. It was the full onset of must. I nuzzled against the rock, delighting in the warmth, tension building inside me. I tried to ease myself by pressing my hips down against the smooth warm stone, but this only made me more excited. I had hoped that I would have some time to acclimatise the human to my presence before the must came upon me. It would be easier to mate with one not fighting back. But now I had no choice. My body cried out for release and would not be ignored.

I was not yet dry, but there could be no more delay. I unfurled my wings and glided down to the ledge of my eyrie below.

I hopped over to the nest and the human woke at last. At first he blinked at me with the bleariness of the half-asleep, but then his eyes went wide and I knew that the memory of the previous day had come flooding back.

He backed up against the far edge of my nest, his eyes glued to mine. The must was full upon me and my pupils were wide and dark, my feathers bristling in excitement. With the wild wetness of my hair and the heaving of my chest, I no doubt frightened him.

And then I was upon him. I half-leaped half-flew, wings splayed wide, and pushed him up against the wall of the nest. He struggled, but being covered by the embrace of my wings there was little he could do as I dove forward and brought my lips against his. He cried out, a costly mistake - my tongue parted his lips and delved deep into his mouth. I was salivating strongly, an effect of the must, and my saliva filled his mouth to overflowing. He drank much of it so as not to choke. I broke away and he doubled over, coughing. His face and the skin of his neck and throat were already pinkening and he began to pant. My saliva was already working upon him.

The saliva of a harpy is not only suited to the cleansing and healing of wounds but during must it becomes for humans a potent aphrodisiac. As I peeled off the hides which covered him I saw that the rest of him, too, was reacting to it. His member was standing proudly out from his body, clear even beneath his hides. Hungry, I pulled at the covering that human males wear on their lower half and which is by far the easiest part to remove, requiring merely a forceful tug from where it encircles their waist. The human wrestled with me and I laughed. The battle was so one-sided, and so ludicrous! I hooked my writs around his waist and tore his hides off. The smaller inner-layer that humans wear to protect their genitals came off with them.

With the hides wrapped around my wrists the human took the chance to scramble away, but he was hampered by his hands covering his nakedness. The sight again brought that word ‘cute’ to mind. His shame and his flustered state inflamed me. I tossed the hides aside and swooped upon him. I held his arms down against the floor of the nest with my wrists and knelt over him, positioning my hips so that I could guide his delicious hardness right into me. I was already slick with need, the smell of my excitement strong. It proved a challenge with him struggling so courageously, but I quickly bored of the wrestling and again glued my mouth to his and fed him a further dose of my saliva.

Overwhelmed by desire, his struggling ceased and I eased myself down upon him, crying out in delight as his member pierced right up into my belly.

Our first mating was frenzied, quick and exquisitely pleasurable. I thrust my hips down against his while my tongue dipped in and out of his mouth. I was learning his taste, the saltiness of one recently awakened, and it was delicious. Over and over I speared his hardness up into me as he lay there in a daze while I took my pleasure from him. But I knew that the experience was not an unpleasant one for him as he panted and gasped hot against my mouth with every thrust.

With one final deep thrust he cried out and I felt his seed spilling into me. The next moment I reached my own peak of pleasure and shuddered, melting inside. I ceased from lifting my hips and instead ground my pelvis against his, eager to drain every last boiling spurt of his delicious juices. He had produced a lot, another effect of my saliva, and our bellies grew sticky with it as it flowed out of me.

Exhausted and still shivering with pleasure, I slumped on top of him, my breasts flat against his heaving chest. He lay gasping beneath me. But when his eyes met mine he averted his gaze, his face flushing.

Was the aphrodisiac still active within him? It was not possible. No, this was the human reaction called blushing. My sisters had told me it signifies shame. What then was he so ashamed of? He had acquitted his part of our mating most satisfactorily. I felt the heat of his semen deep inside me, pooling there, and I murmured happily. The tension of must was receding from me, swept from me by the intense pleasure we had shared.

I rolled over to lay beside him, sweeping a wing over him. I had no desire for him to grow cold and I did not want him to put his hides back on. I enjoyed the warm smoothness of his nakedness pressed against my body and cooed to him as he fell asleep. The aphrodisiac was indeed spent and with it came physical exhaustion. His sleep was heavy.

I did not want to sleep. The mating had filled me with energy. I wished to go hunting and yet I was still concerned for the human’s wellbeing.

I decided, then, to lift him up in my wings. His sleep was total and he did not stir as I carried him out onto the ledge. There, once I had laid him down, I grasped him with the utmost gentleness in my talons. A few deep sweeps of my wings and I lifted him into the air. It felt good to have the air about me, to feel my blood rushing through me. The heaviness in my belly was all the more delicious for it.

I lifted him straight up to the little meadow higher up the mountain not far from the waterfall. I lay him down on the softness of the grass there and covered him with fronds plucked from the ferns which grow on the banks of an icy rivulet. Along with the sun’s light they would keep him warm.

I busied myself hunting. I was ravenous and every small animal I found I devoured still hot and squirming. Sated, I remembered the human. He had not eaten yet. I knew that he would forgo any flesh I might offer him, but I recalled something I had heard from my sisters: humans would often eat fish raw. Perhaps he would prefer that.

I caught two fat pink-fleshed fish, heavy with their spring eggs and left them beside him to go and find other treats that might tempt him. I knew that humans, like harpies, enjoy sweet things, and so I gathered as many little branches of alpine strawberries and cloudberries I could find.

When I returned he was awake. He was staring at the fish and started when I landed near him. I dropped the fruits from my mouth beside him and he stared at those, too. He seemed dazed from the effects of the aphrodisiac and our energetic mating, so I gave him space. I went and drank from the rivulet and then lay down on my side on my sunning-rock and watched him.

After a while he tried the fruit and then ravenously devoured them. The fish he played with for a while, but in the end those too he ate, although he seemed to have trouble with the bones. I watched amused as he picked them out and like a child left them with the heads and eggs untouched on the grass beside him.

When he was finished I stood up and stretched luxuriantly. Pleasure filled me. I gazed upon the human who was now looking at me and felt warmth in my chest. I had enjoyed our mating and was already looking forward to the next time.

Self-conscious, I preened my wings and stretched again. I glanced sideways at the human. He was still watching. What was he thinking? Did he find me attractive, I wondered? Humans and harpies are not so dissimilar, after all. I pushed out my breasts, proud of their haughty firmness. They were more than ample to nurse a child and I wanted to show them off to him.

He turned away then. Another blush? I covered my body with my wings and turned away, my heart playful. Wasn’t this what a human girl would do, cover herself? Humans are so fearful of nudity! Their naked vulnerable skin makes them so.

I wanted very much to feel that soft, naked skin against mine again. My face grew hot and my joints melted. Wait, could it be that must had already returned to me? It was gentler now, not so demanding. And yet I very much wanted to mate again.

I hopped closer to the human, wondering if he might also wish to mate. He lay there, watching me. His eyes were wide, but lacked the panic I had seen in them before. I came closer. He had abandoned the fish’s heads and their glistening eggs, so I scooped up the delicious morsels and ate them, the heads crunching and the eggs popping with a delectable creamy saltiness.

Still he made no move. And so I sidled up beside him. I nuzzled his chest, dislodging some of the ferns covering it. He placed his hands over his skin to prevent my touching it. I nudged his arms without force, playful, before moving lower. He tried to push my head away but I had become too excited to play along now. I licked at the skin of his stomach, wishing to taste him. Saltiness greeted my tongue, more delicious still than the saltiness of the fish eggs, and I wished to lick him more, but he scrambled away from under me.

I darted forward, licked along his ribs and he began to laugh. It was a nervous sound, an explosion of ticklishness. I sat back on the grass and laughed too, amused by his consternation.

The game was over. I wanted very much wished to mount him again but I did not wish to spoil the gentleness of that moment and the closeness we had enjoyed. I was growing sentimental, just as I had feared. I watched him as he drank some of the water and then waded into the pool to wash. His naked body intrigued me. Humans looks so similar to us in so many ways, and yet the differences are impossible to ignore. So naked without feathers, like they’ve been plucked clean! And no wings, the soft little extremities of their limbs so fragile and yet so agile. His ‘hands’ had felt nice as they had tried to push me away. I wondered if they would be good at caressing me as well. I wanted to know how it would feel, those soft and agile little hands running across my skin and stroking my feathers.

He slid out of the water. I moved away from my sunning rock to allow him to use it. As he lay there drying I wondered at my next move. Ferns would do little for my human when the sun was gone. I had destroyed his hides in my eagerness for mating and he would require more. And yet I could not leave him here. I knew that one of my sisters might see him and try and take him from me. I hopped over to him and tried to explain what I wished him to do.

With much headshaking and sweeping of wings I communicated very little, but just the effort seemed to calm him. I hopped over and pressed myself against him. He moved away but I followed, bumping my chest and belly against him. Perhaps he thought I was trying to initiate mating again, but soon he came to understand what I wanted. He tentatively placed his arms around me and held on. My breasts squeezed up against his chest and he went red as his grip went slack. I shook my head, frowning at him. He must not relax his grip!

When he was holding on tight enough, I spread my wings and in short half-glides I returned him to the ledge of our home. He stood there beside me on the ledge, making no move to go inside and I shook my head again. I pointed a wing at the sky and glared at him. He must be careful not to be seen by my sisters!

He understood and retreated inside. I flew off then back towards human habitation. I avoided the area I had stolen him and flew instead to the series of little habitations that follow the great sinuous river leading to the far off waiting ocean. The ocean is a magical place for us, always glittering on the border of a harpy’s vision as she flies over the mountains, and seeing it today made my heart happier still.

I stole hides that humans had left hanging outside to dry. I gripped them in my talons and tore them from the lines. No humans saw me. Then I returned to my eyrie. The human was still there, exploring the little cave. He had draped some of his torn hides around himself to defend against the cold and he looked so pitiable I desired to rush to him and sweep him my wing around him. Instead, I called to him and indicated with a wingtip the clothes I’d left on the ledge.

He was surprised to see the clothes, but my gift pleased him. He smiled as he sorted through them. Some were of course the wrong size and he discarded these, but he discarded too some others which seemed just right for him. Perhaps the shape or colour of the clothes displeased him. Luckily, there were several sets of hides he liked enough to keep and he soon wrapped himself well.

Happy, I returned to my nest. I beckoned to him with a wing to join me, but he shook his head: no. I sighed. I should not have expected too much too soon. I put my head under my wing and dozed.

When I woke I saw the human in the corner busy with his hands. He was clashing two stones together. Little sparks flew out. I knew what he was trying to do. Fire! The thing humans adore more than any other, their beloved god and their fickle slave. I cried out at him and climbed out of the nest. Alarmed, he dropped the stones and I hopped over and kicked them away. I shook my head at him, no. No! Fire was too dangerous!

The human sulked then, retreating to the far end of the cave where he hugged his arms around himself. Perhaps I had been too harsh. He was no doubt still feeling cold. My warm feathers and comfortable nest beckoned to him, but his heart was still hardened towards me. I wish I had been able to resist must for longer than I had.

I hopped over to him, making conciliatory noises. He turned away but I insisted, nuzzling up against him. At last he relented and followed me. On the ledge he hugged himself to me and this time I glided downwards to a secluded little nook in the mountainside where old, dead trees still clung to the rock. It was out of the way of the wind and it would be a perfect place for a fire. The smoke would not travel up to annoy my eyrie or alert any of my sisters. I left him there and went to collect his rocks.

When I returned the look on his face was one of joy. He was happy to see me! Perhaps he had thought I had tired of him and was going to abandon him here. I dropped the rocks from my talons and nuzzled at his face. He was so happy he tolerated it this time, even when I licked at his ear. The smell of his hair and skin was delicious and I remembered our mating again. Warmth flooded me and I moved away. I left him there to play with his beloved fire and went off to hunt. Perhaps with fire he could eat the sweet rabbits I so prefer to all other prey.

I returned with two fresh-killed in my talons. He had already started his fire using some dry wood and I left the rabbits beside him and perched on the largest of the trees jutting from the bare cliff. It was strong enough to support my weight.

I watched him cook. It seemed a shame to burn such tasty morsels, but humans are not harpies, after all. He used a slice of rock to strip the hides from them and removed the tasty, bitter guts then stuck a long stick through what was left and held it over the fire. Humans were so picky. But I appreciated the agility of his hands as they went to and fro. They were definitely cute, those fragile, fluttery things.

He ate the rabbits voraciously, tearing the flesh with his teeth. Humans must soften their food with cooking since their teeth are soft and blunt like a chick’s. He clearly enjoyed the rabbits and I was pleased. Perhaps his heart would not be so hard towards me now.

When he was finished I let him explore the little nook, but he seemed disappointed when he found that it was as isolated as my eyrie was: a great drop down a ravine below and sheer rock-face above. Soon he grew bored and I joined him. I bumped up against him and he threw his arms around me. I murmured with pleasure at his touch. He was not strong, but the way his arms enveloped me, his hands flat and warm against my back, made me happy.

That night I beckoned again to him with an outstretched wing and this time he came to the nest. He was hesitant as he climbed in and stiffened when I swept him close against me, but he made no attempt to leave my side. I leaned down and sniffed at the hides covering his shoulders, checking his wounds. They smelled clean, no hint of the sweetness of infection. I wished to cleanse them again with my tongue, but decided it would be too hard to communicate my desire to him. Removing his hides against his will might damage them and he would likely think I was trying to force him to mate again.

I woke. The moon was spilling her light into the cave, but it was not that which had woken me. I felt the quills of my feathers tingling and a flowing below my waist. My skin was hot.

Must had returned.

The human was asleep. I nuzzled at him with my nose, pressed my lips against his skin. I had seen humans do it before and I thought perhaps it would wake him. It did. His eyes opened straight onto mine. They expressed no surprise this time. I snuggled closer to him, pressed my breasts against his chest, my wings shivering. I began to pant.

The human understood. He reached down and took off the lower part of his hides. He looked away from me as he took off the soft layer closest to his skin. His member was very hard and I had not even fed him my saliva yet!

The sight of that spontaneous rigidness delighted me and I pressed my lips again and again against his. He made no move to press his back and although I wished it I had not expected him to. Instead he lay back, offering himself to me.

I wasted no time in mounting him. I was careful not to press down upon him as heavily as I had the first time we had mated. I brought my sex against his hardness, wondering at how swollen and slick I was. I rubbed against him and he opened his mouth and emitted a little yelp of pleasure. I grinned and mimicked the sound. I rubbed again and this time he bit his lip with his fragile little teeth to stop making the same sound again. Perhaps I had shamed him.

I leaned down over him, blanketing his body with my wings. He turned his head away so that he would not be looking into my eyes. Playful, I licked his neck. I slid my tongue across his cheek and onto his mouth. After a moment of shutting his lips tight he relented and I dipped my tongue inside his mouth.

This time, with the must not so strong, my salvia was far less copious. Some still spilled from our joined mouths but he was able to breathe. He lay there and did not struggle. At times his own tongue moved against mine and I cooed in delight.

His body grew hot beneath me. The saliva had done its work. His member grew even harder. I waited no longer and slid it deep into me. I took the mating slowly this time, relishing it. The human did not struggle like before. He tried to remain still, as though my ministrations were doing nothing to him, but his cries betrayed him. I knew that he too was feeling pleasure, no matter how he tried to hide it. With his body betraying him, I quickly learned what he enjoyed: how he liked it when I let his hardness slip almost free from my body before I swiftly pushed myself back down onto it; how grinding my hips forward so that our bellies were against each other elicited the loudest cries from him. It was not long before he attained his pleasure, his semen spilling into me, but he remained hard and so I continued, taking my own selfish delight. When I felt his seed spurting up into me a second time I reached my own peak of pleasure and my joyous unashamed voice filled the little cave.

We fell asleep together, my legs locked around his, my wings cradling him, his member softening inside me.

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As the days passed I noticed that although the must had lightened, it did not disappear. We mated every night and some mornings as well. Always the human lay there, his eyes closed tight, his face turned away. I made it a game to tease him, to make him move his hips, to show me that he enjoyed our mating. He tried his best not to, but I always won. Either he would cry out or his face would go red or his hips would move on their own to thrust his hardness up into me. When we were finished he would sleep, or feign it. Often I would lie beside him, my wings cradling him like a chick, cooing to him as I drew my lips across the back of his neck. Just once I wanted him to press his lips against mine as I had seen humans do.

Our days together followed a routine: I would leave him in the upper meadows to bathe or catch fish when I went hunting. Afterwards, I would take him down to the little sheltered ledge where he could worship his fire. Nights we spent together in my nest. Often I caught him looking out across the landscape in the direction of his previous home. I wondered if he was thinking of her, the human female I had stolen him from. The thought brought a shadow down upon my heart.

Whenever I was apart from him I would grow sad and lonely. It was as if I was undergoing an emotional must, one that could only be relieved by his presence. Such thoughts shamed me, and yet the pleasure of reuniting was so sweet I did not begrudge the bitterness.

Wishing to make him happy, I brought him things that I stole from humans down in the valley. I brought him short lengths of rope, just enough that he could climb down to his fire-nook or up to the alpine meadow. With the extra freedom he grew happier.

My favourite moments were spent together with the human in the pool up in the meadow. I would dive and splash and preen my wings while he waded in the shallows. He had grown used to me and was no longer ashamed of his nakedness like before. He would often lie on the grass and watch me. I caught him doing it many times, and I felt the flush of joy at his eyes upon me. I would always be careful to show my body at its best, stretching up out of the pool so that the water sluiced from my breasts, lying out across my sunning rock on my belly with the curve of my hips and my round buttocks and shimmering feathers on display.

Our mating, too, grew more intimate. He no longer looked away but watched me as I took my pleasure with him. One morning as I rolled my hips against his he reached up to my chest. I thought he had tired of mating and was meaning to push me off, but when his hands cupped my breasts and covered my nipples I gasped both in pleasure and surprise at his gentle touch. From then on he would often play with my breasts as we mated, and the nimbleness of his fingers never failed to quicken the rushing onset of my pleasure.

Then one glistening day we were together in the pool. As usual, he was lying on the grass and staring up at the sky, a ritual that seemed to relax him. I was hunting fish in the pool, dipping my head in and out of the water, trying to find one that would please him for his lunch. I found a particularly fat fish, its belly heavy with eggs, and pursued it. I grasped its tail in my mouth and pulled it out of the water but the fish jerked free and landed on the human’s stomach. He yelped and tried to catch the fish as it went skittering across the grass, its whipping tail glittering. I joined him and together we strove to catch it. The fish slipped from the human’s grasping hands and my talons proved too slow and clumsy. At last the fish flipped itself back into the pool with a final desperate jerk of its tail. The human and I fell back on the grass, panting and laughing. As we lay there together he drew closer to me. I stared at him. Perhaps he was cold and desirous of the warmth of my feathers? But the sunshine was already so warm.

He leaned over and brought his lips against mine. My heart surged hot in my chest and I pressed my lips back. His tongue slipped out and licked my mouth playfully. I caught it and then we performed that human ritual called kissing.

My heart raced. There was still must within me - it had never fully left me, an unheard-of mystery. Usually a few days after mating the must will leave a harpy and then she quickly tires of her human, returning him to his fellows so that she may reclaim her nest for herself and prepare for her clutch. Harpies, after all, are solitary creatures by nature. And yet I had no desire for him to leave me and craved his presence whenever I was apart from him. At first I had thought it was because he had not yet impregnated me. But I knew now that was not the case. For some days I had noticed the swelling of my belly, the increasing heaviness of my breasts. It would not be long, I knew. I felt the hardness of the new life inside me.

As we kissed he wrapped his arms around me, as often we did when I flew him down to the little ledge. He wished to be close to me? The thought brought happy coos to my throat as his lips slipped from mine to dance across the curve of my neck.

That was the first time he initiated mating. His hands slid across my body and I squirmed and panted at their softness and the tenderness of his touch. He climbed on top of me, covering me, his mouth seeking out my breasts just as a chick would. My nipples hardened under his tongue and my panting grew deeper. I felt myself flooding, heat coursing within my bones. I moved to sit up, to roll him on his back and mount him, but he shook his head no. He knelt then and drew my thighs apart, exposing my swollen sex. He pulled his lower hides off in a frenzy and then lay back on top of me, his hardness stabbing straight into me. I cried out. He had pierced me deep, at an angle I had never felt before. So this was how humans mate? It was certainly appropriate for a race whose females are so lazy.

I lay there, my talons curling with exquisite delight at each desperate lunge of his body. I, too, desired him to go deeper and I swept my wings about his back, pulling him closer. His thrusts grew shorter, faster, his belly lying flat against mine, and he kissed me again, deeply, swallowing our mingled cries of ecstasy as he pumped his boiling semen into me.

From then on he was no longer the human but my human. He would initiate mating almost as often as I would. I grew sleek and happy. My appetite became greedy and I thought nothing of devouring half a dozen rabbits one after the other. He would catch fish for me - I had brought him a net I had stolen as a present - and I ceased to hunt as much. I joked that I was turning into a human, so indolent I had become.

Then one morning I woke feverish. My feathers tingled, shivered, and I bristled at the light spilling in through the mouth of the cave. The soft dried grasses of my nest chafed at me. The human stirred and woke. He looked up at me and I fixed my gaze on his. Was he challenging me? My feathers stood on end and I pushed at him with my wrists and hissed. The human, alarmed, scrambled out of the nest. What was happening to me?

I felt my stomach cramp and then I knew. I was broody. The egg was coming.

The human stared at me from the corner of the cave, that corner he used to flee to for safety. The pitiable sight broke through to me and I struggled against the frustration and irritation of the broodiness flooding my mind. I stood up and rubbed my stomach with my wing tips. My human’s eyes went wide as he understood. Perhaps he had thought I was merely getting fat?

The cramps grew steadily worse. I lay back and moaned as wave after wave passed through me. My womb was contracting, desiring to be free of the egg.

My talons gripped into the nest and I pushed out. Gasping, I felt the tip of the egg breach. But it would not come out straight away.

I felt, then, my human beside me. Anger flashed through me but I pushed it aside. Tentatively, he placed his hands on the small of my back. At his tender touch calm suffused me. His hands felt so soft, so cool. He began to move them, drawing them up and down, the slender ‘fingers’ digging into me. The cramps returned but with his loving touch they were not so bad as before. He murmured sweet noises to me and continued to press his hands against my back.

The tip of the egg appeared white between my legs. It was coming out! New energy filled me and I pushed and pushed.

With a final agonising push and a cry of pain the egg slid out onto the soft floor of my nest. At once I fell upon it, protecting it as I examined it for flaws. When my heart was satisfied there were none I swept my wings over the egg. My cramps were already abating. There would be only one egg. Harpies often produced clutches of two or three, but I was old, after all. One was enough. One beautiful, precious egg was more than enough for me!

My human sat back and watched the little ritual I put the egg through, rolling it about until I found the perfect spot where I could embrace it and keep it warm against my chest and belly as I lay on my side. He came as close as he dared and although I felt myself bristling, I fought my irritation down. He was the father of my egg and was allowed to see it. I lifted my wing away and we gazed upon our egg together.

It was a beautiful egg, perfectly formed and a healthy white. All the fish and rabbit bones I had eaten had produced a lovely strong shell. The expression on my human’s face was hard to read, but I could see the pleasure in it. Our egg was a beautiful egg, obvious to even those for whom producing eggs is a mystery.

He moved to touch it and I lifted my head and bared my teeth, my eyes flashing. But then I pulled back, allowing him to touch our egg.

He ran his hands over it, those tender, gentle hands that had so often caressed my body. I knew then that he loved our egg as much as I did. I felt my broodiness subside. I cooed to him, brushed the nest with my wing. He should lie on the other side and help me keep our egg warm.

He did so. That morning was a delicious time of gentleness for us, his arms and my wings embracing our egg between us.

He learned quickly at my prompting: how he should move away if the egg felt too hot, to leave his fingertips against it to guard against it growing cold. With the two of us protecting the egg I felt at peace. Sleep from the exhaustion of laying came over me.

I woke to find my human had brought me water and a fat fish. I drank and ate greedily and returned to sleep.

Days became weeks, just as the two of us had become three. Every day my human brought me food and water and I suffered none of the fasting that usually a harpy with a clutch must endure. I grew plump, my wings shining, my breasts full and heavy. I knew I would produce a lot of milk for our chick.

One day a great storm came, lashing the mountains with rain and sending fire down from the sky. It did not leave for a long time. And yet my human still went out and brought back food for me. There was no need: a few days without food would not harm us. But he insisted and I let him. For I knew then what his gifts meant. He loved me and loved our egg. I loved him too. It was why I had never left must, why that need for him to be beside me had persisted. Again thoughts of becoming human made me laugh to myself. He wondered why so often I laughed, but my happiness pleased him.

Then early one morning I woke. The egg felt hot! I panicked and pushed the human away. It was he that was making the egg hot. I place my wing between the two and felt the hot moisture on his arms and forehead, felt the wetness soaking through his hides.

It took a long time to rouse him. At last he looked up at me weakly, his eyes dull. I sniffed him, my heart racing. There was no smell of diseased wounds. It must be something inside him.

I stroked his face with a wingtip and determined to find medicine for him. I did not want to leave the egg, but I knew I had to risk it. Already I had felt the little life inside pushing at the shell, seen the dark shape with its wings against the light of the moon and sun. It would not be long until it hatched.

I flew out of the cave, my flight ungainly from the stiffening of my wings and legs. I clove through the wind and rain to the little ridge where I knew plants grew. Harpies seldom sicken, but sometimes a fever comes upon us and we chew on the little white flowers and their roots to lessen the pain and melt the heat.

I dug some out and returned, shaking the rain from my wings as I entered the cave. My human seemed so small then, lying in the nest. He could barely move.

I chewed up the roots and fed them to him, but he would not take them. His throat was swollen I brought him water and fed him with my mouth, just as I had all those long days ago. He could barely swallow any, but the little he could gave him a tiny burst of strength. I pushed the herbs in his mouth and he choked down a mouthful. It was better than nothing.

He raised a hand to stroke my face then reached out for our egg. The motion exhausted him and he collapsed against the wall of the nest, his breathing harsh and shallow.

I lay there beside him. I let him sleep. The sleep went for many, many hours and when he did not wake I cooed to him and ran my wingtips across his face. It was as if he had turned to stone.

I knew what I had to do. My heart revolted at the idea, but the thought of his dying made me shudder. He needed help I could not give. I was, after all, just a harpy. I knew nothing of humans and their illnesses.

I cradled him in my talons and lifted him as gently as I could. My muscles ached from their inactivity but they obeyed my will. It was agony to leave my egg unprotected and I prayed it would be safe. We flew down through the cold, clear air of the morning, deep down into the valley. The flight would do little to help his condition, but I had no choice. Thankfully, the storm had long since gone.

There. A little dark block, like that rock in the mountains which often crumbles into straight-edged shapes. The habitation he had shared with her.

I swopped down, battling exhaustion, and lowered him at the foot of the slab of wood that was the entrance. I cried out and beat my wings and kicked my talons at it, then fled. I did not want to panic the female who lived there and make her fear coming outside.

As I flew away I glanced back. Light had sprung from the entrance of the habitation, spilling over his tiny form.

She was there, kneeling beside him.

I turned away. I did not look back again.

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I lay in the nest embracing our egg.

Our egg. And yet, he would never see his chick now.

My eyes burned. If it was not for the egg, surely my heart would not have had the strength to carry on. That emotional must, that need to see him, boiled and seethed in my chest. And so I eked out long days and nights, alone except for the precious little gift he had given me.

Then one morning the egg fell on its side while I was cleaning it. In a panic I righted it but it fell back over. A crack appeared, and with it came the sound of peeping.

Our egg was hatching!

It took an eternity of tap-tap-tapping until the first little hole opened in the shell. A harpy will seldom aid a chick until it has made that first hole, since it is seen as bad luck. But after the hole appeared I eagerly helped our chick to crack the rest of the shell. I chirped to her and she peeped back. Encouraged, she pushed with her wings and kicked out with her little legs. A talon poked through the shell at the bottom of the egg.

Cooing encouragement, I tore away a large piece of shell she had cracked. And then I saw her for the first time.

Her face was covered in yolk, but she was large and healthy and already had hair upon her head. She peeped at me, her mother, as I licked the yolk to reveal her round, cherubic face, the snub nose, the wide forehead, her large, widely-spaced eyes. I swept her up in my wings and wept. Her father’s eyes and hair! She looked up at me, blinking, peeping in seeming confusion at my tears, but then she nuzzled at my full breasts until she found a nipple and fastened her angry lips around it and began drinking deeply of my milk.

I stroked her tiny little form. She flapped her downy wings and curled and uncurled her little talons as she drank. My heart, though in pain, sang with love for her. She was strong and beautiful and energetic. I crushed her to me. Tears poured from my stinging eyes.

He would never be gone from me, now. Not when his beautiful eyes stared back at me from the face of our child.

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Our daughter grew quickly, fattening with the wealth of milk I fed her. Her downy wings were replaced with soft, young feathers that shimmered with health. She left the nest under my supervision to chase leaves which had blown into our cave on the wind, grasping at them with her talons. She was learning the ways of hunting.

As the weeks turned, she began to flutter into the air in short flights, desiring to press out on her own, but she had also learned enough that I could risk leaving her alone to hunt. The weight of my broodiness had sloughed off me and I was growing hungry.

I was out of practice and so the hunting took longer than usual, but I persisted. Soon I had killed a rabbit and left another wounded so our daughter could test her skills on living prey.

When I returned to the cave I heard her squawking, her voice shrill with alarm. In a panic I flew inside to find her fluttering up and down in the corner of the cave. The air was thick with a scent I remembered.

Then I saw him and my heart stopped. He had his arms up against his face to protect himself from the awkward but energetic talons of our daughter as she flew at him, squawking all the while. I leaped between them. Our daughter, astonished, fell fluttering on the floor as I threw my wings around her father, crying out in delight. He was alive! My human was alive! He had returned to me!

He embraced me, his face aglow with the same joyous, contented smile I’d first seen the day we mated at his instigation. Tears burst afresh from my eyes as I squeezed him tightly against me.

His face and his beautiful hair were streaked with filth and dust and scratches furrowed his arms and hands, but they were not the wounds of a harpy chick’s still-tender talons. They were wounds caused by the scraping of fragile human skin against stone, of sharp rock piercing his body.

He had climbed all the way up here, to the eyrie. All the way up from the valley far below, across miles of naked stone.

In his arms I grew conscious of the lack of tone in my body from my long period of rest, of the overfullness of my breasts and I shied away from him. But my human did not seem to mind. He pulled me closer and crushed me to him, pressing his lips to mine in a kiss.

Blushing, I kissed him back as all the while our daughter hopped and chirped around our legs, no longer afraid and curious as to the game we were playing.

At last we broke apart and our daughter shyly approached him. My human knelt down and reached out for her. Startled, she hopped away, but then she looked to me and saw my smile she grew braver. She came close enough for him to run his hand over her head, to caress her neck and chin, and she closed her eyes and made a happy chirping sound deep in her throat. And then my human’s tears truly flowed in earnest.

Weeping as well, I swept my wings about them both. We were a family at last!

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That night my human lay next to me in our nest, our tiny daughter sleeping between us, her mouth opening and closing and her talons curling as she dreamed of hunting. He reached out for me, waking me from my doze. It had taken a long time for us to get our chick to sleep. She had been too full of energy to fall asleep straight away and it had only been after constant stroking and petting that her eyes had closed at last.

Awake, my eyes questioned him. He smiled and placed a hand within the new hides that covered his top half. He brought something out but kept it hidden. Then he took my talon in his other and revealed the tiny thing he had brought with him, a little sliver of metal that shone yellow. It had been beaten into a thin circle with those agile and ingenious hands that humans have.

He placed it on the point of one claw and I lifted it to my eyes. I knew well what this was. A ring. My sisters had spoken of it. A symbol of love given by a male to female, a promise and a bond between humans.

With this ring he was asking me to be his mate. He would never return to the valley, to the female who he had shared a home with. He would stay with me and our chick and all our chicks of future seasons, here, together forever.

Half-blinded by tears I gazed down at him. He was smiling, awaiting my answer.

I nodded my head over and over again, so eager that our chick woke up and fluttered in a panic. Oh yes, yes! I would be his mate, forever and ever, yes!

The End