Mara's chest burns and aches where Q Girl pinned her aloft. It's a pain unlike nearly any she's felt in all her travels - it's welcome. She gathers herself, relishing in every sensation, feeling how the witchwood smoke seems to amplify them. Q Girl sits next to her as she sprawls in recovery.
"What were you saying about snailmothers?" she asks.
"Oh!" Mara attempts to lift herself, then decides she can relate this anecdote just as well from the floor. "They're hermaphroditic, you see. They've these darts couched next to their dicks, huge wicked things, much bigger than the dicks themselves. They circle each other like duelists, teasing them out before they clash, and each tries to pierce the other. Before they, uh." She trails off, conscious suddenly of Q Girl's rapt attention.
"You've seen this? You've watched two snailmothers fuck?"
"It was pure chance!" Mara gestures weakly at the carbine resting on her pack, her defenses catching in her throat. "It's- it's got a good scope! Blame Sparafucile!"
Q Girl laughs. "No, no, quetzal! It's just- you're a naturalist and you didn't even know it!"
Mara laughs, raucous and unguarded. "If I know how they live, maybe I'll learn why sometimes they want to kill me!"
Q Girl giggles, looking almost guilty for a moment before switching back to petting her. "Barbs, though? That's... a bit bloodthirsty for my taste."
Mara rumbles, half in appreciation, half in understanding. "The way I see it, it's little different from what we do here. A bit of pain, a bit of challenge, to make the pleasure all the more sweet. I admire their clarity of purpose."
"Mmmm. Still, I prefer yours, Mara." She ruffles her flanks, mulling on her next words. "This position of yours - it's no longer physically taxing?"
"I'm nearly recovered."
"Then may I - I really would like to play with it. With your dick. A little more."
"Please," she breathes.
"Quetzal," says Q Girl. She plays her fingers down Mara's sweat-soaked sides, questing for her bloom. It shivers softly with her pulse, each vibration threatening to shake free another few droplets of nectar. Q Girl wreaths it with her fingers, her every touch poetry. She squeezes just as another jolt surges from her stimulators. A desperate whine rips from Mara's throat even as she gushes her nectar over Q Girl's paws with every teasing pull.
Mara braces her front paws beneath her, lifting herself raggedly up, shivering under Q Girl's touch. Her rear legs remain sprawled out behind her, her whole lower body curled around Q Girl, kneeling before her. She drapes her right arms over her back, scratching in - carefully - between her bristling quills, while she braces her left upper arm on her shoulder to scratch under her fuzzy throat with her remaining hand. She buries her snout into her rainbow hair, breathing in her scent, sharing her heat with every shuddering breath.
Mara breathes in the witchwood smoke, feels the pleasure surging through her body from Q Girl's touch, tastes the faint ozone of her exoskeleton's power consumption. She places a hand on the spine of her rig and opens herself more fully than she ever has. Her consciousness snakes down through the conduit of her limbs, pouring into Q Girl's mechanized exoskeleton.
She lives its every moment all at once, from forging to assembly to fitting to retooling. Every day of constant dedication, embracing her, supporting her, bolstering her limbs and steadying her hands in a full-body embrace, waiting faithfully by the door empty of her while she sleeps. It's like drinking one of the river Svy's northern waterfalls.
Possibility awakens within her. Running on pure instinct, she finds her self split between her anchoring, shuddering body and Q Girl's exoskeleton in a channeling haze. She feels the power sleeping in every piston, the precision bolstering Q Girl's every stroke, the fine balance of her weight within its frame. She rides it, letting herself expand to fill this marvel of applied robotics just as she fills her body of flesh and leaf.
She lets Q Girl think she still has control of the mechanized limbs surrounding her. For the moment, it's true.
Mara has never used her gift like this before. It burns in her in sick, throbbing ecstasy. She has no idea how long she can keep it up, so she acts fast. Seemingly of its own volition, Q Girl's exoskeleton locks up, freezing her limbs mid-stroke as she kneels before her.
"Ah! What's-" She yelps as her rig slowly, jerkily pulls her onto her back, never breaking contact with Mara's touch.
"...Theoretical model," Mara rumbles huskily. Sweat soaks her verdant hair and sheens across her striped back and shivering flanks.
Mara forces the frame to lift Q Girl's hips, straining her body into an arch grounded at her quilled shoulders and stocky feet. It's a delicate balance - She leaves Q Girl just unsupported enough to put strain on her muscles, but too supported to let her escape her new position.
"Hhhah, this is- this-" Q Girl's blush is unmistakeable, her thoughts scattered by the sudden dynamic reversal, her eyes wide and awestruck.
Mara presses the advantage. She forces Q Girl's arm to rise, robbing her of yet another pillar of support. She slides it between her legs until her fingers, still dripping with Mara's nectar, rest on her fuzzy sheath. Her ulnar stimulators seem to be on a different circuit than the exoskeleton, and remain outside of Mara's control. This is a blessing - it would be too much, too much. Her mind burns with the strain of simply riding the exoskeleton. She couldn't hope to match the artistry of those hands.
But she doesn't have to.
"Show me," she growls.
Q Girl's gloved fingers play over her sheath, leaving gleaming streaks of nectar in her fur as she teases out her cock, inch by beautiful inch. Mara reaches between Q Girl's shivering thighs and braces two fingers against her perineum. She sinks against them, trading a brief respite for her aching legs for a diabolical pinpoint of sensuality.
Still channeling into the rig, Mara forces Q Girl's arm into motion, stroking feverishly, robotically. The pistons lend Q Girl brute strength that she channels into the aching finesse of her paws. Pre beads at the tip of her cock, mingling with Mara's nectar smeared along her shaft from her still-sopping hand. Her whimpers fill the smoky room.
This is unbelievably taxing for Mara. She's pushed herself to her limits and now topples past them on pure adrenaline. She finds herself mimicking the motion of Q Girl's exoskeletal arm-brace with a free arm just from the sheer amount of limbs she has to contend with. Even in the throes of passion, the absurdity of it doesn't escape Q Girl's notice. She barks a laugh, her strokes faltering for a moment.
"Mara, what are you-"
Her stimulators choose that exact moment to fire.
The shock floors both of them. Q Girl's mind blanks, her throat seizing up in ecstasy as her cock gushes along her arched body. Mara nearly whites out, her synapses firing desperately to accept and parse the sudden biometric spike from the exoskeleton's desperately overclocked rudimentary AI. She breaks off, leaving Q Girl held upright, for one shining, eternal moment, purely by the fingers bracing her taint. Then Mara topples forward onto her belly, forcing Q Girl back to the floor, shuddering weakly.
They lie there, breathing in the hazy atmosphere, gathering themselves. It seems like hours, hours of quiet, exhausted bliss.
"That was... your gift?" asks Q Girl, eventually.
"Mmm," nods Mara. It strikes her that her head landed directly in a considerable portion of Q Girl's release, but she's far too tired to care. It feels right to lie against her belly, listening to her steadying pulse, breathing in the musk rising from her sweat-soaked fur. To bask in everything they made together.
"Quetzal," breathes Q Girl. "Have you ever... done that before?"
"Hmm-mm," grunts Mara, shaking her head vaguely.
"Incredible," she says. "But the way you- how did you-"
"Q Girl," she rumbles. "I don't know right now. 'm all fucked out."
Q Girl reaches down to stroke Mara's hair. Mara sighs contentedly and rests a hand on her thigh, tracing the circuit patterns hidden beneath her fur.
"Mara," says Q Girl, after a time.
"What would you call it... when both conclusions explored and tested by our theoretical model appear to be equally valid?"
"You're a switch, Q Girl!"
"Oh, quetzal, quetzal! Now we know."
"I'm afraid we don't have tokens for our membership like the minstrels do, but I promise it's no less prestigious a society."
Q Girl snorts, ruffling Mara's hair and accidentally shocking her yet again with her stimulators.
"We need water," grunts Mara, giving her thigh a squeeze as she lifts herself from the floor.
"Yours or mine?" asks Q Girl, propping herself up on her elbows.
Mara turns to her, ducking down into a long, tender kiss, before pulling back to meet her gaze. She hides nothing, letting her love shine through and seeing every bit of that reflected back to her.
"Ours," says Mara. "Our water."
Q Girl sits on the edge of her bunk as Mara rummages in her pack. Her beleaguered exoskeleton hangs docked in the charging frame by the door.
"I would offer to share my bed with you, but I'm afraid it's only designed for one person, let alone..."
"I'm a big girl," laughs Mara. She unstraps a knitted bedroll and rolls it out on the floor next to the bunk. "It's fine. I can and will sleep on the floor like a loyal hound."
They lay down together. Q Girl trails her arm over the side of her bunk, and Mara lifts a pair of arms to meet it, calloused green hands clasping to bare paw. They stay locked in quiet reverie for a time.
"I worry I'm keeping you. You have your own duties to bear."
"Keep me," says Mara. "Klanq will be wherever he is whether it's next week or next month I find him."
Q Girl squeezes her hand, smiling in the soft fungal glow of her darkened room.
"Sleep well, Mara."
Mara wakes to Q Girl's gentle touch. It's disorienting, waking underground, but she muses it's far sweeter to wake to a kiss from Q Girl than to a knollworm's chittering.
"You're up? Quetzal!" She bustles to the door, setting a small bundle wrapped in waxed vellum onto a nearby locker while she slips into her mechanized frame. "I wanted to show you something. You can leave your pack."
Mara smiles, grabbing a skin of water and a skin of honey before following her out the door. She leads her further down the hallway, past several more security doors, until they come to a ladder ascending a deep shaft in fitful emergency lighting.
She gestures upwards, turning to Mara. "We're going- oh. I didn't think of this."
Mara laughs, giving her four legs a limbering stretch. "I've climbed worse, I promise."
Q Girl smiles apologetically, then grabs a rung, ascending with practiced, mechanical smoothness. Mara follows, keeping pace below her in a cavalcade of clambering limbs.
It's quite the climb, but eventually, there's a clank as Q Girl reaches a hatch, opens it, and lifts herself out. Mara follows, into the traces of dawn.
She finds herself atop one of Grit Gate's ruins, this one still sturdy enough to provide a humble rooftop perch despite the indignities of the passing eons. The colossal glyph-bound gate after which the compound takes its name blocks the indigo sky to their south, while in the west, past darkened fields of riotous growth, the stars wheel down to their beds in the bone-silver expanse of Moghra'yi.
Q Girl settles herself onto a ruined stretch of wall, setting aside her waxed bundle as Mara pads softly to the eastern edge of the roof. To the northeast, the Spindle heralds the dawn in a descending column of brilliance. She recalls the mornings spent at Omonporch at its base, while the Earl hosted her. Waking amongst xyr Asphodelytes as the sun's light graced ever more of the Spindle's chrome, like the heavens herself came down to kiss her.
She looks to the east as the first light of dawn pours over the distant mountains like quickened sap, and there rises the sun. It glances off the sprawling canopies, revealing the bleached titans of concrete and pitted chrome that rise over the treeline. Between its wide banks, the silt-swollen Svy lights up like a burnished copper mirror.
She spreads her arms wide, fanning her leaves to catch every blessed photon she can.
She turns back, eventually, at the sound of soft crunching from Q Girl behind her. The unwrapped bundle beside her bears an assortment of crisp flatbread, goat cheese, jerky, nuts, and berries, from which she has constructed a few open-faced morsels, one of which she chews. She has clearly taken her gaze off of Mara as little as physically possible.
"It's a good breakfast spot," says Q Girl, between morsels.
"I just had mine," Mara inclines her head back over her shoulder to the rising sun, "and I have to agree." She takes a leisurely sip from her honey skin.
Q Girl finishes another bite, closes one eye, and cocks her head. "Your hair... is a supernova of radiant emerald."
Mara laughs, bridging the distance between them and clasping her upper hands around hers. With a lower hand, she picks up one of Q Girl's flatbread sandwiches and feeds it to her. "What a quetzal metaphor," Mara says. Q Girl giggles into her closed snout as Mara pecks her on the forehead.
"Mara," she says, once she's regained her composure and finished her mouthful. "Mara, I don't want to give you up."
"Then don't," she replies. "After that ladder I've had enough up for the day."
"I'm serious!" says Q Girl, her brow wrinkling even as she chuckles softly. "I know you have to leave but I don't want to give you up!"
"Then don't!" she replies. "You've given me so much already."
Q Girl smiles, her eyes shimmering in the dawn. "What have we given you? A gun?"
"A future! You've given me a cause to fight for, a purpose to heal my spirit when I falter. You've given me..." She seats herself in front of her, reaching up through their clasped hands to stroke her neck with her lower arms. "You've given me a home, so long as you're in it. I'll come back."
"I will crawl back from death a thousand times for the taste of you. Q Girl. Don't give me up."
Q Girl sobs out a laugh. "I won't. Quetzal, quetzal! I won't!"
Their lips meet and the sun kisses the land, tasting of salt and smoke, nectar and honey. Qud surrounds them and they are made of the land and the life in its waters and the stars above. They will live.