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he maketh me to lie down in green pastures

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Fjord’s back is killing him. He stares at the tent ceiling without really seeing it, listening to the quiet hum of crickets and the soft, rhythmic breaths of the man beside him. His skin itches with sweat under his sleeveless shirt, the brushed wool unbearably scratchy, and he regrets going to bed in his boots. Ready for anything, that’s me, he thinks sardonically. Ready to lunge out of the tent at the slightest whiff of trouble. Not that it matters; he’s so wide awake he thinks he’d be able to hear a bandit at forty paces.

Normally Fjord doesn’t have much trouble falling asleep in all sorts of strange, uncomfortable places, but tonight is… different. The air is just a little too warm, a touch too humid—it presses close inside the small space, putting sticky fingers under his clothes and coaxing sweat to the surface of his skin. The whine of the crickets is shrill in his ears instead of fading to a comfortable background hum the way it usually does.

The ground is the worst of it. They’d pitched their tents in a field full of hay, well-seasoned by the sun and a year of gentle neglect, but somehow the place where Fjord laid down his bedroll is nothing but rocks and lumps of dry earth. He shifts for the hundredth time, one shoulder and then the other, trying to get comfortable. His spine cramps up in protest and he tries not to swear aloud.

It’s stupid. He should just get up and leave Caleb to sleep in peace, take watch from whoever had drawn the short straw for the graveyard shift. Caduceus, he thinks. Appropriate. But that would require a whole host of things: getting out of his bedroll, strapping on his armor, kicking up as fuss that was sure to wake his tentmate. Better to just lie here in silence and hope his restless brain will eventually grind itself into the dust and let him pass out for a few hours.

It doesn’t help that the moon is full and gravid with midsummer. He can feel it under his skin even with the sturdy waxed canvas between him and the sky, singing like a half-forgotten lullaby. Fjord bares his teeth silently at the tent roof and lets a subsonic snarl build in his chest. Really? Now? You let me live my life unmolested for years at a stretch, and now you decide you want to have some fun?

He immediately feels bad, for some stupid reason. It’s not as if she can hear him. He has never prayed to Luthic before and has no intention of starting. Not after a lifetime of building an identity he could firmly call his own, separate from the mindless, driven furies of the Orcish race. With a quick, impatient sigh, he shuts his eyes and grinds the palms of his hands into the sockets. Sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep

“Fjord?”

Fuck. Fjord drops his arms to his sides and glances over. In the dark, barely cut with the faint glimmer of the campfire some distance away, he watches as Caleb pushes himself up onto one elbow and rubs sleep from his eyes. His shirt buttons came loose as he slept—the thin garment slips off one shoulder, exposing the delicate march of his collarbones and the hollow of his throat, steeped in shadow. Fjord swallows.

“Hey.” His own voice sounds guttural to his ears, and he winces. Gives a gentle cough to clear it. “Everything all right?”

Caleb cracks a jaw-splitting yawn and squints at him myopically. Right. Human eyes. “I don’t know, is it?” He reaches across the space between them, only a foot or so, and pats around the empty air until his hand meets with Fjord’s shoulder. “What are you doing awake? Did you have a dream?”

“No… can’t sleep. A rock or somethin’ is under my back.” Fjord gnaws on his lower lip and catches Caleb’s hand with his before it can travel to his face and clock him in the nose. “It’s all right, I’ll pass out eventually.”

Caleb frowns, apparently displeased with this revelation. He’s so much softer in the middle of the night, in appearance and in manner—his hair is tousled, and so are his barriers, making each new expression that rises to his face all the louder. The little moue he wears is too tempting. Fjord reaches out and boops the pouty lower lip with his thumb. “Hff!” says Caleb, and begins tugging ineffectually at Fjord’s bedroll. Fjord’s belly shakes with silent laughter.

“What are you doing?”

“Bringing you… nff! Over here.” Another tug, which accomplishes nothing. Fjord scoots sideways to oblige him. “If you have a rock then you must come to me.”

“Then you won’t have any space,” Fjord argues, but in fits and starts he manages to work his way to Caleb’s side of the tent. His bedroll is just a twisted mess, now, so he kicks free of it and lays on top, sweating lightly in his breeches and undershirt. “Better?”

“Hmm.” Caleb throws a leg over one of his and lays against his side, hand spread damply to the center of Fjord’s chest. Fjord can feel the erratic stammer of his heartbeat rise to Caleb’s touch. Like it was bloody summoned. “Is it better for you?”

Fjord lays still and considers this. Whether it’s the extra layer of bedroll or the move, he no longer feels the persistent lumps digging into his flesh. “Yeah. Much. Thanks.”

“Mmm…” Caleb takes a deep breath and sighs it out in a ticklish rush against Fjord’s neck. His fingers stroke a little pattern against his sternum. He sighs again. “Fjord…”

“What is it, darlin’?”

“You smell good.” Sniff, sniff. Really good.”

Fjord coughs a little. “I—indeed?” he stutters, to avoid his instinctive so do you. He does, especially so close, though Fjord had been trying not to notice; Caleb smells vaguely like sleep and comfort, and more substantially like the salt of sweat and earth, of thick-cut pages bound in an old book.

“Mmmmmm.” The bony arch of Caleb’s nose rubs along the tendon of Fjord’s neck as he breathes in, something between a nuzzle and a kiss. The motion triggers a cascade of sensation across Fjord’s skin, like a hundred butterflies alighting at once, and he shivers, trying not to lean into it too desperately. “It’s the season for that, isn’t it.”

Fjord’s mouth is abruptly very dry. “What?”

“Luthic. That’s why you can’t sleep, yeah? She’s calling you…” He's gone sing-songy with sleep, but Fjord is a bit too warm in the blood for it to have been entirely a joke.

“She’s not calling anything, it’s just a story. I just—it’s hot, and I’m sore, and yeah, fine, I’m a little bit horny. But we’re—we’re practically in public, this isn’t really an ideal place for, uh. Risqué behavior.”

Caleb snort-laughs into his neck and smooths his hand over Fjord’s chest to the fraying hem of his cut-off sleeve, where the slight coarseness of body hair peeks out from beneath his arm. Fjord can’t help the shudder that passes over him at that patient touch. This intimacy between them is still fresh and surprising—every time he lets himself touch Caleb’s arm or cheek in public, every time Caleb smiles at him over a book or kisses his scarred hands, another piece of him falls. He’s pretty sure he’s what they call head over heels. Anything Caleb asked of him, he would do. Unquestioning. By the same token, he trusts Caleb like no one else—trusts him to point him in the right direction, to respond to his concerns with grace and gravity. Trusts him with his darkest secrets and his deepest fears.

“I won’t press you,” Caleb whispers against his cheek, fingers trailing just shy of the most sensitive places on his chest, “but just know… if you wish it, I would be honored to help ease your discomfort.”

Fjord grumbles and sighs, twisting a little into Caleb’s touch. His grasping hands meet with a bony hip, slip under fabric to rub coarse hair and feel the quick-flutter pulse of his diaphragm. “You are hard to resist…” Like fog clearing beneath a warm sun, he feels the habitual traces of Vandren’s drawl evaporate into nothing. The words in his mouth are his own when he leans down and whispers, lips to Caleb’s brow, “Convince me.

Caleb shivers and smiles, turning fully to meet him. The fall of his shirt over Fjord’s wrist rides high enough that their bellies press together, soft to lean, and one slender thigh pushes between Fjord’s legs. Caleb hums and digs his fingers into the meat of Fjord’s bicep. “How long’ve you been hard?”

“Don’t know,” Fjord admits as heat flares in his gut. “Wasn’t really—keeping track.”

“Hmmm.” Lithe, clever fingers trail up to his throat and then down again, drawing slow, dizzying spirals over his chest. “I think you should kiss me now.”

How can Fjord resist such reasonable request? With a hungry little hum building in his throat, he takes Caleb’s stubbled chin in one hand and holds him still for his mouth. A flash of instinct begs for roughness, for teeth and saliva and heat, but Fjord keeps a careful leash on it, peeling back the layers of brash superiority to expose the truth hiding underneath. He can feel his body softening to it like wax to the flame. Bowing low, curling the prick of his talons in against his palm to shield Caleb from the reality of his body.

“Fjord,” Caleb breathes, pulling away. In the dimness Fjord can make out the flush high on his cheeks, the way his hair is beginning to stick to his face with sweat. He licks a rime of salt from Caleb’s cheek and relishes the startled giggle he gets in return.

“What?” he asks, when Caleb does not elaborate. He nuzzles a snuffly kiss to the tender skin beneath his jaw, breathing him in. Sweat and arousal, the smudge of old incense. “Second thoughts?”

No. Definitely… definitely not.” With the same delicate touch he reserves for very old books, the sort whose spines are nearly crumbling into dust, Caleb combs his fingers through Fjord’s hair, slicking it back from his face. When did I get so sweaty? “I just—you don’t have to hide from me, you know?”

Fjord’s hands go still around the buttress of his ribs. “I’m not—” he begins, and stops, because that is a lie. Caleb’s face is soft and understanding and Fjord can hardly bear it. “I’m sorry.”

“Hshhh. No apologies, Schatz. I know you don’t want me to be afraid of you. But I’m not. I couldn’t be.” A weathered palm lifts to cup the side of his face and Fjord leans into it like a cat, hiding his face in the hollow spaces between Caleb’s fingers. “There’s nothing you could do that would make me afraid of you, beloved.”

Like a hunting dog who’s been given the command to run, Fjord surges forward, gathering Caleb up in his arms and finding his lips with his own. Caleb is smiling when he kisses him. His breath is a little bit sour from sleep, but hungry; his arms are strong and eager around Fjord’s neck, and the press of his thigh between Fjord’s makes him forget all about the hard ground and their slumbering companions. With a little growl building in the back of his throat, Fjord cups Caleb’s face in one hand and sucks his lower lip greedily into his mouth. Caleb’s eyes flutter open and he smiles.

“What do you need?”

You,” Fjord breathes, and it’s true. Caleb is the only thought in his head, the only rhythm hammering in his chest. He sucks wet kisses to Caleb’s throat, breathing him in, relishing the heat rolling off of him like ocean waves.

“I need a little more to go on,” Caleb prompts him gently, even as he rolls his hips into the solid weight of Fjord’s thigh. His palms frame Fjord’s face, thumbs spooling in the weary hollows below Fjord’s eyes. “My handsome darling, what does your body require? Tell me.”

Fjord hesitates a fraction of a second. “It’s not… practical…”

Caleb’s eyes gleam in the dark. “Do you want to fuck me?” he asks, so blunt and pleased with himself that Fjord chokes and buries his face into his shoulder. Caleb laughs softly and weaves his fingers through Fjord’s hair, coaxing him back to kiss his pouting mouth. “No? Something else, perhaps?”

“You’re a fucking menace,” Fjorce mumbles against his skin. He busses Caleb’s cheek with his lips, kisses the paper-soft skin that crinkles at the edges of his eyes. Down where their hips and bellies grind together, he can feel the damp of sweat and arousal through his breeches, soaking into his senses like a heady wine. He grabs Caleb’s skinny backside and hauls him even closer with a giddy exhale. “I said what I said. I want you. Just you.”

Caleb kisses him once more, firm and demanding, and releases him with a huff of intrigue. “Get your trousers down then, bärchen. Let me see you.”

Can you see me?” Fjord murmurs, laughing. He doesn’t begrudge the pinch he gets to his chest in retaliation. He rolls onto his back and wriggles free of his belt, shoving the sturdy material of his trousers down his thighs. Impatience is his enemy—without all the laces undone they get stuck around his calves, and he struggles for a moment before Caleb’s gentle but commanding grip on his arm stills him.

“Easy,” Caleb soothes. “Roll onto your side, away from me.”

Fjord does so, huffing and sweating in his twisted shirt. A moment later he feels a cool hand trail down his spine and he shivers. Patient fingers part his cheeks, and there’s the slight tickle of prestidigitation as some of the sweat and grit of travel is whisked away. Heart suddenly slamming frantically against his ribs with anticipation, he curls his arm under his head and grips the material of his bedroll in one fist.

Caleb’s touch is cool and slick, a welcome sensation against the stuffiness of the tent. He shuts his eyes in the half-light and just focuses on the slippery, intimate stroke of his fingers, warming the oil and softening the tight clasp of his hole. At Caleb’s murmured urging, he shuffles his top leg forward to give him better access and sighs at the first press of a forefinger into his body. It feels… strange, but not unwelcome. He’s hyper-aware of the resistance there, the snug fit of his hole around Caleb’s finger. He gnaws on the knuckle of his thumb and breathes, all the hairs lifting on the back of his neck as Caleb withdraws slowly and presses in again, infinitely patient.

“You’re doing so well,” Caleb breathes against his nape. A tiny nngh escapes, and a bristly chin scrapes between his shoulder blades. “Quiet yourself, my love. Let’s not be rude.”

Fjord breathes: in through his nose and out through his mouth, drooling a little around the heft of his hand wedged halfway into his mouth. He’s embarrassed at how hard he is with just a finger massaging against his inner walls. When he looks down he can see his cock, standing to attention between his thighs and drooping slightly toward the ground. As he watches, a fat strand of precum drops to his bedroll and glistens there—he can smell his own heat in the air as clear as day, like a shimmering mirage on the horizon.

Behind him, Caleb hums and teases his rim with two fingers. Fjord tries not to whine, but it’s so hard, and he ends up snuffling wetly against his hand as he feels himself being stretched wide again. There’s the slightest ache, but it blurs with pleasure and fades as Caleb rubs insistently at the sweet place inside him, sending waves of heat and need through his pelvis. His cock twitches between his thighs and another dribble of precum falls to the bedroll. Fjord shuts his eyes. At this rate he’s going to have to wash his things before they set out tomorrow morning, and the idea of explaining why to his companions is unthinkable.

A gentle hand presses to the small of his back, steadying. “You’ve gone tense, liebling. Is everything all right?”

With some reluctance, wincing at the indentations his teeth have left in his thumb, Fjord withdraws his hand from his mouth and twists his head so he’s looking at the ceiling. “I’m fine. I just… I don’t want to cum too quickly, and… and make a mess of everything…”

“Don’t worry about the mess,” Caleb soothes. He doesn’t withdraw his fingers, but neither does he move them, and the slight fullness is a strange kind of comfort. “I’ll just cast a little magic afterward and make everything disappear.” A bristly kiss is pecked against his shoulder. “No one will suspect a thing.”

Fjord’s ears turn hot and fold close against his head. “Right. I, erm, forgot about that.”

Another kiss, infinitely patient. “Would you like to slow down or stop?”

Fjord considers this for half a second, and then quickly shakes his head. “No. I’d… I’d like you to keep going. Please.”

“All right.” A slight pause, and Caleb crooks his fingers. Heat pulses through him and Fjord buries his face in his bedroll with a quiet moan. “Like this?”

“Yes—yes. More…?”

“Of course, bärchen. You have only to ask.”

Fjord squeezes his eyes shut again as Caleb’s hand resumes its rhythm. And it is a rhythm now, picking up from a slow, haphazard massage to a proper steady fuck. Each press inward works his knuckles hard against Fjord’s backside; every slow withdraw pulls his fingers wide, stretching Fjord’s hole until he’s begging quietly for another.

“Just a moment,” Caleb murmurs, “I need more oil.”

Fjord mumbles a complaint and bites down on the fabric of his bedroll as three fingers push slowly into him. His back is arched, now, pressing his ass back toward Caleb’s hand, and it’s a struggle not to grab for his cock, still laying hard and leaking and neglected against his thigh.

“Caleb,” he huffs, and he feels the slight pop as one of his claws punctures the stiff outer canvas of his bedroll to the stuffing underneath.

“Hmmm?”

Heat floods his cheeks and he clamps around Caleb’s fingers, hardly able to say the words out loud. “When are you gonna put your cock in me?”

He feels the cool hiss of Caleb’s exhale against his nape and smiles. Slowly, achingly slowly, Caleb withdraws his fingers. He can hear the shuffle of fabric as Caleb undoes his laces, feels the soft brush of fabric against his backside as Caleb presses his bony hips flush. There’s a warm, silken firmness against his thigh and then he feels Caleb’s cock easing between his cheeks, just flat and slick against his perineum. He clenches his fist in the bedding and another claw pushes through.

“Fjord,” Caleb whispers, strained. His brow pushes against Fjord’s shoulder blade and Fjord exhales shakily as he imagines him looking down the curve of his back to where his cock nestles between his thighs. He wiggles back a little and hears a ragged gasp. “Fjord…”

“Please.” He reaches back with one hand, the one not currently tangled in his bedroll, and grips Caleb’s flank. “Cay. I want it.”

Caleb resettles himself and finally teases the head of his dick against Fjord’s entrance. His rim is slick with oil and soft with attention, and it gives a little at the gentle press of Caleb’s cockhead. Caleb shudders as the tip slips inside easily. Fjord, in turn, tries not to choke. Three fingers was more than generous, so it’s not uncomfortable, but the feel of his cock is different, blunt and smooth and stretching him so perfectly. Caleb’s thumb sinks into the flesh of his ass and pulls him wide as he slides in further, further even than his slim, dextrous fingers could reach—and then Fjord feels the prickle of auburn curls against his backside and knows Caleb is fully seated. Just the idea of it sends a hungry streak of want snarling through him, hooked in his belly like a hot poker. He pushes back a little, testing. Caleb sighs.

“Fjord… you feel so good, bärchen, fuck…”

“What—what does that mean?” Fjord asks in a low, hitched voice as Caleb rocks shallowly back and forth. “Bärchen?”

Caleb slides his hand up under his shirt a little, fingers sinking into the softness at his waist, and huffs a self-conscious laugh. “It… it’s silly…”

“Mmmm.” Fjord hides a smile in his bedroll and bites his lip. Caleb is hardly fucking him at all, just grinding deeply into his body, a little restricted by the position, but it still feels incredible. “I—I’d still like to know. If you don’t mind telling me.”

“It… it means bear. Not just, not like—a grizzly bear, or.” He falters, and Fjord can feel the hot puffs of his breath through his shirt as Caleb’s hips twitch a little faster. “Sort of… teddy bear, I think, in Common?”

Fjord can’t help grinning even as he rocks back on Caleb’s cock. “Like a kid’s toy?”

“S-sort of.” Caleb muffles an impatient sound into Fjord’s back and paws at his hip, trying to find purchase on sweat-slick skin. His cock withdraws nearly to the tip and then pushes back in, a bit clumsy, but another stroke follows on its heels, and then another… “In this context it’s… it’s more… scheisse.

With no warning, Fjord is pushed over onto his face, and Caleb’s dick slips from his body entirely. He makes a muffled sound of complaint but lifts his hips anyway, spreading his thighs as wide as he can with his trousers down around his knees. Eager hands part his cheeks and then Caleb is there again, cock pressing deeply with hardly a pause. The sudden change in angle is electrifying. He reaches back and tangles one hand in Caleb’s belt, urging him on.

Unfortunately the change in angle is also a little louder. Caleb has better leverage this way, fucking him faster than he had on their sides, and the sound of their hips colliding is loud in the quiet of the sleeping camp. Caleb mutters a curse into Fjord’s neck and grabs his hip, grinding against him. His every breath is hot and wet through the fabric of Fjord’s shirt, and Fjord could nearly weep for how good it feels to be held down: pinned beneath Caleb’s weight, subject to the lithe pressure of his thighs, the sturdy grip of his hands. And his cock spearing him deep with every thrust, squeezing his insides like a hand around soft wax until he fears his ragged breathing is audible to everyone in a five-mile radius.

He stuffs his mouth full of bedroll and tries not to scream as Caleb reaches below him and takes his cock in hand. He’s left a sizeable wet patch, now, and the first smear of Caleb’s thumb against the head just provokes another surge of precum.

“Fuck,” Caleb mutters, breathless with effort and incredulity, “are you always this wet?”

Fjord grinds his forehead against the ground. “No—no, it’s. It’s the moon. The season, she’s… I need to cum, Caleb, please, please let me…”

“Shhh. I’ve got you.” A little hapless reshuffle of his weight, and Caleb picks up the pace even more, hips shoving into Fjord’s as his hand wraps firmly around the head of his cock.

It only takes a couple of strokes. Fjord bites into the bedroll as he comes, teeth shearing through like it’s little more than tissue paper, and if he makes a sound he can’t hear it over the rush of blood in his ears. When the spots clear from his eyes he’s laying flat on his belly in a terrific wet spot, and Caleb is deadweight against his back, cock still sheathed inside his body. Hot, lazy breaths puff against his shoulder; delicate fingers trace a little meaningless pattern against his hip. When he shift his weight a little he can feel the sticky wetness in his ass begin to leak. It’s gross, but his belly warms pleasantly all the same. Caleb in him, Caleb remaining with him for a little while, even when their bodies finally part…

“Fjord,” Caleb murmurs. His hand cups Fjord’s backside carefully and he slides his softening cock free.

“Mmh?”

“You’re purring.”

Fjord goes stiff and still as a board. He hadn’t even realized he was doing it. “I’m—I’m sorry, I didn’t—”

“Shh… it’s not a criticism. Bärchen.”

Fjord smiles in spite of himself. It takes a second, but he lets himself feel the post-coital warmth seeping through his veins, the satisfaction of Caleb’s weight against him—mate, whispers a voice in the back of his head, but for now he doesn’t fight it—and gradually the rusty rumble in his chest resumes. His eyes droop shut. “Cay…”

“Hmm?” Caleb drops a kiss to his ear and eases off him a little. Not so far that he can no longer feel his body heat, but enough that he can pull Fjord’s shirt straight and drag a thumb between his cheeks, through the mess he left behind. Fjord tries not to purr harder. Fails. Caleb chuffs a quiet laugh. “You like that?”

“Hmm. Maybe.”

Another kiss. Fjord lifts his head and cranes back, an uncomfortable twist, but worth it for the off-center smudge of Caleb’s lips to his own, soft and smiling. “Should I not clean this bit up, then?”

“Not… not with magic? Just a little so it’s not… damp.”

He wrinkles his nose, a little embarrassed at the reality of bodily functions now that the worst of the hormones have faded. But Caleb isn’t the slightest bit bothered, just makes a little sound of understanding and goes about tidying their space. He fetches a clean washrag from his pack and sorts Fjord out, then rolls him onto his back to prestidigitate away the evidence smeared all over Fjord’s bedroll and shirt. With some grumbling and playful gruffness, he manages to get Fjord’s trousers back up around his hips and fasten them shut, and then he succumbs at last when Fjord tugs him down by his shirtfront to lay against him.

“Teddy bear, huh?” Fjord murmurs after a while. Caleb mutters something and hides his face in Fjord’s chest. “Aw, don’t be embarrassed, darlin’. It’s… it’s sweet. I like it.”

“Hmmm. Darlin’ again, is it?”

Fjord blinks at the tent roof. He’d slipped back into that old familiar drawl without even thinking about it. “I…”

Caleb stops him with a hand to his chest. “I’m not chastising you, liebling. I know it’s habit.”

Fjord works his tongue against the backs of his tusks for a moment or two, trying to gather his thoughts. “I’m still gettin’ used to it. Ah. I’m. I’m still getting used to it. I’ve been talking like him for so long, and sometimes when I slip back I… I can feel them looking at me. Like they don’t know who I am.”

The hand on his chest curls in, slipping beneath the collar to press flat against his sternum. He can feel slight traces of oil on Caleb’s fingers, the sweat gathered between them, the ropey scar strung across his palm like twine. Always, he thinks, and a little of the uncertainty settles.

I know who you are,” Caleb says, firmly and with purpose. “And so do they, at the end of the day. They will adjust. Like you have. Like we have.”

Words fail him, but he reaches up and clasps Caleb’s wrist to keep him there, palm to the steady thrumming of his heart. “I love you,” he whispers. It’s not the first time he’s said it, but the words still taste new on his tongue, wild and untamed like the smell of salt on the breeze. Caleb cranes up a little and kisses the soft underside of Fjord’s jaw. Lips against his pulse. Nose nestled close beneath his ear.

“And I you,” Caleb murmurs. His thumb traces the sweaty hollow of Fjord’s collarbone.

Fjord shuts his eyes. His back doesn’t hurt in the slightest.