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Like Fall We Are False Prophets

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    He hadn’t actually liked her much, at first.

    He hadn’t really expected to, anyway. She was the “Duskspeaker”, yes, and he needed her help with the Vytmádh, so that this hole in the world wouldn’t open any further and drag them all screaming into the White Void, no matter how many of his kin would just love the idea. But she was just a means to an end in this plan, meant to turn up, get the job done, and oh no the Vytmádh’s closed, must be Rymrgand’s will that you all return to the Land, I’ll stay here and meditate at the temple and certainly won’t be hitching a ride with the Duskspeaker to somewhere sunny the moment your backs are turned, definitely not . Didn’t matter whether he liked her, or she liked him, so long as she could save the world as they knew it and hopefully, finally , get him the Hel out of there to boot.

    But she’d insisted on dragging him along anyway, out from the comforting safety of his little sanctum and out from the very damn place he’d hoped to avoid. And she was always so nice about it, so gently offering soothing words to him as he cowered away from from the Messenger’s arrival, so kindly suggesting that coming with her might be the right thing to do, to make up for the mangled web of lies he’d built around this whole damn iceberg just to get away from the Land.

    And she looked at him with that face of hers - all pretty colours and pleasing patterns and soft lunar glow, probably fetched a ton of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from people easily impressed by shiny things, never had children run screaming from her, or caught a grimace from their parents, or felt her flesh slowly rotting off her bones, hacking up half a mucus-filled lung every day of her frost-damned life - and it was hard not to feel that she was looking down on him somehow, mocking him, or worse, pitying him, for his cowardice in the face of a dragon that she seemed to dispatch with hardly a sweat, for his thin and twisted body, for his oozing sores, for the spit he had to wipe off his lipless mouth constantly, for using and lying to the people who thought him their prophet, their chosen one, instead of just… leaving.

    But he’d gone with her anyway, because there didn’t seem to be another choice, and because otherwise he’d have to wing his way through yet another sermon explaining how there was no need to panic and everything was going just according to Rymrgand’s design, and because now she’d seen what a pitiful creature he really was, going with her at least meant he wouldn’t have to pretend, for a bit.

    And, despite himself, he’d found he’d actually enjoyed it.

    Well, bits of it, at any rate. Not the ones where he was being attacked by frozen constructs, or angry spirits, or a dead wizard-dragon, and not the part where they descended straight into the spirit-rending winds of the White Void, and certainly not the one where they faced down his own patron god in the heart of his domain. But the parts where he wasn’t in fear for his continued survival could be quite exhilarating, and travelling with people who didn’t much care whether he was Rymrgand’s destined chosen or not was frankly refreshing, and at least he was doing something , for once, that wasn’t part of an endless series of failed schemes to get away from what his people wanted him to be.

    He even found himself coming to enjoy the Duskspeaker’s company. Noora might’ve been the one to drag him out here, yes, and her ideas on acceptable levels of risking one’s own hide were very different to his own, and she was hopelessly sincere to boot. But who else did he know, had he ever known, who would stand in the very heart of the White Void itself and scream at the Beast of Winter on his behalf, utterly mad though it was? Indeed, the more time he spent with her, the more apparent it was becoming to Vatnir that he had, perhaps, misjudged her, and the way she thought of him, just a little bit. And by the end, he had begged to go with her, to travel together away from this miserable iceberg and the stifling, suicidal hopes of the Harbingers, and fight side-by-side (preferably something small, like imps), and stand on sandy beaches on islands where ice actually melted in the sun. He could swing an axe and cast spells and sail a canoe; surely she would find him of some use.

    And she, glory be, had said yes.

 

    ***

 

    And now here he was, out on the open sea in a boat full of near-strangers, trying awkwardly to change his bandages in this cramped ship’s berth, beneath the heavy fur of his robes.

    There was a “surgeon” on board, yes, but Vatnir was not entirely sure he trusted… whatever that spider thing was to have a full understanding of kith anatomy, let alone the peculiar ailments of one of Rymrgand’s godlike. Big Mouth had, at least, been willing to hand him some fresh bandages without fuss, his mandibles making strangely soothing clicking sounds.

    He cursed to himself as the loops of cloth slipped down his neck yet again, refusing to stay in place, his horns knocking against the side of the berth as he tried to shift position. The rapping of knuckles sounded out against the wood nearby, and Noora’s glowing face drifted into view as she crouched by his bed.

    “Lend a hand with that?” Her mouth quirked sadly at the corners. “I’m afraid I’ve gotten plenty of practice over the last few years.”

    He opened his mouth to speak, and found himself wracked with a coughing fit instead. She reached a hand out to steady his shoulders, waited patiently until the hacking subsided, managed gamely to not look disgusted, at the very least.

    “Why would you offer, Duskspeaker?” He tipped his head to peer at her cautiously through his good eyes. His kin had been only too eager to “help”, but they had little interest in actually healing or soothing him, only in gaining the favour of “Rymrgand’s chosen.” They’d have him wearing the same soiled bandages forever, left up to them; never occurred to them that he might see his own disease and decay as anything other than a blessing to be welcomed. He’d given up asking long before he’d left for the Dead Floe.

    (Once, he’d found Hafjórn going through the old, discarded ones to keep as talismans, and that was just weird .)

    The few times outsiders came - wandering Enutanik back in the Land, aumaua traders in the Deadfire - they’d stared at his open wounds with undisguised horror, stayed as far away from him as they could.

    Noora tilted her head to one side, as if the question puzzled her.

    “You looked like you were having trouble,” she shrugged, and a spark of mischief danced in her silver eyes. “Don’t worry, I promise this isn’t some dastardly scheme to steal your underthings, or whatever else it is you suspect I’m going to do.”

    Vatnir choked on his own spit.

    “Please, Watcher,” the other Glamfellen - Ydwin, wasn’t it? - looked from her book and groaned, peering through her spectacles at him as if he were so much seal skyt stuck to her boot. “Do not make me think about his underthings.”

    “Ydwin.” Noora didn’t scold, exactly. Her smile didn’t falter, though it did tense at the eyes. She didn’t even turn to look.

    Behind her, Vatnir saw Ydwin roll her eyes and return to her reading - could just anyone read, in the Deadfire? - and bit back the angry retort on his tongue.

    “No, that’s not…” He sighed. “Another pair of hands wouldn’t hurt, if you’ve the stomach for it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, though.”

    Noora arched one pale eyebrow at him.

    “Come off it, Vatnir,” she said mildly. “I won’t swoon or catch the vapours or anything. I promise.”

    She took his hand in hers - so easily! - and pulled him gently to his feet. Her skin felt so hot next to his, like the crackling fireplace back in the Retreat.

    “Duskspeaker, what-”

    “There’s more room in my cabin. Privacy, too, if you’d like that.” She frowned and looked down at their hands, still joined. “Are you okay? You’re freezing!”

    “Another gift of Rymrgand’s,” he muttered sourly. And then, more weakly, as he tried desperately to ignore how nice her fingers felt against his. “Are you sure you want me there?”

    “Why wouldn’t I?” There was that head tilt again. She squeezed his hand… and then she let go, and the cold came rushing back in again. “You go in and make yourself comfortable. I’ll have Haema heat up some water.” And she headed off, leaving him standing there, entirely nonplussed.

    Her… cabin? What would her crew think?

    Well, it occurred to him, probably the same thing that she probably thought herself: that his broken body was so far from counting as a man’s that of course she’d not take him to her cabin for any other purpose.

    “Mate,” a voice drawled from nearby. A bearded blue orlan - the same one who’d gawked at him quite openly when he’d first boarded, of course he had to go and find his tongue now - lounged on the berth nearby, grinning very smugly. “I’d hurry it up, if I was you.” He jerked his head towards Noora’s cabin door. “When a lass invites you to her room, well, it don’t do to keep her waiting, aye?”

    He punctuated the last line with a saucy wink, and Vatnir couldn’t help but read a mocking sneer into it, an unspoken as if she’d ever really do that lurking between the lines.

    He ground his teeth and turned away, clutching the bandages to his chest as he stalked towards the captain’s cabin. Perhaps some privacy would be welcome. At least then he’d only have to deal with one person’s disgust.

 

    ***

 

    The captain’s cabin was far roomier than anywhere else on the ship, Vatnir noted enviously; Noora’s bed was considerably bigger than his own. She’d hung up some dried flowers at the far end, lending the room a soft scent quite unlike the furs and fish and cooking meat of Harbinger’s Watch. It was only slightly spoiled by the animal smell of her pet bear, curled up on the floor, letting out soft growls in its sleep.

    Noora had politely turned her head as he’d undressed, and now he sat near-naked on the bench, freezing despite the blankets she’d piled upon him, feeling awkward and gangly and exposed. His wounds stung against the wool and the open air. His heavy robes - in dire need of a wash, though they’d have frozen solid on the Dead Floe if he’d tried - lay on the floor beside Adine’s slumbering bulk, his old, pus-stained bandages atop them.

    (Not all the bandages, mind; her compassion would surely have some limits, and there were some things a man couldn’t ask, even if she were willing. Eh, would she be willing? No , Vatnir, focus .)

    Noora pressed a steaming mug of cocoa into his hands, sending heat stabbing through his icy fingers. To her credit, she hadn’t commented on his decaying body, had not even flinched at the ruined mess of his abdomen.

    “Drink up,” she urged him, taking a sip from her own mug. It did smell rather appetising, he had to admit. “You’re shivering.”

    “Don’t pity me, Duskspeaker,” he shot back wearily, avoiding her face and those kind , silver eyes to stare into the swirling brown depths of his cocoa.

    He’d been met with plenty of pity before, too. Funny how they always thought they were doing him a kindness, when they made it very obvious how miserable they thought it must be to be him.

    (The worst part, he thought privately, the part that really gnawed at his chest, was how often they were right .)

    He took a sip anyway. It was annoying delicious, sweet and hot, sent warmth pooling in his belly like ekkevít without the bite.

    “It’s not pity, Vatnir,” Noora replied softly, sitting down beside him, smelling of leather armour and seaspray and those damn dried petals, and certainly not like rot and disease and death frozen over. “I like you, and I’d like to help you, and that’s all there is to it.”

    She… what?

    No, that wasn’t right, surely; he was useful, could definitely be useful ; but liked ?

    He wasn’t really used to being liked . “Revered,” perhaps, but when you got right down to it, that was just “useful” in prettier language; at least, the way the Harbingers showed it.

    Part of him wanted to believe it. Part of him urged caution, she’s just being nice again, don’t get your hopes up, fool.

    He didn’t really know what to say in response, what to think, so he didn’t say anything. She just grinned back and ruffled his hair, not seeming to notice how the touch of her fingers over his scalp made his breath catch in his throat, raised the gooseflesh at the back of his neck.

    She took a clean cloth and a jug of warm water and set to cleaning his lesions. The wounds twinged as she scrubbed them, but the damp cloth felt surprisingly pleasant against the chill of his skin, drops of water tickling as they ran down his back. Noora’s movements were gentle but businesslike - she’d said, hadn’t she, that she’d done this many times before? - and yet… still, he found himself utterly aware of how close she was to him, every accidental brush of her fingertips against his bare flesh, the quiet and seclusion of her cabin making everything feel so damn intimate , and frost , how long had it been since he’d really been touched

    Perhaps, if he were lucky, she would simply take his trembling for cold.

    “I don’t think I met any healers, back in Harbingers’ Watch.” Her fingers seared against the cold skin of his forearm as she held it steady, wrapping the bandage around. “Was there anyone who helped you, back there?”

    “The Harbingers?” Vatnir snorted. “Decay is what we- what they want , Duskspeaker. Some know how to close a wound, keep a body going. But they would not dare go against Rymrgand’s will.” He chuckled bitterly, flexing his fingers, watched the muscle moving beneath the holes rotted into the back of his hand. “Back in the Land, maybe. But even then, no one believed the Beast of Winter would have marked me so, if not for a purpose.”

    “Clearly, they never met Rymrgand,” Noora said grimly, fastening the end of his bandage.

    “No,” his voice dissolved into angry coughing, remembering the encounter in the White Void. “I suppose not.”

    “I’m sorry, Vatnir.” Her hand touched his back, then; no accidental brush of the fingertips, but the whole palm resting on his bare skin, radiating heat. He barely stopped himself from flinching at the touch. “You deserve better than that. Than any of that.”

    He turned his head to her, and nodded gratefully. He’d always been good at thinking on his feet before; strange, that he should find himself so at a loss for words, with her.

    She rubbed comforting circles in his skin, and he ground his teeth together, his breathing coming quicker than usual, his lack of clothing feeling terribly noticeable, right now.

    It only got worse when she started on his legs, kneeling by his side to scrub at his calves, soft waves of hair tickling at his flesh. He kept perfectly still, hands folded in his lap, hardly daring to breathe until the last bandage was fixed in place.

    “I’ll give you some privacy,” Noora said finally, standing up, and the cold rushed back in in the absence of her touch. “For, ah, the rest of them.” Her pupil-less eyes flicked briefly towards the bandages he still kept on, for modesty’s sake, and he might’ve been imagining things, but it seemed that the glow of her cheeks was just that little bit brighter - gods’ mercy , was she blushing ? “There’s some clean clothes in the corner, if you want. Come on, Adine.” She rubbed the bear’s head with a laugh, and it got to its feet groggily. “I’m sure the man doesn’t want us watching him while he changes.”

    She made to leave, but he reached out, seized her arm.

    “Vatnir?”

    He admitted, he hadn’t really thought this far ahead. What was it he had meant to say, exactly? Thank you? Will you do this again? Can you keep touching me, please?

    Why are you being so nice to me?

    “No, nothing.” He let his arm drop.

    Noora smiled back, as if she understood something. She reached out and squeezed his shoulder, and he nearly bit his tongue at the sudden warmth and sensation; but it was gone far too soon, and she had left him alone, bear at her heels, closing the door behind her.

    Vatnir sighed as he untangled the bandages from his loins. The wounds did need cleaning, that was true. But right now, there were rather more pressing matters demanding his attention, and the water wasn’t near cold enough, yet, to fix the problem for him.

    It was… wrong, perhaps, to do this in someone else’s room, but he could hardly leave the privacy of the cabin in his current state. Someone was bound to notice - probably that loudmouthed orlan pirate - and then he’d never hear the end of it… if the Duskspeaker didn’t just drop him straight back off on the Dead Floe in disgust, that was.

    He pressed his left hand against his mouth, bit down hard at the base of his thumb to stop the sound leaking out. It hurt, of course, but so did pretty much everything; he was used to that. The other hand drifted downwards, frostbitten fingers as uncomfortably cold as ever against the swollen skin.

    How would it feel, if she were the one touching him like this? Her hands were so much hotter , so much softer than his own bony fingers.

    Oh, she’d never do it in reality , he knew, but surely there was no harm in imagining it, was there?

    Half-closed eyes fixed cautiously on the door, he learned back, shoulders cold against the hard wooden walls of the ship, and let his fingers start working the shaft. Long and slow strokes; she’d be gentle with him, of course, smile at him as she always did, coo his name in his ear as he breathed in her scent and melted into the warmth of her touch.

    In the past, he’d finished himself off with a few rough tugs in his tent or his sanctum, on the rare times he even bothered to. But she wouldn’t do that, he reminded himself, gasps muffled by the hand in his mouth; no, she’d hold every part of him as if it were precious, because to her it would be; handsome, desirable, not disgusting, not repulsive at all.

    He let himself play with the skin at the head, teeth digging into his hand as he imagined it was Noora teasing him, gliding those calloused fingertips across the sensitive slit, giggling at the way he panted and writhed at her movements. Perhaps she’d whisper to him how nice he felt in her hands, how good and hard he was, how much she loved to touch him, wanted so badly to see him let go, watch him come apart-

    He was pumping harder now, faster, hot urgency building in his groin and pushing him upwards, the climb still achingly slow. His leg began to quiver, heel tapping against the cabin floorboards as he struggled to keep the fantasy together. She might get excited, too, working him over, cupping his balls, urging him ever higher, just enough of a squeeze in her strokes to really make him moan-

    He grabbed for a washcloth just in time, shuddering as he came - it was dirty anyway, would need to be thrown away with the old bandages, no one would ever notice - spent a minute or two shivering on the bench with the aftershocks. He released his trembling hand from his mouth, the red imprints of his teeth still clearly visible, and wiped the drool off his chin.

    His blood was cooling fast, his fantasies faded back into cold reality, and now an ugly feeling of shame was settling in the pit of his stomach to replace the spent desire. What in the Void was he doing, pawing at himself like a boy whose voice had just cracked, all because a pretty girl had smiled at him, had touched him for more than a second without retching? And in her room , no less? He had known full well how pathetic he could be, but this was a new low.

    Vatnir washed the rest of himself quickly, rolled on the fresh bandages with little fanfare. He hesitated over the clothing - he wasn’t sure he trusted himself with anything that smelled of her or her cabin, in his addled state - but eventually he shrugged on the padded surcoat, fearing that she might take offense if he rejected her gifts, and he could hardly tell her why , could he? His robe did need a wash, anyway, he conceded reluctantly.

    “Feeling better?”

    The sound of Noora’s voice as he left the cabin nearly made him jump out of his skin. He clutched the bundle of rags and bandages to his chest, acutely aware of the evidence of his disgrace within.

    “Eh… V-Very, yes. Erm, thank you.” He nearly tripped over his tongue, grateful, at least, that the mask would hide the flush on his cheeks.

    “I’m glad.” She shot him that same beatific smile, and nodded to his outfit. “You look very dashing in that.”

    “Heh.” He coughed awkwardly. She was being polite, of course, but it was… nice, to hear it anyway. “I suppose flattery is another of the Duskspeaker’s abilities?”

    “Oh, no,” she chuckled, eyes sparkling. “I thought it was quite well-known that I’m a very poor liar indeed.”

    She patted his arm as she moved past him, leaving him there to wonder just what, exactly, she meant by that.

 

    ***

 

    Perhaps he should’ve refused, the next time she offered her help. Perhaps he should’ve, but she was right, the cramped shipboard berths were an awkward place to even change a bandage, let alone do so with modesty intact. There were too many people who might see something; both those, like the Glamfellen or the pirate, who might be inclined to comment , and those who were polite enough, and probably shouldn’t be subjected to the unasked-for sight of an endings godlike cleaning his nethers.

    So again and again, he found himself sitting on the bench in her cabin, pretending that the touch of her hands on his bare skin, soothing his wounds, didn’t excite him nearly as much as it did. It was a test of his self-control, he told himself, or perhaps another trial from the gods who’d taken so much from him already; but if he were being honest with himself, really, truly honest with himself… he didn’t really want her to stop.

 

    ***

 

    Noora’s heart pounded in her breast as she leaned back against the hard bench, the smells of soap and herbal salve still lingering in the air. Vatnir had left, dried and cleaned, and already the room felt emptier for it.

    This isn’t right, she told herself with a stab of guilty conscience. He trusted her to help him with his wounds, as a friend. Not to have these kinds of… ulterior motives rattling around her brain, creeping into her loins. Yes, she liked him, and yes, she wanted to do nice things for him, but this , well, this was probably much too self-serving to count.

    She knew he felt something too, when she washed him, knew by the way he tensed up, sometimes, knees together, hands firmly in his lap, trying far too hard to act casual to pretend she wasn’t having an effect on him. But that was involuntary; a simple reaction to the physical contact, perhaps, didn’t mean that he’d welcome more.

    So she really shouldn’t like , so much, the way he trembled under her touch, or how she felt his pulse racing when she held the bandages steady, fingertips against his neck. She definitely shouldn’t want to lick the wiry muscles of his back and mouth at his shoulders, hear him gasp ragged and shy beneath her. She absolutely, positively shouldn’t want to glide her hands down his front and cup him, make him moan rough in his throat…

    She rubbed her thighs together, uncomfortably aware of the dampness already soaking her smalls. Damn it…

    With a quick glare at the door, as if warning it to stay locked, she took a deep breath and slipped off her shirt, freed herself from the confines of her breastband. The bench was cool against the warmth of her bare back, and she found her nipples already hardening in the open air, aching to be toyed with.

    Slow, now. No rush. She fumbled with her belt and wriggled out of her trousers, kicking off her boots and socks, heart already fluttering with anticipation. Another deep breath, and she hooked her thumbs into the waistband of her smalls, sliding them down her legs and off her ankles. The wood was cold and hard beneath her bare thigh as she shifted her weight back onto her buttocks.

    She cupped one breast, and then then the other, tested their weight in her hands, palmed them against her chest with slow, heavy strokes. It took effort to go slow, to tease herself and draw it out, not to scramble and chase her pleasure as quickly as possible, but there was a daydream demanding her attention. She’d run through it a few times already, now, refining it each time, and even the memories sent heat rushing to her loins.

    Leaning against the cool, hard wood of the bench, she imagined that it was Vatnir’s bony chest - and she hoped he was eating properly, for he was really very thin, and that surely couldn’t help his health - and that her hands were his, just as cool without being uncomfortable, trembling as he touched her where she asked him to.

    She wavered at this part, split between gentle - Vatnir cupping her breasts carefully, fingers lightly grazing over the areolae, as if too hard a touch might spoil the mood - and rough - fingers digging hungrily into soft flesh, squeezing and tugging at her nipples with a couple months’ worth of pent-up desire - and decided to split the difference, pressing circles with the pads of her fingers, rolling the tips between thumb and finger just hard enough to send sparks pooling in her belly.

    Slowly, ever so slowly, Noora brought her foot up, heel resting on the edge of the bench, thighs spread wide, cool air teasing her glistening folds. One thumb still circling a nipple, she slid the other hand down, trailing feather-light over her belly, along the top of her thigh. She brought it back, then, shivering as her fingers dragged up the inside, to the sensitive spot where leg met pelvis, and on yet upwards, parting thick curls as they circled the softness of her mound. His hands were always so cold, she thought; perhaps she could give him somewhere to warm them?

    Her fingers ghosted over the lips before slipping between them, a soft gasp escaping her mouth at the sudden sensation, imagining how it might feel different, were it him, his touch pleasingly unfamiliar. She rested her head on the back wall, mouth slightly parted, exploring every wet fold and pleat as someone might for the first time. She was nearly overflowing, now, and perhaps he’d marvel at that - Do you see how wet I am, Vatnir? It’s all for you, elskan mín - and maybe he wouldn’t believe her, at first, but she’d hold him close and writhe at his touch until he did.

    She dipped her fingers lower, gathering wetness; gently nudged back the hood with a soaking finger and toyed with the little nub there, other hand repeating the motions on her breast. It was good, so good, sending warm jolts through her, and she could lie her head back and lose herself in the sensations, imagining someone else with her in the lonely cabin, holding and touching her through the night while she nuzzled against him.

    Her fingers danced faster and faster, and she dipped them down in her wetness again and again to keep them gliding smooth over the sensitive skin, running teasing circles around her entrance each time. Her breath came shallower, rapider; her hips started to jerk, to chase the sensation; rolled her nipple harder between thumb and fingertips; her body ached with building need, a spring coiling tighter inside her. Finally, she could bear it no more and, thumb still playing with the sensitive bundle of nerves, she slipped a finger in, soon followed by another, working them in and out and deeper and deeper with glorious friction.  She sighed happily at the sensation of them buried in to the knuckles, spreading her walls apart, fingers curling deliciously to rub in against her insides, hips rocking gently as her other hand drifted down from her breast to attend to her clit.

    How would Vatnir react, if he knew how she touched herself to the thought of him, brought herself off imagining his cool hands stroking her, teasing her? How would he react if he opened the door right now, saw her spread out on the bench, fingers stuck deep inside herself, biting her lip to keep from moaning his name? Would he blush? Be turned on? Come inside and gently take over from her, seeing to her pleasure with his bony hands while she clung to his horned head, sobbing with want as she urged him onwards, faster, harder, more ?

    Would he taste her, even, tongue flicking out over every slick fold, toying with the swollen nub as she wriggled against his face, his soft hair between her fingers, his ice-blue eyes drinking in every tremor, every groan? Would he let her push him down and ride his face, the short horns at his jaw digging into her thighs as she writhed around his questing tongue; his chin so slick, so easy to move against, that she could grab him by the horns and ride it out hard, if he’d like that. Her fingers squirmed inside her, tried to move like a tongue as she bucked her hips against them, and gods, they slid in and out so easily, she was so wet. She ground against the heel of her palm, wondering how the slight nose-bump of his mask might rub against her clit with every rocking movement.

    She’d reward him handsomely, of course, bring herself just to the edge and then stop, take him in her mouth with her inner walls still quivering with want, lick and suck at him until he was whimpering beneath her, fingers clawing at her scalp, cock straining hard towards the ceiling. And then - ah, then, she thought, as she rubbed at herself in desperate circles, thighs trembling as she leaned back on the bench - then she’d take him inside her, and she plunged her fingers in fast and deep, as if she were riding him, letting herself rise and fall upon him as he groaned beneath her, clutching her tight, jaw hanging loose, three eyes gazing up at her with adoration. She lifted her hips and pretended they were meeting his, pictured his hands grasping at her thighs, pulling them open and toward him, thrusting in and out faster and faster as both her hands worked, outside and in, to push her higher, higher, until she reached the very peak -

    Noora came with a drawn-out groan, muffled as she bit down on her lip, hard enough to draw blood. She sobbed through it as she rocked against her hand, prolonging the orgasm as long as possible and riding through the aftershocks, an arm swinging over to clutch on to the back of the bench lest she fall right off in the throes of ecstasy.

    But all too soon, it was over, and the bench was feeling uncomfortably hard beneath her bare buttocks, her skin, still tingling, still flushed purple with pleasure, so sensitive to every uneven surface, every cool spot not yet warmed by her body heat. She let her hand rest between her legs, unmoving, as she caught her breath and wondered once again if she’d be able to look Vatnir in the eyes without blushing, after this.

    (“Oh Watcher,” Xoti’s tapped her mouth at breakfast the next day, with Vatnir sitting right there - “How’d you go and do that to your poor lips?” -And Noora nearly choked on her murkbrew.)

 

    ***

 

    It was late at night when Vatnir knocked on the door to her cabin, a roll of fresh bandages in hand. It was getting to be a familiar ritual by now - she’d wash his wounds and help him dress them; they’d talk a bit, about the Deadfire, about her friends, about her time back in the Dyrwood, about his time back in the Land; she’d leave him with some clean clothing and a smile - but he still felt sheepish, asking for it. Not just because of the involuntary physical effects - he spent a lot of time, these days, thinking very hard about ice baths - but also, because, well, he suspected that some part of him was just being self-indulgent. He’d gone much longer between cleanings, in the past, and as much as she never complained (even chided him gently, if he took too long), he didn’t think he’d be quite so diligent about it if it wasn’t for, when he got down to it, how much he liked it, when she touched him.

    At least this time, he had the excuse of the sweat and blood and porokoa spit of Kazuwari. That was genuine.

    “Who is it?” Noora’s voice called out from the other side of the door. It sounded unusually strained; perhaps he’d come at a bad time? It was rather late.

    Then again, she had been acting… strange since the Ashen Maw, ignoring Eothas and all those squabbling Deadfire factions and haring off to that godsforsaken deathtrap of an island instead. Not that he could judge anyone for wanting to just run away. Not that he was even sure Eothas should be stopped; let him crush the Wheel into dust, if it meant they would all be spared another turn around this miserable existence.

    “It’s me.” He trusted his raspy voice to be recognisable, at least. There was a moment’s silence, and then:

    “Just a minute.”

    The Noora that answered the door was not the calm, shining one he was used to. Her plain grey nightgown was rumpled, her hair a mess, and he was about to apologise for disturbing her sleep (she… had been sleeping, hadn’t she? There was no one else in there with her? He didn’t know of anyone else, but it wasn’t like she couldn’t-) when he noticed the moisture glimmering in the corners of her eyes, the wet tracks that she hadn’t totally wiped off her glowing cheeks.

    “I-I’m sorry to disturb you,” he stammered, not quite sure what to do with himself. She always seemed so fearless, so composed. To think that even she might sob alone in her room was… well, it was oddly comforting, but also he couldn’t help but feel like he’d peeked at something he wasn’t supposed to see. “I’ll go…”

    “No, wait.” Her hand shot out to cover his, and a wan smile struggled its way onto her face. “Vatnir. I wanted to talk to you.”

    “Eh… you did?”

    Wh-what did she mean by that ? He’d never really seen himself as anyone’s confidante, least of all that of someone as confident as her. An “advisor,” yes, in his priestly capacity, but that was mostly just him regurgitating platitudes and adding some blather about “Rymrgand’s will”; surely she knew better than to expect that of him?

    She drew him inside, shutting the door behind him. The gloom of the cabin was broken only by a single lantern, the fine blankets of her berth piled up on the floor like a nest. An open bottle stood on the floor, a decent amount already drunk, and even from here, the sharp smell of ekkevít hit his nosehole. The bear - Adine - curled up beside the blankets and gave him a whining huff, her animal eyes gleaming at him in the lanternlight as if she expected him to help her mistress.

    “I’m sorry you have to see me in such a state.” She glanced down at the bottle, and rubbed her palms over her eyes.

    “No, don’t be.” He let out a bitter murmur of a laugh. “Far better than looking in a mirror.”

    She cocked her head at him, looking uncharacteristically stern.

    “Don’t say that.” She patted his cheek with a frown. He sucked in a breath at the warmth of her palm at the edges of his mask, but the bite of ekkevít on her breath warned him not to read too much into it; she wasn’t in her right mind, right now. “You look perfectly handsome.”

    Skyt, she really was drunk.

    “I doubt you’ve had so much of Nyvardir’s liquor just to talk about my face, Duskspeaker.” He took her hand from his face, and - this was what she would do, yes? - squeezed it. “You, eh, said you wanted to see me?”

    Noora nodded, taking a deep breath, and pulled him over to sit by her on the bed. She clasped his hand in both of hers, face twisting as she struggled for words. The bandages fell to the floor, forgotten.

    What was going on? He wracked his mind for answers and came up empty. Was this about his cowardice in the Beyond? But surely she’d be angry , were she to judge him unuseful, not weeping . Had she found out about that first time, when he- no, no, she’d not be touching him, then; certainly not be calling him handsome . A shoulder to cry on, perhaps, but he would hardly have thought of himself as her first choice, in that matter; she was not one of the aurochs’ herd, and surely there were more sympathetic souls aboard this ship than he.

    “Do you remember what Rymrgand said to you, in the White Void?” she said, finally.

    He felt his three eyes widen in surprise. That , of all things, was not what he would’ve expected.

    “That I could never have been anything but what I am?” Vatnir’s shoulders slumped, his fingers curling into the heat of her hand. “It’s… not the sort of conversation you forget easily, Duskspeaker. But why-”

    “Not that part.” She shook her head. “The one about… what he’d never ‘reclaimed’.”

    “Oh. Yes. That one.” He felt a sinking feeling in his ruined gut. A threat from one’s own god was not something that rested easily on the brain, that was for certain. But when they’d left the bowels of the White Void intact, he’d tried to put it out of his mind. Surely if killing the god’s own avatar wasn’t enough to bring the axe of divine retribution down upon his head, then he might just be sailing clear waters for now… right?

    “I found out what it means.” Her smile was thin and tight, her hands shaking as they fastened around his. “We’re fuel to them, Vatnir. Just an extra essence source they can ‘absorb’ if they want even more power. They’d kill us with hardly a thought.”

    “...Oh.” He swallowed, felt sick, a pit dropping right out of his stomach and into the Beyond. But then, he thought with a bitter cold humour, he should have expected this. Of course he was just a tool to the Beast of Winter, the kith equivalent of a pouch of jerky to keep you going on a long journey. That explanation made more sense than anything else in his life; certainly more than the idea that the stiffness and the coughing and the cysts were some kind of blessing .

    He should be used to the gods’ cruel jokes, by now.

    “I’m so sorry, Vatnir. We…” Noora scrunched up her face, tears welling up anew in the corners of her eyes, fingers clutching his hand so tightly they almost hurt. He held on absently, his own thoughts consumed with the dawning breadth of it all. So, at any time , Rymrgand might…?

    He jerked his head towards the bottle of ekkevít.

    “I could use some of that myself,” he said faintly.

    She took it and pressed it into his hands wordlessly, a sympathetic glimmer in her eyes.

    “How did you even find out?” He took a swig, teeth clamped around the neck of the bottle, careful not to spill any on her sheets; drinking could be a messy business, without lips. A familiar tingle crept through his bones; that was the stuff. Nyvardir really knew what he was doing, when he wasn’t poisoning the rymsjódda.

    “The gods spoke to me,” she said miserably, and it occurred to him how strange it was that she said that so easily, and odder yet, that he believed it. Before he met her, that would’ve been the sort of lie he saved for only the most desperate occasion; now it seemed so… ordinary. “After the Ashen Maw; they… they wanted to know what Eothas said. And Magran suggested they ‘absorb’ us godlike, and then Ondra…” A choked sob issued from her lips, and she turned to him, eyes wide and wild. “Ondra agreed!” She jabbed at the glowing horn on her forehead for emphasis. “Right in front of me ! As if I couldn’t even hear her just… just casually recommend eating my soul!”

    “What?” Vatnir sat up straighter on the bed, stared at her in shock. Surely she didn’t mean… “They’re not going to… They, they decided against it, surely?” She was still here now, and so was he, so that meant they were still safe for the moment, yes? He swallowed hard.

    “Don’t worry.” Noora put a hand on his shoulder, swaying slightly. “Berath nixed the idea; for now, at least. But… gods , Vatnir. D’you know, it’s not even the first time she’s tried to kill me?”

    She took the bottle from his hand. He half expected that she wouldn’t want any more, not after he’d slobbered all over it, but she drank deep without even wiping the glass off first and why in Hel was he getting so flustered over that-

    “With the tidal wave?” Clutched precariously in the hand of a god between a wall of water and an erupting volcano… he certainly wouldn’t be forgetting that one anytime soon, either.

    “That,” she nodded glumly, “and before, back in the Dyrwood. First she had me fix a problem she’d created - by dropping a godsdamned moon on Engwith, no less - and then it turned out she fully intended for me to drown in doing so!” She took another shot, jaw set hard and angry.

    Vatnir gaped at her.

    “And you’re still alive ?” He broke in to coughing, and she patted him on the back with a bitter little smile.

    “Turns out I’m pretty hard to kill,” she passed the ekkevít back to him. “Even to a god, I suppose.”

    He winced.

    “I hope you don’t plan on testing that, Duskspeaker.” He took another pull from the bottle, imagined he could still taste her lips on the neck. “We’ve pissed off more than enough deities already.”

    Noora gave him a strange, lopsided look, eyes bright with... drink? Anger?

    “I don’t know if I can make that promise, Vatnir. If Rymrgand ever does try coming for you, I’ll make another cloak out of his shitting skin.” She jabbed herself in the chest with a finger, prodding into the soft flesh of her ch- oh he probably shouldn’t be looking there . “He’ll have to get through me first.”

    Vatnir’s first instinct was to scan his eyes frantically around the cabin, looking for creeping frost, spreading ice, snow falling from thin air; anything that might signify Rymrgand’s imminently fatal displeasure, that he was watching her threaten him right now and was about to rend both their souls for the audacity…

    But the cabin air remained pleasantly warm, if a little stuffy and bear-smelling. Noora still glowed, faintly, in the dim. Their souls remained resolutely unshredded.

    It was only then, when he was finally satisfied that a divine smiting was not, in fact, forthcoming, that the full impact of her words hit him like a dogsled.

    “...Why?” he croaked out, at last.

    “Hm? ‘Why’ what?”

    “Why-” he coughed “-would you offer yourself, Duskspeaker? Why would you risk your soul for mine?”

    Noora looked earnestly puzzled for a moment, before her face broke into a smile.

    “You’re my friend , Vatnir.” She clapped him on the shoulder, a little hard, a little unsteady. “I’ve got your back. Always.”

    A stab of guilt punctured his gut as he remembered how terrified he’d been, on their last trip to the Beyond, how he’d been prepared to leave her to Whehami to save his own skin, or as much of it still remained, and for a moment he feared that that was the hidden meaning behind her words, that she meant to shame him for his cowardice.

    “Besides-” but no, she continued unabated “-we godlike have to look out for each other. Especially when we’re saddled with the arse-end of the pantheon.”

    He wasn’t quite sure what to say to that; at least, what to say that wouldn’t risk Rymrgand deciding to “reclaim” his soul on the spot. He’d never been the most… faithful of men, true, but beyond the pious lies, he’d still believed , sort of. Believed in the vague idea of it, at least, the things he’d grown up hearing from Valbrendhür and the other elders: that non-existence was a mercy (even if it terrified him); that the end was both inevitable and to be welcomed (even if he didn’t welcome it in the slightest); that Rymrgand would look out for them, if only they followed (even if he couldn’t see why Rymrgand would curse him with a body rotting alive).

    And he had believed it. Mostly. Oh, he’d been weak, yes; feared his own end, his own unmaking, no matter what a joy they said it would be. Didn’t want to follow, or lead, or anything he was told was his chosen place; just wanted to be left alone, to his own devices. And yes, he’d doubted often, questioned nightly, but hate … hated his own fate, yes, but not the god behind it; Rymrgand’s motives were vast and alien and part of him had still believed, had to believe that there was a reason behind it all, behind him . Something that would make it make sense , other than being some cold cruelty from the god of entropy.

    And then she came along, and he’d actually met Rymrgand, spoken to him in the very depths of the White Void itself, and, well…

    However he might have expected such an encounter to end - if he could’ve expected it at all - it was nowhere near as frustrating , as deeply and soul-grindingly unsatisfying as reality. And really, more fool he for hoping for anything more than that; he really should know better than that by now.

    So his opinion on Rymrgand hovered somewhere at the nexus of “acceptance” and “bitterness” and “pants-shitting terror” right now, which was an odd and uncomfortable place for a priest to be.

    Noora, at least, seemed to understand his silence, giving his shoulder a comforting squeeze as she took the bottle back.

    “I’m sorry,” she said, her voice gentled. “I know it’s a Hel of a thing to come to grips with.” She took another drink from the bottle, and gave him a thoughtful look. “You heard about Glasvahl, yes? Know why he didn’t cross through the Frost-Hewn Breach?”

    “No, I… never heard that part of the tale.”

    “Because Rymrgand tasked me with stopping him.”

    Vatnir gaped at her.

    “But-But why? Surely that’s-” He was interrupted with a fit of coughing.

    “What Rymrgand wants?” Noora finished for him, with a sad smile. “Yes, but only on his terms, it seems. I went along with it, because I thought it would be better for them not to get their souls destroyed, but…” She sighed, took another drink. “Then Rymrgand wanted me to dissolve the Hollowborn souls, said it would be a mercy . So I asked him, why would you grant this ‘mercy’ to babes who can’t choose, if you’d deny it to those who want it, and you know what he said?”

    Vatnir’s snort was muffled by the mask. For the better, perhaps; it was an ugly sound, without a nose.

    “Whatever it was, I doubt it was satisfactory.”

    Noora’s laugh was bitter.

    “You’d be right. He got angry at me for daring to question what he did with us mortals’ souls. Or why he’d teach his followers to want something he’d have them never seek .”

    “Hnh. We have a saying, back in the Land,” he rasped, the alcohol making him bold. “Treystu á Rymrgand-”

    “Treystu á Rymrgand at laedha haem,” she finished for him, to his surprise. “‘Trust in Rymrgand to lead the way home’, ha. See how that worked out for Glasvahl, for Rynhaedr, for any of us.” She gestured broadly, ekkevít sloshing in the bottle.

    “Did Ydwin teach you that one?” he asked, with a note of sourness. The rogue sister hadn’t stopped looking at him like he was a biting blackfly that she would rather see squashed.

    Noora shook her head.

    “No,” she said. “My mother. And she wasn’t any happier about it than I am now.”

    He swung his head to look at her, rubbing spit from his jaw.

    “Eh, what? You’re a twilight dweller?”

    “This fool you as well?” She tapped the glowing horn on her head with a lopsided grin. “Everyone assumes I’m Sceltrfolc. But no, Glamfellen, vinur mín. Never been to the White That Wends, though; mamma left for the Living Lands before she had me.”

    “Should I call you ‘sister’, then?” Vatnir snorted, and took the bottle back. He wished, right now, that he had lips again and could drink it as alluringly as her, or at least not make such a mess of it.

    Noora fixed him with a curious look, head tilted, lips pursed, and he didn’t know what to make of it.

    “I’d rather you didn’t call me sister.”

    There was something… odd, in her tone, serious but not chiding, with a strange lilt that made his ekkevít-warm mind think of all the other things he could call her, names she might find more pleasing, if she were so inclined…

    You’ve not drunk near enough to be so stupid , the sober parts of his brain scolded him.

    “‘Duskspeaker’ it is, then? Or do you prefer ‘Captain’?” He coughed.

    Noora frowned at him.

    “Watcher, Captain, Duskspeaker… Everyone always has some title for me.” Her voice sounded bitter; uncharacteristic, perhaps, but gods he knew the feeling. “Can’t you just call me by my name, Vatnir?”

    Her name? He could do that, surely. Nothing to it.

    “Eh… Noora?” he ventured. His voice sounded hoarse to his own ears, a whisper in the dim lanternlight, and he suddenly realised that she was very close to him, right now, and he was sitting on her bed

    And this was wrong, this was just sad , going and getting so… so moon-sick over her he couldn’t think straight, and… and really, he thought he handled his drink better than this…

    She smiled at him.

    “I like the way you say that,” she said softly, gazing into his eyes, and oh skyt, just how drunk was she?

    “You… You do?” he stammered, not sure where to go, where to put himself.

    She nodded, the glow of her horn bobbing up and down in the dim of the cabin.

    “I like you, Vatnir,” she reached for his face with those wonderfully soft fingers of hers. “Even if you don’t believe me, I’ll keep saying it.”

    He pulled away before she could reach him, couldn’t let this go on, she wasn’t in her right mind, right now. Her face fell, so he grabbed on to her hands instead, hoped that would mollify her. Didn’t want her to think he didn’t like the touches, because he did, he really did, liked them far too much for his own good, but even if she had no idea what she did to him, he felt she should at least be sober when she did it.

    “ Do you believe me, Vatnir?” she repeated, fingers curling around his. “I hope you believe me.”

    “Yes, Du- eh, Noora,” he said awkwardly, patting her hands. “I believe you.”

    “That’s good.” She smiled, eyes crinkling with relief, and then flopped down, head resting awkwardly on his shoulder. It couldn’t be comfortable, he thought, balanced carefully on the boniest bits to avoid the jutting lower horn, but she seemed oddly content.

    “Do you mind if I rest here?” she asked, and the feeling of her nuzzling her cheek against him had his pulse hammering in his chest. He was glad he’d worn the surcoat today; determined washing still hadn’t gotten the stench of death out of his robes. “I’m rather tired, all of a sudden.”

    “Can’t hold your ekkevít, eh D- Noora?” He hoped the joke would distract from his trembling.

    “Shush.” She swatted at him half-heartedly. “I’ve drunk more than you.”

    “Get some sleep.” He couldn’t see her well, her head was on his blind side, but oh gods he could feel her breath on his neck - “You’ll be miserable enough in the morning as it is.”

    She snorted at him, but offered no response, and it was somehow both not long and also an agonising, wonderful eternity before she started to snore gently against his surcoat.

    He manoeuvered her carefully down onto the bed and arranged the blankets as comfortably as he could without disturbing her, painfully aware of both his own utter inexperience at tucking someone in and the watchful eyes of her bear on his back.

    She looked nice sleeping; but then, she always looked nice.

    His chest felt strangely warm; either Nyvardir had outdone himself with the ekkevít, he thought, or he was coming down with yet another interesting tropical flu.

    He dimmed the lantern on his way out. Adine lifted her head from the cabin floor and rumbled curiously.

    “Yes, yes, I’m going,” he hissed to the bear as he slipped discreetly from the cabin.

    But back in his cramped berth, twisting restlessly on the mattress, he could swear he still felt the weight of her head on his shoulder, the tantalising brush of her fingers against his face.

 

    ***

 

    Noora lay on the ground before the Engwithan machine, in what looked to be a fitful sleep.

    Calling her name hadn’t woken her up. Poking her had yielded no results. Shaking her was similarly fruitless. Even Tekēhu splashing her with that fancy water power of his had proven unhelpful.

    “She’s often seemed to go off in a trance, since I’ve first known her.” Aloth’s hands wrung at his sash, as if to squeeze the rainwater out. He’d been doing that for some time. “I’m sure it’s nothing to be concerned about.”

    Vatnir was far too practiced a liar himself to believe the Sceltrfolc’s poor attempt for a second.

    “Yeah, reckon it’s a Watcher thing,” Edér nodded, sounding no more confident than Aloth. “Just hope this ain’t like the last time.” His eyes were creased with worry.

    “What say, shall I try to rouse our fair captain once more?” Tekēhu moved with infuriating grace through a series of Watershaping stances, droplets dancing elegantly about him.

    Showoff , Vatnir thought.

    “Do you think she’ll wake up if I kiss her?” he said, to no one in particular.

    It was a joke, of course. He was no handsome hunter from the fables, waking the cursed fisher-maid, even if the sight (and smell) alone would probably have her on her feet and running for the shoreline in no time. Besides, it wasn’t like he had lips to kiss with, even if she wanted him to. Which she wouldn’t, of course. And that was fine, didn’t bother him at all. But he might like it, if she did. Although she didn’t. Didn’t she?

    He really wished Tekēhu would stop smirking at him like that.

    And Noora took exactly that moment to stir, because of course she did.

    “Ahem. Wel-welcome back, Duskspeaker,” Vatnir coughed. She… hadn’t heard any of that, right? She was still asleep until just this second, yes? The gods must have some mercy in them, surely?

    That odd, thoughtful look on her face must be her remembering her vision, or whatever she had. And it was probably just his imagination that her silver gaze appeared to be pointed at him, right now. And the part where she opened her mouth as if to say something, before stopping herself? Completely unrelated, clearly.

    Tekēhu hung back with Vatnir as they descended the stairs of Ondra’s Spire, turning to him with a broad, shark-toothed grin.

    “Friend Vatnir! I had no idea-”

    “Don’t.” Vatnir hissed through gritted teeth.

    “As you wish, then.” Tekēhu chuckled. “Should you need any advice-”

    “No. I don’t.”

    It was no good. He was still smiling.

    “Ekera, if you insist.” Tekēhu winked at him, and Vatnir wondered why he’d ever expected the gods to be merciful at all.

 

    ***

 

    The mood was strange, back on the boat. The Huana were triumphant in their victory, rice wine and arrack flowing freely, boisterous songs rising from the small camps that were already beginning to form in the harbour of Ukaizo. The crew were awash with relief in their survival, Haema cooking up some shark soup in celebration while Engrim dug into his rum stash.

    Those of them who’d been there at Mói Gweath, though… they were a little more subdued, out of immediate danger but tense with the uncertainty of what the future would bring.

    And Noora… Noora was addressing her companions one by one. There was lots of hugging, and smiling, and occasionally tears.

    “Vatnir,” she said, when she finally reached him. She wore the same soft, unreadable smile as ever, and he was suddenly, vastly, uncomfortably aware that this must be a goodbye. His heart sank into his mangled stomach.

Strange, he thought, that he had forgotten Rymrgand’s law, carved as it was out of his flesh: everything falls apart, eventually .

    He wouldn’t have to go back , probably; he’d collected enough money, now, that he could charter a ship and travel on his own, and no doubt he could ask something from the grateful Huana royalty. But if he thought about it, really thought about it… well, he didn’t want to leave her. Not yet.

    “You look a lot happier, these days.”

    “I… do?” He hadn’t really thought of himself being happy , not in quite those terms, but… yes. Perhaps that was true. Less miserable than back in the Land, or on the Dead Floe, at least. “Maybe…” He coughed. “Maybe you’re right.”

    She smiled, and nodded, and considered him for while, chewing on her lip.

    “Prince Aruihi says there’s to be a banquet for us, at the palace,” her voice was slow, hesitant, and he felt his gut twist into knots. “And I should really head back to Dyrwood and inform the Duc, and after that,” she shrugged, “I really don’t know what the future holds…”

    Well , he thought, here it comes .

    “…But I thought maybe,” Noora continued. “If you still want to, then you could keep travelling with me?” She looked at him with worried eyes, hands fidgeting.

    Wait, what? What did she say?

    “That is,” she added hastily, when he failed to speak for several seconds. “If it’s not too presumptuous of me.”

    “No, not at all!” He shook his head hard enough to send wisps of hair fluttering. “I… I’d like that. If you’d have me.”

    “Oh. Good.” Her taut face collapsed into a relieved grin. “That’s- thanks so much, Vatnir. For everything.” She held her arms open wide.

    And, well, she was inviting him, wasn’t she? Surely it was okay?

    Cautiously, he spread his own arms - didn’t want to come off too eager; this was just a friendly hug between friends, had to keep telling himself that - and, laughing, she swept forward and folded him in her arms, head resting against the fur of his robes. She held him firmly, arms placed carefully to avoid his wounds - and it felt odd, to think that she had seen his body enough to know where those were, even below the robe, but it was a good kind of odd - and gingerly, ever so gently, he wrapped his arms back around her.

    She was warm, even through the thick furs, and soft against him, and she smelled like rain and sea and sweat, but it was nice, certainly nicer than he must be…

    “Come see me in my cabin later,” she whispered into his ear, and the shock of her hot breath against his skin made him flinch. “I want to talk to you.”

    And then she pulled back, and smiled again, and moved on to the next person as if she’d never said anything strange at all.

 

    ***

 

    -And so, once more Vatnir found himself knocking at Noora’s door, his heart pounding as if it meant to break free of his ribcage. For a split, horrible second, he feared that he might’ve imagined her words to him, that it might’ve been just some fantasy he’d gotten carried away with, and the next few moments were going to be excruciatingly awkward-

    Her eyes lit up as she opened the door and ushered him inside. His legs felt clumsy, heavy with every step, chest tight. Her bear was nowhere to be seen, tonight, and for some reason that, too, stirred his nerves up.

    “You came.”

    She seemed happy at that, he thought, far too happy; pleased enough that he might go and get the wrong idea, were he a younger, more hopeful elf.

    “Yes?” His voice came even rougher than usual; hopefully she’d blame it on the perpetual cold. “You wanted to, ah, converse?”

    She nodded, and reached for his hands. He let her take them, tried to will his fingers to relax, and oh gods they were just as warm as ever…

    “I… heard what you said back there. Up on Ondra’s Spire.”

    Oh. Oh, skyt .

    Well, at least she didn’t hate it enough to kick him off the ship. Still, he braced himself for the upcoming rebuffal, where she would no doubt be polite and kind as she told him very gently what he already knew damn well.

    He didn’t want this. He could take the rejection, never really expected anything else, but the last thing he wanted was her looking at him with pity . Poor dear ugly Vatnir, going and getting moon-eyed over a girl who was nice to him a couple of times, don’t you just feel so bad for him? Doesn’t he know it’s hopeless?

    “Ah, well, I-“ Back with his kin, he usually had a store of convenient lies, all prepped and ready to go, or else some old reliable tropes to draw on - “Rymrgand’s will” ; “his great ineffable design” ; “it came to me in a vision” - but it occurred to him that he didn’t have that, with her; had gotten too complacent, too used to being honest in her company. He faked a coughing fit just to stall for time; at least that still worked. “That was just-“

    “Do you want to kiss me, Vatnir?” Her voice shouldn’t sound so husky; her lips shouldn’t be parted like that, looking so, so soft. That wasn’t fair .

    “I, eh, well, you see-“

    Her thumbs rubbed over the calluses on his palms, and he shivered. Oh, now she was just being cruel . Funny, then, that he couldn’t seem to work up the will to snatch his hands away.

    “Because,” she smiled up at him, the marks on her cheeks shimmering faintly in the dim lanternlight. “I would rather like to kiss you.”

    “Wh-What?” His voice croaked out, small and hoarse.

    Wait a minute- What was she- Was this really happening ?

    He froze, his jaw hanging slack. Perhaps he had actually fallen asleep in his berth, and this was him dreaming. He’d had dreams rather like this before, after all, although usually Noora was wearing a lot less clothing in them.

    “If I’m making you uncomfortable…”

    Uncertainty flickered across her face, and she made to pull her hands back. He grabbed at her fingers, unthinking.

    “Uncomfortable? No, it’s not that , it’s- Surely you’ve noticed that I haven’t any lips?”

    A good chunk of his brain was screaming at him to just do it anyway, don’t worry about the practicalities, just try smushing your mouth against hers and see what happens. The rest was terribly, painfully aware just how awkward and ungainly such an action would be; not what she was wanting from him, surely. Not for him to slobber all over her, mash the frayed edges of his mouth-skin all over her pretty face.

    She tilted her head, smiling at him.

    “If that’s all you’re concerned about…” She slipped a hand from his and to his face, her touch soft as goosedown. “We can make it work.”

    “W-We can?” How odd; he seemed to have forgotten how to think properly.

    Her fingers played at the edges of his mask, brushing at his skin, tickling him.

    “Can I see your face?” Her voice was soft, sincere. “It’s okay if you don’t want to.”

    Wordlessly, he undid the bandages that held the mask on, covered his blind left eye and the two empty sockets. He knew what she must be seeing, from his reflection in mirrors, in water, in ice: the sunken cheeks, not free from the bite of Rymrgand’s decay; the ragged, wheezing hole where a nose ought to be; the raw red gums of his lipless mouth.

    He wasn’t ashamed of his face, not exactly; even with it covered, there was no hiding the state of his body, the smell of infection and rot. He was… used to that, mostly. The mask was more a habit, by now. But while Noora might be Glamfellen, technically, she was not of the Land, not of Rymrgand’s faithful, would surely find his skeletal face more than a little off-putting, even if she had the grace not to gawk like the visitors back home.

    She didn’t flinch; she didn’t even grimace. She just smiled and stroked along his cheekbone, and it occurred to him how exposed he felt, how the atmosphere had suddenly turned that much heavier, without that barrier between them.

    “You’ve a nice face,” she said, and if anyone else had said it, it would have sounded like a poor attempt at flattery, but Noora was just too damn sincere for such things.

    “Wh-What part of it do you think is nice ?”

    “Well,” her fingers ghosted up to his temple, near the corners of his three good eyes. “You’ve kind eyes, Vatnir. And such a pretty colour, too.”

    “Even the missing ones?” He barked out a harsh laugh, feeling his jaw quiver at her touch. No one had ever told him such things before; thought any part of him was pleasing, let alone kind . It had always been “I see the glorious works of Rymrgand in your face, brother Vatnir!” from his kin, or “Good gods, man, what happened to you?!” from everyone else.

    “Yes.” Now her fingers dipped to the ragged edges where his lips should be, flesh wet with drool, and she didn’t even shudder. “All these things you seem to think should bother me? They really don’t.”

    “I don’t understand you.” His voice sounded rough, his mouth dry. “Why would you even want this? I-I know I’m not much to look at…”

    She took his face full in both hands, palms hot against the bare skin.

    “Because,” she murmured fondly - fondly! - a corner of her mouth quirking up - “Hard as it may be for you to believe, I like you, Vatnir.”

    And then she kissed him.

    Her lips were soft against the exposed skin of his gums, hungry, pressing into him, fingers twisting into the tufts of his hair and pulling his head in close. His awkward hands fumbled for a moment before settling gingerly onto her upper arms, holding her as if the spell would break and she would draw back in horror should he grip too tightly.

    It was a clumsy excuse for a kiss, a one-sided mashing of lips against gums and teeth, her nose poking into his cheek; and skyt , it was good , every eager slide of her mouth over his, every time she drew back only to come after him again from a fresh angle, every time she moved away from his mouth only to pepper a laughing trail of kisses along his jaw, up his cheek, it was all so much - the heat , the sensations, the ever-present hunger for more - that he found himself nuzzling his face against hers, wanting to get closer, his heart hammering in his chest and his blood pooling in parts of him he didn’t usually like it to.

    He slid one hand up and - how had she done this? - grasped the back of her neck, fingers tangling into the curls of her hair as she rubbed against his hand like a purring cat, smile crinkling the corners of her eyes. The other arm moved daringly down to wrap around her waist, pull the warmth of her body closer - and she nestled into him, hand on his back to rub softly at his shoulder blades, and nibbled at the crook of his neck, horn jostling awkwardly with one of his, and he heard himself make a strangled noise somewhere between a gasp and a groan, and felt her mouth shift into a grin over his flesh, felt the hot breath of her laugh tickle his bare skin. And then she was on him again, more urgent than before, and he wanted more , so much more, wished he had lips of his own so he could kiss her back properly, wouldn’t ever stop, make her as breathless as him-

    An idea came to him through the haze of desire that filled his mind, and he caught her bottom lip between his teeth - gently, ever-so-gently, didn’t want to bite , just a nibble, one she might like - saw her silver eyes blink open as he took it into his mouth, worried at it clumsily with his teeth and tongue. It wasn’t much, but it was something he could do , and he felt pride well up in his chest when he heard a happy sigh escape her throat, felt her push against him, kissing back, wanting this, wanting him -

    He released her bottom lip from his nibbling grasp, felt very pleased with himself as he went for the top one - but she was too fast, grabbing his collar in both hands, open mouth over his, breathing coming fast and shallow as her tongue slid between his teeth, exploring the inside of his mouth with tiny licks, face pressing insistently against his and neck bent at what looked like an uncomfortable angle (before he had to squeeze his eyes shut, because the sensations were just too much, too good) as her tongue sought his, toyed with it, and skyt he could taste her, now . He opened his jaw wider to give her deeper access, hand pulling her head in closer, closer, without even thinking about it, and his chin might’ve been slick with saliva but she didn’t seem to mind so neither did he.

    She took a step forward, drinking of him like a thirsty woman at a spring of meltwater, and he found himself moving back too, clutching her in his arms, so utterly focused on what was building between the two of them that Eothas could’ve risen back out from the sea and crashed a hole right through their boat and he’d scarcely have noticed.

    His calves hit the side of her berth, and she was still pressing forward, and some dim part of his mind thought that that sounded like a good idea, right now.

    Vatnir hit the mattress sore-side-first, not paying enough attention, and his grunt was muffled by Noora’s lips and tongue following him dexterously down.

    “Are you okay?” Noora drew back a bit, eyes crinkled in a worried frown, her warmth and weight half-draped over him. Soft fingers stroked his hair, traced around the base of his horns, sending ripples of sensation along the rest of his half-frozen skin. Her own curls fell down to tickle at his cheek.

    “I’ve had worse.” He let out a chuckle that rattled in his lungs, peering up at her face. The shine on her cheeks was a brilliant glow, her lips slightly parted, swollen and wet. He traced them with his thumb, marvelled at how yielding her flesh was, the way her breathing stilled and her fingers gripped just that bit tighter on the fur of his robe, and he’d be grinning smugger than the fish boy if he had lips of his own-

    -And then she took the tip of the digit in her mouth and sucked , and his hiss of surprise turned into a choking cough. She squeezed his hand tight while she wait for it to subside, and when it was all over she nibbled on each of his fingertips in turn and finished with a kiss on the palm. She beamed down at him as she draped his arm back over her neck, and he realised his jaw was hanging stupidly slack, but then she cupped his head in her hands and shifted atop him and went straight back to kissing him, searching deep inside his mouth, inviting his tongue into her own, and it didn’t matter so much.

    Her knee was between his legs, thigh rubbing torturously up against him. Her hands roamed his chest beneath the thick furs; cautiously at first, but growing more daring the more obvious his pleasure became, avoiding the sore spots that made him wince and doubling down where she found he liked it. His own hands travelled gingerly over her back and down to her waist, smoothing at the rough fabric of her tunic, trailing down her spine and wondering how many more liberties she’d let him take.

    Her strokes moved lower, slower, to his flanks, his hips, his thighs, and he tried not to buck against her, tried (unsuccessfully) to stop the groans from escaping his throat, tried not to imagine what a sordid mess he must look from her side, six eyelids squeezed shut, mewling and twisting under her every touch.

    “Vatnir,” she murmured, voice rough, breath hot and ragged against his jaw. “Do you want more?”

    His eyes blinked open, met her silver ones and saw no mockery, no cruel trick; just openness and a dash of uncertainty, and gods’ mercy , was she panting?

    “Do you want more?” He fumbled for words, his mouth suddenly very dry. “I’d… I’d like it, if you did.” It sounded pleading and pathetic, even to his own ears, and he cringed.

    “You’re in luck, then,” she laughed, and kissed him once more on the gums, soft and slow.

    She guided his trembling fingers beneath her tunic, shivering at their touch on her burning bare skin; lifted the garment off, and he scrambled to help her. He paused when he reached her breastband, uncertain, but she just shrugged it off, laughing-

    -And Noora was bare to the waist atop him, white curls falling about her shoulders, skin patterned pleasingly with lines and whorls - some godlike got all the luck , he thought, a little bitterly - nipples already hard and pebbled on breasts that looked terribly soft to the touch.

    It seemed to him that she was looking at him expectantly; at least, he thought she was. Hoped she was, and he’d hate to prove a disappointment at this , if nothing else. His hands wandered stiffly over her ribcage, her belly, the strong muscle of her shoulders, and her lips met his mouth again and again, a look of catlike contentment on her face.

    She… did mean for him to touch all of it, yes? That was what baring it meant, surely?

    He cleared his throat, hesitating at the underside of one breast, unsure whether he was meant to ask first or just… go for it.

    Luckily, Noora read his hesitation.

    “You can keep going.” She took his hand in hers and moving it up to cup her firmly, before pressing a kiss just over the ragged edges of his nosehole. “It feels nice.” Warm flesh spilled into his hand, his numb fingertips just barely picking up the rapid drumbeat of Noora’s heart below. That was comforting, if he thought about it; at least he wasn’t the only one.

    He tried rolling a nipple beneath his thumb, was rewarded with a very pleased-sounding hum.

    Well. That worked . His chuckle gurgled wetly in his throat.

    She toyed with the hems of his robe, parting the ragged material.

    “Aren’t you going to undress, too?” she teased, nuzzling her cheek against his. “Or am I to be the only one left bare?”

    “Hn.” It was a confused sound, somewhere between a laugh and a snort. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to, quite that contrary; he’d have shed his robes already, had he the body of a haler man. And she had seen it all before, hadn’t she? Well, maybe not all of it, but enough. And yet… and yet, his body felt spindly and unimpressive in comparison to hers, and there was a sick certainty in the pit of his stomach that another good look at his wounds would be enough to turn her off this whole idea forever. “Sure you want me to?”

    She pulled back, two pearly eyes meeting his three good ones.

    Then she smiled.

    “Vatnir,” she said softly, deliberately, a hand wending its way perilously upwards beneath the coarse fabric, her head bending awkwardly down to nibble at his earlobe. “Have you ever known me to ask for anything I don’t want ?” The hand glided across his thigh, and brushed-

    For the briefest moment, his mind went as blank as a fresh snowfield, and then:

    Frost take it , he thought, struggling to get the robe over his head, cursing when the collar caught on his horns. She sat back on her haunches, helping him tug on the fur. Surely he was a pathetic sight, hungry and wanting at the slightest touch, panting with exertion already, but for a brief, glorious moment, he didn’t care . Didn’t care if he was ugly or repulsive or pitiful, not with her looking at him like that, kissing him, letting him touch her; not with his pulse pounding in his ears and every frayed nerve begging for more ...

    Noora drew him back into her arms, then, and her skin felt boiling against his own, hands and lips stroking so - frustratingly - slowly down the muscles of his arms, across his chest, over his torso, skimming lightly over the bandages (which, at least, were mostly fresh).

    “Don’t believe me? I’ll show you-” she wiped the sweaty hair back from his brow “-just how much-” her hands moved up his back, along the bumps of his spine “-I want it.”

    He squirmed, ticklish, when she mouthed at his visible ribs, laughing merrily, horn only slightly digging in. He writhed, fingers tangling mindlessly in her hair, when she suckled at his collarbone, at the hollow of his throat. And he whimpered , gods help him, ugly and raw, when she bit softly into his nipple, toying at it with her tongue.

    She paused when she reached the mess of his belly; he would’ve grimaced, if that were a thing he could do. Here it comes.

    “Your stomach,” she chewed her lip thoughtfully, and looked him in the eyes. “Does it hurt?”

    “Sometimes,” he admitted. “No more than-” Another coughing fit, damn it; he cringed into the crook of his elbow, while Noora rubbed his back. “-than everything else.” Well, he could hardly blame her for being bothered by it, he supposed. Gods knew she’d dealt gamely enough with everything else. “I can cover it, if you want.”

    He reached for the blankets, but she laid a hand on his wrist, stopping him.

    “No,” she shook her head, sending curls flying. “I want you just as you are, Vatnir.” She grinned at him, and rubbed a thumb along the bottom of his ribcage. “Just needed to know if I should skip that part.”

    “Eh… what part?”

    He had his answer when her touch, her kisses, fell on his belly, snowflake-light against the red and raw skin. It was a strange feeling, hovering just on this side of painful, but parts of him were definitely responding, as she got closer and closer, straining at the cloth of his trousers.

    She noticed, too, grinning as she nudged her fingertips just beneath his belt, teasing him.

    “Can I touch-”

    “Yes!” he groaned, and then, so he didn’t sound quite so desperate, added: “Eh, if you’d like.”

    Her fingers slipped below his waistline, cupping him gently, stroking along the length of him, so slow it ached, her hands so much warmer, so much better than his own, better even than he’d imagined. His breath hissed through clenched teeth, and he groped for her head, mouth mashing wetly against hers, tongue tasting deep inside. He pawed at her breasts again, playing with her nipples, searching for that one spot, that little touch that had made her purr.

    Her free hand touched his jaw as she trailed up to the tip of him, the pad of her thumb running circles over the sensitive head, and he gasped and bucked his hips into her grip, fingers digging reflexively into the soft flesh of her chest. He worried for a second that he might’ve hurt her, but she didn’t complain; just chuckled in her throat as her hand began its slow descent back down his shaft, tracing the veins.

    He lapped at her tongue, her throat, her hardened nipples as she worked him, up and down, picking up the pace until he was grinding himself up into her palm, all shame forgotten. She took his balls in hand, too, feeling them gently, and he grabbed her tit with his teeth, tonguing the peak frantically, wanted to do to her even a little of what she was doing to him.

    There were two very pressing needs occupying the whole of his mind, right now: the first was for him to get off - and if she kept up those hand movements, then that was very likely to happen - and the other was for him to get her off, because some part of his lust-addled brain was still dimly aware that that was important. It was very important, because he wanted her to enjoy it, and because he needed her to enjoy it, and needed to know that she’d enjoyed it, that she wanted him and was right to want him and this wasn’t just a quick pity fuck for poor miserable Vatnir.

    She laughed and undid her belt as he fumbled around in her breeches, desperate not to be the only one heading up and up so quick towards the brink. His questing fingers found tight curls and slick skin beneath, hot and wet and so hot his frozen fingers felt like they were burning, and she gasped and, and moaned at his touch, parted her thighs for him to slip in deeper, search around more. So many interesting folds down here, and each silky and sopping wet on his fingertips, each drawing out new and lovely sighs from her, hands moving erratically over his shaft, and gods how good it would feel to sink inside her, if she’d let him, hear her make those same little noises with him buried up to the hilt, that heat all around him-

    Vatnir almost whined in frustration when he felt her hand withdraw from his cock - not yet not YET I was so CLOSE - but then she tugged his trousers down past his hips, and his makeshift smalls with them, and broke off the kiss to move down his body, hair dragging over his chest, over his belly, hot breath tickling his groin - and it was not a pretty thing, he thought, hardly spared the decay of the rest of him, and he shifted self-conscious under her gaze - and then she gave the tip a lick, and a moan shuddered out of his throat, and she laughed, and took him inside her mouth, and frost take him -

    He would’ve like to say that he lasted a long time. He would’ve liked to say that, but it would be one of the worst of his lies, and there’d been a fair few of those. It was all too much, however, too good - the heat of her mouth, the feel of her lips caressing his shaft, the movement of her tongue up the underside, lazily exploring the head - and he peaked far too soon-

    “Skyt-” he hissed through closed teeth, hips jerking awkwardly, spots dancing at the edge of his vision as he threw his head back, groaning and gasping, barely noticing as his horns scraped against the wall. He couldn’t see her, but her could still feel her mouth hot on him, lapping him up - and soon, far too soon, he felt himself fall limp, the bliss of orgasm rotting away into the shame of the moment.

    A heavy silence followed. Her tongue darted out to dab at a spot of his seed still clinging to her lips, and he wasn’t sure whether that aroused him or just rubbed it in further.

    “Hah,” he let out a bitter, self-deprecating laugh. “Wasn’t much on your end, I suppose.” Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt so much, if he was the one to say it first. “But… thank you. I did like it.” He forced his lipless mouth into the closest semblance of a smile he could manage.

    He made to swing his legs over, pull up his trousers, but a hand on his chest stilled him.

    Noora tilted her head, smiling softly.

    “Are you going somewhere else tonight?”

    “Wh- Of course I’m not!” he spluttered. “Why would you-”

    “Because I’m not done with you, yet.” She took in hand the flaccid, oversensitive length of him, ever so softly, and he had to grind his teeth together to stop the whine from escaping.

    “Oh… That’s, that’s good…”

    And then she trailed a line of sucking kisses along the inside of his thigh, and drew him back into her arms.

    It was different this time, slow, unhurried, no peak to scale yet, just enjoying the feeling of skin against skin, her mouth at his neck, the way her breasts squished against the bony plane of his chest.

    It was easier, too, now that he had some idea of what she might like, his teeth chewing at her ear, tongue licking up the hollow of her neck and the lines of her throat as she squirmed happily, lapping inside her mouth as she relaxed her jaw with a sigh. He clutched at her hips as he bit down on a nipple - easier to do it gentle, when the need wasn’t quite so pressing - and she arched her back with a drawn-out groan.

    She had a ticklish spot by her belly button, and that was nice too; didn’t seem to mind the press of his gums and teeth into soft flesh.

    She kicked off her boots, shucked her breeches, legs open, laughing, and he could take the hint. He might not have lips, but he had fingers and teeth and tongue and by the gods, he was going to use them as best he could.

    He settled between her thighs, careful not to scratch her with the smaller horns, and set to licking, nibbling, tasting her; and gods she tasted good, far better than his could’ve, and only getting wetter with each swipe of his tongue, each rub of a silky fold.

    He felt fumbling, clumsy, but she wriggled beneath him anyway, breathing ragged, fingers twisting in the tufts of his hair, “Gods, yes, lick me, Vatnir…” . Encouraged, he pressed in close, drank deep of her, and that set her to keening, legs twitching, clutching wildly at his horns and pulling him in as she ground herself against his face, his nosehole full of the scent of her, her wetness running down his chin-

    It was working, so he kept doing it, chest throbbing with smug satisfaction at the way her fingertips dug into his scalp, the way her muscles strained to keep from slipping over the edge, at each breathy “ ah …” and “more…” and “ Vatnir …” that slipped from her lips.

    A hand on his shoulder stopped him.

    “Are you…” she panted. “Are you ready?”

    Her eyes flicked down to his groin and then back up to his eyes, a coy smile spreading across her face.

    Yes. Oh, yes.

    He nodded, one hand gingerly holding her hip, the other resting on her thigh, squeezing uncertainly.

    “Can I-” He swallowed hard. “That is, may I-”

    She tilted her head, an impish smile upon her face, her chest heaving, her cheeks bright and flushed with that soft lunar glow.

    “My, what is it that you want, dear Vatnir?” Her hand crept down between her legs, teasing herself with feather-light touches right in front of him, fingertips glistening with wetness, and that… that wasn’t fair .

    “Isn’t it obvious?” he grumbled. His cock must be as stiff as a spear-shaft by now, for frost’s sake.

    “Perhaps.” Noora took his face in her hands, lips gliding across his bony cheek, the lobe of his ear. “But I want to hear you say it.” Her lips, her teeth, grazed his throat, her fingers stirring the coarse white curls below his belly. “I want to feel every inch of you, Vatnir. As deep as you can get.” He groaned as they circled the base of him. “I want to make you come, again and again.” She pulled her head back, looking him in the eyes with a gentle smile. “And I want to make you happy. So tell me, elskan mín: what do you want? What would you have of me?”

    “I’d…” His head was swimming, hands smoothing over her soft flesh. “Well, I’d-I’d have you.” He gave her thigh an experimental nudge, and she spread it further open for him, smiling as she caught his gaze, brushing hair from her sweat-slick brow. That made him bolder. “I’d like to have you. And, eh…” He kneaded circles in her thigh, gaze flicking between her face and the tantalising wetness lower down, so ready for him. “If you were to… make those sounds again?”

    She wrapped her arms around him with a grin.

    “I think that can be arranged.”

    She leaned back onto the mattress, laughing, pulling him atop her - “ Easier for you to set the pace, this way, ” she explained, almost apologetically, “and you can move better, if something hurts.” - and then she wrapped her arms around his neck, and he could feel himself nudging against her entrance, so close ; and gods , she was so wet, all for him…

    “Do you feel loved, yet?” she asked, scanning his face carefully, taking him by surprise.

    “I-” The words choked in his throat, annoyingly. He… supposed he did, come to think of it. She had held him, and touched him, without any outward sign of disgust. No, not just had , but wanted to ; could’ve drawn nearly any man or woman on this boat in for a celebratory tumble, but she’d chosen him , kissed him , held him close, and he supposed it wasn’t just his for his stunning good looks.

    No; it might be mad of him to consider it, mad of her to feel it, but there was something else lurking in her gaze, in the way her thumb brushed over his cheek (which felt oddly damp); something which didn’t belong to Rymrgand, or Ondra, or Eothas, or any of the gods and their whims, belonged just to the two of them, and the comfortable quiet of the cabin.

    “Ja…” His voice came out a groan, but it didn’t matter, because then her lips where on his mouth, her teeth grazing his jaw, her body moving against his, rubbing her groin languidly against his, kissing his cock with quite another set of lips until he was practically sobbing for her to let him inside, let him fuck her already…

    “Good…” she murmured. “Come here, ástin mín…”, and then he was pushing into her, and she was wrapping her legs around him, hips hiking up to envelop him, and it was so hot and soft and good that his fingers clawed at the bedsheets, afraid he might spill himself into her right then and there.

    He thrust into her slowly, in and out, gasping as he tried to keep a consistent pace, nipping and tonguing desperately at her lips, her collarbone, her breasts. She matched his rhythm easily, rocking her hips in time with his, thighs open wide, suckling at every bit of exposed flesh he put within reach of her hot mouth, sighing happily. Each shift inside her, no matter how slight, built up the pressure, bringing him closer and closer to the precipice.

    “You feel so good , Vatnir.” Her teeth grazed the cartilage of his ear. “Have you any idea?”

    How could he? But her words spurred him on to faster movements; she liked this, liked him inside her, met each thrust with one of hers because she wanted more of this.

    One arm curled over his neck, anchoring her; the other snuck down her belly, teasing herself just above the point he entered her. He made a clumsy effort to follow her movements, hand over hers, fingers twining together and toying with the swollen little nub; wanted him to be the one to bring her off, prove that he could, hear his name moaned like before.

    It took a bit of fumbling, a bit of gritting his teeth when the pleasure threatened to overwhelm him, but he got what he wanted at last, rubbing his thumb over the slick little pearl. Her muscles tensed, her back arched, her hips thrust rapidly against him, grasping onto his one good buttock and pulling him in as deep into her as he would, He heard her call his name - a definite “ Nnh- Vatnir, ja! ” amidst the incoherent groans - and felt himself swell even more, if such a thing were possible.

    No time to celebrate, though, his own breath coming harsh from his lungs, and finally, finally , he let himself go, sheathing himself inside her again and again as he tumbled gladly over the edge, fingers digging into her hip as he spent his barren seed inside her, tried a ragged gasp of “N-Noora…” in her ear, just in case she liked that as much as he did.

    They lay there, panting, for a while, her eyes open just a crack as she clutched him to her breast, stroking his back. He stayed there atop her, inside her even as he softened, utterly worn out but, for once, happy .

    She rolled him gently to the side, pressing kisses on his forehead, at the damp corners of his eyes, as his fingers played dazedly with her hair, ran over the lines of her jaw.

    “That was nice.” She snuggled up against his chest, holding him tight, careful not to poke him with her horn; although, the way he felt now, she could’ve run him through and he’d hardly have noticed.

    “Mmn,” he mumbled, arms tightening around her, curling up against her warmth, feeling suddenly very drowsy. Was it all right, to just go to sleep afterwards, or was that poor manners? He wouldn’t want to seem ungrateful. “Dhakklát…” He managed a nuzzle on the crown of her head, behind the horn.

    “Stay here tonight?” Noora twisted in his embrace, looked him in the eyes, pressed the glowing crescent of her horn gingerly against his forehead for the span of a few heartbeats. “Let me hold you some more; I like that.”

    The Beast of Winter himself would have to drag him away, Vatnir thought sleepily, and he nuzzled against her cheek as she laughed and pulled the blankets other the pair of them.

    “Sleep well, Vatnir,” she grinned as she cuddled back onto his chest, so snug and warm beside him, far better than any furs or roaring fire.

    “Sofa vel, Noora mín.” His head felt so heavy on the pillow, heavy against hers, and it wasn’t long before the tides of sleep washed him away…

    And when he woke up in the morning, joints stiff and muscles sore with exertion, she was still with him, limbs tangled with his, hair a mess, and a soft, happy smile on her face. And he lingered there a while, until she woke up, and kissed him good morning, and in far too soon they would have to get up out of bed and into the day and maybe face a knowing wink from a friend or two, but… in a little while. Not just now.