Five days had passed since Andren had departed the station, and Mír was impatient.
In fact, she was quickly passing irritable, verging on anger.
With a controlled sigh, she pushed these emotions down, packing them into a small space inside her chest. She had lived without Andren at her side for many years before their serendipitous meeting and lasted an entire month soon after that when their separation had been a necessary evil.
She could survive this parting. For god’s sake, it was nearly over.
But the last conference Andren had attended was four years ago. For two long days, Mír had not been happy then either. And when the Kazir had started a skirmish along the Empire’s rim, Mír decided that it was time for Andren to come home, so she sent the most trusted of her Honor Guard to retrieve her three days early.
Things had not gone smoothly after that. Mír did not take kindly to the silent treatment, but Andren would not yield. Ultimately, Andren extracted a promise from Mír. The next time she was to go to a conference, she would stay for the entire event. No matter what.
The timing until now had gone in Mír’s favor, and Andren had been unable to attend for this reason or that. But this year, Mír had no excuse. Things with the Kazir were sewn up. The peace was preserved. She felt uneasy, but a promise was a promise. And it was possible Andren would have talked her to death had she not relented.
The conference had come to a close, fortunately. Mír had managed the five endless days without killing anyone, which was something to be proud of.
Now, Andren was expected within minutes. As Mír had requested, her lieutenants communicated their progress every hour on the hour during the time it had taken for her consort to travel between Halon and the center of the Empire.
Of course, she had also spoken with Andren each day over the communications relay, but it was not the same as seeing her. It was not the same as touching that soft skin, or feeling the steadiness of muscle and bone in her arms at night. Listening to Andren as she prattled on about the fuel cells had been tiring, but Mír felt great pride at the reception Andren’s comrades had offered. Andren had always had the respect of botanists around the sector, but that was initially because of her position as consort. Andren had finally overcome such judgments, and was appreciated for her own merit rather than her status.
Mír checked the feeds again. Nothing new. She drummed blunt fingernails against the desk. God help Doriantus if anything befell her lover. She would tear him limb from limb. She would disembowel every one of the men she’d assigned to protect Andren if a single hair on her head-
“Empress, Lady Andren’s shuttle has arrived,” said a disembodied voice over the intercom. “She is disembarking at this moment, and will meet you at your quarters post-haste.”
“It’s about time,” Mír muttered. “Any problems?”
“None, Your Majesty. Lady Andren is… as she always is. Aside from being rather more enthusiastic than usual.”
Mír’s lips tipped into a tiny smile, which she wiped away quickly. The rest of Andren’s excursion must have been successful. “Freyda, please see to it that the feast is delivered at seventh hour. And be sure to include a double portion of that… cacao thing Andren raved over last week, with the crème fraiche.” Andren’s sweet tooth had exploded since conceiving, and Mír wanted to be sure it was satisfied. She would never hear the end of it otherwise.
“Of course, Majesty.”
Mír would have to inquire if Andren had grown enough cacao to last the entire pregnancy. Then again she had half the galaxy at her fingertips. Surely there were enough beans somewhere to manage Andren until their child was born.
Mír made her way through the long halls of the station. It was silent; she felt only the gentle vibration of the hyperdrives of the ships docked in the bay. One of those ships was the Scylla, the shuttle Andren had traveled on. Mír inhaled deeply, and quickened her step.
The door to her quarters hissed open, but Andren had yet to arrive. She bit back a curse. She herself had scheduled a drink with Carel’s new stationmaster, Lembaw, at eighth hour, even knowing of Andren’s imminent return. It was inconvenient, but it was for the best. Besides, she was not so weak that she could not be apart from Andren a few more hours without expiring. Perhaps just one hour, she reasoned. Lembaw would likely not have enough conversational skill to last more than three quarters of an hour without having palpitations in her presence. It would be quick, she told herself. Andren would wait for her, and Mír could return to their quarters in no time at all.
At that thought, the doors hissed open a second time, and Andren stood in the doorway, her expression ecstatic. Next to her hulked Doriantus, who had an enormous pack on his back, while his arms were full of plant specimens of varying sizes and shapes. Next to him stood Armande, who had apparently hauled a sizable tree on his own rather than finding a carrier to push it on. Men and their pride. She would have a talk with Armande later about such silliness. But she had no time to speak of it now, what with Andren rushing into her arms and kissing her with a passion that she did not anticipate. Those sweet lips were eager, sucking at her mouth with purpose, and Mír’s stomach lurched. Her eyes started to slide shut, but her two lieutenants remained frozen in place. Andren was making quite a bit of noise in her zeal, and Mír forced herself to break the kiss to wave the men away. “That’s all,” she said hoarsely. Oh well. They were aware of Mír’s voracious appetite, but Andren’s was not so well known. Yet.
Andren’s teeth closed sharply on Mír’s earlobe, and Mír felt it at the juncture of her thighs. “Get out,” she repeated, and the men dropped the plants at the entryway and nearly ran out the door.
Finally Mír returned to Andren’s lips, which parted easily. Her tongue swept into Mír’s mouth, delving deep, and Mír grabbed her hips to hold her still. But Andren would not remain in place, her fingers moving to Mír’s belt and unhooking it in one smooth motion. Seconds later, the girl shoved her pants down to her knees, one hand unerringly finding its way to her cunt. Mír was stunned to find herself already slick, and she swallowed against a dry throat.
This was out of the ordinary. Mír was hard-pressed to recall a time during which Andren had been so… aggressive. Yet she was not displeased. Quite the contrary, in fact.
Andren began to shuffle them both backward, Mír moving unsteadily, ankles still tangled in her pants. But Andren guided her up the few steps to the enormous bed without incident, and to Mír’s continued astonishment, she pushed her down and tore at the buttons on her vest. The garment opened, followed by the white shirt she wore beneath it, similarly rent in two. Andren’s face was red, her lips full and dark as they attacked Mír’s breast. Mír’s clitoris throbbed in sympathy, crying out for attention, and Andren’s desperate voice electrified her. She moaned continuously, deep in her throat, while her mouth worked its magic. Nimble hands were busy at Mír’s other breast, pulling and twisting a rock hard nipple. Mír’s eyes widened; words, for once, failed her.
The change was as thrilling as it was surprising. Usually Mír was in charge, and a willing Andren followed her down whatever path she might choose. Andren never said no unless she felt pain, and Mír had discovered her lover’s threshold years before. Tonight, Mír welcomed this variation. To no one else would she have so freely submitted. But Andren was not like anyone else. Andren, whose delightful body was perfection, whose kiss was irresistible as ever. For Mír, this would not be a burden.
Andren’s mouth soon left her breast with an indelicate popping sound, but she licked a hot line directly between Mír’s legs. Her tongue unfurled like a whip, and Mír’s thighs tensed, trapped by her trousers, and by Andren’s arms holding her down. Then Andren’s kiss reached deep inside her, searching, always searching. Mír tried to bite back a cry, yet the sound still echoed in the enormous room. Andren simply pressed her mouth and chin harder against her, wild with it, out of control, and Mír grabbed at her hair and pulled her closer. She yearned to open wider, muscles straining against their bonds. “Ah,” Mír called, “Andren!” Her voice was sharp, and apparently it drove Andren on to even greater heights, because her tongue moved faster, and one hand disappeared out of Mír’s sight. Mír wanted to scream when she heard the whine that left Andren’s lips as she licked her frantically; it meant Andren was coming, powerfully, like a wave that would drown her, that would drown them both. Mír exploded then, head snapping back with a force that made her see stars.
She shivered, still clenching in aftershocks when Andren clambered on top of her, seeking her mouth. Andren’s face was covered with her juices, but Mír kissed her anyway, until she realized that Andren was not yet calm. She moved against Mír’s thigh almost unconsciously, fully clothed. “Oh, Mír,” Andren whispered when she broke away for breath. “Mír, Mír, Mír,” she chanted, never stopping, eyes rolling back in her head.
Mír panted in excitement, watching this unrecognizable creature writhe above her, desire swelling within her once more. Mír sat up quickly to pull the dark green shift over Andren’s head, and then the silky undergarment beneath it. Her breasts were larger than usual, as was her belly, just starting to round with child. Mír’s heart murmured something unfamiliar to her, something of care and devotion, but Andren’s skin was too hot, her own thigh too wet with passion for her to interpret what it said. Mír fell forward, her mouth inhaling one breast, and Andren shrieked painfully in her ear. Hands gripped her head, and Andren begged incoherently for more, for mercy, for Mír.
But as wild as Andren might have seemed, she wriggled away and reached between Mír’s legs, soaked with sweat and come. "Can I?" she asked, and at Mír's nod she shoved three fingers inside. Mír flinched, her flesh over-sensitive but welcoming. Finally Mír freed one foot from her trousers and opened herself up, arching backward, and landing once more on the bed when Andren pushed her down. Now Andren hovered above her, hand thrusting in and out, frictionless, and only then did Mír realize that Andren was not wearing any underclothes beneath her skirt. She could feel the scrape of fine hairs, unimpeded by cotton or silk. Mír heaved up on her elbows, but Andren’s hand was against her chest, keeping her down, while her fingers played and pressed inside. And still she spoke Mír’s name, over and over, sobbing with it, so desperate for release, for relief. The tumult grew within her, and Mír began to buck and clench, eyes pinned open in anticipation of the coming eruption.
And erupt Andren did, howling Mír’s name, as Mír came in tandem with her, just as it had always been since the very beginning. It was wet, and hot, and exhausting, and by the time Mír caught her breath, Andren had flopped over bonelessly at her side, hand nestled in the flood between Mír’s legs.
Mír lay motionless, wheezing as her heart slowed. For a few moments, her eyes closed, and she drifted in a pleasant haze somewhere between sleep and waking. But when Andren began to murmur, she roused, lugging Andren’s insensate form to a more comfortable position. Only then did Andren open her eyes. “Mír,” she said, as though recognizing her after a long time away. Mír almost expected her to ask, What are you doing here?
“Hello, Andren,” Mír said.
The softness of Andren’s gaze was a balm. “I missed you. A lot.”
“Really,” Mír replied. “I would not have guessed.”
“I think it’s something about the baby,” she murmured. “I think the baby missed you, and that made me miss you more.” Andren closed her eyes again, turning on her side. “And maybe my hormones are a little funny too, like the doctor said, and the trip was so long. After I finished my article for the review on the way home, I didn’t have anything to do except think about you.”
“Mm,” Mír said, stroking her sweaty forehead.
“I was just so… so hot. You were the only thing that could cool me down.”
“And now? Are you feeling better?”
Andren’s eyelids drooped lazily. “Oh, yes. Much better. But I think I’d like to take my skirt off.”
“Of course,” Mír said quietly. “Here.” She helped Andren up, removing the last of her clothes until she was naked on the duvet.
“That’s nice,” Andren said as she lay back down, already hovering near sleep. “I’m not hungry yet, but I have to eat soon. For the baby, you know.”
“I know. Dinner will arrive at seventh hour.”
“I just need to rest here for a few minutes.” She giggled a little, and swallowed. “Gosh. I don’t know what happened. I didn’t hurt you did I?” Brown eyes blinked, rapid and unfocused, in Mír’s direction.
“No, Andren. You didn’t hurt me.”
“Whew. That’s good. I’m sorry, anyway. Something just came over me.”
Mír licked her lips. “You must not be sorry for this,” she said firmly. “Never for this.”
That stirred Andren into momentary lucidity. “Oh, right. Okay. I won’t be. But still… I don’t know what came over me.”
Mír thought she would not mind if whatever it was came over Andren again. Repeatedly.
Moments later, Andren was asleep, her beautiful mouth silent at last. She breathed steadily, and Mír touched her belly once before covering her with a blanket.
Leaning over, Mír hit the intercom button. “Freyda,” she said.
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“Please contact Stationmaster Lembaw and cancel our outing. I will reschedule for tomorrow.”
The intercom went quiet. Mír lay down beside Andren, and closed her eyes.