She says it distractedly, thinking already foggy from the way Cardan's lips are pressing down her neck; his clever fingers making short work of the ties on her dress now that they are back in the royal chambers. In a few hours they'll have to be back in the war room, revising battle plans, trying to account for every contingency.
But even under dire threat, the Living Council has grudgingly adjourned for much needed rest. Tired minds make for dull plotting, and they need to be at their sharpest to try to anticipate Madoc and the Court of Teeth.
It's staggering to think of how little she used to sleep before. How eager she is to go to bed now.
“You had, you know,” Jude gasps, fumbling with the golden buttons on his doublet. Stupid, finicky designs- doesn't he know he's beautiful enough without all the complicated gilding?
He's deliberately cultivated an appreciation for diversion, but he's not interested in being diverted from her, from this. “...Had what?” he replies absently, his dark eyes transfixed momentarily by her bared breasts before he fastens his mouth on a nipple and she moans and clutches at him reflexively.
“...made me …scream before,” she manages.
His eyes gleam smugly, his tongue flicking over the other nipple in that wicked way he knows she likes, stoking the ache that has her arching herself against him again. “...Oh? I don't know that those were screams, exactly.”
She shakes her head. It doesn't matter anyway- it was just a silly joke. She just wants to have him; to be both plunderer and plundered all at once, both of them surrendering all pretense of control.
But he suddenly stops cold.
And from the stricken guilt on Cardan's face she realizes exactly what it is he remembers- how she'd cut off the sound by biting her lip so hard it had bled. How she'd struggled and fought not to give them the satisfaction, blazing with furious resentment.
How like herself to ruin a perfectly wonderful moment.
“That's not what I meant! Cardan!”
He's wary and somber as he regards her and she shakes her head urgently. “Forget that! Be with me now,” she demands, pressing a kiss to his lips and the side of his mouth quirks before he kisses her back again.
But he cups her close and kisses her with deliberate gentleness, as if trying to put a balm over the memory, before she whimpers with frustrated passion and deepens the kiss with renewed urgency.
Jude decides not to say anything for the next few minutes- her actions can't be misconstrued, can't be taken as possible lies or barbs. So she tries to tell him how she wants him in the way she presses kisses up his bare chest, pulls their remaining clothing off impatiently, shudders with pleasure and arches into his hands. How she trusts him with how she pulls him atop her in bed once she's naked and exposed, on her back, legs spread in surrender. How much she actually adores him in the way she strokes him to please and tantalize, the way she drinks deep his kisses and clutches him close.
She's still so new to the act that it still stretches and hurts when he thrusts inside, but she's familiar enough with pain.
Wanting Cardan has always hurt. And it's nothing to the pleasure he now gives her- deep, drugging and potent, while the pain eases faster with each coupling.
In fact, there's barely a twinge this time as he sinks deep, and then long minutes where she's not thinking of the noises she's making --they're both making-- because all she can do is feel.
It's so good. Utter bliss, and yet somehow building towards something even sweeter, even more wonderful. She wants to do this with him forever.
But it's impossible to resist the ecstasy that finally overtakes her, and he follows a bare instant later, just as overcome, her name a shattered thing on his lips as they cling to each other.
And then they both lie there shuddering, flesh damp and weak and euphoric, riding out the residual sparks in an intimate tangle.
Still, once she's coherent again, she tries to explain.
“...I meant …when you startled me. I didn't know you were capable of sneaking like one of the Court of Shadows. And your fingers were cold.”
His thumb, tracing lazy circles on the leg she's still got wrapped around him, stills for a moment and he inhales. And then he smiles with a hint of his usual sardonic wickedness, turning to meet her eye. “Well, my darling nemesis, I had to do something with my time while you were running my kingdom.”
Jude rolls her eyes and shakes her head, but she has to laugh. There's still a thoughtful shadow in his eyes, but she thinks he accepts that there really was no malice meant.
One piece at a time.
Usually it's her that wakes him from his dreams of endless wandering in the dark; venomous and alone. Who shakes him awake from his weeping and then eases him back to sleep, whether with loving reassurance or passionate sex or both.
It's bewildering to be shaken out of her own nightmare, with a scream lodged in her throat and Cardan bent over her worried and sleep tousled instead of monstrously serpentine, unrecognizable except for his eyes.
She struggles against the paralyzing horror, trying to blink away endless replays of agonized resolution while swinging that sword; his blood splashing over her hot and coppery, and how bitterly she'd hated herself for telling him too late; for that final, ultimate betrayal...
“Never again,” she gasps, burying her nose into his chest, convulsively inhaling the scent of his skin and clutching at his shoulders. “I love you. I love you.”
He wraps his arms around her, murmuring and stroking her hair soothingly and somehow that triggers tears to well up, as if surging from some untapped wellspring of grief. And Jude sobs, completely unlike the armed and armored queen she'd been that day.
There's solace though, in his arms; even in the way his tail has curled around her, the soft tip of it brushing against the small of her back.
“Shhh! Jude! Jude. It was only a nightmare. A false figment of the mind,” he murmurs, and she shakes her head, disconsolate, trying to make him understand.
“...It was memory, not dream. …Your head falling to my feet. Your blood in my mouth...” She can still practically taste it and it's probably lucky that Cardan woke her when he did, or her shrieks would have brought the Royal Guard bursting in. “I didn't even fight when battle broke out. …All I could do was scream next to your body. …It was awful. …But I killed you.”
He closes his eyes, and when he speaks he's ruefully solemn. “...I had hoped you would stop me. And you have to know how glad I am that you did,” he points out. “...Glad also that you didn't want me dead, as contradictory as that is,” he adds with a touch of his usual humor.
She nods reluctantly before rubbing her cheek against his chest, inhaling shakily. His heart is beating under her ear; he's warm and real in her arms, in his bed that will be theirs officially once she's crowned. Still...
“Never again,” she repeats insistently. She doesn't think her heart could bear it.
“I should hope not,” he says. “Surely we've both had enough of your blades at my throat for a lifetime.”
She smiles despite herself, despite knowing it's an evasion instead of a promise. “...Not funny, Cardan.”
“And yet you're smiling again,” he points out, the tip of his tail twitching.
She sighs and relaxes against him- her panicked response is fading, at any rate; heartbeat and breathing slowing back to normal. She hasn't been held and comforted like this since her parents were alive, and it's lovely even though he can't make the well-meaning assurances about the future they could.
They both know that he has to trust her to do what's horribly necessary all over again if the need arises.
The same way she trusts him.
She frowns when she notices marks on the skin near his shoulders though, and her eyes go round when she realizes they're from her own fingers.
“I hurt you just now, didn't I?”
Cardan glances down and then shakes his head dismissively. “You were distraught. I'm sure they'll fade in a few hours. And if my attendants notice while they're dressing me, I can always tell them how much I enjoy it when you're rough while you're riding me,” he adds wickedly.
Jude snorts and shoves him, wishing she could stop the flush creeping up her cheeks. He absolutely would-- and does. But she presses an apologetic kiss to the bruises anyway. “I thought we were done hurting each other. I'm sorry.”
Cardan gives her a look of consternation before he frowns and looks away. “...I've never apologized for any of the harm I've done to you.”
That makes her blink in surprise and frown herself before she shakes her head determinedly. “...And you don't have to. All such debts were paid in full with one worm-eaten and scabrous gift.”
Cardan stills, his face unguarded and tender as he regards her, though his lips twitch into a teasing smile. “...And here I believed you such a clever bargainer.”
Jude smiles and stretches to press a kiss to his lips. “How can you doubt it? The High King himself freely offered me comfort just now though he's had my heart for ages.”
He laughs aloud at that, and then rolls them over so he can offer her a different kind of comfort-- which she accepts and returns just as freely.
“Sometimes you frustrate me so much that I could scream! You should have told me earlier!”
Emotions flicker across Cardan's face- cold annoyance chased by an odd sort of bemusement before coming back to dismay. “You can hardly expect me to remember all the minutiae that has and hasn't been reported to you during your absences! So I spoke to prevent you from erring!”
Jude exhales raggedly, pacing. “We need to act as a united front and if you're withholding information-”
His eyes flare. “I wasn't. It was an oversight, nothing more!” His eyes narrow. “What is truly troubling you?”
Jude takes a deep breath to deny it before she hesitates, faltering. “...That my decisions now have to be unassailable,” she admits.
Cardan tilts his head thoughtfully and arches a brow as he considers. “...Which never troubled you as Seneschal because all decrees and decisions were passed off as my choices,” he states, obviously rather amused, “but now the Folk realize you are truly their queen. Well, fear not: they did swear to you, if you recall.”
She shakes her head. “You have chosen me as your queen; as has the land and the rulers of every court. But individual choices can still vary- you know this. Some, like Madoc, will never bow to a mortal. They've spent millennia believing in our inferiority- enslaving humans, tormenting them. Accepting that one now holds equal power to their High King is anathema, so they're keenly looking for any and every sign of weakness. Some of my spies have heard whispers.”
Cardan frowns. “Then they're fools, just as I was. You've proven yourself worthy, to all those who truly matter.”
She sits on the end of their bed, flopping back wearily with a sigh. “...I can't help but worry that this might be one of those landslides that is added to one grudging pebble at a time. So I'm trying to divert as many of those unsatisfied stones as I can. Keep them from judging me inferior. Which... is probably impossible,” she admits.
“Then we'll face the landslide together, as we do everything,” Cardan says, with an arrogant assurance she envies. “There's no sense on dwelling on it now- you had little gift for prophecy in our lessons, if I recall. Actually... you've reminded me of how I might divert you...”
And though the High King of Elfhame doesn't kneel for anybody, he moves to kneel before her, which startles Jude so much that she sits up on her elbows.
He smirks as he flips up her skirts, sliding knowing fingers up her thighs and expertly pulling down her lacy underthings.
“Not that I don't enjoy the sounds you make when I'm inside you. But there's one act I've been meaning to try,” he says, before he bends his head.
At first Jude can barely breathe from the shocking intimacy of what he's doing. All she can do is gasp and cry out the unexpected intensity of it as he laves and laps and sucks. And if she thought the filthy, wet noises were loud when they coupled, they seem even more lewd now that she's the only one being aroused into a frenzy.
Or maybe not- Cardan's obviously pleased from the way his tail is lashing back and forth. And when she peers down at him, his eyes gleam wickedly from between he legs before he slides one of his fingers into her.
She buckles right off the bed with a keening wail- he's still relentlessly sucking at her and it's too much, it's too good, she's going to-
Stars explode before her eyes and through her body, and though he slows the pumping of his finger and gentles the swirling movements of his tongue as she shudders and moans, he doesn't stop.
And Jude lets her head fall back when the pleasure starts to build again. She doesn't care how he knows how to do this. Breaking for him like this is glorious. He's glorious. Everything is glorious.
In fact, she screams when he adds another finger to send her flying again. And again.
“...I told you I'd like hearing you scream,” he reminds her smugly when he finally climbs on top of her. She's still shuddering and dazed with ecstasy, but she weakly huffs a laugh.
“You gloating toad,” she gasps, pulling him close for an appreciative kiss, moaning when he slides himself home.
“Yes, my delicious wife?” he groans, almost as if he's in pain.
“I hate you so much,” she sighs happily.
He doesn't reply for long moments as he thrusts hungrily, rather overcome with his own pleasure. But he finally manages to gasp, “Liar.”
He's absolutely right, and she loves that he knows it.