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breathe again

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Musa was fed up with sitting around, twiddling her thumbs while everyone else did something actually productive with their time. With feeling useless.

It wasn’t born out of some warped sense of duty like Bloom, nor of a desire to prove herself, like Terra. It was simply that Musa didn’t like the idea of being able to do absolutely nothing when the school was inevitably attacked again. She wanted at least some semblance of control, no matter how fragile. Needed it.

She didn’t have to sense a burned one’s feelings to know it was going to kill her, but if she could swing a sword properly, or at least outrun it, she might stand a chance at living to see another day. Of not standing there, soaking up her friends’ horror while she did nothing to stop them from dying.

Rules, traditions, and born-into roles be damned; she was going to learn how to defend herself.

The desire had been stewing in her for months now, but tonight more than ever she needed a distraction from her own emotions almost as much as everyone else’s. Her relationship, the best and most normal part of her life for some time, had finally slipped away from her.

The distance between them had been growing, spreading like a disease for weeks. Talk to me, she’d ordered Sam that evening, when it became too much for her to ignore. So they’d talked.

It turned out that when the world went to hell, the absence of chaos wasn’t enough. It was suffocating all on its own; infuriating when he seemed to feel nothing while she was feeling everything.

So here she was, wandering the grounds with one of the wooden practice swords she’d carried off from the specialist training yard earlier in the day. It turned out that since she wasn’t capable of blasting burned ones to smithereens, no one really cared what she did with her training days. At least, not unless they wanted to use her as a spy.

Musa was far from stupid enough to go beyond the barrier when there was no guarantee a much stronger fairy than her wouldn’t be gutted by what was on the other side. She lingered by the specialist pond, just outside the entrance of the school so any professors roaming the halls wouldn’t give her a detention for being out of her suite after hours.

She wished the practice dummies the specialists used were still in the yard instead of stowed away in the shed. Better yet, she wished she had a sparring partner, but she wasn’t in the mood for being laughed at, or told she needed to go work on her channeling instead.

This would simply have to do, for now, she thought, as she gave a few experimental slashes. Perhaps she could con one of the girls into joining her later on; Aisha was athletic, and might be a good option.

Musa swung the wooden sword again, imagining a shadowy enemy lunging just out of reach. It still felt wrong in her arms, but the growing ache in her biceps felt like breathing again.

There was a reason why she had loved dancing so much. When there was nothing but her, her aching body, and the next set of steps, it was possible to drown out the hum of everybody’s else’s emotions, at least for a moment. She treasured those moments, just as she hoped to treasure these.

Any other time, she would have felt him before she heard him, but she was so enraptured in her thrown together routine that she didn’t realize she had company until a slither of laughter permeated the night air.

“What the fuck is this?”

It was Riven, hanging by a pillar like some sort of overgrown bat waiting to swoop on his prey. His hood was slung over his hair, blending him in with the night so that if she hadn’t been looking for him, she wouldn’t have even spotted him.

Of fucking course it was Riven. Ever since Sky and Bloom made things official, he always seemed to be there, lingering on the periphery of her life with some snarky comment. He’d made things right with Sky, Bloom reluctantly insisted, and they should give him a chance to keep them that way.

Musa knew this was true, because she was physically incapable of not knowing. His sincerity, his regret, was palpable even underneath the prickliest of his edges.

The fact that she understood him better than she particularly cared to did not leave her any more eager for his company. She pointed the sword at him, threateningly, wishing it at least had a sharper edge when his smirk widened.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Musa sneered. “Move along. It’s none of your business.”

Riven pushed off the pillar, sauntering towards her. The subtle scent of weed drifted to her nostrils, but he didn’t feel as happy, as careless, as he did when he was truly riding a high.

“But why would I, when I’ve got a free show?” He let his eyes hang on her longer than he should have, just the way he always did. A chill that had nothing to do with the temperature ran across Musa’s skin.

Judgment. That’s what he was feeling. Underlined with a sharp hint of amusement, and she knew he meant for her to feel it.

He tended to do that. To focus on one powerful emotion whenever her attention was on him in any capacity, as if he could prove to himself that he could keep her away from the things he wanted hidden. He couldn’t, not fully, but it certainly helped.

She could tell Riven wanted to say something else, but she beat him to it. “If you tell me I fight like a girl—“

“You do fight like a girl,” he cut her off, leaning forwards, like he was daring her to try to slice him with the wooden sword. The tip nearly brushed his chin. “One who doesn’t know what the fuck she’d doing.”

Musa lowered the sword, just an inch. It wasn’t as fun when he didn’t quiver. “Funny. I don’t remember asking for your opinion, do I?”

“That why you’re out here in the middle of the night? Breaking curfew again? You’re embarrassed for people to see you?”

Musa raised her chin, giving him a pointed once over. He was breaking curfew every bit as much as she was, and he had to be a least a few notches above her on the ticking time bomb to expulsion. She sometimes wondered if maybe that wasn’t what he was halfway hoping for.

“I could ask you the same thing.”

Riven’s lips twisted into a sneer. “See, but the difference is I don’t care what people think,” he lied. She knew he was lying, because there was a swell of discomfort he tried to brush aside. “You do.”

There was a pause. Musa hated the way he was looking at her, like he could see right through her. That was her job, as much as she sometimes resented it.

She forced an ugly, plastic smile. “Nice chat, but I’m done. Thanks.”

When she spun around, slashing through the air again, she imagined Riven’s face in front of her. His twisted amusement grasped at her back, and she slashed harder.

The feeling didn’t subside. She paused, shoulders squared as she prepared to tell him off again, to maybe dredge up one of his poorly hidden emotions she normally tried to avoid out of respect. That always sent him stalking off when all else failed.

She was surprised when the air behind her heated, and something brushed against her leg. His foot nudged hers, forcing her to fall into a wider stance to avoid tripping.

“If you’re hoping to do any damage with that sword, you better start with a wider stance.” His breath kissed the expanse of skin just below her ear.

She froze. Her mind had gone utterly blank, the only thing she could focus on the heat in her veins. Before she could string together the concept of whacking him over the head with her sword, he was gone.

Musa held out the sword again, experimentally. She hated herself for noticing that the balance of her body already felt more at ease with her legs braced differently, less like she was going to fall over.

Musa’s arms felt like noodles the next morning, which was good. Her legs and core remained relatively solid, which was probably bad. It seemed like a proper sword-wielding workout should utilize her entire body. At least, when she had danced a proper routine, she knew she’d done it well when she woke up feeling like she’d been hit by a truck.

“Not to make things weird,” Terra said, which was a sure guarantee she was in fact about to make things very weird. Musa could see her wringing her hands in the mirror, and she focused on the shaking of her arms as she drew the wing on her liner rather than the anxiety rolling off of her roommate in waves. “You know. Sam being my brother and all, but—“

“I’ll be fine.” Musa forced a smile. Terra oozed conflict, and she knew she didn’t want to have to choose sides, even though she seemed to be gearing up to take Musa’s if she asked. She didn’t want her to. “Look, breakups happen, right? Fact of life.”

“Yeah.” Terra gave an awkward little laugh. “Not that I would exactly know, but yeah.”

If Musa was in a better mood, she would consider whether or not Terra wanted her to unpack that statement or the insecurity that flared up after it slipped out. She usually didn’t, regardless, and today of all days wasn’t the time she was up to pushing it.

Musa wouldn’t call herself fine.

She and Sam’s relationship hadn’t been the hottest gossip in the school by far, especially in comparison to Bloom and Sky, but people’s curiosity prodded at her as she filed through class after class. Curiosity, confusion, even a tinge of amusement or dislike from time to time from her classmates, and entirely too much concern from her friends.

Narrowing her focus, learning how to tune out the emotions of all but what she wanted to read was something she was working on. Key words being “working on”. She could manage it in bursts on good days, but on days like today it wasn’t even a possibility.

She resorting to drowning herself in her music as often as possible, just so she could drown in her own emotions about her breakup. It was hard to know what she was even feeling when all she could hear was everyone else’s take.

The breakup was for the best, she thought. She wasn’t sure if it was better or worse that Sam was nowhere to be found. Although they’d been distant for a while, it was still hard not to watch the walls he favored popping out of for a flash of his green jacket. 

She decided she very much did not want to think about the breakup at all, not even on her own terms.

Musa found herself focusing on how she would continue her sword training, her workouts, whatever she could call them. She looked forward to it, but if she was going to do it, she realized now more than ever that mere leftover athleticism from her dancing days wasn’t going to cut it.

She made an excuse to her friends at the earliest opportunity when they had a break between classes. “I could just use a breather,” she explained, when they mentioned hoping to finish a homework assignment together.

“You sure that’s what you need?” Stella snarked, though Musa knew she was worried. She felt her concern, and Stella had already pulled her aside earlier, offering to make her invisible if she liked, or even to make everyone see Sam in his birthday suit if that really struck her fancy.

Bloom covered her hand with her own. She emitted sympathy, having been the talk of the school her fair share of times already. “Of course.”

“Let us know if you need us, yeah?” Aisha insisted.

Musa couldn’t make her way to the pond fast enough.

The specialist training grounds was a place rife with emotions, many of them negative. There was frustration from students who couldn’t get a maneuver the way they wanted, and a sense of exhaustion over many. Occasionally, there was triumph from a winner. At least whatever they were feeling wasn’t focused on her, and she could fixate on watching the way they moved, taking mental notes for how to improve on what she was doing last night.

As they often did, her powers lingered when they caught Riven. He was always overflowing with emotions, no matter how hard he tried to fight it. Today there was an undercurrent of anger, as usual, but he was feeling a little something that might have been pride, too.

He really was something to watch now that he’d thrown his energy a little less into raising hell and a little more into his training again. His body was lithe and his moves smooth as butter as he dueled with his twin swords; Musa was sure Sky was the only one who might actually have superior skill, aside from the professors.

Riven’s essence shifted abruptly to overwhelming smugness, and it took Musa a moment to realize he’d noticed her presence at the edge of the field. That he’d caught her eyes on him.

Musa stood, dusting off her shorts. There were a few twigs of grass stuck in her socks, but she didn’t waste time picking them out. She’d seen enough.

It didn’t take long for Musa to come to the conclusion that swinging a stick alone wasn’t doing much for her, even if she snuck around to catch the specialists’ techniques in her down time. She conned Aisha into joining her in a secluded clearing near the stone circle but well inside the barriers, just so they could get on without being watched.

“You sure you don’t want to just try swimming?” her friend asked, skepticism bubbling underneath the surface. She flexed her hands, which were probably already sore from where she’d been holding the practice swords even worse than how Musa did.

Aisha had been a good sport about it, but she had no real desire to get better, was just there to show her support and prove she was a good friend. She didn’t seem to get that it wasn’t just about the workout.

“Freezing cold, having you leave me in the dust? I’ll pass,” Musa said. “Besides. If I learn how to do this I can be useful.”

Aisha paused. A little sympathetic frown appeared between her brows, the way it always did when she thought one of them was being stupid. “You are useful, Musa.”

“I can’t even protect myself,” Musa argued. Aisha was a powerful fairy, one who could use her powers for the deadliest of offense if she wished. It was no surprise she didn’t understand.

“The system’s set up so you don’t have to,” Aisha explained, as if Musa hadn’t heard this hundreds of times already. There were nerves from her, but Musa's awareness was dulled slightly by the recent physicality. Still, they made her dread what Aisha was going to ask next. “Is this about Sam?”

“If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that this week.” Musa lifted the straps on her bag, shooting Aisha a false cheery smile.

Aisha held up her hands. “Okay, okay. I was just making sure.”

She knew not to mention Sam again, but Musa still dwelled on the other things Aisha had mentioned. The system.

It worked when everyone abided by it, committed to their roles. Aisha had entirely too much faith in the system, but Musa did not. She’d felt the fear rousing amongst the staff when entire squads of soldiers were wiped out, but she knew now that despite her good intentions, Aisha would never understand. She’d have to find another long-term solution.

Maybe she would have to relent and beg Silva to include her in some of his physical drills. Fat chance of that going smoothly, she knew.

Musa and Aisha didn’t have time to shower before dinner, but they managed to change from their leggings and t-shirts back to their regular, less sweaty clothes before the rush to meet the other girls at the canteen. They piled their trays high, Aisha with nearly two people’s helpings instead of one.

Their table was full that night. Sky and Bloom were perched on one end, sickeningly happy in the way only couples that never quite left their honeymoon phase could be. The rest of the girls were there as well, and Musa was relieved that she felt no traces of resentment coming from Stella. She hadn’t, not for some time, now.

Bloom cocked her chin, grinning, when they joined the table. “Look who decided to show up.”

“Some of us like to exercise,” Aisha chided, shooting Musa a private smile. She was grateful for the discretion. She didn’t have her headphones on her for the first time in days, was working on honing her abilities without them, but large influx of emotion regarding herself wasn’t something she wanted to deal with at the moment.

Bloom shrugged, leaning into Sky. “Some of us being the key word.”

The general, easygoing vibe of the group turned. Musa glanced up, a spoonful of macaroni hanging in her mouth, and saw why.

Riven was approaching them, tray in hand. His steps faltered slightly, and Musa felt his discomfort. His awkwardness.

Sky wasn’t in his usual seat. In fact, he was on the end of the table, pressed flush against Bloom, and there were only two options for Riven to choose if he wanted to sit down: the space next to Musa, or one between Terra and Stella.

Even though Riven wasn’t precisely an uncommon addition to group gatherings these days, there was still a certain awkwardness in everyone’s mingled pool of emotions when he was around. He mostly talked to Sky, or occasionally Bloom, who was struggling not to hold a grudge for his spreading her lineage around the school.

There was an undercurrent of mutual dislike with Stella, but it was familiar, more comfortable than what he had with the others. And Terra… his guilt always swam the worst when he was with her, when she said something particularly nice to him that he didn’t feel he deserved. He tried to hide it, but it was there, especially when Terra surprised him.

The dirty history wasn’t there between he and Musa, even if he was constantly on edge around her because of her powers. She felt rather than saw him hesitate; he’d already made the trip over to them, made the commitment. He couldn’t back out now.

Easily enough that she wouldn’t have noticed his hesitation if it weren’t for her powers, he slid into the empty space next to her. The conversation around the table gradually picked back up, and he tossed her a sleazy, private smile. “Cut yourself on those pointy edges yet?”

Musa filled her mouth with another chunk of macaroni. “Don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You know where to find me if you want to have another go with me, yeah?” he muttered, voice low and way too close.

“Please. I’d rather not be sick at the table,” she said, and he leaned away, sniggering in that way he had. Like he was the funniest fucking person on the planet, even when no one else was laughing.

But after the initial exchange… it wasn’t terrible. Musa didn’t feel compelled to stab him in the thigh with her fork once, and he remained civil enough. Even asked Terra to pass a packet of salt, and thanked her like a regular human being when she complied.

His larger body shifted next to hers when he laughed at something Sky had said, and Musa couldn’t help but think back to how capable that body was on the dueling mats. How natural he was, how one simple correction to her stance had helped her exercises more than basically anything she’d done as of yet.

Contrary to the image he portrayed, Riven was smart. He knew his field, was surely on track to become a high-ranking soldier in Solaria’s army if he wished. At the least, he could become one of Silva’s instructors, if he didn’t hate the school so much.

The seed of an idea sprouted in Musa’s head, like Terra had invaded it with one of her too-many plants. Silva wouldn’t help her, but she had a specialist right here at her disposal. Two of them, to be precise, but if anyone could use less free time, it would be Riven, right? What if she actually did ask him for a go at sparring?

She wasn’t sure he would say no. He was clearly working to earn their trust, their respect. She knew that much, for certain, even if he would never admit it. Would he leap at the chance to get on her good side?

The dangerous thought mulled in the back of her mind for days. Riven was a lot of things, but he was also talented, and blunt, and he would tell her what she was doing wrong. He wouldn’t sugarcoat, and if he was willing to spar with her, it would be just about the most useful session she could get.

Musa spotted him on her way back from the stone circle one afternoon, hood pulled over his head and a joint between his fingers. The daylight was waning, so he at least had the sense not to smoke in the middle of the day anymore.

Otherwise, he was alone. She slowed her pace, allowing the tendrils of her power to reach for him, this time. He felt… relatively content, as far as Riven went. There was no simmering fury, at the very least.

Terra noticed her hesitation. She pulled back from the other girls, concerned. “Everything alright?”

Musa thought it over. This might be the best chance she would get, she knew. At best, Riven would agree to help her. At worst, he would laugh in her face, maybe even bring her attempt up in front of her friends if he was feeling particularly malicious.

She smiled for Terra’s benefit, a split second decision having been made. “Yeah. You go on ahead. I’ll catch you later?”

Luckily for her, there was no reason for Terra to suspect she was about to seek out Riven. Her friend’s eyes glanced around, curious and a little concerned, but she didn’t seem to find anything incriminating. Most likely she probably thought Musa just needed a bit of space.

“Okay… Sure. See you tonight!”

Musa took a deep breath, pondering Riven’s silhouette as her friends disappeared inside the school. He was immovable as a statue on the stone bench he’d claimed. Her hand grasped her backpack strap, and then she was moving towards him. Now or never.

As usual, he noticed her attention on him far before anyone else would have. She couldn’t quite make out his face under his hood from her distance, but there was a stab of curiosity, followed by a blatant spike of annoyance. He meant for her to feel that, she knew.

Musa stopped in front of him, businesslike. His eyes danced over her, the crisp green of his iris visible even through the setting sun. “I’ve been thinking,” she began.

Riven laughed under his breath. Blew out a final cloud of smoke in a direction not totally away from her face, and then stomped his joint out under his boot. “Have you now?”

“If you’re so good—“

“Oh, I’m good at a lot of things.” His grin was brimming with innuendo.

Musa didn’t appreciate how amused he was by the fact that she was standing in front of him. She was already regretting her decision to approach him, but at this point, it would look even more pathetic if she retreated without even asking, tail tucked between her legs.

She swallowed. As briskly as she could, she asked, “Why not make yourself useful and show me some pointers again? Sparring pointers.”

Bewilderment. Surprise. Way too much fucking amusement.

Riven was straight up grinning by this point. He raised a hand, like he was miming searching for an answer, and Musa fought every instinct to swipe it away. “Let me get this straight. You’re asking me for help? Like, actually?”

“Obviously. You’re a specialist. Trained for this sort of thing, are you not?”

Musa jutted her chin. If he was making her feel stupid, she wasn’t going to let him know that, was she?

“Sorry, I just find this all sort of ironic. You, coming to me for a fucking favor.”

Musa’s tolerance snapped. She was right. This was a terrible idea.

“Never mind.” She took a step backwards. “Forget it. Dickhead.”

There was a roiling mass of emotion Musa didn’t have time to identify, and then, “Wait.”

She stopped, against her better judgment. He leaned forward on his bench, elbows rested on his knees. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t do it.”

Her brows inched upwards, just slightly. There was a twitch in her chest that might have been hope. “You will help me?”

Riven examined her. His curiosity was back, probing. Like it was taking something out of him, he admitted, “You have potential. For a fairy.”

“And you don’t know when to stop talking.”

“I’m just saying, most of your side of the school is more than content where they are,” he explained.

Musa wondered if he still hated where he was just as much, or if his repaired relationship with his best friend made things better. She didn’t think he’d quite decided yet.

“Well,” she said, trying to summon some semblance of pleasantness. She mostly failed. “You and I are aren’t exactly like most of the school, are we?”

It unnerved her, sometimes, how unwaveringly Riven could watch her. There was a stretch of silence before he replied, where all they could hear was the distant hooting of night owls emerging from their holes. Frustration battled his curiosity, and seemed to mostly win.

“No,” he admitted. “We’re not.”

There was another pause, but she sensed he was still searching for words, so she waited.

“No getting in my head,” Riven ordered. “I hate that shit.”

“Can’t exactly control that yet.” Musa frowned down at him. It wasn’t her choice to deliberately invade everyone’s privacy, almost all the time. “But I’ll do my best. Getting physical helps.”

His smirk crept back, but she felt his wariness. “Does it, now?”

“So we have a deal?” she pressed, ignoring him.

Riven gave a sharp nod. There was something that may have been regret rising in him, or maybe it was just dread, and then she realized she was already breaking her end of the deal. She squinted her eyes, focusing on the beating of her own heart. Her own apprehension.

“Tomorrow,” he said. “I don’t get my ass run into the ground as much on Thursdays.”

Musa hated hypocrisy, but she couldn’t help but be relieved Riven wasn’t the empath in their situation. She never wanted him to have an inkling, even for a second, that she was nervous.

She hadn’t asked him to keep their arrangement on the down low, but they’d mutually agreed to meet in the clearing by the stone circle, where she’d worked out with Aisha. Riven knew the area, and agreed it had ground suitable for whatever he was planning to put her through. There was no mention of secrecy, or that it was away from prying eyes, but it pointedly didn’t come up when she and Bloom ran into he and Sky after third period, either.

Maybe, for whatever reason, he wasn’t interested in people knowing they were meeting up. That suited her more than fine, as she didn’t care to succumb to the judgment most of the girls in her suite would no doubt have on the matter.

Riven is disgusting. You can’t trust him. He’s an arsehole.

Musa didn’t particularly care about any of those things, as long as he gave her the tips she was looking for.

She had arrived at the designated clearing ten minutes ago, not too long before the time they’d agreed upon. A quick glance at her phone revealed that Riven was seven minutes late already.

“Sending a quickie to your lover boy, are you?” a voice crooned.

Musa shoved the phone back into her bag. Riven had emerged from around a tree, waltzing in like he was never late to begin with. He carried a duffle over his shoulder, presumably filled with equipment.

Eyes narrowed, she said, “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

She wondered if he wasn’t aware of her breakup with Sam. Reflexively, she began to reach her energy out towards him, but she snapped the connection just as quickly. They’d made a deal, and it wouldn’t be fair for her to purposefully break it right from the start.

“Figured we could start here.”

Riven shuffled through his bag, reemerging with two of the wooden swords. Just one for each of them, unlike the dual swords she knew he preferred. He tossed one at her without warning, so quickly that Musa hardly had time to snatch it out of the air before it broke her nose.

His lips tweaked into a smirk. “Not bad.”

“Well,” Musa urged, uneasy under his gaze. She twirled the sword, like she’d done with her dance props, and he tracked the movement. “Are you going to show me how to use it, or what?”

Riven rolled his shoulders. He’d opted for a sleeveless shirt, despite the chill in the air, and she made a point not to dwell on the ridges of his arms. Told herself it was because she didn’t want to think of how much more powerful the swings of his sword would be in comparison to hers.

Musa wasn’t sure what she expected. Maybe for him to show her a move, or get her straight into a proper ready stance. What she didn’t expect was for him to say, “Alright. Show me what you’ve got, then.”


“Come at me,” he said, drawing out his words, like she was hard at hearing.

Her grip on the practice sword tightened. He was watching her, impatiently, and she knew he was serious.

Before she could overthink it, she sprung forward, stabbing towards his ribs. Riven batted her thrust aside easily, and again when she swung from the other direction. She slowed, planning an aim for his knees, but suddenly the sword was clattering out of her hands.

Riven’s weapon hovered pointedly just above her breasts. “That was shit,” he announced.

Musa pushed the wooden tip away from her, half glaring, half searching for her lost weapon. She spotted it, nearly hidden amongst the fallen leaves. “Gee. Thank you for telling me.”

“You didn’t ask me to come out here to blow smoke up your arse, did you?”

She had no doubt that he was smirking while she bent over to retrieve her sword. Either at her general suckiness, or the fact that he had a brilliant view of the curve of the backs of her thighs in her leggings. A stab of satisfaction hit her when she didn’t reply, and she knew she was losing focus if she was already feeling his emotions.

“Exactly,” he said.

Riven didn’t elaborate. He simply continued staring, reveling in the way she squirmed. This was a terrible idea, and she’d known it from the start.

Her hands balled into fists, one of them around the pommel of her sword. “Well? If you’re not going to help me—”

His hand latched onto her arm, like lightening. She hated how impressive his reflexes were.

“Calm your tits. I’m going to help you.” He was so close his scent was overpowering. There was more pine today, with a simple, lingering hint of weed that may have been from the night before.

Musa yanked her arm out of his grip. She took a large step backwards, so her head was no longer swimming with his smell.

She sighed. “So help me.”

Riven shook his head, a hand on his hip. He glanced out over the forest, then met her eyes again. “Look, you’re small. You’re not going to take anyone down with some kind of brute strength, or whatever the fuck you think you’re doing.”

“Nice way of putting it.”

“You’re smaller. Lighter. You need to use your speed.”

So she did. He demonstrated a few basic moves to her, showed her how to extend her form to get the most reach without sacrificing her balance. Mostly he asked her to whack at him with her sword, resulting in a lot of smirks she’d like to wipe right off his face when she did it terribly.

At one point he stopped her altogether, stalking around her side. One hand drifted over hers, sliding her grip down the sword, and the other palmed her hip. Pushed her body at an angle, like she was some weapon on a shelf to be arranged and not a human being.

He was far too close. It took every ounce of her effort to focus on the horrendous thump thump thump of her heart. She mostly succeeded, until his hand drifted lower.

“Your hand touches my ass, and you’re losing it,” Musa threatened.

He scoffed, and she could almost swear his breath blew back a few strands of her hair. “Come at me again. Less shit this time.”

They didn’t stop until it was dark enough that they could hardly make out the shape of one another across the clearing. Riven glanced up at the sky, and following his gaze, Musa could see the blurry lines of the moon peeking out from beneath the tress.

“Shit,” he said.

She was panting, already stiff all over. She hadn’t even thought about her powers for the last half of her session, and now that she was it was easy to concentrate on the exhaustion creeping up on her, to channel into it to close her field around herself.

“Great.” Musa scrolled through her phone, and predictably, the suite group chat was buzzing with messages. Asking her where the hell she was, if something had happened or if she needed them. More recently, if she was coming to dinner. “Guess it’s time to call it quits, then.”

Just had a late work out, she typed vaguely, then pressed send.

Riven laughed under his breath, like he was agreeing. He didn’t seem equally concerned about his own phone, but she figured his roommates were more than accustomed to him pulling a disappearing act. That, and they were also teenage boys.

Silence stretched out over them. It was strange, being alone with him when there were no biting quips on the tip of her tongue, or no taunts about her lack of precision with her sword from him. She wondered if Riven was nearly as worn out as she was, and then realized that this had most likely hardly been a warm up for him.

Musa chewed her lip. They’d both gathered their things by the time she said, “Thanks. I really do appreciate it.”

The words were a bit like gravel coming out of her throat, but she wasn’t enough of a bitch not to thank him. He didn’t have to put aside his personal time to come out here with her, and he didn’t hound her with questions, understood that everyone didn’t fit in their assigned holes like perfect puzzle pieces.

There was a realization that there was simply no way she could top this sparring session without another highly skilled specialist at hand. In the back of her mind, she was already debating what she could offer Riven to get him to come back at some point; whether or not straight up begging would work, and if she was desperate enough to sink to that level just yet.

Riven glanced over at her, and despite the peace in her mind from the recent training session, his spike of emotion was high enough that she couldn’t tune it out completely. There was surprise. Frustration. Something that might have even been a little pleased.

“You need to start from the ground up, like we did,” he said. His eyes squinted at her, distrustfully, like he was trying to tell if she was reading him or not. “Next time we’ll do some hand to hand. Close contact, if you will.”

Musa ignored the pervy undertones of his words. Next time rang out in her ears.

“Next time, huh?” She raised her brows, keeping her tone light. Almost like she would if she was talking to a friend.

“What, you thought you’d be a pro after one time? Usually they come back for seconds, at least.”

Musa appraised him, fighting the smile that wanted to spread across her face. She didn’t want to seem too eager, or else he’d never let her live it down. He’d probably accuse her of trying to get into his pants, or ask for a quickie in the forest.

“Fine with me,” she said. “Saturday?”

“We’re not training on a fucking Saturday.” He sounded like the concept was preposterous, like she was some stuffy overachiever trying to micromanage his time. “Sunday.”

Musa entertained the idea of telling him she was booked on Sunday, just to bug him, but she didn’t want to risk him backing out. There wasn’t much else she’d rather be doing than an hour of sparring, at this point.

“Sunday it is.”

They continued down the trail, Riven a few paces ahead due to his longer legs, but pretty much indisputably walking together.

Both of their steps faltered when they neared the training yard, but there was no need for them to be concerned about gossip spouting from them being spotted together. There was no movement outside aside from the two of them. Most likely, everyone else was in the canteen for dinner.

Musa considered her sticky clothes, the damp hair at the base of her pigtails. She resigned herself to the stray fruit tucked away in the suite’s cabinets for dinner. Maybe a few crisps, if Bloom would share any of the ones she had hoarded away (She would). Anything sounded more appealing than walking into the canteen at this point.

There was a loaded moment when they reached the indisputable divide between the path to the fairy hall and the specialist hall.

“Alright, well I think I’ve had enough for one night. I’m going to crash,” Musa said. She wasn’t sure if he was planning on heading to the canteen or not, but this was growing weirder by the second. As an afterthought, she added, “I’ll see you later.”

Musa scurried up the stairs. She somehow felt more at ease than she had all semester and like her skin was crawling simultaneously, and she really didn’t need to analyze that now.

So. Sparring with Riven. It was going to be a thing, now.

Meeting up in the woods quickly shifted from a one off, to a two off, to something they put aside time to do several times a week.

During their first hand to hand, there was a moment when Musa thought maybe it was going to be over before it really started. Riven was showing her how to get out of holds, her back pressed to his front, and his elbow ended up accidentally finding its way to her eye socket.

“Ow. Shit,” she hissed, clutching her eye. It was throbbing with pain, and she willed it away, wishing she could perform some expedited healing magic on herself. She could already feel it puffing up. “It’s fine.”

If she’d been training with Sky, he would’ve been at her side, apologizing profusely. Going on about how he should’ve taken it more easily on her. Any of the other girls would’ve declared this was why they had no business sparring.

She supposed she shouldn’t have been surprised when Riven said, “Congratulations. Everyone gets a black eye at some point.”

There was concern wafting in the air, ebbing and flowing with the pounding in her eye. She might have been a bit offended if she couldn’t feel it, but mostly she was relieved to see he had no plans to treat her like a fragile doll.

Musa clenched her jaw, pulling her hand away from her face. She flexed her fingers. This was part of it. She was going to have to deal with it. Besides, it really had nothing on the time she’d sprained her ankle for dance, and the pain was already growing duller.

“So you’ve had lots of black eyes, then?” she teased.

Riven’s brows twitched. There was embarrassment from him, and then she reluctantly pulled herself out of his head. She found herself having to do that a lot, particularly when the sparring slowed and conversation began.

“My stories are better than yours,” he’d shot back, suggestively, and that was that.

The girls had their questions when she showed up, eye painted blue like a bad watercolor. Musa had invented something about training in the woods that involved very embarrassingly letting a branch smack her in the face, and the girls didn’t question her eagerness to avoid the topic too much.

She could sense their suspicion growing, though. Especially among Aisha and Bloom, whose confusion was climbing the more she disappeared.

She and Riven’s mutual, unspoken agreement to keep their sessions private remained standing.

Musa wouldn’t say she was ashamed of it, exactly. She merely didn’t want to deal with it; the overwhelming negativity something that she quite enjoyed would raise amongst the other girls. Thankfully, Riven seemed just as happy to keep it that way as she did.

It was working out swimmingly until Aisha slammed down her tray at lunch one day. “Not to be violent, but sometimes I want to put my hands around Riven’s neck and just squeeze.”

She wasn’t exaggerating. Musa detected the annoyance bouncing off her skin. She was wound tight.

“They were partners in specialism today,” Bloom explained, noticing the questioning glance Musa and Stella shared. She was biting her lip, clearing trying to hide her grin. With her abilities, she snagged a partnership with Sky basically every time, so she never had to worry about mismatching.

“Ugh. You want help, you know where to find me.” Stella primly sipped her water, nose wrinkled.

Musa had been stuck on rounds with Dowling during specialism. Again. She’d have given up her headphones for the rest of the day to have been in Aisha’s place, rather than pacing the grounds, invading people’s privacy. Dowling was on her heels more than ever after the Beatrix fiasco.

“I don’t know. He’s not the worst partner,” Terra said, fairly, even though Musa privately thought that out of everyone present, she had the most right to a grudge against Riven if she wanted it. It was definitely still there, squirming in the back of Terra’s mind, but mostly Musa detected wariness off of her roommate when he was present. “He’s gotten better this semester. In class, I mean. Kind of personality wise too—“

“Like he deserves an award for not outright bullying people,” Aisha interrupted. She shoved a fry into her mouth, incredulity etched across her features.

“I mean… Kinda think everyone deserves a second chance, though.” Bloom shrugged. Her hands were practically covered by her oversized sweatshirt (Musa suspected it was one of Sky’s), and Musa was caught off guard by the flutter of relief in her own stomach at the redhead’s words.

She told Riven how much she disliked him at least three times a week. Sometimes viciously. However, the concept of talking about him behind his back now, when she was practically hanging out with him for half the days of the week didn’t settle quite right.

And, to her slight horror, she realized she didn’t necessarily agree with what most of the girls were saying.

“They deserve a second chance, not ten,” Aisha scolded. “We don’t owe him anything.”

“If I never saw him again, I wouldn’t be disappointed,” Stella agreed, like the matter was final.

“I mean.. Sky trusts him,” Bloom said. Musa could tell she wasn’t really sure, but that she trusted Sky’s judgment above any of her own doubts. He was like a brother to him, so it wasn’t totally unreasonable.

Aisha shook her head, eyebrows pushed together. She glanced to Musa expectantly, and she knew she was supposed to agree. Normally she was the first one on the scene with a biting remark, and she’d remained silent throughout the entire argument, stuffing her mouth with fries instead.

She smiled awkwardly, holding her bottled juice in the air. “Look, guys…” Their attention fell on her, and she braced herself for impact. “I think Riven is trying.”

There was a burst of emotion, mostly confusion. Musa breathed in, throwing up her mental shields. She was improving, certainly.

“Look at that,” Terra said. She was grinning down at her tray. “The mind fairy agrees with me.”

“Whatever.” Aisha used her favorite tone for when she was done with them. “I still want to wring his neck.”

Musa learned firsthand later that afternoon that maybe Aisha had a point. At least, she saw why she might have gotten fed up with Riven during class. He was a menace during their sparring session, arriving ten minutes late (At least three minutes later than usual) and cursing under his breath at every little thing.

“What’s got you in a pissy mood today?” she finally asked, watching him scowl at the trees.

He turned the glare on her. “Thought I told you to stay the fuck out of my head.”

She propped her wooden sword on the ground, leaning into it. She smiled coyly. “It’s cute that you think I have to be an empath to tell you’re in a bad mood right now.”

“Nothing. Just a stupid advancement exam coming up.” He was silent for a minute, then added, “Didn’t do so well on the last one.”

It wasn’t difficult to put together his meaning. Riven had probably been high as a kite during his last major exam, smack dab in the middle of his rendezvousing with Beatrix. It made sense that he needed to perform better on this one.

Most people would want to be comforted, told that they were sure to do a fantastic job. She wasn’t sure Riven would. If anything, he’d opt to take it as patronizing, assuming the worst and using it as an excuse to lash out.

“Want to call it a day, then?” she asked, after a minute. “You need to focus on that?”

Riven wiped at his nose. “Fuck, no. Let’s go.”

They jumped straight into sparring with the wooden swords. Musa was still nowhere near the level of the specialists, who were not only selected into the program based on talent, but trained every single day in their art, but she was improving. She thought that if push came to shove and she could get her hands on a weapon, she could at least use it.

He’d only knocked the sword out of her hand once, and she was so elated she hardly noticed they’d been in the clearing for well over an hour. It was easy to get caught up in the quips and energy of the routine, to forget there was even a world outside of it.

“I’m getting better,” she bragged, when they agreed upon a break. Her stomach was crawling with hunger, as the conversation at lunch had left her so on edge she’d hardly eaten.

Musa dug through her bag, not reemerging until she had two oranges clutched in her fist. She’d learned early on that packing snacks was never a bad idea; not only did they have a bad habit of letting their time run through meals, but the workout made her body crave calories, regardless.

“Slightly less shit,” he agreed, which was basically a compliment.

She plopped down on the large, flat rock she always favored during their time outs, fingers working the peel on her first orange. With his mood and them running late, she’d very much expected Riven to call it a night by this point.

He was less stressed than he was when he’d arrived. She could feel it, and she wondered if maybe the sparring helped him as much as it helped her.

Musa’s eyes danced over the expanse of his back, muscles flexing underneath his shirt while he reached for his water bottle. He was so much broader, harder than Sam. She thanked all seven realms he couldn’t get a read on what was going through her mind.

“Better than total shit, though,” she said aloud.

Riven wandered over to her rock, perching on the other end of it. His elbows rested on his knees, and his face was shiny with sweat. His green eyes landed on her. “Remind me why exactly you’re doing this, again?”

Musa chewed her citrus, slowly. One of the reasons she’d been enjoying this arrangement was because he didn’t pry, but for once, there was no real judgment projecting from him. He was genuinely curious.

“I don’t like being stuck on rounds with Dowling,” she admitted, wryly. “I like to feel like…. Like I can protect myself, at least a little.”

Riven’s brows raised, lips pulled down, like he was bemused, not actually surprised. What he said caught her off guard.

“It’s fucking stupid that they don’t give you the option to train with those things out there.” He downed another gulp of his water, finishing off the bottle. The tendons stood out in his neck, long and powerful.

She managed a smile, sticking another slice of orange into her mouth. “Amen to that.”

“But do everyone a favor and at least try to run if you see one,” Riven snarked. “You’d be dead in ten seconds, max.”

Musa did a double take. Tried to decide if maybe she should be offended, and the edge of something bordering on protective tickled the edges of her powers. She decided that the answer was no.

“Not even fifteen?” she chided, and he gave a breathy chuckle.

Musa contemplated the second orange. She hadn’t seen Riven at lunch, either, and she wondered if maybe he hadn’t eaten. A moment passed, and then she was pulling it in half, offering some of the slices to him.

He looked at her like she’d grown two heads. “What’s this?”

“An orange,” she said, in a tone that implied do you have eyes?

“A fucking orange.”

She began to draw it back to her lap. “If you don’t want any—“

“Give it here.” Riven’s hand reached out over hers, snatching the proffered half. He brought a slice to his lips, slowly, deliberately, like he was going to lure her into the woods for a romp with the way he consumed his citrus.

She rolled her eyes. Ignored the little tinge of what if in the back her mind, stowing it away beside the impressive lines of Riven’s back muscles.

This was odd, she realized, very abruptly. Whatever they were doing. It was amiable, and not all business or jabs, and it felt dangerously close to hanging out.

The smile had died on her face, and Riven must have had a similarly timed realization, for he was suddenly on his feet.

“Alright, well I’ve had enough of this for tonight.”

He stalked around the clearing, snatching up his things. He was frustrated. So frustrated she probably couldn’t block him even if she tried.

The silence had grown stilted by the time they made their way back to the school. Musa assumed maybe the stress about his exam had finally caught up to him, and that was what had sent his mood spiraling again.

“Your exam’s tomorrow?” she asked, folding one arm over the other when they reached the area their paths diverged.

“Day after.” Riven didn’t stop walking, but he did slow his pace. Judging by his tight expression, he didn’t really want to.

Musa hesitated. Before he was out of earshot, she called, “Good luck, then.”

The only sign that he’d heard her was the falter in his steps, and after that, a quick raise of his hand, like he was waving goodbye.

The semester was picking up for fairy students, too.

Grades were one thing that came relatively easy for Musa, but when classes got harder, the emotions of the other teenagers were even more all over the place than usual. Terra oozed anxiety for Celtic Runes (Although maybe that was also partly because she’d been recently seated next to a cute specialist student), and Bloom’s emotions were spinning in circles over the latest Poisons paper. Aisha was stressed, perhaps worst of all, when any exam came up and she began fearing letting the professors down.

Musa continued to practice narrowing her field of view. Some days it worked, and when it didn’t, she narrowed it a little less, like by focusing on one person rather than letting her powers reach out grasping fingers to all corners of the room at once.

She missed her sessions with Riven already, even though they had only taken a couple days off to regroup. Despite herself, she found herself glancing around for him whenever Sky or Bloom appeared, and she realized with dismay maybe she a little bit missed him, too.

She didn’t see him again for any substantial amount of time until lunch a few days after his advancement exam. The girls were all sitting around the table, deep in a debate over which Instagram filter Terra should put over her newest photo.

“I dunno… I kind of like the Gingham,” Terra was saying.

“God. No one uses presets, Terra.” Stella swiped Terra’s phone, fingers working expertly over the screen. They were all leaned in, following her work, when Riven and Sky glided over towards them.

“Not sure what we walked in on,” Sky said. The boys were both grinning, but their exhaustion crept out to Musa, curling around her like vines.

Bloom beamed, eagerly scooting her chair down so they had room. “Geez. I feel like I haven’t seen you in a month.”

Her smile widened when Sky leaned over to plant a kiss on her cheek, claiming the chair next to her. Riven slid into the seat beside him and directly across from Musa, shaking his head to himself.

Musa leaned forward without thinking, chin propped on her fist. “How’d your thing go?”

The crinkles disappeared from around Riven’s eyes. The stab of curiosity hit her before the array of strange looks from around the table, and Musa realized with a growing sense of embarrassment that everyone had heard her, had seen her attention unmistakably on Riven when she asked.

He sniffed. “Uh, great. Just great.”


It was all Musa could do not to sink in her seat. She knew she was going to catch hell from the suite later, and maybe even from Riven, too.

Terra’s nosiness poked at her all through channeling class, like a gnat buzzing in her ear no matter how many times she tried to swat it away. And if Terra thought she was being subtle with the little looks, she was sorely mistaken.

It was Aisha that pounced on her between classes. “What was the deal with you and Riven earlier?” she demanded, straight to the point, as usual.

Bloom blinked from behind her, and Musa immediately knew the two of them had discussed it during channeling. Catching on to what was happening, Terra picked up her pace, so she was walking totally in Musa’s personal bubble.

“I did notice that, at lunch. It was a bit weird, right?” Terra asked.

Musa felt cornered, a sheep surrounded by a pack of wolves. She summoned her best unbothered expression. “What? You guys are overreacting.”

“What I’m hearing is ‘you guys are asking me something I don’t feel like answering’”, Bloom hedged, a finger in the air.

All three of them were waiting, intently, and Musa considered just telling them what was going on. They knew she was working out, and it wouldn’t be that big of a deal really.

But she was stressed and overwhelmed, so she took the easy way out. “It’s nothing. I just asked him why he was being an arse one day. He said he had an exam. Then I asked him if it went okay.”

They stared at her, then exchanged glances with on another. Musa could tell they were varying levels of unsure, but she thought maybe their interest was waning.

“He’s an arse every day,” Aisha declared. Terra gave a little shrug, like she wasn’t completely wrong.

As if on cue, her phone buzzed hardly five minutes later.

Arsehole [1:57pm]: 5 2day?

She typed back yes, ignoring her growing sense of unease.

When the time for their sparring session rolled around, Musa was sure she’d never been so ready for one. She practically pranced to their clearing.

As usual, she beat Riven there, but she didn’t have to wait long. He sauntered in, and there was an odd gleam in his eyes. She immediately knew he was going to embarrass her about her display of familiarity earlier at the first opportunity.

To her relief, he started their training, first.

He’d brought a punching board today. He liked to have her warm up by measuring the strength of her strikes, making sure she knew how to use her body. Sometimes he even had her kick it; the first time her leg had shot up, almost to his shoulder level, his eyes had nearly popped out of his head.

“Dancer, remember?” she’d goaded.

“How about you put them somewhere else?” he’d asked, and then she’d purposefully aimed her next kick at his gut.

Riven was smirking again, today, as she struck out with a rapid burst of punches. Her fists hit the board, already stinging under the wrapping he’d shown her how best to use. Her power was totally under control, every inch of her focused on Riven and his punching board, but she didn’t need them to know he was dying to say something.

“What?” she challenged.

He sniggered, eyebrows shooting upwards into his favorite leery expression. “Just wondering if I should be offended or turned on that you want to keep me your dirty little secret.”

Musa stopped her strikes, and he lowered the board. “How about neither.”

“I get it. You don’t want your little fairy friends knowing we’re BFFs now, is that it?”

“First of all: Not BFFs. Second… I kind of didn’t think you wanted to mention it to them.”

“No need to worry. I don’t,” Riven said, like the concept of people knowing they were sort of friends wigged him out.

All of this talk, talk which the two of them normally avoided, was distracting her from the bliss of an emotionless workout. Her powers sputtered, the flickering in her field revealing he was feeling frustrated (his favorite emotion to throw up around her), but also isolated.

Musa watched as he twisted open the cap on his water bottle, coming to lean against a tree nearby her. She decided then and there that she was going to find a way to let the girls know her tolerance for Riven extended even past what she’d slipped out recently, because she did believe what she told them: he was trying. Maybe he deserved the benefit of her helping Sky give him a home in the group.

She leaned against the trunk next to him, their elbows brushing. “I guess we’ll just tell them. It’d make coming out here less awkward.”

“Would it?” He shot her an incredulous look. “Like I need your crazy ass friends breathing down my neck. Threatening to castrate me. Fucking Terra—“

And maybe she had grown to more than tolerate Riven, but what she couldn’t tolerate was slander against her friends, even if it was born out of some form of fucked up social anxiety. She tipped her hand up, up, up, nudging the edge of the water bottle he was lifting for a second drink.

Water streamed down his torso, completely drenching the entire front of his shirt. “What the fuck,” he sputtered, glowering at her.

“Hand slipped.” She smirked, and then picked up her wooden sword from where it was resting nearby, giving it an innocent twirl.

Riven stared at her, like he was looking right through her. His tongue darted out to wet his lips, and her eyes followed the movement against her will. “Okay. Fine.”

And then he was tugging his shirt over his head, tossing it over towards his things. There was a clear expanse of golden skin, hard and glowing and nearly impossible to take her eyes off of. Her mouth dried.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Don’t expect me to stand around in my wet as fuck shirt, do you?” He yanked his own sword off the ground, and Musa’s heart rate sped up when he leaned entirely too far into her proximity to get it. “Let’s go, then. Try to concentrate, if you can.”

“Concentrate on not throwing up, you mean?”

Musa was no stranger to hormones. She was an empath thrown in the depths of a school filled with horny teenagers. Lust, desire, want; all of those were emotions that never left her periphery if she let her powers branch out the way they wanted to. 

She’d never felt so pathetically distracted by it from herself. There had been a twinge in her belly with Sam whenever they were alone in the suite, or when his hands strayed too far. Loathe as she was to admit it, she'd always known Riven was hot, as well. Her eyes had shadowed him one too many times a he swept around their clearing, wielding his sword like a pro, or even from a distance when he fought the other specialists.

This was another level entirely. The amount of effort it took to keep her gaze off his pecs, the outline of his abs, was entirely too much of an undertaking for someone attempting something with as much coordination as sword fighting.

Riven’s sword sent hers flinging into the dirt, for the third time, and satisfaction poured out of him.

“Something on your mind?” His eyebrows popped up, and he didn’t try to hide the way he watched her bend over to pick up her sword. He always did that, but the goose bumps scattering across her arms were something she normally managed to keep very much under control.

“Please,” she said. Her voice did very little to betray her, thankfully.

“I don’t need to read minds to know you’re thirsting.”

Musa propped a finger on her chin, pretending to think it over. Choosing to ignore how correct he was. She finally, finally let her eyes trail over him the way he so badly wanted.

“I’ve seen better,” she said, with the air of a professor giving an evaluation.

A surprised laugh erupted from his lips. He was incredulous, bordering on offended, and she knew he was deciding whether or not he believed her. “Where? Not fucking Harvey Junior, I know that.”

The mood cracked, just as easily as it had drifted from competitive to borderline flirty. She’d hardly thought about Sam for days, but the idea of him seeing her now, out here in the forest practically drooling over Riven just weeks after their breakup churned her stomach.

“Looks like it’s after six.” Musa nodded at the sky. Spending so many evenings outside had made her surprisingly good at guessing the time based on the sun’s location. “We should go.”

Riven lowered his sword. “I… Alright, then.”

For the first time since the start of her training, she wished for her headphones while she was still out there. Riven’s guilt leaked into her, ebbing with hers when she remained stiff and silent on the way back to the school

Musa was convinced Riven cast some sort of curse on her, because the very next day, Sam popped out of the wall next to their suite when she was returning to her room for a bit of quiet time. The year was quickly encroaching on her mother’s birthday, and she needed her alone time more than usual these days.

He caught her during a spurt of drawing her powers in, so this time she didn’t feel him before she saw him. She jumped when he materialized, bags under his eyes and his favorite green jacket pulled over his shoulders.

She hadn’t so much as seen him since the day they’d broken up.

In her surprise, the floodgates opened, and a somber sense of wanting, missing, rushed in. It was muted, she noticed; nothing like the powerful, vibrant essence of Riven.

“Musa,” he said, breathless. It was clear he’d been waiting for this moment, and had timed it. He knew better than anyone how she liked to sneak away for a bit after specialism class, after all.

“Sam,” she echoed. “Hi.”

Sam’s hands were in his pockets. He shuffled closer. “How are you?”

“I’m- I’m okay.” Musa realized it was true, or at least, it had been, before he’d shown up. Seeing him was hard, but carrying his ache on top of hers was harder. “What are you doing here?”

“I just… Look, I have no right to say this. But I miss you, Musa.”

She wasn’t sure what to say, or where this was going. She missed him too, in a way. Missed the comfort he’d brought her, certainly, but she hadn’t dwelled on his loss like perhaps she thought she would have. Like perhaps it was expected of her.


“I know. I know. But does any part of you ever feel like… Like we maybe made a mistake?”

Musa took in his floppy brown hair and kind eyes. The toned down emotions that had begun as a safety blanket and ended by making her want to scream. She didn’t want to hurt him, but he—they – were already hurting.

She interlaced her fingers. “I don’t think so, Sam.”

A few tears fell when they parted ways, the first since the evening of the breakup. She managed to hold them in when she relayed the events to the girls, which she figured was what really counted.

She and Riven didn’t have a sparring time set that day, after the semi awkward grounds they’d parted on the night before. She practically begged him to meet up with her.

Musa [12:15 pm]: are you free today? I need a distraction.

He texted back almost immediately.

PainInMyArse [12:16 pm]: oh i can do that

Musa didn’t waste any time dawdling. She didn’t want to head back to the suite and risk having to discuss the Sam confrontation yet again. She’d already told it three separate times, once because all of the girls hadn’t been there the first time, and twice for effect. Plus, describing the heartbreak she’d caused her roommate’s brother to said roommate’s face wasn’t exactly her idea of a good time.

For the first time, Riven was waiting on her in the clearing.

“Ready to go?” he drawled, perusing her figure. He pushed himself off the tree he’d been slouching against.

She snatched up one of the swords, electing to forego a hands on warm up altogether. “More than ready.”

Musa adopted a more aggressive approach than normal. Quick jabs, slashes at Riven’s stomach; they wore her body down more quickly, and that helped her mind go numb. Just what she wanted for the day.

“Alright. Shit. Let me grab a drink,” Riven ordered, earlier than usual. She was glad to see he was breathing a little harder than on most days, but she wasn’t sure she liked the speculative look he gave her.

“Alright, then," she said. 

Musa plopped down on her favorite rock seat, downing a gulp out of her own bottle. The back and forth thing she had going on with Riven was a good distraction on most days, but today, she wasn’t sure she had the mental energy to keep it going.

He, however, didn’t miss that there was something off about her.

“Not that I want to have emotional chats,” Riven began. “But what’s going on with you today?”

“It’s nothing.”

“Nothing?” He mocked.

Musa’s eyes went to the ground, where her sneakers were slowly staining from the weeks of abuse. Slowly, she dragged them back up to Riven’s expectant face. “Nothing. I talked to Sam today.”

Immediately, he proved to her exactly why she never discussed sensitive matters with him. Or much of anything, really.

“Harvey?” Riven’s voice was incredulous. Amused. “He came crawling back? What a fucking wanker.”

Musa didn’t laugh, and Riven’s negative emotions began to cloud hers again. The vivacity of what he was feeling wasn’t helping her. She thought he should’ve realized by her reaction yesterday that this wasn’t exactly a topic she wanted to discuss with him, but she should have known better.

His laughter sobered. “Don’t tell me you took him back?” She glared. “You did.”

Something rolled off him, powerful and practically screaming at her, but it shifted back to annoyance. Frustration. Bitterness.

“No, Riven, but thank you for mocking the really shitty day I had,” she snapped, and then almost immediately regretted it. Her temple was still pulsing with anger, but they rarely genuinely snapped at each other. Their barbs were hardly ever about anything serious.

Her fists clenched, and then she’d successfully shut herself off to him, like a dome. The silence was a blessing and a curse.

Riven’s eyes roved over her. He put his sword down with a slight flourish, digging in his pocket instead. He propped on the rock next to her, several inches closer than last time.

A stub of a joint hovered between his fingers. “Got a better idea for today.”

“Getting high is the solution for everything?”

He leaned in, and she could have counted the shades of green in his eyes. His voice crept low. “Almost everything.”

Riven lit the joint, taking a long, leisurely draw. When he held it out to her, she was ashamed to say she hardly hesitated.

The smoke curled in her lungs, and she copied him by holding it in for a few moments before exhaling. She only sputtered a bit, and his eyes were glinting. “Hot,” he drawled, and she flipped him a lazy middle finger before going in for seconds.

Before long, Musa was flying high, her chest full and her dome wavering around her. She could feel everything and nothing at once, but the upside was that now she didn’t care.

She contemplated Riven, who was sliding closer and closer on the rock next to her. The sharp lines of his face, the appealing tingle when their fingers brushed passing the joint. Not for the first time, she wished that casual intimacy wasn’t too much for her as an empath, because she was sure he wouldn’t say no to a round of hot rebound sex, and was even surer she would enjoy it. Told herself her being an empath was the only thing stopping her from crossing that line with him.

“I should get you high more often,” he breathed, shoulder pressed up against hers.

A laugh slipped through her lips. Was it really that funny? “I should get me high more often.”

An unexpected swell of affection sidled up against her, hissing through her crumbled walls. It didn’t belong to her. Her hands, which were wrapped around her knees, fingers interlocked, tightened their grip.

Slowly, her eyes drifted to the boy sitting beside her.

Riven hated it when she read his emotions. He’d made that much clear.

His gaze flitted up to meet hers, and the feelings clouding him were overshadowed by something uncomfortable. Defensive, almost. He must have read her expression, because he held up a finger, right at her nose.

“Fuck off,” he ordered, but there was no real aggression behind it.

She couldn’t stop the self-satisfied smile from spreading across her face. “You like me.” A hint of awe rang out in her voice.

“You’re wrong.”

“Yeah, you know I literally know you’re lying right now, right?” His discomfort was growing more prickly, wild and uncertain, so she nudged his elbow with hers. She doubted she’d remember all of these details in the morning. “It’s okay. I kind of don’t hate you either.”

Musa thought the other girls might be ready to stage an intervention when she stumbled back to the suite, reeking of weed and still on the descent from her high. Aisha, especially, seemed on the verge of a conniption, but the others kept her at bay, probably due to her morning with Sam.

She woke up to text from Riven.

Riven [7:31 am]: u get handsy when ur high

Musa [8:05 am]: shut the hell up.

Riven [8:24 am]: come and make me

“Are you fucking someone?” Stella asked, when Musa went to text him back over breakfast.

Bloom and Aisha exchanged looks. Terra dropped her fork, scrambled to retrieve it, and nearly banged her brains out on the way back up.

Musa forced her best I can be a bitch too smile at Stella. “Uh, no. Thanks for asking.”

She was still planning on telling them about Riven, but now definitely wasn’t going to be the time. She wasn’t about to inform them she’d been sneaking off into the woods with him right when they chose to bring up suspicions of her having sex with someone.

“It’s okay if you are, you know. Good for you.” Stella narrowed her eyes, and Musa didn’t budge. She caught Stella’s mild disappointment. “Too bad, then.”

“Well, you know if you do want to talk about anything, we’re here,” Bloom as quick to add.

Her thing with Riven was shifting from something mildly embarrassing to something very personal, and she wasn’t sure what to do with that. Musa didn’t form attachments easily; couldn’t let herself.

But here she was, forming one to potentially the biggest arsehole in the school. It was a relief to know the fondness wasn’t totally one sided, at least, although he’d still probably laugh at her if he knew.

“I’ve been thinking about what you should learn today,” Riven said later, when they met in the clearing for the third day in a row. She wasn’t sure she liked the look on his face.


“How to get out when someone’s got you pinned.”

Musa had to laugh. She crossed her arms, rocking back on her heels. “Wait. You just want to get on top of me.”

Riven leaned forward slightly, the way he always did when he was eager to see where their conversation led and even more eager to see if he could make her back down. “You saying you don’t want me on top of you?”

“That’s exactly it,” she said. A part of her lied, if she was being honest.

“Fine. Cry about it when some burned one’s got you pinned, its filthy—“

“Let’s do it then,” Musa interrupted. He was still totally invading her space, so she noticed the slight widening of his eyes. She liked catching him off guard, she realized. It was so very hard to do.

She knew he actually had been thinking about it, because he’d hijacked a dank old matt for them that day. He lay down on the matt, flat on his back, and met her with the sleaziest smirk of his life. “Pin me, then.”

During the course of their training, Musa had gotten used to being ridiculously close to Riven; his hands on her, their chests and backs pressed together in various positions. She’d learned to shove whatever unfortunate, primal attraction she had for him away in a little box.

Still, her heart was racing when she leaned over him, her pigtails falling down to tickle his forehead, one leg on either side of him. He didn’t break eye contact once.

It was all she could do not to reach her powers out, praying he was as amped up as she was over this. Praying he wasn’t at the same time.

“I’d call myself an expert at this one,” Riven said, soft and raspy, and she thought she might die.

The next thing she knew, his legs had wrapped around her, his hand swung to her shoulder, and she was under him.

“Shit,” she panted, the breath knocked out of her.

“Told you,” he bragged, in her ear. And then he was leaning back off her, a blessing and a curse.

“Your turn. It’s in the legs,” he was saying. Something about how she’d probably be naturally good at it, since she was toned and had a nice ass from dancing. She wanted this exercise to be over.

Musa hooked his legs with hers, throwing every ounce of strength into twisting her torso, and suddenly she was on top, thighs strewn across either side of his waist. He twisted too, instinctively, and somehow her grip on her the ground slipped.

She slid forward, her body falling flush with the long, hard lines of his, and his nose hovering hardly an inch from hers. Their eyes met, slowly, torturously, and she subconsciously filed away the feel of his hands shifting on her hips.

Overwhelming desire tore through her, making her tingle all the way to the tips of her toes, and she could no longer tell her emotions from his.

“Fuck,” he hissed, and Musa had to agree.

She wasn’t sure which one of them leaned forward. Maybe it was her, or maybe it was both of them, but all she knew was the edge of her lips were brushing his and she wanted more. More, more, more.

Something danced with the desire, sneaking in and warming Musa in a different way entirely. It was softer. Gentler. Almost reverent in a way she hadn’t fully thought Riven capable of feeling.

She let out a surprised breath against his chin, and he must have known that she knew, because he stiffened like a board underneath her. His hands fell away from her, and his wall of emotion shifted to something hot and angry.

Musa scrambled off of him. “Sorry,” she blurted.

For once, he wouldn’t look her in the eye. “Thought I told you to stay the fuck out of my head.”

“I didn’t mean….”

“Don’t give a shit,” Riven said. He didn’t bother with the swords. With anything. He pointed a trembling finger at her, backing away. “I’m done with this shit.”

And Musa was left alone with the undeniable fact that despite all the lusty glances and comments, Riven didn’t just want to have sex with her. Didn't want her as just another warm body in his bed.

For that split second, she knew without a doubt he had wanted more.

Musa wasn’t planning on making a habit of losing herself to highs, truly. But the 15th ticked around, and Terra was begging the suite to attend some new specialist party (And Stella was frog marching them down there, by force if necessary), she and Riven still weren’t speaking, and the idea of letting go again for her dead mom’s birthday couldn’t be considered a crime.

And if it stopped her from thinking about what had happened with Riven, even better.

Musa showed up to the East Wing in glittery purple-pink eyeshadow and her most flattering pair of shorts. The stoners weren’t her ideal company, so she made her way to the array of jello shots.

“I know the idea is to have fun, and all,” Terra practically screamed in her ear over the music. She was on her third shot. “But is everything okay?”

“It’s a party,” Musa yelled back, and downed the next shot. The air was ripe with intoxication, desire, and fun, and the individuals emitting them were beginning to blur together.

Musa didn’t care. It was better than sitting alone in her room, being sad. Just this once.

When one of the older fairy boys approached her, asking her for a dance, she didn’t hesitate. He led her away into the sea of gyrating bodies, guiding her by the small of her back and totally ignoring Terra’s tiny yelp of protest.

She lost count of how many people she danced with. She was having fun, even when their hands sank too low, or maybe they were the ones she was picking up on the fun from. She was losing track.

An impatient hand on her wrist finally pulled her out of her daze. Her bleary eyes looked up, half expecting to see green glaring down at her, but was met with warm brown instead. Sam.

He’d pulled her back to the edge of the party. The edge they’d always perched on, when they came to these as a couple.

“Musa.” Sam was aghast. “What are you doing?”

Her ears were ringing. She wasn’t sure if it was the drinks, the music, or everyone else’s emotions clawing for a hold on her mind. Sam might have been the jealous rasps grasping at her, or maybe his was the anxiety. She couldn’t tell anymore.

“Dancing at a party,” Musa said, because that was what normal teenagers did. Even fairies.

“Hey. This isn’t you—“

“You don’t know,” she cut him off, trying and failing to yank her hand out of his. She wasn’t sure what she meant. There were a lot of things he didn’t know: that it was her dead mother’s birthday, that she didn’t regret ending things, that she was coming to terms with the fact that she very much had a thing for a guy everyone she loved hated. A big, fat thing.

“Musa.” Bloom had arrived out of nowhere, bless her soul. Sky hovered awkwardly in the background. Ever the hero, he was probably ready to step in the second they acted like they needed him.

Someone shouldered past her, and it took her several seconds to recognize Riven. He had no such qualms.

Even in her drunken state, her heart stuttered. He’d been avoiding her all week, refusing to even show face at their table during meals.

“What the fuck’s going on?” Riven demanded, landing Sam with the look he gave practice dummies before he stabbed them with one of his swords.

“Oh, Riv. Fancy seeing you here.” She laughed, like it was very funny that he was here. It was odd, him standing near her outside their clearing or the vicinity of the lunch table, and even odder when he’d acted like she was the plague itself recently.

He was delicious in his crisp, white shirt under the strobe lights, and his hair looked like he’d just rolled out of bed. Just the way he preferred it.

Bloom’s eyes darted between them. Landed on Sam.

“You can let go now,” Riven ordered Sam. Something feral was buzzing in him, spiraling Musa’s powers into even more of an overdrive.

It was Bloom who pried Sam’s fingers off of her. “We’ve got this,” she said, and there was fire in her eyes. Sam took a step back, stumbling away back into the throng and taking his regret with him.

Musa had a vague memory of agreeing to be friends with him. It didn’t seem they were off to a great start.

Bloom gripped her arm this time. “Are you okay?”

No, she realized. The reality of the evening was crashing down on her. Musa could feel her eyes growing wet, and blinked back a few tears. Even drunk, she realized she didn’t want to cry in front of everyone.

Sky was still hanging back, but Riven was practically looming in on her. Bloom kept shooting him little looks, trying to put the pieces together.

Distantly, Musa realized it was because they never interacted much in public, and certainly not like this. Him, hovering over her, familiar and intense. And was she leaning into him a little? She hadn’t gotten around to telling the girls about their sparring just yet. Hadn’t known if there was even a reason to, if he wasn’t keen on continuing.

She couldn’t seem to form an answer, but neither of them missed her dissolving emotional state.

“What the fuck did he say to you?” Riven snarled. He craned his neck in the crowd, like he was prepared to stalk off and pull Sam out for strangling with his own hands.

“Nothing,” Musa managed. “S’not a good day for me.”

Bloom’s hand drifted to her back. “Hey. Let’s go back to the suite. Come on.”

But she was still half clinging on to Riven, and he said, “I can take her.”

Musa nodded along. She missed spending time with Riven. A lot. If she had to be messy as hell when she got it, oh well.

He looked over his shoulder at Sky. “Be back in a bit, mate.”

They started to the exit, but Bloom hedged her way halfway in between them. Her gaze fixed on Musa, intently, questioningly. “Hey, wait. Musa, are you okay with going with him?”

“It’s fine,” she slurred. Her hands were twisting in the collar of Riven’s shirt now. “We’re friends now.”

“Piss off,” Riven snapped, at the redhead. Musa wondered if maybe it was also at her. His annoyance had climbed back up almost to where it had been before Sam left.

Bloom glared right back at him. She was going to fight him on this, Musa knew she was, but Sky finally stepped in. “Hey. He’ll be fine.”

He’s right here,” Riven bit out. Musa wobbled, and his grip on her elbow steadied her.

Bloom still looked like she’d quite rather set Riven aflame than trust him alone with Musa. She probably even entertained calling over the other girls to have a go at him, one by one, but she stepped back towards Sky.

“I’ll be up there in thirty minutes. Alright?” she warned.

In the morning, Musa would be grateful for Bloom’s protectiveness rearing its head, but at the moment, she was just grateful when Riven walked her out into the cooler air of the hallway. The absence of bodies hit her, and she nearly collapsed out of relief.

There was nothing but her and Riven and his never ending mass of frustration. Only now she very much knew what it was hiding, and that sort of complicated things, didn’t it?

Musa wished she could find the words to fix things. To tell him that maybe she very much wanted the same things, too, but even sober Musa couldn’t seem to manage that. Drunk Musa didn’t stand a chance in hell.                          

They made it back to the fairy hall with very little communication, and Musa didn’t realize Riven had never been to their suite before until he asked, “Is this it?”

She squinted her eyes, and the number swam into focus. “Next one.”

And then he was guiding her on down the hallway, helping her fish the key out of her purse so they could get inside. He didn’t have to ask which room was hers; he made a beeline for the one teeming with plants, and then pushed her towards the bed that wasn’t drowning in them.

Musa paused in the middle of the room. Her hands were still grasping at his shirt, and she could make out his dim outline through the glow of Terra’s nightlight. His shoulders were stiff.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

Riven shifted. “For what? Being a messy as fuck drunk?”

“That you’re pissed at me.”

He didn’t say anything, just pushed her further towards her bed. A sense of shame waved from amidst his frustration, and Musa didn’t try to nudge it out. She’d already done enough.

“I miss fighting with you,” she admitted, the backs of her knees brushing her mattress.

Musa wanted to lean up and kiss him. To finish what they’d started on the floor of the forest over a week ago now, but his strong arms kept her at a careful distance. His frustration wavered again, reaching out for her.

“Fuck me,” he muttered.

Her hand rubbed at his shoulder, and he pushed it off him, pinning it at her side. “You need to fucking cut it out,” he ordered. His free hand pinched the bridge of his nose, and for the first time, she wondered why he wasn’t as plastered as her. “Shit. You wouldn’t be doing this if you weren’t shitfaced.”

“I’d want to,” slipped out, and he pushed her onto her bed, backing away like her touch had been hot coals.

Musa thought he’d run straight back to the party, abandoning her at his first opportunity. She couldn’t blame him if he had.

However, she heard the sink flick on, and Riven returned with a glass of water. “Drink this.”

His lip was curled, like he was disgruntled, but he stood there all threatening, arms crossed, until she’d downed it. The concept was hilarious to her. Riven being the one standing there, making someone else sober up.

Riven typed something into his phone. He glanced up at her, where she was lying back, slowly cuddling into her quilts.

“Alright. Your friends will be here soon, so—“

“You’re going to ditch me?” Her hand shot out, snatching his wrist and tugging him her way. Sober Musa was going to hate her.

“Your friends are going to try to chop my dick if they see me in here,” he complained, but he sat anyway. Musa thought maybe she should have been nervous with him here, but then the spicy scent of pine enveloped her, making her breathe easier, and she liked the feel of his warmth next to her.

She snuggled her nose into his thigh. “It’s my mom’s birthday today.”

“Oh.” Silence fell over them, softer than Musa’s blanket. Something sympathetic and unsure radiated out from him, but it didn’t irritate her like the feel of other people’s pity. Riven’s was raw, genuine. “Sorry.”

Musa missed the accusations and the scowls that no doubt ran rampant around the room when the girls stumbled back to the suite and discovered Riven sitting in her bed. The drink and the thrum of his presence caught up to her, and she drifted off into a heavy, dreamless sleep.

A nasty hangover and a stint of humiliation later, Musa was forced to tell the girls everything. Well, everything aside from the way she’d accidentally felt what Riven was feeling for her, because it wasn’t her place. She still felt wrong, for taking that from him without his consent, no matter how much it concerned her.

Riven was long gone from her room by the time she woke up, temple pounding and tongue dryer than a desert.

The girls brought her breakfast back to the suite that morning, and Terra’s eyes practically bored holes into her over her yogurt. All their nosiness was through the roof, and her headache made it impossible to block people out or enjoy smothering their emotions with her headphones.

“You feeling better?” Terra hedged.


Aisha’s lips were pursed. Bloom shot her a warning look, but it was Stella who said, “So. You planning to tell us what’s going on with you and Riven, or?”

Musa put down her spoon, heat rushing to her face. “Really? Can’t I at least have breakfast first?”

“No,” they chorused.

So she told them, trying to make the way he’d been working with her on her sparring sound casual. She made their fledgling friendship sound slightly less casual, because she owed it to him to help him find acceptance in their group, at the very least.

Musa skirted around the details of their almost kiss. “We kind of had a near thing, and now it’s awkward. Happy now?”

“What do you mean, a thing?” Terra asked, while Aisha rolled her eyes and said, “Oh, wonderful.”

Bloom seemed to be taking it rather well, compared to them. She’d seen Riven with her last night, after all, even though the details for Musa were definitely fuzzy. Even a blind woman would’ve known she was missing something after that little display.

“Are you going to talk to him?” Bloom asked.

“Probably should, yeah.” Musa shrugged, but she had no idea what she was going to say, or how she was going to approach him. The effects of her hangover weren’t helping her figure it out, either.

There was a grim acceptance from Bloom. Nerves from Terra, and unmistakable disgust from Aisha, but she didn’t say anything, and Musa appreciated that, at least.

However, it was Stella who pulled her aside.

“I’ve known Riven for a long time. Never seen him take a girl to her bedroom without getting some sort of twisted sexual favor,” she said. She took another glance at Musa’s plastic smile. “No offense. But he’s got it bad.”

Musa wasn’t really sure what to say to that. She looked down, squinting through her headache to count the tiles on the kitchen floor, and Stella saw right through her.

“But you already know that. Don’t you?” the blonde surmised.

“I’m going to take care of it,” Musa said. And she was, if only she could figure out how.

Any slim hope that the events of the night before would tease Riven into abandoning his avoidance of her didn’t come to fruition. Sky appeared to lunch without him in tow, only offering an awkward smile for the other girls’ questioning glances.

Musa tried texting him, to little avail.

Musa [10:17 am]: Hey. Sorry about last night. Thanks.

Musa [8:43 pm]: Still avoiding me, then?

The days crept by, and she realized how very much she wasn’t above playing dirty. She missed him, and she understood that he was embarrassed, but didn’t he even want to know what she thought about it all?

Musa tucked away her nerves (She already knew he liked her, she told herself) and marched out to the pond when she knew for a fact Riven had dueling rounds.

She spotted him almost at once, swiveling around his mat expertly with his two blades. The way he moved, the way he was going to strike next was so familiar to her now she was sure she could predict how the rest of the match was going to go, but she didn’t wait for it to be over. Didn’t care that he was in the midst of a duel with some other second year specialist she didn't know the name of. 

Several of the other pairs on the mats slowed to watch her as she weaved through them.

“Alright Riven,” she said, loud enough that both boys could hear her. Riven did a double take, and his distraction awarded him with an immediate pin on his mat. He glowered at her from underneath the arms of his opponent, but she could feel that he was flustered under all the anger. “I need to talk to you.”

“I’m a little busy.”

Musa leaned down, hands braced on her knees, so she could look him in the eyes. She put aside the leap in her stomach for later. “Sounds like a you problem.”

Riven’s opponent burst out laughing, releasing his grip so he could scramble to his feet. “I’m going to let you two deal with… whatever,” the other specialist said, and then he was on the sidelines, pretending not to watch them from around his water bottle.

“Silva’s going to have both of our arse’s if you don’t get the fuck out.” Riven adjusted his stance, the glare wavering on his face when she didn’t budge. He tried a different route. “You know, usually when people ignore you, you get the hint that they don’t want to see you.”

“The clearing, six o’clock this afternoon,” Musa said, trying not to let his attitude sway her. She knew what he was trying to do, and she wasn’t going to let it work. “You won’t regret it.”

And then she was off, reveling in the familiar feel of his eyes following the sway of her hips. Even when he was pissed, he couldn’t resist a look.

She sat in the clearing later that afternoon, the training duffle scattered in front of her. He’d left it last time, and she’d had to bring it back. If all went to plan, she rather hoped they wouldn’t use it, but for appearances’ sake…

His usual seven minutes late ticked by to ten, and then fifteen. There was a hollow dread in Musa’s chest when the possibility that he might not show crept closer to reality.

But then Riven emerged from the trees, hands half tucked into his pockets. He stopped several feet away from her, and she’d never missed his annoying as hell habit of invading her personal space more.

Musa perked up, trying to produce a smile for him. “Hey,” she breathed.

“I wasn’t going to come.” A muscle in his jaw ticked. He waved her on. “Let’s get it over with, then.”

“You don’t even know what I’m going to say,” Musa argued.

“Don’t particularly want to.”

She took a few, careful steps closer to him, so he was nearly in reaching distance. He didn’t waiver, but the little crease in his forehead deepened. If he wasn’t such a stubborn jackass, he would’ve almost definitely moved away from her.

For once, she was grateful he was.

“Look. I won’t apologize for being a mind fairy,” Musa said. “I didn’t ask to take private things from people I care about without their permission. But I’m sorry it happened.”

“Oh, so I’m people you care about, am I?” Riven was trying to be snarky, to defend himself with barbs.

Musa swallowed; took another slow step forward, and wrapped her fingers around his. Pulled his hand gently out of his pocket. The expression fell right off his face. It was all she could do to keep the barrier between him and her powers, because whatever he was feeling rushed out to greet her.

She hated to give any part of herself away, especially to someone like Riven, which seemed a bit like tossing a diamond into a hurricane. But their entire relationship had consisted of her accidentally pulling out little bits of himself he wanted hidden, and he was still there, standing in front of her, so she figured maybe fair was fair.

“Yeah,” she admitted. “You are.”

Her thumb stroked the back of his hand, full of intent. Her eyes flickered over his face, pausing on the slope of his lips.

His hand trembled beneath hers, but she didn’t have time to focus on it, because suddenly he was rushing forward, mouth crashing into hers.

Musa’s little breath of surprised was consumed by his lips. She wasted no time in dropping his hand, in winding both of her arms around his back to pull him closer to her. His tongue swept into her mouth, like they’d been doing this for weeks. Maybe she wished they had.

She was surrounded by him. Pine, sharp edges, and wandering hands that weren’t shy about cupping her ass harder when she let out a little whimper of pleasure.

His hips rolled into hers, and Musa had never felt like this before. Overcome with so much lust. So much raw desire.

Her back hit the trunk of one of the trees they’d been surrounded by for months now. The bark dug into her skin through her sweater, pleasant and grounding.

“Knew you wanted it bad,” Riven muttered, trailing his lips from her mouth and down to the little hollow beneath her ear. He sucked, hard, and she hissed out a breath. There would be a mark, for sure. It didn’t surprise her, that Riven jumped at the opportunity.

“Knew you’d run your mouth.” She drug his face back to hers. Her nails dug into his shoulders, through his workout shirt, and she wondered if she’d leave a mark on him, too.

Dimly, Musa felt his knee nudging hers apart. She wanted more. Her hand fisted in his shirt, and she hiked her leg over his hip. Squeezed her eyes shut at the ping of pleasure that barreled through her at the friction.

He took the hint. In one, easy motion, his hands were under her thighs, lifting her further up so her legs could encircle his waist. The action sent her pulse skyrocketing, and judging by the feel of his smirk against her lips, he was more than aware of the effect on her.

Hot fingers nudged under her sweater, creeping towards the band of her bra. Musa wanted him to continue. To rip it off, if he wanted.

His other hand skated up her thigh, dangerously close to the hem of her shorts, and she forced herself to pull back. His dark eyes searched hers, dazed with want.

“We’re in the forest,” Musa muttered, hands bunched at the nape of his neck. Her thumb brushed his hair, and it was soft as a feather under her touch.

“As opposed to where? Our suites with four other people?” he whispered back, leaning in to nuzzle a line of kisses down her jaw. She hated how she curled into his touch, like putty. Loved it.

She slid her body down his, purposefully brushing up against him until her feet hit the ground. “The mat’s in the bag.”

“That shitty fucking mat.” She dropped a kiss on his collarbone, and he let out a hiss between his teeth. He corrected, “That perfect fucking mat.”

Musa lay curled against Riven later, the stars a blanket above them.

The hot sex had been expected, the image of his devilish eyes winking at her while he did unspeakable things to her a given, almost. But the soft kiss he’d pressed on her cheek when they were done, the way he’d helped her button her shorts back up, how he was drawing lazy circles into her hipbone now… those were all pleasant surprises.

Something flashed in his free hand, near where his boots had been tossed. His socks were still on, as were hers (“Leave those fucking things on,” he’d ordered, the second her hands had drifted towards them).

Musa squinted at the object, grinning when she made it out.

“Of course you keep a dagger in your boot.” She paused and looked again. “A dagger in each boot.”

Riven’s essence tweaked to something a little bashful. Still very, very happy, though.

“Actually was gonna give this one to you,” he admitted, the weight of his words tickling her hair. “Maybe you can even use it, now.”

Musa’s chest bubbled with something disgustingly warm. Her fingers skirted over his, gently taking the dagger into her own hand. His hand remained over hers on the hilt, and he drew it towards him to brush a kiss on the inside of her wrist.

She wondered how long he’d been carrying it around, toying with the idea of giving it to her. The thought was a bit overwhelming, and the last thing she wanted to do was scare him off, now, so she said, “I absolutely can.”

Riven’s hand on her hip crept lower, already teasing. “You telling your little friends about this, then?”

It was meant as a taunt. A challenge. But Musa didn’t miss the layers insecurities beneath, so she didn’t hesitate to reach for her phone.

He grunted in protest at the absence of her body, but she shushed him. “Better believe I am.”

She pulled up her suite group chat, tilting the screen so Riven could see what she was typing.

Musa [8:39 pm]: This is me formally informing you than Riven and I are dating. Fill you in later.

Riven let out a breath, either in protest or awe, she wasn’t sure. She was quick to shush him with a kiss to the side of his neck. “Threats of bodily harm are something you have to deal with now, sorry. Besides. If we can’t spar at the pond, we’ll never get anything done, now.”

“Fucking shame,” he bit out, sarcastic, but she didn’t miss the coil of his happiness as his fingers toyed with the ends of her pigtails.