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Enough, cadets!”

Major Phelan’s voice thundered throughout the training room, appearing only to be amplified by the padded walls meant to muffle the sounds of practice combat that filled the capacious gym. Cadet Tally Craven, from her supine position on the mat after having her ass handed to her by her unit-mate and adopted sister Abigail Bellweather, had stiffened instantly at the Major’s command. From her position on the floor, Tally craned her neck to watch Major Phelan deliver whatever announcement had prompted her to interrupt the partners sparring throughout various practice mats positioned around the larger center ring.

Major Phelan sucked in an impressive breath and bellowed: “C.O. on deck!”

Tally’s eyes widened and she missed a full breath before hurling herself back to her feet far, far less gracefully than she would have liked. On her left, Abigail tossed Tally a knowing smirk once the two were eye-level again; on her right, her other adopted sister Raelle Collar snorted pointedly. Tally ignored them both, eyes flicking quickly to the door of the practice room as she straightened to attention and attempted to discreetly pull her tank top back down into a more presentable position. When the whisper of a smile insisted on making itself known on Tally’s lips, she angled her face away so Abi and Rae wouldn’t notice, but kept her eyes firmly fixed on the first of eight women to cross the threshold of the main entrance.

General Sarah Alder strode briskly through the door, pressed uniform pristine as always, dark hair and placid expression in their usual prim order as she led her seven, outwardly-elderly Biddies into the training space. Tally licked her lips out of some impulse that seemed to be at once somehow both unconscious and expectant as the General drew level with the cadets scattered in twos and threes around the wide, empty circle. Alder’s alluring, unsettling blue gaze slid serenely amongst the cadets, hovering a fraction of a second longer on Tally before moving along to Abigail. Despite the brevity of the contact, Tally had to suppress first a shiver and then the exquisite, unbidden memory of those same blue eyes fluttering closed the night before when Tally had added a third finger to the two already fucking furiously into the General from Tally’s place kneeling between Sarah’s knees in her office. The sudden image, combined with the echo of the sounds Sarah had made and the faintest memory of the way she tasted on her tongue, left Tally’s hips shifting restlessly in her position at respectful attention and a firm ache between her thighs that Tally suspected the General sensed through the remnants of their former Biddy bond.

The sudden, infinitesimal flaring of Sarah’s nostrils and the flicker of her gaze back to Tally before it swept along again, her expression communicating “Behave,” confirmed Tally’s suspicion and chastised her into better controlling her thoughts. Honestly, as her choices were to focus on hand-to-hand or slip into a highlight reel of all their many surreptitious meetings since ending the Reel together two months prior,… Well, it was quite the feat that Tally managed to keep her expression neutral, even if her hands did twist into the material of her tank top at her back.

Sarah’s own hands were clasped firmly behind her back as she addressed the War College students in her low, nearly-musical cadence. “Cadets, I hope you’ll excuse my intrusion. I found myself with two free hours after a cancelled meeting, and I wanted to check in on your progress in hand-to-hand. I hope you and Major Phelan will oblige my intrusion.”

In response, the four-dozen cadets stamped their feet in military applause.

“Happy to have you here with us, General Alder,” Major Phelan intoned respectfully. “We were just about to run a few free-hand matches. Would you care to watch?”

The General inclined her head respectfully, expression settling into something approximating approval, or perhaps pre-approval, as she surveyed the group. “I’d be delighted.”

Major Phelan nodded perfunctorily, a gesture at odds with the tumultuousness of her voice swiftly thereafter: “Cadets! Circle up!”

The cadets marched quickly into formation, assembling into a loose, evenly-spaced ring around the center circle. Even as her feet moved automatically to obey the order, Tally found her eyes drawn, as they always were, to Alder. In this moment, it was Sarah’s shoulders that drew Tally’s appreciation. Although the General kept her gaze directed forward, Tally could sense through the link between them the tiniest curl of satisfaction, the barest preening under Tally’s gaze when she felt the shape of Tally’s thoughts. It took everything in Tally not to break into a reckless grin.

That was, until Major Phelan shouted Tally’s name as the first selection for a sparring demonstration for the whole assembly—General Alder included.

Tally gulped, although her feet carried her obediently into the center of the circle. She tried not to look too closely at any of the faces assembled around her, and she ignored Alder’s face altogether.

“You can do it, Tal!” Rae shouted supportively from her position along the circle.

“Yeah, you go, Tal!” Abi agreed from beside her.

“Matching Craven,” Major Phelan began pensively, glancing carefully around the circle as she made her second choice. “Cadet Shellbark!”

Tally winced at the pronouncement. She liked Gregorio Shellbark well enough, but he was much larger than she was, much broader in the shoulder and thicker in the thigh, and sparring with him had an unfortunate tendency to result in Tally on the ground. She surveyed Gregorio carefully as he slouched into the ring with her, trademark charismatic grin fixed to his face as he took his place in front of Tally.

“Cadets!” Major Phelan barked. “On my mark!”

Tally rolled her shoulders, widening her stance as she appraised Gregorio’s footing, her gaze flicking up from his planted feet to his shifting hips and rippling pectorals. She did her very best to ignore Sarah’s presence, although she sensed the other woman watching her figure appreciatively, which only triggered a rush of warmth along the length of Tally’s spine.

This was going to be difficult.

“Get set!” Phelan continued. Tally’s eyes found Gregorio’s. “Go!”

As Tally had expected, Gregorio moved first, his full body extending into a lunge that sliced forward into Tally. Recognizing their worrying size differential, Tally opted to play for speed. She skipped to her left, letting the momentum of Gregorio’s path carry him right to her side before she swiped her back foot in a wide arc and twisted around him, allowing him to take several steps into what had been her space before he realized that she had vacated it and spun around to find their positions fully reversed.

Gregorio smiled tightly at her, his eyes flicking along her chest, looking for a tell-tale flex of muscle coiling for an attack that he could use to his advantage. Tally chose to give him none, instead keeping on the defensive while she felt out his strategy and allowed him to expend some of his energy. Without warning, Gregorio attempted a hammer strike from overhead that Tally dodged, again allowing his momentum to carry him off the mark before she spun a second time to appraise him. She grinned sweetly into his face once he whirled back around, a gesture that prompted twin whoops from her sisters and a throb of heady appreciation from Sarah along the magical path between them.

Tally could sense Gregorio’s rising frustration when he suddenly unleased a volley of attacks both closed- and open-fisted. Tally blocked most of them, but she did intercept a solid punch to the eye at one point that left her dancing out of Gregorio’s reach while she blinked away the tears that fell from it. The next several minutes were a whirlwind of motion as Gregorio pressed forward with fists and feet in an effort to back Tally into the rim of the circle while she mostly blocked and parried, searching, searching…

There.

Tally sprang forward for an experimental punch, hoping to get a clearer sense of Gregorio’s defensive tells, but he brought one arm up to block before dropping into a crouch and hooking her feet out from under her with one powerful, floor-level sweep to the back of her ankles. Tally cursed as she went down, rolling her palms down to absorb her weight as painlessly as possible before bringing them up to catch whatever final blow Gregorio would inflict after he’d thrown himself on top of her, forcing Tally’s hips into the training mat with the weight of his own. Tally’s wrists were still throbbing with the impact of her landing when Gregorio gathered both into one of his fists and pinned them above her head, his hips coming to rest between Tally’s splayed thighs.

She was so focused on her own indignation at the way the match had turned that it took her a moment to register a primal fury, red-tinged like hunger and yet somehow even more base, radiating outward from a point in her chest. Tally’s breath stuttered as she writhed beneath Gregorio, and she tilted her face to the side, her body already sensing the source of the dark sensations rippling over her, but her eyes seeking confirmation all the same.

The General’s face was a mask of animal rage, her pupils blown dangerously as her eyes fixed on Gregorio’s hands holding Tally’s wrists above her head. Although Tally couldn’t hear anything except the sounds of Gregorio panting above her and the encouraging shouts of her various friends gathered around the ring, from the way the General’s lips had peeled back from her teeth, Tally could imagine that a low snarl slid from between her teeth. The sight of the woman’s incandescent rage was mesmerizing, and Tally wouldn’t have been able to deny the jolt of desire that it sent straight to her core even if she’d wanted to.

However, when the general took a step toward the ring, further into the line of sight of all the cadets gathered around it and that of the Major who supervised them, Tally realized the danger of their situation. Tally’s eyes returned to Gregorio’s above her, and then she brought her right knee up and under his armpit, twisting her calf inward and down the length of his belly. She curled and planted her left foot beside Gregorio’s thigh to gain purchase, then smiled sympathetically up at him, her lips already falling into an apologetic wince. Finally, about the time his eyes widened as he realized what she was doing, Tally snapped her right shin directly up and into Gregorio’s groin.

The man grunted and fell forward, his grip on Tally’s wrists going slack. Tally used the force of his fall to escort him over her left side, hinging the force of her ascent on that of his descent to rise over him as he landed on his back, then planting her knees on either side of his hips. She brought her left hand up to his throat to hold it carefully down, then her lips parted in a ghost of a Windstrike that did little more than ripple pointedly along Gregorio’s skin. Her eyes first found the Major to signal her victory before sliding back to Sarah, who seemed to have collected herself with Tally’s sudden triumph. At the very least, Sarah didn’t look like she was going to march into the circle and throttle Gregorio until he released Tally, and those dark contractions along the link between them, like the flexing of a big cat’s claws into the dirt before it launched itself forward into an attack, had stopped. That was a good start.

“Craven!” Phelan bellowed. “Great work.”

Tally beamed at the Major before glancing down to Gregorio below her with every intent to apologize. He blew out a rueful breath before smiling genially back at Tally as if to say No harm done. Still riding the high of a successful match, Tally returned the expression.

Everything might have been fine if he hadn’t taken Tally’s answering smile as an invitation and then slid both of his hands up along her thighs and brought them to rest too high to be expressly appropriate and then squeezed.

That dark, possessive throbbing along her connection to Sarah utterly exploded then.

“Craven.” The way the General said her name in that moment was proximal to a snarl. Tally’s blood ran cold and she could sense a faint ripple of anxiety that flickered swiftly around the circle. Woefully clueless as he had been to this point, Gregorio at least had the good sense to remove his hands from Tally’s ass under his C.O.’s furious gaze.

Tally gulped before her head snapped forward in the General’s direction. Although Alder seemed outwardly, unsettlingly calm, her eyes were chips of ice as they appraised Tally in a way that filled her with a heady, confusing mixture of dread and arousal.

“Y-Yes, ma’am?” Tally’s voice hovered dangerously over a squeak. In her peripheral vision, she noted Major Phelan’s furrowed brow.

“With me,” the General commanded, spinning abruptly on her heel and striding purposefully toward the exit, her Biddies falling cleanly into formation at her back. Just as Alder approached the door, she called over her shoulder without turning: “Thank you for the demonstration, Major Phelan. The cadets are clearly in… fine hands.” If the last two words were sharp enough that the General might have gnawed on their edges, Major Phelan said nothing, settling for a curt, if perplexed nod.

Tally extricated herself swiftly from her position above Gregorio. Although the polite thing to do would have been to help him to her feet after her, Tally found herself too annoyed with him to indulge the convention just now, so she instead marched toward the rim of the circle and let one of his boisterous friends help him up. As Tally overtook the circle’s edge, she felt her sisters’ eyes on her, but pointedly ignored them as she lit after her General. The low buzzing of her cohorts’ voices followed her through the double-doors.

Tally waited until both doors had closed firmly behind her before she took off into a less ceremonial sprint. Even still, she was surprised by how long it took her to overtake the General and her Biddies, all eight of whom seemed to be marching at an unnecessarily expedient clip. Despite the pace, Tally noted the stiffer-than-usual posture of Sarah’s back and that the woman didn’t turn to acknowledge her approach. Apprehension clawed up Tally’s throat, exacerbated by the fact that glancing between Alder’s seven Biddies did nothing to reveal the General’s mood as it usually did to someone who knew what to look for. Even the connection, unpredictable as it was, felt remarkably—she refused to think painfully—muted on Sarah’s end.

With only the barest hesitation, Tally fell into brisk step behind Sarah’s right shoulder when she finally managed to catch up to them halfway between the training room and the administration building.

“Sa—” she began, then promptly cleared her throat, her eyes sweeping the lawn. “General.”

“Not here, Craven.”

The command was uttered with an eerie calm so at odds with everything else about Sarah in this moment that it sent Tally’s pulse singing in her ears. Or it might have been the sharp drop in the barometric pressure that announced the volley of stormclouds gathering over their heads. Tally nodded although she knew the General couldn’t see it and then swallowed heavily with her eyes on the sky. She couldn’t be angry with Tally for Gregorio’s behavior, surely? She couldn’t think Tally wanted anyone’s hands on her but Sarah’s?

The remainder of the trip to Sarah’s office passed in a blur of verdant, manicured landscape and concrete sensed only on the periphery of Tally’s attention, and then that gave way to equally-unseen rough-hewn stone and mahogany when their tense procession entered the admin building and breezed down the central hallway to Alder’s office.

Tally interpreted the Biddies, as one, taking a hard right at the office door and heading into the direction of their shared quarters as a bleak omen. She was humiliated by the sound of her own throat working around a gulp loudly enough to draw Sarah’s attention to the telltale flutter in the muscles of her neck as Sarah opened the office door and stepped inside, making space for Tally to follow in behind her before slamming and locking the door behind them both.

On the other side of the door, in the privacy of this office—a privacy in which the two had repeatedly and enthusiastically indulged these past two months—Sarah appraised Tally with glittering eyes and… waited. Her back was painfully straight, hands clasped behind it, her eyes boring hotly into Tally’s and growing more scorching with each passing, silent second.

“S-Sarah,” Tally stammered, her heart thumping wildly in her chest and her pulse quickening in her ears as she took in the expression on Sarah’s face. “I didn’t invite that. I’ll tell him off when I get back to Sekhmet.” Sarah’s expression didn’t change, but she took a step forward, caging Tally in. “I didn’t want his hands on me like that.”

As if the words recalled the image, Sarah froze, her breath hitching sharply, and whatever she’d done to dampen her end of their connection slipped away. Tally noted the way Sarah’s jaw clenched and unclenched, no doubt evidencing the grinding of her teeth, while her eyes remained fixed on Tally’s. In the bond, Tally picked out a sharp, serrated fury, a possessiveness that made her dizzy, a bolt of arousal more powerful than anything happening outside, and a heart-wrenching yearning. In the still silence, Tally was distracted from pursuing that last emotion by a jagged line of lightning outside the window behind the desk, followed by a grumble of thunder. The magnitude of the magic saturating the air and whipping the storm outside into a frenzy tasted precisely the same as that permeating the open bond between Tally and Sarah.

“Sarah?”

Sarah closed the distance between them, stopping a handful of inches before Tally, her right hand rising to cup Tally’s jaw with a gentleness that surprised her given the gathering might of the storm outside. Still, she said nothing, her eyes leveled harshly at Tally’s in a silence that amplified the twin thrums of her rage darting across the bond and throughout the gale outside the building.

And then, like a storm cresting a hill, Sarah descended.

Tally’s back was against the door before she’d even fully registered that Sarah was pushing her toward it and then suddenly Sarah was leaning her full body into Tally’s to pin her against the polished wood. Tally barely had time to register how very much she enjoyed the sudden proximity, however brusque, before Sarah’s lips claimed hers with a groan that started low in her throat and demanded the same from Tally.

This kiss had more teeth than Tally was used to from Sarah, but she found she didn’t mind at all when Sarah tugged her lower lip between her teeth and bit down. No, in fact, the action coaxed an obscene moan from Tally’s lips that sent a wave of satisfaction through their link, Tally’s hips jolting forward in sudden, unmistakable need. In an instant, Sarah brought one of her thighs between Tally’s, grinding forward and against Tally’s center with a precisely-calibrated pressure and friction that left Tally panting into Sarah’s mouth in seconds.

“Sarah… Goddess, Sarah.

“Yes, dear one?” Tally could tell her General was trying for an air of innocence, but was missing the mark entirely because her voice had dropped so exquisitely low, nearing a purr that Tally felt between her legs almost as thoroughly as she felt Sarah’s thigh there. The gentleness of the endearment, though, left Tally shuddering weakly with relief.

“I thought you were angry with me.” Tally’s voice was far more vulnerable than she would have liked, even if it spun up in pitch at the end when Sarah brought her lips to the underside of Tally’s jaw. She felt Sarah exhale then, her hot breath rolling against Tally’s neck and seeping beneath the low neckline of her tank top.

“No, sweetling. I am angry, but not at you.” Tally shivered when Sarah interrupted herself with a swift, almost-painful bite lower down Tally’s neck. “However, I do feel a pressing need to remind you of whom you belong to.” And then she accented the hottest thing Tally heard ever heard in her life with a roll of her hips that brought her thigh more forcefully against Tally’s now aching cunt.

“Ah—Oh,” Tally muttered inarticulately, bringing her arms around Sarah’s waist and drawing her impossibly closer, her own hips grinding down with something approaching a rhythm, something far exceeding want.

“Do you want that, Tally?” It was a question, Tally knew it was a question, that it was Sarah affirming Tally’s consent, but how could anything so natural it was necessary need to be asked? And how could anything asked in that raspy lilt, broken in the middle by a moan when Tally’s grip suddenly dropped from Sarah’s waist to her ass, be anything anyone would ever say no to? Sarah’s molten eyes found Tally’s again, expectantly, and Tally nodded with embarrassing vigorousness.

“Say it,” Sarah ordered, reaching behind herself to catch one of Tally’s wrists in each of her hands and then bringing both up to shove them roughly into the door on either side of Tally’s shoulders. The bite of Sarah’s nails into the tender skin of Tally’s wrists, combined with the powerlessness of the position, tore a fragmented moan from Tally’s throat and she nodded again, entirely forgetting what the question had been, what Sarah wanted her to say.

“Say. It.” This time, the command was at once more forceful, but also accompanied by Sarah’s’ intense expression slipping for a moment into amusement. Mischievous amusement, it turned out, because she suddenly surged forward and licked a long line from Tally’s left collarbone to just under her ear and repeated herself a third time when her sinful mouth had arrived.

Tally whimpered and flexed her trapped hands when Sarah pulled Tally’s earlobe between her teeth.

“Yes, yes, Sarah, yes.” Tally was utterly beyond shame as she rubbed herself against Sarah’s thigh, seeking friction she felt like she’d die if she wasn’t able to get now. But she could tell by Sarah’s lack of movement and raised eyebrow that she wanted more. Tally took a breath and focused her brain on communicating ideas with her words and not her body driven as it was by the nearly terrifying intensity of her desire in this moment. “Yes. Remind me of who I belong to.”

Sarah’s inhale was sharp enough to betray her own desire, enough that Tally’s slightest press against the connection between them revealed an unmistakable hunger to mark, to possess. Tally swallowed and wound herself more fully into the link, telegraphing her own, reciprocating need along it: She watched Sarah’s eyes widen and her pupils blow wide when she felt Tally’s answering desire to be possessed. By her.

Only you, she sent her wordlessly, waves of imbricated arousal and affection trailing along behind the silent assurance like the glittering tail of a streaking comet.

It all happened so fast after that.

One second, Tally was begging Sarah with her hips to give her more, more of anything, the skin of her exposed shoulders dragging slowly up and down the surface of the polished wood behind her with each grinding motion, her wrists still pinned out to the side in a bruising grip. The next, Sarah had released Tally’s wrists to fist the cadet’s tank top in both hands and dragged her away from the door. Sarah’s rough hands on her biceps, pushing her into walking forward in front of the General, were how she knew to walk to the handsome desk in front of the window.

The pace Sarah set was brisk, enough so that when Tally reached the desk after what felt like aching hours, her thighs collided with it. Sarah stepping fully against Tally’s back, pressing the length of her body into Tally, called a moan from Tally’s throat that she didn’t bother trying to bite down on. Sarah’s hands flew into action then, dragging Tally’s arms behind her, leaving enough space that Sarah could wrap one arm against Tally’s elbows and pull, effectively trapping her again, this time against Sarah’s own body. The position bowed Tally’s spine forward, and Sarah took quick advantage by allowing her free hand to caress Tally’s breasts through her thin shirt, tweaking one nipple with enough pressure to drive Tally’s ass backwards into Sarah’s thighs. Tally ached to turn, to run her hands over every inch of Sarah that she could, and yet she also ached with a deep delight at being unable to. The conflict was absolutely maddening, and so Tally settled for grinding backward and muttering, “Please, Sarah, please, please, please…”

“So needy, cadet,” Sarah purred directly into Tally’s ear, making Tally squirm more vigorously against her. Sarah brought her hand lower to rest on Tally’s zipper, her thumb diving teasingly into Tally’s waistband while she nuzzled closer into Tally’s neck. “I’ll take you soon enough.” The promise, delivered ahead of a dark little chuckle, sent a throb directly between Tally’s legs. “But first, you need to tell me whose you are. Can you do that?”

“Yours, Sarah. I’m yours.”

Another laugh, from somewhere low and still and predatory, and then another maddening question: “And who gets to touch you, Tally?” The movement of Sarah’s hand away from her zipper to her thigh pulled a frustrated growl from Tally’s lips that only spurred Sarah on. Her hand came to rest right where one of Gregorio’s had been Goddess, only what, half an hour? before. When she repeated the question, her voice was even more gravelly, even less restrained. Her head fell forward to rest on Tally’s shoulder and she squeezed roughly. “Who gets to touch you like this, Tally?”

“Mm, Sarah, only you. Only you.”

“Good girl.”

The simple praise should not have undone Tally the way it did. However, paired as it was with a sharp bite to her shoulder...

Despite such delicious restraints, Tally used her limited range of motion to curl her fingers, trapped though they were against Sarah’s abdomen, into the waistband of first Sarah’s slacks and then the front of her underwear and pull her closer. The hiss from the General’s lips when Tally’s fingers got as far as she could reach in this position—still not nearly close enough—drove Tally into even higher magnitudes of need.

When Sarah’s arm shot without warning from between Tally’s elbows, she was so stunned that she would have fallen backward if Sarah hadn’t then seized her by the hips and shouldered her forward over the surface of the desk. Tally instinctively made to brace herself on her palms and push herself back to her feet, but Sarah’s hand on her lower back kept her still and prone, her stomach vaguely chilled where her tank had ridden up in her fall and her skin met the cool surface of the desk.

“Sarah?”

All sense evaporated from Tally’s mind at the sound of a belt buckle clicking open under the deft fingers of the hand not pressing Tally into the desk.

“Tally.” Sarah’s voice was more strained than Tally had ever heard it before, sunken dangerously below the sound of leather pulling through fabric. “What’s our safe word, dear one?”

Tally’s hips jerked forward and down against the edge of the desk, her thighs clenching in fervent anticipation of she didn’t even know what. “It’s Aviator.”

“Tally, look at me.”

The tone was oh, so gentle, and the juxtaposition of that tenderness to the rough hold her hand kept on her back left Tally suddenly acutely aware that the gusset of her underwear was sticking to her uncomfortably. Goddess, she adored this woman. Tally craned her neck to bring Sarah into her line of sight.

“Use it if you become uncomfortable.” Sarah’s cheeks and throat were visibly flushed and her tongue darted along her lower lip when she issued the reminder. Her eyes were vivid, dancing with promise of Tally’s pleasure. Whatever it was that was about to happen, Tally didn’t think even Sarah could want it as much as she did just then. But she nodded once, eyes drifting to the coiled belt slung over Sarah’s left elbow.

Sarah returned the gesture, and then both of her hands gathered Tally’s wrists yet again, this time bringing them both to meet at the base of her spine. Then Sarah’s belt was drawn expertly along Tally’s wrists and looped twice. The metallic click of the buckle being re-fastened was one of the most erotic things Tally had ever heard in her life. She tested the strength of this impromptu binding and let out a breathy moan when she discovered how secure it was.

“Is this okay, Tally?” Sarah asked, one hand stroking tenderly up and down the shape of the belt over Tally’s skin.

Tally’s laugh was brittle and breathless, but it still left a whisper of condensation against the glossy varnish below her cheek. “It’s more than okay. But I’ve never wanted to touch you more than I do now that I can’t. And that’s saying something, Sarah.”

The pitch of Sarah’s answering chuckle was downright sinful. As was the way she angled her thighs between Tally’s spread legs from behind and greedily palmed her ass. The sensation, combined with her immobilization, left Tally grinding her hips backward, breath stuttering in fractured pants against the desk.

“Sarahhhhh…”

“Say it again, Tally.” Her tone went to grit, dragging dangerously along Tally’s back like fingernails. Whatever that dark, angry force was from before, it was back in spades, flooding the line between them in molten heat. The locations of Sarah’s hands as they kneaded at her flesh, as if she hoped her hands could burn away all traces of another’s, told Tally what it was Sarah wanted her to repeat so urgently.

“No one can touch me like this except you, Sarah.” When Sarah’s hands trailed along Tally’s waistband to grip her zipper again where Tally’s hips met the desk, her voice sounded increasingly ragged in the air between them, her need increasingly plain. “Only you, yes, please, yes.”

Sarah hummed low in her throat and wrenched apart the button and zipper on the front of Tally’s pants, one hand diving roughly into the front of her sodden underwear and finally, finally touching her where Tally needed her so desperately. Without preamble, Sarah drove three fingers into her with enough force that Tally choked out a sob, only to yank them back quickly and shove them right back inside her. It continued like this for a moment before Sarah grew dissatisfied with the angle. Then she hauled Tally’s pants and underwear down her legs to pool over her boots and kicked Tally’s feet further apart, dragged her hips higher, and instead entered her from behind. This angle had Tally’s vision going white at the edges and tiny, bitten-off moans bursting rhythmically from her throat in time with Sarah’s thrusts, gone brutal in their pace.

“Again, Tally.” The order was wrecked, breathless, but Tally obeyed all the same.

“Only you, Sarah. I only, only want you.”

Tally’s shoulders rolled as her wrists flexed against the belt keeping her in place, so Sarah’s free hand flashed forward to grip the belt and hold Tally right where she wanted her. Still unsatisfied with the force of her thrusts, Sarah growled and brought her hips forward against the top of her hand and rolled her hips forward to fuck Tally in earnest. Tally, to her credit was circling right on the rim of her orgasm, rising, rising to a height she had never experienced, her teeth creaking from grinding them in anticipation. She was so close, if she could just—

“Tally. Tally, I don’t… I need—”

Whatever the feverish, confusing mess was that had consumed Sarah in the training room still beat at Tally’s senses along the path of their connection and sparked dangerously in the rhythm of Sarah rutting against her, but… Tally frowned… There was that other, yearning feeling, too, stronger now than it had been yet. The enormity of Sarah’s longing nudged Tally even closer to her climax, but she held it off in the interest of understanding what it was that left Sarah sounding so utterly wrecked in those few words.

Then it clicked.

Tally twisted so she could meet Sarah’s eyes, red-rimmed and overbright in this moment.

“Oh, Sarah… I want only you because I love you, silly.”

It wasn’t how Tally would have imagined saying it for the first time, but then what about their strange pairing had ever been even remotely predictable? And from the way Sarah’s eyes widened for an instant before she seemed to settle back into her own skin, before the yearning she hadn’t found the words for became legible to her at last, when the desperate, painful hope singed by the perceived threat that Tally might want someone else instead finally righted itself at her admission, Tally knew she’d said it exactly when she needed to.

Sarah’s fingers withdrew from her with an obscene noise punctuated by Tally’s whimper, and then the belt fell away, undone. Tally flexed the muscles in her fingers as she rolled onto her back and then pulled herself up into a seated position on the desk. Sarah’s eyes, when Tally finally met them, were uncharacteristically timid, contrite over what Tally knew she perceived as her loss of control.

Tally hurriedly kicked off her boots and the clothing tangled around her ankles and then crossed her bare legs behind Sarah’s back, bringing her closer so her hands could rise and cradle Sarah’s face. Sarah went willingly, forehead coming to rest against Tally’s as it so often did during their intimate moments, while her arms circled Tally’s waist.

“You love me?” This close, the naked hope in Sarah’s eyes was unmistakable. Tally could have kicked herself for ever letting Sarah get into the position that she didn’t know that Tally loved her—didn’t know that unequivocally, fucking spiritually. But around the confusion of their secret Beltane match, their titles, their complicated history, Tally had waited to say the words, trusted the impressions of her feelings along their connection to be clear to Sarah without her having to say them aloud and risk scaring her off. And now…

“Of course I love, you, Sarah. I’ve been in love with you since the Tarim. Maybe before.” Her right thumb stroked Sarah’s cheek. “Didn’t you feel it through our connection?”

Sarah closed her eyes. “I wondered. I just didn’t know… I don’t have anything to compare it to.”

Tally sucked in a breath. “Oh, Sarah…” Tally focused on the whole, messy composite of her feelings for the General—The reverence, the faith, the attraction. She gathered the trickier ones, too: The frustration with the way Sarah challenged her, giving way as it always did to even more admiration; the fear that she could never be worthy of Sarah’s affection; the bones-deep desire to protect Sarah from the ghosts of her past decisions, no matter their magnitudes. The whole vibrant, absurd kaleidoscope of it—and pressed it along the connection toward her.

“It feels like this to be loved by someone, Sarah.”

Tally knew for certain that the slow smile that blossomed over Sarah’s face was the most beautiful thing Tally had ever seen. And the most beautiful thing she’d ever heard was…

“I love you, too, Tally.”

The kiss that followed blistered in its own way. Where the kisses in the previous few minutes pulled backward into a primal desire, this kiss pulled forward into something terrifyingly, exhilaratingly unknown. When Sarah’s tongue flashed along the roof of Tally’s mouth, Tally worked not to break the spell of the moment, but she couldn’t entirely mask the moan the action pulled from her, still worked up as she was.

Sarah grinned against her mouth and brought one hand up to stroke along her jaw. “Say it again, Tally.”

“I love you, Sarah.”

Sarah nodded to herself in obvious wonder, falling to her knees as if in prayer and placing a gentle kiss to the inside of Tally’s left thigh.

“Again, Tally.” Her hands ghosted along Tally’s outer thighs now, clutching her tenderly forward while she kissed her way heatedly farther up Tally’s thigh.

Tally moaned, but obeyed. “I love you, Sarah.”

Sarah hummed against Tally’s near-painfully sensitive center in a way that jolted Tally’s thighs apart around her before she licked a firm line along her slit and retreated.

“Again, Tally.”

“Sarah, Goddess, I love you.”

Sarah smiled up at her, sliding the same three fingers easily back inside her, giving Tally a second to choke down her cry before withdrawing them, setting a far deeper, far gentler pace than before that took Tally’s breath away for its intensity.

“Again, Tally.”

“I lo—Mm, I love you, Sarah.”

When Sarah’s mouth returned to Tally alongside her fingers, it was with fervor. Her lips stroked along Tally’s vulva in time with the thrusting of her fingers, her breath alternating between cooling and warming the tender flesh below her darting tongue.

When Sarah at last sucked Tally’s clit into her mouth, right as she curled her fingers forward, she didn’t have to ask Tally to say it again, because she screamed it.

Sarah steadied Tally through her aftershocks with gentle swipes of her tongue and gentler kisses to her thighs. When Tally’s senses had returned and she stood from the desk to sink bonelessly to her knees beside Sarah, curling into the crook of her neck as if made to fit precisely there, Sarah pressed a kiss to Tally’s temple and gathered her closer.

“I love you, too, Tally.”

Tally hummed appreciatively before applying gentle pressure to Sarah’s chest and pressing her backwards into the carpet in front of the desk. When her hands found the top button for Sarah’s collar, and then moved to the second, and then the third, she nuzzled into Sarah’s neck just in time to hear Sarah’s breathing hitch.

“Say it again, Sarah.”