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Figaro Castle, I discovered, was an odd place. It was riddled with mysterious panels and doorways leading to innards that most decent castles wouldn't dream of having. It groaned, gurgled to itself, and clanked. It smelled every so often of machine oil or overheated metal or--once, inexplicably and ominously for a castle in the middle of a desert--of dead fish. One couldn't walk the hallways at any hour without seeing at least one of Edgar's roughly seven million engineers (and sometimes Edgar himself) leaning into, underneath, or ass-up in some bit of the Castle's machinery that, by the look on his or her face, wasn't working now but by the gods would be damned soon. It was good to see, especially since I had gotten the impression that something broke down, somewhere in Figaro, on average once every three minutes.

Tonight was no exception. The hallway leading to my rooms held two engineers arguing animatedly over a tangle of wires that had seemingly sprouted from a wall like fungus and another engineer fiddling with an access panel on the backside of a seemingly solid stone column. Out of habit, I slid past all of them, unseen.

My door swung open at the turn of my key and I allowed myself to relax a bit once it was locked behind me. I rubbed irritably at the tenseness in my neck, feeling sweat and sand. Yes. Relax. Right. Enough to take a shower, at least.

In friendly territory, in a fortress, I still checked the room and the adjoining bathroom before I started to strip down. Old habits die hard. My old habits hardest of all.

The water pipes moaned obligingly before spewing forth the requested water. Edgar had found some way to actually cool the water as well as heat it. After a long day in the hot sun and sand-laden wind that seemed to constitute the Figaro summer, the former was more appreciated than the latter. I leaned forward against the wall, letting the water wash down my back, my mind running over how exactly I was going to tell Edgar that the dogs he wanted to use for training had perhaps three brain cells between the lot of them and those three were fully occupied by the desire to chase every small mammal that came within a mile of them. He was going to have to find others to train, something smarter, and damned if he was going to weasel me out of Shiva's litter.... And speaking of intelligence, I'd have to ask if he perhaps had any officers smarter than Interceptor that he'd like me to turn into trainers. Two of my ten prospective students had seemed bright enough, but the rest looked like the kind of dimwits and troublemakers that commanders constantly tried to get rid of. Perhaps they were hoping the dogs would eat them. I snorted. Or that I would kill them.

Sighing, I soaped up, then rinsed off before turning off the water and drying off. Then I froze.

A rustle of movement, slightly distorted by the walls. Someone was in the other room.

It could be a servant. I plucked a dirk from its hiding place under a pile of towels and eased toward the door. A servant with keys to my room. Who'd walk in without saying anything. Right. I put my back to the wall beside the half-open door.

I was listening hard to hear where the bastard was in the other room when I heard, "It's only me." The voice from the other room was unexpected but utterly familiar.

A peek around the doorway confirmed it: one prince of Figaro, looking a bit travel-worn, his blue eyes looking rather sheepish under his bangs. "Guess it's not such a good idea to try to sneak up on you, eh?"

Turning back into the bathroom, I chucked the dirk back onto the counter before grabbing my shirt and pulling it on. "I thought you were going to be at Mt. Kolts for three more days." I looked at the pants doubtfully and left them on the floor. Most likely they'd be coming right back off in a few minutes. If I had anything to say about it.

"I heard you were here. Wasn't anything there that really needed me." There was a suspicious rustle of cloth from the other room and the groan of bedsprings.

He might be tired, I told myself, ruthlessly quelling several entertaining images of what I'd like to do to him on the bed. Or just want to talk.

I sighed. I knew the feeling. To my immense surprise, our relationship had evolved to include an almost depressing amount of non-sex. I missed his comments, his sense of humor, the way he'd--if given the chance--watch me with that goofy smile on his face for at least an hour. It was pathetic, worse even than the first time I'd been in love. If I wasn't so damned happy, it would be annoying.

You will not pounce. No matter how tempting he looks..., I told myself as I walked into the bedroom, still toweling my hair.

And promptly stopped when I saw what was laid out for me.

"What? No greeting? No 'Hi, Sabin, I missed you horribly, I could hardly live without you.' ?" His voice was light, joking, as if he were kidding me over a beer rather than lying quite unabashedly naked on my bed.

For about three seconds I was completely incapable of moving. I imagine I must have looked rather silly, the towel trailing from my fingers. My "stunned chocobo" look as Sabin calls it. As unflattering as it sounds, stunned was as good a description as any.

The firelight slid over him like silk. He lay on top of the covers, hands beneath his head on the pillows, one leg propped up, bent at the knee. Against the indigo comforter he was a long, bold length of tanned skin and golden hair, the light fondling every curve of muscle and bone. Seeing him naked always reminded me of how strong he was, how fast, of how many times I'd seen those sleek muscles pounding some monster into dust.

As I watched, he stretched contentedly, working the kinks out of his arms. He did look tired, but he glowed, from the light and his grin and the spark of something bright in his eyes.

I blinked, trying to think of something to say, something appropriately snide to answer him with. Do you come with the room? perhaps or, I'm sorry, I distinctly asked for a brunette tonight. The comebacks came, but I couldn't say them. Something about the day I'd had or the way the light caressed him or the long weeks without him...and I couldn't cheapen the moment, couldn't mock what he was offering and most of all the way he was offering it: happy, open, trusting. He lay there like a tame, contented lion, waiting for my hand. All it took was one errant thought of how warm his skin would be and desire slashed through me in a rush that made my breath catch.

I don't remember moving to the bed. I really don't. I just remember imagining the feel of all that golden skin hot against my palms and then the reality of it as I kissed him. He met me halfway, every muscle suddenly tense, his hands at the back of my head, pulling me closer, our kiss bruising and starving and perfect. My hands swept over him, wanting skin, and it was just as well he was already naked, as clothes would have been scattered to the four winds in pieces. As it was I dimly heard the tear of cloth as he ripped off the shirt I'd donned after my shower. I let him pull the remains off my arms, not caring. All that mattered was his body, warm and hungry and wanting beneath me. It had been too long, and gods, I hadn't realized I'd missed him this much. The desire for his simple companionship, for conversation, for all the gentle bits of our relationship that had made me ache in his absence was eclipsed by his arms pulling me in to lay chest to chest on top of him, by the press of his sex, so hard against my own, by the kiss that went on and on and on and by the sheer primal want that had me so hard that I could think of nothing but how he'd look, how he'd feel, arching beneath me.... His hands moved down to my ass, his legs wrapping around me, pulling me into him, and the pressure on my sex made me gasp.

My vision swam, from lack of air and other things, and I finally broke the kiss, desperately trying to remember where I'd left something, anything I could use to ease my way into him. Seeing my eyes darting across the room, he shook his head impatiently and drew my one hand down under and beneath him, where I felt tight heat and...oil. I slid a finger easily inside him, and he tensed and shivered at the smooth penetration, and not in pain. The clench of him around my finger made my cock twitch.

He pulled my face up to his again. His whisper was rough, his eyes darkened nearly to sapphire with desire. "Do it."

Yes. I pulled up his hips, positioning myself by feel because I couldn't look away from his eyes. Not even when he hissed and clenched them shut as I pushed in. Not even when they reopened and I could tell he wasn't seeing a damned thing through the sensation. And especially not when I hit just the right spot and he bit back on a scream, his hips rising to meet mine, to rub himself against my stomach.

Oh, no. Not tonight. Roughly, I brought both hands and most of my weight down on his hipbones, pinning him.

His eyes flew open, startled. I had never denied him anything in bed before. I leaned up until I was nose to nose with him, staring right into those startled blue eyes. Though he was tight and slick and every instinct in me was screaming to fuck him into the mattress, I slowed my strokes until he made a noise of protest. I whispered against his lips, "Trust me?" before continuing down to taste the skin of his throat.

"Y-yeah." His breath caught as I captured one nipple, grazing it with my teeth.

"Then let me. I've got a better way for you to come."

He made a small, hungry sound at the words, and I felt him surrender under my hands.

The pause had allowed me to regain some control, and slowly I let myself pick up our pace, making sure to hit that spot that had made him cry out. His mouth was open, panting, his head thrown back. His hands scrabbled at the bed, finally knotting themselves in the comforter. His hips were trying to move under my hands, struggling to push up into every thrust. I don't even think that he was aware of it. His cock, hard and getting harder, strained against the air.

I knew what it felt like. I'd had this done to me, had been held, restrained while I was fucked senseless, endlessly stimulated but denied release until the pleasure became pain became pleasure.... Until there was nothing in the world that mattered but shoving myself deep and hard into some hot, wet hole, over and over. I wanted to make him feel that, to do that to him, to my oh so sexy lover who, experienced though he might have been, had never ridden that fine edge.

One of the hardest things I've ever had to do, to keep control while making him lose his. I tortured with tongue and teeth, nipping and sucking until all I could taste was his skin and his sweat. His hips writhed under every stroke of mine, his body tight around me, so velvet-fine that it seemed like blasphemy to have to ignore it all. I kept having to close my eyes as the mere sight of him straining beneath me was almost too much.

I knew it when his mind slid over the edge. His hands stayed knotted in the blankets, but his body arched against me hard, as if he'd forgotten why he was supposed to be passive. His body had given in to the pleasure, shuddering uncontrollably as each touch, each thrust piled sensation on sensation. His voice slid into words that he probably didn't even hear himself saying, "Please...please...fuck...please...."

Good enough.

It had been too long and he felt much too good for it to last as long as I wanted it to. I rode him hard and fast and came in a blinding rush, buried to the hilt in him, and his pleas, now incoherent, wrung every drop of pleasure out of me, spurring me on. I pulled all the way out of him, dragging a strangled, surprised moan from him as I shifted down, releasing his hips to prop myself up on the bed, and, in one swift movement, took the entire weeping, gorgeous length of him into my mouth.

He screamed. The sensation after so much deprivation, I knew, was as much pain as pleasure. His hands found the back of my head and held me there. Released, he thrust, his sex hitting the back of my throat, cutting off my air for the moment before he pulled out and thrust back in. It didn't matter. I knew this wouldn't last long. I helped him along as much as I could, my tongue flashing across the underside of his cock.

His groans came strained, hissing through his teeth now as he fucked my mouth, faster and rougher until all I could do was fold my lips over my teeth and let him use me. "Yeah....yeah...mmmmh...oh...oh...OH!" My cock, far from ready for another round, nonetheless ached warmly when he finally came with a strangled cry, lifting himself half off the bed, my face pressed to him, his seed hitting the back of my throat.

With a final thrust, he fell back to the bed, drained and shuddering. I let him slide out of my mouth, swallowing the taste of him. I found the sad remains of my shirt and used it to clean myself off. He started, then chuckled, hissing, his shaking increasing as I gave him a gentle rubdown, too. The shirt went over the side of the bed, as did the top blanket with its accompanying wet spot.

I stretched out on the cool sheets, far enough away to give him room if he wanted it. I remembered how such loveplay could leave one's skin so sensitized that even a simple touch was skin-twitching torture. To my pleased surprise, though, he rolled over into me, arms going around my torso, his head buried in my shoulder with a contented sigh and a shiver. I rested my cheek on top of his hair, easing sweaty strands of it out of his face. The position gave me a nice view of his bulk curled up around me. Gods, I thought, he's almost two of me.

"What?" I whispered, teasing. "No comment?"

A snort, a chuckle, and another shiver were my only reply.

He looked like he was quickly shutting down for sleep, and that was probably why I said it. "I missed you."

His arms tightened around me, his face tilting up to watch mine. His smile was still a bit dazed, but gentle, affectionate. "I missed you, too."

A few moments later, from my shoulder again, quietly, "You're really staying?"

"Yes. For awhile. A few months at least."

Another pause, even quieter. "Did you really miss me?"

I opened my eyes and looked down at him. He wasn't looking at me, his expression sober, as if he were afraid to see the look on my face. I tilted his chin up so I could meet his eyes. Yes, it was there, fear behind the hope. Something clutched my heart in a cold hand. The last thing I wanted from him was his fear, even if it was a different kind of fear than what I'd normally caused, even encouraged, in others. It squeezed words out of me, words that answered that fear in his eyes rather than the question on his lips, words that I meant but had never said aloud to him. "I love you."

Now he looked like the stunned chocobo, and I smiled faintly, tempted to tell him so.

Then he smiled again. It was tentative, almost vulnerable in a way I'd never seen him before. And it was like seeing the sun come out at midnight, so bright it almost hurt. "Really?"


"I love you, too."

As if I couldn't tell. As if it wasn't in his eyes every time he looked at me. "I know."

Then he grinned and leaned back against my shoulder again. And that was that.


A while later, quietly, after the fire had burned down: "Really?"


"More than gold?"


"More than shuriken?"


"More than Interceptor?"

"Now you're pushing it."

Hands clamped gently but firmly down on my wrists, and in the last dying flares of the fire the look on his face as he bent to tease a nipple was positively demonic. "That," he informed me casually, "was not the correct answer."

In the darkness, I smiled.