She was still somewhat angry that Rokurou insisted they stop for the night. It made sense, with the moon barely being a sliver, with it being so dark they could barely see their hands in front of their faces. But the sooner they rejoined the rest of the party, camped out three towns to the east, the sooner she could get back to her mission.
She could have left him behind, she supposed … but admittedly, she was tired. He apparently wasn’t, as she heard his laughter from the bar area as she headed back to her room from the toilet. She stepped into the tavern and saw him flashing that smile of his at the barmaid. For what, bringing him that bottle? Hmph.
“Velvet!” He saw her and waved for her to come over to his table. He wasn’t the most surreptitious person when he was drinking. They did still have people looking for them. She guessed she should be grateful that at least he didn’t yell out, “Hey, Lord of Calamity!”
“Wanna drink?” he asked when she sat down across from him. “Oho, wait, you can’t. Forgot, sssssssorry. Not old enough. Rules.”
She scoffed. “Since when do you care about rules, after all we’ve done? We’ve probably broken every rule in Midgand. Twice.”
“You care about this one. Sssso it’s important.”
He poured another glass and knocked it back. She just sighed and shook her head.
“Eleanor would say you have a strange sense of honor.”
He waved his hand in the air. “Don’t wanna talk ‘bout her.”
“Yeah. Seems like everyone else does.” She could do without nearly every man they ran into fawning over her in every town. It was a constant reminder that once this was over, Eleanor might still have a chance to return to a normal life, while Velvet never would. Eleanor could claim she was coerced, held in place by artes –
“She’s okay and all, but y’know, if I ran into the two of you, you’d be the one I’d be … uh, paying attention to.”
Some of the skepticism she felt must have shown in her face, because suddenly he looked like someone just kicked him in the stomach.
“I just mean … uh, heh. That wasn’t –”
“Because of my outfit, I presume. I’m well aware that –”
“Oh, that getsss people’s attention, but I wouldn’t be following you around just ‘cause of how you dress.”
“No, you follow me around because I found your sword.”
He laughed, spilling some sake out of his cup. “S’not about the sword anymore, Velvet.”
“Of course not. You broke it.”
Velvet remembered the little nod he had given her when he first saw her, how quickly he had drawn his blades, the almost-joyful smile on his face. The way he had laughed and verbally sparred with her even as they fought. How his expression had instantly changed the moment she mentioned finding his sword. How he had leapt at her, not to harm her, but only to put his hands on her shoulders and plead with her to reveal its location. She’d never seen anyone look at her like that before.
“Doesn’t matter. You found it. Whatever happens to it after, doesn’t change what you did for me. Or why I can’t leave your side.”
“You and your stupid debt,” she muttered.
“‘S not stupid. Lets me stay with you. I wanna stay with you.”
She had never understood what it meant when people said their heart ‘skipped a beat’. That had always sounded dangerous, something you would call the healer for. But when he looked up at her, his glance open and soft, and he said that, her heart seemed to pause.
“Want someone to be there to see you finally defeat Shigure?” she asked, when she managed to find her voice.
“D’like you to be there, yeah. But I wanna follow you to the edge of the world, if you’ll let me. I admire you. What y’re doing, takes strength. S’remarkable.”
Then her heart took off at a gallop. She’d read words like these – although no, not quite like these – in the silly books Niko would lend her, the ones she would tuck under her mattress so Arthur wouldn’t find them. She would daydream sometimes while cooking, imagine someone saying sweet things to her and –
But that Velvet was dead.
And Rokurou was a fool.
“This is why I don’t like alcohol,” she grumbled. “It makes people say things they don’t mean.”
He stopped, mid-slurp, and put down his cup. “I dunno if that’s true. I think I ssssay the truth, just maybe more of it than I should. I don’t say this stuff to you normally because I don’t wanna make you uncomfortable.”
“Oh, like you are now?”
She stood up to go, but he stopped her with a hand on her wrist. It was loose enough that she could have easily shook him off, but she didn’t.
“M’sorry, but you are remarkable, Velvet. Your strength and courage. You’re in so much pain, it’d be real easy to give up. Believe me, I know.”
She drew in a sharp breath as his words from before came back to her. I was so frustrated … by my weakness. My inexperience. So much so that I wanted to end my own life… It was nearly impossible to imagine the man before her, the man who was constantly smiling, making jokes, encouraging everyone else, as being so despondent that he thought suicide was his only option. She hadn’t known what to say then, or now.
He let go of her arm and pointed to her chest. “An’ the compasshhion that’s in your heart there, that you don’t wanna admit to. So many of us daemons just had that part of us go dead when we turned. You still have your humanity. You still feel. Ya fight with honor. I would have been proud to have asked you … not that Shigure … either of them … would have let me marry someone into the clan. Not one of my choosing anyway. My mother would say –”
When she realized what he was saying, she took a step back. The barmaid from before returned – had she sensed that things were becoming too tense? – and offered him a refill.
Velvet took the opportunity to escape back to her room.
If she didn’t know better, if she hadn’t spent enough time with him to be certain he wasn’t cruel, she would think he was teasing her. Mocking her. Maybe he knew that when her body felt so tight it might break, she touched herself and pretended it was him.
In spite of being an inhuman monster, she still had desires and cravings from her past life. And if anyone would be willing to accept her as she was, it would be another daemon, someone else with –
No, they were silly thoughts for her to have, but even if he knew, he wouldn’t make fun.
Maybe … maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if –
She shouldn’t be thinking about his alcohol-induced ramblings. Niko had told her what it did to her father. It turned him into a different man, when he drank, cruel and distant. It made people say things they didn’t mean. That’s what Niko said.
Whatever childish thoughts she had wouldn’t change that.
He made sure he rinsed out his mouth well before heading out for breakfast. Normally he would have waited until after eating to clean his teeth, but last night’s drinking had left his mouth feeling like the inside of his socks. He shouldn’t have had that second bottle.
Or the third.
But it had been a while since it had just been him and Velvet battling their enemies alone. The two of them against whatever daemons stood in their way. When they fought together, it felt like a dance.
Not that his mother had ever been impressed with his skills in that arena, either, when that portion of Rangetsu training arose. She had declared that a half-dead rappig could move more gracefully than he did, loudly and in front of his peers.
None of it mattered now.
He and Velvet fought well together. They barely had to discuss strategy anymore. Of course, he would launch frenzied attacks on multiple targets, while she cut down the weakest ones still left on the field of battle. If he called out her name, she would be there to assist him, and even though she never explicitly asked for help, he could sense when she was struggling and would come to her aid immediately.
He’d fantasized about her before – her naked body writhing underneath him, or twitching under his touch as he ran soap over her in the shower. But last night, he let himself wonder what it would be like if he took her home, presented her to his clan as his wife.
In reality, being a daemon wouldn’t go over well, and he would undoubtedly be beheaded for not requesting Shigure’s permission first; in his thoughts, he tried to ignore that fact, only to have his brain remind him that there was probably no way Velvet would even consent to marry him in the first place.
So he had gone to the bar and wasted entirely too much gald on some rather bland-tasting sake. But it had done its job and cleared his mind. No talkative Eizen to entertain or rowdy crew surrounding him; just him and the liquor. At least, until Velvet showed up.
Rokurou didn’t … quite remember what he said to her, but he hoped he had the sense to not ask her if she wanted a drink. He kept forgetting she didn’t enjoy alcohol and he didn’t want to seem like a jerk.
Even if he was one.
She came out of her room just as he exited the bathroom, and from the look on her face … he was guessing he screwed up last night. Velvet crossed her arms and sighed heavily at the sight of him. He rubbed the back of his neck – a gesture his mother had always called a sign of weakness – and tried to remember what he might have said.
Definitely shouldn’t have had that third bottle.
“Sobered up? We have a long road ahead of us. I don’t want to listen to any more of your idiocy on the way.”
That … didn’t sound good. She wasn’t quite meeting his gaze, either. And her cheeks had a rosy hue.
He swallowed hard, braced for impact. “What exactly did I say?”
“I’m … I’m not going to repeat it.”
His eyes widened as he saw her flush deepen. That sounded much worse than just pestering her to drink with him. Certainly, he hadn’t – had he?
Yukiko used to praise how descriptive he could be. If he had spilled his guts about his fantasies to her, how much detail had he gone into? All he remembered was saying something to her there at the bar, then she was gone. Velvet deserved to feel safe around him, and now she probably just felt like he was every other jerk who had ogled her or made snide comments about her clothing.
“I am sincerely sorry for any distress I’ve given you.” Rokurou bowed more deeply than he ever had in any etiquette class he had been forced to endure.
“It’s nothing. We should go.”
He didn’t budge. “Causing you discomfort is not ‘nothing.’ I –”
“Come on already. I don’t have time for this.”
“I don’t want you to feel –”
“I know you didn’t mean any of it anyway.”
That got him to stand up straight. It should have been a relief; if she didn’t believe him, she wouldn’t feel uncomfortable around him. But she actually looked more upset than she had before.
“Velvet. What did I say?”
“Nothing but the foolish things men say when they’ve had too much to drink.”
She made eye contact with him, finally, and he dared to allow himself to hope. Rokurou didn’t see fear, or unease, but something akin to pain, nearly masked by a layer of anger. Was it possible, maybe? Could she…?
In case he was wrong, in case he had damaged their relationship, as he recalled the times he had been made to feel awkward in his youth, he apologized again. She interrupted him with a frustrated grunt.
“I’m not a delicate flower. Stop treating me like one. None of your drunken lies bothered me.”
Except her face said otherwise. With every ounce of courage he had, he said, “No. I know you. If you’re saying it like that, it means it does bother you. I know what I was thinking, even if I can’t remember what I was saying, exactly. But if I told you that I admire your strength, your bravery, and the human heart that beats inside you, no matter how much you don’t wanna hear it, it was the truth. I meant every word.”
For entirely too long, she stared at him, the look in her eyes so intense that it almost hurt, her body so still it was like she was holding her breath. He watched the emotions play out on her face, as her mouth moved silently, as she blinked rapidly. Was there hope there? Was he imagining it?
Please, he prayed to a universe that had never answered him before. Please let me not be wrong.
Then suddenly she slammed him back, against the wall.
“Shut up! You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He let his head dip down, gently brushing the tip of her nose with his.
“I do. Especially … especially if I told you that I want to stay with you, by your side or wherever you’ll have me.”
Her shuddering breath confirmed his suspicions, although he didn’t close the gap between them. There was nothing he wanted more in that moment than to feel her lips against his. But it had to be her decision. She whispered his name and his hands twitched at his sides. He had touched her before, in battle and after, but never in a sexual manner. Never with the intent of caressing her softest, warmest places and making her moan with pleasure. He wanted –
When her upper lip brushed against his lower one, his resolve weakened. Then her arms were around his waist and he stopped fighting his instinct. He embraced her, pulling her closer, hoping the layers of his outfit would hide the fact that just being able to kiss her had caused his body to react already.
Unwelcome thoughts tried to intrude into her mind, but she pushed them away as forcefully as she could. Her sorrow, her guilt, her shame – they would never completely go away, not until she found her target, and maybe not even then. But in this moment, she wanted to let them go.
Rokurou had been through everything with her, seen her at her worst, watched her break down and completely fall apart, and he was still here. And he was the only one who knew what her arm looked like under the bandages.
Her memories haunted her the most while she slept, but she had just unwrapped her arm one night when she was struck by a scent from a nearby field that reminded her of Aball. It set off a flashback that led to her collapse. He must have heard the scream and rushed in, and when he realized what had happened, he apparently just picked her up off the floor and tucked her into bed. He had to have seen the raw, dark flesh that she normally kept hidden, but he never commented on it. Not even to compare it to his own daemon marks.
Now, in this sober moment, he had been given an opportunity to deny his words from last night and he reinforced them instead. He wanted this. He wanted her.
She couldn’t bring herself to reciprocate his words. Not yet. But she wanted more than just to stand here in the hallway. She took a step back, trying to get him to her room; he broke off the kiss as if he thought she was pulling away. Velvet grasped his hand and took another step, then another, and he let her guide him. Only when they were inside and she shut the door behind him did he speak.
“We don’t have to do anything, you know.”
Her heart sunk a little. Was he changing his mind?
“Do you not want to?” she asked, keeping her tone as light as she could. His left eye darkened and his right eye briefly flashed. He didn’t let go, rubbing the back of her hand with his thumb.
“I want you to be comfortable. I want you to feel safe.”
She frowned at him. She did, obviously. Otherwise, he’d be lying on the floor of the hallway bleeding out of his gut, not standing next to the bed in her room. Her face grew warm and she stiffened when he hesitantly asked her if she’d ever done this before.
“It doesn’t matter to me if you have or haven’t. Not like that,” he said as he gently pulled her into his arms again. He kissed her cheek, next to her ear, and she started to relax again. “We can go more slowly if this is your first time. That’s all.”
“I had the lecture from my teacher, just like everyone else.” Velvet sounded a bit defensive even to her own ears.
“So did I. And I was wholly unprepared. There’s a lot they don’t tell you.”
She didn’t really like thinking about him with someone else, so she turned her head and sought out his lips again. This time, he opened his mouth to her and she almost thought she could taste the herb-and-crushed-oyster-shell paste he used to clean his teeth. He must have put to rest any doubts he had, because then he carefully pushed her back, onto the bed, and then removed her boots. Worry started to creep back in when he didn’t join her, but it quickly abated when he started to remove his clothing.
When she reached for the cords on her top, he held out a hand to stop her. “Uh, please? Will you let me do that?”
It seemed like a silly thing to want, but she let her hands fall to her stomach and watched him as he stripped down to his undergarment. Then he was on top of her, kissing her again, more urgently, even as his fingers were slow and methodical in taking off her clothing. Once she was nude from the waist up, he trailed his lips down her neck and she was suddenly uncertain. Her teacher’s lecture hadn’t been all that detailed, and even Niko’s borrowed books were … vague. Velvet didn’t really think other parts got involved like that. Rokurou lingered on the area where her neck met her shoulder, as his hands skimmed up her sides, stopping just short of her breasts.
Whatever else was going to happen, she knew she wanted him to touch her, now. She took his hands and pushed them up, to her chest, and he groaned against her skin. Her nipples ached and he only eased the discomfort slightly when he brushed them with his thumbs. But then he took one into his mouth and it was her turn to moan as he swirled his tongue around the tight little nub. He abandoned one to attend to the other, the cold air on the damp skin making the throbbing between her legs intensify.
She tried to tug off his clothing, even though it meant he would have to stop, and she felt him smile.
“Ngggh, come on, Rokurou, get on with it.”
“What do you think I’m doing?” He kissed a path down her stomach, his hips getting even further away from hers.
He was silent as went about removing her remaining garments, then shifting around on the bed so he could get rid of his as well, leaving them both finally naked. His member was already firm, standing out away from a nest of dark hair. She felt excitement mixed with the apprehension, which she supposed was probably normal. Instead of aligning their bodies so he could enter her, though, his lips returned to her stomach, then her inner thigh as he spread her legs a little wider. And he kept looking at her parts the way he looked into the window display of weapon shop.
“You must have gotten a completely different lecture from your teacher than I got from mine,” she said, her voice trembling.
He met her stare, a small smile on his face. It didn’t seem like he was laughing at her, though, or making fun.
“Have you ever thought about other places on your body where a man could kiss you?”
Velvet felt her face become unbearably warm. She … hadn’t, but it was pretty clear from his position where he was headed. He ran his hand over her inner thigh, upwards, let it graze over the hair there.
“Is this okay?”
Unable to find words, she nodded. He parted her with his middle finger, letting it slide between her lower lips, gently nudging at her opening, before slipping it inside so slowly it was almost maddening. It felt like when she did it, except his was thicker and could reach farther inside her. She didn’t even have to tell him about the spot on her inner wall, the one that made her legs tremble when she pressed her own fingers against it. He found it easily and was more forceful than she usually was; it felt like her whole body was vibrating when he inserted another finger to join the first.
Then Rokurou put his mouth on her, just above where his fingers were, and his tongue was on her sensitive little button, and she wondered if this was the ‘indecent, forbidden tongue touch’ that she had read about in Niko’s books. Her eyes started to close but she forced them open, because she had to watch this. Had to watch him.
It felt powerfully intimate for him to be kissing this part of her, teasing her, moving his tongue over her and creating sensations stronger than she had ever been able to experience with just her own hand, because he was doing this to her and he wanted to, because he couldn’t be getting any enjoyment out of it for himself and her legs ached from being tensed up and it went on forever and was over too quickly because her insides were spasming around his fingers as she heard herself actually growling as she arched up off the bed and he didn’t stop until she felt the mattress against her back again. Her ears were ringing and her body felt like jelly.
“Rokurou,” she murmured, and then his mouth was on hers, wet and warm, but tasting like nothing.
He had fought to control himself when she came, as she made noises he had never heard from her before, even in the heat of battle. Part of him had feared she wouldn’t be able to let go, wouldn’t be able to relax, and he had been prepared to stop if it seemed she was only growing frustrated and agitated. He hadn’t quite been prepared for how it would make him feel to watch her, taste her, to know he helped her experience that.
Then she had said his name in that breathless, low voice.
He wanted to just plunge into her, but her eyes were unfocused, her whole body was shaking, and her arm had come up to cover her face. When he moved in to kiss her, it was apparent to him she was in a daze. Overwhelmed. Maybe … maybe this would be asking too much, to take her in a position often noted in marriage. Not that she might realize, but he knew he’d probably said too much about it the night before and wasn’t about to risk her discomfort at the subject again.
“Hey,” he whispered. “Let’s roll you over, okay?”
Velvet seemed a little confused, but she complied, and she twisted her hair up and off her back. Rokurou would have loved to have run his hands through it, but upon remembering her aversion for anyone messing with it, realized it would make her uncomfortable. Or worse.
He mouthed at the back of her neck and she buried her head deeper into the pillow. Maybe it would be too much for her if he took her while looking into her eyes, but he did want to see some of her face. He playfully bit at her ear – not enough to hurt – and she turned her head to the side.
“What was that for?”
He kissed the corner of her mouth. “Wanted to do this.”
“Dammit, want you to do this already.” She pressed her backside against him, trapping his dick between their bodies, and he gasped. He hadn’t been lying to her that time he said all his senses had been enhanced; he could smell the sweat starting to build up on parts of her body, could still taste her on his tongue, and the feel of her bare skin was almost too much.
“Soon.” He snatched the pillow from next to her head and put it under her stomach, then allowed himself the luxury of caressing her skin from her back, over her hips, her rear, to her thigh. She said his name again, more urgently, and he brought his hand to her core again.
“Gah, what are you doing to me?”
“I need to know you’re ready.” He covered her body with his again, careful to keep his weight off of her.
“I’ve been ready since –”
With his lips close to her ear, with one hand cupping a breast, he said, “I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I fell off a cliff and got stabbed in the gut, so I think I’ll be fine!”
The memory of the latter dimmed his arousal enough for him to maintain control, even as she arched her body into him. He angled his body so his dick slid in between her folds, kissed her cheek again.
“All the more reason to not cause you any more pain.” And with that, he slowly started to guide himself in. Even after he had worked to prepare her, she was so tight he almost immediately retreated. But she was pushing back against him, trying to take more of him, and he had to move his hand from his dick to her hip to keep her from moving too quickly, so he could control the pace. Inching into her, easing out, again and again, until he was finally entirely sheathed by her.
He grunted and she twisted her neck more, awkwardly reached for him.
“Are you okay? You … oh, you sound like you’re in pain.”
“Here, you can…”
With a trembling hand, he grabbed hers, bringing it just above where they were joined, so she could touch herself. It was difficult enough to maintain his balance, to keep her hips aligned properly, with his body molded to hers as it was, as his thrusts sped up, but he was desperate for as much contact as he could get. Next time, he wanted to watch her face, feel her breasts pressing against his chest, feel her legs pinning him.
For now, her face was turned aside, too far for him to reach. But he kept driving into her, hands guiding her hips to him, hoping her own hand would be enough. Before long, he could feel her tensing up like she did before.
Rather than break rhythm to touch another part of her, he spoke. “D’you… know how much I wanted to… feel you like this? Dreamed about it, but you feel… even better than I imagined—I can still taste you. I can smell you on me. How wet you are around my dick, god, Velvet– ”
She shuddered and cried out as her body gripped him, destroying his last shred of self-control. Her name was on his lips as he found release, finally, nearly collapsing onto her as his legs shook and his arms went weak. He couldn’t remember it ever being that intense before. Maybe it was just part of being a daemon. Or maybe it was because of the woman underneath him.
It should have been uncomfortable, with Rokurou still inside her, his limp and heavy body on top of her. But as she caught her breath, as her heart slowed, she realized it wasn’t. In fact, when he did move to lie beside her on the bed, she found she missed it.
She felt sticky, sweaty, and sore, but not in an unpleasant way. His hair had fallen in front of his face and before she knew what she was doing, she was brushing it up and back so she could see him. He grinned more widely than he ever had before, and air seemed elusive again as she caressed his face.
“We … we should go. The others are expecting us by nightfall and we have a lot of ground to cover.”
Even after this, she couldn’t manage to return his sentiment. She was the devourer and embodiment of malevolence, and he had been bold to … to open himself like that to her, especially given previous statements that implied he had been hurt before.
But she didn’t know what was supposed to happen, now. In the normal world … but such a thing didn’t exist anymore. Not for them.
“Hey. Nothing has to change, you know? Unless you want it to.”
He touched her neck, stroking her cheek with his thumb, mirroring her own movements.
“I won’t abide you trying to stop me.”
And there it was, the unspoken fear that had been in the back of her mind from the moment she had first kissed him – the fear that he would allow his feelings to interfere in her mission, that he would prevent her from taking vengeance. She would die without a second thought, if that’s what it took to finish this. He needed to accept that.
“I’m with you until the end. However it ends. I won’t deny you your revenge. I only hope you’ll let me continue to walk beside you.”
Velvet thought she saw a flash of sorrow on his face, but only for a moment. Whatever else was going on in his mind … he had always been straightforward and honest with her. And he had essentially just made a vow – one which his sense of honor would force him to keep.
She sat up, the stickiness between her legs starting to be bothersome. “I need to shower.”
“Yeah, me too. You go first, though.” Rokurou stood as she did, and although she felt unsteady on her feet, he moved with ease, picking up his clothing and slipping back into his pants. She reached for her own garments, but paused; they were clean, and if she put them on to go to the bathroom …
She felt him draping his robe over her shoulders and turned to face him.
“Here. Nobody would think twice if they saw you walk down there wrapped up like this.” He loosely tied a sash around her waist and then let his hands fall away.
“Right.” But instead of heading to the shower, she stood there, watching his face, trying to shut down the part of her mind that was terrified at the idea of caring for someone again, being hurt again.
Or hurting him. How long until he took the place of Laphicet in her nightmares? How long until she dreamed of slicing up Rokurou to shreds, devouring him, tasting his blood? What if she –?
“You’re not the only one who’s scared,” he said, his voice soft.
She averted her eyes, focused on tightening the sash. “I’ll let you know when I’m out so you can take yours.”
Something stopped her as she put her hand on the doorknob. She turned to look at him, standing there half-naked, watching her, a hint of worry in his eyes even as he had that goofy grin on his face. So she went back to him, her hand on his neck to pull his head down to hers, so their lips could meet again.
She could be brave, in the time she had left, for him, for this, for them.