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Heart of Exile (The Courtship of Kratos and Faye)

Chapter Text

You have heard Midgard is a harsh land, but it’s summer when you’re forced through the realm gate. And the sun is shining brilliantly when you stagger, homesick and heartbroken, onto the long golden bridge that spans the Lake of Nine.

The portal has left you disoriented, and as you turn to take in the scenery all around you, you start to feel dizzy. The tall crests of the mountains reach up on every side, matched by impossibly tall pines and a gaping, endless blue sky.

Your eyes sweep the coasts, bustling with villagers, seemingly unaware of the gargantuan trees perched on the cliffsides all around them. You’ve never known a place with such towering forests, such stark and fragile beauty. You stare, open-mouthed, at the untamed wildness of the place. For a few moments, it dulls the sting of your exile.

I’m all alone…

No. Focus, Faye.

You need a place to sleep, but you’ve been warned away from the villages. The Midgardians’ hostility to outsiders is well known in Jotunheim, and you are in no state for a fight. The realm travel has left you rattled, and the sooner you can scare up some food and shelter, the better. You walk numbly across the long span of the bridge, hoping you aren’t seen.

Once across the bridge, something draws your eye to a narrow path up the side of a nearby mountain. For a moment you could have sworn you saw a Jotun glyph pointing the way, but it must have been a trick of your addled mind. Still, any path is better than no path, and after a moment of hesitation, you begin your climb.

The few houses you pass have steep roofs, a defense against the coming snow. You imagine this place would be quite striking in the winter, dressed in a thick blanket of white. It’s scenic enough now, as you hike along overgrown trails, startling deer and rabbits in your wake. You wish, once again, that the circumstances of your visit were different.

Eventually, high up the mountain, you come to a small clearing that seems defensible. The edge of the land drops off in a cliff, and at the moment, there are no signs of other people nearby. Good enough, you think. With your hatchet, you begin attacking tree limbs as thick as your leg.

Shelter, then water, then food, says a familiar voice in your mind. Keep your spirits up. It’s not as bad as it seems.

But the voice doesn’t help you for long. As you pile together the logs you need to build your shelter, you can’t help but feel your heart break anew.

Your family had always been favored in Jotunheim, which made your sudden dismissal all the more jarring. Only your brother Molundir had stood against it, but he was overruled by the Consul. You were a warrior, a champion of justice, and the Consul’s favorite translator besides. How could they do this to you?

Your thoughts are grim as you use your small hatchet to notch together the logs. They didn't call it exile. The Consul said you were to travel to Midgard for some time, though for what purpose they would not say. Then the Proconsul himself refused to set a date for your return, instead insisting that you were to wait for your next instructions. If this wasn’t exile, what was?

The shadows are long by the time your lean-to is assembled, a single slanted roof to protect you from the elements. When you test it with your weight, it holds, and you feel a flicker of satisfaction.

This shelter will suffice for the first few days, perhaps even weeks, though it’s certain to be uncomfortable if it rains. Your thoughts turn to what a more permanent shelter might look like, and your heart plummets.

Permanent. What a terrible thought.

With a heavy heart, you slip into your bedroll. The light fades from the mountainside, and a deep chill wends its way into your bones. This is unexpected, after such a sunny day, but it feels like a fitting end to your day of struggle.

As you tend the small fire by your head, your fall from a place of status feels absolute. A week ago you were eating stuffed poultry at the high court of Jotunheim. Now there is nothing around you but a few meager supplies and some sticks.

Your brow furrows as you close your eyes, trying to will yourself to sleep. Your body is warm enough, but the night is haunted by whistling winds and the movements of strange creatures.

Patience, Faye.

You always hear your brother Molundir’s voice at times like this. He was never perfect — always a troublemaker in your large and connected family. But he always stood in your corner when it mattered. Did he know why you were here?

Patience.

That’s the word you try to repeat in your mind, though your fingernails bite the palms of your fists as you fight down your anger. Eventually, you fall asleep, bitter tears brimming in your eyes.

 

***

 

Your sulking doesn’t serve you. The next day you wake up with a draugr clawing at your bedroll, and you scream so loud a flock of birds flee from the trees. A moment later your hand is on your hatchet. With a heave and a way cry, you bury its blade in the dread thing’s skull.

As it dies (again?), you promise yourself that you will never be caught so unaware in the future.

You rise, hatchet in hand, and warily take in your surroundings. It doesn’t take much exploring for you to see that these woods are haunted — not in a mythical way, but a very real one. As you peer over the edge off the cliff-top, you see that the draugr that attacked you is one of many in these woods. Your skin crawls in horror. It is only luck that kept more of them from discovering you.

The Jotuns certainly didn’t warn you about this. You weren’t so naive as to think these woods were safe, and you had cast a simple protection stave around your temporary abode. But those work best against living things.

You work your brain trying to make sense of why you’re here — are the draugr part of it? — but it only serves to agitate you.

Jotuns be damned, you think.

You storm off in search of a settlement, hoping you’re not attacked, hoping to the gods that someone around here knows how to craft a decent weapon. It won’t do to be bitter and dead.

 

***

 

Sindri blushes madly as you describe what you need from him — a heavy weapon, two handed, forged from steel and timber. His brother is the one who agrees to your terms, if only because Sindri won’t meet your eyes.

“Damn fool has got eyes for every young thing in a dress that swaggles past here,” grumbles Brock as he lays out a series of ingots and gems. You aren’t wearing a dress, but that doesn’t stop Sindri from tripping over his own feet when you try to talk to him. You almost feel bad for him. But it’s kind of sweet, in a way. The next time he chances to look your way, you give him a little smile, and his eyes go so big you almost think he’s had a heart attack. And when he has to measure the length of your arms, and the span of your shoulders, he’s shaking so hard you can hear his armor rattle.

It takes a few hours, but when it’s complete, the axe is beautiful. You had underestimated these dwarves, or at least, you had been skeptical of Brock’s braggadocio. But this is by far the most beautiful weapon you have ever laid eyes on. The Jotuns did one thing right in making sure you left for your journey with plenty of gold.

As the dwarves count their newfound riches, you swing the axe mightily, hollering and burying it in a nearby tree stump. When a cavalcade of creepy crawlers spews out — maggots, centipedes, flies — Sindri actually throws up next to the forge.

Hiding your smile, you turn to leave.

W-wait!” calls Sindri, holding up a hand from where he’s stooped over, nearly hugging his knees. When he finally stops heaving you lay the axe on the workbench again, and Sindri strikes the central gem with a small mallet.

“L-listen,” he says, lowering his eyes and folding his hands nervously. “Miss Faye, this enchantment is a very powerful one. There’s a frost gem set here, infused with the soul of one of the ancient ones. I-i-if the deeds you do align with what the axe wants, it could become soulbound to you.”

“The… deeds I do?” you repeat, confused.

Somebody wants to do the deed,” says Brock. Then he erupts in peals of laughter as Sindri retracts into his armor like a turtle.

“Virtuous deeds,” says Sindri weakly. As long as you stay on the right side of good, the axe will protect you.”

You nod, uncertain. These brothers are strange, but you’ve certainly seen enough strange things in your life. Despite their rough edges, they seem like good folk.

You feel a pang of guilt when you remember what the Jotuns told you: Midgardians are brutes, killers, and savages, never to be trusted.

To hell with the Jotuns.

Chapter Text

There are other people living in the woods. Peasants, mostly, and some seasonal hunters. You acknowledge each other with nods, hands hovering carefully near weapons, a warrior’s handshake.

You improve your protection stave enough to keep the draugr away from your homestead, but others in these woods aren’t quite so lucky. During your third week on the mountain, a shout of distress reaches your ears, and you sprint towards it, axe in hand.

You pass an empty logging camp, woodcutting tools strewn about as though abandoned in a hurry. Then you follow the sound of hissing undead to the edge of a plateau.

You come across the frightening scene of a group of woodcutters, pinned against a steep cliffside by half a dozen draugr. By the gods… had the undead managed to coordinate an attack? Were they capable of intelligence?

The thought horrifies you, but there’s no time to dwell on it. These draugr are outnumbered by the group of you, and all you need to do is distract them while the men retrieve their axes and saws from their camp.

With a quick movement, you sink your axe in a nearby tree, creating a resounding crack.

The draugr are alerted immediately, but you heft the axe out of the tree and slink to another location. Then you swing the axe again, striking another tree. The draugr look around now, and some of them turn towards you, shambling in your direction.

Some of the men seem to catch on, and start skirting the edge of the cliff back towards the camp. Indeed, one of them locks eyes with you and gives you a stunned but grateful nod. You nod back at him, then, taking a deep breath, you step out into the open.

RUN, GET YOUR AXES!!” you yell, as the draugr screech in alarm, suddenly directing their anger towards you.

The men don’t wait another beat, sprinting in the direction of their camp while you swing your axe around, holding the attention of the draugr.

Only when the men are gone do you realize what you’ve done. You made an assumption that these people would return to help you, because you helped them. But you have no evidence that they will.

Laufey the softhearted, Laufey the naive. That’s what they called you back home. But they were wrong, you’re a warrior, and you’re on the side of righteousness — and it’s high time you split some heads with your new axe.

The loggers do return, weapons in hand, a ragtag group in patchy clothes and similarly run-down weapons. But they stop dead and stare at you, jaws agape, down to the last man.

You’re cleaning black blood off your blade with a scrap of cloth from a dead draugr's hide. All the undead are piled motionless at your feet, every last one of them. And you can’t help giving the woodsmen an impish smile. No one returns it. They’re too damn impressed.

You break bread with them that evening at their camp (they insist), and you learn more about the land. These are Odin’s woods, they say, and you must always remember that.

The name rings a bell from bedtime stories long ago, but you’re not inclined to think much of it. When one of the men warns you not to hunt any of the god’s prized white stags, you laugh.

They go dead silent. After looking at each other, one of the older men pipes up.

“Miss, we thank you for your help earlier. You are clearly a fine hand with a blade. But do not laugh at Odin. His spies are everywhere, and his wrath swift and painful.”

“What wrath?” you ask. This time, they all look at one young man. And your eyes widen as he holds up a bandaged stump where his hand should be. Your skin crawls with horror.

Odin did this? This boy is barely out of his childhood. How could anyone be so cruel?

“The stags…” you blurt out. The young man nods ruefully.

“Didn’t even kill it,” he says. “I was aiming at a different beast. No matter to Odin. One of his hideous ravens saw me, and this was my just desserts. Not much of a hunter, now. Not so easy to swing an axe with one hand, either.”

You realize you’re staring into your lap, your hands balled into fists. The injustice of what you’ve just learned makes you shake. When you look up again, all the loggers are staring at you. Abruptly, you get to your feet.

“It’s not right!” you declare, and they exchange nervous looks.

“That matters not to the powerful, Miss.”

You shake your head. “There are powerful people out there who will fight for what’s right,” you say, but they only shrug their shoulders.

“Not in Midgard,” says the youth with the maimed arm.

You are beginning to realize that Midgard’s reputation for savagery may have little to do with its people.

 

***

 

The loggers are humble folk, but they have a sense of honor too. And in exchange for saving their lives, they want to build you something better than the decrepit lean-to you’ve been living in.

When you agreed to their help, you didn’t expect an army — loggers, wives, children, family dogs — but they all come out for a hard day’s work. Everyone has a job to do: building, making twine, cooking meals for everyone, thatching the roof, chasing off birds — the speed and skill of the production makes your head spin.

Every one of them knows how you saved a logging camp of unarmed men. And every one of these families would have been destitute without their provider. They know what you did for them. The children even have a nickname for you: The Witch Warrior. But you prefer the name your brother always called you: Laufey the Just.

With several dozen working together, your home is soon complete. And when you first set foot inside, you cannot help the broad smile on your face. It’s a real building, with thick wooden walls, sturdy shelves, a root cellar, and a cozy hearth to heat your bed.

It’s been so long since you felt this happy, but you can’t help it. Everything is perfect, right down to the smokehole letting in the sun’s meager rays. There’s a stand for your axe by the door. Someone has even assembled the furs from your hunting into a simple covering for the bed. It looks so much more welcoming than your previous shelter that you feel a lump in your throat. Despite your preconceptions, the truth is plain: the Midgardians are good people, every bit as decent and fair as the Jotuns. Perhaps even more.

Thank you,” you tell the assembled crowd, bowing your head. “My axe and I are ever at your service.” Their happy cheers make you feel a swell of pride. For the first time since your exile, you feel like yourself.

That night, as you lay your head down in your new abode, you try to push away your doubts about the future. You have achieved this much. Surely it won’t be long before the Jotuns contact you. Surely it won’t be long before you understand why you are here. Almost as soon as you close your eyes, you are lost to a deep, deep sleep.

 

***

 

You’re in a cabin just like this one, though it is certainly not the same place. The hearth is on a different wall, and the bed is much larger and harder than yours.

You somehow know that you’ve just fought through an illness — some disease of trembling and cold and too much sleep. And you are awake now, even though your eyes are closed. What woke you?

You hear the sound of someone approaching the bed, but your heart knows no fear. Indeed, you welcome this person, though they do not seem to know it yet. Your heart flutters as you feel them fix your blankets, pulling them up all the way to your neck.

Then, you feel a hand in your hair. A man’s hand, you are certain — large, rough, and calloused. His touch, however, couldn’t be gentler. He smooths his hand through your hair, pushing it out of your eyes, tracing it where it frames your face.

You swallow down a shiver of desire as he cards his fingers around the back of your head. He’s so strong. All you want is to be near him, to open your eyes and welcome him into the bed with you. To let him teach you all those sweet and terrible things that lovers do. Things that you’ve always been too busy to explore…

But for some reason, you cannot have him. The time isn’t right. And as he finally walks away you feel an ache in your chest that is stronger than any you’ve ever felt.

 

***

 

You wake in the pitch blackness, your heart pounding. You are haunted by how vivid the dream felt, how real and captivating this man was. You remember everything about him, right down to the tough leather of his armor and the crimson stripe of his tattoo.

And you swallow thickly when you think about his eyes, his rich golden gaze that only ever softens when he’s looking at you. Gods, the way he looks at you… so warm and inviting, yet always laced with the promise of more.

Then, your breath stalls in your throat. This doesn’t make sense. You didn’t open your eyes in the dream, you saw nothing. How could you remember that which you did not see?

Chapter Text

You rise the next day deeply affected by your strange dream. But the surreal feeling doesn’t dissipate with the daylight. The woods themselves seem to whisper that something has changed.

It takes you a few moments to realize it, but the birds are quiet when you step outside. The eerie silence only adds to your unease. You have been here long enough, and fought enough deathless ghouls, to know what an omen silence is.

You keep your guard up as you go about the day’s chores, one eye always open for trouble. You’re sure of it now. There’s something unnatural in these woods, something that shouldn’t be here. And you need to find it before it finds you.

You’re outside chopping firewood when a strange rattling sound reaches your ears, and you clench your teeth in readiness.

More draugr? Ruffians? An orc?

You startle as you hear something moving in the woods just behind you.

Then your instincts kick in, and you hold your axe at the ready. Your eyes narrow as you scan the band of trees, looking for the intruder.

And then you see him.

And by the gods, is he ever a sight.

There’s a man standing not two dozen paces away from you — hulking, bearded, and heavily tattooed. But that’s not the most remarkable thing about him. No, that would be his brute strength. He’s carrying a dead buck over his shoulder, its heavy antlers swaying with every one of the man’s steps. His muscles are flexed, his brow sweaty, but he hefts it like it weighs nothing at all. Your jaw drops open at the sight.

The effect is multiplied by the fact that his chest and shoulders are completely bare. Aside from a bow and quiver strapped to his back, he wears only a simple armored loincloth. The design is strange to your eyes — it somehow brings to your mind the word legionnaire. You drink in the sight of him, gazing in unabashed pleasure at the contours of his body.

And then, when he finally spies you, you see for the first time his singular golden gaze. His bearded jaw drops open. For a moment, he looks just as transfixed by you as you are by him.

It’s him. From your dream.

You bite down, angry with yourself for the thought, and suddenly remember where you are. Squaring your stance, you brandish your axe at him.

“Who are you?” you demand. He doesn’t answer, but with a careful heave he sets down the stag. For a moment, you panic — is this one of Odin’s stags? But then you sigh in relief. The deer is brown.

Slowly, the man returns to his feet.

“What are you doing in these woods?” you demand.

He seems to consider this, taking in the sight of you and your axe.

“Hunting,” he says. “For winter.” His words are slow and stilted, as though this language is burdensome to him. But his voice is so much lower than you expected. You bite your lip, forcing away an inconvenient voice in your ear that’s telling you to invite him inside your house.

He’s a stranger, you tell yourself. And a dangerous one, by the looks of it. Get a grip.

You slowly lower your axe, which doesn’t go unnoticed by him. Then, suddenly, his eyes go wide.

LOOK OUT!!” he yells, pointing over your shoulder.

You immediately pivot on the balls of your feet, raising your weapon. And there, floating through the trees, is a cloud of black smoke so ominous it makes you shiver all the way down to your toes. Your eyes go wide as a revenant as tall as a standing bear swoops towards you.

You swing the axe as hard as you can, but you only hit empty air. You cry out in alarm as the revenant scratches your arm, drawing blood.

“You aren’t fast enough!!” the stranger yells.

“Like HELL I'm not!” you retort, giving him side-eye.

He is sprinting towards you, already loading up his bow and closing the distance between you. He shakes his head quickly.

“Let me stun it with my arrows,” he says as he steps into the space next to you. “Then, hit as hard as you can.”

You nod tersely. Then suddenly you’re standing back to back with him, trying to guess where the revenant will materialize next.

THERE!!” he yells, and you’re already raising the axe above your head as his arrow pierces the dread thing’s throat.

With a mighty cry, you bring the axe down with all your strength, cleaving the revenant between its head and shoulder. It recoils in pain, turning to smoke and retreating again.

“Good!” you hear the stranger say, and you feel an adrenaline-fueled kick of pride. But there is no time to savor the hit.

Over there!!” you point. The stranger grunts meanly as he fires two arrows, piercing the revenant’s leg and torso. It screeches in rage.

“NOW!!” he cries, and you’re already there. You spin around, letting the swinging force of the axe carry your blow hard into the revenant's side.

“Good hit!!” the stranger yells.

“Thanks!” you call back. “You’re not half bad with that thing, either!”

Against all your expectations, the stranger lets out a single deep laugh.

“Shall we end this battle?” he asks, stealing a glance at you. Your heart is pounding furiously from the exertion of battle, but you swear that for that moment it stops. Then you give him a determined grin.

“Watch me,” you say.

The next time he manages to stun the revenant with an arrow, you’re ready. You fake left, and as the hideous thing tries to dodge you, you suddenly pivot and slash it from the right.

The creature arches its back in fury, the smoke of it starting to dissipate. It lets out one final, grievous hiss right before the stranger’s arrow pierces it cleanly between the eyes. It collapses to the earth without another sound, nothing remaining but a few old bones and a scrap of shroud.

You laugh in exhilaration, leaning on your axe and wiping a tear from your eye.

Amazing!” you say. “I’ll have to remember that trick.” You wipe the blade of your axe on the grass, then slip it back into its holster on your back. You’ll have to give it a proper clean later, but for now —

You turn to look at the stranger, but he’s gone. You spin around, and to your utter surprise, he’s already shouldered the stag again and is preparing to leave.

You gape at him. He gives you a lingering sidelong glance as he turns to go.

“You fought well,” he says. Something warm flickers in his gaze.

He almost looks like he wants to say something else, but then he seems to remember something. In an instant, his face becomes the same grim mask as before.

He grunts as he hoists the deer up higher, turning away.

Wait!!” you call after him.

He stops, turning his head slightly.

You search wildly for something else to say to him, something else to delay his journey for just a moment longer. Then you remember the words of the woodsmen.

“Do not hunt the white stags!” you exclaim.

“For what reason?” he asks impatiently.

“They are Odin’s,” you say, “and these are his woods.”

He scoffs, and continues on his way.

“He is a very dangerous man!” you insist. “A god of this place, and a cruel one.”

He grunts, the deer’s legs spinning out as he turns to face you.

“I fear no god,” he declares. From the proud way he squares his shoulders, you are inclined to believe him. But that is madness. If you have learned one thing in your time here, it is that the gods do as they please in Midgard. He is putting himself in grave danger.

You tell him as much. He stiffens.

“That is not your concern,” he says gruffly.

You rack your brain, trying to understand. Who is this strangely-dressed legionnaire, and why is he in these woods? Where did he learn to fight like that? And further, why does he not fear Odin?

“Who are you?” you blurt out. An inelegant question, to be sure, but you’re dying to know.

“Not your concern,” he repeats. Then he turns away, clearly finished with the conversation. You're immediately distracted by the way his whole body flexes with the effort of holding up the deer. His moonlight skin is so distinctive, so stark next to the deep red curve of his tattoo.

A moment later, he has disappeared into the woods, leaving only the broad shape of his back in your mind.

You blink at the empty woods, completely at a loss. He seemed to be in such a hurry to leave. It stings more than it has any right to.

Well… you think to yourself, sighing. For an ill-tempered intruder, at least he wasn’t bad looking.

This total stranger surely does not deserve so much of your attention, but he consumes your thoughts for the rest of the day. Out of everything you’ve experienced so far in Midgard, nothing has made you feel so electrified as fighting alongside this man. He moved like a devil, so quick to action and so dependable guarding your back. Your heart skips a little just to think about how he rushed to defend you. You replay the battle in your mind, just to remember how well you fought as a team. Gods, you’d just about give your last gold coin for the chance to watch him fight again. Against all your better judgment, you hope he returns to your woods very soon.

Chapter Text

You get your wish. Despite the abruptness of his goodbye, the stranger stays near your woods for several days. Each time, he greets you with a slow nod, but doesn’t speak. Truthfully, you wouldn’t know what to do if he did. Never in your life have you wanted so badly to talk to someone, but had no idea what to say.

Despite the lack of communication, you’ve gotten used to passing the stranger on your hunting trails. You’ve even grown fond of the way he looks at you — a courteous nod when he sees you, a quick sweep of your body when he thinks you’re not looking. You’d almost think he was coming by just to see you.

Then a day goes by without any sign of him. Then a few more days. Then a week. You’re starting to think he’s gone for good, and once again, the loss hits you far harder than it should.

Then, one night as you’re lying in bed, trying (unsuccessfully) to forget about the stranger, you hear a sharp crack like a bolt of lightning.

Seconds later, the entire mountainside erupts into a thunderous roar so loud it makes your teeth hurt. You leap out of bed, grabbing your axe and charging through the door without even putting on your shoes.

You blink into the darkness, trying to train your eyes on anything moving. For a few long minutes, all is quiet. And then you hear a lurching shuffle, like something large dragging its footsteps. Your heart jumps into your throat. Something is terribly wrong.

“Who’s there?” you call out in warning. You suddenly hear labored breathing coming from somewhere nearby. You get no immediate response, but then your eyes go wide: the unmistakable silhouette of the stranger steps out into the moonlight, practically doubled over in pain and clutching his arm.

You run over to him, quickly stowing your weapon.

“What happened??” you cry.

“I do not know,” he says gruffly. He seems to be avoiding your eyes. In the moonlight, you turn him to inspect his arm. You draw a gasp as you see the unmistakable pattern of lightning etched into his skin, like dark new veins burned just under the surface.

By the gods,” you exhale.

He growls. “All gods are monsters,” he says, still not looking at you.

“Let me take a better look,” you say, but he yanks his arm away, grunting. Then he staggers to the nearest tree, lowering himself down with a pained groan.

“You came to me!!” you exclaim. “Let me give you some healing balm, at least!”

“That is not necessary,” he says, his voice choked with pain.

“Bull shit it isn’t!” you retort, and he’s so surprised that he doesn’t object when you dash back to your home to grab a bottle of healing salve.

Nor does he object when you kneel down next to him. You try not to look alarmed at the heavy way he’s leaning against the tree trunk, the way his head lolls to one side.

You swallow as you unstopper the bottle, pouring a little ointment into your hand.

“This will help the pain,” you say, your voice softer than usual. Then you rub a small dollop onto his upper arm, and he hisses, yanking his arm away.

“Hold still,” you chide him. If your time as a peacekeeper for the Jotunheim taught you anything, it’s that the injured and sick respond well to simple, direct instructions given with a nurse-like authority. When you need to, you can fall into this role as though your days patching up sword wounds never ended.

The stranger slowly returns his arm to where you can reach it, and soon you go to work, rubbing the salve all over him.

It’s hard to see in this light, but from the direction of the marks, he touched something he shouldn’t have, and the force of the shock traveled all the way up his arm, burning him. There are places where the force of the shock had even broken through the skin.

“You’re lucky this didn’t kill you,” you say softly. He says nothing, but lets out a deep, pained sigh.

As you apply your healing ointment to his arm, something inconvenient fills your mind, and you feel your face redden. By the gods, is he ever strong. Though you try to ignore it, the sensation of his hard muscles under your fingertips is stirring something inside you. You wonder how he came to be this way. And you can’t help wondering if the rest of him is as strong as this.

He looks up at you questioningly. Though it is difficult to see him in the dark, you think there is a flicker of curiosity in his eyes.

“What is it?” he asks in a low voice. It takes you an embarrassingly long moment to realize he means the ointment.

“Oh… milk of the mountain,” you say, flustered. “Green magic, if you like. Terrific healing properties, but hard to find unless you know what you’re looking for.” Your words spill out like an overturned bag of oats, but he nods slowly.

Then he gives you a long, steady look but doesn’t say anything. You notice his breathing sounds easier, as though the pain of the injury isn’t so acute.

“Better?” you ask.

He nods. Once again, he looks like there’s more he wants to say. But he doesn’t.

Instead, he looks away, letting you finish your work. And as your fingers follow the hard contours of his bicep, you are grateful, once again, that the darkness hides your blush.

“Finished,” you say softly, but he does not move. His injury must have rattled him more than he’s letting on. You slowly lower yourself down next to him, your back against the same tree. He looks over at you quizzically, his shoulder pressing against yours. You make a move to pull away, but he makes a displeased sound.

You look down at the place where your shoulders are touching. “Does it hurt?” you ask.

He searches your face in the darkness. “No,” he says.

You’re unexpectedly tempted to lean against him, to rest your head on his powerful shoulder, but you resist the urge.

You don’t even know this man.

But for the next few minutes, your shoulder stays pressed against his.

It takes a few minutes before he stirs again. In the meantime, you’re content to just be next to him, hearing the soft sounds of his breathing, gazing up at the unfamiliar Midgardian stars.

When he finally stands again, you rise with him. After appraising you for another long moment, he steps incrementally closer to you.

Then, to your surprise, he brings his good hand to your back, right between your shoulderblades, and stares deeply into your eyes. It’s the closest he’s ever been to you, and you feel your eyes go wide.

It’s so clear out that you can see the reflection of the moon and stars in his steady gaze. But that’s not what hypnotizes you. No, it’s the heat radiating off his hand, the meaningful look in his eye. You swallow thickly.

“I thank you,” he says. The low rumble of his voice makes your stomach flip, and you don’t trust yourself to speak. His words are so formal compared to the way he’s looking at you. Your knees go a little soft just to feel him touching you like this.

You want to say something to him — anything, really — but no words come out. Then he traces his hand down the curve of your back, and you gasp softly. You could swear you hear him give a low rumble of pleasure at the sound. The curl of his fingertips as he pulls away renders you speechless, and you feel a sudden heat pooling in your belly.

And then, without so much as a goodbye, he turns and disappears into the night.

“Y-you’re welcome!” you call after him, about ten seconds too late. “Maybe… put a bandage on that,” you add, trying desperately to keep your other thoughts at bay.

 

***

 

A few days later there’s a harsh knock at your door. You curse to yourself — in the distraction of helping the stranger, you have let your protection staves grow stale.

You heft your axe and and open the door warily. But had you known who was there, you would never have opened it.

Standing in front of you are two enormous men, both long-haired and bearded. You immediately feel a chill deep in your stomach. There could be no good reason these men are here.

In lieu of saying hello, you tighten your grip on your warblade. The first man, with sandy blond hair, grins mirthlessly.

“Seems there are many strangers about these days, Modi,” he says. “I don’t remember this one from the village dance.”

The second man, with reddish-brown hair, nods in agreement. “She is sweet, though. Just look at her, Magni.”

“What do you want?” you pipe up suddenly, trying to mask your fear with impatience.

The first man pulls a weapon off his back, a warhammer of some kind, and you brace yourself for a fight.

“Relax, mortal,” says the one called Magni. “We’re not here to hurt you.”

“This time,” adds Modi, erupting in a giddy laugh.

Magni eyes you carefully as he holds his weapon across his palms. Then, you startle as a bolt of electricity jumps from the weapon, cleaving the silence with a terrible crackling sound.

You stare up at him in alarm. “You are a god,” you say, and Magni grins again. Modi unhooks his own weapon, another warhammer of terrible size.

Magni chuckles, hanging his weapon on his back. “She gets it,” he says to Modi. “Put your thunder away.”

“What do you want?” you ask, your voice low and hostile.

“The villagers here seem to think the world of you,” says Magni. “That’s why it’d be a shame to have to follow through on our orders to forcibly evict you from Odin’s land. So I thought I’d offer you a deal. You tell us everything you know about that lone hunter with the red tattoo, and we’ll leave you well enough alone.”

“For now,” grins Modi.

You take a steadying breath. You don’t know what you expected from these two, but this wasn’t it.

“I really don’t know anything about him,” you say truthfully. “He wouldn’t tell me anything, not even where he’s from.”

“So, you think he’s an outsider,” Magni says, shifting his bulk to his opposite leg. “That is interesting, isn’t it brother?”

Modi looks confused. “Is it?” he asks.

“Yes, fish-brain,” drawls Magni. “It means he isn’t supposed to be here. Which is exactly what the ravens say, too. Say he survived a trap that should have killed a man six times over. Know anything about that?”

“I’ve told you everything I know,” you say crossly, hoping your obstinance throws them off. “Now if you don’t mind, please leave my home.”

Magni takes a large step forward, and you recoil, bracing your feet against the creaking wood slats of your floor.

“She sure is sweet,” says Modi again.

“I want you to know I believe you,” says Magni, giving you a sickly grin. “But our uncle, the boss man, he doesn’t like outsiders. So we’ll cut you a little deal. Find out everything you can about the tattooed man. We’ll be back.”

He beckons to Modi, and without even waiting for your reply, strides back the way he came. Then he unhooks his hammer, holding it straight up in the air.

A moment later, a terrible bolt of lightning shakes the earth, and you scream. You shield your eyes, momentarily blinded by the flash of searing white. A few terrifying heartbeats later, and all that’s left where the two goons were standing is a circle of scorched grass.

As you stand there, knuckles white on the handle of your axe, you sense movement in the woods nearby.

Show yourself!!” you demand, already furious.

But you lower your weapon when you see who it is: the stranger, holding several dead geese with his good hand and eyeing you intently.

“Who were they?” he asks, a hard edge in his voice you haven’t heard before.

You look away. “None of your concern,” you say, throwing his own words back at him.

He grunts in acknowledgement. Then, slowly, he approaches you.

“It is true I am not from Midgard,” he says. “But you have nothing to fear from me.”

“Oh, good,” you say sarcastically. “Then I’ve only got a few gods to worry about.”

His reaction to this is stronger than you expected. He takes a few quick steps towards you.

“How did you—” but then stops, seeing your confusion. He doesn’t resume taking, and instead you just stare at each other.

Then, something seems to dawn on him. “Those men were here because of me,” he says finally. It’s not a question, and you don’t answer it, but the way you fold your arms across your chest says everything.

His face transforms into a blank, grim mask. “I see,” he says. “Then I shall trouble you no longer.”

Before you can even ask what he means, he gathers up his kills, striding back into the woods.

Swallowing a lump in your throat, you know in your heart that you will not see him again anytime soon.

Chapter Text

Despite the midday hour, the woods are as dark as the sky under a storm. You shiver from head to toe, your body trying to shake the cold out of your bones. It doesn’t work. Your eyes weep and your teeth chatter as you force yourself to make headway in the frozen woods.

Why have the Jotuns demanded I come here? you ask yourself for the thousandth time. For what purpose was I sent to live in this cold, cruel place? But as always, no answers find you. You continue your hunt in a low and brooding mood.

Weeks have passed, and the days are short and cruel. You’ve kept your eye open for signs of the outsider, but he never returns to your woods. You feel an unexpected pang at this, but you have no time to dwell on it. This land is much harsher in the winter, and you have preparations to make.

After many minutes, you finally spy something edible: A moss-gray rabbit, sitting next to an icy crack that was once a river. It rears on its hind legs, nose twitching. Somehow, it hasn’t noticed you.

Slowly, so as not to alarm it, you draw your bow and one arrow from your back. Raising your weapon, you close one eye, taking careful aim at the rabbit in your sights. Then you draw your arm back, annoyed with yourself at the way you tremble. No matter. You need to eat, and this is the only way. You’ve never been good with a bow, but then again, in Jotenheim there’s no need to stalk prey through ice-bitten woods just for the privilege of eating.

You take a deep breath in, let it out, and release the arrow from trembling fingers.

Fshhh!

The arrow curves harmlessly into a snowbank, and the rabbit takes flight quicker than you can blink an eye.

You have a moment of stunned disbelief, staring numbly into the forest, your jaw agape.

And then, you cry out in rage, slamming your bow into the snow at your feet. By the gods, you are hungry. As hungry as you’ve ever been in your life.

You take a deep, shuddering breath. The forest blurs from your welling tears. Then, you bury your head in your hands and let out a pitiful sob.

This isn’t like you, Laufey, giving up like this. Pick your head up and keep moving.

It’s your brother’s voice in your ear, but you can’t bring yourself to listen. You just stand there, wind whistling all around you. Until your ears get cold. Until your toes get cold.

Until you hear a branch snap in the woods right behind you.

With a gasp, your survival instincts take over. You snatch your axe from its holder, baring your teeth in the direction of the sound.

“Show yourself!!” you snap.

After a few heart-pounding seconds, a familiar form steps into view, not thirty paces away. You blink back your tears, and a familiar golden gaze meets your own.

It’s him.

You bite down, angry with yourself for the situation you’re in, and brandish your axe at him.

“Come to watch me struggle?” you spit.

It could be your imagination, but for an instant he looks wounded. But the mask is back a moment later.

“To hunt,” he replies. You stare at each other. Then his gaze falls to your feet, sweeping over the sight of the bow and your useless arrow, sticking out of the snow, so far away from the fleeing rabbit tracks. He seems to put it all together as you lower your axe, your heartbeat slowly returning to normal.

You look away, ashamed. Your axe thuds against the ground, your body finally abandoning the fight of holding it up.

To your surprise, he takes a step towards you. When you make no movement to stop him, he takes another. And another. He doesn’t seem to mean you any harm. And for now, in your weakened state, that’s reason enough not to keep up the fight.

He steps within your arm’s reach, towering above you.

Then, to your absolute astonishment, he gently places his hand under your chin and turns your face up towards his.

Your eyes go as wide as the rabbit’s.

He is so much older than you realized. Far older than his physique would suggest. His eyes are creased with worry, his brow furrowed deeply in concern. This outsider, this grizzled legionnaire, is gazing down at you with a look in his eyes that is almost… soft.

Your breath stalls in your throat. You feel your cheeks warm at the way he searches your face. You stare back at him, breathless in surprise, as his eyes dart down to your parted lips.

“Your face…” he says, his voice softer than you ever imagined it could be.

You feel your heart lurching in a strange direction, reaching out to him as surely as a thirsty traveler would reach for water.

“What about it?” you ask, but there’s no spite left in your voice. Far from it, in fact. Instead, there is something boiling up within you that almost feels like… hope.

“Your cheeks…” he says, appraising you once more. “They are… hollow.”

Your heart splinters so forcefully that you almost hear a sound.

Of course, you think, jerking away from his touch. Of course that’s why he was staring. I must look like a wraith of Helheim.

“It has been a hard winter,” you say, refusing to meet his eyes. You will not beg for his help. You have your pride too.

He clears his throat. “Yes,” he says finally, his deep and resounding voice seeming to say so much.

And then, behind him, you catch sight of a felled doe. At the sight of all that meat, your lip trembles. He searches your face carefully.

Despite your state, something stirs in your mind. The deer’s death is recent, as the bloody holes in its neck would indicate. But there is no trail of blood in the snow, not even a drip. He didn’t kill this deer here. He must have carried it with him, a long way up the mountain. Blinking in astonishment, you look back up at him.

“I trust you are as good with that axe as you seem,” he says.

“Oh… the axe, yes,” you say, suddenly feeling very inarticulate.

He nods at you. Then, without so much as another scowl, he turns and walks away.

You stare at his muscular, well-armored back as he retreats into the woods, your mind reeling.

Only when he is gone do you realize he has left the doe behind.

You nearly cry for happiness.

Chapter Text

It is not a single day, or a moment. But gradually, the icy grip of winter seems to break, like fingers pried loose from the handle of a blade. It is still cold — colder than it has ever been in Jotunheim. But at least you have been well fed. The outsider saw to that.

Somewhere in those waning days of winter you encounter a village woman and her small child, lost after escaping a draugr. You feed them some stew, and try to learn what you can about the village. it is possible that the Jotuns wanted you to learn more about the people of Midgard during your time here, you reason. Indeed, so much time has passed since you arrived that your feelings towards the Consul of Jotunheim have mellowed. You’re still angry, bitterly so. But as of late you’ve been giving them the benefit of the doubt. Their wisdom has never erred before. You’re certain now that their reasons for sending you here will become clear with time. In any case, the child seems content to play by the warmth of the hearth, and the mother content to sit with her feet up, so you satisfy your curiosity by asking her about her people.

What you don’t expect is the woman’s laughing spirit, the way she can spin a tale about a village cobbler and his mistress into a dark comedy that leaves you breathless with laughter. Somehow, you had thought these villagers would be timid, cowed and trod upon by their cruel gods. But you see now how wrong you were. The stresses of Midgard have made these people into survivors, and thriving ones at that. The woman tells you her name is Lymaea, and you become fast friends. As you send her on her way with many blessings, she waves and promises to return.

Something else happens during these weeks that makes you warm even more to life in Midgard. It is said that a green witch occupies some woods nearby, though you have never been able to find the place.

However, one day you spy a thick hedge, spilling over with vines that seem to defy the cold. You attempt to collect some of the leaves, sawing at them with your pocket blade, but they are somehow impervious to being cut. Still, the sap that spills onto your hands leaves a pleasant tingle, and you realize this is milk of the mountain. Its healing properties are legendary, and this is a treasure trove — the vines contain far more serum than you brought with you from Jotunheim. You return more than once to harvest the sap, feeling very pleased with yourself.

As the days lengthen, and the first green shoots pierce the snow, something inspires you to pick up your bow again. You set up some blocks of wood in the clearing beyond your house and do your best to shoot them from 30 paces. Then 20 paces. Then 10. But no matter what you try, the unsteadiness won’t leave your hands, and you are forced to hang it up in defeat.

You do not stay despirited for long. Lymaea and little Ragnar come and see you often, and you exchange tales of life in this strange land.

During one of these visits, after a lull in the conversation, you dare yourself to ask your friend a question that has been dogging you for many weeks.

“Has anyone in the village spoken of a bearded man who travels alone, heavily armored and heavily tattooed?”

Lymaea laughs. “This is Midgard,” she says. “You may have to narrow it down.”

You think for a minute. “I do not think he is from Midgard,” you say finally. “He’s as pale as the full moon, and his tattoo is like the mark of a red paintbrush. And by his armor… I would guess he is from the Aegean.”

Lymaea stops laughing.

“You are joking,” she says, searching your confused expression.

And then, when she she’s you’re serious, her face turns pale.

By Odin’s Jotun Mother,” she says, eyes wide. “That man is here? In Midgard?”

Before you can reply, your friend is on her feet. “You must stay very far away from this man, Faye. If he is who I think, you have much to fear from him.”

“Who is he, then?” you ask, brow furrowing. You’re suddenly feeling defensive of him, though you’re not sure why.

“My people are from the Aegean, originally,” she says, drawing her arms around herself as if cold. Immediately you recognize the Greek syllables in her name. How could you have missed it before? She continues talking, now pacing with agitation.

“We came here long ago, when that realm door was still open. Enough time has passed that we consider ourselves Midgardians. Nevertheless, we have a legend, of a ghost warrior—”

There is a heavy knock on the door that frightens both of you. After you stare at each other for a moment, you both seem to know what to do. She gathers up Ragnar in her arms, and as you quickly retrieve your axe from the wall, she lowers herself into the trapdoor in your floor. You kick the fur rug overtop of it as you hasten to see who is outside. The knocking has grown more insistent, and you brace yourself for what may come.

You are more worried than you let Lymaea see. Ever since Magni and Modi’s visit, you’ve been extra diligent about your protection staves. But someone — or something — has gotten through.

You unlatch the door and let it swing open, returning your grip to your axe.

There is a stranger standing there, a young man of about your age. He looks as frightened of you as you are of him. The moment passes, and you stare at him in confusion.

“A-are you, are you M-Miss Faye?” he asks.

“Who are you?” you demand.

“I-if you please, th-there is to be a d-d-d-d—”

You lower the axe, and he seems to relax slightly.

“A d-dance, in the village,” he manages to say. “The Winter’s End festival, in a fortnight. Your presence has been requested by O-O-Odin himself, Miss. M-m-may I tell him you’ll be there?”

All of a sudden, his behavior makes sense. He isn’t afraid of you. Or at least, not this much. It is Odin he fears more than anything.

As you stare at him in disbelief, he hits you with an imploring stare.

P-please say yes,” the man says in a low voice, as if there may be someone listening nearby. “ P-please, he has my son. If you don’t c-c-c-come, he’ll… ” The man trails off, but his eyebrows knit in pain.

Your eyes narrow in confusion, then find your gaze drifting to the treetops. And there, perched on the topmost branch, is a bird unlike any you’ve seen before. You immediately get an uneasy feeling. But you see the way this poor man is being used, and you know it wouldn’t be right to let his anguish continue.

“Yes, I will go,” you announce loudly.

As you expected, the strange bird seems to understand you. It spreads its wings. Then, with a piercing call, it flaps several times, then takes off in the direction of the northern mountains. You can’t help staring after it. You’re sure of it now, it was no trick of the light: this was a raven, but as sickly green as a patch of poison watersbane.

Thank you,” the man breathes, bowing so far he almost touches the ground.

As he hurries away, you just stand there in the open door, letting the cold air wash over you as you digest what just happened.

Odin knew about your protection staves. You’re sure of it. He knew that you would have set them up to keep out hostiles. So he sent an innocent person, a person he coerced with kidnapping and threats.

Monsters.

It is only little Ragnar’s cries that free you from your daze. You hear Lymaea try in vain to shush him, but he is only four summers old, too young to sit still for any length of time. Finally closing the front door, you pull back the rug from the trapdoor.

“It’s alright,” you say, lifting the hatch. One look at Lymaea’s wide eyes tells you she heard it all. Or enough, at least. You swallow, her nervousness not helping you feel any better.

“You’d better go to that festival,” she says, her eyes stricken, and you nod in grim agreement.

But then, something else occurs to you.

“Odin is a powerful and ruthless god,” you say. “If I am to face him, I will need someone powerful in my corner.” Your friend eyes you warily.

“You are not suggesting—”

“For some reason, the Aegean legionnaire is not afraid of Odin. I need to find out why. Perhaps he will even assist me.”

Lymaea gathers up Ragnar in her arms, look at you in deep concern. She lowers her voice and steps towards you conspiratorially.

“Faye, they say he wiped out half the Pantheon,” she hisses, eyeing you meaningfully. “A hall of gods . He is no ordinary man. He is no ordinary murderer.”

Your mind flashes back to the last time you saw him, tenderly holding your chin as he searched your face in concern.

“I don’t care what he did,” you say finally, shaking your head. “In my time here in Midgard, the Aegean has done nothing but assist me. Now tell me — do you still speak Greek?”

 

***

 

That night you have a dream about your brother, Molundir. He seems burdened, but he’s giving you a sad smile. Somehow, in your heart, you know that something big has come to an end.

You’re walking with him on the high balustrade of Norrowood, the ancient capital of Jotunheim. Though many tens of thousands once lived here, it has long since fallen into disrepair. He leads you straight to the temple, placing his palm on the standing crystals and making bridges out of pure light.

“It wasn’t supposed to end this way, Laufey. I’m sorry,” he says, leaning against a wall. He starts coughing, and you realize he’s clutching his ribs unnaturally.

“Love you, sis,” he says. “You’re on your own journey now.”

He points in the direction of a crumbling, glassless window.

Before you can look, a howling gust of wind snatches you from your sleep, your heart pounding as though you’ve just run a footrace.

You sit up in your bed in silence, staring at nothing. The sharpness of the dream sticks in your mind, and like your other ‘sharp dreams,’ you can remember the entire thing vividly. You close your eyes tightly, willing yourself to hold on to the picture of your brother’s face.

Slowly, something else dawns on you, in that way that people are slow to catch on to the fictions of dreams upon awakening. Norrowood isn’t a ruin. In fact, it’s the opposite: the modern capital city of Jotunheim. You feel a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, and you bury your head in your knees, unable to sleep for the rest of the night.

Chapter Text

Packing for several days of walking, you set out for Arnheim. Of course, you have no idea where the legionnaire lives, but Arnheim is the largest settlement to the east, and that's the direction he always seems to come from. It’s all you have, but if your luck holds, maybe someone else will have seen him. He’s not exactly inconspicuous.

Your axe lies heavy on your back, next to your bow and arrows. You have no idea if your plan will work, or if he will even want to see you. But if you are to face a cruel and powerful god, you will need every assistance you can get.

The trail down the mountain wends and weaves, but eventually you make headway. The high mountains of your abode give way to sloping hills, funneling down towards a deep river valley. The woods, too, give way, first to smaller trees, then to dense brush that grabs at your clothes. More than once you question the wisdom of this journey, and whether you will get anything out of it at all.

But somehow, when you think of the softness in the legionnaire’s gaze the last time he looked at you, and the lingering, soulful connection you felt afterwards, you find all the reason you need to keep going.

In time, descending further into the valley, you come to a hanging wooden bridge spanning a raging current. It is a long bridge, perhaps 40 paces long, though it is hard to tell in the dense white mist. The length of it sways chaotically in the force of the spray, the roar of the river drowning out all other sounds.

Immediately, you don’t like the look of it. Normally such things would not worry you, but the snowmelt is strong this year, and the water is swollen past its bank. The spray is filling the entire valley, dampening your clothes and bringing a chill to your bones.

You set about finding another path, but immediately stop dead. There, just downriver, is a swarm of swaying undead, at least two dozen in number. The deafening roar of the spray must have covered their noises… and yours. You curse yourself for not being more vigilant.

A few of the swarm have idly set about walking, and it won’t be long before you are discovered. With dawning horror, you realize it would be virtually impossible to go back the way you came without being seen.

No matter, you tell yourself. I have faced worse threats before. Onward to Arnheim.

Steeling yourself, you turn towards the bridge.

As you tentatively put your foot on the first wooden slat of the bridge, you feel the way your leather shoe wants to slip on the wet surface. “By the gods,” you mutter.

A glance back over your shoulder reveals that a handful of the undead have started staggering your way. You curse again, more thoroughly this time. Just a coincidence, you tell yourself. Then, summoning your courage, you force yourself to go forward.

The journey across the bridge is harrowing. The heavy weight of the axe on your back makes you feel unbalanced, and each step feels like it might be your last. But you grip the ropes like a sailor in a storm, and you somehow manage to stay on your feet.

And then, right when the end of the bridge materializes through the mist, you feel an ominous presence nearby. A lurching movement draws your eyes skyward, and there, circling, is one of Odin’s ravens.

The bird flies away when you notice it. But to your dawning horror, the ominous presence remains.

Then, slowly, you turn to look behind you. And there, with one foot on the bridge, stands the biggest draugr you have ever seen. A stifled cry escapes your throat, the sound swallowed up by the torrent below your feet. Then the bridge lurches sideways as the draugr steps into the first slat. You only barely manage to hold on, both of your hands flying to the same rope railing as you hang on for dear life.

There’s no way it can cross the bridge, you tell yourself. The undead are clumsy, slow-moving things. Just keep moving.

But the bridge lurches again, plunging straight down this time as the draugr places its full weight down on the bridge. You scream before you can help yourself, clenching every muscle and waiting for the ropes to snap.

But somehow, the bridge holds. And with grit teeth, you make yourself keep walking, forcing yourself not to look back as the draugr tries to make its way to you. It’s easier said than done — the bridge swings and lurches as the dread thing moves. Yet you manage to break away, shuffling quickly and putting more distance between you and it.

The end of the bridge is in sight when suddenly, the draugr’s movement stops. For one heart-stopping moment, you think it may have fallen off the bridge. But when you turn back, your eyes widen in horror. The hideous thing, with stone-green skin and red, beady eyes is staring at you as if contemplating something. If you didn’t know better you’d even swear it was grinning at you.

As if there is some kind of intelligence there, you shudder.

And then, you watch in horror as the dread thing jumps.

The world plunges beneath your feet. Everything seems to happen at once — your ankle slips between the slats and you holler in pain, grappling for purchase and finding only air. As you fall, your bow and arrows pitch into the frothing river, vanishing immediately. Your axe goes tumbling after them, and your only instinct is to grab for it. Somehow, you seem to know that’s the right thing to do…

It’s the last thought you have before you plunge into the raging current.

Chapter Text

You wake up to laughter. Men’s laughter. And the chill in your bones is immediately matched by a deep terror in your heart.

This isn’t right.

Your ankle throbs. Your body trembles with cold. Every instinct tells you to hold still, pretend to be asleep, try to figure out where you are—

“I know you’re awake, beauty, I saw you shiver. Now why don’t you tell us your name?”

You don’t move, you don’t even breathe.

“This is a fine axe you have,” says another voice. “I think I’ll keep it as payment for the trouble of rescuing you.”

Your eyes snap open. The men laugh.

“Oh, now you made her mad,” the first man says. You blink your eyes into focus, sizing him up. Brutish is the word that pops into your mind. He’s large — hulking, even — but not shabbily dressed. If these are highwaymen, they’ve made a killing at it.

The second one, with the axe, is younger. His dark hair tumbles well past his shoulders, his manner undisciplined as he twirls your axe in his hands. But you aren’t fooled. You can see the hard swell of his muscles under the fine clothes he’s in, and it terrifies you.

The third man is thin as a rail, probably not a fighter, though he has a demented look in his eye. And right now, he hasn’t stopped staring at you for even a moment. You swallow, but try to keep your voice even.

“Where am I?” you ask, once again masking your fear with irritation.

“Right where we want you, sweetie,” says the first man, and they laugh again. Your heart lurches in terror.

You’re lying next to a campfire, but your clothes cling to you like cold fingers. However long ago they pulled you out of the water, you’re still soaked to the bone.

Cautiously, you try to sit up. Your heart plummets like a stone — your wrists are tied together, and so are your legs.

Think...

That’s Molundir’s voice in your head again. How long has it been since you’ve seen your brother? Your throat swells in grief. Will I ever see him again?

Think, Laufey, his voice says. Think of something they haven’t thought of.

Your arms… they tied them in front of you, not behind. That’s something at least. With a hard grunt of effort you prop yourself up into a seated position, tucking your legs under you. Your ankle throbs again, but you bite your tongue to divert the pain.

That’s good, Laufey. They might not know you’re injured.

But your victory is short-lived. As soon as you’re seated, a vicious shiver rips through you.

“You cold, sweetheart? I can help you with that,” says the dark-haired man holding your axe. He licks his lips salaciously. The men laugh again, but their brute of a leader is watching your face, watching the way you stare at the axe in desperation, as though it might listen to you. He stands up.

“Give me that,” he says, holding out his hand for the axe. The dark-haired man reluctantly hands it to him, clearly thinking he ought to be the one to keep it.

Hmm, you think to yourself. Maybe I could pit them against each other.

“I thought you wanted the axe,” you say to the man who just released it. “You said you’re the one who rescued me, right?”

For a moment, the dark-haired man is too stunned to speak. Then he looks covetously at the axe again.

“You didn’t rescue her,” interjects the third man, the thin one, finally taking his eyes off you. “You just picked her up from where she was lyin’ on the shore.”

“I did so rescue her!” counters the dark-haired man. “I saw her in the water.”

The thin man gives him a crocodilian grin. “Oh, that’s right,” he says. “And then the magical axe saved her.” There’s a mocking edge to his voice that makes it clear he doesn’t believe the story.

“That’s right, you cur!” growls the dark-haired man.

As the other two men argue, the brutish leader glowers at you, turning the weapon in his hands. You try not to react as his eyes sweep your body.

“Aren’t you a clever one,” he says, sucking his teeth as though pondering something. “I see what you’re doing, pretty. And it won’t work.”

“How come you always get to keep the treasure?” pipes up the thin man suddenly, and the dark-haired one suddenly stares at their leader.

“You always keep the treasure?” you ask innocently, egging them on.

The dark-haired man stands up, squaring off with the leader. “Yeah,” he says, baring his teeth. “And if you weren’t my cousin I’d have killed you by now. The girl’s right, give me the damn axe.”

“Make me, then,” growls the leader.

While the two of them continue arguing, some movement in the nearby woods catches your eye. Is there something out there?

The wheels in your head turn. If it’s more draugr, perhaps there’s a chance you could slip away during an attack…

But your attention is diverted by the thin man, who has started edging around the circle towards you. He still has the demented look in his eye, now matched by the grin on his face. Despite how hard you’re shaking, you brace yourself, readying to dive out of the way should he try to get closer.

The leader and his cousin have come to blows over the axe, shoving each other and hurling insults, tugging back and forth on the inlaid handle.

The handle… what had Sindri said about the enchantment?

You hear a scuffle, and look up in time to see the leader close his hands around his cousin’s neck. The axe clatters resoundingly to the ground, falling behind the fighting men.

If you could only get your hands on it...

The polished shine of its blade reflects the fire. You stare into the way the flames lick along the blade, strangely hypnotized. And then, your eyes widen in amazement. The reflection of the fire dulls and vanishes as frost slowly coats the metal.

Frost?! you think incredulously. No, a trick of the light…

But your heart skips as the blue gem set into the axehead begins to gleam, at first with a flickering light, and then more steadily. And then, your eyes go wide: the axe is jerking as though tugged by a string, like it is somehow trying to find its way back to you.

In your distraction, you didn’t notice the thin man encroach upon your space. But suddenly he’s towering over you. His mouth hangs open as he stares at you in your soaking clothes. You bare your teeth at him, curling up defensively, but he suddenly makes a lunge at you.

You kick out violently, hitting him square in the shins and sending him groaning to his knees.

But the force of the impact on your sprained ankle makes you holler out in pain. All three men stop what they’re doing to stare at you.

And then, the leader laughs at you, a sick grin spreading across his face. It’s clear from the predatory look in his eye that he’s done talking.

You scream as loud as you can.

You hear the air leave your lungs as he pins your shoulders to the ground, but you draw another breath and keep screaming. And you keep screaming as you feel more hands close around your legs.

You desperately wrench your head around to look for the axe. To your amazement, it has somehow lurched closer. But more incredibly, the stone seems to grow brighter as you scream, and blue sparks begin shooting from the axehead.

You take a deep breath to scream again, but the leader shakes you so hard by the shoulders that you feel it in your teeth.

“Shut up, girl,” he growls. Then he leans in close, shaking you again.

You recoil at the sight of his rotten teeth as he grins. He laughs darkly, his foul breath filling your face. “Nobody’s gonna hear you anyway.”

Suddenly, the axe rises into the air.

But it’s not some trick of magic. Someone has picked it up. Someone tall, and broad shouldered, and impossibly strong. Your breath catches in your throat, your chest swelling with hope beyond what you ever thought was possible.

The stranger raises the axe, locks eyes with you for one heart-stopping moment, and lets out a war cry as loud and resonant as you’ve ever heard.

Your assailants cry out at the sight of an armed stranger in their midst. Then they scatter like cockroaches.

But he’s too quick for them. As the dark-haired man tries to scramble away, the stranger brings the axe down squarely across his neck, severing his head in one clean stroke.

Without even interrupting his movement, he plants his foot on the dead man’s back and retrieves the axe with a wet sucking sound.

Using the momentum of the blade, he spins around and buries it between the shoulders of the thin man. He screams with an unholy sound, his pain and his panic filling the air. Before you can even think, the stranger is pulling the axe out and letting him fall to the ground. As the dying man’s head hits the ground he stares at you, eyes shot through with fear. Your whole body is shaking, but you set your jaw in defiance, staring him down as the light leaves his eyes.

The stranger, meanwhile, has rounded on the leader, who is trying to scramble away on his back, shouting drivel that even a child could see through.

“There is treasure!” the man blurts out. “It’s true! A dwarf king’s ransom, and I will lead you right to it. O-on my honor!!”

Your honor,” the stranger repeats in a low, sarcastic tone, advancing on him. The man nods vigorously.

Gritting your teeth in fury, you find your voice. “Where is the honor in kidnapping?” you practically spit. “In stealing? In terrorizing women?

At this, the leader can’t help himself. Despite his situation, he looks over at your shivering, bound body and laughs.

This is apparently the wrong answer. He cries out in surprise as the stranger raises the axe, bringing it straight down and chopping off the man’s foot.

The man screams in agony, curling in on himself and clutching his bleeding stump to his chest.

T-the girl isn’t what you think she is!!” the man cries out. “That axe is bewitched, it dragged her out of the water, she—”

The stranger kicks the man in the chest, knocking him onto his back. Then he steps on the man’s arm, pinning it away from his body. The man hollers in fear, writhing and trying in vain to pull away. The stranger raises the axe again.

No,” you say, and the stranger stops immediately to look at you. You shake your head. “A clean kill.”

The stranger looks back at the leader, crying pathetically and squirming like a child. He is afraid — so painfully afraid.

The stranger grunts. But when he raises the axe again, he’s aiming squarely at the man’s chest.

And you watch in grim satisfaction as the stranger ends this devil’s life in one powerful, bone-crunching swing.

He does not linger on the satisfaction of the kill. Instead, he sprints over to you, leaving the axe buried in the man’s chest. And he grimaces when he sees the bindings on your hands and feet, his hands grappling automatically for the dagger on his belt.

You are still shaking as he quickly cuts through the rope around your wrists.

“You are… unharmed?” he says in a low, even voice. Though he’s trying not to show it, you can see the fear in his eyes.

“Yes, although—” Then you hiss as his hand brushes your ankle. He does a double take, staring at the angry swell of your injury. He gingerly positions your leg to get a better look, rolling up the cuff of your trousers. As his big hands gently cradle your leg, he looks up at your face, his eyes going wide.

“You are freezing,” he says, with an intensity that alarms you. Certainly, you knew you were shaking, but you thought it was the adrenaline. But now, as the shock of battle wears off, you realize you cannot stop. Some distant alarm bells go off in your head, stern warnings the Jotuns gave you about this cold place before they banished you.

“The death chill,” you say weakly, suddenly understanding.

You vaguely register that the stranger is taking off his shirt, which surely is a bad idea in the freezing night air.

These wet clothes…” you whisper. But then you feel a holy, life-giving warmth envelop you. You feel yourself being lifted, and you cannot help the pleased moan that escapes your lips. You could swear you hear the stranger’s breath catch at the sound of it, but he quickly rallies, grabbing your axe from the dead man’s body and hanging it from his back, not even bothering to clean it.

You’re draped across his arms like a bride, your heart doing somersaults in a way that has little to do with the cold. You’re still shivering, but you feel like you’re being lifted up into the night sky. As you gaze up at the sharp profile of his face, something deep and intoxicating stirs in your body.

“My abode is not far,” he says, his chest rumbling against you as he spirits you into the night. The heat of his body is incredible, electrifying, supernatural…

But time seems to pass too slowly as you fight against the encroaching cold. You try to focus your mind, but it’s becoming difficult. “Wet clothes…” you try again. “Need to… take them off me…

“I know,” he says gruffly. A dreamy smile comes to your lips as your eyes flicker closed. He knows what to do. You’re going to be okay.

He carries you in silence, the passing minutes blurring together, and you begin to feel delirious. He seems to know he’s losing you, and his chest heaves in exertion, the tendons of his neck standing out stiffly as he grits his teeth. You watch, hypnotized, as the steam of his breath huffs in the chilly night air.

Legionnaire,” you whisper through trembling lips, trailing a hand down the bare skin of his chest. “After this, I… I never want to be cold… ever again.”

His eyes flick down to meet yours, fear written across his features, but also no small amount of surprise. He’s panting like a work mule, but he’s clearly interested in what you’re saying.

You reach up to stroke his bearded cheek. “Will you… keep me warm?

He pulls you tight against his chest, growling in effort. The pounding of his heart fills your ears, the warmth of his body tying you to life like a golden thread.

Then his voice, real or imagined, filters through.

Always, my Faye. Forever, and always.”

You feel yourself slipping, like your body is falling backwards into a deep void. That’s strange, you think distantly. I didn't tell him my name. And then stars fill your head, and you slip into a deep, dark sleep.

Chapter Text

You are transported. To where, you do not know. The bottom of a deep well, perhaps. Or that strange and desolate place between the realms, devoid of all natural light. It’s so cold here. So cold and so alone.

Yet sometimes you are conscious of a strong, enveloping warmth pressed against your entire body. It feels almost like a blanket of light, drawing the cold out of your bones like a sickness. It cages you in on all sides, but you do not mind the embrace. It feels as natural as breathing.

Moments of vividness cut through the blur. At one point you hear a repetitive set of syllables in your ear, over and over like a prayer. It’s clearly the same thing repeated, but you do not understand the tongue.

You lose yourself in darkness again, calling out to it, asking it for answers you shouldn’t yet know.

A familiar face appears before you. You see yourself talking to Lymaea, asking her what the words mean.

“It means ‘Stay with me, stay with me, please,’” she says, cocking an eyebrow. “Why?”

Then her face fades away, and it’s dark again.

It’s still so cold. The night is wearing on, the day is breaking. You try to talk, but only soft mewling comes out, and the embrace wraps around you even tighter.

The embrace…

Your eyes slit open, and you’re on your side, pressed against the bare chest of the legionnaire. He holds you still in his powerful arms, cradling your head in one hand and holding your body against his with the other. Your breathing is faint and shallow, your open mouth pressed against the skin of his neck. Your eyes roll up to better look at him, but he has his face buried in your shoulder. You’re both completely naked, but no shame comes to your mind. It’s the only treatment for the death chill, and you’re fighting to hold on. With the softest of moans, you squeeze him gently.

He gasps against your skin, pulling you closer.

Eventually, somehow, you stop shivering.

 

***

 

Your breathing deepens. You can feel your fingers and your toes, and even a smile on your lips. When you open your eyes you’re in a cabin, much like your own, wearing your own clothes, warm and dried. The legionnaire is nowhere to be found. Despite your ordeal, you feel only hunger and exhaustion, and a dull throb in your ankle. The worst of it is over. Thank the gods.

You are just contemplating how you’re going to get around with only one good leg, when the legionnaire re-enters the cabin, closing the door against a flurry of snowflakes. A spring storm must have blown in while you were sleeping.

When he sees you’re awake, he stops dead in his tracks. His eyes are suddenly alive with so much relief that your heart swells to see it.

But he seems reluctant to come closer, almost like he’s afraid to intrude.

“Thank you,” you say, breaking the silence. “For… saving me. From the ruffians, and from the death chill.”

He nods slowly, then looks away. His cheeks turn a strange color.

You blink at him in disbelief. Is he… blushing?

“No need to be embarrassed,” you say, sincerely. “You did what was necessary to save my life.” He clears his throat and now, yes, you are certain, a pale blush has spread on his cheeks. It’s just about the most incongruous thing you’ve ever seen, and you bite the inside of your cheek to keep from smiling.

You’re desperate to hear him say something, anything, so you change the subject.

“You told me you’re not from Midgard,” you say. “Where have you come here from?”

Silence. Your question seems to have darkened his mood, and he averts his gaze, kneeling to unfasten his boots. You refuse to be deterred.

“I’ve come from far away too,” you say. And then, with some bitterness, you add, “I’m an exile.”

No response. You feel a pang deep in your chest. After all that intimacy, all that closeness of your bodies, sharing each other’s heat… and now he won’t even acknowledge your questions.

You hiss as you pivot on the bed, jostling your ankle as you turn to face him. He turns to look at you immediately, and seems surprised by the vulnerability in your gaze. “At least tell me what you’re doing in Midgard,” you say, your brows knit imploringly. Lymaea’s warning about this man is not far from your mind, and you want to hear his version of the truth.

He still doesn’t reply, but he’s watching you steadily with that strange golden gaze. His eyes look weary, like he’s carrying a heavy weight. If he doesn’t want to tell you, there must be a reason for it. You just hope the reason doesn’t prove to be dangerous for you. But how could it be? You trust this man with your life. Indeed, you just did. With a sigh, you decide to back off.

You wave your arm dismissively. “Sit, please. It’s your home.”

He gives a small grunt of acknowledgement, then finishes taking off his boots and winter wear.

Though you’ve instructed him to sit, there isn’t really a place for it, besides a small stool by the hearth, or the space beside you on the bed. He chooses the stool, positioning himself so he’s staring into the fire. Then he picks up a whetstone and starts sharpening his pocket blade. You notice there’s something bubbling over the fire that he occasionally stirs, but otherwise he seems content to ignore you.

Several minutes pass as you wonder what to say. There’s so much you want to ask him, so much you want to know, but it’s clear he’s not in the mood to speak. Not knowing what else to do, you lie back against the headboard, giving into the fatigue you feel.

A few minutes later, a large shadow falls across your vision, and you open your eyes. The stranger is towering over you, holding out a bowl of porridge. There’s a weighty look in his eyes, something that looks almost like an apology. A moment later it vanishes, but he continues to stand there watching you, his arm extended like a peace offering.

Eat,” he says, the deep tenor of his voice filling the cabin. You accept the bowl, nodding your thanks.

Perhaps this is how he communicates, you think. Actions, not words. Perhaps this is all he knows how to do.

 

***

 

You can’t go home, and you can’t stay cooped up all day, so the stranger takes your axe and crafts you a crude crutch to bear your weight on. It takes a while to get used to, especially in the small confines of his home, but you make due.

In the following days you make a few small excursions from his cabin, mostly to the outhouse, but once in a while to get a better view of the surrounding land. Despite being backed up against the shoulder of a mountain, you have no idea where you are. But it’s clear now that you are nowhere near Arnheim.

He sleeps on the floor. Neither of you has mentioned it, but you’re grateful to have the warmth of the bed for yourself. Though you bounced back quickly from your ordeal, the nights still hold an awful chill.

And unfortunately, your current arrangement is stirring other thoughts in you. It’s easy enough to ignore during the day, but at the night, you’re all but consumed by the desire to feel his warm body next to you again. You try to rid yourself of these thoughts, but in the cozy darkness of this home, this bed you shared… you miss him. Sometimes, you can’t help but watch his sleeping face in the low light of the fire.

As you watch the harsh angles of his face in the flickering firelight, you’re suddenly consumed with sympathy for him. In Lymaea’s telling, he’s some kind of god-killer, though you’re convinced that isn’t the whole story. And even if it is, the way he looks after you…

You swallow, wondering how you came to be fighting down these feelings for a man this dangerous. It’s not just that he saved your life. It’s that he seems to understand your plight, even if he won’t say it. You’re sure of it now: he might not be an exile, but he’s just as unable to go home as you are.

You’re consumed by thoughts of him, this mysterious legionnaire, whose deeds have made your time in Midgard less harsh. In his own way, he’s been as devoted to you as nearly anyone in your life.

But you also have other people now: Lymaea, little Ragnar, the hunters and loggers of your woods, Brock and Sindri… strange friends indeed, but they’ve shone brightly in your otherwise dark time in Midgard. You think of these friendships as you look at his deeply-lined face. Who does he have?

He stirs, and you quickly pretend to be asleep. Your eyes are closed as you hear him groan, slowly pushing himself to his feet. Then your heart beats faster as you feel him slowly approach the bed.

You feel the faintest of touches on your shoulder, trailing over your sleeping form through the blanket. You can’t help the shiver that rips through your body — he’s actually touching you.

The stranger must have noticed you tremble, because you feel him grip the top edge of the blanket and reposition it on your body, hiking it all the way up to your shoulders. This simple gesture, this show of concern, turns your knees to water, and you think how fortunate it is that you’re already laying down.

Then, all your thoughts evaporate as the stranger gently pushes your hair out of your face. You mewl helplessly at his touch, such a soft sound for a warrior such as you. But your hear him growl softly in pleasure, threading his fingertips through your hair and stroking you with an aching gentleness. Your breath catches in your throat, and you feel a stirring deep in your belly. You’re immediately consumed with the desire for more.

You swallow down a shiver of desire as he cards his fingers around the back of your head. He’s so strong. All you want is to be near him, to open your eyes and welcome him into the bed with you. To let him teach you all those sweet and terrible things that lovers do. Things that you’ve always been too busy to explore…

Then, just as suddenly as it began, the stranger withdraws his touch. He lingers a moment, then returns to his makeshift place on the floor. He has nothing at all to sleep on, not even a blanket, but you haven’t heard him complain. A familiar warmth fills your heart at his selflessness, as well as a pang of longing. As he lowers himself back down to the floor, you almost open your mouth to call him back into bed with you.

Almost.

But then you remember something painfully obvious: you don’t know anything about this man. Not even his name. With a sigh of frustration, you realize how irresponsible it would be to invite him into bed with you.

And besides, from the look of him… you’re not sure you’d be ready for what would happen if you did.

Chapter Text

You know you’re dreaming even before the legionnaire settles his heavy weight on top of you, pinning you underneath his formidable body. But somehow, it doesn’t diminish your excitement for what’s about to happen.

His lips are pressed against your neck — firm, bristly kisses that make your toes curl in anticipation. He’s hungry for you, as the firm hands tracing up your body will attest. And he’s impatient… so impatient to be on you that you still have your boots on.

And then his mouth is on yours, his tongue probing between your lips, and you open up to him greedily. As you scratch your nails down his pecs, he grins salaciously against your lips, chuckling darkly as he rocks his hips against yours.

Mine, you think to yourself as you paw at him, your touch greedy, loving the feeling of his dense muscles under your fingertips. All. Mine.

Suddenly his tongue plunges deep down your throat, and you whimper in submission. He’s cradling your face in one of his big hands, holding you right where he wants you.

And ohhh, how he wants you.

 

***

 

You wake up with a pounding pulse and a hot slickness between your thighs. By the gods, what a dream. It’s all you can do not to moan in frustration.

It’s not the first dream you’ve had about him, either. You thought your feelings would fade with time, but something about being this close to him has only made your fantasies more vivid. You’re consumed with a need to feel his lips claiming yours, to feel his big hands all over you, to see his gorgeous body in all its glory and feel it pressing you against his mattress.

Groaning softly, you press your palms over your eyes and shake your head. When you finally open them, you see the stranger at the hearth. He’s standing over a boiling pot, staring at you. You swallow thickly.

“Bad dream,” you say.

It’s not strictly untrue.

He jerks his head in a subtle nod, then continues stirring your breakfast. Gods, he’s even making you breakfast.

You know how absurd it is to feel this strongly about a man you barely know. This is a schoolgirl’s crush, not a guide for how to behave.

But as you steal another look at his well-built physique, you’re filled with a determination to get to know him better. It’s only the mystery of him that’s fueling your out of control desires, you tell yourself. It has nothing to do with the way he looks at you as he hands you a bowl of porridge, the way he seems to drink in the sight of you sitting in his bed.

As you gratefully accept the meal from him, you try to keep your hands from trembling.

 

***

 

Unfortunately, your desire to get to know him better is quickly derailed by the reality of your situation.

Over the next few days, you try a few more times to engage him in conversation, but he remains as closed off as when you first arrived. Despite your attempts to be diplomatic, you receive only grunts or one-word answers when you try to talk to him, if not stony silence. You’re starting to feel ridiculous, hearing your own voice go unanswered when you speak to him.

The rejection hits you harder than it should. But by the gods, you thought you had forged a real connection with him. When you think about how he held you against his body to save your life, it nearly makes your knees buckle. The smell of him lingers in the bed you shared, and his powerful body invades your dreams. He’s so damned close, and yet he’s never felt more distant.

But despite his near-silence, he remains a diligent carer, making sure you’re comfortable and fed. The juxtaposition is maddening.

By the sixth day, you’ve had enough. Of being cooped up, of being locked out. You stand up, warily putting weight on your bad leg. It’s a little stiff, and a little tender, but you grit your teeth — you can’t stay in the cabin with him a moment longer.

It takes him a while to notice you’ve laced up your boots, but when he does, he looks up at you questioningly.

“I’m going hunting,” you announce. Without staying to see his look of surprise, you grab his bow and quiver off the wall and storm out.

You don’t get far before your ankle is screaming at you to stop. Frustrated, you know you can’t go back inside yet, not until you’ve cooled off. So you’ll just have to find something to hunt that’s close by.

A short walk from his cabin, there’s an old fence and some pinecones, and you decide that these will suffice. You set three of them up on the wall and retreat by a few dozen paces, hobbling along as best you can. Then you pull the bow off your back and nock an arrow.

You hear the door to the cabin open and close, but you ignore it. Lining up a pinecone in your sights, you draw back the bow, take a deep breath, and let loose the arrow.

Fsssh.

You cringe as the arrow curves harmlessly into the snow, only a few paces in front of you. You know the stranger is watching, you heard the crunch of his footsteps stop behind you. Determined not to let your rage and embarrassment show, you retrieve another arrow, nocking it to the bowstring and lining up your shot. Your arm shakes as you draw it back. Why does it always shake?

As if in answer to your question, the stranger steps behind you.

“You are not drawing it far enough.”

You ignore him. If he’s going to give you the silent treatment, why not give him a taste of his own medicine? You close one eye, intending to loose the arrow.

But then he steps in close behind you, and you feel his fingertips on your elbow.

“Higher,” he says, his tone softer than usual. The low basso of his voice makes your heart double-beat, and you let him gently guide your elbow up until it’s level with your shoulder. Then you hear yourself gasp softly as he moves in even closer.

His arms encircle yours. One hand comes around to grip yours over the bow, and the other encircles your wrist where you’re holding the arrow. His head is over your right shoulder, so close you can feel the fringe of his beard against your neck. You breathe deeply, suddenly feeling lightheaded.

“If you are strong enough to wield that axe, you are strong enough to draw this bow,” he says, his hot breath fanning over your neck. Then you gasp as he pulls your hand and the bowstring back. His grip is hard, unflinching, as he draws the arrow back nearly to your cheek.

Go ahead,” he says in a low voice.

He’s pressed against you now, his front to your back, the familiar heat of his body making your breath catch.

Lining up your shot again and closing one eye, you release the arrow. It flies farther this time, sticking in the ground below the pinecones.

“Another,” he says, and for some reason you obey, fetching another arrow from the quiver.

Again he helps you draw your arm back fully, his thick hands around your wrists making you feel things. You shake your head slightly, trying to clear the thoughts away.

“Focus up,” he says gruffly.

You turn to give him a piece of your mind, but somehow you didn’t think about how close his face is to yours. When you turn to face him, you’re practically kissing his cheek. You draw back slightly, eyes widening in alarm.

He returns your gaze, his expression stern but not unkind. He seems to be appraising you, searching your eyes like he’s reading them. Your lips part as you find yourself staring deep into his amber gaze, his sidelong glance somehow saying more than his words. Finally, you remember yourself. And you work up your courage to ask him the question that’s been tearing at your mind.

“Why are you here in Midgard?” you ask.

He grunts in displeasure. It’s not an answer, but it’s a start.

“Fire again,” he says, and you force yourself to tear your gaze away from his. You line up the shot the way he showed you, his strong hands guiding your arm back until the bow is locked with tension. You stand there, enjoying the feeling of his strong hands on your body, before you force yourself to release the arrow.

This one flies farther, skimming the pinecones and landing far past them. He lets out a pleased grunt, and you can’t help but smile.

By the gods, why do you care about his approval so much? You don’t even know who he is. Yet you shudder as he speaks softly into your ear again.

“Another,” he says, voice low and commanding.

At the last moment, you remember to disguise your shudder, pretending to be struck by a shiver of cold. As you draw another arrow, you dare yourself to look over at him again, your gaze sweeping the proud lines of his face. You find yourself entranced by the sharp jut of his profile, the soft sweep of his beard where it rests on your shoulder. Noticing your attention, he looks over at you once more.

For a moment, he looks like he might chide you to focus again. But then his gaze drops to the rapidly spreading blush on your cheeks, and then to your parted lips. When he finally locks eyes with you again, you could swear there was something extra in his gaze. Curiosity, maybe. Or some kind of hunger. You take a steadying breath.

“Where have you come from?” you ask. He doesn’t look away, but his eyes grow colder.

“From another realm,” he says finally. “Far beyond the edges of Midgard.” After a moment of reflection, you nod. You’re thrilled to have gotten a real answer from him, but you’re trying not to let it show.

“Myself, as well,” you say, finally lining up your shot.

He doesn’t say anything, but you feel his eyes on the side of your face, looking at you curiously.

You begin to draw the bow again, and it takes him a half-second too long before he starts assisting you. But he makes up for it, tightening his grip and making your breath catch as you’re suddenly stretched out, bow fully drawn under your fingertips.

You’re strong,” you blurt out. He doesn’t react, but only a moment later you realize you’ve spoken in the Jotun tongue.

“Well?” he says impatiently. Without another word, you line up the shot. And when you release it, it passes so close to the pinecones that one of them turns and falls off the fence.

“Yes!!” you exclaim, and he hums in approval.

“Another,” he says, his booming voice seeming to respond to your energy. “This time, hit one.”

You nod, readying another arrow. As his arms guide yours in a now familiar motion, you close one eye and stare down the target.

“Your name,” you say softly. “You’ve saved my life three times, and I don’t even know your name.”

He grunts, the sound so much deeper with his face right next to yours.

“Hit one, and I will tell you,” he says.

A satisfied smirk curves your lips. Is this stoic and serious man being playful?

You close one eye and stare down the target. His hot breath ghosts over your neck, making you shiver again in the chilly winter air.

“You’re making this difficult,” you say in a low voice, teasing him. To your surprise, he releases you, though he doesn’t step away.

Your heart is pounding, your bow drawn to its maximum when you finally aim and let go.

The arrow pierces one of the pinecones, sending it flying end-over-end into the woods. You raise your fist in triumph, turning back to grin at the stranger.

The look on his face gives you pause. He’s not smiling, per se, but he does look… pleased. He’s also closer than you expected, but you’re not objecting. You’re giddy over this victory, however small it is. With hooded eyes, you playfully tap the center of his chest.

“We had a deal, legionnaire,” you say.

He exhales forcefully, his hot breath fanning over your cheeks. Then, after a few long moments of consideration, something seems to give way in him.

You gasp as one of his big hands comes to your back, pulling you swiftly into an embrace. Your jaw falls wide open in surprise as he brings his lips close to your neck, your hand trapped between your chest and his.

“Kratos,” he says, the syllables deep and resonant next to your ear.

The low pitch of his voice makes you shiver. With more daring than you’ve ever felt, you caress his pec with your thumb. Just a little, but enough that he freezes in place. You could swear you hear a little groan escape his throat, and the sound makes you tremble with pleasure. If he reacts that strongly to one little touch…

You lick your lips, standing up on tiptoes and leaning towards his ear.

“Faye,” you whisper. Gods, you could kiss him right now. You wonder what he would do.

Then, slowly, he pulls away. The curl of his fingertips as he withdraws his hand makes you gasp. He lets out a pleased little groan, low and deep in his chest.

Faye…” he repeats, drawing out your name. It’s so unexpected that your cheeks flush scarlet. Gods, you love the way he says it. If your blush wasn’t obvious before, it certainly is now.

You pull back to look up at him, lips parted in awe. His amber eyes study yours with interest, sparking with an intensity that you like.

Come,” he says finally, turning back towards the house and beckoning you with a single motion of his hand. “Let us return someplace warm. You seem… flushed.”

Chapter Text

Later that night, Kratos serves you a bowl of rabbit and root vegetable stew. You’ve come to really enjoy his cooking — it’s simple, yet fortifying. The fact that this mighty warrior is so good in the kitchen brings a sudden and irrepressible smile to your face.

That, and the fact that after your archery lesson today, you just feel… happy.

Kratos catches you smiling and raises an eyebrow, and the sight is so unusual that you shake your head, laughing.

“You’re a good cook,” you say. “And a seasoned hunter. A fine hand with an axe, as well. Is there anything you can’t do?”

Before today, he may well have blown you off for that remark. But now, he gives you a fond and lingering stare.

“You exaggerate,” he says. But there is no edge behind his words. In fact, you think he might be preening just a little. There seems to be an added liveliness to his movements as he ladles himself a fourth bowl of stew.

You had been sitting back on his bed, elevating your bad leg after the excitement of the day. Yet as Kratos goes to take his usual place on the stool, you shake your head. He eyes you quizzically.

You swing your legs over the side of the bed, your feet dangling from the great height of his mattress. Then you pat the space next to you.

“Sit,” you say quietly, a shy smile on your face. When he only stands there, blinking at you, you roll your eyes. “Come, Kratos. It’s much more comfortable here.”

After a moment’s reluctance, he seems to agree. He crosses the floor to your side in a few large steps. Then, he sits down next to you on the bed, the whole thing dipping under the weight of him. You try to control the pounding of your heart — despite the size of his mattress, he didn’t sit as far away from you as he could have.

You both finish your meals in silence. Though you know you shouldn’t, you steal glances of him out the corner of your eye. From this close, his bulk is all the more impressive, and you wonder how he ever finds armor that fits him. Gods, do you love how strong he is. It’s all you can do not to lean over and feel his bicep again like you did so many months ago.

Finally, Kratos sets his bowl aside, and you do the same. When he does not immediately get up to leave, you bite down on your lip to keep from smiling.

What’s gotten into you? you ask yourself. He’s going to think you’re out of your head.

Perhaps sensing your internal struggle, Kratos turns to look at you and catches you staring at his arms. You feel your cheeks turn a shade darker.

“Your arm… how is it?” you ask suddenly, secretly congratulating yourself for thinking of a good cover.

He huffs slightly, something that could almost be considered a laugh if it came from anybody else.

“Fine,” he says.

“No permanent damage?”

“Not likely,” he says. You privately wonder how he can say that with such confidence. The force that ripped through his arm looked like it could’ve stopped the heart of an ogre. And yet sure enough, as you look, there seems to be no sign whatsoever of his injury. The wheels turn over in your brain. That doesn’t make any sense.

He seems to catch your look of confusion, and to your great surprise, he changes the subject.

“And your leg?” he says.

“Ah… not happy with me, after today,” you say. “But it’s healing.”

“Let me see,” he says.

You freeze. Did he just say…?

He nods at your ankle where it’s hanging off the side of the bed.

Slowly, without making any sudden movements, you pivot so you’re leaning against the headboard. Then you slowly extend your bad ankle. To your astonishment, he takes hold of your leg, cradling your injury between his two hands, and gently pulls it onto his lap. Your eyes go as wide as dinner plates.

He’s touching you.

You swallow thickly, but Kratos proceeds to rotate your leg, inspecting the sprain as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening. The careful way he’s holding you, and the concentration on his face as he gently looks you over… it all feels so intimate that you don’t know what to say.

“Can you move it?” he asks in a deep voice, yanking you out of your embarrassing reverie.

“Oh… sure,” you say. You try flexing your foot back, but immediately hiss at the pain. Kratos grunts in understanding.

“Does it hurt here?” he asks, pressing his fingertips gently into your flesh. Okay, now you know you’re blushing. The hot press of his fingers on your skin is awakening desires in you that you’ve long ignored.

He looks over at you curiously.

“Oh… n-no,” you say, suddenly remembering that he asked you a question.

“How about here?”

You hiss in pain again as he finds a tender area. He seems to consider this.

“A sprain,” he says finally. “Not likely broken, if you can walk on it. You should be well enough to travel in a few days time.”

You nod, but are caught off guard by the sudden flicker of amusement in Kratos’s eye. “But you knew that already,” he says.

“Yes,” you agree with a laugh. “But it can’t hurt to get a second opinion.”

Kratos gently sets your foot down on his lap but otherwise doesn’t move. You find yourself overwhelmed with the need to savor this moment, to push him further.

“You know, the next time you want to look at my ankles, you only have to ask,” you say teasingly. “No poking and prodding necessary.”

He huffs again, then gives you a heart-melting look out the corner of his eye.

“Good to know,” he says.

Mother of Odin, this man is going to be the death of you.

 

***

 

Ever since that day he told you his name, you and Kratos have taken your meals together sitting in his bed. It’s become a twice-daily ritual that makes you so happy that sometimes, he catches you smiling to yourself. It’s become something of a private joke between you. When he notices, he’ll raise an eyebrow in an exaggerated way, which makes you burst into laughter every time. He doesn’t seem to mind that one bit.

For his part, Kratos seems remarkably content with having you in his home. Your conversations over evening meals have gradually gotten more relaxed, if not entirely natural. He is still a man of few words. Though if you’re being honest… you’re starting to like that about him.

As your ankle heals, you’ve started walking together further and further around the grounds of his house. You’ve discovered that whatever this place is called, it’s nowhere near Arnheim. In fact, it’s many miles downstream from where you fell off the bridge. When you first realize this, it makes your blood run cold.

That’s impossible, you think. There’s no way I would have survived in the river for that long. You’re forced to conclude that the ruffians found you someplace far upriver, and carried you over land to their camp. The thought chills you. You were so vulnerable for so long…

At that point, Kratos had noticed your rumination, and offered a sympathetic gaze.

“The ruffians…” you had said sadly, by way of explanation, and he had nodded in understanding.

But aside from the occasional troubling memory, your time with him has been deeply rewarding. Between your walks, target practice, and your meals together, something is shifting. Slowly, against all possible odds, he’s opening up to you.

Once, he even revealed that he had been part of a great army, confirming your suspicions. That was it: “I was once part of a great army.” But the admission felt significant. You were walking around the perimeter of his lands, the sun falling behind the distant mountaintops, sweeping the world under a strange and premature darkness. He had stopped walking.

“Were you an officer?” you had prodded.

A pause. “Just a soldier,” he replied quietly. “But devoted to the last.”

He had been looking out at the distant hills, and you couldn’t help feeling a pang at what you saw in his eyes. Something dark, but distant, hung over him, and you were immediately struck with a need to beckon him closer to the present. You had placed a hand lightly on his shoulder. “My devoted legionnaire,” you had called him, taking in the surprise on his face and giving him a little smile. From the gentle huff of his laughter (or at least, what passed for laughter from him), it seemed to please him greatly. Under that mask of darkness, he had turned fully to look at you, squaring his shoulders and giving you a lingering look.

“Just a soldier,” he repeated. Another pause. “However, I… know where my devotions lie.” And then, you saw something in his eyes that made your lips part — a fondness of an almost overwhelming ferocity. In that moment, in the perfection of that hillside, that sunset, that gaze — your heart had never been happier. Not even when you were in Jotunheim.

It was enough to give you pause. Until that moment, you hadn’t thought of Jotunheim once since he rescued you.

Chapter Text

In all your time with Kratos, you have not forgotten the purpose of your visit. It’s just that the time has never felt right to broach the subject. You know how he feels about gods, and you’re worried what his reaction will be when you tell him about Odin’s… invitation.

But you’re running out of time. The Winter’s End festival will be upon you in a few short days, and you need to begin your journey back to the village as soon as you can. Your ankle will slow you down, but at the very least, you will be strong enough to travel.

You still have no idea why Odin has summoned you to appear before him. When you think about it too much, it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. What use would he have for a daughter of Jotunheim? All you know about Odin is that he’s a vengeful, far-seeing, and powerful god whose very name terrifies the people of Midgard.

And you know that for some reason, Kratos isn’t afraid of him.

That night, as you’re taking your meal together with Kratos, you realize that you can avoid the purpose of your journey no longer. Summoning your courage, you try to find the words to explain your situation to him.

“Kratos…” you say, gaining his attention as he sets aside his empty bowl.

“Faye,” he says, eyeing you placidly from where he’s sitting. He shifts on the bed, placing his hands on either side of him and leaning back slightly. You swallow thickly as you find yourself distracted, once again, by nearness of his body. You’re sitting so close to him on the bed that your knees are touching, but neither of you has made a move to pull away. He’s so close…

You look at him steadily now, drinking in the way his muscles flex as he leans back. He’s so powerful, but so lean, too. He rarely wears anything on his torso, and tonight is no exception. You can see every inch of his strength on full display. Well… almost every inch.

Swallowing, you ask yourself what it is you truly want from this man. Is it a bodyguard? A co-conspirator? Or is it a lover — no, a partner — willing to go into battle at your side?

He’s eyeing you now, his eyes half-closed. If you didn’t know better, you’d think he was trying to show off.

You shake your head, trying to sort out your thoughts. You don’t even know if Kratos would be willing to help you. He seems contemptuous of the gods, at best. But at the very least, now feels like the right time to ask.

“I thank you again for saving me from the ruffians,” you say, breaking your silence.

He looks at you carefully now, gazing down at you over the proud jut of his chin. His eyes search yours as he thinks about what you said. Then, to your surprise, he seems to withdraw into himself, turning away. This memory seems painful for him, though you aren’t sure why.

“It was… no trouble,” he says finally.

Encouraged, you continue.

“How did you find me?” you ask. You’re trying to sound nonchalant, but the question has been gnawing at you for days. Kratos grunts.

“Your… voice,” he says slowly, as though the words themselves are painful to him. It takes you a moment to realize he meant your frantic screams, and then you understand why he suddenly looks so stricken. You think about the scene he stumbled upon, the state he found you in. It was frightening for him, too, you realize.

In that moment, though, the thing you remember is looking up and seeing him, your devoted legionnaire, hoisting your axe overhead and looking down at you with a fierce and terrible longing in his eyes. You remember the war cry he let out, bellowing like the god of deliverance. You remember how the evil men scattered, and how he hunted down every one before rushing desperately to your side.

“You’re an incredible fighter,” you say softly, remembering. “One of the best I’ve ever seen.”

This seems to be the right thing to say, as he immediately perks up, sitting forward on the bed and giving you a sidelong glance. Then he hums, reflecting.

“If only you could have seen me as a young man,” he says.

As his gaze goes far away, you nearly do a double take. This could very well be the most he has ever revealed to you about himself. There was something almost wistful in his voice.

You find your attention drawn to the creases of his face, the deep lines around his eyes and the scowl that always seems to be on his lips. But it’s not his age that stands out to you so much as his weariness. He must have lived through so much, to face life as he does. Once again, you wish you knew more about him.

As for his comment, you wish you could say something to reassure him. The truth is, you don’t find his age a turn-off. Quite the opposite, in fact.

“I like that you’re older,” you blurt out. His eyebrows jump up in surprise, and he slowly turns to look at you. As you feel yourself turn scarlet, you try to walk it back.

“I mean that… you’re… experienced,” you stammer. “I… I feel safe, around you.”

You stare at the floor, stunned by your own admission. A few seconds go by, but you still can’t bring yourself to look at him.

“Faye…” he says quietly.

When you don’t move, you see him slowly turn his body towards you from where you’re both sitting on the bed. Then, he slowly reaches out, moving as though he’s trying not to startle you. You feel his gentle touch underneath your chin, and feel your breath hiccup as he slowly turns your face towards his.

His eyes are creased, searching yours. You could drown in the look he’s giving you, so full of some deep, unspoken connection. Yet there’s something heavy there too, a despair he wears like a shroud.

“What happened?” he asks finally.

You take a deep breath. You know what he’s really asking — ‘how did you end up a prisoner of the ruffians?’ but you can’t bring yourself to answer.

You freeze as you feel his big hand on your shoulder, squeezing you comfortingly. Somehow, this simple gesture makes you feel safer than you’ve felt since you entered Midgard. You look up at him, feeling more like a doe-eyed teenage girl than the warrior woman you are. He gives you a look that is warm and patient, continuing to rub your back.

Through the sweetness of his gesture, you eventually find the words to talk about your experience.

“It followed a terrible accident on my journey,” you say finally, shaking your head. “Normally I do not fear such threats. My axe is unfailing, even when faced with many enemies. But those men found me unconscious.”

He continues rubbing your back sympathetically, but he can’t hide the concern in his eyes. “How?” he asks quietly.

“They found me on the shore of a river,” you say, embarrassed. “I… I had fallen in.”

Kratos cannot hide the stunned look on his face.

“I was being pursued by draugr,” you continue quickly. “One of them chased me onto the rope bridge to Arnheim.”

He blinks at you. “Arnheim…” he says.

You nod.

Something seems to flicker right behind his eyes, something significant. But he seems to decide against saying anything for now.

“I was trying to get away,” you continue, “but the largest of the draugr followed me.” You shudder, remembering. “The weight of it unbalanced the bridge and I… I sprained my ankle and fell in.”

Somehow, you thought he would chastise you for your foolishness. But now he just looks relieved. His hand rubs across your back gently, bringing him closer to you.

“You are lucky, Faye,” he says finally.

“I know,” you say, eyes dropping to the floor again.

He thinks for a long time before speaking again.

“Why would you undertake such a dangerous journey?” he asks.

Your eyes find his again, and this time, it’s you who looks surprised. “Isn’t it obvious?” you say, your eyes searching his. “I was looking for you.”

He freezes. His brow creases in consternation.

“Is that really so surprising, Kratos?” you ask softly. “It had been so long, I…” you shake your head sadly, trailing off.

He stares at you, not comprehending.

“Why didn’t you come back to visit me?” you ask, your voice barely a whisper.

He stares at you. “Because of the gods who threatened you.”

“I thought you weren’t afraid of any god,” you reply, brows knit.

“That was before I knew you,” he says forcefully.

You blink at him. “I… I don’t understand,” you say.

He takes a deep breath. Then, he turns away. “If I had stayed, they would have come for you. It was the only way.”

“I can handle myself, Kratos,” you insist. “I have my protection staves, and the axe besides. Tell me, why were they so interested in you? What aren’t you telling me?”

He exhales forcefully, his head lowering. After taking a few deep breaths, he seems calmer.

“It is better if you do not know,” he says finally, his words slow and measured. “You have already put yourself in danger by coming here. You cannot risk being seen with me.”

“I came to ask for your help, Kratos,” you say. “With Odin.”

He looks back at you in alarm.

“What??” he exclaims.

“First, I need to know why you aren’t afraid of him,” you say, folding your arms.

He mulls this over. Then he turns away, seemingly in anger.

“For what reason?” he demands finally. The hard edge in his voice catches you off guard, and you swallow.

“Because I am to face him in a few days’ time.”

Kratos wheels back around, not even concealing his shock.

WHAT??” he bellows.

“The Winter’s End Festival, in the village,” you say. “In order to get past my protection stave, Odin coerced a villager into passing along his message. He took the man’s son as a hostage and will not release him unless I’m there.”

Kratos looks as if he just witnessed a murder. Except you’re almost certain a murder wouldn’t stun him this much. He stares, rigid and unblinking, in utter incomprehension.

“He wants to meet me,” you continue, feeling the need to explain yourself. “For what reason, I cannot say.”

Kratos stands up, flustered, dragging his hand over his face as he starts pacing around the cabin.

“But that is why I came here,” you continue. “To ask for your help in facing him.”

All this is too much for Kratos. He starts pacing again, his hands behind his head. You’ve never seen him like this, and it’s beginning to worry you. But you force yourself to finish your request.

“So I ask you, Kratos, why are you not afraid of such a man? And will you help me?”

“I cannot keep you safe from Odin,” he says, stalking back and forth. “You must not go.”

You stand up, squaring off with him despite your enormous difference in height. He stops pacing to stare at you, his expression deeply troubled.

“I need to do this, Kratos,” you say, folding your arms across your chest. “Otherwise, innocent people are going to get hurt.”

His gaze pierces into yours. “That is no cause to endanger yourself.”

“I’m stronger than the villagers,” you retort, not breaking eye contact. “If Odin tries anything, I’ll at least have a fighting chance.”

He looks too stunned to speak, his eyes raw with some unnamed emotion.

“You must not,” he declares finally. Then he turns away, as though that is the final word on the matter.

You seethe with sudden anger. How could he presume to tell you what to do? “I already told you, I’m going,” you say crossly.

Kratos turns on his heel to face you. “Woman, listen to me!” he says, eyes flashing.

You take a deep breath, your heart lurching erratically. “Do not raise your voice with me, Kratos,” you reply in an even tone.

“Odin is a god,” he hisses, taking another step closer. “He will annihilate you where you stand. For any reason, or no reason at all.”

Your eyes drop to the floor, stung by the accuracy in his words. You may be a formidable warrior, but you are no god. But he sees the look on your face, sees that you’re listening, and his tone softens. Slowly, as if the motion itself is unfamiliar to him, he brings his hands up to grasp your shoulders.

Faye…” he pleads, his amber eyes laced with concern. His thumbs stroke over the flesh of your shoulders, caressing you. Your breath catches in your throat as his big hands travel up and down your arms.

He pulls you incrementally closer to him, the heat radiating off his chest making you weak. Gently grasping your chin, he turns your face up to his, now merely inches apart.

“Please… stay,” he implores, his amber eyes staring deep into yours.

Everything is telling you to give into him, to fall into the depths of that golden gaze and never resurface. To let him to show you everything that’s behind that look he’s giving you.

But something nags at your mind.

“What about the villagers?” you say, uncertain.

He huffs out a breath in frustration. “Their fate is not your concern,” he says.

You gape at him, stunned. For a moment, you don’t believe what you’ve heard. But when it becomes clear that he meant what he said, you step back from him, horrified.

Though your face does not show it outwardly, you feel the doors to your heart slam shut. It’s a sickly feeling, like a hot coal sitting on your chest, but there’s no time to dwell on it now. Already the festival is fast approaching, and you need to start the journey back westward.

“This discussion is over,” you say, your voice hard. “I’m doing this. With, or without you.”

His jaw clenches, as though he is amazed you would actually disobey him. His gaze is long and haunting before he speaks again. Something seems to give away inside him.

Faye…” he pleads, eyes brimming with some unnamed emotion. He takes a step forward, closing the distance you put between you. His hand slowly finds the side of your face, drawing you so close that your forehead is nearly pressed against his. His gravelly voice is barely a whisper when he speaks again. “Faye, please.”

He softly caresses your cheek but you jerk away, shaking your head as you take another step back. Now all the softness in his eyes gives way to something else, some bottomless despair that seems to open up beneath him like a trapdoor. He quickly masks it with fury.

“Fine. Then GO,” he shouts, abruptly turning his back to you. His hulking frame fills the room like a wall.

You feel dizzy, your mind reeling from his sudden and harsh rejection. Many seconds pass before you can even speak. “Wh—what?” you say weakly.

“All gods are monsters,” he says, his voice laden with grief. “Go if you must. But I will not watch you walk to your death.”

Chapter Text

The journey westward is slow and grueling. Standing between you and any sort of relief are many lonely, silent miles.

Fine. Then GO!

Kratos’s final words stab at you like icy knives. And there’s no escaping it. There is nothing to distract your mind, nothing to dull the monotony of the endless forests and hills, unless you count the occasional flare of pain in your ankle.

There don’t even seem to be any undead to pick off. You never thought you’d say the words, but you would happily fight a draugr right now. Anything would be better than having to relive the memory of that terrible final conversation with Kratos. Anything would be better than watching him turn his back to you with such awful finality.

Go if you must. But I will not watch you walk to your death.

You didn’t know it was possible for someone else to slam a door on your heart. It feels like you’re being devoured from within.

How did I get it so wrong? you wonder bitterly. How is he not the man I thought he was?

A familiar voice in your mind chides you. You don’t even know him, sis. You never did.

You ball up your fists, burying them in the pockets of your overcloak. No point in arguing with a voice in your head, you try to tell yourself. But the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. Kratos fought a revenant at your side, brought you meat when you were starving, and saved you from both highwaymen and the death chill that swiftly followed. And more than that, he made sure you were fed and comforted while staying in his home.

He sat with you on his bed. He made you laugh. He caressed your shoulders, he looked deep into your eyes, he held you tenderly by the chin, he stroked your cheek…

Your stomach tightens in grief. Kratos was the only thing in this entire realm that made you feel happy. But more than that, he made you feel like you were somehow home.

You know perfectly well the source of your misery. Despite the accident that brought you there, you had almost let yourself believe that you were living with him. That you were… together.

You shake your head in frustration. You know your feelings are an impermissible distraction. By the gods, you are about to come face to face with Odin. Right now, you need to keep a clear head.

But trying to focus on the present is no better than your rumination. The slush from the spring snowstorm pools around your feet, sucking the warmth from your toes and reminding you, yet again, that the Jotuns have abandoned you here.

Tears sting your eyes. Then, they fall heavily down your cheeks, one right after the other. The world blurs ahead of you, and as you look up towards the endless hills left to climb, you lose the will to keep going. You have no place in this entire realm to go back to, no one to welcome you anywhere, and so you just… stop. You just stand there, eyes blurred, watching nothing. If you just turned around, went back to him, apologized… would all this pain go away?

Temptation begins to simmer in your blood. Slowly, you turn to look at the path behind you.

Little Laufey, what’s gotten into you?! demands a familiar voice. You’ve never been the lovesick kind. Are you coming down with something? Did you eat some bad mushrooms?

Of course it’s Molundir’s voice in your head. His tone holds the gentle teasing of a brother worried about his sister’s heart.

Your last paramours were all translators and scribes, sis. I never thought I’d see you this hung up on some dense meathead.

An undignified snort escapes you. How ridiculous you must look, laughing through your tears. But that’s exactly what your brother would say. And more to the point, he’s right.

What you wouldn’t give to be back in Jotunheim, listening to Molundir play the lute and sing some bawdy song about life in the military. That was your family’s solution to your brother’s rebellion, to his endless ‘crass’ remarks that were only unacceptable because they were honest. He was a sharpened blade, cutting through the pomp and ceremony of the Jotun ruling class, and they hated him for it. Your parents had sent him off to the military as soon as he was old enough. What they didn’t expect was for you to join him.

You smile, remembering the utter shock on their faces. Your twin brother, shipping out to a distant base, and you, defiantly stepping out onto the transport ship right behind him, bag already packed. You, who had gone to the best schools, who seemed destined for an intellectual life — going to basic training to learn how to fight. The scandal rocked the Jotun high consul for days.

You left behind a life of comfort to become a peacekeeper: to devote your life to protecting the weak, and to defend what was good and right about the world. That is who you are.

A faint sound pulls you back to the present. It’s high-pitched, like the grinding of two stones, only more musical somehow. And it’s regular and repeating, like the chime of a bell. Whatever it is, it sounds close.

After looking around intently for a few moments, you have a creeping suspicion about the source of the sound. You slowly unhook the axe from your back. With a shiver, you realize your suspicions were right — the frost gem set into the axehead is pulsing with a pale blue gleam, chiming out a strange and eerie note. Nothing unusual has happened with the axe since that terrible night the ruffians found you. You had tried and failed to get it to move on its own again, or even to gleam, but it always ended in disappointment. Now, for seemingly no reason, it's acting up again.

You stare into the pulsing blue light, trying to figure out what it means. You’ve heard of speaking stones before, which supposedly whisper with the voices of entrapped souls, but you never paid those tales much mind. Now, you wish that you’d listened better.

Feeling ridiculous, and being secretly glad no one else is around, you bring the gem to your ear.

But you hear no voice. But it does make the sound clearer, its chime wavy and broken like the cheeping of a cricket. You listen long enough that the sound weakens, then fades away, and the glow of the gem along with it.

What was it Sindri had said? The axe was… enchanted somehow?

You would love to ask him, but he and Brock are wanderers, and have mysterious traveling abilities besides. You wouldn’t even know where to look for them. With a sigh of frustration, you return your axe to the holster on your back.

What would Sindri say about this? you find yourself wondering.

And then, as though correcting yourself, you ask a different question: What *will* Sindri say about this?

Something inside your mind clicks. Like a key, entering a lock — like something long lost has slid into its correct place. The world shimmers before your eyes. Something black, like a scarf blown in the wind, trails at the edge of your vision.

Then, everything seems to happen at once. The world goes completely silent. Everything around you freezes to a standstill. Birds stop midair. Trees stay bent from the wind. You look around, your jaw agape at what’s happening.

Suddenly, there’s a rushing sound in your ears, drowning out all sound, and the dark curtain wraps around your eyes, enveloping you completely. Between the roar of noise and the darkness, you feel like you’ve fallen into a black river. Then, almost as quickly as it engulfed you, the shroud is gone. Trembling, you blink, looking around — and gasp.

Standing in front of you, clear as day, is Sindri, but that’s not the part that makes your hair stand on end. No, that would be the fact that you are no longer in the woods. You’re clearly at Brock and Sindri’s shop, near the realm gate. Your breath comes fast and shallow as you stare at him. Somewhere you register that his hair is longer than it should be. He was closely shorn when you saw him recently, yet now he seems to have a ponytail. You blink at him, gawping, not understanding how you came to be standing here in front of him. For his part, he seems undisturbed by your state.

“That makes sense, M-Miss Faye,” he’s saying, still unable to look you quite in the eye. “The soul of the ancient, trapped in the frost gem, can sense when justice is needed. What were you doing right before you heard the sound?”

You hear yourself speak, although you’re certain it is not you who is formulating these words. “I-I was thinking about when I joined the peacekeepers,” you stammer, your lips moving of their own volition. “About how I left a privileged life to fight for those who were the weakest and most vulnerable. And how I pledged to do so no matter what.”

Sindri nods as though this makes perfect sense. “Interesting, interesting…” he mutters. “It’s a tricky thing, though. The stone tends to act out the most when justice is actually threatened. Did… something happen?”

Suddenly, the wind is forced from your lungs, and your immediate thought is that a horse kicked you in the chest. The black cloth appears out of nowhere to wrap around your eyes, dragging you back into that dizzying darkness. But when you blink your eyes again, you’re back in those frozen and lonely woods, alone, on your knees.

For a long time you just sit there, motionless, daring only to breathe. By the gods… am I going mad?

But you can remember every detail of the encounter, right down to the etchings on Sindri’s armor. And then you realize something. If it weren’t for the fact that you were fully awake, what you just experienced felt exactly like one of your ‘sharp dreams.’ You've been getting them so frequently lately you’ve almost stopped finding them remarkable. But now you’re forced to remember — this was not something that ever happened before you came to Midgard.

Is this the work of a vengeful god? What is happening to me?

You press your palms over your eyes, shaking your head. None of it makes any sense, none.

And yet, something familiar claws at your mind. Something from the dream, Sindri’s final words to you: The stone tends to act out the most when justice is actually threatened. Did… something happen?

“I almost left those innocent villagers to a terrible fate,” you whisper to no one. “All for a man I barely know.”

Clenching the axe handle with all your might, you stare into the gem, now so dark it’s hard to believe it was ever illuminated. Your thumb swipes over its hard facets.

But I didn’t.”

Nothing else remarkable happens, though you sit there for a long time. Eventually, you hook the axe on your back. And somehow, you find the strength you need to complete your long journey.

 

***

 

Your pulse starts to quicken as you finally near your home. The strange vision with Sindri and the axe has shaken you down to your very marrow. Even worse, the lack of undead along your path has stopped feeling like a coincidence and started feeling more like an ill omen. The sick feeling in your stomach turns into a full-blown lurch when you see the front door to your house hanging wide open, dangling uselessly from its remaining hinges.

You never meant to be away this long. Your staves have almost certainly failed — gone stale and likely washed away by all this winter weather — and you curse your rotten luck. Tightening your grip on the axe handle, you step into your own doorway.

Inside your home, everything is in disarray. Your axe stand is in pieces. Your baskets and preserves have been knocked asunder, your chairs broken or tossed aside — even the furs of your bed have been strewn everywhere. After staring wide-eyed for a few moments, you begin to shake. All of the raw emotions of your journey suddenly boil over into fury. Who would dare intrude your home? With a howl of anger, you draw your axe.

Who’s there??” you demand.

No response.

You take another step inside, swallowing down your rage at the snow and leaves that have blown in. There seems to be no one there, and yet the signs of disturbance are everywhere. You hastily check your corners.

Show yourself, or you shall have my axe in your side!” you declare. A lurching thud beneath your feet makes your blood turn to ice. Something is in the cellar.

You force yourself to breathe deeply, listening through the pounding of your heart for any other sounds. You hear a step, like something is thinking about ascending the basement stairs.

Surrender yourself or you shall know my blade!!” you exclaim. Then you bite down a cry of terror as the cellar hatch slowly pushes open.

“Don’t swing!” says a voice.

Your breath dies in your throat.

Then you collapse to your knees, sobbing in recognition.

Molundir.

Chapter Text

“Laufey, Laufey… what’re you crying for?”

It’s Molundir’s voice talking to you, but this time you don’t need to imagine it. He’s really here.

You feel him kneel on the floor next to you, feel him wrap his arms around your shoulders, rocking you as you bawl uncontrollably. You haven’t been able to open your eyes since you heard his voice. Part of you is still afraid this isn’t real. It’s been nearly a year since your banishment. And by the gods, you have missed him so, so much.

“Hey, sis, what have you got to be sad about? I’m right here!” he teases.

You let out an undignified little growl, playfully bumping him with your shoulder, but not enough to actually move him. You wipe your nose on your sleeve like a child. It makes you think of a distant time, back when skinning your knee was the worst thing that could happen to you. Like all brothers, Molundir knew how to roughhouse, knew how to tease you. But he always stood in your corner when it mattered: against the other kids, against your parents, or — you recall with bittersweet feeling — against the Jotun consul when they voted to banish you.

Finally, you open your eyes, glassy as you blink away your tears, and the outline of his face comes into view.

He looks almost exactly the same as you remembered — dark-haired, dark-eyed, grinning disarmingly, a chipped tooth in the bottom row from an old wrestling accident (that you won). His hair is longer, and his beard grown out — but he’s the same brother you’ve always known.

“Molli—” you croak out, using his nickname from your youngest years.

“Missed you too, sis. Now get up of the floor, for Frigg’s sake. You’re going to freeze to death.”

You lean on him as you push yourself to your feet, not trusting your legs entirely.

Your thoughts whirl. You have so much to ask him. So much to tell him. But something much more immediate draws your attention.

“Molli, what happened?” you ask, gesturing to the mayhem of your home.

He runs a hand through his hair. “It was one of those… things,” he says, unhelpfully. “Pale. Violent. Nasty lurching walk. Oh, and maybe I forgot to mention, about one hundred and twenty percent, uh… dead. Is that normal for Midgard?”

You don’t know whether to laugh or cry at his description. “A draugr,” you say in resigned tones. “And no, it’s not normal. Or at least, it didn’t used to be.”

“What are they?” he asks. “Or… maybe I should ask, what were they?”

“No one knows,” you say sadly. “I’ve killed dozens but they keep coming.”

“Mercy,” he says. “Guess I got lucky. The one that followed me here eventually staggered off.”

Something tugs at the corner of your mind. You served in the Jotun army with your brother. He’s every bit as much of a fighter as you, if not more so. While you always tended towards the peacekeeping aspect of the armed forces, Molundir had a violent side. And he was not afraid to take it out on his enemies.

“Molli… why didn’t you fight it?” you ask, confused. “Why run and hide?”

To your surprise, your brother seems evasive. A moment too late, he remembers to put on a smile. “Ah, forgot my sword in Jotunheim, wouldn’t you know it?” he says impishly. “Then again, no one warned me that even the dead are savages here.”

Savages. You prickle a little at his description. You’ve met so many good people here. But then again, when you arrived here, you thought the same thing about the Midgardians: savages and brutes, not to be trusted. And on the viciousness of draugr, he’s certainly not wrong.

“No one warned me, either,” you say, shaking your head. “That’s why I had this made.” You bend down and pick up your axe from where you had dropped it on the floor. He eyes it with keen interest.

“Ahh, she’s a beaut, ey sis?” he says, taking the axe and turning it over in his hands. “That looks almost dwarven-made.”

“It is,” you say with a beaming smile. “I’ve… made a few friends here.”

“More than that, I’d say,” your brother replies. “When I asked after you at the village, they knew exactly where to point me. And this house isn’t exactly easy to find. What have you been up to, little sister?

“I’m not little. We’re twins!” you scowl, moving to shove him.

“Yeah, but I’m older,” he says, dodging out of the way, replaying an old joke that somehow, never gets old. The familiarity brings a smile to your face.

For a moment you just stand there, feeling relieved of a burden you forgot you were carrying. Your head is swimming with things you want to tell him, things you want to ask him. But the state of the house reminds you that you are both still in acute danger.

“Molli, I need to put my protection staves back up,” you say apologetically. “Otherwise we’ll see more of those things pretty soon. It won’t take long. Will you help me?”

Once again, he hesitates, only remembering to put on his disarming grin when you shoot him a questioning look. “I feel bad about your house, sis,” he says. “How about I clean up in here and leave you to your witch magic?”

Before you even have time to say “It’s Jotun magic and you know it!” he turns his back and starts righting your overturned chairs.

There’s nothing outwardly strange about the way he’s behaving. And yet you can’t help but feel unnerved. There’s something he’s not telling you, you’re sure of it. You just hope that whatever it is, he’ll trust you enough to tell you. You’ve had enough secrets from the Jotuns. You couldn’t bear it from him.

 

***

 

Yellow ochre clay, linseed oil, morningstar leaves, and several drops of Jotun brandywine. Humble ingredients, yet they form the basis of one of your most powerful magic spells. It doesn’t take you long to pulverize them in a small dish (thankfully spared by the draugr) and whisper over them a few words of activation. Only when it begins to boil, independent of any heat, do you know your recipe is correct. With a hum of satisfaction, you carry the mixture out to the very edge of your property and get to work.

You kneel before the largest tree, inclining your head in respect, and quietly speak to it in the oldest language you know. It’s the dialect spoken by the trees and the wind, the ancestor language of the songs of birds and the howling of wolves. It has no name. How could it? Only humans have the need for something as silly as a name.

Sometimes trees are slow to talk, but this one has been cautiously cooperative. You suspect your axe may have something to do with it.

Dipping your hand in the salve, still boiling yet cool to the touch, you carefully coat your entire palm and fingers. Then, you hold your hand out in front of the tree, palm facing out, waiting for its reply. A few moments later, its branches still, standing relaxed as its neighbors continue to sway in the wind. That is your moment. You plant your hand firmly against the bark of the tree, using your other hand to soothe it as you would a just-mounted horse.

A few moments later, your handprint flashes with a brilliant light, and you withdraw your hand, grinning. Jotuns are not the finest earth mages in all the nine realms, but you are the keepers of languages. And sometimes the strongest magic is not in doing, but in persuading.

The next two trees, younger and thus easily influenced by their elder, accept your staves eagerly. Though you could never have guessed how long your exile would drag on, you were clever enough to ration your brandywine. You think three protection staves should be just enough for now. Any fewer, and hostiles might be able to detect your movements. Or, gods forbid, even enter your home uninvited.

You return home to find Molundir dusting off the last of the furs, placing it carefully on the bed. Your heart swells again just to see him. He catches the look and laughs his careless, giddy laugh that you missed so much.

“Not bad, ey Laufey?” he says. “Almost couldn’t tell a draugr just tried to redecorate.”

You laugh, swatting his shoulder again.

“Shall we try to eat some of the preserves that weren’t stomped on?”

“Yes, please,” he says in exaggerated tones. “I’m so hungry it feels like we’re back in basic training — I’d eat just about anything that didn’t still have the fur on.”

You play at gagging, and he claps his hands in amusement. Gods, it's like no time passed at all, you think fondly. And then, you have an even stranger thought. I can't wait to introduce him to Kratos.

Your eyes suddenly widen as you realize the weight of this thought, the meaning of it. And then, a moment later, your heart breaks anew. You'd been so distracted by Molundir that you managed to forget the ache in your chest. But now, all those memories hit you anew. You see Kratos, saddened, enraged, sending you from his house. You quickly turn away, not wanting to sour this moment of happy reunion with your brother.

You return to what’s left of your pantry, finding the largest thing left unbroken, a sealed jar of pickled gourds. When you pass it to Molundir, he opens it and wrinkles his nose. “I may have spoken too soon,” he says, but he helps himself to a handful anyway.

“Tomorrow we’ll go hunting,” you reassure him.

But he says nothing, his eyes focused on the food in front of him. Probably just hungry, you tell yourself. But his manner is worrying you enough that you momentarily retreat to the cellar, dipping into the supply of cured meats that you keep for emergencies.

“You didn’t tell me you had meat!” he exclaims happily when you return.

“I’m surprised you didn’t get into it,” you tease him. “You were always good at sneaking food.”

“I’m losing my touch,” he says, feigning woundedness. You smile to yourself as he eagerly devours a few strips of cured boar ham. And when he’s finished those, his hand is immediately back in the jar of gourds.

You find yourself staring, and for a few moments you don’t understand why. Then your eyes widen. His whole hand fits into the mouth of the jar. And as he reaches in, you catch a glimpse of a wrist so unfamiliarly skinny that you gasp.

Molundir looks up at you, then looks away. He shifts uncomfortably in his chair. “Not polite to stare, sisi. You know that,” he says.

But you give him only silence as a reply. Only now are you noticing the things you missed before — the way his beard conceals a new hollowness in his cheeks, or the way his clothes no longer seem to fit him.

“Molli…” you exhale, your eyes creased with horror. “What is happening in Jotunheim?

Chapter Text

“Molli…” you exhale, your eyes creased with horror. “What is happening in Jotunheim?

Molundir’s face sags with an uncharacteristic weight. He hangs his head, a deep sigh escaping him.

“The consul tried to stop me from coming here,” he says finally. “But you deserve to know the truth for yourself.”

“What truth?” you demand, standing up.

He looks up at you, his eyes weary. “The truth of what has happened since you left.” He looks down at his emaciated wrist, but the sight seems to disturb him. He quickly pulls his sleeve down to conceal it.

Your stomach lurches. “A famine?” you ask quietly.

He shakes his head. “A disease.”

Your eyes go wide, and he fidgets uncomfortably. “Or a poison, we don’t know. By the gods, no one knows. But it’s bad, Laufey. A lot of us have it.”

“Us?”

“The Jotuns, Faye. There have been deaths.”

Your features turn grim. “How many?”

He averts his gaze. “People are… relocating, trying to avoid the illness,” he says. “In the chaos, it is hard to know exactly.”

It’s not an answer, but you decide not to press him on it. In all your years you've never seen him this defeated, and it’s worrying you more than you let show.

After a few moments of silence, he seems compelled to continue. “It’s a wasting, Faye,” he says quietly. “A slow, terrible wasting. I eat the same as I ever have. Makes no difference. I can't swing a sword, can barely climb a hillside. I’m no good to anyone.”

“Molli…” you exhale, your heart threatening to break for him. You cross to where he’s sitting and hug him around his shoulders. He doesn’t resist as you fold him into your embrace. You try to ignore how small he feels as you hold him against you. Tears spill out of your eyes as you think of how many times you imagined speaking to him during your exile. Now that he’s here, you don’t know what to say.

You think back to your time in the Jotun army, fighting back to back, your axe and his sword bringing swift death to your enemies. There was a time you were convinced that no evil in the world could stand in your way. That you would always use your powers to fight for the cause of justice. You sniffle as you think of the state you both are in. Are those days gone for good?

No. In the past, you would have thought it was Molundir’s voice in your head pushing you on. But a quieter, more powerful voice is taking its place. A voice that comes from the depths of your soul. By the gods, illness or not, he is still your brother. You’re two of a kind. In a family of useless aristocrats you’ve always been the strong ones, the fighters. Whatever is happening in Jotunheim, you’ll figure something out. You always have. You give him a quick final squeeze before releasing him.

Molundir appears to have had a similar thought. Indeed, a little bit of himself seems to have returned to his eyes. He pulls back, placing a hand on your shoulder. “You would be proud of me, Laufey,” he says. “It took a while, but I managed to charm my way into Midgard.”

You let out a watery laugh. “Yes,” you say. “I still don’t understand how.”

“Oh, it was easy,” he says airily. “I just talked to the Proconsul.”

Your eyes bug out. “No!” you say incredulously. But he nods.

“Same mirthless old geezer he always was,” Molundir says. “But with the spread of the illness, they gave him control of all realm travel in and out of Jotunheim. I had to.”

You blink at him, not understanding.

“I ate crow, Faye,” he explains. “I told him I wanted to offer a formal apology for all my years of bad behavior. It was the only thing I could think of that might convince him to let me see you.”

“By the gods…” you say. In all your years, your brother never showed one lick of respect to the High Chamber of the Jotuns. Not even when it would have meant less time in prison for himself. You know how much it must have cost him to say those words.

As for the Proconsul, the unquestioned head of the High Chamber… he was always an enigmatic figure in your life. He already seemed ancient when you were a child, but he was always kind to you (if cryptic in his words). When you returned from the peacekeepers, you served as his favorite translator. His decision to send you into exile has haunted you the most.

You know it’s selfish to ask, given the weight of what Molundir just told you. But the months of agonizing doubt have gotten to you.

Why?” you blurt out. “Why was I sent away??”

Molundir shakes his head. “Sorry sis,” he says. “I asked many times, but he wouldn’t tell me. However… I shamed him for keeping you in the dark all this time. I pleaded that you should be allowed to know the truth, despite the dangers of the illness… and in the end, he listened.”

The idea of your rogue of a brother negotiating with the Proconsul is so absurd that you almost can’t picture it.

“Molli… that’s amazing,” you say. A proud smile spreads across his lips.

“Ah, don’t get impressed yet, Laufey,” he says with a sudden grin. “I haven’t even told you how he gave me this.” He fishes in his satchel until he finds something heavy. And then, with typical flair, he draws out a large metal key. You immediately shield your eyes — inset in the base of the key is a clear stone, glowing with an immaculate white light.

“Is that a realm key?” you exclaim.

“How else was I supposed to bring you home, Laufey?”

Your breath dies in your throat.

 

Home.

 

You can scarcely believe the word. As if to prove it, Molundir hands you the realm key, lit by the light of Alfheim. By the gods… The thing you’ve wanted more than anything else in the world is now literally in the palm of your hands.

Your head spins. Somehow, even after your reunion with Molundir, you hadn’t dreamt of returning to Jotunheim. Because of his past, you had just assumed they made him an exile like you. And yet now, even as you see the evidence before your eyes, see the realm key illuminating the corner of your cabin in a steady, unnatural moonlight, you do not believe it.

You could go home. To Jotunheim. To everyone you know and love.

There is nothing keeping you here.

Except…

Before you can help yourself, a familiar pair of amber eyes come to mind. You think of Kratos, gazing down at you fondly from his great height, and all the times you found yourselves together in this harsh land. He was so good to you, so gentle… and even his anger at your departure… you know it was because he was afraid of harm coming to you.

Gods, you miss him.

You think of his big hands around yours when he taught you to shoot a bow. You think of the nights you spent taking dinner with him, sitting a little too close together on his bed. You think of his warm embrace on that freezing night…

To your surprise, Molundir laughs.

“Laufey! I thought you’d be happier,” he says, interrupting your thoughts. “Now come on, let’s get you packed up. We can set out at sunrise, and you won’t have to stay in this frozen place a day longer.”

Your jaw hangs open, and you struggle to formulate a response. Molundir looks at you curiously, but you quickly turn away. You can’t let him see the conflict on your face.

You realize that this place, against all likelihood, has become a second home to you. It happened slowly, like a dawn fog rolling across a lake. But it’s true: You have the people of the village, who have come to depend on you for protection against the draugr. You have the woodcutters, the seasonal hunters, the traveling merchants who all nod to you respectfully when you cross them on the trail. And besides them, you have an odd assortment of friends — Brock, Sindri, Lymaea… Kratos…

You almost sigh in relief when you hear a knocking at your door. You avoid Molundir’s eyes as you cross the cabin to open it. With your protection staves in place, you're finally able to open the door without fear of who will be standing behind it.

Looking outside, you cannot help the smile that comes to your face as you see Lymaea, holding little Ragnar, although your smile fades when you see her face. You’ve come to expect her spark and resilience — but right now she looks as frightened as you’ve ever seen her.

“In the name of the gods, come in!” you exclaim, waving her inside. She nods quickly and carries the boy through your doorway.

Faye!” she exclaims as she sets Ragnar down, letting him run to his favorite place by the hearth. “Oh, thank the gods you’re here. Some of the villagers worried you had fled. I believed in you, but…” She pauses, suddenly looking grief-stricken. “Why did you leave for so long without telling us? Surely you know the festival is tomorrow?

You sigh, running a hand through your hair. “I know, I’m sorry, I never meant to be away so long, but—”

“Mommy, who’s that?” asks Ragnar suddenly.

Both of you turn to stare. Molundir gives your friend a shy wave from his chair. His eyes slowly pass between you and Lymaea.

“Midgard must be awful,” he says. “Never heard someone so upset about a festival before. Tell me, are they sacrificing chickens, or have they moved on to maidens now?”

Lymaea turns back to you, utterly baffled. Her eyes are as wide as if you just sprouted another head.

You resist the urge to sigh deeply. “Lymaea, this is my brother, Molundir,” you say evenly.

“Older brother,” he pipes up.

“We’re twins!” you reply without thinking. Then you redden slightly, realizing how childish you sound. Lymaea seems not to notice, instead staring fixedly at the stranger in your home.

“I’m here for a visit!” he calls out amiably.

Lymaea gives you a sidelong glance. “I thought you said you were an exile.”

You grimace. “It’s complicated.”

Molundir beckons her further into the room, indicating a seat by the hearth. A seat quite close to him, you notice. As Lymaea warily approaches, Molundir grins at you impishly.

Faye, you didn’t tell me you had such cute friends,” he says in the Jotun tongue.

Knock it off,” you lash back.

Lymaea eyes you both questioningly as she sits down. “What language was that?”

Before you can answer, Molundir pipes up. “A dialect of Svartalfheim,” he says smoothly. “Our mother was half dark-elf.”

You mouth Molundir’s name at him but he ignores you, turning to grin at Lymaea.

“Faye never told me that,” she says.

“Didn’t I?” you jump in, hoping that’s enough to deflect the question. Oh, you and Molundir are going to have a conversation after this.

“My sister has a real gift with languages,” he boasts. “Back home, she was the best translator we had.”

At this, Lymaea finally seems to relax. “Oh, I know it,” she says. “Before she left, I was teaching her Greek. Her learning was astounding.”

Now it’s Molundir who looks surprised. “Greek?” he says, eyeing you.

“That reminds me, Faye…” continues Lymaea. “Since our conversation, I’ve had the villagers keep an eye out. No one has seen the man with the red tattoo in this area for many weeks. Not since winter, at least.”

Your heart sinks, but you try not to let it show. “Oh… thank you,” you tell Lymaea. Then, sensing your brother’s sudden interest, you change the subject.

“Any word about the kidnapped boy?”

Lymaea silences you with a stare, then flicks her eyes towards Ragnar, who fortunately seems not to have heard.

“Oh… sorry,” you say weakly.

She leans in close to you. “He has not been seen, Faye,” she whispers. Then after a moment, she returns to her normal speaking voice. “The villagers will be happy when I tell them you have returned. You are… still… planning to come to the festival, yes?”

Of course,” you reassure her, placing a hand on her arm. “I live by my word.”

For the first time, Lymaea smiles, though it is a weak one.

“I’m very glad to hear that,” she says, standing up. “I would stay, but I must deliver the good news back to the village.” You nod your understanding.

Lymaea gathers up Ragnar (who protests lightly, having enjoyed the faces Molundir was making at him).

“Nice to meet you,” she calls back to Molundir as she passes through the door.

“The pleasure is all mine,” he replies with a roguish eyebrow. You can’t help rolling your eyes. But as you close the door, you notice that Lymaea seems almost… amused.

“Sorry about my brother,” you say with an apologetic grimace. “I’ll see you tomorrow. You have my word.”

“You are a good person, Faye,” she replies. “They are so rare in this world.” She gives you her real smile, this time.

When you return inside, Molundir is staring at you.

“So… a tattooed man, huh?”

Your scowl must tip him off.

“Oh!” he says. “You like him.”

“Molli, please…” you say, rolling your eyes. “I only have one more thing I need to do here. After the village festival tomorrow night, I’ll be all set.”

“And then we can go home?”

You pause, thinking of those amber eyes again. Molundir looks at you curiously.

“Yes,” you say quickly. “Then we can go home.”

Chapter Text

If Molundir notices your uncharacteristic silence, he doesn’t bring it up. Nor does he say anything about your restless energy — busying yourself with household chores, chopping wood, sharpening your axe. But he knows you well enough to know that something’s wrong.

Fortunately, you and your brother have a lot of catching up to do, and he regales you with stories from back home. His friends: still getting into trouble. Your friends (a motley bunch of scholars, scribes, and ex-peacekeepers): still successful in life. The Proconsul: still looking like an old leather bag.

Your parents: still terrible.

Molundir’s stories are a welcome diversion from the stakes of meeting Odin. Thanks to his uncanny ability to spin a tale, you’re able to keep your mind distracted that night and for most of the following day.

But as the hour of the Winter’s End festival approaches, your anxiousness grows. And when the sun dips below the tree line, you know you can avoid your journey no longer.

You're putting your thick fur and leather armor when you feel a hand on your shoulder.

“Tell me what’s going on, Laufey.”

There’s no joking in your brother’s voice this time. No easy swagger. Just a layer of concern that seems too serious for someone like Molli. Perhaps he’s done some growing up in the time you’ve been exiled.

“What do you mean?” you ask nonchalantly, avoiding his eyes. But your feigned ignorance sounds hollow even to you.

“You’re putting on armor to go to a dance, that’s what,” he says, brow furrowing. “What’s happening tonight?” There’s concern in his dark eyes as you glance up at him. But you can't tell him the truth. He would only worry for your safety. And you both know he’s in no state to join you.

“It’s better if you don’t know,” you say, forcing a neutral look on your face.

Then you pause. You suddenly remember that Kratos once used almost those exact words to deflect questions about himself. You realize that in his silence, Kratos may be trying to protect you, the same way you're trying to protect Molundir.

Is it possible that Kratos, too, carries a heavy secret?

“Is there going to be a fight?” Molundir asks bluntly, pulling you back into the present. There's an uncharacteristic heaviness in his voice that he seems unable to shrug off. You can tell from his tone that he won’t accept anything but the truth. You grimace, not wanting to lie to him but not wanting to burden him with the truth, either.

You look at him with apology in your eyes. He folds his arms.

“I… hope not,” you say finally. It seems like a good enough compromise. Not a lie, but not the full truth, either. It was a worthwhile skill you picked up while engaging in diplomacy with the peacekeepers.

Molundir seems to know he won’t get a better explanation from you. He shifts his weight, looking away.

“Wish I could be the blade at your back again,” he sighs. “Someone like you should never have to face a fight alone.”

“Someone like… me?”

“A good person, Faye,” he says. “I may have been a fine hand with a blade, once,” he continues. “But I could never come close to your goodness. You’d fight a thousand enemies just so one innocent person wouldn’t have to suffer.”

If he’s exaggerating, it’s only in quantity, not kind. You’ve felled dozens of draugr in Midgard to keep the woods safe for the villagers. And as a peacekeeper, you killed many worse enemies of the human kind.

“It doesn’t seem all that complicated to me,” you say, your brows creasing. “There’s right, and wrong, and we have to do what’s right.”

“You don’t seem to realize how rare that is, little sister,” he says. “That’s why I was always so damned impressed with you. All the peacekeepers were. While I was out there drinking and fighting and collecting my pay, you were trying to make the world a better place.”

“I… thank you,” you say finally. “But Molli, why are you telling me this?”

“Because I was just a killer,” he says. “And now I’m nothing.”

You gape at him, horrified, but he just shakes his head.

“Look at me, Laufey,” he says, closing a hand over his thin wrist. “I’ll never be a fighter again. I’m a dead branch on our useless family tree. But you’ll always have your moral compass, your willingness to fight for what is right. The world is better because you’re in it, and that’s just the truth.”

You continue to stare at him, stunned silent. All of this is a revelation to you. You always considered Molundir your equal, matching you in skill both on and off the battlefield.

A long silence stretches out between you. He seems to want to say something, but he doesn’t quite know how.

“Faye, you matter,” Molundir says finally, nodding as though wrapping up his thought. “But I'm not like you. It won’t matter much when I’m gone. Which is probably soon.”

“Molli, no!” you exclaim, stepping towards him. “Stop talking nonsense! You… you’ll get better, the healers will find a way to—”

But you see the way his shoulders sag, the way he can’t stop tugging at his shirt sleeve the way he used to when you got in trouble. He’s not feeling self pity. He’s feeling ashamed. He can’t help you with this fight. And you both know it.

You step closer to him, holding the outside of his slim shoulders. “You are still the blade at my back,” you whisper. “Just like in the peacekeepers.”

“I was always proud to fight at your side, sis,” he says quietly. “You made me want to be a better person than I was. And for a few battles, I even got to be that person. You remember the Siege of Hyrrokkin?”

“Of course, Molli.”

A wistful half-smile curves his lips. “If there is anything I’ve done in this world that mattered, it was that.”

“You don’t need to be a fighter to matter to me,” you say intently. “By the gods, I… I’ve missed you so much. Every goddamn day in this place, I imagined—”

But he waves you away.

“You should go,” he says. He doesn’t sound angry — merely resigned.

You just stare at him, completely at a loss.

“Forgive my moment of weakness,” he adds. “Seeing you back in your armor got me thinking about old times, is all.”

“I always thought of us as partners,” you blurt out. “Fighting back to back, yes. But the bigger part was always outwitting the enemy. Remember that time in Angrboda’s Canyon—”

“You’re going to be late,” he says drily.

You give him a weak smile.

“I’ll be back soon,” you say. Then you point your finger at him. “We’ll continue this later. You’re not off the hook.”

He laughs a little, and it lightens your heart to hear it.

“Good luck, sis. Be careful.”

“I will.”

As you close the door behind you, You remember something important. “Be careful not to venture outside my protection staves,” you call out. “The woods are full of hostiles… and they don’t like outsiders here.”

He snorts. “You think?”

You roll your eyes as you fasten the latch, but there’s a smile on your face. Everything is going to be okay. You just need to get through this night, and then you’ll be back home in Jotunheim where you belong.

 

***

 

As you descend the mountain, the village comes into view. It’s oddly beautiful in the fading daylight, perched on the edge of the Lake of Nine. Tonight, its distinctive fishing boats are all docked ashore. The Winter’s End festival must be significant enough for the whole town to be there.

The rest of your walk is remarkable in its uneventfulness. Usually you would have had to fight a draugr by now, or at least avoid one as it lurched mindlessly through the trees. But as you plod through the foothills of the mountain, the silence is now more disconcerting than any undead would be.

Every once in a while, a twinge of pain from your ankle reminds you that it wasn’t long ago that you were lying in Kratos’s bed, watching with fondness as he tenderly looked over your injury. And somehow, despite yourself, you imagine a different life — one where you and Kratos are walking to this festival together, without a single worry, to join in the dancing and laughter at the village.

A different life. For people different from us. Now come on, Faye, focus. You have gods to parley with.

By the time you arrive in the village, the sun has already set. All around you, great bronze braziers are lit with huge fires, casting the buildings in an eerie orange glow. You hear the noise of a huge crowd nearby, a larger group of people than you’ve encountered in months. Indeed, you’re already starting to see drunk revelers staggering through the streets, hollering and carrying on. But that’s not the part that unsettles you. No, that would be the fact that your axe has been chiming since you entered the town walls.

It doesn’t take you long to find the site of the festival. You arrive at a main thoroughfare, and your eyes go wide — people are dancing, laughing, shouting, fighting — gods, how do these Midgardians live with so much noise? Even the music, played by fiddlers and pipe-players, barely cuts above the din of the crowd. Drunken couples occasionally stagger by, giggling as they find alleyways to continue their carousing. It’s unexpectedly distracting.

Would Kratos ever do such a thing? You can’t help but wonder. Would he lead you by the hand away from a crowd, pull you into some deserted corner, press you against a wall and breathe down your collar as he covered you in kisses? And what would he do if you started tugging on his clothes?

You swallow. Despite the chill of the evening, you’re starting to feel warm enough to sweat. As you near the town center, these distracting thoughts do not fade.

Gods, what is wrong with me? you think. Your head is swimming. It feels as though you’ve entered a thick fog, but you aren’t sure which way to turn to escape.

Something’s not right.

And then, you lay eyes on someone who makes the whole world seem to stop.

In the middle of the town square, seated on a wooden throne on a raised platform, is a man unlike anyone you’ve ever seen. Like Magni and Modi, he has long hair and a beard. But where Magni and Modi are fair, his features are dark, his midnight-black hair neatly folded into braids and adorned with silver beads throughout. But that’s not the most striking thing about him. No, that would be the fact that this man, with his green eyes, dark features, and neatly trimmed beard… is handsome. He has high cheekbones and a sharp jawline, and right now, he’s smiling impishly at you. Extending a hand from his luxurious black cloak, he beckons you closer.

“Miss Faye, I presume,” he says as you approach, still giving you that little smile.

“Yes,” you say, and his eyebrows shoot up in amusement.

“Most people around here say ‘Yes Sir’ and ‘No Sir’ when a god is addressing them,” he says, still smirking at you.

“Oh?” you say, doing your best to sound unafraid. “And which god might you be?”

He chuckles, a deep and rich sound that makes you feel unexpectedly at ease.

“They call me Thor,” he says. Then he flashes you a winning smile, and it’s so contagious you can’t help returning it, despite yourself. “Odin sends his regrets.”

You think for a moment. “The little boy—”

“He is safe. We are not animals.”

You nod. “Very well,” you say. “Why have you summoned me here?”

“Well, I was thinking about asking you to dance,” he says. His eyes sparkle mischievously, and you feel a strange tugging deep in your stomach. He is so frighteningly handsome when he smiles. You think he might be the most beautiful human being you’ve ever seen.

You swallow when you see the way he’s looking at you, the way he’s risen to his feet and extended his hand to you, beckoning you with two fingers. You feel hypnotized as you take his hand and head towards the other dancing villagers.

Two well-dressed servants appear, unfastening his heavy black cloak and quickly carrying it away. Thor smiles down at you, paying them no mind. You, however, feel a treacherous blush spreading. Without his cloak, Thor is naked to the waist, save for a few silver necklaces. Your breath hitches as he brings a hand to the small of your back.

“Nice axe,” he says, raising an eyebrow. He slowly trails a finger up the side of it, right along your spine. You swallow thickly.

The din of the crowd is overwhelming as the music starts up, yet you almost don’t notice it for the way Thor is smiling at you. He seems pleased as your eyes drop lower, taking in the muscular span of his chest, and the dark blue tattoos that cover half of it like a draped sash.

Thor…” you say softly.

You gasp as he pulls you gently towards his body and takes you by the hand. A lively melody starts up on the fiddle. And then, with a wink, Thor pulls you into a vigorous dance.

He immediately whirls you around, leading you with such aplomb that you forget yourself and laugh. It’s amazing, to be in the thick of all these people while you whirl and dance with this charismatic man. You feel strangely drunk, the longer you spend with him. And you catch yourself wishing that the song would never end.

But when it finally does, you try to catch your breath, winded and laughing from the unexpected mirth.

Thor hasn’t released you yet, but instead he pulls you in close, his voice low and dangerous next to your ear.

“It is true what the others have told me,” he says. “But even their descriptions of your loveliness could not live up to what’s in front of me. You are a beautiful woman, Faye. Even a god can see that.”

You don’t know what to say to this, so you force a laugh. “Thank you,” you say. “Did… Odin invite me here just so you could dance with me?”

You feel Thor’s deep chuckle in your ear, and it’s surprisingly effective. You bite your lip as he moves in close to you. “No, Faye. We have other matters to discuss. But thank you for the dance.”

He turns around, beckoning to someone you cannot see. You sway on your feet, still enraptured by the merriment of the song. How long has it been since you had this much fun, you wonder? You wish you could do this every day.

You turn to speak to Thor again. But with a start, you realized he has vanished. A strange creeping sensation raises the hairs on the back of your neck, and you slowly look around you.

And there, halfway across the village, and sitting once more on his wooden throne, is Thor. He gives you that smile again, a harder edge in it this time. Then he beckons you with two fingers. Numbly, you obey.

Wait… you think. Is this right? Is this what I want? But your feet don’t seem inclined to disagree.

As you approach the podium, the creeping sense of unease continues to grow. Thor is continuing to smile at you, but now you notice something — sitting on his knee, with his face buried in his hands, is a little boy.

You feel like your thoughts are swimming in thick tar. Something fights within you, some force warning you that you’re in extreme danger. Yet the powerful pull of the handsome god before you is weakening your resolve.

There’s right, and wrong, and we have to do what’s right.

Thor is staring expectantly at you now. Seated next to him are a series of well-dressed men who you don’t recognize. Yet they all seem very amused to see you.

With some effort, you force your lips to form the words in your soul. “I’ve fulfilled my promise to be here,” you say evenly. “I think it’s time you returned the boy to his father.”

The other men on the platform laugh, but Thor just smiles at you, tugging at his beard.

“Oh Faye, don’t you know?” he says with mock sincerity. “I have already let him go. See?”

He palms the back of the boy’s head, turning him to face you.

The little boy’s eyes are red from crying, but he seems to have reached his limit. Now he just sniffles, staring at the ground. Thor keeps his hand on the boy’s head.

But your jaw has fallen open like a dead fish. Your lip trembles in horror. The frost gem screeches in your ear.

Ragnar.

Miss Faye,” drawls Thor. “I’d love to speak with you at length, but you did not come here dressed for a party. And that disappoints me. Certainly you did not plan to spend the whole night in that hideous leather armor.”

Thor’s guests on the platform laugh again, and you start to feel sick. Thor beckons to someone behind him, grinning lustfully. Everything suddenly reminds you of the ruffians, and you fight to keep your breathing under control.

But you stagger back, stunned, as your friend Lymaea appears before you. And in her eyes is written only fear, the likes of which you have never seen before. Immediately, whatever appeal Thor held for you curdles.

“Lymaea…” you exhale. “What…?” But she shakes her head vigorously, and you drop it. By the time Thor returns his attention to you, Lymaea has adopted a placid smile.

Thor then lifts the boy off his knee, beckoning you up to the platform with him. When you don’t move, he grins, but it’s a terrible grin, utterly devoid of warmth.

You blink your eyes, and Thor disappears. Before you have time to process this, you hear him laughing right behind you. Then he moves closer.

You force yourself not to cry out in alarm, a Herculean effort. You close your eyes, your jaw set, brow furrowed.

Thor’s hands have wrapped around your shoulders, and you feel a chilly breeze on your neck. With a start, you realize that it’s his breath.

“Miss Faye, the villagers tell me this lovely woman is your best friend, is she not?”

Your head spins. What can you say to that? The way Lymaea’s eyes were pinched in a fake smile makes you ill.

“We are acquainted,” you say finally, opening your eyes and staring straight ahead. “But I am an exile. I am not here to make friends.”

“A very good answer,” says Thor with obvious amusement. “So noncommittal, so evenhanded. It almost sounds like the truth.”

“It is the truth,” you say with conviction.

Thor hums, moving in closer. “So noble, trying to protect your friend,” he says into your ear. “It must be true, what the villagers say: that you are someone who uses their power for good. How extraordinary.”

You stay silent, waiting in vain for any of this to make sense.

“Why don’t you go change into something more appropriate for the occasion?” says Thor nonchalantly. “I bet your friend can help you.”

You look over your shoulder, but Thor has vanished. With a start, you realize he is already sitting back in his wooden chair. And as if he knew you were thinking of disagreeing, he places his hand on the boy’s head again.

The sick feeling in your stomach only deepens.

Faye, with me,” hisses Lymaea, and you’re immediately brought back to the present. Numbly, you follow her into the village.

You walk for a short ways through a group of rough wooden homes. Lymaea pushes open the door to a small split-level house. Silently, she leads you up a rickety set of stairs into a small bedroom. Then she rifles through a set of drawers and pulls out a dress.

“Take off your armor,” she says without making eye contact.

“Lymaea what—”

But she shakes her head at you. “Take it off,” she says.

Still struck numb by what’s happening, you remove the outer layer of your armor. As you set the heavy fur and leather garments aside, Lymaea appears at your back. You go to unlace your tunic at the back, but she bats your hands away.

Faye,” she says, leaning in right next to your ear as she unlaces you. “Do exactly as I tell you. Don’t speak. Don’t even nod. There’s a raven right outside the window. And they can read lips.”

A deep chill runs from the base of your neck down the curve of your spine. You stare straight ahead, hoping it’s the cue Lymaea needs to keep going. You notice that she has positioned herself on the side of you away from the window.

Thor has a powerful charm aura about him. It’s how he gets people to do unspeakable things. Eat these, it’ll help you resist him — but pretend that you’re yawning.”

You feel her press several small berries into your hand, and you do as she says — stretching out as if tired, then popping the berries into your mouth as you pretend to yawn. Gods, the flavor is bad. You disguise your revulsion by leaning into the yawn, your face creasing.

Despite the bitter taste, you immediately feel more clear-headed. The last of the deep neediness you felt towards Thor seems to dissipate. But now you can plainly see — to your horror — how easily he manipulated you. How easily he compromised your unerring sense of right and wrong. It chills you to the bone.

By now, Lymaea has unlaced your tunic fully. She leans back, and you let her pull it up over your head. Then her fingers come to the hem of your undershirt. You slowly look back at her in concern.

Let me. There’s more,” she says. Swallowing, you allow your friend to undress you. She takes her time, hiking up the hem, carefully removing your arms from the short sleeves. She takes far more time than is strictly necessary for such a task, speaking in your ear the whole time.

He’s watching us right now,” she says first. “They can look through the raven’s eyes, he and Odin both. They see all.” Your stomach flips in horror — your breasts are completely exposed to the open window. You force yourself not to look outside.

He’s going to try to get you to make a promise to him,” Lymaea continues. “Whatever you do, refuse. Pretend to be bewitched, but make up any excuse you can. Because if you promise him something, he can use his magic to force you to do it. I had another friend in the village, once. He tricked her, and she was never seen again.”

You draw a slow, deep breath, trying to calm yourself.

Gods, like men, are simple creatures,” she whispers. “Thor doesn’t suspect me. I played the part of the wailing mother when they took Ragnar. Then I let him think he charmed me. But the rest is up to you.”

With her arms around you, Lymaea playfully tugs at your waistband, and you gasp.

Her fingers come to the laces of your trousers. “Pretty lame fantasy, no?” she says. Then, she unlaces them, taking her time.

You go completely rigid. It’s like the room suddenly has no air, yet your head is spinning. This is how the gods get their jollies? By coercing innocent people into doing terrible things? You clench your jaw in rage.

“Hey, relax,” she says in her normal speaking voice. Then she walks around in front of you, and your eyes go wide as she kneels at your feet. After quickly unfastening your boots, letting you kick them aside, her hands slide up the outside of your thighs. Then, grabbing the edges of your trousers, she slowly peels them down over your hips, gazing up at you the whole time. You step out of them, painfully aware that you’re completely naked, save for your panties.

Damn Odin, damn Thor, damn Magni and Modi and all the rest of the gods. Kratos was right. All of them are monsters. Each and every one.

“Let’s get you ready for the party,” Lymaea says, smiling beatifically at you. “Can’t leave Thor waiting, can we?”

She stands up, reaching for the dress that she pulled out of her drawers.

You feel like a bucket of cold water has been dumped over your head. You stand there numbly, feeling sick, feeling upset and used, feeling sorry that your friend got dragged into whatever is happening with Odin and Thor…

You stand there numbly as she pulls the dress over your head, lacing you up at the back. It vaguely registers that the dress is too small on you, that the neckline is lower than anything you’ve ever worn, but you’re too numb to pose any objection.

After the dress is laced up, she leans forward one more time, her arms wrapping around your shoulders from the back and pulling you into an embrace.

My part is over. Good luck, Faye. May Freya protect you,” she whispers. Then she runs down the stairs, leaving you alone, confused and angry as tears slowly fill your eyes.

Kratos was right, you think. There are no good gods.

Chapter Text

Lymaea’s dress has no holster for your axe so you carry it, two handed, back into the heart of the festival. Your head is held high, a strong sense of righteousness guiding your way.

Though you were initially deceived by his superficial charm, Thor is just as much of a monster as the other gods you’ve encountered here. It was wrong for Thor to manipulate you, kidnap Ragnar, coerce Lymaea, spy on you… and after you dried your tears, you refused to feel any more shame. That shame belongs to Thor, not you.

You force your way back to the center of the festival through an increasingly drunk and raucous crowd. The shouting, the chaos, the increasingly insensible looks on the faces you pass… there were never parties like this in Jotunheim, and the sight unsettles you. Do these people know there are gods in their midst? Do they know they should be on guard? But perhaps this is how these people cope with the wretched unfairness of their lives.

It doesn’t take long before you’re distracted by bigger problems. Elbowing your way through the crowd, you turn the corner back into the main square. You grit your teeth in anger as Thor and his guests come into view. Somehow, Thor seemed to know exactly where you’d turn up. He’s smirking at you again, his eyes drilling into yours over the heads of the unaware revelers. But you don’t look away. Not even when one of those sickly-green ravens flies down and lands on his cloaked shoulder, and Thor breaks into an evil little grin.

Gods, give me the strength to focus my anger.

You stride confidently to Thor’s podium. As much as it pains you, you ignore Lymaea, who is now seated next to him, holding Ragnar against her chest and rocking him.

“Why have I been summoned to the village?” you ask. You speak quietly, your voice calm, but your grip on the axe tells a different story. Thor raises an eyebrow. You get the distinct impression he was going to make some comment about your dress, but your question seems to have thrown him off. He strokes his beard, considering something.

“I carry an offer from Odin, Miss Faye,” he says finally. “Care to take a walk with me? All this drunken revelry makes it so hard to think.”

From anyone else, this would seem like a reasonable enough request. But with Thor, every action carries the subtext of threat. Seated on the other side of Lymaea is a heavily-built man sharpening a sword. His eyes haven’t left your face since you walked up. But now, as you look at him, he nods his head towards Lymaea. Meant as a reminder, you wager, of your friend's vulnerability. You turn back to Thor.

“Very well,” you say. “But we walk alone.”

He smirks again. You get the impression that he doesn’t usually take demands from others. Nonetheless, he inclines his head towards you.

“As you wish.”

You manage not to scream as he suddenly appears at your side. He slings an arm around your shoulders, grinning as he leads you away.

“Wait a minute. Where are we going?” you demand.

“Right here, lovely,” he says. He points to a giant, gnarled tree, growing incongruously in the town square a few dozen paces ahead. “You have my word. Sure you wouldn’t like to put down that big heavy axe?”

“Positive.”

He laughs, and the rich sound of it clouds your mind again. Damn him and his charm aura. For a moment you had almost forgotten his evil. Lymaea didn’t tell you how long those berries would have an effect, but you sorely wish you had more of them. Doubly so as he places a hand on the small of your back, stroking your spine gently with his thumb.

Before you can even turn your head to tell him off, the world around you seems to crystallize. There is a nauseating flash — ice blue and white — and you suddenly find yourself at the base of the tree. What happened dawns on you immediately, and your stomach curdles. The powers of this god are much stronger than you could have possibly imagined.

“See this tree?” Thor says, pointing as if nothing unusual has happened. “He was once a man who disobeyed my father.”

Thor drops his hand from your back and walks around the side of the gnarled trunk, grinning. He had seemed to be looking for something, and now he’s found it.

“Look here,” Thor says. When you hesitate, he rolls his eyes. “You have nothing to fear from me, Miss Faye. I seek only to act as a messenger for Odin. On my honor.” He places a hand over his heart in an exaggerated way, smirking at you.

Perhaps, for the moment, it’s better for him to believe that you are still bewitched. Slowly, swallowing your fear, you walk towards where he’s pointing.

But your stomach twists when you see what Thor is pointing at. Sticking out of the gnarled, ancient bark of the tree... is a human hand. Or what used to be one. And on that hand is a ring with a vibrant red stone.

You are shaking, and Thor must be able to see it, but you will not give him the satisfaction of voicing any fear. You need time to think, to formulate some kind of a plan — and your only thought is to stall him by asking questions.

“What was this man’s crime?” you ask evenly, as though a person being turned into a tree is something that happens all the time.

“He was a jeweler,” grins Thor. “The people here in Midgard were once much more prosperous. But I’m afraid we had to make some changes when they started to… disobey.”

The din of the crowd is less, here, but you’re still within staggering distance of the crowd. Indeed, two drunken young men happen by, falling heavily onto a nearby wooden bench. Thor watches them intently, his green eyes suddenly cold and calculating. The drunken men don’t seem to be aware that they are in the presence of a capricious and evil god, and you’re immediately worried for their sake.

You try to distract Thor again, asking questions. “And what did the jeweler do that was so reprehensible?” you ask. Thor grins, seemingly excited to tell you the story.

“My father, Odin, was to marry an Aesir goddess, Freya,” Thor says. “He came to this village when it was still a mighty and prosperous trading hub, not a slum for fishwives and drunks. There was a jeweler here said to be the best in the land.”

“My father instructed the jeweler to make a ring for his new bride,” continues Thor, seeming to enjoy being the sole focus of your attention. “And he requested that the man create one using the most expensive and precious stone in the land: hardened sap from the tree Yggdrasil.”

“Now, this man tried to argue that working with the sap was dangerous. It tends to explode when abraded, you see. But my father, well… he just wanted that ring so badly.”

“Unfortunately for the jeweler, his worst fears came true. As he attempted to facet the stone against his grinding wheel, there was a spark, and the poor man lost his hand. He came to plead with my father to abandon work on the ring. He said if he were to lose his other hand, he would no longer be able to work at all.”

Your jaw aches from how hard you are clenching it. You know how this story ends, but the injustice of it eats at you from within.

“And my father, well… he agreed with the man. So he let him keep the hand. He was even kind enough to let him keep the ring. The rest of him, though… well, he wasn’t so lucky.”

You met your share of petty tyrants in your time with the peacekeepers. Though you’re shaking, you try to tell yourself that Thor and Odin are no different.

Except, of course… they are.

They are more dangerous than anyone or anything you have ever encountered. For a moment, you’re angry at yourself for taking on this fight, for ending up here, for putting yourself at the mercy of terrible powers. But in your ear, you suddenly hear the chiming of your axe… and somehow, it reassures you enough to focus your mind. You know who you are, and you know what you are willing to fight for, even if it means putting yourself in danger.

You take a deep breath, forcing your voice into a tone of diplomatic neutrality.

“Do you agree with your father’s choices?” you ask. Out of the corner of your eye, you spy that the two drunken men on the bench have started kissing. You swallow thickly. Somehow, in your heart, you know that Thor would not approve. These men are in grave danger, and they have no idea.

Thor turns to face you. “It’s not a matter of agreeing with my father’s choices, Miss Faye,” he says. “It’s that my father is so powerful that in fact, there is no force in the universe that can undo one of his decisions. So you can see that the idea of ‘agreeing’ is rather unimportant.”

Thor likes to believe he’s clever, you think. So let him believe he’s clever.

“I hadn’t thought of it that way,” you say, still stalling for time. “That makes perfect sense though, when you say it like that.”

Thor seems surprised, but he flashes you a smile. “I knew you’d catch on quick, Miss Faye,” he says. “The townsfolk all say you’re a sharp one. And I must say, I’m impressed with your restraint. Usually, the effect of my presence causes people to act rather… recklessly.” Thor inclines his head towards you, giving you a look that you realize is meant to be smoldering.

You force yourself not to look at the two young men who are kissing right behind Thor’s back.

“I… thank you,” you say slowly. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to know why I’ve been summoned here.”

Thor strokes his beard, eyeing you. It seems like he expected his advances to have more of an effect on you. Nevertheless, he humors your question. “Ah, yes, always down to business,” he says, winking at you. “I like that about you, you know.”

Mother of Frigg, you wish that this man wasn’t so handsome. Even with the berries, the effect of his aura is clouding your mind. His tongue darts out to wet his bottom lip as he looks you over.

“I’m sure Odin would like to know his message got through clearly,” you say as neutrally as you can. Though he was in the middle of checking you out, Thor suddenly freezes.

Aha, you think. Despite all his bluster, Thor is just as afraid of Odin as everyone else you’ve met.

Thor nods, organizing his thoughts for a moment before continuing. “As you may have noticed, Miss Faye, the undead have been awfully quiet, of late. My father thought it would be pertinent to give you a… a taste of what could be yours. If you cooperate.”

Your eyes narrow. “I don’t follow,” you say.

“I know it hardly seems worth it,” says Thor, “but this measly town, with its wretched people and smelly huts… well, it belongs to my father. But as of late, these peasants have been getting a little… cocky. They say they have a hero, in their midst. They’re not as afraid of my father’s little guests as they used to be.”

Odin is behind the draugr?? you think to yourself. People die of draugr attacks. What kind of monster would set loose evil creatures, knowing the havoc they cause? Your brow furrows in anger. Thor looks at you strangely, you pretend you were just thinking hard.

“What are you proposing?” you ask finally.

Thor grins. Clearly, whatever comes next is his favorite part. “It’s quite simple,” he says. “You help us control the peasants — let us know when they’re breaking the rules, turn them in, keep their spirits low if they act up, report any magic use — and my father will cease the onslaught of draugr.”

Your blood boils with rage.

“And the best part is,” continues Thor, “the townsfolk don’t even have to know. That’s the beautiful thing about power. If people accuse you of misusing it, just deny it. Then come back at night for some swift and terrible revenge.”

The way Thor is talking makes you ill. But you need to find a way out of this conversation before it’s too late. Lymaea’s warning rings loud in your ear:

He’s going to try to get you to make a promise to him. Whatever you do, refuse. Pretend to be bewitched, but make up any excuse you can. Because if you promise him something, he can use his magic to force you to do it.

“I’ve seen the way you fight, Miss Faye,” continues Thor in a low voice. “You are no ordinary woman, that much is clear. But have you ever thought about all that could be yours if you join forces with us? The entire nine realms would lay down at your feet.”

Thor squares his shoulders too you now, standing close enough that you can feel his icy breath fanning over your face. “You could be a Queen,” he continues, “free to do whatever you wish, to whomever you wish. That is the power Odin is offering you. And I think you’ll agree that the price is not high.”

Your head spins. Thor is looking at you with great interest now, his head canted, his eyes hooded with something that looks almost like affection. If you didn’t know better, you would almost think this evil god had developed feelings for you.

“It is… a generous offer,” you say finally, forcing your tone to stay noncommittal.

“Then, do I have your word, Miss Faye? Will you cooperate with us?” Thor has placed a hand on your shoulder now, his handsome smirk prying at the corner of your free will.

Don’t… make any promises

Thor trails a hand down the side of your cheek, his deep green eyes searching yours. Unable to help himself, his eyes dart down to your cleavage.

He’s distracted, you realize.

“Thor…” you say, trying to hide the nausea you feel rising inside you. “Has anyone ever told you… how… gorgeous your eyes are?”

He hums softly, suddenly very interested in what you’re saying. “Usually they don’t say that until they’re already in bed with me,” he says, giving you a knowing smile. Your inexperience must show on your face, because you blush wildly. But Thor seems to realize this… and to your surprise, you think he likes it.

“Don’t you ever get tired of doing everything for other people, Miss Faye?” he says. He’s stroking your shoulders, his thumbs teasing under the fabric of the dress. “Don’t you ever wonder about the other pleasures to be had in life? I’ve shown plenty of innocent girls like you what it means to know a god.”

“I… I… I’m not sure I know what you mean,” you say, swallowing. At least in this, you don’t have to pretend.

Thor moves in very close to you. “So accomplished, yet so innocent,” he says, sliding his thumb under the strap of your dress. “You are a marvel of contradictions. Why don’t you relax a little?”

The axe suddenly feels very heavy in your hands. Despite yourself, you let it rest against the ground, turning your eyes shyly to Thor. His green eyes, his handsome, dark features — it’s having an effect on you, whether you like it or not.

“You would make a wonderful queen, you know,” he murmurs, caressing further underneath your clothes. “I haven’t even had a chance to compliment you on that jaw-dropping figure of yours. Don’t tell my father, but I daresay you’re even more beautiful than Freya herself.”

“I… I thank you,” you say again, and Thor frowns, stroking your cheek again.

“Is that all you have to say, little one?”

You manage to make eye contact with one of the young men behind Thor. When you shoot him a warning look, tilting your head towards Thor, his eyes go as wide as dinner plates. Quickly, he grabs his confused partner’s hand and pulls him away from the square.

Thor’s brow furrows as he turns to look, but you grab him by the shoulders and kiss him.

Oh… wow……

If you thought Thor was intoxicating before, nothing could have prepared you for the soft press of his lips on yours. He immediately pulls your hair and you yelp in surprise, but surrender to the soft probing of his tongue between your lips. Gods, he’s like the most intoxicating brew you’ve ever tasted. Your knees threaten to buckle as he gives you a warm little chuckle, nibbling on your bottom lip.

I knew you couldn't resist me,” he whispers. “Though I admit, you lasted longer than most. But you are a most satisfying prey.”

One of his hands strays over your ass and you gasp, pulling away. But his arms are locked around you, and he shakes his head.

“You’ve awoken the dragon, Miss Faye,” he says, his eyes starting to glow with a fearsome red light. “I hope you know what that means for you.”

Your heart drops into your stomach — you’ve made a terrible mistake. Gods, all you wanted to do was spare those boys the wrath of this temperamental god. But now, that wrath is falling down straight onto you. You try to wrench away, but his grip on you is absolute. Your eyes go wide as he forces his tongue down your throat, and you writhe helplessly in his grasp.

Help!! Somebody, please — anybody — Kratos!!

But suddenly, Thor stops, pushing you away. In his eyes, you see a flash of something you never imagined you’d see: pain.

A moment later, his look of betrayal is masked by a glare of unfettered rage.

YOU!” he says, the red in his eyes cooling back to a normal temperature. “You deceitful witch! How dare you resist my thrall?”

Staggering back, you immediately raise the axe, holding it at the ready between you. He advances on you, but hesitates when he sees you’re more than ready to use the axe.

“I can taste the elderflower berries on your tongue, you tricky minx,” he seethes, pointing a silver-ringed finger at you. “How dare you deceive me? I am a GOD!!

He stomps his foot, and the earth shakes beneath your feet. Some of the townsfolk cry out in alarm, looking around to see what’s happening. Your eyes dart down, and to your horror, you see that a deep crack has opened in the earth. And within that crack are a pair of green, glowing eyes.

WAKE UP!!” yells Thor, stomping like a toddler throwing a tantrum. A skeletal hand emerges from a crack in the earth.

Draugr, you realize, your muscles twitching. You lower your stance, preparing instinctively for a fight. Thor continues talking as the dread thing begins climbing out of the fissure, one shaky limb at a time.

“Too bad you’re not wearing your armor, Miss Faye,” says Thor. “These things have a nasty scratch. Such a shame, too — I was looking forward to marking your skin myself. But there will be more than enough time for that later… if you survive.”

The draugr is standing before you now, but Thor snaps his fingers — and before you can even breathe, the terrible thing charges at you.

But you’re faster. You spin out of the way, using your momentum to bring the axe around and slice into one of its bony legs.

The thing howls in agony, drawing the attention of more and more of the nearby villagers. You hear some people clamoring that there’s a fight, but you shut them all out. Right now, you only need to survive.

With another swing of the axe, you follow through and cut the draugr clean in half, right through the spine. It collapses to the ground, now just a pile of bony dust. The townsfolk, now assembled in a circle, begin to cheer.

Thor is furious.

Now you’ve done it,” he seethes. “You could have been a queen, damn you!! But now you’ve forced me to show you the price of your insolence.”

Why??” you exclaim. “Why can’t you just leave us alone??

“Because those who defy the gods must be punished,” he bellows, clearly enjoying the spectacle of the gathering crowd.

“Why should we obey you??” you cry out.

Thor’s explosive rage seems to have left him now, leaving the superficially charming monster who first entrapped you. His sick grin returns to his lips.

“Because we are gods, and you are scum,” he says simply, like he’s just said the most obvious thing in the world. “Children, get her!!!

The ground shakes anew, setting your teeth to rattle. Despite your defensive stance, your head swivels in horror as more draugr fight their way out of the earth. Your eyes widen when you see their numbers — three, five, eight... by the gods, no — ten!

Your throat suddenly feels very dry. You have never fought this many enemies at once, ever. Not even in the peacekeepers.

Damn you, Thor. Damn you and damn every god who ever walked this land.

“The villagers say you’re a champion for the weak, Miss Faye,” says Thor. “But we’ll see how well you fight for your life!!

He snaps both his fingers, and the undead rush you.

You swing your axe as fast as you can, but one of the draugr immediately shoves you from behind, knocking you off balance. The crowd erupts with fear but you regain your balance, swiftly bringing the axe straight down and cleaving the skull of one draugr right in half.

You scarcely have time to enjoy your victory before another one lunges at your center of mass. For a moment you’re thrown — you’ve never seen a draugr move that way before.

Are they learning??

But your training in Jotunheim serves you well. You’re able to twist out of the way at the last possible moment, sending the draugr straight into one of its compatriots. With a mighty heave, you spin the axe right through both of them.

Three down, seven to go.

You hear mutterings in the crowd: It’s her! It’s the Witch Warrior! But you pay them no heed. With a mighty cry of effort, you use the axe to block the clawing hands of a draugr, then sweep its legs out from under it with your own. Then you bring the axe straight up overhead, ending the draugr’s life in one clean slash.

Just like Kratos did with the leader of the ruffians, you suddenly recall. The thought makes you stumble. Kratos… why did he send you away the way he did? Why did he leave you to undertake this fight alone?

You scream as something bites the back of your neck, its bony arms encircling you, only remembering just in time to twist out of its grasp. A kick to the ribs is enough to send the draugr off balance, and you leap into the air after it. With a terrible war cry, you bring the axe down one-handed and chop the draugr right through its ghastly face.

Five to go. Oh, mother of Odin, you are getting exhausted.

You look up at Thor, and find him stroking his beard, his eyes sparking with interest. In his rage, he thought he had condemned you to death. But now, he seems to realize what a formidable warrior you really are. The way his eyes linger on your body tell an entirely different story, one which you force yourself not to consider.

The fight seems to be easier, and you realize that some of their draugr have turned their attention to the townsfolk, lurching towards them with claws and teeth clicking.

Monsters.

You sprint towards a draugr that was closing in on a group of drunk revelers who made the mistake of taunting it. You put your axe through its shoulderblade just in time to spare a drunk teenager from a vicious clawing. The creature shrieks in agony but you chop it again, this time splitting its ribcage vertically and leaving it to a slow, twitching death on the ground.

You turn to look for the last three draugr, but you immediately see something that chills you down to your marrow. All three of them are at least as large as the one that forced you off the bridge, but that’s not what frightens you. No, it’s the fact that they are looking at each other, and at you, as though they’re communicating something.

You grit your teeth in preparation. If these things came from hell, you’ll give them hell.

“Come at me then!!” you cry, and the draugr do not hesitate to grant your wish.

You sink your axe into the thigh of the first one, forcing it to its knees, but the other two are on you too quickly. With a cry of fear, a second one shoves you off balance while the third sweeps your legs.

As you fall to the ground, you feel like you’re in slow motion.

By the gods… they learned that move from watching me

Your shoulder hits the ground and you cry out in pain, rolling and clutching your arm to your body. Gods, but it hurts. You whimper softly, trying to will yourself back onto your feet, but the pain is too acute. The world is going blurry around you, your teeth gnashing in pain and fear. In your haze, you think bitterly about the one person who might have helped you with this fight.

Kratos… where are you?

But you’re immediately knocked back to your senses as one of the draugr kicks you in the stomach.

GODS!!” you cry out, curling up in pain. The crowd is starting to murmur. Help her! one voice says. Find a weapon! cries another. Hurry, she’s getting killed!

Another firm kick rolls you over, tumbling across the square, separating you from your axe. You’re fighting to catch your breath, but in your heart, you feel like you’re in a losing battle. Not because you are outmatched, but because your heart is broken. By the gods, you were certain that somehow, Kratos would be here for you. But now, it seems that you were wrong about him. Yet again.

Get up, sis, says Molundir’s voice in your head, and your eyes go wide. You suddenly remember that your brother is here, in Midgard, and that he still needs your help to get home. And oh, he’d never let you live it down if you died of heartbreak over some man.

With a growl, you force yourself to your feet. The townsfolk cheer ecstatically. One or two of them had tried to fend off the draugr with a wooden chair or a fencepost, but they had been quickly knocked aside. Now, you see the truth: only you can end this fight.

You tuck and roll across the town square, scrabbling until you find your axe, then jumping up to your feet again. You feel lightheaded, and you vaguely register that you must be losing blood somehow. No matter. It’s time to finish this.

With a mighty heave you sever the leg of the hobbled draugr, sending it to the ground, momentarily incapacitated. While that one is out of the way, another advances on you, but you pull a trick you learned in the Jotun peacekeepers. You let the axe hang from your hand, swinging it backwards as if you were about to throw it underhand. As the draugr struggles to understand, you quickly twist your hips and slice up, cleaving its jaw from below with all your strength.

The dread creature’s head goes flying. As the crowd goes wild, you seize the moment to bury the axe in the back of the draugr still clawing along the ground, killing it.

Only one to go. You’ve got this, Faye. If you can get in one last swing, you might still get out of this alive.

You can feel the blood dripping off you as you turn towards the final draugr, trailing down your arms and pooling at your feet. The crowd starts a chant — Faye! Faye! Faye! — as you grit your teeth at the final monster, staring him down.

You slowly advance on the terrible creature, who watches you with a dispassionate green gaze, its teeth grinning the grin of death. Your grip tightens on your axe, and you prepare to swing.

Suddenly, Thor materializes right in front of you, grinning that same grin. He grabs your axe with both hands, trying to wrench it out of your grip.

No!! you think to yourself. No, I’m so close!!

With a mighty pull, you yank on the axe, somehow managing to pull it back, freeing from Thor’s grip.

That was too easy—

You hear laughter behind you. And your blood turns to ice as you feel two firm hands seize your axe, yanking it from your hands and toppling you backwards.

You let out a feral scream as you hit the ground, landing square on your back and bouncing once. Your breath wheezes, the wind knocked out of you, and the world starts to go faint.

“Get up, Witch Warrior! Get up!!” cries a little girl’s voice. But it’s all going hazy. You see the last draugr lumbering towards you, taking its time, as though it knows you’re all but helpless. You’re about to be murdered by a draugr that looks exactly like the one from the bridge, and all you can do is lie there.

Gods, if only you still had your axe

Vaguely, in the distance, you can hear it screeching. What a terrible irony. This axe, which can apparently sense injustice, is going to watch while you die a pointless death.

Annoyingly, its screeching gets louder in your ear. Great, says your brother’s voice in your ear. You’re going to die alone and annoyed. Your brow creases in vague anger. Why are you here, again? For what purpose are you in Midgard, fighting an impossible fight against invulnerable foes, on behalf of people you barely know?

You close your eyes, as though you’ll find the answers there.

And strangely enough, you do.

Opening your eyes, you see the world, except now, everything is made of vibrant, roiling, coiled string, vaguely assembled into human shapes.

You’re going insane, you’re certain of it. None of this makes any sense. And yet even though you see only colors and darkness, you know what everything is.

You see the dim, gray light of the draugr’s threads, barely visible in the darkness around it. You see the townsfolk — tight coils of orange for the youths, vibrant, spiky green lines for the children, wisened leather-brown laces for the elders, and deep, sickly purple for the drunks.

But that’s not all you see.

You see the tormented, red mess of thorns and tattered fabric that is Thor, nearly tearing itself apart with a terrible energy. But there is another such energy nearby, nearly identical, watching and waiting from afar. You scarcely have time to wonder about it before a bright gleam catches your eye — something faint and yellow is moving through the distracted crowd.

You lose track of it for a few moments, but then you think you’ve spotted it again. Yes, indeed there is a soul that looks different — searing yellow and gleaming like the sun.

Instinctively, you move your hand to reach for it, and the yellow shape moves its arm too. You stop dead, and the shape does too. Your jaw drops wide open. You realize, somehow and in this moment, that you are the axe, peering out the soul gem as though looking through a window. And that glowing yellow figure before your eyes, laid out flat on the ground — is you. You freeze back in panic and watch the yellow shape do the same.

Something very strange is happening — a tingling in your fingers and toes that begins to extend up your arms and legs. You feel like you’re being disassembled and put back together. You’re suddenly aware of another presence nearby. Something incredibly patient, ancient, and wise. It seems to be all around you, just watching and creating space for you.

Is this… the soul of the ancient that Sindri spoke about? The one who reacts when justice is threatened?

(Wait a minute… you never spoke to Sindri about this. Ever. So why do you remember it?)

There’s something behind you. You’re sure of it now. The presence has coalesced into some kind of being. Though your heart is pounding like a hammer, you dare yourself to turn around and face it. You turn away from the window of the soul gem, directing your attention into the dark void filled with stars and energy that surrounds you.

Floating in front of you is a draped figure, so completely covered in cloth that it doesn't even have a face. Its clothes are tattered strips of beige and brown, its figure old and stooped — but somehow, you are not afraid. Its garments seem to trail a diaphanous white light as it extends one draped arm towards you.

Is this a greeting?

There is so much cloth that you’re not even sure where this being’s hand is, but nevertheless, you extend your own hand out. To your shock, some of the fabric from the being’s arm extends towards you as if pulled by gravity. You stand in mute horror as the fabric encircles your hand and begins traveling up your arm.

Wait, wait!!” you say, but the thing just floats there, as inscrutable as the night sky.

You start to panic. As the fabric reaches your shoulder, you try to wrench away, but it only seems to tighten around you.

“No, stop!!” you yell, but as soon as the fabric traces over your ear, you hear a voice.

There was once a mute old woman who many sought for advice

You draw a hiss of breath as the fabric wraps around your eyes. But rather than obscuring your vision, it’s almost as if you’ve been given a new set of eyes to look through. And you discover, to your utter shock, that you are suddenly back in Jotunheim.

In the distance, you see the familiar mountain ridge that leads to the highest peak in the land. You can’t help but smile as you hold up your hand to cover the final summit, the shape of your hand matching the five high spires of rock. How long it’s been since you’ve done that. You grin at the childishness of it.

You must be atop a mountain yourself, as you can see the rest of the land arrayed before you like a tapestry. Yet as you look around, something seems different. The rivers seem to be in the wrong places. And there are no roads. Before you can begin to make sense of this, the voice in your head speaks again.

They sought the old woman for advice because she, unlike any others, had the power to see the future.

It manifested when she was a young girl, and it made her an outcast. She lived alone, in silence, for many sad years. Yet in time, some came to visit who understood her strength. She even found love, one day. And though she alone carried that power, it did not stop with her. Because her children, too, had the gift. As did their children.

And when she died, her gifts did not die. She knew there would be a time when she would awaken again, when her gifts were needed to make sure that justice was carried forward, far forward in time

The voice becomes so quiet that you can barely hear it. And around you even as you hold up your hand to the mountain, the light of the sun dims, too.

One day, the old woman found a kindred soul, and decided to give that soul a gift. From that moment forward, the weapon would be soulbound to her, and would obey her as readily as one of her own children.

But first, that soul had to… wake up.

You snap back to yourself with a hard jolt. Everything is the same as it was — Thor’s evil grin is glinting in the light of the braziers, the townsfolk are yelling chaotically all around you, the draugr is charging towards you, as if in slow motion. There is no time to dwell on the strangeness of your dream. The draugr barrels towards you, its jaw hanging open in a silent scream, its dreadful thin fingers scratching wildly in the air. Your instincts kick in from your days in the peacekeepers, and you brace yourself from your position on the ground. You throw your hips up over your body, then lurch forwards, leaping onto your feet. A surprised murmur rips through the crowd

You grit your teeth in anger. This is not how you will be defeated. With a resounding war cry, you raise your empty hand into the air. Some of the townsfolk turn and stare at you, and Thor’s grin falters in confusion.

In the midst of your cry, your axe begins to spew blue sparks, causing Thor to whip around in confusion. But he’s too late. You take a deep breath, crying out even louder, and reach out towards the axe.

Come back, you tell the axe. Come back, and we will swiftly serve justice together.

You feel a strange tugging sensation deep in your soul. And then, with a flash of blue light, the axe flies straight out of Thor’s hand and into yours.

You hear stunned gasps coming from the crowd, but you have no time to process any of it. With a heave, you swing your body all the way around, slicing off the draugr’s head on one clean movement. There is a moment of stunned silence as the dread thing’s body collapses to the ground.

And then, the crowd erupts in cheers. As you wipe the sweat from your forehead, you see some of them jumping, all shouting, and some even chanting your name — Faye! Faye! Faye! You hold your axe aloft, grinning and looking around, taking in the grateful, rapturous looks on the faces of the villagers.

These people have been through so much. Have they ever had a champion to believe in? The way they’re looking at you — like you’re some kind of goddess — makes you think that you’re the first.

You seek out Thor’s gaze, but immediately wish that you hadn’t. In his eyes is written a terrifying, powerful rage. His eyes are glowing like two red-hot stones.

You think you’re better than us, mortal?!” he bellows. He reaches his arm in the air and a bolt of lighting strikes from the heavens, sending the celebrating crowd into a fit of screams and panic. You were too late to shield your eyes, and you stumble forward, blinking away the searing light. You’re being shoved from many directions, and you realize the villagers are scattering — though they don’t seem to know which way to run.

Your eyes finally clear, and you pick out the face of Thor, now holding aloft the largest hammer you have ever seen. His rage seems to have transformed into smug satisfaction.

“Now you shall see the results of your disobedience, woman!!” he bellows. “Odin, if it is your wish, release the undead!!

The ground trembles. As you turn to survey the chaos of the village, you see the ground begin to open up — not just in one place, but in dozens. Your heart nearly stops. Your skin turns ashen. If Odin has been suppressing the undead in your absence, then their numbers have just been building up… right underneath your feet.

Immediately, you hear the screams of the townsfolk as hundreds of draugr claw their way out of the dirt, slashing at bodies and biting into limbs. The crowd was already panicked — now, they are being attacked from below. Your jaw falls open in utter horror. But your fear quickly transforms into complete, unbridled rage.

You swing your axe, cutting off the arm of a draugr that was reaching for a child. The child’s grateful mother swoops her up and carries her off, only to come face to face with another teetering undead soldier. The woman screams — and you push her back as you bring the axe down clean into the draugr’s skull. It crumbles to dust, but there are more screams all around you. Too many, too many to fight

The townsfolk are unarmed, unarmored, unaccustomed to fighting, some drunk, all vulnerable — and by the gods, their screams are all around you.

Make a deal with Thor, says the voice in your head you once thought was Molli’s.

But as soon as you turn your attention back towards Thor, he winks at you and vanishes, disappearing from the village completely.

All gods are monsters. Absolute, utter monsters.

GET IN A CIRCLE!” you shout into the crowd. “Children and the weak in the center! Fighters on the outside! We hold them, do you hear me!?

Some of the townsfolk try to obey you. A group of about two dozen assembles, the strongest of them facing out, arming themselves with whatever pieces of board or stick they can get their hands on. You fall in beside them, your axe cleaving undead after undead, their ashy bones piling up at your feet. For a few desperate minutes, you are able to present a united front against the onslaught.

But to your horror, the numbers of draugr have seemingly multiplied. The dozens have become hundreds — everywhere you look, more hollowed eyes and sticklike limbs are forcing their way out of the soil. You have never been this terrified, never in your life — but you will not abandon these people who have done nothing to deserve their fate.

Something sharp claws at your leg and you dance back, only to feel a pair of bony hands close on your ankle. The screams are growing in strength all around you, and you realize the undead are surfacing within your circle. And as you look around you, all you can see, as far out as the woods you emerged from, are the glowing eyes of hundreds and hundreds of undead.

Freya have mercy. All these people are going to die. I… I am going to die. All for the whim of some petulant child-man who calls himself a god. He is a monster, all gods are monsters, Kratos was right, there are no good gods — oh Kratos, forgive me —

Then, from somewhere behind you, there is a clarion sound almost like the ringing of a great bell. Your jaw falls straight open in shock. You know that sound. And you know what comes next.

A moment later there is a concussive blast, like a great wind made of heat and light. It flares out through the crowd, leading people to shriek and shield their eyes — yet all at once, the movement of the draugr ceases. They are no longer the undead. As they collapse into dust all around you, you can see with your own eyes that they are merely corpses.

Slowly, you turn towards the great tree.

Kneeling at its base, slumped heavily against the tree, with his hand coated in yellow paint — is Molundir. And In the center of the tree, glowing with a low but steady light, is a yellow handprint.

You scream at the sight of your brother, at the state he’s in, but there is no time to think — because flying over the crowd comes a sight so unnatural that you can’t help but stagger backwards.

Galloping straight through the night sky is a gigantic, eight-legged horse. And on its back sits a man twice the size of a normal human — heavyset, bald, and holding a gilded scepter. There’s a look in his eye that threatens to unravel the very fibers of your soul.

APPREHEND THAT MAN!!” the giant shouts. Immediately, some of Thor’s men, who had been watching your fight with the draugr with amusement, stagger to their feet. Your heart leaps into your throat.

ODIN.

And he’s pointing his scepter directly at Molundir.

Chapter Text

You sprint towards your brother, dodging past terrorized villagers, crushing the bones of draugr under your feet. Thor’s men sprint too, and you know with all your heart that you need to get to Molundir before they do.

Some of the villagers who fought alongside you see what’s happening, and your heart leaps as they rush to your aid.

“We’ll take care of them, Faye,” pants one young man who stood next to you in the circle. “You get him out of here.”

You’re too exhausted to reply so you just give him a sharp nod, then sprint even faster. Your stomach curdles as you hear the villagers begin to fight with Thor’s men — but you force yourself to keep running.

As you reach Molli’s side you count your blessings — he’s still slumped over, but he’s awake.

MOLUNDIR!!” you exclaim, your heart too full to express anything other than blind, ecstatic relief.

“Great party, sister,” he wheezes. “You should invite me next time.”

“I need to get you out of here right now,” you hiss.

“I’m all ears,” he says. Though it pains your heart to see it, it’s clear that he is in no shape to walk, let alone run. He must have exerted himself fully just to get here.

You crouch down next to him. “Climb on,” you say, and this time, he doesn’t have any wisecracks. With some effort, he pushes himself away from the tree and uses your shoulders to prop himself up. You wrap your arms under his legs and hitch him up, piggyback-style, like you used to do when you were kids. You try to ignore just how light he feels, how birdlike his limbs are, as you sprint into the darkness of the nearest alleyway.

As you round a corner, ducking further out of sight, you feel an ominous twinge in your ankle. It hasn’t been that long since your sprain healed, but you force yourself to ignore the pain as you put more and more distance between yourself and the gods. You have only one thought now: you need to get Molundir out of Midgard as quickly as possible.

Molli,” you pant. “Please tell me you brought the realm key.”

He laughs, but it turns into a heavy cough. “What am I, an idiot?” he says hoarsely. You can hear the smug grin in his voice.

“If we get out of this alive, I’m going to kill you,” you mutter.

“Love you, sis.”

You huff out a laugh. “Love you too.”

You’re certain that Thor’s men — if not the god himself — are watching the exits from the village. You take a gamble and sprint in the opposite direction, towards the water.

“Uh, Laufey? The road is that way,” says Molli, but you ignore him. As you arrive at the creaking, wooden docks that the fishermen use, you whistle loudly.

To your impossible relief, an elderly fisherman sticks his head up out of his boat.

“Please… will you take us to the realm gate? I have… I have coin,” you manage to say between gasps of breath.

The man looks at you — at your exhausted, sweaty state, and the nearly-limp body of your brother. He eyes you skeptically.

Please,” you beg quietly. “Odin will kill him. Or worse.”

“I’m in no mood to draw the ire of Odin or his fellows,” says the old man carefully.

You take a step forwards, assuming a proud stance. “I have come to the aid of this town since my arrival here, yet I have asked for nothing,” you declare. “Now, all I ask is this small favor.”

The old man grunts. “Are you the Witch Warrior?” he asks.

You nod firmly.

“Where’s your axe?” he asks skeptically. You glower at him.

Carefully, you set Molundir down on his feet. Then you hold your arm straight up into the air. A few seconds later, the axe comes flying out of the village center — straight into your waiting hand.

“Right, into the boat,” says the man cheerily.

Molli just stares at you.

I’ll explain later,” you grumble. “Just do as the man says.” On shaky legs, you help Molundir across the dock and into the boat. But his eyes go wide as you step back out.

“Aren’t you coming?” Molundir asks, suddenly seeming afraid.

“I will, I just… I need to make sure the villagers are alright. I’ll meet you at the realm gate. Please just go?”

Molundir looks unconvinced, but he knows he’s in no position to argue. You fumble in your satchel, handing the fisherman a gold coin. The old man’s eyes go wide, but you give him a sharp look.

“This is my brother,” you say in a quiet, even tone. “If any ill befalls him—”

“We won’t be seen,” says the old man. “Swear on my grave.”

“Good. Make haste.”

The fisherman unloops the mooring rope and pushes off with a kick. Then he begins to paddle. It will be a laborious journey without any wind to fill the sails, but right now you’re all out of options. As you look around the docks, you realize the fisherman was the only one still here. Everyone else must still be at the festival. You try not to dwell on how lucky you just were.

You turn to go, but Molli calls out to you. And it must be something important, because he speaks to you in Jotun.

Wait!! Laufey, listen,” he says. “It’s probably nothing, but… under no circumstance should you tell anyone where we’re from. Okay?

You stare at him in confusion, squinting as the boat beginning to slip away into the darkness.

Why not?” you reply.

I just… have a feeling,” he says. “I can’t explain it. It’s like I’ve been here before, except I haven’t. I just know it’s important that no one knows our secret. Okay?

Your… secret?

You think back on how Molundir lied to Lymaea about which language you were speaking. Your brow creases in incomprehension.

Please, just promise me, okay?” he pleads. You almost never hear your brother this nervous, and it worries you.

Okay, I promise,” you say.

Will you swear an oath?

After taking a deep breath, you place your hand on your heart. “I swear I won’t tell anyone where I’m from.”

Molli nods, his shoulders relaxing in relief. “Thank you. See you soon, sis,” says Molli. The mixture of hope and fear in his voice tugs at your heart.

See you soon,” you reply with what you hope is a reassuring nod.

Then, forcing yourself to turn away, you sprint back into the village.

 

***

 

Frightened though you are, it is your sense of justice that leads you back towards the heart of the town. You essentially just announced, in the most public way possible, that you are a champion of the village… and that you’re willing to stand up against the evil of the gods.

You just hope that the people haven’t paid too high a price for your actions.

As you make your way back to the festival, you take stock of the damage. As you near the site of the festival, dead draugr begin to crunch hideously beneath your feet. You shudder to think about how close you all were to utter ruin. But even after Molundir’s heroic rescue, you need to know if your friends are okay — especially Lymaea and her son. You would just about skin Thor if he punished this woman further for the crime of being your friend.

You stick to the shadows, knowing that the gods are looking for you. You hate that they have every advantage — godlike speed and vision, not to mention the flock of green ravens now circling high above the town. You curse quietly. Unless you can avoid the roads, there’s no way you’re getting out of here without being seen.

As you approach the town center, skirting a few low walls, you’re surprised by what you see — instead of devastation, the townsfolk are calm, tending wounds and clearing away the debris of your battle.

You also see a pile of hastily discarded shields and a few weapons piled near the great tree. With a start, you realize that your brother’s protection stave has even driven off Thor’s men.

You blink in realization. Though all protection staves have the ability to ward off hostiles, some are stronger than others. The most basic ones merely act as a deterrent, slowing the footsteps and clouding the minds of those who might harm you. But the most powerful staves inflict pain — said to be like needles pressed relentlessly into the flesh. There can be no other explanation for why Thor’s men would have left behind such valuable arms and armor.

Your heart races. That means Molli was able to cast a protection stave on par with the most powerful ever created by a Jotun. And while he is no novice, you’ve always been the stronger one when it came to magic. Especially when it came to your staves… your gifts with language meant you were always better able to converse with trees and other things that speak the old tongues. Something about this doesn’t quite make sense to you, but you don’t have time to dwell on it.

You slip past a few exhausted partygoers (taking care not to be seen), just to make sure the fighting is truly over. But there are no gods in sight, no goons, no draugr — not even any dead bodies. To your eyes, it’s nothing short of a miracle.

Your relief is short-lived. Overhead, you hear the sharp cawing of a raven, and its shadow passes over your foot. You withdraw hastily into a nearby alcover, cursing again. If you stay here, the raven is sure to see you. But any further into the town and sure you’re to be recognized.

By the gods… why does doing the right thing always seem to bring you so much trouble?

A sharp hissing sound draws you back to the present. Your eyes go wide as you see a figure in a black cloak, holding a torch and beckoning you feverishly.

You hesitate a moment. But right now, it seems like the best option you’ve got.

Timing your movements to avoid the patrols of the ravens, you dash from shadow to shadow. The figure doesn’t move.

At least they didn’t sell me out to the ravens, you think. Maybe I can trust them.

Up close, you realize the figure is a woman, though her face is hidden from view. She brings a finger to her lips as you approach, and you follow her in silence as she leads you into the cellar of a nearby home. You step carefully down the narrow stone steps, holding the torch for her as she carefully locks the heavy wooden doors behind you. Only then does she push back her hood, exhaling in relief.

You can’t help the jittery laugh that escapes your throat — the mysterious figure is none other than Lymaea. Her wit never ceases to astound you. A disguise to shield her from the watchful eyes of the gods… she is ever-resourceful, and you remind yourself how lucky you are to have her as a friend.

“Oh, Faye… thank the gods for you and your brother,” she says, but she seems too tired to truly mean it.

“I’m sorry, I — I never meant for any of this—”

Lymaea shakes her head, taking the torch from you. “Please — don’t take my weariness for ingratitude. Without you two, we’d certainly all be dead. But now the eye of the gods is upon us, and I truly don’t know what we will do.”

You place a hand on your friend’s shoulder, but she shrugs you off.

“Please… just follow me,” she says, turning away.

Your heart aches. Even though it wasn’t your fault — Odin summoned you here, for Frigg’s sake — you can’t help but feel responsible for the chaos of the evening. You can’t help asking the heaviest question on your mind.

“Was anyone killed?”

Lymaea shakes her head, and you exhale audibly in relief.

“Many clawings and scratches, but —”

Ahead of you, a solid stone wall seems to shimmer. Then, to your astonishment, it disappears. You blink as the light of the torch suddenly illuminates a low tunnel, chiseled right into the wall of this basement.

By the nine realms!” you exclaim in Jotun, and Lymaea turns to look at you curiously. You remember your promise to Molli, and quickly clamp your mouth shut. Still, your obvious amazement at the sight of the tunnel seems to lower Lymaea’s guard.

“An old dwarven smuggling site,” she says. “Occultation magic.”

She beckons you into the tunnel and you follow her, ducking your head. Then you watch in amazement as the wall appears to seal shut behind you.

“It’s going to sound strange, but it was Ragnar who discovered it,” Lymaea continues, her voice distant and echoed in the tunnel. “Remind me to tell you the story some time.”

You can’t help but think of the little boy’s bravery earlier in the evening.

“How is he?” you ask quietly, stepping over a rotting tree branch..

“He’s shaken. It will take some time before he is the same laughing little boy, I think. But who knows. His resilience surprises me sometimes.” Lymaea shrugs, and you wish you could think of something reassuring to say. You decide instead to change the subject.

“And the other little boy and his father?”

“Mercifully unharmed,” says Lymaea. “No one knows where the boy was for those many days, but there wasn’t a scratch on him when he was released. A small miracle, to be sure.”

The tunnel begins sloping up, and it’s suddenly high enough for you to stand again. Lymaea picks up the pace of her stride, and you scramble to keep up with her. She’s taller than you by a fair margin, and slighter in build. Her dress is tight on you, and eventually, you’ll have to apologize — there are a few more draugr scratches on it than when she lent it to you.

Lymaea’s voice brings you back to the present. “I’m told the boy and his family are preparing to leave the village, in the hopes of hiding out with distant relations,” she says.

“Yes, that… seems wise,” you say. You sense there is something weightier on your friend’s mind, and you wait for her to continue.

Eventually, Lymaea sighs deeply, glancing back at you. “I’m scared, Faye,” she admits. “Ragnar and I… we have no one.”

You clasp your hands over your friend’s shoulders, stopping her. She turns around slowly to face you.

“I won’t let anything happen to you,” you tell her, eyes steady on hers. “I won’t. You’ll be safe under my brother’s protection stave for a few days. Then… I don’t know, but I’ll think of something.”

Lymaea nods, her face ashen. She looks so tired, her gaze falling to the ground. “I hate the gods,” she says weakly. “I just… it’s too much to bear.” Tears come to her eyes, and you sense the weight of an old wound.

We’ll figure this out,” you tell her, your tone insistent. “Please, don’t give up. Your quick thinking tonight probably saved us both. I’ll never forget this, Lymaea. Never. You are one of the strongest, cleverest people I’ve ever met.”

Lymaea looks surprised. Then she snorts, her face contorting into a ridiculous pose between despair and amusement. “That’s nice of you to—”

“It’s true,” you insist, the intensity of your voice heading off any argument. Lymaea nods slowly, as though considering this. Then she seems to think of something else.

“Oh… Faye, your brother — is he alright??”

“He’s safe,” you say. “But I have to go. Lie low tonight, stay with a friend if you have to. Give me some time, but I’ll think of a strategy to keep you and the village safe.”

A heartbreaking look creases Lymaea’s face — a wilted smile, as though she’s thinking ‘that’s a nice thought, but it will never happen.’

“Have faith, koritsi mou,” you say, drawing her into an embrace. “You’ve come this far.”

And I’m going to make sure Thor can never use you like that again. Ever.

She hugs you tightly. “You’re a good friend, Faye,” she whispers in Greek.

You walk in silence until you reach the end of the tunnel, and another shimmering rock wall disappears in front of you.

“Where are we?” you ask.

“By the bridge over the Lake of Nine.”

“You are a weaver of miracles,” you say, and to your delight, Lymaea laughs.

“I’m no Witch Warrior,” she says, looking at you bemusedly out of the corner of her eye. “They say she’s a hero, the likes of which Midgard has never seen.” You can’t help the grin that comes to your face. You’re so relieved to see this side of her again.

With a nod, you raise the axe to her, a warrior’s salute.

Wish me luck,” you whisper in Greek.

“Wait, Faye,” she says, as if suddenly remembering something. Her hands fly to the clasps on the neck of her overcloak.

You look down at the heavy black garment as she hands it to you.

“To protect you from the eyes of the gods. It’s the best I can do.”

You look up at her, touched beyond measure. “Thank you,” you whisper, almost unable to speak.

Lymaea helps you attach the cloak around your shoulders, pulling the hood up to conceal your face. That this woman who has so little — who has no one — would be so giving… it reminds you of the fighting spirit of the people of Midgard. How much you’ve learned in your time here.

How much you’ll miss it when you leave tonight.

A chill passes through your body.

Leave?

No… worry about that later. Right now, Molundir needs you.

Not trusting your voice, you nod significantly at Lymaea, stepping out into the night.

When you glance back over your shoulder, there is nothing behind you but a solid wall of rock.

 

***

 

The long span of the Bridge of Nine stretches before you, and you swallow. Though you think you weren’t seen, the way you’re forced to carry your axe makes it hard to walk inconspicuously. You can only hope that the eyes of the gods are still on the village — and that Molundir’s protection stave holds.

Your journey across the bridge is agonizingly slow, even as you attempt to make haste. Once your twice your face screws up in pain as your ankle flares up — a tense reminder that you’re pushing yourself too hard. You already fought dozens of enemies tonight, blunting your axe on the skulls of draugr… but you don’t think you could handle any more. There’s an ache in your side that won’t go away, a sure sign that you’re almost at your limit. You’ve stopped noticing the wheeze in your breath — all your focus is on getting to the realm gate and getting away.

As you continue along the bridge, you notice something odd — there are bright flashes of light coming from the woods near the village. And almost immediately after, there are loud, splintering crashes. It sounds almost like parts of the mountain are falling down, though you know that’s impossible

Well, you would’ve thought it impossible, before you came to Midgard.

You swallow down your exhaustion, continuing to charge towards the realm gate. Lingering here could only mean trouble.

Suddenly there’s a sound — formidable, echoing — shaking the bridge itself. You feel it again, closer. With a soft cry of despair, you turn to look behind you.

Your throat closes over in horror.

There is a large, hulking shape planting its feet on the bridge, not even bothering to hide its presence.

The arrogance—

A moment later, the dread thing warps a few dozen paces towards you, then appears right in your face, grinning like a child’s lantern.

He’s completely in shadow. His eyes are two vacant caverns in the darkness of the night. It’s hard for you to believe you ever found this man attractive, knowing what you know about him. A scowl crosses your face, and you raise the axe.

Thor looks down at you in amusement, his stance completely unchanged.

Found you,” he says softly.

You can’t control the anger that bursts forth from you — it seems to explode from the very depths of your soul.

“How dare you attack a group of innocent villagers?” you exclaim. “They have nothing to do with our quarrel.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Miss Faye,” he says, walking around you in a circle. You turn to face him as he moves, holding your axe at the ready.

“I’m afraid you’ve upset the natural order of things,” he continues. “The people of that slum used to cower before the gods. Now, they are unafraid. A few of them even looked me in the eye at the festival, can you believe that? Oh, for the days when mortals knew their place around the gods. There just wouldn’t be the need for such painful lessons.”

You’re a monster,” you say, brandishing the axe. Thor eyes you, but for the moment, he seems to ignore your remark.

“And villagers, well… they just adore you,” he continues, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “A wave of draugr, sent by my father? Easily dispensed by their new champion.”

Thor arches an eyebrow at you, stroking his beard. The silver charms in his braids sway as he purses his lips at you.

“What makes you so righteous, hm?” he says contemptuously. “What do you stand for that makes these wretched fools fall all over themselves?”

You stick your chin out proudly. “The people of Midgard deserve the freedom to live without interference from the gods,” you declare.

Thor stares at you for a moment. Then, he hollers with laughter.

“And who’s going to stop me, pretty? You??

Before you can even blink your eyes, Thor materializes inches from your face.

You gasp, staggering back — but then there’s a flash, and you back into something solid.Thor’s icy breath snakes down the back of your neck as he laughs again, now standing directly behind you. You squeeze your eyes shut in horror.

Why, why did you ever think you were a match for him? He is a GOD.

You try to shut out the doubtful voice in your mind, but Thor is slowly closing his grip over your arms, and it’s making you tremble. Never in your life have you been in the presence of such evil. Your only hope is that Molundir and the fisherman have made their journey safely. And that if necessary, Molli knows he should… go on without you.

I meant what I said earlier, you know,” says Thor into your ear. You shudder at the nearness of him, but it only seems to spur him on. He slurps audibly, and you realize to your horror that he is actually drooling at the sight of you looking so helpless.

You’d be a magnificent queen, Faye,” he says, nipping at your neck. His teeth are like icy knives, and you flinch under his touch. He seems to notice this — and he does it again.

“Perhaps I haven’t been clear enough,” Thor says. You jolt as he’s suddenly in front of you again.“What I mean is that you should be my queen.”

Your breath hitches in your throat, your eyes going wide. The reality of what he just said is dawning on you, and it’s all the more horrifying to know he means it. He grins as he sees the conflict on your face.

“You know, at first I hated that you dared to resist me,” he continues. “But you have a warrior’s spirit, and I like that. And now that I’ve seen you fight… by the gods I’ve never seen another creature half as beautiful as you. So luscious and dangerous all at once. How disappointing it is that you would take some filthy peasants over the eternal glory of Valhalla.”

You whirl in place, nearly catching him upside the head with your axe.

He disappears, and for one startled moment, you see the surprise in his eyes. Then he materializes again, farther down the bridge. You glower at him, raising your axe.

Mmmm…” he says, licking his lips. “I do so love your spark. I want to feel it in my loins as you tremble beneath me.”

Get out of my way,” you say, advancing.

Thor looks around, his eyes narrowing. You can see the wheels turning in his head. Suddenly, he seems to realize the significance of where you are.

“The realm gate…” he says finally, his eyes widening. He stares at you. “And just where do you think you’re going tonight, princess? Running away from your little friends in the town? How noble.” His thick sarcasm wouldn’t normally bother you, but he’s struck a nerve, and you grit your teeth at him.

“Aren’t you worried that one of the gods is going to come along and annihilate them in your absence?”

“No,” you say, resting your axe on the ground.

He appears before you, gripping you by the chin and jerking your gaze up as you gasp in surprise. He grins a terrible grin, all sharpness and teeth.

“No? You’re not afraid for the villagers?” he asks mockingly. “And why not?”

You swallow, looking him straight in the eye.

“Because I’m ready to make a deal.”

 

***

 

The realm gate is nothing but an empty stone arch with a key port, but you aren’t fooled. As you hurry towards its towering frame, you can’t help but feel humbled. This simple portal is the bridge between here and the only place you have ever called home.

Home… to Jotunheim.

You suddenly wheel around the circular chamber, searching for any sign of your brother. But your eyebrows knit in despair. He isn’t here.

The edges of the chamber are ringed with balconies overlooking the Lake of Nine, and you hurry to the closest one. But in the dark, you see nothing.

Is Molundir’s boat out there, still on its way? Did the fisherman keep his word? Or would he betray you to Odin? Or would Thor—?

You bring your fists to your temples, squeezing your eyes shut and trying to block out your treacherous doubts. Now is not the time to dwell on the devil’s deal you just struck with Thor. Until Molundir gets here, your only thought is escape.

Suddenly, you hear footsteps — slow and labored. Your eyes snap open, and you wheel around to the entrance to the chamber.

But when you see who it is, your jaw hits the floor.

The person who stumbles through the doorway, panting and exhausted, is not Molundir — but Kratos.

Chapter Text

Kratos is visibly exhausted — sweaty, out of breath, his massive chest heaving in exertion. He’s holding his side, grimacing from the effort… until he sees you. Your heart leaps up into your throat so forcefully that you feel like you’re choking.

Faye!!” he croaks out. His eyes are alive with relief.

Kratos…” you exhale. You stare at him incredulously. He’s in rough shape — panting and disheveled, his entire body covered in a layer of sweat. As he takes several halting steps towards you, you see that he’s favoring one leg slightly, as though he pulled something. He doesn’t seem aware of any of that, however — all of his focus is on you.

As he approaches, he takes in the sight of you, tracing you from head to toe. You realize you’re probably not in much better shape than he is. Sweaty, exhausted… but not defeated. He clears his throat.

“You are… unharmed?” he says. His voice is stern, but not unkind.

You nod, your eyes dropping to the ground.

“Yes, I… I’m fine,” you say.

You raise your eyes again, and the fearful look on his face catches you by surprise. But his expression is quickly paved over by his usual stoic mask. He looks away, frowning.

Is he still thinking about the argument you had before he sent you away? Is he afraid you don’t want to see him?

You wish you could think of what to say to him, but you have no idea how to begin to capture the strength of your feelings. You yearn to tell him how much his absence weighed on you, but also how hurt you were by his rejection. There are a hundred things you want to ask him, even though you know he probably won’t give you answers to any of them. You want to throw your arms around his neck and laugh and cry at the same time.

But now is not the time. As happy as you are to see him again, your fears for your brother are overwhelming your other thoughts.

“Kratos… will you help me?” you ask, taking a step towards him. “It’s… it’s my brother. He’s supposed to be here, he left from the village in a fishing boat, but I—”

To your surprise, you don’t even finish your sentence before Kratos is at your side, staring down at you with an intense but unreadable look in his eyes.

He nods, and you exhale in relief. Together, you turn your attention towards the vast expanse of the lake.

You peer out over the Lake of Nine, straining your eyes for any kind of movement. But it’s so, so dark. And in your heart, you know that continuing to stare at the water is futile. As your brows knit in fear, you glance up at Kratos, and are shocked to see that he’s giving you a sympathetic look.

“He will come, Faye,” Kratos says, placing a hand on your shoulder.

You move your hand on top of his without even thinking. Together you wait, just like that, staring out at the inky blackness of the lake.

You try to stay calm, but you can hear the catch in your breath as the minutes wear on. As much as you’re trying to ignore it, the pain from your injuries is getting sharper, and you whimper softly. Kratos immediately looks down at you, brow furrowed, sweeping your body for the source of your discomfort. His eyes widen when he sees the ground beneath your feet.

“You are injured,” he says, his voice creaking with concern.

“I’m fine,” you say, not taking your eyes off the water. But he takes you gently by the chin, turning your face towards his. His golden eyes are lined with worry.

“You are bleeding,” he says. You follow his gaze to see coin-sized drops of blood on the stones below you. This snaps you out of your trance. You immediately remember your medical training from the peacekeepers.

“Where?” you say.

“I do not know,” he says gruffly. “Remove your cloak.”

“Oh… uh, right,” you say.

In all the excitement, you had forgotten you were still wearing Lymaea’s heavy overcloak. You bring your fingers to the neck clasps, hesitating. You remember the dress you’re wearing, how it seemed to turn the head of almost every man at the festival. You know it’s foolish, given the moment you’re in, but…

Will Kratos like what he’s about to see?

You glance up at Kratos, locking eyes with him for a long moment. Then, taking a steadying breath, you shrug the heavy overcloak off your shoulders and let it fall to the floor.

Kratos does a double take. Then his eyes go as wide as you’ve ever seen them.

He’s so stunned that he forgets to guard his expression. You watch as his jaw falls open, his brows knitting in a perfect ache as he takes in the contours of your body.

He’s never seen you in a dress before. And he’s certainly never seen you disrobe. You feel a rosy blush spreading on your cheeks.

Your eyes, however, glint with dark satisfaction. The man you’ve been dreaming about is eating you alive from head to toe.

Kratos’s eyes linger on the soft curves of your breasts, so visible in the plunging neckline of Lymaea’s dress. You could swear that you hear a soft groan leave his throat. When his gaze finally returns to your face, his eyes flash with something dangerous. You swallow thickly, realizing how exposed you are — how alone and how vulnerable you are in the company of this brute.

The thought builds an instant heat between your thighs.

You shake your head, trying to clear your thoughts. But the way he’s looking at your body is making it difficult.

Kratos suddenly seems to remember what he’s supposed to be doing. His eyes take on a clinical stare as he searches for the source of your injury. But even in the low light, you can see the flush that comes to his cheeks.

“Your… arms,” he says, with some effort.

You look down at the many scratches and scrapes you incurred in battle. You can see where your blood has dried in little rivulets, having dripped down from your elbows as you wielded your axe. However, none of the blood seems fresh. Kratos seems to realize this at the same moment you do.

“Turn around,” he says.

You do as he asks, and you hear him take a sharp intake of breath through his teeth.

“Is it bad?” you ask. When he doesn’t reply, you look back over your shoulder.

You catch him staring at the narrow curve where your waist meets your hips, his eyes trailing down to follow the firm curve of your ass. “Kratos?” you ask.

He looks up at you, jaw agape, his eyes widening when he realizes he’s been caught.

Despite the moment, despite everything, you chuckle softly.

“Glad you like the view,” you say. You watch in amazement as he turns an even deeper shade of red.

He clears his throat, looking away completely. Then he glances back at you for a moment before looking away. “Your upper back,” he says gruffly. “There is a wound seeping through your dress.”

“Ah… draugr bite,” you say quickly, reaching for your satchel. “I need you to dress it for me. Here, I have milk of the mountain—”

But when you turn to him, he’s frozen as still as a statue. You suddenly realize it’s because you’ve pulled your arms out of the sleeves of your dress, hitching it down at the back. Holding the bodice against your chest with one arm, you hold out the bottle of healing ointment to him. Transfixed, he still doesn’t move.

You can’t help but smile at how hopelessly distracted he looks. You move the bottle where you’re holding it out, drawing his attention.

“Surely it’s not too much of a favor to ask, Kratos,” you say, a gentle tease in your voice.

His mind seems to go completely blank. He takes the bottle from you, forcing himself to attend to his task. He pours some of the ointment into his palm, then gets to work on you.

You hiss in pain as you feel the cool serum against the raw flesh of your wound. And as he spreads the cream, the sensation overwhelms you. But despite the discomfort, his hands are gentle on you, touching you as reverently as if he were handling a live bird.

Still, as much as you try to be stoic, you can’t help the whimper of pain that escapes you, piercing through the night air.

Syngnómi,” Kratos mumbles in apology.

By the gods… he’s so distracted that he doesn’t seem to realize he just spoke to you in Greek. You can’t help but smile inwardly, despite the pain.

Within a few minutes, the ointment begins to take the edge off your pain. And you sigh in relief when he finally finishes probing the tender flesh. However, Kratos doesn’t seem to be finished. His touch lingers on your shoulder, the heat of his hand against your bare flesh clouding your thoughts.

“There are… more scratches,” he says with a cough. “Lower.”

Obligingly, you hitch down the back of the dress even more, looking back at him again. He doesn’t move, but his eyes follow your newly-exposed flesh with interest.

“Come, Kratos,” you say in amusement. “Nothing you haven’t seen before.”

He makes a low sound, a soft rumble deep in his chest. You’ve never heard him make a sound like that before — but you like it.

Then you hiss as you feel his thick fingers tracing along the marks of your injury, spreading the cool gloss of the cream. Your breath hitches as you feel him breathe against the back of your neck, so much closer than he was a moment ago.

It was dark,” he says next to your ear, his voice a low rumble.

You bite your lip. Gods… the sound of his voice is like a finger trailing up your spine.

You hum softly, turning away while he continues rubbing your lower back. “Nothing you haven’t felt before, then,” you say knowingly.

Kratos’s hand stops moving, the heat of his touch pressing against the small of your back. You’re so distracted you almost miss what he says next.

That was different,” he says in a low voice, so close that you shiver. “I was keeping you alive.”

You slowly turn your head to look at him, his face just inches from yours. He gives you a significant look.

You blink in realization. Despite the intimacy of that night he saved your life, Kratos doesn’t really feel like he touched you. That means that all of this — your exposed skin, the healing cream, caressing your flesh with his strong hands — it’s all new to him.

No wonder he’s looking at you the way he is. You watch as his eyes trail down to where you’re loosely holding up the top of the dress, then back up to your face. You gasp softly as his fingers curl, stroking the small of your back as he withdraws his hand.

“Where else does it hurt?” he says, his voice thick.

Your eyes dance with his. “Arms…ankles… lots of places,” you say.

“Well then,” he says.

His amber gaze is sparking with something dominant and intense… something you desperately want to see again.

Mercy… does he know what he’s doing to you?

Kratos pours more healing ointment into his hand. Then, he walks around in front of you, a spark of determination in his eye. You watch in stunned silence as takes hold of your arm, the one that isn’t holding up the front of your dress, and begins to rub ointment over your scrapes. You both know you could do this part yourself, but the way his eyes flick up to yours as he works… well, it’s stealing away all the words you know.

As you watch him work, you’re confronted with the seriousness of the battle for the first time. Your entire arm is bruised and scraped, all the way from your hands up to the shoulder that you landed on. But Kratos sees to all your injuries with a calm determination. His strong hands rub the cream into you with all the care and tenderness in the world. You sigh softly as the aches of your injuries begin to slowly fade away.

But being this close to you seems to be distracting him. He’s stealing glances at you, and you secretly thrill at the way his gaze keeps returning to your curves. The power of it is intoxicating, watching him watch your body. It makes you feel like a woman in a way you never have before.

At one point during his tender massage, you groan softly in satisfaction. At this, Kratos’s hands still on you for a full five seconds before he resumes his task. You blink in revelation.

Does he… like it when I make that sound?

He grunts softly, drawing your attention.

“Your other arm,” he says. His face reveals nothing, but there’s a husky edge to his voice that wasn’t there before.

You take hold of the bodice with your other arm, your breasts shifting softly under the fabric.

Kratos stands there, transfixed, until you offer him your other arm. When he looks up at you again, there something in his gaze that both excites and frightens you.

You inhale softly as he takes hold of your other arm. Just because you enjoy his touch doesn’t mean that it doesn’t sting. Still, the skin of his hands is so warm. It’s so soothing as he rubs over your injured flesh, even as you occasionally wince.

The way his oiled hands glide over you… it’s making you feel things for him that you never felt for anyone. It’s a strange thought, but you want him to rub the viscous liquid all over your body. You yearn to feel his rough hands exploring you, caressing all the places where you’re aching to feel his touch.

When he finally releases your arm, there’s a pleasant tingling sensation everywhere he’s touched. Your eyes are hooded, your breathing shallow and fast.

“Ankles?” he says, his eyes flashing with something extra. You nod dreamily.

You watch in silence as Kratos kneels at your feet, hitching your long skirt up enough to reveal your ankles. You bring a hand to his shoulder instinctively. You tell yourself it’s to help you keep your balance… despite the way your heart skips when Kratos glances up at you and raises an eyebrow.

Mother of mercy

But when Kratos returns his gaze to your legs and looks closer, you hear him huff out a breath of surprise. Despite the view, he seems sobered. Your ankles and calves are covered in draugr scratches, some deep, suffered while you held the line in the village. But Kratos quickly gets to work. Wordlessly, he begins rubbing the ointment along the long lines of the claw marks.

His eyes are all seriousness when they look up at yours again. “You have suffered greatly today,” he says, a quiet reflectiveness in his tone.

“Less, now that you’re here,” you whisper, squeezing his shoulder.

He looks up again, his eyes shining with something that makes your heart double-beat. When he finishes applying the cream to your legs, he slowly stands up to his full height, towering above you.

Your lips part as he takes a half step towards you. Then your breath hitches as he slowly reaches out and cups your cheek in his big hand.

His thumb drags along the delicate line of your chin, smoothing over a cut with the healing balm. But he never takes his eyes off yours.

Kratos…” you exhale in dreamy surprise.

“Anywhere else?” he asks, his eyes searching yours.

Everywhere.

Shyly, you glance down towards the ribs on one side of your body.

“One of those things… kicked me,” you say. You wince as you find the place with your fingertips. “Here. When I was on the ground.”

Kratos’s eyes slowly fall to where you’re indicating. At the same moment, you both seem to realize how far underneath your clothes it is. Even with your bodice pulled forward, you can only see a sliver of the ugly, purpling bruise.

Kratos gives you a steady look, as though asking, ‘Are you sure?’ You give him a small nod.

He moves in behind you, so close that your back is nearly pressing against his bare chest. You can actually feel the heat of his body, and you suddenly feel a bit unsteady on your feet.

Get it together, Faye

Slowly, Kratos brings an oiled hand to your side. Then he slips his hand along your ribs, under your dress. With a soft grunt, he works the cream in little circles, touching you further and further underneath your clothes.

His hands never stray. But when his thumb brushes against the tender skin right underneath your breast, you let out a little sigh of pleasure that startles both of you.

“Oh, s-sorry,” you mumble. You make a move to hide your face, but he just keeps on rubbing the cream into your skin with his rough hands.

“No need,” he says.

You manage to refrain from groaning when he finally pulls his hand away. Still, a deep, soulful sigh escapes your lips.

“I thank you,” you say quietly, your whole body alight with relief.

Faye,” he says, drawing your attention.

Kratos waits as you pull your dress back on. Then you turn to face him, feeling uncharacteristically shy.

Kratos, I—” you start to say, but you immediately forget the rest of the sentence.

You’re interrupted as he steps in close to you, towering above you with that encompassing golden gaze. And you watch in utter astonishment as he slowly brings both his hands up to cradle your face.

You look at him with stars in your eyes, lips parted, feeling like you must be having a dream. Your eyes scan back and forth between his. The last time you were this close to him you were naked and pressed against his chest. How desperately you wish you were again.

Kratos leans in so close that his forehead rests against yours. Your eyes trace the deep creases in his face, the ones that seem to harden whenever you’re in danger. By the gods, he’s so old… and yet you desire him more than you’ve ever desired anyone. This world-weary soldier, this hardened legionnaire… completely enraptured by you.

Faye,” he exhales, his voice a low rumble as his lips trace the shape of your name. “I—”

You both startle as someone stumbles into the chamber. You turn to stare at the intruder, who, at this moment, seems just as surprised as you.

Molundir!!” you exclaim.

A moment too late, you and Kratos step apart. But Molli is just grinning at you like a feral cat. You’re immediately flustered beyond words.

Oh, Kratos, this is m… my brother, M-Molun—”

“Oh, don’t worry sis, we’ve met,” Molli says, winking.

Your jaw falls open.

Then your brows knit in mute incomprehension. You whip around to look at Kratos, but he only sighs quietly and looks away. This isn’t one of your brother’s jokes. Somehow, he is telling the truth.

“Wait, WHAT??” you exclaim, but Molundir just grins.

“Don’t worry, sis. I can’t wait for him to tell you the whole story. He’s a real chatty one.”

What are you talking about?” you hiss in Jotun, but he just does a poor job fighting back a smile.

He seems like a nice guy, Laufey,” replies Molli in your native tongue. “Bit of a beefcake compared to your usual type, though. I can’t exactly picture him translating a scroll.

You just glower at him, while Kratos looks back and forth between the two of you.

But you were right, sis,” continues Molli. “I’ve been wallowing in self pity these last few months, but you gave me some food for thought. Turns out I’m not useless. In fact, I think deciding to crash your party was one of my finest moments.”

Your eyes soften as you look at him. Your brother is still the same rogue he ever was. A little emaciated, a little unsteady on his feet, but still your beloved brother.

I’m glad you did too, Molli,” you say. “You saved the entire town.”

I did, didn’t I?” he says, grinning. “For once I was the clever one, not you. I can’t wait to tell everyone back home. And don’t worry… I am going to tell everyone.”

And then, before you can even formulate a retort, Molundir pulls out the realm key.

The room suddenly fills with the Light of Alfheim, and you abruptly shield your eyes. It illuminates your faces and the walls around you in a steady white light. And in its unflinching glare, the picture of what’s happening suddenly snaps into focus. This is the key that you will use to go… home.

Immediately, the spell you’re under is broken. The weight of what you’re about to do forces the air from your lungs.

You’re leaving Midgard. Now.

Kratos stares in surprise at the key too. There is a horrible, long moment where you can see the truth dawn on his face. You wish to every god you've ever heard of that you never have to see him make that face again. Abruptly, he turns away.

Kratos… wait…

You want to cry out to him, to hold him, to let him know that everything is going to be okay. But the thought of saying goodbye to him is so overwhelming that your throat closes over. Your eyes begin to swell with tears. By the gods, it felt like whatever was happening between you two was just getting started. But now… now it’s only coming to an end.

You stare at Kratos’s back, unable to think of a single word you could say to him.

Kratos, please… I… I don’t want this to be how we say goodbye

A clanking sound draws your attention back to Molli. He’s inserted the heavy key into the realm gate, and is about to turn it.

You stare at him, dumbfounded. “Molli…” you say, but his name dies on your tongue.

With a nod, Molundir uses both hands to turn the realm key. There’s a rumble beneath your feet, then a brilliant flash that makes you shield your eyes. The portal immediately glows with a shimmering blue light, casting your long shadows against the walls of the chamber.

Molundir steps in front of the doorway, his thin frame silhouetted against the shimmering bridge to Jotunheim behind him.

You just stand there, frozen to the ground.

Your lip trembles.

Then, a single tear falls down your cheek.

Molundir gives you a patient sigh. Then he breaks into a warm smile, taking a few steps towards you and placing a hand on your shoulder.

He seems to know it before you do.

You’re not coming with me, sister,” he says in Jotun, “Your life is here now. I’m happy for you.”

His eyes flick back in the direction of Kratos, and he gives a grateful nod. “Both of you,” he adds.

You can only blink at him, your eyes wide with incomprehension.

In the gods’ name… how did he know??

But he’s right… your life is here now. With the village. With the people you’ve helped, who think the world of you. With Lymaea and Ragnar, Brock and Sindri, the woodcutters, the fishermen, the young lovers you saved, the fighters who took on Thor’s men, the father and son, the little girl who cheered you on in your fight — the people of Midgard, to whom you’ve become a champion. You belong here. With them.

And… you dare to hope… with Kratos. Whatever is happening between you, you know one thing — more than anything else, more than you’ve ever wanted anything… you just want to be close to him.

As you feel the truth of Molundir’s words wash over you, he walks back and takes the realm key from the keyhole. The blue light of the portal begins to flicker. The teleportation magic has begun, and he needs only to step into it to make it complete.

Goodbye, sis,” he says. “I’m so glad I got to see you again.”

With a whimper of pain, you run up and throw your arms around his shoulders.

I love you,” you say, holding your brother’s thin frame so tightly that he makes a strangled sound. Then he laughs softly.

I love you too, Laufey,” he says. “You make me so proud to be your brother.”

Tears come to your eyes. Despite everything you two have been through together, you never knew he looked up to you this way. You suddenly realize there’s something just as important that you never told him. You pull back, holding him by the shoulders.

The months here were so lonely, Molli,” you say. “But every time I was close to giving up hope, I heard your voice. Telling me to go on and stop feeling sorry for myself.”

He looks startled. Then his features curl into a disbelieving grin. “Truly?” he says.

Yes,” you say, squeezing his shoulders. “I don’t know if I would have had the strength to survive, without you.”

Then that makes two of us, little sister.”

The realm gate makes an ugly sound, seemingly unhappy with the portal staying open.

I guess my boat is leaving,” he says, giving you an apologetic smile.

Please, please, please be safe,” you plead, pulling him close. “Rest and get well again.”

He looks like he’s about to say something, but changes his mind. Instead, he just nods. “I’ll try to be back soon, little sister,” he says as you release him. “Just as soon as the price on my head has cooled down.” He winks again.

“Molli…” you chide him, but you can’t keep the smile from your lips.

Molundir glances back towards the portal. Then he seems to remember something.

Oh… and give my regards to your meathead,” he says. “He loves you so much it’s nauseating.”

Then, he steps backwards through the portal and vanishes in a shimmer of light.

 

 

You stand there, at a total loss, just staring at the place where your brother was a moment ago. And you don’t move a single muscle as the blue light fades from the walls around you.

The world blurs as you watch the last light of the portal go out. Tears prickle at the corners of your eyes. Molundir is gone — headed home to Jotunheim without you. And by the gods… this was your choice.

You stagger at the gravity of what you’ve just done, your hands flying to cover your mouth.

That was it. That was your chance to return home, for good, with no guarantee you’ll ever have a chance like it again. This was your chance to be permanently reunited with your brother, with your friends. Your chance to have the answers you’ve been seeking for nearly a year. All of it gone, because of a man you hardly know.

But a man who you’re hopelessly, desperately in love with.

You sense Kratos’s large presence behind you and turn to face him. To your surprise, he still has his back turned, though his head is hanging.

You take in the sorry sight of him. His shoulders are hunched, his mighty hands clenched into fists. His chest heaves as he takes labored breath after labored breath. He looks utterly distraught… like a man who has just lost everything.

Your eyes go wide in realization, your heartbeat quickening. Kratos wouldn’t have understood your conversation with Molli. He doesn’t know you’re still here.

Slowly, softly, you place a hand on his hulking back.

Kratos wheels around, his jaw dropping straight open when he sees it’s you. His eyes are wide, uncomprehending. But before you can speak, you’re suddenly overwhelmed by the loss of your brother, and the tears you’ve been holding back start to fall.

He… he left…” you exhale softly.

Kratos doesn’t say anything, nor does he touch you, but having his large form so close to you brings a warmth to your chest. He turns to face you completely, and he stands there patiently until you dry the last of your silent, messy tears.

Faye…” he says in a low voice.

You swallow, not yet trusting your voice. You try to inhale deeply a few times, but you can hear the shakiness still in your breath. When you don’t look up at him, Kratos takes a step closer. Your breath hitches as you feel his hand on your shoulder. You truly don’t think you could look him in the eye right now. Your entire heart feels fragile and raw, exposed like a nerve.

Yet the warmth of Kratos’s touch is so welcome that for a moment, it almost distracts you from the ache in your heart.

Faye,” he says again, more forcefully this time, his voice so stretched with emotion that it nearly cracks apart. He squeezes your shoulder, and you slowly raise your eyes to his.

What you see in them surprises you.

His amber eyes are as open and vulnerable as you’ve ever seen them. He looks so incredulous that you don’t know what to say to him. His eyes are darting back and forth between yours, almost as if he’s worried you’ll disappear from his sight if he looks away.

“You…” he swallows, his words slow and labored. “You……… stayed.” His face contorts with the weight of what he’s saying.

You nod softly.

But as with all things when it comes to this man, when the moment counts, you have no idea what to say.

But maybe… what you have to tell him can’t be said in words.

After a moment of hesitation, you step in close to him. Your heart is pounding like a kicking horse, but you force yourself to be calm. Your eyes are wide and vulnerable as you gaze up at him. His eyes are two smoldering embers, so full of longing that it makes you ache.

Then, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world, you wrap your arms around his waist.

Kratos stops breathing.

You pull yourself in tight against his bare, tattooed chest, nuzzling your face against him. Your eyes flutter shut as you hold him close, listening to the steady pounding of his heartbeat. He just stands there, completely unmoving.

But then, after a few long, silent moments… you feel him sigh. The relief in his body is so palpable that it brings a smile to your lips.

It’s as if a weight he was carrying has evaporated into the night air. Some of the tension even seems to drop from his shoulders. He still doesn’t move, but you can feel his breathing deepen with every moment, his breaths ragged, his emotions overwhelmed.

It must be a long time since someone touched him this way, you think.

A few more long moments pass, the only sound his heaving breaths.

Then, your heart skips. Kratos is slowly drawing his big arms around you. You gasp as he pulls you tight against his impossibly strong chest.

You practically melt in happiness, feeling immediately so at home in those arms. In that moment, you feel like nothing could ever hurt you again.

You came back,” you say, nuzzling him again.

You gasp softly as Kratos caresses your back with his big hands. With a deep groan, he pulls you in so close that you can feel his hot breath on your neck.

“Of course, Faye,” he says. His voice is a soft rumble, like a retreating storm.

His lips brush against your ear.

Of course.”

Chapter Text

Eventually, you and Kratos separate. Your cheeks are flushed, your whole body aglow from finally being so close to him. As you finally let him go, he looks down at you with a sort of curiosity, a softness in his eyes that you’ve never seen before. You can’t help giving him a shy smile.

Just then, in the distance, there is an explosion so loud that you immediately think of lightning — yet there are no storm clouds nearby. You and Kratos look at each other. Then he immediately starts scouting the area for danger.

Your heart double-beats as he quickly paces around the chamber, his head on a swivel, searching for threats.

He’s trying to make sure you weren’t followed, you realize.

The sight of him guarding you so vigilantly… it stirs something in you that you cannot name. You yearn to call him back to your side, to press your lips against his, to thank him for coming back to protect you after all…

Another explosion jolts you back into the present.

“We must go,” Kratos says.

You nod. You pick up your axe, letting your warrior’s instincts take over.

There will be time for daydreams later, you think. The night has already brought too many unpleasant surprises. And right now, it is too risky to do anything except return home to your protective staves as quickly as you can.

Kratos seems to agree. Without a word, he picks up Lymaea’s overcloak from the ground and carefully wraps it around your shoulders. Your eyes are trusting as you gaze up at him, watching as he fastens it at the neck. As his hands pull away, he notices your attention.

There is a long, quiet moment where he stares into your searching eyes. He looks like there’s something he wants to say, but then he seems to change his mind. With gentle hands, he reaches back and pulls the hood up over your head, disguising you.

You suddenly remember something he said before you left his home — that you and he shouldn’t be seen together. Now, you can’t help but see the wisdom in that. You’ve been hunted by hostile gods, targeted by inhuman monsters, and… pursued by one of the most dangerous gods in the entire realm. It would be tempting fate too much to be seen with a man who is also being hunted.

You wait as Kratos steps out onto the Bridge of Nine. With a nod, he indicates that the way is clear. As you catch up with him, you suddenly realize how exhausted you are. Nevertheless, you fall into step beside him, wordlessly heading across the bridge towards your home. In the distance, more explosions occasionally echo out. But fortunately, they seem to be getting further and further away. And by the time you’re climbing the mountain to your cabin, you barely hear anything at all.

You do not speak much during your journey. However, Kratos seems to notice that your fatigue is starting to slow you down. Or at least, he knows that your ankle is still giving you trouble. Occasionally he’ll give you a leg up, or offer you his arm as you cross a shaky bridge.

But when your bad ankle finally starts to give out, and you yelp in pain, Kratos just scoops you right off your feet, laying you across his powerful arms just like the night he saved you. And this time, there’s a look in his eyes that is almost… smug.

Kratos!!” you say chidingly, but your voice is full of laughter.

After a few seconds of uncontrollable grinning, you shake your head.

“You’re making me feel less like a legendary warrior, you know.”

He hums deeply in amusement. “I will not tell anyone,” he says.

“You better not,” you warn teasingly.

It’s not long before you’re on your front doorstep, and he gently sets you down on your feet. Your whole body is coursing with a pleasant heat, having been pressed against Kratos’s firm chest for so much of your journey. As you unlatch the door, you feel a full-body thrill as he follows you inside.

 

***

 

You’re both famished from the night you’ve had, and you manage to pull together a makeshift dinner: more of your emergency dried meat, and a few preserved vegetables. It’s not much, but the taste is surprisingly good, and before long, a pleasing warmth has returned to your belly. You also ladle out the last two bowls of deer stew, meant to be dinner for you and Molli, and hand one to Kratos.

Then you take a seat next to him on the bench by the fire, which by now has burned down to a few paltry embers.

As you devour your meal, you can’t help staring at the now-empty corner where your brother slept on his bedroll during his stay with you.

You had that same bedroll in your peacekeeper days. It wasn’t much for comfort, but it was lightweight. And back when you spent most of your days marching, you learned to appreciate the latter more than the former. It doesn’t surprise you that your brother took it with him. But you can't help but be saddened that there are no traces of him left in the cabin. Except for the ache in your heart, it's almost as if his entire visit was nothing but an elaborate dream.

A clinking noise disturbs you from your thoughts. You notice Kratos has set aside his bowl, and is now throwing a few fresh logs on the fire. You watch as he piles smaller kindling at the root of the fire, blowing on it and stoking it back to life.The sight fills you with unexpected joy.

It’s almost like he’s making himself at home. Here.

With you.

Now that you’ve seen to your growling stomach, you’re acutely aware that the man you’ve been dreaming about is sitting right next to you. You rub your hands over your thighs nervously, wondering what on earth to say to him.

I missed you? Stay with me forever?

Let me run my hands over your chest, and we can see where the night takes us?

You shake your head at your own foolishness. What on earth could he say to that? Yet you can come up with nothing else that begins to approximate the strength of your feelings for him.

Being so close to him, yet at a loss for what to say… it reminds you of those first days in his cabin. You watch in quiet contemplation as he picks up an iron poker and turns over a log in the fire, sending a swarm of sparks into the air.

I missed this, you want to tell him. Sitting by your side. Eating. Talking. Laughing.

Flirting with you.

Gods, you feel more like an infatuated schoolgirl than the brave warrior woman you are, and it’s making you too nervous to say a single thing.

But Kratos is here, in your home, and right now… that’s enough for you. With a wistful sigh, you lean forwards, placing your head in your hands and staring into the fire.

Neither of you speaks for a long time. You occasionally steal glances at him, hunched and unreadable in the flickering light of the flames. Your mind wanders back to your time in Midgard together.

You remember how you fought the Revenant together, back to back, your axe and his arrows. How it was the first time you had felt like yourself since your exile.

You remember how he saved you from starvation in the midst of that hellish winter, carrying a deer up the side of a mountain just to make sure you had enough to eat.

You remember how, without hesitation, he murdered three men who wished you harm. And how, that same night, he saved you from the death chill — tethering you to life with just the heat of his body.

You think about how every night since then, you’ve fallen asleep wishing you were back in his arms.

You think of your archery lesson outside his home — those big arms around you, his deep voice soft in your ear.

You think of dining together on his bed. And how, when he leaned back casually, you almost convinced yourself that he was trying to show off his incredible physique.

You think of how he came back for you tonight. How relieved he was to find you safe, and how tenderly he dressed your wounds.

And you think of how, just now, he carried you to the front door of your home like a bride. And how he looked down at you with all the fondness in the world.

I missed you, you want to say. So, so much.

Even when he so roughly sent you away, in his eyes you saw a glimpse of a terrible fondness — a longing for you so strong that it broke through the mask…

A shifting sound snaps you back to the present. Kratos is turning over a log in the fire again, the thick muscles of his arms rippling in effort.

Gods, what an incredible build this man has. You’re glad the darkness hides your blush. It’s not exactly normal for a man his age to be this strong, is it? You wonder, not for the first time, how he came to be this way.

You wonder if he will ever open up enough to tell you.

Soon, a roaring fire has returned to your hearth. And when Kratos finally sets aside the poker, he sits up a little straighter, revealing the hard-cut planes of his abs. One look at his muscular torso is enough to make your lips part, and you can’t help staring. It’s everything you can do not to reach out and touch him, running your hands over every hard contour of muscle.

You didn’t mean for your gaze to linger quite so long, but now you can’t look away.

Eventually, Kratos seems to notice this, looking over at you curiously. His amber gaze is all the more striking in the light of the fire.

He doesn’t say a word as you turn your body towards him. Your leg presses against his, and he must feel it, but he doesn’t make a move to pull away. You lose yourself in his eyes, now overflowing with some unspoken emotion. A few long moments pass.

The soft crackle of the fire brings you back to the present.

Kratos…” you say softly, interrupting the silence. “Why did you come back?”

He grunts. “To offer… protection,” he says.

“Even after what you said?”

He doesn’t immediately reply. His air is one of grim reflection, his frown lines deep as he stares into the fire. But eventually, he lets out a weary sigh.

“An old man’s stupidity,” he says finally.

He sounds conflicted, as though there’s more he wishes to say. Nevertheless, hearing him say those words brings you a sense of deep relief. Maybe it won’t be so hard to repair the damage between you, after all. A sense of happiness and hope fills your heart.

When Kratos notices you smiling to yourself, he raises an eyebrow, and the familiar in-joke makes you laugh unexpectedly. The relief you feel must show on your face, because his gaze lingers fondly on yours for a moment. Though it feels like an age, only a few days have passed since you were happily sharing his cabin with him. For a moment, the valley between you doesn’t feel so vast.

Kratos… how can I tell you what you mean to me?

His loyalty, his affection, his body… it fills you with a desire for him that’s so strong it’s almost a craving. You've never known the touch of a man, not really, but it hasn't stopped you from dreaming about Kratos that way. He eyes you curiously, perhaps trying to make sense of the rush of emotions on your face.

You look down at his big hands, now curled into fists on the top of his thighs. Slowly, you place your hand over top of his.

He stares down at your joined hands for a long moment. It feels like when you first put your arms around him. You get the sense, once again, that you are the first person to touch him this way in a long time.

And then, to your absolute astonishment… his fingers intertwine with yours.

You practically swoon from the sensation of his rough palm pressed against yours. And a little thread of joy laces through your heart when you hear Kratos take a deep breath and sigh. In that sound, you hear something you never thought you would. Peace. Contentment.

A single moment where he’s not fighting the world.

Another long silence stretches between you, the gentle crackling of the fire the only sound. But this time, your heart is pounding like you’re in the middle of a battle.

Kratos… the mysterious hunter, the mighty warrior, the lover from your dreams… he’s allowing you this moment of intimacy.

You’re so wrapped up in the pounding of your own heart that you’re legitimately surprised when Kratos clears his throat.

Faye…” he says, his voice soft. Your lips part as he squeezes his hand, pressing his rough palm against yours.

“Forgive me,” he continues, his voice low and halting. “It is… courageous… to fight for a cause bigger than oneself.”

He raises his amber eyes to yours, and you immediately find yourself almost falling into them, your gaze locked on his, searching.

“Likewise, it is selfish to…” He pauses for a moment, seemingly lost in your eyes. “...to think only of one’s own… desires.” He gives you a significant look, one laced with unspoken promise.

Many seconds tick by as you stare at him, enraptured and incredulous. This may be the first time he’s ever spoken to you unprompted. And it was to talk about his… desires.

You’re so close to him now, your eyes roving over his face — his eyes, his beard, his lips. “You are more than forgiven,” you whisper. You practically shiver as his thumb caresses yours over your joined hands.

He nods, a bit gravely. From the look in his eyes, you sense that he’s waiting for something.

Swallowing, you dare yourself to ask the question that’s been thrumming in your pulse since he followed you inside.

“Kratos…” you say quietly. “Why did you come to my cabin tonight?”

He glances down at your joined hands, then at your lips, your eyes.

“To offer… protection,” he says, with some effort. “From that… god.”

You blink at him in realization. “Oh…” you say, secretly disappointed by his answer. “You mean Thor.”

“Yes,” he says. “To ensure you were not… followed.” You notice a change in his posture. He’s squared his shoulders, his jaw set defiantly, as though the god himself might come charging through the door at any moment.

“I had heard… rumors,” Kratos continues, his eyes steely. “That this god is an… especial danger to women.”

Your stomach drops. This fits exactly with what Lymaea told you. To know that Thor’s actions tonight were part of a pattern of evil, and that you were just his latest target…

Your mind floods with the memory of Thor’s powerful aura. Despite the haze he brought over your mind, you remember it all — his superficial charm, his manipulation of you and Lymaea, his constant efforts to touch you, his spying on your body

Your hand suddenly flies over your mouth. Kratos eyes you closely.

Without Lymaea, Thor might have succeeded in seducing you.

Or worse.

Your throat constricts. You start to breathe rapidly, remembering. The panicked, sick feeling you felt at Lymaea’s overtakes you again. Your face falls into your hands, and your shoulders tremble.

The shame is Thor’s, all the shame is Thor’s

You feel a large, firm hand on your back. A few deep breaths later, you manage to stop shaking.

When you finally raise your head again, there is no judgment in Kratos’s eyes. Only sadness.

“I am sorry, Faye,” he says. From the way his hand tightens on your shoulder, you know he means it.

What is he apologizing for? Thor’s bad behavior isn’t his fault.

You gulp down a few more big breaths of air before you’re able to speak again.

He is a bad man, Kratos,” you whisper, shaking in helpless anger.

“Yes,” Kratos agrees grimly. His tone is even, but you know him well enough to know the force of the rage behind his voice.

“No, he’s worse than that,” you say forcefully, clenching your fists. “He preys on mortal women who can offer no defense against him. He’s a… a monster.”

The cabin goes deathly silent. It suddenly feels as if all the air has rushed out of the room.

You look to Kratos in confusion.

Before your eyes, his features harden into a mask of revulsion. You watch in alarm as his entire body stiffens, as though he’s turned to stone. His eyes are on the floor, refusing to look at you.

I’m fine,” you say, trying to reassure him. “Shaken, but… better. Now that you’re here.”

But if anything, the look on his face only hardens. Slowly, he removes his hand from your back.

You stare at him in disbelief.

Kratos is an enigma. A riddle you can’t solve, a force of nature, a permanent arrow in your heart. You still know next to nothing about him, yet you can’t stay away from him. You can’t get him to open up to you, and by the gods, maybe he never will. Though you don’t dare to hope, the syncopated beat of your heart betrays you.

But by the gods, why does he do this? Why does he keep letting you in, only to pull away??

For one sick moment, you worry that staying in Midgard was a mistake.

No

You remember what Molundir said about Kratos right before he stepped through the realm gate: He loves you so much it’s nauseating.

How would Molli know that?

“How did you meet my brother?” you ask quietly.

Silence.

Gods, if there’s one thing you have no more patience for, it’s his silence.

“Oh, we’re back to this?” you ask sarcastically. It comes out harsher than you intended, but Kratos doesn’t move.

You sigh in frustration.

What would Molli say about this?

And then, as if by magic, your mind seems to correct itself:

What will Molli say about this?

And then, unexpectedly, the edges of your vision go dark.

“Kra…” you trail off.

You see the mysterious black fabric flip by in your peripheral vision.

And you look up just in time to see Kratos, terrified and lunging for you as you fall backwards off the bench.

 

***

 

You hear Molli’s voice in your ear. Only this time, it’s not in your head. You’re really hearing the sound of his voice. It’s tinny, like it’s echoing down a long hallway, but you’d know him anywhere.

“Sister…” says the voice, elongated and distorted. “Did he really never tell you how he drew Odin’s eye that night?”

 

***

 

You are jolted back to the present by Kratos’s firm hands on your shoulders. His eyes are wide with concern, but you’re too spellbound by what you just heard to focus on that.

“Kratos… did you…” you hear yourself mumbling, and you try to force your voice to be clear. “Did you… seek out Odin tonight?”

“Faye,” he says imploringly, searching your face. “You are unwell.”

“I’m fine. Just tired. Please… answer the question.”

He stares at you, his brow furrowing. Then he looks away.

“Yes,” he says. “It was… the only way.”

You blink at him. Then, as your senses return to you, your eyes go wide in understanding.

“By the gods… you distracted Odin so he wouldn’t go to the festival.”

Kratos stares at you, sighing. Then he nods. It’s a slow movement, but in his eyes you see the shadow of what Molli seemed so certain about.

By the gods!” you exhale. You feel your heart being tugged in a thousand strange directions all at once. You look at him incredulously.

“Kratos, you put yourself in incredible danger!” you exclaim.

THEN WE ARE EVEN,” he pronounces.

You gape at him. The forcefulness of his reply has shocked you both. Kratos slowly releases your shoulders. Despite the anger of his response, he suddenly looks conflicted.

“Faye, I…” he trails off, running a hand over his head. “I could not allow you to come to any harm. You are…”

He hesitates momentarily, looking lost. His hands tighten into fists again, and he closes his eyes. He seems to force himself to speak.

“...too… important.”

In that moment, something crystallizes for you.

Kratos was so worried about you that he took on the most powerful god in the nine realms — just to give you a fighting chance. And he wasn’t even going to tell you he did it.

The depth of his loyalty to you is far, far deeper than you had ever hoped.

But does he really care for you as much as Molli said? Or is he just acting out of some sense of obligation?

You need to know the truth. You need to know if what Kratos feels for you is the same as what you feel for him: an impossible, burning desire — far beyond what you have ever felt for anyone. And you need to know it now.

Swallowing, you place your hand over his fist again.

“Kratos…” you say quietly. “Did you really come here tonight just to protect me?”

You search his face, but the mask reveals nothing.

“No… perhaps not,” he says finally.

Your leg presses further against his as you turn to face him.

“Then… why?” you say, your voice a hushed whisper.

Kratos’s eyes are creased, as though he’s carrying a heavy burden. He’s silent for a long time, his body completely still.

You want to pull him back to the present again, like you did that night the told you he was once a soldier. My devoted legionnaire, you had called him, and you had watched his heart open to you a little more.

Just a soldier, he had said, staring deep into your eyes. But I know where my devotions lie.

Kratos seems to be turning something over in his mind, his posture hunched and distant. How you long to cut through his defenses like you did that night. Daring yourself to touch him again, you softly place a hand on the bulk of his shoulder.

But this time he flinches under your touch, his brow furrowing in a look of extraordinary pain. For a moment, his mask seems to crack.

Faye…” he groans. “I cannotit is wrong to…”

He seems to struggle to find the words he needs. He clenches and unclenches his fists. On his face is a look of utter despair.

What is it?” you ask softly. “Please tell me.”

He stares at the floor. “I have… forgotten myself,” he says finally, his voice low and contemptuous.

You can almost feel the self-loathing roiling within him. A wave of pity — and confusion — washes over you. You feel as though you’re missing something obvious, but you can’t guess what it is. All you know is that he didn’t start acting this way until you spoke of Thor.

Does he blame himself for Thor hurting you?

Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong?” you ask, your peaked voice giving away your hurt and frustration.

Kratos sighs, deeply.

But a moment later the mask is back, totally erasing the look of pain, and rendering him unreadable once more.

“It is late,” he says finally, sidestepping the question. His shoulders are hunched, and there’s a heaviness to his voice.

“No matter—”

He raises a hand, silencing you. Then he looks at you apologetically. “I should not have come,” he says, his voice so low that it nearly cracks apart.

Suddenly, he stands. Your heart lurches sideways. And when he heads for the door, you practically panic.

“Wait, please!” you exclaim, jumping to your feet.

He seems surprised by the force of your protest. You take a step closer to him, slowly, like you’re trying not to startle a rabbit. His eyes are two dark pools in the encroaching darkness.

Your heart pounds like a hammer as you stare deep into his golden gaze. He looks so weary, so burdened, that it almost breaks your heart. But there is a terrible, fierce fondness there too. The look of a man who has saved your life half a dozen times and never asked you for a single thing.

You need to know the truth

Taking a deep breath, you dare yourself to say what you’ve desperately wanted to since that first moment you saw him.

Stay,” you implore him, your brows knit pleadingly as you gaze up into his eyes. Your voice is hushed, but you mean it with every part of your soul. He searches your face intently. A whole host of emotions seem to flicker behind his eyes. Shock, despair, shame, guilt, desire

“Stay the night, please,” you beg him again, your voice a desperate whisper.

He swallows. He is only a man, after all. He sees how you’re looking at him — how you’re begging him to stay with both your words and the closeness of your body. And there’s a heat flickering in his eyes that excites you.

But he doesn’t break your gaze, doesn’t even blink. “There is only one bed,” he says, giving you a significant look. Something deep inside you flutters at the intensity of his gaze.

I know,” you whisper, your eyes dancing back and forth between his.

His eyes flash with something you like. Despite himself, he watches you with heat in his gaze as you take a step closer, nearly chest to chest with him. As if by instinct, you place a hand on his enormous bicep, stroking him gently. Then you wet your lips, feeling a thrill as his eyes dart down to follow the movement.

You can see the clench in his jaw, see his nostrils flare as you slowly trail your fingertips over his skin. And this time, you realize with a little shiver — he didn’t pull away.

You tilt your head at him, your hair flowing loosely around your shoulders, and his eyes travel to the bare flesh of your neck. His posture is as rigid as ever, but his eyes are alive with feeling.

Faye—” he starts to say, but falls completely silent as slowly unfasten your overcloak again. The look you’re giving him is vulnerable, yet filled with desire. You unfasten the clips at the neck, watching his face closely. Then you let the heavy garment fall to the floor.

Kratos looks so shocked that for a moment, you wonder if he's just as inexperienced as you. But a moment later, it becomes clear from the glint in his eye that isn't the distant fascination of some teenage boy — this a man's hunger. His teeth grit as he sees, up close, the curves of your body in that devilish dress. You practically tremble from how exposed you feel, yet you feel strangely intoxicated by his gaze. He's looking at you, really looking at you, drinking in your entire body. There’s a devouring energy in his gaze that you’ve never seen from anyone — a desperate, unhindered want that makes your lips part from its intensity. His eyes feast on your breasts, your belly, your hips. His jaw slackens, his tongue wetting his lips. This isn’t mere lust. He’s looking at you like he wants to destroy you. The effect seems to be amplified by how you’re looking at him, because when his eyes return to yours he looks ready.

By the gods… is this what he’s been afraid to show you?

He licks his lips again, the movement of his tongue sending a thrill through your body that goes straight to your core. Kratos is breathing heavily now, his shoulders rising and falling with the effort.

Touch me. Please. Anywhere. I just need it. I need you.

But suddenly, with a pained look, Kratos seems to recoil.

“I… I must not,” he says gruffly, stepping back.

“Why not?” you ask in a low voice.

He takes a deep breath, like he’s trying to ground himself. “You… you do not know me,” he says sternly.

“I don’t believe you,” you say, stepping into his space again.

He grunts. “You are young,” he says.

“So? Just because I’m young doesn’t mean I’m naive,” you say. “And I know a good man when I see one, Kratos.”

He doesn’t look convinced, but by the gods, you want more of him right now.

You place a hand on his bare chest but he immediately grabs your wrist, pulling your arm away and squeezing it in his iron grip.

Your jaw drops open, embarrassed by how much of an effect this has on you. The sudden flush of your cheeks certainly doesn’t go unnoticed by him, and his eyes flash with interest. But he shakes his head. He’s having some fight with himself, you’re sure of it.

A few long moments later he releases your arm, and you let it fall back to your side.

Why would you deny yourself this, Kratos? you wonder. Isn’t your blood just as red as mine? Isn’t your heartbeat thumping in your chest?

Your eyes flick down in realization — you can find out the answer for yourself. Slowly, you bring a hand to the center of his chest again, glancing up at him warily. He grabs your arm again, his fingers wrapping tightly around your wrist. But this time, he doesn’t pull it away.

And this time, you can feel the way his heart is pounding rapidly against his ribcage, the way it drums as he looks at you.

You gasp softly, meeting his eyes, and seeing for the first time just how much he’s fighting himself. His eyes are overflowing with some unspoken emotion, his posture rigid even as his heart betrays him.

A few long moments later, he lets out a sigh, releasing you.

“Kratos…” you whisper. “Have I done something to displease you?”

This seems to wake him up. Your words almost seem to grieve him. “Certainly not,” he says, his voice softer than before.

“Then… why do you reject me?” you blurt out.

The room heavies with your truth.

Your eyes widen when you realize what you’ve said, and your cheeks burn almost painfully. You cast your eyes to the floor, wishing that the dark corners of your cabin would swallow you whole.

Faye,” Kratos says softly.

When you don’t move, he gently lifts your chin, bringing your eyes to his.

To your surprise, his eyes are soft, almost apologetic. Once again, he’s giving you that steady gaze, the one that makes you feel so safe, yet so weak for him. He gently reaches up and pushes a stray lock of hair behind your ear.

“Do not think for a moment that the flaw here is yours,” he says in that low, devastating way of his.

Your eyes fall to the floor. “If you do not want me, just say so, Kratos.”

You hear him huff out a breath in disbelief.

Though you can't seem to meet his eyes, your heart beats erratically as he steps in close to you, your face level with his chest.

You gasp as he slowly brings a hand to the side of your face, cupping your cheek tenderly and drawing your gaze upward, to him. The look he's giving you is almost paternal. It's as though, in a gentle way, he wonders how you could say something so foolish. You can feel the significance of the decades in age that stand between you… but somehow, it just makes you feel taken care of. Wanted. He strokes your delicate cheekbone with his thumb, his touch gentler than you ever thought possible — so much softer than you would have expected from someone like him. You lean into his touch instinctively, your eyes fluttering shut in pleasure.

Kratos

You moan softly, your head turned to the side. The heat of his hand is incredible. As Kratos continues caressing you, you’re powerless to stop the soft sounds of pleasure that escape your parted lips. Gods, you’re so greedy for his touch. You can feel his eyes on your face, and you slowly open yours, giving him a silent come hither look.

Faye…” he groans unexpectedly. “You are beautiful.”

You swallow, your desire for him clouding all the sensible parts of your brain. “Then show me,” you whisper. “Touch me the way you want to.”

Ohhhhh…” he rumbles, his voice so low it’s practically a growl. “You are far too young for that.”

You moan unexpectedly, the force of his words driving a sudden throb at the apex of your thighs. Did he really just say that? Leaning into his touch, you place a single lingering kiss on his palm, watching him the whole time. “Try me,” you whisper.

His hands suddenly grip your shoulders. You gasp at the sudden pleasure of being manhandled. You feel as trapped as if you were in an iron brace.

WOMAN, do not tempt me,” he growls.

Gods, you’re so wet you can feel the weight of it straining your panties. Somehow, you know that he would lose his mind if he knew. “I’m not tempting, Kratos,” you say, your eyes dancing with his. “I’m offering.”

His jaw drops straight open. “Faye…” he groans, drawing out your name. His fingers are clenched on your shoulders, his eyes pleading. His head bows forwards until it’s nearly touching yours. It’s almost as though he’s begging you for mercy.

What would…” he says, swallowing thickly. “What would an angel like you want with an old man like me?”

Why don’t you spend the night and find out?” you whisper.

His eyes go as dark as a moonless night sky. You gasp as he takes hold of your chin, gently but firmly turning your face up towards his. He’s so close now, staring at the soft shape of your mouth. He hisses softly at the sight of your reddened lips, so temptingly wet and parted in desire. His thumb swipes across your bottom lip, tugging it gently, his teeth gritting in pure appreciation at the sight.

Kratos likes what he sees, but you want to show him even more. With a coy smile, you arch your back invitingly, drawing his gaze downward.

Now that he seems to have your permission, he wastes no time examining you from this close. Despite himself, he immediately hisses in pleasure at the sight. The heat of his gaze rakes over every inch of your body this time — down your neck, over your bare collarbones, down to where your breasts are straining the seams of your dress. You’re bigger in the chest than Lymaea, and at this moment, you couldn’t be happier that the bodice is too small for you. The soft curves of your breasts overflow the deep neckline, and Kratos stares shamelessly at them. And the way his brows suddenly knit tells you that he can see plainly how hard your nipples are through the soft fabric.

His jaw slackens with want, a deep groan escaping his throat, not even bothering to be subtle about it. You bite your lip, so proud of the way he seems to be entranced by your body. So proud that you can seduce a man this… experienced. You gasp as his hands find the sides of your face, cradling you possessively and tracing the fine lines of your jaw with his thumbs. He’s drinking in the sight of you, looking over each part of your face. His eyes are everywhere, studying you like an artist would — your hooded gaze, your parted lips, the light flush on your cheeks, your few freckles…

When he looks up at you again, however, his pupils are blown out with lust, his impatient hunger etched into his face. Your heart skips. You’re sure of it now — he wants you. All of you.

His hands slip lower, tracing lightly over your collarbones — so exposed in this dress — and your breath catches in your throat. His gaze is almost feverish now, but you could swear he's drawing out the tease just to torment himself. You gasp softly as he caresses your shoulders, so ecstatic that he’s finally touching you this way. Your heart thuds in your chest, your breaths short and labored.

All this touching, all this teasing is filling you with an unbearable heat. His eyes are molten gold, dissolving you under his touch and making you ache between your thighs. Your wide eyes are searching his, but he looks like he’s barely holding himself back. By the gods, this is torturous. You need more of him right now.

You wrap your arms around his thick waist again, and this time, he doesn’t freeze. A thrill travels down your spine as he pulls you in close, a low sound of satisfaction escaping him. The warm flank of his body is pressed against yours, and you bite your lip in pleasure.

Wordlessly, you take his hand. Slowly, lingeringly, you kiss his palm again, the brush of your lips so tender against his thick, callused hands. He looks conflicted, but he can’t help the low growl that escapes him.

Faye… why not find some boy your own age?” he asks, his voice thick.

You chuckle softly, and the sound seems to make him stop breathing for a moment.

You stand on tiptoe, leaning in so close that your lips brush against his neck. “You’ve been so good to me, Kratos,” you murmur. “You should know I think the world of you.”

From the way his body suddenly stiffens, you’d almost think he was in physical pain. He suddenly turns away, your hands slipping from his neck.

No, by the gods… not this, not again…

You stare at him, stunned, but he’s impossible to read. Your mind reels from the sudden whiplash.

His fists clench in agitation. Yet somehow, you can tell his anger is not directed at you. No… touching you this way seems to have sent him into a full-on war with himself.

His features are fully in shadow when he speaks again.

You would not say such things if you knew what I had done,” he hisses, his voice full of spite.

The finality in his voice… it almost renders you speechless. The air suddenly feels almost too heavy to breathe.

You suddenly remember what Lymaea told you about him.

They say he wiped out half the Pantheon. A hall of gods. He is no ordinary man. He is no ordinary murderer.

Your reply had been equally forceful.

I don’t care what he did. In my time here in Midgard, he has done nothing but assist me.

Slowly, tentatively, you bring a hand to rest on one of Kratos’s giant shoulders. He doesn’t react, but he doesn’t shove you off, either.

“Are you so sure about that?” you whisper.

Kratos doesn’t move at all as you reach out and cradle his bearded face in your hands, caressing him softly with your thumbs. You stare up into his darkened eyes, and you’re shocked by the vulnerability you see there. He looks almost like a frightened boy.

You are worthy of love, Kratos,” you whisper. “No matter what you’ve done.”

His whole body shudders, as if the meaning of what you said might break him apart. Then he gasps for air, his voice nearly splitting.

You… you cannot truly believe… you do not know… I…” he goes silent, completely at a loss for words. His yellow eyes are pained as they stare into yours. But you stare right back at him with all the moral clarity that you built your life on.

In the peacekeepers, you saw horrible things. Decades-old conflicts infecting new generations. Murder. Revenge. Blight. Even war crimes.

Yet your mission taught you that once the fighting had stopped, there was only one direction to go: forwards. And when the weapons of both sides had been melted down into plowshares, there could be a path to redemption… for anyone.

I do believe it, Kratos,” you whisper, caressing his cheek. “I do believe you deserve love. With all my heart.”

It’s too much for him.

Without another word he charges for the door, throwing the bolt aside and striding out into the night. Rushing to your doorway, you see the pale, rippled expanse of his back as he hastens away.

Somehow, you feel that if he leaves now, you will never see him again.

Your heart skips. You’re not going to let him run away from you again, not this time.

“If I knew what, Kratos?” you call out. “That you killed a whole hall of gods?”

He stops dead. His posture is sprung, his shoulders up like the raised hackles of a wolf.

What did you say??” he cries out without turning around.

You swallow.

“I said… I said I know that you’re a god-killer. And it doesn’t matter to me.”

He stands perfectly, completely still. Your heart is pounding, your mind a mess of racing thoughts.

Was that wise? After all this time, you barely know him — by the gods, he’s so dangerous, he’s a god-killer, he’s—

He’s suddenly charging back towards you, up the steps to your front door. His looming shape towers above you.

You’re alarmed, but you stand your ground, sticking out your chin proudly. You’d put yourself in danger to ease the suffering of an innocent soul. Now is no different.

His eyes are liquid metal, glassy and unreadable as he stares down at you. Then he swallows hard, though what emotion he’s fighting down, you couldn’t say.

“You… knew?” he manages to say.

You boldly step towards him, eye to eye, toe to toe. “Yes,” you say. “Almost from the beginning.”

I—” he starts to say. "Faye, you…"

The mask cracks into pieces before your eyes.

Kratos is gobsmacked, his eyes as wide as you’ve ever seen them. He almost looks like he’s about to start crying.

You… knew…” he says again, his voice nearly creaking apart under the strain of his emotions.

You nod. Then, you smile softly at him. Slowly, you reach out and take his hands. This time, the fingers of both his hands intertwine with yours.

“And don’t worry,” you continue. “Now that I’ve seen how the gods behave, I think I’m… beginning to understand.”

There is something so incredulous in his gaze, something so warm and consuming and grateful in the heat of it that you nearly stop breathing. Has no one ever told him such a thing? Has he never talked to anyone about this? You have the sudden, strange feeling that he was a ship lost in a storm, and you are his lighthouse.

“I don’t know your story, Kratos,” you murmur softly, squeezing his hands. “But I know what it is to be an exile. Please… let’s not be alone anymore. I can’t bear another day without you.”

He sputters. His eyes crease with disbelief, his gaze searching yours like you're somehow a dream he's having.

And then, to your absolute astonishment, Kratos wraps you in an enormous bear hug. He pulls you so achingly hard against his chest that it almost like he’s trying to pull you into his heart.

Kratos!!” you exclaim, a happy note in your voice even as he squeezes you far too tight.

When he releases you, he’s still in utter shock. But you stand on tiptoe to reach him, throwing your arms over his shoulders and staring into his watery eyes.

He doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t have to. His hands slowly caress your back, wrapping around you, drawing heat to the surface of your skin. He’s looking at you with his golden gaze like he’s just been handed a new life.

Kratos

He starts to ask you another question: “How—

But you bury your lips in his hairy cheek, giving him a soft, tender kiss.

Kratos lets out a low groan, deep and lingering, like the thunder of a distant storm.

You kiss him again, slower this time, enjoying the press of his course gray-black hairs against your lips. You can’t stop your hands from clasping behind his neck, pulling his massive body against yours. His fingers immediately tighten on your waist, and you kiss him even harder. The hard press of his body against yours as you finally show him how you really feel… gods, it’s everything.

You slowly kiss your way down his jawline. “Kratos, please… stay…” you beg again.

He doesn’t even try to hide his pleasure. His jaw drops open, a delicious groan escaping him. You hadn’t exactly meant to keep kissing him this long, but he feels so good against your lips. You’re pressed so close against him that your nose is buried in his beard, his musky smell more intoxicating than you could have possibly imagined. By the gods, everything about him is so masculine. The hard press of his chest against yours, the low rumble of pleasure in his throat, the heady aroma of his skin, his sweat… gods, you’re already addicted to him.

You gasp as Kratos suddenly embraces you again, groaning soulfully as he gathers you up in his thick arms once more. You moan softly against his cheek, your lips curling into a devilish little smile as you continue to kiss him.

Gods, yes

For a moment, his arms tremble where he’s embracing you.

Then you shriek in delight as he picks you up off the ground, spinning you around in the air once, twice, three times…

Faye…” he exhales softly, setting you down. There is so much disbelief and awe in his eyes as he looks down at you. So much softness and so much desire all at once. As if to punctuate the point, he steals another long look at your body.

And then, before you can even gasp, his breath washes over your neck, followed by the hot press of his lips against your pulse point.

You cry out in pleasure, and he groans against the sensitive skin of your neck. You swear you can feel the low baritone of his voice vibrating in your chest.

His hot, bristly kisses travel up the side of your neck, rough and insistent. Your jaw drops open in ecstasy, and you bring a hand over his where it’s gripping your shoulder, trying to ground yourself. But when he nips at you with his teeth, your knees nearly give out.

"Kratos!!" you exclaim, gasping for oxygen.

Then he pulls off your neck, catching you in his arms as you tremble from the pleasure of him. He huffs out a laugh at the faraway look in your eyes, your lips parted in pure desire. His fingers card through your hair, stroking it out of your face as he gazes down at you.

You want more of this old man?” he growls.

Everything. Please. Fuck.

Let me have it all.

You whimper, nodding at him as you stare up into those incredible golden eyes.

With a soft grunt of effort he licks up the side of your neck, rough and fast, and you gasp like you’re drowning. Your fingers tremble where they’re gripping his broad shoulders. You think if you let go, you might fall all the way to the ground.

Please…” you exhale breathily. You don’t even know what you’re begging him for, but a low growl emanates from his throat.

He pulls off your neck, gently cradling the back of your head in his big hand. And you gasp in delight as he gently tilts your head to the other side and starts kissing down that side of your neck.

Kratos… Kratos…” you exhale, barely able to gasp for breath as he buries his lips against your skin. “Let’s… *mmm*… let’s go inside.”

“As you wish, asteri mu,” he says, planting a final, hungry kiss on your collarbone. His voice is low, but his hands are rough on you, clutching and gripping you in a way that makes you want him.

Your senses are slowly returning to you, though you’re still in shock— by the gods, this is really happening. You’re so happy you could faint. There’s a molten heat deep in your belly, and you swallow. He’s barely touched you. And now he’s here. He’s yours.

You look up at him, giving him a gaze that’s sharp and catlike.

Will you keep me warm tonight, Kratos?” you whisper. "I've missed your touch."

He hums deeply in satisfaction. “And I yours, angel," he says, his voice so low you nearly shiver. "But I will do better than keep you warm this time.”

Your chest heaves with arousal. You’re a complete and utter wreck for him, and you don’t mind it one bit. You blurt out the first thing that comes to your mind.

Who says I’m an angel?

His eyes widen, his hands tightening on your body. His nostrils flare, and you suddenly realize what you’ve said. For an instant, you see the true strength of his desire, the dominant part of him that wants you writhing and naked and screaming beneath him as he barrels you with pleasure.

Without another word, he grabs you, picking you up right off the ground like you weigh nothing at all. You gasp as he gathers you in his arms again, carrying you right back into the house.

You have an angel’s face,” he says roughly. “We will see about the rest.”

And then, for the first time, Kratos grins at you. It’s all hunger and promise, but it’s his true smile, crinkling up the corners of his eyes as he carries you through the doorway.

And you realize, in that moment, that you’d happily spend your whole life trying to see that sight again.

Chapter Text

The young man standing on the side of the road seems much older than his years. Emaciated, he leans heavily on a signpost, out of breath and clutching his side. There was a time, not long ago, when he would have run down a narrow mountain trail like this one just for the hell of it. Now, he can barely walk for more than a few minutes at a time. He wouldn’t normally exert himself like this, but tonight, he's past the point of worrying for himself.

All he knows is that his sister is in trouble. She would never tell him that, especially not with him in his current condition. But he knows her too well. She left carrying an axe and clad in full armor, and that means people are in danger. How many, he couldn’t guess. But in his satchel he carries a stoppered potion bottle and an empty bowl that (he hopes) will have the power to stop whatever it is his sister is afraid of. But time — and his body — are not on his side. Grimacing, he attempts to push himself to his feet and manages a few wobbling steps before diving for the support of the sign again. This is bad, and he knows it well.

But he hears someone coming. He cranes his neck in time to see a beast of a man barreling towards him on the path. It looks like this stranger has had a hard night too — he’s out of breath, a look of grim determination on his face, and there’s a thin sheen of sweat all over him. The stranger has a mean look to him, to be sure, but with any luck, the younger man will be able to gain his assistance.

“Hey! Hey stranger! I don’t suppose you could help a poor wretch like me walk down to the village, could you?”

“No,” comes a booming reply.

“I promise I’m no trouble,” the young man singsongs. But the stranger merely thunders by, without sparing so much as a glance in the other’s direction.

As the stranger hurries down the hill, however, the young man unexpectedly laughs.

“That’s a nice tattoo,” he says.

The stranger ignores him.

“You wouldn’t happen to know my sister, would you?” he calls out, a little louder. “Swings a big axe, really hates injustice against the weakest of us? Goes by Faye?”

The stranger stops dead. He doesn’t turn around, but he cocks his ear in the direction of the young man, who grins. The hulking stranger hasn’t said anything, but he’s listening now.

“Unless, of course, you’re a different man with a red tattoo who makes my sister blush whenever his name comes up.”

The stranger turns around, livid.

“If this is a trick—”

The young man places a hand over his heart. “On my honor as a soldier — well, former soldier, though you wouldn’t know it to look at me — yes, Faye is my sister.”

The older man stares. And he really is old, a fact only accentuated by the deep lines of his scowl and furrowed brow. Despite the seriousness of the situation, the younger man fights down the urge to burst out laughing.

Really, sis? This guy?

But he forces himself to sound neutral. “I’m not surprised she didn’t mention me,” he says. “I tend to make myself unwelcome.”

The older man takes stock of the younger for the first time. He notices the heavy way he’s leaning on the signpost, and the way he’s still catching his breath despite holding still. A look passes over his face that’s almost pitying, though he quickly conceals it with a grim mask.

WELL?” states the older man impatiently.

“Listen, brother, I’m going to be straight with you. I think she might be in trouble tonight. Bitten off more than she can chew at some kind of festival.”

The older man’s strange yellow eyes glimmer in recognition.

“But I can help,” continues the younger man. “I have—” he descends into a coughing fit, which he manages to fight through. “I have protective magic. Strong stuff. But I’m no good to anybody if I fall off the path. I need your help.”

The older man grunts. Then, after a long moment of consideration, he offers his huge arm.

“Much obliged,” says the younger man.

Leaning heavily on the stranger, the young man manages to stay on his feet for a few dozen paces, but his strength doesn’t hold. On a particularly steep section of hill he pitches forward — and if not for the quick grasp of the stranger’s hands on his shoulders, he would have surely hit the ground. Or worse.

The young man is chagrined. “Thanks brother. Just need a minute.”

The stranger grunts. “You are too slow.”

“That’s an understatement. I mean, look at me.”

The stranger looks up, and somehow the younger man knows he is appraising the distance to the village.

“I must carry you,” he says in a low voice.

“Alright, so long as you don’t tell my sister I was your damsel in distress. She might get jealous.”

The stranger actually growls, which amuses the younger man to no end. But the stranger allows him to climbs up onto his back, piggyback-style, and together they take off rapidly down the hill.

Only a few seconds go by before the younger man is talking again.

“You’re not her usual type, I’ll tell you that much,” says the younger man. The stranger pretends to ignore him.

“Look, you’re doing me a solid favor here. I may as well do the same for you. So here’s some free advice. My sister is a force of nature. She might look small, but don’t ever try to stand in her way when she sets her mind to something. Though from the way your shoulders just tensed, I’d say you learned that lesson already.”

The stranger lets out a displeased noise, but it could just be a grunt of exertion. The younger man continues on, undeterred.

“She’s a great woman, my sister. We fought back to back in the peacekeepers, and I never met someone with as strong a sense of purpose. It brought her many admirers, though she never seemed interested in any of them. If I’m being honest, I don’t think she ever found someone up to her standard. So count yourself lucky, brother. She thinks I don’t notice her smiling every time I tease her about her ‘tattooed man.’ But she does.”

Though he couldn’t be sure, the younger man almost feels that the stranger has… relaxed, somehow. And then, yes, sure enough — the older man lets out a deep sigh.

Abruptly, the young man changes topic. “Do you want to know how to make her happy?”

The stranger suddenly stumbles, though he quickly catches his footing. Then he grunts meaningfully.

“Glad you asked,” says the younger man, not missing a beat. “Listen to her. Show her you love her. You don’t have to say it — she knows actions are louder than words. You shouldn’t have much trouble with that, though. I get the sense you’re not much of a talker.”

The stranger is silent for a long time, the thick cords of his muscles flexing as he carries the younger man down the hill. The village is coming into sight now, distant lights on the edge of the water.

“We’re twins, you know,” the young man continues, as though he’s been asked. “Our parents were trash. Dead-brained social climbers in a useless aristocracy. Always tried to use us to gain favors and status. Especially Faye, because she wanted to please them. She was always the good one, out of the two of us. Did you know they tried to arrange her into a marriage at 16?”

At this, the stranger actually turns his head, his brow furrowed in perplexity. The young man nods knowingly. “Yeah, that was my reaction.”

“The boy was the inbred son of some cloth magnate. Distantly related to our dear ruler, though of course they all said they were. Anyway, he was two years younger than Faye, to make it even more of a joke. My father just wanted access to their business. And my mother, well… it’s complicated. The boy’s family was well-connected at the royal court. But that’s all I’ll say for now.”

The stranger grunts. “Somehow, I doubt—”

“She refused, of course,” continues the younger man, missing the eyeroll from the elder. “It was her first time rebelling. I was an old hand, at that point, but it took a lot out of her. They tried everything to get her to break.”

At this, the older man’s breath seems to catch. He rallies quickly, but to the younger man’s astonishment, he speaks. “Continue,” he booms.

“They started by taking away all her scrolls. She was studying to be a translator, so that was an act of particular cruelty. Then they tried to scare her, saying they’d find her a match even less to her liking. Some elderly minister, some traveling silk trader, blah blah blah. And when that didn’t work, well, they went ahead and scheduled the wedding anyway. Now, to their surprise, Faye agreed to this. She even helped them choose a date. But she was clever about it. You see, nearly two years had passed by then. She played along, pretending to help our mother plan the ghastly affair, and they never suspected a thing. And then, on our 18th birthday, she simply followed me onto the boat to the military school I was being shipped off to, her bag already packed. And there was nothing our parents could do, because by our laws, she was a free adult. Oh, it was glorious.”

The stranger surprises the young man by huffing out a soft laugh. “That does sound like her,” he says quietly.

Something occurs to the younger man. “You didn’t know any of that, did you?” he asks. “I guess I’m not surprised. It was a painful time for her. She really loved our parents and wanted to do right by them. But they betrayed her for their own selfish reasons. That’s the truth.”

The younger man pauses, an uncharacteristic silence elapsing. His voice is more contemplative when he speaks again. “It’s unsurprising to me that Faye found such a calling in standing up for the weak. No one stood up for her.”

The stranger cranes his head around again, a question written on his creased brows.

“No, not even me,” the younger man sighs. “I tried, but… I was already hated in the court by then. In and out of prison. Petty crimes, starting fights, drinking… you name it. See, Faye always tried to please our parents. I just flat-out refused.”

The village is close enough that the bustle of the crowd is starting to become audible, but the younger man seems to be lost in his own stories.

“I’ll let her tell you about our time in the peacekeepers. You probably wouldn’t believe half of her feats if I told you. Then again… maybe you would.”

The stranger nods. “I have… seen her fight,” he says fondly. “It is… a fine thing.” The younger man chuckles.

“You’re more sentimental than you look, aren’t you?” he asks. When he doesn’t get a response, he merely smiles in confirmation.

“Alright, Prince Charming. Back to the story. After we returned from the peacekeepers, she became a translator at the royal court. Dissolved herself in her work. I think the trauma of her almost-wedding put her off the subject of love for a long time, because I never saw her with a boyfriend. Never saw her express an interest in anyone, really. Anyway, she quickly became the favorite translator of our dear leader, which surprised no one. She’s always had a strange knack with languages. Say, speaking of which…”

Wait,” says the stranger. Both men are silent as the older one quickly moves them into the shadows next to the path. They are fortunate the darkness is so impenetrable on this night — otherwise, they may well have been spotted by the armed sentry that quickly hurries past them.

After a long moment, the stranger checks for further enemies. Finding none, he continues along the path to the village, though with more care this time.

“I didn’t even get to the best part, brother,” says the younger man. “I heard Faye talk to her best friend about wanting to learn Greek. Would you know anything about that?”

The stranger actually trips, his whole body tensing up before he somehow manages to catch his balance. The younger man grins in amusement.

“Yeah. She really likes you,” he says.

The stranger surprises him by actually replying.

“You notice a great deal for one who is always talking,” he says.

“Call it a gift.”

The village is close enough now that both men are able to make out some figures staggering around the city gates. But at the same moment, they both seem to realize that there are heavily armed sentries posted at the exits — big men with swords and shields, who look about as out of place as they possibly could.

“Heads up. Guards. They look like tough customers.”

The stranger grunts. “They are only men.”

A commotion inside the village suddenly grabs their attention. What they had assumed were cries of drunken revelry are actually screams of terror. By the gods… something is already happening inside the village. But when the stranger realizes the guards are laughing at this situation, he growls, wasting no time.

Skirting the wall of the village, the stranger comes upon the first of the guards. He quietly sets down the younger man, who seizes the opportunity to lean his full body weight against the wall. Despite his weakness, he is all smiles as he watches the stranger sneak up on the guard and snap his neck. Only a moment later, he does the same for the second guard, who is dead so quickly that he doesn’t even make a sound.

With a grunt of effort, the stranger grabs the bodies of both men by the collar, one in each hand, and drags them into the bushes nearby.

The younger man looks amused as the stranger approaches him again. “You’re real scary, you know that?”

“Quiet.”

As the seconds pass by, the young man is sobered to realize the screams have grown louder and more piercing. His tone is immediately one of conspiratorial seriousness.

“We’re not too late, brother, but I need you to get me in there. See that tree? I can cast a protection stave, it’s like a—”

The stranger nods, picking him up and quickly hefting him onto his back. “Faye told me,” he says, spiriting them through the now unguarded gate to the village.

The stranger swiftly makes his way to the heart of the festival, which is fast descending into chaos. Underneath his feet, he crunches the bones of undead ones trying to pry themselves out of the soil. The two men make it to the outer reaches of a large assembled crowd, only to find, at its center —

Faye.

Both men’s jaws open as none other than Faye, Laufey the Just, The Witch Warrior, beloved champion of the village… squares off against a ring of enraged draugr. The stranger looks ready to lunge in after her, but the younger man clicks his tongue.

“She’ll be fine. We fought worse bastards in the peacekeepers. Don’t underestimate her. She’s fire in human form.”

When he doesn’t move, the younger man speaks more urgently.

“From one soldier to another — get me to that tree, keep me safe, and I’ll make all this go away. On my honor, it's the best thing we can do for her. There are more of those things waking up as we speak. Can’t you hear them?”

The stranger grunts but obeys. They skirt the edge of the crowd, doing their best not to draw attention. Not that they could if they wanted to — no one can seem to tear their eyes from the sight of this singular woman sending the undead swiftly back to their graves. The way she moves — it’s almost like a coordinated dance. The older man is so distracted he nearly walks into someone. The younger man resists the urge to tease him about his feelings. Instead, his tone is sober when he speaks.

“She’s special,” he says in a quiet voice. “I know you know that, but… try to take care of her heart, okay? Learn from your mistakes, be there for her when she breaks down, because she always pushes herself too hard. Especially when innocent people are involved.”

The stranger cranes his neck around one last time. But he gives Faye’s brother a firm nod.

“Good man,” he says. “Hey, listen, you can let me down here. Just make sure that no one knocks me over before I get to the tree, alright? That means drunks, dead people—" As the older man sets him down, the young man descends into another fit of coughs, but he forces himself to speak again. "After that… well, based on those guards… I suspect we'll have company."

The stranger stands bolt upright. "We will need a distraction—"

"—to let Faye escape. Exactly what I was thinking, brother. Now, earlier tonight, I saw a giant boulder go crashing down the mountain, as though somebody had thrown it. I thought it was a natural thing, but a few minutes later I saw another one. And then I saw you, all sweaty and mean-lookin', coming down that same path. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?”

The stranger just stares at him, his yellow eyes saying everything he needs to. The young man grins.

“Yep, you're real scary, alright. I'm glad you're on our side. Invite me to the wedding, okay?”

A look of surprise crosses the stranger’s face, and the young man just keeps grinning. “Don’t worry, I clean up fine,” he says, stepping unsteadily into the crowd.

“She mentioned you,” the stranger says unexpectedly.

“What?” says the younger man, looking back over his shoulder.

“Faye. She mentioned you… many times, when we were together. She speaks… very highly of you.”

The younger man looks genuinely taken aback. Then, a watery look overtakes him, and he hastily wipes his eyes on the back of his hand.

“Wow, that’s… something,” he mumbles, quickly blinking away his tears. “Sweet of her. She's better than all of us, and that's just the truth." He pauses, staring wistfully up at the darkened sky. "Wish I was going to be around longer, but… well, fate likely has other ideas for me. So… look after her for me, okay brother?”

The stranger gives him a firm nod.

Suddenly, the ground trembles several times. Then, to the alarm of both men, more undead begin to pry their way out of the earth. The crowd erupts into panic.

The two men lock eyes. And the younger one, as he had learned to do as a soldier, firmly salutes his elder. Then, turning into the fray, he lurches unsteadily towards the base of the great tree.

Chapter Text

Time almost seems to slow down as he gazes down at you with those incredible amber eyes. He carries you across the threshold like a bride, his powerful footsteps matched only by the violent pounding of your heart. Each smoldering moment of his gaze is driving a molten heat in your core that aches with need.

You bite your lip. You can’t help it. Kratos wants you. By the gods, he must have wanted you this whole time. You think back to the moments you caught him staring at your breasts, your body, your face… and as you chew your lip, you wonder how you could have had any doubt about his feelings. He must have held himself back so many times when you were together.

But ohh… Kratos wants you. And not only that — he knows that you want him. The thought is so heady that you feel a tugging in your belly. Before tonight, you hadn’t dared to hope about the depth of his feelings towards you. But now, judging from the glint in his eye, you’re about to find out the answer in a very intimate way.

Kratos

By the gods… you can’t look away from his eyes. They’re molten gold, searching your face as though he can’t believe the sight before him. He called you an angel… and everything in his gaze tells you he believes it. Suddenly, even this distance between you feels like too much.

You nuzzle him softly where your face is resting against his bicep, planting a little kiss on the hard swell of his muscle.

You feel his arms tense around you, holding you against his powerful body. You secretly thrill at the way he’s clutching you — all tight grip and bent fingers — giving you a taste of his strength. You almost can’t believe it, the force of his desire for you. But feeling this wanted makes you throw your head back and sigh.

It’s at this moment that you happen to catch sight of the open cabin door.

“Oh… Kratos, the door,” you murmur, lost in a haze of pleasure.

Grunting, he turns around. He shifts your weight in his arms like it’s nothing, reaching back to pull the door closed from where he so unceremoniously threw it open. You watch him slide the heavy bolt back into place, staring at the thick muscles of his arms.

He seems distracted by his task. But suddenly, he reaches down and tickles your belly with one hand.

You giggle in surprise, squirming in his arms. When he looks back down at you, the edges of his lips curling up, you feel a lightness in your chest that could carry you away. You know that behind this man and his seriousness, there’s a playful side that he only shows to you. You feel so grateful that he’s finally willing to share this side of himself so freely.

With the door now closed, he carries you across the cabin, planting a soft kiss on your forehead. The fire has burned low, just a few glowing embers that throw everything into a soft, warm light. Kratos’s smoldering eyes haven’t left yours since he kissed you. You’re smiling shyly up at him, feeling so vulnerable yet so sexy. And when you touch him, trailing your fingertips down his bare chest, he sighs so deeply that it almost breaks your heart. For a moment, the full weight of his years seems to bear on him. But he looks curious, too. Hungry.

When was the last time he satisfied himself in a woman’s embrace?

When was the last time he got to look at a sight like you?

From the glint in his eye, you would guess it has been a long, long time. Yet the desire in his eyes is powerful. The way he’s looking at you is making you feel things you’ve never felt for anyone. You squirm, pressing your legs together as you cling to him. He seems to notice this, pausing to trail a hand lightly over the length of your body. You gasp, your back arched, your lips parted, panting softly. He’s barely touched you, and he’s unraveling you like it’s nothing.

Your eyes are hazy with pleasure as you gaze up at him. He’s giving you a look so full of heat and promise — so knowing — that you feel an answering slickness between your thighs. You shiver at the thought of giving yourself to a man this… experienced.

He suddenly stops walking, something almost hard flickering in his eyes. You’re confused for a moment. Then you notice the bed, right beneath you.

Oh.

Oh.

You gaze up at him, jaw still slack from how you’re panting. Though you’re inexperienced, you know how delicious you must look right now. You’re draped beautifully across his arms, your body laid out before him like a feast, your breasts straining the seams of your dress. You wet your lips, your tongue lingering in its movements. His saffron eyes watch closely, a deep rumble vibrating in his chest. And as he drinks in the sight of you like this, you become desperate for the friction of his body, for his lips against yours. You never knew it was possible to want someone this way — not just in a greedy way, but in a desire to give him pleasure.

As he looks into your eyes, he seems to know something has changed.

With surprising gentleness, he bears you down to the soft furs of your bed, laying you on your back. Your hair splays over the pillow, your dress fanning out as he gently releases you. The movement brings him down close to you, leaning over your prone body. He takes in the look of doe-eyed pleasure on your face, his eyes searching yours. Something stirs in his gaze, some spark of longing and warmth. He runs a hand through your hair, smoothing it over your ear. In his eyes is written a question: Are you sure?

You try to beckon him with your eyes, but for some reason, he seems to be hesitating.

When he doesn’t move, you wrap your arms around his neck, pulling him even closer. Your plush lips find the bare flesh of his cheekbone, planting a lingering kiss on his cheek. You sigh in pleasure as you notice his eyes drift closed.

Unable to help yourself, you continue to cover his cheek in slow, sensual kisses. Though you kissed his beard before, this is the first time you’ve actually felt the warmth of his flesh against your lips. You groan in intoxication, loving the way his fingers tighten on you.

Faye…” he breathes. Just that, no further thought. Just your name.

Kratos…” you exhale, feeling his name on your lips as you kiss his cheek one more time. “Come to bed.” Your gaze is soft and catlike when you finally pull back, staring up at him adoringly. A mixture of heat and shock fills his eyes, as though he can’t believe you’d ever look at him this way.

He cradles the back of your neck, the roughness of his hand making you shudder. His other hand finds the curve of your waist, your hip, caressing over you as though making sure you’re real.

You’ve never felt so much like a princess, so wanted. Gods, it’s making you want to do reckless things to this man. Breathing deeply, you take hold of his shoulders, pulling him gently towards you, inviting him into your bed.

Please…” you whisper, your brow creasing imploringly. Your fingertips trail through his beard as you lean up to give him one final kiss on the cheek, so close to his lips…

He hesitates a moment, but he cannot resist the invitation. Slowly, he eases himself over you, resting on his forearms and caging you in under his heavy, muscular body. His breath is hot on your neck as he settles against you, his lips brushing your neck, letting you feel the bulk of his weight on top of you for the first time.

Ohhh… ” you exhale in absolute pleasure.

And then, you hear the sound of his heavy breaths, so labored as he feels your body underneath his for the first time. Without a second thought, he folds you into the warmth of his embrace. And as he squeezes you tightly, he groans in deep, soul-shaking satisfaction.

You can’t help the smile that spreads on your lips. You squeeze him back, planting little fairy kisses up the side of his neck. You could almost swear you feel him tremble.

It’s strange — before tonight, at the realm gate, you had never so much as held him in your arms. And yet now, with his warmth all around you, he feels like home — as much as anything ever has to you. Your hands begin to move on his back, exploring him, soothing him, a gentle sigh of satisfaction on your lips.

He seems to like this, if the soft rumble in his chest is any indication. Soon, you feel his whiskers pressing against your neck, a low groan of pleasure in his voice.

And then, he places a gentle kiss on your pulse point.

You let out a little note of pleasure, high and feminine, and it seems to spur him on. Holding you tightly in his embrace, he kisses you more firmly, his beard brushing against your skin, his lips slowly tracing a line up your neck, your jaw…

You bite your lip hard, running your hands more forcefully over the thick muscles of his back. The sensation of his massive, powerful body on top of you is better than any dream, and you pull him down against you eagerly. You hold him so tightly that you can feel the hard swell of his pecs against your breasts.

Kratos

With a soft rumble, he suddenly kisses your cheek.

Another high note of pleasure leaves your throat, your back arching invitingly. You scratch your nails down his back, and he responds with a deep, hungry groan. You feel an unexpected throb in the place where you’re aching for his touch, and you whimper softly in need.

Touch me. Please. I need it. I need you.

Little by little, he’s taking you apart. He must know what he’s doing to you from the way you’re arching against him. But he continues to just hold you, slowly planting soft, leisurely kisses over your cheek. It’s not enough. You need more… more of everything, more of him.

You wrap one leg around his hip, pulling him against you. Then, on pure instinct, you push your hips up against his, something dark and primal wakening in you. “Kratos, please…” you exhale.

Faye!” he moans, your name nearly cracking in his voice. He gasps, grasping you tightly as you continue to rock against him, chasing a feeling you cannot name.

Gods, you don’t care if it hurts. You just want him to show you what it means for a man to love a woman completely. You’d let him turn you inside out if it meant feeling him make you whole.

You let out a long, low moan of pleasure as he finally reciprocates, grinding his hips against yours. And you gasp as he suddenly grips your wrists, pinning them against the bed and nipping fiercely at your neck.

You want this??” he demands.

Please!!” you beg.

Something sifts through your haze. After a long moment that you realize he just spoke to you in Greek. And you answered him.

But all your thoughts turn to air when you suddenly feel the size of what’s pressing against you, what he’s plowing into your belly so insistently. You had thought it was just the bulk of his armored cingulum but —

You moan as he adjusts the angle, the swell of his crotch rubbing you perfectly in the place where you’re craving his touch. You writhe underneath him, mindlessly pulling against his grip on your arms, but he’s too strong. You may be a fearsome warrior, but you’re no match for this brute of a man — and what he wants to do to your body.

Somehow, this is what breaks you. Your eyes squeeze shut and you grind against him furiously, not even caring about the dirty little moans leaving your throat.

Ohhhh…. Kratos seems to like this. His breathing is heavy, his breath hot on your neck as he continues hammering into you. He moans softly next to your ear, his fingers tightening on your wrists. “Lysandra…” he groans.

Your eyes flutter open.

Hmm?” you ask distractedly.

For a moment, Kratos freezes. Then you hear him draw a rough breath of air, pressing himself up.

Kratos… is something wrong?” you ask, your brow furrowing in concern.

Before you can even blink, he’s on his feet, staggering back from the bed with one hand over his mouth. His eyes are wide, his shoulders squared as though he’s bracing for a fight.

You sit up slowly, forcing yourself to be calm. Still… the sting you feel is deep. You wrap your arms around your knees and look up at him, your hurt evident on your face. If there’s one thing that you can’t handle more of, it’s his rejection.

But he’s gasping now, his eyes full of grief, catching his breath like he just surfaced from a deep lake. Then you realize something: this isn’t rejection. This is… remembering. Somehow, you see that something from his past is haunting him.

But you’re not his past. You’re here, trying to forge a path forward with him, with this man who you… who you love.

Your heart aches as he backs towards the door.

“You don’t have to tell me what’s wrong, Kratos,” you say. “But please don’t run away.”

“Forgive me,” he says gruffly, avoiding your eyes. “I will return. I merely… require… a moment.”

His eyes flick up to yours, the barest glimmer of hope in them. He seems relieved beyond measure when you nod at him in understanding. But you swallow down the hurt in your heart as he leaves the cabin once more.

At least he didn’t run away.

Eventually, you get to your feet. And when that feels unbearable, you start pacing around the cabin.

Why? you wonder. Why is it that every time this man lets you in a little closer, he immediately pushes you away?

Is it fear? Trauma? Concerns about his age… or yours? Or is it… something else?

You suddenly remember the way he looked at you those nights in his cabin, sharing your meals. You remember the sparkle in his eye every time you laughed at one of his dry remarks. How he opened up to you more and more as the nights wore on. How once, there was even a moment where you thought he might kiss you, right there on his bed.

It was the evening after the first archery lesson, right as you lay down to sleep for the night. Your ankle was still throbbing from your short walk outside, and he must have noticed the look of pain on your face as you struggled to adjust your blanket. Saying nothing, he had walked over to your side and knelt by the bed, a sympathetic look in his eye. You, on the other hand, had been too stunned to do anything but stare at him. This was the closest you had ever been to him, face to face. Your eyes had traced over the deep creases of his features, the layer of concern in his furrowed brow. Still… even at his age, the handsomeness of his features was something that brought a hot blush to the surface of your cheeks.

“Faye…” he had said, his eyes searching yours. “You are injured.”

“I’m fine,” you had muttered quickly. “Go to sleep.” In truth, you were embarrassed from re-injuring yourself, and you were more blunt with him than you meant to be. But he didn’t move.

Instead, he had taken hold of the blanket, slowly pulling it up over your body from where it had nearly fallen on the floor. And as he took hold of the top edge, slowly pulling it towards your chin, he had leaned in close to you, gazing down at your face with his soft amber eyes. You had stared up at him, lips parting in surprise, and he had eagerly followed the movement. Then his eyes had lingered on your lips for a long time.

In that moment, if he had kissed you, you would have welcomed the softness of his lips with your own. You would have grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled his mighty weight on top of you, just to feel his body the way you had in your dreams.

But he had made no further move towards you, other than to place his hand gently on your shoulder, something almost wistful in his gaze. And on that night, like now, you were as confused as you had ever been.

You had let him pull away that night.

But later, you had watched his face in sleep, staring at his sharp features for a long time. He had looked so striking in the light of the flames. And you wished you could be lying there next to him.

You got used to pining for him. And you tried to explain away your feelings, as if this were a schoolgirl’s crush and not the truth of your very soul. And then, when that didn’t work, you tried to wish him into your waiting arms.

But it was only meeting him where he was that opened the door to what you have now. It was only embracing his unmoving body, as if saying I’m here. It’s okay. that allowed him the space to close his arms around you and finally, finally embrace you.

You’ve been through so much together, you realize. So much hardship and difficulty. Why should the physicality of your relationship be any different? It was only by asking for and telling the truth that you got him to open up to you. It was only you slowly finding those high walls of pain around him, sliding your hand along them until you found the latch, and letting in the sunlight that got you through those walls. Now is no different.

But this time, you cannot be content to just wait. The man you love is out there somewhere, tormented by some agony from his past that still feels fresh.

Screw that.

Picking up your overcloak, you quickly fasten it around your shoulders, grabbing your axe and heading out into the night.

It’s still unusually dark in the woods, but at least now the moon has risen, and you’re able to pick out Kratos’s footprints. Though most of the snow has melted, in the shadow of the mountain where you live, it lingers enough that you can pick up a clear trail to the south.

The trail continues far longer than you first expected, as the twinge in your ankle is quick to tell you. Still, it is odd that he would walk so far. Why would he have wandered so far out of your protection staves?

Yet soon, you find your answer. And it makes you stop dead.

Up ahead, in a clearing, Kratos has collapsed onto his knees, his face buried in his hands. You know this place because it is haunting — tall standing stones, arranged into a circle around a carved stone slab. The place has the air of an ancient cairn — the tomb of some forgotten pagan noble, perhaps. And right now, you notice, at the base of the stones, the first flowers of spring — snowbells — have pushed themselves up through the thin remnants of the winter snow.

That Kratos has collapsed in this place, this place of death and rebirth, is not lost on you. You’re about to call out for him when you overhear him speak again.

Lysandra,” he groans, rocking gently. “Synchóresé me. Synchóresé me.”

Forgive… me?

Though you do not wish to interrupt, a cracking noise echoes from somewhere in the woods nearby. Kratos wheels around, facing you.

“Faye!!” he says in surprise.

But before you can offer any kind of (weak) explanation, you stagger back in alarm. Three enormous stone draugr have staggered into the clearing at once, surrounding you.

Gods!!” you exclaim, but Kratos is already closing the distance between you, clenching his fists and gritting his teeth in fury. You raise your axe and stand back to back with him, as though this is something you do every day.

“You don’t have a weapon!!” you exclaim.

I WILL BE FINE,” he declares. “WORRY ABOUT YOURSELF.”

Alright!!” you say, raising your weapon. “But you must do the same!!

He grunts in acknowledgement.

And then, your thoughts disappear as your warrior’s training takes over. You swing your axe at the first draugr, grimacing in satisfaction as you blow collides with its thigh, slowing it as it screeches in rage.

Dulling your blade on all those draugr in the village has made you wiser to their attacks, and you’re seeing possibilities that you didn’t before. Rather than immediately going for the killing blow, which they defend violently against, you’re starting to disable them piece by piece. Indeed, another firm swing into the same leg makes the draugr stop walking, hissing in rage and slashing at you with its claws.

But you are too fast, ducking out of its way and bringing a sideways blow across its ribs. Almost immediately, your muscles are groaning at you to stop, but the exhaustion of battle is at least met by your new gains in strategy. A few more artful dodges, a few more fast, non-lethal swings of your axe, and you’ve brought the enormous draugr to its knees.

And then, with a powerful war cry, you swing the axe sideways with your entire body weight, lopping off the thing’s head.

Two to go.

Turning on the balls of your feet, you find the second draugr, but you’re momentarily stunned still. Rather than attacking this whole time, the draugr has just been standing there, watching you. There are two sickly red orbs where its eyes should be, but somehow, you know that’s what it has been doing.

Watching. Learning?

You push the preposterous thought from your mind. There is no way for the draugr to learn from each other. They’re mindless undead, that’s all. And with few exceptions, you’ve speedily sent every draugr you’ve encountered back to its grave. There would be no way for them to—

The draugr lunges at your leg, and your eyes go wide with panic.

At the last moment, you manage to pivot out of the way. But the unexpected move has shaken you. Leaping to your feet, you try to shake off these distracting thoughts, raising your axe high over your head.

The draugr charges you again, but this time, you’re ready. As it lunges for your leg, you bring the blade straight down between its shoulderblades, knocking it to the ground. And before it can push its way to its feet, you chop again, and again, and again, until it stops moving.

Two down

Staggering back from exhaustion, you let the head of your axe fall to the ground, gripping the handle like a lifeline. Your whole body racks as you try to catch your breath, swallowing and panting hard. A sharp sound of impact grabs your attention, and your head snaps upright.

Pull it together, Faye. The fight isn’t over.

At the other end of the clearing, you see Kratos squaring off against the last hulking draugr. Their shoulders are squared against each other like two men in a tavern fight, Kratos’s features contorted into a mask of rage.

You watch in utter astonishment as Kratos throws a fearsome punch, catching the dreadful creature upside the head and making it screech.

By the gods… is he fighting the draugr… with his fists??

Your eyes go wide as he connects another blow with the thing’s chest, staggering it, before sending it flying backwards with a powerful kick.

The sight of him fighting like this — defending you — is making your heart do flips. In all your time in the peacekeepers, you never saw a warrior who could fight like this. Not even Molli, when he was at the height of his prime. You watch in amazement as Kratos walks over to the stunned draugr, knocking it back to the ground with another kick before brutally stomping on its neck with one foot, killing it.

He doesn’t take a moment to savor the victory. Instead, his eyes are immediately alert, searching for… for you. When his eyes find yours, you break into a grin — but you can’t understand the look of wide-eyed horror on his face. Then you scream as you feel yourself grabbed from behind, something hulking and impossibly strong pulling you right off your feet and lifting you, kicking, into the air.

Time seems to slow down as you thrash against the unknown assailant. How did you miss its approach?? You shoot a panicked look at Kratos, but it’s quickly replaced with a look of wonder. There’s a fire in his eyes you’ve never seen before, a rage so powerful and inhuman that for a moment you can’t believe it’s him. Then, he roars in rage, his devastating war cry making your breath hitch. Even the draugr seems to take note, pausing as the powerful sound resounds off the mountainside, echoing and scaring the birds from the trees.

Then, everything seems to happen too fast. In three impossibly fast strides he’s crossed the clearing, launching the full weight of his body of the draugr trying to carry you away. He grabs the thing by both shoulders, knocking it backwards and causing it to drop you. In your exhausted state, you fall all the way to the ground, the wind knocked out of you. You scrabble for your axe, but by the time you get to it, you forget what you were doing. Because even from your prone position, you know that what you’re seeing is not normal.

With another monstrous howl, Kratos tears the draugr apart with his bare hands, splitting its body open from its neck all the way down through its ribcage. The thing scratches at him hideously, tearing at his skin, but he is completely unmoved. Grabbing it dread creature by the head, he wrenches its skull around completely backwards, then grabs it by the shoulders and rides it all the way into the ground.

And then, with a fierce cry of rage, he pummels the draugr in the head and torso, the sound of blows and cracking bones filling the air, over and over and over… until there’s nothing left but gray dust.

Then, slowly, he gets to his feet, and you manage to do the same.

He doesn’t move. He just stands there, breathing hard, looking back at you over his shoulder. His body is covered in cuts and scratches, his knuckles bloody, but his eyes are alive with relief. A heavy sigh punches out of him even as he catches his breath.

After a moment, he notices the way you’re looking at him — enraptured, grateful — and something else flickers across his gaze.

You stagger forward, taking a step towards him before you even realize you’re doing it. His amber eyes are steady on yours. Your heart beats faster as you see his huge fists uncurl.

You take a step towards him, then another. His nostrils flare as you close the distance between you. His eyes are a burning question.

You throw the axe to the ground as he turns to face you, squarely, your breath catching in your throat as you take the last step, the one that lets you throw yourself against him, the one that lets him catch you in those huge arms…

Suddenly, his hands are on your body. Firm. Possessive. One hand is at the small of your back, pulling your hips against his, the other cupping your face like he never wants to let you go. His eyes are liquid honey as he takes in the sight of you, staring into your face like you’re the most precious thing he’s ever seen.

And then, with a groan of pure desire, his lips are on yours.

Your eyes roll back as you dissolve into the pleasure of him, moaning against his sudden and ferocious kiss. Kratos is so hungry for you, like he’s been starved for your taste. You practically whimper, his kisses so forceful they’re almost bruising. He groans in pleasure, his voice so deep that you shiver, surrendering to this pure, animal desire that you’ve denied yourself for so long.

You moan senselessly into the kiss, your hands grappling for purchase on the broad span of his back. The heat of his mouth is incredible as his lips capture yours, over and over. Sighing in pleasure, you kiss him back just as ravenously, letting him feel the strength of your desire in the press of your lips. You’ve never kissed anyone this way before, never.

“Oh Faye, Faye…” he moans against your lips.

Kratos!” you exhale, your hands trembling where they’re braced against his huge back. But you keen as his lips are immediately on yours again, claiming your mouth in a way that makes you weak.

Gods, everything about him is setting your nerves on fire — the hungry heat of his mouth as it moves against yours, the firm press of his whiskers against your face, the way his lips part so he can taste you. His hands are hot on your body, exploring, his touch somehow both sensual and greedy.

You suddenly feel his hands encircle your waist, clutching you firmly.

Then, with his thumbs, he gently teases the space right beneath your breasts. You jerk away from the kiss, gasping in pleasure — but he immediately grabs the back of your head and captures your lips again, groaning in satisfaction. You immediately feel so treasured, so adored. He’s devouring you, body and soul, and you never want it it stop.

You suddenly link your hands behind his neck, pulling him against you and sucking on his juicy lips. He groans so hard that you feel it at the apex of your thighs.

You seem to have awakened something in him — he suddenly deepens the kiss, tilting your head to the side. You nearly collapse in desire as he strokes his tongue across the seam of your lips, and you eagerly open up to him. His tongue plays hungrily with yours, threading through your parted lips like it’s something else, and you moan sharply against his lips.

Please,” you whisper as he withdraws his tongue. “More.”

His chest rumbles in satisfaction.

You can’t help the moan of pleasure that escapes your lips as he pulls you tight against his huge chest. Gods, he’s strong. His embrace nearly forces the air from your lungs. If he’s this aggressive with his kisses, you shudder to think what he might do to you someplace more… private. Then he tilts your head with one hand, exposing your neck to him. This time he doesn’t even kiss you, he just seals his lips against your neck and sucks on your flesh, hard. You let out a sound that’s almost ugly, groaning like you’ve taken a hit.

But Kratos doesn’t seem to mind the sound at all. Indeed, you’re making so much noise that he doesn’t seem to want to stop. He turns up the heat in his ministrations, kissing you and giving you hard little bites that make your toes curl.

Oh fuck, Kratos,” you growl, your teeth clenched in pure desire.

His hands are roaming over your entire body, everywhere except for those few places where you're craving his touch. You're whimpering in need when he suddenly licks you, just licks up the smooth curve of your neck, as though he can taste your pleasure right there on your skin. A moan punches out of you, so dirty that you can hardly believe it’s your voice. But the sound seems to affect him, because suddenly his hand is in your hair, tugging. You whine as he exposes the other side of your neck, but you yield to him eagerly. And then his lips are on your neck again, kissing, sucking, biting… and the whole time, the soft rumble in his chest lights you up like kindling.

Kratos, please —”

But all your thoughts vanish as he grabs hold of one of your legs, bringing it up around his hip as he continues to kiss your neck.You feel your eyelids go heavy in desire as he kisses up your jaw, your cheek, your parted lips...

You moan in pleasure, so thrilled to be kissing him again. In a moment of pure instinct, you rock your hips against him, arching your back and pressing your body against his. He practically growls, his voice so low and raw that your skin prickles.

Fayyye…” he groans again, drawing out your name like it hurts.

When he feels your knees start to buckle, he pulls off you with a satisfied grunt. “M-more!” you beg breathlessly.

He grunts in acknowledgement. You gasp as he grips the backs of your thighs, picking you up straight off the ground and wrapping your legs around him. Before you even have time to think, he’s pressing your back against a tree. You moan at being so roughly handled, but Kratos’s lips are on yours again immediately, devouring the sound.

You melt as he plunders your mouth again. But this time, he’s pressing his entire body against yours, grabbing your hips and forcing himself against you as you practically collapse in desire. As he moves, you feel… something pressing insistently against your lower belly. And ohhh… you like that. He rolls his hips firmly, almost aggressively, over and over as he plunders your mouth.

Kratos!” you exclaim, pulling off him to gasp for air. Then your mind turns to fog as you feel his lips suddenly trailing down the sensitive flesh of your upper chest. You draw a sharp gasp, high and feminine, and it makes Kratos growl against your skin. Your core tightens at the sound of it, your eyes unfocused in wordless pleasure as his fierce, hairy kisses claim your skin.

Beautiful,” he groans, his lips moving over your flesh.

Your head lolls to the side as he kisses across the expanse underneath your collarbones, senseless mewls of pleasure escaping your throat. And oh, he seems to like that. He nips at you with his teeth and you gasp, a wave of arousal flooding you from head to toe.

Do you like that?” he demands. You keen in pleasure.

You squeeze your legs around him, pulling him closer. “Yes… please. More…” you exhale, begging him desperately. “Oh Kratos, I want you so badly.”

Kratos groans where his lips are pressed into the space between your breasts, kissing you. You love the feeling of his beard pressed against your skin, of his hot breath flowing over your flesh. You scratch your nails down his back in ecstasy and he looks up at you, amber eyes sparkling, his lips still buried in your chest. He watches your face as he kisses farther and farther down your breasts, and you feel that tugging in your belly again, jerking your attention like the snap of a whip. You hiss as you feel the hot seal of his lips against the upper curve of your breast. Then you moan as he sucks a mark into your flesh, running his hands over you like he’s claiming you. Gods… you think you’ll die right here if he doesn’t stop teasing you.

And then, one of his big hands gently kneads your breast, fondling you through the thin fabric of the dress. You sob in pleasure, his caresses sending a lightning bolt of arousal straight between your thighs. He gently thumbs back and forth over your peaked nipple, feeling your desire for him and watching your face contort in pleasure. You gasp as his lips brush against your ear.

Angel,” he rumbles, his voice low and dark. “You are breathtaking.”

Kra-tos…” you moan desperately, your face distorted in pleasure as you buck your hips against him, searching for friction. “Fuck, please!!” You don’t even know what you’re begging him for, but he chuckles darkly from where his lips are buried against the low neckline of your dress, nudging at the fabric with his lips and tongue.

He plants a slow, wet kiss on your breast, his eyes burning like two golden embers. His hands rove lower on your body, feeling you through your dress, touching the backs of your thighs where your legs are wrapped around him. You moan knowingly as you feel him start to lift up your skirt. Are you really going to do this right here??

Then he licks you again, his tongue stroking over the curve of your breast, and all you can think about is how quickly you could get him home…

Suddenly, a sharp crack resounds through the forest. You immediately jump apart as if jolted by lightning. You barely land on your feet as you reel from the sudden separation, Kratos’s firm grip on your shoulder the only thing keeping you upright. But in your daze, you realize something is hastening towards you, snapping branches in its wake. Something huge.

“Kratos!” you exhale. But he’s already picked up your axe, his head on a swivel as he searches for the threat. His eyes go wide as he stares at the forest just over your shoulder.

“GET BEHIND ME!!” he bellows, and you dive before you even have time to think. Not three seconds later, an ogre bursts into the clearing, its putrid lips foaming in rage.

All at once, you can see Kratos's plan — he’s going to use your axe to charge in and battle that thing up close. You can’t let that happen, you just can’t. You can’t just stand back and watch as he puts himself in that kind of danger.

“Kratos, listen to me,” you say, your voice low and insistent. “That axe is enchanted. It’s soulbound to me.”

What does that mean??” he exclaims.

“It means if you throw it, I can call it back.”

He stares at you in disbelief.

“Try it!” you exclaim as the ogre barrels towards you. “Hurry, just trust me!”

Kratos hesitates a moment, just long enough for you to see the malevolent orange fire in the dread creature's eyes. Then, with a powerful war cry, Kratos heaves the axe at the beast, hitting it squarely in the shoulder and cleaving its flesh. The beast howls in rage, momentarily distracted by its pain.

Now’s your chance. You look inside yourself — into the space created by the ancient, into the void of energy and stars — and summon the axe back to you. Kratos deftly catches it out of the air, grunting in approval. Then he draws his powerful arm back and to throw the axe a second time.

“Die, monster!” he yells in Greek, releasing the axe from his grip, sending it end-over-end towards the beast.

This time it hits the creature square in the forehead, and it makes a horrible sound that seems to resonate in your bones. A feral grin spreads on Kratos’s lips, and he gives you an approving nod. Your heart skips a beat.

Again,” you say in Greek, and Kratos holds his arm up expectantly. The axe flies into his open hand. And this time, as his fingers curl around the handle, you see his face split into a bloodlusting grin. Not only is he the highest class of warrior, you realize. He’s actually enjoying this. Your heart jumps at the sound of his war cries as he cleaves the hideous beast.

A few more deft throws, a few more rapid retrievals of the axe, and the fight is at an end. The ogre stumbles once, slumps forward and spills its blood on the fresh snow. A pitiful howl escapes its prone body, but it does not stir again. The beast is dead.

Once you’re sure it’s really over, you turn to stare at Kratos. He’s catching his breath again, but this time it’s he who moves first. In a few slow steps, he closes the distance between you, pulling you back into his strong embrace.

Faye…” he says, his words creaking with emotion. “You are… unharmed?” His voice is so low you can feel his chest rumble where it presses against yours.

“I’m fine,” you murmur, pulling back to stare deep into his golden gaze. “Thank you.”

His gaze his tender, affectionate. He’s also clearly impressed.

Faye…” he says, his voice gravelly. “How…?

“I told you,” you say with a soft laugh. “The weapon is soulbound—“

To your surprise, he shakes his head. “Not that,” he says softly, his eyes filled with a light that you’ve never seen before. “The Greek.”

You feel your cheeks turn pink. He’s caught you being what you are — an avid scholar of obscure languages, not just the fierce warrior he knows you as. You wonder what he will think of you now.

“I… learned it,” you say sheepishly. “Well, some of it. From my friend Lymaea.”

“For what reason?” he asks.

You laugh in surprise. “Because of you, Kratos.”

He makes a pleased sound, placing a hand on your shoulder and kissing your forehead.

“How did you know that was my mother tongue?” he asks, his eyes shining.

“I… I had a guess, when we first met,” you offer weakly in explanation. “Your clothes… it was that or Latin.”

Kratos actually laughs, a single booming chuckle that reverberates in your sternum. He pulls back to gaze at you, his eyes alight with amusement.

“I am not some conquering Roman,” he exclaims. “Nor am I Greek. I am a Spartan, by blood and by bond.”

Sparta? By the gods, has he really come all this way just to be here in Midgard?

“Then what are you doing here?” you blurt out. Your eyes go wide as soon as you realize what you’ve said. The smile fades from his lips.

But to your great relief, he cradles the nape of your neck in one of his big hands and strokes the hair off your forehead with his other.

“Another time,” he murmurs, returning his gaze to yours. His eyes are soft as they gaze down at you, the fear of losing you and now the nearness of your body seeming to loosen something in him. You have the strange feeling that he might be willing to answer at least one of your questions.

“Kratos… who is Lysandra?” you ask quietly.

He sighs, but he smooths his hand over your hair again. There’s a weariness in his eyes, but also a kind of patience as he looks at you.

“I had a wife,” he says. “In Sparta.”

Oh,” you say quietly, your eyes falling to the dusting of snow at your feet.

“I loved her very much,” he says.

Though your heart feels like it might crack in half, your curiosity leads you to look up at his face again. A sad smile creases one side of his mouth.

“Yes… I loved her very much,” he says, nodding to himself.

You are too stunned to speak. This is the most he has ever told you about himself, and you scarcely dare to breathe, not wishing to break the spell.

“When she was killed, I thought I would never know happiness again,” he continues. “But you, Faye…”

He suddenly looks into your eyes. “Holding you. It reminded me of the last time I was happy. You… reminded me of her. And… for a moment… I thought I was with her again. I am… sorry.”

You grasp his hands instinctively.

“It’s okay,” you say forcefully. And he can tell from the look on your face that you really mean it.

You take a deep breath before you continue. “Kratos, I… I’m sorry too.”

He looks surprised. “For what reason?” he asks.

“I… I pushed you,” you say, averting your eyes. “In bed. I could feel you hesitating, but I… I was greedy.”

He hums thoughtfully. “You are a good soul, Faye. You have… no need to apologize. I am just an old man, haunted by old ghosts.”

“I know,” you say, your fingers interlacing with his. “Thank you for choosing this life with me.”

He looks stunned. But in his gaze you also see his gratitude, how thrilled he is that you’re willing to show him this patience. He softly touches your face. And then, he kisses you again.

You moan gently into the kiss. His lips are so warm and soft, his motions so soulful this time. Despite the heat building in your belly, the way he’s kissing you is almost… chaste.

A chill wind blows through the clearing, and Kratos wraps you in his embrace before you can even pull the overcloak around you. You chuckle affectionately, gazing up at him, just a little bit embarrassed by how much effect his touch has had on you.

“Come back inside,” you say softly. “We don’t have to go to bed, I just…”

“I want to, Faye,” he says. “But, I…” he trails off, seemingly uncertain how to finish the sentence.

“We’ll go slow,” you say, your tone decisive. “I’ll take whatever you want to give, but I won’t rush you.”

To your surprise, he just laughs. It’s an actual laugh, deep and rich, and it affects you so much that you feel a tightening in your core.

“Faye,” he says, eyeing you. “If you knew what I wanted to do to you, perhaps you would not be so eager.”

His tone is teasing, but his eyes are on fire for you. Your jaw falls straight open.

“Oh…” is all you manage to say, a hot flush flooding your cheeks.

He kisses your forehead chastely.

“Let us return to your home,” he says.

You nod. Then, after a moment of thought, you correct him. “Our home,” you say. You don’t stay to see the look of shock on his face. You merely hurry ahead on the path home, grinning to yourself so hard that your cheeks begin to hurt.

You are both quiet and thoughtful on the walk home. You both seem to know that something has changed between you, for the better. And when you reach your door, you walk through it together, your hand in his. There is a warm energy stretched between you, but you’re not so blinded by desire as you were before. Still, Kratos stays close by you. And even the way he unclips your overcloak and hangs it from a peg thrills you. This is a new kind of intimacy, one that — somehow — stirs your heart as much as everything sexual you’ve done. You almost feel like you could tell him anything.

Indeed, as you stare at your bed again, you feel the need to clear the air.

“I… I’m sorry to hear what happened to your wife, Kratos,” you say, placing a hand on his arm. “No one should have to endure that kind of loss.”

He stares at you, his eyes unreadable, seeming to be at a loss for words. Then, one of his big hands comes to rest on your shoulder. His eyes search yours like he’s reading them.

“She would be happy,” he says. “That I have found love again.”

Chapter Text

“I… I’m sorry to hear what happened to your wife, Kratos,” you say, placing a hand on his arm. “No one should have to endure that kind of loss.”

He stares at you, his eyes unreadable, seeming to be at a loss for words. Then, one of his big hands comes to rest on your shoulder. His eyes search yours like he’s reading them.

“She would be happy,” he says. “That I have found love again.”

You gaze up at him, eyes wide in disbelief, your heart pounding like a blacksmith’s hammer. Surely you must have heard him wrong.

But no, his gaze is steady on yours, his hand squeezing your shoulder.

You suddenly feel lighter than air, as though any breeze would carry you off your feet. After a few seconds of complete speechlessness, a slow smile spreads its way across your face.

“Kratos!” you exclaim, unable to help the grin now on your lips. “Did you just… tell me you love me??

His hand caresses your shoulder, a twinkle playing in his eye. “Mm,” he says. “I suppose I did.”

You can feel the blush on your cheeks, the happy tears pooling in your eyes. “How can you say that?” you ask, a gentle tease in your voice as you wipe your eyes on the back of your hand.

He steps in close to you, stroking your cheek. “Easily,” he says in a low voice.

Your body thrums with a nervous excitement, so much that you can hear the tremble in your voice when you speak again. “B-but… y-you hadn’t even kissed me before tonight, Kratos,” you stammer. “You… you had barely even touched me.”

He cradles your face in his hands, leaning in so close to you that you can feel his breath fanning over your face. “Now that I have kissed you, Faye,” he says, resting his forehead against yours, “there can be no doubt.”

And then, as you stop breathing, he presses his lips against yours.

You sigh softly as you melt into the kiss, your eyelids fluttering closed. The movements of his lips against yours are so achingly soft and sweet. He’s in no hurry, and neither are you. Kratos kisses you like he’s treasuring you, like you’re the most precious thing he’s ever held in his hands. By the gods, you feel so wanted. The sensation is heavenly, and you know it must be the same for him. Your hands lace together behind his neck, pulling him against you, and his chest rumbles in approval.

When you finally separate, your eyes are hooded, your lips curled in a sleepy smile. Kratos gives you that paternal stare again, running his hand over your hair and cradling the back of your head.

Eventually, he releases you, and you notice a shadow of uncertainty in his eyes. After a moment of confusion, you think you understand. You shared a moment of incredible passion in the woods, true, but now you’ve agreed to take it slow. His eyes search yours, as though he might find guidance there. You’re consumed by the need to reassure him.

Slowly, you take his bearded face in your hands, staring up at him rapturously. “Will you spend the night with me?” you ask softly.

For a moment, his eyes fill with something incredulous. Like he never thought you’d look at him this way. Then you giggle as he suddenly kisses you again, a soft groan leaving his throat. And you gasp as he nips at your bottom lip before pulling away.

“So,” he murmurs finally. “I was not dreaming, earlier. An angel has invited me to share her bed.”

He must see the utter infatuation in your eyes, the way his words nearly knock you off your feet, because the corners of his lips curl up.

Beautiful,” he says in Greek, stroking your cheek with the backs of his fingers.

“You are shameless, Kratos,” you murmur softly, your eyes dancing with his.

“Not I,” he says, tickling your chin.

You giggle in surprise, trying to wrench yourself away, but find yourself suddenly trapped in his powerful embrace. He growls as he squeezes you tight.

“You’re so strong!!” you laugh helplessly, pushing against his arms but finding no give at all. He seems to like that, a low rumble of pleasure sounding in his chest.

You’re panting in exertion and arousal when his arms finally loosen on you. In his eyes is a fondness that you have only caught glimpses of before. Then his teeth find your neck, nibbling you gently but firmly, and you nearly collapse in his arms.

He’s so gorgeous. You almost can’t handle the way he’s touching you, the gentle way his fingers caress the small of your back. The way he looks down at you with a light in his eyes that makes him seem decades younger. The way he embraces you, like he never wants to let you go.

Somehow, you don’t need words for what happens next. As he slowly releases you, you glance down at your damaged dress, and he nods.

Kratos turns away, walking back to the fire. You hear him throw another log on the embers, stoking it back to life. You can’t help watching him for a moment, this scene of cozy domesticity. You would never have guessed that simply having him in your home would bring you so much joy.

You walk to the simple wooden chest where you keep your clothing, sifting through it until you find the soft linen slip that you sleep in. Glancing back over your shoulder, and seeing that Kratos is still turned away, you quickly pull Lymaea’s dress all the way off.

Immediately, you feel good to be out of it. It was Thor, after all, who insisted you wear something so terribly… out of character.

Still… you can’t forget the way Kratos looked at you in such feminine attire. Perhaps, one day, you can find someone in the town willing to make you a new dress.

By now you’ve pulled the linen shift all the way on. It’s a simple garment, hanging down just below your knees, with nothing holding it up but two thin straps over your shoulders. It’s not terribly form fitting, but the fabric is thin, much thinner than the dress you had on.

Somehow, you think that Kratos will like that. At least, you hope he will. Your skin is marked in many places with scars, and fresh draugr wounds besides. Somehow in your heart you know he will not mind, but it doesn’t stop you from feeling self-conscious about your body. You run your hands over your thighs, suddenly too nervous to look back at him.

“I’m dressed,” you say softly.

There is a long silence. You continue to stare at a spot on the floor just ahead of you, your shoulders heaving from the effort of trying to breathe slowly. The silence is killing you, but eventually, you hear Kratos’s footsteps crossing the room towards you.

After everything that’s happened, you can’t help feeling shy. Vulnerable. You’ve never been this undressed in the presence of a man before. Your back is still turned, but when he gets close, you dare yourself to look back at him over your shoulder.

He stands still for a moment, looking down at you with those unreadable amber eyes. But then, he slowly places his hands on your shoulders. And after a moment, he caresses you with his thumbs. You sigh softly, letting your eyes drift closed.

“How are your injuries?” he asks quietly.

Ah… you knew it. The worst of the draugr scratches must be visible on your body now. You swallow.

“Fine, thank you,” you say. “The healing balm took away most of the sting.”

“Do you… require more?” he asks. Distractedly, his fingertips trail down your back, and you can tell he’s appraising your wounds.

“Tomorrow, yes… if you don’t mind helping me put it on again.”

He leans in close, rubbing his nose against yours, and you break into a surprised grin.

“I think I can manage that,” he says softly.

Your eyes dance with his as he pulls away, lingering just a bit too long as he pushes a curl of hair behind your ear. Gods, does this man ever light you up.

“Shall we… go to bed?” you ask softly.

He gives you a significant look. He hooks his thumb in the belt of his waist armor, eyeing you, as though something is weighing on his mind. Your eyes drop down to what he’s wearing — his armored cingulum, and a simple one-shouldered piece of chest armor.

Your cheeks have a rosy glow when you return your eyes to his, the amber color of his gaze seeming to smolder. Then you nod, trailing your fingertips greedily down his bare chest. With a knowing look you turn away, letting him undress out of sight.

As you hear Kratos shifting behind you, a nervous energy courses through your body. By the gods, what does he wear under that? Anything??

You search for a distraction, busying yourself by straightening the bed. Your bed isn’t much — just a simple wooden frame with a straw mattress, some wool-stuffed pillows, and a few heavy blankets made of stitched furs.

But as you arrange the pillows, you hear a soft groan of pleasure. A deep blush comes to your cheeks. You realize what you must look like, bending over the bed, wearing nothing but a thin nightdress. Kratos must be drinking in the sight of you. And you like it.

You swallow, continuing to make up the bed as best as you can for two people. But it’s hard to stay focused on your task. You hear the clanging of a buckle unfastening, and the thud of leather and metal as he sets down the heavy garments. Then you thrill as he walks up right behind you once more. You feel a gentle hand on your waist, caressing you softly, and you slowly turn to face him.

And then, when you see his body… your jaw falls straight open.

Ohh…… Kratos is glorious.

You stare. You can’t help it. Standing before you is the man you love — muscular, tattooed, and almost completely naked, save for a cloth wrapping around his loins. Your eyes feast on him — from the broad span of his shoulders, down his muscular torso and abs, over the deep V between his hip bones, down to the thick muscles of his thighs and calves. The effect is amplified by the dim light of the fire at his back, which throws the contours of his muscles into stark relief.

He notices you staring, gazing down at you over the proud jut of his chin. When you finally look up at him again, there’s a twinkle in his eye that makes you bite your lip.

Well then.

With one final glance back to make sure he’s looking, you crawl into the bed, knowing full well what kind of view you’re giving him.

By the time you’re peeling back the covers, shifting over to make space for him, one of his knees is already on the bed, the wood frame straining under his weight. His eyes are locked on yours as he eases himself in beside you, shaking the entire bed. It clearly wasn’t built for two people, but at the moment, that feels like the furthest thing from a problem. You roll onto your side, making room for him. Then you gaze back over your shoulder at him invitingly, enjoying the flash of hunger in his eyes.

The bed rocks slightly as he hitches himself even closer to you, so close to you that you feel the heat of his body. He settles in behind you, your back to his front. You sigh softly as his head comes to rest against the back of yours, his hot breath on the back of your neck. And then, for a long moment, he just… lays there.

You’re facing away from him, with no idea what he’s thinking. There’s a part of you that’s still worried for him, and a part that still feels stung about what happened earlier. Should you just leave him be? If he doesn’t embrace you, could you turn around and embrace him? Should you?

But you flood with relief when he finally places one of his big hands on your hip. You immediately place one of your hands over top of his, encouraging him.

You bite your lip as he smooths his hand over the sweet curve of your waist, sighing in pleasure at his touch. You can feel the way his rough hands catch on the fabric of your slip, the way the skirt wants to ride up as he caresses you.

You yearn for him to wrap you his arms around you, but he almost seems to be waiting for something. You take hold of his hand, and he lets you move it. Your heart is pounding as you bring his hand up to your lips, kissing along each of his huge knuckles.

Keep me warm?” you ask softly, a feminine lilt in your voice.

Kratos groans softly in arousal, and you realize something. Unlike before, he’s not hesitating. He's holding back.

You moan in pleasure as he wraps his big arms around you. And then, he grabs you, just pulls you straight back against him, the heat of his body enveloping yours just like that night…

Oh, by the gods

Kratos must hear the way you mewl in pleasure, must feel the way you’re clutching at his arms, trying to pull his embrace around you even tighter. Because when he places a tender kiss just below your ear, you can hear the soft way he chuckles. His arms squeeze you reassuringly.

Warm enough?” he asks.

You don’t trust yourself enough to speak, so you just nod, closing your eyes and surrendering to the enveloping warmth of Kratos’s body. Immediately, your body begins to relax, molding itself to the shape of his embrace. A soft cooing sound leaves your lips as Kratos presses another kiss on your neck, but the sound feels distant even to you. Now that your head is on your pillow, you can feel how fast you’re fading. You faced many punishing fights tonight, and your body is sending you all the signals it can that you need rest.

With your last few moments of wakefulness, you think back on the night. After your time in the peacekeepers, you were not naive about what happens between women and men. You saw plenty of your fellow soldiers find matches of a very temporary variety, and certainly there were those who sought that from you, too. You always declined, of course.

But as a result of these experiences, you had always thought of men’s desires as nothing but devouring hunger. Nothing but appetite and the thrill of the chase, the need to get what they want as quickly and roughly as possible. You had assumed that given the chance, Kratos would tear your clothes off your body and take you right in that moment.

But you were wrong. It’s not that he doesn’t want you that way. But everything he feels for you, he feels with love. And a man’s love is no simple thing. Especially not a man as haunted as him. For him to give you his heart, a heart that has already been broken so many times… words can’t describe how grateful you are.

You squeeze his arms one last time, and he responds by squeezing you even tighter.

Goodnight, my Faye,” he murmurs. You smile at the way he says it, the way he makes it sound like you're his.

Sweet dreams, Kratos,” you whisper. “Thank you for… coming back to me.”

Always, my Faye,” he says. “Forever, and always.”

Something tugs at your memory, as though you’ve heard him say those exact words before… but before you can think any more on it, you’ve fallen completely and utterly asleep, still wrapped in Kratos’s powerful arms.

Chapter Text

You fall deep, deep asleep. And for the first time in your adult life you feel… safe.

And it’s all because of him.

You remember, distantly, that night he saved you from the death chill. Through his devotion, he pulled you back from the brink of death using only the heat of his body.

Kratos was full of fear then, his entire body tensed, his arms locked around you like a vice. But you… you were awakening to the most powerful feelings you have ever had for another person. Desire, yes. But more than that. That moment your eyes slid open, his arms around you, your face buried in his neck, your naked bodies pressed together… you knew that you wanted to give him your entire soul.

As you begin to dream about him, his shape fills your heart, his heat wraps around your body, his hands trace the outline of your curves…

It’s not long before the sweetness of your dream gives way to something… sharper.

 

***

 

You’re crying out to the heavens, his face buried between your thighs. He’s lapping at you relentlessly, groaning in intoxicated pleasure.

“You taste like heaven, my angel,” he murmurs in Greek.

You keen at the rich texture of his voice, at the way his words vibrate against your sensitive skin, already so wet for him. His slick finger teases at your entrance, his thumb working your clit — slow and steady as you lose your mind above him.

“Please, please!!!” you cry, trembling desperately, looking down at him over the soft curves of your body.

He huffs out a laugh, eyeing you devilishly from the dark place where he’s feasting on you. He’s so calm as he works you to your edge, even as you beg him for more. He pauses to gently suckle your throbbing clit, teasing you with the suction. You cry out hard, your body jerking with pleasure as you buck against him. But it’s still not enough. You whimper pleadingly, your hand tracing the contours of his bald head.

“Please,” you beg him, dragging your fingernails lightly over his scalp. “Please, Kratos, please… just a little more. I’ll do anything. Please.”

He grabs your wrist, pinning it to the bed.

“Patience, woman,” he says, working his finger in deeper, curling it so you moan. “We have the entire night. And I…” He slips in a second finger, twisting it so you nearly see stars “...am not finished preparing you.”

“P-preparing me?” you manage to stammer.

“Mmm,” he says, humming against your flesh. “My love is not easy to bear, for one as small as you.”

 

***

 

Streaks of daylight are piercing the cabin when your eyes snap open, a pulsing heat between your thighs, a dark flush on your cheeks.

By the immortal gods, what a dream. The need you feel is so strong it almost makes you want to slip your hand down and take care of things yourself.

By the gods, Kratos… you don’t know what you do to me.

Your hand is halfway between your legs before you remember something.

Kratos is here.

In bed.

With you.

Your heart begins to pound. You roll over, and a small cry of happiness leaves your throat. Kratos is right here in your bed, lying on his side, his face relaxed in sleep.

He’s as striking as he’s ever been — fiercely strong, pale, with the blood-red tattoo over his eye. But a quiet joy fills you at the expression on his face — this is the calmest you’ve ever seen him.

Beautiful.

That’s the world that fills your mind, the word that makes you yearn to plant a kiss on his softly parted lips.

He is beautiful.

His amber eyes slit open.

Faye…” he exhales softly, and you grin at him.

And then, your heart skips as spreads his arms, inviting you into his embrace.

You snuggle up to him eagerly, pressing your face against his broad, bare chest. You revel in how perfectly you seem to fit together, your body so comfortable nestled in his powerful arms. His chest rumbles softly in satisfaction.

The heat of him reminds you of that night you spent in his embrace, and you can’t help the shiver that travels through your body.

I missed this,” you whisper.

Mmm,” he says, humming softly in appreciation. “I do not recall a morning like this before.” His voice is thick with sleep, and the simple intimacy of it makes your heart flutter anew.

Kratos slept next to you. Here, in your bed.

He gently pushes a lock of hair out of your face, his striking amber eyes searching yours. He almost seems to not believe the sight in front of him. But you’re here, in his arms, smiling up at him. You sigh contentedly, your eyes dancing with his. As the nearness of his body begins to affect you, though, you can’t help the impishness that creeps into your gaze.

“You’re right,” you say, eyeing him. “I only have mornings like this in my dreams.”

“Is that so?” he asks in a low voice. You see the look of longing in his sleepy eyes, as clear as the light of day.

You don’t let another moment pass before your lips are on his.

He moans into the kiss, and you’re no quieter, wrapping your arms around his neck and pulling his body tight against yours. When he does the same, folding you into his impossibly strong embrace, you feel so adored that you could faint. It’s clear from the way his hands slowly find their way to your body that he’s in no hurry, and you’re ready to take as long as he needs, as long as you get to be with him.

With a soft sigh of desire, you place your hand on his chest, rubbing the firm expanse of muscle and feeling the strength of him under your fingertips. He groans softly against your lips. There’s something warm in his voice, something that almost sounds like amusement… though that quickly fades as you continue to caress him. The tighter you hold him, the more the tip of your tongue dances with his, the more vocal he becomes. It isn’t long before his low grunts start to sound desperate. Hungry. You feel a heady swell of satisfaction, knowing you affect him this way. When you scratch your fingernails lightly over his skin, he groans like he’s taken a hit.

Kratos gives as good as he gets. He caresses your back as he kisses you, his touch achingly soft, his hands careful around your injuries. It’s amazing how well he already seems to know your body. You sigh deeply into the kiss, now running your hand up his side, feeling the taut ridges of his muscles under your fingertips. Your touch is greedy as you explore his thick waist, his chest, his abs. There’s no way he should be this sexy at his age, and yet you can’t help yourself. Kratos groans softly as your hands explore his lower belly, his hips jerking before he can stop himself.

You moan sinfully against his lips. You’ve barely put your hands on him, and yet he’s already so responsive to your touch. You can feel the hunger in his movements, the near desperation in the hard press of his lips against yours. He kisses you as though he’s a man just released from a prison.

Perhaps he is.

Your hands find the broad muscles of his back, and you smooth your hands over his skin — slowly, like you’re soothing him. He lets out a low rumble of pleasure, stroking his big fingers through your hair, tangling the strands. To your surprise, he seems to like this slow, gentle touch as much as the hungrier kind. Your grip slides down the sides of his broad waist, and you smooth your hands over the small of his back, caressing him. You feel him sigh, his breath hot on your face, and you feel his body relax ever so slightly. When your fingertips find the long scar that bisects his back, soothing it gently, you could almost swear that he shudders.

Who else has ever shown him this kind of gentleness?

Who else has ever accepted him, scars and all?

Before last night, you had thought of men’s needs as devouring. Now, despite his tough exterior, you see that Kratos’s heart is just as big as yours. It’s tender, and it needs care and patience. And you’re ready to give him as long as it takes.

Eventually, you pull back from the kiss, flopping down on the bed and smiling up at him. The sight seems to give him pause.

You are so young,” he murmurs in Greek, stroking the side of your face.

“I’m not a child,” you say, sticking out your chin proudly. “I returned from the peacekeepers several years ago, and I — ah!!

Kratos suddenly buries his bearded face in your neck. All your thoughts vanish, replaced by the heat of his lips against your skin.

You love the coarse press of his whiskers as he kisses you, the soft humming sound he makes against your flesh. You moan softly in appreciation, one hand lazily finding its way to the back of his neck, holding him close.

Kratos…” you sigh softly, and he hums in acknowledgement.

His movements are slow, but he’s relentless in his attention to you. He kisses you. He nibbles your flesh, nipping at you and soothing the skin with his tongue. He even sucks on you — teasing you, tasting your flesh, winding you up — until your hand flies over your mouth in devastation.

Oh, you’re amazing!!” you lament in Greek, arching your back, pressing your body against his.

Kratos uses a word you don’t know, breathes it against your neck, his tone so sultry it makes your heart double-beat.

What does that mean?” you whisper, still laid low by his slow, insistent kisses. He pulls back to look at you, raising one eyebrow roguishly. It reminds you of your running joke, where he catches you smiling and makes that face. But this time it all feels… real. After a long moment, looking very pleased with himself, Kratos decides to answer you.

Temptress,” he says in a low voice. Then his eyes sweep your body.

You guffaw. “I look much better without draugr scratches all over me,” you say, looking away. To your surprise, he immediately catches you by the chin, turning your face up to look at him.

“Mm,” he grunts in displeasure. “The only one marking your skin should be me.”

You laugh in surprise, your cheeks reddening at the implication of his words. But he’s right not to tolerate your self-deprecation. Why should you downplay the beauty of your body? You know how you look. And you know how Kratos feels about you. A knowing smile crosses your lips, and your eyebrow raises in interest.

“I still have marks from you,” you say, biting your lip. “From yesterday.” Kratos eyes you sharply.

“Where?” he asks.

You point to the other side of your neck. “Here,” you say, eyeing him naughtily. “And…”

Kratos watches with great interest as you trail your fingertips down your chest, over your bare collarbones and onto the soft linen slip.

Here.” Your fingertips stop on the curve of your breast, and you watch all hint of amusement leave Kratos’s eyes, replaced with something much darker.

Woman, are you asking for another?” he demands, his words a whispered hiss. “Because that is a good way to get one.”

You prop yourself up on your side, coyly leaning your head on your elbow, giving him a view of your curves that makes his lips part.

“I’m asking for whatever you want to give me, Kratos,” you say, eyeing him. “I don’t want to rush you. But you know how I feel about you.”

You hear him give a low, pleased groan, deep in his chest. Then his eyes drift down again, slowly sweeping over your body in the soft linen slip. You’re not wearing anything but panties underneath, and you can tell without looking how hard your nipples are. You’re certain he can see a great deal more of you than he could when you were in Lymaea’s dress, because when his eyes reach your chest, he suddenly sucks air through his grit teeth. When his gaze returns to yours there’s something new there, something rough and impatient.

Whatever I wish to give you,” he repeats. It’s not a question, but you know him well enough to know he is seeking a response.

You nod softly, your gaze sweeping down over your own body before returning to his. His amber eyes flash with something that you like.

You gasp as he suddenly takes you by the shoulders, using his firm grip on your body to roll you onto your back. Your lips are parted, eyes wide, your heart pounding like you’ve just run a footrace.

Oh gods Kratos, take me

But all those thoughts disappear as he kisses you again, possessively this time, exploring your mouth like it’s the first time he ever touched a woman. And he kisses you, just like that, for a long, long time.

Eventually, he pulls away by the smallest amount, panting softly. Your eyes are still closed, his lips still brushing against yours, when he speaks again.

“And what if… ” he says, kissing you, “my wish is to learn…”

He gives you another kiss, long and lingering. “...all that which gives you pleasure?”

His voice is so low and even, you almost miss the hungry edge to everything he’s saying. But as your eyes flutter open, the hard look in his eyes is unmistakable, and you find yourself momentarily speechless.

Before you can think of anything to say, you gasp — his fingertips are brushing the bottom curve of your breast, slowly and sensually, his touch full of promise. Your eyes immediately fog over in desire.

Kratos,” you exhale. “Are you… serious?”

He takes hold of your hand, pulling it to his mouth. You hiss softly as he licks the tip of your little finger.

“Deadly,” he says, not breaking eye contact.

Something deep inside you flutters at the look in his eye.

“I… I don’t have much experience,” you say, your gaze steady on his, even as your heart pounds.

“Mm,” Kratos says thoughtfully, kissing the back of your hand, playing at nonchalance. “Then we will have to discover for ourselves what stirs you, will we not?” He gives you a devastating look.

Your breath hitches in excitement. You can scarcely believe this is happening. But you nod at him again, your lips parted in anticipation.

Kratos cradles the side of your face in one of his big hands, guiding your starry-eyed gaze up to his. “Well then,” he says in a low voice. “What are we waiting for?

You keen in pleasure as he climbs on top of you, mounting you like it’s the most natural thing in the world. You can’t help the low moan of desire that escapes your lips, immediately loving the feeling of his heavy body on top of you. You hiss as he rests his hips on top of yours, his unbelievable need pressing urgently into your lower belly. Somehow, you manage to stop yourself from bucking against him, even though you can feel the heat of his skin through the cloth wrapping, through your slip, through your panties…

But that’s not the part that nearly makes you stop breathing. No, that would be the fact that despite being flat on your back, you and Kratos are now… face to face.

His hot breath fans over your cheeks as he settles his massive weight on top of you. You can hardly believe the fierce look in his golden eyes, the way his breath is huffing, and you stare up at him in awe. Distantly, he reminds you of something dangerous… a bull about to charge? But somehow, all his roughness, his grim manner, his masculinity — it’s all keying you up in a way you’ve never felt before. He’s so close you could almost lift your chin up and kiss him. Instead, you bite your lip, silently begging him to please just touch you

Your breath catches as he slowly kisses you again, caging you in with his powerful body. You melt into the kiss, surrendering to his heat, to every teasing lick of his tongue. His kisses are full of so much promise, so much desire for you.

My beloved,” he says in Greek, gently brushing his lips against yours.

He draws out the syllables — Agapiméni mou — letting you hear how dear those words are to him. You gaze up at him with all the adoration in the world.

My devoted legionnaire,” you whisper, your eyes sparkling.

You sigh as his fingertips trail down your neck, your collarbones, your chest.

He must notice the way your breath hitches as he trails his fingertips over the curve of your breast, because he makes a pleased sound, deep in his chest. And then, you see a spark — something more devilish has appeared in his eye.

His gaze returns to yours as he gently thumbs over your nipple, making you gasp. His touch is so soft, just the barest of brushes over your skin, but it’s enough to make your jaw fall open. He feels your hardened nipple through your clothes, slowly tweaking the sensitive bud, watching you the entire time. You can’t help the soft whimper that leaves your throat, the way your legs press together. You feel a new dampness in your panties, already so wet for him.

Gods, if Kratos knew… if he only knew how wet and ready you are for him

Kratos gently pinches your nipple, making you exhale a soft ‘Ah!’ He makes a pleased sound, playing with you idly, as though he already knows what will light you up. As he continues to caress you, your skin crawls with heat, your blood pumping madly in your ears. You can barely handle the tease… and by the gods, he’s barely touched you.

You pant softly as he increases the friction of his fingers, dragging his fingertips over your nipple, feeling the taut bud grow even harder for him. Your back arches involuntarily, seeking even more closeness with him. He seems to realize this, shifting his weight to give himself more access to you.

You moan as he gently cups your whole breast in his big hand, kneading the sensitive flesh, caressing you. You can’t help the needy way you press yourself into his touch, silently begging him to give you more.

Kratos seems more than happy to indulge you. You watch in sleepy-eyed anticipation as he shifts his weight to free his other hand, and you let out a soft cry of happiness as he cups both your breasts, feeling you up and making you throw your head back in ecstasy.

You’re so turned on that you actually whine when he thumbs over both your nipples, giving your breasts the same sweet attention he’s been giving you all morning. It’s almost too much — the caressing, the petting, the fondling — but you feel so good you could almost float away. You moan softly in satisfaction, your entire body relaxing, your eyes drifting shut.

And then, just when you think you can’t handle any more teasing, you feel the heat of his mouth on you, his breath hot even through the fabric of your nightdress. You moan softly as he kisses your breast gently through the thin material, the movement of his lips slow and sensual. The way he’s moving, it almost feels like he’s worshipping you.

You groan in pleasure as he moves to your other breast, giving it the same thorough attention. Your arms wrap around his upper back instinctively, holding him close. Gods, if his shoulders were any broader, you wouldn’t be able to get your arms around him.

He takes his time with you. This must be his way, you realize. The slow burn you feel in your body is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. He’s touching your breasts, fondling them, playing with them shamelessly through the fabric. And as he touches you, cupping your breasts, squeezing then, he’s kissing your sensitive nipples like a man starved for your body.

Slowly, your eyes flutter open, your lashes batting as his massive form comes back into focus. You gaze down at him as he works, fondly watching him kiss over the soft curves of your chest.

You’re gorgeous,” you whisper, trailing your fingers up the back of his neck. He glances up at you curiously.

“Mm,” he murmurs, nuzzling your breast. “I should be saying that to you.”

“But you are,” you say, your eyes sparkling.

He grunts softly. “Perhaps, as a young man—”

Stop,” you say, touching his face lightly. “Why do you doubt my words, Kratos?”

He’s silent for a few moments, his amber eyes soft on yours.

“Because,” he says finally, his voice gravelly.

“Because why?”

“I do not understand why you would ever want an old soldier like me.”

Kratos,” you say softly, your hands coming to cradle his bearded face. “Haven’t you figured out that I… like that you’re older?”

An expression of genuine surprise flickers across Kratos’s lined face. It’s so incongruous that you can’t help smiling. You tilt your head at him affectionately.

“It’s true,” you say, softly running your fingers through his beard. Ohh, he seems to like that. From his chest you hear a low rumble of pleasure, and the sound of it sends a thrill through you. His head tilts back, and for a moment, he can’t seem to help the way his eyes flutter closed. Gods, he’s reacting this strongly to you, and you’ve barely touched him…

Needing to be closer to him, you pull his shoulders up towards you. He takes the hint, propping himself up just in time for you to wrap your arms around his chest, squeezing him as hard as you can. He makes a low sound of satisfaction, but it’s not enough. You need him to know that your feelings for him are just as powerful as what he feels for you.

With a soft sigh, you plant a sensual kiss on his neck. He inhales sharply in surprise, but doesn’t stop you. The movements of your lips are unhurried as you continue to kiss him, reveling in the feeling of his huge body on top of yours. You inhale deeply, breathing him in, trying to drown yourself in his heady musk. By the gods, everything about him is so masculine. But even as you move with a slow tenderness, you press your lips against his neck firmly.

I don’t just like that you’re older,” you whisper between kisses. “It turns me on, Kratos.”

His hands had been lazily exploring your sides, but how they slide to a halt.

For a moment, you wonder if you went too far. But the soft purr in his chest gives him away.

“And why is that?” he asks in a low voice, his lips brushing against your ear.

You swallow. “You’re… experienced,” you say.

You gasp as he nibbles on your earlobe, tugging with his teeth.

Am I?” he asks in a deep baritone.

You nod, suddenly unable to form any words.

Then all your thoughts vanish as you feel him shift himself lower. You moan knowingly as you feel him lick your nipple through your nightdress, the damp heat of his mouth soaking through the fabric. It only heightens the pleasure you feel, the wetness clinging to your skin like another kind of touch. You let out a stifled moan as he suckles you, his mouth hot on your body. He seems to know instinctively how sensitive you are there, teasing you with his lips, playing gently with the suction.

Mmm — w-wait, Kratos, m-my clothes—” you stammer.

There is no hurry,” he says, his voice a low and full of heat.

He continues licking you, teasing you with the tip of his tongue, lavishing the sensitive bud with attention. Your eyes flutter closed in ecstasy, your arms looping behind his neck. You know the fabric is dulling the sensation of him, but he doesn’t seem to want to undress you. At least, not yet. With a soft sigh, you decide to just lie back and feel all the pleasure he wants to lavish you with, no matter how slow. You watch him with love-drunk eyes, cooing softly as he works you over.

Then you buck against him as he squeezes both your breasts, a little harder than before, making you cry out softly. From the dark look in his eye, you have the sudden, strange idea that he’s somehow… showing you who’s in charge. You stare at him in wonder, your jaw hanging open as you pant from the pleasure of him.

But eventually, even Kratos reaches his limit. Giving you a significant look, he slides his thumbs under the straps of your nightdress, and you moan knowingly as he slips them off your shoulders. Your breathing is fast and shallow as you watch the way he stares at your body, the way he seems to relish undressing you. The ache between your thighs begins to pulse, so intense that you can feel a throb of desire with every heartbeat.

You bite your lip and whine as he slowly pulls down your nightdress, undressing you, peeling the damp fabric down past your breasts. You can't remember the last time you felt this sexy. Kratos seems to agree, completely engrossed as he is by his task. And when he finally reveals your bare breasts, you hear him draw a full breath of air through his teeth. Then he backs up, needing to take in all of you at once.

The soft rumble in his chest tells you he likes what he sees, his eyes greedy as he drinks in your body. You gawk as he adjusts himself, repositioning his member in the cloth wrapping around his loins. His hand lingers a bit too long on himself, and you could swear you could faint from desire. Then he takes in the state you’re in — stripped half-naked, your eyes wide — and he seems to remember your inexperience. Though he’s violently straining the seams of his underwear, his voice is calm when he speaks.

“You are an angel, Faye,” he says softly, his voice thick with need.

“Mmm,” you smile at him, slow and catlike. “That’s funny, I don’t feel like one.” You glance down at the mess he’s made of your clothes, then back up at him, raising one eyebrow teasingly.

Kratos growls, but his next movements are slow and deliberate. Without a word, he lowers himself down to your bare breasts, and you gasp as he teasingly licks your nipple. Then he softly latches onto your breast, taking the silky skin into his mouth, suckling you.

Then let me take you to paradise,” he murmurs in Greek.

Chapter Text

Your lips are parted, the sight before you stealing your breath away. Kratos is eyeing you devilishly as he suckles you, one eyebrow cocked, bobbing his head seductively as he works you over.

Despite everything that happened between you earlier, he isn’t being shy now. He squeezes your breasts firmly in his big hands, his ministrations forceful, his lips tugging your nipple insistently. You moan softly, your body on fire for him as he slowly, devastatingly teases you with the suction of his lips. The heat of his mouth is divine, his soft sucking sounds bringing a sinful warmth to your belly.

“Kratos, you feel so good…” you moan, your fingers trailing up the back of his neck.

With a knowing look, he hums against your skin, sending a jolt of arousal through your body. Gods, the look he’s giving you… it’s stirring your insides as surely as if he were touching you there. Your eyes roll back, your body thrumming with so much pleasure that you feel like you could float away.

But he is touching you, his hands hot on your body as he kneads your sensitive breasts. His fingertips dig into your flesh, enough to let you feel his strength. And in his firm grip, he angles one of your nipples up into the wet heat of his mouth, suckling you hard.

You squirm from the overwhelming tease, whimpering in need. Kratos makes a satisfied sound, a soft rumble in his chest that you feel as much as hear. Gods… you can’t help the way your body responds, your hips bucking against him automatically. His powerful body is on top of yours, and your knees hug his sides, squeezing him desperately as he pleasures you. There’s a glint in his eye as he looks at you, but he just keeps up the same thorough treatment like nothing is happening. And you know why. Despite how forcefully your body jerks against his, you can’t move him at all. His heavy form is pinning you to the bed as surely as if you were tied there.

Mmmm… now there’s a thought

Kratos suddenly lavs over your nipple with the flat of his tongue, and you let out a long, broken moan. You love the feeling of his hot, rough tongue on your body. He’s licking you like you’re a goddamn treat. And by the gods, everything feels so dirty without your clothes on. Your clit throbs with need, and you grasp the back of his head, pulling him against you as you let out another needy moan.

Kratos glances up at you, a note of dark amusement in his eye. Something tells you he didn’t expect you to be quite so forceful about what you want, but you don’t hear him complaining. Seeing the desperate look in your eye, he plants a few soft, teasing kisses on your breasts, the soft brush of his beard bringing you unexpected pleasure.

You are perfect, Faye,” he murmurs between kisses. Then he nibbles you a little, and you gasp in delight. “An angel,” he continues. “Desire and temptation made flesh.”

You’re too far gone to even reply, but you look at him pleadingly, your eyes fogged over with want. Then you arch your back, pressing your breasts up into his face.

This seems to please him greatly. He gives you a few hard licks, groaning under his breath. His movements are so skilled, leaving you guessing — sucking you, licking you, swirling his tongue around the tip, suckling you again… You watch him the entire time, and soon you’re so turned on that you can’t do anything except breathe.

Gods, even at his age… he’s one of the most beautiful people you’ve ever seen.

You drink in the sight of his bearded lips wrapped around your nipple, the stiff bud already so hard for him. His pale skin is flushed with desire for you, his lined face creased with want. The stark red of his tattoo stands out sharply against his moonlight skin, the stripe over his eye highlighting the hunger in his golden gaze.

Your eyes wander lower, to his near-naked body. The powerful muscles in his back ripple as he moves against you, propping himself up on his impossibly strong arms. By the nine realms, this man has a physique that would make even the gods jealous. The thought of him using that strength on you

Oh… Kratos, please…” you exhale, your voice a desperate whisper. You don’t even know what you’re begging him for, but you don’t care — you just know that whatever this is, you need more of it. More of him.

“Please!” you beg him again, cradling his face with one hand, your eyes serious on his.

His motions slow for a moment, but he doesn’t cease exploring your firm young breasts with his mouth.

Patience,” Kratos murmurs in Greek. He gives you a look that’s almost taunting.

You whimper, a note of helpless disagreement in your voice, but you obey, collapsing back against the bed. And then, you surrender to the slow, relentless pleasure he's driving into your body.

And oh… Kratos is relentless.

Kratos makes sure you’re well seen to — licked, sucked, and fondled, his big hands keeping up the delicious pressure on your breasts. You feel so greedy, lying there and just taking it. But you never want it to stop. And gods, the way he’s looking at you, like pleasuring you is the only thing keeping him alive… it’s making you feel things you’ve never felt for anyone.

You want to let him be the one to break you in… to claim your body like it was meant to be claimed… to initiate you into the dark and secret pleasures that await you… to finally make you feel like the woman you are…

Yes, a woman… not a tool to barter for power, as your parents saw you. Not some conquest to be had, as the boys your age seemed to think. Not a hardened soldier, as most of your peers knew you. Not some dull palace translator, living a stifled life in a gilded cage… but a flesh and blood woman.

And Kratos… he’s the first one to see that you really are a woman, with all of a woman’s desires. Even if he has to torment you with those same desires first.

Well… torment is a strong word for what he's doing. As much as he's teasing you, he's doing at least the same to himself, depriving himself of any sort of stimulation while he focuses on your body. Despite how worked up you are, you can't help but feel touched by his attention. You smooth your hand over his head affectionately, looking down at him with soft eyes. Who is this man, who would focus entirely on your pleasure? And yet he's clearly enjoying himself, his breathing heavy, his grunts vocal and needy as he explores you with his mouth.

Then, all your thoughts vanish as he slides a hand up your thigh, under the slip, teasing your flesh with his fingertips. You gasp, your legs trembling where they're wrapped around him. He makes a pleased sound and slides his hand up even higher, almost to your panties. Then he caresses your leg knowingly with his calloused hands, his touch heavy and full of promise.

It's almost too much for you. You pant desperately for a few long, torturous moments, the ache between your thighs threatening to make you do something reckless. Like slide your thumbs under the waistband of your panties and slip them down…

Just when you feel like you can’t take any more, Kratos pulls his mouth off you. You stare up at him, feeling nothing but pure, animal hunger for him.

He can see it in your eyes. His heart-stopping amber gaze is steady on yours, his chest rising and falling as he fights to keep his breathing even. You realize that all this teasing hasn’t left him unaffected, either. Your eyes drop down to where he’s repositioning himself in his underwear, groaning softly as he straightens himself out. It seems to be with great effort that he releases himself, returning his hands to your prone body.

And then, all your thoughts turn to air as he takes hold of your other breast, wrapping his lips around your nipple, licking you like you’re the most delicious thing he ever tasted. You cry out in delight, but he’s not finished with you. He gently pinches your first nipple, still so tender from his attention, and rolls it slowly between his fingers.

You gasp for air, your chest heaving as you struggle to bear all this pleasure. Kratos teases you just like this for the longest time, lavishing this breast with the same thorough attention.

You soak right through your panties. You always do, when you’re with him. But this time, you bite your lip knowingly. You imagine telling him — “Feel how wet you made me, Kratos” — and guiding his hand between your legs. You can’t help the full body shudder of pleasure that rips through you at the thought.

Oh, Kratos…” you blurt out. “You make me want to be bad.”

Kratos groans in satisfaction from where he’s suckling you, his eyes closed, his brow creased in arousal. You whimper helplessly as his hands tighten on your body, gripping you possessively, holding you right where he wants you.

He mutters something in Greek, something you don’t quite catch. Then he roughly lavs over you, his tongue fluttering hard over your sensitive nipple, licking you faster than he ever has.

Gods!!!” you exclaim, the sensation hitting you like an electric bolt straight between your thighs. The red of his tongue is so devilish as he works you over, the look in his eye downright demonic. But Kratos grunts in dissatisfaction.

Do not speak of gods here,” he growls. Before you can think about a response, he latches onto your nipple, suckling you much harder than before, teasing you with the sting.

Ohh!!” you cry, a desperate moan punching out of you. Your eyes squeeze shut as he suckles you forcefully, pinching your other nipple hard between his thumb and forefinger. He’s never shown you his strength this way, never used your body quite so roughly. Your shoulders shimmy from the effort of trying to pull away from him, the sensation nearly overwhelming you. But by the gods… you like it. Something dark is wakening in you, something that makes you want to throw yourself at his feet and beg him for your release.

Oh, K-Kratos, y-you don’t know what you do to me!!” you stammer, and he lets out a rough little laugh.

What I do to you?” he repeats, his voice low and dangerous. “And what is that, angel?” He firmly rolls your nipple between his thumb and forefinger, and you let out an undignified squeal.

I…” you try to say, but your words die in your throat as he thumbs over both your nipples. You hiss in pleasure, arching against him and digging your fingernails into the firm muscles of his back.

He seems to like that, groaning softly as he suckles you again, tugging the taut bud of your other nipple firmly in his fingers. Your teeth clench at the new sensation, a heady mix of pain and pleasure that makes you weak.

What do I do to you, woman??” he demands, a bit more forcefully. “Tell me.” Then you whine as he lavs over your entire nipple, lapping at you relentlessly. You whimper from the overstimulation. You need to tell him how you feel right now, or who knows how he might torment you next…

Oh Kratos, you make me so wet, you always make me so fucking wet…” you grit out. Your voice comes out so low and dirty you can hardly believe it’s you.

His breath catches in his throat, his hands going completely still.

Do I?” he demands. You nod desperately. Now that you’ve admitted it, you can’t seem to stop yourself from telling him everything.

“Even when I was just… just staying in your bed,” you moan. “I… I was so ready for you.”

His eyes flash with something dangerous. Then he removes his hands from your body, crawling forward so he’s face to face with you, his amber gaze smoldering as he looks down at you. Only inches separate your faces now, and you whimper softly in desire.

You gasp as he takes hold of your chin, holding you in place. There is a devastating look in his eye, one that makes you feel every year of experience he has over you. Your brows are knit in pure desire as you gaze up at him, your teeth grit in anticipation. He seems to be making up his mind about something, as though deciding whether or not to proceed with whatever’s on his mind. You don’t want to push him, but by the gods, you’re so turned on he could probably finish you off with just a wink.

“You promised me another mark,” you manage to whisper.

To your astonishment, one corner of his mouth curls up, a knowing smirk appearing on his face.

“Is that so?” he asks, his voice like silk. But there’s something else in his gaze, a dark look that makes your heart double-beat.

Yes,” you exhale.

He stares at you for a long moment, his gaze full of heat and promise. Gods, you love being face to face with those incredible golden eyes. He mutters in Greek again, something low and sultry, and you catch it this time —

Naughty girl.

You gasp softly, feeling your cheeks turn pink.

Then you moan knowingly as he lowers himself onto you, pressing his lips against your neck. “Well then,” he says, interrupting his words with warm, languid kisses. “Who am I… to deny a lady… what she wants?”

You groan softly as his lips explore the curve of your neck, your eyes half open, your gaze out of focus as you stare up at the ceiling. Feeling his bare chest against yours for the first time… gods, it’s almost too good to be real. The heat of his body is like a balm, calming you, soothing you right down to your bones. You can’t help the way you mewl, the way you wrap your arms around him tightly, seeking more contact. You’ve never known there was so much comfort to be had in the embrace of another. But Kratos’s huge form is giving you life in a way you never thought possible.

In another heartbeat, he’s teasing you with the seal of his lips, sucking a mark into your tender flesh. You moan in pleasure before you even fully realize what’s happened.

When it’s done, he chuckles softly.

“You are… sensitive,” he says.

“S… sorry,” you say without thinking.

“Mmm,” he says, kissing your neck. “Do not be. It is a fine thing.”

“Oh, g-good,” you stammer. He draws back, his eyes shot through with heat.

More?” he asks, his voice thick with desire.

You nod again, your eyes hooded in pleasure.

He doesn’t look away from you, doesn’t even break his gaze. But you gasp as he slides his muscular thigh up between your legs, stimulating you in a place where no one has even touched you before. Your eyes are wide — incredulous, grateful — as you take in the knowing smirk on his lips. He moves, just a little, and your teeth grit at the delicious pressure now on your clit. And you suck air through your teeth as he presses against you harder, getting your attention, giving you a taste of his strength.

Faye,” he says, his voice a low rumble. “Rub yourself against me.”

You love him.

Oh, by the almighty gods, you love him.

Chapter Text

You gasp as he slides his muscular thigh up between your legs, stimulating you in a place where no one has even touched you before. Your eyes are wide — incredulous, grateful — as you take in the knowing smirk on his lips. He moves, just a little, and your teeth grit at the delicious pressure now on your clit. And you suck air through your teeth as he presses against you harder, getting your attention, giving you a taste of his strength.

“Faye,” he says, his voice a low rumble. “Rub yourself against me.”

Your eyes are hooded as you gaze up at him, your lips parted, your whole body coursing with desire for him. You feel almost dazed… surely he didn’t just say that. Surely he didn’t just tell you to get yourself off, right here in front of him. You almost don’t dare to hope.

Do you want that?” you whisper, eyes searching his. “Do you want to… watch me?

He eyes you for a moment, his strange amber gaze filled with something hard, something you can’t quite place. He leans in close to your face, his eyes dropping to your lips before returning to your eyes. Then he presses his thigh firmly between your legs again, making you cry out in pleasure.

I can do better than that, angel,” he says, his voice rough with need.

Mercy!!” you cry, and he eases up. You swallow thickly, your heart fluttering at the hungry look in his amber eyes. Despite how you're laying, splayed out on your back, you find yourself nearly gasping for air.

No one's ever touched me there before,” you whisper, your voice a hushed confession.

Kratos raises one eyebrow, looking pleased with himself.

“Mm,” he grunts. “If I do my work well, no one else ever will.”

Your jaw drops, but he gently pushes it closed, holding your chin and guiding your lips up to his.

You moan softly as he kisses you again, his big hands coming to cradle your face. Gods, he could kiss you like that for as long as he wanted. For a few blissful moments, your mind goes completely blank, your thoughts lost in the enveloping heat of his mouth.

Eventually, though, he deepens the kiss, teasing you with his tongue, licking across the seam of your lips. Your hands drift to the firm bulk of his back, drawing him close, smoothing over his impossibly strong muscles. He presses his thigh between your legs again, flooding you with pleasure. You cry out, breaking the kiss, your head falling back against the pillow. But he isn’t done with you yet. He starts to rock his hips against yours, teasing you with his thigh in a slow, devastating rhythm.

You gasp. The unexpected pleasure of it makes your pussy throb where it’s pressed against him. Gods, you love the way his firm, muscular body stimulates you as he grinds against you. Your teeth grit in pure desire, your hands grappling until you find purchase on his broad waist.

Kiss me,” you whisper. You detect a flicker of surprise on his face, but he grants your wish, tilting your face up to his and claiming your mouth once more. You moan into the kiss, but so does he, his powerful hip muscles tensing under your hands as he works you over.

Under such relentless treatment, it isn’t long until you feel your climax bearing down on you. You whimper with need, and he seems to realize something has changed. With a soft growl he tilts your head to the side, snaking his tongue down your throat as you eagerly open up to him. Moaning around the thick intrusion of his tongue, feeling the suggestiveness of what he’s doing… gods, it’s everything.

When he finally relents, you can’t help moaning his name. “Kratos, Kratos…” you whimper, your hips twitching in need.

He groans in satisfaction. Then he’s suddenly claiming your mouth again, his kisses taking on a rougher edge as he explores your mouth. His lips are so hot and devouring, his fingers greedy as they thread through your hair, those big arms pressing the bed down on either side of you as he grinds against you…

Your eyes roll back in your head as he plunders the wet heat of your mouth with his tongue. Your hands grip his back, your fingers digging into his skin. You feel the impossible strength of him just below your fingertips, and all you want is more. You know he’s showing you a taste of his love, but you don’t want to taste. You want to devour him.

Your hands link behind his lower back, yanking his body against yours, holding him in a desperate embrace as you rock against him. He groans again. And somehow, he seems to know exactly what will thrill you.

He plunges his tongue down your throat again, pistoning his hips into you like a sailor on leave, gripping your thigh and hoisting your leg until you cry out in unexpected pleasure. You’ve never felt anything like this, this devilish pressure he’s applying to your clit, this sinful heat that’s pooling in your loins, this dark pleasure of being penetrated by the heat of his tongue. Your chest rises and falls rapidly as you struggle to adjust to the overwhelming sensation.

You suddenly feel a tugging deep inside you, dark and powerful like the snap of a bowstring. Kratos is working over your untouched little pussy so well that you think you might faint. But despite the pace of his hips, he doesn’t relent, and you whine with pleasure. You’re so wet you can feel yourself start to slide against him, and you moan at the sweet, devastating ache of it, wondering how much more of this you can possibly take.

Then his hairy lips find your jawline, and he stitches you up with those slow, devastating kisses you already love so much. He’s holding you so close, his hot breath huffing on your neck…

As you moan helplessly, you feel one of his big hands suddenly come to the inside of your thigh, caressing you firmly.

Your hips jerk needily again, searching for friction.

Faye…” he suddenly breathes into your ear. “Chase your pleasure. Be greedy for it.” Then he buries his lips in your neck, first kissing you feverishly, then sucking another mark into your flesh, and you can’t resist him for a moment longer.

You gasp as you grind against him, meeting the firm offering of his leg for the first time. You hear Kratos growl in approval, and this time you roll your hips against him fully, slow and dirty, moaning in awe.

Gods, this is what it must be like… two bodies tangled together, forcing pleasure into each other… Ohh, by the gods, you would fuck him right now.

Ohhh, Mercy!!” you blurt out in Jotun, your eyes pinched in pure desire. But you can’t stop bucking against him. Your hands travel down his back, pulling on him, feeling the firm wall of muscle. You can’t even budge him, but you pull your body up against his, writhing against him shamelessly.

Kratos growls in satisfaction. He doesn’t understand your tongue, but he knows he’s taking you apart.

Good girl,” he hisses in Greek. "So eager for it.”

His praise goes straight to your core, and you moan like you've been stabbed. You begin writhing against him without embarrassment, rubbing yourself up and down against his leg.

You wonder if he can feel how wet you are

Kratos…” you moan, your voice at once grateful and needy.

He growls in approval. “Do you like that, woman??” he asks, his voice rough.

You nod feverishly, not trusting your voice.

For a moment, he stills, just watching you as you writhe beneath him. Then, he starts hammering his hips against you again, hard. Only this time, you realize how much he's been holding back, how much he's been trying to spare you the sensation of his monstrous arousal. Yet now he grunts in pleasure as he moves, grinding his manhood into your belly with all the dark promise of a man ready to break you in half.

You dig your fingernails into his massive back, hard enough to make him suck air through his teeth. Then you drag your nails down his flesh, feeling the desperate twitch of his muscles, the erratic double-thrusts of his hips. You’re scratching so hard you must be marking his skin, but the greedy movements of his body make you never want to stop.

Soon you’re both sweating in effort. Kratos’s face is still buried in your neck, his vocal little gasps sending heat straight to your core, when your tongue snakes out to lick a bead of sweat off his neck.

FAYE!!” he cries out, and you make a satisfied sound, humming softly in pleasure. You're such a wreck for him after all this teasing, so ready to fall apart beneath him. You set a rapid pace, more rapid than he's given you yet, and the bed starts creaking loudly from the strain.

Kratos lets out an almost pained sound, somewhere between a laugh and a sob. “YES,” he exhales in Greek, throwing his head back.

You chew your bottom lip in satisfaction. Gods, you love this… this brute of a man, this fearsome warrior… panting and groaning as you grind against him. And he can’t seem to help moving against you, his powerful hips thrusting in need, his massive weight pounding you into the bed. You can feel his desperate erection grinding against your hip now, and you moan in tormented pleasure.

Gods, is he ever big…

You gaze up at him with nothing but sin in your eyes. Then, you reach up your body and palm your own breasts, squeezing them, displaying them, giving him a devilish little wink. His breath punches out of him as he groans in approval. You can feel his massive cock as he grinds it into you, stimulating himself even as he fills you with pleasure. You practically shudder at the dark look he’s giving you.

Could you even handle a cock that big? Would it even… fit?

The he braces one arm firmly against your bedpost as he meets your thrusts perfectly. You feel almost greedy, caressing your own breasts, taking your pleasure this way, but you know he wants this as much as you do. And everything feels so good that you do it again, and again, and again.

Soon Kratos’s heavy breaths begin to stutter, his voice lost in grunts of pleasure. You’ve never done this with another, but somehow you know this man is falling apart, right here, because of you. You grind against him knowingly, frantically, all the stamina from your powerful bodies coming out to play. Everything fades away except the heat of his body, the sound of his desperate, clipped groans.

Then you gasp as he suddenly drives a hand up between you, grabbing your breast, kneading your bare flesh firmly, working you over as surely as if he’d done this a thousand times before. You arch against him needily.

Please, Kratos,” you grit out, your voice low and dirty as you feel the first pulses of orgasm rip through you. “Please, please…”

You are two formidable warriors, caught in a battle not for blood, but for desperate, aching release. And you would let him wrestle you into submission if it meant getting to feel more of him, getting to feel him dominate you utterly and completely.

You moan softly at the thought, your eyes drifting closed.

Your breath hitches as he rapidly tweaks your nipples, spreading a dark blush on your cheeks. You’re so sensitive from all his teasing that your body revolts, bucking against him like you’re trying to throw him off. And ohhh… he seems to like that.

Gods, maybe he would wrestle you into submission.

You suddenly cry out as you feel his lips close over your nipple, sucking you firmly, flicking his tongue back and forth over your oversensitive bud.

Oh Kratos, you… you…

You feel his hot mouth on your other nipple, lapping at you messily, tugging the bud with his teeth…

Y-you’re gonna make me come!!

Hnngh!!!” he grits out, bucking against you, your words driving all the sense from him. You gasp as he suddenly tugs your hair, pulling your face up to his. One look at him shows that he’s in no better shape, his brows knit, his teeth clenched, sweat dripping down his forehead and chest as he humps you madly.

Do it then, woman,” he hisses, his eyes shot through with animalistic heat. “Fall to pieces beneath me.”

Both his rough hands are on your breasts now, squeezing you too hard, making you cry out — “Ah! Ah! Ah!!!” Your eyes are pinched in desire, your back arching in pure feminine pleasure. He squeezes you even tighter, his thumbs stroking over your nipples.

Come for me, Faye!!” he groans.

Your eyes roll back into your head as your mind goes white, your body lost to the pleasure of him, your only thought the rapid thrusting of your bodies. A moment later your climax hits you so hard that you throw your head back and scream.

You writhe harder than you ever have, arching against him, your body pinned to the bed under his heavy, thrusting weight. And he rides you right through your climax, his motions unrelenting, his hard grunts audible even through your haze.

Your eyes are pinched shut, your hips stuttering like you're nothing but an animal, driven by pleasure and fear and sex and nothing else. You can hardly believe the filth that comes out of your mouth, the things you beg him for, the things you promise as you lose your mind beneath him. You suddenly whine as he suckles you again, prolonging your climax, drawing it out to a jaw-dropping, white-hot burn.

"Oh fuck… oh fuck… ohhhh Kratos oh oh OH FUCK YOU FEEL SO FUCKING GOOD!!!" you cry out.

From some other plane of existence, you hear him groaning, a deep, rich sound that makes your pussy tremble with need. Gods, he must feel how slick you are, your juicy pussy jumping as you grind it against him.

Then he suckles you again, lavving over your overstimulated nipples like he can’t get enough of you. And oh, you moan. And squirm. And arch against him, softly gritting his name through your teeth. But he just runs his hands over your body, touching you as you come apart, caressing you like he can feel your pleasure right through your skin. The heat of his hands, his mouth, his breath… it’s too much. Gods… Oh, by the almighty gods

You love this man more than you have ever loved anyone or anything in this world…

You keen as the last tremors of your climax echo through your body. You collapse back on the bed, boneless, every thought gone save for the pleasure coursing through your body. Kratos watches every flicker of pleasure in your eyes, seeming to feed on it as he holds you firmly against his body.

Faye,” he says, his voice so low it nearly creaks apart. “That was… beautiful.”

Then he plants a paternal kiss on your forehead, his chest rumbling softly. You can’t help staring up at him in surprise. The gesture almost strikes you as old-fashioned… but so wonderfully, wonderfully sweet. You mewl happily, an exhausted smile on your lips as you catch your breath. “Ohhh I love you, I love you, Kratos…” you pant, your voice low and hushed like a prayer. After a few more deep breaths, you swallow, smiling up at him wickedly.

"That was amazing," you whisper, your eyes searching his. "I can't wait for when we do this for real."

You see his eyes widen.

Then you hear a sharp crack, a splintering of wood like a branch breaking under the weight of a climber. A moment later the entire bed collapses beneath you like a child’s toy.

You cry out in alarm, falling like a stone onto the mattress, and Kratos’s heavy weight lands on you a moment later. He catches himself just in time, propping himself up over your body, his face momentarily as surprised as yours.

The sight is so incongruous that you burst into laughter. When he sees you are unharmed, the familiar scowl quickly returns to his face, and he looks away.

“I guess it really wasn’t built for two people,” you say weakly.

He grunts, his cheeks reddening slightly in embarrassment, and you laugh even harder than before.

Eventually, his gaze returns to yours, a slightly softer look in his eye.

“That was… well worth the trouble of a new bed,” he says in a low rumble. A broad smile spreads on your lips, and you hum softly in agreement.

Then, unable to tolerate even this distance between you, you snuggle up to him. He seems surprised again, but then he groans softly — you’re kissing his neck slowly and tenderly in appreciation. He slowly eases himself down onto his back. You scramble on top of him, holding him close, your head collapsing on his tattooed chest as you squeeze him tightly.

I love you, Kratos,” you murmur, and he grunts in approval.

And I you, my Faye,” he says.

By the time your breathing evens out, your eyes are drifting closed. The heat of his chest is lulling you into a deep, satisfied haze, all your problems slowly fading from your mind. You’re nearly asleep when he speaks again.

“I believe it is my duty to craft you a new bed, after this,” he says. You chuckle softly.

Mmm, leave it,” you say, snuggling up to his chest. “The day will wait.”

You sense that he has some objection to this, but he grunts, letting his head fall back on the pillow. You feel his body relax as he begins to stroke your hair, and you wrap your arms around him even tighter. Somehow, this little moment thrills you almost as much as everything that came before. Kratos — your Kratos, a man of violence and rage and torment — is relaxing under your loving touch.

Soon he, too, seems unable to resist the pull of sleep. His breathing is deep and even, your head rising and falling where it’s still resting on his chest. You feel the need to tell him something, even if you can’t bring yourself to say the words when he’s awake.

I will wait for you, Kratos,” you whisper. “But you need to let me return the favor some time.”

His chest rumbles, a sound you feel as much as hear. “You are not ready,” he says with sleepy amusement.

You push yourself up, crawling on top of him until you’re straddled over him on all fours.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” you say playfully, prodding him in the chest. He eyes you for a moment, his amber gaze sleepy and satisfied. But then something impish seems to come over him. Using his formidable strength, he flips you both over, and you gasp to find yourself suddenly staring up at him again. Then your jaw falls open in mute surprise as he takes hold of your hand and guides it to the front of his underwear.

Your eyes go as big as dinner plates.

“You are not ready for that,” he says.

And then, acting like he didn’t just destroy your entire mind, he pushes off of you, standing up over the destruction of your bed. He sees the way you’re sprawled out, the way your lip trembles, the way you still can’t seem to find your words. His lips curl into a satisfied smirk at the sight.

“I need to borrow your axe,” he says.

Then, without even waiting to see your reaction, he walks across the floor, taking your axe from its stand and throwing open the front door of the house.

You suddenly remember your voice. “Kratos, seriously, the bed is of no matter—”

His eyes are fond as he looks back at you, and you feel your heart nearly stop beating. And as he closes the door behind him, you catch the barest hint of a smile on his lips. “It is what a gentleman would do,” he says. Then you hear the click of the latch, and he’s gone.

For a long time you just lie there, feeling as happy as you ever have in your entire life.

But eventually you stand up, get dressed, begin to attend to breakfast…

You’re just setting out plates on your modest table when something tugs at your mind. You walk back to the wreckage of your bed, the one that had been built for you by the grateful woodcutters. It was not a flimsy piece of furniture. Why would it have suddenly broken apart?

You pull aside the mattress, and are startled by the sight of raw splinters. It is only then that you realize the bedpost — the one Kratos was gripping — has been completely snapped in half. And as you lean in closer, inspecting the break in the thick beam, your breath stills in your chest. Pressed into the wood, as clear as if it were formed out of clay, you can still make out the impressions of a huge, clenched fist.

Chapter Text

You’ve just set out the last of the food — some hard Midgardian bread, served with butter and fat — when you hear a calamitous noise outside.

You rush to the front door, but before you can find the latch, Kratos has thrown the door open, a look of satisfaction on his face. You smile at him, a politely baffled expression on your face as he gives you a peck on the lips. Then you look past him, out the door. In the middle of your yard are at least a dozen logs, thrown haphazardly into a pile. You look back at him, one eyebrow cocked skeptically

“It is only the one post that broke, is it not?” you say.

You catch a trace of amusement in his eye. Then Kratos grunts, his big hands encircling your waist. As your lips part in excitement, he gives you a knowing look.

“If I am to share my bed with a fiery young thing like you, we will need something stronger.”

Your eyebrows jump up, but he merely kisses your forehead chastely before releasing you. He’s already back at the pile of logs before you can think again.

“Oh…” you say finally, about ten seconds too late.

He immediately sets about chopping them down to size, and you watch him in baffled amusement.

Guess I better bring him his breakfast out here,” you say to yourself.

 

***

 

You pass the morning in pleasant enough silence. The weather is warm enough that you don’t need your overcloak, and you’re more than content to sit on a tree stump and watch Kratos work. You make a pretense of crafting some arrows, in anticipation of needing to hunt later, but you find yourself easily distracted by Kratos’s physique as he hacks away at the logs.

At some point, he switches to the difficult task of notching the bed frame together, and you see that your large axe doesn’t suit the job. Bidding him to wait a moment, you retrieve the hatchet you brought with you from Jotunheim, the one you used to split the skull of a draugr on your first morning in Midgard.

As you hand it to him, he looks at the hatchet, looks at you, and then nods in thanks. He’s taken off his armored shoulder guard, and before you can help yourself, your eyes sweep his crouched form from head to toe. You know it shouldn’t affect you this much to see him shirtless. After all, you did just spend the night together. But something about seeing him work like this — building things with his hands, a thin sheen of sweat on him — is giving you all kinds of thoughts. He looks back up at you, confused, just in time to see you lick your lips.

Oh, his eyes seems to say.

In another instant you’ve tackled him to the ground, and he huffs in surprise, his eyes wide but not displeased as you crawl on top of him. And then, your lips are on his.

He groans softly, his hands gently finding your hips as you continue to kiss him feverishly. Your chests are pressed together, your hips straddling his as you explore his mouth, gripping the back of his neck to pull yourself closer. When he feels you move your hips, he groans again, louder this time.

Faye… Faye, wait,” he says breathlessly, his hands coming to your shoulders, holding you at a distance. You blink at him in surprise.

He sits all the way up, taking you with him, before gently pushing you off his body. You take the hint, backing up and sitting on the grass, but you can’t help the look of confusion in your eye. The look on his face is apologetic, but there’s a sternness there that shows this is non-negotiable.

“Odin’s spies are everywhere,” he says.

So?” you say, your face flushing. You feel stupid, though you don’t know why, and it’s making your temper run hot.

“Together, you and I are too great a power for the gods to ignore.”

“What would they care about us?” you demand, defensiveness slipping into your voice.

“Our power, simply by existing, is a challenge to their power.”

You scowl in embarrassment, and he pats you reassuringly on the leg.

“You are young,” he says, and you give him a sharp look.

Don’t,” you say. “Just don’t.”

“Do not be upset with me, Faye,” he says. “I am trying to keep us alive.”

You take a deep breath, determined not to let your temper run away from you. But it threatens to break free, like a horse kicking inside its stall.

You close your eyes tight, letting another few moments pass before you speak again.

“Fine,” you say. “Will you at least tell me why you suddenly care so much about what the gods think? It wasn’t always this way.”

“Is that not obvious?” he says, his brow furrowing. “I thought your instincts better than that.”

You see red for a moment, but force calm into your voice. “I guess not,” you say. “Now do you mind telling me?”

“Because I am a hunted man, Faye. And…” he falters, his eyes somber on yours. “I have you to worry about, now. Those two gods who came to your door—”

“Why are they hunting you, Kratos?” you interrupt. “What do the gods want with you?”

At this, Kratos’s expression changes. In an instant, his face assumes the grim mask that you’re accustomed to seeing. Swallowing, he pushes himself back into a crouched position next to the pieces of the bed. Without a word, he continues notching the wood.

“Well?” you say.

“It is better if you do not know,” he says without looking up.

“Yes, that’s what you told me when I was at your home,” you say impatiently. “But some things have changed between us since then, haven’t they?”

He says nothing.

You know it shouldn’t surprise you. It shouldn't upset you, this man and his pile of secrets. But after everything you’ve been through together — everything you’ve done — it stings.

“I see,” you say quietly. Slowly, you push yourself to your feet, trying to fight down the anger you feel.

You had assumed that the door to this conversation had been shut, but Kratos looks surprised when you suddenly summon the axe, the leather grip slamming into your hand. As you tuck it away, hanging it from its holster on your back, you hear him sigh.

“Faye, wait…” he says, seeing that you’ve turned to go.

“I’ll be back later,” you say. “I need to go check on the village anyway.”

He stands up, and you look back at him over your shoulder, neither one of you closing the distance between you.

“If this is how it has to be with us, I’m prepared to deal with that,” you say. “But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a slap in the face.”

“Faye…”

“I just need some time to cool off, Kratos. Surely you can understand that.”

He stares at you for a long moment, his gaze hard, his shoulders unnaturally squared.

“Yes,” he says finally. “I can.”

You nod at him, politely, and set off down the path into the village.

 

***

 

It takes you far too long to notice that something profound has happened in the woods. The first few snapped-over trees didn’t raise your curiosity, nor did the footprints too deep to have been made by a person. But as you round the last switchback in the path leading down the mountain, the change in the woods is impossible to ignore.

There, blocking the middle of the path, is a boulder taller than you. It’s been recently overturned — the staining from the dirt is evidence enough of that — but you also know for a fact that it wasn’t here yesterday. Your mind is called back to the strange crashing noises you heard last night. Slowly, you let your gaze fall over the rest of the path down the mountain, and the pattern emerges like it was stitched there.

Boulders. Everywhere. The trail of destruction is nearly uninterrupted. Every once in a while, perhaps over the distance of a short sprint, you see a boulder, seemingly tossed by a great force, and its aftermath. Broken trees abound, as do the scars in the earth from the recently revealed soil. You shield your eyes from the sun, trying to make sense of what's in front of you. You’re so focused that you actually startle when someone calls your name.

“Sorry, Miss,” says the young woodcutter. A quick glance at his missing hand reveals that he is indeed the same boy you helped, so many months ago.

“What happened here?” you say.

“No one knows, Miss,” he says. “But Odin was riding his dreaded steed hereabouts last night.”

You nod soberly.

“You saved us again, didn’t you?” he says, and now you turn to look at him fully.

He’s grown a great deal since you saw him last, rough stubble on his cheeks, and his hair grown past his chin. And those same green eyes, the ones that seemed so defeated last time, now looking at you with a newfound spark. You realize, for the first time, that he’s probably closer to your own age than you thought. And you see the way he’s shifting on his feet, the way he’s looking at you like you’re the goddess Freya herself.

“Something wrong?” he says.

“No, no…” you say. “Just… trying to make sense of it all.”

He chuckles ruefully. “There’s nothing to get,” he says. “The gods fuck with us. We deal with it. That’s life.”

“What’s your name?” you say, and he looks surprised.

“Hærrøðrwulfr,” he says. Seeing your face, he laughs.

“I see you’re not from Midgard,” he says. “Just ‘Wulf’ is fine.”

You nod, thanking him.

Then after a moment, a weak smile appears on his lips. “Actually, you can call me whatever you want to." Then he winks at you, and despite yourself, you feel your heart beat faster.

“Oh, uh… thank you,” you say, blushing and turning your attention back down the path. “Is the, uh… is everyone at the village alright?”

“I haven’t been,” he says. “But word is that the protection stave is holding. Best go and see for yourself, if it pleases you.”

You smile, giving him a grateful look. “Thank you, Wulf.”

“See you around, Faye,” he says, giving you a boyish grin. “I’d offer to escort you, but I don’t think you need the help.”

You laugh, and it helps clear your head a bit. You give him a shrug that says, “You’re probably right,” and head down to the village with a bit more lightness in your step.

 

***

 

People in the village bow their heads as you walk by, grateful but largely silent. Shaken. You nod back, trying to look like the fearless and beneficent hero they think you are. In truth, you can’t stop thinking about Lymaea’s words after you and your brother saved the town.

Please — don’t take my weariness for ingratitude. Without you two, we’d certainly all be dead. But now the eye of the gods is upon us, and I truly don’t know what we will do.

The guilt you felt last night is as fresh today, even though you know that the attack on the town wasn’t your fault. How could it have been? Thor ordered it, and Odin watched. It’s a miracle any of you survived at all.

As you near the city gate, a merchant hails you. He’s wearing fine clothes, and he is the rare Midgardian who has clearly had enough to eat. You try to avoid the man, but he’s waving and shouting your name. Sighing inwardly, you walk to his wooden stall.

“So, she is human after all,” he says. “A miracle, to be sure.”

“I don’t recognize you,” you say, and he beams.

“That is because I am a traveling merchant. Rómundr, the ladies call me. If it pleases you, I have many fine—”

The sound of shoveling draws your attention. As your eyes sweep the wall that surrounds the town, your stomach flops at the sight of two fresh graves, with two bodies wrapped in sheets stacked nearby.

“I was told there were no deaths,” you say, interrupting the man, and he chuckles.

“Don’t worry, you saw to that,” he says. “These are Thor’s men.”

Thor’s men?!” you exclaim, and he nods, pleased that he has your full attention.

“Aye, a terrible sight they were. Necks snapped, heads turned nearly backwards.” Your brow furrows. Surely, the man exaggerates.

“Normally you’d be right to suspect a salesman of exaggerating,” he says with a conspiratorial wink. “But it’s true. You can ask the undertaker. Or, you can see for yourself.”

He laughs at the horrified look on your face.

“No thank you,” you say, turning to leave.

“Wait! As much as I love smalltalk, how would you feel about taking a look at my wares?”

“Who killed those men?” you ask. Unexpectedly, the merchant suddenly looks a bit nervous.

“I… no one saw who,” he says. “Not one person. Granted, Thor’s men had the village surrounded, but — no one saw for sure. Some say it was the same man who cast the protection stave, but I’m not sure I believe that.”

“No,” you say, distracted. Then you shake your head, afraid of what the back of your mind is telling you.

“Now then,” says the merchant. “What can I do for you?”

In the end, you buy a bow from him, replacing the one you lost in the frozen river when you fell off the bridge. Normally you wouldn’t be so hasty to make such a purchase, but you need to hunt. Your food stores are running low — between Kratos and Molundir, you never anticipated having so much company. The pleased look on the merchant’s face tells you you almost certainly paid too much, but you aren’t finished your business with him.

“Look,” you say in a low voice, slinging the bow over your other shoulder. “I need you to do something for me. If Thor’s men come through here again, you let me know.”

The man looks surprised, but you shoot a glance at the pile of coins he’s counting.

“Or else I tell everyone what you charged the hero of the town for a completely average weapon.”

“Fair enough,” he says, and you give him a firm nod before heading into the town.

You have no particular destination, but you survey the aftermath, unsurprised by the crunch of bones under your feet but surprised by the sheer amount of upturned soil. Most of the bodies have been cleared away, but odd bits remain, as well as more bloodstains than you would ever care to see. It had been close, last night. Far, far too close.

As you round the corner towards the great village tree, you see the not-unexpected sight of a pile of dead draugr. The townsfolk will likely burn them for fuel, you think. As you approach for a closer look, you can’t help noticing the protection stave cast by your brother. You sigh, walking up to the tree and kneeling at its base. Your fingertips graze over the yellow handprint. Imagining your brother’s hand there, you close your eyes.

Molundir, by himself, banished an army undead and a dozen of Thor’s brutes, all with the most basic of stave magic. You’re curious to know how he did it, but you find yourself surprisingly at a loss. You expected to be able to hear the tree’s voice from here, or at least feel the presence of its reaction to the stave now set in its bark. Yet all you hear is silence.

Frowning, you stand back up. As you turn away, you see a group of townsfolk has amassed, watching you.

“Oh… hello,” you say, giving what you hope is a dignified wave. “All’s well?”

“Well enough,” an old woman replies politely. “But I’ll ask what no one else will. How long will that stave hold?”

Ah.

“A few days, at least,” you say. You think of your own staves, which start to go stale after about a week. “But I’ll be back before then to see about making a new one.”

The woman nods slowly, but she doesn’t look convinced.

“Has anyone seen Lymaea?” you ask, changing the subject. A few of the townsfolk look at each other.

“Not today, Miss. Maybe check her home.”

You nod, hoping that counts as an acceptable goodbye.

Outside Lymaea’s home, your nervousness begins to rise. You can’t help thinking of one of the last things she told you last night.

I’m scared, Faye. Ragnar and I… we have no one.

And when your knocking on her door goes unanswered, you feel an uncharacteristic surge of worry. Walking around behind the house, you climb up the tree where Odin’s repulsive raven was watching you last night. And then, feeling a bit self-conscious, you peer into Lymaea’s window.

Her room is empty, but her bed and Ragnar’s are unkempt, as though they departed in a hurry. Your worry turns to fear as you see her dresser, the drawers turned over, her clothes scattered all over the ground. You curse fiercely in Jotun.

You wait around for a few minutes, asking whichever neighbors you can find if they’ve seen her (none have). You even swing by the cellar where she showed you the secret way out of the town, but someone has locked the doors. You curse again, one hand coming to your forehead in agitation.

“Witch Warrior!” shouts a small voice, and you turn around expectantly, hoping to see Ragnar. But instead you recognize one of the little girls from the village, the one who cheered you on in the fight against the draugr. She’s older than Ragnar by a few years, but she still has the guileless expression of a child who sees you as some kind of walking myth.

“Oh, hello,” you say.

“Are you looking for Ragnar’s mother?” she asks.

Surprised, you nod.

“She didn’t go this way,” the girl says. “She went that way.” The girl points towards the docks. Your forehead furrows in confusion.

“You’re sure?” you say.

“Yes,” the girl says. “They left this morning, before the sun was up. I heard a man yelling and looked out the window, and there she was.”

You take a deep breath, trying not to assume the worst.

“I thank you,” you say. “You’ve done very well.”

The girl beams, then runs away.

You turn your head towards the docks, but as expected, all the boats are out fishing. You make a mental note to return soon to ask around.

I’m sure it’s nothing, you tell yourself. Lymaea is resourceful. Thinking of her resiliency, and her quickness of wit as she helped you last night, helps to ease your fears. With nothing else to be done, you return to the main road of the village, then set out for the long walk back up to your home.

 

***

 

The walk passes uneventfully enough until you come across a wooden sign. On the front, it points in the direction of the village, but as you walk by you notice something that makes you back up for a closer look. And on the back, you see that someone has scrawled something with the end of a charred stick.

Stepping up for a closer look, your eyes bug out when you see it’s written in Jotun. And you clap your hand over your mouth when you see what it says.

Laufey’s useless brother was here

"Idiot," you mutter in Jotun, blinking back a few fond tears.

Then you sigh, rubbing your face with both your hands. You suddenly remember the wistful look on Molundir’s face as he said goodbye.

You’re not coming with me, sister. Your life is here now.

I’m happy for you. Both of you.

“He’s kind of hard to deal with sometimes, Molli,” you say in your mind.

Yes, little sister, he replies. But he loves you, and you love him.

I know,” you whisper. “That’s what makes it so hard. There’s something he won’t tell me.”

There was something you didn’t tell me, once, Molli says. Do you love me?

You peek up over your fingertips.

Of course I do,” you whisper. “How could you doubt that?

The Molli in your mind doesn’t say anything, even though you wait for a long time. But somehow, you find the strength you need to head home, to face what’s waiting for you there.

 

***

 

It’s evening by the time you reach your door, the sky darkening above your woods. You think back on the question you can’t ignore, and your hand hesitates on the latch.

What is Kratos still keeping a secret from you?

You desperately want to know the truth, but you know he won’t tell you. Indeed, despite all your time together, you still know almost nothing about Kratos’s past. You know that he’s from Sparta, a violent city-state on a faraway sea. You know that for some reason, he came to Midgard, and that the gods here are hunting him. And you know that somehow, years ago, he murdered gods.

Oh, and this morning, he crushed a wooden bedpost in his fist like it was made of straw.

You swallow, worrying about the connections you’re making.

Without meaning to, your mind wanders to the inexplicable things you saw on the way to the village. The boulders, strewn about the woods like children’s toys. The slayings of Thor’s men, grisly even by the standards of Midgard.

And then, something else tugs at your memory — the second mass of roiling red string and thorns you saw from the soul gem, only a few paces from Thor…

You know what your head is telling you, but your heart isn’t ready to accept it. It doesn’t prove anything, you try to tell yourself. With a fortifying breath, you lift the latch and let yourself back into your home.

Kratos is seated by the fire, his back turned, sharpening your hatchet with a whetstone. He says nothing, even as you take off your boots and cross the cabin towards him. You try to fight down the swell of disappointment you feel. His silence immediately reminds you of those difficult first days when you arrived in his home.

It figures, says an unhelpful voice in your mind. Did you actually think things would be different just because you’re being intimate with him?

You shake your head, pushing those thoughts away. You are a peacekeeper at heart, a diplomat as much as a fighter. You know from hard-won experience that your words are every bit as powerful as your blade. Perhaps even more so.

“Kratos,” you say softly, placing your hand on his massive shoulder. He turns his head slightly towards you, but does not speak.

“I’ve had some time to think,” you say. Your hand smooths over the bulk of his shoulder, and he grunts softly.

“Last night, I didn’t tell Molundir about the festival,” you say. “Not even when he asked me.”

Kratos shifts in the chair now, turning to look at you.

“I love my brother,” you continue, encouraged. “And we were comrades in arms, besides. He was the blade at my back for years, Kratos. And yet I still didn’t tell him.”

Kratos grunts in understanding. “Your brother was unwell,” he says.

“Yes,” you sigh, remembering. “I wanted to protect him. He means more to me than… than almost anyone in the world.”

Kratos looks at you for a long moment, his yellow eyes sober, searching yours.

“Kratos,” you say, your voice serious. “If there’s a secret you can’t tell me, I know it must be for a good reason. Even if it wounds me.”

“Faye…” he says, getting to his feet. After a moment of hesitation, he sets aside the hatchet, approaching you slowly. When he sees the way you’re looking up at him — shy, vulnerable, but ready to make peace — he places his hands gently on your shoulders.

“It is for your own safety that I must—”

“I trust you,” you say, interrupting him.

Kratos looks surprised, his eyes searching yours. The look on his face is so perplexed that you laugh.

“Is that really so surprising?” you ask, or you start to, but Kratos has inclined his head towards yours.

Then, suddenly, he kisses you.

You let out a moan of surprise, muffled against his lips. Then, your eyes fall shut as you melt into the kiss.

The heat of his mouth is divine, the soft way he’s caressing your shoulders erasing all your other thoughts. His firm touch on your body is making you feel so wanted. Your arms encircle his broad waist, gratefully pulling him close.

You kiss him back just as strongly, linking your hands together behind his back. With a firm touch, you draw him even closer against your body, exhaling softly in pleasure. You moan as he caresses your tongue with his, your lips parting for him eagerly. He gently tilts your head to give him better access, and you can’t help smiling against his lips.

When he finally releases you, you let out a soft little moan, your eyes hooded in pleasure.

Belliasuna,” you exhale, your hand finding his cheek.

He pulls back, eyeing you curiously.

Only then do you realize you slipped into Jotun.

Darling…” you say, quickly correcting yourself.

“Mm,” he says nonchalantly. But the look on his face tells you he liked the sound of that very much.

You stroke his cheek, your eyes shining as you gaze up at him.

“I meant what I said, Kratos,” you say. “I do trust you. With my very life, in fact. But… I…”

You falter. He runs a hand through your hair, gently pushing a stray lock behind your ear.

“Kratos, I… I need you to trust me too.”

“I do,” he says, his voice low and hushed. He presses his forehead against yours. “Of course I do.”

“Then tell me something about yourself,” you say softly. “Something about your past.”

You feel his body go still. Kratos thinks about this for a long moment. Then he grunts, pulling back.

Anything,” you cajole. “Something not related to your… your secret, or whatever it is.”

Kratos looks away. You scan his face, and your gaze comes to rest on the scar over his right eye. With the hand on his cheek, you gently brush the line of raised flesh with your thumb.

“How did you get this scar?” you ask softly.

He grunts in dissatisfaction.

For a moment, you worry that you’ve pushed him too far, that your persistence will only make him withdraw from you further. But finally, clears his throat.

“A lowlife,” he says bitterly.

A few more long moments pass. The effort of dredging up this part of his past seems to be physically affecting him, as his features harden into a scowl.

When?” you ask gently.

He grunts, still not meeting your eyes. “When I was a boy,” he says finally. You see the pain in his eyes, the way his brow seems etched with the memory.

You surprise him by leaning forward and kissing the bottom of his scar, your lips lingering on his face.

Kratos exhales quickly in surprise, his big hands tightening on your shoulders. But as his initial shock passes, his eyes slowly drift closed.

Your lips travel up the line of his scar, humming softly against his skin, giving him the gentlest of kisses as you go. Your lips brush over his eyelid, following the rest of the scar above his eye. You thrill as you see a softening in the deep creases of his brow.

He doesn’t say anything. He barely even breathes. But his hands wrap around your body, fondling your waist, his touch warming you like the heat of a hearthfire on a cold day.

When you reach the top of his scar, you cup his cheeks with both hands, feeling the coarse hairs of his beard under your fingertips. You plant one final, firm kiss on his forehead, standing on tiptoe to reach him. Kratos lets out a low sound of pleasure, that deep rumble you’ve come to love so much.

When he finally opens his eyes again, they’re almost glassy. There’s something powerful in his gaze, something you can’t quite place. It’s almost like he is afraid and curious at the same time.

You seize this moment to ask him more.

“Your tattoo,” you say. “What does it mean?”

He sighs, looking away. “It is unimportant,” he says.

“I don’t believe you,” you say. His head swivels back at you in surprise. You get the impression that not many would dare challenge this man at his word, yet here you are, doing just that. He eyes you for a long moment, as though making up his mind about something.

Then, Kratos sighs, a gesture that you feel as much as hear.

“For my brother,” he says.

Your eyebrows jump up in surprise.

“I didn’t know you had a brother,” you say softly.

He’s not looking at you now, but at something far, far away. Something that could only be the past.

“Yes,” he says finally.

A hundred questions fill your mind. You know you shouldn’t push him. But despite your best instincts, you can’t help your curiosity.

“Is he also a warrior?”

“He was.”

The finality in his voice nearly breaks your heart. And the grim look on his face leaves no doubt as to his brother’s fate.

How much loss has this poor man endured? you wonder. His wife, his brother… were there others?

“What happened to him?” you ask softly.

Enough,” Kratos says, giving you a stern look. But you hold his gaze, your own stubbornness showing in your features.

“Just his name, then,” you say, not giving up.

Kratos’s amber eyes are hard, but you sense that his anger is not with you. You can see the pain of grief creasing his features.

Then, to your surprise, Kratos seems to relent.

Deimos,” he says.

Dread, you think, quickly translating the word from Greek.

What kind of a name is that?

The sound of Kratos’s deep sigh pulls you back to the present. You notice that just saying his brother’s name seems to have changed him. His face is contorted into something you haven’t seen before — a mixture of heartbreak, and something deeper still. Something that calls out to your heart like a distress signal.

Is it loss?

No, you’ve seen the pain of his loss, when he spoke of Lysandra.

Is it vengeance?

No, you saw the steely look in his eye last night when he spoke of Thor.

This is something else entirely. Then it hits you.

This is… vulnerability.

By opening up this part of himself to you, still so fresh with pain, he has left himself exposed like a raw nerve.

It does not come naturally to him. The transformation you see in his body is so profound that his shoulders slump. It’s as though the effort of summoning these shades of his past has physically exhausted him.

Is this like his god-killing? Has he never spoken to anyone about this? Could it be that this is just another grievous burden he carries with him at all times?

Your eyes trail over the sinuous red line that travels from his eye, over his head and around his side, to where it ends on his bicep. And it is there, stepping around beside him, that you plant another firm kiss on his skin.

Kratos is surprised, but he doesn’t move to stop you. With the same delicate attention as before, you kiss along the stripe of his tattoo. Kratos’s breathing quickens as you slowly follow the dark red line around the bulk of his shoulder, across his chest, up the back of his neck…

Your breath on the back of his neck seems to affect him, and Kratos shudders slightly. Unable to resist, you place both hands on his back, massaging deep circles into his flesh. He groans deeply in satisfaction.

If I were a little taller, I’d finish the job,” you whisper.

“Another time,” he says.

Then, your hands slide down over the bulk of his muscles as he slowly turns to face you.

Glancing down, you reach for his hand. He returns the gesture, interlacing his fingers with yours. You know you shouldn’t push your luck, but for the moment you’ve gotten him to open up to you, and you still have a flood of questions for him.

“These scars,” you persist, your other hand tracing over the cloth wrappings on his arms. “What are—”

Too late you catch the look in his eye, the maddened stare that you first saw in the woods, when he beat the draugr to death with his bare hands.

NO,” he bellows. Then you cry out in surprise as he forcefully shoves you away. Kratos is so strong that you only barely manage to stay on your feet, staggering back until you’re halfway across the cabin.

Your jaw hangs open, shocked.

And then, against all your training, your instincts, your control… your eyes begin to fill with tears.

Kratos seems to come back to himself in that moment, the fire in his eyes fading.

Faye…” he exhales apologetically.

You turn your back, unable to face him. You take a few deep breaths, trying to keep your feelings from overwhelming you. After hanging your head for a few moments, you manage to find your words again.

“My apologies,” you say, your voice level, controlled. “I didn’t realize you were injured there.”

He huffs mirthlessly. “You did not hurt me,” he says, his voice sharp with spite. Whatever the source of his anger, it doesn’t seem to be directed at you. Indeed, you sense that the subject of his hate is much, much closer to him.

You stare at the cabin wall in silence, the seconds dragging on and on. You cross your arms in front of your body, folding in on yourself. Eventually, your sadness turns to anger.

How dare he? says a voice in your mind. How dare he, and in your own home? Your only crime was trying to get closer to him, and now

You hear Kratos approach, but you have your shoulders squared, looking steadily away. He comes to a halt right behind you, but does not speak. You swallow, finding your voice again. It trembles only a little as you speak.

“Kratos, I care about you deeply, but I swear, if you ever put your hands on me again—”

You hear a heavy thud behind you. You immediately turn around, your eyes going wide at the sight.

Kratos has dropped to his knees. His face is stricken, his eyes imploring.

And then, you notice he has started to unwrap the coverings on his arms, unspooling then slowly and steadily. He doesn’t look down as he unties them. Instead, his only attention is on you. As he stares up into your face, his eyes are full of pathos, but he’s silent. It’s as though what he’s about to show you can’t be explained in words.

As he unwraps the fabric, something about the sight makes your skin prickle. These aren’t the simple arm wrappings you took them to be. These are bandages. With a sick feeling you realize that what you took to be red fabric is actually stained with blood, now faded, as though the wrappings have been washed and rewashed for this purpose.

And then, just when you think your horror is complete, you see his skin.

Burns, says the medic in you, even before you can fully process the amount of damage you’re seeing. Blood, seeping from the wounds. You remember a line from your training, that burns are among the most painful injuries the body can endure — and his arms are covered in them. Serious ones, too — and in a strange repeating pattern you can’t make sense of.

You shake your head in mute incomprehension, your brow pinched in grief. By the gods, you could never have imagined him keeping an injury this severe a secret. As your eyes trail up and down his newly exposed flesh, you rack your brain, trying to figure out when, where, how

“Kratos, what… happened to you?” you ask, your words coming out rushed.

You see him take a deep breath, then let it out.

“This is… what I am,” he says. He’s not normally one for such cryptic utterances, and at the moment, it frustrates you more than it should.

“I don’t understand!” you say, hearing in your own voice how upset you’re becoming.

He sighs, all the weariness of his years bearing on him.

“I cannot tell you more than this,” he says. “There are those from my past who would seek to destroy anyone I loved, if they knew I still drew breath.”

Your brain is spinning, still trying to make sense of everything, trying to piece the bones of his story together.

“Your past…” you say, trailing off. Then you stare at his arms again, making a rough calculation. “How old are those injuries?”

He doesn’t answer, but he does look into your eyes meaningfully.

“They are cursed wounds,” he says. “They will never heal.”

What??” you exclaim. Forgetting your anger for the moment, you kneel to examine him closer. He allows you to take hold of him at the wrist and elbow, turning his arm over as you inspect the damage. Your medical training immediately takes over, as though you never quit the peacekeepers.

“You must let me treat you,” you say, appraising his wounds. “I still have milk of the mountain —”

He jerks his arm away, a deep scowl on his face as he turns away from you. “A waste of time,” he says.

“It would help with the pain,” you counter.

“WOMAN, did you not hear me??” he demands. “They will only open up again.”

You huff out a breath, annoyed by his sudden change in tone. You never knew what to expect with injured people in the peace corps, but his obstinacy is something you’ve never seen.

“Then allow me relieve your pain a little.”

“No,” he says, a grim finality in his voice.

By the nine realms, Kratos!” You exclaim. “I never meet someone so opposed to the lessening of his own pain—”

You stop mid-sentence, realizing you’ve stumbled onto something. Seeing the way his head is hanging, your eyes widen.

“You’ve tried, haven’t you?” you say. “To heal them. To alleviate your suffering.”

He laughs mirthlessly. “I do not deserve such indulgence,” he says. “Not after—” But, realizing he doesn’t want to finish his sentence, he merely grunts.

“You don’t feel worthy,” you say, your voice hushed in understanding.

He sighs again. “It matters not,” he says.

“Let me help you,” you insist, touching the side of his face. “Just this once.”

He is silent, but he allows you to guide his face back up to yours. “For me,” you whisper.

The fight seems to have gone out of him. He grunts softly, letting his arms fall next to his sides. You take that as your cue. You quickly retrieve your healing ointment from its shelf, then return to place a hand on his shoulder.

“Come. Sit,” you say, using that tone you always used for your patients. And to your surprise, he obeys. He laboriously pushes himself to his feet, and you lead him back to the wooden bench by the hearth.

You gesture for him to take a seat, and he does, hunched over away from the fire.

“This might sting,” you say, unstoppering the bottle of ointment and pouring some into his palm. “For a moment, anyway.”

“I remember,” he says without looking at you.

You blink in surprise. “That night, after your shock…”

“Yes,” he says. Then to your amazement, he turns his head and looks at you out of the corner of his eye. “You are a good woman, Faye.”

You feel your cheeks flush, the way they always do around him. “I thank you,” you say. “Now hold still.” In truth, you are still upset with him for getting physical with you, and you’re more than content to focus on your work.

He offers you his arm, and you spread some of the cool gloss on his skin. He hisses through his teeth, but otherwise doesn’t move, allowing you to rub the cream all over his muscular forearm.

You know it will only be moments before the pain is completely gone, replaced with a warm tingling. At least… that’s how it works with normal injuries. As your hands glide over his skin, you can’t help but wonder anew what gave him these marks.

Was it a person, who burned him this way?

A curse?

A malignant god, torturing him?

You look at him with newfound worry. But to your amazement, his eyes have fallen closed, his lips parting slightly. There is relief in his face, the likes of which you have never seen.

Oh.

For the first time since he got this horrible injury, his wounds are giving him no pain.

The force of your realization hits you like a blow. Quickly, you move to the other side of him on the bench, taking hold of his other arm and giving it the same careful treatment.

And as the cream begins to do its job once more, Kratos swallows.

“Faye, I…” he says, his head still hanging, his eyes closed. “I am… sorry.” The word comes out with such difficulty, you wonder if this is his first time saying it.

You pour some more of the cream into your palm. “What for?” you say, your nimble fingers caressing his skin.

“For putting my hands on you. And… for my sharp tongue. I know you are merely trying to… help me.”

“Apology accepted,” you say. “Just don’t do it again.”

“Faye, the day I hurt you is the day I walk into the ocean. I have never…”

There is a long pause.

“Never had… someone like you before.”

“You had a wife.”

“She knew me as a young man. Hotheaded, brash, with too much to prove. Our relationship was… complicated.”

“Oh,” you mutter, unable to think of what else to say.

“I do not know what I have done in my life to deserve a woman like you,” he continues. “There is nothing in my past that makes me worthy of…”

You hold your breath, waiting for him to finish. Slowly, he touches the arm you've been treating, his fingertips gingerly tracing over the skin. He does not recoil in pain, and the sight makes your heart soar.

“Nothing that makes me worthy of this moment.”

“Then you will have to make it up to me in the future,” you say, some of your normal levity returning to your voice. He exhales forcefully through his nose, something that could almost be a laugh. A fond smile tugs at your lips.

Then, in a more serious tone, you add, “I thank you. I… I’ve never had someone like you, either.”

“Perhaps you are unlucky. I am not much of a partner.”

“You just need more practice,” you say drily, and he huffs out a laugh again.

You’ve just about finished his arm by now. You place a single kiss on his temple, and he opens his eyes. And he looks at you — your eyes, your lips, the flush on your cheeks — as though you really are an angel come to save him.

In that moment, the last of your anger fades. You share a long, intimate moment, your eyes searching his, falling into the impossible depths of that mysterious golden gaze. And for a few moments, there is no pain there. Only love.

Beautiful,” he says eventually. “An angel, fallen to earth.”

You smile at him, tilting your head. His eyes follow the way your hair tumbles over your shoulders.

“Will you let me kiss your scars, Kratos?” you whisper.

He looks at you in surprise, but he nods once, leaning back to give you space.

And then, you watch his eyes go wide as you slip off the bench, kneeling at his feet.

He stares at you in utter disbelief as you take hold of one of his forearms, gently kissing over the marks on his arms.

Faye!!” he exhales, his hand flying to the back of your head. You hum knowingly against his flesh, gazing up at him as you cover him in kisses. You want this so badly, to help him heal. So show him that no matter what, you’ll help him confront the scars of his past, and that you’ll face them with him.

You don’t know if he is getting all that from what you’re doing. But he’s breathing so loudly you can hear it, his posture taut like a drawn bow. His hand won’t stop smoothing over your hair, as though making sure you’re real. It’s as though he can’t believe you’re really here, at his feet, kissing him and taking his pain away.

You glance up at him. “Good?” you ask in a soft voice.

To your absolute astonishment, the corner of his mouth turns up.

Very good,” he says.

“No pain?” you ask.

No,” he says softly.

And you realize that Kratos is actually smiling at you, a warm, paternal look that makes your stomach flutter.

Giving him a lingering look, you take hold of his other arm, covering it with the same gentle kisses. Kratos grits his teeth, a stifled groan escaping him as you work your way up the length of his arm. Something tells you he likes the sight of you kneeling before him like this, and the thought drives a throb of pleasure somewhere deep inside you.

When you’re finished kissing his arms, you gaze up at him. His breaths are shallow now, his fingers threaded through your hair, his lips parted in wonder. He just watches you, his eyes full of yearning.

“Mm,” you say, smiling up at him. “You have other scars I could kiss, yes?”

“Many,” he says, giving you a lingering look. “If you… desire.”

With a dark little smile, you lean forwards and press your lips against his belly scar. He draws a sharp breath, his fingers tightening in your hair until it’s almost painful.

Faye…” he exhales. Just that. Just your name.

The mood shifts immediately.

You start kissing down the length of his scar, your mouth wet and open. Kratos groans unselfconsciously, his firm abs tightening as he yields himself to your touch. Gods, the sounds he’s making…

Then, intentionally or not, he tugs on your hair. Your jaw falls open, but a moment later you break into a devilish grin.

Ohh… you like it when he pulls your hair.

Wrapping your arms around his waist, you feel your blouse slip off one shoulder, but you can’t bring yourself to mind. Not when you’ve got the man from your dreams here, surrendering to your touch. The warm flank of his body is so firm under your fingertips, and you moan softly against his skin as you kiss him.

When you reach the bottom of the scar, your lips are nearly pressed against the thick leather of his belt. With a knowing look you glance down at his armored cingulum, tented from his monstrous arousal, then back up at him, a question in your eyes.

You swear he almost says yes.

But then, he seems to notice something, his eyes trailing down the skin of your back, newly exposed when your shirt slipped.

Faye, wait…” he says.

Then you feel his big hand on your shoulder, pulling you back up onto the bench.

Though he doesn’t seem to want that — at least not yet — you haven’t left him unaffected. As soon as you’re seated again, his hand immediately comes to rest on top of your thigh. He grips you there, his touch heavy with promise.

He inclines his head towards yours. And then he kisses you, hungry like a man deprived of it.

After so much touching, the firm press of his lips against yours drives you up the wall. You moan, needily, and you hear an answering growl in his throat. The sound of it immediately makes you so wet. Gods, you would let this man do unspeakable things to your body, and you’d probably thank him the entire time.

As you kiss him, your lips tingling from the cream, you start to want more. Yes… you suddenly need to be touching more of him right now.

You drape your arms over his shoulders, linking your hands behind his neck and moaning pleadingly. He takes the hint, grabbing you by the hips and pulling you even closer to him. And when he begins to explore your mouth with his tongue, deepening the kiss, it sends a lightning bolt of arousal straight between your thighs.

Kratos!” you exclaim, his name on your tongue as soon as you come up for air. But already his lips are plastered against your neck, kissing your sensitive flesh and making you arch your back. He hums softly against your flesh as he covers you in fierce, hairy kisses. You whimper in desire.

I need you,” you blurt out, clawing at his back.

“Oh?” he says, his breath hot on your neck. “For what purpose?”

“You know what for,” you groan. And then you cry out in delight as he picks you up and pulls you onto his lap.

“You are right, I do know what for,” he says.

He tickles you under the chin, the sudden playfulness of it making you giggle. He gives you that impish half-smile again.

And then, he reaches for your healing ointment.

Your brow furrows in confusion.

“You, too, have wounds that need tending,” he says, unstoppering the bottle. “I promised to assist you, did I not?”

You look at him in utter betrayal as he pours some of the ointment into his hands.

Oh, that bastard.

He’s serious.

Kratos sees the way you’re pouting, and you could almost swear there’s a twinkle in his eye as he begins rubbing the cream on your upper back. It’s as though being freed from his pain is awakening another side of him, one that’s just a bit more, well… free.

He raises one eyebrow at you teasingly as he works his way over your draugr bites and scratches, the dull sting of the wounds soon replaced with a warm, heady tingling.

You’ve healed quite a bit since the day before, thanks to the green magic, and Kratos’s work is faster now. His hands are firm and purposeful on your body, staying strictly to his task. Though you do gasp in arousal as he runs his hands up the back of your shirt to reach your lower scratches.

Tease,” you grit out, arching your back. But your breath immediately hitches in your throat as you feel something twitch beneath you.

For one heart-stopping moment, Kratos gives you a smoldering look. Then, you yelp in surprise as he tilts you backward, dipping you like you’re his partner in a couples dance, but leaving you with your feet in the air. You start to complain, a little note of protest rising in your voice, but then he grabs you by one ankle, rubbing the cream into your skin even as he holds you up with his other arm. And your jaw continues to hang open in shock as he rubs the cream into your other leg, planting a single kiss on your ankle and eyeing you suggestively.

Ohhhhh…” you exhale, more a long sigh than a word.

Good?” he says, in a clear imitation of what you said earlier.

Very good,” you exhale, too far gone to even crack a smile.

Then, your eyes practically roll back in your head when he starts rubbing your feet. You squirm, your skirt sliding up your legs, revealing more of your skin to him as he massages you. His chest rumbles softly in approval.

M-my feet are fine,” you say, the firm pressure of his fingers making it difficult to think straight.

“Yes. But you like this,” he says, pressing his thumb deep into the space where the arch of your foot begins.

You gasp at how good it feels. And you continue to pant in pleasure as he massages you there, pressing into your tired flesh with his ridiculously strong hands. Your eyes are half closed, your breath coming out in rapid little gasps, your legs shaking as he works you over.

“Oh, mercy!!” you exclaim, your body practically going limp in his arms. He chuckles softly at the sight of you.

“I would suck on your toes, you know,” he says in a low voice. “Were I not certain I would be kicked in the face.”

Gods!!” you exclaim in Jotun, your hands immediately covering your mouth at your sudden outburst. But a moment later you’re back to moaning as he gives the same loving treatment to your other foot, his thumb pushing deep into the arch, taking your soreness away.

By the time he pulls you back up onto his lap, you’re a mess, your breaths short and rapid, your hair falling out of its ties from the way you’ve been squirming.

You say nothing, but whimper softly, your body thrumming with arousal and need.

He starts to embrace you, but you push his arms away playfully. He growls at the challenge, his strong arms squeezing around you even tighter.

“I used to think you just liked to take things slow,” you say, panting softly. “But I’m starting to think you enjoy tormenting me.”

“Not I,” he says. But he again has that impish look in his eye, the one that makes you weak for him. You pout, and this time he actually laughs, a hearty chuckle that makes your heart practically take flight.

"I don't believe you," you say, playfully scowling. But you secretly thrill when you feel his hand on your cheek.

"Faye," he says, guiding your gaze to his, your eyes going wide when you see the smoldering look he's giving you. “I am more than willing to finish what I have started.”

Then he glances meaningfully in a direction near the hearth, and you turn your head.

And then, for the first time, you notice the new bed in the corner of the cabin. It’s as sturdy a thing as you’ve ever seen, the straw of your mattress flattened to fit the larger shape. Slowly, you return your gaze to Kratos’s, your lips parted, your eyes widening in understanding.

Does my angel want me to worship her?” he says in a low voice.

You wet your lips and nod, not trusting your voice. Without so much as a grunt of effort he picks you right up, carrying you in his arms across the cabin.

Perhaps I’ll make her wait as I feast on her,” he says, and you actually moan out loud.

You monster,” you whisper, trailing your fingertips over the firm contours of his chest.

He gazes down at you out of the corner of his eye, a dark little smile playing on his lips.

Then in one smooth movement, he lays you down on the bed and climbs on top of you, parting your legs so they wrap around him. You scarely have time to get get used to his weight on top you when he suddenly grinds his crotch against yours. You cry out in pleasure, your fingernails raking his back, your eyes rolling back in your head.

No,” he breathes next to your ear, grinding into you again. “You have not yet met the monster.”

Chapter Text

She is light and fire and everything he’s living for, but she’s dying in his arms. The men who did this to her deserved slower deaths than they got, but there’s no time to dwell on it now.

He throws the door open so hard it nearly rips off its hinges, bearing her unconscious body through the blackened room to his bed, his eyes straining for vital signs he knows aren’t there. With a bestial roar he remembers where he is, remembers to throw three massive logs on the embers of the fire, remembers to close the cabin door. Then he swallows, knowing what he must do next. It’s the only time he hesitates.

Her first? Or him?

She makes a pathetic sound, her eyes flickering with movement. Her it is.

He yanks her boots off easily enough. Her armor is next, and straddling her, he’s able to work the ties undone — chest armor first, then her legs — and toss them aside. Beneath that she’s wearing a simple linen tunic, and it’s all he can do not to rip it off her. He peels it up from her waist — her skin is so, so cold — and wrestles it up past her breasts and up her arms. The motion leaves her damp hair strewn across his pillow and he realizes he’ll have to dry her hair, too.

He throws the hated garment across the room and immediately attacks the ties of her trousers, growing more furious with his numb fingers by the moment. The cruel dampness of her clothes is mocking him, draining the sensation from his body as well as hers. It’s with more force than he means to that he strips her bottom half, yanking her waistband down from her hips to her feet in one motion, and the force of it jostles her swollen ankle. She mewls pitifully, and he grits his teeth in self-loathing.

Can’t even undress someone who isn’t awake.

Pathetic. Worthless.

He shakes his head, hating the distraction. To save her from the death chill, he needs to strip her naked. There’s a band of fabric around her breasts, and hopes she'll forgive him for what he has to do next. With a grunt he yanks apart the knot, nestled between her breasts, and tries not to think about how many times he imagined doing this to her under different circumstances. With one arm he props up her neck and upper back, and with the other he’s somehow able to unwind the band and toss it aside. In the dim light he can make out the shape of her breasts, but all he can think is how her skin is cold cold cold, and in another instant he’s stripped her of her panties and shoved her under the blankets.

His own armor and underwear follow a moment later, and then he’s diving under the covers with her, pulling her ice cold body against his and realizing, with some surprise, just how small she really is. When he dreams of her, she’s the size of his whole heart.

Her body is so cold that he shivers, which is nearly impossible, and his breathing becomes short and shallow. He tries to generate more heat, rubbing his hands frantically over her back, and for a while it seems to be working. But then he feels her face pressed against his chest and she is so, so cold, colder than a person should ever be

So he pulls her face into the crook of his shoulder, trying to cage her in warmth, trying to think of anything other than how dead she feels, how completely limp her body is in his arms. He strains to hear her breathing, and actually groans in happiness when he hears it — faint and shallow but still there.

Stay with me,” he whispers into her hair. “Stay with me, stay with me, please.”

It beats the awful silence so he keeps saying it, rocking her body while he chants as if in prayer.

"Legionnaire," she had said as he lost her, “After this, I… I never want to be cold… ever again.” She had trailed a hand down his bare chest, had reached up and stroked his bearded cheek. "Will you… keep me warm?"

And he had wanted to tell her yes, always, of course, but she had gone limp after that, and she hadn't returned to him.

She was delirious. She won't remember.

And that's if she even wakes up.

He wants to tell her he loves her. That he dreams of her, still, even though it’s been weeks since he saw her. That she — and no one else — has made him want to abandon his shell of a life and live, somehow, as a man.

Stay with me

It was always an impossible dream.

They taught him to kill from the time he was six, but he couldn’t do it to save his brother, and the rage of that day never left him. He was an angry kid, who became an angry young man, who became uncontrollable. A dog who never learned to temper its bite.

He first killed at thirteen — an accident — mortally wounding another boy during a training exercise. People looked at him differently after that, even the adults. He became known as merciless, and bloodthirsty, and when he came of age and developed a physique that confirmed all of that, he didn’t fight it.

Monster.

It was only what he was. Wasn’t it?

He shifts her lifeless body in his arms, wonders if she should turn her backwards to warm that side too. In the end he decides to, but the question of where to put his hands is unexpectedly difficult. He ends up bracing her in his arms — one arm from her hip to her opposite shoulder, the other wrapped around the tops of her legs. It isn’t ideal. She slips often, her clammy skin still damp despite his best efforts to dry her, but he won’t let go of her for anything.

He inclines his head forwards, resting his head next to hers, and tries to think of anything but how cold she is, still, despite how long he’s been holding her.

Minutes? Hours? Or has it only been seconds?


If —


When she wakes up, he wants to tell her how beautiful she is, how watching her fight makes his blood drum in his veins, how he still thinks about that fight where they killed the Revenant —

Shall we end this fight?” he had said, a lusty edge to his voice, and she had grinned at him, the spark of bloodlust in her eyes making him forget to breathe.

Watch me,” she’d said. And he had. And he had let himself believe, for a moment, that she liked him, too.

An angel of the blade, too good for the likes of you.

But as he’d shouldered his kill and walked away, he couldn’t help but bid her a final goodbye. “You fought well,” he had said. And the sadness in her eyes caught him off guard.

She’s not sad that you’re leaving. Get a grip, old man. Beautiful women don’t appear in the woods just for the chance to talk to you. Go home.

Only he didn’t go home. He stayed in her woods, hunting for days and hoping against reason that he would see her again.

And when he had staggered towards her home, like an idiot, having set off a trap left by one of Odin’s filthy kin, she had healed him. With green magic, but really, just with her hands. No one had touched him like that — in years upon years — and in that moment she made him want to be whole again.

Monster.

She had sat with him, and looked at the stars, and he had thought about taking her hand —

You’re a damned fool if you think she’ll ever want to lie on her back for you.

— and he had dreamt that impossible dream, the one where someday, somehow he had a home again.

Then Odin’s grandsons had shown up at her door, menacing, leering — and he saw that he was only putting her in danger, this beautiful mortal woman in this hostile land. He had walked straight home without stopping, dragging his kills behind him without looking back. He had already made the decision never to see her again. It was the only way.

Unexpectedly, she groans in his arms, and he calls out to her —

Angel??

— excitedly, desperately. But she makes no other sound. Biting down his rage — he dreamt of holding her, but not like this — he rolls her body over again and hugs her against his chest. It might be his imagination, he thinks, but she seems warmer. He rubs her back, tries to press his legs against hers, tries to fold up her arms so her fingers can get warm against the broad span of his chest. He gazes down at her, and she just looks like she’s asleep. It brings an unexpected tugging to his heart, and he dreams his impossible dream again.

You are a god, and all gods are monsters. Being with you would ruin her life, you wretch.

But in the coldest days of the winter, he had once walked miles with a dead deer on his back just to make sure she was fed. She wasn’t. His heart had nearly split, seeing her so thin, but the look on her face when he had gazed into her eyes had been respite enough.

She was just happy to see a familiar face, you lowlife.

Crawl back into your hovel, monster.

He had walked straight home again. No looking back, again.

But after that, he couldn’t stop dreaming of her, couldn’t stop imagining her nestled in his arms, laughing, talking, or just sleeping peacefully. And on more nights than he could number, he had imagined darker things besides.

Her skin is definitely warmer now. He groans in relief, rocking her body again, cradling the back of her head so it doesn’t loll.

Stay with me, stay with me

You saved me

I came to Midgard to die and you saved me, and you don’t even know

She coughs suddenly, and he pulls back to give her room, feeling her lungs expand against his arms where he’s holding her. He stares into her face, her brows slightly knit as if in pain, and he holds his breath.

He remembers the way she looked up at him earlier that night, her eyes wide with terror —

There were screams.

A woman, somewhere nearby. More screams. He saw flash of blue light through the trees, and rushed towards it in a dead sprint.

Already, he was sure it was her.

That was impossible, and yet, he was right.

Coming up on the unsuspecting brigands, he had locked eyes with her, hefting her axe while his heart surged with adrenaline. She had looked so, so afraid — yet she was staring up at him like he was some kind of righteous guardian, here to set the world right-side up. It had filled his heart with a sense of purpose that he hadn’t known since the war.

Four swings of the axe later and three men were dead, and he was pulling her against his chest, running her back to his home with all the strength of a ruthless god. He had always been good at taking lives, but saving them is something he had never done, and now it was the one person — the one person — he cared about the most who he had to save.

How cruel the fates are, that he should get so much of what he want, and yet none of it at all.

This woman in his arms, her hair tumbling around her shoulders — she had pulled his corpse from the tomb he’d been living in, propped him up, and smiled at him. With her eyes, she had told him life was worth living, if he’d only see it. With her hands, she’d told him he was someone to be valued, someone worthy of healing. With her body, she had told him he was still a man —

He grits his teeth. The one thing he's been avoiding the whole night now prickles the back of his neck with shame. She’s definitely warmer now, and he’s grateful to the heavens that she seems to be breathing a little easier. But he’s only a man. And her naked body in his arms is making him remember how many times he’s fantasized about her right here, laying on his back, thrusting into his fist, groaning desperately —

He clears his throat, trying to be respectful, trying to distract himself with thoughts of killing enemies, or hunting, or anything.

But then he remembers.

He remembers the way she begs him in his fantasies, the way she claws at his back, the way she cries out his name during her orgasm.

He shakes his head, but the fantasies keep coming. He thinks of the way her eyes darken with that look when he throws her on the bed, the way her mouth opens as he fills her…

…the way he bounces her off his hips, his teeth grit, his chest sweaty, the air heavy from the scent of their lovemaking…

…the way she licks her lips as she rides him, teasing him, tempting him to rougher pleasures…

…the way she gasps as he roughly flips her over, kicking her legs apart and ravaging her from behind until she comes, screaming, over and over and over…

…how she desperately intertwines her fingers with his as she struggles to bear all his love, to hold on long enough for him to grunt and groan and spurt his load deep inside her…

…and how, when it’s over, he pushes her hair out of her eyes and gazes down at her rapturous face, catching his breath, his eyes saying more about his love than he ever could.


Except that she could never love a monster like you.


He squeezes his eyes shut, taking a deep, deep breath and holding it. Then he lets it out, groaning louder than he means to, and she stirs in his arms.

Angel??

At the sound of his voice, she squeezes him, and it’s the greatest moment in his entire life.

He rubs her back. He holds her. He would call her name if he knew it, but instead he calls her what he wants to call her. Angel. Beauty. My little star. He dreams of kissing her on the neck, but instead he just rocks her, reveling in every degree of warmth in her body. She is light and fire and everything he’s living for, and he loves her more than he’s ever loved anyone.

He’s certain he can never tell her this.

When she seems strong enough he slips away for a moment, hanging her clothes by the fire so they dry. He doesn’t want her to wake up afraid, so when they’re dry he dresses her again, consumed by the soft way she sighs when he cuddles up next to her once more.

He wants to kiss her so, so badly. But instead he just holds her, her body already feeling so familiar to him, her scent filling his lungs, her hair splayed on his pillow.

And then, some hours later, with too much casualness for the miracle it really is — she wakes up.

And when she smiles at him, sitting up in the bed, thanking him for saving her life, he knows his heart will never, ever be the same.

Chapter Text

Without so much as a grunt of effort he picks you right up, carrying you in his arms across the cabin.

“Perhaps I’ll make her wait as I feast on her,” he says, and you actually moan out loud.

“You monster,” you whisper, trailing your fingertips over the firm contours of his chest.

He gazes down at you out of the corner of his eye, a dark little smile playing on his lips.

Then in one smooth movement, he lays you down on the bed and climbs on top of you, parting your legs so they wrap around him. You scarcely have time to get used to his weight on you when he suddenly grinds his crotch against yours. You cry out in pleasure, your fingernails raking his back, your eyes rolling back in your head.

“No,” he breathes next to your ear, grinding into you again. “You have not yet met the monster.”

You bite your lip at the pleasure of him, at the naughtiness of what he’s saying. His hands are on your body, his breath huffing on your neck, his whiskers tickling your cheek. You bury your lips in his neck and kiss him, breathing deeply, drinking in that heady scent you love so much. Kratos is always musky, smelling of sweat, skin, the stiff leather of his armor… and his raw, masculine scent makes you weak.

Your lips trace a line up his neck, his hairy jawline, his cheek. Kratos groans in approval as you kiss him, making just as much noise as when you first kissed his cheek on your doorstep. The heat of his palms against your skin is warming you deep into your bones, sending out little flares of pleasure as he caresses you. His touch is slow and heavy, the way you like it, yet his hands seem to be everywhere on you at once.

He starts smoothing over your clothes. Your body tenses from the excitement, rising up to meet his touch. He’s petting you so firmly that for a moment, you wonder if he’s searching for a way to undress you. But soon, you realize he’s just enjoying the feeling of your curves through your clothes.

Gods, this man…

His hands drift lower, over the fabric of your skirt. He caresses your waist, your hips, your thighs — making you squirm under his touch. He’s not just petting you — he’s exploring you. Kratos — your Kratos — is mapping the curves of your body under his fingertips, learning which places make you moan. His touch is so slow it almost feels lazy, but you know his ways better than that. Despite the way he’s pawing at you, you know that Kratos is also savoring you. It’s almost… sweet.

Except for what he’s plowing between your legs…

He starts palming both your breasts through your clothes, massaging your flesh. It feels so good that you grin, even laughing a little. But your smile is quickly replaced with something much more ravenous. His thumbs brush over your nipples and you whine, arching your back in a shameless plea for more. You gasp as he gently pinches both your nipples.

“Oh, yes!!” you sob.

He shifts so that your foreheads are pressed together, his nose rubbing against yours. He rolls both your nipples between his fingers, winding you up as you moan for him. He seems to like the way you’re panting, giving you a knowing look as he massages you.

Naughty girl,” he says in a low voice.

Somehow, you can’t remember any of your words, so you just nod, your forehead rubbing against his. Gods, you love being this close to him, pinned beneath his powerful body. He hasn’t stopped grinding into you since he laid you on your back, and it’s making you so wet that it’s practically dripping down your thighs.

He suddenly grabs a big handful of your breast, kneading it in his strong hand, squeezing the softness of your body. His grip is so strong that it almost hurts, but you only want more. He seems to notice this, that you like the roughness, and he paws at your body like a teenager. You writhe for him ecstatically, squeezing his body with your powerful thighs as he forces this pleasure into you.

Then he’s tweaking your other nipple, harder than before, giving this breast the same rough treatment. He fondles you, just like that, over and over, until you cry out his name — “Oh, Kratos!!

He suddenly grabs you by the chin, tugging your gaze up to his. You immediately gasp at the hard look in his eyes.

“That is my name,” he says, his voice low and dangerous. “Use it.”

Your eyes go wide, but you nod. Satisfied, he releases you.

Then, with an impish look in his eye, he fondles both your breasts again. Then he drops his head down, giving your nipples a couple rough licks through your top.

“Oh, Kratos, Kratos!!!” you exclaim.

He makes a pleased sound.

You like that?” he asks in a low voice.

“Oh, mercy, yes!!” you cry out.

Do you want more?

You nod, arching your back.

You squeal as he suddenly lifts your whole pelvis off the bed, holding you up against his massive erection. This wasn’t what you expected, but somehow, it’s everything that you want. You can’t help the way you suddenly rut against him, the way you link your ankles together behind his back and give in to your compulsion to grind. Kratos groans in approval, squeezing your flesh with both hands.

He grinds against your core so hard that you can actually feel him spreading your lips. You let out a devastating cry, loud and piercing.

He suddenly bites your neck, letting out a satisfied groan as he humps you.

You are going to get yourself in trouble, screaming like that,” he huffs next to your ear.

You try to think of a reply, but your words die in your throat — he’s reaching up your skirt, the rough calluses of his palms dragging over your bare thighs.

Then, you gasp as he peels up the hem of your skirt, pushing the fabric up over your hips, bunching it up around your waist. His grip comes to your bare thighs, already parted around him, and he gazes down at you. His amber eyes are dark as he takes in the sight of you — panting and splayed out beneath him.

His gaze comes to rest on your panties, soaked through for the need of him. He hisses, squeezing your legs, his grip forceful and heavy with promise. Gods, he’s already done so much for you. The overwhelming pleasure of him is making you feel greedy. You want to touch his body the way he touches you, teasing, tantalizing, stroking

He takes a good, long look at your body. Then his eyes search yours, something unspoken flickering there.

 

Is he… holding back?

 

The heat in your eyes is inviting him to touch you, but he still doesn’t move. After a long moment, you moan softly.

Let me do something for you,” you whisper.

He grunts, distracted.

“You’ve been so good to me, Kratos,” you say. “Please? I feel like I’m being so selfish.”

He huffs incredulously.

Selfish,” he repeats. You nod.

He lowers himself down onto your body again, and you moan softly at the intimacy of the contact. His hips are resting on yours, his gaze firey as he stares down into your eyes. Then, he gives you a single hard thrust that makes you gasp.

Can you feel that, woman??” he demands. You grit your teeth and nod.

By the gods, he’s big. You can feel the shape of his arousal through your clothes, even through his armor — so firm and insistent that it feels like an arm trapped between your legs. You whimper with the knowledge of what he wants to do to you.

Good,” he says, letting up. “Then do not concern yourself with my desires. You will know me better soon enough.”

“If you ever let me,” you blurt out.

You turn bright red, realizing your error, realizing you may have pushed him too far. But Kratos only sighs.

As he stares down at you, there is grief in his eyes, but patience too. He runs his hand over your head, smoothing your hair.

“There is no hurry, Faye,” he says.

“No, you’re right, I’m sorry,” you say, shaking your head. “I… I didn’t mean to push you.”

“You did not push me,” he says. And then in a softer tone, he adds, “I am the one who is winding you up, after all.”

You look up at him incredulously. In his gaze, rather than anger, you see that paternal fondness that always softens your heart.

But then, you hear your own sharp remark echoing in your ears — If you ever let me!

Your eyes drop down in shame, your cheeks burning. You know he has issues around his intimacy. How could you have let your desires get the best of you? You know better

Faye,” Kratos says softly, but you do not move.

He caresses your shoulders. His touch is so soft and sweet, so much gentler than it was a moment ago. Your eyes flutter closed, feeling so safe in his embrace. You know he’s watching your face as you lie there beneath him. It makes you feel so wanted, almost more than anything you’ve done so far. You feel like you could almost cry.

I love you,” you whisper.

“I… love you, Faye,” he says.

A few moments later, you feel the warmth of his palm on your cheek. And then, Kratos’s lips cover yours, hungry, searching.

Immediately you feel transported to another realm of pleasure, moaning softly against his lips. The heat of the kiss is something you’ve never experienced before. He’s moving again, and the slow grind of his hips makes you feel bonded with him — like you’re sealing your love, here, in gasps and groans in your bed. You kiss him right back, your lips pressing against his with pent-up need. He groans softly, and you realize, for the first time, that this is winding him up just as much as it is you.

Little Faye,” he says against your lips. “Always so eager for me.”

Yes…” you exhale. “Always.”

“I am a lucky man,” he says. “But you must be patient with me.”

“O-of course,” you say. “I can wait as long as you need.”

He grunts in approval.

“Right now, I seek only your pleasure,” he says. “If that is also your wish— ”

Yes,” you breathe, not even waiting for him to finish.

He grunts softly again.

Good,” he says finally, his voice so low you practically feel it inside. “Because, Faye, I have wanted to taste you since the day we met.”

You make a stifled, choked off sound. Then you blush from your head down to your feet.

“There is something you can do for me,” he says. “Before I do what I came here to do.” He licks playfully along your lips, leaving little doubt as to his meaning.

Your eyes are wide as you stare up at him. Then, you nod, smiling hopefully.

“Faye…” he says, drawing out your name in that way that makes you shudder.

“Mm?”

His fingertips trail down the line of your neck as he takes in the sight of you.

“Would you… undress… for me?”

Yes,” you exhale.

You see the barest hint of a smile teasing at the corner of his lips. But he doesn’t wait another moment before capturing your lips in a bruising kiss.

His tongue teases along the seam of your lips. You yield to him, your jaw slackening, and he immediately probes the heat of your mouth with his thick tongue.

Oh, Kratos… I love you.

So, so much.

His tongue is snaking around yours, deep in your mouth…

And his touch drifts lower, down your belly, around your hips…

And then, you tremble — his hands are sliding under your body, cupping your ass.

Mmmm!” you moan around his tongue.

You keen as he works his fingertips into your flesh, groping the softness there. And all the while he’s claiming your mouth like it belongs to him.

You’re so turned on that you stop kissing him, just lying there and mewling as he works you over. Suddenly, everything feels too hot, like you’re wearing too many clothes. Your hands come to the ties of your blouse.

But Kratos puts his hand over yours, stopping you. You blink up at him, confused.

“Is this… not what you wanted?” you ask.

“Where I can… watch you,” he says.

It takes you a moment to realize what he wants. But when you do, a searing blush comes to your face. You can’t help the sudden, nervous laugh that escapes you.

“Kratos!” you exclaim. “You… you want me to… strip for you?”

“Mm,” he grunts. His tone is nonchalant, but his eyes are dead serious. His hands smooth up and down your thighs.

You feel your heart beating like a drum. You know you don’t have much experience, but you are so eager to give him what he wants. Without another word, you push aside the covers and get to your feet.

When you turn back to look at him, he lights you up with that burning, golden gaze for a few seconds, and you can’t help biting your lip.

You feel so powerful, so sexy… He’s asking you to do this, despite your innocence. Or maybe… he’s asking you to do this because of your innocence. No one else has ever seen this side of you before, ever, but knowing that he’s your first… the thought sends a shiver of delight between your thighs.

Kratos, meanwhile, pushes himself up into a seated position. He settles back against the headboard, splayed out and relaxed, looking at you like you’re his next meal.

You swallow, trying to prepare yourself for what you’re about to do.

Slowly, you cross your arms in front of your body, hugging yourself. Despite your inexperience, you know that he likes touching you through your clothes, so you start there, smoothing your palms down your arms, tracing over your skin with your fingertips. It feels so natural that you bring flat palms to your belly, then trace down your hips, your thighs. Kratos leans forward, already forgetting his relaxed posture, and watches the movement of your hands.

Your trail your fingertips up your arms again, hugging yourself, hiding your breasts from him. He grunts impatiently, but you can tell he likes what he sees. You rock your hips, shifting your weight from one leg to the other, giving him a shameless come hither look.

You see his nostrils flare.

You blush, your breath wavering. Your nerves are catching up to you, your self-consciousness starting to cloud your thoughts. Your hands are trembling when you bring them to the laces of your blouse.

“How do you want me to…?” you ask, but you trail off. Your eyes fall to the floor, uncertain. Kratos is silent for a long moment. Then he grunts in understanding.

“As you normally would,” he says, his voice softer than before. “But… only if you wish.”

You take a deep breath, nodding. With a slow movement, you loosen the ties of your blouse.

And then, with a soft exhale, you let the garment slip down your bare shoulders.

Kratos sucks his teeth, letting his gaze sweep over all of you.

The strength of his reaction surprises you, and you can’t help the coy smile that spreads on your lips. His gaze lingers on the peek of your breast band, visible through the deep V of your loosened top. When his gaze returns to yours, you raise one eyebrow as if to ask, ‘How am I doing?’

By way of answering, Kratos looks down at his own body, and you follow his gaze downwards.

As always, he’s a feast for your eyes. For a moment you’re distracted by the sight of him— his powerful arms, his broad, bare chest, his rugged abs…

But then, you catch sight of the monstrous bulge in the front of his armor, and you suddenly realize what you’ve been doing to him.

Ohhh…” you exhale. For a moment, your eyes linger on the shape of his arousal through his clothes. Whether you’re staring out of hunger, wonder, fear, or all three… you can’t help yourself.

Will it hurt? you wonder, not for the first time. Or will it feel good?

Though you’ve never seen this part of a man, you’re so curious about him. You yearn to undress him with your own two hands, to touch, lick, kiss, suck…

You can’t help licking your lips.

He must have noticed. When you return your gaze to his, something meaningful passes between you.

With a knowing smile you take hold of the hem of your blouse and start lifting the thin garment up over your head. When it passes your breasts, you hear him catch his breath, shifting forward on the bed as he tries to get a better look at you. Though he remains stone-faced, you see his Adam’s apple bob as he swallows.

As you lift the blouse over your shoulders and toss it aside, one of your eyebrows quirks up, a cheeky little question in your eyes.

More?

He grunts, an impatient hunger on his face. His manner is calm, but his knuckles are going white as he clenches your blankets in his enormous fists. It’s clear from the look in his eye that there's only one thing he wants.

Keep going,” he says.

You nod, giving him another coy smile. Your hands come to the ties of your skirt, and he watches, transfixed, as you loosen those too. Soon, the garment is hanging slack around your hips. Then you give him another knowing look, letting your skirt fall to the floor and stepping out of it.

His jaw falls straight open. He stares at you, at the roundness of your hips, the soft curve of your belly. His eyes rake over you like another kind of touch, as though memorizing the sight of you in just your underwear.

The sight seems to be doing something to him, because his hand suddenly twitches towards his belt. But at the last moment, he seems to stop himself.

He looks into your eyes. You see his shoulders rise and fall with how heavy he’s breathing. You bite your lip, feeling the heat in his gaze.

You can, you know,” you whisper.

He looks down again, staring at himself, at how much he wants you.

When he returns his gaze to yours, he notices you thumbing the knot of your breast band. He watches, transfixed, as you unfasten it, and begin unwinding the tight binding from around your chest.

Slow down,” he says, his voice lower than usual.

You nod, thrilled to obey him, to give him just what he wants.

Slowly, you unpeel the bandage-like wrapping from around your body, feeling your breasts begin to spring free from their tight binding.

Gorgeous,” he murmurs in Greek.

The praise lights you up like a stack of dry kindling set aflame. You’re already so eager to please him, so ready to give him whatever he wants. After a moment of thought, you smile to yourself. If it’s a tease he wants, you’ll give him one.

You turn your back to him, resting your weight on one hip and proceeding to unwrap the rest of your chest binding. Your motions are slow and deliberate, a playful distraction as you rock your hips side to side.

When you finally free your breasts, you toss aside the band. Draping an arm across your chest, you dare yourself to look back over your shoulder at Kratos.

Turn around, woman,” he says, a hard edge in his voice.

“Yes sir,” you murmur. Then you blush madly.

Where in Odin’s name did that come from?

But you’ve already turned to face him, still concealing your breasts with one arm. His jaw is already hanging open, but he looks up at you in complete awe. Somehow, he’s even more surprised by your little remark than you are.

You’re already addicted to this feeling, this power you hold over him and his pleasure. You drop your other hand down, tugging down the waistband of your panties, revealing a tantalizing glimpse of your hipbone to him.

He groans like he’s in pain.

You’ve got him wrapped around your little finger, you think to yourself.

And you never want it to end.

Before you can talk yourself out of it, you palm your own breasts, and Kratos sucks a full breath of air through his teeth. Looking him straight in the eye, you hold them up, squeezing them, pressing them together.

Ohh, you bad girl,” Kratos grits out.

“Who, me?” you ask quietly.

His nostrils flare again.

“Woman, to me,” he says. He jabs at the bed next to him, and your heart nearly stops beating. But you do as he says, walking slowly, his eyes burning your skin the whole time.

As you approach him, you see that he’s breathing hard, giving you a look you’ve never seen before. And you gasp as he stands up, towering over you. His eyes are hard as he looks down at you

“Lie down on the bed,” he says.

You don’t hesitate to obey him.

You sit on the edge of the bed, only staring up at him for a moment before you lay back. Then you gaze up at the timbers of your ceiling, letting out a breath of air you didn’t know you were holding.

But then, the way he’s moving draws your attention, and you prop yourself up on your elbows to watch. You see him unfasten the buckle of his armored cingulum, letting it fall straight to the ground. And then, you actually gasp when you see the way he’s straining his underwear, the ridged head of his cock visible even through the fabric. You can practically feel how badly he wants to touch himself. And yet for some reason, he’s holding back.

By the gods… does he really love tormenting himself this much? Or is there something else?

But you immediately forget what you were thinking about as he grabs hold of himself, straightening out his member within the confines of his underwear. He gives you a dark look.

“You are lucky I am not the man I once was,” he says in a low voice. “You are the very picture of sin right now.”

Before you have time to ask him what he means, your eyes go wide. You watch in awe as Kratos kneels at your feet, that same dark look on his face. A few moments later, your breath catches in your throat. His huge hands are feeling their way up your bare legs, tracing the contours of your body.

You gasp as he throws one of your legs over his massive shoulder, placing a kiss on the inside of your knee and eyeing you knowingly. You whimper with need as he places another kiss on your inner thigh, then another, then another, working his way up towards the place where you’re throbbing with need for him.

As he nears the juncture of your thighs, his nose starting to brush against the downy curls there, you let out a high-pitched whine.

“You are… sensitive,” he says between open mouthed kisses, so wet and sensual as he works his way up your inner thigh.

You nod, unable to speak. He can’t hide the pleased look in his eye.

“I like it,” he says.

Then, without another word, he lowers his head between your legs. You barely have time to gasp before he starts kissing your pussy through the thin fabric, exploring the shape of you with his lips, nosing at your clit.

Your hips twitch in response, a broken mewl escaping your throat. You have never, ever felt anything this intimate before. You force yourself to breathe deeply, to relax your spine, to try and surrender to him and this gift he wants to give you…

You think you have yourself under control, but you tremble as you feel his tongue emerge, licking you through the sopping wet fabric. Even with your underwear on you can feel his hot breath huffing against your most sensitive flesh. Your head tosses back, a helpless whimper escaping your throat as you grip the blankets. You feel him hum in satisfaction, the vibrations traveling all the way up to your core. By the gods, the soft sounds of satisfaction in his throat are making you wet.

Despite how vulnerable you are, you feel safe… even loved. The way his big hands are holding your thighs apart as he tastes you… it’s everything. He even gives you a gentle squeeze when you let out a particularly piercing cry, and you relax even more into the bed.

Then, you draw a sharp gasp — he’s dragging a single finger down the juncture of your thighs, over your panties. He traces his finger up and down, watching your face, making you cry out into the night air. He grunts in satisfaction as he does it again, pushing his thumb over your clit, and you cry out even louder. Your legs shake as his touch circles your sensitive bud, your whole body trembling with arousal.

And then, giving you one last, lingering look… he starts licking you like you’re a goddamn treat.

You cry out mindlessly, not even thinking in words any more. You’re vaguely aware that he’s gripping your thighs now, holding your legs spread while he buries his face in you through the fabric.

Mother… of… Odin…” you grit out in the Jotun tongue, completely unable to remember anything but your native language. Your leg jerks, falling hard and kicking against his back, but he doesn’t seem to care one bit. The whole world is nothing but you, this bed, and the heat of Kratos’s tongue against your virgin entrance.

Lap, lap, lap — Licccccck —

The strokes of his tongue are strong, but you know he’s only teasing you. You know how he likes to make you work for it, to make you wait. Your fingernails bite into your palms from how turned on you are, but you won’t beg for it, you won’t. But ohhhh he’s making you moan so deeply that you hardly recognize your own voice.

Despite your desperate noises, he takes his time with you. He laps at your entrance through the dampening fabric, flutters his tongue over your swollen clit, and tugs the fabric away from your body with his teeth, sucking on it as though he can’t get enough of your taste.

Just as you're about to succumb and start begging him, he stops. You find his gaze again, your eyes out of focus with desire. His thumbs are hooked under the waistband of your panties, caressing your hipbones. He looks so ready to take them off you, but there’s a question in his eyes.

Do it,” you grit out.

And then, all your thoughts turn to air as he grabs your panties and yanks them down over your hips. You fight the urge to cover your mouth as he pulls them down your legs. His lips are glued to your inner thigh before he even finishes pulling them off your ankles, and your back arches against the bed in naughty anticipation.

Kratos…”

You moan knowingly as he throws your legs over his massive shoulders, your feet dangling down his back. Distantly, you notice the way he’s looking at you, the way his eyes are locked on to the space between your legs—

And then you realize something.

You are naked.

Your jaw falls open at the feeling of being so exposed to him. Then you hear him groan. His brows are knit in pure heat, his jaw so agape that he’s practically drooling.

Look at you,” he says in Greek. He gently massages your vulva with his thumbs, and you just about arch right off the bed.

Relax your body, Faye,” he says softly. You obey him without another thought, trusting him so much that you let yourself go boneless on the bed.

He strokes you, massages you, watches you. It's so good, to feel so loved, to feel so irresistibly sexy. His hands are warm on you, his touch surprisingly gentle for one as gruff as him. Your little pussy trembles with need, and he seems to know just how to stoke that fire in you.

"Little Faye," he says again, his voice thick with affection. And you coo softly, your head falling back as he keeps touching you.

But soon, you can’t take the teasing.

Please,” you whisper.

But he just watches you, working your flesh in little circles, spreading you.

Then, he presses his thumbs together.

This time, you actually feel some of your juices dripping down your body, and you whimper. He sucks his teeth so hard that the veins of his neck stand out.

So wet,” he groans.

It’s all for you,” you exhale.

A moment passes before you realize what you’ve said. You immediately sit up again, locking eyes with Kratos.

He doesn’t say anything, but the look he’s giving you could melt the ice off a lake. You somehow know you’re about to feel something better than anything you’ve ever felt… and he’s going to give it to you.

Kratos’s eyes are hardened with lust as he lowers his face between your trembling thighs. You feel his beard, tickling your inner thighs, and then your mind grinds to a halt as he… he…

Oh, by the almighty gods

Your whole body tenses in ecstasy, and you hear yourself crying out. Kratos is licking you — no, tasting you — his tongue stroking over your most sensitive flesh.

Ohhhhh………” you exhale, your head tossing back, your teeth gritting with need.

Kratos lavvs at your entrance, groaning softly as he tastes your incredible wetness for the first time. Your eyes drift closed as he explores you with his tongue, already starting to slip inside you. He can’t seem to help himself, his tongue snaking up your tight, virgin channel even as he licks your entire pussy.

You whimper as he tugs your pussy lips apart with his thumbs. You feel so exposed to him, but he doesn’t hesitate a second before diving in.

The strong muscle of his tongue ravishes you, working up to the very center of your core. The way your folds part for him feels divine, your body so ready to feel him inside you. He gives you a few long, penetrating licks, worshipping your entrance, teasing at your clit. You cry out in pleasure, but you know he’s still only getting started with you. And you just lie there, soaking in the pleasure of him, trying to remember to breathe.

He begins to nose at your clit as he fucks you slowly with his tongue.

And then, hearing the way you gasp, he starts licking your clit instead.

His strokes are gentle, lapping at you with the flat of his tongue, but the sensation is like a lightning bolt straight to your loins. You moan senselessly as he flutters his tongue over your clit, the heat of his breath ghosting over your pussy.

But soon, you can’t stand the loss of his tongue, and you desperately need something inside you — tongue, finger, cock— anything, as long as it’s him.

Please, Kratos. Please,” you start to beg, your voice breathy as he suckles your clit.

He grunts, glancing up at you from where he’s feasting on you, a note of satisfaction in his voice.

Speak my name again,” he says in a low voice.

Oh, Kratos,” you moan. “You’re making me want you so fucking badly.” He responds by licking you again, hard.

“I know,” he says. A full-body shudder rips through you.

Crying out at the pleasure of him, you arch your back, tempting him further. He watches the desperate look in your eyes, watches the way they fog over in want as he pleasures you. But he seems determined to take his time.

He continues his ministrations, tender, slow — achingly slow — as he moves between your pussy and your clit. Your own voice is loud in your ears as you fall to pieces under him.

“Please,” you sob. “I need more. Please, I’ll do anything.”

He groans against your pussy.

“You should not make promises you cannot keep, little Faye,” he growls. Then he plunges his tongue deep inside you, and you moan like you’ve been shot.

“Kratos, I promise you,” you pant. “Anything you want from me is yours. I keep nothing from you. My body is yours to claim, and yours alone.”

He groans again. This time, a pleased little smile tugs at the corners of his lips.

Naughty girl.”

You barely have time to catch your breath before he’s burying his face in your pussy again, lapping at your core like you’re the most delicious thing he’s ever tasted.

You cry out to the heavens, your hips bucking, but his strong hands hold you right where you are. It’s almost like he knew your body would fight him, but he was ready for you. Gods, he's so strong. Your strongest thrashing isn’t enough to even budge him.

At some point you bring your hands to the back of his bald head, encouraging him by grinding against the tireless strokes of his tongue. You rock against him shamelessly, pumping your hips, so much that he looks up at you with some amusement. You whimper, and he grunts in acknowledgement, pausing to nip at your inner thigh.

“More?” he asks, his voice thick with need.

Please!” you exclaim through grit teeth.

He changes up his movements, drawing back to tongue at your clit — side to side, little circles, up and down — until you’re trembling from head to toe.

F-fuck…” you say weakly.

Then he licks you deep again, fucking you with his whole tongue, groaning the entire time. He must know what he’s doing to you. But as you succumb to the pleasure, he pauses just long enough to make you groan in frustration.

Kratos, please, don’t stop...” you moan, your hips twitching with need.

Suddenly, you feel him teasing the line of your entrance with one of his thick fingers, and you gasp.

You want that?” he purrs in Greek, and you nod vigorously.

You moan as he slips one thick finger into you, easing it in, withdrawing it, all the while lapping at the honey pouring from your body.

Your breathless moans seem to be spurring him on. He rocks his finger deeper as he laps at you, keeping pace with the strokes of his tongue.

Harder,” you pant.

He hums against your flesh in deep satisfaction, looking up from where he’s lavving over your entrance. There’s a twinkle in his eye as he continues pleasuring you. Through your haze, you realize, somehow, that he’s about to actually give you what you want.

With a hard growl he starts reaming you with his finger, your legs shaking as he eats out your entire pussy.

YES!!!” you practically scream, and he pistons into you harder.

Do you like that, woman?” he growls, but you’re in no state to talk. Your devastating cries fill the air as he drives you closer and closer to your climax.

Soon you feel a familiar heat coiling deep in your belly, and you bite down and whimper. You’re close, you’re so close

Kratos seems to sense this and redoubles his efforts, teasing your throbbing clit with his tongue while continuing to move his finger in you. He tongues back and forth over you roughly before slipping in a second finger like it’s nothing, like this isn’t the most you’ve ever been split open.

Your heels dig into his back as you holler in pleasure, but it just seems to spur him on. Now that he’s got you here, you think, there’s no way he’s going to stop, even if you beg him to. Gods, the trust you feel, to let him do this to you…

Suddenly he flips his hand so his palm is up, and you cry out at the unexpected friction. Then he stares into your eyes again, his expression dark as he thrusts into you deeply. His fingertips stroke over a place that makes you see stars.

“Ohh, have mercy!!” you exclaim, but you throw your hips against him, your legs spread wide in lewd anticipation. He holds your hip tightly with his other hand, grunting in approval as he feasts on you. You let out a helpless sob of pleasure and he groans against your pussy. A few more seconds of this and you’re done for—

But he doesn’t relent. His fingers are devilish in you, his tongue a relentless prayer, beckoning your climax nearer and nearer. Your legs shake, your moans trembling as you lose control.

I’m close…” you manage to say, swallowing hard.

Gods, the heat pooling in your belly is more than you’ve ever felt...You whimper as he dives back in, rocking his head against you as you fall apart, eating you out like you’re the juiciest peach he’s ever tasted…

Then, he crooks his fingers in you.

You're gonna make me come!!” you cry.

Hhnnngh,” he groans, sounding almost as wrecked as you. “I know, I can taste it on you.”

You moan, arching, your body soaked in pleasure. You bounce against him, extending through your hips, the silence broken by your desperate, rapid breaths.

He changes up his movements, sucking on your clit like it’s the sweetest candy he’s ever gotten to taste, his noises obscene as he swallows you down. And all the while he ravages you with his fingers. You grab the back of his head, spreading yourself, getting yourself off against his face.

Ohhh, fuck me! Fuck me!!” you sob as you gyrate against his fingers. Kratos reams you right through it, a savage look in his eye as you twist on him.

Dirty girl,” he growls.

Then he buries his face in your pussy and licks you with more force than you ever thought possible, holding you against him, filling you with his powerful tongue. You cry out so loud you’re sure you can be heard down the mountain.

His tongue is so hot where it’s splitting you open. The deep, slithering pleasure of it is almost too much for you, and you squirm against his face. You’re whimpering like a lost child, your whole body shaking with need. Your fingers slip down to join him, working yourself so hard it’s almost clumsy, teasing your clit from the top while he feasts on you. He groans in deep satisfaction.

I… love… you… ,” you moan, hitching yourself against him. He growls in pleasure.

Come for me, angel,” he says. “Come for daddy.”

You take three rough gasps and then scream, your pussy clenching down on him, your mind going absolutely blank with pleasure.

Eveything feels so fucking good with his fingers in you, the pleasure hitting you in hot, liquid waves.

Then you feel his tongue, lapping furiously, still so eagerly feasting on you as he fingerfucks you hard. And one look at the devilish glint in his eye is enough to push you back over your edge.

Your teeth clench helplessly as another orgasm rips through you, and you’re powerless to fight it — you take a deep breath and then scream again, your eyes rolling back, your wetness dripping down your thighs. As your second climax rips through you, you let out a desperate, thrusting cry, squeezing his fingers one more time before you collapse, boneless, on the bed.

 

 

You’re reeling from the strength of your orgasm, your pussy twitching with aftershocks, your legs shaking, sweat on your face… when you look down at him incredulously. Your eyes are unfocused, your head swaying from the dizziness, yet you can’t tear your gaze from those fearsome golden eyes. The ones that are currently looking at you like you’re the most prized meat on a banquet table.

But despite the predatory look in his eye, he gently withdraws his fingers, patting you softly on the leg.

Ohhh, you are such a good girl, Faye,” he says.

You let out a breathless laugh, staring up at the ceiling, dazed, amazed… breathing so hard you almost can’t catch your breath. Kratos hums in satisfaction, pressing his lips against your slit and giving you a sensual kiss. You let out another breathy laugh, so utterly wrecked by him that it suddenly feels almost funny.

“You are perfection,” Kratos continues, kissing your inner thigh. “Your body is like a balanced weapon in my hands. A joy to handle.”

All you can do is moan and try to sound grateful.

You feel the bed dip as he crawls up next to you. Your eyes flutter open, and you smile up at him as he takes his place next to you, wiping his mouth on the back of his arm.

“Sorry that takes forever,” you murmur, your words practically slurred.

He huffs in disbelief.

“I have forever,” he says. Then he kisses your hand, keeping his eyes on you the whole time. You just smile at him, shaking your head, amazed.

By the nine realms, you’re good at that,” you say, letting out a shaky laugh.

Mm,” he says, still kissing along the back of your hand.

He eyes you closely for a few moments. The look in his eyes is so strange, you can’t guess what he’s thinking.

“What?” you ask, laughing softly again.

He looks you straight in the eye.

“My loins are heavy with need for you,” he says, his eyes sparking with something raw. “Perhaps I should let you return the favor.”

Chapter Text

***

***

His words make your heart double-beat.

Perhaps I should let you return the favor.

“Is that what you want?” you ask breathlessly. The words are out of your mouth before you can even think.

Kratos grunts, staring down at you over the proud jut of his chin. His amber eyes are lidded, his pupils dark with lust. With a slow, deliberate movement, he plants an arm on either side of your head, caging you in.

“Desperately,” he says.

Your lips part. You can scarcely believe what you just heard. But the way he’s looking at you… there’s no mistaking it. Kratos’s gaze sweeps your naked form, and you practically shiver from the attention. After the intimacy of what you just did, you feel a primal need to thank him — with your touch, with your kisses, with your body.

As he drinks you in, he wets his lips, his tongue so red next to his pale skin. You remember how effortlessly he brought you to climax with that clever tongue, feasting on you while you lost your mind above him.

 

What if you just spread your legs

 

You swallow, trying to force some sense back into your thoughts. You can’t let the heat of the moment get the better of you, not again. You need to know if Kratos really wants this.

You reach up to cradle his face, caressing his hairy cheek. You search his gaze, your eyes darting back and forth between his.

Are you sure?” you whisper.

This seems to wake him up. For a long moment, he seems to consider something. Then he collapses onto his side, hitching himself closer to you. He grasps your shoulder reassuringly.

“I will stop you,” he says, staring into your eyes. “If I… need to.”

“Okay,” you say, nodding. “Thank you.”

Your hand comes to rest on top of his, squeezing him reassuringly. Kratos’s eyes flick down to where you’re touching him, then back up to your face. In his eyes you see, once again, how amazed he is that you show him this much care.

 

Maybe sex has never been this way for him before, you realize.

 

Maybe it’s never been a gentle thing.

 

Maybe it’s never been how he really wanted it.

 

The thought makes you ache to touch him, to discover everything about his body and what he likes. You don't know his past, or how long it’s been for him. But by the gods, you want to make him feel like a man.

Slowly, you slide your hand down his arm, watching the way your fingertips glide over the firm cut of his muscles. Kratos certainly notices, but he just watches you, his eyes full of sleepy heat.

When you reach his bicep, you pause. The way he’s flexing his arm, the muscle so large and hard under your fingertips… it’s making you realize how powerful he truly is. Kratos is built for strength, and it shows in every inch of his body.

Shifting yourself closer to him, you wonder again how he came to be this way. He said he was a soldier, but you’ve met plenty of soldiers. None of them ever looked like him. Kratos looks like he could be an athlete, maybe even one of the finest in the world.

He said he was a Spartan… was he a gladiator?

It makes no sense for him to be here — in Midgard, or in your bed. And yet here he is, presenting himself for your touch. As your eyes wander down the hard planes of his chest and abs, you’re struck again by his statuesque beauty. The strange moonlight hue of his skin, the vividness of his red tattoo as it leads your eye down his body… it all adds up to a picture of physical perfection that you never thought you’d see (let alone touch).

Gods, you want to lie with him. You want to satisfy him with your body until he comes apart, gasping and panting. You want to learn all his wildest fantasies and let him ravage your body with them.

Swallowing, you dare yourself to look lower. Your eyes follow the deep, muscular ‘V’ between his hips, barely hidden by his underwear. His lower belly is dusted with a patch of dark hair, and you immediately imagine kissing him there, dragging your tongue over his skin. The thought makes something throb deep inside you.

Would he like that? Would that feel… good… for him?

Your eyes drop further, to where he’s straining the fabric of his underwear. Gods, the sight of him. His cock is jutting towards you almost painfully, by the looks of it, and the ridged head of it so obvious that you could run your finger along it.

You could

Slowly, you bring your hand to rest on Kratos’s hip, caressing him softly with your thumb. You feel his stomach tense, the muscles almost unbelievably firm under your fingertips. Once again, you’re struck by the sheer power of his body. You may be a warrior yourself, but you’re still a young woman. And you’re just so little, compared to him. When you glance down, your feet only reach the middle of his shins.

You swallow as you think about what he actually wants from you. This brute of a man, twice your size and decades older, asking you to get him off

You feel a blush spreading on your cheeks. When you glance up, Kratos eyes you curiously.

“Y-you’re so strong,” you say, averting your gaze. “I… I like it.”

“Do you,” he says in that low, devastating way of his. You nod, unable to meet his eyes.

 

 

Gods, are you really so inexperienced that even touching a man on his hip makes you senseless?

 

 

Do you even *know* how to please a man?

 

 

Your confidence drains like a punctured wineskin, and you pull your hand away. A few long moments of silence pass by.

“Faye,” Kratos says finally. “We do not have to.”

He’s caressing your shoulder softly with his thumb, and when you finally look up at him, his eyes search yours. Instead of his normally severe expression, he looks… concerned. He gives your shoulder a gentle squeeze, and you shake your head.

“I want to, Kratos,” you tell him. “I want to do this for you. Badly. But…” You trail off, uncertain.

“Mm,” he says, eyeing you. “Perhaps it is too soon.”

“No, I’m ready,” you say, locking eyes with him. “But I… I don’t know how. Will you show me?”

Kratos sighs, appraising you with that serious, paternal look he gives you when he’s worried about you.

“Another day,” he says.

No!” you say. The force of your protest surprises both of you. “No,” you say, a little softer, your eyes pleading. “I want this, Kratos. I ask again, will you teach me? Please?”

The lines around his mouth deepen, a furrow coming to his brow as he considers your words.

“It is of no consequence to me that you are inexperienced,” Kratos says. “But you are old enough to have done these things.”

“But I haven’t,” you say sadly.

“Yes,” he says.

Then, in a softer voice, he says, “Faye… is there… something I should know?”

You blink at him incredulously. But after a moment you lower your eyes, nodding sadly.

“There were… bad experiences,” you say. “In the peacekeepers. My fellow soldiers were a wild lot, and when they drank, they were not always respectful.”

Kratos says nothing, letting you continue.

“They never tried anything. They were smart enough to know I would break whatever limb I needed to to get them to back off.”

You pause, sighing.

“But their words… their stories, their propositions, the way they talked about the women they bedded… they made me never want to have anything to do with sex.”

Kratos grunts in understanding.

“One of my squadmates, he…” you sigh, shaking your head. “I liked him. He was sweet on me, too. But once, when we were out on patrol, he excitedly offered to fuck me over a barrel. Apparently he’d found a nice corner behind a building somewhere. I guess he thought it was romantic.”

You shake your head again, rolling your eyes at the memory.

“That is no way to learn to love,” Kratos says.

“No,” you say softly. “That’s what I thought, too.”

Kratos has shifted closer to you on the bed, his hand still on your shoulder, the warm flank of his body so close that you can feel the heat of him.

“Was there… nothing else?” he says. “Before? After?”

You look at him in surprise. You had never told him you had a life after the peacekeepers.

“Well, once I returned home, I suppose I got lost in my work,” you say. “The long hours helped me to avoid—” You suddenly stop, unsure how to explain this portion of your life.

“Your parents,” he says.

Your eyes snap up to his.

“How in the nine realms did you guess that?” you ask.

“I did not guess,” he says.

You consider this. You suppose it’s possible you mentioned your parents, though you can’t remember a time when you would have done that.

“Yes, well, you’re right,” you say, nodding along. “No need to get into that, but… anyway, I never found anyone I wanted to be with. There were some, at my work, who pursued me, but… they always bored me.”

“A translator of scrolls, boring?” he says.

You can’t believe the hint of a smile now curving Kratos's lips. Your jaw falls open.

“Your brother told me,” he says.

After a long moment, when the shock wears off, you shake your head in resignation.

“Of course he did,” you say. “And what else did he tell you?”

“That you were nearly forced into marriage as a young girl.”

 

You suddenly feel as though a cold wind has passed through your body.

 

Your eyes go far away, and you slump back onto the bed.

 

Ohhhh, that rotten bastard,” you say.

“Faye,” Kratos says.

“I’m going to kill him.”

Faye,” he says again.

“I’m going to break every bone in his body, I’m going to—”

Angel,” he says, his voice soft. The fond nickname is enough to make you pause. You sigh, rolling over to face the wall. You feel exposed, like some secret family shame has been aired. Your brother dug up a part of your past you would rather just forget.

Kratos shifts so he’s right behind you. You try to ignore him, but he presses the warm flank of his body against your back. And, despite yourself, you groan softly as you feel his big arms wrap around you.

Your nakedness makes you feel both vulnerable and safe in his embrace. You shiver — both from the warmth and the pleasure.

Cold?” he asks.

“Mhm,” you say.

He squeezes you tighter, pulling you flush against his body. He seems to know just how to hold you, locking you in place with his powerful arms. He holds you just like that for a long moment, his body stilling, as though he’s remembering something.

Mm?” you ask.

Kratos says nothing. But a moment later, you feel his lips on your shoulder, giving you a slow, tender kiss.

Then another. And another.

Despite yourself, you moan softly.

That feels nice,” you sigh in Greek.

I promised to keep you warm,” he replies in his native tongue.

He begins to caress your arms where his are wrapped around you. It’s surprisingly chaste, given how naked you are. You exhale a soft sigh, your eyes drifting closed.

“I do not blame you,” Kratos says softly. “For avoiding love.”

Mm,” you say, nuzzling his shoulder. “Avoiding sex, I think you mean.”

“No,” he says.

Your curiosity piqued, you open your eyes again.

“What do you mean?”

“Faye…” he says. He waits for a moment. With a sigh, you turn your head to look back at him.

“Yes?”

“Is what we are doing right now sex?” he asks. It's so unexpected that you chuckle, shaking your head.

“What kind of a question is that?” But as you say the words, one of his hands drops down to your waist, caressing you with such tenderness that the smile fades from your lips.

Then, slowly, the flat of his palm finds your hip, and he squeezes you, his eyes full of promise.

“You want everything,” he says in a low voice. He smooths his hand downward, over your bare thigh, and you go completely, utterly silent. Even your breathing stops.

His hand traces back up your thigh, over the roundness of your hip, across your lower belly.

“And you want it right away.”

You moan softly as he teases you with a curl of his fingertips.

“It is something I have noticed about you.”

Your jaw falls open as he slides his hand down your back, gently palming your ass.

“S-so?” you ask, but there’s no bite in your voice. Because Kratos is smoothing his hand back up the deep curve of your waist, over the flank of your back.

“Because there is more to lovemaking than that,” he says.

Both his hands are on your body now, worshipping the curve of your waist. His breath is so hot on your neck, his beard tickling your cheek as he kisses the space behind your ear. You’re flushed with pleasure as his calloused hands begin to wander on your body, exploring you with a confident, heavy touch. He traces his palms up your sides, over your bare breasts, and you let out a sultry “Mmmm…” of pure pleasure.

You love the way he lavishes you with attention, the way he’s somehow gruff and gentle with you at the same time. From this close, you can feel him breathing, can feel the way his breath hitches as he explores you. Kratos likes to dote on you, you realize. And knowing that he likes this as much as you do… it's making you feel warm enough to melt through the wastes of Helheim.

Little Faye,” he rumbles, his voice so low it actually makes you shiver. “There is so much you miss when you act too fast.” He gently cups your breasts, giving them a slow, gentle squeeze.

Ohhh…” you moan, a senseless sound of pleasure, interrupted by a gasp when he nibbles on your neck.

Kratos!” you exclaim.

He seems to like that. You keen as his hands wrap around your belly, pulling you closer. Your breath hitches as his touch strays lower, into your curls, teasing you with what he might do. As he continues caressing you, he gently rocks his hips, the slow rhythm of it making you mewl softly. The way he’s groping your belly, exploring your softness with his rough hands… you’d almost think this was his favorite part of your body.

Despite all this teasing, you're completely focused on what Kratos is doing to you right now. There’s no inner voice urging him forwards, no desperate pursuit of your own pleasure. No… something new is happening here.

As he slowly kisses up the side of your neck, you realize what it is — for the first time since you started being intimate with him… you’re not begging him for more.

Kratos, however, can’t seem to get enough of you. He paws at your belly, your thighs, your hips, smoothing his hands over you like a sculptor at the wheel. All his attention… it’s making you feel more gorgeous than you ever have. You feel so tempting in your nakedness. Your breasts jiggle as you squirm for him, and you’re making noises that you’ve never heard yourself make. But like always, Kratos seems determined to take his time.

Slowly, you bring your hands over top of his, following his touch along with him. You want him to know you understand, that you accept this slow, simmering heat and everything he wants to give you. You follow his touch to the undersides of your breasts, and you sigh softly, melting into his arms.

Kratos seems to like this. He tickles you with a gentle curl of his fingers, making you grin in knowing pleasure. With your hands still over his, you mewl softly, pressing your ass back against him. But he simply traces his hands back down your body, over the gentle flare of your ribs and down your sides.

Before tonight, you would have been groaning in disappointment. You would have been mashing his hands over your breasts, or at least begging him to. But now, with your whole body on fire for him… you just… linger. You mold your body into his embrace, cooing softly in acceptance. In this moment, you don’t want anything but his hands on your body, exactly as they are.

Kratos seems to sense the change in you. He kisses down your neck in gratitude, his coarse beard tickling your skin.

That’s my girl,” he whispers.

You just grin from ear to ear. He wraps his arms around you, and you wrap your arms around his, squeezing his embrace around you as tightly as you can.

 

 

At that moment, you realize something. Kratos has stopped moving.

At first, you think it’s just the heat of what you’ve been doing. His breathing is heavier than before, and he’s resting his head against the back of yours. But he is completely still for a long, long moment.

Are you okay?” you ask softly.

Faye,” he says in wonder, so close that the hairs raise on the back of your neck. “My arms… they do not… hurt.”

Through your haze, it takes you a moment to understand what he means. But when you do, your eyes go wide. The milk of the mountain that you rubbed on him… it must still be taking the pain of his burns away. Your heart nearly overflows with happiness.

How long has it been? you wonder. How long since he's been able to enjoy his pleasure free from pain? Years? Decades?

You deserve it,” you whisper. He does not answer you. But he holds you, just like that, for a long time.

Eventually, his hands caress the outsides of your shoulders, rubbing them up and down.

My beloved,” he says in Greek. Agapiméni mou.

His voice is quiet, but he sounds almost apologetic. In your common tongue, he adds, “You have reminded me that I was once a normal man. That I was once free from all this… complication. Please… do not take my slowness as a lack of desire.”

“I don't,” you say, squeezing him. “I accept you, Kratos. I know you have… issues… with your intimacy.”

“Not issues,” he says. “Fears.”

This gets your attention. You had assumed there was some trauma in his past, but… perhaps it was something else.

“What are you afraid of?” you ask softly.

“Myself,” he says, his voice full of bitterness. Your eyes go wide. You didn't expect him to actually answer you. Nor did you expect his answer to be himself.

“Why?” you ask quietly.

“Because I am a dangerous man, Faye,” he says.

“You aren't dangerous to me,” you say.

“You saw what happened to your bed,” he says, his voice hard. “A broken bed is replaceable. You…… are not.”

“You're worried you're going to break me?” you ask with a disbelieving laugh. But immediately, you see that this is no joke to him. When he sighs, it is with a grief that sounds a thousand years old.

“I… I do not wish to hurt you,” he says finally. “I cannot allow myself to… lose control.”

Lose control?

Lose control of… what?

Something tugs at your memory. The fire, in his eyes — you saw it in the woods, when he tore apart the draugr that was hurting you. With a start, you realize that it was just like the red you saw in Thor's eyes after you… kissed him.

You take a low, shaky breath.

“Faye?” he asks.

“It's okay,” you say quickly. “I understand. I can… I can wait.”

“Mm. I cannot,” he says. Unexpectedly, Kratos nuzzles his face in your hair. “How I have longed for you, Faye.”

You blink in surprise. Kratos has never mentioned anything about how he felt towards you in the long months before you were together.

“Really?” you ask.

“Yes,” he says. And then, hearing the interest in your voice, he clears his throat. “My desires were… constant.”

“Even when we were apart?”

“Yes. I tried many times to forget, but…”

He pushes a strand of hair behind your ear, kissing your cheek softly.

“I could not,” he says.

You smile softly. He isn't exactly a poet, but you love him all the same. You roll over in his embrace, turning to face him.

Your eyes are fogged over in pleasure, but as soon as you’re looking into those amber eyes again, you feel almost shy. When he sees the way you're looking at him, Kratos’s whole expression softens. He cups your cheek in his enormous palm, and you blush as he drags his thumb over your plush bottom lip. For a moment, he seems to lose himself, his gaze darting between your eyes and your lips.

Stunning,” he says in Greek.

“Thank you,” you reply softly, placing your hand over top of his. “I… I longed for you too, Kratos.”

“Did you,” he says. You nod, a hint of impishness entering your smile.

“I used to dream about you,” you say, raising a sultry eyebrow. “When we were apart.”

“Mm. Is that so?” he asks. You nod again, stroking his beard.

“All the time,” you say. You drape your arms around his neck now, staring into his eyes. “And they were far from innocent.”

He lets out a low rumble of approval, his eyes full of that same sleepy heat you've come to love so much.

You return his look with a catlike smile, your eyes hooded.

“Perhaps I'll tell you about them some time.”

His eyes flash.

“Perhaps you will tell me now,” he says.

Then he tickles you, and you shriek in pleasure, pushing against him even as you surrender to his touch.

You're gasping for breath when he finally stops tickling you. But having his hands on your body again has rekindled the flame he's been stoking in you all night. You flick your eyes down, inviting him to look at you.

“Do you still long for me, Kratos?” you pant.

Something sharp returns to Kratos's gaze. The way you're splayed out, still gasping for breath… it's clearly having an effect on him. He glances down at your body, sucking his teeth in pleasure.

“Because after all this time…” you continue, walking two fingers up his chest. “I'm right here. In the… flesh.”

Kratos takes a deep, slow breath. He wants you. You know he does. But something seems to be holding him back.

Is it his fear of losing control? you wonder. Maybe you can reassure him.

You place a hand on his shoulder. “I will cry mercy,” you say. “If I need to.”

Kratos searches your gaze, his brow creased in concern. You can see he's wondering if he can take you at your word.

“On my honor as a soldier, I promise,” you whisper. “I will not let you hurt me.”

After a long, intense moment, he nods. “Good then,” he says. Then he cups your cheek again, his thumb caressing your cheekbone. “See that you do.” You nod, a relieved smile spreading on your lips.

“Although,” you say playfully, your eyes closing halfway. “I like it when you're a little… rough with me.”

Kratos grunts, eyeing you. “I have noticed,” he says.

“Well then,” you say.

“Well then,” he repeats.

You wet your lips, and his amber eyes dart down to follow the movement. His brow furrows slightly, as though he's displeased that you're teasing him. You raise your eyebrows, putting on your most faux-innocent expression.

You lean in close to him, so close you're almost kissing. You lower your voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “What are you going to do about it, da—”

You shriek as you find yourself pinned to the bed, laid out on your back. Staring down at you, Kratos growls. A moment later his hands are back on your breasts, palming them in two greedy handfuls as you moan in surprise. As you arch your back for him, you watch in delight as whatever was holding him back seems to give way. He groans as he manhandles the meat of you, squeezing you in a way that's almost too tight.

“Bad girl,” he grits out.

Almost.

You gasp as he drops his head down, angling one of your breasts up to his mouth. He flutters his tongue over your nipple rapidly, giving you a couple of rough licks before suckling the tight bud. You're crying out the whole time, of course, and he hums at the pleasure of it — the vibrations of his voice teasing your skin.

You whine at the pleasant ache of overstimulation, squirming under his touch, but he isn’t letting you move an inch. Gods, he’s so strong, his motions quick and devastating as he pleasures you.

You feel only trust as you gaze down at him, but you also feel every decade of age difference between you. Through your haze, you wonder how you will ever satisfy a man as experienced as him.

As if reading your mind, Kratos looks up at you.

“Tell me, Faye,” he says. “Tell me one of your dreams.”

Then he lowers his head down, slavering greedily over your nipple, kissing the bud, nipping at it — all while watching you. You take a deep, shaky breath, your heart pounding with the naughtiness of what he's asking. You know just which dream you're going to tell him about.

“We…we're walking underneath the stars,” you begin. “Only… the stars are different. We're in another realm, far from Midgard. We've reached the end of a long journey, I think…” You trail off as he slurps down your other nipple, teasing you with a nip of his teeth.

“And then?” he says in a low voice. He sounds so controlled, like nothing unusual is happening.

“We learn that there are some hot springs nearby, and we decide to… to bathe each other.”

Outwardly, Kratos’s expression doesn’t seem to change, but you know him too well. You place a hand on the back of his head, feeling the enthusiasm in his motions as he suckles both your nipples, one at a time. His eyes flick up to yours, silently encouraging you to continue.

“When we get there, it's so late that there's almost no light. We peel off our clothes, and I slip into the water, beckoning you. You aren’t far behind, though you retrieve something from your pack that I can't see. As you wade in, you try to say something in Greek… something about a nymph… but I can’t quite hear you. The bubbling of the water is so loud, we realize we can hardly talk, so we don’t. When you get close to me, in the deep water, I just put my arms around your neck and smile at you. And I'm so happy when you put your arms around me, too. It's so dark, I can only see the reflections of the stars in your eyes. I can't see how truly dark the look you're giving me is.”

You pause. You were never sure how to broach this with him, but here you go.

“And then you grab me by the back of the neck, and I feel what's in your hand,” you say. “Wrapped around your fist is… a coil of rope.”

You had thought it was your imagination, but Kratos is definitely breathing heavier now. He eyes you intently, his hands and mouth still on your breasts, silently waiting for you to continue.

“And I say, ‘What’s that for?’ but you can’t hear me, or you pretend you can't. Instead, you just kiss me. It seems chaste, at first. But your hands are getting rough on my body, stroking, fondling, then grabbing…”

You swallow. You don’t know how we will react to what comes next. You have chosen one of your… darker fantasies.

“And then, suddenly, you… spin me around," you say. "I cry out in shock, but you just wrestle my arms behind my back. In seconds you tie them together, your fingers quick like you’ve done this a million times before. And then, you march me to the edge of the water. You bend me over onto the rocks, and you—”

You gasp as Kratos suddenly rolls you over onto your stomach. Before you can even cry out, he's gripping your hips, angling them up, exposing your sinful wetness to him.

Ohh!!” you moan as he pulls you against him, slotting his hips against yours. You’ve never felt his erection from behind before and the sensation is incredible. There is nothing between your bodies but the thin fabric of his underwear, and in your nakedness, you can feel the heat of his skin against yours.

And then what happens?” he says.

He's holding you tight, letting you feel all his power as he presses himself against you. He rolls his hips, again, and again, and again, plowing into you and losing himself in the motion. Gods, you love the way your body sways with his, grinding obscenely as he teases himself with your body. Except that this doesn’t feel like teasing, any more. This feels like the real thing.

“You… you enter me from behind,” you say, swallowing. “No warning. Just the… the invasion of it. The stretch. The heat. And then you…”

You trail off, overwhelmed by the sensation of his cock suddenly dragging against your privates.

You gasp as Kratos spanks you, the sting radiating through your entire ass cheek.

What happens?” he growls.

You whimper, feeling his dirty rhythm, feeling the suggestion of what he’s doing. But the sharpness in his voice is commanding you, and you feel compelled to answer him.

“You… you fuck me from behind,” you say, blushing, saying words you've never said out loud before. “You put your hands on me and you fuck me hard, hard, hard, until I… I get so wet that it doesn’t hurt any more.”

Kratos groans, throwing his head back in pure intoxication. The sound hits you like an arrow shot through your heart. You’ve never heard him make a sound like that, but you want to hear it again until you die. You feel as drunk as if you’d sipped the headiest Jotun wine.

Kratos, meanwhile, speeds up his motions, setting a punishing rhythm. You cry out as he suddenly smacks your ass again.

And then??” he says. Gods, he’s strong. You can feel the rosy welt rising on your ass.

“And then I… I start screaming,” you say. “Your hands are all over me, and you're getting me so close, and I'm just screaming, screaming, screaming because I know nobody can hear us.”

Kratos’s voice frays into hard little grunts — Unh! Unh! Unh! — and you feel his arousal get even stiffer, stiffer than you thought possible.

On pure instinct, you spread your legs, and you hear him draw a sharp breath of air. His grip on your hips tightens, and soon, he’s bouncing off you in a way that makes your head spin.

What then??” he grits out.

Still gripping you, he teases you and bucks into you and rides you until you’re a moaning, squirming mess. You consider begging him for mercy. But then, he lets out another low, intoxicated groan, and you can't resist pushing him further.

“Then you come inside me,” you moan. “Right when I do. You pump me so full of your cum that when you finally pull out… I… I feel it… dripping… out of me.”

His hands tighten on your hips so much that it actually hurts.

Mercy!!” you cry out. Kratos immediately stops moving. Panting, sweating, with one eye open, you look behind you, eyeing him pleadingly. “Mercy,” you say again.

You see something dark flash in Kratos’s eyes. The sight of you like this seems to be doing something to him. Obligingly, he takes his hands off your hips.

But as you look into his eyes, you can see it — he can’t resist you.

You don’t even manage to take one breath before his hands are on you again. He must be done teasing you, because his touch is gentle, but his hands are greedy. Rolling you onto your side, he wraps his body around yours, and you gasp as he feels up your stomach, your ribs, your chest —

Something’s different this time —

Kratos!” you exhale, caught off guard by the sudden force in his movements.

“Do you want to make me feel good, angel?” he grunts, his words practically slurred. You nod vigorously.

You gasp in excitement as Kratos wrestles your arms behind you, holding both wrists in one hand and slotting in behind you. He takes hold of your breast, grabbing it in a big handful and grunting. Then, with no warning, he tweaks your nipple as hard as he ever has.

Ahh!!” you cry out. With your arms held in place, you have nowhere to go, and you just writhe. But despite the desperate sound, you push back against him, craving more.

Kratos indulges you with a quick thrust of his hips before returning his ministrations, giving your nipples more naughty attention as he switches between them. Your toes curl as you arch your body against him, so excited to be manhandled like this.

Little angel,” he says, rolling his hips against you as he tugs on your nipple. “Do you know what daddy wants to do to you?

You nod, letting out a soft whine as you squirm in his arms. Seeing how quickly he’s undone you, Kratos lets out another rough growl. Then, abruptly, he releases your breast.

You suddenly feel him wrap his hand around himself, stroking his cock through his underwear. You scarcely have time to take a breath before he angles the tip of it into your core, still pumping his hand.

You let out a long, trembling moan. You can feel how hard the fabric is straining, how much the thick thing he’s plowing between your legs yearns to spring free. Kratos, meanwhile, buries his face in your hair, breathing in your scent, groaning shamelessly as he touches himself. You feel something dark awakening in you, something that loves this feeling of being so deliciously used.

Kratos indulges himself for another long moment, stroking his prick while he grinds it against you. But finally, even he seems to reach his limit. Slowly, carefully, he releases your arms.

“Oh, Faye…” he says gruffly. His voice sounds different — almost drunk. “I will… I will show you. How to touch me… the way I touch you. Here.”

You look back at him in shock. As you take in what he just said, he gives you a lingering look.

Then, without another word, he shifts on the bed, rolling onto his back. You watch with wide eyes as he brings his hands up behind his head, then settles in. Splayed out like this, he looks as relaxed as you’ve ever seen him, the thick muscles of his arms and shoulders on full display. When he notices you staring, he nods at you.

It takes you a moment to realize what this is — an invitation.

Oh… thank the *gods.*