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Promises and Presumptions

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The kiss catches them both off guard.

Bundled up in furs and blankets as she is, Wren can do little more than sit in stunned silence at the sensation of Prince Shyler’s mouth against her own. Her musing was not very accurate; while she can certainly tell he’d recently been drinking, she can’t exactly taste it, nor does this ritual appear to have a practical application. But judging from the way her chest clenches in what she can only describe as delight and yearning, her human form seems to realize more than her head does.

By the time she struggles to free her hands, he’s moved away from her and parted their lips. Recognizing the flighty look of shock on his face, she snatches his wrist before he can make a run for it.

He looks from the door to his arm and only briefly daring a peek at her face before his eyes flit away again. His feet dance on the spot with a surge of anxiety, his desire to flee made very obvious. Wren’s stubbornness as well as her newly discovered fascination with touching him intimately win the silent battle. She tugs his arm firmly but questioningly. He folds in on himself, his resistance collapsing like a castle of cards, letting himself be led to her side and sitting on the edge of the mattress.

“Please don’t leave,” she begs him in a strange and breathless voice he barely recognizes.

His own breathing is strained - and not the only thing about him that is, if he’s honest - and his head swims with warning chimes and rational objections that are actively being shoved underwater by his love and yearning.

Her fingers loosen around his wrist but don’t fully let go. He turns away from her for a moment, sitting and taking in the renewed fire for a moment’s clarity. He can feel her eyes on him, but he tries his best to ignore them and debate as objectively as he can with himself in silence without the influence of however her face might look in this moment. It’s extremely difficult to do that, however, when she moves her hand down from his sleeve cuff and laces their fingers together slowly and studiously as they had been just minutes earlier.

Minutes. Was that all it had been when he still had the willpower to not kiss his best friend? Was it only minutes ago that she had been angry with him and that he was afraid she’d never forgive him for turning down her gift?

She sits patiently and silently by his side, the blankets melting off her shoulders into a curved pile in the middle of the bed. Trying not to worry about what the prince is thinking about, she concentrates on the shape of his face from the side and illuminated by the warm firelight. A long, sharp nose. Dark hair to his shoulders that looks like the night’s sky, like the ink of his books and his letters. Strong eyebrows atop kind and wondering brown eyes, ones that right now look wider and distant. Soft thin lips that she now knows feel so nice against her own.

She rests her chin on his shoulder, leaning into him with such love in her heart for this man, love that pushes out what worry she feels over his extended silence.

Wren presses her cold nose into the hot skin at his neck and nuzzles him, much in a way expressing the same gesture as a quick kiss were she still in a dragon’s body. Her eyes shut as she feels him move. A pang of fear bubbles in her chest. She doesn’t want this to end, but if it must, she wants to remember this feeling for as long as possible. He might never give it to her again.

Two heavy thuds on the floorboard, one not long after the other, draw Wren’s inhuman eyes open. Her body is still braced for disappointment, but she looks down in confusion.

Shy’s feet finish pulling out of his boots, now long and limp shapes on the floor by her bedside. He shifts his weight more fully onto the bed and folds his legs in his favourite sitting style, the crossed-legged one that took her an embarrassingly long time to learn how to mimic when their friendship was still new. She mirrors him now, too, and lifts their entwined hand to rest it on her knee. Her eyes lift to his to study him for clues on what else is next.

To her immense relief, he smiles at her.

“Sorry for.. everything,” he murmurs, smile turning sheepish. He runs his free hand through his hair. “I guess I couldn’t help it. Really, I’m surprised I managed as long as I did.”

“Is it supposed to happen for longer?” she asks, her misunderstanding causing him yet another hot blush across his cheeks.

“Well, yes, it can, but no, that’s- I meant this evening, here, just now?” he babbles, turning in place and shuffling his weight to face her so he doesn’t have to talk down on her at his side. They’re almost of equal height, and here on her bed and accompanied by only blankets and a reinvigorated fire, they’re equals in every other sense now, too. “What I meant was, I’m supposed to avoid giving my heart to anyone who wasn’t selected by my parents to be my wife, but now I suppose I’ve properly lost now.”

Wren doesn’t completely follow the conversation, only experiencing the sting of his blind following of his parents’ rules and noting the way he’s suddenly uncomfortable while talking to her, something she hasn’t seen from him since their first meetings. Her stomach twists, and she clutches his hand as if fearing he’ll drift away.

“I’m sorry too,” she whispers urgently. She curls into him, abruptly aware of the loss of insular heat the blankets gifted her and seeking it out from his body. Where their hands are entwined, he responds with a simple rhythmic brush of his thumb against the back of her hand and gifts her with a simple reassurance that this is okay and welcome. Her colour shifting dress flows over her knees as her legs drape across his lap greedily.

“What do you have to be sorry for?” he asks surprise. A thrill sparks through her to hear the catch in his voice, and another brings a grin to her face that she barely hides with the tilt of her head against his chest. His fingers pull down at the fabric that rides up and exposes her legs, and every accidental brush of his fingers against their soft curves is a delightful lick of flame in her chest.

Greedily, she reaches out with her magic and pulls the fabric higher to her knees. When Shy catches sight and remedies the exposure more frantically, she erupts into the giggles similar to a naughty child delighting in the success of a prank.

The thing that’s very different, however, is that she’s acutely aware that this specific euphoria is something she’s never experienced before. So when he sighs in exasperation when he realizes what she’s done and reprimands her in growls that remind her about propriety, it intoxicates her so completely that the woman who is also dragon loses her grasp on her magic for a moment, tussling his hair and her dress and his sleeve with a breeze like a warm breath from summer herself. Her magic swirls down her arms in hot tingles as she swats harmlessly at her prince when he ejects her from his lap and onto the pile of furs, her fingers hot and veined, her nails sharper and thickened.

She laughs again, slithering on her back, the sleek fabric of her dress providing no resistance against the soft furs. Her hair tosses around her in a halo of coiled fire. Shy is breathless as he leans over her, his breaths heaving as he spares just a moment to admire her in the middle of their playfight.

“You’re very naughty,” the prince chastises her, hunched over her with his weight heavily balanced on one arm and one knee that sink into the feathered mattress as he tickles her arm. “I can see why Jayne complains about you to the other servants. You must give her such a hard time--”

“I do not !” she interrupts in an indignant shriek that’s full of chest heaving laughter. Goosebumps raise up on her arm and she twitches to notice them, the sensation clashing with the magic in her veins that it almost drives it back down into her, shying away as if ticklish itself. She jerks her chin up at the ceiling, stubborn and proud with no reason to be. “... She’s just very good at doing everything wrong!”

He shakes his head disapprovingly, though his smile is vivid and unshakeable. But she doesn’t see it for long, for he leans his weight closer to her and peppers kisses into her skin where her hair touches her forehead and where, if she were a dragon in this moment, great twisted ivory horns would meet her face. For an idle moment she actually wonders what that would feel like, if it would feel even a fraction as good in her natural form as it does when she’s like this.

Shy drops his weight onto his arm and lies next to her, his body thin and not much longer than Wren’s, but solid and angled and different from her own. “You should give her another chance,” he lectures softly, smiling down on her, much closer now. “I selected her myself, you know that? I thought she could handle you. I see now the error of my judgment; it actually is a punishment to have to put up with you...”

Wren hisses offendedly, and her playful swatting is dodged because the prince knows that hiss and what comes right after it. He grins down on her as she scoffs and tries again with her other hand. He dips away and laughs, catching her hands before she gets any other ideas and escalates their playfighting. There had been many, many bruises while she was figuring out the limits of what constituted real and play, so he preemptively collects her hands and kisses the knuckles as if soothing a separate entity.

Mollified, Wren relaxes into the furs and mirrors his smile as his face draws away from her hands.

For a moment, they are both silent and transfixed on the other, so filled with wonder at the new way their eyes can appreciate their closest friend. Both experience the faint worry that their heart’s drumming is as audible aloud as it is in their own ears.

It’s distant footsteps down the hallway that draw Shy’s attention suddenly to her door, his face blanching with worry. Pursing her lips, Wren’s eyes flick over the lock, and with an invisible reach of her magic, the device shudders across and secures the entrance. She lifts her chin in triumphant bragging, but when the colour doesn’t come back to his face, she tries to pet his cheek to coax its return.

“My human?” she whispers, puzzled and concerned. The knuckles of her fingers sweep across the rough bristle of his stubbled jaw and press cool against his cheek. Her vibrant green dragon eyes, wider and awake with the heat in the room and the added heat of his body against hers, search his earthy human ones for an answer for an unasked question.

Slowly, achingly, his senses come back to him and his shoulders sag with evaporating tension. His returning smile, still a portion worried, does do the trick in answering her to a satisfactory degree.

Her fingers move up from his face and into his hair, those lovely inky wisps that flow down from the top of his head like a river running in opposing directions. She delights in the feeling of the soft locks through her fleshy tapered fingers. The idle question of whether humans, like dogs or wolves, might enjoy a scratch on the head crosses her mind, and she hums a tune she heard earlier in the ballroom as dragon nails take shape at the end of human fingers.

He had taught her that experiments were critical for learning something new. So, she experiments. Her nails lightly scrape against his scalp as she combs through his hair, gentle and slow, her concentration fixed on ensuring that her nails are a rounded tip instead of a sharp one. She licks her lips, the tip of her tongue poking out the middle as she focuses her attention on this one task, this experiment in pleasing him.

His shoulders hunch and his head dips forward. Her heart thrums in brief panic that he suddenly took ill, or that she somehow nicked him with her claws and he’s bleeding out. But the delighted groan that follows sets her nerves on fire, her chest rising and her heels grounding into the furs beneath her, and something human inside of her inexplicably knows this is a very good sign.

Shy gasps deeply, and in the next moment his lips crash down against hers, hungry and seeking to reciprocate this sweet, rapturous pleasure he’s experiencing at the mercy of her fingertips. Every graze of a nail that draws a shiver down his spine, every scratch that sends the roots of his hair bristling in goosebumpy delight, every agonising pause between her strokes wherein he deeply misses her and longs for the next touch like it will kill him to be without it, all of these sensations new delights to the prince.

And they’re ones he insists on worshipping her for giving him. For these gifts… why in the gods’ beautiful earth would he ever say no to them? Any and all rational reason to refuse them is long cast aside.

While instinct tells her she enjoys this, Wren puzzles out the function of tasting each other’s lips. Her best guess now is that it’s a possessive marking of territory. From Shy’s soft growls and his hot red skin, she also experiences a thrill of fearing him, something she’s never perceived under normal circumstances even when they didn’t know each other. But it’s not a normal fear. She struggles to put words for it, both from a lack of vocabulary to describe it and in the very distracting nature of it all.

Shy’s knee bumps Wren’s thigh; Wren’s hip jerks against Shy’s wrist and nearly knocks his weight off of it. The two young adults crash and bump into one another feverishly with a lack of coordination akin to dancers improvising their steps to music they’ve never heard before the performance.

When the friction of their lips and their clothed bodies pressed against one another becomes not enough for the prince, he snarls and pushes his way down her. She cries out, mainly in surprise rather than pain, though there’s some of that too when his teeth sink into her neck. Both of her hands clutch at his hair, smoothing and petting and scratching and grabbing, latched as she is onto the one thing she knows he enjoys very much and responds to viscerally.

“I love you,” he grumbles into her neck after a curse. His hot nose nuzzles against the sting on her neck and she can feel steam from his breath gathering there when his heavy breathing heaves.

Taking his cue, her petting becomes calmer, her nails retracting, her concentration blessedly free to take in this wonderfully strange position they’ve found themselves in. He lies on top of her, not at all heavy, not painful or awkward. No, he seems instead to complete her in a way, their bodies made for one another when they’re not bumping flailed limbs.

She returns his words. “I love you as well,” she whispers. For as absurd and new everything feels to her while walking as a human, Wren is oddly confident that those words are true. Navigating the heat and electricity and percussion of the human body is an exhausting task. But Wren knows her heart, her true heart, and it doesn’t change, not really. It knows for certain that she does love him, completely and eternally.

He laughs in breathy delight, still planted against her neck. With great difficulty, he lifts his upper body and pulls away. She misses him immediately. He misses her just as fast.

“I think I’ve... always loved you,” he muses, his breathing still erratic. He balances unsteadily on an elbow, freeing his other hand to hopelessly try to fix her tangled hair.

“You have?” she questions, tilting her head to welcome his fingers, the faint thought of his reaction to hers bubbling up. Her draconic pride swells to compensate, smoothing over any doubts she made audible. “Of course you did. I am what you were looking for, sprung from your books to living proof.”

He snorts softly and rolls his eyes, his fingers working through a knot in the coils of her hair. “Modest as ever, sweetling. There was that, yes. But I didn’t love you because of what you are.”

He fixes his eyes on the knot, his dark brows pushing together and creasing his forehead briefly before he surrenders to the hopelessness of her hair. It behaves much better when wet. But he’d never tell her that, and besides, were he to propose she wash it now, it’d seem the most improper suggestion. He feels himself redden as his imagination betrays him and his thoughts spiral into wondering what she looks like now beneath the colour shifting gown.

He had once invited her to swim with him in the lake and she had sprung into the water without removing any of her clothing and nearly drowned. When he made sure her lungs were clear of water, he frantically scolded her for not letting him explain that they had to remove their clothes to swim. And so it was his fault that the next time swimming arose as an option for their entertainment, this time in a much shallower river, that she tore off all of her clothing in a hasty pile in the grass before dipping into the water. He only caught sight of her from the back before clamping a hand over his eyes and correcting loudly that she was supposed to leave her small clothes on, to which she retorted that none of her clothes were small except for her stockings.

The back of her had fueled many, many of his subsequent adolescent dreams. That was a secret he would certainly take to his final resting place.

She watches him patiently. It didn’t seem to matter how long she would spend studying his face, because it would find a new way to change and surprise her. Such a range of variety these human faces have to express themselves, and even the gentlest of changes could mean something completely different. The fae were much more straightforward, at least when it came to their stony countenances, and before the prince had stumbled into her life, she had only studied the humans from a distance where they would remain unaware of her. Here, lying so near to him, she can spend an eternity admiring every crease and twitch and wrinkle and flex that happens in his face. Someday, maybe he will teach her the words to describe more of these faces. For the time being, she invents ways to categorise them.

At first, he’s lost in his head and concentrating, a muscle in his jaw shifting and his brows pressing and creasing, and she decides to name this “hassle”. It’s something she’s been called many times, and it seems to fit here. But hassle softens into warm, the one where his face heats reds and his eyes are unfocused and his mouth tries to hide a fond smile but the very corners betray it like a dragon who doesn’t tuck her tail in when playing the child human game “hide and find”. (That comparison is certainly not one she knows anything about personally.)

And when her admiration turns more tactile and she cups her hand to his cheek, her perpetually cold hand soaking up his warmth, his expression changes again. His eyes find her as if she hasn’t been right in front of him this whole time, focused and fond and lidded. The tip of his long beaky nose scrunches as his lips pull tight into a smile that keeps his lips pressed together and sharpens his chin. She names this one “pranks”. It’s exactly the way he looks right before he chooses to spring one on her.

“You’re awfully quiet,” he laughs, tickling behind her ear with a light flurry of fingertips. “You aren’t starting to hibernate on me, are you? I thought the room was warm enough now to keep you awake.”

She tugs his cheek between pinched fingers and messes with his face like trying to mould mud. She clicks her tongue against her teeth in a scoff. “I’m being patient. You were explaining! If there was anything you drilled into me, it was to have patience and let you explain things. So I am . And you’re not ,” she chides. “Your words have to be spoken for me to hear them, my human, I cannot hear your thoughts!”

They had at one time tried to see if she could, though.

“Fine,” he sighs, as if she’s asked of him some grand favour. She shuffles closer, easily gliding across the furs with no resistance from her dress or skin, and he’s thrown off by the closeness of their bodies. Clearing his throat, he brings his hand to her hair again and chooses a portion already untangled to repeatedly comb his fingers through. Too many of his parts are demanding his concentration, least of all the part he prays to the gods of the Whisperwoods she doesn’t feel through the fabric of her dress and against her thigh.

With a quick swallow, he continues hurriedly. “I didn’t fall in love with you because you’re a dragon, dearling. It’s because... in those first few moments that we spoke... yours was the most interesting voice I’d ever heard. Your voice... and the sharp insolent things you said to me. No one had ever spoken to me like that before, and I knew that here was someone who wasn’t afraid to... tell me the truth. To speak to me not like I was a prince, but because I’m me.”

Her body is delightfully warm. Her fingers leave his cheek, no longer needing to leech his warmth, and instead move to his hair to reward him for such lovely words. In fact, the face he makes when scratches his head, the one where his eyes drop back before shutting and his breathing hitches as if trying and failing to cage the growl living in his throat, she names “reward”.

He curses under his breath at the lightning bolts of pleasure that jolt through him with every scratch of nail to his scalp. Wren hoots with delight to hear him say such a naughty word, knowing from him only that it’s a forbidden and impolite one and one she was warned never to say. But here he is with his princely glamour faltering and she’s the one who caused it. Impishly, she tries to make him say it again, or worse.

With a pang of panic that she’ll drive him past a threshold he knows he can’t come back from, Shy tugs her hand from his hair and kisses her fingertips, both trapping her hand to give himself some respite and also worshipping her appropriately in return.

“I want this always,” she whispers suddenly, pleading. “Please. Please let us always be together like this.”

He stills.

Reality begins to sink in and push out all of his impulsive yearning and casual affection. Though he still holds her hand near his face, his fingers stiffen not unlike the way they are inclined to when he’s doing formal greetings and kissing the back of a stranger’s hand.

And she can feel how this was the wrong thing to say, witnessing his face move from “reward” to something she regretfully can name as “responsibility”. She hates that face. It drains away the colour and heat, it whitens his beautiful dark eyes into needle pricks, it turns him away in shadow to a place unreachable to her coaxing. He’s slipping through her hands like water she’s trying to carry away from a stream. Yet she always tries to take it, to carry it away, and is always surprised when it drips through her fingers and leaves her with nothing.

“Forget that,” she commands keenly. Her magic doesn’t bend will - her disappointment at the results of that experiment with him was palpable - but she can hope that it will scare away “responsibility” somehow. “I am no one, so what I want doesn’t matter. Let’s just sleep now.”

Her suggestion does throw him off kilter. He sets her hand down on the furs in what little space remains between them, neatly patting her fingers.

“Not dressed like this we can’t. We’d ruin our fine clothes if we sleep in them.” He allows himself the indulgence of admiring the way she looks in her masquerade dress while lying on her side. Though it had once belonged to the queen, he could never picture his mother wearing something so youthful and elegant. Logically he understood that his mother was once young as he is, but the gown had seemed magical to him when he first stumbled across it years ago, and now he could never pry apart the definitions of magic and Wren from the entanglement they’d inflicted in his head.

“Then we’ll just remove them,” she goads, and the magical breeze ruffles the ends of her gown once again.

Shy gives her a warning look as he pins the seam against her calf.

“That’s improper. For some reason, that’s a lesson that doesn’t seem to stay in your head, my silly dragon.” The spark of an idea flickers through him and turns up the corners of his mouth. His voice lowers in a way he makes sure she can still hear but is deceived to think he didn’t mean for her to. “Honestly, how does she expect to be my knight if she can’t remember and follow simple instructions...?”

And like that, something flickers to life in her. She scrambles to sit up, which doesn’t prove easy as her palms slip against furs and weight sinks into the feather filled mattress. He fights to keep the fond and triumphant smile at bay.

“I can follow instructions!” she chirps, her ovaled pupils dilating in her excitement. “Tell me what to do with my dress. How do I take it off and still be proper for you?”

Whatever he had anticipated her reaction to be, he hadn’t expected her to word it just so . Immediately shifting his weight on his hip, he clutches at his thigh and squeezes in a vain attempt to lessen his discomfort at the tightening of his small clothes.

Floundering for an appropriate answer, he finally babbles, “Well you just have to use the dressing screen to switch your outfit. Honestly, I’m sure Jayne taught you this already. And anyway, I should probably go because my own sleeping clothes are in my own room, and this being yours, I can’t be expected -- or allowed! To sleep here! I--”

She has slung her legs over the side of the bed already. He watches her helplessly, for once wordlessly obedient, leaving him to squawk out excuses amid the furs and blankets while she leaves him to undress behind the screen. The side of her body is illuminated and casts long shadows up the wall, choking the words in his throat as he watches her silhouette begin to shed the gown.

A few more choked partial words accompany unblinking stares at the undressing shadow. It’s the sound of fabric gathering suddenly in a pile on the floor that forces his eyes to snap away. He grinds his palm, slick with sweat, uselessly into his thigh, the trick he’d learned when his body started to leave boyhood absolutely failing to work now. Gulping, it’s absolutely not his brain that makes the next few decisions for him that follow.

Cloak, vest, silken shirt, fancy trousers, stockings, and mask are moved into a tidy pile on a chair near the fire. He glances at her shadow, this time to gauge her progress rather than to simply admire, though in truth he does that too. Left in just a simple shirt and unflattering half trousers, the prince feels hideously exposed and undoubtedly disappointing to behold. His arms wrap around his middle in a self conscious hug against his ribs. Blinking several times, and with another rapid glance to be certain that, yes, the door is still bolted, he hurries back to the bed before he can change his mind. Because at this point, changing his mind would mean he would bolt from the room dressed as he is, and that might actually be more embarrassing than being caught in his current situation.

Diving under the blankets and shifting to leave the furs piled on the other side of the bed, Prince Shy practically hides himself from view. In truth, Wren pauses when she steps out in her simple nightgown and doesn’t immediately see him, her heart sinking to think he left her without a good night wish. Her posture brightens when she realizes he hasn’t, though, sending a pang of guilty longing through Shy to witness this abrupt change in his beloved friend.

She walks soundlessly to the empty bedside, her eyes never leaving him, curious and gleeful and flared as always with a bit of mischief. “Are you cold, my human? Why are you hiding like I do from the chill?” She sits. “I thought your people pride themselves in living well through this season.”

“Just come to bed and get your sleep,” he grouses, rolling on his side to give her only a view of the back of his head. Wren watches him curiously without moving for half a minute before sorting out the blankets the way she likes them, unable again to read his mind and discover that he’s not at all mad at her, he’s angry with the fire for backlighting her and outlining every line and curve of her body through the cotton of her night dress.

He stares at the shadows moving along the far wall as moves along the feather bed into her place, their shadows becoming one as she lies next to him. Tonight he will absolutely, certainly never be capable of sleeping.

“There’s not enough space for me to sleep,” she protests, puzzled by his rigid lying position. She thought that a human bed was always wide enough to curl up and sleep as she naturally always had. But now there’s only room for her to copy the plank board straight position he lies in, or curl up half across him in her normal manner.

“What do you mean?” He rolls onto his back and blinks at her. She sits up, resting with a palm sinking into the mattress, assessing the situation with the same scrunch to her face as she does when she’s trying to figure out one of the puzzles he challenges her with.

“Is that how humans sleep?” she asks, gesturing with her free hand at his shape that’s rounded by the blankets.

He gives an exasperated exhale. It’s so easy for him to forget that, as brilliant as she is, she was never brought up to learn the cultural and societal rules and mannerisms that humans adopt in early life. He never thought to show her how to sleep in a bed, for instance.

“Lie down,” he instructs softly, turning the rest of the way over so he faces her.

Giving him a dubious look, she slithers beneath the blankets and rests her head on the mattress. She lifts it again and adjusts, mirroring him to set it down on her pillow instead. She huffs in a way that Shy knows that were she in her dragon form, a little puff of disapproving smoke would curl from her nostrils.

“It’ll get more comfortable,” he assures her quietly. His hand moves beneath the sheets and brushes her arm, finding her elbow first and following it blindly to her hand. “I promise. And sleeping like this will mean you won’t wake up sore, and maybe your hair won’t need so much work done to it to keep it tame.”

This draws a deep frown out of her and a breathy laugh from him a heartbeat following. He squeezes her hand. Her eyes narrow to slits, trying to ascertain whether to believe him. But as quickly as her doubt comes, so too does it slide away, especially when she squeezes his hand in return and drags it to her hair.

“But, I like it very much when you fix my hair,” she protests, her voice warm and thick with flirtatious energy she isn’t aware is there. But the prince is very aware. He inhales deeply, his fingers loosening from hers and playing with the curls at his fingertips, and his toe brushes against her ankle.

“Turn around then,” he instructs breathily, and she does as told, rolling and shuffling and catching a fur that starts to slide from the bed. His hand free to move deep into the thick twists of her flame coloured hair, and so they do, lost in the volume, finding indulgence in the intimacy of doing something for her that she enjoys.

“Close your eyes. Don’t fight sleep if it comes.” Because it won’t be coming for me , he doesn’t add.

She responds with something of a purr, which really just spurs the infatuated prince on. He can’t help but wonder if she does know exactly what she’s doing to him; the fae folk might have raised her, but he’s heard the stories, he knows the warnings of how they take lovers and leave poor lovestruck humans wanting and listless back in the mortal realm until they were swallowed eagerly by death for desire of nothing else. But never did the stories say anything of a dragon possessing this ability. None of the written tales ever mentioned the dragons of old and their riders entangling in any degree of romantic affair.

And yet there is something of a thrill to that, for the young prince to stumble across the threshold and himself claiming a remarkable first.

His hands remain confined to her hair for the first little while, loosening half disembroiled braids and carefully detaching knotted coils from one another. Her hair is very fine, and impossibly soft, and so thick that he can enjoy pushing through it and feeling a spring back of resistance as it bundles.

Her breathing slows, but he can tell she’s not quite coaxed to sleep yet. Shifting haltingly he doesn’t startle her and erase the progress, Shy practically stops breathing himself entirely as he pulls near to her back. His face and ears burn hot when the thought flickers across his mind to note how their bodies could fit together so beautifully as they’re almost of the same length of body. It’s exactly that thought that blocks off any possibility he’ll let them touch like this at all. He’ll explain most things to his beloved friend, but the fine points of sex would not be one of them if ever he can help it.

Clenching his thighs together with futility, he placates himself by dipping his head down and kissing her warm neck for the briefest of moments as he pulls her hair out of the way. It springs back into place along her shoulder moments later once it flicks out from beneath his fingers.

“I like your touch very much,” she murmurs, her legs suddenly gliding against one another as she shifts her weight sleepily. “I love you in many ways, my human.”

The prince’s heart races, and he’s sure that if she doesn’t hear it, she’ll definitely be able to feel it pound against his chest with what little distance is left between them. His hands move from that space to her sides. The gap closes. His skinny arms tuck around her stomach, so very shaky in his nervousness, no less so once he clamps his hand over his other wrist to lock them in place. His chin rests just so against the warmth of her freshly kissed neck. His cheek sinks into her hair and uses it much like a pillow, which is a good thing because he left his own behind him now that they embrace down the near middle of her bed.

“I love you too, my sweetling. Go to sleep.” He can’t help the words. He isn’t sure he wants to ever stop telling her how much he loves her anymore. That deep set distress that warns him what a bad idea it is to let himself love a woman he likely cannot wed, nevermind one as fascinatingly inhuman as his beloved dragon, is absolutely drowned by a monsoon of relief and delight that this feels so very right.

And, as it turns out, he was wrong about the sleeping.

When her breathing slowed again, when their bodies begin to warm one another, when his thumb strokes her soft belly through her night dress, so then did he lose his thoughts to the idea of lying with her like this every day as if it’s the most natural thing in all the world. He doesn’t notice at all when his thoughts melt into dreams, sweet dreams filled by her and only her, and the life they could enjoy together, if only they would never leave the other’s arms.