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Thrall was already at the bonfire when Eitrigg roused himself. He looked as though he had been there for some time; the fire had burned low, shimmering with embers that winked out like stars touched by the dawn light. Behind him, the sun crested the rugged hills of the Arathi Highlands, over its tors and outcroppings, and gilded its spills of wet scree. The mornings had started coming later; the air had a bite to it, and Eitrigg was no Frostwolf. He tossed some wood onto the fire and thumped his chest in lazy salute.

Thrall returned his salute with a dull thunk against the black-and-brass of his armour, and then opened his fist and raised his hand palm-up. The flames leapt and spat bright motes skyward.

"Winds are changing," he said. "We must move on from here. There is more to do."

Eitrigg grunted, lowering himself to sit by him. In the months after Thrall had found him, he'd felt more spry than he had in years. He'd thought it the strength of new purpose, but lately his bones had begun to complain at him again. He wondered if it was a different touch that had invigoured him after all. Sometimes he dreamed it was the case.

"I thought this was the last camp," he said. Around them, the new Horde stirred in the ruins of the settlement they'd named Hammerfall. It had been a prison for some of them, but in the dwindling autumn months they'd made it their stronghold. He was proud of how his people had endured. They'd cast off their lethargy, the taint of the fel and the shackles of the Alliance and risen up gloriously in fire and honour. For the first time in years, Eitrigg felt a sense of belonging.

Honour and belonging—that turned his thoughts northward.

"I've been delivered a portent," Thrall said. He scored a line in the dirt: the Arathi coastline and its inlet. He marked where they'd recently scouted an Alliance naval base. "We're to travel west, across the ocean. It won't be safe here for long."

"Across the ocean?" Eitrigg felt a jolt of resistance to the idea. He had been thinking—he must have been thinking of returning north. That much was apparent to him. He frowned into the roaring fire.

"You can speak your mind with me, Eitrigg," Thrall said, warm. He turned his face to the sky, where a raven circled in the brightening dawn. "You think it a foolish plan?"

"The spirits communicate freely with you, son of Durotan," Eitrigg said. "Who am I to question them?"

"Not the spirits, old one. But still, I trust the messenger, for now. He spoke of a burning shadow set to fall across the land."

A chill skittered down Eitrigg's spine. He knew what that meant as well as Thrall did, and more viscerally. Thrall had only ever known this side of the Portal. A great urgency rose in him. He got to his feet to pace.

"I cannot go with you," he said, and when Thrall tilted his head, questioning, added: "It's a matter of honour."

"Hmm," Thrall said. "Unspilled blood?"

"No. Unspilled words. When you found me—"

Eitrigg hesitated. He didn't know what cruelties Thrall had suffered at the hands of humans, only that there had been many, and they were grievous. He was unsure of how Thrall might regard his desire to leave if he were to know why. Perhaps it was not too late to negotiate his way out of this conversation and find another path. And perhaps he could have, if Thrall were not as sharp as a whetted blade.

"The human."

"Humans are savage creatures," Eitrigg said, fierce. "They attack what they fear and they fear us more than anything else in their lands. They are mindless with it. Ignoble, to us and to each other. Yet—not all of them are like that."

"Some of them have a heart so big you do not understand how it could fit inside their body," Thrall said. He was idly toying with a fine silver chain; it trickled between his fingers and gleamed in the morning sun.

"Yes," Eitrigg said. Both relief and bemusement swam in him. He studied his hands, scarred and strong, capable of crushing a human's ribcage if the situation called for it. "They are so fervid, and so small."

"But not all bad," Thrall said, with a deep rolling chuckle. "You have my leave. Your counsel is invaluable, but I will not lie. If you do not return in time, then the Horde must go on without you."

"I understand, Warchief. My thanks." Eitrigg's salute was more fervent this time. "Lok'tar!"

Thrall returned his salute. "Aka'magosh. I don't need to warn you to keep off the roads. Spirits be with you, Eitrigg."

*

When a man had little left for himself, he quickly learned to take satisfaction in the small things in life. For Tirion Fordring, this was the slow, methodical repair of a tumbledown farmhouse on the banks of the Thondroril river, working with his own two hands and a hatchet he'd bartered away his gauntlets for. As Lord of Mardenhold, he'd always been too busy for this kind of work. Hearthglen had demanded a great deal of his time in all manner of elaborate, bureaucratic fashions, and so he'd always left the holdings in Karandra's capable hands.

Nowadays, he hadn't much else to occupy himself with.

At first he'd gone to the ruined old guard tower in Hearthglen, but it was unlivable in more ways than one. He had been unaware of the breadth of his hopefulness nor prepared for the depth of his despondency. Common sense dictated the tower would stand empty, but some part of him expected differently.

He put those thoughts aside before they could wound him further, and split another shingle off his bolt of wood with something of a struggle. They'd come less easily as he'd gone on. His precious hatchet was blunting and he'd no whetstone to sharpen it.

Any other man could walk into town and buy one. He had tried, once, in the haze that constituted the first weeks of his exile. It was salt he'd wanted then, to season his stew and to preserve the game he'd trapped. He hadn't even made it to the provisioner. The way the townsfolk had stared through him had told him all he needed to know. Since then, he'd learned to flag down the caravans that crossed the bridge from Hearthglen into Eastweald. The merchants and travellers didn't know, or care, about a disgraced old man, so long as he had something worth haggling over.

Perhaps his snares will have caught something he could trade. A trepidation fell over him at the thought. For some time his catches had been scarce—his affinity was with the Light and not the land, but even he could tell the forests of Eastweald were unsettled. It was more than the changing of the seasons. The elves had retreated to what remained of Quel'thalas, and traders brought rumours of a discontent and fracturing Alliance. There was an ill wind blowing.

Bad portents, and none of them his business any longer. Tirion saddled Mirador, who whickered and nuzzled at his palm until he relented and gave him a handful of oats.

The first few traps were near his farmstead, and empty. This wasn't unexpected; he checked them most often. The ones between Darrowshire and Corin's Crossing were also empty, which was more concerning. The underbrush was still and the birds mostly silent as they travelled, and Tirion's bow sat unstrung across his pommel. He found himself shivering often, as though nature had bypassed autumn entirely and winter had already encroached.

Tirion's last set of snares were in the hills beyond the Marris stead. He dismounted and led Mirador through the rabbit-trails. The earth smelled sour here, like something had rotted. The leaves that clung sparsely to the tree-branches were mottled and yellowing, and curled at the edges. Tirion spotted a plump leaf-bud on an otherwise bare branch and drew to a halt, frowning. It was utterly the wrong time of year for new growth, but perhaps the elves had left some of their magic behind after all. He scored it with his thumbnail and peeled it open, expecting to see a young furled leaf inside. Instead, it bulged under his fingers. He recoiled in disgust as fat larvae spewed from the leafy cocoon. Mirador sensed his unease and tossed his head.

"Settle down, old fellow," Tirion murmured, catching his bridle. He trod the pallid, wriggling things underfoot. "Let's see to that last trap, eh?"

He was not altogether surprised to find it empty. No spoor nor tracks nearby.

He clicked his tongue and Mirador turned his head eagerly towards home. Not far up the road, a heavily-laden dray trundled its way toward Stratholme. Tirion gave Mirador the rein until they caught up. He had nothing worth a whit to trade, but perhaps the carter would take pity on him.

Tirion hailed the carter with a loud 'ho!', and the man drew up on the wayside. He was a narrow, hunched individual with a face ruddy from the brisk wind. His cart was loaded with crates and sacks bearing Andorhal's stamp.

"Good man," Tirion said as he dismounted. "Have you a whetstone to trade? I have little to offer but my gratitude for now, but if you travel this route often, you'll find I'll repay your generosity tenfold."

"Nah. Only grain," the man said. "Can always use a chit to call in, though, so take some for your horse."

The carter's mule stood listlessly. It did not even try to crop at the grass. And Mirador, despite his earlier greedy snuffling around Tirion's person, had no interest in the cart's contents. Tirion was struck with a sense of wrongness, and this, along with the rest of the wrongness he'd felt today, had him abruptly deciding he would rather like to spend the evening in front of his fire with the door battened shut.

Tirion took a step back. "Thank you for your kindness, but I've no need," he said.

The carter merely shrugged, apathetic to having his time wasted where most would have adopted an air of disgruntlement. He snapped the reins with increasing vigour until his mule set ponderously to the road.

"Well," Tirion said to Mirador, watching the cart dwindle into the distance. "What say we make ourselves scarce."

*

There was a wrapped loaf of bread on his doorstep. It was unusual enough to seem portentous, but that might be Tirion's frame of mind. He approached his farmstead slowly, which proved to be an unnecessary caution. His benefactor had no intention of remaining inconspicuous.

How would one miss an orc with an entire barrel of ale under one immense arm, after all?

Tirion's heart beat hard at the sight: fight or flight, ingrained at a primal level. The warrior in him should have noted the waraxe at the orc's hip and the strength in his shoulders, his tusks and scars and his veteran's topknot, his easy stance and huge, huge fists, but what he saw first was the light in his eyes—his genuine pleasure at seeing Tirion again.

"Eitrigg," Tirion said, as best he could with the air rushing out of him.

"I was wrong," Eitrigg said. He set his barrel down. It bore Dalson's stamp; no doubt it was as stolen as the bread. "Once, you said we were alike, and I scorned you. I was wrong, Tirion Fordring."

"Hello to you, too."

"Hello, human," Eitrigg said, and bared his teeth.

Tirion grinned back—until the various implications and repercussions of Eitrigg's presence here began to pelt him, one thought after another and none good. "Your new Warchief. Your new Horde. Why aren't you with them?"

Word of mouth had carried to him how the orc penitentiaries had been destroyed and the prisoners freed. At first Tirion had feared a new war, despite the Warchief's claim that he desired no such thing, though as the weeks passed without news of more than minor skirmishes as they went about liberating their people, Tirion found himself breathing more easily. But those tides could be changing. If Eitrigg had turned his back on them so soon, it would be for a reason.

A breach of honour, a clash of leadership. A lapse back into corruption.

"The Horde travels west," Eitrigg said. "I was not ready to. I will rejoin them soon, but not yet."

The fear that had clutched Tirion's heart eased, and the affection he'd long resigned himself to bloomed in its place. "You came to see me?"

Eitrigg nodded. "I did," he said simply. His armour clanked as he gestured at the bread and ale. "This is how it's done, is it not?"

"Aye," Tirion said ruefully. "A feast fit for a lord."

Eitrigg huffed a sympathetic laugh, and engulfed Tirion's shoulder with one sinewy green hand. His touch was consciously light, but Tirion leaned into it gladly. It had been a while since he'd had any kind of companionship aside from Mirador, who was constant, but not much of a conversationalist.

"A pity about my castle," Tirion said. "Eitrigg, I'm loath to ask a favour when you've already been so generous, but you wouldn't happen to have a whetstone, would you?"

*

Eitrigg had several. He sorted through his belt pouches for one that would not be too cumbersome in Tirion's hands. The courtesy with which he asked for it baffled him—it was as though he didn't realise what kind of debt Eitrigg owed him.

"I was wondering," Tirion said. He'd stacked some wooden crates against the wall of his home and balanced his shingles atop them. He hoisted himself up onto the roof that way, and set about pulling up the split and rotten tiles and tossing them to the ground. "How did you find me?"

"I could scent you," Eitrigg said. Ah—there was the stone he used to sharpen his belt knife, making a nest of some tinder shavings. "Strongest around your land where we first met, but old. Fading. I caught you on the breeze coming over the river. It wasn't hard to find my way here."

Tirion paused in his repairs. "I see," he said. His body language suggested discomfort; his shoulders stiffened and his colour rose, and, dangerously, so did his scent. They had not associated enough for it to be familiar, as such, but it was known to Eitrigg on an essential level. Perhaps such an acknowledgement was inappropriate to humans.

In a bid to change the subject, he held up the whetstone. "Would this be suitable?"

That seemed to work. Tirion brightened; he sat up, countering the roof's slant by sitting back on his haunches, his hands braced on his thighs. "That's perfect," he said. He nailed down the last of his shingles with the butt of his hatchet, then crept to the lip of the roof, seeking his ladder of crates with one dangling leg.

The farmhouse was low, the eaves at eye-level. Eitrigg barely thought about it. He reached up and clasped Tirion about the waist with both hands. He felt Tirion's ribcage rise with a sharp intake of breath, and he twisted in Eitrigg's grip. His hand slid against Eitrigg's neck in a streak of heat. It caught the edge of his breastplate, and clung.

"Can I help?" Eitrigg belatedly asked. Smaller creatures always ran hot. Tirion was like an ember against his skin, yet Eitrigg shivered.

"Yes. Thank you," Tirion said. His heart beat like a wardrum as Eitrigg set him down.

"I frightened you," Eitrigg said.

"Not at all." Tirion's hand lingered on the buckle of Eitrigg's breastplate, and then he stepped back briskly, casting his eyes to the clouded sky. "Startled, at most."

Eitrigg followed his gaze. Dusk was approaching, and with it a cruel chill. It would be best to set a fire soon, for warmth and to toast the bread. As if sensing his thoughts, Tirion began to collect up the weathered shingles he'd cast down from the roof.

"Kindling is all these are good for," he said. His teeth flashed under his grey beard, small and blunt but still an untamed, arresting smile. "I'll take care of the fire. You, my friend, can tap that keg."

Soon the fire was crackling, motes scurrying skyward on warmed currents. It was the first fire Eitrigg had attended since he'd left Hammerfall. It had been too risky to set one while he travelled; the last thing he'd wanted was to draw attention to himself. Eitrigg found it a welcome comfort, but it also made him think of Thrall and his ominous vision. The condition of the land here lent a terrible certainty to it.

"How long will you stay?" Tirion asked, as Eitrigg brought him a tin mug foaming with ale. It was the only mug Tirion had, and it became increasingly clear they would be sharing it when Tirion waved it away, indicating that Eitrigg should drink first.

"Not long," Eitrigg said. The mug was not made for his mouth; he curled his lip against its rim in a bid to not spill too much of its contents. "Two nights. Three, perhaps."

"And then you will head west," Tirion said, lowering himself to sit, a grimace pressing lines into his face. He was as grey-haired as Eitrigg, and his bones must ache as much. "To what end?"

"We will cross the ocean to Kalimdor."

"Kalimdor." Tirion seemed amused for reasons unclear to Eitrigg. "And how does your Horde intend to achieve this?"

"Must you ask?" Eitrigg said. "You know you will dislike the answer."

Tirion narrowed his eyes at that, but accepted the mug when Eitrigg offered it to him. He rolled it between his palms, considering, then nodded to himself. "Aye," he said. "You're right. You didn't come here to fight with me."

He lifted the mug to his mouth and drank without hesitation, as though it hadn't occurred to him that Eitrigg had put his mouth there only moments ago. He watched Tirion's narrow throat bob as he swallowed, and wondered if he understood the significance.

Tirion's eyes shone in the fire's ambience, but did not reflect its light the way an orc's would. Humans could not see well in the dark, Eitrigg knew. "Why did you come to me?" Tirion asked him, his voice soft over the pop and snap of the wood as it burned.

Eitrigg exhaled. "After," he said. "At first. I often woke with the memory of a rope around my neck. That faded, but the memory of your hands, Tirion—" That blinding heat, like a brand on his skin as he was healed and made him anew. Tirion's eyes, sublime with the Light and shining with desperation as he'd freed Eitrigg from the twisting nether's insistent grasp. "That memory is as bright as the dawn."

Tirion's lips parted, as though he were about to say something. He did not, and instead sat with his elbow on one knee and his knuckle resting against his forehead. His thumb brushed back and forth across his brow. He stayed like that for some minutes before suddenly getting to his feet. He came to stand before Eitrigg with a hand on his hip and the mug of ale in the other.

He threw the drink back and threw the mug aside, and with a huff, set to work on unlashing Eitrigg's armour. His pauldrons slid back from his shoulders and clanked to the ground, and his breastplate soon followed. Tirion paused again, his arms folded.

"Is there," Eitrigg said, the cool night laying itself over his back. Tirion may have stumbled upon the courting ritual that was cup-sharing, but he would not know the parries and feints for the rest of the dance. Likewise, Eitrigg was at a loss. Did humans pursue with tooth and nail? "Is there something I am supposed to do?"

"No. I'm just trying to figure out how to kiss you."

"When orcs share a cup as we did," Eitrigg said, "sometimes it is brotherly bonding. But sometimes it is as good as a kiss."

"A fine tradition, but not quite good enough for me, I'm afraid." Tirion laid a hand on Eitrigg's thigh and leaned toward him.

It seemed the most natural thing for Eitrigg to incline his face to Tirion's. His nose flared at his thickening scent, mingling with the ale and fragrant woodsmoke and his own. "Perhaps you would prefer that we spar," he murmured.

"I had something like that in mind." Tirion touched his face then, laying his thumbs alongside Eitrigg's tusks. The first lick of his tongue against his lips sent a tremor through Eitrigg's body. His natural urge was to grapple Tirion to the ground, but Eitrigg was accustomed to more robust partners. Despite the strength Tirion had demonstrated, he was no orc.

Instead, he scooped Tirion closer. His hand spanned his back. There had been many humans at Stratholme to observe in the long hours before his execution, and so he knew that Tirion was a little taller and broader than was typical. Certainly fiercer, and more honourable. The knowledge had remained on the border of Eitrigg's awareness: he was a desirable mate.

He had been reckless in the end, but Eitrigg sensed that was not typical of him. Rather, it was something Eitrigg had inspired in him. He felt some pride in that. Perhaps, then, he too was desirable.

The way Tirion was intent on mounting Eitrigg's lap suggested it was so. The effect that was having on him was impossible to conceal, especially once Tirion's hands went to Eitrigg's belt.

"Tirion," Eitrigg said, between the fascinated kisses Tirion was pressing to his mouth, the soft hair of his beard tickling, the scrape of rounded teeth. Eitrigg hadn't yet dared to return them, instead opting to run his fingers up and down his back. "You have had a lot of ale."

"No more than you have," Tirion said, working industriously at Eitrigg's buckle.

"I am a great deal larger than you."

Tirion's hands paused a moment, and he looked up at Eitrigg under his grey brows. "Oh, I am aware of that," he said. "Believe me." And then he had Eitrigg's belt loose and his trews open, and he delved in with a hot small hand.

Eitrigg took in a sharp breath and rolled his head back. The sky had darkened and the stars pricked out their maps. Tirion ran an exploratory hand over Eitrigg's cock, and then leaned away to pull his tunic off over his head.

He was lean and sinewy, pink like a skinned rabbit, but scarred enough to be pleasing. Eitrigg ran his fingers along the narrow ridge of his spine, over vertebrae like a string of warbeads.

Tirion bowed his head at the touch. "I thought of you often," he softly said, "when I was first alone out here. I thought I would think of you less as time wore on, but I did not."

"Do you regret what you did for me?"

Tirion laid a hand on Eitrigg's shoulder, his fingers playing over a gnarled old wound there, badly healed. "Sometimes," he said. "But no matter how many times I think it over, I see no other way it could have gone. I'm glad you're here."

"As am I," Eitrigg said. His hand lingered at the base of Tirion's spine, marvelling at the way his fine bones flexed as he moved. They seemed so fragile, and yet he'd seen Tirion wield a sledgehammer with enough ferocity to lay out another human with ease and to catch another on the backswing. The thought stoked a fervent heat in him.

Tirion lifted onto his knees to strip and cast aside his breeches and then settled back into Eitrigg's lap. The firelight flickered behind him, casting its warm red glow.

Again, Tirion touched him, and chose this time to use both hands to pull him free of his clothing. It felt different from his own hand, and unlike another orc's would. The tentative exploration of his fingers were featherlight and teasing, though by their nature rather than deliberately. The rub of his thumb on the underside and slow sweep over the head had Eitrigg shuddering and so rapidly filling with blood that he could not seem to keep his breathing even.

"Well, now," Tirion said, grinning. "This could be a challenge."

Eitrigg frowned. He did not believe Tirion could truly mean what he was implying, but he was moving again, leaning against Eitrigg for balance. His body pressed against the full length of Eitrigg's cock as he reached back. He could not see precisely what Tirion was doing, but he suspected. Tirion's eyes were closed, his expression focused as the muscles in his shoulder flexed. When his tongue darted out over his lower lip, Eitrigg could no longer stand to merely watch.

He trailed his hand along Tirion's arm and over the jut of his wrist, and found where Tirion had breached himself with his fingers.

"That's right," Tirion gasped, and slowly slid his fingers from his body. "Eitrigg, please."

"You must be mad, human," Eitrigg told him, and Tirion laughed a low, delighted laugh.

"Perhaps," he said. "Your fingers, then, if you have concerns."

"I have many!"

Tirion only continued to laugh and ground back onto his hand as though he barely conceived of his own fragility—or maybe it was Eitrigg's strength he didn't fully realise, and how easily it could break him.

"Don't underestimate me," Tirion said, lightly but not without that particular imperiousness humans seemed to cultivate.

Eitrigg decided that he would not, if that was what Tirion wanted. He licked his fingers and pressed at Tirion's ass, which served to wedge him ever more tightly against Eitrigg's chest and cock. Tirion strained back against him until he opened around the tip of his finger.

He became still but for the trembling of his thighs. Eitrigg smelled the wave of sweat as it broke over him, and could not resist tasting it. Tirion loosed a rough groan at the drag of Eitrigg's tongue across his neck and bore down onto his hand, slowly easing himself to rest against the first thick knuckle of his finger.

Eitrigg could feel Tirion's cock throb against his own; what he lacked in length or girth he made up for in heat and hardness, and Eitrigg's blood rushed, his hips jerking up before he could stop it happening. Tirion grunted and clutched at his shoulders as it drove Eitrigg's knuckle into him. A slickness spread between their bodies.

Perhaps that was all it took, then. It didn't seem fair to be disappointed. Eitrigg settled, expecting Tirion to disengage however he saw fit. Instead his eyes closed and his shoulders rose in an inhale, and he slid down to the second knuckle.

"Why did you stop?" he asked.

"I thought," Eitrigg began, and then paused and catalogued the detail away. "Hm. It was nothing."

Tirion just looked at him with eyes gone dark, took a grip of his shoulders and began to move atop him. So slowly at first that Eitrigg's finger barely inched in nor out of him, but as his body gradually eased, Eitrigg felt less reservations about encouraging him along. Humans were small, yes, and eminently breakable, but they were also adaptable, and, apparently, supple.

He pushed into Tirion with steady even pressure and crooked his finger just a little, and was delighted at how it made Tirion shudder and pant.

With every nudge forward, Tirion's stomach and chest dragged along the length of Eitrigg's cock, soft skin and prickling hair and the vital thump of his heartbeat. Eitrigg flattened his free hand against his back, trapping him so that he even the smallest movement would transmute into friction. He could not have hoped to last long after that—not when Tirion put his teeth to his skin to muffled his wordless cries, and not when his scrabbling fingers scored him with sweet stinging brightness. He was tough-skinned, but not impenetrable, and so he came thunderously.

He did not mistake it when Tirion soon followed, clenching around his finger and biting fiercely. He drew blood, but that wasn't something Eitrigg minded, especially wool-headed as he was in the moment.

Perhaps Tirion would lay his hands on him and heal his scratches, he thought, and one last rill of pleasure ran through him.

*

The morning light spilled into the farmhouse, casting its rays over the worn floorboards and ashy hearth and set dust motes dancing in a golden slant. Eitrigg enveloped Tirion's back, and as there was no pressing need to rise, he lay for long minutes savouring the warmth of his body and the weight of his hand on his thigh. He smelled earthy and natural, like the dew-laden ferns in the darker parts of the forest. Tirion ached comfortably, and, old man though he may be, he soon felt a pleasant coursing of heat through him.

Eitrigg stirred. And, old orc that he may be—

"Hmph," Eitrigg said, the low growl of his voice even thicker with sleep. "Can't we at least break fast first?"

"Oh, I see where your priorities lie." Tirion felt more than heard Eitrigg's rumble of a laugh. His own chuckle was half-hearted. "Forage is poor," he said frankly. "Fruit has been shrivelling on the branches. Roots moulder and the berries are flyblown. Poor prospects for breakfast aside, something's not right with the land."

"It is all but squirming," Eitrigg said. "I felt it as soon as I arrived. You should not stay here."

Tirion snorted. "And where would I go? Across the sea with your Horde? I don't think so. At least if things turn awry here I will be able to see to it myself."

"Your people will not thank you for it."

"Aye, well."

"That is not an answer."

"It wasn't a question."

"You are as stubborn as any orc," Eitrigg told him.

"I shall take that as a compliment," Tirion said, and hooked a leg over his thick hip. Eitrigg did not protest this time; instead he rolled Tirion onto his back with some wildness. Perhaps the promise of an argument was how he would get his own way. He wound his fist into Eitrigg's silver topknot and pulled him into a rough kiss; his tusk dug into Tirion's cheek, and his heavy cock laid on inside of Tirion's thigh, rapidly stiffening.

He heard Eitrigg's grunt of consternation, but no further objection as Tirion guided him with one hand. He must have proven himself well enough the night before.

Eitrigg pinned his shoulder against the farmhouse's creaking boards and nudged against him, small regular throbs of pressure that gradually opened Tirion up. The head of his cock was barely inside him yet the measure of it crept up Tirion's spine in transcendent ripples. He dug his heel encouragingly into Eitrigg's back, and Eitrigg obliged him by slapping a hand under his rear and lifting him effortlessly.

The new angle let Eitrigg sink another thick inch further into him, stretching him fiercely. The sweet burn of it washed over Tirion in heady, breath-stealing waves until it was all he could do to not babble a half-remembered prayer.

"I've heard a human make that noise before," Eitrigg said. Tirion felt his mouth move against his neck, his hot panting breath and the smooth cool press of a tusk. "I had just cleaved him in two."

"A good death, then," Tirion said, and Eitrigg rumbled a laugh. It shattered into a low groan as Tirion braced his shoulders against the floor, straining against where Eitrigg had him pinned one-handed, and rolled his hips up. He may never be able to accomodate all of him, but that didn't mean he wouldn't try his damnedest.

Eitrigg trembled with it, and Tirion wondered if it was with desire or with control, or if the tight going was a complicated experience for him too; pleasure bleeding into pain and back again as Tirion worked as much of him inside as he could. He wondered if this could become too much for Eitrigg as easily as it could for him, and what would happen if it did.

He imagined Eitrigg breaking and every ounce of his unleashed strength bearing down on him, as relentless fucking as he would be fighting, and despite all attempt to fend it off, Tirion found himself coming in a long, wracking spasm.

Eitrigg laid him down, his big face hovered over him and a glint of what Tirion took for triumph in his eyes.

"By the Gods, if you stop now—" Tirion bit out, only for Eitrigg to silence him with a rake of his thumb along Tirion's bearded jaw. His mouth was pulled wide and flat with some banked emotion. His breath came in slow huffs against Tirion's face. "You're leaving soon," Tirion said in slow realisation. "Sooner than you said you would."

Eitrig nodded. "It was risky for me to come here at all." He shifted his hips, and Tirion writhed under him. "The longer I remain, the harder it will be to leave."

"Stay," Tirion said, clutching at him. "Stay, then."

"You sacrificed much so that I could live my life out in peace," Eitrigg said. "I do not want you to have done so for nothing. My being here endangers that. Your people are cruel, Tirion. They will do more than exile you again if I'm found."

And there would be no succor for Eitrigg. Not a second time.

His people. The fervour with which they had bayed for Eitrigg's blood had sickened him so thoroughly he had barely been able to consider them such for a long time afterward. Only his meditative isolation had gotten him close to forgiving them.

"Can we talk about this later?" Tirion said a little desperately. His climax had retreated and left him tender in more ways than one. Eitrigg snorted and pulled most of the way out, only to slide back with devastating slowness. Light, Tirion felt that in every part of his body, as though each of his muscles had been pulled taut and all he could do was beg for their release.

Eitrigg's vast hand released Tirion's shoulder and instead held his face while he fucked him, his palm rough against his cheek, thumb pressed over his mouth. Tirion's fingers dug into his neck, seeking and finding the bites and scratches he'd left there the night before—he'd barely made a nick in the orc's thick hide, but he gathered his will and focused it nonetheless, and liquid brilliance burst behind his eyes. It was like a living thing; he could follow its glimmering path as though it were part of him—it scintillated across Eitrigg's skin and shook out into his bones and tendons, sluicing the weariness from his joints, and Tirion felt the pleasure of it sing through him.

Above him, Eitrigg shuddered hard, coming with guttural, rough gasps. He drove into Tirion with shallow, vigorous strokes, trembling with obvious restraint while Tirion urged him on with heel and hand, knee and teeth, and some words unbefitting even an erstwhile paladin if he were honest with himself, until the last shivers had run their course.

Eitrigg came down on him like a tower collapsing; in the moments before he rolled aside, Tirion briefly entertained the possibility that he may meet his fate trapped beneath an immovable mountain of an orc, and decided it wasn't such a bad way to go.

*

Eitrigg rinsed himself off in the river with some apprehension, though its chill waters seemed largely benign compared to the misshapen flora and fauna. Still, he would not drink it, personally. He understood why Tirion would choose to remain here—not loyalty to the land as such, but a need to be vigilant over it, to honour its death and to await its rebirth with bated breath.

Tirion himself was sat on the riverbank, one leg crossed beneath him, sharpening his hatchet in long diagonal strokes. "I don't know what circumstances will be when we meet again," he said somberly, though his certainty that they would meet again warmed Eitrigg from tusks to toes. "But the if the winds blow any more sour, it may not be genial."

"It is the nature of things," Eitrigg said diplomatically. He knocked a dent out of his breastplate with the heel of his hand and strapped it into place. "Though I would hope to not find myself on the wrong end of your warhammer."

"Should it come to that, I'll do my best to miss." Tirion offered him a half-smile and then set his hatchet aside and stood. "Give my regards to your Warchief," he said. "And remind him you are with him only by the grace of the Light."

"No need. He thinks favourably of you already."

"Hm. Good to know." Tirion brought his fist to his chest in an orcish salute. "And something to remember, should I need to call on you one day. Safe travels, Eitrigg."

Eitrigg returned his salute, and then all but swamped him in a hug. Tirion grasped the edge of his breastplate and held him there, and Eitrigg fixed the moment in his heart; the future loomed like a dark stormcloud on the horizon and he suspected he would need solace like this to see it through. Tirion leant against him and went up on his toes, kissing Eitrigg once more.

Perhaps he should have said something sentimental, but Tirion only released him to the cool mid-morning air, sending him off with a firm thump on the chest.

"Be away with you, orc," he said, brusque but smiling.

"Keep yourself safe," Eitrigg said. "Human."

He set to the narrow trail that led away from Tirion's home; the trees and bushes had died back, leaving gnarled skeletons behind that clung to him as he left.

In the sky overhead, a raven circled.

***