The soft rustle of the canvas could easily be a brush of the night air, but the involuntary uptick in Raylynn’s heartbeat tells her otherwise. Her fingers tighten around the hilt of her mother’s sword resting by her side, the only sign of life she’ll allow under the veil of darkness. Any other man wouldn’t live long enough to see themselves cut in two by her blade.
But she hears him even in his silence.
She frowns inwardly. Somehow war has made her soft.
Keeping her breathing steady, she remains still. Her bedroll is thin and worn, a companion for many a soldier before her, and hardly accommodating for one person, never mind two. Certainly not for someone as large as him, and especially not as royal.
Still, she feels his weight as he lowers himself to the ground, crawling towards her with all the careful slowness of someone not wishing to wake their partner. The thought makes her heart still, and when he peels back the blanket and lays down beside her, she secretly welcomes the familiar warmth, while noting the absence of chainmail.
Good, she thinks. An admission of defeat.
Only when his arm snakes around her waist and gently draws her closer so that her back is pressed flush against the hard expanse of his chest does she speak.
“My prince,” she breathes, and she revels in the way the sleep in her voice transforms the title into something seductive, blissfully aware of what it stirs in him. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”
Baldair nuzzles his way through the tangle of hair swept behind her shoulders, holding her closer, and a soft chuckle rumbles through his chest, sending all too pleasing vibrations against Raylynn’s back. She allows herself a smile, knowing he cannot see.
“I find myself without a bed this evening,” he murmurs. There’s no disappointment in his voice.
“That’s odd,” Raylynn demurs, her voice light, “considering you burden your men with the task of lugging that monstrosity wherever we go.”
There’s another laugh. “And yet,” Baldair counters huskily in her ear, hot breath ghosting over her skin, “I do recall you expressing appreciation for it on more than one occasion. Rather vocally, if memory serves. Multiple times. In one night.”
Raylynn rolls her eyes, but for all his arrogance, the prince’s words hit their desired mark. Warmth seeps from the wound, spreading fast through her and settling all too comfortably in the place below her navel. She licks her lips; her little princeling is moving this along much too fast for her taste. She needs to staunch the break before it consumes her.
“Are you sure about that?” she replies in an entirely unaffected tone. “Perhaps you have me mistaken for someone else. No one would be surprised, least of all me.”
“I could never,” Baldair hums, arms tightening around her and breathing in deeply.
Raylynn pauses. The complete lack of argument is… well, if she’s being honest, unusual. He’s never not been sincere with her. It’s the reason why this – whatever this is – works. But the way his response rolls off his tongue is unsettling. Though not nearly as much as the lazy circles he begins drawing on her skin with the tip of his nose.
She tries not to react, body fighting with itself, unsure of whether it wants to retreat or surrender to his subtle advances. With every slow swipe, she can feel his lips just barely graze the tender area, warm, tantalizingly soft. She trains her gaze ahead, eyes tracing the faint outline of her hand clinging to her sword. It feels like nothing under her grasp. Useless.
“Ray,” Baldair whispers into her silence. She presses her lips together, suppressing any sound that may betray her, and it’s like he knows. Because suddenly, his mouth is on her neck as though to coax free every bit of longing trapped deep in her throat.
It works, too. A low, drawn out moan fills the tent, and in the stillness of the night, it stokes the fire of their shared desire, awakening something that the Mother above designed in the stars to never be laid to rest for too long.
Raylynn’s head tips backwards on its own accord, offering the slope of her neck fully to Baldair, and it’s all the permission he needs to latch onto her pulse. He takes his time, his mouth moving gently over the sensitive spot with wet, languid kisses causing her eyes to flutter close. She’s already breathless, lips slightly parted, already drowning in the sensation, and she barely registers the hand traveling up her side. She half expects him to pull her around to meet him fully when his ascent stops and lingers on her shoulder - instead, his touch slowly trails down her arm, grazes the curve of her elbow, and follows the path all the way to the fist wrapped around her sword. His hand rests over hers and his thumb brushes over her knuckles lightly, tenderly.
Raylynn doesn’t even realize he’s stopped kissing her. She can only feel his hand curved over hers, caressing something deeper within.
The silence beats between them.
Then, a whisper.
“On your terms.”
Everything stops. Except for the thumb on her hand. Except for the heartbeat pressed into her back, reaching out to her, calm and steady. Never threatening to break her.
And just like that, Raylynn lets go of the sword.
There is no hesitation in her touch when her fingers find Baldair’s. They entwine with purpose, savoring how perfectly made they were to fit. She guides him to the valley between her breasts, holds him there, and together, with her fingers tangled with his, they find her heartbeat.
Neither one of them moves. Raylynn could stay like this all night, wrapped up in his arms, breathing as one. She knows he would not object, would not push her further. It’s all she needs.
But she wants more.
Raylynn shifts in Baldair’s embrace, and when she pulls her hand away, he stays where she left him, cradling her heart as though it might stop if he were to let go. She reaches behind her head, fingers grazing the stubble of his jaw, then further, raking through his hair. The angle is awkward, but when she turns her head, nose bumping into his, Baldair knows what she wants and draws himself up to meet her lips with his.
For a moment, Raylynn’s lungs forget their purpose. Warmth seeps into her bones, her body instantly surrendering to Baldair, melting into his. His lips are soft, softer than they have any right to be after weeks of marching through the desert, and she feels herself pouring everything she has into this one moment, at the same time claiming him, devouring all that he’s giving her in return.
When they break apart, they’re both breathless. Raylynn’s eyes flutter open to find his already on her. His gaze is tender, yet intense, searching her face before bringing his hand to her cheek and brushing his lips with hers.
“I’ve missed you,” he breathes into her mouth before recapturing her lips with something much firmer. Raylynn sighs into him, twisting her neck, desperate to deepen the kiss.
It’s a ridiculous thing to say. Truly. But it spurs her heart to beat faster nonetheless. From the moment she’d chosen to honor her oath to the crown, the golden cuff around her wrist never came off, as much a reminder to herself that she was bound to his fate as it was a symbol of her place in his guard. She never left his side; he’d made sure of that when, on the morning of their first ride, he’d taken the reigns of her horse and, in front of all his men, in front of his brother, his father , led her to the front line to ride beside him. A promise of his own - one made not from the crown, but from a kiss in another desert, in another time.
By the Mother, she’s missed him too. Somehow, somewhere in the space between them she had been aching for this closeness.
“I’m here,” she murmurs into his lips, arching into his touch, bidding the hand still cradling her heartbeat to move. Calloused fingers find the opening in her cotton tunic and slip inside, grazing her breast. A broken gasp escapes her when he squeezes and rolls his thumb over its peak, circling the spot over and over, applying the perfect amount of pressure.
It’s not long before his hand is moving again - away - but the disappointment of losing his warmth on her chest dissolves into nothing when his journey begins to take him lower and lower, slipping beneath the blanket, skimming over the hem of her tunic and -
Baldair stops, hand frozen on her hip.
Her bare hip.
It takes Baldair a moment to regain his senses. He exhales shakily. “Were you waiting for me, love?” he teases in her ear, a ragged, almost desperate, edge to his breathing.
Raylynn hums happily, pressing her backside into Baldair, eliciting a surprised breath from him and feeling his hardness, hot and ready for her, through his breeches. “I wait for no man.”
The silence that follows is so wickedly sweet, Raylynn almost laughs. She delights in his torture as much as his pleasure, and as the meaning of her words fully sink in, the grip on her hip sharpens.
“Mother, Raylynn,” Baldair groans, almost painfully, as his forehead drops onto her shoulder. It’s exactly the reaction Raylynn was looking for, but there’s no satisfaction in it. Not when his hand is so close, yet entirely too far away from the heat pounding between her legs. She opens her mouth to say something, but he suddenly jerks his hips, rolling his arousal roughly against her backside, making her feel every inch of him.
“Did you think of me?” he rasps in her ear. “As you were biding your time? ”
Raylynn meets his thrust with a sensual roll of her hips. “My pleasure is my own.”
He chuckles. A deep, lustful thing. “Indeed. Might you be persuaded to share?”
“What you’ll give me in return.”
Baldair’s hand digs into her skin. “Everything. If you’ll let me.”
It could have been a couple minutes or several lifetimes before he’s sliding into her, filling her in a way that no other person ever has or ever could. Strong legs wrap around his waist, guiding him, anchoring him home as her hips rock in perfect harmony with his. It’s not at all rough, but there’s power underneath his gentle movements, each thrust a punctured call she feels go through her entire body, yours yours yours.
With the prince, it’s always an endless tide of pleasure, and tonight is no different. His mouth is everywhere. Her breasts, her neck, her jaw, her lips - until her entire body is humming in sensation. And still he has more to give. Still he breathes quiet praise between fervent kisses. Soft words of how he missed her, missed this. That sends her heart fluttering more than anything.
All too soon, it becomes too much for either one of them. It’s as though time had ceased from when they rode out from Solarin to the moment before Baldair entered her tent and now that they were finally together, it was rushing to catch up. If Raylynn had any breath to spare, she’d laugh. They’re just too good together. And it’s been so long.
Damn this war.
Baldair slips an arm underneath her neck, gripping her shoulder and cradling the back of her head in the crux of his elbow, while his other hand props himself up slightly so he can see her face. His mouth hangs open, eyes tracing the outline of her face in reverence as he pulls her close, all the while he never ceases moving inside her, relentless in his pursuit to bring her over the edge.
“Ray,” he rasps between labored breathing, lips close to hers. “Raylynn. I - ”
She silences him kissing him full on the mouth. It’s urgent, breathless. His teeth scrape her lower lip, nipping and tugging until she moans and opens to him. Tender, the tip of his tongue penetrates, brushes against hers, matching her own wanton sounds with groans of his own. When their increasingly frantic rhythm forces them to break apart, she fills the space with a litany of his own name. There’s no air left between them for more than that.
The sound of his name on her lips spurs Baldair on, and suddenly he shifts his angle, making every stroke a headrush of pleasure for her. Faintly she remembers that they’re in a tent in the middle of nowhere, but this - this feeling - it can’t be real. Something this exquisite can’t exist in the Western Waste.
Baldair sets a devastating rhythm, and Raylynn clings to her prince with all her strength, almost desperate as she feels herself being pressed deeper and deeper into the sand with each frenzied snap of his hips. She can hardly keep up. Moisture prickles at the edges of her eyes and it takes everything she has to all but sob out loud. He’s so good. So so good. It’s excruciating. Every blast of breath against her ear sends the mounting heat between them soaring higher and higher and higher until -
Raylynn arches her back and scrabbles at his back, feels her nails dig into his scorching skin as her release crashes over her. It’s like the wind has been knocked out of her. She’s gasping frantically for air while at the same time trying to keep from crying out.
She’s not alone.
Somewhere beyond her own euphoria, she hears the harsh breathes of her name being buried into her neck over and over again in a susurrus of uncontrol as Baldair’s hips stutter involuntarily against her own. She feels the quick surging of heat inside her and she clenches and quivers around him, wringing every last swell of need from his spent body.
Despite being out of breath, Baldair pulls her into a passionate kiss - and doesn’t stop. Nor do their hips, slowly rolling in tandem, lazy and luxurious, neither one of them in any rush to end this moment. Raylynn has never felt more unwound, more unbound. His heartbeat, once a tempest, begins to slow against her and she latches onto it, using it to anchor her own runaway pulse.
It’s only when the desert air settles over them and their bodies begin to cool that Baldair pulls away. He smiles down at her, expression overflowing with adoration, and he smooths the damp hair clinging to her sweat-slick forehead away. He bends forward, and she thinks he’s going to kiss her there, but instead, he gently coaxes her cheek to him and presses his lips to the scar running up the side of her face. A tremor runs through her, entirely different than anything he made her body feel moments ago. No, it’s better. She didn’t think it was possible.
The feeling doesn’t leave even when his mouth does. With her prince sprawled out on his back and Raylynn nestled in his side, they are once again surrounded by the quiet of the night. Baldair’s hand tangles lazily through her hair as they listen. It’s not long before Raylynn grows restless.
“So,” she says, propping her chin on Baldair’s chest and looking up at him, “you’re staying?”
Baldair peers down at her, brow arched slightly. “Would you like to me to leave?”
“No,” she amends, and she’s a little disappointed with herself for how quickly she says it. Baldair grins. “No, it’s not like that. I just figured, tomorrow’s a big day and you have your bed so -”
“I told you,” the prince interrupts, “my bed is preoccupied tonight.”
“That was true?”
Baldair frowns. “When have I ever lied to you?” His tone is playfully exasperated, but Raylynn notes the wound underneath the question. She can’t have that.
Raylynn raises herself up to his face, thoroughly enjoying the way his eyes widen as her naked breasts brush against his chest. She hovers over him for just a moment, then lowers her lips to his. The hand in her hair stills, then presses her more insistently to him. It’s supposed to be quick. An assurance. But it turns into a promise, and it’s minutes before either one breaks away.
By the time Raylynn releases him, Baldair’s chest is already heaving against her once more. She rests her forehead against his, giving each other a moment to collect themselves, then gives him a quick peck on the lips before sinking comfortably into her place at his side.
“Did a pack of noru run off with it?” she asks softly, as though she hadn’t just interrupted their conversation with a mindblowing kiss.
Baldair clears his throat, a chuckle escaping. “No, I let someone else take it.”
That certainly peaks Raylynn’s curiosity. “My, how generous of you. Who’s the lucky maiden? Or bachelor? By the Mother, if it’s Jax I’ll - ”
“It’s my brother.”
Stunned silence fills their tent. Somewhere outside someone coughs. It takes Raylynn several seconds to process what he’s just said, and when she does, she props herself up to look at him. He only stares at the canvas ceiling, a line burrowed between his brow.
“You let your brother stay in your tent?” she balks. When Baldair doesn’t answer, she prompts, “Why?”
“Not just Aldrik,” Baldair finally asserts, still not looking at her. “It was for Vhalla too.”
The frown on his face deepens at the girl’s name. Raylynn suppresses a sigh, looking away. Leave it to Aldrik and his precious Windwalker to snuff out their afterglow.
It’s not that she’s jealous. No - if she were the jealous type then whatever relationship she shared with Baldair would never work. However, his fixation on the eldest prince’s “plaything” - his constant concern and drive to protect her from his brother - worries her. For all her love for him - yes, love, she can admit that to herself - she thinks when it comes to his brother, sometimes the golden prince only sees what he wants to see.
“I think he loves her.”
Raylynn’s head snaps back to gawk at Baldair. He’s already looking at her, expression pained, so different from the face she was kissing moments ago. She’s tempted to lean down and chase away the tension with another. One that will carry them through the night and burn through all the stars.
“Would that be so bad if it were true?” she asks instead. “Does Aldrik not deserve love?”
“It’s not Aldrik that I worry about.”
“Isn’t he, though?”
Baldair’s entire demeanor turns to stone. Raylynn half expects him to walk right out of her tent. Naked if he has to. Anything to get away from this conversation that has driven them so far from where this night began. But he doesn’t. Instead, he stares at her long and hard, until the serious lines on his face slowly melt away and there’s nothing left but sorrow. He suddenly looks so young, and that’s because he is .
Raylynn regards him for a moment longer. She’s not looking for an answer. Someday he would figure out his feelings for his brother. But not tonight. Tonight is about another prince. One that is not tormented by shadows, but caught in a sunbeam, and she has no intention of letting him go.
Baldair stiffens when Raylynn lowers herself back down onto the bedroll beside him and comes to rest her head on his chest, seemingly surprised by the action, given the exchange. But when she pulls the blanket over them and snuggles closer, he relaxes, wrapping his arms around her in turn and brushing his lips across the top of her head.
“So,” Raylynn drawls, “your brother gets it on with the Windwalker and your first thought is to pay me a visit?”
“What?” Baldair chokes out.
“Admit it, you were -” Raylynn searches for the right word, “- inspired.”
“I was most certainly not,” huffs Baldair, shifting irritably on the bedroll. “I gave them my tent because my presence was clearly unnecessary for their prolific declarations to each other to continue and as there was no end in sight, I generously removed myself.”
Raylynn smirks into his chest. “‘Prolific declarations’ you say?”
“Ray, stop,” demands Baldair, and Raylynn actually laughs. As if the prince could possibly order her to do anything. Agitation rumbles through his chest. “They aren’t actually - Aldrik wouldn’t -”
There’s a pregnant pause. Raylynn almost feels sorry for him. Almost.
“I’m having Jax burn the damn thing in the morning,” Baldair announces deadpanned.
Raylynn pats his chest sympathetically. “I doubt that’ll be necessary. The way those to go at it, I’m sure Aldrik will have accidentally set it on fire with their passionate lovemaking.” Raylynn punctures the thought with a sharp sniff. “Is that - ? Do you smell smoke?”
“That’s it!” Baldair growls and in a whoosh of fabric he’s flipped her over and has her pinned to the ground. She struggles underneath him. It’s no secret that the master swordswoman matches the prince in strength. However, her attempts to thwart him off her are half-hearted. Because the truth is, that the hands already releasing her wrists and gathering her in his arms are exactly what she wants. She doesn’t resist when he pulls her against his chest. She doesn’t care when he refuses to let go. And she certainly doesn’t turn away when his thumb brushes her scarred cheek and he lowers his lips to hers.
A sigh of contentment escapes Raylynn’s throat, arms wrapping around Baldair’s neck on their own accord. She holds him close.
The Western Waste is a blank canvas for those who walk it. For years, she’d believed to one day pledge her sword to the crown. Aldrik. But it was only when the desert’s sand revealed another prince tangled in her red line did she realize just how wrong she was.
“Thank you,” she breathes into Baldaia’s lips. Whether it’s to him or the Mother above, she doesn’t know. Either way, Baldair doesn’t question it. He leans his forehead against hers, a smile creeping on his lips.
“I think I’m the one who should be thanking you."