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Last Dawn

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Eventually, their kiss broke away. He held her hand as their eyes fell back on the horizon, fingertips tracing over the ridges of her knuckles, each peak more wonderful to him than the crest of the highest mountain. In response, she sighed and leaned against him. It felt like ages since they’d been this close, longer than the centuries he’d lived.

The night blanketed them with its windy arms, the stars the only proof that a world existed outside of their rooftop cocoon. How peaceful it seemed, despite the coming war, but there was always a disturbing calm, wasn’t there? Before battle, it was a silence born of fear; after, of death, and always it felt strangely juxtaposed against the indifference and beauty of nature. In his earlier years, there seemed to be no shortage of breathtaking landscapes bejeweled with blood-smattered corpses. Back then, he considered himself as callous as the stones those bodies were strewn across. Now, on this quaint little rooftop overlooking a suburban sprawl, he found that his constitution aligned more with soapstone than solid diamond.
Barbara had nearly nodded off when both of them felt the earth rumble beneath their feet. Hearing her sharp intake of breath, Walter’s grip on her tightened, bracing her as she steadied herself against the roof.

“That one was a lot stronger,” she said once the tremors subsided.

“I agree. Last night’s barely made the trees shake.”

Another pause found them as he rubbed his hand up and down her arm, warming her against a chill neither of them could shake. He knew what she was thinking. Both of them feared the coming dawn.

“Walter,” she said at length, squeezing his hand, “There’s still a lot to work through.”

“Of course,” he nodded into her hair. “I expect no less”

“But tonight,” she pulled back to look at him. “If this is our last night on earth--”

“It won’t be yours, Barbara.” His voice was desperate, human. “Every inch of my stone tells me so.”

“If it is,” she pressed on, “I don’t think either of us should spend it at odds with each other...or alone.”

His head tilted humbly. Undeserved, but he could think of no better way to spend his final hours.

“No,” he agreed, pecking her lips. “That wouldn’t do, would it?”

A lithe hand circled around his cheek, pushing to brush past the slope of his ear and into his hair. She pulled him down, and he tasted her for the second time that evening.

By the time they came apart again, they were both out of breath. Her gentle grip fell away, leaving him bereft.

And then her voice, collected, but flushed. “Can I see you again?”

He blinked at her, mildly surprised. A few cold moments fell between them as his heart pounded, and then, in a flash, he was that horned and yellow-eyed creature that she’d only ever seen in rushed moments.

She reached a hand toward him, using the other to steady herself against the roof.

Wings tucked tightly in nervousness, he cleared his throat, and shifted closer, shoulders sinking when her hand made contact with his stone.

Relief rushed from both of them in quiet huffs.

“I’ve noticed you’re temperature.” Her words smoothed over him, calming the anxiety that threatened to overwhelm his senses.

“Yes,” his own voice cracked through a craggy throat, “the energy that keeps me human emits heat, allowing me to pass as normal, but the nature of stone is different. Internally, there is warmth, but the outer layer of dermis prevents it from escaping,--and even if it did, it is nowhere near the degree of a human’s output. There are species of troll that stay camouflaged on the surface, sticking to shadows during the day, but you will never detect them on a heat scanner.”

“Fascinating.” Her calculating gaze roamed further. “That energy filters your voice, too.”

“Indeed, doctor.”

A brow rose at the formality, blue eyes darting over the rims of her glasses. “And these engravings” She traced a line along one of his pectorals, the tilt of her head curious, if clinical.

“Earned,” he supplied, “after many years of loyalty and combat.”

“Do they go past the cloth?” She asked, somewhat in amusement. Anything to distract from the dread of tomorrow.

“They do.”

“That must have hurt.”

“Very much,” he said, strangely short on words, and breath.

“And what about this?” Lithe fingers brushed over a thin mark along his neck--scar tissue from the night their bond had been severed. “Did this hurt?

He shivered beneath her ghostly touch, throat tightening with the wave she’d produced within him.

“More than anything.” A clawed hand came over hers and he closed his eyes, releasing a breath. “You must know, by now, how I feel about you. Even when I am this.”

And it was true: Troll though he was, green-skinned and grievous, he could not help it.

“Hmm,” her small hand dug into into the pocket of her robe, only to reemerge with a stethoscope in tow.

“Where did you get that?” A toothy lip tugged sideways in amusement.

“According to Jim, he almost ate it.” She heard him chuckle, the rumble of it foreign, but welcome. “He gave it to me for safekeeping.”

With a half-shy smile she donned the earpieces and lifted the diaphragm to his chest.

His heart fluttered, as it had during those first tentative weeks so many moons ago. He remembered her eyes, the scones, the Correggo. Stolen kisses in the park.

He’s not hiding behind some sort of pleasing veil or disguise. Her words came back to him, as clear as daylight. He’s letting her take him at his love.”

“Just as I suspected.” She smiled, and placed her hand where the diaphragm had been.

“Stolen?” he asked, reflecting words long past.

“Strong.” She corrected, the side of her lip tugging upward. A hand reached to smooth against his stony face.

He frowned, though his eyes glowed with longing. “I didn’t think you’d want me in this form.”

“If there was ever a reason I didn’t want you, it was because of what you did, not because of what you are.”

“I am a monster on all fronts.” The words rumbled out. Yellow eyes opened as her free hand tugged at his chin.

“Yeah,” she acquiesced, though her gaze was soft, “you kind-of are, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk things out. You lied to me about a lot, Walter, but I know you didn’t lie about this.” Her thumb tapped against his chest, just above his heart. “If there’s one good thing that came out of that binding spell, it’s that I don’t have to question it. Whether or not that’s enough to get us through, in the end, I don’t know,” the doctor shrugged, gaze grazing the floor before looking back up. “But it’s a start.”

Tentatively, she leaned upward, enough to brush her lips against his before pulling back to meet his eyes.

A sound escaped him, one that wasn’t entirely human. Again, the instinct to pull away came to mind, but fascination held him. How strange it seemed to feel the press of human lips in this form. Even stranger to feel this body so eagerly respond. His accompanying sigh was one of profound relief.

Next came what she would ever after, much to his amused consternation, describe as a purr--a rumbling keen that floated from somewhere deep within his chest and ended in slow, watery notes of affection. His forehead hovered closer with the progression of the noise, until it gently bumped against hers.

“Wow,” she said, her own relief floating through a shaky voice. “You’re definitely not human.”

“No,” his voice slid against her ear, sending shock-waves down her spine, “certainly not.”

They nuzzled noses a while longer before Walter stood back. He brushed a few rogue strands of red hair with the claw of his wing, and smiled.

“You ought to retire for the night.” His voice was fond and filled with longing. Not a pebble within him desired to be apart from her, but he’d witnessed firsthand the lack of sleep she’d endured over the past two days. They were both exhausted. “Tomorrow will come sooner than any of us wish.”

“Are...” she paused to brush an uncertain hand along the ridge of his wing. The touch, unfiltered by any magic veil, sparked shivers that visibly ran through its folds, distracting her gaze. “Will you stay with me?”

“Of course I will,” he said, trying (and failing) not to sound too eager. He took her hand and kissed it in as artful a manner as this form would allow. “Of course.”

“C’mon,” she tugged him towards her bedroom window. “Now that I know you’re a top-notch spy, I’m guessing you won’t have a problem getting past the lock on my window. ”

The look he shot her was bashful, if not affirming.

Once they arrived, he slipped the edge of a knife beneath the window pane, then applied pressure until it popped. The air ignited with green vapor as he changed back into his human guise before sliding the window open and crawling inside.

Barbara took his offered hand and ducked in with a graceless, “oomph.”

“Is it alright if I remain like this?” The changeling asked as she removed her robe, finding it difficult to tear his eyes away from the attire she wore beneath. It was nothing complicated—night-shorts and a t-shirt from a long-ago blood-drive—but the shirt was white, and his eyes were keen. Thus, he found himself clearing his throat when her gaze caught his own. ”Human, I mean.”

“All kinds are welcome, remember?” She said with a knowing smile and tossed the robe aside. “But are you sure you won’t be more comfortable in your own form?”

“Not in particular,” he answered, eyes honest. “Under the scrutiny of the human gaze, the stone-skinned side of me instills fear. Beneath the trollish eye, it commands revulsion. Physically, there is some relief when I shed my human skin, comparable to removing a snugly fitting garment, but immediately I miss the sense of security it provides. I have known my true form too long to be ashamed of it, and I suppose it is rather handsome for a half-breed,” he said with a smirk, “but I feel much more at ease when I am this,” a hand gestured to his body.

“I just want you to do whatever’s comfortable,” The doctor plopped beneath her sheets and settled in, shuffling her legs around for warmth. She pulled the ear of her comforter down in the space beside her. “You coming?”

“Ah--I’ve yet to take shower. Do you think Jim would mind?”

“No, go ahead. I still have that pair of pajama bottoms I borrowed from your apartment the night we...uh-ruined my skirt.”

“Ah yes,” he said, letting the memories flash through a thick swallow. Amorous impatience. Fabric stretching in ways it shouldn’t. “I remember.”

“I’ll get them.”

 

***

 

Twice, he’d felt the earth-quaking tremors of Morgana’s power as the warmth of the shower spilled down his chest and spine. Twice he felt a bolt of fear as he thought of what he had to lose.

She’d gone quiet by the time he returned, eyes quietly scanning the surface of her comforter. So deep in thought that she jumped when he leaned against the side of her bed.

“Oh!” She drew a hand through her hair, eyes frosted with panic.

“Have you changed your mind? It’s alright, if--”

“No, it’s fine,” she waved a hand, “Just overthinking.”

His brows furrowed, but he followed her cue when she scooted over, lifting the covers to slide beneath them, unsure of how close she desired him to be. It wasn’t until she’d fully settled against him that he felt the wetness collecting on his neck. How long, he wondered, had she been holding back her tears. Were they for her son? For him? For the world?

Green eyes squeezed shut as he nudged his forehead against hers, sharing her pain.

“It’s alright,” his low voice consoled, a hand sliding up and down her spine, “just breathe.”

He listened as her breaths grew deeper and deeper, and then the world went dark.

 

***

 

When Barbara woke, the world was murky with confusion. Fear coursed through her, and she wondered at its intensity until the memories finally surfaced: Jim was a troll; Walter was a troll; they were going to war against trolls...if this was some sort of nightmare, she couldn’t wake from it. The odds of surviving the next twenty-four hours were extremely low, and she didn’t want to imagine how many bloodied and screaming patients she was going to encounter in the ER. She felt powerless when it came to helping her son. All she could do was sit on the sidelines and wait for the death-toll to stack. Even if they made it, and he was only injured, she had no idea how to approach this new anatomy. Scalpels couldn’t cut stone. None of this was supposed to exist outside of books, or games, or television shows, so why was it happening?

The chaos of her mind paired strangely with the hush that loomed throughout the bedroom.

Walter was behind her, his bare chest pressed tightly against her back. One arm was draped over her, running parallel with her own, his hand covering hers against her stomach. She felt his thumb brushing up and down the valley of skin between her thumb and index finger. Of course he was awake, she thought. She was amazed she had gotten any sleep herself.

Looking to the clock, her blurred vision registered the time: 4:37. Still the dread hours. A shiver ran through her at what the world was about to face. As though in response, a tremor rumbled through the ground. His arms came around her, tugging her closer, and she turned within his grasp until they were face-to-face. Those green eyes would be joining her son on the battlefield in a few hours. It was unlikely that she would ever see them open again.

His gaze was heavy, direct. She could tell his thoughts were following a similar pattern. The room shook again with Morgana’s rage, and he brushed his nose against hers, prompting, questioning. Beneath her palm, his heart beat wildly with fear, and she met his lips with equal trepidation.

What started chastely soon turned heated, both of them eager to reclaim lost ground. Lithe hands rubbed up and around his torso as he invented new ways to taste her neck. A myriad of voices urged that this was a terrible idea, but the trembling of her breath beside his ear seemed to invite other plans. Before he knew it, his hands had wandered beneath her shirt, over breasts that were unhindered by any supportive garments, and he moaned into her mouth.

The whimper this elicited sent him reeling further, as did the hand hovering shakily over the tie on his pants. His heart was racing--terrified, now, that he could no longer feel her through the enchanted bond, and doubts rose over whether or not he could please her without it.

“Barbara?” his voice was rough, vulnerable as he pulled away to look her in the eyes.

“One second, I’ll--” she panted, rising to her knees. “I’ll be right back.”

She left him flummoxed on the sheets, and he fell back with a huff into the pillows.

“Too far, Stricklander,” he muttered to himself, “too far.” She knows what you are and what you’ve done, his mind continued, Your selfish, to the end, old fool. It’s too much.

He stood, preparing himself to leave, launching a search for his renegade socks just as she entered the doorway, Her hair was down now, he noticed.

“Sorry,” they apologized in tandem.

Walter gave a short laugh, rubbing at his neck. “I didn’t mean to overwhelm you.”

“It’s not that.” She lifted her hand to display an empty box of contraceptives, the kind he was supposed to wear. “I’m not on birth control anymore.”

“Oh,” his hand moved to his chin as he tried, rapidly to rearrange his thoughts. “Oh, yes, I wouldn’t have minded, but--”

“Not that it matters,” She laughed dryly. “Not that any of this matters, after tomorrow.”

“Barbara, I’m sterile,” he said, eyes piercingly direct, the words falling out haphazardly, "troll and human."

A moment passed as she blinked at him.

Scoffing at himself, he took the box and set it aside, clasping her hands in his. “All changelings are. I should have told you before. Instead, I let you wander into unnecessary precautions.”

Her cheeks puffed out as she released a breath. “They took every joy they possibly could away from you, didn’t they?”

It was evident that the last thing he expected from her was empathy.

“I--” for a moment, he seemed frozen. “Well, not every joy,” he said, lifting her hand to his lips.

If there were more questions (and there were--thousands more) Barbara stifled them as she stood on the balls of her feet and kissed Walter Strickler with abandon. Response eager, he pressed into her, tongue delving past her moans as they reclined into the mattress.

Propping himself on one arm, his body rose over hers, would-be claws skittering across her torso in a way that made her pulse with longing. This time, her t-shirt found the floor, as did her shorts, and his trousers, and everything that came beneath. Every inch of skin, he worshiped, kissing and caressing, biting lightly where he could, showering her in a frenzy of aggravation and affection.

Both of them were covered in bruises--from the flight, from their abduction, and from bashing down Jim’s door—but neither seemed to heed them. She met him match for match, anger and sadness and longing pouring out of her like a tidal wave, manifesting in the pushes and pulls of her body against his.

The changeling growled when she bit his lip too hard, and she watched as his irises flashed red before he doubled his efforts. Cupping her breast, he bent low to suck at its tip, and she squirmed in response, breath growing shaky as she raked her hands through his hair, tugging at the strands. Groaning, he let his free hand sink lower and lower, tracing old trails, until she cried out at his touch.

Rocking against these new affections, she scraped at his spine, scrabbling to pull him closer as he worked her into a fever. Small noises escaped him when the tips of her fingers brushed against his manhood, melting into an inhuman growl when she grasped his length entirely. Sparks of electricity ran up and down her body at the reminder of what he was, and her teeth clashed against his as she matched his tones with her own low notes.

The tension of so many days, so many small moments--of fury and tenderness, of wonder and worry --began to rise and coil within her. Hooking a leg over his hip, she flipped him onto his back and straddled him, waging war on his lips as the tempest of emotions cascaded through her veins. Memories flashed through her mind: crying herself to sleep the night she’d realized he was never coming back; doing the same when he did come back; the bottle of wine she’d consumed upon remembering her sons secret life as a Trollhunter. She could still feel the warm glow of the Heartstone as it coursed through her veins. She could still feel the last strings of pain they'd shared through the bond as the incantation drew her away. Physical pain, yes, and heartbreak, but it was more than that-- a deep, deep pain that came from what he was, what he’d done, and what had been done to him.

"This was real." Memories from a long-ago spring (filled with horses, and shamrocks, and no cares at all) filtered into her mind, seemingly from nowhere. "You will question that one day, I fear. Tell me you’ll remember, tell me you’ll believe me. Please."

Tears dripped from her chin as she rocked against his hand, pushing it down and into his abdomen as she tried to deepen the reach of his fingers within her.

God, he’d hurt her.

Walter knew, immediately, what was occurring. He could see the frustrations coalescing on her skin, manifesting in flushes of red that flowered over her chest. Above him, her thrusts were short, rough, and too deliberate to be enjoyable for either of them. Too long, she'd spent concealing her emotions, and now...

“Walt, I...” She whimpered, curtains of red hair pooled around him as she dipped her head, squeezing her eyes shut.

“It’s alright,” his voice was hoarse, almost trollish beneath his tired breaths. “It’s alright to be angry with me. Whatever you need, take it.” Long fingers traced through her hair in the silhouetted dark, willing her see this through, wanting her to break him, to mold him, to crush him into the finest sand and scatter his soul across the shores of her existence. “Please.”

Hovering over him, her movements slowly stilled, She caught her tears with her wrists, and sniffed as he gazed up at her with eyes as green as sin.

“I need you,” she said, sniffing again before she buried her head into his bruise-ridden shoulder, offering no further explication.

Pressing his lips into her temple, he held her.

“You have me,” the room flashed green and he felt her flinch against the coolness of his stone. “All of me. From now on. Always.”

He’d tilted them to the side, so as not to penetrate the mattress with his horns, and she could see her body glowing against the radiance of his eyes. She gazed down to an anatomy that was so familiar, yet so foreign--everything green and gleaming like a jewel. The shaft she’d felt pressing into her thigh was no longer warm and pliant, and had a girth and weight to it that surprised her. Her eyes fell back on his, watching him watch her with a guarded look, and then he changed back.

His green gaze was penetrating, worry still gracing his expression, but then his lips found hers, and they began their explorations anew. By the time she was moaning again, he was leaning over her, launching an amorous attack on her clavicle, his soul caught in rapture, until for a moment--just a moment--he pulled back.

A kiss found it’s way over each of her eyes, and then her face.

“I’ve missed you,” he whispered, fingers tracing her jaw.

Eyes closing, she leaned into his touch, lips brushing across his palm before kissing its center. “I’ve missed you too.”

Circling her arms around his neck, she pulled him down.

The earthquakes rumbled on as they navigated through the night, and all throughout he kissed her deeply--deeper than a troll ever could, deeper than he ever would again.

Because this was goodbye.