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The leaves of Yggdrasill

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They had peace.

For the first time in Kara’s memory, they had peace.

In Norway, before Rhea’s red dreams, they had the cruel cold to contend with. An early storm, a sudden turn of the weather meant lost crops and barren animals. Starving children. Not a winter had gone by without them burying someone. 

And if it wasn’t the weather, it was neighbouring clans attacking right before winter’s grip tightened on the land. To steal their cattle, raid the stores of salted cod and grain they had stockpiled during Norway’s short summers. Sometimes, they stole fertile omegas too. 

Mercia was a hard land in its own way, but winter was kinder here, the snow lighter on the ground. She still couldn’t believe more than a year had passed since they set sail under the cover of night on Alura’s orders.

Find land that we can settle , her mother had commanded from her throne inside the longhouse. 

Kara had found so much more.

“I don’t know what to do with myself sometimes.” She blurted out over the sputtering fire she and Alex had started under the hanging branches of a tall pine, where the ground was free of snow and even.  

They’d left the village early that morning with every intention to bring back fresh deer. Lacking that, a rabbit or two. Childbirth had been gentler on Sam than it was on Lena, but Alex never passed up the chance to spoil her mate with game when the weather permitted. 

It was fair when they set out, the sun a mere intention of light on the horizon, but a cold wind blew down from Northumbria mid-morning, carrying a storm on its wings. 

Black-streaked clouds spilled across the sky like ink from an upturned jar. The blue was at first muted, and then it completely disappeared. A wind picked up, whistling, howling among the trees as feral as a pack of wolves, and with the passing hours the colors overhead grew threatening and intense. Early dusk descended on the forest, and by the time the first snowflakes fell, ethereal in their beauty, Kara knew they’d never make it back to the village in time.

Their best bet was to find shelter, and so they had searched for a spot that would offer some protection, gathering wood for a fire as they walked.

Kara didn’t mind the storm. She’d seen, survived through worse, sometimes on the open water. They both had. The wind didn’t bother her much either, and with her back to a pine tree, the snow only whipped her cheeks occasionally, but she fretted anyhow.

Worried that Lena would think something had happened to them and worry in turn. 

“Quit it.” Alex caught her forearm in a firm grip and squeezed. “Lena is smart. She’ll know we stopped to avoid travelling through a storm. And if not, Sam will tell her.” 

“I know. I just—”

“You wish you were back in the longhouse, under a pile of furs with a full belly and Lena’s mouth—” 

Stop .” 

Her face was flush with heat, and the fire had nothing to do with it.

“It’s true, though.”

“I don’t need to hear my sister say it!” 

They laughed, and for a while she could forget the rest.

“You have two children and a niece,” Alex resumed eventually, picking up the thread of their conversation. She threw another piece of wood into the fire and watched the flames leap up around it. They ate at the sap with greed, and she leaned forward, hands outstretched to soak in some of the warmth. “I’d say you have plenty to do with yourself.” 

“You know what I mean.” Kara dug into the inner pocket of her tunic for her whittling knife and plucked a promising twig from the pile at Alex’s side. It’d always been easier to talk with her hands occupied, and under the flashing blade a shape started to take form. A longboat to which she would add a proper sail once they were back at the village. A pile of such toys rested at the bottom of the trunk in her rooms, waiting for the day hers and Lena’s pups would be old enough to play with them “I want the peace to hold as badly as the next man, but we both know it won’t.”

“That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it while it lasts.” They had brought provisions to eat on the trail, and since it looked like it was going to snow for hours still, Alex started on their dinner. A few handfuls of melted snow would provide the base for a poor but filling stew, and their water skins were still half full. “I’ve seen you on the palisade at night, even when it’s not your turn. Time you should be spending in bed with your mate, or coddling your children.”

“I can’t sleep.” Kara lied. 

She did sleep, and it was always nightmares. Every night, when Kara closed her eyes the Saxons came. Edge ripped Lena from her side. Lena died of childbirth over and over again.

Kara .” Some of the horror must be showing on her face, because Alex shifted closer, pressed in until they were shoulder to shoulder. Kara may be one of the best trackers in the clan, attuned as she was to her surroundings, but Alex was the best at reading people. Eerily perceptive, and even more so when it came to Kara. It didn’t matter that they did not share the same blood; Alex read her moods as easily as she spotted deer prints in the dirt. Could anticipate her darkest, most dangerous ones days before they manifested.

Right now, her sister was giving off the protective scent Kara remembered from their youth. When she would fall on the ice and run home with skinned knees and a runny nose. “Breathe.” The stew had come to a boil and Alex poured a measure of it into a wooden cup, pushed the portion in Kara’s hands. “Eat. We will be ready when war comes.” 

***

“You can’t sleep.” Lena didn’t bother replying. It wasn’t a question.

“I can’t either.” Astra straddled the bench next to her, reaching for the pitcher of cider that sat near the coals so that it would keep warm throughout the night. “I never sleep during a storm.” 

Lena knew the story. She’d heard Nia tell it time and time again around the evening fires. It was a favorite tale among the clan, and somebody always ended up requesting it. How Astra had been the first to sail to Vinland and back, the weather so foul on the return trip that her ship had limped more than glided into port, most of the crew drowned, the oars smashed to kindling by the fury of the sea. That way Kara’s aunt had earned the title of Stormbreaker, displaying more courage than warriors who were four, five times her age. 

Even now, despite the shock of gray in her hair and lines on her face, she projected an aura of power. Astra was as hard as the frozen lands she hailed from, but always just, which was not the same as being fair. Lena was still getting used to her bluntness; where Lex used tricks and empty promises to rule, Astra said what she meant, always. And yet, she was a more skilled diplomat than all of the nobles of Mercia combined.

“The children?” 

“Sleeping.” Lena scrunched up her nose and smiled a little ruefully. She envied the innocence of her pups; they could sleep without a care despite the wind shrieking outside the longhouse as long she or Kara sang to them softly before bedtime. 

Kara. On her lips, the smile soured.

“You’re worried about her.” Too late Lena realized she’d spoken out loud. “My nieces will have stopped somewhere safe to ride out this storm.” It made sense, and Lena would have done the same in their shoes, but she couldn’t smooth the lines that worry had dug on her face, no matter how hard she tried. 

“We control these lands, Lena.” Astra continued patiently. “The forest is no danger to them.” Her tone wasn’t exactly kind — if she had a gentler side, Lena’d ever only seen it in fleeting flashes — but a touch of warmth seeped through. And her eyes, as grey as the snow-laden sky outside surely must be, were full of understanding. “She will be back and in your bed before dawn.”

The hour was so late that they had the longhouse to themselves, and with the majority of the fires banked for the night, Lena felt like they were sitting inside a cave instead. Impenetrable shadows hid the vaulted ceiling, and the hole in the roof through which the smoke from the fires dispersed was just a half-glimpsed silhouette, darker than the rest. 

A rustle of feet to their right and Astra sprung up, putting herself between Lena and the source of the sound with a hand on the dagger at her waist. A moment later she was sitting back down, snorting into her cup.

“Here comes another who should be asleep.” She quipped as Sam emerged from the murk, blinking against the light of the fire. “But this one ought to know better.”

“What can I say? Misery loves company.” Sam took the half full cup straight out of Astra’s hand and downed its contents, before sitting on Lena’s other side. “I hope those two idiots found someplace safe to stop.”

In the flickering glow cast by the fire she looked gaunt, her cheeks hollowed out, her eyes sunken. Instinctively, Lena shifted closer, doing her best to transmit confidence even if she felt none of it herself. 

She was still getting used to this. In Saxon culture, omegas were discouraged from using their scent — their wiles the clergy said — to influence others. Those who tried were often accused of consorting with the devil, shuttered within convents. The unrepentant ones simply vanished. 

But, even if she still had trouble adapting to Norse customs, what she was doing seemed to have an immediate effect. Sam leaned into her, her entire posture unclenching, and sought out Lena’s hand to hold. 

Lena wasn’t sure how long she sat by the sputtering fire, sandwiched between Astra and Sam. It didn’t matter. It was warm here, with the flames reddening her cheeks and their solid presence. Astra was saying something, perhaps telling a story, perhaps discussing with Sam what needed to be done around the village come morning — check the roofs for damage, clear the paths from snow, throw some gravel where ice had formed so that people wouldn’t slip and break an ankle — Lena couldn’t keep up with the conversation. 

Not a drop of cider had touched her lips, but a strange lassitude pervaded her. She felt lightheaded, not quite there with the others, not quite elsewhere. She was staring at the fire and, at the same time, watching herself from the shadows.

There was something among the flames. Images. Figures. The sparks filling the air turned to swirls of snow and if she squinted, Lena could see— She could—

She jolted awake in her bed, hours later, shivery and cold despite the weight of a warm body pressed against her own. 

“How—?” She struggled to sit up, feeling out of sorts and bewildered. The last thing Lena remembered was staring into the fire, the flames contorting oddly as she watched. And then, nothing.

“Shh.” Sam pulled her back into her arms, and after a brief moment of resistance, Lena allowed it. “All is well, systir [sister]. You dozed off by the fire and Astra carried you to bed." She hesitated, fingers tormenting the edge of a worn fur. “I hope you don’t mind that I stayed.” She sounded unsure, a far cry from the stoic warrior Lena had come to know. “I just…” 

Sam’s gaze cut to the ceiling, and even if it was dark in the bedroom, Lena could easily imagine her expression. Admitting fear didn’t come easy to any of the Danes. 

“The pups are asleep,” Sam’s voice was so low the wind all but drowned it. “And I didn’t want to be alone.”

“I’m glad you stayed.” 

Lena closed her eyes, burying her face against Sam’s shoulder. She’d never really had friends, excluding Cat, but the older woman had been more of a mentor anyway. There were ladies-in-waiting at her brother’s court, and a few of the maids had been friendly to her, but Lena grew up painfully aware their acts of kindness only went so far. Like her, they were pawns, moved by the whims of the noble families behind them. Some, Lex never failed to remind her, wished her own family ill. 

Andrea was the only one Lena really felt close to, and all of that changed too when her father married her off to an Earl in East Anglia. 

And none of the women she’d called friends at one point or another ever shared her bed the way Sam was doing now. 

It was customary among Danes. The long cold winters, the awful storms. They forced people on a constant search for warmth. It meant survival, and on nights like tonight, it meant comfort too.

“I’m glad you’re here.” Lena mumbled again, feeling her limbs become heavy. She tried to fight it, to keep the sleep at bay a little longer. Her dreams had been odd; more snow, an impenetrable forest. Above all else, a sense of dread that lingered even now, like a bad taste in the back of her mouth.

“Then sleep.” Sam whispered in her ear, so close her lips brushed against the shell of it softly. Her scent curled around Lena pleasantly. Herbs and leather, with a note of honey underneath. A balm, to soothe away the worry. “It’s nearly dawn. They’ll be back soon.”

As it turned out, she wasn’t that far off.

***

Something hard was nudging into her side. 

“Five more minutes.” Kara huffed, rolling away from the intruding sensation. Gods, but she didn’t recall Lena having such sharp elbows.

She threw an arm across her eyes, screwing them shut against the growing light.

“Oh, no you don’t.” 

The nudging resumed, persistent, and she growled low in her throat. A warning. The nudging stopped, only to continue the next moment, so irritating it was impossible to ignore. She might pin Lena down for this and— 

Heat stirred inside her, and the growl mellowed into something of a whine. She would roll over and bury into her mate’s sweet— 

“Kara.” Alex’s voice poured in her ear, falsely sweet. “If you don’t get up right now, I’ll have to shove snow down your collar.” 

“Wha—?” Kara’s eyes had barely opened that her sister followed her threat with action. A handful of frigid snow was pushed down the front of her tunic; her body was warm enough that it instantly melted, running down her chest in icy rivulets. 

“Odin’s beard!” Kara bolted up, hands swatting ineffectually at her front. “Why—?” She gasped, and had to clench her jaw to stop her teeth from chattering. “What in Hel’s name, Alex?” 

“You weren’t waking up fast enough.” 

“That’s—! It’s not—!” Kara hugged herself, still shivering. 

“Come on.” Alex ignored her protests and nodded to the forest around them. “The storm’s dying out. If we hurry, we’ll be home before the sun is fully up.”

Home. Back to Lena. 

That made Kara forget about the cold altogether. 

Breaking camp was quick with just the two of them. Still, despite the desire to reach the village as soon as possible, they took care to do it properly. 

Alex poured a measure of water over the coals, then kicked dirt over them for good measure. Having rolled their blankets up, Kara used a fallen branch to sweep any other traces of their passing from the ground, then took out her whittling knife again, and subtly marked the trunk of the nearest pine tree. This was a good spot for camping, and others within the clan may want to use it sometime.

When they set off, the off-gray light of morning was reaching through the canopy of evergreens. A light snow still fell, but the cloud cover was starting to part, and shreds of vivid clear sky peeked through. 

The storm, visible but on the opposite horizon, moved away at a steady pace. It’d bring its chilling touch to the southern realms then, eventually, hit the sea. By then it would long since have lessened to rain. 

The weather may be improving, but they didn’t travel as quickly as they liked. Snow was thick on the ground, moulded into low hills by the wind, and they had to clamber over them, sinking into the powdery white layers to their knees before skid-sliding down the other side.

Around them, the forest was waking up as well. Fresh deer tracks crossed their path a few times, and a hare watched them struggle by, nose twitching in the morning air before it decided they were a danger to it and darted off. 

“What is it?” 

They had been walking in silence for some time, Alex leading the way, when she slowed and threw a glance over her shoulder. “I could feel your foul mood a mile away. You’re not cross about the snow, are you?” 

“No, it’s not that.” The exertion had helped dry her tunic off, and besides it was a stupid thing to be mad over. “I just—”

Kara didn’t know how to explain it. 

Once the fog of sleep had cleared from her mind, she started to feel it. A restlessness, the same mood that sometimes took her before battle was joined. Walking helped contend with it. She failed to shrug it off, but it was relegated to the back of her mind. It wasn’t dread, but some sort of anticipation. Kara knew, without the shadow of a doubt that something was bound to happen soon. She just didn’t know what, or when.

“It’s nothing.” Alex rolled her eyes, but didn’t prod her any further, for which Kara was grateful. 

She felt it, her own mood, like a bowstring pulled too taut. A wrong word and it might snap. Hurt everyone nearby. And Kara didn’t want that.

She trudged after her sister in sullen silence, lost in her own thoughts. Doing all she could not to succumb to the bleakness gnawing at her bones.

Only the sight of the longhouse shingled roof, sprayed white by the latest snowfall as it peeked above the trees dragged Kara from her misery.

It was early, but on the approach she saw the streets bustled with activity, full of people tending to the animals after the bad weather. Assessing what sort of damage the storm had left behind. What was dangerous enough it needed to be fixed right away. What could wait till later. 

There wasn’t much, not that Kara saw at a first glance, and most of the paths between the houses had been cleared already. She let her gaze wander, hoping to spot Lena, but they were too far, the people like colorful blotches against the white glare of the snow.

“Look,” A note of awe entered Alex’s voice. “The river. It’s frozen.”  

She followed where her sister pointed, and it was true. The river glittered under the rising sun, its water motionless. Their longboats were caught in the ice’s grip, unnaturally still, but Kara wasn’t worried about the wood splintering. In Norway’s harsher climate this was a common sight, but she’d never expected to see it in England.

An omen, but of what kind she wasn’t sure.

“Come on,” when Alex didn’t move, she tugged at her arm, impatiently. “Us staring won’t unfreeze it any faster.” 

They slipped into the village through the northern palisade, where a bleary-eyed guard let them through with barely a shuddery nod. Kara sympathized. The storm was a barely visible smudge on the southern skies, a shadow to the sun, but it had left behind a bitter wind that cut every exposed part of her it could find.  

To compensate she hastened her step, and Alex was left trailing behind at a half-trot in an attempt to keep up. 

They found Astra outside the longhouse, head tilted back as she appraised a spot where a few shingles had come loose. 

“Your mates are still asleep.” She answered the unspoken question without turning. “They had a rough night and I figured they could use some extra rest.”

“Thank you Aunt.” Kara paused long enough to clasp Astra’s forearm in greeting, before hurrying inside, Alex close on her heels. 

Everyone in the clan spent some time inside the longhouse, with the consequence that in the enclosed space, individual scents became so intertwined there was no hope of picking them apart. And yet, she smelled Lena everywhere, somehow. Just wishful thinking of course. Even after so many months, it physically hurt to be apart for any length of time. 

Breakfast simmered to a low boil over the communal fires and Kara's stomach rumbled loudly. Alex went as far as to throw the pot of porridge a wistful look, but they didn't stop to eat.

In their own way, both of them felt the urge to be with their mate.

On the threshold to their rooms, she halted so abruptly Alex walked right into her back with a soft oof

“Kara, what—” 

“Hush.” She made an unnecessary shushing gesture, then tilted her chin toward the bed. “Look.”

Amid a sea of furs, Lena and Sam were fast asleep, cuddled into one another. As endearing as the sight was, it sent a pang of guilt ringing through her. It tolled deep, in mourning, like the bells the Saxons put atop their churches to call the faithful to worship. 

"Do you think I can lift Sam up without disturbing them?" Alex murmured in her ears, choked full of the same emotion that sent Kara's heart to careen against her chest. "I'd never forgive myself for waking them up."

"We must be careful. If we're careful, maybe."

In unison, they creeped forward. There was no need to speak. They moved like they had done so many times in far more gruesome circumstances. 

The beginning of a smile pulled at Kara's lips. This was a pleasant change of pace.

She reached the bed first  and sat down on the edge of it gingerly, on the side closest to Lena. 

Alex went around the other side in silence, quieter than a shadow, but Kara paid her little attention. Her thoughts, her senses were consumed by her mate, and the worry that had been throttling her heart in a vise started to ease.

Lena slept on, completely unaware, but peering into her face, Kara could tell her dreams were troubled. They dug deep furrows across her forehead, knitted her brows, caused her eyes to dart around behind closed eyelids. Like she was tracking an enemy, or running from one.

Even her scent was off. Not wrong, or ripe with sickness, but colder than Kara knew it to be, yet burning uncomfortably inside her nostrils. 

She was six winters old when, on a dare with the other children, Kara had held onto a piece of ice longer than advisable. At first her flesh went numb and she thought nothing of it,  but a few heartbeats later she was screaming, the cold hotter than fire on her skin. Among laughter she dropped the nugget of ice to the ground, crying for her mother when some of her skin came away with it.

The smell that came from her mate bit just as bone-deep.

Leaning down, so close her breath stirred Lena's hair lightly, Kara deliberately scent-marked her, trying to tell her without words that she was alright. Safe and protected.

A few moments and it seemed to work, or at least Lena's jaw relaxed, her mouth falling slightly open as she subconsciously pulled Kara's scent in.

On the other side of the bed, Sam stirred, blinked at nothing, but a murmured word from Alex and she let herself be lifted without protest.

One look of understanding to her sister, and Kara took Sam's place, fitting to Lena's back like she'd never left

She stopped barely long enough to shuck off her snow-crusted boots and send them tumbling to a corner, then positioned herself the same way Sam had, one arm draped over Lena's middle, legs tangled around each other's.

The effects of her presence were immediately noticeable. Tension eased off of Lena's spine, and she sank back, abandoned herself to Kara. Unable to resist, she teased careful fingers through the dark mass of Lena’s hair, watching as silky strands flowed from her palms, with the same mannerism of water. Weak sunlight filtered in from small imperfections in the tatch, and in its glow, Lena’s hair was alive with sparks of vivid copper. 

Her own must be a mess after a night of sleeping rough. Kara was sure that, if she combed through it, she’d find pine needles and bits of bark. 

Feeling Lena start to come awake at her side, she carded through her hair again and let her nails catch lightly against her sleep-warm scalp. A sound, almost a hum of contentment came from her mate, and Kara repeated the gesture, encouraged. 

“Kara?” 

Lena’s voice was that of someone trying to claw a path away from sleep. Rough, grainy like sand. “Kara… I dreamt—” 

“Not a dream.” Kara buried her nose behind Lena’s ear, eliciting a gasp. “I’m here.”

“Mmm. You’re cold.”

“And you’re warm.”

Lena twisted in her arms, wiggled until they were face to face. Her green eyes were forest deep with sleep, still a little glassy, but when Kara sneaked cold hands under her tunic they widened in outrage, regaining some of the sharpness she was so familiar with.

“Kara, stop!” Lena tried to unsuccessfully swat her hands away. “You’re really, really cold!” 

“And you’re really, really warm.” Kara grinned. She leaned in, so close she felt Lena’s ragged breath hot on her lips. 

She loved mornings like these. With two children they were hard to come by, moments in which they could laze in bed and bask in one another’s presence. Kara treasured each and every one, and did more so today.

Muscles she didn’t know were clenched released, and the restlessness that haunted her throughout the trip back to the village was put to rest. On instinct, Kara let the hand that had been cradling Lena’s nape fall to her chest, rested it flat atop her breastbone. Felt Lena’s heart leap up, thunder into her palm. Its rhythm grounded her. Calmed her when nothing else would. Listening to it, its beat as steady as a set of oars slashing through open waters, always brought her peace.

“Oh, gods .” Next to her Lena grew frantic. “I slept in, didn’t I? The children— they need—” 

“Easy love.” Kara wrapped herself around Lena like a cloak, refusing to let go. “They have been taken care of. We have a little longer.”

Raising children was a communal endeavor in Kara’s clan. As far as she understood, it was not the same for Saxons. Poor women brought their pups out to the fields, nursed them as they worked, but rarely could they ask somebody else to watch their spawn. Nobles had a wet nurse, maids to take some of the responsibility away.

Alphas never helped.

Among the Danes it was different. Children were moved to the most secure part of the longhouse as soon as they stopped nursing, and everyone took turns watching them as they grew. The clan’s Skald would tell them stories, the warriors would protect her, artisans and craftsmen carved toys for them to play with. That way, should the natural parents die — of war or of disease — the pups had countless aunts and uncles to rely on.

Akvar and Faora had started to sleep in the nursery before the start of winter, and as such, someone would have fed them by now. Tomorrow, she and Lena would get up earlier than the rest, and do the same so that another couple could sleep in. 

Or do other things.

Lena must be having the same thought, because her gaze fell to Kara’s lips, as heavy as a touch. 

“I’ve missed you.” She rasped, and the shadow of something Kara didn’t quite like flickered in her eyes. 

“I’m here now.” 

They were inches apart, and surged forward together, tangling in the furs. Kara gasped into Lena’s mouth, heart fluttering so wildly she could taste it on her tongue. It always felt like a first time, kissing Lena. The first time she raced a newly-tamed horse on Norway’s frozen shore. The first time she took to the sea. The first thunderous crash of shieldwall against shieldwall. 

The feel of Lena’s lips on hers sparked a desperate hunger in her chest, one that Lena startlingly reciprocated. Outside of heats, she was demure in her affection. Shy and almost reticent. She had been bred that way, trained to be pliant, attentive to her alpha's every need. She was to be the kind of partner Saxons favored; pious, submissive, ready to meet a husband’s every need. 

But in living with the Danes, Lena was coming into her own. She was still tentative, but as time went by she grew more and more assertive. Kara wouldn’t have it any other way. Who’d want a mate who only — always — said yes? 

As Lena’s teeth caught around her lower lip, Kara lost herself entirely. They kissed ferociously, a sharp bite and her mouth was flooded with the taste of Lena’s blood. She attempted to pull back slightly, to apologize, but Lena wouldn’t have it. Cradling her face between both hands she reeled Kara back in, and licked her own blood from her alpha’s lips. 

“We don’t have that much time.” Lena started, making short work of the strings that kept Kara’s trousers closed at the front. “The longhouse is awake.”

It was true. 

Astra’s voice drifted to them clearly, easily discernible through the din of conversation. People would be coming in for their first meal of the day, then disperse and tend to their affairs. 

“We will be expected to join them.” Lena continued, like her hand wasn’t stroking Kara’s shaft. As if she could keep focusing when she was being teased like that. “I don’t know…” 

“We have enough time.” Kara pulled her hand away, flipped her over and rucked her nightshift up, exposing her backside. “I will make sure it is enough.”

Kara .” They had no room for foreplay, but there was going to be no need. Lena was slick with want. Kara smelled it. An enticing musk, and she’d have buried her face in her sweet cunt if she wasn’t so keen about burying something else. 

Still, she spared a few moments to lay messy open-mouthed kisses along Lena’s spine. Her mate squirmed, moaned into a pillow, hips twitching in open invitation.

“Don’t pull out.” She panted, and as soon as the words sank in, Kara went utterly still. “Please, Kara. I want you to spill inside me.”

It was a point of contention between them. Friction without it being an open fight. Perhaps that might have been better. It may have helped them work things out sooner. It wasn’t that Kara didn’t desire more children — sweet Freya knew she wanted a litterful of them — but the pain Lena had been through to bring their two babes into the world of the living was indelibly sealed into her mind. No matter what Eliza said, no matter her reassurances, Kara was terrified it would happen again.

And that, this time, she would lose Lena. 

“Ást Mín [my love],” Lena threw a glance over her shoulder. Her eyes were blackened by hunger, her voice unsure. Sam had been teaching her more of their language it seemed, and if the lilt of it on her lips was unfamiliar — dark with grit yet as pleasing as a song — hearing her speak Norse sent a thrill through her. It scorched her spine like lightning and Kara crumbled atop her mate, face pressed between her shoulder blades. 

“I am not in heat, and you are not in rut.” Kara felt the words vibrate in Lena’s chest. “The chances your seed will take are low.” It was true, flawless reasoning, and Kara wanted to give in. Their cycles hadn’t been in sync since the birth, and she missed the mindlessness of it. The all consuming lust, the days spent in bed without a care other than knotting her mate until she was bred. 

“We will not have another child until we are both ready.” Lena added gently. With Kara pinning her down, she couldn’t turn, but reached back until her hand brushed Kara’s hip. She took comfort from the gesture, and sucked at the small freckle on the side of Lena’s neck, right below the mating bite. “I will ask Eliza for one of her teas.” 

There were herbs Lena could take. Remedies to ensure that whatever Kara spilled inside her womb didn’t take root. But that was not the tipping point. It was the ache she heard in her mate’s voice.

“I’ve wanted to.” Admitting to it lifted a great burden off her back. Her eyes pricked with unshed tears, but the splinter lodged inside her hearth finally shook loose. “For so many months, Lena.” 

Something came unbound between them. A tension of the soul they both had known to have been there, but were too scared to acknowledge. While the noises outside grew, the day now in full swing, they made some of their own. A frantic, near violent coupling. Sweat-slick bodies, nails painting the flesh red. Teeth that marked much deeper than the surface of their skin. 

Being surrounded by Lena’s heat was a homecoming. It was enough to make Kara weep. She did so, as she thrust, not ashamed to show how vulnerable she was. How badly she had missed their shared intimacy. How needed Lena was. As necessary as water to a longship. 

It was over far too soon, with Lena crying out loud enough they surely heard her all the way to Valhalla and Kara echoing her in triumph. 

After, she scooped her mate into her arms, held her close while Lena shuddered through the aftershocks and tried to slow her breathing. They kissed again, deep and languid, stealing a moment to explore each other’s mouth like they had not done in some time. 

It wasn’t long before they’d have to leave their bed, but with Lena at her side, with her smiling into Kara’s heaving chest, they both knew peace.

For a time.

TBC