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Out of the Cold

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“Gods, ashke,” Stefen breathed as he allowed his weight to slowly collapse onto Vanyel's back. He brushed Van's hair to one side and nuzzled his face into his lover's neck. “Every time I begin to think things can't possibly get more perfect—”

“They do.” Van nodded, enjoying the afterglow of their lovemaking with his head resting on his folded arms, making sounds of appreciation as Stef kissed a line from below Van's ear to his shoulder. “I keep waiting for something to go wrong.”

“I figure that after all we've been through, maybe the Gods owe us something good.” Stef shrugged, not caring whether the aforementioned Gods might be offended by his statement.

Van sighed into the mattress. “I wish I could believe that, ashke.”

Stef shook his head at his lover's lack of optimism. “Van, you need to learn to relax.” He punctuated his statement with a kiss and a soft nip to Van's shoulder. At least, it was intended to be a soft nip. Expecting Van to pull away from his teeth, he lost his balance when Vanyel instead leaned into the bite. In an attempt to steady himself, Stef instinctively bit down harder as his hand sought the mattress to steady himself. Tasting copper, he quickly released Van's shoulder to examine it, making a small noise of dismay. There were a few small spots where the skin had broken, and it was already starting to purple in the impressions his teeth had left. He slid down to the mattress to lay on his side next to Vanyel. “Shite, I didn't mean to do that. I'm sorry, Van. That's going to bruise something awful.”

Van's hand sought Stef's, bringing it to his lips and kissing his fingers. “Stef, it's okay. I'm okay. Really.” He turned his face away and muttered something unintelligible into the mattress.

“Um, I didn't quite catch that.”

“It was nothing. Just forget about it.” Van was still looking away, his eyes on the blank wall to their right.

“It wasn't nothing, ashke. Look at me.” He waited until Van turned to meet his gaze. “I already feel bad for hurting you like that, even if it was an accident. If there's something else, I want to know.”

Van shook his head, looking down. “Let it go, Stef. I'm okay.”

“Van. Please.”

Van glanced up, and immediately looked away again. His ears started to turn pink with embarrassment as he muttered softly “I said that I'm so okay I'd like you to do it again.”

Stef's eyebrows shot up into his hair. He'd certainly been with men who enjoyed such things, but had not expected Vanyel to be one of them. Now that he thought about it, perhaps he should have. The Herald was always so tightly wound. “Liked that, did you?”

Van nodded, his blush deepening. “But, I mean, you don't have to do—Just forget I said anything.”

“I'm not forgetting anything. You know if I wasn't interested in something I'd say so. But, ashke—“ Stef rose up on his elbow and gently trailed his fingers down Vanyel's spine, smiling as his lover shivered under his touch. “I'm very, very interested.”

He leaned down and kissed the rapidly purpling mark on Van's shoulder, hearing his lover's breath catch as his lips touched the bruise. He moved over a few inches and began to lightly nibble, Vanyel groaning in anticipation. He increased the pressure a bit, gently teasing, and heard Van mutter something softly. “What was that, lover?”

“Harder.” Van took a breath and then added softly “Please.”

“Okay. But I need you to promise to tell me if it's too much.”

Van nodded, and Stef looked at him skeptically. “Your word, Herald.”

“You have it.” Van said firmly. “But—Gods, please don't tease. I don't think I can take anymore right now.”

“Understood. No more teasing.” Stef chuckled and whispered in his ear “At least, not tonight.” He felt Vanyel shudder as Stef moved toward the spot he'd been teasing a moment ago, biting firmly and gradually increasing the pressure until he heard his lover gasp. He held on for a few moments, listening to Van's ragged breathing until Stef slowly released him. “Too much?”

“No.”

“More?”

“Gods, yes.” Van breathed, then exhaling sharply as Stef bit deeply into the flesh below his shoulder blade, hard but taking care not to pierce the skin this time. Instead of simply holding on, Stef pulled away slightly, stretching the flesh away from his lover's body until Van whimpered. Stef began to ease off when he heard Van whisper “Please don't stop.”

He bit down until he heard Van react again, running his hand gently down Van's back and feeling the tension in the muscles quivering underneath him. “Relax, ashke. Let go.” Stef kissed his shoulder softly. “I'll catch you.”

“I know.” With those words, Stef could feel Van begin to relax for the first time Stef had ever seen as the Herald closed his eyes and surrendered to the sensations.

Stef gently caressed Van's back, the soft touch a sharp contrast to moments ago. “More?”

“Please.”

Several more bruises later, Van's whimpers had turned to soft gasps. Stef came close to drawing blood and backed off at the last moment, leaving behind a red mark that quickly began to turn a deep purple. “Doing okay, lover?”

Van nodded. “My head feels a little—” He searched for a word. “Floaty? Like I've had an extra glass of wine, but different somehow.”

“I know, ashke.” Stef kissed his shoulder softly. “Want to stop?”

“No.” Van shook his head and then closed his eyes a brief sensation of vertigo overtook him. “It's strange, but—” He reached for words that slipped out of his grasp. “Nice. Nice doesn't come close—”

“It's okay. Don't worry about the words right now.” Stef smiled and brushed Van's hair back from his face. “More?”

“Yes.” Van said softly, then hesitantly added “If that's okay?”

“It's very okay, lover.”

Stef checked in with Vanyel several more times as Van's gasps turned to contented sighs. He had since moved over to Van's other side, working his way back up to his shoulder opposite of the site of the inadvertent bite that had started all this. How different his shoulders felt now, the muscles soft and supple instead of the steel cables he had felt earlier. “Still with me, Van?”

“Mhmm.” Van murmured, eyes closed.

“Can you use your words for me, ashke?”

“Mhmm.” Van responded again.

Stef smiled, his hand wandering around the marks on Vanyel's back. “Did you hear they found a purple Companion?”

“Mhmm.”

“Oh, ke'chara.” Stef gently kissed the back of Vanyel's neck. “Just rest now.” He ran his hand up and down Vanyel's back, listening as his breath slowly grew long and even. Van's hair had fallen across his face again, and Stef brushed it back, marveling at seeing his lifebonded sleep without his jaw clenched and his shoulders tight with the weight of the kingdom resting on them. Stef kissed his forehead and gently pulled Van to his chest, his own eyes closing as he listened to Vanyel's soft breathing, slipping into sleep knowing for that moment everything was right in their world.

Stef awoke as he felt Vanyel starting to stir. “How are you feeling, ke'chara?”

“Good. Rested. Like I somehow just slept for a week, but it's only been—” Van glanced out the window to see that the sun was just beginning to rise. “I have no idea. When did I fall asleep?”

Stef smiled softly. “About two candlemarks ago. About a candlemark before that was when I accidentally bit you, and you were pretty distracted after that.”

Van blinked. “That was only a candlemark? It seemed so much longer. I was half expecting to be hearing the noon bells about now.”

“Things like that can mess with your perception of time.” Stef reassured him.

“Apparently so.” Van reached up to stretch and winced as he started to feel the bruises on his back and shoulders.

“Sore, lover?”

Van nodded. “It's a good kind of sore. Like I just went ten bouts with Kayla.”

Stef chuckled, having heard stories of the old Collegium weaponmaster. “You know, if you'd told me you like some pain with your pleasure, I'd have been happy to oblige moons ago.”

Vanyel looked at him, surprised. “I didn't know. I didn't know it was something—I just knew that when you bit me like that it felt good somehow.”

Stef chuckled. “And you thought I was innocent! Yes, ke'chara. It's definitely something some people enjoy.” He rolled over and grabbed the water pitcher off the night table, filling a glass for Van. “Drink. You'll have an awful headache later if you don't.”

Vanyel took the glass and began to sip, eyeing Stef curiously as he did so. “You know a lot about whatever it was that we did.”

Stef laughed. “You know I grew up around brothels, ashke. There's not a lot that two people—Or more than two people, for that matter—Can do that would surprise me. After I came here, I met a healer trainee—” He paused for a moment. “Do you want to know that part?”

“If you don't mind telling.” Vanyel nodded.

“I don't mind telling if you don't mind hearing. You know I have no secrets from you, ke’chara.” Stef continued. “He wanted me to—Well—Like you did. He wanted me to do things that would hurt him. I'd heard of people doing that before, but I didn't understand why someone would want pain of all things. People usually want to avoid pain or be out of pain. My Gift is singing away pain. Seeking it out just didn't make any sense, and I said so.”

“And then what happened?”

“Being a healer, he explained what happens and why, like physically. And what he said made sense. I mean, I still didn't understand asking someone to hurt you, but knowing how it worked and why at least made me willing to try it.” Seeing Vanyel's curious expression, he went on. “He got really technical with lots of big Healer-type words I don’t remember, but what it amounts to is this. You know how when you get hurt, after a bit your body does something to make it not hurt so bad, so you can get on with what you need to do?” Being quite familiar with battle injuries, Vanyel nodded. “Well, what we did triggers your body to do that on purpose, and not just once. So, whatever your body does to make you feel better when you get hurt, we got your body to do over and over, so you don't just feel better, you feel really, really good. That was that 'floaty' feeling you talked about. I guess the easiest way to put it is that you get kind of drunk on stuff your body does on its own.”

“That does make sense. I had no idea that—I thought I was—” He searched for a word as Stef refilled his water glass.

“Strange, different for wanting that?” Stef supplied and Van nodded. “Not strange, ke'chara. Just really needing to put down a lot of burdens for a while, and bed games like that make it so you can't think about anything but what you're doing, and then you can't think at all.”

“Speaking from experience?” Van asked curiously.

Stef nodded. “That healer. I was really afraid I would actually—You know—Hurt him, so he offered to show me first, that pain can feel good and that it’s possible to cause it in a safe way. Still not quite sure why I let him, but yeah. I understood after that. It wasn't something I found that I needed, not like he did, but I understood why he needed it. And now, why you do.” He winked at Van. “Unlike you, ashke, I know how to relax on my own, but I’m very much into helping you forget about the world for a while. Had I really thought about it, I’d have brought it up a while ago. So, anytime you want something like that, or if you want to ever try anything else, just ask. I promise, nothing will surprise me or make me think less of you.”

Van turned away and set the water glass back down on the night table. “Stef, counting you, I've had four lovers in my life, and none were with me long enough to try anything out of the ordinary except you. I wouldn’t have a clue what else to ask for.”

Stef grinned and pulled Van down to lie next to him, curling his body around his lover’s and pressing his chest to Vanyel’s back. “Well, then, ashke—“ He whispered in Van’s ear. “We’ll just have to try everything, won’t we?”

Van smiled and wrapped his hands around Stef’s. “Stef, ashke, I—Just—” He sighed. “Just—Thank you.”

“Anytime, ke’chara.” Stef grinned and kissed the spot on Van’s shoulder that started everything. ”You know, unless you feel like explaining this to a healer or being the center of palace gossip—” Van shook his head, blushing. “You'd best make sure the bathing room is empty for the next week or so.”

Van smiled and then began to laugh, really laugh for the first time in what seemed like forever.

Van shifted in his seat as the state dinner dragged on, tuning out the complaints of the Rethwellan ambassador on his right. Any information that was actually pertinent had been shared at the earlier council meeting, so at this point he was just nodding and making small noises of agreement. The stiff wooden backrest of his chair wasn’t doing his bruises any favors, but he found he didn’t mind. Whenever he felt a tender spot he was reminded of what he and Stef shared the night before, so the ache was surprisingly pleasant. 

:Unless you want the entire room to know what you and the bard were up to last night, you need to stop smiling, Chosen.: The amusement in Yfandes’ mind voice was almost audible.

Van choked on his wine and covered it with a cough. :How do you know I’m smiling? Last I checked you were bedding down in the Field, not lurking about in the palace!:

:I don’t need to see you to See you. You’re practically glowing, and I’ve never felt you quite this at peace with yourself. I told you the bard would be good for you.: 

Van looked up at Stef, who was quietly playing his lute in the corner behind Randale, and looked away just as quickly when Stef winked at him, blushing as red as the wine in his glass. :How many times do you need to hear that yes, you told me, and yes, you were right?:  

:Keep telling me, and I’ll let you know.:  

“Milord Herald, are you alright?” The ambassador questioned. “You’re a bit flushed.” 

“I’m fine, Ambassador.” Vanyel answered as he watched Randale rise and indicate to Stef that he was done for the evening. “It’s just a bit warm in here. I think I’ll step outside for some air. If you’ll excuse me?” Not waiting for an answer, he ducked out the door into the hall, narrowly avoiding a server carrying a tray of cherry tarts. After enjoying the cool breeze in the hallway for a moment, he doubled back through the kitchens and into the back of the hall.

Stef let the final note of the melody ring and then stood and began putting his gittern away in its case. He heard Van’s footsteps behind him and closed the case and turned toward his lover. 

“Thank you, Stef. That’s the best Randi has felt in a while. We got a lot done today. I’m going to see him and Shavri back to their chambers and I’ll head to bed myself right after.” Van looked exhausted after the long council session and even longer state dinner. 

“I thought you’d promised Savil you’d reinforce her wards tonight?” 

“Sheka.” Van cursed. “I’d forgotten. Maybe I can meet up with her in the morning instead.”

Stef shook his head. “She seemed to think it was urgent, and, well, I wouldn’t want her mad at me.”

Van sighed. “It shouldn’t take me too long. I can tie the alerts she wanted into the palace wards and reinforce everything. I think she’s jumping at shadows, and her shields are almost as good as mine are anyway, but it’ll get her off my back about it. Thank you for the reminder, lover.”

Stef nodded, slightly disappointed that his lifebonded would be out later than planned, but sharing Savil’s unease at the deaths of both Kilchas and Lissandra he understood that it was necessary.

❦