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Out of the Cold

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“Well, someone’s certainly going to notice that.” Stef said matter-of-factly as he watched his bondmate dress for the day. 

“What?” Van asked, looking around. 

Stef sighed. “C’mere.” He walked Van over to the mirror. “Put your hand up to your head like you just did.” 

Vanyel obliged, and blushed scarlet when he saw that his cuff slipped down and revealed purple and black bruises around his wrist. “Sheka. I have council! How in the havens am I going to hide this?” 

“Let’s stop by Healer’s then. Get it fixed before breakfast.”

Van held back, looking around nervously. “Stef, a healer? What if they want to know what happened? What if they say something? What if they report you?”

Stef rolled his eyes. “Really, ashke, do you trust me that little? I know someone there who will take one look at your wrists, know exactly what happened, and fix it without breathing a word to anyone else.”

“You’re sure?” Trepidation still quavered in Van’s voice. “Stef, this cannot get out.”

“Remember when I told you about learning all about that stuff? Remember who taught me?” Stef reminded.

“A —Healer trainee.” Van smiled.

“Yes. His name’s Aydin. He’s back from circuit and teaching this term. Should be early enough to catch him before classes.” Stef placed a reassuring hand on Vanyel’s shoulder. “He won’t tell anyone. He’s my friend, and besides that, I’ve got way more dirt on him than he would ever have on you. If he reported me, he’d have to report himself and at least a half-dozen others. He’ll understand. I promise. Now come with me. Just keep your hands down.” Stef led him out the door of their rooms, into the quad, and up the steps into the Healer’s Collegium, gently tugging Van by the arm into the building. 

Knocking on a door in the back corner of the building, Stef greeted a man in healer’s greens. He was a few years older than Stef and ushered them inside to the sitting room he was using as an office. “Stef! I was wondering when you’d stop by to say hello! It’s been too long!” He and Stef grasped forearms in greeting, and the healer pulled the bard into a tight hug. 

Stef returned the embrace and stepped back, motioning to Van. “Aydin, there’s someone I’d like you to meet, and we need a favor. This is Vanyel. He’s my—” Stef turned to Van “How would you put it, ashke?”   

“Lifebonded.” Vanyel supplied, to Stef’s surprise. Seeing Stef’s shocked expression at the acknowledgement of their bond in front of someone who was a stranger to the Herald, Van shrugged as if to say it’s not like he won’t know a lot more about our relationship in two seconds anyway.

The healer’s eyes widened, instantly putting together the name with the Whites. Quickly moving on without giving the healer time to process that Herald-Mage Vanyel Demonsbane was standing in his chambers and was apparently lifebonded to his old lover, Stef added to Van “Van, this is Aydin, my healer friend I was telling you about. Show him. It’s okay, I promise. It won’t leave this room.”

Aydin nodded. “Of course. You have my absolute discretion.” 

Sighing, Van reluctantly pulled back his cuffs and exposed his wrists. Stef obviously trusted this healer, so Van would have to also. “Um—I need someone to fix this.” 

Seeing the bruises ringing Van’s wrist, Aydin smiled knowingly and looked at Stef. “Got a bit too enthusiastic, did you.” Stef opened his mouth to respond and Aydin held up a hand. “That wasn’t a question.” He turned to Vanyel and motioned him to the settee. Van took a seat as directed, and Aydin sat down next to him, holding his hands out. “Let’s see those wrists.”

Van placed his wrists in the healer’s hands. “Thank you. I can’t have anyone at Council see this.” He looked far more at ease than Stef had expected, probably largely thanks to the healer’s matter-of-fact attitude. 

Aydin chuckled. “Happens to the best of us.” The healer scanned him briefly and looked up with a raised eyebrow. “Shall I fix the other bruises as well?”

Feeling the slight ache of the marks on his back, Vanyel blushed and looked away, shaking his head. “No. I—I’d like to keep those.” 

Aydin nodded. “Of course. And now, what you came for.” The healer took Vanyel’s wrists in his hands and closed his eyes as Van felt the light tingle of the Healing gift and watched the marks fade from angry black and purple to green to yellow, finally disappearing entirely. “If something doesn’t feel right, you need to let your partner know. Intentional pain is one thing, but unintentional is not the same and can cause injury. If there is too much pressure or pain where there shouldn’t be, you must speak. Stef is not an empath. He won’t know these things unless you tell him.”

“I didn’t even feel it until this morning.” Van chuckled wryly as the bells chimed from the clock tower. “I do have Council soon.”

“Just one moment, and then you can run off to whatever needs doing.” Aydin ducked into the rear room of his chambers, and after some rummaging around, returned holding a book, which he pressed into Stef’s hands. “Keep this. I memorized the important bits long ago.” 

“What do you think, ashke? Look like fun?” Stef held up the book. “‘A Guide to Decorative Knots.’ And if I know Aydin—And I do, there’s going to be some notes added about the best uses for those.” 

Van’s only answer was a blush to the tips of his ears and a mumble about council.

“You’d best be off then. Wonderful to meet you, Herald Vanyel!”  The healer ushered the herald out the door.  He caught Stef by the arm “Stefen, one moment please. There is something we need to discuss.” 

Stef turned to Van. “Go on. I’ll see you this afternoon at court.”

Aydin closed the heavy door and leaned back against the thick wood. “A lifebond?” The Healer looked at his friend incredulously. “You? And Vanyel? You’re telling me that you’re not only bedding the most powerful mage in the history of Velgarth, who’s had so many songs and stories told that he’s more legend than man, who hasn’t had a known partner in decades, but you’ve lifebonded to him?!

Stef nodded. “It’s quite the story, and pretty much only the heraldic circle and a few close friends and relatives know, so please keep it under wraps. Van is afraid it might put me in danger, that I could be a way to get to him. Were it left to me, all of Haven would know, but I understand his concern.”

“It does sound like one to take seriously. You have my word on my absolute discretion.” 

“Thank you.”

The healer chuckled. “I know I’m supposed to be teaching this term, and I’m not quite sure how I expected today to go, but explaining bed game safety to Vanyel Demonsbane certainly was not on the list.”

Stef smiled and shook his head. “My lifemate surprises me more every day.”

“Now sit. There are things we need to discuss.” The healer motioned for Stef to sit in the chair nearby and the bard’s smile turned to rueful concern.

“I’m in for a lecture, aren’t I?”

The healer nodded, amused. “Sit.”

Stef sat.

❦ 

“We need to talk.” Stef stated the moment Vanyel entered their chambers that evening. 

Vanyel blinked. “I haven’t had that many relationships, but even I know any conversation that starts that way usually isn’t a good one.”

Stef shook his head. “Nothing like that. Just a serious topic I’ve been thinking about and I owe you an apology.”

Van dropped his satchel where he stood and moved to sit next to his lifebonded. “Unless you’ve done something I don’t know about—“

Stef laughed mirthlessly. “No, lover. You were definitely there.”

“Is this about last night? Stef, last night was—Incredible isn’t a strong enough word.” Van protested. “I’m usually the one overthinking things and worrying, not you.”

“I’m not overthinking. I just want you to understand what happened. I wasn’t intending to take things as far as I did, not nearly as far. My plan was to tie you, make you squirm a little, and let you go. But when you called me ‘milord’ and I—I realized that you actually really wanted to give me control—It kind of got to me.” Stef took Vanyel’s hand, gently running his fingers over the inside of the Herald’s wrist. “You got injured because I tied you for what I was planning, not what I ended up doing. I got an earful from Aydin for letting that happen, and he was right. When you—” He fumbled for words. “When you submit to me, it’s my responsibility to keep you safe, and I didn’t do that. I’m sorry.” 

“Forgiven.” Van said instantly. “It wasn’t on purpose, and if I notice something doesn’t seem quite right, I’ll do my best to say something.”

“Thank you, ashke.” Stef kissed the inside of Van’s wrist and returned the hand to the Herald’s lap. “There’s something else, too. I think you enjoyed it and the end result worked out—”

Van nodded and started to speak, stopping when Stef held up his hand.

“Let me finish. We both enjoyed it, and that’s a good thing, ashke, but we haven’t talked about what you’re okay with.” Stef said softly. “I knew I was pushing a limit last night, way more than I should have, way more than I’d planned to, and I knew I didn’t have your permission to do that.” 

“But I gave you permission.” Van said, looking more confused. 

“You gave me your okay to tie you and to give you pleasure.”

Van nodded. “And you did.”

“But I didn’t have your okay to force you to talk to me, to tell me what you wanted.” Seeing the Herald wanting to say something, he gestured again for Van to wait. “Still my turn. I don’t want to skip anything and I’ve been rehearsing this in my head. I know asking me for something specific in bed isn’t something you want to do. It’s not even something I’m sure you can do unless you don’t have any other options. You drop hints and hope I pick up on them. Coming right out and saying it is not something you’re okay with doing. I pushed boundaries I didn’t have your permission for, and that wasn’t right, and I’m sorry.”

“Stef, do you really think you forced me to do anything? Do you even think you could? I never asked you to stop. In fact, I distinctly recall asking you not to stop.” Van pointed out.

“Would you be okay with that happening again? I mean, without the bruised wrists?” 

Van blushed. “Maybe.” He offered hesitantly. “I think so. The—reward—was worth it.”

Stef smiled. “Good to know, ashke, because I loved hearing you beg me to fuck you. Seeing you like that—Knowing you wanted me that much—Gods, it was beautiful. Still, we need to talk about things like that before, not when I’ve got you wound up to the point of tears where you’d say almost anything. Expecting that you’d stop things then isn’t fair.” 

Van’s only response was to turn a deeper shade of scarlet and look down at his hands. 

“Van, look at me. This is important.” Stef reached out and gently tipped Van’s face up. “You can say no. You can change your mind. Always. Even right in the middle. About anything, no matter how far things have gone, and I won’t be upset or mad or anything like that. I need to know that you understand that if you ask me to stop, I will.” Stef said, more intensely than he’d really intended. “You’ve gotta know that.”

“Stef, are you okay with what we’ve been doing?” Van grasped his hand urgently. 

“As long as it’s something you want.” He covered Van’s hand with his. “Ashke, I don’t want you doing anything you don’t want to just because you think it’s what I want. Bed games are fine, they’re good, as long as they stay games. As long as you really want to keep playing and know it’s okay to stop anytime you want to.” 

“I do. I like what’s been happening. It’s—intense, but it’s good. This week, even with everything with Savil, with Rethwellan, I’m feeling better than I have in a long time. Maybe ever.” Van admitted. 

“I just—I had some time to think today and I remembered something you told me about Tylendel. About how you always followed his lead, even against your better judgment. I’ve gotta know that this—“ He waved his hand between them. “That what we’re doing isn’t like that. That if you give me control that you know it’s always yours to take back, whenever you want to.”

“Gods, Stef. What we have is nothing like it was with ‘Lendel.” Van shook his head. “I’ve grown up a lot in eighteen years, ashke. If things go too far or somewhere I don’t want, I’ll say so. I’ve had a lot of practice saying ‘no’ since I was sixteen, lover. I know I can, and I know you’ll listen if I do. And I promise I will if I need to.” 

Stef let out a slow breath. “Good.”

Van slipped an arm around his shoulders. “Are we okay?”

“Yeah. We’re good now.” Stef nodded. “I’m curious, though—whatever possessed you to start calling me ‘milord’ in the first place anyway?”

Van shrugged. “I didn’t really think about it. It just seemed like I needed to say something and I couldn’t say what you wanted me to and, well, lords are the lowest rank Heralds have to start bowing to, and it just fit.” He paused and then added hesitantly “Was it—okay?”

“It was very okay, lover. You’re very welcome to keep doing that whenever you want to.” 

“Let’s get some rest, ashke.” He stood and extended his hand down to Stef. The bard accepted the help to his feet and allowed Van to lead him to bed, the Herald snuffing out the candles with a wave as they went. 

Stef curled up with his head on Van’s shoulder, letting the Herald hold him. Van stroked the bard’s arm, soothing caresses that slowly turned heated. Stef kissed him below the ear whispering “Are you starting something, ke'chara?”

“Only if you want to help me finish it.” Van whispered back. “Milord?”

“Gods, yes. I’m all yours.” Stef answered, rolling Van over to press him into the mattress. “And you’re mine.”