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there is no sign of land

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“I cannot fucking believe that I’m stuck here with you of all people,” Iorveth hissed at Roche while stripping out of his soaked armor. “I might have to kill you on principle.”

“Just try it,” Roche growled, still fumbling at his belts and ties. “See how explaining that goes.”

“He disappeared in the flash flood,“ Iorveth said, playing it up slightly. "Bloede nature, managing to steal his death from me!”

Roche was shivering, badly, but Iorveth refused to feel sympathy. Roche was the one who’d insisted on taking a shortcut through the dry riverbed to avoid some spots that had been seeing skirmishes, and here they were, stuck sheltering in a shallow little cave that they couldn’t even build a fire in due to the slope of the roof and the wind howling near the mouth. The storm had come up out of almost nowhere, and they were trapped on the wrong side of the suddenly-raging water.

“Very believable,” Roche said with a sarcastic snort. “And how would you explain your brand new knife wounds to everyone?”

Iorveth looked up to sneer at Roche and say something snippy about dh’oine overestimating their skills, but his response was completely sandblasted out of his brain by the fucking astonishing sight of Roche without his chaperon and cap. Iorveth couldn’t possibly have seen the dh’oine without it on before—he would have remembered. The dark curls clinging to Roche’s forehead and temples, dripping water that caught in his eyelashes and ran down the lines of his cheeks and jaw, transformed his face entirely. Even wet and straggling, they softened the squareness of his jaw and made him look—

“Something for you?” Roche growled, shrugging out of the last of his layers of armor.

“No wonder I beat you,” Iorveth said after a second of catching up and letting his eyes drop to the rest of Roche. Roche’s linen shirt was clinging to his torso and arms, and Iorveth had known the dh’oine was skinny, but this was approaching ridiculous. “Do you eat?”

Roche rolled his eyes, a reaction that looked more automatic than anything. “Who are you, F— my fucking mother?”

“If I was your mother I would have drowned you years ago,” Iorveth said, pulling off his own shirt so that he didn’t look like he was staring. Roche looked—young, like this. It felt like they’d been fighting each other forever, but it had really only been since the second war—almost five years, one drop of blood in the ocean surrounding them. Roche had led the slaughter in the Mahakam foothills before then, and Iorveth had been killing dh’oine for nigh on a century.

“Sweet fucking Melitele,” he heard Roche blurt. “Is that why you disappeared for three months back in—?”

“What?” Iorveth asked, following Roche’s gaze and looking down at the massive scar on his side from that damn spear. “Ah. Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“If it’s not, I’d hate to know why you did,” Roche said, pulling off his own shirt and rubbing his hands up and down his arms. He had quite a few tattoos, most of which were complete shit, and Iorveth snorted at seeing the Temerian lilies over his heart. Predictable.

Iorveth peeled off his soaked braies and started wringing them out. He didn’t particularly care about flashing Roche, and damned if he was going to sit his bare ass down on the cave floor. He looked up after a moment of silence to see Roche snap his gaze away.

Something for you?” Iorveth snarled.

“I, ah,” Roche said, blinking rapidly a few times. “I had no idea your tattoo—”

Iorveth’s sigh of irritation was only about half feigned. “Yes, I’m sure the level of artistry is completely unknown to you or your fellow dh’oine,” he said, deliberately missing the point.

“Oh, I dunno,” Roche drawled, his upper-class accent dropping away entirely. “Ugly Harry had a naked lady he could make dance. If that ain’t art, I dunno what is.”

Iorveth let the edge of his mouth twist in disgust, only partly at pulling his damp braies back on. “Clearly the pinnacle of dh’oine culture.”

Roche snorted, sounding amused, and starting wringing out his own braies. Iorveth snuck another long glance at him, noticing how pale his lips and extremities were. Iorveth wasn’t feeling particularly toasty himself, but at least he had some damn bulk. Roche appeared to be comprised entirely of skin, bone, and wiry muscle, without even a thin layer of fat. Well, he had been living rough lately, but—

“Get your skinny ass over here before you go into hypothermia,” Iorveth snapped.

Roche blinked at him. “I— what?”

Iorveth glared, unwilling to repeat himself. This would be easier with Roche alive. That was the only reason that he was offering to curl up with the dh’oine.

“You— you’re actually serious,” Roche said.

Obviously,” Iorveth snapped.

Roche stood there, shivering, for a long minute, then walked the short distance across the floor of the cave. He came to a stop only a foot or two away from Iorveth, expression mildly disbelieving. Iorveth growled and uncrossed his arms, leaving himself open, and Roche took another few steps and leaned tentatively against Iorveth’s chest. The dh’oine was freezing, chilled enough that Iorveth had to fight the urge to shove him away. Instead, Iorveth grit his teeth and wrapped his arms around Roche, pulling them both down to the floor, Roche’s legs on either side of Iorveth’s hips and their torsos pressed together.

This would be a lot less miserable if we had a damn fire, Iorveth thought, and barely managed not to yelp as Roche tucked his icy hands high up against Iorveth’s ribs. Maybe if the wind died down Iorveth could go collect some wood and they could try and get one started at the cave mouth. Until then, though—

Iorveth made the mistake of glancing down, and got a good look at Roche’s back. He had several more tattoos on it, including something sloppy in the small of his back, but Iorveth’s eye was caught by one genuinely good piece of work, an elaborate coat of arms that looked like the tattoos dh’oine message runners often had. It was big and dark and on Roche’s shoulder blade and when Iorveth noticed the sable lion beneath the lilies he nearly snarled. Of course Roche had ‘property of Foltest’ permanently inked into him. Of course his king owned him as thoroughly as his country did.

If Iorveth ever saw Letho again, he was going to thank the vatt’ghern for a job well done before he shot him.

In spite of Iorveth’s discontent, Roche relaxed in Iorveth’s grip as his skin slowly warmed. Iorveth tried to ignore Roche, limbs limp and head tucked into Iorveth’s shoulder, unexpected curls damp against his skin, but the sensation of Roche’s breathing going slow and deep as he fell asleep in the arms of his nemesis was impossible to miss.

Iorveth could stab him. Right here, right now. Roche was as vulnerable as he had ever been, there was nobody else around—

Iorveth shot a last glare at the coat of arms on Roche’s back before pulling him in a little closer and gingerly leaning back against the cave wall, letting his eyelid slide closed. Whatever Foltest had been to Roche, at very least Iorveth had outlasted him. He could feel smug about that.