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They were flying together.

Or rather, Tharsis was flying to search for a morning snack while Sleipnir was tailing along while being generally ignored. He didn't exactly mind being with the other dragon (far from it, really), but his body had limits. Having his and his Rider's name known throughout the land meant a lot of favors from powerful people, and after spending all of the morning and afternoon lifting bricks to repair the castle walls for weeks without rest, he was done. His muscles resembled the squished insides of a ravaged dead boar, and all he wanted to do was lie down and take a nap. Preferably for a whole day. Or a month.

But of course, as the humans often said, there would be no rest for the weary.

Honestly, the only reason he wasn't staying at the roost, curled up and sleeping, was because his Rider had wanted some one-on-one "action" between the bed sheets with his rival-turned-lover, and he didn't want to hear any of that. Who would have known that the blank-faced Inaho Kaizuka had anything resembling a sex drive?

Then again, some might even question his choice of partner considering the tension that used to exist between the two. Sleipnir would argue that most of it turned sexual by their third mid-air swordfight, but maybe that was just when he realized Tharsis had a really nice flank. And really shiny scales. And large, powerful wings that took her speeding towards her foes...

Speaking of which. "Do you mind slowing down a bit there?"

Ignoring his request, the silver dragon let out a puff of smoke. "I'm sorry, but I don't recall forcing you to come with me. If you want to rest your wings, you can go curl up on a hill somewhere."

"Well, maybe if you," he paused and winced from a sudden spike of pain, quickly dropping in altitude before wobbling back to his original height. "If you had to act as a pulley system for weeks, you'd be panting and weak, too."

"Oh? Since when have you let those humans tell you what to do?"

Even though she couldn't see his expression, he gave her a blank stare. "You can't honestly ask me that when you're the one who would willingly dance and dress up as a court jester if your Rider told you to."

 She sniffed, "Slaine is decent enough to ask for reasonable favors, unlike your Rider."

"Just because he's socially inept doesn't mean he isn't capable of making a good plan."

"And those plans require you to degrade yourself and put you at the mercy of others?"

The extra energy spent on talking began to make him pant, but he still managed to say, "I'm not shaming myself by trying to fix what I broke. It's called taking responsibility."

"You can show your responsibility without having to do wing-breaking labor," she said, flicking her tail in irritation. "The humans agreed to revere us in exchange for our services, and if they think making you a machine equals admiration, I'll bite that foolish empress's head off her flimsy shoulders."

"I appreciate the support," he said tiredly, "but I don't think your Rider would like you viciously murdering his beloved idol."

Despite his ongoing attempts at keeping up with the other, Sleipnir felt his efforts dwindling. His body continued to waver up and down, up and down in the air as if he were a newborn hatchling once again trying to learn how his wings work, and the cramps in his front and hind legs made them swing and droop down to the ground. The panting had only increased in intensity, his pointed tongue hanging limply on top of his teeth.

Shit. I might really have to stop for a bit...

As if noticing his plight (in flight, wow, the rhymes), Tharsis slowed her pace so that they flew wing-by-wing. Before he thought of expressing his tired thanks, she said with a smug side-glance, "Since the runt seems to be having trouble, I'll try to let you keep up."

All thoughts of gratitude escaped in his low growl. He attempted to nip at her wing, but combined with her nimble reflexes and his weary state, she easily escaped the wrath of his teeth. A scratchy laugh escaped her throat, and as if taunting him, she did a complex dive-loop maneuver before returning to his side.

He snarled and beat his wings in protest. "Is that really necessary?"

"The insults or the flight tricks? Because the answer to both is yes."

"Look, just because I'm smaller than you doesn't mean I can't hold my own. I've won enough battles against you to prove it."

"Hmm," she hummed, sounding not at all convinced. "Then, why don't we try to even out the score? First to kill a meal-worthy prey wins. And no elementals."

He glared at her and flatly said, "You do realize how unfair this situation is, right?"

"You were the one who said you 'took responsibility', weren't you?" she asked in a sing-song voice, or at least, as sing-song-y a dragon's tone could get. "Well then, take responsibility for your words, oh one-who-can-hold-his-own."

"Why you-"

Without waiting for him to finish, Tharsis lunged downward toward the forest, searching for her prey. Although he still felt a shred of anger at her taunting, most of it faded away and was replaced with awe at her graceful form slipping into the trees. Her speed and agility had always outclassed his and even those of other air dragons, and although his quickness was able to just hold up against her attacks, he certainly could not beat her in a flight race.

Being an earth dragon gave him the benefits of armor, sharper claws and teeth for close combat, and, with a storage of Aldnoah, the ability to create structures using dirt, mud, or whatever happened to make up the ground at a certain area. None of which at the moment would actually help him find prey faster than Tharsis.

Well, I pretty much lost. He sighed and drifted slowly into the foliage. Might as well search for breakfast. Hopefully there will be some boars nearby.

As he set his feet down onto the ground, Tharsis already stood over a deer carcass, chest puffed out and head raised. Crimson liquid ran down her neck, and although some humans would cower in fear over her bloody appearance, Sleipnir only found her more stunning.

Her beauty could not, however, fill his stomach. He groaned and looked around, then said, "Did you see anything else, or should I-?"

Blinking, he dumbly stared down at the deer that suddenly appeared before him.

"Well?" Tharsis asked as he glanced back up to her. "Are you not going to eat?"

He stared back down at the meal. "What...?"

"You're not a fun opponent when you can barely hold up your own head." She ripped into the stomach, licking the blood dripping down her mouth. "Once you get your energy back, we can have a real fight, and I won't have to hold back my attacks."

He poked at the carcass with his snout, then paused. "If I take this, will it count as a double loss?"

"What?"

"I mean, you made the first kill, and then you made my kill for me. So in a way, I lost twice."

She rolled her eyes and said, "This one doesn't count. Now eat up before you die of starvation already."

Tharsis went back to tearing into her meal, and after a moment of silence, Sleipnir bit into his share as well. As much as he disliked the thought of owing the other a favor, he still did appreciate the gift. Mainly because he was way too tired to even think about flying again, and partially (okay, maybe more than that) because Tharsis's expressions of kindness were few and far between.

The fact that it was a fresh deer and not the dried remains that the humans gave him might have also swayed his opinion.

Really, the only thing he needed to do in order to make it a perfect morning was take a nap. Which might not be the best idea in the middle of a forest somewhere past the borders of the kingdom. He could probably take on anything that came his way, but after that incident where he almost swallowed a live porcupine that came too close to his open snout, he wasn't exactly fond of sleeping in unfamiliar areas.

He could fly back to the roost once he got some energy back, but there was no telling if Inaho was done with his little escapade yet. Technically, the Aldnoah Link was always an option, but if it was activated and his Rider was still in the middle of his activities...

Sleipnir shuddered.

He got along with Inaho just fine, but he did not want to experience anything like that through the telepathic link. Especially with Tharsis's Rider. That was just wrong. In multiple senses.

But don't humans normally try to copulate during the night? And I'm pretty sure Inaho's stamina doesn't last that long. Unless he likes using toys?

...Why did I try to imagine that?

"Is the deer making you sick, or is there some other reason why you look like you just ate a pine tree?"

Tharsis's words shook him out of his thoughts. He tried to dispel the mental images, but finding them stubbornly stuck in his head, he sighed and tried to focus more on his aching limbs. "When do you think it's safe to go back?"

She cocked her head, a stray piece of meat dangling from between her teeth. "What do you mean?"

Nope. No details, or I'm going to vomit. "Like...when do you think our Riders will be...done?"

A blank stare. "Done with what?"

"Do I really have to spell it out for you?"

"An explanation would be nice, considering I have no idea what you're talking about."

"When they're finished...you know," he said, avoiding her gaze. Don't think about it, don't think about it."Mating."

"...What."

He looked up at the flat tone and found her glaring holes into his scales.

A small laugh escaped him as he tried to avoid eye contact. "Yeah, you know. Mating. Having intercourse. Rolling in the hay. Something like that."

She growled and slowly began edging closer to him; the blood that once made him gape now made him slink back into the ground. A nervous smile made its way to his face. "Is there a problem?"

"I wasn't aware of this."

"Well," he shrunk backwards until he hit a tree. "Maybe your Rider just forgot to tell you?"

"Slaine isn't the type to simply forget to explain a situation." She continued advancing forward, shoving her bloody snout in front of his. "And since you seem to know all about this and didn't tell me..."

Shit. Shit shit shit fuck fuck fuck

"Explain," she snarled. "Now."

 

 

 

 

 

Slaine awoke to the feeling of warmth and a persistent brightness stabbing at his eyes. He laid sprawled on the bed, legs tangled in the bundled sheets and arms crossing over to the empty space beside him. He groaned and grabbed at the covers. Squinting at the harsh sunlight, he raised his arm to cover his eyes and took a deep breath.

Morning, huh...

As he blearily tried to gain awareness of his surroundings, his ears picked up on the distant sound of horses trotting outside and something sizzling in the kitchen. It smelled vaguely like soy sauce and eggs, which was no surprise really, considering who he was living with. The taste was already ingrained in his mouth by now.

"Time?" he muttered groggily, trying to get up but unwilling to remove himself from the comfort of the bed. He felt strangely sore and fatigued despite how relaxed he was, though he could not seem to recall the reason why. Too much training, perhaps?

Trying to see past the sun's angry glare, he raised his arm and reached over to grab the clock on the nightstand beside him. After some difficulty, he managed to make out the display.

"Ten fifteen..." he yawned. I should get up soon, or I might miss my duties...

He attempted to rise, but once again found his limbs too weary to move. He huffed and glared at the ceiling.

Why am I so exhausted? I don't remember overexerting myself yesterday, and I've already gotten used to the castle's manual labor. Then-

An image of Inaho beneath him, sweating and panting, entered his mind.

Heat rushed to his cheeks, and he rolled over onto the other side of the bed, grabbing his partner's (lover's?) pillow and smothering his face into it. The lingering smell of sweat and the other's choice of citrus-scented hair products made its way to his nose, and he tightened his grip.

"That orange," he muttered into the pillow. "Always doing what he wants..."

I didn't mind it, though.

He shut his eyes and sighed, rolling onto his side while keeping the pillow in his grasp. Small snippets of the previous night came back to him, moments of tangled limbs and low murmurs, pain and pleasure molding into one, kisses and marks exchanged between the two as night moved on to morning.

And afterward, the warm, gentle touch of the washcloth as he wiped off the dampness, the soft, sleepy whispers shared between them as they drifted into sleep.

A small smile made its way to his lips, and he found his body unconsciously easing back into a relaxed state. He shut his eyes. I suppose two more minutes of rest won't hurt.

Footsteps suddenly echoed in the hall, and Slaine perked up at the sound. Realizing he was still cuddling the pillow, he returned it to its original position just as Inaho opened the door to the room.

"Oh, you're awake." The brunet walked through the door carrying a plate of rolled omelets in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. "Good morning."

"Morning, Inaho," Slaine replied, making an effort to at least sit up before giving up and ending in a couched position.

"Don't overexert yourself," the other said as he placed the water on the nightstand and walked around to sit on the bed. "Your body needs rest after everything that happened yesterday."

Slaine made a noncommittal hum and checked the clock again. "I need to get up soon anyway. The Stygis Squadron-"

"Does not need your services today," Inaho interrupted. "I contacted Harklight yesterday to ensure that you will not be required to report for duty."

"Oh, thank you...wait." Slaine narrowed his eyes. "Did you plan for all of this to happen?"

"All of what?"

The blond glared at the other's blank expression. "You know what I mean."

"If you're referring to my preparation for last night, it made sense to do so. Both of us would not be at our best performance post-coitus, so it would be in everyone's best interest to have our responsibilities delegated to another person."

Slaine sighed, and Inaho blinked. "Do you dislike my actions?"

"No, they're just strangely fitting." He idly played with the bed sheets. "You always try to analyze everything, don't you?"

"No, I try to find the best course of action." His eyes softened. "And don't worry about the time. I'll wake you up if you have something planned in the future."

He chuckled. "I think your sister would disagree."

"Yuki needs to learn how to be a responsible adult. If I act as her alarm, she will grow dependent on my help and continue to be Penivia forever."

"And I won't?"

"You have proven yourself to be more disciplined than her, so I doubt that will be a problem." Inaho extended the plate to him. "Anyway, you should eat. Your body needs nourishment."

Slaine stared at the offering. "Eggs again?"

"I believe I have already told you of their nutritional value." His eyes flashed. "And if we are to continue our recent activities, eggs also have vitamins B6 and B5 that act as hormone balancers and stress relievers, which can lessen the risk of premature ejacu-"

"Okay," Slaine pinched the brunet's pudgy cheek with a groan. "I do not need a massive lecture on how eggs can improve my libido." He paused for a second, then smirked. "Or what, were you saying that you eat them so often in order to improve your poor skills in bed?"

The brunet gave an irritated glance at his hand and wacked it away from his face, though small red imprints remained where his fingers once were. "That was not my original intention. However, seeing as we are both inexperienced in this field, it would benefit us to take advantage of these enhancements."

"Enhancements-you really do sound like a textbook sometimes."

"It is merely logic. If we are to continue with our actions, it is best that we feel most comfortable with them."

"Yes, yes," Slaine lightly chuckled as he reached for a piece of omelet and took a bite. "Thank you for the food, Inaho."

The two lapsed into silence, Slaine chewing on his breakfast as Inaho watched on, balancing the plate on his lap. In his position, it was easy for the blond to lean against the other's body, silently appreciating the comfort it gave him. In the past, when they had first met, the close contact would have made him wary and uneasy, but he now found it soothing even with their squabbles.

It's nice. He closed his eyes and smiled to himself. Being able to relax like this...

Sometime later, without him realizing it, Inaho had taken his free hand in his and was gently rubbing his knuckles with his thumb. Slaine opened his eyes and stared at the plate before frowning slightly.

"Shouldn't you eat some, too?" he asked.

Inaho shook his head. "I had breakfast earlier." His fingers trailed over Slaine's, feeling the grooves and curves of his hand. "You should eat more. You've gotten thinner recently."

"Really? I haven't noticed." He looked down at his naked form, or what was uncovered, anyway, and stared. The scars inflicted upon him by his former leader were open to the air, still visible despite their age. He gazed at them, then quickly turned away. "It's probably because of the rationing and stress combined. I'll be fine after a while."

There was a moment of brief silence, and then he jumped slightly at the feeling of something warm grazing his cheek. His head whipped around to find the brunet's face inches away from his. "...What are you doing?"

"Stop thinking about it."

"That doesn't answer the question."

"You're putting yourself down again."

"I'm not."

"Yes, you are."

"I am not."

"You are."

The blond opened his mouth to retort, but instead sighed and squeezed the other's hand. "Really, Inaho, I'm fine. They don't bother me as much anymore." He gave a wry smile and shifted to be closer to the other. "It's just some bad memories resurfacing, and they'll fade away with time. I'm okay."

"Are you sure?"

He smiled. "Yes, I'm sure."

A pause. "Slaine."

"Hm?"

He raised their interlocked hands and pressed them to his lips. "You're beautiful."

Flushing red, the blond hurriedly removed his hand from the other's grasp. "Don't just say embarrassing stuff like that with a straight face!"

The other male blinked. "Why not? I'm merely telling the truth how I see it."

He groaned. "You always just say whatever you want, don't you?"

"I see no reason to hold back my favorable opinion of you."

Slaine shook his head and grabbed another piece of omelet to stuff in his mouth. "You're insufferable, orange."

"I love you too, bat."

He made an irritated sound at the back of his throat, hitting the other with his feeble strength in both annoyance at his reply and an attempt to conceal his inner happiness. The brunet gave no sign that he minded, and instead moved to lay his head on his shoulder.

He made a weak attempt at shrugging him off, but quickly gave up and sighed. "You're heavy."

"You're warm."

He debated telling the brunet to grab a sweater before deciding against it and simply laid there in his state of comfort. Despite what he said, the head on his shoulder was not much of a burden and actually provided a semi-soft headrest. Soft hairs tickled his cheek, and he took a deep breath.

A yellow object appeared in front of him.

"...I'm capable of feeding myself, you know."

"That's obvious enough."

He reached out to grab it, but the other Rider quickly moved it away from him. "So, can I have it?"

"Nope. Say 'ahh'."

The deadpan voice only made it worse.

Narrowing his eyes, he attempted to swipe another omelet off the plate, but his fatigue made him slower than usual, and the other easily moved it out of his reach.

"Why not just let me feed you?"

"Because I can do it myself. There's no need for you to do so."

"I want to."

A blank stare.

After a few seconds, he groaned and opened his mouth, trying to ignore the subtle smile on Inaho's face.

 

 

 

 

 

The clock read 11:00 A.M.

As he finished swallowing down the last of his breakfast, a small buzz appeared at the back of his head. He paid it no mind at first, thinking it was a side effect of him waking up, but after a few minutes of it increasing in intensity, he realized it was someone contacting him through the Aldnoah Link.

Identifying the presence as Tharsis, he frowned at the strange urgency behind her thoughts. Did something happen?

Cautiously, he opened the link between them and stiffened in surprise at the sudden onslaught of irritation that poured from the other side.

"Slaine."

"Y-yes?"

"You have ten seconds to explain what you're doing with Sleipnir's Rider.

"What?"

"Ten."

"A-ah, wait! What do you mean by that?"

"Nine."

"Okay, okay! Just stop counting down!"

"What's wrong?" Inaho asked from beside him. Opening his eyes (when had he closed them?), Slaine glanced over at his companion and made a feeble gesture with his hands. Over the connection, his dragon hissed.

"Is that bastard with you right now? I swear I'll rip him to pieces-"

"It's Tharsis," Slaine replied, grimacing as he attempted to ignore the profanities she snarled about the other. "And she's not exactly in a pleasant mood right now."

"Oh, I'll show him a pleasant mood, alright. I'll show it to him and shove it right up his-"

"Tharsis."

A low growl.

"What does she want?" Inaho asked him.

He turned his attention back to his current location. "She said she wants to know what I'm doing with you, apparently." He nibbled on the inside of his mouth in thought. "Did you tell her what you were planning yesterday?"

"No, I didn't find it necessary." The younger male paused, then nodded to himself. "Could you open up the link to me?"

Slaine hesitated. "She...isn't exactly happy with you right now."

"I'm prepared for that."

"If you say so." He reached over to touch the other Rider's hand and extended the telepathic connection.

As soon as the connection was made, Tharsis let out a long growl at the brunet; he showed no outward sign of fear. "Greetings, Tharsis. I haven't talked to you in quite a while."

"Cut the crap, Kaizuka. You know what I'm here for."

"Technically, you are not at our present location, so by definition you are not 'here'."

"Don't try to change the subject, you damned lecherous pervert."

Slaine felt a headache coming on. "Tharsis, I know Inaho can be somewhat infuriating at times, but at least try to be civil to him, okay?"

She made a low rumble but complied and attempted to lessen the amount of anger flowing through the link. On the other hand, Slaine could feel a rising sense of irritation from the boy beside him.

"I appreciate the help, but are the insults necessary?"

"Yes, they are. And watch your tongue. Just because I'm not letting Tharsis insult you doesn't mean that you have the right to provoke her." He turned his attention back to his dragon. "So, what did you want to say to us?"

"Sleipnir just told me some interesting information about you two."

"I'm assuming it's about our actions last night?"

"Yes," she growled. "That. Care to explain why you thought you had the right to defile Slaine without permission?"

Slaine groaned out loud. "Tharsis, he didn't 'defile' me. No one 'defiled' anyone last night."

"Call it what you will. It doesn't erase the fact that Kaizuka couldn't keep his hormones in check."

"Well, it wasn't entirely unwanted..."

Inaho intervened in the conversation. "We already told both you and Sleipnir about our relationship. It is not custom to broadcast all of our activities together even if they become more sexual in nature."

"And what gave you the idea that you were worthy to touch Slaine like that?"

"If I remember correctly, you did give us your blessing."

"I barely gave you permission to date him. This is stretching that definition."

"Even so, this conclusion was to be expected. Many people in romantic relationships with active sexualities will eventually desire such actions."

"And that automatically gives you the right to be with him?"

"I believe he is the only one who has the right to judge who is and is not allowed to be intimate with him. Even if you are someone who is extremely close to him, it is not your job to monitor his choices in life."

A sense of hesitation spread through the link, and the dragon paused before steeling herself. "It is my duty to protect Slaine in any situation he may come across, whether on the battlefield or otherwise. You have not given me enough reason to completely trust you with his heart, so you are not exempt from my scrutiny."

Listening to them banter with a slight mix of exasperation and fondness, Slaine sighed and cleared his throat. "Inaho, as much as I agree with some of your comments, I would like to be able to voice my own opinions."

The brunet kept a blank expression but backed down in the link.

"Tharsis, I'm grateful for all the help you've given me since our union, and I do enjoy your companionship. But I'm not a helpless child anymore. I know how to defend myself and how to identify my friends and foes." He squeezed their interlocked hands, and Inaho turned to stare at him.

"Slaine?"

"And you consider Kaizuka a friend? Hell, even a lover?"

"I won't argue that Inaho and I haven't had some unpleasant memories together, but that's all in the past. We're not the same people we once were, and our relationship has changed as well. And as utterly stubborn, impulsive, and detached he can be at times-"

He swallowed down a sudden lump in his throat.

"-he's a strong, responsible, genuine, and kindhearted person."

Dear lord, he could practically feel the color in his face. When exactly had he gotten so bold with compliments?

Then again, it was somewhat refreshing to simply speak his honest feelings.

He glanced sideways to look at his companion, but found him to be facing away. The brunet did not seem mad per se, but there was a strange sense of discomfort flowing from the link.

His face is kind of red...is he-?

A snort broke his thought process, and he turned back to Tharsis who was giving off the impression of shaking her head. "I guess I won't win this argument, huh?"

"Tharsis-"

"No, it's fine, Slaine. I understand." She let out a light chuckle. "It feels strange to say this, but I'm proud of you sticking up to me. It's nice to see you holding your ground instead of cowering and lowering your head."

He smiled. "Like I said, I've grown."

"I suppose you're likely to say it was partially due to Kaizuka's influence as well?"

"Maybe just a little." A small bit of amusement rose at the brunet fidgeting beside him.

"Hmph. Then, I only have one more question for you."

"Yes?"

"Are you happy?"

He stared, then let out a lighthearted laugh.

"Yes. I am."

"Then all is well." She turned her attention back to Inaho, and he straightened up. "But don't think this means I'm perfectly okay with you, Kaizuka. I trust Slaine's judgment, but if you ever hurt him, rest assured that you won't wake up the next day with all your limbs intact."

"As much as I wish to, I cannot guarantee that I will never cause him any pain; the probability of such happening is too low in an entire lifetime." He gripped their interlocked hands. "But should that day come, I will make sure to bring him joy tenfold."

"...Very well. I will accept that for now."

"Thank you, Tharsis."

"Don't thank me for this; it's simply my responsibility." She sniffed. "Also Kaizuka, don't wear him out too much. We were planning to go on a ride soon once his duties were fulfilled, and it won't do any good if he is in poor shape."

"With all due respect," he deadpanned, "I don't think Slaine would appreciate any more 'riding' in the near future."

The link cut off.

There was a moment of silence before he realized what just transpired and turned to the other in shock. "Inaho!"

"Yes, Slaine?"

"Don't 'Yes, Slaine' me! You just...with her...!"

"Was there a problem?"

"Yes! You don't just casually mention something like that in the middle of a respectable conversation!"

The brunet tilted his head and gave him a blank stare, but the time spent together allowed Slaine to identify the slight twitching at the corners of his mouth. He resembled a cat that had just robbed from the food pantry, knowing what it had done and feeling not at all ashamed about it.

You little... He groaned and flopped down, wrapping his arms around Inaho's torso. "You're going to have to deal with her anger, you know."

"I'm prepared for that."

He stared upward at the other and narrowed his eyes. "And I'm not helping when she comes for you later."

"I'm doubtful."

"And why is that?

"Because although you have often expressed a varying degree of annoyance toward my actions, you are not so cruel as to ignore someone who is suffering. Also, since you hold at least some affection for me, it would be unlikely for you to completely disregard something that could possibly harm me."

"I hold some affection for Tharsis as well." He gave a teasing smile. "Who's to say I won't side with her instead?"

"That would be rather unfortunate, though I'd most likely survive with Sleipnir's help."

"So, a battle? Me and Tharsis against you and Sleipnir?"

The brunet smirked. "I would not mind that. It will be useful for both of us to sharpen our skills, and we are at about the same skill level to pose a worthy challenge."

"Then it's settled." He shut his eyes to bask in the warmth of his companion. "Once they come back, we'll see who will come out on top."

The other Rider made a soft grunt in agreement, and they both fell into silence. The promise of a future brawl was both invigorating and soothing, proof of their increased strength and the stronger bond they had. It was uplifting, the idea that what was once a relationship filled with distrust and caution was now one where both could share each other's pain and happiness, or whatever life would eventually bring them.

They both had come this far alone, and they both would go farther together.

And was that not successful in itself?

In this new quiet, Slaine found his mind muddling as time passed by. The warmth made his head drowsy, and the lack of responsibilities caused his body to become more lax than he thought it could be. He thought about it and, finding no reason otherwise, allowed himself to drift off into a daze.

Without the peace of the kingdom secure, there would be few days where the both of them could relax like this. It was not a crime to simply enjoy whatever happiness life provided.

A tap on his shoulder removed him from his hazy state. "You should get up soon."

"Hmm?"

"Oversleeping has harmful effects on the body, and it would be rather distressing if you died early from diabetes or cardiovascular diseases."

"How morbid."

"I could mention other non-fatal side effects, if that would benefit you."

He waved him off. "Five more minutes is fine, right? At least give me that when we're going to fight soon and I have a full day off."

Expecting a comment on how the brunet was responsible for said time off, he was somewhat surprised that none came. There was only a soft chuckle he felt more than heard from the way Inaho's stomach moved as his head rested upon it, and the other said, "Okay, Slaine. Five more minutes."

He mumbled a "thank you" before dozing off again, enjoying the feeling of being able to cuddle the other without protest. Gentle fingers ran through his hair, and against his ear, he could hear the soft but steady sound of the other's heartbeat.

In the quiet hours of the morning, he found himself growing fonder.

A smile.

"Inaho."

"Hmm?"

"I love you."

He felt the brunet pause before sighing and stroking his back. His hand was rough, calloused from the years of learning to wield a sword, but the touch was not unwelcome.

This was his life. This was his choice.

This was his home.

And here he would be to stay.

 

 

 

 

 

He was beginning to question what exactly their Riders had said to warrant this reaction.

It seemed like everything was going fine at first. Tharsis was making occasional grunting sounds and angry glares, but other than that, there was no sign of total chaos. He was pretty sure she even smiled at some point. Of course, that was before she had roared and took flight, only to blast the entire vicinity into smithereens.

Not a single tree remained standing.

Seriously, what happened?

Her form now stood in front of him, ripping apart the rest of her meal that he had managed to save from the attack. Spreading her large wings beside her, she scratched at the ground and bit into her prey's ribcage, the crunching of bones echoing throughout the area. Crimson liquid pooled all around her, dripping down her teeth and claws.

Nibbling at his own meal, Sleipnir fidgeted and took quick glances at the other dragon before quickly looking away. As much as he wanted to ask what occurred, he had a feeling he would lose his head if he even attempted to bring up the topic.

Of course, this was the moment that he decided to look up and meet the glare of the other.

With a start, he broke eye contact and laughed nervously. "So..."

Silence. Not even any birds chirping.

They were all probably dead, now that he thought about it.

For a second longer, he stopped to consider if the knowledge was worth the risk he was about to take. And then, he glanced back at her, and all thought processes stopped.

"What happened?"

She grabbed the deer's skull and crushed it under her weight. He jumped.

"Sleipnir," she growled. "Your Rider needs a lesson on instinct control and etiquette."

Inaho, what the hell did you do?

"If you're asking me to provide those lessons, I don't think they'll be very effective." He slinked down behind his deer carcass. "He doesn't always listen to the advice I give him."

"Does he listen to anyone?"

"Well, he'll generally listen to direct orders. But if he thinks of a different strategy, he's more likely to go with whatever he thought of."

She stomped and circled, back and forth, back and forth. Then, growling once more, she slammed her leftover meal onto the ground and took flight. Staring in awe, he took a moment to gaze at her form before realizing what had just occurred.

"Wait!" He stretched his wings, wincing when the cramps and sores screamed in protest, and sped after the other. "Where are you going?"

"Back to our Riders. Where else?"

Almost immediately, he caught up to the air dragon and nearly flew into her tail. He recoiled before turning to fly by her side, keeping a leisurely pace due to the still-weary state of his body. Despite this, he found that he could still keep up with the other dragon, and he narrowed his eyes.

Was it a good sign or a bad sign that he could keep up?

On one hand, it meant that Tharsis was actively allowing him to stay by her side. On the other hand, it meant that she could later use him as a scratching post in place of his Rider. Which was an experience he would rather avoid.

Even if it had already occurred more times than he could count.

"If you can't teach your Rider some proper manners," she said and he jerked, "then I will. And I'll start by tearing off his hands so they can no longer touch Slaine in any way."

"As honorable as your attempt is to defend his chastity," he said warily, "please remember that you're threatening mutilation on my Rider."

She did not respond, but instead increased her flight speed. He groaned internally before trying to accelerate, ignoring how it aggravated his pain. "Hey, it's likely that your Rider enjoys Inaho's company anyway. They wouldn't have started a relationship together otherwise."

"I can accept that." She snarled. "What I cannot accept is your Rider's poor attitude and sexual advances."

"Okay, I'll let the poor attitude thing slide. But they're in a relationship, Tharsis. And they both have sexual urges. It's not groundbreaking."

"And that makes it okay? Is it even pleasurable enough to warrant the fatigue of the next day?"

"I wouldn't know. Would you like to try it?"

A beat.

...Wait.

That came off wrong, didn't it.

"Um, Tharsis-"

"Sleipnir." She stopped mid-air and turned around to face him with a wide, teeth-showing smile. "Are you insinuating what I think you are?"

"Well, I mean-"

"I can normally tolerate you." She flew closer to him. "Hell, I can even enjoy your company at times." Her teeth grazed his snout. "But."

Well. Goodbye, Inaho. I'm sorry I couldn't protect your dignity.

"If you even think of getting your genitalia anywhere near me-"

This isn't the worst way to go out, I guess. Seeing her face until the very end.

That's kind of pathetic.

She hissed.

"I can assure you that you won't have it by tomorrow morning."

In the next second, she was gone.

Suspended mid-air in shock, Sleipnir remained rigid for a while before grunting and shaking his head. Her small figure was lit up by the morning light, speeding away from him in the distance. Even without the exhaustion weakening his body, there was no possible way he would be able to catch up to her.

At least if he met up with her at the roost, he could try to salvage his hopes of a friendly bond. And maybe something more.

...Probably not.

With a sigh, he followed after her.