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When I return from besting Shiva, I’m cold throughout.  I manage to make it into Camp Dragonhead with little ceremony, and from there, into the main building where Lord Haurchefant conducts business.  As I’d expected, despite the late hour, he’s still awake- and he looks up in surprise when I stumble in, mostly blown in by the howling winds.

“By Halone- are you all right, my friend?”  He hurries to me and closes the door, then helps me up from the crouch I’d dropped into.

I blink owlishly at him.  I’m fine, mostly- battered, of course, though that’s to be expected, and tired as well… and cold.

Concern darkens his pale blue eyes and he puts a hand on my arm, then curses softly.  “You’re freezing!  Come, we must warm you at once- you traveled back during this blizzard?”

There wasn’t really any other way for me to get back, I think wryly, and I nod.  I was too tired to risk teleporting.  I’m half numb and not thinking straight as he leads me to a sitting room, where a blazing fire awaits, and I let him remove my sodden cloak.  The fire does wonders for me, but after just a few seconds, I start shaking violently.  He steps out and says something to one of the knights in the main room, then comes back and carefully starts removing my armor.

“Here now,” he says softly, “you truly should have waited to return- wait.  Are you injured?”  He looks at me intently, and when I shake my head, he sighs and smiles in what looks like profound relief before returning to my armor.  It’s caked with ice and snow, and it takes him a little while to get it off of me- and I’m shaking hard enough that it likely makes it even more of a chore.

The knight he’d spoken to comes back with a platter of food and a steaming mug of something that looks amazing simply because it’s steaming, as well as a pair of breeches and a shirt.  Haurchefant thanks him and I try at a smile, but I’m not sure I manage.

Once the last piece of armor is off and set aside, Haurchefant holds out the clothes and smiles.  “Here.  Change into these, you’ll be far warmer after… oh, and there are blankets on the chair to wrap yourself in as well.”

I take the clothes from him and pause.  He’s watching me.  I turn red and clear my throat.

“Oh!”  He colors just a little and turns around.  “My apologies.”

I wonder about that.  I eye him suspiciously, then change faster than I ever have- but he’s right, once I’m in the warm, dry clothes I feel years better.  I pad over to the chair and tuck myself into it, piling the blankets on, and only then do I tell him it’s safe to turn around.

He brings the tray of food and drink over and puts it on the low table in front of me, then sits in a chair to my right, facing me.  “You must be half starved,” he says, then pauses when I pick up a plate of something delicious looking and tear into it like I haven’t eaten in weeks.  “… or mostly starved, perhaps.”

I pause, then look at him sheepishly before slowing down.  I am quite hungry, more so now that I’m dry.  In between bites I tell him about Shiva and everything we’d accomplished, and he listens intently.  By the time I’m done with my story there’s no food left, but I have my hands wrapped around a steaming mug of hot chocolate and am absently wondering if I’ve found my way to heaven somehow.  I’m warm, dry, and stuffed full- and that’s not something I can say very often.

He smiles and shakes his head.  “I’ve no idea how you do it,” he says, clearly impressed.  “One person against all the odds, and yet you come out on top every single time.  Full glad am I to have you on my side, my friend- and happier still that you’ve returned safely.”

I smile at him.  I like it here… and more than that, I feel a sense of calm when I’m around him that I don’t often feel otherwise.  That’s not something I can be convinced to give up easily, I don’t think.  There’s also something in the way he looks at me that’s caught my curiosity… and something, I think, in my own eyes when I glance at him before setting off for whatever journey or task is ahead of me.  I turn my attention to my cocoa, thinking about that and wondering if I should say something- if it’s possible, maybe, that this will lead somewhere.  I frown a bit and take a sip, immediately chastising myself.  I know little to nothing about him aside from what his knights say, and I don’t know if he has a suitor already- though, I think, he has invited me back to his chambers a couple of times.  At the time I’d declined- politely, of course- with a blush that went from my neck clear to my hairline.  I wasn’t used to people being so forward with me… most especially people I liked.

“Well,” he says cheerfully, “you should get some rest- you’re probably exhausted.”

I blink.  I am tired, yes, but I’m enjoying his company, and I don’t really want to go to bed… at least, I admit to myself, not alone.  Not tonight.  After what I’ve been through today, what I truly want is more than I’ve ever let myself consider with him, at least outside of a brief fantasy or two.  I quickly turn my attention back to my cocoa.  Perhaps I’ve given him reason enough to believe I’m not interested, and I’m not sure how to deal with that.  I realize then that the mug is mostly empty, and I sigh, resigning myself to a night alone.  I finish off the cocoa and set the mug down, then stand and smile at him.

He smiles back and the two of us head for the door, and I’m not certain if it’s by accident or not, but my hand brushes his before he reaches to open it.  He pauses and looks back at me, and I look at him.  I want to say I’m calm, but my heart is racing.  I wonder if, for a brief moment, I can shed the fear of being rejected- after all, I’d rejected him in the past.

That doesn’t seem to matter much in this moment, though.  I look up at him, silently pleading, ask!  Ask!, and he hesitates before lifting his hand and carefully touching my jaw.  I tip my head a little, leaning into his touch, and he smiles again- a quiet, knowing smile.  “Of course, if you aren’t tired…”

I smile.  I’m not tired anymore, at any rate.

He exhales and nods slightly, and for a brief moment he looks nervous.  The expression fades, though, and he holds his hand out to me.  “Come,” he says, his voice soft and gentle- and there’s a warmth to it that I haven’t heard before.

He walks by my side, gently holding my hand, and guides me up the winding staircase near his desk.  I’ve been up here before, speaking with various commanders and such, but he pushes open a door I haven’t been through and leads me down a quiet hallway.  There are only a couple doors here, and he opens the last one and invites me in with another warm glance.  I follow him, and I notice that he’s leaving the decision of what happens now up to me.

I turn and very deliberately close the door, then bolt it- and then I turn back, meeting his gaze again.

He’s looking at me intently, and he hesitates before reaching for the buckles on his armor.  I move forward and help him, and it’s with some amusement that I think my experience wearing it has paid off.  I know exactly how to remove it, and I do.  I’m not sure I’ve been this close to him before, and once his armor is off and discarded in a heap to the side, we’re standing so close that I can feel the warmth of his body.  I look up at him and he slowly lifts a hand to cup my jaw, then slides it to my neck as he leans down to kiss me.

It isn’t my first kiss, but it may as well be for how I react to it.  He is so gentle, so careful, so aware of me that I can do nothing but give over.  He pays attention to how I respond to him, and the kiss deepens slowly until I’m pressed against him, holding on tight.  When it breaks my eyes stay closed for a second before slowly opening, and the smile on his face makes my heart skip a beat.

“Surely I’m not your first,” he says softly.

“You’re the first that matters,” I reply, my voice just as soft, and his eyes widen a little before falling closed briefly.  He wraps his arms around me and holds me tight.

“So are you,” he murmurs into my hair, and a thrill goes straight through me.  He draws back just enough to look at me again, and this time when he kisses me, it’s like there’s a spark between us that suddenly ignites.  My lips part for him and I tip my head back as he kisses me in a way nobody ever has before, and he lifts one hand to the back of my head and then buries his fingers in my hair as his other arm clutches me as close as possible.  We’re so close that I feel his racing heartbeat against mine from the way I’m craning up, and that makes me dizzy with desire.

At some point he starts to back toward the bed and I follow, unwilling to break the kiss for anything except the occasional gasp of air, but then he falls backward and pulls me with him.  I push myself up and blink down at him, then feel my face heat.  His hair is disheveled and he is flushed, pale blue eyes bright as they look back up at me… and his lips are slightly swollen and parted.  Seeing him like this sends a surge of arousal through me and I kiss him again, then set about finding out more.

I move enough to let him get his legs up on the bed and then I am over him again, intent on learning every inch of his body.  I kiss his jaw and then his neck, shift upward and nip at one of his ears- that makes him gasp a bit.  I grin and press a warm kiss to the skin directly beneath, and he shivers.  He trails his fingers along the hem of my pants, where my shirt has ridden up to expose a line of bare skin, and it’s my turn to shiver.  I nip at his ear again, encouraging him onward, and he sweeps his hands up my back, pushing the fabric up as well.  I sit back and pull the shirt off in one easy motion and smile down at him as he gazes up at me in awe… and then I gently tug at his shirt as well, and he manages to remove it without taking his eyes from me.

He draws me back down, then, and things start to move faster as we both realize how good it feels to be so close with no fabric between us.  I still explore him as best I can, mostly with my hands as my mouth is occupied by his, and I sigh into the kiss as he does the same.  His hands are wonderfully warm, and though they’re callused from his years of swordplay, it doesn’t bother me in the least.  He is endlessly gentle with me, as though he fears I’ll break if he’s too rough, and I make a mental note to prove him wrong next time- because, I think, as amazing as this already is, I’m going to want more.

He shifts subtly beneath me, and then in the blink of an eye I find myself on my back.  I look up at the ceiling in surprise, then at him, wondering exactly how I’d gotten there, and he smirks at me as he leans over me.  I realize then that it’s my turn, and I close my eyes and try to breathe evenly as he kisses down my neck.  I lift trembling hands to rest on his back and he moves back up, brushing a kiss against my mouth- then he moves away again, kissing down my chest, down my stomach.  My skin is like a canvas for him, one that he paints with his mouth and his fingertips, and I arch beneath him and make a quiet sound.  His touch trails fire across my body, and it feels incredible.

I don’t really have much time to be shy when he sits back and hooks his fingers in the waistband of my pants.  He looks down at me, waiting for some sign that I’m all right with moving forward, and I draw a breath and nod.  I’m not particularly nervous to be seen naked, not like this and not by him- if anything, I’m so blind with want that I can barely breathe.  I can’t remember the last time I took a lover, and right now it doesn’t matter, because this is so magical that it may as well be the first time I’ve ever experienced it.  He tugs them over my hips, then down and off, and I lay still as he looks down at me.

A heavy blush appears across his nose and cheeks.  “You are far more exquisite than I ever imagined,” he breathes.

I blush, too… and I wonder if he’s thought about this before.  Surely he has, given his previous invitations for me to join him.  I think it over, and then I smile a little and stretch for him.  I am, I think, very pleased to be thought of by him.  His blush darkens and my smile widens… and I take the opportunity, while he’s sitting back, to study him.  He still wears his own soft trousers, but at this point they don’t afford him much modesty, and it’s my turn to blush.  He has the lean, beautifully toned body of a dancer, and I push myself up and practically settle in his lap to kiss him again, to run my hands down his chest and sides and back up his arms.  I could very easily lose myself in this, and I choose to do so, letting go of all other thoughts in order to focus simply on him.

It’s not long before my curiosity- and my desire- get the most of me.  I settle my hand on his thigh and he looks at me, pale blue eyes darkened with a swirl of emotions that I can’t untangle.  They fall shut when I slowly move my hand upward, and he buries his face in my hair as I touch him lightly through the fabric.  He is trembling finely, and I take that as a good sign- I continue, exploring him cautiously.  He makes a quiet sound, then another, and I perceive that as encouragement to go further yet.  I quickly unlace the trousers before my nerves can overpower me, and then my hand is wrapped around him and he is making soft, helpless sounds into my ear as I learn what pleases him best.

After a moment he reaches down and stills my hand with his, though it takes him a second to lift his gaze to mine.  His face is flushed, and he smiles before kissing me so thoroughly that it takes me a few seconds to catch my breath after.  “My dear, you’ve no idea how badly I’ve wanted this,” he whispers.  “I fear I won’t be much good to you if I let you keep going like that.”

I pause, then smirk a little, quite pleased with myself.  I am experienced, yes, but it’s been quite awhile, and beyond that, he’s different from anyone else I’ve been with.  I shift away and tug on the waistband of his trousers, and he quickly pushes them down and off- and then I tuck myself close again, pressing the length of my body against his, and I’m not sure how much longer I’m going to hold out.

He gently pushes me down to the mattress and I look up at him, still flushed and disheveled.  I’ve never seen anything so beautiful before, and I draw him down, whisper into his ear.

He makes a soft sound and kisses my neck.  “Me?  I’d be more inclined to say that about you,” he murmurs, but I can tell he’s happy I think so.

I close my eyes as he kisses lower still, his mouth and hands making a fiery trail down my chest, down my stomach, and to my hips.  My breath hitches and I tense all over- not from fear, certainly, but from anticipation.  He teases me, brushing kisses against my thighs, my calves, and even the back of one of my knees.  Every scar I have gets attention from him, and by the time he finally moves back up to my stomach I feel like I’m going to explode with impatience and need.  It is amazing, I think dimly, that I’m not begging out loud.  I’m certainly not far from it, nor am I above it, if need be.

He brushes a soft kiss against my hipbone and I am just about to tell him how badly I need this, and then his mouth is fiery hot against me and all I can do is clap one hand over my mouth while the other fists in the blankets.  A keening sound escapes me, thankfully muffled by my hand, and the laugh that comes out of him is unlike anything I’ve heard- and if I had been standing, it might have brought me to my knees.  It’s low, velvety, dark and promising.

“If I knew all it took to hear your lovely voice was this, I’d have started long ago,” he murmurs- and I push up on my elbows to look down at him indignantly, because he stopped- and then I fall back with a gasp when he resumes his task.

A few moments later I’m so desperate for him I can barely stand it, and I shift away from him, reaching for him and pulling him up for a hard kiss.  He returns it eagerly and I fall back to the bed, pulling him with me, winding my arms around him and settling him between my legs.  We look at each other from inches apart, and it finally hits me that this is really happening- and then I hook my legs around him, one around his waist and one around his thighs, and I draw him closer yet.

He balances carefully over me and kisses me again, and I tangle my fingers in his hair with one hand while the other draws slowly up his back.  He is careful, gentle… but I’m not interested in either, and I knock him off-balance and push my hips upward.  He cries out as he slams into me and my back snaps into a tight arch, but I’m not in pain… far, far from it.  I drag my nails down his shoulder and he makes a muffled sound into my hair, then pushes himself up on his arms to stare down at me.

“I won’t break,” I say quietly, plainly, then I smirk and bite his lower lip- carefully, of course.

Those words seem to wake something inside of him and he shifts, tucking his arms under me and carefully lifting me up a bit, and when he starts to move, my eyes roll back and fall shut.  He’s still careful, mindful of my reactions, but I roll my hips with each thrust and encourage him onward.  I’m gasping, soft sounds and half-formed phrases spilling from my lips as each thrust pushes me closer to the edge, and he’s obviously taking care not to be too loud himself, pressing his face against my hair and biting his lip hard.

When I’m certain I can’t last any longer, when everything around me seems to still, I turn my head and catch him in a passionate kiss- and that’s the only thing, I’m certain, that keeps all of Camp Dragonhead from hearing me cry out as the world shatters around me.  I’m left reeling as my climax spurs him further, and then he kisses me breathless as he, too, loses control.  I hold him tight as he shakes, though I am shaking too, and once again I feel his heart pounding against mine.  I close my eyes tight, feeling hot tears welling up and escaping, and cling to him with all my strength.  I don’t want this to ever, ever end- I don’t want him to ever let me go.

The fear of that wish being granted is what causes me to loosen my grip, and he pushes himself up to look at me.  “Gods, did I hurt you?” he asks, alarmed.

I blink and open my eyes, then smile and shake my head.  The fear subsides as I look up at him, take in the awe that’s written all over his face as the concern disappears, the heavy blush that’s been there all along.  “You’re beautiful,” I whisper again, just to hear the words out loud, because I can’t say what’s in my heart. I don’t dare.

He smiles back, pale blue eyes full of warmth.  “So are you,” he murmurs, and he kisses me again.

Once we’ve sorted ourselves out and are laying in a tangle of blankets and pillows, I find myself feeling wonderfully drowsy.  I’m tucked close to him and he is holding me, and my eyes slowly drift shut.  He’s wonderfully warm, and the fire in the fireplace is in no danger of going out.  I sigh and smile a little, perfectly content to remain exactly where I am.

He gently trails his fingers through my hair, then tugs a blanket over our legs.  “Sweet dreams,” he says softly… and though I am nearly asleep, I could swear I hear him say something else- though it could have been my imagination.

I smile sleepily and drift off.

Sweet dreams, my love.