His hand hovered over hers, briefly. But then he pulled it away, so whatever he wanted to draw her attention to couldn’t have been that important.
Rokurou’s face was the first thing she saw when she opened her eyes. The last thing she remembered was that snake woman taking a swing at her. She thought she would be able to strike and get out of the way in time. Apparently not.
His eyebrow was diverting a small, red river away from his human eye. He was panting heavily as he asked her if she was okay.
“Fine,” she grumbled. “You’re clearly not.”
It happened again. She snapped at him – what do you want? – but he just smiled as his hand moved away from hers, reached for his drink. Supposedly it was the ‘best alcohol in the house’; she stared at the juice that had been put in front of her. They hadn’t even asked. Just assumed.
If she stared at it long enough, it might turn into wine. If she waited long enough, she’d be of legal age to drink it. If she lived long enough…
He apologized, again, bowing slightly, even as she brushed him off, again. It was her mistake that led to her nearly tumbling off the side of the cliff, and he had saved her from painful injury, possibly death. The fact that when he grabbed her, his hand clutched her breast was unimportant.
She was alive. Her mission unimpeded.
This body was just a shell, anyway.
The wound wasn’t serious enough to require artes for healing, so she let Rokurou carefully apply the salve to her neck and then smooth down the bandage.
He made sure he didn’t touch her hair.
Magilou had teased her, about how it was obvious Rokurou was in love with her, so Velvet had scoffed and excused herself to go rest.
Could she even … no, everything inside her was dead. It would be a waste of time, even if she was interested.
Which she wasn’t. He was just something to be used.
She went through the motions of showering, cleaning the blood off her clothes, hanging them to dry. The sheets in this inn actually felt nice when she burrowed underneath them. Soft.
She ran a hand down her neck, where the wound was almost healed, to her chest, just above her left breast. There would be no scar left from that one, thanks to Laphicet.
Then for reasons she couldn’t explain, she reached down lower, to her stomach, beyond … she had always been wary about doing this at home. At least, when others were present. Best to not have to explain. She had learned how to press her lips together so she wouldn’t make noise.
There would be no point. Even if … even if, it would just be like consuming food. But she bit her lip as she rubbed harder, surprised that her body was responding. The slickness was making it easier.
And so were the images of him that invaded her mind. She didn’t conjure them up, and tried to will them away, but they persisted.
He liked to practice his swordplay in the early morning, half-nude. Probably because he’d get sweaty, even when it was cold. He showered in the morning, too, taking entirely too long while the rest of them were ready to go.
Maybe … maybe on the rare occasions they could afford an inn with large enough rooms, he practiced inside, completely naked.
No, that would be a bad idea, with his knives. He could … it was just a bad idea. But he probably slept naked, like the rest of them likely did. Overnight was the only time to hang clothing to dry, and if he didn’t smell like a guy who didn’t wash his clothes.
She grunted in frustration and jerked her hand away. Cleaning wasn’t … it didn’t … until her mind shifted to him in the shower. He was constantly rubbing his neck; whether it was due to muscle aches or just a gesture that had been ingrained in him, she didn’t know. If it was due to aches, he probably stood under the hot water if there was enough pressure, letting it massage out the pain.
His leg muscles might ache, too. All the … jumping around he did.
And then her hand was back between her legs, pressing urgently, until she had to grab a pillow with her free hand and throw it over her face.
So that … could still happen.
He took the blow meant for her, and for several moments, she hadn’t been sure Laphicet would be able to heal him.
The pulse in his wrist strengthened, and she closed her eyes in relief.
In her foolishness, she was distracted by Laphicet, even though he was still moving, even though Magilou was already directing energy his way. She didn’t see it coming until it was too late.
Being knocked to the ground did nothing to slow her, though; she kicked up with all her might, easily stunning her foe. Even from her position, she could slice open a leg, spilling a dark blue blood-like substance.
She didn’t need Rokurou’s hand to help her up, but for some reason, she took it anyway.
Magilou, of course, noticed him glancing over his shoulder at Velvet as he went to the room he and Eizen were sharing. She smirked at her, and her suggestion made Velvet blush.
Even with his weight, she pulled him to his feet easily. He seemed to only be winded, not injured.
She held onto him for longer than was necessary. When his gaze dropped to their joined hands, she yanked hers away abruptly, deliberately averted her eyes so she couldn’t see if the smile on his face faded.
She stood in the shower, staring at the drain, suddenly realizing that Rokurou had been here just an hour before, washing the blood and dirt off his body. He would have touched his skin with the lumpy bar of soap she was holding in her hand, rubbed it … everywhere.
There was a dull throbbing in her stomach, a tightness in her chest. She rinsed off her hand and rested her head against the wall as she touched herself again.
The glare she was sending at the man who had sat at her table was nothing compared to the look on Rokurou’s face. She deliberately sat separate from her companions for a reason. It was only Eizen’s quick thinking that saved Laphicet, and it made her realize she was … she couldn’t … she had to focus. He was a thing to be used, nothing more. Sentiment had no place here.
The stranger was clearly drunk, leering at her. She could have sliced off his hand without a second thought, but the owner of the bar was Eizen’s friend, and she would just cause trouble for him. Her vicious words did nothing to deter him; it was only when he saw Rokurou’s stare that he stood, mumbled something that was almost an apology, stumbled away.
So he had no respect for her wishes, but the minute he thought he might be angering another man, then he was sorry.
Whatever it was that she was eating, she pushed it away, began to storm off to her room. When she heard footsteps behind her, she spun on her heels, weapon out.
But it was just Rokurou.
“I just wanted to apologize.”
She sheathed her blade. “For what? He was bothering me.”
“I …” He leaned forward a bit, rubbed his neck. “… I didn’t have a right to be acting like that.”
“It worked.” She started to turn back towards the stairs. “What else matters?”
“I’m here because of my debt to you. It doesn’t mean I have any … claim over you. I was being territorial.”
Magilou’s words came back to her – he’s totally in love with you. Who knows why?
“You’d be better off with Eleanor,” she snarled.
When she got to her room, she slammed the door behind her.
Not being able to sleep was nothing new.
Not being able to sleep because she thought one of her companions might want … something from her, that was.
She couldn’t trust him. Not completely.
He was only here to pay back a silly debt, brought about by her stumbling upon his sword, which was hardly hidden carefully away. Did he think if he abandoned her, she would bother besmirching his name to every townsperson she came across? She couldn’t care less about his reputation.
Did he even care about his reputation? Or was it truly about honor?
And why would he …?
She sat up, pounding her fist on the bed. What was Rokurou thinking? She couldn’t be distracted. He had no right to … damn him.
Her outfit usually dried quickly, so it was only slightly damp when she put it back on, although she left the cloak behind. His room was all the way on the other side of the hall; she had to pass by Magilou’s and the one Eizen was sharing with Laphicet. She knocked softly, half-expecting no answer. If Eizen was to be believed, Rokurou slept soundly and with a slight snore.
When he told her to come in, she hesitated. Suddenly her dead heart was in her throat, threatening to choke her.
No, this had to be dealt with now. It couldn’t hang over them. It could jeopardize everything.
By the time she entered, he had lit the lamp on the small table next to his bed. He was sitting up, his back against the wall, the sheets covering his legs. He watched her, the familiar smile on his face disappearing as she struggled to figure out what to say. Everything seemed so clear in her room.
Whatever you’re ‘feeling’ can’t happen, so just knock it off! We have work to do.
But looking at him now, she couldn’t find the words. He made no effort to rise. He was probably naked under there, and the thought made her heart crawl into her throat again.
“I’m broken,” was what her brain finally offered up. She felt tears welling up and her hands trembled with rage at her weakness. Rokurou started to move from the bed, but stopped when the sheet began to slip. He yanked it up quickly, wrapping it around his waist like a towel before grabbing another blanket from the foot of the bed and draping it over his shoulders. She didn’t understand why; she had seen him half-dressed before.
For as much as she wanted to bolt from the room, her feet seemed glued to the floor. He crossed over to her and lifted his hands as if to embrace her. She shook her head and he withdrew. The expression on his face didn’t change.
“I love you,” he said.
“You can’t,” she protested.
Now something flickered across his features. If she didn’t know better, she would think it was fear.
“What can I say? Ever since I became a daemon, my heart does what it wants. It knows women are dangerous. It knows you’re dangerous.” He shrugged, as if it didn’t matter to him how she responded, but she knew that wasn’t true.
I can’t¸ she tried to say. I feel nothing, I am nothing, just a weapon that exists solely for vengeance. When this is over, I will likely be dead. I couldn’t afford to feel, even if I was still capable of such a thing, even if I wanted to … Damn you, Rokurou.
“You don’t owe me anything, Velvet. This isn’t a debt you have to repay. I’m with you until you do what you need to or you … you tell me to go.”
Yes, perhaps that would be for the best. He was a formidable warrior who had saved her from injury or death more than once, but he was just a tool to be used. If he was complicated by feelings, he would be useless to her. She should cast him off. Let him fight his brother alone.
And yet, her throat tightened again. Her head somehow felt heavy and light, simultaneously, and there was an ache in her belly as if she’d been punched.
“It wouldn’t work,” came from her traitorous mouth.
“It might not. Might be completely daft, as you say. Or it could be fun.”
He had inched closer when she wasn’t paying attention, his hands again hovering near her, as if he wanted to place them on her waist. They were near enough in height that she didn’t have to crane her neck to look up at him. She recognized the look in his eyes, remembered it from her life before.
Whatever he saw in her eyes led him to rest his hands just above her hips. He could probably see her resistance crumbling. She might not be able to … to love him, but she … she found herself craving him.
“I’m broken,” she repeated.
He kept his touch light as he countered, “You’re not.”
“You don’t –”
“You were hurt.”
“Rokurou,” she warned.
His countenance had turned completely serious as he kissed her forehead. “You changed.” Then her cheek. “That doesn’t make you broken.”
Then he brushed his lips against hers so lightly that it could hardly be called a kiss. Her first, since ‘practicing’ with a childhood friend hardly counted. A growl escaped her as the ache in her stomach was building – a hunger that had nothing to do with devouring souls or consuming meat.
And she was lost.
She let herself lean into him, making more embarrassing noises when he embraced her fully, his touch no longer delicate. His calloused hands roamed over her back, her sides, although he wasn’t trying to remove her clothing. It … actually … frustrated her.
He opened his mouth to her, and even though this was novel, even though he tasted as bland as her dinner, she let his tongue meet hers. He was touching her, kissing her, but making no effort to do anything else. It did nothing to satiate her hunger.
Maybe this would be just like eating. Unsatisfying.
The thought almost made her stop, until she felt his hands under her breasts, plucking at the cords holding her top together. He clearly didn’t understand how it was constructed and was about to cause them to snap. Velvet stepped back and he let his arms fall to his sides. She removed her shirt with ease … and then realized how exposed she was.
He was touching her again, venturing higher, skirting around the edges of her breasts as if Rokurou thought she might stop him. But the ache, the hunger – she couldn’t take it anymore. She grabbed the sheets he had draped around his body, discarding them as quickly as she could. Her fingers faltered only when he actually covered her breasts with his hands. It set off a wave of heat coursing through her. She tried to capture his lips, but he moved to kneel before her, continuing to caress her while he kissed her stomach, her hip, the inside of her thigh.
When she realized what he intended, she inhaled sharply – so much so that it got his attention and he gazed up at her.
He stood and she wanted to protest – she may have never taken a magnificent lord as her lover, but she wasn’t unaware that this was something people do. Right now, she just wanted something to alleviate the ache. But then he was taking her in his arms again, this time with his bare chest against hers. Her mouth felt dry and the sensation intensified. He kissed her as he started to step back, pulling her towards his bed. When they reached the edge, she suddenly felt the flutters in her stomach that she normally experienced when they were about to go up against a dangerous foe.
He kept his eyes on hers as he slid her shorts down her legs, then he sat back on the bed, leaving her feeling awkward until he reached out and guided her into his lap. She gasped when he touched her, rough fingers trailing up her thigh, then to her most private area. One slipped inside her and she gripped his shoulders; it was thicker than hers, at a different angle, and he wasn’t pushing it in and out like she did when she touched herself. He was pressing against her insides, like he was trying to find something, and then –
She cried out his name, her fingers digging into his flesh. Warmth flooded her from her head to her toes, which curled up so much they almost hurt. Rokurou laughed, and she would have been angry if it weren’t for the fact that he kept touching her there.
“Hold on to me,” he said.
She wanted to ask why, or point out that she already was, but then he finally touched the sensitive little part he’d been neglecting, and she couldn’t seem to get air into her lungs and her heart was trying to pound its way out of her chest. It frightened her and her hips jerked as if to get away.
“Please,” he groaned. “C’mon, let me do this for you.”
Maybe she did trust him after all, because it felt like she was going to die, but she held firm on his shoulders and braced her legs to keep still. It was like when she did this to herself, only stronger, like a wave about to knock her down. This time, when everything pulsed, it was around his fingers, clamping down on them so hard she thought she might break them.
Velvet went limp when it was over, falling against him. He removed his hands, wrapped his arms around her, didn’t laugh at her for trembling.
So … this was what it was like when someone else …
Mentally, she bristled at the question, even though his tone was gentle, even though she did feel … scattered. He kissed her neck, her cheek, settling back to look her in the eyes. She averted her gaze at first, not knowing what he would see there.
When she finally did make eye contact, his intense stare made her gasp. He smirked at her, shifted underneath her so his hips were moving away from the headboard. For the first time, she was fully aware of what lay between his legs. It was bigger than her fingers – bigger than his fingers, even – and jutted out like a weapon. Rokurou wrapped his large hand around it and caressed it a few times, causing some fluid to leak out of the tip.
“You ready for this?”
On the surface, it sounded like a challenge. But she could hear the honest concern in his voice. He … wouldn’t enjoy it unless they did this, that much she knew. It wouldn’t be that much different than what they just did. Just larger. She rose up a little more on her knees, inched forward so their bodies were aligned.
He reached up and touched her face. “Are you sure?”
She snarled in response. The ache that had subsided when he made her body shake was starting to return, only fiercer. The point was to make it go away. She tried to impale herself on him and he stopped her, so she clenched her eyes shut. They didn’t teach the right way to do this in school; how was she supposed to know?!
“Hey, now. Look at me.”
She did, reluctantly, when he murmured her name. Then his hand – no, not his hand – was nudging at her, pushing her open. Her body tensed and he paused, rubbing her cheek with his thumb before trailing his hand down her neck, to her breasts. They weren’t soft anymore, with the tips tight and painful as he squeezed one between his fingers. Then his other hand was on her hip, and he was encouraging her to move, slowly.
He didn’t take his eyes off her and she couldn’t have looked away if she tried. She kept lowering herself until she couldn’t go any farther, until every bit of him was inside her.
“Hold on just a second,” he said. It sounded like he was in pain. She grunted when he stopped touching her breast, but then both hands were on his hips and he was urging her up, until she was almost empty. Then down.
“Like this, okay?”
Velvet punched his chest – not hard enough to hurt, just enough to get her point across that she was not that stupid or clueless. In between whispers among friends and the occasional passage from non-educational books, she knew enough, even if … if she had never actually done this before.
And he clearly had.
The tightness in her chest returned, but it was different. Maybe because he was continuing to guide her in her motions, because of the alternating full-empty-full sensations. She felt almost dizzy, too. Like the blood was leaving her head. Like before, but more.
And the ache. What if it only got worse? What if this did nothing to abate it?
Then he was moving, too, trying to match her rhythm so he didn’t fall out – failing twice. But he pushed back into her, with a little more force each time. It wasn’t slow or gentle anymore. They were like animals. Low guttural noises escaped her throat, and twice she saw a flash of red light from his daemon eye, although he shook his head as soon as it happened and it faded away.
“I-I can’t, Velvet, you have to – I need you to –”
She didn’t understand until he took her hand and pressed to just above where they were joined together, before grabbing her hips again. It didn’t take much. Tremors ran through her and he let out a loud groan as his head fell back. He jerked up into her a few more times and then went still as warmth spread inside her. She took hold of his shoulders to keep from tipping over. She felt weak.
But the ache was gone.
When they were no longer breathing like it was the aftermath of a battle, he lifted his head, brought his hand to her cheek. He was staring at her in a way he never had before.
Well no, not quite. When he … when he told her he loved her, he looked like this. She swallowed the lump in her throat. Should she … even if she couldn’t? Was it what one should say? Should she have said it before?
He looked away, stopped her with a finger on her lips. “Don’t. You’re not sure. I … I don’t want to hear it unless you’re sure.”
This time it was her turn to touch his face, taking his chin and recapturing his gaze. The pain in his eyes surprised her, and she remembered something he had said, about the wounds a woman can leave on a man’s heart, how they could be worse than those caused by swords.
Was it only his weakness against Shigure that caused him to want to end his life? Had a woman hurt him?
Maybe he was broken, too.
Maybe they could be broken together.
Rokurou took her hand and kissed the center of her palm, making her shiver. Unsure of what to do now, she lifted herself up and off him before sitting on the other side of the bed. He got up, leaving her confused for a moment, until she realized he was only retrieving the sheets she had left on the floor. He soon rejoined her, resting his head on the pillow, with the sheet pulled up to his waist.
“You could stay, you know. I mean, it’s late and you might wake up someone if you go back to your room.”
She didn’t particularly like the idea of Eizen – or even worse, Magilou – catching her walking down the hall like this. Even though he hadn’t touched her hair, it was somehow more of a mess than usual, and aside from the sweat that was slowly cooling her body, there was the matter of the fluid she felt oozing out between her legs. Perhaps it would be best to stay here and wake early, using the shower in his room, and then walking back to hers.
So she would stay. He had left about half the bedsheet for her, so she slipped underneath it, lying face up with her arms at her sides. She had never shared a bed with someone before, not like this. She closed her eyes and tried to sleep, but heard him sigh.
“Look, actually … Eizen sleeps like the dead and Magilou said she was going to be practicing her magic this evening, and we all know what that means. You can probably get back to your room just fine.”
Velvet glared at him. “Then why did you tell me to stay?”
“I suggested you stay; I didn’t tell you to. I … thought you might like to cuddle. You’re clearly not comfortable with that idea, though. You don’t have to stay.”
“It’s when –”
“I know what it means,” she snapped. In spite of the venom in her voice, he had that look on his face again. Some of her annoyance waned, even as she sat up, determined to put her clothes back on and leave. She swung her feet over the edge of the bed, but hesitated.
The ache was back.
Not exactly the same. Higher. She put her hand over her heart, as if she could somehow dull it through touch. She glanced at him over her shoulder and saw the hope back in his eyes.
“We need to rest,” she said gruffly. “We’ve wasted too much time already.”
She rejoined him, this time laying on her side and sliding in next to him. He put his arms around her, guiding her head down to his chest. She could hear his heart beating; too fast for a human, probably normal for his breed of daemon.
Resting her hand on his stomach, she realized he hadn’t tried to remove the bandages. Hadn’t tried to touch her daemon arm at all.