“Are you okay?” Karzarul asked, touching Leonas’ face to tilt it toward him. Leonas gasped for air as he realized he was dreaming.
“Do I look okay?” Leonas asked, arrows in his back.
“I thought you weren’t doing this anymore.”
“If it were up to me when to stop doing this, I never would have started,” Leonas said. The blood and arrows were gone, though he hadn’t moved.
“Are you… upset?” Karzarul asked.
“Usually,” Leonas said, nudging Karzarul’s hand away.
“I can leave,” Karzarul said, “if you’d rather talk about it with Minnow.”
“No,” Leonas said. “She’s not really… she doesn’t do that.” He still hadn’t stood, so Karzarul sat. Leonas stared into the middle distance. “We never had fights about it, exactly. If I was in a dark place and there wasn’t anything she could do about it, she’d just. Leave me to it. Until I was better. I don’t think she’s ever been upset in a way she couldn’t fix. She leaves, or she goes on a quest, or she kills something. It’s a problem to solve, not a state of being. She doesn’t have the patience for that.” Leonas leaned against Karzarul’s arm. “I meant it when I said I was sorry.”
“I meant it when I said it wasn’t you,” Karzarul said.
“I killed Laurela, didn’t I?” Leonas asked.
“That wasn’t you.”
“And Jonys,” Leonas added. “The Fairy King didn’t even like me. The Empress. I don’t know if anyone liked her.”
“Vaelon did,” Karzarul said.
“And look where that got him,” Leonas said. “You didn’t like me, either.”
“You hated me first,” Karzarul pointed out.
“I hate everything,” Leonas said dully. “I’m unpleasant. I’m unlikeable. I’m prickly. And I’ve been making everything worse for longer than I’ve been alive.”
“That’s not true,” Karzarul protested, resisting the temptation to touch his hand.
“I killed you.”
“I killed you first,” Karzarul pointed out.
“I deserved it,” Leonas said.
“No you didn’t,” Karzarul said, shifting position so that he could look at Leonas. Leonas looked away from him. “That was—I was lying. When I said that.” He touched Leonas’ face again, turning it back toward him and resting his forehead against his. Leonas let him. “She—you—kept Vaelon alive. He chose you, always. He didn’t want to live without you. Your next lives, you didn’t do anything wrong. I was angry, that was all. You were together after that, you were happy together without me. That’s not false history, you really were happy together. I hated you for that. I hate you when you’re happy without me.”
Karzarul made a sound of surprise when Leonas kissed him, muffled by his mouth. He let Leonas go, but Leonas was already throwing his arms around Karzarul’s shoulders. Karzarul found himself leaning back, Leonas draped over his chest.
“Awful man,” Leonas breathed between them. “I don’t know why I like that so much.”
Karzarul, also confused, was too busy being kissed to get a word in edgewise.
“You’re a jealous, petty liar,” Leonas said between kisses.
“Mixed messages,” Karzarul managed, giving up on using his mouth to speak and speaking from nowhere instead. Leonas had a mad light in his eyes that left Karzarul feeling transfixed.
“I have spent most of my life,” Leonas said, “loving her desperately, knowing she was happy without me, and hating her for both. Do you understand?” Around them, the dreamscape took the distant hues of a beach, a memory of someone else’s memory.
“Oh,” Karzarul said before Leonas kissed him again.
“Say it again,” Leonas said.
“Hating me,” Leonas said, kissing his throat.
“Ah.” Something about this felt wrong, the blur of impressionistic loveliness all around them ill-suited to hunger and hate. “For stealing him,” he said. “For wanting him all to yourself. For not wanting me.” How silly it was, looking back, that he hadn’t realized it before. “I hated you for never wanting me.” Leonas bit down on his neck, and Karzarul shuddered, felt the edges of himself grow indistinct.
“I’m sure I was lying,” Leonas said, his voice low. “I hated you because I wanted you.” Karzarul sighed. “Can we have sex here?” Leonas asked suddenly, his voice back at its usual pitch as he sat upright. The dreamscape tried to come into focus as a beach in earnest before giving up.
“Not really?” Karzarul said. “It gets. Weird. Conceptual.”
“I don’t care for it,” Karzarul admitted.
“So you’ve tried it before,” Leonas said with an arched eyebrow. Karzarul pressed his mouth shut, glowing. “What about when we wake up?” Leonas asked, brushing his fingers over Karzarul’s cheekbone.
“I don’t know enough about your anatomy,” Leonas said. “I’m not going to fuck you if it’s going to end up breaking my dick.”
“I wouldn’t,” Karzarul said immediately. “I’m not—you can… if you wanted to. You could.”
“I could what?” Leonas asked, tracing a thumb along his lower lip.
“Fuck me,” Karzarul said, glowing brighter.
“You want me to fuck you?” Leonas asked.
“Yeah,” Karzarul breathed.
Leonas leaned closer to Karzarul’s face again. “You fell asleep snuggling with Minnow, didn’t you?” he asked.
“I… yeah?” Karzarul said, confusion made hopeful by the proximity of Leonas’ mouth.
“I wonder if your body works like mine,” Leonas said. “If your dreams can sometimes leave you in a state.”
Karzarul’s eyes widened as he realized what Leonas was implying. Visions flitted through the dreamscape, Minnow sleepy and rumpled and snuggled into pillows. “I… don’t know,” he realized. Somehow it had never come up, lying with one person and dreaming of another. These weren’t the sort of dreams he had.
“Do you think it will wake her up?” Leonas asked. “Do you think she’ll ask what you were dreaming of?” He draped himself over Karzarul’s chest again, resting his head on his shoulder. Even in dreams, he was feverishly warm. “Can I tell you a secret?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Karzarul said hoarsely. Leonas was straddling him now, and it took effort not to tilt his hips upward or arch towards him.
“You mustn’t tell Minnow,” Leonas warned. “I won’t forgive you if you do, she doesn’t—she isn’t like us.”
“I know,” Karzarul said. Leonas sighed and nuzzled at his shoulder.
“I don’t think I’ve ever loved anything without hating it,” Leonas admitted in his ear, fingertips slowly sliding over his skin. “I think I love her more than anything.” His palm rested over Karzarul’s throat. “I can’t do anything unless she lets me. She could kill me, and I couldn’t stop her if I wanted to. I don’t think I’d want to. I ought to be careful, but I’m not. She always let me go too far and she shouldn’t have. You were so sure I hurt her, you hated me for hurting her. You were right. She never hates me, that’s the problem. She says she does, but she’s lying. She hates the same way she loves, a sort of background noise, a hum, it’s a thing you can ignore. It doesn’t hurt unless we make it hurt. It hurts, doesn’t it?”
“Usually,” Karzarul admitted. The dreamscape was all the colors of bruises and blood in a sunset.
“You hurt her, too,” Leonas said.
“She likes it.”
“So do I,” Leonas said. “I never would have known how much I like it, watching you.” He slid his fingers into Karzarul’s hair and pulled, bells ringing. “I used to make her tell me about them. Other people, when she had them. I would—I wanted—jealous, maybe, I wanted to reclaim her, make her mine again, prove that she’d come back, all the things she let me do and always she came back. She left me, she was always leaving me and I couldn’t bear it except that she always came back. Telling her to leave like it was my idea, wallowing in every trespass she never allowed someone else. Mine, mine, do you understand?”
“Yes,” Karzarul panted, Leonas biting at his throat again.
“I wouldn’t want to watch,” he said. “Not with anyone, no one but you. You scare me almost as much as she does, you know.”
“I don’t think it’s true anymore,” Karzarul said. “That’s there’s—that we could kill you. Either of us. You might be the most powerful witch that ever lived.”
“For all the good it does me,” Leonas said. “I don’t—don’t call me that, I don’t want to think about that, not now, not here.” The dreamscape went dark, the shadows of waves. Leonas pressed his hand over Karzarul’s mouth, knowing it accomplished nothing. “You, I’m talking about you, you awful beautiful man. You and her together, and if it were anyone else I don’t think I could stand it. You’re the only one, because I think sometimes when I watch you that you look the way I feel.” The dreamscape was all a jumble of memories again, sharp teeth and large hands pressing her down into stone and grass and blankets. Karzarul arched despite himself toward the heat between them, Leonas’ eyes boring into his own. “I’m telling you a secret, Karzarul, and if you try to ask me about this later I’ll lie. Sometimes when I watch you, when I see the way you love her, when I see the way it hurts, I think that I might hate you. I shouldn’t, you don’t deserve it, you’ve never been anything to me but a nightmare. I don’t know you any better than the reflection in your eyes but I think that I might hate you as much as I’ve ever hated anything. Do you understand?”
“Oh,” Karzarul said, Minnow pinned beneath him in the tangled pile of quilts. They’d made a bed together on the floor so that Leonas could take the mattress, which he’d accepted as his due. Minnow’s hair was all a mess, a sheen of sweat on her skin, half-awake and clinging tight to the pillow beneath her. Karzarul couldn’t tell how long he’d had her trapped there, grinding against her in his sleep. “I—I was dreaming,” he said helplessly, rising on his arms to take some of the weight off of her. She hummed, wriggling a little.
Karzarul was so hard it ached, tentacles writhing, reaching for her skin. He hesitated, glancing toward the bed. Leonas was wrapped in a quilt of his own, watching them with eyes made visible by the light of his witchmarks. Stray curls had escaped the scarf he tied around his hair to sleep; the shadows under his eyes were darker without makeup. Karzarul’s cock twitched, and he averted his gaze back to Minnow.
“Tell me to stop and I will,” Karzarul whispered. She made the sleepy and contented noises she always did when he woke her with his touch, his fingers and tongue and his cock between her thighs. It was still dark this time, the moon high in the sky, none of the soft morning light that made him want to match it. He shifted, wings held close to keep them out of the way as his hands slid down and up her back. Minnow noticed the excess of hands and tried to flip herself over, but he held her down, hands on her hips and her shoulders. She didn’t struggle, but let out an inarticulate whine.
“Next time,” Karzarul said, bending to kiss the green streak in her hair. “Let me be greedy and use you, this once.”
“Oh,” she sighed, and he felt her shudder and relax beneath him.
“There’s my girl,” he said, coaxing her arms out from under her pillow so that he could hold them behind her back. “Our pretty pet Hero.” Minnow made a low and dreamy sound, one of his hands holding her wrists together and another gripping her hair. His other two hands pulled her hips upward, adjusting the angle until he could thrust into her in one long hard stroke. She was already soaked from the clumsy attention he’d given her in his sleep, but she let out a cry of pained surprise that made his wings flare upward. He pulled out and thrust into her again, fingertips sinking into her skin, baring his fangs at her high-pitched grunt. The cock inside her speared her open while the other rubbed against her clit, but his hands on her hips kept her from leaning into it.
Karzarul leaned forward, untangled his fingers from her hair to slide his hand under her jaw and lift her head out of the pillows. It made her cries noisier, helpless panting and all her muscles tense beneath his hands. “You like that?” he asked into her hair. Minnow tried to nod, the gesture collapsing as he thrust again. “I’m trying to be gentle,” he lied, “but you’re so fucking soft.” She bucked in his hands, back arching and muscles twitching all around him. “You want it hard?”
“Yeah,” she managed, as he started pounding into her faster.
“You want me to fucking break you?”
“Please,” she begged, an almost-sob. He pushed her back down into the quilts, grabbing a fistful of her hair and ramming his hips into hers. She let out a guttural, animal sound, her thighs shaking. He was pressing bruises into her skin. He felt her tense, release, but he didn’t stop.
“You love it when I fuck you?” he asked, and she tried to nod with her head pressed into bedding. “You love me?” he asked, and she tried again. “Say it, I want to hear you say it.”
“I love you,” she said, her voice bouncing as he thrust into her right as she said the word. “I love you, I love you, I love—love—love—l-oh-ve—l—ah!“
Karzarul stopped, pulling his wings in tight to keep them from beating as he pulled out of her. He brought a palm down hard on her ass, and she screamed with another arch of her back. His wings fluttered as he did it again, gripping her wrists tighter and adjusting their position, turning their bodies by inches until she was facing the bed. He pressed the slick head of his cock against her ass, the other against her cunt, trilling when she made a tiny mewling sound.
“Say his name,” Karzarul ordered, but a lack of confidence turned it into more of a suggestion.
“His?” Minnow repeated, dazed. Karzarul lifted her head until she could see Leonas watching them, head propped on one hand. “Oh—oh.”
Karzarul carefully kept his eyes on Minnow, heart beating against his ribs.
“Leo—oh! Oh!” Minnow’s attempt was cut off with a groan as Karzarul started to push inside of her, both cocks stretching her open at once. “Leonas, Leonas, Leonas,” she repeated as Karzarul started to thrust, her eyes on him as his witchmarks glowed brighter. Karzarul brought his hand down on her ass again, and she tightened with a scream. He finally let her wrists go, bending forward to wrap one arm around her shoulders and another around her waist. She gripped at the forearm near her neck, short nails digging into his skin. The hold kept her head up so that Leonas could see her face.
“Show him how a good Hero takes it,” Karzarul purred in her ear, and her whole body seemed to spasm at that. “Let me hear you tell him you love him when you’re all full of monster cock.”
Minnow hesitated until Karzarul thrust into her. “I love you,” she gasped, but Leonas didn’t respond, didn’t move, stayed silently watching with his face aglow. Watching both of them, because Karzarul was watching him in return, watching the subtle flex of muscles in his jaw every time he thrust and the girl beneath him said it again. I love you I love you I love you, and Karzarul growled as his wings started to beat involuntarily with his thrusts. He bit down on Minnow’s shoulder before he could stop himself, eyes still on Leonas as his fangs sank into her skin.
He hadn’t meant to bite so hard, to bury himself so deep, pounding into her with a furious beating of his wings as he held her closer. His mouth tasted of blood as he came, cocks twitching inside her, pumping her full and dripping down their thighs. He purred again, releasing his teeth and licking her shoulder apologetically. Minnow was limp in his arms, and he was careful to set her down gently in case she couldn’t catch herself when he pulled out. Her hips and wrists were both bruised in the shape of his hands. He kissed her cheek, and she yawned.
Karzarul glanced back up at Leonas, but he’d already rolled over, curled up underneath his blanket.
“Leonas,” Minnow whined, her voice ragged from screaming. “If I fall asleep like this and it burns to pee tomorrow will you fix it for me?”
“So do you make all the monsters?” Leonas asked. Karzarul choked on his eggs.
“Leonas,” Minnow hissed through her teeth.
“Yes, yes, I know,” Leonas said with an impatient wave of his hand. “You want to be tactful so no one throws a tantrum. That’s stupid and I don’t care.”
“Leonas,” Minnow warned again.
“I’m the one asking so no one’s going to be mad at you,” Leonas said, “and I don’t care if being nosy makes him sad or whatever. He can go explode into a rock about it if he’s so upset.” Minnow smacked Leonas’ shoulder. “I’m not going to stop, stomp off in a huff if you want to but I’m not going to let you keep hitting me.”
Minnow crossed her arms with a harrumph. Karzarul stared at his eggs and debated whether he was angry.
“The little rock monster thing didn’t exist until you turned into one,” Leonas continued. “That part’s obvious, even Minnow figured that out.” Minnow glowered at him. “She’s pretending she didn’t because she thinks she has to coddle us by playing stupid and letting us lie to her face. I’m not doing that. If you want to keep secrets you can say so.”
Karzarul grabbed the hand not holding Leonas’ spoon. Leonas tried to pull his hand away, but Karzarul held firm with a growl. He brought his hand to his mouth and kissed Leonas’ knuckles. Leonas sputtered, witchmarks starting to glow.
“You’re annoying,” Karzarul said. Minnow nodded her agreement, turning her attention back to her plate now that she’d been reassured by the gesture. Leonas blushed under the light of his witchmarks as Karzarul turned his hand over to kiss his palm. “You’re lucky you’re pretty.”
“You’re the one who gets to look at me,” Leonas snapped as he finally yanked his hand back. He flexed his fingers as he turned his attention back to his plate. “Don’t think I missed that you changed the subject,” he said.
“It’s complicated,” Karzarul said.
“I’m clever,” Leonas said.
“I don’t do it on purpose,” Karzarul said. “Calling it ‘making’ sounds deliberate, and it’s not. I… there wasn’t anything else like me. I didn’t want to be the only one. I made a wish and She misunderstood.”
Minnow patted his hand.
“Those lights were monsters being born?” Leonas asked, gesturing with his spoon. “When light hits you are they dying?”
“They don’t die,” Karzarul said. “They lose form for a while, that’s all.”
“But that is how they’re born,” Leonas pressed. “They don’t breed, they don’t multiply, they don’t die. You’re the only one who—you’re the mother of all monsters.”
Karzarul’s hands spasmed into reflexive fists. “King of All Monsters,” he corrected with a snarl.
“Right, right,” Leonas said with a wave. “Why are there more of some than others? It can’t be size, Taurils are more common than Impyrs.”
“I don’t know.”
“Can you turn into anything?” Leonas asked. “Look like anyone, do anything, but you decided what you wanted to be was a stinky little pig?”
Minnow gasped in offense before Karzarul could. “Don’t you dare,” she said. “Rootboars are perfect and I love them.”
“You’ve killed more Rootboars than anyone alive,” Leonas pointed out.
“I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”
“Rootboars were her idea,” Karzarul mumbled rather than let Leonas believe he was fundamentally predisposed to roundness. He was pushing the last bit of egg around his plate rather than eat it.
“Good,” Minnow said.
“I’m not surprised,” Leonas said.
“I’m not going to try to explain to you what it is to be without a body, what it is to try and become something entirely new,” Karzarul said. “It’s not something I can tweak until it’s where I want it. What’s done is done, and any shape significantly different would be a new monster.” Karzarul tapped his spoon against his plate. “Once I take a form, it has a pull to it. Trying to become something too close to what I’ve been before doesn’t work. Even if I managed to become something that looked entirely human, that would be the only human shape I could ever take. To change my face, be taller or shorter, it wouldn’t work.” He set the spoon down to rub at the moon on the back of his hand. “I was very new when we became what we are. New to personhood, memory, personality. If I’d been able to practice, things might be different. I might be capable of more. Now, as things are, anything new only creates more copies. It’s not a situation forgiving of mistakes.”
“Violet is new, right?” Minnow asked.
“Violet is a grown man,” Leonas said.
“The rocks are grown rocks,” Minnow pointed out. Leonas frowned.
“They aren’t copy-copies,” Leonas started to ask.
“I’m done talking about this,” Karzarul decided, pushing his plate away. “I mean it. Don’t.”
“I was thinking we should go to Ocrae,” Minnow said, changing the subject. “Not right away, since—since breaks are a good idea. And we’re taking a break. Before we do any questing. If we want to do questing.”
“I don’t know where that is,” Karzarul said.
“Is that the new name for Gaigon?” Leonas asked, gathering up their plates without asking first.
“It’s been Ocrae for a long time,” Minnow said with a touch of censure.
“Not compared to how long it was Gaigon,” Leonas said with an imperious tilt to his nose.
“I knew Gaigon,” Karzarul offered. “It was called that when I was new.”
“You see?” Leonas said, gesturing to Karzarul with the plates.
“Other people called it Gaigon,” Minnow said. “It was Ocrae before that. I think. Is what they tell me. I don’t know if that’s true or not. Don’t call it Gaigon while we’re there, they’ll know you’re Astian and they won’t like it.”
“Oh, excellent, exactly the environment I need,” Leonas said, setting the dishes in the sink to scrub at them.
“I was thinking I could take the Door every once in a while to check if Gerry’s come into port—”
“Absolutely not,” Leonas said.
“If we’re going to find Cyrnae, we’re going to have to talk to pirates,” Minnow said. “If Gerry’s there, we can ask for information and borrow their ship for a bit. Otherwise we’ll have to figure out how to steal one.”
Leonas had stopped scrubbing. “You are a lanternmelon tycoon,” he reminded her, a stiffness to his jaw. “You can buy a ship. You can buy a fleet.”
“That sounds like a lot of paperwork and I don’t feel like making Dee come all the way to Eson for that,” Minnow said. “It’s fine. Gerry’s good at being conveniently available and also they owe me. If you’d rather not come, you can always stay here and I’ll take care of it.”
Leonas had resumed scrubbing with greater intensity. “Great.”