Leonas choked on his congee. Karzarul looked between him and Minnow.
“If he was your boyfriend,” Karzarul said, “what would I be?”
“Also my boyfriend,” Minnow said. “Either you’re both my boyfriend or no one’s my boyfriend.”
“Oh.” Karzarul looked down at his bowl. “That seems fine, then.”
He and Leonas had spent all morning carefully avoiding eye contact.
“See?” Minnow said to Leonas. “It’s fine.”
Leonas finished off his meal with an impressive amount of speed considering the dainty size of the bites he took. “Right,” he said, sliding his seat back to stand. “I’m going to go wash this,” he said, taking his bowl and heading for the kitchen.
Sort of a kitchen. It wasn’t entirely a house yet.
“I wasn’t trying to put you on the spot,” she called after him. “Don’t feel obligated!” She sighed as she contemplated her congee.
“What brought that on?” Karzarul asked.
“You need to be clearer about the fact that you like him,” she said.
Karzarul recoiled. “What?”
“I know that he’s got that thing,” Minnow said, “where it’s really fun to poke at him until he finally snaps and punishes you for it. But when I do it, he knows I’m playing, because he knows I like him. I don’t think he knows that’s what you’re doing.”
“He’s not—I’m not—that isn’t—is that? No. That’s not—no.” He narrowed his eyes at his congee.
“It’s okay,” she assured him. “I do it all the time. It’s only that, if you’re going to flirt with him, you should be more obvious about it. That way he can be sure that’s what you’re doing.”
Karzarul continued staring at his bowl.
“Sorry,” she said. “I wasn’t trying to embarrass you, or anything. And you have more experience flirting than I do. I know Leonas pretty well, is all. He’s used to people who want him being obvious about it.”
“I should go wash this,” Karzarul said, standing and taking his bowl to the kitchen.
“Kay,” Minnow said, helping herself to more.
Leonas was wearing waterproofed leather gloves and scrubbing more furiously at his bowl than felt necessary. The counter was a long piece of raw wood, the sink a small trough. They could have taken a Rainbow Door to proper lodgings, but the Brutelings were very proud of their last-minute handiwork to accommodate them on the mountain.
Karzarul set his bowl down. Leonas ignored him. Karzarul tried leaning sideways against the counter with his elbow to be closer to eye level. “Hey,” he said.
Leonas stopped scrubbing. His eyes flicked over Karzarul. “Are you making fun of me?” he asked. He kept his voice low enough not to carry.
“What?” Karzarul stood straight, giving up on eye level. “No. I was saying hi. Am I not allowed to say hi?” He was equally cautious about the possibility of being overheard.
“Do what you want,” Leonas said, returning his attention to his bowl.
Karzarul reached out to tug on one of his curls.
“Not that,” Leonas snapped, a crack of magic on Karzarul’s fingers like a switch. Karzarul hissed as he took his hand back. Leonas wasn’t looking at him. “Don’t touch me.” Karzarul’s jaw set with a growl. “If she doesn’t get to touch me without permission, you definitely don’t.”
That gave Karzarul pause. Then it irritated him all over again. “Touching you,” he said, “is not some privilege I plan on begging for.”
Their eyes met. “Then don’t.”
Karzarul sputtered and stormed out of the kitchen.
“Everything okay?” Minnow asked.
“Fine,” he said, heading for the door, which was actually a curtain made of small pieces of broken glass and rocks that had been tied together into strands.
“Are you two fighting?” Minnow asked.
Minnow pushed her bowl aside and propped her chin up on her hands. “Is this about the dreams?” she asked.
Leonas poked his head out of the kitchen. “What.”
“I know I shouldn’t bring it up because it’s rude,” Minnow said, “but you guys are acting weirder than usual.”
Leonas slowly emerged from the kitchen, eyes narrowed as he took off his gloves. “Have you been? Seeing? My dreams?”
“I don’t wander into people’s dreams when they’re using them,” she said, offended. “I didn’t even know that was a thing you could do. I never learned dream stuff.”
“Right,” Leonas said. “But it seems like you know something.”
“Have you ever gone over to someone’s house,” she said, “and it turns out they’re having a fight with their boyfriend, but they don’t want you to know they’re fighting? So they’re extra polite and excuse themselves to another room and start arguing in there like you can’t hear? And you have to sit there and pretend not to notice because it’s awkward?”
“No,” Leonas said.
“Yes,” Karzarul said.
“It was like that,” Minnow said. “Except usually with Leonas his dreams would leak blood, but lately it’s been flowers, which felt like a good sign. And I sorta, I tried to wander over, actually? After you said it was possible, and didn’t need a complicated spell. Only I never really got the hang of dreams. I never went to kindergarten, or wherever they teach you that stuff if you have parents. No one ever taught me how to make my own dreams. I always used dead people’s, since they weren’t using them. I thought I figured it out a long time ago, but after everything Karzarul said and after I got to sleep at home, I realized it was actually the stars. Which means I never learned how to make my own dreams, and you’re not allowed to make fun of me for it because I’m only telling you so you know I wasn’t spying.”
Karzarul’s brow furrowed. “It wasn’t literal,” he said. “The thing about dreams.” He frowned. “Was it?”
“You were having ghostly visions with my dream blood leaking into them this whole time, and you never thought to mention it?” Leonas asked.
“It’s not like it happened all the time,” Minnow said. “I didn’t even know whose blood it was. You never talked about it, so I thought it was off-limits.”
“Dreams just happen,” Leonas said. “There’s nothing to learn. You didn’t miss a class that everyone else took.”
“I’ve seen it,” Minnow insisted. “A teacher had a quest for me, and he wanted me to come talk to him while the students were in nap class.”
“Naptime,” Leonas said. “Toddlers get naptime. Because they get tired. Not because they need to learn how to dream.”
“I can’t tell if you’re messing with me.”
“Why would I be messing with you.”
“How should I know!” Minnow said. “Why would I know how it’s supposed to work? It’s not like anyone told me. It’s like the hair thing all over again.”
Leonas held up a staying hand before Karzarul could ask. “Changelings don’t brush their own hair, it’s a whole thing, let’s stay on topic which is this weird dream thing Minnow has going on.”
“Why is that the topic?” Minnow asked. “I thought the topic was how you guys were acting weird.”
“We’ve moved on,” Leonas said.
“You’re changing the subject,” Minnow said.
“Does he make you ask for permission to touch him?” Karzarul asked.
“Stop it,” Leonas snapped.
“He doesn’t make me,” Minnow said. “He won’t enjoy it if I don’t, that’s all.”
“You agree that the dream thing is weird, right?” Leonas asked Karzarul. “Has she always been like that, or is this new?”
“It’s—in retrospect it’s possible she’s always been like this,” Karzarul said. “There have been some weird dream situations. Historically.”
“Are you being awkward because I kept bringing up the boyfriend thing?” Minnow asked. “I thought you were only being weird about it because of Ari, but if you really don’t like it I’ll leave it alone.”
Leonas rubbed his temples. “It’s like trying to have a conversation with puppies in a butcher shop,” he muttered. “Let’s summarize: you have a weird dream situation.”
“Right,” Minnow said.
“It made you tangentially aware of our weird dream situation.”
“Right,” Minnow confirmed.
“You don’t know details.”
“But you feel we are acting unusually.”
“I know you are,” Minnow said. “What I don’t know is if it’s because you had a dream fight, or if it’s because you don’t actually like the idea of me being your girlfriend and don’t want to admit it.”
“You’re in a relationship with Karzarul,” Leonas reminded her.
“He said he’s fine with it,” she said.
“He says a lot of things,” Leonas said.
“Hey,” Karzarul said.
“Do you want to test it?” Leonas asked. “Because we can test it.” He came closer to Minnow, stood behind her to wrap his arms around her shoulders where she sat. He rested his chin on her head. “Does he look fine with it?” Leonas asked.
Karzarul was neither growling nor snarling, and was instead stone-faced, the muscles of his jaw all tense.
“Hmm.” Minnow stood, Leonas letting her go as she walked up to Karzarul and grabbed him by the hand. His expression softened immediately. She dragged him back toward Leonas, who she grabbed by the collar and yanked downward so that she could press a hard kiss to his mouth. He made a muffled sound of protest, and she let him go. “There,” she said, gesturing to Karzarul. Karzarul looked at the floor as if he had not been watching the two of them with interest. He had a sheepish glow about him. “See?” She held up his hand, her fingers looking smaller and darker than usual next to the size and moonlight color of him. “He doesn’t like being left out, that’s all.”
Karzarul stared at where she held his hand. “Huh.”
“That’s…” Leonas swallowed.
“Knock-knock!” Violet called from outside, not actually knocking. “If there’s spitroasting happening don’t stop on my account, I’m coming in.”
“Can you not?” Karzarul snapped.
“I can’t not,” Violet said, moving the ‘curtain’ out of the way with a closed fan. “We really need to have a talk about appropriate uses of materials,” he mused, looking at the bits of broken glass. His eyes landed on Minnow’s hand holding Karzarul. “Oh, that’s cute,” he sighed.
“Good morning,” Leonas said.
Violet smiled. “And you, Your Highness. Did you sleep well?”
Leonas almost said yes as a reflex, then glanced at Karzarul. “That’s complicated.”
“I bet,” Violet said, snapping his fan open to give it a flutter. “Do let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.”
“Your Majesty,” Violet said as if just noticing him. “We were wondering if, considering your company, you were planning to try fixing the Rainbow Door in the castle ruins. We’re rebuilding the castle, incidentally. What we do with that whole wing depends on whether there’s going to be a Door there.”
“It’s deactivated?” Minnow asked.
“Destroyed,” Violet corrected. “All in pieces.”
“Rainbow Doors can’t be destroyed,” Leonas said.
“They can, actually,” Violet said with a flutter of his eyelashes. “Under the right circumstances.” His gaze flicked over to Karzarul before returning to Leonas.
“That’s very interesting,” Leonas said. “I might like to see that.”
“I thought you might,” Violet said, looking pleased. “As His Majesty seems indisposed, perhaps I could—”
“I’ll take care of it,” Karzarul said. “Go away.”
Violet laughed, stuck his tongue out at Karzarul and gave a small kick of his heel as he left the room.
“Actually, I need to go ask him if they have a privy set up yet,” Minnow said, letting go of Karzarul’s hand. “You guys go ahead and I’ll catch up.” She grabbed the Starsword from where it was leaning against the wall and followed after Violet.
“Right,” Karzarul said. Leonas busied himself retrieving the Sunshield. “Follow me, then.” Karzarul headed out, but paused at the doorway. He half-turned, not enough to be facing Leonas directly. He started to speak, stopped. “You don’t have to ask,” he managed.
Leonas looked up from the tuft at the end of Karzarul’s tail. “What?”
Karzarul hesitated again. “Permission,” he clarified. “Just. So you know.” Then he headed out the door.
“… oh.” Leonas took a minute before following. He used the Sunshield to move the curtain, bringing it up high enough to protect his face. Karzarul was walking at a pace that Leonas would have been able to keep up with unassisted. Leonas struggled to determine the appropriate amount of polite distance as he slipped the Sunshield onto his back.
“How does this work?” Leonas asked finally, touching Karzarul’s sleeve only briefly before taking his hand back. Karzarul’s steps almost imperceptibly faltered, looking down at the spot. “Your clothes,” Leonas said. “I don’t know how they work. I assume they’re made out of moonlight, but so is the rest of you.”
Karzarul said nothing, then looked at Leonas. “Your boots are made out of skin,” he pointed out.
“… not my skin,” Leonas said.
“Same thing,” Karzarul said.
“So you don’t feel it,” Leonas said, touching his sleeve again, “the way you’d feel skin.”
“But you can control it, like the rest of you.” Leonas hooked two fingers into the wrist to rub at the hem with his thumb. It felt like ordinary stitched silk. The backs of his fingers brushed against Karzarul’s glove.
“Not… exactly,” Karzarul said. “I can create or destroy it. If I want it in a different configuration, I have to destroy it and remake it.”
“Then there isn’t any reason to go leaving your clothes on the floor.”
“It’s more fun,” Karzarul said. Leonas looked up at him. “Taking things off.”
Karzarul cleared his throat as Leonas let his sleeve go for a more polite distance again. They both found the grass overtaking the edges of the path extremely interesting until Minnow rejoined them.
“I’ve never heard of anything that could do this to a Rainbow Door,” Leonas said, sitting on rough stone that had once underlaid tile. It was a ruin more than a room, open to the outside, vines and weeds growing in all the cracks. Whatever it had been before, it was nothing now. Leonas had a pocket-sized notebook and took notes with a pencil. He ran his fingertips over the gold etchings in the pieces of the Door. “No one’s ever been able to reverse-engineer them. At best they’ve determined how it keeps the Door open, but not how it collapses all the space between every Door.”
Karzarul said nothing. He was watching Minnow watch Leonas. She was crouched near where he was sitting, watching his face the way a cat watched a hole in the ground. Leonas was fully absorbed in his task, taking measurements with his knuckles as points of reference. There was something about it. The way his brow unknit, the way he stopped checking his periphery to focus. The lines around his mouth disappearing, lower lip sometimes caught between his teeth.
He had very long eyelashes.
Minnow had been inching closer until she was almost resting her head on his shoulder. Leonas finally noticed her, narrowing his eyes. “No.”
“I wanna see,” she protested.
“It looks interesting.”
“Not to you, it doesn’t.”
“What’s that?” she asked, pointing to a particular diagram in his notes, all of them written painfully tiny.
“That’s—stop trying to distract me.”
“Am I distracting you?”
“You know you are.”
“I can help,” she suggested.
“I could hold things.”
Leonas looked at the broken remains of the Door. “Hold what.”
“Tch.” He tapped her on the nose with the wrong end of his pencil. “Go play with Karzarul.”
Minnow looked at Karzarul as Leonas turned his attention back to his notes. Karzarul gave her a suggestive lift of his eyebrows. To his surprise, she grinned. It was predatory, all sharp edges, did not suit the game of childish petulance she’d been playing. Then it was gone, replaced by a pout as Leonas tried to ignore her.
“Leonas,” she whined. He raised his pencil to tap her on the nose again, but quicker than he could react she snatched his notebook out of his hands.
“Minona,” he snapped as she darted out of his reach, waiting there and bouncing on her toes. He didn’t get up. “Get back here.”
She shook her head. “I wanted to see it,” she said, despite making no effort to look at it. Instead she closed the leather cover and wrapped the strap around it, the better to keep it safe and avoid smudging.
“I’m not going to chase you,” Leonas warned. “I’ve seen you run. It’s not happening. Get over here.”
She shook her head again, tucking the notebook inside her chest wrap underneath her tunic. “What do I get?” she asked. “If I come back.”
“Do I look like I have candy?” he asked. “Where would I have even found any candy.”
Karzarul knelt closer to Leonas’ level, though he did not close the distance between them. A thought had occurred to him, with the look in her eyes, but it was a thought with sharp edges. Verbalizing it felt sharper still. “Do you… want me to get her for you?”
Leonas froze. Minnow looked like a tightly-coiled spring. Leonas met Karzarul’s cautious gaze, and the bright blue of his eyes gave Karzarul a frisson of something like fear.
Like, but not quite.
“Yes,” Leonas decided, looking away. “Try not to hurt my notes.”
Minnow bolted. Karzarul took off after her, but Impyr form wasn’t designed for running. He shifted to a Howler, fast enough to keep up without overtaking her too quickly. She shrieked with glee, dissolving into giggles as she ran through the crumbling ruins. Doors without walls and walls barely there at all, everything of value stripped away and stolen. She bounced her way up a corner on alternating feet, pulling herself up onto what remained of the second floor. He changed forms to fly up after her, landing as a Shadestalker to better handle the narrow platforms.
He found a shortcut as she made her way back down to the first floor. He leapt down onto her back to tackle her to the ground. She shrieked again, a familiar worrying laugh as they tumbled together on the stone. He changed back to Impyr in the confusion, pinning her facedown on the floor.
“Caught you,” he said, his hand on the back of her neck, one knee beside her hip. The other couldn’t risk touching the hilt of her sword, so it pressed into her back. Her giggling had a touch of mania. She squirmed, and he half-growled, half-purred.
“Caught me,” she agreed, sing-song. “What do I get?”
He had ideas. He had a lot of ideas. Mostly they were variations on the same idea, holding her down and fucking her into the ground. Making her beg for more, or mercy, or both. Make her scream his name in the ruins of his castle, where he’d killed her and she’d killed him and now he could ruin her.
“I’m supposed to bring you back,” Karzarul reminded her.
“What if,” she said breathlessly, “there was a delay?”
“No,” Karzarul said. He squeezed the back of her neck a little, and she shivered. “Are you going to behave, or do I have to make you?”
“Oh,” she sighed, “make me, make me.” She giggled. “When you let your guard down, should I try to run, or try to wrestle you?” she asked.
“Did you fight?” Leonas asked incredulously.
“Little bit,” Karzarul said. He’d changed forms and back to fix his clothes. In retrospect that looked worse, considering Minnow’s state of disarray. He pulled her down from where she’d been bent over his shoulder, his arm around her waist so her boots didn’t touch the ground. Her hair was loose and all over, her leggings scraped and her tunic rumpled. He’d stolen the strip of leather from her hair to bind her wrists in front of her. Her face was flush, grinning broadly and barely restraining her delight.
“You look like you had fun,” Leonas said mildly, standing up and brushing dust from his legs. Minnow nodded eagerly. Leonas reached into her shirt to take his notebook back and tapped her on the nose with it. “Bad,” he scolded, and she hummed. “Good,” he said to Karzarul, which made something under Karzarul’s ribs flutter. “Can you…” Leonas hesitated, trying to determine acceptable limits using nothing but passing glances. He knew the way this game went when it was only the two of them, the way she expected it to go based on the way she watched him. It was only the presence of an unknown variable making him hesitate. “Keep holding her for me?” he asked as he stuck his notebook back into his pocket.
“I can do that,” Karzarul said, arm around her waist tightening, pressing her back into his chest. There was nothing to stop her from kicking, but he didn’t think they needed to worry about that. Even holding her was for the principle of the thing.
“You,” Leonas said, and as soon as he touched her Minnow stilled. He cupped her face, thumbs stroking over her cheeks. “You don’t actually need to be quiet, do you? In theory, you could make as much noise as you want. We can do all sorts of noisy things. No time limit.” He dropped his hands to her belt, unbuckled it so that it fell to the ground and brought the Starsword with it.
“Yeah?” she asked, breathless and hopeful.
“No,” he decided, covering her mouth with his left hand. He pressed his forehead to hers, tried not to think about why she matched his height. If he focused on Minnow and pretended nothing was different, he could almost sort of handle it. He had to avoid Karzarul’s arm as he slid his free hand under her tunic, into her leggings, but he didn’t think about it. He rubbed a fingertip hard near her clit without touching it, a trick he’d found that bypassed figuring out how touchy she was feeling. The hood of her clit was enough of a barrier that he could apply hard pressure to it without the risks of direct contact.
The risk being that she might be feeling sensitive that day and accidentally sprain his wrist bucking him off like a fucking horse.
“Same rules as always,” he warned her, as she tilted her hips to try and grind against his fingertips. “Make a sound and I stop.”
She was bad at it, she was always bad at it, already whimpering muffled against his palm as he touched her. He slid his fingers lower, hooked two inside of her and pressed his hand against her. He pushed deeper as she ground against his hand, already soaked and clenching around him as he curled his fingers. He wasn’t trying to time it, but he was timing it, how many minutes and how much noise and did he hear anything on the stairs. If he pretended it was Minnow, just Minnow, his fingers coaxing notes from her throat, he could handle that. It was when she got quiet, was the trick, once she got quiet was when he had to take all the pressure from her clit and give a hard shove of his fingers while letting her mouth go. That was when she’d let out a surprised cry, bite back her frustration when she realized what she’d done.
Except that she didn’t need to, now. “That’s cheating,” she complained, as he pulled his fingers out of her and out of her clothes. “You always cheat.”
“If I’d been fair,” he said, “I would have stopped sooner.” He licked his fingers. He risked a glance at Karzarul. Karzarul’s eyes were on Leonas’ mouth. Leonas felt a frisson of… something. Excitement or trepidation or satisfaction or desire. Not a negative something, only a very large something, electric and dangerous under his skin.
Something about people who could kill him, would kill him and had killed him, treating him as a thing to be wanted on his own merits. Something about obedience for its own sake, wanting and yet waiting.
“She’s all yours,” Leonas said, turning back to the rubble he’d been studying. “Not all,” he corrected. “Above the waist.”
“Oh, not fair,” Minnow complained as Leonas sat back down, idly resting his fingers between his teeth. “Karzarul,” she said, turning big eyes toward him.
“You heard him,” Karzarul said, finally setting her down. “Rules are rules.”
“I changed my mind,” she decided, turning on her heel to face him. “You’re not allowed to get along anymore, you shouldn’t listen to Heirs. It’s wrong, and evil.”
“Uh-huh,” Karzarul said, stroking her cheek with gloved fingers. His thumb touched her lip, and she bit him, points of her teeth pressing into the leather over his first knuckle. He pushed it further into her mouth, pressed down on her tongue until her mouth opened wider. She acquiesced and started to suck. “You like it,” he teased. Minnow hummed.
Behind her back, Leonas was watching them.
Karzarul’s form changed, and Minnow made a sound of surprise as the digit in her mouth grew larger. He was a Tauril, lying on the stone with his hooves curled beneath him, leaning forward to loom over her.
She took her mouth off him, taking a step backward. “We’ve talked about this,” she warned, and he grinned.
“Above the waist,” he reminded her. He pulled her closer again by the strap around her wrists and didn’t miss the look in her eyes when he did it. His lower body tilted, hooves curling off to the side to bring his waist lower. He bent forward enough to brace one hand on the ground, catching her mouth in a kiss while he did so. The force of his descent was enough to push her onto the ground, almost kneeling and then sitting clumsy and crooked.
“You’re big,” she observed.
“You’re cute,” he said, lifting her tunic. He couldn’t remove it entirely without untying her, so he pulled it over her head and behind her back instead, sleeves still on her arms. It protected her skin when he gave her a little push, made her lie on the ground. He tugged her chest wrap down, squeezed one of her breasts and nipped at her neck. She made small, wanting sounds, arching her back and pressing her thighs together.
“Karzarul,” she pleaded.
He almost changed forms at the sound of his name on her tongue. “You want me?” he asked.
“Karzarul,” Leonas said. Karzarul stilled, looked up. Leonas was sitting with his legs curled neatly sideways, his chin propped in one hand and his elbow in the other. “You still have your gloves on.” Karzarul looked down at his hands. He hesitated, then pulled the glove off his right hand with his teeth. The black crescent stood out in sharp relief against his skin.
Minnow hummed happily as soon as she felt him touch her, nothing between them. He pulled the glove from his other hand, bunched her tunic up over her bound wrists to pin them above her head one-handed. She started to giggle, louder when the sound made him grin. She wiggled and tried to move her wrists, though not in earnest, playing at being weaker than she was. He tried to growl, but it came out as more of a purr.
“Do you remember,” she asked, “when you roared for me?”
He summoned a roar from the bottom of his chest, lip curled and teeth bared, and she pulled at his grip with an arch of her spine.
“Yeah,” she sighed as he ran his hand over her stomach and along her ribs. “Like that.” She was crisscrossed with faint scars, blades and teeth and burns. She was scraped up from when he’d had to wrestle with her earlier, sore spots where she’d hit the ground. There were fingerprints pressed into one of her arms. He shifted nothing but his claws to make them short enough to touch her safely, polished round nubs at the ends of his fingers.
She’d left an imprint of her teeth in his skin, but it hadn’t lasted. He wondered if that was something he could make a part of himself, if he tried, like his hairstyles or his jewelry. Scars and bruises both held a fascination for him, souvenirs of healed trauma and recent pain. He only had what he chose to keep. Nothing he could point to and say, this is what you did to me, nothing he could touch to make pain echo and prove that he’d been hit. What would it mean, to leave the shape of her teeth in his skin? How would it be different, if he could pretend he hadn’t wanted it there?
“If you stay in that form,” Leonas said, “she’s all yours.” He was sitting with his legs pulled up to his chest, his arms crossed over his knees. He didn’t bother pretending to be casual, or doing anything but watching. He still looked as if he might take notes.
The idea that he ought to be putting on a show gave Karzarul pause. He had not thought himself given to performance anxiety. Turning his attention back to Minnow helped, seeing a different kind of anxiety betrayed in the softness of her face.
“As I recall,” Karzarul pointed out, “looking like this didn’t stop you from wanting me.”
“I know,” she said shakily as he let her hands go to pull off her boots. She took a deep breath. “It’s only, it’s feeling more real, if you’re going to touch me like that.” She was getting tense again, like she might pounce as soon as he let her go.
“Good or bad?” he asked.
“I—I have this thing, I get mixed up, I—looking like this and touching like that, I—pin me?” Her tenor had grown increasingly frantic, breathing irregular, and Karzarul wasn’t sure what to make of it. He thought of the first time, when she hadn’t wanted to look at him.
Not until he’d beat her, fair and square.
He covered Minnow’s mouth in such a way that she could bite him, a human little growl as he splayed the fingers of his other hand over her stomach and pressed her down. Her bound hands clawed at the forearm of the hand holding her face, more forceful than her usual play struggles but still not with her full strength. He roared, and once again the effect was instantaneous, bracing herself with a fierce grip on his arm before relaxing. Some kind of relief, breaking whatever tension had been buzzing in her blood.
“I win,” he said, and she hummed, running her tongue over the indentations she’d left in his skin. He uncovered her mouth, held her down by her neck and moved his other hand lower. He pulled off her leggings, and she wiggled her hips to help him.
“Sorry,” she sighed, in a dreamy way that didn’t sound sorry at all. “My brain knows I don’t need to fight you,” she said. “It’s less confusing if it feels like I already lost. Is that bad?”
“I have,” he said, sliding his middle finger inside of her, “mixed feelings.” She clenched around him, arching her back. “Do you fight him?” he asked, though he knew he shouldn’t compare, though he was sitting right there even now and listening to them both.
“She likes,” Leonas said quietly, “when I treat her like a prisoner.”
“Oh,” Minnow gasped, Karzarul’s finger curling inside her, thumb stroking her clit. “Do I really?”
“Mm,” Leonas said rather than clarify at all.
That shouldn’t have made him feel better. It did, a little.
“Don’t let her finish yet,” Leonas added.
“No!” Minnow protested, clamping her thighs shut to hold Karzarul’s hand where it was. “Don’t listen to him, you should fuck me actually.”
Karzarul laughed. “Are you trying to break my wrist?” he asked. She started to shake her head, then stopped.
“Am I in trouble if I am?” she asked, and he grinned. He stopped moving his fingers, and she made a sound of protest, rocking her hips against his hand.
“It’s cute,” he said, “the way you squirm when you’re desperate.” She huffed with indignance, and he thought she might try to kick him. He let her neck go to rest his hand on one of her knees. “I’d eat you out,” he said, “but you might try to rip my horns off.”
She stopped gripping his arm with her legs immediately. “It’s safe!” she assured him hastily, as though it were a real concern. She held up her bound wrists to demonstrate, her tunic falling down to her elbows. “See?” She brought her hands back down to hold her face, chin in her palms and fingers on her cheeks. “I’m helpless,” she said, unconvincingly.
“Nothing about that is stopping you from grabbing me,” he pointed out.
“Helpless,” she repeated pointedly, narrowing her eyes.
“Helpless,” she interrupted, louder.
Karzarul’s nose twitched, ears flicking as he fought a smile. She stared at him with uncalled-for intensity, as if daring him to say something. “That’s—”
He turned his head away, used the hand not between her legs to cover his face as he started to giggle.
“Helplesssss,” she hissed, and he had to pull away from her completely as he giggled in earnest, tipping sideways so that his horns touched the ground, still covering his face. It took him a minute to recover. When he moved back towards Minnow, she was looking extremely pleased with herself. Karzarul glanced at Leonas.
He wasn’t sure what Leonas’ expression was, but it definitely wasn’t ‘aroused’. Or amused, for that matter. Karzarul cleared his throat, ears flicking again. “Sorry,” he said, turning his attention back to Minnow. “I’m taking this very seriously,” he told her, in as stern a tone as he could manage. She nodded eagerly. “You’re—where were we?”
“You were about to eat me out,” she said, “because I’m—”
“Don’t say it,” he warned, covering her mouth again. He felt her grin against his skin. “You were about to convince me to eat you out,” he corrected, “by asking nicely and promising not to snap my fucking neck with your thighs.” He took his hand away so she could speak. She hesitated, licking her lips. “Let me hear you tell me you want me,” he coaxed.
She bit her lower lip, opened her mouth and shut it again. She curled her fingers to suggest he come closer, something shy in her eyes. He bent lower, and she craned her neck to be closer to his ear. He heard her breath catch, her shaky exhale.
He dropped his forehead to her collarbones, the curve of his horns pressing into her shoulders as his own shoulders shook. She’d already dissolved into triumphant giggles, his own muffled by the skin of her stomach. “You’re trying to kill me,” he accused, and she laughed outright. “I am—doing a great job of not letting you finish, you have to give me that.” She snickered with a happy wiggle of her hips. “I’m shoving something in your mouth next time,” he said.
“Promise?” she asked, arching her back as he licked one of her nipples. He kissed his way down her body, held her knees apart and kissed the inside of her thigh. “You’re big,” she said again, more intensely this time.
“Mm-hmm,” he hummed, moving a hand underneath her to hold her hips up. He slid his tongue inside of her, and she groaned, clenching around him. His mouth was large enough that he found it safest to open it wide, his fangs touching fur and less sensitive skin, his tongue long enough to press her clit and curl inside her at the same time. He watched her while he did it, basked in the taste of her and the look of awestruck arousal on her face as she watched him back. He purred, vibrating through his tongue, and she tossed her head back with a cry. Her heels dug into his shoulders. He withdrew his tongue, turned his head to press his fangs into her inner thigh.
“Don’t stop,” she protested, even though he already had. “Karzarul, please.” He purred again, not that it did her any good with his mouth on her leg.
“You going to be good for me?” Karzarul asked.
“Uh-huh,” she said, nodding.
“You want to be bad for me?”
“That,” Karzarul said with satisfaction, “is what a helpless Hero sounds like.”
“I want,” Leonas said evenly, “to see her face when you fuck her. Would you do that for me?”
Karzarul’s eyes met Leonas’ as he ran his tongue long and slow between Minnow’s legs. He shifted while he did it, until he was an Impyr circling her clit with the tip of his tongue. He hadn’t bothered making himself clothes. Leonas’ expression might have looked detached, except that his witchmarks were blazing.
“You have a really nice mouth,” Minnow sighed. The flex of her legs made clear her desire to wrap them around his neck. He appreciated the self-control. He moved to turn her over, and she accommodated by rolling, letting him move her legs as needed. She propped herself up on her forearms, clasping her hands together. Her legs had to spread far to straddle Karzarul’s thighs, but there wasn’t any way around that. Her legs were too damn short compared to his to be able to rest her knees on the ground.
He couldn’t help admiring the way his fingers sank into her flesh, made divots in the softness of her as he spread her apart. He liked to see it, the way his tentacles held her lips open and his cock pressed against her. Her all soft and pink and swollen, watching himself push inside of her felt like it shouldn’t have been allowed. Too much, too hard, too bright. An unnatural thing, a violation. They didn’t fit together the way human bodies fit, didn’t belong together like puzzle pieces. The wrong color and the wrong shape and she let him do it anyway, spread her open and stretch her full.
She whimpered as he thrust slow, watched her body struggle to take more of him. Finally he leaned forward, holding her by the hips to thrust in earnest. “Say my name.”
“You like being full of monster cock?” Two tentacles rubbed at her clit as he rocked in and out of her.
“Yes, yes, you’re so good it’s so good I want it, I want, I’m—” She clenched down on him with a shuddering groan.
He wanted to gloat, make her say he fucked her best, claim her as his own. Make her say it out loud, that she was his, that he could have her and keep her because no one else would do. Under the circumstances, it didn’t feel right. He felt a vague frustrated confusion, which he expressed by bending down and growling in her ear. She shuddered, and he flexed his fingertips to draw out his claws, pressed sharp points against her skin. He kept his right hand on her hip, used his left to hold her neck underneath her chin and keep her face pointed forward.
“Is this what you wanted?” he asked in her ear, though he was looking at Leonas. Still sitting there, still watching, unmoving.
“Yes,” she gasped, arching her spine and pushing back against him. “Hard, harder.” He slowed the motion of his hips instead, and she made a keening sound of dismay. It changed to surprise when a slick tentacle pressed against her ass. “Yes!” Her vehemence made him lose control of his tentacles, all writhing over her clit and spreading her open and pushing inside of her. She pulled at the strap on her wrists and clawed at the stone with a low grunt as he started to move again. Only her rumpled tunic kept her from scraping the skin off her arms, her body rocking with every thrust. “Fill me, fuck me, I’m your good bad little Hero—”
She was cut off with a choked cry as he started pounding into her, cock driving deeper into her cunt with a tentacle sliding in and out of her ass. He growled right in her ear, and she pushed back harder. He let it grow to a small roar, and even that was enough to make her body buck beneath him with strangled guttural sounds. She nearly collapsed as her limbs went shaky, no longer had the strength to provide resistance. He was careful to let her head down gently so that she could rest it on her hands, pressing her fingers against her mouth even though dizzy groans kept escaping her throat. Her front half was practically lying on the ground, but he used his hands on her hips to pull her back onto him at the same time as he thrust.
“Karzarul,” she sighed, her voice all sing-song and dreamy again. “You’re wonderful, you’re so pretty and you fuck me so good and you’re mine.” His breath caught, gripping her tight and burying himself inside her with a shudder. She laughed, delighted. “Mine mine mine mine mine,” she chanted. His tentacles writhed and his cock twitched, and he buried his face in her hair, purring loud. She reached up behind herself to pat his hair. He wasn’t sure when she’d snapped the leather around her wrists.
“Leonas,” Minnow asked, “you didn’t want to play?”
“No,” he said. Leonas had not let his legs drop, had continued to sit curled up and watching.
“Are you sure?” she asked. She stuck her tongue out at him, as much an offer as a taunt.
“Was it good?” she asked with a pout.
“You did good,” he said, and she beamed. “I am… enjoying having me to myself. If that makes sense.” Karzarul didn’t understand what that meant, but Minnow nodded.
“I should get up,” Minnow sighed, wiggling her way off Karzarul’s lap. He shifted to standing, fully dressed, offering her a gloved hand. She accepted it, wearing nothing but the thin band of a bunched-up chest wrap underneath her breasts. She didn’t bother fixing it. She looked a little like she’d gone rolling sideways down the entire mountainside. “I’m gonna go find a bush outside to pee in,” she announced, combing her fingers through her hair and heading straight for the biggest hole in the wall.
Karzarul knelt to pick up her much-abused tunic, wrinkled and stretched out and now slightly torn. “I don’t suppose you can fix this,” he said, standing.
“Possibly,” Leonas said, pulling himself upright. Karzarul couldn’t help a glance at his trousers. He didn’t know if he was disappointed, or why. Leonas examined the fabric without taking it from Karzarul. Little threads of light started to spread throughout it, Leonas’ eyes glowing. Karzarul tried to decide if he found it horrifying.
“You care for her very much,” Karzarul ventured.
“She is the only reason I never jumped out a window,” Leonas said flatly. “Anything else is a lie I told myself.”
“Oh.” It felt obvious that he’d let her have whatever he thought she wanted, if that was the way of things. Giving grudging approval from a safe distance.
Leonas let the spell end, then looked up at Karzarul. The blue of his eyes hadn’t stopped being startling. They were both still holding the tunic between them. “I find you obnoxiously attractive,” Leonas said. Karzarul swallowed. “I thought that if I told you that I wanted to see what you looked like fucking her, it would make you self-conscious. So I lied.”
Karzarul froze, and tried to remember what he had been doing with his face. He had a worrying feeling that he’d been making a lot of silly faces.
“I liked it,” Leonas added. “I like the way you look at her.”
Karzarul felt lightheaded, eyes drifting to Leonas’ mouth.
Leonas moved even closer, reached up to brush his fingertips along Karzarul’s jaw. Rising up onto his toes, his fingers curled around the back of Karzarul’s neck, pulled him downward until their mouths could meet. Not much, and not for long. A brief, soft press of Leonas’ lips against his.
“I’m going to remember to have some dignity, in a minute,” Leonas said, barely enough space for words between their faces. “Some self-preservation instincts. I only wanted to make it clear, before then, that I… I don’t know if you meant it as an invitation. But I’m taking it. If you’ll let me.”
Leonas kissed him one more time, only a little harder before he pulled away. Karzarul didn’t stop him.