“I can’t believe you’re actually doing this.”
Enteth stumbled, hesitated, but ultimately did not stop at the sound of Ephotl’s voice. They probably should have anticipated this, that someone would realize what they were doing and try to intervene, but somehow it hadn’t occurred to them that anyone would care. “Go away,” they said shortly, and Ephotl snorted.
“What are you even going to do? No one will take care of you, after this. No one will even talk to you. You’ll be alone.” Ephotl, despite Enteth’s protests, was following them up the mountain—Ephotl was tall, for a Gorsa, and so it was an easy enough thing for them. Enteth, meanwhile, could really have done without an audience to their huffing and puffing, grabbing occasionally onto branches to keep from falling over. It was raining, was the other thing, which suited Enteth’s sense of melodrama and little else.
“Good,” Enteth huffed, and it came out more petulant than they’d intended. “I’ll live in a cave and eat leaves and never have to talk to another big dumb idiot ever again for the rest of my life.”
“So your plan is to climb to the top of a mountain and pout forever.” Ephotl had, obnoxiously, overtaken Enteth’s efforts and was now walking backwards, two hands holding a leaf over their head and two on their hips.
“I am not pouting,” Enteth lied, scowling as one of their bags got stuck on a branch. Their headcovering was soaked through, occasionally slipping down over one eye.
“And nothing is going to dissuade you from this brilliant plan?”
“You wouldn’t understand,” Enteth muttered, because nothing was as unthinkable as the alternative. “Go home, Ephotl, go back to your mate and your Ullta.”
“Rohgth will be lost without you.”
Enteth stopped, at that, and hated that from the look on Ephotl’s face that they’d known it would. “Rohgth is married now,” they said finally, “and they can find a new Gorsa. They don’t need me.”
The look on Ephotl’s face could best be described as barely-contained glee, an insufferable smugness that made Enteth want to gouge their eyes out. “They didn’t message you?”
“… message me about what?”
“Rohgth’s back. Decided not to get married. They seriously didn’t even ask you first?”
They hadn’t. And Enteth could have sworn, for that moment, that the world stopped. “They told you?”
Ephotl snorted. “No, but everyone’s talking about it. You probably would have heard, too, if you hadn’t been busy trying to live in the woods. Which, okay, how you choose to handle your Ullta is none of my business, but—”
“I need to get back,” Enteth interrupted, eyes widening. “I need—shit! Rohgth is going to get home and I won’t be there, shit shit shit—”
“You two idiots deserve each other!” Ephotl called after Enteth, who was too busy stumbling downhill to notice.
Rohgth was standing in the hall when Enteth burst into the house. They stared at each other for a long moment, as if either of them had any reason to feel surprised to see the person that had always lived with.
“… hi,” Enteth said, finally, swallowing hard.
Rohgth’s look of surprise gave way, finally, to a slow and dopey and impossibly sweet smile, and Enteth felt their hearts crash into each other. “Hey,” Rohgth said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world that Enteth would be dragging two large bags inside. “You weren’t here when I got home.”
Enteth swallowed again, mouth feeling suddenly dry as they took in the sight of Rohgth, still dressed in wedding finery—all gleaming tusks and shining fur. “I had to… take care of… an errand,” they croaked. Enteth let the door shut behind them, muddy bags falling to the tiled floor. Rohgth cocked their head to the side, raised one eyebrow as they took in the sight.
“Must’ve been pretty important, to go out in this weather.”
“Yeah—well, no, it wasn’t—I just… I didn’t think you’d be home. This soon.” Muddy boots were yanked from their feet with three hands, the other trying to wipe rainwater from their face.
“I see that,” Rohgth said, with that grin that Enteth could hear instead of just seeing, that obnoxious and perfect grin that was almost always paired with a wagging tail and a twinkle in their eyes. Rohgth gestured to their house, which Enteth had been neglecting in favor of—okay, they’d admit it, pouting. Everything was covered in fine red sand, leaves scattered on the floor where they’d blown in the windows, plates left to pile up in the sink. Enteth had planned—well, no. Enteth hadn’t planned. But they’d never meant to leave the house like this, never meant for Rohgth to see it this way. “Is this what my Gorsa does, when I’m not here to keep them in check?”
Enteth’s embarrassment fell by the wayside in favor of scoffing, a look of intense incredulity on their face. “Yes, because that’s what you do, you keep me in check. Whatever would I do, without your intense discipline?” But then they were embarrassed, again, trying not to look Rohgth in the eyes. “I’ve been busy, is all.”
Rohgth seemed to pick up in this discomfort, found some of their own. “I, uh. I decided not to get married.”
It was a moment before Enteth remembered they were supposed to be surprised. “Oh. Oh! You… did? That’s… unexpected. What happened?”
“I’m sorry I didn’t message you, first,” Rohgth apologized, sheepish. “I don’t know if you were looking forward to it, but. I just, it just didn’t seem like it would work out, you know? I made sure they had a secondary arrangement first, you know, I didn’t want to be a complete asshole. It just didn’t feel right.” Rohgth sighed, rubbed a hand over the fur between his primary set of eyes. “I’m—shit, I fucked this up, didn’t I? Now you’re going to be getting shit for this, and I didn’t even consider whether or not you were looking forward to marrying… fuck me, I can’t even remember the name of their Gorsa. I’m such an asshole. I can message them back, if you want?”
“No!” Even Enteth was surprised by their own vehemence. “No,” they repeated, trying to sound more measured. “You’re—you’re my Ullta. I stand by your decision.” Easier that then trying to explain how thrilled they were.
“Enteth,” Rohgth said, sounding almost disappointed, “you already had a bag packed. You were looking forward to getting married.”
“What?” Enteth looked down at the bags by their feet as if they’d never seen them before. “These? No, these were—these are nothing, these aren’t anything, that’s not what these are. I was just reorganizing. Extensively.”
“So you’re not upset?” Rohgth asked tentatively.
“Absolutely not,” Enteth said more authoritatively. “I’m happy. What’s not to be happy about? My Ullta is home.”
Rohgth grinned that dopey grin again, and Enteth almost grinned back. “And I’m happy my Gorsa is home,” they said, as if there was anywhere else for a Gorsa to be. Rohgth stepped closer, hooves clicking on the tile, and Enteth wished they hadn’t been so dressed up—wished they had an excuse to touch. “You’re a mess,” Rohgth said, abandoning formality to tug scandalously on Enteth’s headcovering. Enteth’s eyes turned green with embarrassment, and they batted at Rohgth’s hand with all four of their own.
“Cut it out,” Enteth snapped, though without malice, trying to get themselves in order despite the fact that they were dripping all over the tile. “What will the neighbors think, my Ullta doting on me so?”
“Have you been talking to Ephotl again? That gossipy little—”
“Speaking of the neighbors,” Enteth interrupted, “I need to do something about… this. Everything. Me, the house, I need to—”
This time it was Rohgth’s turn to interrupt, a large and heavy hand coming to rest on one of Enteth’s tiny shoulders. Enteth seemed almost to stop breathing, eyes widening. A breach of taboo so great was rare even for Rohgth, and Enteth definitely shouldn’t have been enjoying it so much. “My Gorsa needs,” they corrected, voice a dangerous rumble, “to sit down, and let me make you a cup of tea before you get watersick.”
That brought Enteth out of their haze. “What? You don’t even know how to make a cup of tea. You’ll set the kitchen on fire.”
“I’ve seen you make tea thousands of times, I think I can handle it. Are you going to sit down, or am I going to have to make you?”
“Really? You’re going to make me? How would you even—Rohgth you idiot what!” Enteth screeched as Rohgth suddenly lifted them off the ground, all four arms clinging to Rohgth’s shoulder. “Rohgth, the neighbors—”
“Fuck the neighbors,” Rohgth said, cheerfully but heatedly. “I left my Gorsa alone for the week, and if I want to make up for it, I will damn well make up for it however I please.”
They hadn’t been this close, touched this much since they were children; Rohgth was warmer than Enteth remembered, hot and well-muscled and entirely too strong. Their fur wasn’t as soft as it used to be, was sort of stiff and bristly now, and Enteth was trying really hard not to enjoy this. “You were looking so good,” Enteth said instead, “and now you’re all muddy and your fur is all wet.”
“You can dress me up later, if it makes you feel better.” Rohgth dropped Enteth into their chair, and Enteth crossed their legs with a grumble, tugging at wet clothes so that they would drape over their limbs and down to the floor. Though in this case, it was less of a drape, and more of a drip. Enteth watched as Rohgth began digging through the cupboards, setting all of the careful organization into disarray. By the time the proper cups had even been found, Enteth was already standing.
“Okay, that’s it, get away from there—get away, you’re doing it wrong, get your big dumb fingers away from my tea.” Enteth pushed Rohgth away gently—not that it needed to be gentle, not that Enteth could have pushed Rohgth anywhere they didn’t want to go. Rohgth threw up both hands, exasperated, secondary eyes rolling.
“What do my fingers have to do with it?” Rohgth demanded, though they did get out of the way.
“Look, here, see?” Enteth held up the jar of tea leaves, waving them in Rohgth’s face. “Even if you had enough joints to open this—which you don’t—your fingers would barely fit in this jar. You’d crush all the leaves.” Enteth cracked open the jar to prove the point, long and slender fingers bending backward at the fourth joint to press against the trigger that broke the seal.
“I don’t think you can blame my fingers for that, that’s society’s fault for making tea jars that I can’t open.”
“You can dictate an angry message to society, then, but for right now society says that you should sit down and let your Gorsa make you some tea as is proper.”
“No,” Rohgth said flatly, and Enteth squinted at them. “I said I was going to make you some tea, and I am going to make you some tea. If my fingers won’t fit in the jar, I’ll just… pour the leaves into a bowl, and get them that way.” Rohgth was determined, Enteth realized, and there was nothing more pointless than trying to get in their way in one of those moods.
“If you’re that sure,” Enteth sighed, “at least let me help you. I want to make sure it’s drinkable.” One hand pulled a bowl from the drawer, another poured the leaves into it, the other hands retrieving the kettle and setting the cups properly on a dish.
“So,” Rohgth began slowly, “I definitely shouldn’t just dump this bowl into the kettle, then?”
“What!” Enteth was almost as scandalized as when Rohgth had picked them up, and Rohgth began to laugh.
“It’s good to know my Gorsa has so much faith in me,” Rohgth teased, filling the kettle with water and setting it to boil. Enteth had never thought of the kettle as being small before, but it looked small in Rohgth’s hands. “A few leaves in each cup, yes?”
“The three largest leaves go in your cup,” Enteth corrected imperiously, setting three hands on their hips and pointing, “and the next three least broken go in mine. I thought you said you’d seen me make tea thousands of times?”
“Apparently I wasn’t paying enough attention to the leaves.”
“It’s tea. What else is there to pay attention to?”
“When you’re waiting for the water to boil, you do a sort of—” Rohgth attempted to do a hip wiggle, but found it difficult with their particular configuration of knees. Enteth gave them another shove, but Rohgth failed to tip over.
“I do nothing of the sort,” Enteth huffed.
“Why do I get the biggest leaves?” Rohgth asked suddenly, changing the subject.
“Because you’re my Ullta,” Enteth said with a shrug, because that was all the explanation that anyone should need.
“Are the biggest leaves the best?” Rohgth pressed, and Enteth sighed.
“Rohgth—” they began, but they were cut off.
“If I get the biggest leaves when you make the tea,” Rohgth decided, collecting them and dropping them into Enteth’s smaller cup, “then you get the biggest leaves when I make the tea.”
Enteth said nothing, but crossed all their arms and watched suspiciously as Rohgth worked. Nothing in the kitchen was designed for an Ullta, three huge digits not at all nimble, but: when Rohgth was determined, there was nothing to be done.
“What’s gotten into you?” Enteth asked finally, as Rohgth carried the cups to the table.
Rohgth shrugged. “Visiting Rjaph made me rethink some things. Assess my priorities. You know?”
“You just didn’t want to grow up,” Enteth teased, sitting and sipping from their tea.
“Not if it means…” Rohgth didn’t finish the though, taking their tea instead, and Enteth ached to know what they’d been about to say. “You know, you touch me more than most Gorsa.”
Enteth sipped nonchalantly at their tea while turning faintly green-eyed. “You get in my way more than most Ullta,” they rebutted, and Rohgth grinned.
“Is the tea helping?”
“A bit. Thank you, Roh.” They hadn’t called them that in years, and it was worth it for the way their secondary eyes went wide, crinkled at the corners.
Rohgth looked thoughtful, then, which almost never ended well. “Actually,” they began, “it would probably be more helpful to stop sitting around in damp fabric.”
Enteth nearly choked on their tea, eyes like emeralds. Technically, this was probably accurate; fabric that was supposed to drape and flow was instead clinging to their skin, half-transparent where it wasn’t muddy, not at all the diaphanous thing it was meant to be. They almost didn’t notice when Rohgth set their tea down, came to the other side of the table.
“Honestly, Rohgth—” Enteth began, but they were cut off by the pads of large fingers sliding the fabric back off their forehead, brushing lightly against the bare ridges spiraling against their skull. Enteth’s breath caught, hearts raced, and it was only years of practice that kept the teacup from falling from their fingers when Rohgth’s lips met theirs. Their mouth was too big, was the thing, could fit the whole of Enteth’s between their tusks, and yet.
For a long moment after Rohgth pulled away, Enteth could only stare. “What are you doing?” they croaked, finally.
“Shit,” Rohgth said, face falling, tense. They stood upright, an act that through sheer height difference put a great deal of distance between them. “Shit. I’m not—I fucked this all up. I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have—I was being selfish, I’ll message Rjaph and—”
Before Rohgth could dare look any sadder, Enteth carefully set down their teacup, climbed onto the table and pulled Rohgth closer with all four arms to kiss them again. It was need, pure and simple, a desperate need that had been hiding within them and desperately waiting to escape. There was no precedent for this, for all that they had imagined it, no examples they could emulate in finding ways to touch each other. This time it was Enteth who pulled away, gasping: “What are we doing?”
“Something we should have been doing for a long time,” Rohgth growled, a uniquely carnivorous sound that made Enteth shudder.
“We shouldn’t,” Enteth said, as if either of them cared. Rohgth’s hands were around their waist, and it was still so strange to be touched, to no longer be left simply wondering about what it might be like.
“I knew it when I saw Rjaph,” Rohgth said, and Enteth made a tiny birdlike sound as Rohgth suddenly ran their tongue over a spiraling ridge. “Rjaph, and that wretched little Gorsa—they didn’t deserve you, no one deserved you, I couldn’t.”
“I tried to run away,” Enteth confessed, half-hysterical. “I was going to abandon my Ullta and live on a mountain, because I couldn’t, Roh. Anything would have been better than that, watching you be someone’s mate, being wed to someone else.” All twenty-four fingers buried themselves in bristling fur, pulled them close as if to bury the whole of their person in Rohgth’s chest.
“En,” Rohgth purred, and the sound of their childhood nickname made Enteth sigh.
“I wouldn’t have been able to touch you anymore,” they continued. “I know I touch you too much, so many excuses all the time for touching you, our mates would have seen right through it, seen right through me, silly little Gorsa who doesn’t know their place—this is so dumb, we’re going to be killed.”
“No one will know,” Rohgth reassured them.
“You don’t think someone will notice the Ullta looking at their Gorsa all lovesick and wanting?”
“I have loved you,” Rohgth growled, “since Choosing.”
“You can’t have,” Enteth scoffed, because they were still themselves, and that made Rohgth grin.
“Since I first laid eyes on the tiniest, most useless, most ornery—”
“Try not to be too romantic.”
“—cleverest, prettiest thing that any Ullta ever saw, and everyone would want you—”
“You were my only offer, you idiot!”
“—and I was so glad when you chose me in return, I thought my heart would burst. Because I knew I couldn’t bear it, to let anyone else have you, it would have destroyed me then and it would destroy me still.” They kissed again, and neither could say this time who had kissed whom.
“So you have been looking at me like a lovesick idiot this whole time, you mean?” Enteth asked, and Rohgth grinned again.
“No one’s killed me yet. And if the neighbors talk this time, I’ll eat them.”
“Cannibalism hasn’t been legal in centuries,” Enteth cackled, leaping onto Rohgth and wrapping all limbs around them, marveling at their warmth, wondering if they were dreaming.
“Who wouldn’t make an exception for a Gorsa like mine?”
“This is never going to work,” Enteth muttered, even as Rohgth carried them to the bedroom, even as they gave their tusks an experimental lick.
But Rohgth, it seemed, was determined.