Ardent gave a breathy little laugh and shaped a glamour to light the interior. She smiled down at him, still holding his hand. “Just gonna get you a little farther out, then I can patch you up.”
“It looks much worse than it is,” Miro assured her.
“That’s great, because you look like a mortal who lost a fight with a thresher.”
“Are threshers very dangerous?”
Ardent laughed. “Don’t get into any fights with them. Especially if you’re mortal. Or as vulnerable as one.” She swallowed, her smile strained by worry.
Sessile’s motion ceased. “We’re here. Should I surface?”
“Yes, thanks, Sessile. Shift to the mortal world only.” They ascended into a dark wood, the shape of the leaf canopy above barely visible. Ardent curled her caprine legs onto the bed beside Miro, and leaned over him. “I haven’t healed anyone but mortals and animals in the last couple of centuries, so…here’s hoping I remember how.” She dismissed the bandages over his face, and wrote in aether over his skin. Miro sighed and closed his eyes again as the pain faded. Ardent worked her way down his front, then had him roll over and did his back. She made a few extra passes around his head, biting her tongue in concentration. “There…how’s that?”
“Much better, my lady. Thank you.” Miro shifted to sit upright, and covered her hand with his. “We can go back now, if you please.”
“You’re still shivering.” Ardent steadied him with a hand on his shoulder.
“It’s nothing. Just nerves.”
Ardent shifted a little closer and kissed his forehead. “You can stop being insanely brave now,” she whispered.
Miro shook his head. “Not yet,” he answered, just as softly. “When my father’s safe. Then I can stop.”
Another breathless laugh. “Look, we both need sleep. We can do that just as well in the Broken Lands, where you’re as invulnerable as any other fey. So let’s stay out here for tonight, and in the morning we can talk about what’s next. All right? The thrice-blighted Moon Etherium will still be there tomorrow. More’s the pity.”
Miro bowed his head in acquiescence. “As you wish.”
Ardent let out a breath. She moved his hand to rest on her wrist. “Here. Channel from me.”
He blinked at her. “What? Why would I—”
“I brought my boots, I’ll walk back to the Etherium and fill up again after you channel from me. There’s no reason for you to be helpless out here.”
I’m not helpless. I have you. Her pulse under his fingers was strong and steady, her skin warm, the aether palpable and inviting as an oasis to his no-longer-dulled senses. Miro swallowed. “As you wish.” He scooted back to make more room for her in the bed.
She hesitated. “We don’t really need…I mean, we’re not in an Etherium, and I’m not even High Court, so…” He raised his eyebrows at her, and the satyress gave another nervous laugh. “Never mind.” She lay down next to him.
Miro pressed against her side. He curled one leg over her thigh and rested his hand against her throat, feeling her pulse. “Tell me if it’s uncomfortable.”
“Mm hmm.” Her breathing was not quite steady, her pulse quickening. Miro relaxed, opening himself to her aether. It flowed in, and he gasped at the pleasure of it, the relief of being quenched after days of acute thirst. His awareness of Ardent beside him only increased as aether enhanced his senses. Her back arched to press her throat into his fingers, as if eager to pour herself into his body. Her lips parted, breathing in quick gasps, body writhing against his in a way that was deeply sensual, unimaginably alluring. His own pulse pounded with growing lust, his erection throbbing against her hip. Ardent made a tiny whimpering sound, her arm clutching at his side. Miro tore himself away, panting, afraid he would lose control entirely if he remained. She whimpered again at his withdrawal, her back arched as if to lure him back. He moved further away, putting a foot of empty bed between them, and fought to control his breathing.
Ardent slumped back against the bedding. Dark eyes fluttered open, and she turned to him with a slow, half-lidded smile. “Mmm. Love, but you’re so good at this. If it feels even half this delicious for you, then I finally understand why you’re so willing to channel for me.” She stretched her arms lazily over her head, the generous curves of her breasts shifting under her chiton. His fingers itched to caress them, to explore their inviting softness. He fisted his hand around the blanket instead. “I’ve still got more, if you want. It won’t hurt me.” Her husky contralto beckoned with the promise of a warm reception. She reached out to caress his cheek, but at his stiffness, her face fell. Ardent withdrew. “Sorry, I shouldn’t—”
Miro caught her hand, unable to bear the rejected look in her eyes. “I would love to,” he said, hoarsely, kissing her fingers. “I just – if it’s half so intoxicating for you – I can’t take advantage of that.”
She raised her eyes to his, then lowered brown lids, a smile flickering and fading on full lips. “Fair ’nuf. I should run back to the Etherium an’…” The satyress swung her legs off of the bed and almost fell out of it. Miro scrambled to grab her shoulder and steady her. “Whoa.”
“It can wait.” Miro tugged gently, and she half-toppled back to lay her head in his lap, lower legs still off the bed.
“Dizzy,” she said. “’s a nice dizzy, though.” She reached up to pat his cheek, and he turned his face to kiss her palm. Ardent smiled, then curled onto her side and nuzzled his stomach. “I forgot to make a bed for me.”
“I’ll make one.” Miro started to gesture.
She put her hand over his arm and he paused. “Do you have to?”
Miro swallowed, trying to will his renewed erection away. “…no. If you’re sure you don’t mind.”
Ardent gave him a lazy, dreamy smile that did nothing for his ragged self-control. “I’m sure I don’t mind, sugar.”
He did use aether to float her into a more comfortable position in the bed, straightened out lengthwise. He made a new blanket to put over her, and slid under the first set himself, figuring an extra layer of cloth between them was advisable. Miro decided the toga she’d put him in already was comfortable enough to sleep in.
“Mmm.” Ardent watched him with sleepy black eyes. “Lights out.” Her light-glamour vanished, leaving them in darkness. “Oh, Sessily, you sleep too, little girl. Gotta conserve aether out here.”
“Uh-huh, m’lady.” Sessile went still, and her walls turned opaque, making the darkness absolute.
The mattress shifted as Ardent moved closer to him, until she could wrap an arm over his side and snuggle into him. “G’night, Miro.”
“Sleep well, Ardent,” he murmured. Given all his conflicted feelings and the rush of adrenaline from his escape, Miro did not expect to sleep soon. But the warmth of Ardent’s soul, and her body pressed close despite the blankets between them, comforted him. The unwanted arousal faded as she slept, and soon he was asleep as well.
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