First: Spoils of War I: Surrender
PLEASE NOTE: I WENT BACK TO THE END OF CHAPTER 21 AND AM REWRITING FROM THAT POINT.
Nikol was somehow not nearly as surprised as she ought to be when Aran brushed a kiss over her cheek. “Thank you for having rules,” he added quietly. “Let’s shower, mmm?”
He scooped her up in his arms before she could say anything and, very carefully, carried her upstairs and into the bathroom. “The power is still pretty spotty,” he warned, “but we got the whole thing going with the town water – that was mostly just moving around some solar panels, turns out Ford is good with those – and I can make the water warm okay on my own.”
He set her down carefully and she undressed. Her borrowed clothes were sticky with sweat and they stank; she was tempted to wear them right into the shower.
Of course, that would be the case if she was showering alone. She considered the logistics of all these things and left her clothes, all of them, on a pile on the floor.
He was a little shyer about getting undressed, but she waited for him, playing with the dials on the sink and the shower. This had been a really nice house – still was a really nice house, since it had been so carefully closed up before its owner went off to …
There were some thoughts that she really didn’t want to dive into in her current situation. She considered Aran’s back instead, the muscles there, the scars. He was a little underfed – most people were – but he’d still done a lot of hard work. He had the right muscles for swinging a sword, too, or a pike. Strong arms. A firm ass… Well, that was a pleasant distraction.
He started the shower and murmured a Working to get the water hot, tested it, and offered her a hand. “See,” he joked, his voice a little uncertain and still halfway aimed away from her, “this way I can make sure that you don’t fall.”
He’d already said that, but she took his hand anyway and stepped into the shower. “Aaaahhhhh.” The warm water felt amazing on her skin.
“And look, hair-soaps. Maybe I can wash your hair?”
“That would be… that would be amazing,” she decided.
“Yeah?” He eyed her sidelong. “You want me to do that?”
“I think I’d love it.”
Twenty minutes later, she was certain that love wasn’t nearly strong enough of a word, that Aran had amazing fingers and a very good touch with a massage, and that she was going to find a way to have a hot shower at least once a week for the rest of her life if she had to take down the whole Mountain to do it – twice.
Twenty minutes after that, she had learned several more things Aran had a good touch with and had added proper beds with amazing mattresses to her list of luxuries she never wanted to do without again.
Of course, travelling mercenaries didn’t have either of those things, but… well, then again, almost nobody else did, either.
She rested her head on Aran’s shoulder and listened to his breathing steady. There were a million questions floating through her mind. More than half of them would ruin the mood.
“How long did Ford say we had, again?”
He made a rumbling noise. “Hour? I think. Maybe two hours. More time,” he added more certainly. “More time than we’ve taken, for sure.”
“Then we should take more time.” She rolled on top of him and kissed the side of his neck. “I’m feeling much better,” she added, as his hands came up to support her hips. “How about you?”
“I wasn’t the one that drove myself into exhaustion,” he grumbled. She nipped at his collarbone and he yelped. “I’m feeling better,” he added, presumably to stave off more biting. “We should try this every time.”
“I was thinking more like every night,” she admitted. “Or, uh, mid-afternoon.”
“Be tricky in battle. ‘Hold on, gotta go spend some time with my man. I’ll be back to cut you into smithereens again in a few minutes, just wait. Maybe a few hours. Have some lunch.”
She chuckled, but she didn’t really want to think about going into battle right now. She didn’t want to think about much more than being straddled over him, than the way he smelled slightly of the hair-soaps, than the way he looked under her. “Is that what you are? My man?”
“I don’t know. You’re in charge, so what am I?” The look he gave her was unreadable.
She poked him in the chest. “Not answering, is what you are.”
“I answered! I said I didn’t know.” He huffed up at her. “Am I supposed to have opinions on these matters? You’re in charge.”
“Aah.” She wasn’t actually sure she understood, but ah was a good start anyway. “My lover.” She kissed his throat. “My partner.” She kissed the other side of his throat. “Saved my life.”
“That’s not a what,” he complained.
“My man…? Yeah.” She pressed her lips against his. The kiss took some time, and was far less uncertain than their conversations had been. “Yeah. You’re my man.”Want more?