Ardent returned to a new room in the Underground. This one she’d set to look like a bedroom, with a massive canopied bed and extra privacy wards that were drawn with its curtains. She crawled into the bed and pulled open her chiton to look down into her cleavage.
The bright black eyes of a large mouse looked back at her. He’d been smaller when she was concealing him on the Promenade and outside of the Etherium, but the space here was more expanded, and that meant he couldn’t be shrunk as much.
“I should make you sleep like that,” she told the mouse. “Maybe that’d keep you out of trouble for a while.” The mouse turned a circle atop one breast, then made a show of snuggling down between them. She stifled a ticklish giggle and fished the rodent out. “Here.” She set him next to her on the bed and offered a homunculus to the animal.
The mouse accepted it in both paws, and turned back to Miro’s normal strong, slender human form with long indigo hair, wearing a simple tunic over slacks. “Thank you, my lady,” he said, and kissed her. She returned the kiss, and let him push her back and down against lilac-scented sheets. He knelt over her, long hair hanging to one side of their faces. “Though I will feel terribly guilty if Wind Sought does get abducted in my place.”
“Eh, we warned him of the risks. And they’ll be pretty surprised if they manage to haul him back here, because the first thing he’ll do is teleport away from ’em.”
“It’s a good plan. I wouldn’t have gone along with it otherwise.” She caressed his cheek, brown hand dark against his golden skin.
“Does that mean you’ll channel from me again, too?” Miro asked. She moved her hand to his throat, and gave a little nod. He took a deep breath and sank down against her.
Ardent stroked his neck and shifted his loose, vivid hair to lie on the other side of his body. “But, first…could we talk a bit?”
“Of course, my lady.” He rolled to lie beside her, head propped in one hand, the length of his body still pressed close.
She curled into him, nervous, and tucked her head against his shoulder, mindful of her horns. “Should I just assume you’ll want to make love after channeling?”
She could hear the smile in Miro’s voice as he answered. “My body is unconvinced that channeling for you is not lovemaking, I’m afraid. And my mind is inclined to agree. But if you’re not interested…”
“Oh sugar.” A little laugh. “I am. Trust me, I am interested.”
He dipped his head down and kissed her shoulder. “Good.”
“So.” She traced a finger over his tunic, and laughed again. “I don’t want to act like this is…more than a fling, or necessity, or whatever you want to call it. I mean. I don’t know how seriously folks in the Sun Etherium treat intercourse, but here, especially among the younger generations, fey aren’t serious about it, I know. Especially if it’s just ‘I’ve known you two days, let’s have sex’. I don’t mean to conflate that with romance.”
“My lady is very wise,” Miro said, and she wasn’t sure how to take that, except that she didn’t think he was mocking her.
“Hah. I was just…curious. Do you have anyone waiting for you in Sun Etherium? Spouses? Betrothed?”
“No. I’ve had a few lovers over the years, but none that lasted. For one reason or another. My mother has tried to arrange matches for me on multiple occasions, never with anyone I could tolerate. Being ninth-to-eleventh favorite did not make her terribly invested in the process, so there was that mercy.”
Ardent shuddered. “What about, um, fidelity? I know the Sun fey aren’t monogamous, obviously, but…”
“It varies by relationship; there is no true standard any more. My mother is considered a traditionalist, in that she insists her husbands be faithful to her alone. Dad said she doesn’t even let them engage in bodyplay with each other.”
“The Sun Queen in a single word. Some of the High Court, especially my better-beloved siblings, follow that example. But most of the Sun Host does not have such a high opinion of themselves. Multiple marriages, group marriages, and open ones are all common. And many take lovers without marrying. As I have done.”
“So…what kind do you prefer? For yourself?”
He hesitated. “I don’t know. Well, I know I despise my mother’s model. But beyond that…I’ve always thought that marrying one fey and expecting that relationship to last for eternity, each committed to only the other, was absurdly optimistic. Two of my mother’s husbands detest her, and none of them admire her for herself, only for the position she affords them. On the one hand, I don’t feel a driving need to bed others for the sake of, I don’t know, variety? Proving my virility? My desirability? Wealth? Power? Whatever it is that my mother is trying to prove. On the other, I do not understand possessiveness very well. I have never been in an exclusive relationship.” He leaned in to kiss her fluffy hair. “What of you, my lady?”
“Oh, I…used to dream about that one marriage that lasts a lifetime. When I was a little girl, that was what everyone still did. Immortality wasn’t widespread until I was about forty. When you weren’t going to live forever, it seemed a lot more reasonable. Maybe wasn’t anyway, but still. Anyway, I got over it eventually. And then I met Whispers Rain, and she made it…fun. To have multiple lovers. Before I met her, it was more as if I thought ‘I guess I have to tolerate this so I will, but I hate sharing’. And then Rain threw herself into my arms and said ‘Sharing is the best! I’m going to prove it to you!’ And she did.”
He laughed. “That’s wonderful.”
“She is. Yeah.”
“How long were you married to her?” “Thirty-two years.”
Miro smiled. “She was very fortunate.”
“I was, anyway.” They were silent for a moment, then Ardent said, “You want to know why we got divorced but you’re not going to ask because it’s rude or something, right?”
“It was because I left. She really doesn’t like the Broken Lands. Being out of aether. It suffocated her. Rain came to visit me, at first. And I’d visit her, whenever I came back. But there was always a lot to be done in Try Again, and there wasn’t always aether for boots, and boots were a lot slower back then even when there was aether, and…well. After two years, she visited me one last time, and she said she didn’t think it was fair to stay married. That it was unfair to me. ‘Because I know you. And you won’t ever look for a barbarian wife or husband while you’re married to me. And you deserve a spouse who can live with you. Or at least who’ll visit more than once a season. And I…can’t.’” Ardent sighed. “And I said all right, and that was it.”
“And you didn’t look for a barbarian spouse,” Miro said, softly.
Ardent shook her head. “No. Just…not who I am.”
“Is a fling with a pitiable eleventh-favorite Sun prince more your style?” he asked, lightly, teasing.
“Apparently.” Ardent mock-growled into his tunic, then toppled him onto his back and straddled him, one hand on his shoulder. She pressed her face against his neck and bit down, making him gasp with pleasure. “You ready to give me all your power, your highness?”
“Yes, please, my lady.” He turned his head to one side to expose more of his throat to her. She could feel him grow erect against the pressure of her hips. “Please, my lady. Yes.”
She slid an arm under his back and pulled him hard against her, and drank in his offering.
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