Ardent asked one of the winged lemurs to make a copy of Venodeveve’s work and have it delivered for later reference, then returned Miro and herself to her living room. She set him down beside the pillow nest. “You all right with trying this tonight, sugar, or do you want to wait ’til morning?” She was already nervous, not sure if she was more afraid that he’d want to wait or that he wouldn’t.
“Now is good.” Miro unfastened his jacket with Sun Host comportment and draped it over a chair. He opened his shirt part way, exposing his throat beneath the metal collar, and an inviting V of warm beige skin.
She took the white gold collar off and set it on the table, then stopped as her eyes met his. They weren’t touching, but she could almost feel the beat of his heart anyway. She yearned to touch him, to feel him under her skin.
“Did you wish to try clothed or nude?”
Her libido roared in answer: Nude! Oh Love, yes, please, let’s snuggle the cute sun lord naked. Yes. This is the best idea. There is no possible flaw in this plan. “Book said light clothing’s not much of a difference,” Ardent managed to say instead. She cupped her hand around the side of his throat, and he tilted up his chin to accommodate her. His pulse under her palm was strong and fast. She wanted to sweep him up with her other arm, crush him to her chest, open that well inside him and feel all the power of the Sun rush into her body. Oh this is such a mistake. I’m not even going to remember how I’m supposed to do this. Maybe if I trueshifted him into something repugnant first I could concentrate. “Right. We should sit down.”
“As you say.” He waited on her, as if this were all ordinary and natural.
Ardent stepped down into the pillow nest, a kind of round sunken couch stuffed with extra pillows. She reclined into it, her goat’s legs out straight on the cushions and her back against the backrest, then held out her arms in invitation.
Miro followed, put a knee down on the cushion beside her, and for the first time looked hesitant. “How do you want me?”
Desperately. “I don’t know. Let’s just try cuddling.” She put an arm around him and pulled him gently to her, mindful not to trap his hair, until he was snuggled against her side with his head pillowed against her bosom.
He shifted. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be forward—” He tried in vain to find a position that was less intimate but still in contact.
“Sugar, it’s fine. I don’t think this is gonna work without a little forwardness. A lot of forwardness. Sorry. Don’t worry about it. You comfy?” She cradled his throat in her hand, and he sighed.
“Very,” Miro murmured, sinking down again to rest his cheek against her breast, one arm over her abdomen, one leg curled over hers.
Ardent snuggled him a little closer with her arm at his back, then closed her eyes. With aether-enhanced senses, she focused her awareness upon him. The sound of his heartbeat; the rise and fall of his chest; the air that filled his chest, laced with aether that would not unite with his body; the warmth of him, more intense where their bodies touched, cooler along his upper side. The tension of his muscles, a war between apprehension and the impulse to relax. Beneath his skin, she could feel the empty aetheric channels, the connecting well that sang to her: open open open.
It was all of a piece, every part interacting with every other part, Venodeveve had written. When the channel opens, if one doesn’t lose oneself in the rush of power, one may see how the victim is affected. The extent of the damage done will become plain by the level of physical alteration. Positive or neutral signs: modest slowing of breath, heartbeat, increased relaxation. Negative signs: change in body temperature, whether hotter or cooler. Sweating. Increased heartbeat or breathing, or dramatic decrease. Ardent wished Venodeveve hadn’t used the word ‘victim’ for the person serving as channel. “Ready, sugar?” Ardent whispered.
He gave a little nod, drew in a deep breath, and relaxed against her. Venodeveve had written that it was best to be relaxed when channeling, and Miro’d read it too.
“I’m gonna stop in…ten heartbeats. If I don’t, tell me to stop. Got it?”
Ardent did not even nudge the well open. She sent the lightest whisper of moon aether across its cover. Sun aether poured through in answer: not a torrent, but a strong, steady current. She could sense the power filtering through the channels of Miro’s body, heard him gasp, and then it flowed into her. The current still felt delightful, and she still craved more, but it was less overwhelming. She retained her hyperawareness of Miro throughout. He relaxed further as his breathing slowed, while his pulse remained steady. He really is very good at this, she marveled. As she counted the ninth heartbeat, she eased the channel closed again without physically releasing him. Softly, she asked, “All good?”
Miro nodded and burrowed closer to her. “More please?”
“All right.” Another whisker-touch of power to call the current again, and it flowed into her, warm, generous, open, malleable. She counted heartbeats, aching to lose herself in the current, to let the pleasure of it sweep her away. Fifteen, sixteen – surely this is too gradual to do any harm. He’ll warn me if there’s a problem – twenty-five, twenty-six – Love but he feels good – thirty-one, thirty two – Ardent pressed her lips against the top of his head, her thumb tracing over his mouth, other hand stroking his back, barely aware of her own actions. Suddenly she realized he was growing warmer, and she’d totally lost count, and also she was an idiot. She shut off the channel. “Miro?”
He made a tiny whimper that tore at her heart, shivered, and pulled himself tighter into her.
“Miro, sugar, talk to me. Mirohirokon.” Ardent struggled to sit upright and tilted his face to hers.
He exhaled, brown eyes half-opened to watch her indolently. “Mmm?” His hand drifted down her side, fingers stroking over the fur of her thigh after he reached the end of her chiton.
“How are you feeling?” she asked, urgently. Venodeveve had some fairly radical treatment ideas for overchanneling issues, none of which had inspired great confidence in her. Miro could still move, though. He almost certainly wasn’t dying.
“Drunk,” he said, and kissed her.
The kiss was so brief she barely had time to be more than surprised by it. Her senses were still attuned to his body: she felt the surge of desire in him, followed by a sudden spike of adrenaline.
Miro jerked backwards and scrambled away until he knelt on the cushion next to her, not touching. “My lady! I apologize – I did not intend – I don’t know why I did that – Ardent – I beg your forgiveness.” He bowed his head, long ears bright red.
His distress was almost comical. Oh, c’mon, sugar, I can’t be that bad a kisser. Gimme another chance! But his chagrin was so sincere she didn’t dare risk teasing him over it. “Sweetie, it’s fine. And would you please stop apologizing for things that aren’t your fault?”
“That certainly wasn’t anyone else’s doing,” he muttered.
Ardent was less sure of that. Miro was so obviously appalled at the idea of intimacy with her that it seemed more likely he’d somehow been infected with her lust than that the surge had sprung from his own hormones. “I’m serious here, Miro. I feel like I’m force-feeding you drugs and then making you feel guilty for not being sober. I am not gonna get mad at you for being less than perfectly in control of yourself. Honest. Justice, I don’t expect sober folk who aren’t under ridiculous external pressures to be perfectly in control. This is one of those weird Sun Host expectations, isn’t it?”
“…perhaps.” Miro didn’t lift his head
“Well, you’re in Moon Etherium now. Act a little improper, you’ll fit in better.” In fact, I molested you at least as much, just before I broke the channel. I ought to apologize for that. She didn’t say anything. It’d make an awkward situation even more awkward, and if he hadn’t noticed, she didn’t want to bring his attention to her growing attraction to him. Partly out of embarrassment, but also because she was afraid he’d feel pressured to reciprocate her interest.
“Hah.” But the corners of his mouth did turn up.
Ardent risked patting his hand. “There now, sugar. No harm done.” She climbed out of the sunken couch and offered her hand. “I’ve got plenty of excess aether now to make a farspeaker. Why don’t you go on to bed and get some rest?”
Miro took her hand and rose, swaying on his feet. He bowed over her fingers. “My lady is very kind,” he murmured. “Thank you for your forbearance.”
She snorted. “You all right to put yourself to bed, or do I need to carry you again?”
He colored again, and she regretted teasing him. Poor man. “I believe I can manage. If I realize I’m mistaken, you’ll know by the sound of me falling down the stairs.” He flashed her a smile. Ardent watched as he moved with deliberate dignity to the spiral staircase, and gripped the rail firmly as he made the descent. She had to admire the way he could make jokes at his own expense while at the same time maintaining his Sun Court comportment. There was nothing of a cat’s offended arrogance in him, as if his manners were not a salve for his pride but a kindness to those around him. She’d known too many fey who used formality as a weapon to embarrass those with less polished ways. But Miro made all those courtesies seem actually, well, courteous. He used them to show respect, not to self-aggrandize. She liked that about him.
Face it, you like a lot of things about him, satyr-girl. Too many. Stop obsessing over the guy you’re supposed to be here to help, and get back to helping him. With that admonishment in mind, she set to work on a farspeaker enchantment.
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