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for once in your life

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The living quarters of the Grand Aerie were hushed and still as the moon rose to its apogee in the clear night sky. Phoenixes slept or occupied themselves with quiet activities from within the comfort of their own quarters, the long habit of humanity tending most Phoenixes to desire rest in the dark hours.

Occasionally there would be the sound of a door quietly shutting, someone making food in the shared kitchen, or the paired footsteps of couples walking hand in hand. Mostly, there was silence.

Vigil was alone in his bedroom, reading by the golden light of Thoughtcoil, which was leaning against his wooden writing desk. He sat hunched over a large book of maps in a green wingback writing chair, tapping a rhythm on the desk’s surface. He sang a thematic Ilonan marching song under his breath as he scanned the borders, capital cities, and winding roads with untiring eyes.

As strange and terrible as being a Phoenix had proven to be, it was wonderful and thrilling, too. He loved his new friends- er, Wingmates. He felt such glowing pride when they saw victory and were able to help people. It had only been a short time, and he had already seen more of the world than he could ever have hoped. And not needing to sleep was pretty darn cool.

Being a Phoenix was the best thing that had ever happened to him.

Now, if he could just wrap his brain around what was going on. What was Ink up to? If he could only see how all the pieces fit together, could what the bigger picture looked like. This kind of research wasn’t his strongest suit.

He was better at hands-on problem solving, at talking it out and getting face-to-face with the problem. He could do diplomacy, but subterfuge? Secret machinations? These grand plans and far-reaching moves were frankly beyond him. But he was bright, and a quick learner, and he was determined not to let his Wingmates down.

An intuitive tingle of warning shook his concentration and hushed the song. Green eyes flicked up from a finely detailed map of ancient Mardonford as his door handle turned with a quiet creak. The door opened halfway and a cloaked figure slipped smoothly inside his room.

A tendril of fear curled around Vigil’s throat and stole his voice for a moment before he realized what he was sensing. The petite figure gave off the undeniable, ghost-light aura of his Wing’s Shrouded.

Now that he realized it was Spectre, he could feel her emotions faintly through their spark connection. She needed... Something. Perhaps his help? He forced his shoulders to relax and his face broke into a relieved smile.

“Spectre! Hi. What are you doing here? In my room? Alone. So late.”

Realizing this wasn't coming out right, he blushed faintly. He cleared his throat and tried again.

“Is everything alright?”

She shut the door behind her silently and took her time turning to face him. Finally, she lowered the hood of her cloak and shook out her long, dark hair.

She was too far from Thoughtcoil for the light to reach her, although moonlight streamed weakly through the window beside her. In the silvery light and shadows she looked paper pale. Vigil thought that her dark eyes looked even larger and spookier than usual

Spectre didn't smile or frown as she approached him, still moving slowly, unspeaking. Her feet were bare and made no sound on the polished wood floor.

When she stepped into the halo of his Talon’s light he saw a distinct tenderness in her expression, and a vulnerability he would never have expected from her.

“I-Is everything alright? Is it the Wing? Is there trouble? I can-” Vigil reached for Thoughtcoil and began to get up, but Spectre headed him off with an arm.

Gently, she pushed him back into his seat. She leaned in close, an arm on either side of him, effectively pinning him to the chair.

Vigil, too stunned to struggle much, and unwilling to use his strength on his Wingmate, stayed where he was.

He looked at her right arm, then her left, then up into her face. His eyes were wide with confusion and surprise. “Spectre? What are you...?”

Spectre sighed, the tiniest of exhalations, then straightened up again.

“If you're in trouble, just tell me! I'm sure we can-” Vigil began, his voice cracking. He abruptly cut off when he realized what was happening.

Elegant fingers plucked at the front clasps on her robe one by one. When she finished she let the garment drop to the floor.

Spectre was completely naked. She was devastatingly beautiful. She was the dark Muse of poetry personified, the opal moon over an inky sea, a flash of violet lightning. Scrawling and delicate, her tattoos contrasted sharply with her skin and edged her beauty like storm clouds on-

What was he doing? Now wasn't the time for waxing prose! Spectre was here, standing between his knees, very naked. Spectre. Here, naked, and looking straight into his beet red face as if waiting for something.

Vigil figured that he should probably do something. Maybe say words? Unfortunately, it seemed that his entire blood supply had made its way, uh, down. It didn't leave much oxygen for his brain to use for, say, thinking. Or speaking.

“Wh-what-” he raised his hands in an aborted gesture of overwhelm and bafflement. He pressed himself as far back into his seat as he could, eyes darting around as he attempted to look anywhere but directly in front of him, which was beyond difficult.

At that, his Wingmate actually rolled her eyes. He wasn't sure how to feel about that. In a graceful motion, she kneeled in front of him and put her hands on his knees.

At the touch of her cool, soft hands, Vigil jumped and sucked in a breath. Then he had a thought. Fighting hard to keep his eyes on her face (and failing pretty miserably), he felt the red flush of his face to start to creep down his neck.

“Spectre, I would never presume to- I don't mean to suggest that- Is this what you really want? Are you… in control of yourself right now? Is this even really you?” At this point, a shapeshifting Fallen inside of his personal quarters seemed more likely than what was happening now.

She looked into his eyes then, and he looked into hers. His panic became feverish shock. He knew, through their Wingbond and in his gut, that this was Spectre. This was really her, she was entirely annoyed with him, and that this was really happening.

Which was, frankly, terrifying. Thrilling? He couldn't think, and he could no longer stop himself from staring. His heart hammered a war rhythm in his chest as she leaned in very close, her breath gusting over his ear, her voice soft and low.

“If you want me to stop, say stop. If not, just shut your mouth for once in your life. Can you do that?” Spectre asked, the gentleness of her tone softening the words.

The fingertips of her left hand traced distracting patterns on the inside of his thigh.

“Oh gods,” Vigil said with a swallow. “Yes! I mean, don't stop- I mean-”

Spectre pressed a fingertip to his lips.

“Right,” he whispered around her finger, “shutting up now.”

She smiled at that, and then slid both hands beneath the linen and leather of his tunic skirt. The laces of his undergarments fell open so quickly he wondered if she hadn't just cut them with that dagger of hers, but he didn't have long to wonder before clever hands and an exceptionally skilled mouth obliterated the last bit of his sense.

She had him captured, helpless. He was totally lost.

He found himself an embarrassingly short time later, reality coming slowly back to him as the last little surges of pleasure worked him through. As he had come, a memory from his mortal life had returned to him in vivid relief.

Marelle, his childhood friend turned teenage sweetheart. Sweet, clever Mari, with sun-kissed skin, soft round curves, and freckles absolutely everywhere. She would laugh at whatever stumble, misadventure, or pickle he got himself into. It was different than the way the others would laugh at him. She would even giggle at his intentional jokes, too.

Once she walked right out into the pond that he had fallen into as if had done it on purpose, as if sitting in the muddy water amongst the lily pads was the best fun you could have. With a reputation for social disaster that preceded him, his growing years were difficult. Mari was one of the few bright spots.

He remembered the night before he had left home for boot camp. They snuck away from his teary-eyed mother and the merciless teasing of his brothers. Hand in hand, they had walked across town and into the fields.

Beside the pond flush with night-blooming lilies and underneath the starry sky, his hands had shaken so badly that he couldn't take off his own shirt. Her eyes had sparkled as she took the lead and showed him something so far beyond music or poetry that no words could ever be sufficient.

That first and last time for him hadn't lasted very long, but Mari didn't mind, and he was teachable and eager to learn what she had to show him. When she shivered and gasped and finally came undone under his gentle touches, he had felt as blessed and as powerful as a Phoenix. He had felt invincible.

He felt that way now, breathing deeply to catch his breath. Invincible. Eyes still shut, he untangled his hands from her hair with great care and absently smoothed down the flyaway strands. She drew more patterns on his skin while he returned to reality.

When he opened his eyes she was smiling in a very self-satisfied way, and through their bond he could feel her desire thrumming. It was then that Vigil learned that Phoenixdom had altered more than his physiological need to eat or sleep. He was- for want of better words- absolutely ready to go again.

Being a Phoenix was the best thing that had ever happened to him.

Although perhaps he should have been beyond it at this point, he blushed once more as Spectre took his hand, pulled him out of the chair, and led him over to the untouched bed centered underneath the window. She stretched out luxuriously on top of the blanket, making herself at home as she smiled slyly up at him.

“What are you waiting for?” She teased.

His sheepish smile became a grin as he quickly divested of his clothing, cheeks still red but hands steady.

When he joined her he willed himself linger, to go so nice and slow that he pulled breathy encouragement and venomless threats from her, detailing what she would do if he didn't go faster, harder, now. He noted what she liked and committed it to memory, watching her expressions change, learning her sighs.

The work paid off for both of them. He was a quick student, indeed.