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Everything is warm. The morning light painting streaks across the bed are warm, the soft sheets warmed by heavy sleep, and the body pressed into Vhalla’s side is warmer still.

It should be blissful, a morning that gently rouses a person from their sweet slumber, reminding them that the day is anew. It should be gracious, a morning where the sun is shining and the birds are singing and the knowledge that everything is right with the world is irrefutable. For all that any one person could experience, it should be a morning filled with quiet, calm, and ease.

Vhalla notices none of this, however.

No, the first thing on Vhalla’s mind this morning is neither warmth nor the usually wonderful feel of Aldrik’s arm around her waist. Unfortunately, the first and only thing on Vhalla’s mind this perfect and beautifully warm morning is the suddenly incessant need to vomit.

Elicia had warned her. The first trimester would be burdened with various obstacles, only one of which being acute nausea, not just towards smells and usually inoffensive tastes, but for the worst of all. Morning sickness.

Vhalla does her best to ease herself from beneath Aldrik’s hold without waking him, something neither of them has ever been good at. War does nothing else if not make one a light sleeper. But still, Vhalla attempts, trying not to jostle herself too much as she inches away from the heat of his naked chest and out from beneath the soft sheets.

Not for the first time, Vhalla can’t help the involuntary marveling her mind produces, a still as of yet unaccustomed sensation. After so long apart, so long wrought with struggle, so long fighting and clinging and demandingly desperately of life, for the Mother to have blessed them with rest, with ease… It still seems so surreal. Still seems somewhat impossible.

Not that Vhalla has much time to dwell on her blessings when it feels as though every meal she’s eaten in the last month is about to remind her of its presence.

Despite her best efforts, Aldrik rouses the minute she removes herself from the bed.

“M’love?” his muffled, half awake endearment reaches out to her even as she stumbles hurriedly towards the nearest receptacle. Thankfully it’s a bin already filled with garbage, nothing that will be ruined in her early morning ordeal. Aldrik’s voice is much clearer, bordering on worried even, the next time he speaks. “Vhalla? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, it’s-” Vhalla tries to say, but the moment the words begin to take form, her stomach empties, her placating answer buried beneath last night’s dinner and a rather gruesome sounding cough.

Aldrik says her name again, the sound of it unnecessarily concerned, and before she can blink, Vhalla feels two hands gingerly pulling back her hair as she heaves once more. Though he doesn’t speak again after that, she can practically feel the tension in his body, his energy frazzled and unsure. She knows if she were to glance at him, she would see anxiousness lining his features, perhaps even hopelessness. Vhalla tries not to feel irritated, but she’s too distracted by a third and final roil of her stomach, this one leaving her feeling empty, hallow, and incredibly worn out.

Which is why she doesn’t turn away the hesitant offering of a warmed and dampened towel, Vhalla doing her best to clean herself up as Aldrik disappears and returns with a haste that’s almost comical. This time, he hands her a mouth rinse, the kind that tastes of mint and spices. She takes it happily, though not without rolling her eyes at the man first.

Honestly, if she were to go by the look on his face alone, she would assume he was waiting for her to combust.

“Aldrik,” Vhalla tries after her stomach begins to finally, graciously settle. The word sounds rough around the edges, scratchy and strained. She does her best to clear her throat and try again. “Aldrik, it’s fine.” The painful grate of her voice does little to sway him, it would seem, but Vhalla has always been nothing if not stubborn. “It’s perfectly normal in the first few months. You don’t need to worry. Go back to bed.”

“You can’t expect me not to worry when my wife leaves our bed to get sick,” Aldrik tuts, helping her to her feet and back towards the warmth of the rumpled sheets. The moment she’s sitting down, he’s rushing off to grab her something to drink, disposing of the receptacle on the way. Vhalla can’t help but sigh.

“Aldrik,” she groans, even if there is an undeniable fondness creeping into her tone. “Outside of feeling and looking absolutely disgusting, I’m not in any danger. Just pregnant.”

When Aldrik returns, a cup of something bubbly and sweet in his hands for her to drink, Vhalla takes it willingly, if not more than a bit exasperated. The sweetness soothes her throat and the bubbles calm her stomach, however, so she doesn’t complain.

“My love,” Aldrik says after a moment, sitting himself down at her side. His hand settles in a familiar place high upon her back, rubbing comforting circles into tense muscles. “You could never look anything but radiant to me.” Vhalla tsks, huffing out a dismissive breath, but Aldrik just chuckles, leaning in to place a kiss against her temple. “There is nothing you could do that would make me want you less than I do every minute of every day.” His lips trail down from temple to cheekbone to ear, breath fanning almost unnaturally hot as his teeth nibble softly against her earlobe. “Especially now.”

And as if in explanation, Aldrik carefully weaves a hand around to her stomach, settling against the as of yet nonexistent swell. Vhalla feels her face warm even if her heart suddenly feels full to bursting.

“Aldrik, stop,” Vhalla sighs, but there’s no seriousness behind it, no heat. In fact, if anything, the fondness in her tone must give her away, because as if taking the words as prompting, Aldrik tugs her closer, latching determined lips and teeth to the juncture between her neck and shoulder. Vhalla can’t help but sigh, a recognizable warmth settling just below her navel.

“I want you always,” Aldrik purrs against her neck, hand inching up to slowly brush the straps of her nightgown from her shoulders. “Even at your most disgusting.”

A burst of laughter escapes her without her consent, even as her eyes flutter closed against the persistent graze of his fingers, his lips, his tongue. “Is that supposed to make me feel less repulsive?” She scoffs. In as indifferent a manner as she can muster, Vhalla drains the last of the bubbly liquid and puts the glass aside. Considering Aldrik’s quiet scoff, however, it doesn’t manage to be convincing.

“Repulsive now is it?” He hums instead. “Congratulations on your promotion.”

“You’re insufferable,” Vhalla can’t help but laugh, though the tail end of it trails off into a rather telling moan, Aldrik’s teeth scraping lightly along the nape of her neck as his hands skim from back to hips. Her nightgown has somehow long since settled itself around her waist, though Vhalla can’t fathom when it happened.

“And you’re the most beautiful woman I have ever had the privilege of calling my lady and my love,” Aldrik replies in a murmured whisper of his own, persistent touches leading her back into the rumpled softness of their bed. “Allow me to show you?”

Vhalla’s heart skips, that warmth from before growing into a proper heat as he pulls the thin fabric of her nightgown the rest of the way off. He settles himself over her, a looming and yet somehow still soothing presence. He could never be anything but, Vhalla realizes. The most soothing and irrevocable certainty in her life.

Aldrik’s lips start at her collarbone this time, sucking the soft skin into a light pink bruise. Vhalla’s hips arch up as if on their own accord, already searching for friction, for him. Surely she would be more embarrassed by her quick determination if it was anyone else, but Aldrik knows what he does to her. Just as she knows what she does to him.

“By the mother, the noises you make,” Aldrik groans, a breath of sound just below her belly button, and it’s not until then that Vhalla realizes just how loud she’s been whimpering, fragmented attempts at his name escaping past her lips.

“A-Aldrik,” she gasps, more cognizant now of just how wrecked she already sounds. The flush that settles in her cheeks this time is only partially from the way his lips drag against her hip bone.

“Yes, my love?” he practically purrs, so close to where she wants him, needs him. Does he expect an answer? A demand? Her brain is steadily filling with fog, each possible response growing hazier the more he nips against her inner thigh, lets out a warm breath against coarse hair and incredibly sensitive skin.

“P-Please,” she eventually manages to find a word amidst the cacophony that has become her mind. A plea for what, however, she can’t quite manage to grasp.

Thankfully, Aldrik seems more than capable.

“As you wish,” he replies, a grin against the folds of her, his tongue slowly tracing, circling. Vhalla keens, broken sounds escaping as her hands find the soft strands of his hair, gripping tight and pulling him closer, pulling him in. She can feel every languid stripe, every methodical flick of his tongue. She’s hyper aware of the exact moment he chooses to suck the sensitive bud of her clit between his lips. The scratch of his nails, hotter than they should be, drag in lines against the curve of her ass. She feels it all, revels in it all, drowns in it all.

“Aldrik, I’m-!” She cries out, both hands all but fisted in his hair now. The sound of her desperation only seems to increase his motivations, his tongue choosing that moment to delve deep, his fingers joining soon after. Two inch past the dripping wetness of her entrance without warning, curving with a pressure that is both recognizable and unexpected. Within moments, she feels like a coil wound tight, tight, tight, ready to burst if only he would go a little bit deeper, suck a little bit harder.

Which is the exact moment when Aldrik chooses to pull back, fingers dragging trails of slick against her inner thigh as he inches himself both closer and away. It’s a familiar sensation, Aldrik lining himself up, pushing slowly, carefully into the very depths of her, but it’s a sensation she knows she will never tire of. A perfect, uninhibited closeness. A desperation sated by intimacy, by understanding. They are halves made whole, in this moment, two lives overlapping into an indistinguishable recreation.

In seconds, they are pressed together as completely as two lovers can be, and for a brief, permissibly naïve moment, Vhalla is reminded of how breathtaking life can truly be.

And then, subsequently, how torturous.

“Mother, Aldrik, please!” Vhalla cries out again, locking her ankles behind the small of his back. It manages to bring him even closer, drag him even deeper into that core that she desperately wants filled, but it isn’t enough. “I need…” She tries, arching herself up to meet his thrusts as his pace becomes more pronounced, more frantic. But she doesn’t know what she needs really, can’t quite name it or describe it. It’s just him. It’s just this, more of this, all of this.

“I’ve got you,” Aldrik growls into her neck, bucking his hips hard, a ruthless pace that leaves her toes curling and her heart stuttering. “I’ve always got you.”

And, as if his words were the trigger to some sort of constricted magic, Vhalla feels herself tense and spasm, his next thrust paving the way for every ounce of pleasure she’s been searching for. She careens over the edge of a precipice she hadn’t even been aware she’d been dangling over, the sudden rush of ecstasy leaving her ears buzzing and her vision dancing with stars. It’s almost painful, how quickly her body submits to the onslaught, wracking through her in waves of sheer, unadulterated bliss.

Offhandedly, Vhalla can feel Aldrik’s last few thrusts, the release of warmth within in her, but it’s an almost absent realization. Everything seems muted and blissful, her heart slowing as her mind hazily decides that now would be a perfect time to go back to sleep.

But not yet, she barters, arms moving up to wrap lazily around the back of Aldrik’s neck, fingers of one hand curling into his hair as the other dips down to rest loosely around his nape. She pulls him close, panting breaths warming the left side of his face.

“You are-” he starts to say, his own voice labored, but Vhalla shakes her head, cutting him off. With a quiet sound meant only for them, Vhalla presses her lips against his cheek.

“No. You are,” she counters. “The most wonderful man I have ever had the privilege of calling my Emperor and my love.”

The blush that crawls abruptly into his cheeks is one Vhalla will cherish now and for always.