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Tea Series

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"That can't be comfortable."

Jimaya's stretch unfurled her to the very tips of pointed toes, then curled her back inward as she settled her head on her arm. The hearth burned steady and pleasant before her. "Neither are you, but I put up with you too."

Rensai smiled to himself and turned his teacup between his fingers. She'd arrived sleepy – another long day at court – and he supposed the tea hadn't helped. Maybe he should have planned better. But he liked her like this too, warm and relaxed and pliable. He finished his own tea in a swallow and joined her on the floor before the fire.

"Are you sure?" he said in her ear as he laid down beside her. She shivered and cringed away, smiling despite her best efforts. He wound an arm around her waist. "Either you're lying or you have remarkable endurance."

"It's the latter." Her eyes were already closed, her voice sticky with fatigue.

"Then it's your best quality."

Jimaya turned over in his arms and blinked up at him. The firelight set her skin and hair to a glowing gold. "What are the others?"

"Don't you spend all day on the receiving end of compliments?" His hair spilled over his shoulder as he bent to kiss her neck.

She sighed contentedly and pressed closer against him. "I don't care about theirs."

Rensai nipped gently and she sucked in a breath. "Hm. Clever." Another kiss. "Resilient." Another. "Compassionate. And luckily for me, endlessly forgiving."

Jimaya made a prim sound of agreement. "Very luckily," she said, and tilted her head up to kiss him. Just the once, lightly, but he held her in it until it unfolded moment by moment in a slow spread of honeyed warmth. He came away breathless; she came away flushed.

She shifted her hips against his, a weak little demonstration of impatience. It took everything in him not to pin her to the floor in another, decidedly less tender kiss. But she sighed. "I'm too tired, Rensai."

"I know." He dragged himself away from her neck and buried his nose in her hair instead, heaving a sigh as he relaxed back beside her. "Playing half an Empress must be exhausting work."

"Half?" Jimaya summoned up enough energy to sound indignant. Rensai nodded into her hair.

"You're so small. Maybe if you stood on your brother's shoulders you could measure up to one whole monarch."

She elbowed him in the chest and he coughed a laugh, squeezing her all the closer.

"Don't worry, I like it."

"I don't care what you like––"

"I like that too." He'd omitted 'argumentative' from his list of Jimaya's best qualities – she wouldn't have been happy to hear it – but it was one he held nearest to his heart. She was a little twist of aggravation in his arms. "Come on. To bed?"

"Yes, I should. Tomorrow I have to–– hey!"

Rensai scooped her into his arms and stood in one fluid motion. The fire had heated her robes hot enough to match her blush. Contradictory. Another one of her best qualities. She fumed at being carried even as she laid her head against his chest.

"I can walk," she mumbled.

"I want to hold you. Let me be selfish for a moment."

"You're selfish every moment."

Rensai laughed again as he carried her to the bedroom and laid her gently down on the bed. "Listen to you. So irritable." He sat down beside her and helped her shrug out of her outer robes – he was just setting them aside when she hooked an arm around his neck and pulled him into another gentle kiss.

He lingered close when they parted, one hand at her cheek. "If you didn't kiss me like that, I'd worry you hated me."

"Maybe I do."

"Well I love you."

"Rensai." She pulled back and glared up at him seriously. "I told you not to say that unless you meant it."

"I'm sorry." He hid his smile behind another kiss, confident that she would forgive him, and confident that one day she'd realize he meant it every single time.