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All his being was molten acrimony, soldered into the carapace of his armor, no human softness left to him. In the meager confines of Estinien’s body, the great wyrm Nidhogg thrashed, the power of his shade as wild as a storm. As steel became scale, as great wings tore Estinien asunder, Nidhogg burned his blood to ash and shattered his bones to dust with a thundering roar. It was impossible that Estinien could cling to life wracked by such strength, and he knew not whether he remained of his own will or that of the wyrm, delighting to puppet the dragoon who had brought him low and eluded his temptation for so long.

The wyrm rode him hard, soaring swift and high as though fanned by the flames of all seven hells. Lush, green fields passed below, endless as the ocean. Ishgard before the Calamity.

The dregs of Estinien’s soul coiled in dread, borne toward his fate on wings of deathless fury.

His last glimpse of Ferndale was a drop of kindness in a maelstrom of cruelty. Estinien had oft wondered if Nidhogg knew it when he forced Estinien to see this memory, bonded in flesh and spirit as they had been. Ferndale’s destruction had been seared into Estinien’s mind, burning in the blackness everytime he closed his eyes. So much harder to hold on to were the memories of his home at peace. The hills he had wandered, the fields where he had chased Hamignant…

But the respite was brief. Righteous, bitter rancor poured through his—Nidhogg’s—veins, a thin anodyne for his, their, endless sorrow. Their fire made barren the very earth, their claws rent homes into matchsticks. But it was not enough. Never enough to balance what he had lost.

Crimson eyes floated in the blackness above Estinien. Thinking himself wakened into another nightmare, his heart convulsed.

The eyes swiftly retreated.

“Peace, Estinien.” Came a soft voice. “It is I, Vrtra.”

Estinien breathed out, ragged with relief.

Vrtra was perched at the very edge of Estinien’s bed, hands folded together in his lap. Though his eyes were still too bleary to see more, Estinien could well imagine the faint furrow in the simulucrum’s brow. “I apologize for intruding, I—”

Estinien waved the apology off, then scrubbed the hand over his face and peeled himself off muggy sheets to sit up. No need to ask what summoned Vrtra to his side: the more time he spent with Vrtra, the keener his sense of the great wyrm became, just as his eyes had grown adept at picking out patterns in once-chaotic Thavnairian weaves. Though Vrtra’s moods still passed through Estinien awareness vague and vast as shadows under water, he had no doubt Vrtra had a far clearer read of Estinien. To know himself so transparent would have chafed him once, but he could not bring himself to mind it. Aymeric could always see right through him with no supernatural skill whatsoever, and it was doubtful Vrtra needed to depend on it either.

“‘Tis well that you are here.” Estinien offered once he could speak, surprised at how much he meant it. His body was already calming down, Vrtra’s tranquil mien like cool water for his harried spirit. Estinien had weathered such nightmares many times alone, thinking it useless to trouble another over phantom terrors. Another of his wrong-headed beliefs, evidently.

The admission obviously pleased Vrtra, and Estinien’s lip quirked in turn. Vain creature. “Is there aught you require?” Vrtra asked.

“Water, if you will.”

Vrtra slid off the bed and padded to the pitcher across the moon-shadowed room, deftly side-stepping Estinien’s scattered clothes. Once returned, Vrtra settled on the bed again with his legs tucked under himself, closer now. Estinien drank half the offered drink in one swallow, then balanced the glass atop an upraised knee.

Even sitting on his heels, Vrtra had to tip his head back sharply to look at Estinien. “Do you wish to speak of it?”

Estinien shook his head, but found the words spilling out of him regardless. “When I was in Nidhogg’s thrall, he showed me the destruction of my home. ‘Tis a dream I’ve had many times since.”

He had meant the last as a reassurance, but Vrtra laid his hand on Estinien’s arm, over the sunburst of scarring Nidhogg’s eye had burned into him. The disparity in Estinien’s mind between Vrtra’s slender hand and the strength that puppeted it struck Estinien more potently than usual, after the reminder of what the full brunt of such power felt like. Or perhaps it was simply that the touch of another reminded Estinien that his body had been returned to frangible flesh and bone. It was not unwelcome, in either case.

“Tell me of your birthplace. What was it called?”

Estinien took another swallow of water before he answered. “Ferndale. ‘Twas a small village, fields as far as the eye could see…” Estinien snorted softly. “In all like I would have been a shepherd had I remained, if you can believe that.”

“I do not think it a strange occupation for you at all,” Vrtra said with a smile that Estinien chose not to interpret. “Does such a life still appeal to you?”

Estinien flicked a quick glance to Vrtra, doubtless already scheming surreptitious ways of gifting Estinien a whole flock of wooly beasts. He took a moment to reflect on the question. But only a moment. “Nay. Had I been left to it, it may have suited me well enough, but I could find little joy in it now.” Such a life of solitude seemed not peaceful, as it might have once, but lonely.

He added, warning, “Any stray karakul that finds itself before me, I’ll consider my dinner.”

Vrtra chuckled. Silence settled between them, Vrtra sensing before Estinien that he needed time for his thoughts to unfold. Like an errant lamb, Estinien’s mind strayed from the future back to the past. For a long moment he hovered on the verge of speech, weighing his question. Doubtless it would put a crease back in the wyrm’s brow, but Vrtra would not begrudge him for asking.

“Nidhogg… You knew him before Ratatoskr’s death, I presume. What was he like?”

At first, Estinien thought the question had surprised Vrtra. The wyrm stared at him in response, lips slightly parted—a mild look by any other measure, ungainly on one usually so poised. As he pressed his mouth closed, Estinien knew it was not a lack of words that stalled him, but reticence.

He arched a brow. “You’ll not offend me, wyrm.”

“... I was not close to my brother. But a comparison ‘twixt the two of you has merit.” Vrtra looked Estinien over, but his gaze was remote. “You were matched in will, certainly. Strong, devoted, righteous, fierce with love.”

The description did not surprise Estinien, yet the knowledge sat strangely with him. “Hn. Oft have I wondered why Nidhogg’s eye chose me. Chose anyone, for that matter. Surely someone more faint-hearted would have served him better.”

Vrtra was quiet for a moment. His fingers stroked the curved edge of Estinien’s scar. “Our kind do not easily forget. Even for one so driven as my brood brother, it would have been difficult to put aside the knowledge that there was not always strife between dragon and man, that they once shared their joys and sorrows.”

Estinien sighed. “I did little to remind him of that.”

Vrtra’s hand tightened on Estinien’s forearm, his red eyes focusing sharply on him. “Many are your burdens, Estinien Wyrmblood. But not that. My brother’s soul was not within your power to redeem. That was the task of his brethren.”

“... Aye. I am no Shiva.”

Estinien considered the paling blue light of his chamber. If he pulled Vrtra into his lap now in emulation of the Saint, they could both have a pleasant morning after all, but a lingering restlessness itched at him, stifled by this quiet room. “Enough fretting.” Estinien lightly tugged the thick braid that fell down Vrtra’s back. “We’ve less than a bell ‘til dawn. What say we greet the sun in the air?”

Vrtra kissed Estinien’s palm with a smile before letting him go. “How rare for you to so willingly propose a meeting…”

Estinien snorted, and set about getting dressed. He bothered only with boots, trousers, and the thin linen had taken to wearing under his armor. From below, Estinien could hear Vrtra opening the large back doors that led to the rear courtyard. When he and the simulacrum arrived in the main hall, sweet, foggy air had already drifted into the room. The great wyrm was in the courtyard outside, iridescent black under the faint light of the moon.

Estinien sprang lightly onto his back, instantly gratified by the stretch in his thighs. He stroked his palm along Vrtra’s neck, his hand gliding smoothly over the ridged scales, and a thought struck him like levin:

Why not emulate Saint Shiva?

A part of Estinien had always assumed Shiva’s sexual proclivities an embellishment. It was simply not realistic. Yet… swiving was not such a complicated matter. And it would not do to lavish pleasure only upon the simulacrum, surely.

Said simulacrum gave a wry wave from Meghaduta’s threshold, just as Vrtra spread his wings, and coiled his strength. Estinien reared his thoughts in, willing his body to relax lest Vrtra’s ascension knock him senseless.

Vrtra leapt into the air, his great wings defying the heavy stone beneath them and sending the pale mist tumbling. There was steady, abiding strength in each wing stroke, a buoyancy and ease befitting a creature in its own domain. Borne heavensward by Vrtra’s effortless mastery, the embrace of the firmament settled over Estinien like a heavy blanket, soothing the restive twisting in his limbs, banishing the dregs of the nightmare that clung to his mind like tar.

Vrtra ascended high above Radz-at-Han’s nest in the heavens. Night’s cerulean shadow made land and firmament seem as one vast ocean, the stars no more distant than the lights of the city. Vrtra set a course towards the still-sleeping sun, gliding through the silent world.

When Estinien soared through the heavens, he need always consider the fall, but atop Vrtra he felt as light as an errant seed, able to drift for malms on a breeze. Even with Vrtra warm under his thighs, the cold so high up had bite to it, and Estinien relished how it woke his body, and scoured clean his mind. He breathed deep, filling himself with crisp air and Vrtra’s thick scent, rich as wet earth and amber.

Estinien tangled his fingers into Vrtra’s fur and considered his earlier thoughts as the wind snapped his hair back. Estinien knew naught of how dragonkind swived. All that time with Ysayle, none of the party had gotten nerve enough to ask how Shiva had managed her great sin with Hraesvelgr. He had never even seen anything resembling genitalia on Vrtra, or any other dragon. Being able to brood their own eggs, it was possible they didn’t have intercourse at all and Vrtra had only picked the habit up as a curiosity.

There was also the issue of privacy. Amusing as it was to imagine Vrtra cobbling together a tactful explanation for the guards, Estinien was less sure of how bold either of them would be within Meghaduta’s thin walls. He would have to act ere they returned from this jaunt. That was just as well—swiftness suited Estinien, and now that the thought was before him, he could scarcely focus on anything else. His fingers would not leave Vrtra be, stroking his fur, rubbing over his scales, whorled like fingerprints. Vrtra was nigh insatiable in the lithe body of the homunculus, leaving Estinien hard ridden and wet whenever they coupled. To swive him in his proper form was liable to knock Estinien out as soundly as a Hannish feast.

Soon enough, the sun rose and tore the world in twain once more. Sunlight warmed Estinien by degrees and brightened the lush land rushing below them like a dancer casting off veil after veil. Just as the sun’s glare began to boil, Estinien spotted a becoming pool of bright turquoise in the distance, and called out.

“Vrtra! Take us down to that lake. I want a closer look.”

“As you wish.” Vrtra promptly snapped his wings in and dove, swift as a spear. Grinning, Estinien leaned into the roaring wind. He marshaled Nidhogg’s essence and sprang from the dragon’s back, light as diving hawk without his armor. They raced to the earth below, Estinien landing just in time to feel the ground shake as Vrtra alighted. Birds burst from every treetop, squalling offense.

Wings tucked close so as not to disturb the trees, Vrtra observed Estinien as he strode to the edge of the water, still sloshing from the gust of Vrtra’s landing. Even at the edges, shadowed under thick boughs, the pool was just as bright and clear up close, with sunlight illuminating it like molten diamond.

“What interest do these waters hold for you?”

Words fled Estinien’s head like so many startled hares. He froze.

Thankfully, Vrtra mistook his reaction. “No-one will disturb us if you wish to bathe,” the dragon offered, gentle. Assuredly, Vrtra had taken note that Estinien stayed fully dressed regardless of the heat, and guessed rightly that he preferred to keep his strange scars covered. With the wind caressing Estinien’s warm skin, his diffidence seemed timid, the shackle of a pain better left him the past. Even the alchemists who still salivated at Estinien’s presence did not dare pester the Satrap’s guest—the Satrap’s companion, as Estinien had heard a Radiant Host refer to him just the other day.

And Vrtra would doubtless delight in dressing him up like a doll in the style of his beloved country.

“—Yes.” Estinien said briskly. Inspiration struck him: “‘Twil do your wound good as well, to soak it.” The raw skin left by Vrtra’s altruism with his scales was healing, but Estinien still caught Vrtra moving stiffly. Perhaps there was some service he could do the wyrm where he could touch Vrtra at length while he rested. Did birds not need their feathers groomed?

From Azure Dragoon to Viridian Nursemaid. Estinien bit back a laugh at his own expense.

“Mayhap,” Vrtra mused. He approached the water and dipped one clawed foreleg in. Going slow as not to scare the fish, no doubt. Estinien grinned and shook his head. As Vrtra settled himself, Estinien went about unlacing his boots, shucking out of his shirt and pants. It was strange to stand so exposed under the light of the day, to thread dewey grass between his toes while the sluggish breeze wound between his bare thighs, with no thought of nearby enemies to rush him. Strange, but undeniably pleasant.

Estinien was gratified to hear Vrtra’s deep sigh as he submerged himself. The pool was not large enough to accommodate Vrtra’s full bulk, but he had managed to settle himself with his haunches in the water and the rest of on the shore, wings spread out. Looking upon him, dappled with sunlight and shade so he shimmered with a dozen colors, Estinien was struck by the majesty of the great wyrm, ornamented by his own domain as richly as if he lounged upon a pile of gold.

Vrtra tipped his great head at Estinien. “The water is pleasant,” he assured.

Estinien snapped his jaw shut and straightened.

“I would touch you,” He announced.

This was met by bemused hesitation from Vrtra. “... Mayhap you should elaborate, my friend.”

Estinien felt his face heat as he hunted for words. If only he could blame the sun. “I— I know not what you would find pleasing. Or pleasurable.”

Vrtra’s neck arched, and his wings flared in surprise. The noise the great wyrm made was not exactly a growl, a low noise that warped through the air, through Estinien, like a heat mirage, leaving him abruptly weak-kneed and faintly feverish.

Vrtra dipped his great wings, and lowered his head to rest closer to the ground—closer to Estinien. “Your hand would give me pleasure wherever you choose to place it. Rather than guide you, I would give you leave to sate your curiosity.”

Estinien’s cheeks flamed hotter. Had Vrtra known the bent of Estinien’s thoughts while they flew? “... You shall be left waiting long, in that case.” He answered, at last.

“I am patient.” Vrtra replied, with no little irony.

Estinien knew at once where he would start. He stepped forward, and stroked his hand along Vrtra’s verdant feathers, soft as the clouds. After a beat of hesitation, Estinien gave in to impulse, and stepped forward to rub his cheek against the heavenly softness. Vrtra sounded another deep noise that bid Estinien’s blood leap like a hound to scent. Eyes closed to offer his senses some relief, he leaned into Vrtra’s wing, silken feathers brushing his shoulder, his stomach, his chest.

Hot breath steamed against Estinien’s back, pouring heat through his skin, into the very core of him. He turned on unsteady feet and found himself face to face with the great wyrm, an ilm away from fangs as long as his forearm.

“May I touch you in turn, Estinien?”

Not so patient after all. Estinien was in no position to tease him. “Yes,” he demanded.

He reached up and gripped the base of Vrtra’s great horn, baring his body to Vrtra’s steaming breath. The wyrm flicked the tip of his tongue against Estinien’s chest and dragged it down in a burning trail, over his chest, his cock, pressing his legs apart like a doll. Estinien let his head fall back and moaned, full-throated, shaken by Vrtra’s immensity, enthralled by it. The massive organ flexed and twisted between his thighs, a tongue that could swallow him whole, pleasuring his cock. It was far too broad at the tip to even begin to pierce Estinien, but each slick, gliding touch against his hole flamed his desire to have it stuff him senseless regardless. Groaning, shaking with delight, he rent the thick grass between his toes as he clutched Vrtra’s horn and rutted his hips against velvet warmth, clenching hard with his thighs only to have their strength defied by Vrtra’s insistent laving.

Estinien came far too quickly, but his lust did not slacken at all: his whole being watered with desire. Vrtra withdrew his tongue slowly, savoring the tang of lust that sweltered in Estinien’s veins and dewed upon his skin.

Estinien collapsed forward, keeping himself upright by virtue of his grip on Vrtra’s horn. The wyrm lowered his head further until Estinien could sag forward to rest on him.

“You’ve the advantage of knowing where my cock is,” Estinien groused, once he’d recovered some breath.

“Another time,” Vrtra chuckled, vibrating through Estinien’s bones and making his head swim with possibility.

He groped a hand along Vrtra’s bony jaw to find one of the soft tendrils that framed his face and stroked it gently, thinking it something like a cat’s whisker. Supple but firm, it was covered in a velvety fuzz.

Vrtra indeed made a noise very like a purr. “As you would grip yourself,” Vrtra coached. Estinien tightened his hand and stroked the tendril’s full length, moaning quietly in sympathy. His own cock was still hard, heavy and aching between his spit-slick thighs. It was a battle not to rub them together. Vrtra’s purring rattled his whole being loose: it felt like it was massaging his mind to mush, filling him with echoes of Vrtra’s pleasure. Estinien wanted to roll himself in every sensation Vrtra had to offer, and give every part of his slight body to pleasure the wyrm.

Ungracefully, Estinien dropped down to the grass so he could use both his hands with the tendrils. He varied the firmness of his grip, the speed, stroking, kneading, rubbing them against his cheek and chest. Vrtra’s great wings quivered in place with the effort of not whipping up a hurricane. His smaller back wings twitched and slapped at the water; his tail churned silt and made the sparkling surface roll. Drops of water flicked against Estinien’s sun-hot shoulders and burned to vapor.

Estinien shoved one thick tendril in his mouth, down his throat, ignoring his own gagging. A breeze whipped by as Vrtra snapped all his wings tight against himself, his rumbling now like the roar of the ocean. To touch him was enough to make Estinien’s body tremble with the force. Throat stuffed, he took a tendril in each hand and stroked them fervently while he moaned and hummed with all the strength his lungs could muster.

A great, thunderous crack broke the air, Vrtra’s lashing tail smashing a tree into twigs. Vrtra roared through clenched teeth—Estinien was thankful for the sake of his ears drums, but he burned to be a partner that could match Vrtra’s full might so he need hold nothing back. Half-swooning with lack of air, he groaned in frustration and sucked harder.

Enough.” Vrtra spoke in Estinien’s mind, voice shaking, but gentle. Carefully, he extricated himself from Estinien’s grip.

Estinien barely caught himself from falling over, panting. “Vrtra,” he growled.

Estinien.” Vrtra reared back his head. His voice still buzzed in Estinien’s mind, and he continued in the tongue of his birth. “Thy will is fierce indeed. Never doubt that thou art the last gift my brother left to this world, child of man and dragon both. Thou art a balm to my spirit. To mine eyes, thy beauty dims the sun.

Before Estinien could sputter a response—blessedy, for he had none—Vrtra shifted one of his wings, creating a shaded spot at his side, a clear invitation. Estinien groped along the wyrm’s side and collapsed against him, groaning as the scales raked smoothly up his back. He rolled his shoulders against the sleek, sun-hot surface.

For a time, Estinien soaked in Vrtra’s shadow, rocked by the rise and fall of his great lungs. His own breath came back to him, though he could not match the great wyrm’s pace. Once recovered, he smacked a hand against Vrtra’s foreleg to signal his return to sentience.

Vrtra’s voice murmured to him. “Songs of rage and mourning thou hast heard in abundance. By thine leave, Estinien, I would sing to thee of peace and pleasure.

Emotion pulsed in Estinien’s chest. Not fear, but sadness, to think of Nidhogg, lost in dirges ‘til his death. And Vrtra, with no one to sing to. His hand found the curve of Vrtra’s foreleg again, and he gripped it with all his might so Vrtra might feel it. “Then I would hear you, Vrtra.”

Vrtra rumbled acceptance. The sound deepened in timbre, and a subtle shudder rippled through Estinien’s body. He could tell at once that this was no passive resonance: Nidhogg’s essence, bound inextricably to Estinien’s blood and being, thrummed in him all at once, like struck crystal. A warming of the spirit, an unclenching of his soul that flooded his being with soothing ichor. It was like in kind with drunkeness, absent the stifling dullness. Estinien drank to drown his thoughts—this lifted him above them, as if he weighed no more than a feather.

Every sense sharpened and burst with ripeness, all of them rich and sweet enough to lose himself utterly. Vrtra’s scent was muskier, thick as clove, soaking into Estinien’s lungs, infusing his breath. He could feel hot blood and crimson aether stroke his veins as they flowed through him, every blade of grass that licked against his thighs and buttocks, every ridge in Vrtra’s scales as he pressed back into them, arching, imprinting them on his skin as though to score his bones.

With a note, Vrtra held Estinien at the peak of pleasure, as if he need never fall.

Wilt thou not pleasure thyself with the hands which have brought me to ecstasy?” Vrtra coaxed. “Mayhap I should have brought my proxy.

The homunculus kneeling between his thighs, looking up at him with crimson eyes bright with satisfaction. The mere thought was almost enough to undo Estinien. He shook his head desperately, wanting to prolong this feast. Vrtra’s song poured through him in a golden shimmer, playing him as though Estinien’s body were made for pleasure.

Shifting sunlight and shadow stroked Estinien’s skin as Vrtra moved his wing. The very tips of Vrtra’s feathers caressed body, his cock, with infinite gentleness. He spilled instantly, hot come striking his stomach and chest, dripping down his twitching shaft while Estinien writhed against Vrtra, making noises he could not name, which melded in harmony with Vrtra's voice.

The song did not cease at once but grew softer, as though he were being laid gently on the ground, though he had remained collapsed against Vrtra’s side. The wyrm’s hot tongue gently licking his spend jolted him back to awareness.

“Seven hells,” Estinien gasped, with the delirious fervor of a man who had plunged through all seven of the heavens. “That’s how dragons swive?”

Estinien felt wrung of will. Years it had taken Nidhogg to conquer him with rage, and Vrtra had needed only one balmy morning of pleasure. He felt senseless, stuffed.

Vrtra stifled his laughter. “‘Twas but a taste. Thy form is yet mortal, my star.

Estinien grabbed for Vrtra’s horn, using the grip to leverage himself to catch Vrtra’s single eye, grinning with all his teeth. “Underestimate me at your peril, wyrm. I have only just begun to burn.”