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That was the second time Yujin had caught Counselor Yoren's eye over the course of the feast and she set down her glass, averting her eyes self-consciously. She didn't drink often, and if she was going to indulge, then she'd prefer to do it without her father's advisor glancing at her as though he were waiting for her to do something wrong. Everyone else up and down the vast wooden table was enjoying themselves, and he would begrudge her a moment's relaxation? The archers had gladly left relaxation behind long ago and were rounding the corner to debauchery: they laughed and toasted and pounded the table in celebration of their recent promotion. It was a once annual occasion, a turning point in an archer's training to be promoted to join the ranks of the Chief's Guard, so course they were rowdy. It was their nature, practically bred into them for just this moment, and when the roar of laugher rose again her attention was jerked away from the Counselor.

"Don't look them in the eye, you'll only encourage them." Rensai's teasing voice was unnaturally close to her ear and she startled, but sure enough one of the archers she didn't recognize pointed to her and shouted something she couldn't make out over the ruckus. He raised his glass and the whole lot of them followed the movement in another meaningless toast, another reason to drink deeply. To her right at the head of the table, her father boomed with laughter.

"You see?" Rensai elbowed her gently with a laugh as he took up his own glass. "All compliments, I'm sure, or your father wouldn't look nearly as happy."

The wine lifted color to her cheeks. "They're foolish," she said loftily. "And they'll be whining a week from now when they're put on lookout duty from midnight to dawn."

Rensai laughed. "Of course they're foolish, all the more reason to let them have their moment." He was a close talker by habit but she felt his presence more strongly than usual with his body turned towards her the way it was. Counselor Yoren was in deep conversation with her father but she could still feel the occasional weight of his gaze from across the table, boxing her in. Her only option was to turn closer to Rensai and she shifted uncomfortably, drinking again to give herself something to do, but Rensai appeared not to notice, distracted by another round of toasts of which he appeared to be the benefactor. He stood up halfway to give a mocking bow and returned the favor with a raise of his glass. Cheers drowned out his words before he could even finish them and Yujin drank too, startling again when he settled back down and threaded an arm around her waist.

His eyes flicked to hers and she recognized the moment where she should protest or shift away, but emboldened by wine she chose neither, embracing the flush in her cheeks, the fuzziness she felt in her fingers, and the quickening of her heartbeat. If Counselor Yoren had something to say, then he could say it instead of shooting sly looks across at the pair of them, and she took a decisive drink of wine to steel her resolve. It felt good, Rensai's arm around her felt good, and if she was going to sit here and watch the whole of her father's guard become completely sodden with drink, then she may as well have a good time herself.

But festivities carried on for much longer than she cared to push her endurance, and soon enough she was kissing her father on the cheek and bidding him goodnight. Her father gripped her hands in his and shooed her on, Counselor Yoren nodded his regards with a hand over his heart, and the archers' end of the table erupted in jeers and begs for her to stay for one more, just one more drink, come sit down at the other end for a bit. Yujin laughed and made her excuses, leaving them with one final word of congratulations as she turned to leave. Rensai was waiting just behind her, and he took up her hand with the gentlest of ease.

"They wear on me too. I will walk back with you."

"What are you talking about?" Yujin laughed as she started down the passageway that led from the great hall. The stone floor lifted pleasantly under her feet. "Don't you live for that? You can't convince me you wouldn't appreciate another toast or two in your honor."

"Mm, perhaps not," he admitted, smiling down at her, and she slipped her elbow through his as they continued down the passageway that led to the more residential part of the den. The stone walls muted the noise and bustle of the feast more and more with each step, and she let out a sigh of relief. He chuckled his shared sentiments.

"I'm grateful for the excuse to leave, thank you. A few more and I might have been in just as bad shape as they were."

"You would not," Yujin teased, picking up her pace to keep up with Rensai's long strides. "I know you have occasion to drink and I've never seen you take too much—"

She was cut off by Rensai's sudden halt, her arm still linked with his, and she jerked around to face him. His hands found her waist and in the space of a breath, so did his lips find hers. Her shoulders relaxed under his touch and she leaned into it, closing her eyes. A tender second unfolded into two, then three, and just as he was drawing away she parted her lips and invited him back, welcoming the warmth that was beginning to flood her veins and buzz in her fingertips like the wine. He let out a sigh and she wondered vaguely if she had surprised him: dark eyes searched her face when at last they parted again, and all she could manage was a shaky smile. It was all the permission he needed. He ran with it and they stumbled back against the stone wall, bodies pressed together, locked in embrace and another heated kiss. Yujin chased feverishly after whatever warmth he'd ignited inside her and she let out a gasp when his lips met her throat, teasing and feather light. She tilted her head to accommodate him and his hair brushed over her bare shoulder as he leaned in closer.

"Rensai," she breathed. He hummed against her skin at the sound of his name. "Wait, someone will see."

He paused, whatever spell he'd been imagining suddenly broken, and leaned his head on her shoulder. "I'm sorry." He was slightly breathless as he straightened up. "I can walk you back to your rooms or I'll leave you be—"

"No, just—come on." Yujin took him by the hand and tugged him around a corner, into a smaller, winding corridor that led down and away from the main drag of the den, the torches already burning low. She slid his hands up his chest and pulled him against herself again, bolder now that they were better hidden from sight. Lips met one more and he pressed her against the wall, one leg between hers, and she sighed in satisfaction as she ground against it.

He pulled away after a long moment, cupping her face in his hands as though he didn't believe what he was seeing, and just as a nervous, breathy laugh escaped her lips he spun her around and pulled her close again, her back to his chest as he kissed her throat, hands stroking up the insides of her thighs. She arched against him and wondered if she was just imagining him beginning to grow hard behind her, but the thought was chased from her mind along with everything else when his hand finally reached between her legs. She knew she was already warm and halfway to wet at his touch and it didn't escape his notice: she turned her head to kiss him and it was deeper, more insistent, more desperate. He moved his hips against hers and began stroking softly back and forth over her leggings; a tiny moan escaped her mouth and she tried to press closer still, willing him onward.

He growled in frustration against her neck, fingers digging into her thighs, but he reined himself in and leaned his head back against the wall. "Not here," he said gruffly.

Yujin gave a whine of protest, trying to drag his hand back between her legs, but Rensai refused and turned her bodily to face him instead, taking her face in his hands.

"Not here," he repeated, and sealed his words with another kiss. Her breath left her in a rush when he drew away again. "You deserve better than this."

Impatience caved into to a flush of embarrassment; she dropped her gaze, all heat extinguished. What had led him to this decision so suddenly, whom he'd been with like this to make him think she didn't belong in this situation? Had she been too forward even though the first kiss had been his? She could blame the wine, but she probably hadn’t had enough to make too strong an excuse.

"No, don't look like that." When he caught her chin and lifted it so she could meet his eyes again, she was surprised to find he looked more predatory than ever. "To your chambers...?"

Yujin cut him off with a shake of her head and her heartbeat picked up again for an altogether different reason. "No, they're too close to my father's, someone will surely see. And if we're seen heading for yours—"

"We won't be." Rensai flashed a smile and took her by the hand before she could object, guiding her along the dim corridor to another, then down yet another. With nearly everyone at the feast, no guards or patrol intercepted them as they wound their way through carved alleys and passageways until at last they emerged along a familiar residential hall, torches blazing on all sides. Rensai halted before a heavy wooden door at the very end of the tunnel.

Yujin dropped his hand and hesitated, feeling very far from the impulsivity of just a few minutes ago as Rensai unlocked the door and beckoned her inside. She followed tentatively, casting her eyes around the room and weighing her options as she crossed the threshold. There was no reason to turn away, but if she was going to change her mind, now was the time to do it, while the door was still open and she could still make some halfhearted excuse for what led her down this corridor at this time of night should anyone run across her on her way back to her own rooms.

"Yujin." Rensai closed his hand over hers again and drew her nearer, over the threshold and into a disarmingly tender kiss. "If you are nervous to be here, no part of this needs to be—"

"I'm fine," Yujin said more firmly than she felt, and though he still looked skeptical, Rensai took her word for it and drew away to light a lamp followed by a few candles scattered around the room. From what little Yujin could see in the dim light, this room was unquestionably his: at the opposite end, piles of scrolls littered a desk bearing a human skull with a candle wedged atop it. Staves and swords and knives were mounted on almost every available wall space, though the largest wall was covered in an ornate tapestry depicting a stormy sea. It was almost more of a comfort to stare at the weapons or the skull than it was to look at the bed: that felt most intimidating of all, and whatever warmth and bravado the wine had lent her seemed long gone by now. Rensai returned, took her hand gently in his, and drew it to his lips. She could only bear to hold his gaze for a moment, and her eyes darted away just as he smiled and stepped even closer.

"Relax," he breathed in her ear, then kissed it. His words were warm on her skin. "If you want to stop—" another kiss, just below her earlobe— "or slow down—" another, along her jaw— "if you want me to escort you back—" one more at the corner of her mouth— "just say the word." He kissed her fully this time and she couldn't help but lean into him, lips parted, letting him burn away her apprehension as he held her against his chest, strong and steady. He led her away from the door, their lips still locked, until his legs found the edge of the bed and he eased them both down. She fell back beside him and tucked herself close, and he seemed only too glad to oblige with a hand at the small of her back to guide her hips against his.

It felt good, being this close to him, and not at all like she'd expected. His was an intimidating presence in the den, the spearmen and archers yielded to him whenever they hadn't been given higher orders, and whatever work he oversaw in the mines was only ever discussed in hushed tones and with wary glances. But Rensai was more patient than she would have guessed, more attentive, and certainly more human: twice he had to pause to pick strands of his long hair out of his mouth before kissing her again, and when she stifled a laugh at the sight, he growled playfully at her to leave him alone. He asked, "May I?" when he fingered the lacing on her bodice, and when she nodded and sat up to turn his back to him, he unlaced it with care and set it properly aside. His long fingers swept over her bare skin and made her sigh, then shudder as he thumbed over and traced her nipples.

Half undressed in his bed with his hands wandering her body, she felt herself transition with unexpected force: her impatience from the corridor surged with a vengeance and she was on him with a rush of sudden eagerness that surprised even her. They scrambled for each other, and if their lips parted, it was only to kiss and nip at throats, collarbones, chests, any bit of skin they could find on each other. Pulled into his lap, she raked fingernails down his back; pressed back down onto the bed, she yanked him closer by the leather straps at his shoulders, and when he had his face tucked firmly into the crook of her neck and shoulder, she felt his hand between her legs again.

"Take them off," she gasped before he could even speak, motioning feverishly at her leggings, and he huffed a laugh as he slid them over her hips, tossing them aside and returning to slide his hands admiringly up her sides. She shifted impatiently on the bed while he took in the sight of her now naked body, too eager to feel anything near self-consciousness, and mercifully he didn't make her wait: he pressed his middle finger slowly inside her as he leaned in for another deep kiss. She moaned into his mouth and felt him melt against her, pushing far inside, motivated by her enthusiasm. He was breathless when he drew away, sitting back and tossing his hair out of his face to better watch her react under his touch. A second finger joined the first and her hand flew to her mouth to stifle another moan, but he lashed out and pinned her hand firmly against the bed.

"No," he breathed. He pushed deeper then withdrew, over and over, agonizingly slow. "Let me hear you. Tell me what you like."

"This," she panted weakly. "I like this, don’t—" she shuddered against him and shifted her hips into his hand. "Don't stop."

Whatever he saw in her—her face turned aside and torn in pleasure, her gripping the sheets of his bed beneath her, his hand working between her legs—she was only vaguely aware of it as he watched her be swept away. She sighed and stroked her fingers through his hair when he bent forward to close his teeth lightly over one of her nipples, flicking it with his tongue, and it took her a moment to realize where he was headed when he began kissing lower, lower, until he reached her navel and her eyes flew open.

"Rensai," she began, and he lifted his eyes to hers, blazing darker than she'd ever seen them. "You don't have to—"

"Tell me not to," he challenged just as he slid his fingers back in and crooked them; her mouth opened in a silent gasp. "If you don't want it, I won't."

Yujin said nothing for a moment, chest heaving, then nodded and settled back, not without apprehension, but Rensai didn't share her nervousness as he grinned and settled between her thighs. He spread her legs gently wider, carefully pulled his hair over of his shoulder and out of the way, then pressed the gentlest of kisses on the inside of her thighs, her hips, her knees. It was all a presentation to him, an overture of things to come, and an restless whine escaped her but she felt him revel in it: he was a tease by nature and now he had her exactly where he wanted, desperate and expectant. She was just shutting her eyes and shifting impatiently when his tongue met her clit and she jerked in surprise, but he had already settled in, resolute.

His fingers were back and between that and his maddeningly hot mouth, it felt like was too much to stand all at once; she flung an arm over her eyes and gave in, her breath hitching in sharp huffs with every motion of his hand. She hazarded a peek down at him and had to turn away again only a second later: he was absorbed, reverent, completely committed to her pleasure and she couldn't bear to watch for long. She reached a hand weakly downward and wove it in his hair instead, encouraging him onward; he groaned against her skin and rewarded her with a swirl of his tongue that brought her back off the bed in an arch with a desperate gasp. He drove her on relentlessly, her grip tightened in his hair, and just when she felt as though she might lose her senses entirely she came with a cry, too swept away by his tongue and his touch to care about anything else in the world.

The hand that wasn't tangled in his hair was gripped in his as she drifted back down: at some point he must have laced his fingers with her own. She clung to it as she sank back, chest heaving and every nerve alight with the heat and glow of orgasm. He covered her in kisses, slowly working his way back up her body; she reached for him and pulled him close until he had no choice but to collapse against her with an amused grunt.

"You are perfect," he breathed. "Splendid in every way."

Yujin hid the curve of her lips against his chest and his arm circled around her waist. Over time their breathing slowed and evened out, and just as she felt her eyes begin to close they flew open again and the beginnings of insecurity singed her cheeks. She hadn't done a thing for him, and he'd been so attentive—

"Relax, sweetness," he rumbled in her ear, catching her hand as she was sliding it down his torso. He sounded amused. "Just let me do something for you, hm?"

Now she was definitely self-conscious; a wordless sound of protest gave her away and he laughed, pulling her tighter against him and pressing a kiss to her cheek before she could say anything useful.

"Rest for a moment. Lie here with me. We have all the time in the world."

Exhaustion from the day, the celebration, and her time with Rensai did begin to ebb at her as she settled back down. The bed was comfortable, his body was warm against hers, and the glow of candlelight softened the edges of her consciousness. A quick doze, she decided just as Rensai began pulling his fingers through the ends of her hair. A few moments in repose….

When she stirred again, she found herself stretched beneath the sheets and she scolded herself sulkily. She'd known she was placing too much trust in herself even as she'd closed her eyes, but still she had hoped to avoid falling so deeply asleep. A quick glance at the window told her very little: it was still dark, she could have been asleep for half an hour or it could be nearing daybreak, and the sobering thought of what might happen if someone were to find out she'd spent the night in Rensai's room threatened to chase away her contentment. On her other side, Rensai slept on, face relaxed and hair strewn about him, unbound. She sat up a little, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth as she thought about the way he must have lifted her from his chest, drawn the sheets around them both so the chill didn't reach her still naked skin, all so gently that he didn't wake her—Rensai shifted at her movement.

"Hm. You're awake." His voice was thick from sleep and when she turned to look at him, she saw that he already had a knowing smile playing at the corners of his mouth. He reached for her, gesturing for her to lie back down against him as he closed his eyes again.

"I need to go," she whispered.

"Do you?" He groaned dramatically and cast a sleepy, doleful look in her direction. "Will arguing for you to stay get me anywhere?" She shook her head and he snorted.

"Stay there where it's warm, then," he sighed as he turned over onto his back. "I'll gather your things and escort you back."

"Oh, you don't need to—" she began.

"And you don't need to go," he interrupted mildly. The smile was back as he looked sidelong at her. "But you'd like to, and I'd like to. It's late. I'll see you back safely."

Yujin swallowed and nodded, grateful that he hadn't tried to persuade her otherwise, and he swung his legs out of bed after a moment's tired resistance. He certainly took his time with it, she thought as she watched him deliberately stretch well-muscled arms over his head and roll tattooed shoulders, and she looked back down before he could catch her staring. Her bodice was where he had left it at the side of the bed, but her leggings took some searching: eventually he found them clear across the room and he tossed them to her with a devilish grin at her blush. He made a point of politely turning away to put his hair back in its usual half-bun while she dressed, but he returned to help her relace her bodice. He pressed a soft kiss to the nape of her neck once he finished.

"Come on then, if you must."

The walk to her rooms was silent, uninterrupted, and tense. Tense for her anyway, as she glanced down every branching corridor to see if anyone else was coming their way, but of course Rensai didn't appear bothered in the slightest. He kept a respectful distance from her side and though she was grateful, Yujin wished he'd pick up the pace of his long, easy strides.

Her door in sight at last, she stopped him a little ways away. "Well, um, thank you," she stammered, and when his mouth twisted in amusement she hastily added, "for walking me back," but that felt rude and she went on, "and for letting me stay for a bit," and she stopped herself because every awkward dodge around what they'd done only seemed to delight him more.

"It was my pleasure," he assured her smoothly. He took her hand, brought it to his lips just as he always did, flashed her a smile, and retreated down the corridor. Heart hammering, she turned and dashed to her room.