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Bury Me Not On The LonePrairie

Viktor x Fem!OC Reader - Western AU (NSFW)

Just a little gift fic for the kind and lovely @designfailure56 and their sweet, inspiring hee-haw Viktor art, and all their beautiful Arcane art. Thank you for blessing this fandom by being a part of it and sharing your wonderful talents and huge heart with us all.

Synopsis: Western AU set on a ranch in the 1800′s, just a romantic, slightly angsty, sometimes steamy little drabble I probably should have cut into three or four chapters. A young widow struggles to run a ranch in the midwest with the help of one skrunkly, adorable man we all love. No Y/N.

TW: mentions of death, mentions of sibling death and spouse death, angst, longing, possible allusions to non or dub con, minor bride typical for time period, domestic violence, off screen animal death, sex, oral sex, slight somnophilia.

“Viktor?!”

The heat of the day was sweltering, shimmers of it rising off the baked earth that wasn’t covered in the verge and scrubgrass of the rolling, open land. Summers out here were nothing like those back in the country you knew in your youth. No temperate, easy climate here. Winters were harsh and cold, dumping piles of snow across the land from the storms that came off the mountains, and summers were breathlessly hot.

It wasn’t the verdant green of your island motherland, but the prairies had a beauty of their own. It was just difficult to see it sometimes, when the sweat rolled stinging into your eyes and even your lightest cotton shift clung to your damp skin; prickly and cloying and trapping the heat in as it rose up under your feet from the baked earth.

But this was home, and it was your own.

Your parents, tired of no prospects and facing down starvation under the thumb of imperial rule, had packed you and all your siblings up and set sail for America, for hope and something new, only to be met with as much if not more derisive bigotry than they’d left behind. But at least here there were jobs, there was work, and money to be made for those willing to work themselves to the bone. Your father had joined the railroad teams, and your mother followed with all the kids in tow, moving town to town and work camp to work camp to help stitch this new land together with sutures of iron track and wood ties.

You were the eldest now, after your brother died of an illness borne in the contaminated drinking water in the crossing. And being a girl, it meant your hands were supposed to help raise and care for the other little ones, until you were old enough to be unloaded.

You supposed your parents had meant well by it; thought they had worked out the perfect way to offer you security and prosperity, things they never had. Still, you’d barely been 17 when they agreed to betroth you to the old man.

He owned a vast, sprawling tract of the prairie your father’s team was currently building the railway through, a parcel he’d snatched up back in his own youth during the land grabs. He used to love to tell that story over and over again, how they’d line up back in town and then when the gunshot rang out would ride or run like devils to snatch the stake or stakes driven into parcels of land. Him and his brothers had got the biggest stake claims all adjoining and now that he was the only one left alive and they’d had no kin, he had one of the largest tracts of land outside of the nearest town.

The town where he’d spotted you while you lived there with your family as the railroad work was done. Where he decided a pretty young thing with freckles across her nose was just the remedy for an old man’s lonesomeness in his big home.

He dowered you well, and you did your duty as you always had. Went and married him at the little steeple church in a borrowed, scratchy lace gown. Your family made richer for the loss of you.

They still wrote, from time to time, or at least your mother did. She was the only one of your parents with enough education to make letters and at least she’d taught you to read and write as well. But the mail out here came rarely, and you had no way of knowing if the letters you sent back ever reached them or if they had moved on to a new town or camp, well aware the very last you’d ever see them was when the railroad team packed up to move out to the next stop.

The old man hadn’t been unkind. He was gruff and quiet and set in his ways, but he never beat you or hurt you and he gave you a good home. He died only three years after you were married, unexpectedly. Took fever from a slight injury and went fast. Terrifyingly fast. It felt unkind to say you were grateful not to have to share his bed anymore, even if it was true… but it also thrust you into the unexpected position of land-rich widow, sole heir of the ranch and home and all the land.

Your late husband had been a frugal man, and left you a tidy sum. You could have sold the property and moved on, found a life of your own elsewhere, but you liked it here. It was wild and free and beautiful. And in the sweltering summer sun with not a single forgiving cloud in the sky, it was hot.

Many of the ranch hands had their doubts about the young immigrant widow inheriting the old man’s business. And you still had your accent from your home country, that pretty little lilt that gave you away every time, and inspired no end of sneering or snide comments. You were used to the precious little respect paid a woman, but you couldn’t understand why other native English speakers should hate people from your island so much, should make such terrible jokes and be so belittling. And weren’t you all immigrants here?

Most of the help had left the week after the old man was buried, believing you would sell the ranch or else run it into the ground. A few stuck around. Viktor had been one of them. He was young, just a little older than you, and had also been born elsewhere, a country with a language you didn’t know that gave him the most lovely soft accent. And when he got frustrated and cursed in his native tongue it never failed to make you laugh, though you tried to hide it.

He stayed, and you were grateful. He was gentle, quiet, good with the animals and so terribly smart. A keen intelligence that took the place of the physical prowess most ranch hands had to offer, because there was certain hard labor he could not do with the squeaking metallic brace that ran up the lean length of his bad leg.

It stunted his gait, and when he took it off or got tired he needed the support of a cane, but he could ride just fine, and never shirked in his work. Found smarter, better ways to do things.

You liked him very much.

He’d helped you, when you decided the cattle were too much trouble and too much of a risk for you to keep. Helped you sell them all off at a tidy profit and then purchase sheep instead. Easier to graze on the land, less work. Far nicer to keep to sell their wool and the lambs each spring, and less of a target for the cattle poachers.

Viktor was a natural with the animals. Gentle and quiet, they seemed naturally drawn to him. You’d gifted him your late husband’s appaloosa gelding when you saw how the horse practically followed him around like a puppy. How it nudged at his back or tried to steal his hat if he did not pay it enough attention with absent gentle petting. He tried to refuse but you wouldn’t take no for an answer. He’d stayed when others left, he was kind when others felt callous, and he listened. The ranch flourished under you both. And you had freedom.

He made you feel like… you. Like your own you. Not someone’s daughter or someone’s sister or someone’s wife or someone’s widow. Just you, yourself.

He called you Miss where the others called you Ma’am. And never referred to you as the Widow Walker, which you heard in town more often than you’d like to and made you feel like an old hag at 22.

He’d smile and it lit the world up a little more. He’d watch you as you spoke with him, with those soft amber eyes under the heavy dark of his brows and you felt seen. A little too seen, sometimes, could feel a soft blush creep up under the freckles across your cheeks if his attention stayed on you too long, and hoped your perpetual slight sunburn was enough to hide the way he turned your skin pink.

It wasn’t difficult to admit to yourself that you wanted him, just difficult to admit to wanting anything at all for yourself. And you’d turned down multiple marriage proposals from men in town or the surrounding ranches, men looking at you as a ways to a means, a conduit to getting their hands on your land and money. Denied your hand to good prospects in your quiet longing to never be someone’s something again.

How could you then turn around and want instead to touch and be touched by a young man with no money, prospects, land or even a horse to his name until you’d gifted him one? It felt impractical, foolish and silly. Felt irresponsible and just a little selfish in a way that ignited all the quiet guilt both the church and your parents had always told you you ought to feel at wanting anything for yourself.

But god, you did. You did want him for yourself. A little more with each passing month since your husband died, and now two years in, it felt like a little more with every passing day.

There was not a ton of work to be done, outside of the usual everyday business of running the house and farm which was sufficient enough to fill a day, in the dead heat of late summer. And most heavy jobs were confined to the early morning or early evening hours when it was still cooler out or the worst of the sun had faded. Many of the ranch hands were seasonal, only showing up when it was time to cull or shear, or harvest or any number of the big jobs. Only a few lived out on the ranch itself at the distant outbuilding where they could oversee the flocks and rotate pasture easily.

Viktor, as your right hand, stayed closer. You’d given him the foreman’s rooms, just off the big house. An adjoining modest cluster of private rooms befitting the position of the person who helped run everything. He’d tried to turn that down too, but you’d been at such a loose end after the original foreman quit not one day after your husband had been lowered into the ground. And Viktor had stepped right in without needing to be asked or told, picked up the slack and kept you afloat when the rest of the world felt like rocks in your pockets, trying to sink you.

He refused to come into the big house and infringe on your domestic kingdom, though the large place was so quiet and felt so empty most of the time, you wished he would. Only the kitchen, for breakfast or dinner when offered, and it was always offered. Wouldn’t join you at the dining room table, too formal and fine a thing you supposed, for him. But would happily sit at the little rough hewn kitchen table and have his coffee and eggs with you. He’d come in at the end of the day and pull a colander full of green beans into his lap and start shucking the peas out of them without you having to ask, chatting away about the day and the plans for tomorrow.

And after dinner he’d go back to his rooms and you’d be left in the big house all to yourself. To sit before the fireplace or sink into a hot bath if you had the energy to boil and haul that much water, or to lay alone in the big bed and listen to the crickets outside, praying for a cool breeze to lift the heat and stop you sweating through your nightgown.

Left to think about him.

About elegantly long fingered hands with rough calluses and how gentle they seemed. About dark lashes over amber golden eyes and the shape of his mouth when he smiled. How all his smiles seemed either shy or sly and nothing in between. About the soft mess of his hair, the lean strength of bare forearms, the look of fierce concentration that he could get that made all the lovely angles of his face and jaw look like a work of art.

About what his skin might smell like when clean or taste like when sweated.

About how he’d feel between your legs or under your hands.

About him being tender. Or him being rough.

Thought about him enough that some days it was impossible to look him in the face without blushing hotly, so sure he could read your mind and knew all the horrible things that went on up there. Could hear you moan his name softly in your sleep at night when all the world was quiet save for the crickets and hoot owls and the distant howl of wolves out in the far foothills.

But if he could, he never let on. Treated you with the same respectable distance and friendly coolness he had when the old man had been alive. It made you certain he did not share your longing in the least, and in a way you were quietly grateful for it. Made keeping your shameful crush all the easier, and keeping those safe boundaries in place simple.

“Viktor?!”

He’d been out in the heat of the day, expanding the chicken coop. You’d been busy baking the week’s bread, and though the wood oven you were using was outside in the summer kitchen, it had no shade; designed and built by some man who would never have to make use of it himself, of course. And you were feeling half baked to a toasted golden brown yourself by the time the second round of loaves were in the oven.

You’d pulled some fresh, cold water from the pump and juiced four of the precious lemons from the crate you’d splurged on at market last week. Grated sugar into it from the hard pressed little paper wrapped cone you kept, and mixed it all until it was a deliciously cold, tart-sweet lemonade sweating in the pretty crockery pitcher.

You’d grabbed two glasses and made your way out toward the barn, calling his name.

Sat by the coop, sweat dripping off the tip of his nose and running rivulets down the dust on his cheeks, he looked up from where he was securing the wire fencing to fine posts to make a larger, longer run for the chicken flock.

His smile sweeter than the sugar you’d licked from your fingers a minute ago.

“I thought you’d like a drink and a rest?” You held the glasses aloft in offering.

“Oh, yes. Thank you Miss.” He rose, stiffly, always cognizant of that bad leg, and nodded toward the open breezeway doors of the hayloft and the shade within. You followed in his stilted footsteps.

It was slightly cooler within, and the heat made the sweet scent of the hay all the stronger. He eagerly accepted the glass you gave him and held it while you poured. Nearly gulped down the first one, exhaling a soft gasp of breath as he drained the glass that had you laugh a little as you poured him a second and sipped at your own.

“That is wonderful, thank you. This is why you wanted that bitter fruit?” He asked, savoring the second glass instead of chugging it down. Lemons were not a terribly common thing found out here, but you recalled little sweet cakes iced with them and served with tea from your youth and had bought the whole crate of them, much to Viktor’s dubious surprise. “This is not bitter at all. This is delicious.”

Skeptical of your purchase, he’d grabbed one of the lemons on the cart ride home and before you could stop him had sliced it like an orange and taken a bite. His puckered reaction and wide eyed stare at you had been priceless, nearly had you pitch off the cart bench in a fit of teary-eyed laughter that had him bashfully sullen the rest of the ride home, pride and tastebuds wounded. Grumbling occasionally under his breath in his native language in a way that you were sure was questioning your sanity. It only served to make you fight not to giggle more.

You grinned at him over the rim of your glass, feeling quite superior to have finally proved your point that you weren’t mad for spending so much on such silly bitter fruit, and plucked at the neckline of your dress. Thin cotton clung to skin sticky with sweat. You watched his gaze fall to it and then skim away quickly, glancing toward one of the hefty hay bales.

“Would you like to sit? You look overheated.” Kind words from someone far more sunstroked than yourself. You nodded, but the prospect of the blades of hay poking itchy through the thin cotton of your dress was not a pleasant one.

“Help me with my apron?”

You turned, and setting the pitcher down on another hay bale, scooped your hair up off your neck and piled it high, holding it atop your head as you stood facing away.

His fingers found the bow fixing it at your lower back first. Tugged slow until it gave, and then the one up at the nape of your neck. Fingertips a light graze as he pulled it open. You pinned the apron to your front with the hand still holding your glass and would have dropped your hair and turned back around, until you felt the soft skim of his fingertips gently tugging sweated fabric of the collar of your dress away from hot skin, and you froze. Heart climbing up into your throat to lodge like a comfortable beating stone as he inhaled, and softly, softly blew a cool little breeze across the back of your neck, sending every fine hair of your entire body lifting in a tickling, electric thrill.

Your own breath escaped past that pounding heart in your throat as a near silent little shuddering sigh.

He had to have heard it, but he did it again. Soft little blown breeze gently tickling behind one ear, along the path of your pulse, against the fine baby hairline and down the nape of your neck. You couldn’t keep eyes open, gaze shuttering as every ounce of focus bent upon the soft breath he blew against sweat-slick skin. You heard him shift slightly behind you and could only think of dropping the apron, of his hand coming round to pull open the string stays of your dress at the low front neckline, to peel damp cotton from skin and bare the shape of breasts, to graze fingers light as his breath over the aching stiffness he’d made of nipples with those little breezes.

Would he pinch? Tug? Tease little touches until you were begging for his mouth instead? You were shivering, terrified it was visible.

Instead he must have switched hands that held the glass of lemonade, and used the ones cooled by the drink to gently trace down the skin of your neck in slow strokes, dragging the cool touch out so that skin sang for him.

You spun to face him, dropping hair, unable to take the tease a second longer, certain he’d kiss you, fit to die with the need to kiss him. Only to find him smiling amicably at you, like he was the sole man on earth devoid of desire or want, and all he’d done was offer you a kind respite from the heat as you had done for him. Meanwhile all your hungry attention was fixed on the shape of his mouth, your own parted embarrassingly obviously, your breath coming in shallow little fits.

He dug a handkerchief out of his pocket and dabbed at your nose, then up over your forehead and one cheek. You watching in slow dawning horror at the white smudges of flour that came away on the dark blue cloth.

You’d wandered out to him straight from baking, covered in flour, looking like a silly mess. Like some kind of white-painted circus clown. Embarrassment turned your stomach over in a hard knot.

“Keep the pitcher. I’ll make more.” It all came out as one continuous word as you struggled to pull your loose apron into your free hand and beat a hasty retreat that was as close to running as the attempted nonchalance of absolutely full speed hurried walking away could manage, leaving him there with that handkerchief still hovering midair.

Stupid, stupid, stupid girl.

Back in the house, in the kitchen, you pitched up against the doorframe and clunked your head hard against the wood of it, repeatedly. So stupid. He probably thought you were a simple minded little fool, and who could blame him? Shivering like that, making those sighs, staring at his mouth like you wanted to be devoured and all the while painted white in erratic smudges of flour.

God, but his touch lingered on your skin though. Neck still a soft riot of cool fire where he’d grazed it.

What if he had kissed you? What if he’d let you push him back onto one of those hay bales and pull your skirts up to your hips, let you climb onto his lap. His hands gripping your waist as you rode him slowly, watching his sharp chin lift and back arch as you showed him just how well you could ride astride and not foolish side-saddle. The soft gold of eyes fixed on you as you came undone atop him, as you bounced on the delicious feel of him inside you.

Your hand had strayed down, pressed over your sex between your thighs as you shuddered, tried to compose yourself and failed, just leaning there, living in that daydream a long moment, unwilling to face the embarrassment that waited just outside the door to remind you what a silly idiot you’d been - were being.

You’d nearly dropped the glass you were holding before you finally came around again. And set to wearing yourself out with chores to keep from thinking of any of it again. You’d never had thoughts like this before, about anyone, and the intensity of them was a little frightening.

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He brought the pitcher back with him in the evening when he returned to share dinner, and thankfully did not speak of what had happened, or rather didn’t happen in the barn. Didn’t tease you or make light of it. Just complimented your dinner and shared the meal in relative silence.

Afterward, after the dishes were done and he’d scrubbed himself up in the sink as well, washing dust and dirt from face, neck, forearms and hands, you thought he’d retire to his rooms. Instead he headed off to them only to return with one of the books he’d borrowed from your late husband’s meager library. Viktor loved to read and he’d regularly borrowed a single book at a time from the old man while he was alive, a tradition you took pleasure in keeping up with him.

“May I choose another?” He offered his finished one back and you accepted it with a nod, turning to let him follow you into the big house and to the great room. You fitted the book back in its empty slot in the shelf and watched him browse. He had to have read nearly all of them by now, it was not a large collection and he was voracious in his reading. It pleased you to no end to watch him struggle to settle on a new title before you crossed to the little writing desk nearby and turned the brass key to lift its lid. Took a small paper-wrapped parcel from it and held it out, clearing your throat softly.

Golden gaze ticked from the bookshelf to you and dark brows lifted in surprise, his hand still gripping his chin thoughtfully now frozen there as he stared at the little parcel you held out.

“Something new?” You offered, the smile spreading on your face almost sly in its pleasure.

Lemons weren’t the only different thing you’d bought at market last week.

Viktor’s attention ticked from the package to your face and back again before he managed to unstick himself from the spot and walk over to accept the gift. He arched a dark brow at you questioningly as he pulled open the twine and unwrapped the paper. The book that lay within was gorgeous, leather a deep oxblood red and etched in gold gilt at its spine and front cover, the title gorgeously stylized.

Viktor sucked a breath of delight and turned the book over and over again in his hands.

“Frankenstein?”

“It's a novel about science and galvanization - or something like that. Whatever that means. The bookseller highly recommended it. I thought you might like something new. Perhaps to start your own library?” You offered shyly, taking the plain brown paper wrapping and twine from him so that he might enjoy the book unfettered.

As hungrily as he looked down at the book, the expression he turned up to you was more agonized than pleased.

“You should not have done this. You’re too generous as it is. This is… this is a luxury. I don’t -”

You stopped him there, your pleasure at being able to gift him something he liked so well being soured by his embarrassed attempt at refusal. Stepping forward and fighting against hesitation, you placed a hand gently on his bare wrist. Skin warm under your fingers, contact shooting a breathlessly wonderful static tingle straight up your arm.

“I’ll thank you however I please. You do much around here, and you’ve always helped me. If I want to make you a gift of something as simple as a book, that’s my right.”

He gazed down at you in quiet awe and nodded slowly.

“Do you like it?”

“Do I… Yes, very much.” He seemed to remember his manners the next moment, “Thank you.”

You smiled up at him and with no small effort managed to lift your touch off his wrist.

“You’re welcome, then.” You watched him go back to examining the fine cover of the book and thumb gently through its new, stiff pages. “Would you… that is, do you think you might read it to me a bit? Out on the porch?”

The night was nice enough, the temperature dropping from the heat of the day. And while you could read and write it was not as well as Viktor could. You’d tried some of the books he’d borrowed and returned only to stumble over more than half the words and struggle so hard it made you tired.

“Of course.” Again that lift of heavy brows in slight surprise at your request, but he acquiesced readily enough it left no room for you to feel guilty that you’d somehow imposed on his free time. “If you like.”

“I’ll meet you out there.” Another sweet offering of a little smile for him, one he seemed to puzzle over as he left the room.

Up the stairs you went to clean the dirt of the day off yourself at the wrought iron stand in your bedroom that held pitcher and ewer. Careful to check your reflection in the little glass mounted above it. No flour or smudges or unnoticed marks to make you look a fool. You shed the damp dress and left it to hang and air out by one of the open windows, changed out of underthings and pulled on the soft, thin white muslin of a nightdress that bared your arms. You brushed out your hair and braided it to one side for sleeping, grabbed the thin comfort of a finely crocheted shawl your mother had gifted you for your wedding and shrugged it on for modesty as you padded back downstairs in bare feet.

Outside, Viktor had settled into one of the rocking chairs on the large porch that wrapped three quarters of the house. He’d lit a little hurricane lamp to read by and sat thumbing through his new novel, waiting on you patiently.

You felt a little pang to see he’d chosen one of the rockers instead of the bench you might have shared together, and fought against the impulse to imagine climbing right into his lap instead of taking your own seat, and settling against his chest in a warm cuddle. The way your younger siblings used to clamber into your lap when you’d read them bedtime stories from the tatty old book of fairytales your mother had taught all of you to read from.

Viktor glanced up as you approached, and you could watch the sudden, unguarded look of shock pass over his features to see you in your nightthings. It gave you a momentary pause, to think perhaps you should have been more modest, waited to get ready for bed until after he was done reading, but the day’s heat still lingered a bit and it felt far more comfortable in a clean shift the air could move through. You simply gathered the thin crochet lace of the shawl a bit more around yourself and sank into the nearest rocking chair with a smile you hoped was more charming than apologetically embarrassed.

Viktor’s mouth parted as he watched you settle, like he was struggling with the impulse of observation or conversation, before he finally gave it up as lost and instead just opened the book and began without preamble.

“Frankenstein or, the Modern Prometheus.

A Letter to Mrs. Saville, England;

You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings. I arrived here yesterday, and my first task is to assure my dear sister of my welfare and increasing confidence in the success of my undertaking.

I am already far north of London, and as I walk in the streets of Petersburgh, I feel a cold northern breeze play upon my cheeks, which braces my nerves and fills me with delight. Do you understand this feeling? This breeze, which has travelled from the regions towards which I am advancing, gives me a foretaste of those icy climes. Inspirited by this wind of promise, my daydreams become more fervent and vivid. I try in vain to be persuaded that the pole is the seat of frost and desolation; it ever presents itself to my imagination as the region of beauty and delight… ”

It was lovely, listening to him read. His voice gentle, warmly accented in a way that made the words feel fresh and soft. He never stumbled over the words like you might have done, or struggled with the larger ones. His pace picked up as he reached exciting portions, losing himself and his usual quiet reserve in the thrill of the story, letting that mask slip to reveal a bit of passion underneath.

The bookseller had been right, it was a good book, and you were glad you’d bought it, the tale nearly as enrapturing as the young man reading it to you. Still, the day had been a long one and the heat took much out of you both. It was all too soon you were yawning, struggling to keep eyes open but unwilling to ask Viktor to stop so that you might go to bed. Too greedy for his company and to keep listening to his voice. Small mercy he seemed to be able to tear himself away from the story enough to notice you fading out and closed the book gently.

“You should sleep.” As if he himself didn’t look utterly exhausted as well, dark shadows under luminous eyes and lids heavy even as he obviously craved more of the book held tenderly in his hands. You nodded, stifling yet another jaw-cracking yawn and rose, him following, pausing to blow out the lantern and follow you through the door.

He caught you inside, after he’d shut the door and turned the lock, your foot on the first of the stairs. The warm grasp of his hand on your bare upper arm where the shawl had slipped stopped you in your tracks, had you glance up questioningly even as you wanted to sink all focus into the feel of his skin on yours, the sweeping lift of goosebumps that ran straight down from elbow to wrist.

He was staring at the floor, at your bare feet and his own boots. Like he couldn’t bring himself to look you in the eyes for the very first time since you’d known him. His thumb pressed to the soft of your bicep, and slowly swept a little back and forth arc, and suddenly you understood very well why all the animals seemed to cave and gentle under his hands.

“Thank you again, Miss.”

Before you could speak or move or even finish forming a rational thought he leaned forward, brushed a peck of a kiss to the soft apple of your cheek. And your brain became nothing but the static soft sound of rain, entirely blank, an empty void where all that existed was the warm little press of his mouth, the radiant heat of his nearness as he lingered close enough for his nose to brush your cheekbone.

“Good night.”

And then he was gone. Touch was gone, mouth gone, the back of him retreating toward the kitchen and his adjoining rooms. Leaving you stood there blinking, swaying slightly as you clung to the banister with the white knuckle grip of one hand. Struggling to recall how air worked and lungs used it and what a heartbeat was for, if not to deafen you as it hammered away inside the empty hollow where your brain once lived.

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Things settled for the next few days, though that following morning he had just taken his coffee and headed out to chores without sitting down to breakfast across from you or while you puttered about the kitchen. You supposed it made you feel grateful, not to be subject to an awkward silence or the unspoken tension of what had happened the night before. As exhausted as you’d been, he’d robbed you of a good night's sleep with that kiss and this morning you were struggling through the fog of starting the day more bone-tired than you’d ended the previous one. Not a great space for keeping your head on straight and staying coolly collected.

You stuck to the work you could do in and around the house, gave you both some space. Decided it was a fair day to tackle the laundry and spent hours filling the massive tubs outside, heating water, scrubbing and wringing and rinsing and wringing until your forearms ached and your wrists burned and fingers trembled weakly as you pinned everything to the lines stretched between the sapling trees in the sun of the side yard.

Glad that he’d been busy down at the barn with the coop and caring for the hogs so that you could sneak shoving your face into one of his worn shirts before you washed it, inhaling the scent of him, spice sweat and sharp musk, fresh air and sunshine and him .

So tired after you were done with the washing that you went inside and sprawled out on the couch in the great room, windows flung open, begging for a cool breeze, the scent of the cold, unused fireplace filling the space with the ghost of woodsmoke from autumn and winter fires gone by. A little nap in the quiet space couldn’t hurt. So tired your eyes were closed before your head even hit the stiff, overstuffed and tufted cushion.

Your husband slapped you awake. You jolted upright, startled. He’d never raised a hand to you before. The old man stood glowering over you, fists clenched like he was ready to beat you senseless. Shouting. Something about betrayal, about being a filthy hussy, an embarrassment, a whor*. The room behind him was crowded, you noticed, to your horror. Your parents, the preacher, your siblings, the ranch hands, half the town it seemed. All watching in disgust at you. The old man had you by the shoulders, was shaking you until your teeth rattled, heaping abuse upon you as the others shouted agreement.

You woke with a start, bolt upright, a scream choked in your throat and tears wet on your cheeks. The room empty. No one, nothing, not even the wisp of a phantom dissipating into the stagnant afternoon heat. The door to the kitchen banged open and closed.

“Miss? I brought the eggs up.”

Viktor. Oh no. Scrambling up off the couch you panicked. Not enough time to make it to the stairs and up them, nowhere in the open great room to hide. Eyes landed on the little door to the understair cupboard and you flew to it, wrenched it open and ducked inside, shutting it behind you and clinging with all your weight to the little knob within.

“Miss?” Viktor’s voice in the room just outside a second later.

You balled up your apron and shoved it into your mouth, willing the choking sobs left from the dream to subside, struggling mightily to regain calm or at least not cry audibly. One ragged breath, two, before you trusted your voice.

“...Yes?” It still cracked slightly, and you winced.

“What are you -” Puzzled, just outside the little door, you felt him give the knob a tug only to find it immovable with all your weight thrown behind it. A long moment’s pause and you could practically hear him trying to figure out just how to ask what the living hells you were doing in a cramped dark cupboard with the door shut. Trying to figure out if you’d gone mad and how, if you had, he ought to proceed.

“I brought the eggs up. And a pail of milk. I’ll… I’ll leave them in the kitchen?”

“Yes ok. Thank you.” You managed to get out, and strained to hear the footfalls of his boots as he at last turned hesitantly away and made his way back to the kitchen. Unwilling, unable to relax until the kitchen door banged again on his way out.

Releasing the doorknob, you collapsed on the cramped floor of the cupboard, pushed your whole face into your apron and screamed soundlessly.

You could not stop your hands shaking the rest of the day. And it was your turn to not be able to look him in the face when he joined you for dinner in the evening, picking at your plate only to finish early and head up to bed with a mumbled good night before he’d even finished his meal. Convinced your face was still splotchy and eyes still puffy from the tears earlier. The dream confused you, sickened you and set you on edge.

How could something that felt so good bring on so much guilt?

But that’s how you were brought up, wasn’t it? Don’t want, don’t need, don’t ask for anything. How dare you have desires, you who were made to be daughter, wife, mother, worker, caregiver.

The following two days were better, more normal, full of so much work that there could be no distractions, no lingering or fantasizing or dreaming. From sunup to sundown nothing but the daily toil, falling bonelessly into bed each night exhausted into a blissfully dreamless slumber.

But the heat had increased each day until by the third it was positively baking.

Too hot to move, to think. Even the animals refused to come out of the shade. All you could do was offer cool water, give them their feed and then hike it back to the house to sit on the porch and fan yourself as sweat rolled down and stung your eyes. Viktor sat sprawled uncomfortably in one of the rocking chairs, fanning himself with the broad brim of his hat, unable to even open his new beloved book for fear sweat-damp fingers would smudge and ruin delicate ink and pages.

“Enough of this.”

You turned to blink at him. It was possibly the most declaratory statement you’d ever heard out of him. Heat had a way of raising tempers, not that he sounded mad, just agitated and exhausted with sweltering away into dust.

“There is a watering hole by the stream. I am going swimming, do you wish to come?” He rose, slipped his hat on and stepped off the porch, waiting for an answer before he headed to the barn to get the appaloosa saddled.

Swimming, god yes. The stream that cut through your lands, which by rights was more like a small river in places, came down from the snowpack high in the mountains. Always cold, always fresh and clear. You nodded absolutely elated agreement and jumped up, hurried into the house as he made his way for the barn.

Grabbing a basket, you packed sandwiches, fruit, two cold bottles of beer left in the root cellar from the fall brewing, and then ran upstairs to pull on the best approximation to a swimming costume you owned; a pair of muslin bloomers that came to just above your knees and a thin muslin underbodice, a sleeveless shirt made to go under the frippery of a corset, an item of clothing you’d stopped wearing except on trips to town when you had to look a proper lady. It laced with fine thin ribbon in the front, gathered at the bosom and fitted neatly from ribs to waist, matched perfectly to the white thin fabric of the bloomers, both cool and soft against skin as you pulled your dress back on, shoved two towels and a blanket for sitting on into the top of the basket and headed out the door.

Viktor waited by the porch on the appaloosa, the horse blinking unhappily in the searing midday sun, its tail flicking flies from its flanks restlessly. He hadn’t saddled it, just tossed on a bridle and lead and sat waiting bareback. He rode up to the stairs, offered you a hand and helped pull you on behind himself. Silly side-saddle of course. You balanced as best you could, kept the basket clutched tight in your lap and one arm snaked round his chest.

He kept the pace sedate, probably as much for the horse’s sake as for you own, and the appaloosa, surely part quarter horse mingled with the wild ponies of the plains, had a sufficiently broad backside and rump that the ride, whilst swaying, was comfortable enough.

Out into the open fields, past some of the older grazing herd of sheep kept close to the property and not further out in the grasslands with the ranch hands, he picked a meandering path toward the river and its watering hole, a half hour’s ride at this slow saunter. Were it not for the hot sun beating down, blinding you, turning the very surface of skin to sizzling pink, you might have enjoyed the distracting nearness of him, of your side pressed to his back and arm round him, your hand splayed on his chest. Instead the heat made every point of contact a sweaty, sticky nightmare. Increased heat to unbearable levels so that by the time you drew up to the watering hole and its shady bower of leafy trees you felt like you could drink the entire stream and still not regain all the water you’d lost on the ride over.

Viktor swung his good leg over before himself and slid down off the horse to reach up and take the basket from you, then offered you a hand as you slid off yourself. You took the basket back and Viktor had just about enough time to relieve the appaloosa of its bridle, leaving just the halter and lead rope looped round its neck, before the horse had left you both to go drink deeply from the water. Once sated, it waded to the other side of the stream and lowered itself unceremoniously onto its side to roll in the lush, tall grass that grew in the shade.

You found a rock by one of the trees and left the basket in the shade there to sit down and fuss with the button hook closures of your boots, prizing them open carefully before kicking feet free joyfully. Viktor had settled a little distance away and was undoing his brace. You both struggled not to watch the other undress, no cover or shrubs to duck behind in order to preserve modesty. Thankfully all you had to do was lift your dress off and be done with it, left in your pretty, frilly white underthings and bare feet, you bent to gather your hair and pin it up in a messy little twist, then picked your way toward the little waterfall that tumbled down into the basin of the watering hole and took a seat on the slippery rocks to dangle your feet into the cool waters.

The hole was large enough to almost qualify as a small pond, shallow at its edges and deep in the center and near the waterfall. The banks were soft, sandy loam scattered with pebbles rounded by their trip down the stream, marks of animal prints here and there told of the sheep and deer and cattle and coyotes come to slake their thirst.

Viktor pulled off boots, and you struggled not to be too terribly noticeable about how you watched him undo his shirt buttons, about how you memorized the hunch of broad shoulders as he focused on the lower ones and worked upward, straightened and shrugged out of it and then pulled loose his belt. Eyes darted down hard into the pools of water below you as he remembered his audience and glanced up before turning his back to open his pants and shuffle out of them. Left you struggling not to laugh at the hop he did on one leg as he got caught on removing the other.

He heard you though, and shot a heatless glare over one shoulder that had you jerk eyes up to the sky in feigned innocence. Clearly too preoccupied with watching the cloudless sky to have possibly been laughing at his undressing antics.

Free at last of his pants and left only in his drawers he hobbled carefully to the waters’ edge and gradually minced his way into the chill pool. Hands up by his shoulders, arms bent outward like folded wings, teeth bared as he bit by agonizing bit inched into the cool depths in the most hilariously fastidious manner you’d ever witnessed. It had you rolling, snickering unabashedly at his suffering as he tried to acclimate to the cold water. And at last when you couldn’t take it any more you scooped one dangling foot into the pool and kicked an enormous, soaking splash at him that left him frozen in place, drenched and dripping and glaring balefully off into the distance before he rounded on you with mock-irritation.

“Aya!” He shook dripping hands like a cat who’d gotten its paws wet, only earning him another heavy splash from you that left him more drenched. He glowered, and without another word dove deep into the pond, leaving nothing but a ripple behind in the dark waters.

You waited, watched. Time stretched, cicadas buzzing, the birds singing overhead and the appaloosa noisily munching lush grass while it lay lazily on the bank.

The hand from the depths closed on your ankle with a yank and you toppled into the pool of water with a delighted shriek.

Laughing hard as you surfaced, you splashed furiously at the water-blurred shape of him, only to feel him grab hold of your wrist and drag you under, a dunking in retaliation. Once more a gasp of laughter as you broke surface again, treading water messily, feeling a foot kick his shin and his hands close on your waist as you blindly found purchase with your hands on his bare shoulders.

The world stilled, laughter dying, trailing from a quiet giggle to nothingness as you floated against him, nose to nose. Watched a bead of water run down over the freckle of a beauty mark under his one eye and reached with your thumb to dab it away in a light stroke. Felt the fine long fingers of his hands slide to span your ribs as the two of you just stared at the other, watching water roll off skin and drip from noses and chins, watched how it made a gloss of lips and clumped dark eyelashes.

Your legs rose automatically and hooked round his lean hips to keep afloat, keep from kicking him again. His skin warm against your own in the cool water. You could feel his hands tighten and release on your sides, and by some small mercy kept from shivering as his thumbs grazed the outer curve of breasts over soaked fabric, a touch that had you winding arms slow around his shoulders.

Kiss me, please kiss me.

The pleading played refrain over and over again in your brain as you watched his gaze fall toward your mouth, only to feel him lift a hand to reach up and tug loose your hair pin, letting the wet of your hair down, letting it fan out in the water over your shoulders as you bobbed against him, tightened the grip of your thighs ever so slightly. Fully incapable this time of repressing that soft shiver at the little friction and pressure of being pressed against him, sex bare save for that thin, wet cotton between you.

Kiss me, please.

Your hand cradled his face, shaped to the hollow of cheek, and once more you wiped away a little shivering drop of water, this one clinging to the underside of his lower lip. You could have licked it away, if only he’d just tilt his face forward a little bit, part his mouth and take yours.

His gaze ticked up to catch your own again and you couldn’t stand it one more second, couldn’t keep staring into his face and not do something foolish. Instead, you wrapped arms all the tighter around his shoulders and leaned your head past his in an embrace. Held the warmth of him close in the cold water as you laid your cheek against his damp hair.

You felt his ribcage expand and contract in the huff of a silent sigh as he wrapped arms around you as well, the slow stroke of his hands along your back a soothing caress nearly as good as having tasted his mouth would have felt. The point of his chin came to rest in the hollow between your neck and shoulder, and the pair of you floated. Suspended, silent, entwined.

It felt a little bit like heaven, a little like purgatory. So close.

Even from the safety of this you felt tempted. And after a while, rocked your head lightly against his, turned ever so slightly to nudge the shell of his ear with the tip of your nose. Felt him exhale again hard as his hands fell, scooped under your bottom and brought you hard and tight against him in a way that had you gasp a little breath.

That seemed to break him out of it and he disentangled slowly, mumbling something that sounded apologetic in his native tongue. You let him go, unwound your arms and swam away, under the hard pound of the cold waterfall to let it wash your hair back and drum away the feeling of his hands, his skin, his heart beating up against your own. Not that it did any good. They were branded on you now, and you’d feel them in your sleep, you knew it.

Back into the water you dove, paddling about as Viktor climbed to the shore, shook out the blanket and laid it down in the grass, setting the basket on it and stretching out as he dug in its depths to pull out an apple and take a bite. He was all long, lean lines. A whip thin shape even with the benefit of clothes. Clad only in dark drawers, he made a taut, tall slice of a figure. Skin pale save for face and throat, hands and forearms where the sun had kissed it more golden. The soft dark trail of hair from navel down into drawers was distracting, enticing, had you keep your attention fixed on the water before you as you swam about, reveling in the cool wash that sucked the heat right out of skin and bone.

“You swim like a fish.” He called from the shore, had you cast a smile in his direction and paddle toward him. Sandy loam squelched under your feet as you set them down and rose, walked out of the watering hole and toward him, watched something in his face flicker before he carefully schooled it to stillness and turned his focus on the apple in his hand as you took a towel and wrapped it around yourself to sink down beside him, the basket between you.

“Did you learn how to, where you came from?” He asked, taking another bite of the fruit before glancing toward you again.

“Mmhm. You?” You dabbed at your chin and face with the towel, knees drawn up to your chest and the dry cloth wrapped round you as the summer heat slowly sunk back into chilled skin.

“No, I learned here. I was quite young when we left the old country. I don’t remember much of it.”

“We lived in a city near the sea. It was always cold water and never very hot like it gets here, but when you are a child, all you want to do is play in the waves.” You could still taste the bitter salt spray, hear your siblings laughing and begging you to toss them in the water, as your elder brother had tossed you. Airborne in flight for a breathless second then a plunge into the pinching cold. Prizing mussels and co*ckles off the slippery rocks and taking them home in baskets for mother. Lips blue, teeth chattering. Sand in your hair for a week until bathtime next.

“Do you miss it? Your home?” He asked, watching you caught in the reverie of distant childhood.

You offered him a little smile and took a sandwich wrapped in brown paper from the basket. Pulled the two halves of it apart and held one out to him.

“No. This is my home now.”

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You had realized later what it was that had earned you that slightly wide-eyed look of his as you had walked up the bank. When you rose at last to finish drying off and put your dress back on you realized the white muslin cloth of your underthings had gone completely transparent in the water. Even slightly dried as they were now they still clung close and obvious to skin, translucent where they touched you. It had you pulling your dress on quickly and struggling to repress the heat of embarrassment that you’d paraded your practically naked self up out of the water toward him.

You gave up putting your boots back on, incapable of rebuttoning them without the button loop, and tossed them in the basket instead. Dressed and back astride the appaloosa, Viktor took the basket in one hand and offered you a hand up with the other.

This time when you climbed up you sat astride, bloomers and the lack of saddle keeping it from being uncomfortable, though your dress did bunch and ride up a bit. You took the basket back in one hand and looped the other arm around him as the horse set off for home.

The sun was sinking lower, the worst of the heat passed, and the water and shade had done the trick to suck the swelter out of you both, leaving behind only a warm sleepiness that always seemed to follow swimming. You settled against Viktor’s back and let your cheek rest between the broad span of his shoulderblades.

Against his chest your hand stretched wide, and you could feel that slow pound of his heart again in it. You felt him shift the grip of reins to one hand and then the trail of his fingers along the underside of your arm, a soft and stray drag until his palm pressed over your own, kept it tight to his chest. The pair of you swayed with the horse’s gait, moving a bit faster in its walk, eager to get home to its evening ration of grain.

Back home he helped you off the horse again, letting you slide to your feet behind him with a hand, and rode back to the stables to finish the evening chores and put the appaloosa away.

The heat of the day lingered inside the big house, and you left the basket in the kitchen to head upstairs, strip out of damp underthings and rinse off with a cloth dipped in the ewer of water. Redressed, and headed down to start dinner.

He joined you just as you were finishing setting the table, and the surprise of his hand on the small of your back stopped you in place. For a heart stopping moment you were flooded with the notion he might gently push you down onto the table top. Hitch your skirt up and slide those lovely calloused long fingers of his between your legs. That he might speak in that language you didn’t know, lavish you with quiet praise you couldn’t understand as he stroked tenderly through slick folds. That he might take you there, rattle the dishes off the table as he thrust into you, hand gripping your hip, the other pressed to your back, pinning you down as he f*cked you into the table, its rough hewn edge cutting along the tops of thighs with each thrust, listening to you moan his name like a litany and only beg to have it harder.

Instead you felt his hand lift, and he caught up the spill of your nearly dry hair, twisted it gently and pinned it atop your head with the hairpin he’d pulled from it earlier. You’d forgotten all about the little trinket, forgot your hair was down like you were a child, drying in soft waves and curls. He pulled one of those curls free behind your ear, and for a moment the warmth of his hand rested tenderly across the nape of your bared neck.

Made you feel ashamed for what you’d just imagined, for the heavy weight in the pit of you and the hard throb between your legs.

Then his touch was gone and he was scrubbing up for dinner at the sink, leaving you to try to scrape yourself together and get the meal on the table. You had an appetite after the day, but you couldn’t do much more than pick at your food as you sat wondering in silence if there was something truly wrong with you. If you had some kind of brain fever, or something. Maybe… maybe it was just the heat, the lonesomeness of the open land, the big quiet house.

You glanced up and found Viktor watching you, saw the way his mouth curved in a shy half a smile, the pretty cupid bow shape of his upper lip made all the more lovely with the softness of that smile, the distracting little beauty mark just over its curled edge stealing all your focus.

“Should I read again tonight?” He asked lightly.

Another evening of listening to his voice? That soothing gentle timbre and soft lilt that tickled just as well as his errant touches did?

“Oh yes.” You offered him as sweet a smile as you could manage, feeling like a terrible, disgusting snake in the grass. He was kind, and lovely, and you were consumed with nothing but the most wicked thoughts for him. If he knew, he’d leave, and rightly so.

Once more you left him to finish the cleaning up after dinner, went upstairs to change. You wanted to brush your hair out and braid it, but it looked so pretty the way he’d pinned it up, you left it instead. Grabbed a shawl to cover your thin nightgown and padded downstairs in bare feet. You could see him through the windows, sitting out on the porch, the hurricane lamp already lit, glowing warmly in the darkness beside him. You hesitated in the kitchen, grabbed a bottle of the cherry wine, uncorked it, and chose two tumblers before heading outside.

You found him sitting on the bench settee instead of the rocker, and it would have given you pause had he not glanced up with another of those darling tilted smiles the second he heard your bare feet on the floorboards, and you had no choice but to come, sit down right beside him and smile in return.

He accepted the glass you offered, though with a bit of a puzzled look.

“You shouldn’t waste wine on me.” He protested as you poured, and you shook your head, totting out a glass for yourself as well before setting the bottle aside on the floor.

“I don’t like to drink alone, Viktor. And I have no dinner guests or parties to throw. Besides, cherry wine tastes best in summer.” You clinked your glass gently against his and took a long sip, watched him do the same and lift those heavy brows as the tart sweetness of it hit his tongue. He laughed softly with a little cough as he lowered the tilt of the glass, surprised by the thick sweet of it, but he still took another draught.

You settled in beside him, shoulder to shoulder and thigh to thigh as he opened the book and found the place you’d last left off. In the far distance, over the mountains, lightning lit the sky in lazy, slow bursts of light behind deep purple clouds.

“When I had attained the age of seventeen my parents resolved that I should become a student at the university of Ingolstadt. I had hitherto attended the schools of Geneva, but my father thought it necessary for the completion of my education that I should be made acquainted with other customs than those of my native country. My departure was therefore fixed at an early date, but before the day resolved upon could arrive, the first misfortune of my life occurred—an omen, as it were, of my future misery. ”

He read and read as the storm rolled in slowly over the plains, unhurried. His hand that held the glass of wine came to rest it upon your knee, and he stole swallows between paragraphs as you sipped yours slow. Had time to refill both your cups three times before the cool, rushing winds preceding the storm reached you both.

They blew in sudden gusts, cool off the mountains, but you were both warm sat together, and feeling deliciously moreso with bellies full of wine. You’d be feeling pleasantly heady if it weren’t for how the horror of the story was picking up. Grave robbing, crimes against man and nature, a man gone mad with the power of his own mind. You pulled the shawl tighter about yourself and huddled a little closer as a hard clap of thunder shook the porch under you both. It did not help that the man in the story was readying himself to reanimate the dead in a thunderstorm of his own. Your skin crawled with the notion, hazy slightly drunken thoughts creeping toward your long buried husband, climbing and clawing his way out of the grave, stitched together with a horrifying mess of other body parts.

Another blindingly brilliant streak of lightning kissed the plains and the deafening clap of thunder had you jump. Viktor laughed softly at your side but you wound a hand tight around his upper arm and held close. It was just a story, just a story and just a storm. You willed the hard hammer of your heart to stop its erratic, frantic rhythm but it refused to obey. Another clap of thunder and another reflexive little jump. You shoved your face into Viktor’s shoulder with a soft cry and he stopped reading.

“Miss? Are you… maybe we should stop for now. Get the windows shut before the rain begins?”

You nodded and practically jumped up, leaving the empty dregs of the wine bottle behind to hurry inside as the rain began to patter down on the dry earth, the scent of petrichor strong and heavy in the cooling air.

Viktor helped, once inside, closing the open windows to small slats to still allow the cool air in but keep the rain from ruining the sill or floor within. You ran to the second floor while he managed the first, and found no comfort in the darkness up there broken by jagged flashes of lightning.

He found you once you were both done, huddled on the steps, shawl wrapped tight, trying not to shiver or look like the frightened rabbit you felt like, jumpy and tipsy and convinced there were monsters in every shadow. Not since the dark fairy stories your father used to tell around the fireplace late winter evenings had you been so terrified by a simple tale.

Instead of tsk over your silliness Viktor sank down beside you and had an arm around you, both arms around you, drawing you in tight. You caved to it, shoved face into the crook of his shoulder and caught a tight hold of his shirt. The thunder outside shook the beams of the house. You were convinced the next strike would take the roof, or hit the chimney and bury you both in stone and rubble.

“I don’t want to be alone. Don’t leave me alone.” You heard yourself pleading. You hadn’t meant to say it out loud, just another of those little mantras, little silent prayers running chorus through your brain. This one had found its way out while you weren’t paying enough attention.

“Okay.” Viktor helped you to your feet, slowly.

So grateful he didn’t try to take you upstairs, but instead walked you through the kitchen to his rooms. Left you standing alone just long enough to light a lamp and dim it, and then to pull back the covers on his narrow bed to let you climb in.

You’d been in his sparsely furnished rooms before, to clean or collect laundry or change the bedsheets, but never stayed long or poked around. It felt too much like an invasion of his privacy. The writing desk was littered with papers, more tacked to the wall above and around it. Sketches, drafts that looked like engineering or architectural work, endless lists and scribbles you didn’t understand. A small collection of his own second hand books piled on the nightstand.

You climbed into the bed only to have him tuck the covers over you and you realized with a start that he meant to let you have his bed and sleep himself in one of the uncomfortable straight backed wooden chairs, or else slumped over the desk. Watched as he toed off boots and reached to take a folded throw off the foot of the bed.

It was a tatty thing, one of your mismatched yarn crochet jobs - never as skilled at it as your mother. It was uneven, only generously to be called square in shape, and with gaped holes where you’d dropped stitches or packed others too tightly. You thought you’d thrown it into the basket of scrap fabrics and yarns to be unraveled and redone when you had nothing better to do. Never realized it had gone missing, that he had it.

Something about it clenched your heart tight in your chest.

He reached for the lamp on the nightstand and you caught his hand by two long fingers, stilled it, stilled him as you gazed upward and he looked down at you, expression unreadable. His thumb grazed your knuckles and you gave his hand a silent little tug.

He hesitated a single, heartrending second before he relented, took a moment to undo his leg brace before he climbed in over you to settle behind you, between you and the wall. Slid one outstretched arm to pillow under your head and wrapped the other around you, let you tuck it under your arm and pull his hand tight to your chest as he fitted close to you, over the sheets.

“I’m sorry if the story scared you.” He murmured and you shook your head, mumbling back reassurances even though you knew he could feel how you still shivered slightly. He only gathered you a little tighter, hummed a tuneless, quiet little song.

The rain pounded against windows and walls, the winds buffeting the house and thunder echoing outside in loud rolling booms that rollicked across the open sky overhead. Sleep closed in slowly, had to slide its interminable fingers in under the door of your irrational panic to get the latch open and come creeping on silent feet. But it did come.

Still, you woke in the middle of the night, most likely at another all too close clap of thunder, the storm still lingering outside, rain having eased from a downpour to a steady fall that beat gently against the windowpanes. Viktor had at some point gotten cold and climbed under the covers, still spooned you closely even if his grip was not as tight. His broad hand a gentle flat splay over the soft, vulnerable stretch of your stomach.

You stroked fingertips over his knuckles lightly and heard him murmur. Felt him press his hand tighter to your softness and start a slow caress lower that closed your throat in terrified excitement. Fingers paused just above your sex. All it would take would just be a little nudge, a guiding push to ease touch lower and he’d have a light grip of you. It felt so terribly wrong to lay there and think of doing that to him in his sleep, to have his fingers pressed over you as you suffered the throbbing ache redoubling under his touch.

Instead he shifted and mumbled again in his sleep, hand skimming back up to settle a cupping cradle to one breast that did nothing to stop how your head spun and breath hitched. His palm big enough to fit the entire curve within neatly, touch warm. Against the nape of your neck the press of his face nestled in and you swore you felt the graze of his mouth on your skin.

And then his thumb moved. Little, erratic metronome, just a tender back and forth, right over the stiff, eager little nub of your nipple. A moaned, low whine escaped you like a prisoner making a jailbreak, eeking out as you shivered sweetly, struggled not to arch.

He squeezed the softness in his palm and stroked again, still speaking nonsense in his sleep, killing you by inches and completely unaware. And then his thumb caught that sensitive little bud between it and the edge of his hand, tender pinch, as his hips shifted a slight roll, pressing him to your backside.

You were huffing breath, struggling to not moan again, not to writhe back into him or shove your own hand down between your thighs to press against that glorious, painful ache between them. Not to tug the ribbon of the neck of your gown open and let his hand find its way in. Not to wake him and beg, beg him to touch you, taste you, let you have him.

Hot little tears traced slow, silent tracks down your cheek, dampening the pillow under you as you lay there, suffering, drowning in want, dizzy with how good he felt holding you. Why had you asked for this? Wouldn’t it have been easier to have just gone up to your room and been a little scared for the night instead?

He mumbled again behind you and his nose tickled behind your ear.

Your chest felt tight enough to collapse, like your heart was determined to crush itself to dust instead of suffer one more second of longing for him.

So much harder to sink back to sleep after that.

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He was not in bed in the morning, and you had a bad feeling he’d woken and discovered how he’d groped you in his sleep and leapt from the bed in mortification at his transgression. Then you had an even worse feeling that he’d let you oversleep, too embarrassed to come back and wake you. You rose, made the bed, folded that pilfered throw of yours at the foot of the bed and headed out to the kitchen.

Coffee in the pot, kept warm and waiting on the stove.

A cup could wait while you went upstairs to dress for the day, comb out your hair and fix yourself so that you looked less sleep deprived, make the faintly bruised purple shadows under your eyes look less obvious. Only then did you go back down, get yourself some coffee and head out to the porch to survey any damage done by the storm.

Viktor was on his way back up to the house from the barn, smiling up from under his hat when he saw you leaning on the porch post, mug steaming in your hand. In one fist he held a riot of color, a thick bouquet of wildflowers in a mad array of violent, beautiful hues from chill cornflower to deep bloody poppy.

Swaying pace took him up the steps and he held the bouquet out in offering, practically shy about it, as you set down the mug on the railing and accepted them in silent shock. They smelled heavenly, petals still wet from the rains.

“T-thank you.” Gaze ticked from the flowers to him in utter confusion. “But… why?”

He’d never so much as picked you a daisy before.

Viktor tugged at the brim of his hat, attention fixed on his boots until those luminous amber eyes glanced up at you from under the broad brim that had been obscuring them. Shoulders lifted tensely as he reached forward, caught your free hand in his, the leather of his work glove rough against your skin as he gathered up your fingers.

“I believe it's called… courting?”

Mouth open, head empty, you stood there. Felt your eyelids flickering, felt your heart a hard, steady pound in the hand he held. Felt the world turn under your feet. Unable to think, speak, to answer him. Lost in the gold of those eyes under the shade of his broad brimmed hat, in all the softness in them as they looked down at you.

You drew breath to speak. The hard pounding thunder of hooves and shouted cry of greeting stopped the words in your throat. Hands held between you and Viktor jerked apart as you both turned to watch the two riders incoming.

Ranch hands of yours, ones that lived out in the far pastures with the roving herds of sheep, watching the flocks and ensuring they kept their grazing confined to your lands. Their horses looked winded, breathing hard and nostrils wide as they wheeled up and dismounted. The riders didn’t look much better. It could take days to ride from the backlands in to the ranch and the men had precious little kit on them, had been sleeping rough and traveling hard.

You and Viktor both came down off the porch to meet them, you hesitating a moment before setting your bouquet of flowers aside on the seat of a rocking chair.

“What’s wrong?” Viktor got the question out before you could.

“There’s a pack ‘a wolves come down the foothills.” The less breathless man explained to you both, pulling his hat off to wipe at sweat beaded brow. “Three big’uns. The dogs can’t seem to scare ‘em off, especially now that the buggers kilt one of ‘em.”

“They’re gettin the herd in a panic.” The other man filled in, handing off the reins of both horses to you. “With only three of ‘em they can’t take too many but they’se sneaky as the devil and it seems they get another each night. We can’t spare a hand to hunt ‘em down, it’s all we can manage keepin’ them chasin the herd up into the foothills. Two nights ago they managed to cut half’a the herd and chased ‘em out toward the slopes. Half’a us gotta go find the missin’ and then we gotta bring em all down closer to the inner fields for a time an get rid’a the wolves.”

Viktor’s gaze cut towards you the same instant you glanced to him. There was a silent, tense second before you watched him nod, eyes still on you.

“I’ll get the gun, and my things.”

Your heart sank, even though you understood very well there was no other option. His determination snapped you into action. No time to wallow, to worry. Not that it stopped the hot bile of it rising in the back of your throat.

You gathered the reins you held and turned back to your men, forcing the no-nonsense tone of authority you’d perfected when corralling your younger siblings, and only refined as the sole woman running a large ranch. It didn’t matter how much your knees felt like water or your stomach like lead, if you could sound in charge, then you were.

“Boys, get yourselves some water at the pump. Refill your canteens. I’ll get you fresh horses. Ask Viktor to show you the pantry and help you restock for the ride back out. Go on, now. And don’t let him forget the extra box of shells for that gun.”

The men split for the house and pump respectively as you turned to walk the huffing, winded horses to the barn. You pulled saddles from them both, then bridles, and turned them out in the small paddock in the shade, giving each a small bucket of water to suck thirstily. They could have all they wanted to drink from the wellspring trough in the big paddock once they were cooled down. Too much water now might colic them or worse.

You grabbed the appaloosa and two fresh horses, bridled and saddled all three and led them up to the house as Viktor and the two ranch hands were headed back out with full packs and canteens. Viktor had a bedroll tied to his pack and your husband’s big shotgun in its soft leather holster slung against his shoulder. The gun was a monster with a kick like a mule but its double barrels could and, legend had it, did once take out a bull moose at full charge.

The men took the reins of their fresh mounts from you and slung up into saddles as you held the appaloosa, standing close to its neck, fingers tugging, toying nervously with its mane as Viktor tied the gun to the back of his saddle along with bedroll, shouldered his pack and slung canteen over saddlehorn. One careful hop on his good leg and he was up into the saddle.

Your heart was in your throat, eyes stinging for some reason.

“Viktor…”

You put the reins in his hands, felt him grab hold of your fingers in a little squeeze. You couldn’t stand to turn eyes upward, to look up at him.

“Be safe.” His voice was low, quiet, strained. You stepped back as he dug heels into the horse’s sides, felt the large animal shift hard back on its haunches and then thunder past.

Nothing to do but stand there as you watched the three men ride off.

══════ ≪≫°✺°≪ ≫ ══════

Days stretched into a week.

The time crawled, minutes passing as hours.

The flowers he gave you withered in the grey crockery pitcher you’d used as a vase, no matter how frequently you changed the water. You’d chosen a select few of them, the prettiest ones, and pressed them in one of the thick books of the library, between sheets of brown paper, before they could wilt.

The silence in the big house was deafening.

You found yourself waking earlier and earlier, up far before the sun. Laying in bed, waiting until the pale grey licks of dawn to started to touch the sky, sitting alone on the porch with your coffee, watching the thick mists that enclosed the ranch, gauzy walls of obscuring nothingness that cut you off from the entire outside world, as it slowly burned off and evaporated with the rising sun.

Like a ghost lifting, taking flight with the morning sun, only to return night after night to stretch cold fingers toward the house again.

Be safe.

It's what you should have said to him. You should have told him; be safe, be careful, don’t go, I love you. You’d realized that last one with a jolt at the end of the fourth day alone. You loved him, loved him terribly, and it filled you with fear. You’d sat alone over dinner and sobbed into your napkin so hard it felt your ribs would break and eyes would leak out over your cheeks with how much the tears came and how bitterly hot. What if he never came home? Accidents happened every day. It didn’t have to be a wolf that took him out, it could have been any number of things, small things. His horse taking a misstep into a prairie dog hole and toppling over on top of him, crushing, thrashing. Getting turned around in the endless stretch of grasslands and running out of water. The gun misfiring. Bandits or livestock thieves. A simple wound turned septic.

The possibilities played out over and over and over in your head until you felt you’d go mad with them.

Be safe.

You threw yourself into both your chores, filling the time with his work and your own, and more. So that you did not lay awake at night but rather had to drag yourself up the steps and collapse into bed, every muscle aching, every joint crying out for mercy. Still, you felt him there, warm against the back of you, your heart beating in his hand, skin singing soft songs of his name on every fingertip, his breath a cool breeze on the nape of your neck.

The work didn’t stop your mind either, only focused those thoughts, gave them outlet.

Courting. You hadn’t had a chance to get a word out. To say yes, or anything at all. To ask him why. The initial thrill of it so spoiled by the almost immediate looming threat of danger and need for action that you still hadn’t truly had time to process it. What if… what if he was only asking because he felt obligated? Because you’d forced him to share his bed and now he felt beholden to maintain your honor by asking for your hand? Or because you were so obviously lonesome and Viktor, so sensitive and kind, felt there was nothing else he could do that might help save you from yourself besides this. So many reasons he might not have meant it, or why it might be disingenuous in spite of his good natured, serious, quiet kindness.

But what if he did want you, the way you wanted him?

That felt like the most terrifying thing of all.

You tended the animals, slopped the hogs, fed the chickens, collected the eggs, cared for the horses, baked the bread, milked the cow, tended the vegetable garden, mended the fences, cleaned the house, did the laundry… the list went on and on ad nauseam. Always something to do, more to clean, to fix, to keep hands busy. And the days stretched.

One week started to reach toward two and you lapsed into a silent fugue. Numb, empty.

When would the riders come back and tell you something terrible had happened?

How long did you have to wait to find out this quiet hell was permanent?

Instead of putting it through the laundry, you took one of his shirts upstairs with you one night. Draped it over your pillow and pushed your face into it.

Took a book out on the porch with you and struggled to read it, to hear it in his voice.

Two weeks had just about passed when you began debating riding out toward the distant ranch house. It was foolish in the extreme, you could not leave the animals here alone or the big house unguarded and empty. The not knowing was killing you though. But you’d never make it out there and back and not have something go horribly wrong back home. No matter how many crazy ways your brain tried to come up with a way to make it feasible, make it safe, you couldn’t go.

And the last thing he told you was to be safe.

The light was starting to stretch toward evening as you plodded up toward the house from the barn, shadow long behind you, pail of eggs in one hand. Knees and back a dull ache from the day’s mucking out. You’d made it up the steps of the porch and had your hand on the doorknob when you heard the unmistakable thud of hooves in the distance pounding closer. Nearly dropping the pail, you whipped around, went running down the long stretch of the side porch out toward the front.

Yes. Yes! Yes, it was him! Tall lean figure on the black and white dappled appaloosa, leaning over its whipping mane as they cantered up. You practically flung yourself off the porch as he drew up, and hopped down, albeit stiffly.

Caution, modesty, manners, doubts, all of it forgotten as you careened into him hard enough to knock the breath from him audibly and have the horse beside you both shy away with an unhappy whickering. You did not care. Face pushed to his chest tight enough to suffocate yourself, arms iron bands around him, squeezing. Real, real and here and back and alive and safe and solid.

“Viktor-” You began as he prized you off of himself stiffly, turning your face up. Only to have him catch the shape of your jaw in both hands and bend to kiss you. Kiss you hard enough to knock his hat to the ground, to mash the tip of his nose into the apple of your cheek and nearly split your lip against his own.

He did not stop. Did not let you go as you both opened mouths against each other’s, as he tried each lip in slow, hard sucks, caved to the invitation of your tongue and slipped his own against it in eager taste. As he suffered your gentle bite and tug and caught you up all the tighter until you were both breathless, panting, his forehead pressed to yours as you dared to open eyes to find that precious amber gaze an inch away.

The callus of his dust covered thumb stroked slow along your cheek, tracing the spangling constellation of freckles.

“I should have done that before I left. I should have done that a long time ago, too.”

His words raised a tight lump in your throat. Two simple, quiet sentences that washed away all the grit of horrible doubt that had nearly worn your heart to a smooth, cold stone. The hot tears that shivered on lashes and streaked down cheeks betrayed you. Had his brows knitted and hands cupping your face, wiping them away as he fussed and you tried to wave it off only to have him catch your mouth up again and you melted into it, into him. Fists closed tight at his sides in the fabric of his shirt, humming a soft moan against his mouth.

Even covered with the dust and dirt of the fields he tasted better than you had ever imagined.

He shifted uncomfortably in a little hop on his bad leg and you broke away from the intoxication of that kiss to look him over worriedly.

“Are you hurt?!”

“No, no. Just stiff, and tired. It was a long ride back. I brought you a gift, though.”

Something large wrapped in his bedroll tied to the back of his saddle, if his glance was any indication. You bent to pick up his hat for him, beat the dust out of it but kept in in your hands, loving too much the wild mess of his chestnut hair, wanting very badly to run your fingers through it, to see what he did when you tugged, or if he’d sigh when your ran nails ofer his scalp.

He was smiling down at you, that precious half tilt curve, and you went up on tip toe before you could stop yourself to kiss the little beauty mark at the zenith of it. It made him blush, fiercely, and you couldn’t stop your smile.

“Take yourself and your things inside. I’ll see to the horse. A bath’s what you need after that ride. Go get a drink of something cool and sit down. I’ll be in.”

He collected his pack and roll and the gun off the back of the saddle, accepted his hat back, and limped up toward the house without argument, though his hand did trail long down your arm, caught your hand and let fingers slide away lingering under his own as you stepped away. It was no fuss to unsaddle the appaloosa and turn him out with an extra handful of grain in its bucket and a kiss on its forehead, for whatever part it may have played in bringing him home safe again to you.

Back up at the house you pumped full the largest galvanized tub that sat up on wrought iron grating and shoved tinder under it, lit a fire to heat and fed it until it was glowing hot coals and licking flames. Back inside the house you pulled the big copper tub out and pushed it before the fireplace. Lit a small fire in the hearth, just enough to keep any chill off from the bath, though the heat of the day still lingered.

It took a few trips to get the tub partway filled with cool water, the rest would come after the tub outside had heated through and the water was nice and steaming.

You lit the two hurricane lamps in the room, offering a dim glow to the quickly fading dusk, and gathered soap and towels before heading to find Viktor in the kitchen, bad leg stretched long and brace off, a glass of cool water in one hand as he slumped back against the wall in his seat, looking exhausted. He sat up the second you came in the room though, that lovely smile back in place.

You fixed him a plate, just something quick and cold for the time being, but most likely more filling than anything he’d had out in the plains. He caught your wrist as you set the plate before him, looking like he had a great deal to say but no idea where to start saying it. You gave him a gracious out, stroking free hand back through the thick tangle of chestnut hair as you gently pulled your captured wrist up, freed it from his grasp and brushed a kiss to the heel of his palm.

He watched you in a kind of silent awe that made your heart stutter against your ribcage.

“Eat. The bath will be ready soon.”

Bucket after bucket of now hot water hauled up the porch steps and into the great room until the tub by the fireplace was full and steam rising up off it thickly. You turned to find Viktor standing in the doorway, watching you dump the last bucket in. You straightened and huffed a little laugh as you wiped the sweat off your brow with the back of a forearm, the steam curling the loose tendrils of your hair in soft, slightly frizzy spirals.

“I’ll… I’ll give you the room.” You tried to back toward the door, give him privacy to soak sore muscles and wash off the dirt of the road.

“No, wait.” He hobbled in, that bedroll under one arm, and set it in your arms.

You put the pail down to unwrap the roll curiously. Three massive wolf pelts lay within. Fur soft and gorgeous, white as driven snow in patches and ticked with ash grey in others. You opened the bound roll of them in awe and Viktor helped you lay them out over the couch. They were massive, almost terrifyingly so. Gave an awe-inspiring glimpse into just how large the creatures were up close, and made you very grateful indeed you hadn’t had the opportunity to ever meet one in the wild.

You ran your hand up through the thick lush of the fur, savoring the soft tickle of it through spread fingers. Not nearly as soft as the back of Viktor’s finger as it stroked down your cheek, had you turning face toward him where he stood alongside you.

“G-go, uhm. Go ahead and get your bath.” You insisted, unable to focus on coherent thought with the way he was looking down at you, and backed away again to grab the pail and hustle out of the room. Sucked deep breath of air outside on the porch, and another but still couldn’t stop your heart from hammering. You wanted to feel foolish for all the time you spent worrying and fretting but were too elated to feel anything but the sweet rush of joy that hadn’t ended since he’d hopped off that horse.

You waited a sufficient amount of time and even peeked through one of the windows to make sure he had disrobed and settled into the tub. Then snuck back inside and hovered in the doorway nervously.

He glanced up from scrubbing one long arm with the soap.

“Is the water hot enough?”

He laughed a little.

“Yes, I think I might be cooking, actually. If you wish to make me into soup, I won’t complain. I think you’ll want salt instead of soap though.”

Your cheeks burned with his gentle teasing and you turned to go back to the kitchen, to leave him in peace.

“No, please. Come sit. I spent all these days thinking of you…” He trailed off, like he was unsure how to finish that sentence or if he’d said too much already.

You came in, tucked the skirt of your dress under yourself and took a seat on the couch beside the wolf pelts.

“Thank you for these.” You said, petting one again softly, “And for coming back.”

He sat back in the tub and smiled shyly to himself, continued scrubbing for a while before he shared the story of his time out there. You sat rapt, listening to the wild ride back out to the far fields, the terrifying stalking and hunt, the hard and long search for the lost half of the flock. And how they almost realized too late it was not three wolves but four. How one of the lads had been quick and sharp enough to grab the gun as Viktor was struggling to free a lamb stuck between two rocks, unaware of the final wolf rushing up behind him. Took it down a scarce pace away, jaws open. He’d left that pelt, and rightly so, with the lad, as bragging rights for life.

Your knuckles had gone white on the wolf pelt under your hand, head a slow, dizzy spin to think how close it had been. How close you’d come to the worst.

He rinsed himself and you shook off the reverie to reach for the towels, handing them over before excusing yourself back to the kitchen to let him dry off in privacy.

Fingertips trembled on the tabletop as you stood there staring at his empty plate.

So close to loss you could taste it, bitter on the back of your tongue.

You crossed yourself, a helpless ingrained custom at this point, and totted out a saucer of milk, left it on the windowsill over the sink, a gift for the fae or brownie or pooka that had kept him safe from mischief.

No sooner had you set it down then you felt the heat of gentle hands on your waist. The warmth of a mouth on your ear, your cheek. You spun and Viktor caught your mouth again in a kiss much softer and slower than the mad rush of the one he’d given you outside. Hands found his skin bare, still damp from the bath, towel tucked around the narrow of his hips. Arms wound up over his shoulders as he steered you with that grip on your waist, until your backside hit the kitchen table.

You broke the soft, sweet suckle of his upper lip to clamber eagerly back upon the table, only to watch him stall as he took your face in both hands. Watched him release a heavy breath, those dark brows drawn tight over the soft fire of eyes.

“I’ve wanted you since you first came here.” He admitted it like a confession, and it had to have been a stone around his heart if he’d carried it for nearly five years now in silence, watching you be another man’s wife for three of them. “Wanted to kiss you for so long. Wanted you as my own. But… are you sure, miláčku?”

His gaze cast aside as he frowned slightly.

“A poor cripple, from a country you don’t know? I will always be an outsider here. I don’t have a name, or prospects. I simply have my work… and I believe in myself.” He glanced up, leveling you with that gaze once more, fingers tracing your jaw. “Are you sure I’m what you want?”

You were nodding emphatically before he even finished the question, sucking the taste of him off your own lower lip as you pulled him close, stole another kiss before your hands fell, tugged open the ribbon at the scooped neckline of your dress and tugged the three buttons below it open before turning pleading eyes back to him, to find him breathless, face flooded with want.

Those fine hands of his came down off your jaw, slid into the part of fabric and cradled the shape of the outside of each breast, his breath a soft fan over your skin as thumbs you could see trembling teased gently over the proud little push of both pale nipples.

“Do you have any idea how badly I wanted you, the day we went swimming? You looked like a mermaid, and that - your clothes. Wanted to lay you on the blanket and peel them off you, let me actually see this pretty pink with nothing in the way.”

His hands cupped, thumbs making a teasing, squeezing little pinch of sensitive, singing little buds. Left you unable to help the way your head rocked back and legs hooked round him where he stood between the spread of thighs, unable to stop the soft noise of want that climbed up, deep out of the core of you and up your throat.

He pushed you back onto the table, the fall of his hair a tickle against skin as his mouth traced warm tracks over one rising curve and then the other. When he finally caught a slow, sweet suck of one sweet nub you bucked against him, hand slapping to the table top and all the years of polish upon it peeling up under the bite of the curling dig of your fingernails. He licked, flicked tongue in a way that had you cursing in the old language you never used, arching under him as he paid the same lovely attentions to the greedy eagerness of the other nipple.

God, and it was sweet. The electric rush of it heady, sensation pouring out like soft fire lit under skin, a pink flush creeping across your bare chest and up your throat as you sunk fingers into his soft mess of hair and listened to him groan with his mouth full of you.

And then both your hands were sliding between the pair of you in a frantic struggle, him to get your skirts up and you to tug his towel loose. You each got what you wanted, but he won out, getting his bared hips clear of the grab of your hands as he got a hand under one of your thighs and lifted till the heel of your shoe hooked the edge of the table, forced a wider splay of legs as he braced an arm on the table and gazed down at your bare skin.

Fingers stroked you slow, gentle sweep over soft skin under navel, over the soft V inward from hips, slow caress over lips before your gasp had him parting you, stroking tenderly through the slick wet of silk soft skin. It had you lifting into each caress, practically ready to beg before he dipped down. You were stuttering, startled, ready to ask him just what he thought he was doing when he spread you wide and you felt the warm, ticklish flick of his tongue hit some sweet part of you that you’d only felt when you pressed the agony of your hungry throbbing against your own fingers.

You arched hard against the table top and heard the empty plate go clattering, to smash upon the floor as you pushed up into the soft circling flick of his tongue. Nothing, nothing in your life had ever felt so good. You caught a fitful grip of his hair again, not wanting to tear at it but struggling to be gentle as he licked at you and that wanting ache within just doubled and doubled and doubled until your core clenched tight, hot little flutters that felt like heaven had exploded within you, every muscle strung taut as a bow and sweet stars in your veins as you gasped his name.

He rose over you, wiping the gloss of you off his chin as he gathered you to him with a grip on your hips, leaning over, watching you suffer sweetly for panted breath, eyes glassy and unfocused as you tried to offer him a sweet smile.

“Are you certain?” He asked, voice hoarse, and you could feel the hard length of him slide through the wet parting of your sex as the backs of his fingers traced the shape of your jaw from chin back to ear, to slide a cradle to the back of your head against the hard surface of the table.

“Yes, Viktor, please. Yes.”

In spite of your begging agreement he kept that little tease up, sliding himself along you, taking a grasp of your bent up leg in a one armed, tight hug.

“Do you want me so badly?” He asked, sly teasing nearly ruined by how breathless he was, by the burn of hot flush over his pale cheeks as he gazed down at his co*ck sliding over your eager little sex. You moaned softly for him, reaching to grip either edge of the table as you rocked hips invitingly. How could he doubt it?

“Speak to me, miláčku.” He murmured, gaze ticking up once to offer you the wicked tilt of that smile of his before eyes fell again to watch as he pressed to your entrance, pushed slow.

“Hnn, Viktor, please. I want you in-!” Ah, it stung at first. Ready as you were, as much as you wanted him, it had been so long, and what had passed between your husband and you had not been like this, not in the least. The stretch hurt, but so good. Had you humming, moaning soft encouragement, though he refused to do anything but take his time.

“Ah… yes…” He wanted words but you were too gone to find any save the ones to beg him to keep going.

He kept the hold he had on your bent leg pressed to one side of his chest as he settled deep and began a slow, small rock with his hips, a deliciously tormenting see-saw that had you writhing as he stroked one broad hand down and back the open splay of your other thigh laid out on the table’s edge.

You’d wanted, in your wild little daydreams, for him to watch you come undone for him. But none of it compared to how wonderfully wicked you felt actually watching him gaze down at you, watching his mouth drop open slightly as he felt your walls clench eagerly around him, at how he thumbed over that amazing little bundle of nerves he’d licked so well at, making your hips jump again and stomach tighten.

“Please tell me this is mine, you are mine. Tell me, miláčku. ” He was hoarse, voice seductively thick and dripping his own want that had you smiling blissfully.

“Yes, yours. Just yours, Viktor.” However he wanted, whenever he liked.

It earned you the first hard, deep thrust, sent eyes rolling back in your head and mouth open in a strangled, ecstatic little gasp as he did it again. Doubtless that the pair of you both wanted to keep this dirty little tease going, draw it all out and pour every ounce of those years of waiting and wanting into it, but it proved too much for the both of you after a moment, and instead became a mad rush. Wonderful, jarring hard thrusts of his hips that had you eager to meet him, had you gasping out mewling little sounds each time he filled you up.

He was no better, the soft sounds that escaped the clench of his teeth delicious, something you wanted to commit to memory and find further ways to drag more out of him.

More, you wanted more, the both of you, and he dragged you to the end of the table till your bottom was near hanging off of it, let your leg unfold to wrap around him as he gathered up your hands, fingers laced pinching tight between his own desperate ones, pinning them up beside your head and just barely catching your mouth with his as his pace staggered, went erratic and stalled, your nails digging little biting furrows between his knuckles.

He spilled hot inside you as you claimed the prize of his kiss, sweet treasure yours to keep at last. His. Yours.

No more ghosts, no more silence.

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