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Alice Kingsleigh pads down the many marble steps of the White Queen’s castle, wrapping her robe tighter around herself. The castle is large and maze-like but Alice knows where she is going; she has gone many times before when her insomnia has kept her up into the ungodly hours of the night and she has needed air and thinking space. She is quiet as a dormouse, lightfooted and quick, so set about her business that the nightstaff don’t even think to raise an eyebrow. They tip a (sometimes imaginary) hat and continue on their way; in Underland everyone has idiosyncrasies, including Alice, and they know hers as well as she knows theirs.

She reaches the large arches that open out to the patio gardens and slows her pace, partly out of relief that she has arrived at her destination, and partly because someone is already there.

Though he is facing away from her so that she can’t see his face, she knows from the tall, oddly-proportioned figure that it is Stayne, and from his slouched shoulders that he seems to moping. Alice pauses to watch him, silent and curious. He is meandering aimlessly, pausing to watch one of the several fountains for a moment before continuing on; he reaches the edge of the patio and leans against the balustrade that is too low for him, and there he stays, looking out into the dark gardens.

Alice takes a breath. Since being “pardoned” (Not a wholly accurate term considering he was basically drafted to low-level guard duty/glorified errand boy as punishment, but Mirana thought “pardoned” sounded more pleasant), moping around is something Stayne does a lot of, though Alice is unsure why; her current suspicion is that he simply dislikes not being at the Red Queen’s castle - perhaps he is annoyed by the very bright whiteness of Mirana’s decorating - more realistically, she thinks, he misses the familiarity of home. Alice sympathizes.

Taking another breath, she makes her way towards him, her feet bare against the cool concrete of the patio. It’s autumn, and nice outside, the moon so full and bright its illumination can’t be diffused even by the clouds that drift through the sky. She lets her feet deliberately drag against the ground so as not to take him by surprise - not for his sake, but because she is concerned that his defensive reflexes might kick in and she end up in the medical ward. She approaches on the side of his good eye, and he glances back at her, looking somewhat shaken at her appearance.

“Good evening,” she says, coming to a stop a respectable distance away from him. He is so very, very tall, she thinks, craning her neck to look up at him. A stray thought passes by: how large must his bed be, so that his feet don’t hang off the end?

Stayne bristles. His jaw is set, and he clasps his hands behind his back. For a moment, she wonders if she will get any greeting back, and then he mutters out, “Good evening.”

Satisfied, Alice nods. She looks away from him, out to the gardens. By the light of the moon she can identify poppies, tulips, daisies, carnations, irises, daffodils… Too many to count, blooming as if it were springtime, all arranged in low flowerbeds and framed by winding paths. She notices with a small pang that there are no roses to be seen. Closer, along the edge of the raised patio she and Stayne are on, are low-cut topiaries and the occasional lavender. Set in the balustrade and arching up over the patio, every thirty feet or so, are lattices upon which various flowering vines grow, providing shaded areas on sunny days.

Alice looks at Stayne, who is still staring resolutely into the distance.

“Can’t sleep?” she asks.

The muscles in his jaw shifts as he unclenches it and then clenches it again. Even after being drafted into Mirana’s guard he has kept his black hair long and free, and it contrasts sharply with the light colors of the guard uniform (and just about everything else in the castle; he is very easy to find in a crowd here). Alice blinks as she notices he is fully dressed as if on duty, but she knows his shift had ended earlier; she knows many of the guards’ shifts, given her affinity for sneaking off.

At his lack of reply, she looks back out into the gardens. “I can’t sleep,” she says, as if saying it first will help his own admittance. “And this is where I like to come when I can’t.”

“I know,” he says, and his sudden voice makes her wince, partly out of reflex; his voice is unique, and it bore a certain imprint into her mind when she’d pretended to be Um - even now in casual, albeit strained, conversation, her first instinct is discomfort. His actual words register a moment later, and she turns towards him with an eyebrow raised.

“You know?” she asks. Instead of disgust or alarm, she feels something akin to amusement. That he has apparently spied on her comes as no surprise; he is very predictable.

“I’ve watched you.” The words come out matter-of-fact, with no shame or embarrassment. He is still faced away, but his eye has become unfocused now that his attention has shifted to the painfully stilted half-conversation.

“I’m sure you have,” she says. She allows a beat of silence to pass before she adds, “Pervert.”

This makes him look at her with a slightly annoyed expression. Even with the brightness of the moon his black eyepatch looks more like a dark hole in his head. She grins up at him knowingly, and with a snort he turns back to the gardens.

She watches him, pushing her thick blonde braid over one shoulder, trying to read his thoughts. She had never really gotten to the point of hating Stayne, but then she does not hate many things or people; she even doubts she ever hated the Red Queen. She feels a certain draw to him that she’s unsure how to define. He is very hard to read, but she knows mourning when she sees it.

Venturing beyond casual banter and smalltalk, Alice swallows and takes a step towards him, just enough that she can brush her fingers over his arm. It feels somewhat forced, and she hopes it doesn’t show outwardly.

“Are you okay?” she asks.

Noticing her sudden proximity and her hand on his arm, Stayne steps away with an overacted wince. He only glances in her eyes, but she catches everything in that one little moment he drops his guard.

“Yes, of course I’m okay,” he says, mimicking her intonation. Alice pinches her lips together because her first instinct is to laugh, not only at his poor imitation of her, but also at his paper-thin excuse for a deflection.

“You are not,” she says.

He looks down at her, frowning. His hands, still behind his back, clench into fists.

“Will you please stop nosing around and mind your own business?” he says. “Bloody Red, it’s like your defining character trait.”

This time she does laugh. This only serves to further annoy Stayne, who rolls his eye and stalks off. Alice quite literally runs after him.

“Oh no, stay!” she says. “Please, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh, you just look so serious all the time.”

“At least some of us around here are,” he grumbles, ignoring her. She stops, pushing her hair out of her face.

“I only meant to help,” she says, and this gets him to pause, his broad shoulders squared, hands clasped together.

“I don’t want your help,” he says, and then continues on his way.

“I’ve lost people too, you know. Family. And I know what it feels like to be… h-homesick.” Even saying the word makes her chest tighten. Stayne has finally stopped, though he hasn’t turned around.

“What?” His voice is quiet, but she catches it.

She doesn’t understand what he means, and she can only offer her own, “What?” in return.

He turns around and walks towards her again, slowly, his features a little softer now. He is not unattractive, something Alice had noticed even when she’d been Um, though his whole countenance and the air about him had scared her then. Now he holds himself differently, and she has defeated far scarier things than Ilosovic Stayne.

“That word,” he says, stopping close and towering over her. She instinctively backs up, but he doesn’t seem to notice. Trying to catch up, she replays what she’d said.

“Homesick?” she asks.

“Yes.” His brow furrows as he considers the word. “I’ve never heard it before.”

The word is self-explanatory, she thinks, so she doesn’t bother to define it, nor does he ask. His expression is unreadable except for the slight frown between his eyebrows, and even then she can’t divine what his actual individual thoughts might be. She knows he must be thinking of the Red Queen’s Castle, but what else? Was he treated better, did he have better quarters? His job? What specific part of that place is he thinking of?

“Do you miss her?” she asks, though as soon as she has she regrets it.

She expects him to be mad (a feeling she would justify), but his features soften and his shoulders slump. He looks at her, and then out to the gardens again, resuming his place at the balustrade. She stands beside him, closer this time, feeling very small. But he is warm, something that surprises her for some unfathomable reason. He has always come across as such a cold, manipulative person that his body warmth - the very reassurance of his being alive - seems strange and counterintuitive. More counterintuitive is the sudden desire to move closer to him; Alice promptly ignores that desire with some amount of confused embarrassment.

“Why?” he asks suddenly, bringing her out of her own thoughts. She is trying to figure out the exact nature of his question when he continues. “Why do I miss her?”

Alice’s heart skips a beat - so he can feel emotions! Imagine that. She would have imagined them as being close, maybe even lovers - he had panicked and begged not to be exiled with her, but she had seen it as an attempt to save his own cowardly hide. What if it had been more than that? The idea makes her squirm.

Thankfully before she can speak and make a fool of herself, he continues on. “Do you think it’s mad to miss someone you hate?” he asks.

This time she doesn’t miss a beat. “No.”

“Even though it’s paradoxical?”

“So what if it is?” she asks, shrugging. “Feeling two conflicting feelings isn’t what makes someone mad.” She grins as he looks at her, though his expression shifts and something in his eye makes her look away with a cough.

She can feel his gaze on her, but her eyes remain steadfastly fixed on the garden. She pushes her flyaway hair out of her face, surprised at how warm her cheeks are. She tries to be sneaky about hiding her face from him, but he seems to have picked up on it because when he speaks his voice has changed cadence.

“Have you ever felt two conflicting things at once, then?” he asks. Part of him sounds genuinely interested and part sounds insufferably smug. She tucks a stray lock of hair behind her ear and smiles despite herself.

“Of course I have. I think everyone has,” she says. He shifts closer to her, maybe without even noticing, and she suddenly feels too warm. Restlessly, she turns and hops up onto the balustrade, facing him. He watches her, his expression a hard mask again. Up here on the balustrade she is almost face-height to him, though he is still half-a-head taller and his general presence is enough to make her feel small. “Have you?” she asks.

He looks away from her, over her shoulder, but she keeps her eyes on him and catches his jaw shift again. His hands finally leave their place behind his back to settle on the balustrade, gripping it.

“Alice…”

The use of her name makes her feel strange, like she’d just heard something she wasn’t supposed to. She watches him, watches as he leans against the balustrade and takes a breath - the sort of self-calming, lung-filling breath she knows well. She doesn’t think to respond, mostly because she’s unsure how to, or where he is going next. A fleeting thought passes through her brain to grab his hand, and she wills it away.

“I hated her,” he says. “I hated that place. I hated the castle, the land, the people… I don’t understand why I…” He wrinkles his nose and scowls, letting his sentence trail off.

“Familiarity?” she offers. “Sometimes I think we just long for a familiar ritual. Even if that ritual wasn’t ideal or even liked, it was still… home.” She looks over her shoulder with another little pang in her heart. There is a moment of silence, broken by the sound of some kind nightbird cooing in the distance.

“Well well,” Stayne says, that familiar smugness in his voice again. “You’re smarter than you look.” She looks at him, finds him watching her with a thinly veiled intensity that makes the hair on the back of her neck stand up.

“You are an ass, Ilosovic Stayne.”

The use of his name has a peculiar effect on him. He suddenly stiffens, his fingers tightening on the balustrade and his weight shifting almost - almost - unnoticeably towards her. She catches the skin of his throat shift as he swallows, catches his eye glaze over before he closes it, flexes his neck and shoulders, and then looks back out at the garden as if nothing had happened.

Alice suppresses the urge to smile. She can sense he is eager to get away from the subject of Iracebeth, so she tucks the conversation away for a later date, instead taking a moment to examine whether or not she feels tired yet, or peaceful and clearheaded enough to return to her room. The answer is a resounding no - in fact, her head is even busier than when she’d come down to the patio in the first place.

She feels she has the upper hand now, now that she has this secret knowledge of how his name affects him - at least, coming from her. He has not moved, as if to move would be to admit that she had indeed affected him somehow. She takes the chance to watch him, carefully, examining his face. While most of his facial scarring is on his left side, there are a few faint lines on his right, long-healed but still visible under her close scrutiny. His good eye is alert and intense, blue-grey around a slightly dilated pupil. His nose is unique, all angles, and his mouth seems almost a little too luscious for the rest of his hard features.

He’s handsome, she decides. Strange, but handsome.

“You said you’ve watched me,” she says, feeling bold.

To Stayne’s credit, he doesn’t waver, though he still doesn’t look at her. “You’re interesting.”

“Interesting?” she echoes. A pause, and then, “Good interesting or bad interesting?”

He finally looks at her after he rolls his eye. “Interesting interesting.”

Many thoughts, not all of them strictly proper, pass through her head as their gazes settle on each other and lock into place. His eye does not deviate from hers. She licks her lips, pulling the bottom one between her teeth; he notices, his features changing, becoming somehow more intense and softer simultaneously, and then he notices that she has noticed and wrenches his attention away.

She is surprised at how warm she is.

Stayne looks up at the sky, and she takes the moment to try and shake the buzzing feeling out of her limbs. Then she leans back on her arms, hooking her ankles around one of the balustrade’s support columns.

“You still fancy me.” It’s a declaration, something she might have been unsure of once if he wasn’t so obvious about it now. She does love teasing him, and he does so deserve it.

His head snaps back to her, something like skepticism on his face. “No.”

“I don’t believe you,” she says, tilting her head and allowing one sleeve of her robe to dip down off her shoulder. Underneath she is wearing one of the many gauzy shifts Mirana had gifted her when she’d decided to stay at the castle, and this one glimmers prettily in the moonlight.

His eye darts to her now-bare shoulder, and then he looks away from her a bit too hurriedly.

“You’re too small,” he says, with forced disgust. Alice hunches her shoulders.

“I am not, I’m exactly the size I’m supposed to be,” she says.

“Maybe you fancy me,” he says, a self-satisfied look on his face.

Maybe she does.

“You’re the one spying on me,” she says, and this wipes the satisfaction off his face immediately. Something new sparks in his eye, something like desperation? He knows he is losing this argument. Their gazes meet again, and she does not let him go. “Ilosovic Stayne.”

For a moment there is complete stillness. They stare at each other, and she sees his pupil dilate again, his shoulders stiffen, his lips part as he exhales a hard, ungraceful breath.

And then he is on her, a fist in her hair to tilt her head up so that he can smash his lips against hers. His other hand is on the balustrade beside her, fingers dug into the stone so hard the leather of his glove scrapes audibly over it. Alice squeezes her eyes shut, scrambling to catch up. She has had little experience with kissing and Stayne is forceful, full of energy, and so large he nearly pushes her off the balustrade just by getting in her space.

His mouth moves against hers erratically, angrily, teeth and tongue. His hand is so deep in her hair that it’s almost painful, but instead it makes her scalp and neck tingle pleasantly, trickling down into her spine unlike anything she’s felt before. She finally thinks to move, grabbing his face and pulling away.

“Stop, stop--” she gasps, “I can’t breathe--”

He does stop, dazed, panting. His eye is closed, lips parted. She does not know why, but she finds herself brushing his cheek with her thumb, tracing over the deep scars below his eyepatch. His brow furrows, and for a second he looks like he might break apart in her hands.

“Alice--” he whispers. “Please.”

His grip in her hair loosens, and he steps closer to her, trapping body heat between them. Despite this, Alice shivers as he digs his fingertips into her hair and scalp again, electricity racing down her back.

“Please?” she asks sweetly. He has not opened his eye, still looking pained or desperate or something that she can’t identify.

“I need to… to taste you,” he says, voice and breath coming out stilted. He finally looks at her, his eye dark and glossy.

“Need?” she asks. “You need to?”

“Please--”

He does like begging, doesn’t he? She grins, which seems to annoy him, and he attempts to push back into her space.

“Ah ah ah,” she says, though she gasps when he pulls her hair again. “You’re very impatient, Ilosovic Stayne.” She lets his name drip off her tongue like honey, sweet and sticky, and his whole body shivers in response. She pulls him closer, until their foreheads are pressed together and they share each other’s air. He is like a spring pulled taut, overly tense and eager to snap, but he holds back; she gets the sense they are both enjoying this drawn-out tease. “Slowly now,” she whispers, and pulls him in.

He is shaking, maybe just with the effort of holding back his own bodily urges, or maybe from something deeper; Alice doesn’t know or care. He slides his tongue into her mouth, which she finds unpleasant and strange, but then he bites her lip and that sends a shock through her system, making her fingers dig into his face. She feels him smile, feels her heartbeat speed up, feels her lungs ache for more air.

Stayne steps even closer, fully closing the distance between them. It’s fortunate that Alice is on the balustrade or else he would be far too tall for this, and even now his neck is craned at a slightly awkward angle - not that he seems to notice. He is very warm, solid and large, the leather of his guard outfit creaking as he presses against her. Breaking ever so slightly, he removes his hand from her hair (The sudden loss causes her to make a very embarrassing noise of protest, which makes him smirk) to pull his gloves off and drop them on the ground some distance behind him. When his now bare hand returns to her hair, he strokes it gently before fisting it and yanking her head back. She gasps, more electricity shooting down her spine and this time settling between her thighs.

He kisses her mouth, sucking on her lip, before moving down, leaving wet and sticky open-mouth kisses on her jaw, trailing down to her neck. He pauses, inhaling, sliding his free arm around her waist, trailing his fingertips through the layers of gauzy robe and shift. Her skin burns under his touch.

“So lovely,” he whispers, biting her gently. She grins up at the sky, laughing at the sensation, thinking suddenly of Dracula. His teeth make way for tongue, wet and hot, and then he sucks on her skin, and she laughs harder, gasping and wrapping an arm around his shoulders lest he think she’s not enjoying herself. He purrs in response, rocking her backwards so that he doesn’t have to bend so much. As the initial tickling and amusement subsides, she finds the sensation far more pleasant, and as he moves to a new spot, repeating himself, this time it sucks the air right out of her lungs in one gasping, shuddering moan.

This makes both of them pause. She has never moaned before. Stayne holds her close to him and lets his head drop to rest in the crook of her neck. She looks up at the stars, her own voice echoing in her ears. He is still pressed flush against her, his arm around her keeping her from falling off her perch.

Hesitantly, she lifts her hand and places it in his hair. It’s softer than she imagined, and her touch makes his muscles go taut, makes him squeeze her tighter. She sees how this could be nice, to just sit and stroke his hair for a while, but she is on a mission, and she pulls his hair over his far shoulder, exposing his neck to her.

She has had no experience with this, other than just being on the receiving end of one, so she mimics him, first pressing her mouth against the vein of his throat. His pulse jumps, races under her lips. Smirking, she opens her mouth and licks him, feeling somewhat foolish and unsure of what she’s actually doing, though his gentle gasp and his hands digging into her back make her feel that she’s on the right track.

“Alice…” he hisses. He removes his hand from her hair and snakes it under her arms, now holding her in a tight embrace and clutching fistfuls of sparkly gauze.
She readjusts, pulling herself upwards to get at a better angle, sliding one arm further around his shoulders and using the other to keep his hair out of the way, digging into his scalp the way he had been doing to her. He pushes against her touch like a housecat, and she revels in this little power.

She licks him again, more confidently this time, tastes the salt on his skin. He twists to bite her shoulder. She can’t stop the airy giggle that escapes her as she bites him back, sucking gently. This time he groans, albeit quietly, and the sound reverberates through her, goes straight to her stomach. Emboldened, she sucks again, harder, and laves her tongue over the newly-bruised skin.

His teeth clamp around her shoulder so hard it sends pinpricks down her arm and makes her gasp, and then he groans again, rocking against her and shuddering so hard he has to support himself with one arm on the balustrade.

In this new position she can feel his arousal pressed against her, which takes her by surprise. She had fooled around with some boys back home, she is no ignorant schoolgirl, yet still her inexperience - and, that this arousal happens to belong to Ilosovic Stayne - makes her pause.

She pulls away slightly, unsure what to do. He is breathing heavily, hand gripped so tight on the balustrade his knuckles are white. It’s strange to see his hands bare, she thinks. Since he does not move, she looks up at him, finds his eye closed, cheeks flushed, hair disheveled, and something in her stomach flutters.

“You liar,” she says.

This makes him look at her with a sigh. A long, relenting, full-body sigh that ends with him shaking his head.

“Don’t patronize me,” he says, without any conviction.

She pulls him closer again, stroking her finger over the mark she’d just left on his neck. He seems to be regaining his footing, and so she decides to prod him further, to push him back down.

“Do you watch me other places?” she asks, her voice dropping down to nearly a whisper. “Do you watch me in my room?”

He blinks, obviously aware of what she’s trying to do.

“Does it frustrate you that even though I’m not Um from Umbridge you’re still madly obsessed with me?” she says. “Even though I’m the Champion of the White Queen, even though we were enemies?” She slides her hand down his chest and he smirks. Without replying, he grabs her hair again, tighter than before, sending thunder through her muscles and making her back arch. She gasps, trying not to lose focus, sliding her hand over his ribs and waist. “Do you think of me at night?” she asks through her teeth, looking sideways up at him, her heart racing. “Alone, in your bedchambers?”

She hesitates. Even with all her fooling around she has never touched another person sexually and even though now that she wants to, something - her nerves? - makes her stop. Seizing the moment, Stayne grabs her wrist and pulls it behind her back, grinning down at her with a glint in his eye. Her stomach twists, and for the first time tonight she can feel her own arousal slick between her thighs.

“So little Alice is new at this, isn’t she?” he says, dropping his head to continue his work on her throat. One hand is still tight in her hair, the other trapping her arm behind her back. She still has an arm free, but for now she keeps it wrapped around his back.

He kisses and laps at her neck, and she lets out a string of undignified noises as the myriad of sensations circuit through her body; thankfully, he returns them even as he works, before finally pulling away, yanking her hair to better press his lips against her ear.

“Alice...” He breathes her name, rocking his hips languidly against hers. Her whole body shudders as his arousal grinds against hers, hard and hot even through his trousers. He hisses and swears, some Underlandian word she doesn’t understand, and her stomach churns.

“I… Ilosovic...” she gasps out, because he is not the only one who gets to play at this game.

His hips stutter and she feels every bit of it, and they both gasp in unison. He pauses, and then lets her arm go, before kissing her with renewed vigor.

This time she knows what to do, and even though she doesn’t like his tongue in her mouth she likes every other part enough to ignore it. She slides both arms around his shoulders now, and his newly freed hand comes to rest on her hip, keeping her pelvis pressed firmly against his as he rocks into her.

Even though her own voice embarrasses her, that is not the primary reason she tries (and fails) to stay quiet - rather, she likes hearing Stayne. She wouldn’t have predicted it, but he is shameless and unrestrained about voicing his pleasure, in stark contrast to the boys at home. She hasn’t heard anything like it, and even someone like Stayne sounds lovely while in the throes of pleasure.

The space between her thighs burns as he grinds against it, as the friction of her shift and his thick canvas trousers sets her nerves on fire. His kissing gets sloppy as he loses focus, trailing down her jaw and neck again. The hand on her hip slides up to her waist, squeezing, and then continues up to her breast, long fingers splaying over her skin. She moans, her stomach twisting hard, one hand digging into his hair. He moans back, squeezing her breast before hooking his fingers over the low, lacy neckline of the shift and pulling it down to reveal her bare skin.

“Beautiful.” The word is more breathed than spoken. He grinds against her hard and she whines, spreading her legs to allow him more room to maneuver. He leans her back, so much so that without him she would fall into the garden, but he holds her steady as he dips his head to her newly naked chest and trails more wet kisses over her skin.

She looks down at him and laughs, partly out of nerves and partly because of the overwhelming amount of new sensations she is trying to process. Privately, too, she finds it endearing that his face is flushed like anyone else’s, and the lines between his brows betray his mask of smug bravado.

He reaches her nipple and licks it without warning, and the moan that comes out of her would’ve had her disowned back home. Her hips rock seemingly of their own accord, and Stayne’s cheeks flush a deeper shade of pink at the movement.

It all hits her at once, hard, like a kick from a horse. She falls into rhythm with him, her hands in his hair, his mouth on her breast and his tongue lapping at her. Still supporting her with one arm, he brings the other to her free breast, tweaking the nipple between his fingers and making her nearly melt. She wraps her legs around his waist to bring him even closer, to position herself so that the hot, solid hardness of his arousal grinds against her sweet spot. She tries to say something but nothing comes out except broken, gasping moans that escalate in pitch until she climaxes, writhing and shaking and laughing. He pulls her up, slowing to a stop, holding her close to him until she comes down, giddy and dazed.

When enough awareness has returned to her, she finds herself pressed against his chest with her arms wrapped around his back. She takes a moment to collect herself, and then she pushes away, looking up at him. He looks down at her, his eye dark and hooded, his face ruddy. He seems to be only half-focusing on her, no doubt also half-focusing on his own bodily desires.

“Are you okay?” she asks. He swallows, half nods, leans his head down towards her. Slowly, he lets her go, his hands going to work undoing the leather ties of his trousers. Her heart picks up again, this time partly in uncertainty. “S-Stayne… Ilosovic--”

He shakes his head, laughing breathlessly, pressing into her space to kiss her like he is claiming her.

“Alice. Please...”

He pulls the ties loose, pulls his trousers down, freeing himself. Alice stares, wishing she didn’t have to, wishing she’d had some kind of sexual experience with someone other than Ilosovic Stayne. He is large, or at least she thinks so, but proportionately so to the rest of him. While she is partly fascinated, another, more prominent part of her twinges with fear at the idea that he wants to put that inside of her.

“I-I ca… I haven’t.” Whatever she is trying to say won’t come out, so she hopes he understands and has enough decency to respect her wishes.

“Just... “ He grabs her hand and guides it to his cock, melting into her touch. “Please.”

He kisses her again, long and slow, setting his hand over hers and coaxing her into a rhythm. She relaxes, relieved that this is apparently all he wants from her. He is hard and hot to the touch, something she hadn’t expected, and he rocks into her hand as she becomes more comfortable.

“Up--up higher,” he gasps, showing her, settling her hand just under the head of his cock and squeezing gently. This gets her a rumbly moan deep in his chest and another swear, this time in English. He ruts into her hand, quicker now, smashing his mouth against hers again, forceful and erratic like the first time. Alice tries to concentrate on what her hand is doing but it proves to be difficult when his hands wander over her body, particularly her breasts which he seems to like, moaning with her and gasping between kisses.

Finally he pulls away from her and lets his head rest on her shoulder, jerking his hips into her hand forcefully, just focusing on the feeling of her hand on him. He is panting, shaking, one hand joining hers.

“Ah--Alice--” he hisses, something breaking in his voice. He shifts out of her grasp and takes over solo, hard and fast. He tilts his hips so that he can aim his cock downwards, continuing his work as he pulls Alice flush against him, panting into her hair; she feels his muscles twitch, his hips jerking back and forth into his hand, and seconds later he climaxes with a long moan into the gardens below.

He slumps against her, shaking, and she slides her arms around his back. Maybe because of the post-orgasm hormones, Alice finds that she does not want to move, and this sentiment is evidently shared because after tucking himself back into his trousers, Stayne slides his arms around her as well.

They are silent for a long time, and the silence is not particularly intimate or soft, but there is some amount of companionship. She nestles her head under his chin and feels him twitch, his hand in her hair much gentler than before. Feeling gradually returns to her body, her mind clearing and making way for actual sensible thoughts and complete sentences again. She can feel the sticky wetness on her skin where his mouth had been, now half-dry and a strange mix of unpleasant and wonderful.

A breeze blows through, and Alice shivers, and Stayne pulls her closer, sighing.

“Thank you,” he mutters at length, sounding like he’d had to force the words out. She blinks; do people normally thank each other after making love?

“What for?” she asks. He swallows, shifting his weight.

“For… talking,” he says. She smiles, biting her tongue to keep from laughing. Stayne clears his throat and abruptly pulls away, straightening his uniform and not looking her in the eye. She wobbles, inwardly lamenting the loss of his body heat, watching as he picks up his gloves from the ground and pulls them on. Now he looks at her, watching her as she pulls her robe up and around herself. She hops off the balustrade, pulls her now-ruffled braid over her shoulder again.

He has straightened up to full height again, squaring his shoulders, letting his general aura slip back into quiet, hard-to-read neutrality. She crosses her arms around herself, listening as the breeze rustles through the gardens.

“Do you think anyone heard?” she asks lightheartedly. The corner of his mouth twitches.

“Do you care?”

It takes her a moment to think about it; certainly she would have cared at home, but here? “No,” she says.

“Then it doesn’t matter.” He half-shrugs. She is not entirely sure why, but as she thinks about it more, warmth crawls up her cheeks, and she laughs despite her effort not to. He quirks an eyebrow. “What?”

She shakes her head, patting her cheeks. “I’m… not sure,” she says. “I’m in a good mood. It’s amusing, is all.”

He looks slightly confused, but remains quiet, pushing his hair away from his face. Unwilling to let further awkwardness descend on them, and suddenly having a hundred different thoughts to process, Alice takes a step backwards.

“I should go,” she says, wringing her hands together, unsure of what proper decorum might dictate she actually do when excusing herself after a random sexual liaison with a former enemy. “Um… goodnight.”

Stayne grins, looking, to her relief, unoffended - in fact, he looks slightly amused. Her stomach flutters. “Goodnight,” he says. Alice nods and turns, walking quickly; when she looks over her shoulder he is still watching her with that same amused, smug grin on his face.

She makes it to the safety of the archway, where he can’t see her, before she breaks out running, thankful her treacherous thoughts are her own and eager to be back in the privacy of her room.