Rin liked to fight with Nezha more than anyone.
There was something about him, those soft brown eyes, that infuriating beauty, the way he snarked her and baited her and challenged her, that made her feel like she was about to burst into flames in a way that had nothing to do with the Phoenix.
She channelled that energy the only way she knew: sparring. She liked to make him bleed and wince and groan and occasionally, laugh if she was being sloppy and pathetic. But even when they had discarded their weapons and Sinegard fighting technique and were just rolling in the dirt, scratching and biting and elbowing and shoving—fighting like animals—the fire in her only roared higher. The desperation to get closer—to fight harder, to press his body closer, to do something more than what she was doing now—never quelled.
Especially not on this particular day, when Nezha was holding her down and said in her ear, “Most people want to sleep after sparring for two hours, but it just makes you more bloodthirsty, doesn’t it?”
She shifted her hips and kicked at his knee enough that she could push him off. “Fuck you.” She spat blood into the dirt. They sometimes did this—went into a secluded spot of woods just to blow off steam after a frustrating day. Today was one of those.
He grinned even while wincing, rubbing his leg, breathing as heavily as her. “Any time you want, Rin.”
She glared at him and her fingers itched for him again. He enraged her when he was like this, and he knew it. She wanted to reach inside him and tear out his bones.
Fighting wasn’t enough to quell Rin’s fire for him, and suddenly it occurred to her that something else might.
The thought stilled her, and Nezha noticed. He arched one perfect, aristocratic eyebrow.
“What? Are you thinking about it?”
His tone was light but goading. She hated that he knew. She hated that he’d mockingly offered to have sex with her once before, and even though he was joking and she’d immediately told him to stop being disgusting, she’d thought about it later. What it would be like.
Rin had, of course, never had sex before. She’d never cared to, and it had never interested her much, and there was never anyone that made her want it. Well, there was Altan; there had been times when he was in good spirits that she had felt a stirring in her belly.
But the stirring in her belly then was nothing compared to the inferno that lit her up now, looking at Nezha’s smirking, beautiful face.
“And what if I was?” she challenged him impulsively, rising onto her haunches. “What would you say?”
His eyes turned very, very dark. He considered her for a long moment, the way she was leaning towards him. “I wouldn’t say anything.”
Then he lunged at her. Rin tensed, but too late. She was on her knees, far from the right stance to be blocking a strike.
Later she would marvel at how ingenious a strike it was. It was his lips, pressing against hers. Sliding right through her defenses as easily as a knife between the ribs. She went very still. His lips were softer than she’d imagined, catching her bottom lip between both of his. His hands cradled her jaw, her throat. What really dazed Rin was how sweet it was. She had never been held like this in her life. Like she was something precious, something to be loved and cherished.
And she didn’t want to be.
She shoved him away from her. Clearly Nezha hadn’t expected that, because he fell back on his heels. Staring at her wordlessly.
She slapped him. His head whipped to the side. His jaw tightened.
“Don’t touch me like that,” she sneered. “Don’t treat me like I’m delicate. I could beat your ass if I—”
He didn’t let her finish. He tackled her to the ground, and this time there was nothing sweet about it. He forced her mouth open under his and there was his tongue, and teeth, and fury. His kiss was searing, branding her just as strongly as Altan’s handprint on her chest. His hands were everywhere, touching her, squeezing her, stroking her.
As much as it delighted her, a small, childish part of her almost wanted that sweet kiss back. She squashed it. Rin wanted this. Ferocity. Anger. His hands on her, pressing her into the semi-frozen ground as he nudged her legs apart with his knee.
His intent was clear, but no way was she letting him just put his dick in her like this. She tore away from the kiss to head-butt him. While he faltered, she flipped them over.
The new balance took her a moment to get used to; her straddling him. His lips curved into a smile. His hand slid down her stomach. “You never were one to take things lying down.”
She bared her teeth at him, just as his hand pushed between her layers of clothes and brushed between her legs. The sensation of his callused fingers against her— calluses that she had felt countless times when grabbing his hand—was so foreign.
She froze. Her body had been poked and prodded and invaded before by so-called scientists trying to figure out what made her tick. But this was entirely different. Somehow it didn’t feel wrong. Still, her heart beat wildly.
Nezha’s face changed.
Rin would not admit weakness. She met his gaze coldly, and reached between them and took his wrist. She pressed his hand further into her underclothes. “Impress me and maybe I’ll let you back on top later.”
Instead of sneering, he sucked in air like he was dying, the blacks of his eyes expanding as his fingers sank inside her.
All thoughts of past torture and experimentation flooded away, and a sound escaped her. She didn’t recognize it; it wasn’t one she’d ever made before. Her eyes were locked on Nezha’s; she sat low on his stomach, braced her hands on his shoulders, and his fingers inside her still didn’t move. She moved her hips, she couldn’t help it, and finally he took action, plunging those fingers deeper inside her.
She gasped. He withdrew, and again, with bent fingers, dived deeper. He watched her face hungrily, like he was feasting on her reactions to him, and she schooled her features back into neutrality, so that no matter what he did, no matter how much he fanned her flames, he could not tell. Nezha had enough of an ego without Rin moaning and panting and writhing in his lap.
Still, she couldn’t quite help the panting and writhing bit. She bit back the moans, and simply hardened her gaze, but he seemed to take it as a challenge, now brushing his thumb against the most sensitive part of her, over and over again, until she was sweating and trembling and fluttering around his hand.
Once it was over, she sagged a bit; she couldn’t help it. The flames inside had been doused. Slightly. This was almost better than opium.
Nezha didn’t say anything. He reached up with his free hand and wiped something off her mouth with his thumb. It came away red. She stared. She’d bitten her lip so hard during climax to avoid making a sound that she had split it.
“Don’t say anything,” Rin warned. A small, cocky smile spread on his lips.
“Nothing to be said, I think.”
His fingers were still inside her. Rin was rather disturbed that she liked it. Everything about this. The hand between her legs, the hard press of Nezha against her backside, the look in his eyes. And as the long seconds passed, she was disturbed she’d allowed this to happen at all; she’d allowed Nezha to do this to her when she’d done nothing to him. Her breathing came faster. This had to be corrected immediately.
She wanted to reduce Nezha to the quivering mess she had been moments ago. No—she wanted worse. She wanted to watch his pretty thick eyelashes flutter from the pleasure she was giving him. She wanted him to whine when she took it away. She wanted him to beg for her mercy. The problem was, she didn’t know the first thing about doing—that—to men. And she would not, could not, make a fool of herself.
“What are you thinking about?” asked Nezha.
“How I’m going to annihilate you.”
She was utterly serious, of course. But he tossed back his head and laughed. Laughed and laughed. He only stopped laughing when Rin took off her shirt.
He stared at the handprint on her sternum. He stared at her breasts. He stared at her scars. Her muscles. She felt all-powerful in that stretch of time, stronger than any god.
He took a deep, shuddering breath and caught her gaze again. “You are…”
She didn’t like the way he was looking at her, or the way she could feel the air charging between them with something more than simple lust. It was too serious. Too much. This wasn’t supposed to be heavy. This wasn’t supposed to be about their feelings, or about how they had the ability to hurt each other like no one else. This wasn’t supposed to be about how they’d hated each other for years or how they’d put that hate aside and fought back-to-back when shit got real, or about how Nezha had said he’d die before he let anything happen to her, or about how Rin had hugged him and cried on his chest for an unnecessarily long time when she’d returned to Arlong. No, this was supposed to be about fucking.
“Incredible,” Rin supplied, watching his expression change to exasperation. “Godlike. Better than Nezha at everything. Undefeatable—”
“An annoying little shit,” he finished. Then he sat up quite suddenly, leaving her on his lap, her legs dangling on either side of him. Before she could get in another word, he bent his head and put his lips on her breast.
She hissed at him, and tugged at his shirt. He pulled away only so she could get it off him, and soon they were a tangle of limbs, trying to get the other’s pants off first. The competitive streak from school had never quite gone away, Rin thought as first his pants landed on the ground beside them, then hers.
In the ferociousness of it all, she ended up on her back, and then Nezha was on her, around her, in her.
It hurt. Rin knew that it would, but she wasn’t totally prepared. Possibly it showed on her face, because Nezha hesitated.
“Did I tell you to baby me?” she snapped. “Don’t stop.”
He rolled his eyes, and she wanted to slap him again. “If I hurt you, this won’t be fun for either of us.”
She had no retort for that. She watched him inhale, saw the tension in the muscles of his arms, so clearly holding himself back. She wanted to break that control.
She wrapped her legs around his torso and her hands around his shoulders. She couldn’t see his dragon tattoo, but she could imagine it was there, the wings flaring out from his shoulder blades.
Digging her fingernails in, she said, “Fuck me or I’ll find someone else to do it.”
His eyes flared dangerously then, and his lip curled into a sneer. They were nose to nose, snarling at each other like their weapons were locked together instead of their bodies. “Like who? Everyone else is too afraid of you. Unless you’re planning to ask Kitay?”
She narrowed her eyes. “Don’t be disgusting. And besides, you should be afraid of me.”
He actually had the nerve to chuckle. “Why?”
“I could set you on fire. Right now.”
He smiled, dark and bitter and secretive. “We both know I wouldn’t die.” His mouth moved to the place where her jaw met her ear. “Do it, then. You’ve been burning me alive for years anyway.”
Before she could sort out that comment, he slammed into her. She gasped, but he didn’t stop, just as she’d asked. His face remained buried in her neck. His body moved on hers. Soon the pain morphed into pleasure, or some mix of it. The two were not well separated in Rin’s mind anyway.
This time she could not withhold her noises. Neither could he. She began to meet every thrust of his with one of her own, and once she had the hang of it she was determined to match him, to make him hers. She raked her nails down his back and bit his neck and flipped them again so she could be on top, pinning him to the ground, watching with a sort of vindictive, cruel delight how his swollen mouth went slack, his eyes went hooded as he watched her moving above him, his hands tight around her hips. She was in control. He was at her mercy.
Just to be an ass, she slowed her hips and stopped moving. He groaned and grinded up against her, urging her on, and she almost gave in. But not quite. She put her hand on his chest and started to rise off him.
His grip became bruising on her hips. “What the fuck?” He was breathing hard, his voice unrecognizable. The guttural sound of it licked up her back. He was desperate for her.
This pleased her. She pretended to think even though she was very close to the edge herself. “I think maybe I’m done. Maybe I need to go take a piss or—”
“I know what you’re doing, Rin. Stop trying to give me blue balls just for the hell of it.”
She blinked innocently at him, still not moving. He muttered something under his breath and then, without warning, he rolled them again. This time Nezha withdrew completely.
Confused, Rin reached blindly for him again. He shook his head and flipped her onto her stomach.
Oh, that little—
She was about to growl, to scream at him, but he had already pulled her up by the hips and sank into her again, this time from behind. She would’ve destroyed him for this, for taking her like a dog, except this new angle pulsed entirely new sensations through her body, ricocheting her into the cosmos without the help of any gods.
The climax ripped through her suddenly this time, and her hands trembled on the ground she’s been clutching at. Moments later, Nezha bit her shoulder and followed her through.
Their movements slowed, fell out of synchronized rhythm and gradually, sloppily come to a standstill, although Rin was still on her elbows, and Nezha’s face was still pressed into her spine, and he was still inside her.
Finally, she kicked back at him with her leg, and he pulled out. It made an embarrassingly loud, wet sound that jarred her back into reality, now that the fog was lifted.
It was so awkward in the silence that she couldn’t even turn around and look at him. He’d had the nerve to try and take her like that, and she’d lost her mind completely and let him. “I’m going to kill you,” she said. The threat sounded empty even to herself. Nezha, still behind her, wrapped his hand around her thigh, where it was sticky.
“You’re going to kill me for making you come?” His voice was amused.
“Drink horse piss, Nezha.”
“Hmm. I’ll see if Kitay can spare some.”
She kicked back at him again, and this time her foot connected with his chest. He let go of her thigh with a grunt. Then she turned herself around so she was sitting and facing him. Both of them naked.
So. That was sex. Bizarrely, Auntie Fang’s words from years ago echoed in her ears: The first night is the worst.
Well, it wouldn’t be the first time Auntie Fang was wrong.
It was actually sort of ridiculous, now that she was returning to her senses. She’d just had sex in the middle of the forest. Purely on impulse—although she doubted it was a well thought out decision on Nezha’s part. It was almost like the whole time they were silently daring the other to stop, and so naturally, they kept egging each other on instead.
She wasn’t sure she could come back here to spar anymore, or that she could look him in the eye ever again. She wasn’t sure they could return to what they had been.
Whatever that was.
“Rin.” She looked up to find that Nezha’s amusement had faded. “Nothing has to change, you know. We can still fight and hurt each other’s feelings and you can still tell me to go fuck myself every day. We don’t owe each other anything more than that.”
That almost made her smile. Almost. She picked up her uniform where she’d discarded it on the ground and pulled the shirt over her head. It gave her an excuse to hide her face for a moment. “Agreed. This didn’t happen. And, Nezha?”
Nezha tilted his head.
“Go fuck yourself,” she said, and he laughed.
“Daily quota was already met, but okay.”
“I’m an overachiever.”
For a second they shared a rare smile. Then Nezha hesitated. “But if you wanted… we could keep doing this.”
That made her blood run hot. “I’m not about to become another person who gets on their knees for you,” she snapped.
“No.” He flushed, angrily. “That’s not what I meant.”
She should’ve known he was going to say something stupid right after, but in the moment, she just waited. His jaw worked before continuing. “What if, after the war…”
She went rigid and her eyes snapped up to his. He must have seen something terrifying in her expression, because he paled and shut up at once.
And good. Because that had scared her. His voice had been gentler than she had ever heard. They weren’t supposed to be gentle with each other. She couldn’t afford it.
There was no after the war. Not for her.
Nezha’s face had shut down. He reached behind him for his shirt, and she caught a glimpse of his back; the dragon tattoo was adorned with parallel red lines where her nails had scratched him. She turned away.
They cleaned up in silence, then, Rin pouring water on a bandage to wipe up the mess between her legs. Nezha didn’t offer to help, and good, because she’d hit him if he tried to act like a fucking gentleman. Afterwards, they made their way back to the palace together without speaking.
Despite what Nezha had said, Rin had to avoid him for a few days because any time she saw a glimpse of him she found herself fighting a blush. She felt the evidence of what they’d done every time she took a long step.
About a week later, though, she had to face him. He came walking by when she was bent over a map with Kitay, after a long day of strategizing. She went rigid.
And all he did was arch a brow. “You smell like shit. Thought about taking a bath lately?”
“I’ve thought about drowning you lately,” Rin replied. “Maybe I can do both at once. Be more efficient that way.”
Nezha raised his eyebrows challengingly and strolled off without another word.
“You two are getting sickening,” Kitay said once he was out of earshot.
“Don’t get all homicidal on me. I think it’s sweet.” He patted her cheek condescendingly.
She took a swipe at him, which he dodged, and she found herself staring at Nezha’s retreating back, relief settling into her bones. All was back to normal. And no, they never mentioned it again.
They were far too good at pretending at enemies for that.