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Above the Vaulted Sky

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He comes to her after. Not right away, though she couldn’t say how long he makes her wait. She knows that she has slept and woke and slept again, perhaps even more times than she can recall. She has bathed and eaten, she has walked and laughed and sang— she has learned so much already, from the tending of the lambs to the winsome little dance that you perform with a partner to wring out the clean sheets. That last lesson must have been today, Dani thinks, because the sheets beneath her now still have the scent of fresh air and open sky.

Or maybe that’s just the scent that Pelle brings with him as he quietly slips under the blanket and into the cot beside her.

They don’t speak. There’s no need. Dani just gives way to make room for him, or as much room as she can in the narrow cots of the Main House, settling at the edge with her back to the drop and her face turned towards his on the pillow. In the dark Pelle’s eyes are brighter than ever, somehow able to catch every last fragment of light in the room and focus it into two perfect stars. When Dani was younger she thought that stars were just something pretty to look at, good for a game of connect-the-dots and not much else. Older and wiser, she knows now that the stars can guide you home. She lets these stars guide her hands towards his face, her mouth towards his mouth, their lips meeting at last in the bookend of the kiss he gave her in the moments after the crown was placed on her head, a promise made and a promise kept.

Yes,” she breathes into him, the affirmation more felt than heard. “Yes.”

His hand trails down the front of her nightgown, his touch passing over her racing heart like the shadow of a bird in flight. She’s wearing a simple white shift given to her by one of her sisters— an old garment, handmade, the kind with a story behind every mending. Pelle reaches the hem between her knees and draws it gently back up towards her belly, his eyes never leaving her face. When it’s halfway up her thighs, he leaves it gathered there and slips his hand underneath.

Dani sucks in a breath, her eyes downcast without thinking, an apology already on the tip of her tongue. It feels like a lifetime since she had the energy or the inclination to shave, and all at once she’s ashamed that she could have been so careless, so selfish. Although Christian never outright demanded it, he made it abundantly clear that he preferred it— that all men do. Dani has no excuse for her negligence. She knew that Pelle would be coming to her bed, and now it’s her own fault that she’s already going to disappoint him.

He touches her. He is as gentle as she knew he would be.

“Oh,” he exhales, reverent as a prayer.

She squeezes her eyes shut, terrified of seeing a subsequent frown of dismay, but a moment later she feels the pad of his thumb brush back and forth through the soft thatch of hair, and when he exhales again she hears an unmistakable hum of pleasure. It pierces her like an arrow, the doubt and shame bursting out of her in an arterial spray, drenching the walls and spilling down to the floor until there isn’t a drop of it left in her body. All that’s left is the desire, which crests and breaks in a wave that rushes out to fill her hollow limbs with the sweet, unfamiliar sense of wanting and being wanted. She opens her eyes to find him smiling at her. It makes her smile back without thinking— that’s sweet and unfamiliar, too, and her mind races to catch and capture the feeling like a firefly in a jar so she can look at it whenever she needs to remember.

Underneath her nightgown, Pelle gently dips his fingers between her legs and into the warm, slick proof of her anticipation, eliciting a hushed gasp from them both. She expects him to immediately push inside, but after wetting his fingertips he draws them subtly forward instead, focusing his attention on the small, tender bud of her clitoris. For the second time she squeezes her eyes shut in reflexive dread, braced for the way that Christian used to mash and grind on her like a pestle, always in a hurry to get to the next part so he would fumble through this as fast as he could, condensing the time into a blunt bull rush. She almost tells Pelle not to bother, just to spare them both the trouble, but she already knows that he would insist. What she doesn’t know is whether that insistence would be genuine or not.

Then she gets her answer.

Slow and thoughtful, Pelle begins to trace delicate circles around her, his pace as reflective and unhurried as a man out for a stroll and enjoying the view. He can’t have made it more than a few steps before Dani’s eyes are open again, fixed on him in awestruck disbelief, one hand still cradling his face while the other now grabs a startled fistful of the front of his tunic; half to steady and silence herself, half to make sure he’s really there and this isn’t another fever dream. Without hesitation he brings his free hand to bear, covering hers and clasping it to his chest to feel the reality of his bounding heart. He keeps it there as his other hand continues to move, the pressure in his fingertips increasing by subtle degrees, not to demand but to encourage, like breathing on embers to coax them towards a flame. The heat between Dani’s legs builds accordingly, tongues licking up into her belly while a shower of hot sparks falls to her thighs, catching and igniting as the conflagration spreads and her body begins to burn.

Still Pelle keeps his hand in the fire, returning again and again to the deepening pool of warmth to wet his fingers as he works, the artist refreshing his brush as he adds stroke after stroke to his masterpiece. He paints until she trembles, until she aches, until there’s a trail of hot, sticky tears running in a single joined track to the pillowcase under her head. Enraptured, he lifts his hand from his breast so that he can skim his thumb through the stream, leaving a glaze of salt over the curve of her cheek before he brings it over to his mouth, where he lays a rapt thumbprint in the center of his tongue. Dani wonders if tears of joy taste differently than tears of grief. She will have to ask him when the sun comes up and she has the words to do so. Tonight they speak by other measures.

It really is a conversation, a dialogue in a place where Dani was once merely the audience for a soliloquy, there for the sole purpose of providing reactions to all the big applause lines. Now she can feel Pelle waiting for his next cue, his eyes trained on hers, his slick fingers patiently massaging between her legs, making sure she’s ready. By this point she’s wet all the way to her thighs and the heat is almost unbearable. She’s never been more ready, and she tells him this by shifting her hand from his chest to the front of his linen trousers, where her fingers close gently around the hot, hard outline of his cock. Pelle makes a soft sound under his breath, his brow creased with emotion as he holds her eyes with his own. He’s ready, too.

That means it’s time for him to extract his hand from under her nightgown. He does so with noticeable reluctance, one fingertip dawdling for a final few swirls before he brings it up to take a quick, heady inhale through his nose. The smell seems to please him, and in the next instant he sticks all four digits into his mouth, his lips turned up at the corners in a contented smile that hits Dani like a hunger pang. On an unthinking impulse she catches him by the wrist and turns his hand to slip his fingers into her mouth instead, sucking her own arousal from the whorls of his fingerprints while he groans and bites his lip in an expression of intense admiration. After a beat he uses his unfettered hand to follow her lead, reaching down to take hers away from his cock and raise it to his mouth, pressing an ardent kiss to her fingertips before he slips them inside up to the second knuckle, cradling her on the velvet bed of his tongue. They hold each other in silence while the conversation continues between their eyes, questions asked and answered, secrets told and promises made, all without ever needing a word.

Please, she says.

Yes, he answers.

The cots in the Main House are narrow and not meant to be shared. It takes coordination to navigate two bodies in a space intended for one, the pair of them moving together to maintain the balance. As Dani scoots in, Pelle reaches over her to brace his hand on the edge she just vacated. Then, with his opposite hand braced on the corresponding edge, he’s able to lift himself so that she has enough room to lie down on her back. At the same time she parts her legs to make a place for his, his knees coming to rest between her thighs, his arms bracketed on either side of her to hold his body over hers like he’s sheltering her from the rain. Quiet and careful, she rearranges the blanket over them, centering it and drawing it up to his shoulders before she lies back to gaze up at the only two stars that will ever matter to her again. What a lovely night, she thinks. Isn’t it a lovely night?

They reach for each other at the same time, she raising both hands to frame his handsome face while he shifts his weight to one arm so he can lift the other palm to her cheek. His smile is so sweet that it sends a fresh rush of tears spilling over to greet the caress of his thumb, their eyes drifting closed together as she draws him into a deep, dreamy kiss. Once she’s holding him with her mouth, it leaves her hands free to flit down the length of his tunic, lifting the hem to find the drawstring of his trousers and pick apart the simple knot keeping it in place. Unwilling to break the kiss, she’s obliged to work by touch alone, but after a bit of fumbling the drawstring goes slack and she’s able to push the linen over Pelle’s hips and down to his thighs. From there her fingertips trace their way back to take his naked cock into her small, clever hands, enfolding him in the cocoon of her grip.

Pelle breaks the kiss with a stifled gasp, his forehead dropped to press against hers as he struggles to maintain his silence. Dani leans into it, raising her head so she can look down between their bodies and see him, marveling at the way her hands seem to fit as if they were made to hold him like this. Soon, very soon, she will know him so well that even her dreams of him will be true to life— but tonight he’s still unfamiliar, a new horizon waiting to be discovered. He’s so warm. Dani notices this before anything else, her body reaching for his warmth like a flower turning towards the sun, hungry for the spring. There is a place inside of her where winter clings on, but here, in her hands, she can feel the coming thaw, the earth on the cusp of a beautiful new season. Rejoice.

She keeps one hand on Pelle and uses the other to draw the hem of her nightgown up to her stomach, exposing the wet and waiting heat between her legs. Following his cue, he takes his hand from her face and reaches down to help, their grips joined on his cock to guide him as he moves closer, closer— oh— Dani feels the head of him nudging against her and lets her own head fall back to the pillow, opening herself and arching up to welcome him as he slips over the threshold. His breath catches, both hands now braced on the edges of the bed to support his weight as he slowly, carefully sinks the rest of the way inside of her, coming to rest with the downy thatch of hair between his legs nestled into the one between hers, their eyes only inches apart.

“Oh, Dani,” he whispers, his voice choked with awe.

Shhh,” she whispers back, one hand raised to press her trembling fingertips over his lips, the other pressed over the roaring thunder of his heart. “It’s okay. I know.”

His arms are shaking too badly to hold him up anymore. With as much control as he can manage, he folds down to his elbows to slip them around her body instead, hugging her to his chest while she winds her own arms around his neck, their faces tucked against each other’s shoulders as they burrow into the embrace. For a long, unhurried moment they simply hold each other, their breathing synchronizing so naturally that Dani is sure their heartbeats must be doing the same. Then, without any kind of conscious signal, they both begin to move at the same time, and both with the same gesture— a gentle withdrawal of the hips, followed by a mutual gentle return, their bodies shifting apart by only a tender fraction before dipping back together again with a shared sigh of contentment. Neither the cramped position nor the requisite silence leave much opportunity for speed or force, but they hardly notice the limitations. Even if they had a queen-sized bed and a room of their own, Dani knows it would still be just like this, near and dear and delicate, neither one willing to be parted from the other any more than absolutely necessary.

The only real challenge is holding back her voice. Dani is already out of practice, all of the old walls smashed to ruin and all the past restraints cast to the fire. What once was second nature is suddenly a struggle, her body urging her to cry out, to let the acclamation come pouring out of her freely and without fear. In the end it’s not the relics of shame that hold her back, but a newfound sense of love and respect. The beds around her, so recently occupied by the strangers she’d been traveling with, are now filled with the warm, living bodies of her family, and she has no desire to disturb the sanctity of their rest. Let them carry on with their peaceful sleep while she and Pelle dream awake, the daylight they’ve made between them safely concealed under the canopy of the blanket. She will tell her sisters the good news in the morning.

Still, although Dani casts her head from side to side and sees no sign of wakefulness, a part of her is certain that they must somehow already know. How could they not, when they know her so well? As they once felt the full force of her grief, surely they must now feel the sheer immensity of her rapture, their minds and souls attuned to hers even in slumber. Yes— yes— in the dark she’s almost sure she can see faint smiles on their sweet lips, their eyes darting back and forth under their shuttered lids as they dream of bright blue skies and endless fields of flowers bursting into bloom. And she’s so glad, so grateful, that she’s finally able to offer them something other than sorrow.

“Dani,” Pelle groans under his breath. “Dani—”

She doesn’t dare try to answer him with words, unable to trust her voice not to run wild and break out in exaltation. She can only answer with actions, her arms unwinding from his neck so she can take his face in her hands and turn his head towards hers for a forceful, urgent kiss, all of her meaning poured into the fervent heat of her mouth. Instantly his hands skate up along her back to push into her hair, his own mouth opening without hesitation to accept her reply. The kiss remains unbroken as their rocking tempo intensifies, the slow, sweet friction building like the sunrise until it fills every last empty place inside of her with light. After that there’s nothing left to do except let go.

They come together, as she knew they would.

And when it’s over— when her vision clears and her breathing resumes and her spirit returns to her body— she opens her eyes to find him there waiting for her, his face as radiant as the dawn, the whole span of the sky cradled within the boundary of her hands. Overcome with wonder, she uses her thumbs to wipe away the silver streaks of tears on his cheeks.

“Pelle,” she whispers, the name newly-sacred on her tongue.

He smiles and brushes the hair from her forehead, his voice hoarse. “My Queen.”

In the hushed, hallowed darkness, his eyes are two perfect stars, not on the horizon or in the distance but here, right here, shining above her. After all those years of sailing— all that time spent lost at sea, certain that she would never see the stars again— now all she has to do is look up into the light of Pelle’s eyes to know that the crossing is behind her. She made it to the other side.

She’s home.