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i crumble like a sugarcube for you

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Some days are hard, inevitably. Certainly no one ever said that trying to live up to the expectations of the entire realm as its Hydaelyn-ordained capital-h Hero would be easy; in fact, Roe’s fairly certain most everyone in her life has, at least once, told her the exact opposite. But today in particular isn’t hard in a “oh, I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed” sort of way, in the kind of way that can be shaken off with a good meal or a nice conversation or a long, long sleep. This is a more sinister beast; a kind of quiet, resigned exhaustion that’s taken hold in her heart, something dull and wet and cold that clings to her tight like riversoaked clothing. She knows it well by now, and over the years she’s learned that she can muffle it with activity, making herself so busy focusing on don’t think about it, it’s fine, just keep going, just keep moving for gods’ sake that she can shove it back into its lair and tell it to piss off, and sometimes she can keep it at bay until it fades back into the dark for… however long. Maybe a few weeks or even a month if she’s lucky, or just a few hours if she’s not.

But some days—on the unlucky days—they come in all different shades and sizes, but usually she has to fight, a lot, and people die, a lot, and it’s not at all clean and easy and glorious like the adventuring stories she’d loved as a child always said. Some days she feels the crunch of bone and sinew beneath her knuckles, really feels the weight of it as she sees the light leave another someone’s eyes, and she’s not able to silence the little voice deep down that sadly shakes its head and says this could have been avoided; or bad news comes to the Rising Stones heralding some far-off disaster they couldn’t do anything about, again, and everyone stands around saying it’s tragic, yes, but we’ve just got to keep going for the good of everyone else, and the little voice screams but why weren’t we good enough this time, why does this keep happening, why couldn’t I fix it; and on those days it sticks to her like a sickness, like how she feels an oncoming fever in her muscles and behind her eyes.

And on those days, when Roe feels its weight in every step she takes and she’s feeling darker and lonelier than the blank, overcast midnight sky overhead and so, so tired; when she comes home later than usual and all but dead on her feet; when she’s physically just fine, thank the gods, but from the moment she slips through her darkened front doorway she heaves an exhausted sigh into the sleepy late night air and sags back against the wall and feels it all just crush its entire weight down on her, entwining itself around her arms and legs and readying to pull her through the floor and down, down, down into the very core of the earth if she lets it—the facade breathes its last and drops to the floor like a discarded cloak, and she and Thyme have a certain tune they follow, on days like these.

It goes, with some room for improvisation, like this:

First, Thyme rises from her spot on the couch where she had been waiting up, as she often does—reading glasses on, wrapped in a shawl to keep out the nighttime chill, her hair down about her shoulders, still a little damp and curlier than usual, sleepy and soft and perfect. “You’re home,” she says as she crosses the room to the threshold where Roe wearily takes off her boots, and the sound of her voice is always the first good thing Roe’s heard in hours.

“Hey,” Roe says back, and she knows Thyme can tell immediately from the timbre of her voice that something’s wrong, of course.

So Thyme reaches for her hand and tugs her forward, gentle but firm, away from the door and her discarded shoes and traveling bags, to the nearest chair—a big one, with room enough for two—and Roe sinks down into it like a stone and tries to let herself melt back into the cushions. It doesn’t quite work; she’s so, so tired, but she’s too tense to relax.

Thyme lowers herself to her knees before her, takes one of Roe’s hands in both of hers. “Are you hurt?” she asks.

“No, no, ‘m fine,” Roe mumbles, as Thyme goes through her usual routine—raises Roe’s hand to her lips to press a kiss to her perpetually scraped and reddened knuckles, checks her temples and cheeks for bruises, smooths her travel-mussed hair off her forehead. “Was a hard day, is all.”

It explains both nothing and everything at once, and even though the room is dimly lit (only by a candle or two), Roe still sees a little worry flash across Thyme’s face—brief but unmistakable, even when bathed in flickering shadow. “Do you want to talk about it?” she asks, and Roe just shakes her head, as she’s sure Thyme already knew she would. Words aren’t the remedy, usually, but bless her for asking every time anyway.

Instead she softly plucks at Thyme’s sleeve to pull her in closer. And Thyme never misses her cue—she slips into Roe’s lap like it was made for her (and honestly, it may as well have been). Her weight settles easily against Roe’s body as she curls her arms around her neck, and Roe nestles her face against the curve of Thyme’s throat and snakes her arms tight around her hips, knits her fingers tight in the gauzy fabric at her waist like Thyme’s made of rivershore sand, like she could slip through her hands and away on the breeze if Roe doesn’t hold on for dear life. And this helps, already, just the stillness of it, the easiness, the quiet. Thyme sighs a little as she rests her cheek against Roe’s hair.

“Tell me how I can help, darling,” she says gently after a long moment of silence; the warm, low hum of her voice is sweet against Roe’s cheek. “Anything.”

And it’s a hard question, in a way, because Roe wants so many things—but right now what she wants most of all, she thinks, is peace. To get out of her own head for a little while, maybe, if she’s really lucky. To feel something, anything, that isn’t exhaustion or frustration or despair or grief or some fucked-up, chimeric combination of all of the above.

So: “I don’t want to think anymore,” she says, simply, and her voice comes out a little more raw and cracked than she intended. “Please.”

And Thyme makes a comforting, acquiescent little noise deep in her chest that sounds just a little heartbroken, and she presses a kiss to the crown of her head.

And the song goes on, and it goes like this:

There is a quiet transfer, a shift in expectation—Thyme will lead, and Roe will follow, and this is how it always is; and the feeling of having her world narrow into such simple terms, her role reduced to quiet, easy obedience, is such a relief she could melt into the floor right then and there. So when Thyme leads her to their bedroom, to its soft, inviting darkness, to its sweetly perfumed air that still hangs heavy with water after Thyme’s nightly bath, and they are cocooned by night and warmth and quiet, and Thyme says “come here, love”— it’s so easy, then, at Thyme’s behest, to slowly sink to her knees. Thyme steps into her space and Roe sways forward, leans into her without even meaning to, lets her forehead rest against the soft curve of her belly and closes her eyes as Thyme’s fingers card through her hair. And for a moment, finally, she can just be, still and silent and safe.

“Oh, my sweet girl,” Thyme murmurs into the dark. “Let me take care of you.”

And Roe knows what this means, and so she nods because she’s never wanted anything more, and gods, she’s so drained. She feels it in the clench of her jaw and the pain between her shoulderblades and the hard stiff line of her spine, in how her whole body has been screwed up so, so tight for weeks now, and she feels like she might just pop and come unraveled like a worn-out seam if she spends one more second feeling like she’s running out of time, needed in a thousand different places, fighting another losing battle in a never-ending chain of fruitless wars.

But Thyme always helps, and she’s here, and she’s sweet and soft as she helps Roe out of her dusty traveling clothes and drops her own chemise and shawl to pool on the floor, as she pushes against Roe’s shoulders with the pads of her fingers, gently, and Roe sinks down to sit on their bed. Thyme’s eyes flick down toward the space beneath, an unspoken question, and Roe nods her consent.

Ropes, silken and white. Thyme keeps them in a little wooden box tucked beneath the bed’s foot. Roe had teased her once for how she stores them with dried rose petals—it’s so quaint, so needlessly picturesque, so her—but it keeps the moths out, Thyme had said, laughing, and I know you like the smell. And she does, although she came to like it better once she learned how much Thyme loved it.

So Roe dutifully folds her arms behind her back, lets her head drop toward her chest and shuts her eyes as Thyme sits behind her on the bed and slowly, carefully loops the rope around and around her wrists and across her shoulders and chest, knots them in the way that they’ve practiced so that the ropes tug at her skin and hold fast but don’t cut off her circulation. She knows how much Thyme loves this part; it’s a meticulous, almost meditative process as she weaves the rope over and under and around and through—you look so gorgeous in rope, darling, she had said the first time they tried, just as pretty as can be. And there’s something so soothing about it, immediately: how when she breathes deep, experimentally, the newly-woven harness catches her as her chest expands, and she no longer has to think about where to be, what to do, because she quite literally, by every meaning of the word, can’t.

“Alright?” Thyme asks once she’s finished, and Roe flexes her fingers, now firmly secured behind her back, and nods. “Good. You’ll tell me if you feel any discomfort or numbness, won’t you?”

“Yes,” Roe says—or she intends to, anyway, but it comes out more like a breathy, tired exhale than a word. Already the feeling of the ropes crushing tight against her body, safe, my love, you’re safe, is drawing her deep down into a quieter, softer place.

Thyme smiles as she leans in to kiss her. “That’s my good girl,” she whispers as she pulls away. “Now: I want you to listen, and I want you to feel, and I want you to breathe. And that’s all.” She kisses her again, soft and gentle this time, just on the corner of her mouth. “Just stay still and quiet for me. Would you like that?”

Roe nods. Gods, it’s all that she wants.

Thyme hums a pleased little noise. “Perfect.” She finds Roe’s hand, slips something round and hard into her palm: a gil piece, it feels like. “If it gets to be too much and you want me to stop, you can drop this, and I’ll take that as our safeword. Alright? If it’s too hard to speak.”

“Okay,” Roe says, because she knows Thyme will want verbal confirmation, and Thyme gives her another kiss for her trouble.

So Thyme says “Close your eyes, love,” and she does, and Thyme slips a long, silky strip of cloth over her eyes and loosely ties it—they don’t often use a blindfold, but on some nights Roe feels like she needs it. Tonight is one of those.

And the world shrinks. Or, maybe it expands, or shifts focus, drifts quietly like dappled sunlight, to the only thing that really matters:

First, this time, Thyme’s fingers—snow-cold on Roe’s feverish skin, feather light—trace downward from where her hair is shortest at the nape of her neck, a slow, lazy drag down, down along every notch in her spine, skimming lightly over each intersection of rope. Then back up they come, slow and deliberate, to knit in her hair and tug at the crown of her head to tilt her chin up toward the ceiling, to send sharp-sweet pain spiking through the sensitive nerves of her scalp. A spark of desire goes ricocheting through Roe’s stomach and she lets slip a soft, wordless groan and a shiver, but she stays still, because that’s what she was told, and Roe always does what she is told. Thyme’s lips make themselves known along the now-bared column of her throat, kissing the point where her jaw meets her neck, and Roe can feel the spread of her smile against her skin.

The loss of her vision makes everything feel so much more intense, so much sharper, and it’s a surprise, too, every time Thyme’s hands reappear—the sharp drag of fingernails along her side, squeezing at her waist; a palm raking across her breast or rolling her nipple between its fingers; the spread of a lightly calloused, gentle hand on her stomach, fingers slotting perfectly in the gaps of her ribcage. They never outstay their welcome, only lingering just long enough for Roe to get a bead on their movements before they vanish back into the dark, reappear again somewhere else with a gentle brush or a pinch or a caress. And it’s winding her up fast, faster than she expected.

Eventually Thyme returns, once again, to her breasts—one of her favorite spots to tease Roe with, damn her—and Roe gasps at the feel of her hands, how Thyme plays with her almost idly like she’s luxuriating in it, and how almost painfully sensitive she is. She realizes she’s been clenching her thighs together for a few minutes now, grinding against herself, desperate for touch.

That’s my girl,” Thyme says, her lips now right next to the shell of Roe’s ear, and it’s almost a purr, murmured against her skin.

Tee—” Roe doesn’t mean to say her name, it just slips out, and it’s almost a whimper.

“Shhh.” Another kiss—this time she nips at Roe’s earlobe, and Roe sucks in a breath. Thyme huffs a quiet laugh. “Still and quiet, darling, remember.”

She pulls away entirely for a moment, disappearing into the dark—Roe feels herself make a plaintive, breathless, desperate noise, because the lack of her is horrible, the worst thing in the world—but Thyme has just repositioned to tuck herself up against Roe’s back, straddling her from behind. “I’m here,” she murmurs, pressing an apologetic kiss to Roe’s shoulder as she wraps her hands around her hips. “I’m right here.”

And this time, it goes like this:

There’s a gentle graze of lips at the spot beneath her ear, and fingers slowly, slowly stroking down the length of her belly, through the thatch of dark hair between her legs. “Breathe, darling,” Thyme whispers: and then she’s touching her, finally, with slow, lazy drags around Roe’s clit, and Roe gasps at the feel of her, her eyes squeezing shut behind the blindfold as her head lolls backward to thump softly against Thyme’s shoulder. And finally there’s no more expectation, no more guilt, no more of the exhaustion that stalks her every move, nothing from outside their room; only here and now and everything that is them, just Thyme and Roe and the dark that surrounds them. It’s safe and it’s warm and it’s sweet like wildflowers in the sun and it’s everything, her entire universe.

“Listen to my voice,” Thyme murmurs, and Roe does. “Listen to your heartbeat. Mine is right here with you, my love. Right next to yours.”

And the feel of her hands is overwhelming and heady and absolutely agonizing, but it’s perfect, because Roe wants to be overwhelmed—to feel her and nothing but her as Thyme pulls her under, to breathe her in deep and swallow her like lungfuls of water. To feel her inevitability, and to give in, and to be hers whole and entire. And so she does, and she is, because Thyme makes it so easy.

“Can you feel it?” Thyme asks, soft and sweet in her ear. “I’m always right here, no matter where you are.”

And it’s a slow and teasing grind, the friction and pressure not quite enough to satisfy, but with how worked up she is it feels exactly right, blistering and all-encompassing. Roe’s far, far closer than she realized, her body jerking up against Thyme’s hand despite how desperately she tries to control it, teetering on the edge of collapse—

“Not yet, sweetheart, not yet,” Thyme says, and she pulls her hand away entirely, and Roe heaves out a noise that’s somewhere between a moan and a sob because it’s excruciating, but gods how she’s longed for this, and oh how she needed to have nothing but Thyme in her head.

“Tee,” she gasps, her voice gone jagged and rough, “fuck—”

“Shhh,” Thyme soothes, “you’re doing so well, Rosemary.” The sound of her name bubbles through her like champagne on her tongue, and Roe hears herself whimper as she turns her face to press her mouth against the curve of Thyme’s throat. The ropes hold her tight as she breathes deep and hard.

And Thyme leads, and Roe follows; this is how it always is.

Roe’s not sure how long they spend like that, with the minutes—hours? surely not, but then again, it’s happened before—slipping by in a hazy, undefined, feverish sort of lurch. There are only the moments when Thyme is touching her, and when she is not. The moments when she drags slow, open-mouthed kisses along her shoulder, her throat, her jaw. The moments when her fingers gently sweep Roe’s sweat-sticky hair off her forehead. The moments when she croons something sweet into her ear and Roe clings to it like a lifeline, practically feels every word go skidding through her hands like she’s slipping with sweaty, desperate palms as she slides down, down, down. It’s torturous, it’s so much; but it’s safe, because it's her, and it’s them.

“You’re so gorgeous like this, darling,” Thyme murmurs eventually, “I could watch you all day.”

Roe knows she was sitting up straight at some point, but at the moment, slumped backward into Thyme’s chest, it seems impossible to do so again. Thyme’s hands have slipped away from where Roe needs them, again, and her thumbs are currently rubbing small, soothing circles into the softness of her inner thighs, which have been sent quivering from overstimulation and pent-up energy for a long, long time now. “Tee,” Roe starts, “I can’t— please—”

“You’ve been so good, darling,” Thyme purrs into her ear. “Are you ready to come for me?”

And just the words are almost enough, honestly, but Roe hangs on for dear life, somehow. “Please,” she says again, “yes—”

“Shall we move to the bed, then?” Thyme asks, her voice dropped to a low croon, and to the bed, Roe knows, holds a very specific meaning, a promise that she’s making. Roe chokes out another soft, desperate “yes” like she’s just been given sanctuary, and Thyme hums a little noise of fondness and approval as she kisses her temple and gods, how Roe wants her like nothing else, needs her touch like she’s never needed anything, and she would melt down to the floor to worship at her feet if she could.

They have to readjust for this part, of course; Thyme helps to support and guide her as Roe uses somewhat wobbly legs to shift herself backwards, up toward the piles of soft pillows they keep at the headboard. “Still feeling alright?” Thyme asks in a suddenly serious, soft voice, a hand on Roe’s cheek, a thumb grazing across her cheekbone.

“Mhm,” Roe murmurs from her new nest among the pillows, “‘m fine,” and it comes out a little slurred, accidentally, because she feels a bit like she’s floating. Thyme giggles a little and kisses her forehead.

“Good girl. Do you want me to untie you?”

“No,” she says immediately, because she knows this much, even though her brain feels cloudy and warm and slow.

“Alright,” Thyme says. Her fingers are in Roe’s hair again, and Roe feels herself nuzzle into her hand, a warm, tingly feeling filling her belly. “Tell me if you change your mind, love. Stay still for me while I get set up.”

And she does as she’s told, because Roe always does what she’s told. But she lets out a little whine in spite of herself as she feels Thyme’s weight shift toward the edge of the bed. “I’m not going anywhere, I promise,” Thyme murmurs from a short distance away, and her hand grazes soothingly across Roe’s shoulder. “I’m right next to you. I’m right here.”

Then there’s a series of quiet rustles and the faint, telltale jingling of metal rings and buckles and leather straps, and then there’s a ghost of a touch along the length of one of her thighs as Thyme resettles between her legs, her long, soft hair brushing and pooling against Roe’s skin as Thyme leans in to press a kiss to her breastbone. But there’s a thought—a need—floating through her mind, and it’s almost a little too slippery for her to grab onto—

“Tee, wait. I, you—” She stutters to a halt—words are trickier than they used to be—and wets her lips, swallows, tries again. “I want to see you. Can you…”

Thyme makes a wordless, affectionate little noise before she whispers “of course,” and her cool, gentle fingers loosen the blindfold and pull it away. Roe’s eyes flutter open, slowly, and Thyme is just inches from her face, resting on an elbow, tucked against Roe’s stomach. “Hello, darling,” she says, and Roe breathes back a dumb, lovestruck “hi,” and Thyme giggles and leans in to kiss her, sweet and slow. Then Thyme shifts back just a little, still resting heavily on an elbow to hold herself up, and she wraps a steadying, firm hand around the curve of Roe’s waist.

“Ready?” she asks, and Roe nods. And then there’s pressure against her entrance, grounding and solid and good—and then her breath is punched out of her lungs with a quiet, rapturous “oh” as Thyme finally, finally pushes into her and starts to thrust, slow and steady.

And Thyme’s here, face to face with her, and even in the dark she’s the most beautiful thing in the entire world, her hair spilling down and brushing against Roe’s sweaty skin as she slowly grinds her hips, her eyes gone half-lidded and dark with desire, her lips parted. “Come on, darling,” she breathes, “that’s my girl, you’re so good,” and Roe folds a leg up and over Thyme’s hips to get the angle just right and feels herself arch into her like she’s been struck by lightning, mouth falling open as she gasps on every breath, and Thyme murmurs something low and sweet against her skin that Roe can’t quite make out because her brain is too full of her, of them, of everything. Thyme’s other arm slips between them to rub her thumb over Roe’s clit, and she’s dragging open-mouthed kisses along her skin, and then she’s in her mouth, kissing her deep and hard and loose as she fucks her to the edge, and then, and then—

Roe’s mind goes utterly blank. And she takes her like benediction.

And this is how it is.

When she comes back to herself fully, she’s already been unbound—the ropes and straps lay discarded in a messy pile at the foot of the bed—and her now-bare skin is lightly crisscrossed with red marks. Thyme is pressed up against her back, an arm snaked protectively around her waist, her other hand softly stroking Roe’s hair—she must have coaxed her into her lap. The room is lighter now; it looks like Thyme lit a candle. “Tee?” she asks, still a little bleary.

“I’m here, sweetheart.” Thyme kisses her temple. “I’m still here.”

Roe wriggles in her arms and cranes her neck to look at her. “Hey.”

Thyme smiles as she entwines their fingers and raises Roe’s wrist to her lips, presses a kiss to the sensitive skin. “You did so well, love. Do you feel better?”

“So much better,” Roe answers. She arches her back and stretches, and sighs as her spine gives a satisfying pop. Thyme stirs to fetch a glass of water from their bedside table, raises it to Roe’s lips—she drinks almost half of it in one go, and it’s cool and soothing against her throat in a way she didn’t realize she needed. “Gods,” she murmurs as Thyme returns the glass to its home and she settles back again, turning her face to nuzzle against Thyme’s chest. “I’m gonna be sore tomorrow, I bet.”

“Mm, I hope so,” Thyme says—almost purrs—into her ear. “I wouldn’t have done my job well, otherwise.”

Roe huffs out a quiet, drowsy laugh that turns to a yawn halfway through; she’s so sleepy, all of a sudden. Thyme giggles and presses her lips to the crown of her head.

“Rest now, darling,” she whispers against her hair. “I love you.”

And Roe wants to say it back, even though she knows Thyme knows already, but all she manages is a slurred, mostly-wordless mumble against her chest.

The morning will bring darkness, again, she knows: more exhaustion and despair and guilt, and more terror, and more doubt, and more death. This it does without fail, because embracing it to its fullest extent is her duty, and it is her life. She carries its weight unquestioningly, because she is who she is, and this is what she has always done. But tonight—tonight, she rests easy, because the tension is gone, for now, and she can finally cast it aside, roll it off her weary shoulders, let her aching body sink gratefully into sleep, slow and soft.

And Thyme hums a lullaby into her ear, an old one from Thyme’s childhood that her mother sang for her when the endless light was too bright and the monsters under the bed were too big. It’s green and smooth and sparkling like sea glass, lilting and sad and sweet. She sighs with relief and gratitude as Thyme’s heartbeat carries her away.

This is the tune they follow. This is how it is.