I stroke Sofi’s neck gently as she lays in my arms, her arms around my shoulders, her forehead pressed to mine. She seems so delicate like this, naked, pretty little eyes closed tight, breathing unsteady. I ruffle her short golden hair and she murmurs happily.
“Linit elen tare,” she whispers, her voice choked with gratitude.
“Linit val tare ma gale lin,” I reply tenderly. You’re mine.
“S-so how’s y-your day been, mirin?” Sofi kisses my neck weakly. I love the way she stammers after a good, hard fuck. Watching her try and pull herself back together is adorable.
“Oh, you know. Classified,” I tease her.
She runs a thumb along my lips, making me shiver slightly. “Is th-that so?”
Her hand slips under my robe and she wraps her legs around mine. “G-good th-thing,” she whispers, her fingers brushing lightly against my clit, “how I w-was top of my c-class in Interrogation.”
“D-don’t you dare use your fucking Shevran s-superpowers on me.” I grab her around the throat with one hand, squeezing tightly as I yank her arm away from my crotch and pin her to the bed. She shudders, her eyelids fluttering, her muscles slackening again as I press my knee against her mound. “Or have you forgotten who’s in charge here?”
“Good girl.” I loosen my grip on her throat and she gasps for air, shivering violently in my arms. “You should know better than trying to edge my secrets out of me when you don’t even have me in cuffs.”
She gives me a weak grin. “I won’t forget that next time.”
“You better not.” I flop back down next to her, pulling her in close. She buries her head between the pillow and my shoulder, kissing my neck softly again and again. “For the record,” I continue, massaging her upper back gently, “today was great. I found something that made Seluen real happy.”
“Oh, just potentially lethal blackmail material against a whole Rosie noble house.”
“Oooh.” She looks up at me with one open eye. “Wha’ they up to?”
“Opium smuggling, looks like.”
“Issat a big deal?”
“That’s a really big deal.”
“Coool.” She closes her eye again and wraps her arms tight around me. “M-my badass spy girl’s a hero.”
I laugh. “Yeah, yeah, whatever. What about you? How were your shifts?”
“I helped Cefuin m-make tèu bia today!” she replies proudly. “They have such good food here, there’s so many new things I’m learning to cook.”
“Caareful, missy,” I murmur teasingly. “Sounds like you’re polluting yourself with profligate culinary ideologies. You know, I might just have to get the Shevran to investigate.”
“Sh-shut up!” She punches me weakly in the shoulder. “Material cuisine is specifically exempted from shevret, you little sh-shit.” She nips my lower lip. “I think you n-need some re-education, honey.”
“Oh no,” I exclaim, rolling her onto her back and straddling her, digging my nails into her scalp. “Please. Anything but that.” I smother her mewls of pain with a kiss for a few moments before I loosen my grip and draw back. “I promise I’ll behave.”
“Hmm,” murmurs Sofi, gazing up at me innocently. “I don’t know. I think a few private sessions w-would do you some good. After all, you do s-spend so much time mingling with uastashar. I can only imagine that so much time away from the People might leave you a little…” Her lips curl into a cruel smile. “…polluted.”
“And just what do you have in mind for me, dearest?” I run my fingernails down from her sternum to her crotch, enjoying how she squirms underneath me. “How are you planning to make me a good, loyal citizen again?”
She smirks. “Oh, I think you’re going to need some… intensive corrective therapy, darling.” She reaches up, wraps her arms around my neck. “Does the phrase ‘electrochemical aversion retraining’ mean anything to you?”
“Is that actually real or did you just make it up for that fanfic you’re always writing?” I gesture at the terminal with a thumb. “You know, the stuff you keep leaving open at night?”
Sofi lets out a squeak of alarm, her eyes widening. “Y-you—”
I lean closer, grinning smugly. “Oh, dearest, I’ve read it all. That’s the thing about being your vartash. I have access to all your personal files, remember?”
I’m rewarded with a look of exquisite humiliation and embarassment on her face. She flops over and buries her head in the pillow. “I-including the one where— where the defectors—”
“Oh, yes.” I tousle her hair. “That was my favorite one!”
“Please kill me,” Sofi mumbles into the pillow.
“I love how you write Section Head Cefris,” I continue, rubbing her back with both hands. “She’s so one-dimensional in the original. The secret romance with the metic leader makes for the best fucking tension.”
“…you’ve read ‘Scorched Earth?’” Sofi blurts out.
“Yeah! Remember when it won ‘Most Realistic Depiction of Radiation Poisoning’ on the spec-fic subnet? I binged the whole thing over a couple nights after that.”
“You know what the best part is, though?”
“It’s like the secret manual for giving you exactly what you want,” I reply, nipping the nape of her neck. “I had no idea you fantasized about being choked so much. You shoulda told me!”
Sofi curls up. “…p-please leave me to die of embarassment in peace.”
“Not a chance.” I haul her into a sitting position, ignoring her futile attempts to struggle. “Hey. Sofi. Sofuan Pashtasi. Look at me.” I grab her by the hair, tug her head back, force her to look me in the eye. “You have nothing to be embarassed about, okay, babe? You’re a real good writer and that fic you wrote is fucking hot. Like, sexually and radiologically. That is something to be proud of and I’m real happy I get to say you’re mine. Okay?”
She stops struggling, looks up at me hesitantly. “You… you l-liked those stories?”
“No shit I did. Tell me you’re posting them somewhere.”
She blushes. “W-well—”
“Wherever it is, I want an invite.” I pat her hair. “Understood, soldier?”
She glowers at me. “You’re quoting chapter thirteen.”
I gaze at her innocently. “Am I?”
“Yeah you are!” she exclaims indignantly. “It’s… from the morning after Cefris s-sleeps with Thorn and Thorn’s feeling really fucked up because she can’t fight anymore and she’s scared of just being a civilian because of all the things that happened in the war so Cef tries to cheer her up by, like, treating her like she’s still a soldier, and Thorn’s really mopey so Cef goes all drill sergeant on her and it shocks her out of it.” She folds her arms. “‘If I ever, and I mean ever, hear you talking about yourself like that again, maggot, you’re on sewage duty for a week! Understood, soldier?’ Sound familiar?”
I clutch at my chest. “You can quote it by heart,” I murmur. “That’s adorable.”
I pull her in for a hug. “‘I don’t know what’s going to happen to us, Cef. I don’t know if what’s left of the Nikeri will be able to buy us enough time to get SCIMITAR operational again,’” I recite, gently scritching the back of her trembling neck. “‘But no matter what… just know I’ll be at your side. If the dawn finally comes, I’ll stand there in the light with you. And… God and Heaven forbid, if this night never ends… I will follow you into the dark. Better to die a thousand deaths than live even one moment in a galaxy without you.’”
There are tears in Sofi’s eyes as she stares at me. “That’s… that’s chapter thirty-four, right before the battle for Tel Casran— you remembered all that?”
I kiss her on the cheek. “For some reason, it stuck with me. I think I know how Thorn felt.”
She buries her head in my shoulder. “You… you’re… I love you,” she mumbles.
“I love you too, Sofi.”
We lay there together in the dark until her breathing slows and her muscles slacken. I kiss her tenderly. “I’ll be back soon,” I whisper to the sleeping girl, carefully extricating myself from her arms. “Sleep well, babe.”
The gymnasium doors are open wide, low light spilling out into the dark hall. From outside I can hear the muffled sounds of unarmed combat, thuds and grunts and yelps. I step through, glancing around, and taking a deep breath of the fresh night air. I spot Lisren in the corner, trading blows with Lanved as they circle each other.
I wander over and lean against the wall, watching the two carefully. Lisren waves as he spots me, then ducks a blow and charges Lanved.
“So if we had money, who would yours be on?” asks a voice to my left. I narrowly suppress a startled yelp as I spin to see—
She grins at me. “Oh, I’m sorry, did I take you by surprise?”
“Ma’am!” I blurt, saluting by force of habit. “I’m… sorry, I didn’t see you there.”
She pats me on the shoulder. “Well, now. That’s very kind of you, pretending I finally managed to sneak up on you.” She turns back toward the fight. “So what do you think? Lan’s in poor form tonight, if you ask me. Keeps charging in half-cocked. Neglecting defense.”
I glance back at the two fighters, watching them for a few moments, taking in the subtleties of their movements before I respond. “He’s got something on his mind,” I reply. “Preoccupied. Anxious. Angry. Something. If this was a dockside tavern, I’d be sidling up to him with a full mug and a sympathetic ear right now.”
“Always the consummate professional, aren’t you, my dear?” Seluen laughs delightedly. “And here I was just thinking the poor boy's been neglecting his training.”
“Mm. Do you happen to know what sash he is?”
“Red.” Seluen flashes me a smile. “I make it a habit to keep track of my people’s proficiencies.”
“Oh, really?” I raise my eyebrows, half-turning to face her. “What are my sashes then?”
“Green in UC, red in marksmanship, green in tactics, red in battlefield medicine, and silver in endurance,” Seluen replies immediately. “Unless I’m out of date.”
I let out a low whistle. “…you really keep all of that in your head?”
“Have I ever told you about my life from before I became a conniving spymaster, Niri?”
“I don’t think so, why?”
“Well, now. That would be telling.” She winks and turns back to the match, just in time to see Lanved hit the floor. She pumps a fist. “Called it!”
“That’s my cue.” I flash Seluen a salute as I back away. I turn to see Lisren hauling Lanved to his feet; they bow to each other before Lanved disappears into the crowd.
“Niri!” Lisren slaps me on the arm. “I was beginning to think you weren’t gonna make it.”
“Hey, Lisa!” I return the gesture. “Nah, man. Just had to get my girl to sleep first. You know how it is.”
He grins, squaring off. “She wear you out enough I might get lucky again tonight?”
“Not a chance.” I easily dodge Lisren’s blow, striking back. He deflects the blow. “But hey, you just beat Lani. Maybe you don’t need luck.”
Lisren shakes his head. “He was totally off his game tonight. Normally he’d wipe the floor with me.”
“Really? What makes you say that?”
Lisren feints to the left and as I move to block he drives a fist through my defenses, landing a blow just above my breast. “You’re doing your spy voice again, Niri,” he says reprovingly as I wince and fall back. “Did you really think I wouldn’t notice?”
“…sorry. Force of habit.” I grin sheepishly. “Yeah, no. I noticed there was something off. He looked kinda—” I see an opportunity and lunge forward, sweeping Lisren’s feet out from under him. He narrowly catches himself and is back on his feet in less than a second, breathing hard. “He looked kind of messed up,” I finish, dodging a blow. “Still, man. Not every day a green takes down a red!”
We circle each other again for a moment before leaping back into the fray. Lisren puts up a good fight. He’s stronger than me, but he’s too predictable. If I hadn’t fought him a dozen times before, the match probably would have ended with me face-down on the floor in a wristlock — again — but instead it ends with him pinned to the wall.
He struggles briefly, but I twist his arm a little, digging my fingernails into his bare midriff for good measure, and he relents. “Ow! All right, all right, I yield!” He wipes his brow as I release him. “Damn, Niri, when did you get your silver sash?”
I grin, stepping back and bowing theatrically. “I just know you too well, Lisa. I told you I’d get you back for last time.”
“Yeah, yeah. You did, congrats, good job.” He returns the bow. “Guess it’s my turn to vow revenge.”
I step closer, into his personal space, and brush my cheek against his as I lift my lips to his ear. “I look forward to it,” I whisper, before pulling back and winking.
Seluen clears her throat. “Might I have the honor of the next dance?” she asks, sidling up to us, mischief in her voice and hands clasped behind her back.
I smirk at Lisren. “With the victor or the loser?”
Seluen shifts her footing. “Well,” she replies cheerily, beckoning with both hands. “Now that you mention it… why not both?”