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I enjoy being fed by Leomi for a while before doing the same for her. It bothers me that she doesn’t think we’ll be happy for long but I set that to the side to savor the relaxed atmosphere, which has been rarer than good food for me recently.

Once we’ve gone through two rations, I put them away inside the pack and rinse my mouth off with a gulp of wine. Leomi crosses her legs, picking the scalpel and bottle of ink up to set them in front of us.

How were you going to explain the tattoo away?” I ask, unable to hold my curiosity back.
“I never really thought about it, I didn’t count on you forgiving me.” Leomi replies with a tiny restrained smile that contains perceptible pain, her eyes lost in the distance. Thankfully, it doesn’t last long as she looks back to me with a grin. “I was foolish enough to think I could keep myself away from you if we ran into each other again.”

How mad are you?” I probe while picking up the bottle of ink to calm my nerves.

Pretty angry but it’s okay.” Leomi half-shrugs as her smile drops by a few fractions. “I’m happy now and looking forward to the future. Talking about the past isn’t going to do either of us any favors.”

I take my time thinking about the meaning behind her words. She clearly plans to settle the problem of Celyz but isn’t willing to let me bring it up or discuss it with me. It reassures me that Rykz Princesses aren’t beings that can be approached just because one wants to.

My eyes flicker to the wound on her lower lip, realizing only now that she somehow managed to stealthily clean the blood up at some point before we even kissed.

I suspect the use of flow and am slightly amused at how concerned she is with her appearance, like anything could make her any less beautiful in my view. I sigh at her sharp traits and strong shoulders.

Are you mad at me?” Leomi asks in a worried tone, tearing me out of my reverie.

Would I still have a right to be?” I scoff in self-derision, feeling blessed already that she’s so forgiving and accepting.

Matters of the heart aren’t so easy to resolve.” Leomi shakes her head with a grimace.

I’m not.” I firmly tell her. “You never intended to harm me, that’s more than I can claim to.”

But I did.” Leomi utters with a trembling voice and a look of agony. “If I hadn’t, you would never have retaliated or been forced into dire straights.”

I feel guilty so I reach out and gently place my hand on her cool soft cheek. Leomi leans into my palm, closing her eyes as I caress her cheekbone with my rough thumb. I remain like this until she settles down.

I heard you could teach me some tricks about doing things with one hand from…” I pause, realizing that mentioning Yvonne would get her in trouble as she covered for me.

Yvonne.” Leomi finishes anyway with a grunt of realization. “I shut her out and left her behind more than the other way around because she was warning me when I couldn’t hear it.”

Can you?” I ask to change the subject. “It gets frustrating to struggle just to tie my hair.”

There are some things you’ll have to rely on flow to do but yes.” Leomi nods eagerly.

She pulls a dark red ribbon out of nowhere and hands it over to me before opening her legs and almost dragging me in between. I lay my back against her chest, instantly forgetting what I asked to settle in her embrace.

First you make a simple loop around your hair.” Leomi instructs me.

She takes hold of my wrist and guides my hand behind my head. I follow her directions and gather my hair into a single handful. She doesn’t help me any more than using a few touches to correct me as I loop the ribbon around the bundle.

Hold one end in your palm while you use your index and thumb to hold the other end.” She tells me. I follow the directions, making sure the loop is tightly wound around my hair. “That’s it.” Leomi nods. “Then, you make a simple knot and pull hard to secure it.”

I do so and then let go of the ribbon to seize the two ends close to the knot, inferring the next step on my own. Leomi nods in approval, remaining silent as I figure things out for myself.

I start looping one end to make a bow tie but the other one escapes me. Leomi waits patiently as I try a few methods out. I fail each time and start feeling some cramps in my hand because I’m not used to those movements.

What’s the trick?” I question, frustrated.
“Training.” Leomi replies with a smile in her voice. “At first, I only made a single loop to the bow tie, it’s a lot easier to manage. That being said, I doubt you would like the look of that kind of knot, even if I would for a while.”

Guide me?” I ask.

Leomi carefully takes hold of my hand to guides my fingers through the process of making another knot that leaves the two ends of the ribbon hanging along my hair.

You’re right, that should look better.” I tell her.

Not as cute but the reason I wanted the bow tie isn’t that it would suits you.” Leomi replies with a teasing tone.

What do you think would suit me?” I ask, unable to help myself.

Small braids held at the end by silver strands with a form-fitting dress, perhaps with a stylized leather garb.” She answers dreamily. “I know you don’t have any experience so I’ll help out, don’t worry.” She adds with fervor.
“It was just curiosity, I’ll never be able to afford anything like that.” I shake my head. “I wouldn’t even be able to buy the clothes here if I had the coin.”

Don’t you want to be powerful?” Leomi asks calmly.

What has that got to do with it?” I blink, certain that she’s aware that the kind of strength I seek isn’t political.
“You need to look the part if you want people to recognize you.” She answers. “Especially if you want me.” She adds, almost like an afterthought.

I almost let go that least comment without thinking too hard about it but something about it makes me pause. I shift and settle back where I was. She’s implying that getting her isn’t going to be as easy, confirming that she’s indeed pissed off at me.

What do you plan to do now?” I ask.

I’m not leaving without you.” She replies with a firm voice. “So it’s really up to you.”
“I have a life to rebuild here, I want you to be part of it.” I stubbornly tell her in spite of her previous answer.

Okay.” Leomi replies, to my surprise.

So understanding?” I say, surprised.
“I’m not going to rush you.” She smiles.

I can’t help but frown, aware that she’s being conciliatory but hasn’t changed her mind. I decide not to confront her but to slowly convince her to stay by building a life with her instead of spouting empty words.

The major issues will only occur in a few years, when Celyz has found a solution to the problem of the Little one. I’m beyond certain that she has people to keep track of me from afar, Cecil being a prime suspect, so it won’t be difficult for her to contact me.

Leomi will have me securely wrapped up around her little finger by then but it’ll be the same for her. Only then will I have a chance to get Leomi past her dis… issues with Celyz.

As long as Leomi is good to me, I will be able to convince Celyz to give her a chance. It feels arrogant of me to think this way but I can’t afford humility if I am to succeed. I’ll give it my everything.

You’re scheming to keep me here.” Leomi notes.

I am.” I nod.

Why do you want to stay?” She asks.

I pause, once again surprised by the fact that she’s trying to be understanding instead of telling me upfront that she won’t remain. Even her statement of not living according to me isn’t a straight up rejection.

Because if my brother returns, he needs to find a home here.” I explain. “And I’m…” I hesitate.
“You don’t trust what I’ve been doing.” She finishes for me.
“It’s less about you than it is about people in general.” I grumble. “Baron Buton is hated by the village right now but I haven’t heard a single negative thing about Nobility.”

That’s why I set up the Hospitaliers as an alternative to fill the role that Nobility has.” Leomi explains.

With Nobles.” I note, throwing her a dark look.

I suppose telling you about the fact that most of the Nobles in my faction have little in the way of ambition isn’t going to help much.” Leomi sighs. “I needed a foundation to build on, they provide one. None of them had any prospects to rise, being part of this growing organization is already all they can handle.”

But they’ll grow greedy. Even with the best of intentions, they’re all used to a certain lifestyle and they’ll reach for it, unconsciously.” I tell her. “I never craved for luxury but that didn’t stop me from being attracted to it. What do you think will happen for those who see such things as a goal?”

They’ll overreach.” Leomi acknowledges. “But that’s not a concern for the present and by the time the Hospitaliers become powerful and wealthy enough for that to be possible, low born will have permeated the organization to a point where the abuses won’t be allowed.”

That’s naive.” I grunt. “Those who had little will be corrupted by what they could have if only they took a few shortcuts. You’ve seen what I did once I got my hands on power, I carved my path through slaughter.”

Hardly.” Leomi frowns. “Either way, we will never achieve anything if we let these fears stop us.”

I feel a bit conflicted about the fact that she’s speaking for us both. It makes me happy that she’s including me with such certainty but also wary because we haven’t agreed on anything about our plans together yet.

I’m aware, I’m not telling you to stop or that what you’ve done isn’t good. I’m simply informing of my misgivings.” I explain.

And I’ve heard them loud and clear.” Leomi smiles.
“Thank you.” I tell her, a bit embarrassed at how seriously she takes my ramblings.

Aren’t I the best?” She asks, edging just a little bit closer to me.
“I…” I hesitate because of the competitive belligerence in her statement. “You are.” I agree, reaching out to slide a strand of her hair around her ear.

The only one for you?” She presses with definite aggression in her tone.

I freeze, immediately catching on to where she’s going. Leomi waits patiently, a flame burning in her light gray eyes as she stares at me, devours me with a craving gaze. She isn’t being lustful but possessive.

You’re not going to answer me?” She asks.

There are others who want me.” I admit, unwilling to breach the subject of Celyz unless she clearly asks me to break the line she drew.

Then we have to make sure that others know who we belong to, don’t we?” Leomi asks forcefully while fiercely taking hold of my hand.

If I only went by what I felt in her tone, I would have considered refusing even though she included herself because at this point it’s clear that she means for us to use the scalpel and ink to tattoo the other.

Yet, I can feel her slender but powerful fingers trembling over mine, telling me that she’s nowhere near as confident as she’s projecting. She is very much insecure and grasping at the opportunity to secure me. I love it, but at the same time, it confirms the fact that what we have is fragile.

Yes.” I utter with difficulty because of my dry throat.

I can barely believe the fact that Leomi would offer me the opportunity to carve the fact she belongs to me in her flesh. As worried as she is about losing me, I feel the same way but more intensely because of how excessive I am being about wanting to seize two unique and magnificent beings for myself.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully integrate the fact that I got both Leomi and Celyz to fall in love with me. It’s surreal to the point where I would suspect that there is a trick or plot involved if my they hadn’t proved themselves, and I wasn’t so insignificant.

Me first.” I declare, wanting to see what she has in mind.

Always.” Leomi agrees, giving me such a radiant smile that I almost commit the crime of averting my eyes.

I almost start pulling my shirt off but stop moving as soon as I take hold of the hem, knowing that I’m not ready to show her the ruin that my body has become. Leomi’s smile dies down a little but she keeps silent, giving me the time I need.

Do I have to take it off?” I ask, worried.
“No, but I wasn’t going to stop you if you did.” Leomi chuckles.

I sigh in relief and reach out to her warhorse where I can see the silver glow, pulling several dozen portions of flow from a soft water gourd. I take control of the energy and set a solid but fragile air-bubble around us to cut the wind.

It should last a while.” I tell her.

How do you control the shape like that?” Leomi asks, looking amazed.
“You alter the segment.” I reply, a bit baffled by the question.
“I know that, I’m asking how you did it so quickly.” She throws me a flat look.

Well, it took a bit of tinkering to figure that out.” I reply, remembering the trip on Odo’s ship. “It got a lot easier once I got the general gist of it.”

So you don’t have a precise idea?” Leomi asks.

Not really.” I shake my head. “There’s a logic but I can’t explain it.”

As I thought.” Leomi nods. “Alright, enough worrying about me and get on your belly.”

I was just…” I trail off, flustered that she saw through me that easily. Leomi raises an eyebrow. “Lying down now.” I grunt with fatality.

I settle down on the blanket as my heart does the exact opposite as it speeds up. I wondered how she felt and how I would but now I know, I’m eager and giddy while also a little concerned that she would inscribe something drastic in my flesh.

But I’m not frightened. If she goes too far, I’ll return the favor. We’ve established the consequences when one of us goes too far now. It’s odd how we both trust and doubt each other, how we can understand each other without saying much.

We’ve established a vague framework in our rapport for when we let loose, an imperceptible bottom-line as we explore each other’s limits. I realize that this is a little like what Leomi was aiming for with Elizabeth but without the transactional portion of it.

The difference is that there is no negotiation, no exchange. We’re doing this together. I blush as I think of a time when I would have thought anal sex would be off-limits for me.

I was clearly very wrong about that. I almost can’t wait to find out what else she has in mind even though what I want right now is a traditional relationship, someone that I can build a life with.

You’re having obscene thoughts.” Leomi notes with a rough voice. “Please don’t.” She adds, swallowing with difficulty.

Her words hit me hard. She’s not ready for us to be intimate. I feel the blood rushing out of my cheeks, directly turning pale. It’s because of what I did to her, there is no doubt.

You can start.” I speak up. Maybe it isn’t too bad, I could use some time to accept my ruined body instead of rushing and forcing myself in order to please her… and myself.

Leomi gets up on her knees and passes one over my legs to sit down on the back of my thighs. I feel a wave of goosebumps as she pulls my pants down a few centimeters while she shifts my shirt up to the middle of my back.

She runs her fingers over the scar on my right side, where the Little one’s tendril merged into my flesh because of a wound. It hurts to have my flesh exposed like this, not merely to be seen but also touched.

The affection in her gesture as she caresses the mark makes it worst. The pain becomes physical, it feels like an acute pressure, a torment that increases my feeling of vulnerability. It wouldn’t have been this bad had I not seen the dis… the disgust in her eyes when I mentioned the Little one.

Yet, this is mostly my fault so I don’t say anything. If she needs to acquaint herself with my body, then I don’t mind suffering much worse than this. But, to my deep surprise, she pulls her hand away.

Her breaths are deep and intense. It reveals her excitement, how much she longs to caress me, to keep exploring. Her desires are likely exacerbated by the way her touch is a kind of agonizing torture, and not a pleasant one.

While I don’t share her propensity for sadism, I have experienced a bestial impulse towards her that should be similar. The fact that she stopped in spite of herself when she felt my discomfort, or a little after she felt it, makes me feel more loved than any embrace or words could at this moment.

There is also the fact that no matter how painful it is, we both know that she can make me relish the agony. Yet, she did not do that, she didn’t even try to push me so that I would ask for it myself.

Thank you.” I mutter.

Give me a minute and I’ll start.” Leomi tells me with a hoarse voice.

It takes her a lot more than a minute to settle down and control her impulses. I wait, the longer it takes her, the more valued I feel because it is proof of how difficult it is for her to control what I make her experience.

After a while, I hear her pick up the scalpel and dip it in the bottle of ink. She presses the ice-cold blade on my skin, as far down on my lower back as she can, on the very edge of my ass without touching it. She starts on the left of my waist, cutting the skin in a very careful manner.

It pricks and is uncomfortably ticklish but doesn’t really hurt, not compared to the things that tore my body. I do my best to follow what she’s doing, soon figuring out that she’s carving ‘Leomi’ in my flesh with small cursive characters. She dips the scalpel three to four times into the ink as she works.

Once she’s done, she moves to the right and slices a ‘Lance’ into the skin of my waist, never approaching my spine. I feel good about the fact that Leomi can sign her name on me without hesitation, with pride even if I go by how meticulous she is being.

She’s thought about this very hard. What to write, where to write it, how to write it. It feels deeply personal to have her do this to me and then bear it for the rest of my life. Because even if we fall apart, I’ll never want to get rid of this name on my back.

There, half-done.” Leomi exhales.

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