Of the first arc anyway. I think I'll finish this one here, and if/when some more comes, I'll put it in a sequel? I figured this would be a good break, between his kingdom and hers. As always, continuation of the fic started here.

Title: Morning Vows
Rating: PG-13
Universe: Lioness and Lamb
Characters/Pairings: Fami and Calime, Fami/Calime
Summary: Their first shared morning, Fami and Calime wake slowly, share some cold truths, and perhaps some warmer promises
Wordcount: 2607
Warnings/Notes: Arranged marriages, kingdom politics, war and aftermath, personal responses, compromise and promises
Claimer: Still mostly mine

Morning Vows

He woke with his wife's arm curled across his waist, heavy with sleep, clawed hand slack and open on the sheets in front of his belly. Fami blinked at it for a bit. It took a little while for the image to make sense. It was a bit blurred around the edges, of course, from the lack of his glasses, but that wasn't really why he had such difficulty with it.

He'd spent the night with her. His wife. And yes, it had been their wedding night, it was somewhat expected that they'd spend the night together, but not ...

Not like this. Not with her. Not like this. She was warm behind him. He could feel her, feel the tickle of her fur through his nightshirt, the slow, steady rumble of her breathing. He'd curled back in against her chest in the night. Possibly she'd helped him with that, but still. He hadn't woken. Hadn't even realised. Her arm was heavy and warm across his waist. The sight of her hand stirred no particular worry in him.

He wondered idly if she'd somehow managed to drug her fur. Hardly likely, he knew that, but he was having trouble coming up with a better explanation. This odd lassitude of his, he remembered vaguely how it began last night. Her fur. Grooming her fur. He'd gotten caught up in it somehow. That ... hadn't been the result he'd intended by the offer.

Well. Not his lassitude, anyway. He'd had some hopes that it might soothe her, allow him some measure of connection and control. He remembered that. That was the way this worked. This marriage. It was the method that had served him best so far, to draw her focus, keep it, interact with it. It had been instinct, at first, to draw her away from his brothers, but it worked. Rage or flinching drew her callousness in turn. This, this other thing, stepping in to meet her, this drew something else. Mostly curiosity, he thought, interest and challenge, but with them a lack of violence. So far. So far. But still. It was ... more than half terrifying, to deliberately draw her in, but it was oddly invigorating as well. He'd always been less afraid doing rather than waiting, and he knew that only by her interest did he have any power at all.

That wasn't a soothing relationship. There shouldn't be room in that for lassitude. Rhythm, vagueness, distraction. Real distraction, not the seeming of it. Nearly relaxation. Enough that he was still tangled in the ends of it now. He let himself stir a little, let himself shift and test his muscles, and found them loose, idle and content. Maybe a little sore around the shoulders. She had a lot of fur. And it had been ...

There'd been a sort of intimacy in it. The grooming. He hadn't planned for that. He realised it now, idly and bemusedly, so very much too late. It had seemed only pragmatic last night, a softer and more indirect means of interaction than most at his disposal, and he'd been ... he'd been curious as well. He had been from the start, if only for the strangeness of her. Had she wanted the other, the more logistically complicated venture, and Ama help him he was going to be thinking of it in those terms for the entire rest of his life ... ahem. Had she wanted it, there was a part of him that would have earnestly tried as well. Just for curiosity's sake. Just to see if it could be made to work. However it would have ended, he really did think he would have tried.

He rather doubted he'd have relaxed with it, though. Not unless she really had drugged her fur. Some perfume, maybe? How feasible was that? But no. It hadn't been that. He knew it hadn't.

There'd just been a warmth in it. A rhythm, a slow, careful curiosity. Exploring her, with no intent whatsoever. She'd watched him. Helped him, here or there. Relaxed into him, eventually, once he'd gotten the hang of it. That had been a heady thing. A drug in and of itself. She'd let him touch her, so carefully, and there'd been this heavy, lidded interest from her all the way. Wariness, danger, lassitude. A warm, heavy coil. Was it meant to be so intimate? He'd read somewhere that grooming was a social engagement for her people. It couldn't be this intimate all the time. They'd never get anything done.

And yet, last night. Maybe it had only been him, but still. Last night.

He hadn't planned for that. The thought hummed through him, easing and tangling alongside the ebbing languor, a thread of mixed alarm and amusement. His life was in the balance. His kingdom was in the balance. And he hadn't expected this. Warmth. Distraction. Easiness. She was a monster, a conquering queen, and even if he understood somewhat better than his brothers why, exactly, she'd come to be that, she still wasn't meant to be gentle. She still wasn't supposed to pull ... something from him. Something soft. Something dangerous. He had few enough weapons as it was. He couldn't afford to let her take any more away from him.

He looked at her clawed hand again. Her breathing had changed, somewhere in the midst of his musings. When he'd stirred, probably. Some part of him had noticed it. She'd kept her hand still, though. Her claws were still lax against the sheet. So close, just in front of his belly. She could rip him open with only the smallest of efforts from here. His pulse only vaguely sped at the thought. He didn't think she'd do it. She had him completely in her power, and a part of him dared to think she wouldn't harm him.

A drug. A drug, it had to be. Or else a part of him had gone very much insane.

He reached out, while he thought it. He slid his hands forward across the sheet and curled them curiously around hers. She turned it in his grip. She threaded her powerful fingers carefully through his smaller ones.

"... So," she rumbled softly, somewhere above his head. "So you didn't try to kill me in my sleep. A promising start to a marriage, that."

Fami laughed thickly, squeezing her hand convulsively in his, making not so much as a dent. "Kill you with what?" he asked mildly. "My fingernails? I don't know if you've noticed, my lady, but humans aren't so gifted with natural weaponry as kanegai tend to be. I highly doubt I could cause you much damage, even if I was inclined to try."

She paused thoughtfully there. She moved, coming up onto her elbow to lean over him and look down into his face. He blinked up at her. Her face didn't entirely resolve itself, his glasses were still somewhere beyond the bounds of the bed, but he could see the curved, off-white shapes of her sword-teeth, and the yellow of her eyes above them. The longer fur at her neck and shoulders was tawny in the early morning light.

"And aren't you?" she asked, soft and curious. "Inclined to try. You're not a coward, husband of mine. There are ways and means. Doesn't it ever cross your mind?"

Not a coward. He nearly laughed at that. His expression flickered towards vague, moving instinctively to disguise it, but then ... then he stopped. Then he held it, while the remains of last night's lassitude still hummed in his veins, and let it slip away again. He felt his expression harden instead. He felt it become colder and harder and more honest, a far greater risk again.

"Not while my kingdom is so fragile," he answered, offering bald honesty. An odd gift, maybe, and a reckless one, but he had curled into her in his sleep, and some part of him was so stupidly unafraid. Some part of him wanted to offer her the truth. "Our armies are shattered and our resources dangerously spent. You know it. You ensured it. Your people are as strong and united as they've ever been, and while your death might fragment them, they would take everything around them first. One kingdom already lies in ruins before them. I don't want mine to follow. I'm not going to kill you. No matter what you do, my lady, I'm not going to kill you until I'm sure my kingdom would survive it."

Because it survived now only by her mercy. This was what Kaeri didn't realise, what their father hadn't realised either. There had been hatred between her people and the Kingdom of Gedded, their neighbour, for the better part of four hundred years. That land's fate had been sealed the moment she had successfully united her people under her. And their fate had been sealed the moment they entered the war on Gedded's behalf.

The only reason, the only reason, that they weren't currently the shattered ruin their neighbour was, was because there was no overt grudge between their peoples, and because Calime had been merciful. Because she had allowed their surrender, and allowed a tribute, and allowed a hostage to ensure it. Allowed a marriage, even. It was a concession. He was well aware of that. However painful it might be for the war bride personally, they were still a civilised institution, a tradition of many kingdoms. As his mother had known. There was so much worse than this. One only had to look to the foothills to the southeast to know that.

So he couldn't kill her. He couldn't think it. She had been merciful, and unless and until his brothers found their spine and their strength and their allies once more, Fami could never kill her. She owned the whole of him in truth.

She pulled her hand away from his. He closed his eyes, knowing what was coming. He held himself loose and easy, let her move him gently around to face her without a flinch. Her clawed hand cupped his cheek, as strange and as careful as ever, and he let the smallest of smiles flicker across his lips.

"... So practical," she murmured, an odd tone to her voice. Distant. If he were fanciful, almost reverent. "You realise the prohibition goes both ways? I can't kill you unless I want to have to slaughter your entire people behind you. I could, maybe. I don't want to. I have to build something that will last, husband of mine. For my people's sake, we need a kingdom in truth. I can't make only enemies in that cause. We've been preyed on for too long. You know that too. You were the force behind this agreement of terms. Who else but you could have arranged to hide or remove every kani item in this place?"

He flinched, a little. Felt some fear and some tautness filter back into his limbs. Her hand remained gentle around his cheek. She had amazing self-control, his wife. Kani. Sword-tooth ivory. A special export of the Kingdom of Gedded. They'd been trade partners for a long time. She was right. It had taken him the better part of a week to clear the evidence of two hundred years of that partnership from his home. From her wedding hall.

"Look at me," she said. Still gentle. Still soft. Her hand moved across his cheek, her claws stirring gently at his curls. Fami opened his eyes. Instinct, to meet her, to never flinch before her. That other thing too. That odd conviction that she wouldn't rip him open. She'd leaned close while he quivered. She was near enough to be crystal clear even to him.

"I don't want to kill you, Fami," she said. Calime. His wife, with her fur and her teeth and the strength and hopes of her people behind her. "Whether I can or I can't, I don't want to. I want to keep you. I want to learn you. I've seen what you'll do to keep your kingdom alive. Someday I hope to see what you might do for mine. Neither of us will betray our people, but there's a lot that can be done while keeping both alive. I can work for that. I want to hope that maybe someday my husband can work with me."

He blinked at her. For a long moment. And then ...

"You wore blue," he said. Nonsensically, to most people, but he saw her eyes sharpen because of it. He saw her startlement, and then the faint curve of her smile. "Yesterday, at our wedding. You wore blue."

"... Yes," she said, a warm weight of acknowledgement in her tone. "Yes, I did. I wasn't sure you'd know what that meant."

Fami shrugged slightly. "I wasn't sure you'd meant it that way," he said carefully. "It seemed ... wishful thinking."

He paused, studying her. He reached up and touched ... the sharp, gold-banded curve of one sword-tooth first, then the bearded fur along her jaw, the longer flow of it about her neck and shoulders that he'd combed so carefully last night. Her eyes lidded again, heavy and curious. She didn't flinch from him either.

"You're not what I expected," he said at last. Letting his hand fall, looking up at her again. Holding her eyes, the way instinct had demanded from the first. "You're nothing I would have thought to hope for either. I don't know how much I can give you. I'll never kill you, but I don't know how much I can promise you beyond that. You hold my kingdom in your hands, Calime. I can't let it fall."

She laughed faintly. Only a breath of it, a curl of rueful humour through her nose. She shook her head, and leaned down towards him. She cupped her hand behind his head, raised it, and curved her own towards it until their cheeks rested oddly, carefully together. Fami stiffened a little in startlement, and then reached up to anchor his hands in the fur along her spine.

"It will do," she said, her teeth at his jaw, curved inwards towards her own throat. "I can work with that, husband of mine. I've worked with a lot less, for equal prize. Only give me time, and your word to see this through to whatever end it may reach."

Fami blinked, and then breathed out a little laugh himself. Time, she said. Time, and his life until his death, because that was the only way this ended for him. She held him on their wedding bed. Hadn't he given that already? But he nodded anyway.

"You have it," he said, and on an odd whim pulled himself back a little, reoriented himself, and pressed a kiss to the broad sweep of her nose above her teeth. An odd thing, a strange, hollow thing, but he had an echo of last night still inside him, that heavy, languorous closeness, and this was the closest he had to offer in return. A two-edged weapon, more than he could afford to give, and nothing he could afford to keep in turn. She stared at him, startled and something else, something more, and then she laughed, and swept him up to curl him against her chest once more.

"Oh husband," she said, kneeling them both up in their wedding bed, tangling her claws in his curls. "It's a good day, my husband. A good morning. We're still alive, and there's several kingdoms' worth of work to be done. It's a good day to be alive, don't you agree?"

And really, all things considered ... Fami did.


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