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Pen Your Pride

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It's too late to climb down a bloody mountain. Even with the skies clear and the night's first stars starting to peek out. Instead, without asking whether Kintyre agrees with me or not—I'm not going to be the one who has to wrap up his ankle when he twists the ruddy thing because we can't see where we're walking—I hunker down by the small ring of stones we used to make a campfire last night and get to the business of making another.

Writer's nutsack. Just last night, Kin and I had been sitting close, trying to see how much play we could get away with while Bossy Forssy and Pip sulked in the shadow of the Rookery wall. And now they're . . . it feels a lot longer than just a day, what with all the fighting, the shouting, the tears, and the goodbyes. My shoulders are stiff, and I shrug and roll them out as I poke through the ash for some charred charcoal to prop up the kindling.

"Staying, are we?" Kin asks, when he realizes what I'm doing, and then, without me having to ask, he trots up the granite stairs. His silhouette is distinctive and, yeah, heroic against the lingering orange of the setting sun. I watch him collect dried scrub and fallen branches, and pause every once in a while to scan the horizon.

The chirrup and caw of birds slowly swells as the gloaming becomes complete. The riddling ravens have returned to the Eyrie with the Deal-Maker and the Viceroy gone. Up on the ridge, Kin makes sure that nothing and no one can sneak up on us in the night by sharing our travel crackers with them.

Down in the basin, waiting for Kin to get back, I rest against the Desk that Never Rots, my pipe clenched between my teeth, and decide it's worth using up one of our precious few matches for a smoke. I'm gasping for a bit of time to myself and a bowl of my orange-blossom and molasses hash, and Kin's not here to whine at me about the smell. I'll use Pip's trick of chewing dried peppermint after, so the taste will be out of my mouth before he can come back and kiss me.

A ridiculous, childish grin curls at the corner of my mouth, and I can't help licking my bottom lip in anticipation. Kissing Kin is one of my favorite ways to pass the time. Lucky for me, it's one of his favorites, too.

Dinner—dinner can probably wait until I've got my burly barbarian nice and kiss-fuddled. I'm feeling lazy, too; I can make a meal of the scraps we have left. We'll hunt down in the Stoat Forest tomorrow, so we can afford to finish it all up today. Besides, I'm not keen on dragging everything back down the mountain after dragging it all up the damn thing in the first place.

"Here," Kin grunts when he drops an armload of logs and brush by the cold firepit. I tap out my pipe, return it to my pouch, pop some peppermint into my mouth, and make my way back to start laying the fire.

One of the nice things about having been on quests with Kintyre Turn for the last seventeen years is that I no longer have to nag the oaf to chop the wood instead of just dumping it on the ground. He's already got the small axe out of his saddlebag. Good. Before he applies himself to breaking up some of the bigger bits, he strips out of his Turn-russet jerkin and sweat-stained canvas shirt.

Ah, yes. Excellent.

Right. So, there's one thing that's changed about our quests. Now, when Kin parades around shirtless in the reaching dusk and flattering firelight, I can look.

Not that I didn't look before. I'd have to be blind, a eunuch, and cursed by the Writer before I'd have been able to ignore a shirtless Kintyre Turn. But now, I can look openly.

Because Kintyre is mine.

The possessive curl deep in my guts flares warm and syrupy, and when Kin bends over slowly to pick up the first log, arranging it over another one for chopping, I know the cheeky bastard has caught my smirk. He's doing it purpose. And that, Writer-be-blessed, is a damn good show.

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