by kiyala (樹夜蘭)
illustrated by pie派
The flames of the Phoenix King’s rebirth always seem to burn that much brighter when there is corruption afoot. They are no different to the naked eye, but the Wolf Knight knows better to take things at face value, and knows the king better than others.
The Phoenix King burns for a year every century and the knight has seen his king do this more times than he cares to count. A year is a long time to be without a king, but theirs is powerful and his magic does not replenish easily. Still, a year is a year, and that is plenty of time for would-be usurpers to put their plans into motion.
The Wolf Knight has known the Phoenix King since they were boys. Since their titles were nothing but distant ideas, when they were too busy learning and growing to care about how the world around them turned. Summers have turned to winters and decades into centuries. The Wolf Knight is no stranger to the ideas that spring forth in the king’s absence, and he is no stranger to putting an end to them. The king might be powerful but his knight is a knife in the dark, a watchful eye, a shield for when the king is weakest.
The Phoenix Fire is due to burn itself out by sunset and the king is set to return. The Wolf Knight has one target remaining, too clever to be caught, too noble to be touched. So he waits, and watches as the Phoenix Fire dies down from a conflagration to gentle flames. When the time comes, he changes into his ceremonial armour and hopes, as he always does, that this rebirth will be easier than the last.
The path to the Phoenix King’s chambers is a long, winding one that goes through the royal gardens and past three guarded gates. The guards on duty salute the Wolf Knight as he passes, their backs straight, their eyes bright with the same excitement that is thrumming throughout the entire kingdom. The Wolf Knight smiles, nodding his thanks as the last gate is opened for him and he finds himself in the Phoenix King’s personal courtyard.
Few people are allowed here and fewer still when the king is burning. His chambers are sealed from the inside and while Phoenix Fire does not burn the building itself down, it leaves the doors far too hot for anybody else to touch. It’s all that the Wolf Knight can do to stand here and wait, but the flames are dying down now and he knows that there isn’t long to go.
He’s the first of the king’s inner circle that arrives and he takes his position directly in front of the door, his hand resting on the pommel of his sword. The rest of the Phoenix King’s advisors arrive in a group, nodding in greeting to the Wolf Knight as they take their positions around him. To his right is Lady Fox, chief advisor to the king, and the most ruthless political genius the Wolf Knight has had the pleasure of knowing. They smile at each other in greeting, before turning to the door of the king’s chambers in unison.
“You seem eager,” Lady Fox muses, her tone light with humour.
“Can you blame me?” the Wolf Knight stands a little straighter as the flames die down completely. “…I hope he’s cut his hair shorter this time. Just once.”
Lady Fox laughs softly, but falls silent as the door slowly slides open. The Wolf Knight can feel his breath catch in his throat as the Phoenix King steps into the sun. He’s as beautiful as ever and of course, his hair is as long as ever, falling down his back and nearly brushing the ground as he walks. The Wolf Knight sighs to himself, and can hear Lady Fox’s soft chuckle beside him.
“My Lords and Ladies,” the Phoenix King greets with a smile, looking at each and every one of them. “It’s good to see you again.”
“As it’s good to see you,” the Wolf Knight speaks up.
They’ve done this more times than they can count and their reunion always goes the same way. It starts as a small smile on the Phoenix King’s lips that grows, blossoming into a soft laugh, into his arms around his knight, their foreheads pressed against each other.
This time, however, the Phoenix King’s smile is different. There’s warmth there, the Wolf Knight can see that much, but it’s not the kind that he is used to seeing. It’s the same warm smile that the king gives to everyone else, and in an instant, the Wolf Knight realises what has happened.
Beside him, Lady Fox sucks in a sharp breath, turning to look at him from the corner of her eye. She’s clearly come to the same realisation, but there’s nothing that can be done about it now. Each and every time the Phoenix King is reborn, he returns missing bits and pieces of information, which is why he’s met by his advisors. They fill in the gaps in his memory and make sure hat he’s caught up on what has happened in his absence as well. Sometimes he forgets certain policies or strategies; sometimes he forgets people.
On the rare occasion, he’ll remember the person, but won’t remember his relationship with them. The Wolf Knight supposes that it had to happen eventually.
“Shall we relocate?” the Phoenix King asks, because he hates formalities and much prefers the sky well in the middle of his building over the courtyard at the front. “You can tell me everything I’ve missed.”
He turns and leads the way inside, and Lady Fox immediately falls into step with the Wolf Knight. “What are you going to do?”
“Nothing?” she frowns at him. “He’s forgotten, Wolf.”
“I know that. It’s fine, Fox. Leave it.”
She doesn’t look happy about it. Not on the way inside, and not throughout the entire meeting. It’s a short one because the king is still tired, but she frowns at the Wolf Knight when the king isn’t looking. She doesn’t say anything and neither do any of the other advisors, because all it takes is one sharp look from the Wolf Knight to remind them that it isn’t their place.
“Wolf pup,” the king calls as the others begin to leave, and it makes the knight’s heart catch in his throat for a moment, hoping against hope that somehow, his memories have returned a little late this time around. “Stay back. I want to speak with you.”
Lady Fox gives him a hopeful look on her way out, shutting the door behind her as she’s the last to leave.
“I don’t remember you being so distant,” the king mutters, folding his arms across his chest. If he didn’t look so regal, he would look petulant. “Here I assumed that being best friends since childhood, you would at least hug me in greeting.”
The Wolf Knight laughs, the disappointment burning through him like wildfire. “Of course. My apologies, my lord.”
“My lord,” the king repeats, sounding insulted.
“Fussy little songbird, aren’t you?” they embrace each other and even this feels different, as if a layer of their relationship has been stripped away and replaced by a pale copy. “I missed you. I truly did.”
He still misses the king. His king. That, however, he knows to keep to himself.
“Surely I can just sleep out here,” he murmurs as his eyes droop. “I’ve spent the last year right here anyway.”
“You’ll appreciate your bed more,” the Wolf Knight tells him, taking his elbow and guiding him inside. He guides the way to the king’s bedroom and he feels a pang of loss when he looks around the room, more familiar to him than his own chambers.
“Do you permit me to talk freely?” the Wolf Knight asks as he draws the doors shut behind them.
“Does the pup need permission?” the king smiles. “Must I say speak before you do?”
The knight’s lips twist into a frown, but its effect is lost when his back is turned. He takes a breath and reminds himself of the situation he’s in. As if he could possibly forget.
“Things aren’t as they seem,” he says, turning to the face the king. He stays where he is, while the king sits at the edge of his soft bed. “There are people who plot when you’re gone. People who I cannot stop, who see me as nothing as your dog. People in your inner circle who will use your trust in them against you. You should be careful of who you give that trust to.”
The king’s eyes narrow. “I give you my trust, don’t I? How am I to know that you aren’t the one with designs for my throne?”
The Wolf Knight stares at him, blinking with surprise. “I’m sorry…?”
“You could be very clever, trying to throw me off your trail and distract me with others.” The king laughs. “Which would be interesting, I suppose.”
“I serve you.”
“As do the rest of my people,” the king points out. “Clearly, that doesn’t stop them.”
“I’m your knight.” The Wolf Knight frowns with confusion. “I’m your knight. I’m yours. What would a dog do with a throne, with no master to occupy it?”
The Phoenix King clicks his tongue, getting up and reaching for his knight. “Come, now…”
The knight barely resists the urge to knock his hand away, opting to step back instead. “These are your options. You can trust me and, should I be treacherous, overpower me and reestablish your ownership of the throne. Or you can go in blind and not see which direction the dagger comes from until it’s already in your back.”
“We all know that you are the most powerful being in this land. You could bring anyone to their knees in an instant.” The Wolf Knight kneels. “You can assert your dominance and reclaim what is yours before your enemies even think to try and resist it. Should it come to that.”
“Do you believe it will?” the king asks, stepping closer to his knight. He reaches out, fingers trailing feather-light over a soft cheek. The knight’s breath hitches so quietly that it’s barely audible.
“I believe in preparing for all contingencies,” the knight replies evenly. “Including the one in which you don’t trust me.”
“Stand,” the king murmurs, and smiles when the knight does. “Good boy. I’ll trust you for now, and hope that it’s not misplaced.”
The Wolf Knight nods in appreciation. “That’s all I ask for.”
The knight’s lips twist into a frown and this time, it’s for the king to see. “One can always ask for more, but expecting to receive it is a different matter. This is enough. Good evening, my lord. I’m glad that you’ve returned.”
It’s painful, though, in a way that he’d never really expected in the past, in those moments when he would consider the possibility of this happening to him. He isn’t sure whether he’d prefer for the Phoenix King to forget their friendship entirely, because then at least it would be easier to avoid spending time with him. Lady Fox continues to try and convince the Wolf Knight that he needs to talk to the king and explain the situation, but the very thought is terrifying.
Besides, he has more important things that he needs to focus on at the moment. He needs to keep his eye on the potential traitor and he doesn’t want to give away their identity before the Phoenix King figures it out for himself. He knows from experience that his king has good instincts. It won’t take him long, especially now that he knows that there is something he needs to watch out for, and it will be much easier to convince him to take action if he’s come to the conclusion himself, rather than being told.
Even in his time alone, the Wolf Knight can’t quite stray too far from his king. His personal chambers are closest to the king’s, just by the entrance to the royal gardens. He sits by the pond there, far enough from the Phoenix King’s own rooms that he won’t be seen. He takes his erhu sometimes, sliding the bow across the strings, his fingers dancing to muscle memory, playing the same song that he always does when he sits here, the notes hanging in the air, slow to dissipate.
When they do, the Wolf Knight hears applause, and turns around to find the Phoenix King standing there.
“That was lovely. I don’t remember hearing it before.”
The Wolf Knight smiles to cover the tightening in his chest that he always feels when he finds another gap in the Phoenix King’s memory. “I composed it.”
“I absolutely love it,” the king smiles. “It’s almost as if… no, never mind.”
“I composed it for you, songbird,” the knight says softly. “If it’s almost as if it was written to be everything that you loved, that’s because it was.”
“Oh.” The king’s smile widens and it’s like the welcoming flame of a hearth, drawing the Wolf Knight in. “Thank you.”
The song was composed and played for the Phoenix King over three centuries ago. It’s been his favourite song for all that time. Instead of mentioning any of this, the Wolf Knight simply bows his head. “You’re welcome.”
“I was looking for you,” the king says after a moment, “because there was something I wanted to talk to you about. Perhaps not out here, though.”
“My rooms are just nearby.” Standing, the Wolf Knight gathers his erhu and bow, leading the way.
Most of the time, the Wolf Knight’s quarters barely get any use. He uses them for a year, in between centuries while the Phoenix Fire burns, then returns to his place beside his king. It’s comfortable but sparsely decorated, with no personal effects.
The king waits until the door is shut, then takes a breath. “I remembered something.”
“Did you?” By now, the Wolf Knight knows better than to hope.
“I remember that you keep a scroll while I am burning,” the king says. “A record of all that has happened in the past year. I never charged you with this, but you do it anyway. Because you know that I trust you more than I trust anybody else.”
“Ever the loyal dog,” the knight says with a smile that feels a little forced, opening his cupboard and sliding a secret panel to the side, withdrawing the scroll. He holds it out to the king, frowning when he doesn’t take it.
“I shouldn’t be remembering things now,” the king chews on his lip. “This isn’t how it works. You told me that I’ve remembered everything. You said you reminded me of everything that was missing.”
The Wolf Knight doesn’t reply, and the king frowns.
“You didn’t say that though, did you? Not in those words. You let me believe that there was nothing missing. What are you keeping to yourself? I know that it has to be about you, because otherwise someone else would have told me. And here I thought that I could trust you the most—”
“My lord…” the Wolf Knight begins.
“I’ve told you to stop calling me that,” the Phoenix King snaps. “I hate it. I hate the way it sounds wrong, coming from you.”
At the knight’s silence, the king’s eyes widen in realisation.
“Oh. But that’s because it’s not what you called me at all, is it? You called me by something else, and that’s why it sounds so wrong on your tongue. Tell me, what did you call me before? What did you call me that I’ve forgotten?”
“No.” The Wolf Knight shakes his head. “We’re not doing this.”
“We are. Tell me, pup. Please.”
Rubbing his hand over his face, the Wolf Knight sighs heavily, suddenly feeling weary. “I called you beloved. I called you husband.”
“Are you satisfied now?” the Wolf Knight laughs bitterly. “No, of course not. I’ll leave you with your regrets while I deal with mine.”
“Wolf pup,” the king calls, reaching out, but the knight is already shaking his head and leaving.
Finally, the Wolf Knight takes a deep breath and says, “He realised that he was missing a memory. He came to me and asked directly. I can lie by omission but I have never been able to lie to his face.”
“So what did you tell him?” Lady Fox asks. “What did you say that brings you here to hide, rather than being with him so you can talk properly?”
“I told him that I was his husband,” the Wolf Knight sighs. “Then I left, because I didn’t want to be there and watch as he tried and failed to remember.”
“You know what you have to do, then,” she tells him. “You’re here because you’re stalling.”
“Sharp as ever.” The Wolf Knight buries his face in his hands and sits there. “I’m not going to force him into something he doesn’t remember. In this incarnation, we are best friends. Perhaps that’s all he wants to be.”
“You would play the role of best friend for an entire century, wouldn’t you?” Lady Fox asks with quiet amazement.
The Wolf Knight shrugs. “What other choice do I have? Being his husband means knowing that this was always a possibility. I’ve always been prepared for it.”
“Being prepared for it is nothing compared to reality though, is it?”
The Wolf Knight turns to find Lord Hare in the doorway. He’s one of the advisors working under Lady Fox and he smiles apologetically before turning to her. “Forgive the interruption, but I have the reports you’ve requested.”
“We’re meeting with the king later,” Lady Fox explains to the knight. “We had a brief meeting with him earlier to catch him up on important matters. We decided to let him rest for a while before boring him with the rest.”
The Wolf Knight chuckles. “A wise decision. Even then, he might not have the attention span for it.”
“And you’ve just given him plenty more to think about,” Lady Fox points out with a small smile.
“My lady?” Lord Hare asks curiously. By immortal standards, he is young, having served under Lady Fox for only two centuries. He was promising at first but he’s since begun to stagnate, no longer coming up with new ideas that impress his superiors. It’s a problem frequently experienced by advisors that come from noble blood; they’ve grown used to being treated with respect and struggle with having to earn it.
“Come now my dear, you’re much more observant than that. You know that the king-consort has run into somewhat of a problem at the moment.”
“I’ve told you not to call me that,” the Wolf Knight growls. “I have a title and that’s not it. Especially not now.”
“Do you no longer have claim to the title now that the king has forgotten you?” Lord Hare asks curiously and it would raise the knight’s hackles if Lady Fox didn’t beat him to it.
“Silence, Hare. If you cannot think before you speak, you will not speak at all.” Her gaze is sharp and Lord Hare looks away immediately, bowing his head. “The king has not forgotten his husband. This is a mere obstacle in their path, and a small one at that.”
“I’ll leave you to go through your reports,” the Wolf Knight says, getting to his feet. He’s avoided his quarters for long enough; the king must have left by now.
“I’ll speak with you later,” Lady Fox replies, giving him a warm smile. Her expression slips into something much colder when she looks at Lord Hare. “I’ll make sure to have words with my subordinate before I let him in front of the king.”
When the Wolf Knight returns to his quarters, the king is still there. He has his head resting in his hands as he pores over the scroll, the events of the previous year meticulously recorded against the dates. He’s frowning as he looks up at the knight.
“I haven’t been told everything.”
“I know that,” the knight replies softly, sitting at the opposite side of the table.
“Do you trust Lady Fox?”
“She is my closest friend, besides you.”
“Should you trust her?” The Phoenix King frowns. “It’s her responsibility to make sure I am given all the information I need. She hasn’t done that, this time.”
“Is she the only one who is charged with that responsibility?” The knight shrugs. “She tasks different people with different kinds of information.”
“You aren’t going to tell me who it is.”
“You’re clever enough, songbird. You work it out.”
The king’s frown deepens. “You have information about trade agreements here that I haven’t been told about. Who is in charge of trade?”
The Wolf Knight rests his chin in his hand as he looks at his king. “You know the answer to that.”
“And what do I do about it?”
The Wolf Knight smiles. “In most situations, you’d release the hounds. Hound, I suppose. But you know that I’m powerless here.”
“You’re my husband,” the king points out.
“I’m powerless here,” the knight replies, more forcefully this time.
“Are we not going to talk about this?”
“You have more important things that need your attention right now,” the Wolf Knight replies. “Let’s thwart those who plot against you and perhaps then we can talk.”
“I’m going to hold you to that,” the Phoenix King says seriously, and his knight knows better than to argue.
Still, he can’t say he’s particularly surprised when his loneliness creeps up on him, twisting its way around his heart and squeezing. He knows he hasn’t been alone for the past year because he’s had the company of Lady Fox, his soldiers and all of his other friends. They’re still there and he’s still happy to spend time with them but his mornings and nights have always been spent with his king. Being without him now feels strange and unpleasant and the Wolf Knight doesn’t know if this is something that he’ll ever get used to, or if he wants to get used to it at all. He doesn’t know if he’ll have a choice, or if this is a memory that the Phoenix King will never get back. He doesn’t know what he’ll do then, and as much as he values preparing for every situation, this is not one he wants to dwell on.
The moon is high in the sky when the Wolf Knight hears a knock on his door, followed by the sound of it sliding open. He looks up from the scout reports he’s reading to find the king standing there, dressed in his night robe with his hair hanging loose around him.
“You should be asleep,” the Wolf Knight says. “You look exhausted.”
“I’m not exhausted, I’m bored. That meeting felt like it lasted forever. I couldn’t stand it, being fed lie after lie about our trade routes. I nearly said something, but that’s not how I want to expose the liar. Can I sit?”
“Do you need to ask?”
The king frowns. “I’m not asking you as the king. I’m asking you as—a friend, who desperately needs someone I know I can trust.”
With a sigh, the Wolf Knight reaches out his hand. “Come here, songbird.”
He doesn’t quite know why he’s surprised when the Phoenix King actually takes it, but he starts all the same.
The king frowns, slowly letting go of the knight’s hand. “I’m sorry, should I have not…?”
“Just sit down,” the knight says, irritated with himself. He’s meant to be playing whatever role the king requires of him, whether that be friend or husband or general or strategist. He isn’t meant to be getting caught up in his own emotions.
“We’re going to talk about this,” the king decides.
“No we’re not.”
“We are,” the king says firmly. “We need to. You say it’s not as important as other matters, but it is. To me and to you as well. You’re my best friend and… more than just that, I suppose. Whether I remember it or not.”
“I’m not going to hold you to anything that you can’t remember,” the Wolf Knight tells him, matching the king’s firm tone. “I don’t expect you to force yourself to fit a role when it’s not who you are right now. The last thing I want is to make you feel uncomfortable.”
“And what about you?” the king asks, frowning. “I don’t want you to be uncomfortable either.”
“I’ve always known that this could happen.” Perhaps if the Wolf Knight repeats it enough times, it will make this entire situation stop hurting so much. “I don’t mind whether I am your husband, your friend, or just another general. I serve you, and that is my purpose.”
“You’re a liar,” the king says, anger creeping into his tone.
“I don’t lie to you,” the knight replies. “I can’t.”
“This isn’t enough for you. This is hurting you, and I want to make that stop.”
“You aren’t obligated to love me, songbird.”
“But I do.” The Phoenix King grips his knight’s shoulders tightly. “Don’t you understand that? I do love you. I love you with all my heart and I don’t know how I love you. I saw you after my rebirth and I remembered being close with you. I remembered loving you. I didn’t remember you loving me back, or anything else that might have followed.”
“I love you,” the Wolf Knight whispers, covering the king’s hands with his own, pulling them off his shoulders and grasping them tightly. “I love you more than anything in this world, but this isn’t something I can talk about right now. I have a plan for how to reestablish our original trade routes…”
With a heavy sigh, the Phoenix King withdraws his hands from the Wolf Knight’s grip and nods. “All right. Tell me about it.”
The Wolf Knight sets out with his best men, securing the roads that were once the vital trade channels for the kingdom. The bandits that have claimed the roads balk at the sight of the Wolf Knight and those who aren’t frightened by his presence are frozen in their tracks at the sight of his armour.
His ceremonial armour is mostly for decoration and while he prefers his usual armour, dark and easy to move in, he cannot deny that his current armour, for its added weight and showiness, does have its intended effect. It’s a deep red, with a picture of a phoenix covering his chest, marking him not only as the king’s personal knight, but warning others that he is protected by the Phoenix King’s magic.
A few of them try and fight anyway, because this road is the main route to the agricultural district. Having access to the farmland and the crop already growing is a quick way to rise to power and the Wolf Knight wonders if that was the reason for this particular route’s being cut off. The kingdom’s food stores are full enough to last them another few years, but with traitors this close to the king, it would have been far too easy to have gone without noticing until it was much too late.
“We sent letters for help,” one of the farmers says, once the Wolf Knight dispatches of the bandits that had taken over a large plot of land with rice fields. “We knew that the Phoenix King was burning, that our messages must have been blocked.”
The Wolf Knight looks at the farmer and his family, at how gaunt they are from being overworked and underfed by the bandits. He should have set out to help them much sooner, consequences be damned, but he keeps that to himself, accepting their thanks with a stiff nod and giving them a personal letter of apology from the Phoenix King in exchange.
The farmers and merchants are happy to resume business, their relief clear on their faces when the Wolf Knight leaves one of his best soldiers with each of them for protection, until the trade routes are properly in use once again and the bandits are driven out permanently.
When the Wolf Knight returns to the royal grounds, he goes to his quarters to find the king waiting for him. There’s a smug grin tugging at the king’s lips and his eyes are bright with excitement. He waits until the Wolf Knight has pulled his helmet off and then closes the distance between them with a tight hug.
“I missed you while you were gone.”
“I was only away for three days,” the Wolf Knight murmurs, even as he hugs the king in return.
“It felt like far too long. I thought of you in every spare moment I had. I missed you.”
With a small smile the knight pulls back, even though he keeps his hands on the king’s sides. “I missed you too.”
They stand there for what feels like an eternity, watching each other, neither of them moving until the Phoenix King finally takes a deep breath and steps forward once again. When they’re chest to chest, the Wolf Knight remembers that he’s slightly taller, even though the king always seems much bigger with all his power and majesty.
“Phoenix…” the Wolf Knight says uncertainly, before he’s hushed by a finger resting against his lips.
“I’ve been hoping I would remember,” the king murmurs, wrapping his arm around his knight’s shoulders. “I hoped that one day I would wake up and think, oh yes, I can’t believe I’ve forgotten all of this, but that hasn’t happened. I asked Lady Fox how long we’ve been married for.”
“Phoenix,” the Wolf Knight says again, a little frustrated this time.
“Six centuries, Wolf. Six centuries of knowing that you love me just as I love you. I feel as if I’ve been robbed.”
“You’ll remember,” the Wolf Knight murmurs. “Next time…”
“I am not waiting another century. I love you. I knew it when we were planning to reestablish the trade routes together. I felt it every moment over the past three days as I waited for you to come back to me. I’m sorry that you have to go through this all over again, but—”
“I love you too,” Wolf interrupts. “I don’t mind doing this again with you. I’m happy to. I love you, Phoenix, and I’m yours.”
“As I’m yours,” Phoenix replies with a smile and Wolf has to kiss him then, lips firm against each other, his hands cupping Phoenix’s face.
Phoenix’s hands go to Wolf’s hair, tugging it out of its knot. In turn, Wolf takes a handful of Phoenix’s hair and tugs gently, making him gasp sharply into their kiss. Wolf chuckles, pressing kisses along Phoenix’s jaw, and tugs a little harder.
This time, Phoenix moans softly, tipping his head back. Wolf takes the opportunity to kiss down the column of Phoenix’s neck, until he reaches the collar of Phoenix’s shirt. He hesitates for a moment, but Phoenix is already shrugging out of his jacket.
“Wait,” Wolf murmurs, taking hold of Phoenix’s wrists.
“I want this,” Phoenix tells him. “I’m certain, Wolf, I swear.”
“I’m glad to know it,” Wolf replies. “It’s just that… well, your bed will be bigger for us both.”
“Oh,” Phoenix breathes and in the next instant, they’re in his chambers, the door shut.
“Impatient,” Wolf says with a quiet laugh.
Phoenix doesn’t deny it, kissing Wolf hungrily again and fumbling with the fastenings on his armour. Wolf helps him, then undoes Phoenix’s clothes with the same practiced ease as his own. They step closer to each other again and Wolf gathers Phoenix’s hair into his hand, pulling it out of the way as he guides them both towards the bed.
“Your hair is ridiculous,” Wolf mutters, watching it fan out beside them the moment he lets go of it.
“You like it,” Phoenix grins up at him. “I know you do.”
Wolf silences him with a kiss that quickly turns heated, their hands roaming each other’s bodies. Phoenix bites his lip as Wolf’s fingers trail across his stomach and navel, deliberately avoiding his cock.
“Are you always such a tease?”
“Not always.” Bending, Wolf kisses Phoenix’s nipple and then sucks on it, making him arch off the bed.
“You’re terrible.” Burying his fingers in Wolf’s hair to keep him where he is, Phoenix shivers with pleasure. “So—ah, so terrible. Don’t stop.”
With a low laugh, Wolf rocks his hips slowly and deliberately. Phoenix gasps at the slide of their cocks against each other, mimicking the movement much more urgently. He growls in frustration when Wolf holds his hips still, struggling against his grip.
“Shh now, or you’ll have us both coming far too quickly.” Wolf smiles when Phoenix stills immediately.
“Are you going to fuck me?” Phoenix asks, and he sounds just as breathless and excited as he did the first time they ever did this, so many years ago that Wolf has lost count. He smiles when Wolf nods, kissing him hard. Their tongues slide against each other slowly, making them both shiver as they wrap themselves around each other. He hums contently as they pull apart for breath, grinning up at Wolf. “Good pup.”
“A pup, am I?” Wolf asks, laughing quietly. He grabs Phoenix by the hips, turning him over onto his front, earning a surprised yelp.
“Wolf, what are you—” Phoenix falls silent when he feels Wolf kissing down his back.
“On your knees,” Wolf murmurs, and Phoenix scrambles to obey, his face still pressed into the mattress. “Good.”
Phoenix must know what’s coming, because he’s trembling with anticipation, whispering please under his breath so quietly that Wolf can barely hear it.
Wolf spreads him open, rubbing his thumb over the exposed skin until Phoenix whines impatiently. He chuckles, leaning in, sucking marks onto the backs of Phoenix’s thighs as he works his way up. He pauses for a moment, letting the anticipation build and it’s worth it for the way Phoenix whines again, louder this time, at the feeling of the flat of Wolf’s tongue against his entrance.
As always, Phoenix is impatient. His fingers dig into the mattress as Wolf licks into him, fucking him with sharp, shallow thrusts of his tongue but soon, it’s no longer enough. He whines, spreading his knees a little wider. “More, oh, Wolf, oh, I need more.”
“More?” Wolf pulls away, satisfied to see the way Phoenix’s cock hangs heavily, hard and flushed and leaking all over the sheets.
“Don’t stop,” Phoenix cries, jerking with surprise as Wolf sinks his teeth into the flesh of his arse. “Don’t make me pull rank, because I will.”
“You’ll command me to eat you out?” Wolf chuckles, rubbing his thumb over Phoenix’s entrance again. “I’d like to see you try.”
“Just you watch me.” Phoenix’s breath catches in his throat as Wolf leans over him, retrieving the pot of oil from his bedside table and slicking his fingers with it. “Oh, are you going to—?”
“Shh.” Wolf circles his index around Phoenix’s entrance before slowly pushing it in. “You’ll have to be patient with me, beloved.”
Phoenix clearly has other plans, but then Wolf has two fingers in him, curving and seeking out his prostate, and any hope of coherency quickly disappears. He stutters through three different demands for Wolf to hurry up, all of them ignored as Wolf massages his prostate slowly.
“Please,” Phoenix sobs, “Wolf, please, please.”
“What do you want, beloved?” Wolf asks, leaning over to whisper into his ear. “I thought you were going to pull rank on me.”
“I command you—ah, ahh, fuck. Fuck me, Wolf, please.”
Wolf has already slicked his cock and he withdraws his fingers so he can thrust in gently, little at a time until he’s bottomed out and Phoenix is trembling around him, forehead pressed against the mattress.
“I’m going to move,” Wolf murmurs and Phoenix nods eagerly. His grip on the bedsheets tightens as Wolf fucks him gently, his thrusts slow and careful. He watches Phoenix closely and predictably, it doesn’t take long for him to want more. This time, Wolf indulges him, picking up his pace. Phoenix moans, thrusting back against him, pushing himself up onto his hands and knees for better leverage.
Reaching around him, Wolf wraps his fingers around Phoenix’s cock, stroking it in time to their thrusts. Phoenix moans louder, then louder still as he gets closer to coming. Wolf knows the telltale signs, the way his breath hitches, the way his fingers dig into the mattress.
“Are you going to sing for me?” he murmurs, “I know you are. Let me hear you, gorgeous. I want to know how much you like it.”
Phoenix does, coming hard with a breathy moan. He tightens around Wolf and that’s all he needs to follow suit, gasping breathlessly as he presses his face to the nape of Phoenix’s neck. They stay where they are for a long moment, before Wolf slowly pulls away. Phoenix collapses onto the bed, rolling onto his side with a blissful smile that makes Wolf laugh, lying down beside him and drawing him into a lingering kiss.
“I know we must have done this before, more times than we can count,” Phoenix murmurs, taking Wolf’s hand into his own. “It’s strange, knowing that while also feeling like this was our first time together.”
Bringing their joined hands to his lips, Wolf kisses them. “We have a century to make up for all the times you don’t remember.”
Grinning, Phoenix presses their lips together. “And I definitely plan on making up for it.”
“Go to sleep,” Wolf chuckles as he sits up. “I’ll clean us up and join you.”
“Or,” Phoenix murmurs, casting a spell that has them cleaned immediately. “You don’t need to leave bed at all.”
“Or that,” Wolf concedes, happy to let Phoenix pull him back into his arms as sleep claims them both.
He looks around the dark room, cursing the fact that he doesn’t have his sword with him. He shifts slightly, so that he’s between the door and Phoenix’s sleeping form.
“Puppy?” Phoenix asks sleepily as he wakes.
Wolf hushes him with a hand on his arm, and that’s enough to have Phoenix sitting up. Wolf takes his hand and with his thumb, traces a word onto Phoenix’s palm; company.
With his eyes adjusted to the darkness, Wolf can see the realisation flicker across Phoenix’s face as he realises just what this means. Wolf might be the strategic type to lay in wait and avoid playing his hand too soon. Phoenix, on the other hand, has never been subtle. He gets to his feet, the lamps around the room flickering into life with enchanted flames. He picks up his robe and ties it around himself, and Wolf barely has enough time to do the same before Phoenix gestures at the door, making it slide open.
On the other side of it, carrying a short dagger, is Lord Hare, frozen on the spot.
“My dear Hare,” Phoenix says brightly. “You know how I love social visits.”
Lord Hare glances over at Wolf, frowning before looking back at Phoenix. “Remembered your dog, have you?”
“As much as I appreciate you visiting,” Phoenix says, ignoring him entirely, “I do feel the need to point out the late hour. If you’d arrived a little earlier, it might have been awkward for all three of us. A little later and that would have been preferable, I think. Sometime after sunrise?”
“I won’t have you ignore me—”
“That’s a lovely little dagger you have there. My love, don’t you think his dagger is wonderfully made?”
Wolf takes his cue, stepping forward and taking the dagger from Lord Hare’s hand. He suspects, with the lack of resistance, that Lord Hare’s being frozen in place isn’t entirely up to him. He examines it; there’s more decoration than functionality to it and he snorts dismissively, putting it aside.
“My love,” Phoenix calls to him again. “Fetch Lady Fox for me, would you? Apologise to her for the late hour but tell her it’s important. By foot, please, so I might have some time to speak with Lord Hare.”
“Enjoy that,” Wolf murmurs, shouldering past Lord Hare on his way out.
Behind him, the flames from the lamps burn brighter. The Phoenix King is not the kind of man that most would want to anger. Beneath his sweet smiles and calm disposition, there is the fierce power that has enabled him to rule for so many centuries without any real challenge. Lord Hare has never seen him in his full glory. The fool has no idea what he’s gotten himself into.
Lady Fox is irritable when woken, but sobers immediately when she hears that the king has summoned her. From her quarters, there’s a grove of trees between her building and the Phoenix King’s. By now, the flames from his chamber are burning so brightly that the trees are bordered with a faint orange glow.
Cursing under her breath, Lady Fox picks up her pace. “He’s angry.”
“Not at you. There was an attempt made on his life. Or there would have been, if we hadn’t caught the assassin before they could make their attempt.”
“We,” Lady Fox repeats, grinning at Wolf. “I’m glad to hear that.”
“That might be your only good news tonight,” Wolf mutters as they reach the Phoenix King’s chambers. “Be warned.”
“Good early morning, Lady Fox,” the Phoenix King greets cheerfully, and his tone is at complete odds with the aura of sheer power that emanates from him. “I’m sorry to say you’re going to need a new advisor to oversee our commerce.”
“Hare,” she snarls when she sees him, on his knees beside the Phoenix King.
“He tried to cripple the kingdom and undermine our power,” Phoenix sighs. “His commerce reports were a lie, which I only discovered thanks to my knight’s watchful eye in my absence.”
“Were they, now?” Lady Fox asks, walking towards Hare with anger burning in her eyes.
“I did it for you,” he says desperately. “I wanted to please you. You’re the chief advisor, you run the kingdom in the Phoenix King’s absence. You should have the throne and I could be your—”
She cuts him off with a sharp bark of laughter. “Spare me.”
“I wanted to please you,” Hare repeats with a pathetic look.
“You failed,” she replies. “My lord, are you particularly attached to punishing the traitor yourself?”
The Phoenix King smiles. “Foxes hunt little rabbits, don’t they? He’s all yours, my dear. Enjoy.”
With a snap of his fingers, the Phoenix King releases Hare from his magical binding. Without a second thought, Hare runs into the cover of the trees. Lady Fox hangs back just long enough to bow to the king before giving chase.
“He has no hope of surviving,” Wolf muses. “Fox is brutal. Especially when she’s angry.”
“I’m glad she took care of that for me,” Phoenix replies, taking Wolf’s hand and leading him back inside. “I have a gorgeous partner I want to return to bed with.”
“What a shame you’ll have to make do with me,” Wolf says, laughing when Phoenix pouts at him.
“I love you,” Phoenix tells him, when they’re lying beside each other once again.
“If I hadn’t been here with you tonight—” Wolf begins, but Phoenix shakes his head.
“If you hadn’t been here, I would have taken care of the situation myself. Perhaps with much more fire and bloodshed, but I suppose that has its own appeal.”
Wolf smiles, wrapping his arm around Phoenix and pulling him close. “True. Luckily for you, none of that was necessary because you have the most well-trained guard dog at your disposal.”
“I could argue about the well-trained part of that,” Phoenix murmurs, “but I agree. I am very lucky to have him.”
Resting their foreheads against each other, Wolf smiles. “Just as he’s incredibly lucky to have you.”