The More Things Change
Summary: Alone in the woods after a successful monster hunt, Ashley and Henry realize that there are some things they need to come to terms with. Most of it probably should have been said a lot earlier. Henry/Ashley
Rating: Mature (sex and some language)
Author's Note: Huge thanks to Lanna_Kitty for the beta on this one. (Not Kameka for once; sorry, Kam, but I needed someone I knew had a firm grasp of Ashley. Quack, dear.)
My version of Ashley's headspace was completely FUBAR because Ashley Magnus is one daunting chick to write. Lanna_Kitty challenged me on all the right points and generally just helped me make it a much better fic.
Even though I don't think she was happy that I kept in the Hello Kitty underwear -- sorry, Lanna, but I was not sacrificing that bit of backstory. My smut!muse and my humor!muse are sometimes pretty inseparable … when the smut!muse isn't palling around with the angst!muse, who also makes his presence felt here, if to a lesser degree than usual.
Okay, on with the fic: *drum-roll*
The More Things Change
Henry let out a low groan as they crested the last rise to their campsite. Ashley looked around and realized with a frown that he was limping. Not badly, but enough to indicate considerable discomfort. And, of course, the enormous doof had not said a damned word to her!
Shaking her head, she hurried to his side, looping her arm under both of his and urging him to lean on her, ignoring his surprised look. She was capable of some basic compassion.
It had been nice of Henry to come with her to help track the (apparently rather smelly) abnormal. Not that she'd noticed much of a smell even up close, but Henry had gotten an immediate bead on the thing from several miles away. Which, while a neat bit of tracking, must have made his sense of smell mind-bogglingly obnoxious in his day to day life. Not that Henry ever complained. About much of anything. Thus her not realizing he was Walking Wounded.
She should have kept a closer eye on how he was managing. The poor guy had not even been in a forest, to the best of her knowledge, since he was about twelve.
Twelve-ish. Age-wise you never really knew with Henry. She had gotten used to that, the way she had gotten used to not having a proper birthday to give him things on. She compensated by celebrating other dates: the day of his arrival at the Sanctuary, the first time he had taken apart the Nintendo and so discovered his life-passion for electronics…
"What are you grinning at?" Henry grumbled as they limped back to the camp. "It isn't that funny, Ash. I get to the gym enough, but this uneven terrain is just killer."
"I wasn't laughing at you, Henry. I was remembering the time you took apart the Nintendo."
"Heh." He smiled and shook his head. "Your mom was pretty pissed off."
"Until you put it back together again and it still worked," she recalled. "Don't think she's looked at you the same since."
"No, the realization that I could actually be useful must have been nice."
"Oh, she knew you'd be useful," Ashley assured him with a grin. "Think she was just planning on your badass monster-hunting skills coming to the fore a little earlier than they actually did," she told him as they reentered the clearing where they had pitched camp. "Go grab your sleeping-bag and throw it down in front of the fire," she said, nodding towards the stone circle. "I've got some cream from Mom I can put on your legs."
"You're a saint, Ash," he sighed, trudging towards his tent.
She watched him go, satisfying herself that he was up to the short walk, then went to retrieve the cream from her pack.
"Thanks for coming, Henry," she called over her shoulder. "It probably would have taken me three or four days to track that Wendigo on my own."
"Glad to help. Though, seriously, Ash, only for you would I brave the wilds of Hudson Bay in the late fall."
She grinned. "Well, I appreciate it. Not that I needed the backup, but the company's definitely nice."
"Really?" he asked, emerging from the tent with his sleeping-bag in hand and looking enormously pleased with himself.
She smiled back and gestured to a patch of bare ground in front of the fire. "Getting a little cold out," she noted, stirring up the fire and throwing on fresh logs. "Let's get this done so we can get in our tents where it's warm."
"Getting cold?" he laughed, spreading his bag on the ground. "Ash, it's been cold here since about August."
"Hey, where's the love?" he laughed.
She shook her head. "Take your pants off."
"Wow, so you're saying, after all these years, all I had to do was ask where the love was? Damn…"
"Don't make me hurt you," she suggested, paying more attention to getting the fire roaring than to Henry.
He was right about how chilly it was. They might end up in one tent before the end of the night if they stayed, but there was no getting back to the car before dark, either, so they would just have to make the best of it. It would hardly be the first time she had ended up curled up with Henry for warmth or comfort or just company. Granted, it had been like ten years, but whatever…
"Here, get your pants off and stretch out on your stomach," Ashley directed, catching his hand and helping him to the ground once he had stripped off his khakis. "Now, this is new, so I've never actually used it on myself," she told him, indicating the little tub of cream. "But Mom says it should kill pain without any deadening of the nerves at all, so you shouldn't lose any sensitivity or function."
"So I can't make you carry me back to my tent and tuck me in?" he asked, flashing his most winning smile.
Ashley thumped him on the shoulder and moved behind him. "Here, where's it hurt?"
"Uh…" Looking at her over his shoulder, he suddenly colored and turned his head so he was staring straight into the fire. He mumbled, "Inner thighs."
Ashley bit back a laugh. Henry had made the rookie mistake of wearing new pants on a long hike over uneven terrain. The terrain alone could have given him muscle-strain there but, looking closer, he had rubbed himself pretty damned raw. Probably hadn't even thought to run the pants through the wash a few times first. Nor had it occurred to her to warn him to.
Great, Ashley. Way to make your best friend suffer needlessly…
"Poor Henry," she murmured, patting his back and opening the tub of cream. "If it makes you feel any better, just picture me in my underwear."
"Don't really see that helping much, Ash."
"Try and relax, Henry," she advised, helping herself to a good dab of the cream.
He nodded, propping himself up on his elbows and staring straight ahead. He hissed at the first touch of her fingertips, body tensing.
"Tender?" she asked, frowning sympathetically.
"That's putting it kind of lightly," he answered, blinking away tears as he watched her over his shoulder. "Maybe I should just take some Ibuprofen and hit the sack?"
"This'll have you feeling better way faster," she assured him, rubbing the cream briskly into twitching muscles. "Mom developed it from studying that family of abnormals who can turn pain on and off."
"Oh, the Bruno brothers? Good people."
"Old City's lucky to have them on the police force," she agreed.
Once his legs started to relax under her touch, she slowed her tempo and increased the amount of pressure she was applying, coaxing blood back into the strained tissue. Henry let out a deep sigh and relaxed into the ground, seeming to almost melt in response to her care.
"That starting to feel better?" she asked, still massaging.
He had not been kidding about spending time at the gym. His legs were surprisingly well-muscled for a techno-geek. She made a note to learn his schedule and join him when he was at the gym. They could keep each other company while they worked out.
Henry made a noise somewhere between a moan and a whimper and squirmed a bit on the sleeping-bag, perhaps searching for a more comfortable position.
"How's your back feeling?" she asked when she had run out of excuses to continue working on his legs.
It felt kind of nice, bonding with him like this. The warm feeling of making his owwies better reminded her of coming home from chasing down this or that abnormal and then having Mom bandage her up and massage the kinks out of her tired muscles before tucking her into bed with a cup of cocoa. Only, now, she was on the giving rather than receiving end of such nurturing. Which was new, but really nice.
"Little tight, but not painful," he answered. "I think I'll just rest here for a few minutes, then turn in."
She frowned as his voice caught a bit. "Getting a cold, Henry?"
"Nah. It's just chilly out here." He cleared his throat.
She stirred up the fire and added more fuel. "I'll just do your back, then we can get you into your tent."
"Oh, you don't have to do that," he answered, voice a little tense.
He probably thought she was only doing this out of some sense of obligation. Well, she wasn't going to admit that she actually enjoyed taking care of him, but she wanted him to understand that she cared enough to want to do so.
"Don't be silly," she answered, tugging his shirt up to expose his lower back. "I really don't mind doing this for you, Henry. You're tense," she noted as she worked. "Try to relax."
"Your legs feel any better?"
"Fantastic. They don't hurt, but I can still feel everything. It's kind of strange, actually. Oh! Oh, that's nice…"
"Here?" she asked, prodding the kinked muscles next to his L4 until they untwisted themselves.
"Yeah. Thanks," he sighed. "That feels a lot better."
"My pleasure," she answered, watching him relax under her touch. Impulsively, she bent and planted a tender kiss where the knot had been.
"Ash?" Henry squeaked.
What the Hell had she been thinking? Henry must think she was some kind of nut-job, doing something like that completely out of the blue. Especially when he didn't know about her damned childish crush on him. Stupid. Just really, incredibly stupid. Totally unacceptable and over about a half-dozen different lines.
"Yeah, Henry?" she asked 'innocently'.
Game face, Ash, or he's going to know what you're thinking. He does not need to know how you feel. It would make things all kinds of awkward and you know it. Game face!
"Uh… I think you can stop now."
"Not having fun anymore?" she asked, starting to feel playful.
At least, she told herself that it was only playfulness and nothing else that prompted her to slip her hands down the back of his boxers and start massaging his glutes once she was done with his latissimi and obliques.
Henry let out a gasp, staring at her over his shoulder with wide eyes.
"Ash!" he protested.
Over the line again, Ash. Get it together, woman!
Too much adrenaline from the Hunt and the Kill, she realized, making it hard to think straight or rein in her impulses. Okay, now she knew what the problem was, she could keep her eyes open and prevent a possible repeat. Perfectly doable.
She regarded him with a carefully blank expression that had him looking first incredulous, then just embarrassed.
"Come on, Henry, it's not like I've never grabbed your ass before," she tried to reassure him. "That's how teammates bond."
That was her story and she was sticking to it, damn it. She did not need to freak Henry out by over-sharing things like the fact that she enjoyed grabbing his ass and getting hers occasionally smacked by him on him on a level that had nothing at all to do with teamwork.
"Uh, yeah." He cleared his throat, staring at her uneasily. "But that kind of bonding usually involves a couple of layers of fabric between your ass and your teammate's hand."
Ashley blushed. Christ, she was an idiot. Totally over the line with her best fucking friend. He would probably never respect her again after that little stunt. Which, adrenaline-high aside, had seemed like a good idea at the time for reasons she was not even willing to examine too closely.
"Yeah, this isn't even remotely mortifying. I'm sorry, Henry. I was just playing," she said, backing off before she did something stupid. More stupid. "We should both turn in. It's getting late."
"I'm good here."
She sighed and shook her head. "At least get in the sleeping-bag, then."
"Good here," he repeated.
Ashley missed the tension in his voice. All she picked up on was his obstinacy, and there was no way she was tolerating that when Henry was risking pneumonia staying where he was. So she flattened herself out on top of him, helped herself to two handfuls of werewolf ribcage, and attacked where their shared childhood told her Henry was most ticklish, because it was probably the only way she was going to get him to move when he was being that damned stubborn.
Henry squawked; it could have been laughter or a protest. Whichever it was, she found herself on her back, pinned under him, before she knew what was happening. Which extinguished her laughter for a reason that had nothing to do with him moving faster than her or proving stronger. Who knew right now who was faster or stronger? It could have gone either way. She was too shocked to even think of struggling to find out which was superior.
"Henry!" she gasped, acutely aware of the hard heat against her thigh.
She freed one hand from his grasp, but only to cover her own mouth with it instead, shocked. Much as her gut was telling her to struggle, squirming to get loose was definitely out of the question. For a couple of reasons and only one had to do with not turning Henry on any more. Abruptly, she found herself pinned under a man aroused by her touch and struggling didn't even seem like a good idea. Because it was Henry. And the way he was looking at her?
Oh. Dear. God.
Looking mortified, he rolled off her, refusing to look her way as he pulled himself into a sitting position and drew his knees defensively against his chest. She stared at him for a moment, trying to make sense of his reaction to her harmless playing.
He looked humiliated, defensive. Not merely a physical reaction to her insane behavior earlier, then. Otherwise he would only have been embarrassed, not defensive as well. Well, damn it.
That… changed some things.
Oh, God. That changed every fucking thing.
But maybe that wasn't such a horrible thing?
"Henry," she sighed, touching his shoulder.
He twitched away from her, shaking his head and staring into the fire. "Go to bed, Ashley."
"Henry!" she protested. "Don't you dare! How long has this been going on?" she demanded. He actually liked her? How the Hell did that even make sense?
"Does it even matter?"
Heart in her throat, she admitted, "It does to me."
His head shot up. "What?"
"It matters to me. Henry, please. How long?" she begged, not even bothering to keep the hope from her voice.
A miserable shrug. "Couple of years. I swear, it's not what you think! It was never a sick thing. I didn't even notice you were all grown up until you were twenty-one."
She frowned. When puberty had hit, it had hit hard. She had been a complete knockout before her fourteenth birthday rolled around and not really changed that much since.
He sighed, looking embarrassed. "Your birthday party, Ash."
Oh, dear God. "When I got all drunk and fell asleep in your lap like old times?"
Oh, wow. She had been plastered, it was true, but she hadn't meant it to be remotely sexual. She just missed being close to him the way he'd let her when she was a kid. That said, she was a very affection drunk. Not sexual, just affectionate and, sometimes, physical in that affection. It was why she only drank around Henry. He understood that, sometimes, she just needed to be close to another human being.
He inhaled deeply, closing his eyes and nodding. Just once. "It was just a little bit of a shock."
"I'll bet, when the obnoxious teenager you barely tolerate suddenly turns into…" She trailed off, unable to continue.
"Yeah," Henry agreed quietly, also not putting it into words.
Knowing his self-esteem issues, he probably had a bit of a hang-up that he had taken simple affection and suddenly found himself sexualizing it, even if she had been cuddling up to him in his lap at the time.
Did he even know about her teenaged crush? Did it even matter? They were not kids anymore and their relationship had moved beyond the games and teasing of childhood. They had been through Hell and back together, more than once. Risked their lives. Held each other close until they cried themselves to sleep.
She touched his cheek and directed, "Look at me."
"How are you not smacking me across the clearing right now?" he whispered, slowly lifting his eyes to her.
Because every fucking thing is suddenly different.
He had to understand that, needed to know how she felt about him.
"Maybe… maybe this is what I've been waiting for," she admitted, not sure what to say to make herself understood to him. How did you even start to articulate something this huge?
"Come on." She shrugged, suddenly feeling a bit defensive herself. "You honestly think I'm going to give up control like that to just anyone?"
"Oh," he whispered, looking startled.
"I'm not 'saving myself'. It's not some stupid sentimental crap like that. It's just been a trust issue. There are no guys I trust that far. Except for you. The things we've done together, the life-and-death stuff, the fact that you're a werewolf and I let you fight with me." She sighed, shaking her head, fighting tears. Being this honest was terrifying, but he had a right to know how she felt. Especially if he felt the same. "The way you kept my secrets when I was little, not telling Mom how dark my dreams sometimes got? The fact that you knew damned well what I was capable of and you were still comfortable falling asleep with me in your arms. Henry, I don't just have feelings for you. I trust you. With my life. With my heart…"
His head shot around and there was no denying the hope in his expression. Or the love. His masks were falling away, too. He reached up and wiped away her tears. She closed her eyes and let him, taking a moment to compose herself. His hands lingered on her face and that made her feel a lot better about the things she'd just dared to confess.
Both had gone still, only their eyes really moving. They couldn't keep them off of each other, but neither was quite up to managing actual eye-contact either.
She cleared her throat. "No crap-ass sentimental games, no being a person I'm not. But if you want me, as I am, I think we could work something out," she informed him.
Oh, romantic, Ashley…
Typical. She didn't want flowers and moonlight serenades or crap like that, but she hadn't meant to come across sounding so much like her mother, either! Sex should be about more than simple convenience, damn it!
He shook his head, leaning in to plant a tender kiss on her cheek before falling back again. "You want something free of strings," he sighed, giving her a sad smile. "If I could give you that, I would. But I can't…"
She frowned, bemused. "You want strings?"
Guys weren't supposed to want strings! Oh, course, when had Henry ever been typical? Wow. Henry wanted strings. And he wanted them with her…
Don't cry, Ash. Don't you dare be that weak!
He shook his head, leaning towards her but then quickly leaning back again, distancing himself. Or maybe just trying to protect himself.
"No, but I kind of would need them where you're concerned. I… I couldn't pretend things weren't different."
She rubbed the back of her neck. 'Different' was putting it mildly. Things would change and not just between the two of them.
"My mom would have some things to say. About us."
"Everyone would," he agreed quietly. "It's probably not worth risking. If you've ever considered it, forgetit. That's what I try to do."
She stared at him, heart in her throat. She really wasn't sure how many more of these revelations she was going to be able to take before she died of sheer joy.
"You've thought about it before? About us?"
He covered his face with both hands, not answering. Ashley rocked forward on her knees, pressing her lips to the place where Henry's neck met his shoulder. She felt him shudder and lean away but persisted, holding his upper arm tightly in both hands as she tenderly kissed him again.
Kissing Henry felt good on many levels. She was surprised by that. She had always assumed that this kind of thing was just physical for people. But it warmed her heart, too. Made her feel closer to him. Reminded her of everything they had shared over the years.
The good times, yes: the games of tag in the garden, the grappling in the gym, the shooting range, post-mission celebrations. But bad times, too. All the times he just held her in his arms right after finding out that her father was Jack the bloody Ripper: the only time she was at anything resembling peace, the only time she didn't feel like an abomination. The only time she felt right. The only person who could make her feel that way. Right here, trembling under her lips.
"Stop it, Ash," he moaned, a plea.
"I'm not teasing. This is what we both want," she breathed against his heated skin. Had she actually considered it cold out? She was warm enough now… "Henry, there's no one here to see or to judge. It's just us, Henry, you and me."
You're actually advocating this insanity?
He was a werewolf; she was a monster-hunter, a monster-slayer! You simply did not screw coworkers in a line of work where a moment's distraction could get everyone killed! They had been raised by the same goddamned woman and no one was ever going to let them forget that fact! People were going to judge them, on a lot of different levels. And those judgments were not going to be positive nine times out of ten. They would be perceived as selfish, sick, wrong, perverted, disgusting…
Her mother had been right when she gave her The Talk all those years ago. These hormones screwed with your brain, with your ability to think, to reason. But, for once, that didn't seem to matter nearly as much as the fact that she was sitting here discussing these things with the one guy she had loved and admired her whole life. How could that be anything but right? Who gave a shit what anyone else thought anyways?
"This is wrong," he sighed, echoing her own concerns of a moment ago. "On so many levels. You have to see that."
"No." She shook her head. "Think about all the levels it's right on!"
He stared at her, looking perplexed. Then, "You think?"
"Think about it, Henry. Think about us. Has that, have we, ever been anything but right? Nice? Good?"
One hand came up, very slowly, to cradle her cheek. "Ash…"
She leaned into his hand, smiling. "We'll figure this out. I'd tell you that I get lonely, but that would be a lie. I have never felt lonely with you around. Remember when I was 16 and I forced you to bring me to the senior Prom so I wouldn't have to go alone?"
"I thought I was going to die of embarrassment that night," he chuckled, shaking his head. "That is not what best friends do to each other, Ash. You could have gone alone. Not like you've ever cared what anyone else thinks anyway."
"Maybe I wasn't scared of showing up alone," she suggested.
She could not help but turn a little pink at the memory of how bad her crush on Henry had been by then. That had faded later, but then it had been strong and run deep and sometimes manifested itself in an alarmingly physical way.
"What other motive could you possibly have had? Aside from freaking out your principal by showing up with a guy my age?"
Ashley grinned. "It was pretty awesome when he called Mom," she agreed.
"'Of course I know who's escorting my daughter. And what, pray tell, is wrong with young Henry? I would be happy to have him escort her anywhere,'" he recited, laughing and shaking his head.
"I had such a terrible crush on you by then," she admitted, hugging him from behind and resting her chin on his shoulder. She had never thought to admit that to anyone, let alone Henry himself.
He turned his head, staring at her in shock. "Really?" He shook his head. "I never got anything like that from you, Ash. I think you're retconning here."
She scoffed. "Yeah, you're right. I'm retconning. The true purpose of me hanging around your lab every minute you were in it and pestering you with questions about what you were working on was to gain a solid grounding in computing and electronics. Which is why I still can't set the clock on the microwave."
His eyes widened and he stared at her in completely disbelief, looking like he didn't know whether to be incredulous or flattered. "That entire time? You didn't care about my work? That was just to have an excuse to spend time with me?"
"Yes, Henry." She nodded. "Shameless, I know, but true. I sprouted hormones one day, realized my foster-brother--"
"Okay, could you not call me that? Like ever again? Because this is weird enough already."
"Consider the term expunged from my vocabulary," she answered since he really did have a point. "So, anyway, overnight my hormones shift into overdrive and I realize that my best friend isn't just sweet, kind, funny, and brilliant. He's also kinda hot. And, as I got older and more emotionally mature, I realized that words like 'sweet' and 'brilliant' didn't really cut it anymore. Because you were more than all those things."
"Ash," he whispered, touching her cheek. He was crying, but since he chose to ignore the fact, she ignored it as well.
To cheer him up, she added, "And all the other girls at school were so jealous when I happened to mention that, no, we weren't related or anything, you were just my mom's troubleshooter."
"Oh, God," he laughed, shaking his head. "What did you tell them my 'troubleshooting' entailed, exactly?"
She grinned. "I might have exaggerated your martial arts prowess and dropped the names of a couple of arms dealers and other black-market types you were known to have dealings with."
"So not just the older guy but the dangerous older guy?" He shook his head.
She colored slightly. "I'd been there for less than a year, fresh out of home-schooling, no friends outside the Sanctuary. I just wanted to seem cool."
"You really think anything about our upbringing wasn't cool?"
"Good point," she admitted, turning her head to plant a kiss on his jaw. She smiled slightly at the way his muscles rippled under her lips. "But I could hardly tell the other girls that what made you the height of awesome was the fact that you were also a werewolf."
"Would have looked interesting on those college apps you never got around to filling out. 'Social skills: helping my best friend keep his inner wolf at bay.'"
She smiled and shook her head. "I still can't believe Mom was actually going to make me go to college. Can you imagine the first time a dorm-mate snuck up on me in the shower or something?"
"Yeah," he answered, nodding. "Be kinda hot with the wet, naked wrestling and things…"
Okay, there was the smart-ass she knew and loved again. He was back in his comfort-zone again. Which was good. But she could hardly let him get away with saying that, either. She poked him in the ribs, hard.
"Ow!" he laughed. "I'm just saying! We could have funded the Sanctuary for years with the video-rights to that show alone. 'Monster Hunters Gone Wild'."
Ashley sniggered but poked him again to remind him who was in charge. Poking gave way to tickling, which deteriorated into wrestling in short order. This time, Ashley made sure to get the upper hand.
When she had him on the ground, her legs pinning his, his arms trapped against the sleeping-bag by her knees, she folded her arms over her chest and smirked down at him.
"Whatever am I going to do with you?" she mused.
She was unprepared for his response. His face went pale and the pulse on his throat started to jackrabbit.
"Henry?" She climbed off him and offered him a hand to sit up again, a little hurt by his blind panic. She was hard-core at times, but there was more to her than the violence. She had always assumed Henry, of all people, understood that. "You know I wouldn't really do anything to you."
"I know. It's not that. It's just…"
She sighed. "The first time thing is awkward. I get that. But it's no big deal. We've been friends for so long; we'll figure this one out, too."
"It's not that. I mean, yeah, the idea of being with you is all kinds of terrifying, with you being so intense and physical and just badass, but…"
"Henry." She shook her head. "I wouldn't hurt you. You have to know that?"
"Of course you wouldn't. 'Cause you're in control, every second of every day. But I'm not. So what if something happens? I mean…"
"You're scared of wolfing out on me?" she realized, staring at him. "Henry, that is not going to happen. It's just a survival-instinct. It's got nothing to do with sex."
"I don't know that for sure. And I'm not sure we should risk it."
"Henry, you've had sex before and not transformed. Why should I be any different?"
"Uh, yeah. About that…" He cleared his throat and leaned forward to stir up the fire.
She colored, eyes widening. "Oh. I'm sorry. I just assumed…"
"I have about as much of a social life as you do. Probably less of one since you started handling the arms deals."
She sighed. "See, this isn't good. I was kind of counting on your experience to keep me from screwing this up too bad."
"I can't see you screwing anything up." He shook his head. "You do realize that we're suddenly going 'should we do this' less and going 'when we do this' more?"
"Hey, I have been onboard with this idea since the beginning," she answered, shrugging. She moved to kneel behind him, wrapping her arms around him and resting her chin on his shoulder again. She was terrified but, for once, that was okay. Because Henry had always taken care of her and he always would. "I mean, it's pretty intimidating, but I can't think of a guy I'd rather be doing this with. No, scratch that. There's no other guy I'd ever consider doing this with, period."
He smiled back at her, reaching up to tuck her hair behind her ears.
She forced herself to smile back because she didn't want him to know that there was a part of her that wanted to flee into the night right now. He obviously wasn't smelling fear on her, so that part couldn't be that big or important anyway. She wanted this more than she had words for, which was all that mattered. This was Henry. Being with him made sense in a way that had nothing to do with logic and everything to do with the fact that he was the only human being who had ever managed to unfreeze her heart.
"I'd say you were beautiful in the firelight, but I can't since you're beautiful no matter what."
She smiled and lifted her hand to his cheek, her stomach giving a pleasant swoop at the rough feel of his stubble against her fingertips. Henry caught her hand and turned it over, lightly running one fingertip over the scars and calluses that covered her palm and fingers, caressing her. She squirmed slightly; it tickled. He grinned up at her and planted a tender kiss on the callus on her trigger-finger, stopping and closing his eyes and just drawing in a deep breath.
"Are you sniffing me?" she laughed.
He shrugged, giving her a sheepish look. "Sorry, but you smell good."
"Because of the werewolf thing?"
"Probably. I can't be around a person and not know how they smell. Everyone smells different: you, your mom, Will, the Big Guy…"
"Is it hard? I mean, getting hit with all that all the time?"
"Sometimes." He shrugged. "But Will says the sense of smell is very strongly tied to emotion and memory, so I keep a good memory on tap for each of you. That way I don't have to think about all the different smells that kinda gang up and overwhelm your real scent. If that makes sense."
"Um, I'm not really sure."
She shook her head apologetically. She wanted to get it. Henry had never shared anything about his abnormality beyond the vaguest of generalities. She knew it really troubled him at times, but she had never had any luck getting him to open up about it at all. One more thing that had changed tonight. She smiled encouragingly, nodding for him to continue.
He frowned thoughtfully. "Like, uh, well you. It's almost spicy, the way you really smell, but there's always the smell of gun-oil and sometimes burnt powder and that rosewater you use on your face and your shampoo and body-wash and whatever you've eaten today. Just all kinds of different things. And today you smell like pine-needles, too, from tromping through the forest. Two or three different kinds, actually, but I'm not sure what tree any of them come from, just that they're all different."
"And you can still smell me under all that?"
"You're kind of distinctive."
An uncertain smile. "Is that a good thing?"
"It's not good or bad. It just is." He shrugged, then broke into a smile that made her heart melt. "But I definitely like the way it makes me feel."
"You said you have a memory for each of us? Dare I ask?"
He shook his head, and even in the firelight she could see the color creeping up his cheeks. "You don't want to know. It would totally kill the mood."
"Oh, God, is it some embarrassing thing from my awkward teenager phase?" she laughed.
"Uh, not exactly. Still…"
"Tell me," she urged. "I want to know what memory of me makes you feel so good you get that smile just thinking about it."
"When you were three days old, Magnus caught me watching you sleep. I thought she was going to be furious because I wasn't supposed to be alone with you. But she made me sit down and then she picked you up and she put you in my arms and told me I had a family now and I just got hit with the smell of you and of her and of us, all together like that and, for the first time in my life, I felt like I actually belonged somewhere."
She stared at him, tightening her hold on the werewolf. "I don't know whether that's sweet or sad."
"My mother was pack Omega," he explained, the first time Ashley could remember him ever having volunteered information about his life before the Sanctuary. "She wasn't supposed to get pregnant, let alone do it out of season. We were the lowest of the low. I'm not sure it's fair to say we were mistreated, exactly, but we were never really accepted or made to feel like anything but nuisances and burdens." He looked up at her, that melting smile back. "But holding you made all that go away."
Her heart lodged in her throat and she swallowed hard before whispering, "Henry, if I hadn't already planned on letting you score with me tonight, that right there would have done it."
He shook his head. "That's not why I told you that."
"I know. And that's why it worked."
Moving to kneel next to him, she nuzzled the side of his face until he consented to turn his head, then kissed him tenderly. Henry turned and his arms came up to embrace her, slowly and, she thought, cautiously, as if he were still worried about her reaction. She started to wrap her arms around him, then changed her mind and held his face in both hands instead.
This whole thing was going to take a lot of getting used to.
She suspected that her hands were supposed to be busying themselves a bit south of his face, but she wanted to take her time, too. This was no throw-away. She would rather get it wrong by being too slow or too gentle than by going too fast or being too forceful and spooking a man who was high-strung at the best of times.
She pulled her lips away from his, insanely gratified by the look of loss on his face when she did so.
"I want to get this right, okay? I need you to tell me what Henry Foss needs."
"I don't really know," he admitted, looking a little embarrassed. "Only that it involves Ashley Magnus."
"Then just tell me what feels right to you," she murmured, bringing her lips to his again.
He broke the kiss long enough to press his lips to the hollow of her throat and breathe her name, which sent chills down her spine and triggered a pleasant jolt just a little below that. She was not so inexperienced that the sensation was foreign. Even if she did only ever feel it in the privacy of her own shower…
She pulled away long enough to strip off her coat and shirt, a Happy Bunny hoodie with a rude slogan on it. The night air was cold, so she gratefully leaned closer to Henry as she fumbled with her bra. His body-temperature had always been a little higher than average, thankfully, because it was way too cold for this.
Henry obviously knew it, too. He gathered her into his lap, drawing her against his chest and wrapping his arms around her, rubbing her back briskly.
"Maybe this should wait until we get back to the Sanctuary?" he suggested. "Or at least a hotel room on the way home? Somewhere warm?"
She shook her head. "If I have time to think about this, I could get scared and back out and I absolutely don't want that to happen."
"If you're worried about what's going to happen if we stop and scrutinize this…" he began, picking up the hoodie and draping it over her bare back.
She shook her head. "This is right for us, Henry. I know that in my heart. You do, too."
"We're both going to catch pneumonia if this goes any farther, Ash."
"My tent's tiny. Two bodies and a pair of sleeping bags in there, we'll be warm enough. Not much room to maneuver, but I think we can manage."
Henry stared thoughtfully at the tent. It was small, technically a two-man, unless you happened to sleep as restlessly as Ashley always had, in which case you usually managed to collapse the damned thing on yourself by morning with your flailing. He looked at the tent, looked at her. She could see him considering the likelihood of the tent coming down on them.
Finally, he gave a bemused smile and shrugged. "After you, milady."
Grinning, she hugged the sweatshirt to her chest and hurried into the tent. It was warmer inside simply because of the lack of wind. Once Henry stripped off his coat and joined her, his body heat made it comfortably warm before anything had even started to happen.
"Uh, so, how do we want to go about this?" Henry asked as he zipped up the entrance.
"Uh…" Good question. Trust Henry to be practical. "I'm not really… What did you have in mind?"
He turned to face her slowly, his expression cautious and a little unsure. "I, uh, thought maybe we could start with a little, you know…" He cleared his throat. "Exploration?"
She smiled nervously and nodded. "Sounds…" The thought of Henry 'exploring' had her stomach doing weird back-flips and her heart fluttering. "Sounds good."
Drawing a deep breath, she pulled off her bra and laid it aside. Oh, God. She was about to let a werewolf have his way with her! Little surreal, even if he was her best friend.
She had always worked hard to cultivate the whole Virgin Huntress vibe and now it was about to go out the window. Part of her wanted to hang on to that image and the security it provided. She had never felt this vulnerable in her life and that included being kidnapped and tied to a chair by her deranged serial-killer of a father.
Henry seemed to recognize that his prey was ready to bolt. He extended his arms to her very slowly and whispered, "Come here, Ash. Come home."
Home? Either he knew her heart way too well, or he was a secret romance novel junkie. Or both. No way was that random and off the top of his head. On the other hand, he had admitted to thinking about them in the past, so maybe he actually had come up with it with a scenario like this in mind. In which case, he was either a manipulative bastard or he understood exactly how freaked out she was by this and wanted to remind her of the thing that had always made their relationship different and special. She kind of liked that last theory, so that was the one she went with.
She slid across the tent, letting him draw her into a tender embrace and cradle her against his chest. Just holding her close. No groping, no wandering hands. Just a hug between friends, an expression of love and comfort and the friendship they shared. It really didfeel like going home.
He smiled down at her, his expression loving and tender and infinitely understanding. "Let's be clear on something. I'm not asking you to give up anything right now, especially not the power that makes you so damned amazing in the first place."
She stared at him. Oh, thank God, he actually understood! "Thank you, Henry…"
"Like I'm going to rob you of part of what makes youyou?" He shook his head. "You said it yourself, Ash. No games. Just us, exactly as we really are. I didn't fall in love with some delusion of who you are. I fell for Ashley fricking Magnus and I know that means that any relationship we have is going to be on her terms, not mine. And I'm good with that."
She smiled, parting her lips slightly as he leaned in for a kiss.
Not that she had much experience, but it was a good kiss, more tender and exploratory than passionate and territorial. Very Henry: just kind of gathering data and putting it together to figure out the score. An incursion here, an extrapolation there, an experiment there, all slowly building towards a larger picture. It was a nice picture, too. A little on the clumsy side because neither of them were quite sure where their tongues belonged or how much constituted too much, but still quite nice.
When Henry's hand came up and tangled in her hair, she had to resist the urge to free herself by knocking him across the tent. Which was ridiculous because you couldn't give a guy permission to bed you and then forbid him from holding you while he did it. This was not like out in the clearing when it still could have come to nothing. This was for real, for keeps. It changed everything and, bad as she wanted this, that fact was petrifying.
The truth was that, no matter what Henry said, she was going to have to relinquish some measure of control to get through this. And, for the most part, she was fine with that. The alternative was tying him down and the truth was that any restraint sturdy enough to actually hold Henry down effectively was not going to do anything at all for his enjoyment of the process. Granted, it would also keep her safe if he wolfed out. But, no. In spite of her need to be in control of things in her life, that particular kink had never really appealed.
Henry broke the kiss and nuzzled the side of her face. "What you thinking about?"
"Bondage," she murmured, taking the opportunity to get in a little nuzzling of her own. Henry stiffened at her answer, which sent her into a rather ill-timed giggle fit. "Never mind," she suggested, peeling him out of his shirt. It was not fair for her to be the only one with cold nipples.
He smiled at her. "Well, I never claimed to understand how your mind works. That something you'd be interested in trying?"
He actually looked a little intrigued by the idea, so she shrugged instead of saying that only freaks got off on that kind of thing.
"You know," she told him, "if we don't get in gear with this 'exploring', we're going to be here all night and most of next week."
He gave her a sheepish grin, eyes drifting to her chest. "Is it okay, if I, uh…" He gestured vaguely.
She smiled, coloring more with anticipation than embarrassment. "Considering that you're in my tent and we both have our shirts off and I haven't killed you yet, I think we can safely assume you have permission to touch my breasts, Henry."
"At least if I step out of line I know I'll die happy," he answered, drawing her into another kiss.
This time, her mouth was just his first staging-point in a much wider assault. After sharing a deeper, much less awkward kiss, he nuzzled and nibbled his way up her cheek to her left ear, then down her throat, taking a moment to swirl his tongue around the hollow with a little sigh of contentment before heading farther south yet.
Ashley's eyes widened when she felt his teeth close around her nipple, but he held it very gently, lightly flicking his tongue across the already-hardened tissue. She let out a gasp and grabbed on to his shoulder to keep from falling over backwards as the blood abruptly evacuated her head. Henry tilted his head slightly to look up at her. Whether he merely forgot to stop teasing her or whether he knew exactly what he was doing to her was debatable and she was really beyond caring.
"I need to lay down before I fall down," she explained breathlessly.
Henry straightened, wrapping his arms around her and drawing her so close that their lips brushed when he asked, "Are you okay? Am I going too fast?"
She shook her head. "Nothing I haven't done to myself in the shower. It's just that, there, I have a wall to lean against if I need it."
She smiled and rested her hand against his chest, smile widening as his curls snagged against callused fingertips.
"Feeling better?" Henry asked gently after a minute, tucking her hair behind her ears.
She nodded and patted his chest, one finger brushing against his nipple-ring and drawing a pleasant shudder from him.
"Did it hurt getting these?" she asked, idly fingering one. Which, judging from the look on Henry's face, was something she could keep doing all night.
"Screamed like a girl," he answered, making a face expressive of pain and embarrassment. Well, she assumed that was the face he was going for. The look apparently got lost some place between his brain and his face as Ashley continued toying with the rings. Henry looked like he was in heaven. Which was pretty damned gratifying. "But, what the hell, right?" he asked after a moment. "I knew they'd come in handy some day."
"Like now?" she asked, grinning.
He smiled in response, but looked troubled.
"Hey, what is it?"
"This. I'm sorry. There should be champagne and rose petals on the sheets or, at least, you know, actual sheets. This isn't how I wanted it to be."
"But we agreed not to act like people we're not," she reminded him. "Neither of us is exactly a champagne or rose petal person." She shook her head. "A couple longnecks and UFC reruns is more our style."
He grinned at that characterization.
"Besides, I honestly figured that if you ever looked up from your computers long enough to actually see me that it was going to happen on the floor of your lab. You really think I'm going to complain about a tent in the middle of some of the most beautiful country on God's Earth?"
"You actually thought something might happen in my lab?" he asked, gaping at her.
"Okay, so maybe it was more of a fantasy than anything." She shrugged, embarrassed. It was a pretty silly fantasy when you got right down to it. Henry's lab never had that much free floor-space.
"Yeah, well, considering that my lab doesn't have doors, that's the kind of fantasy that could end with your mom going all Bob Barker on me."
"Dude, mentioning Mom and castration in the same sentence is not helping the mood here."
"Yeah, sorry about that. Just… not feeling the whole sex in the lab thing."
"But it's your natural habitat!" she giggled.
Henry, of course, opted for the mature response to her teasing. He stuck his tongue out at her. Ashley stuck out her own tongue and lightly poked the tip of his with that.
"That's gross, Ash," he told her.
"How is it any grosser than the way we were just kissing? Or, for that matter, the other stuff you were just doing with your tongue?"
Henry considered this for a moment, then broke into a wide grin. "You make a valid point which I concede with greatest humility."
"You're only saying that because you don't want me kicking you out of the tent."
"True, 'cause if you did kick me out right now, I'd have to find the nearest river and go for a nice long swim to cool down."
"You'd freeze to death. Always assuming you didn't get sucked under the ice and drown first."
"Well, I know you don't want that on your conscience, so you'd better not go kicking me out, huh?"
"Can't argue with logic like that," she answered, grinning at him. "Where were we?"
"If you really don't remember, I may need to work on my technique."
"Practice makes perfect," she pointed out. Abruptly curious, she asked, "What do I taste like to you?"
He shrugged. "Little salty, kind of earthy. For some reason, there's an almost coconutty underpinning." He shook his head. "Not sure where that last one comes from, exactly, but it's very nice."
"Huh." She took his hand in both of hers, lifting it to her face and lightly running her tongue over the back of it.
"Anything?" Henry asked, looking curious.
"Mmm, just salt." She turned his hand over and kissed his wrist, taking another, longer taste. She grinned. "Hey, you're actually kind of sweet."
"Literally? Cool." He smiled. Then he threw back his head and laughed.
"What?" Ashley asked, grinning curiously.
"Sorry." He shook his head. "Not too long ago, you were wearing a red hoodie. Now you and the big bad wolf are tasting each other."
Ashley laughed as well, leaning into him as she did. "Does this mean you're going to eat me, Henry Foss?" she breathed in his ear.
"Uh, if that's what you're into."
"You know, actually, if you don't mind, I think, this once at least, I'd rather see your face."
"Sure, that's fine, too," he agreed quickly. "You're right about wanting to see my face. You should really be able to see my eyes at all times."
Her thinking exactly, although she would not tell Henry any such thing. "Would you stop worrying about wolfing out? I promise, if you do, I'll kick you out of the tent. I just don't see it happening, Henry. Not between us."
"Sure." He cleared his throat. "Did you want to be on top, or…"
"Don't know. Let's just let that figure itself out," she suggested. "We don't have to map out every step."
"Uh, you never go into a situation without having a plan and at least three contingencies."
"Don't know. Tonight I just feel like letting things take care of themselves. If you're comfortable with that?"
A shy, anxious smile and a little nod. "Spontaneity is good. But I still feel like there should be champagne and poetry."
Ashley sighed and pulled away from him, unzipping the tent-flap.
"What are you doing?" he asked. "Ashley, it's freezing out there!"
A point which was driven home when she emerged from the tent with bare and still slightly damp nipples. She gasped and grimaced, but did not make any sound louder than that for fear of upsetting him. Biting her lower lip against a cold so intense it was painful, she hurried to her pack and dug through it quickly, telling herself that, the sooner she found what she was looking for, the sooner she could go back to Henry and get warm again. If it was even possible to get warm at all after going out half-naked in this weather. Not her wisest move to date.
Clothes were scattered around the clearing by the time she found what she was looking for, and she scuttled back into the tent, zipping it hastily. She crawled gratefully back into Henry's lap, clutching the bottle.
"Jack Daniels isn't champagne," she admitted, nestling into his chest. "But it'll give us a better buzz. Now, you can recite your goddamned poetry while you help me warm up again."
She closed her eyes and leaned into his chest, reveling in his warmth. Henry's hands instantly came up and started to describe large, slow circles over her back. She closed her eyes and relaxed into him, savoring his touch and the warmth it brought, not just physical but emotional. She had not felt this loved in years. The bottle slid from her hand and clunked on the ground as she sighed and rested her chin on his shoulder.
"Better?" Henry whispered, still stroking his hands over her back.
"Much," she agreed. "You were going to hit me with poetry. But it'd better not be too sappy."
"Uh, okay." He hesitated for a moment, looking bemused that she was actually going to allow any poetry at all. When he finally spoke, it was not exactly Shakespeare. "You are all the woman I need and, baby, you know it. You can make this beggar a king, a clown, or a poet."
She giggled into his shoulder. "You did not just quote me a song from the sixties?"
He shrugged. "I think it fits. Want me to try again?"
She smiled and shook her head, retrieving the bottle and taking a swig before holding it to his mouth. He took a small sip, then pushed the bottle aside with one hand, the other still rubbing her back.
"I want to be in control. I want to know what's going on. I want to remember."
"You think this is going to be forgettable?" she countered, smiling and kissing him.
He sighed softly and kissed her in return, his hands clutching gently at her bare back. His hands were soft and gentle against her chilled skin. And the very fact of his presence was warming and, most of all, comforting. Henry. Her Henry…
She pulled out of the kiss long enough to direct, "Take your shorts off."
"Huh?" He looked alarmed at the prospect. It was almost amusing.
"Your boxers. They're in my way. I'd like them gone now."
"Can hardly take them off when you're in my lap," he pointed out.
She reached back and disengaged his hands from her back before sliding off.
"Go on. Do it."
He cleared his throat nervously, muttered something about the cold, and shimmied out of his boxers. And if that was how he looked in the cold…
Ashley let out a low breath and shimmied back into his lap.
"Hi," he greeted her breathlessly.
She smiled in answer, reaching downwards. Her eyes widened when her brain caught up with her hand. Just looking at him, she hadn't really given it any thought but now that she was actually touching him as well, she realized that he was different from the naked guys she'd seen in the past.
"You aren't cut?"
He shifted slightly. "Is that a problem?"
"Uh, you know, the things I've found online, none of them have really mentioned how to… I mean… I don't know what to do differently." She cleared her throat nervously and stared at him expectantly.
"I'm not even sure there is a difference," he answered, shrugging. "I'm told I should be a little more sensitive, but I don't really see that being an issue. Seriously, I'm ready to, uh… you know… finish just thinking about what we're going to do. I don't see how a few extra nerve-endings could change anything."
She smiled at that admission, a little reassured that he was as nervous and as turned on as she was. Which would also explain why he was fidgeting even more than usual. And being really, really chatty instead of getting to the damned point already and just doing what they had agreed to. Not that she hadn't been talking more than usual, too.
She lightly fingered his erection, smiling as his head fell back and his eyelids fluttered. He swallowed hard, breathing in short, shallow half-grunts.
"Is that good?"
A moan and a nod. She gently pulled back his foreskin, smiling with delight as he moaned and fell completely backwards onto the sleeping-bag.
Okay, note to self, Ash, delivering a hand-job gives a woman a remarkable sense of power and control.
Henry reacted ever time she so much as considered moving her hand. Whether she was teasing his head or stroking the length of him, he was a willing recipient of her attention. And an eager one.
She stopped at his plea, not because she particularly wanted to leave off. It was damned gratifying being able to do these things to another human being, especially when that human being was Henry Foss. But she wanted him with her at the end, too. She broke off and bent to kiss him, letting her hands slide up his chest rather than busying themselves anywhere lower.
"You still with me?" she wanted to know.
"I, uh… I think so…" he panted.
"This is kind of hot. If you don't mind, I think I'd like to be up top."
"Whatever you want," he agreed, not opening his eyes.
Ashley captured his mouth in a kiss, waiting for him to actually return it before she shimmied out of her own jeans. Unfortunately, Henry opened his eyes at some point during that process.
And started to giggle hysterically…
"What?" she demanded, abruptly feeling less turned on than defensive.
"Hello Kitty!" he gasped, pointing at her underwear.
She colored, wondering what in God's name had prompted her to chose those particular underwear on this particular day. Hello Kitty, but not just Hello Kitty. Hello Kitty, as depicted on a thong, dressed as the Statue of Liberty.
"Stop it!" she laughed, swatting at him. She knew what had him laughing and prayed that he would not actually vocalize it. No such luck.
"Remember when you were a kid?"
"Stop it!" she repeated, not particularly wanting to remember.
But she couldn't stop laughing either, mostly because she was so relieved that Henry was this comfortable with her again. Nervous or not, they were back in that place where they could just be themselves again. And that was beautiful and comforting and all kinds of reassuring and hopeful. This wasn't going to change things between them.
They were going to be all right.
Henry, of course, did not stop when ordered to. This was the most playful she had seen him in years. Which was actually kind of hot in its own right. Because a playful Henry was a Henry who was willing to take chances and push boundaries. It might not translate into his lovemaking right away, but it would in time. Which she looked forward to. A lot.
"You refused to sleep alone until Hello Kitty was in the SHU where she so obviously belonged!" he howled.
She blushed at the memory. She had done that. And, thinking about it now, Hello Kitty was kind of freaky with that oversized head and those dead eyes… She made a mental note to burn the thong in the morning. Seeing the look on her face, Henry just laughed harder.
"Stop it, Henry!" she laughed, eyes widening as she realized all that vibration was having a very nice effect on her physical state. She guessed that meant the brain really did qualify as a sex-organ. "You suck!" she chortled, enjoying the little jolts of pleasure that came with it.
"No I don't. Remember, you told me you didn't want me to do that tonight."
Another swat, but it was playful and Henry obviously knew it because he caught her arm when she swung and used it to draw her close.
"Kiss me," he directed, grinning up at her.
"You're such an ass you don't deserve it," she told him, but she kissed him anyway, a deep and warm gesture that dispelled the remaining chill in her. Sighing softly, she lowered herself onto his reclining form, resting her chin on his chest and enjoying the feel of his legs against her side and his arousal against her stomach.
"I had to take mine off, but you get to keep yours? How is that fair?" Henry wanted to know.
"Do you want fair or do you want pleasant?" she countered, grinning.
But she squirmed out of her underwear all the same, smiling down at him like this was just another game of paintball or laser-tag that she had proven victorious in. And, as always, her conquered foe grinned right back up at her, unafraid.
She smiled back, sliding up his body to kiss him tenderly. "This is perfect."
"Yes," he breathed against her mouth. "So right, Ash…"
She smiled and breathed in his ear, "Are you ready, Henry?"
"No, but don't let that stop you. I'm honestly not sure how much longer I'm going to be able to hold out."
So she smiled and lowered herself onto him, wincing at the discomfort when she pushed too far too fast and so officially lost her virginity. Henry let out a hiss of his own, arching his back to lose himself in her.
"You okay?" she grunted, shifting to find a more comfortable position.
"I think so," he panted back.
"Good," she answered, finally find a position that was first just comfortable and then something else considerably nicer than that. "Aw, hell…"
"You still with me, Ash?" he asked, touching her cheek and watching her uncertainly.
"Make love to me," she directed. "Please."
"For that I would kind of need to be on top," he pointed out.
Ashley considered him for a moment, chest heaving, various other parts of her body throbbing. Perfectly aware of who and what was inside her. She was having sex with a werewolf! And, strangely, she could not bring herself to find that fact remotely disturbing. Not when the werewolf in question was Henry.
"I can be on my back," she agreed in a series of panted breaths. "But I need to see your eyes, okay?"
Let him take that how he wanted. She needed to see what was going on in his heart during this. And she wanted him to see what was going on in hers.
"Yes," he confirmed and, in a wrestling-move he had stolen from her, she suddenly found herself on her back with Henry looming over her. Staring her in the eyes and not moving a millimeter. Always a good student, he had pulled off the flip so flawlessly that he was still inside of her.
"Gentle," she ordered, reaching up to cradle his face in her hands. He was so beautiful…
"Yeah, if that's what you want," he panted, nodding frantically.
And then he was moving and doing things to her, his right hand as active as every other part of his body until Ashley was crying out like a complete wanton. Very Victorian to consider herself so just for enjoying sex, but there it was. For the first time in her life, she was giving herself over solely to physical pleasure, sacrificing anything even resembling control, and generally throwing common sense out the window. And she found herself quite enjoying the experience.
She should have found herself panicking but, in Henry's arms, she could not really bring herself to do anything other than enjoy. He was staring at her with as much wonder as passion, like he wasn't entirely sure what was going on or why.
She could kind of relate. This was not how she had expected to spend her evening and, while she had fantasized about him enough in the past, she had never honestly expected anything to come of it. Werewolf! Common sense dictated not getting unduly physical with those. Hell, her complete trust in his wolf-form aside, she had always considered that she was pushing it when they went at it on the sparring mat.
Which was another thing. She had never expected to find something in her life that left her feeling higher than combat. The joy of the hunt, the pleasure of clashing with a skilled opponent, the explosive rush at the moment of victory. None of that meant a thing compared to the thrill of two bodies moving together for a common purpose instead of in opposition.
She bit her tongue hard enough to draw blood because that was the only way to avoid making an ass out of herself with the L-word. Henry froze and stared down at her breathlessly, expression alarmed.
She shook her head and managed to force out, "Do not stop."
A shaky nod and he resumed his slow thrusts, face twisting in what looked like pain and concentration as well as pleasure. She stared. It was his first time and he was holding back. For her, because she had asked.
"Fast," she directed. "Fast as you need."
He shook his head. "No, Ash…"
"Do it before you hurt yourself!" she ordered because he had to think about himself before he pulled something.
His expression turned grateful, then just determined. Ashley braced herself, but there was no need. The increase in speed and force felt wonderful! Every inch of her body was on fire as skin rubbed against skin and fingertips caressed sensitive tissue. In pretty short order, there was a great deal of mutual groping, teasing, thrusting, and enough noise that every living creature in a five-mile radius probably knew what they were doing.
For a second, she thought Henry was having a seizure, then she was overwhelmed by her own wave of pleasure. She let out a howl, not even sure which emotion prompted the cry. There were so damned many of the things. Then every muscle in her body was twitching at once; she had no control over her own movements, which was just terrifying. It felt amazing, but it was scary as hell, too. She clung to Henry as it washed over her, needing the comfort.
And then it was just gone, and there was nothing but tingling skin and a slow, pleasant burn deep within.
Henry was no longer on top of her. At some point while she was still lost in the pleasure, he had climbed off of her and was now crouched next to her on all fours, whimpering and gasping for air.
"Are you okay?" she asked, touching his shoulder.
Golden eyes suddenly looked up at her. She froze, waiting for it to pass. She was not afraid; she simply did not want to agitate or frighten him. Then his eyes were that pale greenish-blue again. He closed them, turning his head away, his expression mortified.
"Damn, that must have taken a lot of self-control. Thank you, Henry." She pressed her lips to his cheek and wrapped her arms around him. "Now come lie down."
"Aren't you afraid I'm going to--"
"Of course I'm not." She shook her head. "It's still you, even when you're the wolf, too. Ever since I was a baby, I have known that I have nothing to fear in the arms of Henry Foss. Now come lie down," she repeated.
Smiling a little shyly, Henry joined her in the sleeping bag, wrapping his arms around her and drawing her against his chest.
"Did I do okay?" he asked hopefully.
She laughed. "Which part of 'thank you' were you unclear on, dumb ass?"
"Come here," she directed, capturing his face in her hands and kissing him soundly. "You're mine now, Foss. I will never let you go and you will find it damned hard to escape from me."
"Why would I want to do that?" he asked, tracing the line of her cheek with one fingertip.
She trembled slightly.
"Cold?" he asked.
"No, you're just turning me on a little."
"Only a little? Well, that doesn't work." His hand left her face and found its way between her legs again.
She gasped. "Whoa!"
"That's one word for it," she agreed with a shaky laugh. "But you don't have to stop, either."
"Good, because I want to get acquainted with every nerve-ending in your body, find out what they all like."
"Oh, God, is this going to be one of your 'practice until I get it right even if it means going three days without sleep' things?"
"Could turn out to be," he admitted with a slightly apologetic and very embarrassed grin.
Oh, she was going to be sore for a while…
Not that she was complaining. "Back and forth, Henry, not up and down," she directed breathlessly.
"What, like this?"
She moaned and buried her face in his chest, nodding. Henry chuckled into her hair and kept stroking her the way she liked until she grabbed his wrist.
"I'm not complaining, but I need you to stop for a second," she panted, struggling to bring herself back down from the place he had almost taken her again. Which was not fun but needed to be done.
"Too much?" he asked.
"No, I just need to be able to think for a second."
"Little late to stop and reconsider, Ash. Do you regret what happened?"
She cringed at the pain in his voice. "What happened was a good thing, Henry. It was the right thing for both of us. Everyone needs someone to love and to love them, even us. But how are we going to explain that to the others?"
"You want to keep it a secret?" Okay, now he just sounded hurt.
"No, Henry. You think with Will sniffing around doing his ultra-perceptive almost-mindreader routine that we'd even be able to? And even if he weren't a factor, it wouldn't feel right to lie to Mom about this."
He sighed. "Your mom is not going to be happy about this."
"Mom loves you like a son," she protested.
"That's the problem. She loves you like a daughter. She's bound to get weird about this."
"Oh, don't you dare get like that. We aren't related and we were never raised to be anything resembling siblings."
"Doesn't mean certain people don't still see us that way."
"I don't care. If other people want to assume we have some sick Flowers in the Attic thing going, that's their problem, not ours."
And she would personally beat anyone who gave Henry shit over their relationship to within about a centimeter of their life. She reached up, cupping his face in her hands and kissed the tip of his nose.
"Mom's not going to have a problem with this," she promised. "She'll want a full list on our reasoning, but she won't have a problem once we explain it to her."
"I hope you're right."
"She adores you," Ashley assured him. "It'll be a relief to her that I picked you instead of one of the guys who supply our weapons."
He laughed, hugging her close. "I hope you're right."
"Mom loves you," Ashley repeated more firmly. "Now get some sleep. We have a long hike tomorrow to get back to the rental, and a long flight after that."
"Not sure I'll be able to sleep with the way you smell right now."
"Uh… How do I smell?"
He cleared his throat, looking away. "Aroused," he whispered, his voice shaking. "And satisfied."
"Does it bother you?"
"Not bother, no." He cleared his throat. "Just, uh, what I said earlier about smell being tied to memory. It's a pretty huge turn-on."
She considered this. "You turned on enough to do anything about it?" she asked, reaching for his hand again.
"I'll do my best, but don't take it personal if I pass out on you. I'm kind of beat after that."
"Then we can pick this 'discussion' back up in the morning." She sighed and snuggled into him, kissing his hand instead of returning it to its new 'correct' location between her legs. She positioned it against the small of her back instead. "It's been too long since I've fallen asleep in your arms."
"Well, if you want, we can start making up for lost time now."
She smiled. "I like that idea. Are you moving into my room or am I moving into yours?"
"Don't know. We'll figure it out when we get home," he promised. "If you're comfortable moving in together this early."
"Of course I am. I can probably even talk Mom into assigning us larger quarters so we have room for both our stuff."
"You think she would?"
"Why wouldn't she? She gave Will that whole suite with the offices off the main room. It's not like we don't have the room. Knock out a few walls if nothing else. We'll figure it out." She yawned. "Oh, sorry. I haven't felt this relaxed in years."
"Me neither," he answered, a smile in his voice. "Good night, Ash."
"Would it be out of line to say that I loved you?"
She kissed his cheek. "I love you, too, Henry. Now get some sleep. I'll still be here in the morning."
"If I didn't believe that, I never would have done this." He gave a happy little sigh. "Sweet dreams, lover."
Lover? Lame and clichéd, much? Especially since it was not even remotely adequate to what she actually had found in him tonight.
She stared up at him, shaking her head. "You ever call me that in public, Henry Foss, and we'll have words."
"Suit yourself, cupcake."
She shook her head. He could be such a dumb-ass at times, which she loved about him out of all proportion to how cute it actually was.
"Don't start, Henry," she warned with a grin, lifting her hand to his face.
"Suit yourself," he answered, closing his eyes and nuzzling her hand.
She nestled into his chest, closing her eyes and smiling as he kissed the top of her head. She kissed his chest, over his heart, and heard a low rumbling growl from deep in his throat. Which made her smile. He hadn't deliberately made wolf-noises at her since she'd been a little girl, scared of the monsters and demanding that he chase them off.
Which she supposed was his way of telling her that, even if everything was different, everything was still the same, too.