Trapper, Keeper - babypandacakes - Call of Duty (Video Games) [Archive of Our Own] (2024)

Chapter 1: Caught

Notes:

Trapper, Keeper - babypandacakes - Call of Duty (Video Games) [Archive of Our Own] (1)

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

A white expanse stretched before you, the thick of the storm only pierced by snow-stained tree trunks. Your feet sunk calf-deep into the snow as you trudged forward, holding your forearm against your brow to shield your eyes from the gale. The chill of night began to seep past your gear, sneaking in through the break between your gloves and the sleeve of your jacket. Inside your boots, snow had fallen in and melted, dampening your socks and soaking into the soles of your boots. You ignored the cold as best you could, pulling your hood more tightly about your face as you peered in each direction.

Every way you looked was the same sight; snow blowing thick, obscuring the woods around you. You fought the unease that began to rise inside of you and swallowed down the bitter bile at the back of your throat. As much as you wanted to, you couldn’t deny it any longer, couldn’t convince yourself that you were almost there, just five more minutes —

you were lost.

Your attempts to radio for help had failed, and cell service was nonexistent. Maybe there was no signal here due to the storm or just how remote you were — truly in the middle of nowhere. You were tempted to check the radio again now, but you’d have to take off your gloves to work it properly, risking your fingers getting colder, wetter. Frostbite was something you didn’t want to chance.

You gnawed at a small flake of dry skin on your lip. ‘Shelter in place if you lost your way’ — that was the survival advice that had been drilled into your head by your superiors. But there was no shelter to be found here, just the raging storm and bitter chill, and you worried that sitting still would allow the cold to overtake you completely. You gritted your teeth.

The alternative wasn’t proving to be much better.

Walking was becoming more and more difficult as your thigh muscles ached from shivering and high-stepping through the heavy layers of snow. Numbness began to creep further through your clothes, sinister and slow. You and the team had prepared for the weather, but not snow like this. You shouldn’t have been out here this long, anyway.

The mission should have been a quick thing, clean and easy, in and out. When the gunfire had begun — in a place that was supposed to be long-deserted per the intel — it took your squad by surprise. All of you had split, ducking for cover behind trees and snow-covered mounds of shrubbery. Your lieutenant’s words still rang in your ears: get back to the car, alert base . Two urgent slaps to your shoulder had dismissed you from the fray and sent you off into the forest. You didn’t have the steadiness or years of experience like your squad mates, so you had bolted in what you thought was the right direction.

Backtracking in a blind panic had not been a good idea, as it turned out.

You were not the best navigator, and tracking had never been one of your prized skills — a fact that was painfully obvious now. Even the GPS on your phone wasn’t much help without having the maps downloaded ahead of time. You kicked yourself for not paying better attention to those survival lessons, only remembering a now-useless tidbit about moss growing on trees.

You had changed directions once, but you knew your squad’s footprints in the snow were long gone, covered by billowing drifts and newly fallen powder. If you had gone the right way, you should have stumbled upon the car or at least the road twenty minutes ago.

You choked back a wave of nausea that threatened to overtake you. The chill dread of your worry slithered down your spine, settling like a stone at the pit of your belly.

Your eyebrows and eyelashes were frost-crusted, and each time you blinked, the air burned your eyes anew, the cold trying to freeze any bit of moisture it could touch. The wind-burnt skin on your face had gone from stinging to dull, and your fingers and toes were starting to cross the threshold where sensation was muted.

This was bad.

Your heart began to race, thoughts reeling as you realized for the first time that there was a very real possibility that you might die out here. Death was something you’d had to accept as part of the job; missions often meant taking out hostiles, but there was usually a certain level of…detachment to it. This was a job, and downing enemies was an act you and your comrades did to keep others safe. At least, that’s the story you were always told, ‘the greater good’ and all that. In the heat of battle, it was easy to shove aside your own mortality, to bury it under the thrill of adrenaline that coursed through your veins. But this—

this was different.

This wouldn’t be a valiant demise with your squad at your side, going out with a cry of bravery on your lips. This was cold, alone. Cowardice bitter as ash on your tongue. Your stomach twisted into knots.

You swiveled your head at a sound, the faint snap of wood — maybe just a tree branch, cracking in two under the weight of snow-laden leaves. The noise drew your attention to something in the distance. You squinted against the wind that made your eyes water. It disappeared, lost in the storm, then — there! — a smudge of orange through the haze of rushing snow. Light, hope.

Survival.

Relief was short-lived. You immediately felt that something was wrong when you took your next step, your stomach dropping heavily, realizing too late. Momentum already had your boot sinking in until the snow gave way to something oddly firm, a metallic click and —

gnashing metal jaws snapped through ice and boot and skin. The raging wind around you swallowed your anguished cry as you fell to the ground, writhing. Scorching tendrils of pain seared through you, the nerve endings in your leg reawakening from their cold-induced slumber to scream. The snow compacted beneath you as you rolled to the side, your movements pushing ice and snow up under the hem of your coat and beneath your collar.

But the bitter chill quickly soothed the sharpness of your pain into something dull, throbbing. Bearable. You forced your rushed breathing to slow, your seizing lungs to open, relax. Cold, deep breaths. In — one, two, three. Out — one, two, three . It was enough for you to sit up tentatively, blinking away the glossy daze that clouded your already limited vision.

Then, your eyes reluctantly dropped to your boot.

A crimson stain spread in the pristine snow around your foot, the metal teeth of an animal trap stabbed right through the layers of rubber and soft sherpa. You dug into the snow a little to find a short chain attached to the trap, staked into the icy ground. A quick tug revealed that it wasn’t going anywhere.

Your training fled your mind all at once in a rush of cortisol, the taste of copper filling your mouth. You desperately gripped the edges of the trap to pry it apart, gloves uselessly slipping around the metal. It was hard to hold it properly, but you ignored the pain of movement as you yanked, and tugged. Your tears of frustration froze as soon as they stung your wind-scorched cheeks. But despite your efforts, the metallic jaws didn’t budge a single millimeter. You tore your gloves off now, trembling hands exploring the trap delicately, fingertips somehow not properly registering how cold the metal should have felt.

Your numbed fingers searched for any latch, a switch, a weakness, any vulnerable spot in the chain links. Nothing. You managed to get your radio from your pocket, hands shaking so violently that turning the dial to the proper setting took far longer than it should have.

The static of the open channel blended in with the howling wind, but you could just hear it, the occasional crackle, your last hope.

“One-F-Four-One, this is Alpha N-Nine over,” you tried.

The sound of your own voice was foreign to your ears, throat raw and raspy, voice shaky. Scared. You held the radio right up to your ear, praying to a god you didn’t believe in that your message was received.

Buzzing, static. Wide open channel.

“One-F-F—” you started again, clenching your muscles in an attempt to control the trembling. “One-Four-One, th-this is Alpha Nine, o-over.”

Silence. sh*t, sh*t, sh*t.

You had to force your curled fingers away from the plastic, your bones and joints stiff, reluctant to listen to your commands. Your fumbling hands managed to shove the radio back into your coat pocket. A layer of fresh snow had already fallen over your gloves on the ground, white flakes stark against the black polyester. You tried to slip your hands back inside them to preserve what little warmth and comfort you could, but your snow-slowed fingers wouldn’t cooperate, a disconnect between nerves and muscle. Sticking your hands in your pockets was the next best thing — at least they were protected from the wind.

“What is this?” a low, accented voice rumbled behind you.

Your body jerked in surprise and you shuffled and spun around, wincing as the movement tugged on the trap clamped on your foot. A dark figure materialized from the dense snowstorm, growing taller, far too tall as he approached you. It had to be a trick of perspective and light and snow as you tilted your head back to look at him — there was no way he was truly that big.

A bit of your training sparked in your mind: focus on details, remember. It eased the panic that started to rise within you, gave you something concrete to latch onto, to keep you grounded in reality.

The voice was male, the accent German as best as you could tell. Not from around here. He was bundled the way you probably should have been, thick, fur-lined snow suit and heavy black boots. The hood of his bulky coat was up, a collar of fur around his face catching snowflakes in the soft tufts. Even his face was covered, ski mask over his mouth and nose, polarized goggles shielding his eyes from the harsh conditions.

You could see your reflection within the lens, cheeks bright red, skin tight and dry from the blistering gale, your eyes wide and shining with the fear you desperately wished you could hide. The figure crouched before you slowly, his massive form still looming over you even with his height more than halved.

“You are…not what I expected to catch today,” he mused, voice slightly muffled by layers. He reached a gloved hand toward you and you jerked away, shuffling back as far as the metal chain allowed.

“W-Who are y-you?” you started, unable to control the way your jaw chattered.

The man was quiet for a moment, completely still as his goggles tilted toward your foot. “It would appear that you need some help,” he said, very pointedly not answering your question.

“I’m—” you paused, quickly trying to think of what to say, to weigh your options. Your mind drew a blank.

I’m fine is what you instinctually wanted to say, but it was obvious to you both that you weren’t. So instead, you stayed silent.

This man might be friend or foe — or neither. Blindly trusting him was unwise but your options now were limited. Your eyes rested on your foot, the pain lessened now, but the red splotch in the snow grew larger by the second. He looked back up to you, scooting incrementally closer in the snow.

“There is no need to be frightened,” he soothed as if you were a small skittish creature, ready to bolt at any sudden movement. “I won’t hurt you.”

It must have been the cold and your desperation — and probably the blood loss — because his words did calm you a little. He sounded…kind. If he was an enemy or if he wanted to harm you, he surely would have done so already…right?

“I’m n-not af-fraid,” a lie you were obligated to tell, sounding even less convincing through your chattering teeth.

The stranger’s head co*cked to the side, letting out a small sound — a soft laugh, maybe. It was hard to tell with the way your awareness was blurring at the edges, senses a bit smudged.

“Of course not,” the man agreed, speaking low, slowly drawing out the honeyed words. He motioned toward your boot. “Now, may I assist?”

You nodded reluctantly. He was your best chance at freedom. What other choice did you have?

He tugged off one of his thick gloves, revealing a large hand, pale skin intersected with scars. A few moments of digging into his coat pocket revealed a small metal object. His gloved hand brushed away the snow you’d displaced around your injured foot, and he stuck the metal fork into the trap, bare fingers working deftly despite the frigid temperature. He must be used to this, a hunter or trapper.

The metal jaws sprung open, and you forced back a pained sound as the trap released your foot. You instinctively bent to clutch it, your hands immediately growing slick from the blood that oozed from the punctures on the top of your boot.

The man reset the trap and placed it back in its spot carefully, then turned to you. He was entirely too close for your comfort, the mountainous size of his body completely dwarfing yours. In battle, you’d held your own against men much larger than you — but none quite this big, and certainly not when you were injured and feeling so vulnerable. It made you feel even tinier than you were, small enough for him to squash under the thick rubber sole of his boot. You swallowed the sticky lump in your throat and summoned what voice you had left.

“Th-Thank you,” you said as you scooted back from him, your blood-soaked gloves sinking into the snow. “The r-road. W-Which way is it?”

“The road? Mm,” he hummed with a thoughtful tilt of his head, eyeing the patches on your jacket, signifying your squad, your home country. His voice lowered, words falling around you like velvet-soft petals, just loud enough to be heard over the wind. “You are very far from home, aren’t you, Kleines Häschen?”

You didn’t understand his last two words, but the way he said them made something stir low in your belly — not bad, exactly, but odd. Unsettled. Your chest tightened in an instinctive response you couldn’t quite put into words.

The man seemed innocent enough. Polite, even. But there was a lilt in his tone, something a touch too saccharine, the artificial sweetness used to hide the bitter taste of a child’s medicine. Your stomach lurched, but you tried to keep your face neutral and relaxed despite the slivers of unease burrowing into you.

It took much longer than you would’ve liked, but you managed to stand, experimentally putting weight on your injured foot. Pain seared through you, your nerves firing at the barest pressure. You sucked an ice-cold breath in through clenched teeth.

“You should not walk on that foot,” he said, calm authority in his voice.

“It’s f-fine,” you retorted, the impact of your words lessened by how badly your body shook. “I’ll g-g-g—” You tried and failed to finish your sentence, your jaw seizing against the frigid air.

“Poor girl,” he said quickly, moving closer. “You must be freezing. Why don’t you come with me and warm up? My cabin isn’t far.”

The offer was more tempting than you cared to admit, but there was that something again, in the way he approached, each of his steps too careful, too calculated, that sent a pang of fear into your core. It was more than just his hulking size — which would be enough to strike fear into most. Every prey instinct in your body flared in a primal warning, alerting you of hidden teeth and claws ready to sink into your soft, vulnerable belly the instant you let your guard down.

You stepped back away from him, stumbling and catching yourself painfully, and fumbled for the gun at your waist. Your chilled fingers refused to work properly, unable to maneuver your coat out of the way and undo the clasp to brandish your weapon. A curse hung on your lips as your movements grew more frantic, revealing your impending panic — but you didn’t care, you just needed to act now. Your thumb caught the clip holding your gun in place, but you couldn’t even flip the holster open.

“B-Back,” you stuttered, all you could manage.

The man clicked his tongue in reproach like one would to a disobedient child, but continued toward you, unphased by the weak threat you posed. You could see the reflection of your clumsy hands in his visor; any fool could see that your gun was staying clipped to your belt, useless.

“Now, now…there is no need for any of that,” he tutted softly. “We must trust each other — don’t you think? See?” He held up his hands, palms out, showing he was unarmed.

No — you thought. But the word couldn’t pass the tightness of your throat.

Dark spots began to dance across your vision, a high-pitched ringing grew louder in your ears. The overspent muscles in your legs finally gave out, your heart unable to keep up with the demands of your oxygen-starved limbs. You collapsed into an inelegant heap in the snow, the plush of it cushioning your fall.

“M-My squad,” you whispered weakly, a shallow threat, a request, your last plea for help all in one.

The man came closer, the dark bulk of him shielding you from the wind. It was stupid, but you were reluctantly thankful for the first bit of relief you’d had from the storm. When he bent down to you, this time you couldn’t retreat as his ungloved hand reached for your face. His large palm cupped your cheek gently, reverently, as if you were a tiny creature with delicate bones that would snap at a too-rough touch.

You flinched at first, but —

he was warm, so warm .

You melted into the comfort of his hand, craving more, lips parting with a breathy exhale. It registered in a brief moment of lucidity how absurd your reaction was. You couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment it happened, but you had careened so far past fight or flight that you’d fallen into docility, a foolish rabbit allowing itself to be led to the wolf’s lair with the promise of a warm, cozy den.

But your eyelids fluttered, struggling to stay open against the heavy darkness that called to you like a siren’s song. The man muttered words you couldn’t understand, something in his native language, perhaps, but you were slipping in and out of a place where reality was fractured, warped in a way you couldn’t trust. A calloused thumb brushed over your wind-chapped cheekbone with a featherlight touch, tracing a line of warmth against your cool skin as he examined your pitiful state.

“Let me dress your wound, at least, hm?” he said as he pulled his hand away to replace the glove over his slender fingers.

Your skin mourned the loss of his heat. A shiver overtook your entire body, rattling you to your core. You nodded, a barely-there tilt of your chin.

“Come, warm up by my fire, just for a little while.” His hands slipped under you in the snow and he scooped you up in one smooth motion, as if the effort was nothing to him. “I insist.”

“Mm,” you hummed in hazy assent, tongue too thick in your parched mouth to speak.

Your head bounced lightly against his shoulder as he cradled you against his chest, the light scrape of his jacket rough against your cheek.

“You know,” he said conversationally, voice wrapping around you like a well-worn blanket. “Woods like this are dangerous for little things like you, all alone. You are lucky I found you.”

You…weren’t so sure.

You tried to focus on his covered face, find something to hone in on — stay awake, stay alert, stay alive — but your eyes crossed and blurred, thoughts grew too foggy. The longer you stared, the more the outline of his face blended with the darkening sky into something unrecognizable. Nothingness beckoned you, clawed at the edges of your consciousness, unrelenting. The even movements of the man’s steps soothed you, rocked you, threatening to lull you into that place.

A little voice inside you spoke, sleep whispering its sweet temptations, serpentine, tugging at your lids. Maybe you could take a short rest, only to wake even clearer and stronger afterward. You stopped fighting it, and allowed your eyes to close, like the man said —

just for a little while.

Notes:

Updates planned for every 2-3 weeks on Sat, Sun or Monday.

Hiii :) This is going to be a bit darker than what I usually write. Psychological horror elements. No non-con, but dub-con by fanfic standards, along with general possessive/obsessive behavior by Konig, kidnapping, reader will be afraid at times and be conflicted about the situation.

I hope you enjoy it! Please let me know if you liked this - comments are encouraging and help me keep my momentum :)

You can find me on twitter or tumblr.

[König pic used in the banner is by xbruised_peachx on Twitter]

Thank you to fellow author PunemySpotted for coming up with the title!

Chapter 2: Heat

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The world moved, jostled you from the comfortable place too soon.

Pain pulsed, far away, finding your body through the ether, dulled within your bones. That meant you were alive, at least,

meant you were—

meant he was—

The thought faded back into darkness, incomplete.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

Heat alighted your cheekbones, a sharp snap pulled you out of the thick fog of sleep. Light flickered outside of closed lids, illuminating your sightless world orange-red.

You forced your eyes to open and looked around as you tried to blink away the haze that clouded your vision. A stone fireplace was before you, logs stacked beside it, wooden walls. Soft tufts of fur tickled your neck as you turned your head to the side, the rough fabric of a woven rug scraping lightly beneath your cheek.

The movement felt odd, your muscles stiff and sluggish, your skull far too cumbersome. Your awareness was slow and muddied like you’d had too much to drink, your mind working to shape the world into something resembling coherence. You realized you weren’t shivering anymore — and you weren’t cold. In fact, you were almost uncomfortably warm, wishing you didn’t have so many layers on.

Good. Better than freezing.

You tried to move your arms, but your limbs didn’t feel like yours, too heavy, detached, the tips of your fingers not registering the pelt over you. At least you were out of the storm. Your foot ached, uncomfortable, but bearable. Forgettable.

Movement caught your eye, a dark smudge in your periphery. You saw the man by the door shuck off a thick, fur-lined coat, and step out of black boots and snow pants. He hung it all up beside his goggles on the door hook, tiny droplets of water puddling below as the flecks of snow melted off them. Your heart thumped solidly against your ribcage at how big he still looked even without the puffy, insulated layers over his form. A mountain of a man. You’d have no chance if you needed to fight your way free — not that you were in any state to do so.

Your eyes had a hard time settling where you wanted them to, but you caught a glimpse of dark jogger sweatpants stretched over impossibly long legs and a waffle-knit thermal shirt clinging to broad chest and shoulders. You waited for him to remove his balaclava, trying to hone in on his face, but he suddenly turned to you.

Piercing blue eyes captured yours for a half-second before you scrunched your eyelids shut, breaking the eye contact. A wave of unease bubbled at the base of your throat as you heard shuffling, the creak of wood growing closer, a heavy thump.

“You’re awake. Good,” the man said simply. “How do you feel?”

You opened your eyes once more, and as you did so, everything tilted a little even though you hadn’t moved. Sock-covered feet were before you, bent knees and thighs flexed within soft cotton. Instead of any words, a thin laugh slipped from your cracked lips, but it sounded off, strange, like it came from a you that…wasn’t you. Soft muttering sounded above you, then the feet left your vision. Sleep taunted you again. You drifted back into its clutches, but a sudden pain in your left foot yanked you back into consciousness.

You kicked against the sensation, but your leg didn’t move the way you thought it should. Tugging, more pain. You tried to lift your head to look, squinting at the man at your feet. A hand gripped your ankle, holding it steady, the other taking off your sock. It was too much effort to keep your head up, so you let it fall back against the floor with a soft thud.

Whatever he was doing hurt. The trap — yes, you remembered. Injured. A little more pain, more shuffling. Then, he was done, and you heard the sound of running water. Sleep tried to wrench you back down, and you let it. Maybe the man would leave you alone now and let you rest.

But a bothersome hand pressed to the back of your forehead, a low hum emanating from a deep chest. Slickness was pressed to your lips and cheeks with a single fingertip. You licked at it, thick ointment coating the tip of your tongue, tasteless, greasy.

The furs and covers were moved off your body, instantly relieving the intense heat burning inside of you. A lucid thought blipped into your mind — you should be cold, but you weren’t. The man’s fingers skimmed your jawline as he brushed the collar of your shirt beneath your coat. You closed your eyes, unable to keep them open, going limp against the carpet. A little nap, now.

“Your jacket and clothes are soaking wet,” he said, his voice pulling you back from the brink of the sleepywarm place.

“Go ’way,” you rasped, throat raw. “’m tired.”

“You cannot wear these,” he explained as he gripped the zipper of your coat and tugged it downward. “You need to warm up.”

I’m already warm you wanted to say, but couldn’t.

You raised your hands and swatted at him, contacting his arms lightly, but were useless to stop him. The man maneuvered you like a life-sized doll, sliding a hand under you to lift you enough to take your sodden coat off.

“The rest must come off, too,” he said slowly, voice layered with an unspoken apology as his fingers toyed with the hem of your shirt.

When he began to tug it upward, something inside of you reared on its hind legs, shrill inside your mind as your stomach was bared.

“Stop,” you mouthed, hoping that you said the word out loud. It was hard to tell; your mind had dragged the word through thick fog.

When he kept going, you swung a loosely-balled fist at his head, realizing he’d changed from his balaclava to a hood. The black cloth was draped over his face and the cloth was bleached or painted to look tear-stained beneath the cut-outs for his eyes. You aimed for one.

You only managed to muss the material slightly, a minor annoyance which he corrected quickly. He batted your arms away and took off your shirt without further fuss. His scarred knuckle brushed against the edge of your bra, hesitating before retreating and covering you with a towel.

His fingers trembled when they hovered at the waistband of your pants, a subtle shake. Nervousness. Excitement? You swallowed, but couldn’t clear the lump in your throat. Calloused fingertips were rough against your soft, chilled skin, and something primal and protective surged through you again. You tried to sit up, to fight and claw and bite — but his large hand splayed out over your chest and pushed you back down onto the floor effortlessly with a small chastising noise.

“I know,” he said, voice hushed and low.

No, you don’t — you screamed, but you only let out a choked breath.

His agile fingers found their confidence and undid the button of your bottoms, then peeled your soaked pants down your hips. He threaded them over your calves and feet carefully. Your foot jerked, aiming a kick for whatever part of him you could reach, but missed, and a cry burst from you as the attempt flexed your bandaged foot.

Tears pricked your eyes and you moved your lips to speak again, the effort causing them to crack and bleed in one corner, stinging as your tongue probed the spot. Copper washed over your tastebuds, warm and salty. The man’s hand hovered at your hip, palm ghosting over where the waistband of your panties dug in lightly to your soft flesh, but he merely dabbed at your body with a clean towel until you were dry. He pored over you from head to toe, clicking his tongue when he pressed his bare fingertips against yours. You could feel it, sort of, like thick mittens covered your hands, muting the sensation.

He released you and your numbed fingers scrabbled uselessly against the carpet in protest of more, trying to help pull or push yourself away. The man’s head moved with a feline tilt as he looked at you, curious but unconcerned, like a cat who watched a captured mouse struggle beneath its outstretched claws.

The man pulled his shirt off without warning and panic seeped through your murky awareness at the sight of his bare torso above you. His body boasted the kind of muscles formed from experience and daily use, physical labor shaping him into something that sent a pang shooting deep down into you. The fire cast shadows across his form, exaggerating the hills and valleys and grooves of him. A dotting of dark hair lay over his chest, and lower, a fuzzy line below his navel, dipping below the hem of his sweatpants.

“I’m going to hold you,” he explained as his wide palm cupped your bare shoulder. “Keep you warm.”

He reached for your limp body and you let out an unintelligible sound of protest as he gathered you into his lap. This was wrong, wrong, wrong. The muted alarm bells of instinct rang out louder than ever, but the sound was stuck inside of your chest, reverberating within your ribcage, bouncing off hollow bones. You tried to throw yourself backward out of his grasp, but ironclad grips on your sides locked you into place, thwarting your attempt as his fingers dug into your bare skin.

You were trying to say something, but the sentence didn’t sound right coming from your mouth, a disconnect. The thought was forgotten almost instantly, the words lost into static as he shushed you.

“Shh,” the man soothed. “It’s okay.”

The man pulled you closer, supporting your wobbly core with an arm crooked around your waist. He used his free hand to take your wrist and tuck it near his armpit, trapping it between his bicep and his ribs. You couldn’t yank it free. When he reached to maneuver your other hand to do the same, his arm came close to your face — an opportunity. You leaned down and sank your teeth into the flesh of his forearm.

Ha!

You were giddy with success, clamping down harder with a garbled sound of triumph. He hissed a curse and your world tilted and swirled as you careened back, his arm pushing against your mouth. Fireworks burst behind your eyelids as your head hit the floor, the thunk muted by the carpet. The man jammed his forearm even further into your bite, making you gag, forcing the hinge of your jaw to widen unnaturally until you released him.

“Foolish girl,” he gritted through clenched teeth, icy blue eyes narrowed into dangerous slits behind his hood. “I am trying to help you.”

Maybe — you thought — maybe not.

His knees straddled your hips, his hand spread on the carpet beside your head. The way he was bent over you made you feel impossibly tiny beneath him, caged in by well-muscled arms and legs. He cupped your face roughly, fingers digging into your cheeks cruelly as he forced you to look at him, jerking your chin upward. Your eyes focused and unfocused, your gaze slipping around and not quite settling the way you wanted. Maybe for the best.

“Do not do that again,” he warned, accent thicker, angry. Scary.

You squirmed beneath him, but you couldn’t pull your face from his grip, couldn’t turn away to escape his stare. Your weak hands lifted, clawing at his wrist to no avail. You let them fall in defeat, completely powerless against him, feeble as a fawn newly foaled, barely able to stand on wobbly legs.

You didn’t protest as he picked you up again and sat back against the couch, adjusting you until you were straddling his hips, the front of your nearly bare torso pressed against his. Your head fell naturally against his chest in this position, and in a last-ditch effort, you tried to lift your head off of him to — you didn’t know really, to bite him again, headbutt his face, scream in his ear, maybe. The intention was incomplete, incoherent. But your weak neck couldn’t hold the position and you flopped back against the cushioned swell of his pec.

He tucked your hands back beside his body again, adjusting you until your hips were flush with his. The position was far too intimate, an unwilling imitation of a lover’s embrace. But even through your daze, you couldn't help but notice how well your body slotted right against his much larger frame, a perfect match. This shouldn’t feel comfortable, but it did. The first time in how many hours that you’d felt something that wasn’t cold or pain or snow, but something good. You sagged against him as you let out a shuddering breath, honing in on the sensation, releasing your doubt. Too hard to think. Later.

“Shh, that’s it,” he soothed as he felt you ease into him, harsh voice gone.

He shimmied a thick blanket over his shoulders, draped so it fell over you too. Your mind swam, too many additional sensations fighting their way to the forefront of your awareness — the furnace-like heat of him, the solidness of his body beneath yours, softened muscles comfortable to lay against, a dusting of hair tickling your cheek. The scent of him cut through the woodsmoke that filled the room, clove and sultry spice over fire-warmed skin, cinnamony and masculine.

The blanket over you was luxurious and soft, stitched layers of fleece and pocketed down, and your legs rubbed smoothly over the sweatpants he wore beneath your bare thighs. He radiated heat, and the covers kept it trapped all around you. It was hot, too hot—

until suddenly it wasn’t.

Your shivering returned violently as your consciousness surfaced from its deep dive, cold once again registering, but the way the man had your hands trapped against his body kept you still and steady and grounded. It hurt, the way your body warmed, like flames licking up over your skin, singeing your extremities. Your thighs clamped around his hips, muscles tightening painfully as you tried to stop them from quivering, tried to stop the pain.

“Hurts,” you managed to whisper against him.

“Poor thing,” he murmured above you. “Don’t fight the shaking. It will pass.”

You nuzzled yourself more firmly against him, seeking an escape from your burning nerves, seeking comfort in the only place available, even if it was him. Giving into the shivers did help, so you let yourself become boneless, weightless, a lone piece of driftwood on a choppy sea, battered by the whims of the ocean. A satisfied sound rumbled beneath your cheek, rough from deep within the man’s chest.

“Yes, like that,” he soothed. “Good girl.”

Your breath caught in your throat at his words, heart swelling and lungs tightening before you forced out a shaky breath. A ribbon of hot shame wove itself into your jumbled thoughts. Your body and mind warred against each other, against the cold that still remained burrowed deep inside. But a tiny speck of light at the very center of you sparked to life, creating a heat of its own.

It felt like heaven, it felt like betrayal, it felt like—

like—

You didn’t react — couldn’t, really — when he wrapped his arms around you, holding you firmly against his body as you shivered. The veil descended back over your thoughts, shrouding your consciousness. Your flushed and wind-burnt cheek pressed into his fair skin, lower lip trembling, jaw chattering uncontrollably. All the fight had left your body. You flexed your fingers against him, the tips feeling seared as if you’d pressed them to the side of a hot pan.

“You can sleep if you’d like,” he said softly, the folds of his fabric hood brushing against your hair. “I will watch over you.”

You weren’t sure that made you feel any safer, but you gratefully slipped back into painless, dreamless nothingness, cradled against him.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

The dryness woke you first, your parched tongue thick and stuck to the roof of your mouth, throat painfully scratched. The throbbing in your foot made itself known next, and then — bathroom.

Your eyes adjusted to the low light, the room around you bathed in an orange glow, the remains of a dying fire casting a gentle light over the cabin. Outside of the embers’ reach, the world was nearly pitch black. Hours must have passed, but how many? You sat up slowly, each muscle protesting as they slowly awakened from their slumber. There was too much weight over you, a thick pile of blankets and pelts. You pushed them away and rolled your neck back and forth, stretching.

Flashes of images burst forth, out of focus and swirling, but there, the storm, the trap — the hooded man. Against his body, vulnerable, helpless. Worriesome blanks in your memory. Your blood turned to ice in an instant.

You looked down in horror, hands touching your sides and running along your hips and legs, surprised to find that you were dressed, intact and unharmed as far as you could tell. A red flannel button-up shirt covered you, far too large for your frame, and beneath, your underwear. Promising. The sleeves were rolled up and cuffed at your wrists and the excess length of the flannel bunched at your hips. You wrinkled your nose — it smelled of him, and lightly of soap. Clean. You might have called it nice, even, had it been under any other circ*mstance.

Wool socks had been slipped onto your feet, and you wiggled your toes and instantly regretted it as pain shot up your left foot. Your entire body ached, every muscle fiber overworked. But you could coax them to do a bit more. You scooted toward the fire, using the stones around the fireplace as handholds to help yourself stand. The shirt you wore fell to your mid-thighs, thankfully providing some modesty as it swished about you.

You turned around to examine the room and nearly fell back in surprise to see on a couch just behind where you had been laying — the man, sprawled out over the cushions, asleep. Long limbs tangled around a blanket, the material of his hood crumpled, an arm tucked beneath his pillow, another hanging down over the edge, hand curled against the floor. You could hear his soft breaths in and out, the slow and steady rise and fall of his deep chest.

You bit your lip.

Waking him up was not something you wanted to chance. Him, the sleeping bear in the cave, and you, the tiny thing that slipped out from under its heavy paw, limited time before he woke and realized you were gone. You needed some time to move, to think, to get your bearings before he did.

It took a little shuffling to move without putting weight on your injured foot and instead used the table beside the fireplace to support you as you hobbled forward. Bathroom, then — what? You needed your phone, your radio. You swallowed.

Your gun.

The room was dark, but you could just make out a door at the end of a hall, another two to the side. You reminded yourself to stash details away, to push through your discomfort, and to focus on your surroundings. A kitchen to your right, a small stove, countertops. Cookware meant knives, tools. Protection. A refrigerator, a sink — electricity, running water. Maybe you weren’t as far from civilization as you thought.

There were no more handholds so you half-hopped, allowing just the heel of your left foot to barely tap the ground for support. Even that hurt, but your full bladder demanded you grit through.

You pushed open the first door to your left, relieved to see that it was a bathroom. There was a step down that you nearly missed, but you caught yourself. You cautiously nudged your way in and flicked the light switch before closing and locking the door as quietly as you could. As you gripped the porcelain of the sink to hop forward, you jolted when you caught a glimpse of your own reflection.

You looked awful.

Your hair was a tangled and matted mess, your eyes sunken, the skin underneath thin, smudged with dark purple. Your cheeks were still splashed with red, darker than you’d ever seen them before. You peered down at your hands, fingertips stained with pink splotches.

At least you still had all of them intact, and your toes from what you could feel. You hopped forward, holding the edge of the large bathtub to the side, then used the toilet and tried to refocus without the distraction of your bodily needs.

Nothing seemed…off about you. He hadn’t hurt you or…done anything to you that you could tell. It was promising, but you were still wary of the situation, of him. You’d be a fool not to be.

You washed your hands at the sink, discovering the water to be ice cold — but clean, at least. You leaned on the cool porcelain to rest for a moment, quads burning with the effort of standing, even this small trip completely draining you.

Thirst nagged at you, your cracked lips and sticky tongue begging for hydration. You used your hand to scoop chilled palmfuls of water into your mouth, swallowing greedily. The cool liquid burned an icy trail down your throat, quenching your thirst. But the relief only lasted a moment as nausea roiled, forcing the water right back up into the sink as you retched, stomach clenching. The diluted taste of bile coated your tongue, and you took another mouthful of water to rinse and spit, scrunching your nose.

You looked back up at yourself, seeing the tiny beads of sweat collecting at your temples and hairline from the exertion. The overused muscles in your arms shook as they helped support you against the sink. You were in worse shape than you thought.

You’d wanted to scope out the place more thoroughly, but it was clear your exhausted body was already pushed beyond its limit. You limped to the door and opened it, looking down to ascend the small step, calculating your next move but as soon as you exited, your face smashed into something solid, warm — f*ck —

him.

Your heart leaped, a startled sound slipping past your damp lips. Large hands gripped your biceps to keep you steady, as much a warning as it was reassurance. A thumb stroked the inside of your arm subtly and you looked up at him, finding surprisingly gentle eyes there, concerned, light bags underneath as if he hadn’t slept much. Maybe he hadn’t, watching over you like he promised.

You swallowed, throat burning against the acid that threatened to come up again. Your blood rang in your ears as your heart pounded, but you forced yourself to maintain eye contact, using what little energy you had left to put up a strong front.

“Easy. It’s just me,” the man said, his voice rough from sleep.

Just me.

As if that would make you feel any better. As if you should know who he was and be comforted by the fact that he was waiting for you right outside the bathroom. He said it with such sincerity that you wondered if he truly thought his presence was reassuring.

But despite everything, your racing pulse did settle, just a little. Your mind swam, and you squeezed your eyes shut, trying to blink away the cloudy haze over your consciousness.

“Were you sick?” he asked, searching your face for the answer you were sure he already knew.

You nodded. The sounds would’ve been obvious — no point in lying.

He released your arms and extended his forearm to you to hold, steady and proud as a lord extending the crook of his elbow for a lady to wrap her dainty hands around. Pain pulsed at the base of your neck, an impending headache as you fought and failed to process everything. So, you pushed it away, tucking away every bit of information you could to work through when you were more clear-headed.

You silently took his proffered arm and he led you back toward the dying fire. The blankets and pelts where you had lain in had been neatened, lined up evenly with a pillow, a makeshift bed. He motioned for you to sit on the couch and you allowed yourself to settle back onto it, the fabric still holding the last wisps of sleep warmth from where he had been laying.

“You should have woken me,” he said as he picked up some wood from the stack by the fire. “I would have helped you.”

You had no reply — what could you say? — but he didn’t seem to mind your silence.

The man knelt and added new logs to the dying blaze and prodded them with a wrought iron poker, sending a shower of embers floating up into the chimney. All you could do was watch him, the muscles of his shoulders stretching below his shirt as he leaned in and poked at the fire. You absentmindedly stroked the material of the couch below you, velveteen cushions soft beneath your clammy hands. At least you could feel the fabric with your fingertips, a good sign.

Satisfied, he dusted his hands together with finality, then turned to you, still on the ground, hands splayed out over his spread thighs. “Are you hungry? Thirsty?” he asked eagerly.

Food had been last on your priority list given the situation, but at the mention, your stomach curled within itself, alerting you of its emptiness.

“Yes,” you replied.

He helped you toward the kitchen, to a table beside a window and flicked a small switch, a lamp with a single lightbulb illuminating the space just enough to see. The table was small — truly too tiny for a man his size. Your eyes caught the marks in the wooden floor, the way one chair had etched a path into the wood grain, in and out over and over, But underneath the other chair, the finish was still pristine. He must not have company very often. Your heart rose into your throat as you scooted your bottom into the seemingly unused chair. He pushed you in effortlessly with the light scrape of wood on wood.

You watched him move about the kitchen, graceful despite his size. He pulled a container from the fridge and spooned the contents into a pan, then set a kettle beside that and fiddled with the stove knobs. Everything seemed a little too small, too short for him, forcing him to hunch his shoulders downward, a giant in a doll’s house.

This whole thing was still so strange and made no sense. None of it did — not the botched mission, or this cabin in the forest, or…him. You looked out the window beside the table, the shelf of snow collected atop the sill outside, and the blackness beyond. This area should have been deserted, and as isolated as it was; who would choose to live here? You hadn’t been able to tell yet if this man was military also, or just…a strange, lonely civilian. Or maybe something else altogether.

His facial covering struck you as a little odd, but time spent around Lieutenant Riley had made that kind of thing less of an uncommon sight. But it did add to your discomfort. A veiled face potentially meant obscured emotions, hidden motives. Secrets.

The wail of the kettle pulled your attention back to the man as he poured the water into mugs. He had been compassionate so far, if a bit overly familiar. You wanted to ask him for your belongings, but the time didn’t seem right, your thoughts still not as clear as they should be. He seemed content to care for you, and you needed the help — for now.

He turned to you as if summoned by your thoughts and set down the two mugs with the clack of ceramic on wood. A hearty and well-spiced scent permeated the air as he went back to stir the pot with a wooden spoon, rosemary and garlic, perhaps.

When he was done, he put a bowl and spoon down before you, and joined you at the table. Steam rose from the bowl of stew, enticing you. Cubes of meat and hunks of carrot and potato swam in a thick, brown gravy. Your mouth watered at the sight.

“Slowly,” he warned.

Your stomach made an embarrassingly high-pitched squeal as you picked up the spoon. You dipped in for a bite, picking out an especially tender-looking piece of carrot, but froze before you put the spoon to your lips, feeling his gaze intently on you. Your fingers tightened around the spoon as you looked up at him, finding pale blue eyes locked on you, shining with intense interest.

Your insides turned, but not from hunger this time. What were you doing? You set the spoon back into the bowl, more shaky than you intended.

“Thank you,” you said, sliding your hands into your lap to hide the tremor. “But I’m actually…not that hungry.”

Your stomach immediately made a fool of you, the scent and sight of the food causing it to churn in anticipation. His eyes narrowed, displeasure burning low there, dark and vaguely familiar.

“You should not lie,” he said slowly. “If you are hungry, eat. I have enough to share.”

“I…” your voice faltered.

Words escaped you. This whole encounter was exhausting. You wanted nothing more than to be in your own bed back on base, with your squad and sergeant and all the things that had become like home to you the last few years.

The man seemed to be pretending that this was…normal. That nothing was out of the ordinary. He waited patiently for you to speak, not prompting you as you collected your thoughts.

“I don’t know what’s in this,” you said at last, skirting around what you really wanted to say.

“Venison, potato, carrot, onion,” he listed. “Salt. Spices. The tea — chamomile and honey.” He nodded to you and pushed the bowl a little closer. “I know you must be hungry.”

You licked your lips, eyes flicking from the food to his face, hating the obnoxious noises your stomach continued to make, betraying you. How could you say what you meant without directly accusing him of something? The situation needed to be handled delicately — you didn’t have your full strength or weapons, and your mind and reactions were still too slow. Without your weapon, if something went wrong, you were vulnerable, completely useless—

You pushed that train of thought from your mind. “I don’t know…you,” you finally settled on.

“Mm,” he hummed pensively, eyes hooded. A pause, heavy. “You think I will hurt you.”

Heat flared atop your cheeks at his shrewd deduction, but you wouldn’t affirm it. “I don’t know.”

The man leaned forward with an ominous creak of a too-small chair. You found yourself subconsciously leaning back a bit to maintain space between you as his stifling presence loomed over yours.

“If I had wanted to hurt you, I could have easily done so already—many times,” he added casually, an unnecessary statement of a fact that you both well knew.

You weren’t sure if he was actually trying to make you feel better or if his goal was to intimidate you…or if he was simply clueless as to how he sounded. Though he spoke it fluently, his accent revealed that English was a secondary language for him. It could just be an innocent mismatch in the connotations and inflections of his words.

That was the explanation you hoped for.

Your eyes dropped from him to the food and back again, still uncertain, weighing risk versus benefit. He shifted in his seat, now becoming impatient with your hesitance. When you still didn’t eat, he let out a huff, disbelief tinged with amusem*nt.

He motioned toward the food with his hands, a calloused palm presented upward, open. “I am not trying to…drug you, if that’s your concern.”

There was so much that hung off the end of that sentence unsaid, but your mind filled in that blank—

because I wouldn’t need to.

Hunger left you as your instincts recoiled, screaming at you to run, run, run. He was so nonchalant about it, almost offended by the insinuation that it was hard to tell if maybe you were seeing malintent where there was none. But intentional or not, there was a thinly veiled threat lying beneath the surface of his words that you sure as hell were not going to point out.

You nodded, the barest downward tilt of your chin.

He uttered a soft grunt, fiddled with the bottom of his mask, and pulled it away from his face a bit, revealing the scraggly ends of an auburn beard. With his other hand, he picked up your mug, almost comically small within his grasp. He tipped it in your direction like a toast, then brought it underneath his hood. You heard him sip before he set it back down, and did the same with your spoon, eating a bite before sticking it back into the bowl.

“Eat,” he urged. “You need to replenish what you lost.”

Even though you’d lost your appetite, you decided to do as he suggested. Whatever the outcome of this was, you needed the energy and strength. The risk was worth it and you did believe him about the food. You tasted a small spoonful, avoiding the eyes you felt burning into you — flavor burst across your tongue, savory salts and aromatics, tender meat. Despite everything, you had to admit that it was delicious, and the warmth of it settling into your belly helped you to feel a bit more normal, chasing away that last bit of inner chill that remained.

You grabbed the mug, enjoying the heat of the warmed ceramic beneath your frost-nipped fingers. The tea tasted of honey, light and sweet and hot, smoothing the sharpness of your anxiety.

“It’s all really good,” you said, chancing a small glance up from your meal at him.

He perked up a little at your compliment. “I’m glad you like it.” His eyes crinkled in a smile you couldn’t see. “Cooking helps to pass the time.”

You licked your lips after your next bite. You didn’t want to read too much into it, but…that statement implied waiting for something. Or maybe it was just a conversational comment about filling his spare moments with something he found enjoyable.

He sipped his own drink along with you and rested his forearm on the table, long fingers curled around his mug. He drummed his fingers against the side with a staccato tap tap tap, blunted fingernails contacting the speckled glaze. An anxious habit. Your eyes slid along his wrist, up to his bunched-up sleeve. Peeking out from under the fabric was a vivid purple and red bruise, the ring-shaped mark curving over his muscled forearm. It was fresh, with the vibrant, opaque colors of blood vessels newly crushed beneath fair skin.

The hazy memory returned to you, your mouth — teeth — on him, his flesh compressed beneath, salted skin against your tongue, his body over you, half-bare and strong and impossibly large. It stirred a feeling you couldn’t pinpoint inside your chest, something tight extending up to the base of your throat, an invisible hand tamping down over your airway. Your eyes rose to him, his gaze lifting too, having dropped to follow yours.

Though your cheeks had already been nipped pink by the cold, they warmed further at the sight — embarrassment, regret, confusion, an odd mix rising within you as your mouth dropped open a fraction. But you quickly clenched your jaw, withholding the apology that instinctively rose within you. It was yet to be seen if he deserved one.

Light blue eyes held yours, a knowing glimmer shining within his stare. The corners of his eyes creased as if withheld laughter danced just on the tip of his tongue, a private joke left untold. If you could have seen his mouth, you imagined a wolfish smile would be there, stretched across his lips.

The tiny hairs at the nape of your neck rose, unease prickling across your skin. You squirmed in your seat. It was hard to pinpoint exactly what felt wrong, but the deep-seated animal instinct inside of you bristled, hackles rising in warning. You didn’t want to explore any of that, so you looked away and busied yourself with eating.

The silence was only broken by the occasional sound of your spoon scraping the side of the bowl, or the pop of the fireplace, the crack and snap of wood breaking under the intense pressure of the heat. You couldn’t stifle your yawn as you finished, the warm meal settling within you, a bone-deep ache emanating from your limbs.

“Good,” the man said, nodding toward your empty bowl. “You should rest, now, Hase.” He stood and offered his arm again, dipping his elbow toward you expectantly.

Not merely a suggestion, then.

But it wasn’t a bad idea. You took his arm without any hesitation, too weary to consider any alternatives or argue.

“I would give you my bed,” he started, almost regretfully as you hobbled back to the fire. “But it is warmest here. I think this is best, for now.”

You squeezed his arm, realizing how absurd it was for you to be giving him comfort. But building a rapport with him and gaining his trust was your best bet in a worst-case scenario. Survive, stay alive.

“This is fine,” you assured him.

He helped guide you to the floor bed he had prepared for you and lifted the blankets for you, motioning for you to lie down. The man had thoughtfully reconfigured the layers so that a soft pelt would be beneath your body, and a pillow under your head. He genuinely seemed to care for your comfort and seek your approval, but—

why?

You wanted to ask why he was helping you, what his motives were, why emergency services hadn’t been called to bring you to a hospital. It was hard to think properly, but that seemed a rational response to finding an injured stranger, not…this. He hadn’t explained a single thing to you, and you had a sinking feeling that he wasn’t going to without prompting.

Tendrils of dread crept through your veins, digging into you as you came to terms with the more and more likely reality that he was not just an unsuspecting trapper finding an injured soldier in the woods and kindly assisting out of the good of his heart. No — there was a deeper motive there, and whatever it was, you were now entangled in it.

The food in your stomach lurched, but thankfully stayed put.

Though you were brimming with speculations and questions, you didn’t dwell on it further. You were too tired to worry about anything other than laying your head down, so you slid your body into the pocket he created, stretching your sore limbs gratefully as he placed the covers back over you. You would rest and recover just until you had your wits about you — that was all. He folded the ends around your shoulders, his deft fingers tucking the material around you delicately.

“Hey,” you started hesitantly to get his attention. Your eyes followed him, hunched over you, fussing over you in your nest of blankets. A question pulled through your exhaustion. “What’s your name?”

You wanted to add it to your stash of information, but you were also just…curious. He didn't answer right away, and didn’t look at you. In fact, he turned his veiled face away from you entirely, his hands gripping the blankets that he’d been straightening, scarred and slender fingers clenched tight. You wondered for a moment if you’d asked the wrong thing.

“König,” he finally said, releasing and smoothing down the fur beneath his hands, then turned his gaze back on you.

“König,” you repeated, trying the word on your tongue as your head sank further into the soft pillow. “Okay.”

You smiled. You don’t know why you did, maybe the remnants of your deluded state, desperation mixed with unwilling gratitude, or ingrained politeness from a society that expected such things. You forced it away. It had been nothing more than a small upward twitch of the corners of your lips, but you’d done it and couldn’t take it back.

He noticed.

A warm hand swiped a piece of your tangled hair back from your face, a toughened fingertip tracing the outline of your ear and down the side of your neck as König tucked the strand back. Your mutinous nerves tingled, eager for a pleasant sensation. Heat rose to your skin unbidden to greet his touch, your chin tilting up a hair’s breadth to allow him more room before you stopped yourself.

The air grew thin in your lungs as crystalline blue eyes captivated yours, heavy-lidded. Something there you couldn’t name. You searched him, unreadable. Not good, not bad , but—

Despite the heat of the fire and the thick pelts over you, a chill washed across your skin as you realized you were staring a bit too long trying to figure it out. Your lids squeezed shut, severing the eye contact that he held, unwavering.

You shrugged away from the hand that lingered at your neck, hoping he didn’t read too much into the moment, that he was oblivious to your struggle. If he did notice, he didn’t show it, his fingers retreating as quickly as they had come at your nonverbal rejection of his touch.

You shifted uncomfortably under the furs, trying to rid yourself of the sensation that clung to your skin like the sticky remnants of some sweet treat gobbled down too quickly, careless as syrup ran down your chin, staining greedy lips and fingertips.

But whatever you’d seen in his eyes was gone when you looked again, braving another glance after you’d composed yourself a bit. König had turned his head, slightly co*cked to the side as he observed you, and you watched the way the flickering fire cast deep shadows over the folds of his hood, shrouding his already-covered face deeper into obscurity.

“Sleep well, little one,” König murmured, voice thick, promise-laden palm heavy on your blanketed chest. “I will be here when you wake.”

You nodded silently as you let yourself sink back into darkness. The hand lifted and the presence left your side, but those eyes —

you still felt them, even as you descended into sleep,

watching,

waiting.

Notes:

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Chapter 3: Revelation

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

You slowly emerged from the comfortable cocoon of sleep, hovering in the nebulous in-between of waking and dreaming where everything was and wasn’t all at once. The scent of frying meat reached you, the thick oiliness permeating the air. An occasional pop and sizzle, the scrape of a utensil against a metal pan cut its way through the creamy thickness of your haze, too grating, too sharp to be the stuff of dreams. Your eyelids flickered, remembering nothing — then everything, just barely — as you surfaced.

Reality began to sink in more quickly than the last time you woke, the unfamiliar stain of woodsmoke in your hair reminding you. You desperately squeezed your eyes back shut, searching for blackness again, hoping that when you opened your eyes fully, you’d see plain white walls and the ceiling fan in your room lazily spinning on the lowest setting. You’d discover that this whole thing was just some bizarre dream you’d be telling Soap all about at breakfast in between bites of those crappy mess hall scrambled eggs reconstituted from a powder. He’d shake his head and give you that lopsided grin over the rim of a plastic coffee mug.

But a pan clanking loudly against a stove and a hushed curse in German shattered that hope in an instant, a harsh string of words that needed no translation to understand. You grimaced, the hope turning sour, curdling on your tongue.

May as well just get up, then.

You sat up slowly, blinking against the soft morning light streaming through the windows. The storm must have picked up again, the view outside obscured by the haze of rushing snow, a veil of white thrown against the frosted glass. You rolled your neck from side to side, staring at the dying embers of the fire next as the muscles in your shoulders protested the stretch.

The bed of furs was more comfortable than you had expected, but sleeping on the floor was still less than ideal. Your foot throbbed with a heartbeat all its own and your entire body ached like one giant bruise. Maybe tonight you’d try sleeping on the couch if your — savior? captor? — allowed it. Things seemed to be entirely on his terms.

The thought struck you like a fist to your solar plexus, stealing your breath — you wouldn’t be here one more night. Couldn’t.

You wrinkled your nose at the itch of wild hair cobwebbed over your face. No — you told yourself with finality. Today was your last day here. You smoothed your tangled hair back as best you could, dreading the eventual day you’d need to work out the knots, and scooted out from under the layers of blankets and pelts. Maybe you’d just cut it all off when you made it back home, have Gaz help you buzz it short and fuzzy — start fresh.

Home. Right. Yes.

You rubbed your fists against your eyes, skin greasy and salt licked, the scent of your own body making your lip curl, disgusted that it was all you. Suddenly the astringent military-issued soap and the half scalding-hot, half ice-cold showers on base didn’t seem so bad. The thought of asking König if you could shower was a line you refused to cross in your mind — the cementing of a reality you were trying not to consider.

You breathed deeply, focusing on the smells of breakfast cooking instead, allowing the warmth of nostalgia to calm you, a full breakfast on a weekend cooked for or by a loved one. Bacon and eggs, cinnamon rolls as a treat, gooey icing licked from your sticky fingers. Sharing coffee and sleep-weary smiles over glasses of orange juice.

König was far from a loved one, but—

A tiny part of you felt indebted to him, linked. His name and those eerie blue eyes were already tattooed on some deep part of you, a reminder of human frailty and your own mortality. You could already tell that if — when, when — you returned to base, this was going to be one of those things the mandated therapy sessions would dig into with a blunted knife, carving it out of you to examine and put into a neat little report that would declare you fit for work after a short medical leave. But they wouldn’t remove all the rot, leaving just enough of it inside that gaping wound to fester.

You would see a shadow flicker behind Captain Price’s eyes whenever he looked at you after he read the findings. You could hear Soap’s voice — you alright, lass? — pitying you, treating you like you were made of glass instead of sharing his usual crass jokes with you. You would feel it in the suddenly gentle touch on your shoulder by Ghost instead of the hearty slap that he gave to the others.

This would make you different. Make you one of them.

But—

You were forced to acknowledge that without König, you would have died in the storm. That much you knew for certain. It was sobering how near a thing it was as you replayed the blurry reel of the last twenty-four hours in your mind. You’d barely processed the way the mission had completely fallen apart, unsure if your team was still alive or not, if they were safe, if you were.

You forced a deep breath in and out. Focusing on the present was best, not letting your mind wander down every winding path of what if, what if, what if.

This whole thing with König was a huge misunderstanding. It had to be. Both of you were making the best of an…unusual scenario. You’d been paranoid — rightfully so, you thought — but now that you’d slept and been patched up, you needed to call for help. Surely König, with the strange kindness he’d shown, would help you secure transportation, or have a way to contact…somebody. Literally anybody.

All you needed to do was push past the discomfort of your anxiety, to break away from the overwhelming instinct to remain polite and inoffensive and….just ask.

Simple. Easy. Yeah.

Footsteps approached, a light thumping that you nearly felt traveling up the length of your spine to pulse at the base of your skull. König was heading in your direction. You looked up as he neared, seeing that he wore the same facial covering as yesterday, the bottom of the black hood bunching up over a dark sweatshirt.

“Good morning,” he said, crouching down to extend a hand to you. He readjusted the material of his grey sweatpants as he crouched a little to allow the expanding muscles of his thighs more room. “How did you sleep?”

“Fine,” you said, voice thick. You cleared your throat and placed your hand in his calloused palm, noting again how ridiculously far back you had to tilt your head to meet those bright blue eyes.

Every part of this man was huge. You were no stranger to tall men and women — on base, you’d been surrounded by some of the strongest and largest people you’d ever met. Captain Price, Lieutenant Riley, Soap, Gaz, and even your own Sergeant were no small men by any means. But even they would have appeared short next to König.

“What about you?” you asked, the practiced pleasantry slipping past your lips out of habit before you could reel it back — so much for forgoing politeness.

“Never better,” he said, a smile creeping into his voice.

König’s fingers engulfed yours as they curled to secure your hand in his. A solid, warm grasp. But something about the movement felt…off. Possessive. A venus fly trap with its prickled mouth slowly closing over a fly, the silly little thing unsuspectingly lured in by pretty colors and sweet scents. Acid dissolving its protective exoskeleton before it even realized it was in danger.

You forced a smile you didn’t feel, lips thin, cheeks tight, a reflex formed long ago to neutralize any potential male tension. Your time in The 141 had relieved you of having to use that smile much, luckily finding more respect there than in any prior military experience. But those instincts never left, just collected a fine layer of dust from disuse.

König tugged you to your feet, and you pushed away your unease as you smoothed down the bottom of the flannel shirt that had ridden up as you slept. Your foot was tender today, the pain less sharp but more spread out along your nerves, the throbbing discomfort wrapping up over your ankle. You weren’t sure if that was a good or bad sign, but it felt okay as far as injuries went — not that you had much to compare it to.

König helped you toward the kitchen, shortening his stride to a near shuffle to more closely match your much smaller steps. You sat at the table already set for two. Two cups of water, two mugs, two plates, two empty mugs. A cloth napkin had been neatly tucked under a fork and knife, the edges embroidered with flowering vines. Salt and pepper shakers, a tiny jar of sugar, and a tray for butter. It was oddly domestic, each item placed with care, like he had set out his best china for an honored guest.

But you couldn’t stop eyeing the dish next to your cup of water, two pills lined up neatly on the white ceramic. A red and yellow capsule, and an oblong, rust-colored tablet. König’s large hand brushed against your upper back as he helped push your chair in.

“It smells good in here,” you said, hoping the shallow compliment might stall the conversation you knew was inevitable.

König let out a low grunt, a noncommittal noise of acknowledgment. His hand hovered near your shoulder, not yet leaving its place on the chair. With his free hand, he scooted the little dish of medicine closer to you. Your mouth grew drier by the second, all the moisture fleeing as you stared at the pills before you.

He crouched, somehow still so much larger than you even when hunched like that. Maybe he was trying to be less intimidating, but it had the opposite effect. The way his hand rested on the back of your chair caged you in, the cabin wall to your right, an immovable wall of a man to your left. You licked your lips, tongue sticky, not quenching your dry skin even for a second.

“This is an antibiotic for your wound. This one is for pain and swelling,” he stated, a blunted fingernail nudging the coated tablet back into place from where his movement had jostled it.

“Thank you,” you said, trying to sound as gracious as you could, turning to face him. “You’ve been really kind, but I’d feel better going to a hospital. Or, calling my team to—” You caught yourself, unsure of how much to share.

Light blue eyes searched your face, and what you could see of his expression was guarded, neutral in a calculated, intentional way. You needed to tread carefully.

“We are very far from any hospitals,” he explained slowly. “But I have the medicine you need here.”

“I…shouldn’t take this,” you said, biting back the instinct to be agreeable. “I won’t.” You tried to harden your face, to turn it into a stern mask that you hoped was convincing.

His eyes widened for a moment — surprise, maybe genuine. It was hard to tell.

“Are you allergic to penicillin?” he asked, as if that was the source of your hesitation. “I have an alternative, if so.”

You wavered, thrown off by his question. He couldn’t be this clueless — it had to be an act, an innocent ploy for you to let your guard down. And then what? Vines of discomfort wound themselves around your chest, slowly constricting as they dug into your skin and bone, filling the spaces between your ribs.

“I’m not allergic,” you said, the crack in your voice revealing the discomfort you were desperately trying to conceal. “I really think I should call my squad. I’m…in the military. They’re probably—” You paused, correcting yourself. “They are looking for me now.”

It was true, you prayed — and maybe that was enough to strike a little fear into him, and a little hope into yourself.

A flash of something flickered across his gaze, almost too quick for you to catch. Displeasure or annoyance — but more sinister, you thought. Sharper. Something with teeth and snapping jaws. Whatever it was, it definitely wasn’t the fear you hoped for, but it submerged back to lurk beneath the surface of liquid blue depths, and something lighter replaced it.

“I’m sure they are,” he agreed.

“Were my phone or radio in my coat?” you asked. You were fairly certain you’d managed to get both back into your jacket pocket, but your recollection was faded, unclear.

König readjusted from his crouched position, moving himself to one knee now, but didn’t remove his hand from your chair. He was close enough that you could smell him, warm spice and sandalwood surrounding you, further crowding your senses.

“Breakfast is almost ready — we will eat, first.” He tapped the table near the dish of pills. “But you shouldn’t delay in taking the antibiotic. Your wound is quite deep, and the metal was, ah…unclean,” he said, hesitating as if trying to pick the right word. “Infection can spread quickly.”

You wanted to protest again, but your eyes flicked to his forearm beside you, veins and corded muscle leading to a firm bicep and solid shoulder. His presence alone was menacing whether he tried or not — and you did get the sense now that he was trying — and he seemed like the kind of person who wasn’t used to accepting no for an answer.

König spoke with an unwavering authority that you immediately recognized and, unfortunately, through years of repeated exposure, responded well to. Your leaders spoke that way, their voices strong and sure, demanding obedience, dismissive of any arguments. But when they gave orders, it filled you with confidence, a mutual trust — unlike the dark, thinly veiled undercurrent of danger that König’s words carried.

You picked up the red and yellow capsule first with a trembling hand, turning it over in your fingers first to hide the tremors and buy yourself a little more time to think. Tiny white numbers and letters were printed on the side of it, meaningless to you, but it did look like real medicine. In your periphery, you could see that König was watching you closely. Behind you, the muscles in his arm flexed as his patience grew thin.

There was no telling how far he would go to convince — or force — you to take the pills. You didn’t want to find out, only certain that it wouldn’t bode well for you. You’d had to accept that if it came down to you versus him in an unarmed fight, you wouldn’t stand a chance.

Your plan to demand what you wanted was coming apart at the seams, each stitch picked open by König until there wasn’t much left holding it together at all. The gossamer-thin veil of your confidence fell, crumpled at your sock-covered feet. You needed to reformulate, needed time to think. But when König’s hooded head tilted beside you, impatient, you knew you had to act now.

But plan or no plan, you weren’t blindly complacent.

With little other choice, you placed the pill on your tongue and grabbed the glass of water to take a sip. As you drank, you saw his eyes drop to your throat as if making sure you were truly swallowing. You only had a half-second, an instant, but it was enough; your tongue pushed the pill up and back, tucking it between your cheek and gums as far as you could, hoping that it wasn’t obvious from looking at you that it was there.

König’s eyes slid back up to your face and he nodded, satisfied, and you did the same with the second pill, placing it in the opposite cheek.

“Good,” he said softly, hand drifting from the back of the chair to squeeze your shoulder gently.

You gave him a small smile, as convincing as you could with the pills in your cheeks, with the weight of his palm on you, thumb resting in the divot above your collarbone. He stood and returned to the stove, and you made an intentional show of taking a few more sips of water, letting the glass tap the table. The sour taste of medicine began to fill your mouth, the coatings of the pills dissolving in your saliva.

You stood and he immediately turned to you as if to help. “Bathroom. I think I can manage,” you said, waving a hand dismissively, trying to keep your face neutral from the bitter taste that was starting to overwhelm your tastebuds.

König blinked as he watched you, eyes narrowing slightly as if considering your words. Your mouth watered as the bitterness continued to wash across your tongue — any longer and you’d have to actually swallow these pills or give up your ruse and spit it all out right here at the table. Neither of those options was appealing.

“Alright,” he finally said, almost reluctantly. “Call for me if you need assistance.”

You nodded and half walked, half hopped to the washroom. Pain flared each time you put even partial weight on your foot, but you pushed through, refusing to ask for help — even if you probably did need it. You closed and locked the door, skipping toward the toilet where you immediately spit out the mouthful of acrid saliva and half-dissolved bits of pills.

Your tongue ran along the ridges of your gums and teeth, searching for any flecks you might have left behind, and then it pressed flat against your two front teeth to scrape away any trace of the medicine off the top. Your spit had turned orange and the colors had begun to leech off the tablet, but everything looked mostly intact.

You hadn’t lied entirely — you did have to go. Deception was easier when there was a kernel of truth buried in it. After you’d finished and flushed, making sure no remnants of the pills or casings remained in the bowl, you washed your hands and rinsed the bitter remnants from your mouth with a few swishes of cold water. You finally allowed yourself to relax for a moment, enjoying your minor victory.

Then, you looked down at your foot. When you wiggled your toes, it hurt, an unfamiliar tugging pain pulling across the entire top of your foot. You plopped to the ground, ignoring how cold the tile was beneath your bare thighs, and pulled off the sock. Gauze had been wrapped tightly around your foot, and tiny dots of dark red blood had seeped through.

It looked dry, so maybe the wound had stopped bleeding entirely. Not too bad. You hoped it felt worse than it actually was, like a…paper cut, hurting disproportionately to how minor it was.

Right.

Miniscule as that hope was, you had to hold onto it for now. You began to search for the end of the gauze to unwrap it and take a peek for yourself. What exactly you’d do when you unwrapped it wasn’t clear, but you needed to see it for yourself.

You admittedly hadn’t seen much action since joining Task Force 141— the odds were stacked overwhelmingly in your team’s favor in the few missions you’d been in due to impeccable prep work and intel. Still wrought with real danger, but things were mostly over quickly, with less gunfire and more waiting around than you expected.

So what had gone so wrong with this mission?

A sudden knock on the door caused your heart to jolt, your head to jerk up and smack the porcelain of the sink painfully. You ignored the throb of the bump as you scrambled to your feet, using the edge of the sink to pull yourself up.

“Are you okay?” König asked.

The doorknob jiggled slightly as he tested it. Thankfully, you’d had the foresight to lock the door.

“Yeah,” you said, cursing as you bent to slip your sock back on. In your rush, you were rougher than you should have been, sending a bolt of pain shooting up your shin. “One sec.”

You finally collected yourself and opened the door, finding König standing right behind it. He immediately gave you a once over, as if looking for anything out of place — but seemed satisfied with your appearance.

“You were in there for a while,” he said, the accusation not lost on you.

“Just…taking things slow,” you explained.

He nodded, crinkling the fabric of his hood. But this time he didn’t let you walk back unassisted, instead he stood still and strong as if carved from stone, his elbow jutting forward, beckoning your grasp. You took his arm and when you made it back to the table, you saw that your plate had been filled, two fried eggs, the yolks perfectly preserved and jiggling slightly as you sat down. A lightly browned slice of toast and two sausage links sat beside it. König’s plate was similarly filled, but with nearly twice as much food as was on yours.

He sat across from you and tucked the edge of his mask up behind his ears, keeping it in place. It didn’t reveal much, just a strong jawline covered with an unkempt red-brown beard, and pink lips — surprisingly soft looking, full and plush, but the left side of his upper lip was intersected with a white line of scar that disappeared into his mustache, a wound long-healed.

His tongue poked out, sliding across the cushion of his lower lip to wet it. Heat swelled up your chest and neck despite yourself. You didn’t even realize you had mirrored the gesture until you you sucked in a tight breath, the air cool over your damp lower lip. One corner of his mouth curled up into a co*cky half-smile, a dimple you could just barely see behind the whiskers of his beard.

You ripped your gaze away from his mouth and forced it down to your plate, not willing to meet his eyes and see the amusem*nt that you were sure matched the haughty little chuff of air he released at your reaction.

“Do you want it?” he asked, voice low.

You nearly choked on your spit. “Sorry?”

The warmth creeping up your neck flared further to your cheeks, but when you looked up, he was merely holding a carafe of coffee. The dark brown liquid sloshed within the glass as he held it before him, poised to pour into your mug.

“Y-Yeah,” you said, forcing your voice lower.

f*ck, what was wrong with you?

You watched him fill your mug, then chanced a look at him again. His gaze was fixed on your cup, monitoring his pour carefully so as not to spill a single drop. Through the cutouts of his mask, you caught a glimpse of angled auburn eyebrows, the beginnings of crow's feet at the corners of his eyes. That put him in his…thirties or forties if you had to guess.

His eyes slipped back up to you from your cup, fixed on you, an eyebrow rising in interest, silently teasing. Caught you looking again — it said . But he thankfully didn’t mention it. He didn’t need to.

“Thanks,” you said, your stare dropping as quickly as your stomach.

At this point, you weren’t hesitant about the food. Maybe that was unwise, but it was your reality, a necessity. You scooped two tiny spoonfuls of sugar into your coffee, then reached for cream, but realized there wasn’t any as you scanned the table, no milk or anything to soothe the acidity. So you stirred your drink, breathing slowly as the clink of the spoon on ceramic filled the small space.

“So, how long have you been…out here?” you asked, wrapping both hands around your mug.

His gaze lifted to the ceiling as he bit off a bite of dry toast, chewing thoughtfully. “Just over two years, now.”

You sipped your coffee, considering your next question carefully. It was easier to pretend this was a mission, all part of the plan – that this was an interrogation and you were after intel. A game, almost. Everything seemed less scary that way.

“A temporary thing, or…?”

He shrugged, apparently all he was going to give you. You waited for him to ask you a question, like this was some twisted sort of first date, just getting to know each other. But König was content to eat in silence. So you did, too.

He finished before you despite having more to get through, but he waited and sipped his coffee, in no hurry. Black, you noted. No sugar. Fitting, somehow. When you’d finally had your fill, you fidgeted until König stood to gather up the plates, his chair scraping the floor under his weight.

“Do you have my phone? All of my stuff?” you prompted, feeling bolder once his back was to you at the sink.

“Your gun is locked in my safe,” he answered easily, piercing to the heart of your question too easily. A prepared response. “It is…dangerous to leave weapons unsecured. I am sure you would agree, as experienced as you are. You said you’re military, right?”

Your mouth went dry. “Right,” you agreed after a moment’s pause.

“What branch?” he asked lightly, turning his face over his shoulder to glimpse at you.

You stalled with another sip of coffee, grateful for the caffeine, but your tastebuds still recoiled at the harshness of the undiluted brew. König returned to the table and refilled his mug with the last of the carafe.

“Special Forces,” you finally said, offering a vague answer you hoped he’d accept.

“Ah,” he exclaimed, startling you with the excitedness of his outburst. “Very exclusive. You must be quite the soldier.”

Everything with him was double-edged. Mocking or praising, it was hard to tell, skirting the line between the two, somehow impossible to discern which side his words fell on.

You shrugged, hoping to dismiss further questions about you. Truth be told you weren’t the best fighter, though you held your own and had honed your skills over the years into something sought after. Your small size and hands allowed you to do finer work, picking locks, and sneaking into places more easily than some of your more brutish teammates. You were easier to hide and blend into a crowd when you needed to be covert. A less obvious target than your skull-masked Lieutenant or your bulky, well-muscled teammates.

“I wonder, though,” König continued, unbothered by your lack of reply, his voice dropping conspiratorially as if he was letting you in on some big secret. “What would such a group of specialists be doing out here? There’s not much here this time of year except for snow and ice.”

A small, squeaky sound escaped you, the incoherent beginning of a sentence leading…you didn’t know where. Warmth prickled the tops of your cheeks, and you clenched your jaw as if you could stop the color from blooming across your face under his scrutiny. You hadn’t felt this vulnerable, reduced to blushing, in as long as you could remember.

You weren’t as hard as the others on your team, their decades of experience forging them into something tougher, sharper than you could hope to be. But you had never been this… soft . Weak. You wracked your brain for an answer that didn’t reveal anything you shouldn’t, but nothing came forward.

“In any case,” König continued when he had finally decided to release you from the throes of your discomfort. “The snowstorms have been especially brutal this year. I doubt anyone would find what they were looking for in this weather.”

There was truth in that, you knew. And it included you, too.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

Time passed differently here without the constant lull of chatter from a barracks full of boisterous soldiers. Without your phone to compulsively check or a clock on the wall, it was hard to know how many minutes or hours slipped by, other than trying to gauge the color of the snow-stained scene outside the window.

After breakfast, you’d wanted to ask again for your gear, your phone, but your confidence had faltered, your guard too low for your liking. But you did need to act soon. The longer this went on, the more the very remote deniability of König’s actions crumbled.

Still, you clung to the last sliver of mostly shattered hope, cradled it in your hand hard enough that the jagged shard embedded itself painfully into your palm. It was all you had left to keep you from breaking down.

König had offered you his bookshelf to fill the time. Most of the novels were in German — but it didn’t matter. You wouldn’t be reading them. You’d be thinking, running through scenarios in your head, rebuttals to his questioning, exit strategies. So you grabbed the first book you saw in English, a sci-fi title you vaguely recognized. The cover bore the signs of wear from multiple reads, a dog-eared corner, its spine scarred from being forced open too far by rough hands much too large for such a small book.

You settled in on the couch and pretended to read. Your eyes glossed sightlessly over the paragraphs, occasionally remembering to turn a page when it seemed like enough time had passed. König moved around the cabin as if this was all normal, and you were merely a house guest.

The sounds of an ordinary household filled the space — running water and clinking dishes, the stiff bristles of a brush against the wood floor. When he moved to the fireplace, you watched him surreptitiously over the top of your book as he scooped the pile of ash into a small bucket beside the fireplace. Then, he stacked new logs there, kindling ready beneath it.

König returned to you once he’d finished his chores, having all but ignored you in the routine of them, like a zoo animal caged for too long, its feet impulsively carving the same path into the dirt day after day. You put your book down on the cushion beside you as he neared.

“You didn’t get very far,” he commented, nodding toward the book. “Not to your liking?”

He had been watching, of course, noting every detail, how thin the left side of your book had been before you set it down. You gave a noncommittal shrug, engaging further in this game of cat and mouse, striving so desperately not to be the mouse this time.

“I prefer fantasy books,” you said casually, the temporary semi-distance from him allowing you to recover some of your confidence. “But thanks for letting me read it.”

“Mm. I’ll have to see what else I have that you might enjoy.” He moved closer, and only then did you notice the rolled-up towel he carried. “I’m sure I have something.”

“You don’t have to do that. I won’t be here that much longer anyway,” you said, trying to segue into the lines that you’d readied on the tip of your tongue. “I need to contact my squad. Where are my phone and radio?”

Direct, just like you’d planned.

König didn’t react at first, eyes fixed on you as he took another step forward. You subconsciously found yourself leaning back at his approach, your body swaying to his will despite your determination. You straightened your spine and maintained your stare, meeting crystalline blue as evenly as you could with the severe height difference, him standing, you sitting.

“Your dressing needs to be changed,” he said calmly.

“No,” you said, but your resolve wavered a little when you saw his free hand twitch near his thigh, a blip in his tightly controlled exterior.

“No?” His chest rose and fell in a deep breath, shoulders shrugging. “Well, then. I could not send you back to your team with a dirty wound, could I?”

You blinked. He wasn’t denying you, wasn’t arguing. It disarmed you, lowered the shield you’d braced around yourself.

“It’s really—you don’t have to,” you said, words stumbling over one another. “We have medics back on base.”

“And…how far is your home base from here?” he asked, tutting like he would to a child who had asked a ridiculous question. “It would be some time until you received any medical attention.”

“I…” you faltered. It would be days, at best, otherwise only receiving hasty care in the back of a vehicle, on an airplane. And that was if your call went through, if your request for exfil could be immediately answered. A lot of ifs. Too many. “I could go to the nearest city first. Find a hospital.”

König dropped to his knees slowly in front of you, movements smooth, steady, his eyes shining with a mockery of compassion. “Oh? As foreign military personnel in a country that would…not be happy to see you?” he asked, bewilderment tinting his words. His voice faded into a low tone in his throat, a pitying, patronizing sound. “I don’t think that would be wise, Häschen. Do you?”

You blinked and shook your head — no, you supposed not — as his hands descended to either side of your knees, fingers spread wide on the cushions. Trapped, again. Unease crawled under your skin, leaving a sticky trail in its wake. He always maneuvered you into a position like this, backing you into corners with his words, with his body, using his massive size to herd you into place.

And you let him.

You stared at the veins on the back of his hands, the way the tendons and knuckles stood out beneath battered skin. Short, clean nails. Tough, calloused hands that had known a life of labor or hardship. Fighting, maybe. They reminded you of Ghost’s hands the few times you’d seen them ungloved.

“König, I don’t—”

“I’m going to look at your wound,” he cut in with finality, a tone that allowed no further protest.

You nodded even though you knew it was not even a choice at this point, but agreeing gave you the barest sense of control as you perched on his couch, caged in by thick forearms. He set out supplies on the cushion next to you, squares and rolls of gauze, shears, plastic vials of liquid, and a tube of ointment.

It wasn’t lost on you that he was still so much bigger than you, even crouched like this, a position that most would consider vulnerable, or at a disadvantage. Not him. You squirmed uncomfortably and toyed with the hem of your — well, technically his — shirt, tugging the flannel down to cover as much of your bare thighs as possible.

Once satisfied with the arrangement of the tools, König settled back onto his haunches and reached for your leg. Your body immediately tensed at the contact, limb stiffening although he had barely touched you. Sweat prickled under your arms, and you pulled your elbows tight against your body, forearms folded over your stomach, a subconscious reaction to protect yourself.

“Relax,” he soothed, a hand gently squeezing the tightened muscle of your calf. “Let me help you.”

It took a few beats, but you did finally ease, forcing your leg to stay limp with the help of a couple of deep breaths and the tiniest bit of dissociation.

“Much better,” he said slowly, drawing out the rumble of his voice in the accented words. His thumb pressed further into your softening muscle, gliding upward in a massaging touch, coaxing it to release further. “That’s it. You’re being so good for me.”

You swallowed, the low timbre of his praise settling into a low heat within your belly, a gentle tightening that wrapped all the way around to your lower back. Shame immediately burst within you, burning even hotter inside you, chasing away whatever the f*ck that initial reaction had been. You bit the inside of your cheek. Your stomach turned, an ache this time, deeper, lingering.

You ran your tongue along the inside of your teeth, trying to focus on something else, tracing the ridges and points of each tooth with the tip of your tongue, trailing over the fuzzy surfaces that were in desperate need of a good brushing. But luckily König was immersed in your wound care and not the embarrassment that was surely plain to see on your face.

König rolled your sock down, oversized wool slipping off easily even over the existing layers of bulky gauze. He tutted when he saw the droplets of blood that had soaked through the bandage.

“You have been doing too much,” he reprimanded softly, distracted. “It won’t heal properly if you do not rest and stay off of it.”

You wanted to throw back that you’d hardly done anything at all — but you were mesmerized by how tiny your ankle looked in his hands, a doll’s foot cradled within his palms. He slowly unwrapped the bloodstained gauze, fingers deft despite their size. Gentle, like he had promised. But you grew worried the further he went, at how much blood was soaked into the lower layers of woven mesh. Your stomach lurched as he finally approached your skin. He twisted off the cap of one of the vials and squirted cool liquid over the remaining gauze.

“Saline solution,” he said simply.

The water felt nice against your foot, the skin there warmer than the rest. Nausea gnawed at the edges of your belly — unsure if you wanted to see what was beneath the final strips of gauze. You'd seen wounds before, the aftermath of your teammates clearing rooms of hostiles. Though the hazy adrenaline of battle had obscured the goriest details, leaving you only vague impressions, the memories smudged with soft oil pastels.

This was entirely different. Your wound. You couldn’t maintain the sort of detached sympathy you felt for another when you were unable to truly understand the depth of their pain. This was vivid and here and it was you.

König peeled the remaining bandages off and you winced and jerked away from how it stuck to your skin, tugging on the layers of flesh your body was desperately trying to knit back together. It felt wrong, like he was ripping back the layers of you one by one until you were raw and exposed.

“Easy, easy, easy,” he urged. König’s grip slid back down to your ankle. “Shh. Beruhige dich, Liebling. It’s okay.”

His hand completely encircled your joint, fingers overlapping, holding you steady as he worked. Again, you flinched, but his grip was made of steel, immovable, inescapable. He dropped the bloody gauze to the side and you chanced a look at your nearly bare foot.

You wished you hadn’t.

The center of your foot bore a distinct line of puncture marks, curved over the surface of your foot, an imprint of the shape of the trap. The surrounding skin was crushed and bruised, reds and purples so deep as to almost look black. Your horrified eyes scanned over red and white and pink and yellow and things you knew you shouldn’t be able to see.

Bile surged to the base of your throat and your vision darkened, your periphery dissolving into shuddering shadows. You fought against the darkness, trying to swim up and out of the depths that threatened to drag you under.

Stay awake, stay awake.

You focused on König, the way his sweater stretched across his shoulders, sleeves rolled up as he worked. Grounding. Solid. The bruise on his wrist, colors already diffusing into the surrounding skin, dark purple feathering out to soft lavender. From this angle and closeness, with his eyes downcast you could see long lashes fanned out over his eyes. A thin scar near his eyebrow. Your eyes slid down the shadowed folds of his hood to the lopsided pullstrings hanging from his sweatshirt.

He tugged on your foot, pressure, more pressure. Stinging, sharp. You hissed in a breath through your front teeth. The last of the gauze was tossed into the pile, that strip completely red.

A distant ringing in your ears sounded, roaring louder, louder. Your eyes searched for anything else to focus on as you breathed, a tiny stitched logo on the front of his hoodie, the face of an animal — a lion? no, a wolf? — too blurry to make out properly.

You swallowed, blinking quickly, lifting a hand to get König’s attention. “Hey,” you said weakly, your mouth filling with water, stomach clenching. “König, ’m gonna—” was all you could get out before whatever was left of breakfast poured from your mouth with one violent heave, onto your shirt, your lap, and him.

You sank back onto the couch, woozy. Spent. Unable to think about anything. Grateful for that. Multi-colored static danced across your vision, the baritone of König’s voice just audible, muffled by the high-pitched sound that had risen to a piercing screech, louder than anything else. Rough fingers jammed into a soft spot under your jaw. Something slipped between your teeth. A thermometer — that much you recognized. The cold metal tip quickly warmed inside your mouth.

It hurt, a little, how the probe pressed too deeply against the soft pocket beneath your tongue. You didn’t mind it. Something to hone in on. You blinked when he pulled out the thermometer, refocusing your vision, discovering a bit more clarity before it fled once more.

“No fever, but close,” he said, more to himself than to you, it seemed. König squeezed your knee. “Let’s get you cleaned up. Hm, little one?”

Another nod from you. You opened your eyes, limbs limp. Sleepy. He left. You closed your eyes, just for a second.

“Poor girl,” König cooed. “Look at you.”

Your head suddenly jerked up at the words and the touch of a cool cloth pressed to your face. You must have passed out. König cleaned your face, wiping away the dirt and grime, soft fibers passing over your mouth, down your neck and chest. The damp towel soothed your skin as he wiped, the chill of it corralling the last stray pieces of your awareness back into place.

His fingers moved to the front of your shirt, knuckles grazing your sternum, then the swell of your breasts as he undid one, then two buttons. Moving slowly. It took you longer than you cared to admit to reach for one of his hands with both of yours, stopping him.

“I’ve got it,” you said, higher pitched than you intended. “I’m…okay now.”

“Are you sure?” he asked. His eyes were lowered to where your shirt hung open, but slid back to your face as your nails dug into his skin.

“Yeah,” you answered quickly, releasing his wrist to pull the soiled material over yourself. “Where are my clothes?”

“Still wet, I’m afraid,” he said, regret slathered on a bit too thick. He handed you another one of his flannel shirts, a dark green plaid.

König turned to neaten his supplies, offering you a modicum of modesty. You quickly shimmied the dirty shirt off and slid your arms through the new one, hastily buttoning it back up before rolling up the too-long sleeves. The material was warm and soft, well-worn. He had changed too, his sweatshirt now a different color, clean. He wore a new hood, light grey, but of the same make as the black one, the same bleached tear stains below the eye holes.

He turned to you once you’d finished, eyeing the way you fidgeted in place, the knee of your uninjured leg bouncing up and down. “I’m going to finish bandaging your wound.”

König didn’t wait for your assent, but resumed his task as if it hadn’t been interrupted. A hand slid up your calf as König lifted and examined your leg once more. His fingers pressed into the unblanchable reddened skin that now extended up your ankle, a wash of pink spreading toward your shin. That…couldn’t be good. Your eyes snapped up before you caught another glimpse of your foot. König clicked his tongue as he turned your leg, taking note of the state of it, but sharing nothing with you.

As distrustful as you were, seeing König kneeling at your feet, carefully tending to you filled the empty cavern of your chest with a feeling you couldn’t describe — and you refused to let your mind try to figure it out. You blinked it away as he methodically wrapped a roll of gauze around your foot, then another, tucking the ends in tightly with a practiced hand. He’d tended to wounds before — you wondered where, when. Who.

König admired his handiwork, but his gaze lingered a touch too long. You shifted in your seat, subtly trying to tug your foot back. He didn’t allow it. Instead, he kept a hold of you, his eyes following the curve of your calf, over the bend of your knee. You were suddenly hyper-aware about the way the flannel bunched at your hips, exposing more bare skin than you’d like given your position.

König did let you go after you pulled back again, and he straightened his back as he rose a bit, placing a heavy, warm palm on your thigh for support as he lifted himself to his knees. What you could see of his expression had darkened, a wolf-like crinkle in the corners of his eyes when he met yours again.

“How do you feel now, Hase?” he asked, co*cking his head to the side lightly, his fingers denting the plush of your thigh.

“Okay,” you mumbled as you sucked your bottom lip between your teeth, your tongue probing a dry flake of skin that clung to it.

“Good. You had me worried for a moment. I don’t like to see you that way, shaking and sick.” He paused, voice dropping an octave to something that sounded like empathy. “You’ve been through so much since yesterday. It must be exhausting to be so brave, pushing through as you are.”

Despite yourself, despite everything in you that wanted to bolt, something about his tone and touch soothed you, wove a spell around you that kept you entranced like a deer in headlights, unable to jolt out of the way of the oncoming car. Stunned, wide-eyed, and waiting for the impact.

Stupid, stupid, stupid .

Your traitorous mouth refused to form any words when you released your lip, throat only letting out a small ambiguous sound of agreement.

“Du armes Ding,” he murmured, unintelligible to you, but carrying the same weight as his prior words, slipping seamlessly from your language to his. “Du warst ganz allein.”

There was inflection there, heavy. You blinked, hollow.

“What?” you rasped, barely above a whisper.

He didn’t repeat himself, but the rough pad of his thumb dipped inward, brushing against the silken skin of your inner thigh as he stroked gently back and forth. You couldn’t tear your eyes from it, didn’t move, didn’t breathe.

König treated you like a cornered animal, a feral thing soothed with a low voice and empty promises, fed delicious tidbits from the palm of his hand — and you were gobbling up every morsel.

The muscles in your thighs relaxed, from exhaustion as much as anything you told yourself, parting just a bit as he subtly exerted pressure against you. Giving in was easier right now, no harm in it. He wasn’t asking for much. You sunk back into the soft cushions behind you as he leaned forward another inch, leaving you no more room to retreat.

“There. That’s better, yeah?” he asked, hand sliding incrementally higher. “Gefällt dir das?”

“Um, yeah,” you rasped, the end of your word turning up into a question, your head swimming. “Better.”

Your lower belly tightened in anticipation — of what? your rational inner voice accused. Tendrils of warmth slithered along your skin, extending into the very center of you, the feeling keeping you captivated between breaths. His touch bore a casual and intimate familiarity that it shouldn’t, causing your pulse to quicken, hot blood rushing to the surface of your skin beneath his hand.

Electricity tingled beneath his fingertips, branding your nerve endings with the memory of his hand. The tightness that had been coiled within you slowly unfurled when his fingers curled, then stretched against you, his hand engulfing such a large surface of your thigh. You tried to swallow, but the movement stuck halfway, caught in your dry throat. You wanted to blame all of this on the nausea, the frostnip, your senses heightened as your nerves healed, but you knew it wasn’t that.

No — you knew what this was.

This was the burning that began low in your belly, winding through your core like a silken serpent, pulling you further from coherent thought. This was the beginning of what built and built and built until it crashed down over you in a delectable ebb and flow. This was what surged higher and higher the closer he leaned, what stifled your lungs just like the enticing scent of him, heady mulled spice and peppery white cedar calling to your most base and primal self.

This was want.

Need.

As soon as you recognized it, you recoiled, mind reeling back as if you had stepped on something slimy and wet with your bare foot. You fought down the rising nausea that threatened you again, but the revelation had already left its mark on you, like a lingering sickness, a scar already twisted up inside of you. You squashed it down as best you could, rejecting whatever demented game König was playing with you that was infecting your mind.

“M-My foot feels…fine. Thanks,” you managed through gritted teeth, salvaging what little shreds of your dignity remained. You twitched your leg beneath his grasp, finally severing that connection.

“Good.” He patted your thigh with finality, large palm slapping lightly against your bare skin. He stood and pulled a thick blanket from your pile on the floor and motioned for you to lie down on the sofa. “You seem tired. Why don’t you rest for a while?”

You lay back as he suggested, curling around yourself as tightly as you could on your side. You slipped your forearm under your head, taking up as little space as possible. König placed the quilted blanket over you and tucked it around your shoulders, making you feel more and more like a stray kitten he’d coaxed inside with a hearty meal, then collared while it was distracted with gentle scratches over a warm lap. Your eyes followed König warily as he started the fire to keep the cabin warm, then you sank deeper below the blanket, exhaustion sweeping over you.

The inner turmoil, your wound, the games, it was disorienting, draining. Too much. The longer this went on, the more you weren’t sure what to believe, how far your anxiety and distrust distorted the truth. You squeezed your eyes shut. Enough was enough.

When you woke up, you’d get your phone.

You would be out of here tonight.

You would.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

Notes:

Thank you for reading! <3

If you liked this, please consider leaving a comment! Even an emoji means a lot 💕

Your support and feedback help keep me fueled and going, and I read and treasure them all.

I’m trying to stay consistent between my WIPs, but balancing work and family as well. I appreciate your patience between updates but am trying to keep this one every 2-3 weeks 💕 going to end up just around 20-25 chapters.

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Chapter 4: Truth

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

A cough, close. Movement beneath your cheek.

Your consciousness was dragged heavily through the rough landscape of sleep as you woke, trudging through terrain thick as the snow blanketing the ground outside the cabin. You were still curled on the couch, hands clenched around damp fistfuls of quilted fleece. You loosened your clammy grip a little, stiff joints protesting the change. Unease wormed its way through you, but you resisted opening your eyes as you waited for your senses to fully catch up to the present.

Something was wrong.

Your neck was supported, angled — but the material beneath your cheek wasn’t the velveteen surface of the couch cushion, nor the cool linen you’d expect of a pillowcase. The fabric was soft, but woven. Clothing. And beneath it, a firm surface that subtly shifted along with the rustle of paper above you.

Warmth cradled your head, your face pressed into the crease of a hip, cheek over a muscular thigh. A weight over your supine torso, an arm, resting over you. Splinters of ice rushed through your veins at the realization, the chill settling deep into your marrow. Your abdomen clenched tightly to keep a shudder at bay.

You feigned sleep for a few more moments, then opened your eyes while the neurons in your brain sparked back to life. You didn’t want to look, but your neck seemed to move of its own accord, morbid curiosity demanding you turn your face upward.

Your gaze lifted from the folds of a muscular abdomen softened at rest, over a chest stretched beneath cotton, to the bottom of a dark hood. The excess material draped over broad shoulders, and higher, faded red streaked beneath twin cutouts, all leading up to two bright blue eyes fixed intently on you.

Instinct overtook you, your sore body finding a surge of strength, skipping past rational thought into something deeper that demanded immediate action. You pushed yourself up quickly, fingers scratching, digging, pushing into thigh and couch and blanket in your haste. The book was nearly knocked from König’s grasp in your rush to create space between the two of you. You blinked rapidly and scrambled backward on the couch until an armrest pressed into the middle of your back, halting your retreat.

Your heart raced to keep up with the demand of adrenaline, an occasional beat out of sync thumping too early, too hard against your ribs.

König unhurriedly closed his book with a small ‘thwack’ and set it down on the table beside the sofa. There was a dark spot on his leg where your head had been, the material damp from — drool? sweat? Yours — it had to be. You didn’t feel hot, but warmth and cold were beginning to feel indistinguishable, heat burning fiercely through you only to be overtaken by chills.

“Bad dream, Hase?” he asked, observing you with interest, tilting his head like a bird who had found some shiny, interesting piece of metal half-buried in the dirt.

“No,” you said, voice thick from sleep, the word barely making it out past the constriction of your panic. You cleared your throat. “Don’t think so,” you added, less sure.

You couldn’t remember, exactly. Incoherent flashes of an almost-forgotten world flickered across your mind, smudged colors and grainy shapes, but it was already lost to you, too ethereal to pull forward into concrete memory. Your brow furrowed as you tried to reel it back into existence, but it was gone. The only trace of it left was a deep-seated discomfort that crawled beneath your skin.

“You seemed scared,” König told you, voice low and even, soft. A prying statement hidden beneath a shallow layer of concern.

You blinked, offering nothing, stifling the choked laugh that threatened to burst from your chest, absurdity bubbling up at the base of your esophagus. Separated from your squad, injured, half-dressed, and cared for by a strange man — what did he expect you to say?

König scooted closer and reached for your face, the span of his arm extending so far that he didn’t have to move much at all. You froze but didn’t shy away — not like you had anywhere to go. Your breath barely puffed out through your nostrils as his hand came closer, heart fluttering ineffectively, hummingbird fast.

“You do not need to be.”

Passive thoughts of biting those fingers flashed before you — the crunch of teeth on bone, piercing through scarred flesh and tendon, salted warmth and copper flooding your mouth — but you merely clamped your jaw shut, molars grinding against one another. The idea dissolved like smoke in your mind, wisps of it lingering, mocking you for your inaction.

If König noticed the indecisive clench of your teeth, the shift of tense muscle beneath your cheek — he didn’t show it. But he had proven time and time again that he wasn’t afraid of you or what you might do. Why would he be when all you’d shown him was submission, an agreeable, passive version of yourself, presented belly-up?

“I’m not scared,” you said at last, the impact stolen from your words as your lips barely moved, hesitant to let your breath touch his approaching hand.

“Mm,” he hummed, noncommittal.

To prove your point to him — and yourself — you forced yourself to stay steady when his fingers contacted your temple and traced gently along your hairline. Muscles pulled tight, not even giving him a fraction of a flinch. A facsimile of confidence. He let out a tutting noise as he smoothed back a lock of hair that clung to your sweat-damp forehead.

“You were mumbling in your sleep,” he explained.

König let the backs of his fingers slowly graze your cheek as he pulled his hand away, taking his time to let blunted nails and scarred knuckles brush your soft skin as he did so. You stayed still, showing him that you were bold — or docile. The two didn’t feel much different, right then.

“It sounded quite urgent,” he added casually.

He rubbed the transferred moisture between his fingertips, making another disapproving sound. His gaze roamed across your half-curled form as you huddled on the opposite side of the couch, his eyes lingering a half-second too long over the curve of your hip and bunched-up top before landing on your face.

A wave of heat blossomed behind your sternum, warmed petals rising, settling atop your already ruddy cheeks. You held his stare, uncertainty shimmering at your lash line, finding blue overlaid with heavy fog, unreadable.

You tugged the blanket over your lap, hugging the extra material to your middle. It smelled like him — everything in here did — but holding it still made you feel a bit better, a flimsy barrier to preserve some modesty and space between the two of you.

“Did I, um,” you started as you fiddled with the edge of the blanket, folding and unfolding the sewn edge. It was soothing to follow the threads in the seam back and forth with your fingertips, slowing your breathing with each stroke. “What did I say?”

“Some names, I think.” König shrugged and sat back, his stare dropping to your lap, breaking the too-intense eye contact.

You immediately stopped fidgeting when you noticed he was watching your hands, taking in the way you toyed with the material. You were weak enough as it was — no need to appear even more vulnerable and anxious.

You kept yourself from asking for the specifics, from learning the names that you held close enough to perforate your dreams. It wouldn’t do you any good. The barrier holding back your tears was growing thinner and thinner every minute you spent in König’s presence. Your resolve was whittled down by his touch, the looks he gave you, the words and feelings that made you question him and yourself and your reality.

Hearing the names of your squad, your family, or your friends back on base in König’s voice would be more than you could bear. So, you stayed quiet.

But unlike you, your empty stomach had no qualms about speaking up, releasing a high-pitched squeal as it churned over nothing but pure acid. The lingering taste of sick still coated your tongue and clung to your teeth, the film fermented into something worse now after sleep. You swallowed it down. You felt entirely filthy inside and out, needing a wash with astringent soap, a harsh scrub from mind to head to toe to scrape off every trace of dirt and blood and sweat and him — to feel like yourself again instead of this feral, caged creature.

Soon, you’d be back where you belonged, back on base, and you would.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

You must have slept through lunch, judging by the darkness beyond the window. Dinner was light for you — golden broth poured from a tightly sealed mason jar. Homemade. Best for your queasy stomach, König had informed you, and the appetizer was two more pills, same as this morning. You attempted the same maneuver that had worked then, a few gulps of water and an agile tongue hiding the medicine, successful deception.

But this time he didn’t let you go to the bathroom alone.

He walked you there, then leaned against the doorframe just outside, the wood creaking with his added weight. You hesitated with the door half closed, waiting for König to go back to the kitchen and give you some privacy. But instead, he merely tilted his head toward the bathroom. It was your cue to do what you needed and his folded arms were an additional warning to do it quickly.

Your mouth opened to argue, to tell him that you really didn’t need him to stand right outside the door, you’d be just fine, thanks — but as you took in the way the bulk of him nearly filled the doorway top to bottom, you decided it wasn’t worth the effort. No need to draw extra suspicion on yourself.

You shut the door, at least blocking off your view of your stalwart guardian, but you barely felt more at ease. His presence was still heavy despite the slab of wood between you. It wasn’t nearly enough separation and the flimsy lock wouldn’t stop him if he wanted to come in.

You wouldn’t give him a reason to try.

Your mouth was drier than before, a blessing as the pills made it into the toilet mostly intact, undissolved. The cabin was eerily silent, the odd drip in the bathroom exceedingly loud in the quiet. It made you even more unnerved to do what else you needed to, knowing he was paying attention just a few feet away.

It’s not like you needed complete isolation. Living on a military base meant privacy was a luxury not usually afforded to you, but…it was different . There, you were one of many, a faceless, nameless operator, anonymous except to those you worked with directly and the few friends you’d collected. When you used the communal showers and bathrooms, no one was paying attention to you. Everyone felt the same: get in, get out.

But here, it was just the two of you. König seemed to notice every detail about you, always watching, always listening. Fascinated with your habits, like you were some tiny creature he found in a creek, grabbed with too-rough hands and plopped into a makeshift terrarium meant to imitate a home. His to prod and poke and stare at, tapping the glass when you were too quiet, too still.

You grimaced but managed to push past your discomfort.

As you ran the water to wash your hands, you opened up the mirrored cabinet above the sink. Standard contents: cotton buds and a half-used tube of toothpaste, floss, a razor and shaving cream, a few tins labeled in a language you didn’t understand, and deodorant. You eyed König’s toothbrush, lip curling at the idea of using it though you badly needed to brush.

Instead, you closed the cabinet, lifted the hem of your borrowed shirt, and scrubbed the fabric along your teeth, the flannel further drying out your gums as it wicked away every drop of moisture you had left. But it was something . You ran your tongue over your teeth and bared them in the mirror to inspect your work, cracked lips stretching thin in a too-wide smile.

The effect was bizarre in the mirror, your reflection almost unrecognizable. Your cheeks still bore the evidence of the windburn, but around the darker splotches, your face was ashen, your hair a frizzy halo framing it all. You frowned, multi-faceted embarrassment burning the tips of your ears as a nagging thought burrowed itself into your mind.

You were…self-conscious.

And you hated that you were. Your reflection stared back at you accusingly. You shouldn’t feel that way, shouldn’t care in the slightest about your appearance right now or what König thought of it. His occasionally roaming eyes seemed to show that there was at least some interest in your body. But he hadn’t actually… done anything to you, though it was clear he easily could if he wanted to.

And you were fairly certain he did want to.

The thought should terrify you more than it did. You nibbled on your bottom lip, tongue probing a flake of dry skin, deciding, trying to wrangle your thoughts into clarity.

Maybe it was simply pride or vanity that had you even thinking about this at all. That would be far easier to accept. But you knew it was more likely the confusing, depraved truth you didn't want to face—

You did care about König’s opinion of you, at least a little.

You tried to push it away, but the feeling curled up inside of your belly as soon as you acknowledged it, unwilling to leave its comfortable new home. So, you dabbed at your hair with wet hands and tried to run your fingers through it, but gave up when they immediately snagged on countless snarls. You settled on smoothing down what you could. The elastic band keeping your hair back from your face had somehow held on among the mess, but had knotted itself up within your tresses. With a bit of work and a few ripped strands, you managed to free it and gather the entire tangled mat back into something a bit more tame.

You wet your face and scrubbed away the water and grease with the hand towel beside the sink. Cleaner. Better. A little life returned to your skin from the friction of cotton and the ritual of grooming. You felt more human again, at least.

Two knocks at the door warned you that your time was up, so you opened the door and gave König a small, tight smile in offering, a platitude to pacify the giant before you. The corners of his eyes crinkled as he studied you, as close to a return smile as he could give, covered as he was. The expression caused the back of your neck to tingle, a confusing warmth to stir and clench within your gut.

Shades of crimson shame deepened across your face.

König offered his elbow, so you tucked your still-damp palm into the crook of his arm and wrapped your hand around a firm bicep, your fingers not even close to meeting. He helped you back to the table, pulling your chair out and pushing you back in once you’d settled on it.

A gentleman — you thought sardonically. Or at least, an imitation of one, doing the things that he thought a good man should. The act was convincing if you squinted.

You stared at the bowl of still-steaming broth before you, mouth watering, forgoing the spoon and politeness entirely, bringing the dish to your lips. You meant to go slowly, but your hunger demanded you drink deeply, the gentle heat of the delicately seasoned broth soothing your parched tongue, washing away the grimy film that coated the inside of your mouth. Salt balanced with the essence of savory herbs, stimulating your tastebuds with hints of celery and parsley.

You nearly downed the entire bowl in one go before you set it down and wiped a small dribble from the corner of your mouth with the cloth napkin. When you looked up, König was watching you — no surprise there, you’d expected as much — but you didn’t anticipate the eagerness glimmering in his gaze, his own food left untouched.

“You like it?” he asked, excitement bleeding into his voice as he leaned forward.

His tone was different from the usual cool exterior he portrayed, hanging on your approval, needing to hear you agree like it mattered to him. Maybe it did.

“Yeah,” you admitted after a pause, no denying it with the way you nearly chugged the whole bowl. “It’s good.”

König nodded, the material of his hood shifting with the tilt of his head. “Tomorrow, I’ll make you a proper chicken soup, as long as your stomach can handle it.” He picked up his spoon and stuck it into his stew.

Tomorrow.

The liquid sloshed in your stomach as you shifted in your seat, suddenly feeling overfull, taking in too much too fast without thinking. You swallowed around nothing.

Everything about König disarmed you, pivoted you away from your focus, from how you expected things to go. If he was cruel, it’d be easier to resist his words, to growl out your discontent, to fight and snap at him like a rabid dog.

It was hard to disagree with him like this. He’d never threatened you outright, but a man like him didn’t need to. And beneath the polite exterior, past his odd, calculated behavior and twisting words, there was kindness there, something that had to be genuine. Deeper, a weary loneliness etched in the creases around his eyes. Melancholy that tugged at something within your chest.

Not your f*cking problem — your logical inner voice bellowed.

König leaned back in his chair, fingers drumming on the table in thought as he watched you. “I can bake some rye bread, too. What do you think?”

A question, but one where your answer wouldn’t matter. König didn’t wait for one. He tucked his mask up to eat, then stroked his beard, absentmindedly smoothing down the errant bristles with a large hand. He pushed the longer strands of his overgrown mustache up over the edges of his lips, out of the way.

Any dissenting replies you might have offered refused to budge from their place lodged within your throat, tied up with threads of misplaced empathy.

“Okay,” you said meekly, squandering an opportunity to tell him that you weren’t planning on staying much longer. One call and you’d be out, a truck, a helicopter, your team on the way. Soon.

König let out a breath that sounded like a laugh, the sound echoing among your jumbled thoughts. Your time in the cabin swirled together, the day — days? — morphing into something you couldn’t think about clearly, too many emotions woven tightly, unable to be pulled back apart and processed. Your thighs shook, a subtle shiver that you couldn’t contain.

You studied a globule of oil drifting across the remaining broth in your bowl, watching it merge with the others that clung to the side of the ceramic. You heard König’s spoon clink against his bowl as he ate, but your chin stayed downturned. You stared at a whorl in the wood grain, then at the faint dings and scuffs that marred the metallic sheen of your unused spoon, not blinking until your vision blurred.

Your eyes burned with unshed tears, pressure building within your skull, but you kept it at bay with the hope of rescue. Maybe when you called, they’d send Soap and Gaz, Ghost. Better than your own squad. The best. Maybe even Captain Price. The thought comforted you, calmed your nerves, but the chill returned quickly, quaking evident in the tremble of your fingers as you reached for your cup.

You readjusted your position in the chair, but when you did, you bumped your injured foot against one of the wooden legs, sending a shockwave of pain shooting up through your leg. Your teeth clacked together as you winced. Water sloshed from the movement, spilling over the rim, the glass far heavier than it should be — maybe you were weaker than you thought, truly sick.

The sip of water nearly caught in your throat.

Maybe tendrils of necrosis were taking hold within you, poisoning your blood. Maybe you should take the medicine. Maybe König was truly trying to help you. Maybe not.

Maybe.

Maybe.

You set the glass down as König reached across the table to dab at the puddle on the wood with his napkin, mopping up the spill. A mumbled apology slipped past your lips before you could stop it.

This situation was forcing things out of you that you didn’t want to face. Intentional or not, König had a way of cracking you open and rummaging around, rearranging things as he liked. And, despite all your training and instincts that protested your compliance, you were letting him. Something must be very, very wrong with you — or him.

Or both of you.

You had to consciously remind yourself to loosen your clenched jaw, temples aching from prolonged tension. Your foot throbbed and the beginning of a headache settled within your skull. A nagging soreness where acid had eroded your throat. Exhaustion weighed down your heavy eyelids.

The belly full of warm broth felt good, at least.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

After the meal, König walked you to the couch. He sat nearby at the desk beside the window, hunched over, intent on writing in a small, leather-bound notebook with a pen that looked minuscule in his large hands. Then, he moved closer to crouch and poke at the fire, ashen logs cracking open in a deluge of sparks to reveal cherry-red centers. You steadied your breath, waiting for an opportunity to speak, ready for the moment you’d braced yourself for all day.

“The storm hasn’t slowed yet,” he explained as he tossed two new pieces of wood onto the dying blaze. “Until I can cut more wood, we need to ration what is left. It’ll be a bit colder inside the next few nights.”

You nodded in acknowledgment even though his back was to you. How much longer did he think you would be here? It was time to set things straight — to correct whatever deep chasm of misunderstanding had grown between the two of you.

“König,” you started. “My squad is probably worried. I’ve got to get back. I need my phone.”

The muscles beneath his shirt flexed and shifted as he rearranged the dwindling woodpile beside the fireplace into a neat, triangular stack. But after hearing your words, he slowed, then stopped.

He didn’t answer right away, but rose to his full height and turned to you, arms crossed, fingers drumming on his forearms as he stood before you. Your head tilted back to match his stare, fierce determination blazing within your spirit. He regarded you coolly, eyes half-lidded as he looked down at you.

With a grunt, he left toward the rear of the cabin. You turned and peered over the back of the sofa, watching him enter his bedroom. It was hard to hear over the crackling of the fire, but you listened and made out a few faint clicks, the thud of a wood door, then…beeps? A heavier clunk. You ducked your head back down when you detected footsteps again.

“I think you’ll find that phone service is…limited out here,” König said with a shrug as he slipped your phone into your hand. “But you are welcome to try it.”

Adrenaline rushed through your veins — he was actually giving you your phone? This was a trick or a trap or—

König stepped back and went to his bookshelf, scanning the rows, offering you the illusion of some sort of privacy as he thumbed over the spines. You fumbled with the buttons of your phone, the device feeling foreign to you after only a short time apart from it. The lock screen immediately flicked on, the battery at twenty-seven percent. Enough. With shaky hands, you unlocked it and saw no new messages, no missed calls. Your squad, base, someone should have tried to contact you — right?

Your eyes blurred with panicked tears as you clicked on the contacts, trying to call your sergeant first. You held the phone to your ear, but you didn’t hear it ringing. You canceled the call and tried again.

Same result.

You stood on wobbly legs, ignoring the noise of protest König made as you hobbled toward the window to see if that would help the call go through. It didn’t. You tried again. No ringing, no call connecting, no blip or beep that made you believe you had service, even for a second. You typed a barely readable text to Gaz, a shaky thing that autocorrect mangled further into incoherence, but a red exclamation point immediately popped up above the message.

Not delivered.

You fought to control your breathing and stared at your phone screen, the letters almost completely blurred from the surge of cortisol forcing your pupils to widen. It was then you saw it in a moment of hyper-focused clarity, in tiny white letters at the top of your screen.

No SIM.

Not ‘No service.’ No SIM.

It didn’t make sense.

The only reason it would say that would be if—if your phone—

If König—

If he—

A cold sweat broke out over your brow, your clammy fingers nearly dropping the device. Your nostrils flared as you took quick breaths, the definite and undeniable truth sucking the air right from your lungs, a black hole tearing open within your chest, the endless vacuum of it swallowing your breath and hope at once. You pressed your forehead to the frosted glass, frigid against your flushed skin, your mind and heart racing, each trying to keep up with the other.

König didn’t want you to contact your team.

He didn’t want you to leave.

He wouldn’t let you.

Time seemed to slow for a few beats, something creaking slowly within your mind as you stared sightlessly at your phone, knees squeezed together, entire body tensed. Your hand clenched around your phone, your other balled into a fist, and you ran through everything you knew so far — exits, windows, doors, where the knives were. You felt more and more like a small prey animal, lost in a dark cave, nose twitching in the air as the acrid scent of a carnivore loomed near, your whiskers catching the wafting of thick, pungent breaths just behind you.

Run.

You just needed to get out of here. Get away. You could steal his snow gear and head out. Tonight. You could find the way back to the road. Flag down help. Get to a town, and find your team. Find literally anybody else.

Your head jerked up — remembering.

An emergency call should still work without a SIM card. Your fingers could barely try the options — f*ck, what was the number here? — 911, 999, 112, 111 — call the police, call an ambulance, call—

“Are you alright?” König’s voice came from just over your shoulder, tone dripping honey, the sweetness hiding the spores of botulism that paralyzed you.

You dropped your phone in surprise when he spoke, and it grazed the side of your leg before falling to the floor with a clatter. But you didn’t move to pick it up, to check if the screen cracked like you normally would have on instinct. Your muscles had turned to stone, only allowing you to turn and face him. This was a ruse of some sort, a game where he had already planned out his moves, two steps ahead of yours.

“Fine,” you whispered, the sound squeezed out past your tight throat.

“Mm,” he hummed, too cheery, too knowing. “Any luck?”

Your silence said more than any words could have. The game was over, the winner not needing fanfare to acknowledge his victory. König made another noise low in his throat as he moved closer, steps slow and smooth, his eyes gleaming behind his hood. You stepped back until your bottom bumped the windowsill. He bent to pick your phone off the ground and held it up to you. You didn’t take it. There was no point. When you didn’t grab it, he tucked it into his pocket with a small shrug.

“My radio,” you croaked, your last chance. You felt a drop of sweat trickle from your temple down the side of your face. “Where—can I have it? I need it. It might—might work.”

König tilted his head to the side as he stared down at you, towering over you, all pretense of selflessly helping you melted away. “You don’t look well, little one,he said coolly. “I think you should lie down.”

You gritted your teeth, trying to keep the blooming darkness within from swallowing you whole, but you couldn’t stop the fat tears from spilling over your lash line when you tried to blink away the blur over your vision. It was too much. The saltwater stung your cheeks, sensitive skin still recovering from windburn. Your head dropped, shoulders slumped, shaking as you took in shuddering breath after shuddering breath, each one overlapping the next, ineffective.

“Oh, Süßes Häschen,” König cooed. “Look at you.”

He knelt before you, and through the distortion of tears, you saw his eyes soften, eyebrows drawn upward in what looked like genuine concern carved in sapphire. You winced as two large hands cupped your cheeks and you curled your shoulders inward as you tried to make yourself smaller to hide from his grasp, but he didn’t let you retreat. His thumbs were insistent, swiping away the droplets that trailed down your cheeks.

He seemed…unguarded at that moment. Taken aback. A moment of weakness. You hardened your resolve at the opportunity. Anger burned brightly within you, rising above the depths of your fear. Flashes of your training crossed your mind. Self-defense. You could grab where you thought his ears were, knee to the face, smash his nose. Even the biggest, baddest soldier would recoil from that. Do it. Rip off his mask and claw at his eyes until blood congealed beneath your nails. f*cking do it. Stun him long enough to—to—

Something changed within König’s gaze as he watched you, like he could read your thoughts as plainly as one of the well-worn books on his shelf. His fingers froze on your face, waiting, thumbs resting on the apples of your cheeks. A shadow eclipsed the tender expression that had shone through. His eyes narrowed and he let out a soft sound of amusem*nt. Whatever truth, whatever real emotion you’d seen in him was gone, replaced by something far more sinister. The shift in him sent a wave of ice water cascading down your spine.

Your instincts shouted at you, the high-pitched ringing in your ears a warning of imminent danger, muscles pumped full of adrenaline, ready to act. Now! Lungeforward, thumbs directly on blue irises, press and press and press and press until—

You blinked as more tears fell, but that look was still there in König’s eyes, dark humor, a morbid joke shared between the two of you. The air crackled with expectant energy, a laugh trapped within a broad chest. It was a dare. A thinly veiled request for you to do it, try your luck, try anything just to see what would happen.

König wanted you to.

He was far too close, his face only a foot away from yours, but you didn’t look away — couldn’t — and didn’t act on your impulses. Instead, you clenched your fists more tightly at your sides, pressing your nails into the cushion of your palms harder, shrinking back against the wall as much as the unforgiving glass and wood allowed.

Coward.

König stood, keeping his hands on your face, now looking down at you.

“Poor thing,” he said, the singsong lilt in his voice as mocking as it was soothing. “Has no one tried to call you after all? It must be so difficult to know that your team left you stranded in the cold, to fend for yourself.”

“It’s n-not—” you hiccupped, trying to speak around the emotion suffocating you. “Not like that. You—They didn’t—They didn’t leave me.”

“No?”

Your crying had slowed now, but König’s palms remained pressed to your face, thumbs feathering the tops of your cheekbones before sliding lower under your chin. He swiped away the rest of the tears that had slid over the slope of your jaw, chasing the moisture down to your neck. You barely dared to breathe as both of his hands rested against your throat, cupping the slender column of muscle.

You blinked, lips parting wordlessly as the guise of wiping tears dissolved into something else entirely.

One calloused hand slid to your shoulder, the imitation of a soothing touch, but the other stayed right over your neck, thumb subtly stroking the juts of ribbed trachea beneath the thin skin there, his eyes fixed on the spot with a singular intensity. You were acutely aware of how easily just one of his large hands could completely encircle your throat with curled fingers and heavy palm, a collar of flesh and bone that you’d have no hope to escape, even if you tried.

“Perhaps you’re right. But it’s a shame, really,” König continued.

You swallowed thickly, throat bobbing beneath his inquisitive touch. He pressed in lightly, barely compressing your airway, a preview of the power he wielded but tempered, just for you. It would be so easy for him to crush the cartilage beneath his thumb — maybe he would, maybe he should . The choice was his. Colors nipped at the edges of your sight as you held your breath, lungs burning, waiting. But he merely swiped his thumb downward, finally releasing the pressure.

You sucked in a small hiss of air. If you had been intending to do something to him, that moment had passed, opportunity lost. Tears pricked at the corners of your eyes again, the void inside of you widening into a yawning abyss that threatened to hollow you out entirely.

“You’d think if your squad truly cared for you, they’d be combing these woods night and day to find you. Instead…” His thumb dropped lower, tracing over the divot at the base of your throat, then pushed aside the collar of your shirt to expose your collarbone. “They left you on your own to face the elements—a tiny thing like you against such a dangerous world, fending for herself. Helpless,” his voice caught on the last word, a break in his front, a crease in his tightly controlled exterior. “Alone.”

“It’s not—I’m not helpless,” you rasped, a weak argument given the circ*mstances and how thin your voice was as you uttered the words. The last bit of your hope began to shatter, cracked like a sheer layer of ice over a frigid pond, an imminent plunge into arctic waters.

“Mm,” he hummed, humoring you. “But it is dangerous here. Not a place for someone like you to be…unprotected.”

Your pulse flickered, realizing how much closer he was now, slowly invading your personal space in a way that you hadn’t noticed until it was too late. His body canted over yours as you stood, crowding you against the wall until you were imprisoned by long limbs and a firm chest, and he was all you could see and smell, charred sandalwood and honeyed amber surrounding you, clean and warm.

He leaned incrementally forward, one of his knees pressing lightly against your clamped-together thighs, forcing you to endure the contact or shift your legs to remove his touch. Your sore muscles ached at the added weight against you, overworked fibers protesting the strain, mild as it was.

You took in a shallow breath as you parted your legs, choosing what you hoped was the better of the two options — alleviating the pressure of his knee.

Wrong choice.

König immediately occupied that space, pushing forward until his knee rested between your thighs, touching the wall behind you, so much taller than you that the flat of his thigh was nearly against your groin. Your calves strained as you half-lifted onto your tiptoes to keep your body off of his.

He had to hunch his shoulders quite a bit to reach you, but he lowered his face until you could feel the warmth of his breath diffused through the fabric of his hood. Your hands instinctively raised to rest against his torso, to force König back and reclaim a bit of room, but he didn’t budge a single centimeter, the firm swell of pecs beneath your palms an immovable barrier as your fingers dug into muscle and soft cotton.

You pushed again, but he resisted. Your heart skipped, pounding behind your ribs. When you’d shied away from him and rejected his touch before, he listened and retreated.

This time he didn’t.

“You don’t need to be afraid anymore,” he continued, voice lowering, words rolled in gravel. “Keine Sorgen, ich werde mich gut um dich kümmern.”

Every hint of levity in his tone vanished, his eyes flinty, and that seriousness scared you more than any teasing or outright threats could have. He was near enough now that you could see the little flecks of opalescence in his eyes. Overlapping webs of soft grey spooled around a pitch black pupil, with a darker ring of azure around the iris, encapsulating a light blue delicate as forget-me-not petals.

Striking. Pretty, even, in any other scenario.

But now—

König’s gaze dropped to your chapped lips, then lower, to your neckline, where he had pulled your shirt to the side to expose a patch of your skin. Your chest barely moved with the tiny inhalations you dared to take, short little puffs that just barely allowed you enough air to stay present. The effect was dizzying, disorienting. Drunk with near-hypoxia. His thumb resumed its drifting along the ridge of your collarbone, heat igniting beneath his calloused fingertip, the movement displacing flannel, baring your shoulder.

Your vision blurred in silent panic, the world in your periphery growing fuzzy, cast in dark static. The oxygen-starved muscles in your legs trembled and twitched, and you squeezed your thighs around his knee to keep the apex of your legs from resting against him. Your fingers dug further into his chest, something within you coiled, ready to snap, ready to give in, ready to scream or beg or—

“Easy, little one. You’re safe,” he soothed, hypnotic voice shattering the heavy silence. “I’ve got you now.”

All at once you could breathe again when he stepped back, breaking the spell. You sagged against the wall, nearly sliding down to the floor as your lungs finally refilled with the air they’d been denied. König effortlessly kept you upright with his hands on your biceps, and pulled you to his side as he walked you back to the couch.

Your feet moved automatically, left, right, left, right, shuffling across the wood. Knuckles blanched white, fists balled up at your sides. König murmured soothing words that you understood but didn’t want to, the low, dulcet tone of his voice rich as salted caramel, lodging itself in your mind.

Safe, he promised again. Warm. Fed.

Happy.

Your empty husk couldn’t argue, could barely process any of it.

König guided you to the couch, and you passively obeyed the push and pull of his hands bidding you to sit. You unfurled your fists and stared at your palms, red crescent moons visible where you’d clenched so tightly that marks were scored right into your flesh. It didn’t even hurt.

Nothing did.

Not your foot, not your stomach, not your spirit. You wished for pain, a distraction, something to keep you present, but numb acceptance settled within you. You weren’t even crying anymore, devoid of feeling. Washed free of it all, bones picked clean and left to dry in the scorching sun.

König guided your shoulders down to the couch, gently lifted your legs to follow, then tucked you in with care, a splayed hand patting the bump of your hip through the blankets as he wished you goodnight. You said it back, lips moving on their own, an automatic, reactive quip.

Then, you were alone.

You lay there for a while, staring into the fire until the imprint was burned into your retinas, strands of bright color still streaking your vision as you turned onto your back and stared at the ceiling. This wasn’t you — a small animal falling into domesticity, accepting a leash, a cage, forgetting to use its sharp claws and teeth.

This wasn’t you.

‘Spitfire’ Captain Price had called you once, baritone voice booming, followed by a deep laugh at your tenacity. You were failing to live up to that, letting him down, letting your squad down, letting yourself down. But now, without König hovering over you, your thoughts slowed, the storm clouds parting long enough to let some clarity shine through.

This wasn’t you.

You weren’t helpless.

You had skills and training. Invaluable experience that you’d used against hostiles before. Tonight, you’d use it.

After you figured enough time had passed, you rose to your knees to peek over the back of the couch, and down the dark hallway. The fire cast enough of a glow across the space to see that the door at the far end of the hall was ajar, just a bit.

The cabin was calm. Silent, except for the crackling of the heated logs on the fire, bark splitting with a pop, falling off in ashen chunks.

You slid the covers off and stood, limping quietly. The journey to the kitchen was excruciatingly slow, trying to step as lightly as you could on your injured foot so you didn’t hurt yourself or fall. You pulled a knife from the block on the counter, eyeing the gleam of the edge in the dim light.

Sharp, but not too big in your grip. An unblemished edge, ready to pierce. Easy to wield, to smoothly slip between the slats of ribs. Good.

Your trip down the hall was near-soundless, only messing up once with a small squeak, foot depressing a loose board, where weathered wood had flexed around the nail. At that, you froze, ears perked. But you didn’t hear any stirring, no sign of König awake or moving. So you kept going, even more slowly, feeling like you were barely progressing until you were finally upon the door.

A very faint glow was visible in the crack of his door, the orange-yellow light of a fire or a lamp. You hesitated with your hand on the wood, palm spread against the lacquered surface. Ready.

Rush in — he’d be in bed, asleep and unsuspecting. Knife clutched in your fist, a quick downward thrust, bodyweight leaned into it. One chance, one shot. That was all you got.

All you needed.

You gently nudged the door, and it jiggled on its hinges with a barely audible squeal, but there wasn’t enough force behind your hand to open it further. You tried again, but you couldn’t push the door open. Well, you could, but something within you didn’t let you.

Anxious thoughts bombarded you, buffeting you like the roaring wind outside as it battered the wood walls of the cabin. What was your plan? Kill König and then — what? You wouldn’t get far in the storm. You didn’t know where you were going. You’d end up frozen, alone, just like you would have if he hadn’t found you. You could stay here, find your radio and hope for rescue before you used up his supplies.

But his body—

Too big to move easily. But you could. You would figure it out. Had to.

The muscles in your forearm shook with effort, but the door didn’t budge. A wave of heat gathered across your forehead, a throb deep within your skull that pulsed in time with your heartbeat. Your hand dropped uselessly to your side in betrayal, fingers trembling. A hot wave of disappointment shrouded your vision.

You hated to admit it, but you needed König’s skills. Needed his resources. Needed his help to stay alive for now.

Needed him.

And for some unknown but incredibly f*cked up reason — he seemed to need you, too.

You hobbled back and put the knife away, slipping it back home into the slit in the wood. The sound of metal sliding into wood mocked you, taunted how easily you’d abandoned your mission. The courage you’d mustered had soured and now oozed from your pores, mixing with the stink of shame and sweat that clung to your unwashed body. You crawled back under the warm covers, your skin slicked with a sheen of perspiration.

Coward — was your last thought before you finally slipped into feverish dreams of rescue, of hope, of despair,

then, of nothing.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

Notes:

Thank you as always for reading! I'm having a lot of fun writing trapper König. I'd love to hear what you think of him and this chapter! :)

The spice is going to start ramping up next chapter ;)

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Chapter 5: Sick

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

Morning came too quickly.

You narrowed your eyes against the light streaming in through the window, near-blinding as it reflected off the crisp, white snow beyond. You blinked while your vision adjusted, listening to the sounds of the cabin: the clink of ceramic, stacking plates, and the metallic rustle of cutlery shifting within a drawer. Most would consider those domestic noises ordinary and soothing — and you might have, too, under other circ*mstances.

Now, all they meant was another day here with König.

Your tired eyes burned, last night's tears leaving your lids heavy in the salt-swollen aftermath. But it wasn’t just your eyes that stung — your cheeks and forehead felt far too warm, sunkissed like you’d fallen asleep outside on a summer’s day. You lifted a hand to touch your flushed cheek and pressed your palm to the dampness.

Maybe König had thrown some extra wood on the fire this morning, overheating the room and you along with it — but when you glanced at the fireplace, all that remained was a pile of soot, the logs devoured by the flames long ago. You pushed away the thick layer of blankets, enjoying how the cooler room air lapped at the heat pooling under your skin, drawing it away.

You sat up — too quickly, you realized — and your blood refused to circulate properly, leaving you lightheaded as you slumped back against the couch. Your heart thumped against your ribs, trying to keep up with the demands of the position change. Blood rushed in your ears, a high-pitched whoosh that drowned out all else while your vision speckled with clouds of shimmering snowflakes and dark flecks of ash.

Your lids fluttered, eyes open but not seeing as you stared ahead into static. But the moment passed. This time, you moved more slowly when you sat up, allowing yourself time to adjust before you stood. Your feet felt strange, too heavy on shaky legs, wobbly as a calf newly foaled, attempting its first steps in the grass.

This wasn’t going to work.

You gave up and plopped back down. Moisture already dotted your brow, and you swiped it away from your forehead with the end of your oversized sleeve. You tried to make a bit of noise, yawning more loudly than normal and tapping your uninjured foot on the floor to draw König’s attention — usually, he came running the second you woke up.

He didn’t today.

You’d have to call out for his help.

The realization stung more than you cared to admit, like a burr you couldn’t pluck away without drawing blood, its tiny prickles already latched onto your skin.

The thought of asking König for assistance was acknowledging a weakness that you didn’t want to face — helpless and alone like he said — but you didn’t have much choice. Your jaw clenched tightly, temples aching from the strain, but you managed to scoot yourself over and peek around the side of the couch toward the kitchen.

Even this small effort took more out of you than you expected, sapping what little strength you’d recovered during sleep. You leaned and watched König stand in front of the counter, his wide body blocking your view of what he was doing. But you could hear the muted thunks of a knife against a wooden cutting board, and the click of stove knobs. His biceps shifted as he worked, filling out the sleeves fully, the seams pulled taut as the material stretched, likely not designed to accommodate a man his size.

You'd never seen a man as big as König up close before, impossibly tall with the kind of thick build earned through experience and hard labor, not carefully crafted gym routines. A bit of protective softness overlaid the muscle, a sign of someone well-fed, healthy. He possessed the body of someone self-sufficient and strong. A hunter, a provider.

Safety.

Your lips pulled into a grimace at equating König to any of those things, but some ancient part of your brain lit up at the thought of him filling that role. Primitive neurons sparked and fired like fairy lights, shimmering and blinking through your mental fog, hormones seeping into your fevered bloodstream, splashing a rosy tint over your thoughts.

It could be worse.

König had saved you and taken good care of you so far. You couldn’t survive on your own as you were, storm or not. The back of your bone dry throat burned as you tried to swallow. Even if you could, you were trapped here — that much was obvious. You may as well make the best of it until you get a chance at freedom.

“König?” you said, soft and airy, nearly stopping yourself midway through, half-hoping he hadn’t heard you at all.

No such luck.

He immediately turned at the sound of your voice, his eyes neutral, expectant. Your gaze dropped uneasily to the knife he held in one hand, and your fingers curled in remembrance of the exact wooden handle in your grip. You gulped, throat catching on itself like Velcro. It was merely a coincidence; there weren’t that many knives to choose from, just a half-dozen or so — odds were he might need to use the one you’d grabbed the night before.

Right. No deeper meaning than that.

When you met his gaze again, König’s eyes were narrowed, silent mirth wrinkling the corners. He tilted his head in recognition and lifted the knife in a little salute.

“Good morning, Hase,” he said lightly, the gleaming edge of the blade catching the sun. “How was your night?”

It was a standard question — one anyone might ask. But with König, everything seemed to be double-edged, words carefully honed, sharp as the knife clutched within his calloused fingers.

The warmth that had been traveling through your veins turned cold, a quaking in your hands that you quelled by tugging the edges of your too-long sleeves into your clammy palms.

“Good morning,” you replied, an anxious trill bleeding into your voice. “It was fine.”

König stared in silence for a few beats as if expecting you to ask him the same in return. Your lips pressed into a tight line. When it was clear you weren’t going to speak, he let out a disinterested hum accompanied by a quick shrug, a jerk of bulky shoulders upward.

“Well — breakfast is nearly ready. Come, sit.” He pointed the knife toward the table and turned back to his task.

You pinched the flannel between your fingers. You’d hoped that he would have offered to help you as he usually did, refusing to let you try to walk alone. Not today. He was making you sit in your discomfort — it had to be intentional. Your teeth clicked together as you opened and shut your mouth a few times before mustering up your voice again.

“Can you…come help me up?” you asked, hating how the words tasted on your tongue.

“Of course.”

There was a lilt of mockery, you thought, nonchalance just a tad too forced. König set down his knife and wiped his hands off on a towel. His sleeves had been pushed up to reveal forearms with prominent, rounded veins overlaying the muscle. You watched his arms swing at his sides gracefully as he approached, his movements smooth and loping despite his size. Your belly clenched as he slowed, then crouched in front of you, not really appearing all that much smaller despite lowering himself to you.

The bits of his eyebrows you could see behind his hood drew together in concern as he took in the sorry sight of you. He reached for your face, but you grabbed him first, holding his much larger hand between both of yours, stopping him. His shoulders tensed. You froze.

Worry dissipated in the surprised widening of König’s eyes — the first time you’d done something he hadn’t expected, it seemed. You were just as shocked that you’d done it, and sure it showed on your face, too. But some deeper, self-saving instinct was at work, recognizing that the fabric of your being was already threadbare and tattered, only held together with spare pieces of loosely knotted string.

You couldn’t let König touch you with gentleness; if he did, you’d surely unravel even more at the edges that he’d already picked loose, pulling you apart entirely. Your body and mind seemed to be scheming to betray you, and it was becoming less and less clear which parts of you, which thoughts, which feelings you should believe.

Maybe none of them.

You squeezed his hand to distract yourself, fingers barely wrapping around his hand, but you tried to focus on the roughness of calluses and scars, the solidness of bones and knuckles — not how big his hands were compared to yours.

Charm was never your specialty, but you tried. You blinked, doe-eyed, and gave him what you hoped was an imploring look. It was hard to know what he actually saw when he stared at you, but men as a whole were fairly predictable. And he was just a man — albeit a really, really tall one — not some unknowable entity or all-seeing deity, despite the tight control he maintained over his world and you.

You had your own power, too, even if König made you forget that you did. Your lower lip jutted out just a little, adding the faintest wobble of a damsel in distress. Hopefully, your needy stare would stroke his ego a little. Disarm him.

König hesitated, a flash of confusion behind stormy eyes, but at your expression, he perked up, chest puffing a bit — all too pleased with himself for being your knight in shining armor. You bit the inside of your cheek.

His fingers twitched eagerly between your palms as he moved to help you up. Your hands slid up his exposed forearm, grazing over a particularly large scar. The valley of tissue had been rebuilt light pink, softer than the surrounding skin. Newer. Most of the other marks you could see on his arms were white, long faded, various shapes and sizes that puzzled you as to what he had done to cause so many injuries.

“Ready?” he asked, drawing your attention away from them.

You nodded and leaned heavily on him as he pulled you to stand and half-walk, half-hop to the kitchen table. Each step was more painful than the last even though you barely let the heel of your injured foot tap the ground, but you gritted your teeth through it, refusing to ask for more than this.

You liked to think you had at least a little dignity left, and maybe a hint of pride, too. It was a comfort you could wrap around yourself, covering up where König had stripped you bare. You clung to that, keeping the rest of it tucked deep inside where probing fingers couldn’t reach, hidden away from the keen blue eyes that would crack apart your ribs, wrench you open just to expose all of you to him.

You waited for König at the table — trained already, you thought bitterly, like an obedient show dog — and sat automatically when König pulled out the chair. It took a heavy measure of your willpower not to jerk away when his hand rested at your nape after he pushed you back in.

“You’re warm,” he commented, fingers curving around the back of your neck. “I should check your temperature.”

You nodded again, glad to be off your foot. Agreeing meant he’d leave you alone, a few brief seconds of clean air not tainted by the scent of him — smoked sandalwood dusted with cinnamon and crushed clove, invading your senses.

König stepped away and your sluggish mind finally reminded you to act. The same two pills sat on the table next to a glass of water, the vivid colors of the capsule reminding you of those tiny poison frogs, the brightness a warning of the toxins that coated their skin.

You glanced toward the bathroom, hearing him rummaging around — there wasn’t much time.

Without König observing, the deceit was easier. You quickly swiped the medicine and tucked it just under the waistband of your underwear, where the elastic kept it pressed tightly against your skin, then tugged your shirt back down to hide the evidence, smoothing the hem over the tops of your thighs.

When König began to walk back, you made a show of throwing your head back and taking a few gulps of the cool water as if you were swallowing the pills. As you drank, you heard his footsteps quicken, hurrying to your side. You set the glass down with both hands, trying to keep your expression as neutral and clueless as possible. His hands clenched and relaxed at his sides.

“Tch,” he chided with a click of his tongue. Displeased eyes darted from the cup to your hands then up to your damp lips. “I can’t check your temperature now.”

You blinked slowly, your thoughts not quite connecting with his words.

“The cold drink might alter the reading,” he explained slowly, waving a hand in mild annoyance as if you should have known that. “Later, then.”

Thankfully König dropped the matter and resumed cooking, frying the tiny cubes of meat he’d chopped. They sizzled the instant they hit the pan, and the hearty scent of bacon filled the air, rich and savory. Familiar.

Your eyes unfocused a bit as your mind wandered to your family and friends back home. You wondered what they’d be told, how long your superiors would wait before reporting you missing in action, assuming the worst. The thought was a hard one to properly grasp.

“—today?”

It took a moment to realize that König had asked you a question. You blinked away the film over your eyes.

“Sorry, what did you say?” you asked, eyelids squeezing shut tightly.

“Not feeling well today?” König repeated, peering over his shoulder at you.

You shifted in your seat, the backs of your thighs damp and tacky, sticking to the wood. “I’m just a little…tired.”

Half-lidded eyes slid down to your mouth, watching you nibble on your lower lip. “Mm,” he started. “I am, too.”

There it was again — his tone, leading, hinting. Your mouth dried, all the moisture retreating, avoiding the impending conversation in the way you wish you could. The sip of water you tried didn’t help.

König scooped the food onto two dishes and brought them over to the table, sliding one in front of you. His plate was heaped much higher than yours, steam curling off the cubes of meat and potatoes, the edges crisped, fried to a perfect golden brown.

“Thanks,” you croaked, voice forced past the thick lump in your throat. “Looks great.”

Your appetite had abandoned you along with your saliva, but you watched König tuck his hood out of the way and begin to eat, not waiting for you. You picked up your fork and pushed a few pieces around the plate, metal prongs scraping lightly against ceramic.

“You need to eat,” König told you, a command under a thin veneer of concern. “Try.”

You stabbed a piece of potato and chewed slowly. It was delicious, as was everything he’d cooked you so far, but it dissolved into a thick paste on your parched tongue, and the small bite took an eternity to slide its way down your throat.

“Good,” he said, nodding toward you when you took another bite. “If you don’t eat, you won’t heal.”

You managed a few more pieces, watching König work his way through his breakfast. A dark little part of you hoped he would choke on it, that an errant piece of bacon would lodge itself in his airway. A girl could dream.

“Did you sleep well last night?” König asked after a time.

You blanched, your insides churning.

“Fine,” you said, playing at disinterest. “You?”

“Not as well as I would have liked, I’m afraid,” he said, chest rising and falling in a resigned sigh.

A trap, clumsily placed. But nothing with him was unintentional. You hummed around a bite, not taking the bait.

“It’s…just a bit strange, is all…” König continued, voice trailing off.

You watched him wipe away a bit of grease from his lips with the embroidered napkin, the cloth too dainty, the stitching too delicate — out of place against his battered hands. He blinked innocently, waiting for you to engage.

Your lips parted. It’d be just as incriminating not to answer. You already had a sinking idea of what he was going to say next — but you didn’t have any other choice, your side of the board was left with limited chess pieces, forced to play with the only move you could make.

“What’s strange?” you asked in a barely-there voice.

“It’s probably nothing,” he started, looking away for a moment and shrugging before leaning forward. His tone lowered as if he was sharing a haunting, ghostly tale. “But I could have sworn that I heard…movement last night.” His voice dropped to a near-whisper, eyes shining from beneath his dark hood. “Footsteps, even. All the way up to my door.”

f*ck. f*ck, f*ck, f*ck.

He knew.

Blood pulsed at your temples, a headache wiggling its way through, taking hold and wrapping itself around the base of your skull with a sinister squeeze.

“Oh,” you breathed, wishing you hadn’t locked eyes with him, now caught in a sticky web of unblinking slate. “That’s weird.”

“It is, isn’t it?” One corner of his mouth quirked up, smug, knowing.

Your cheeks immediately burned hot, guilt splashed across your face in crimson splotches. You nodded your head a little too enthusiastically, dizzy from even just that small up-and-down movement.

He leaned forward further, nearly invading your personal space from across the table. “Did you hear anything like that last night?”

A question — accusation — with no correct answer.

König tilted his head, waiting. Needing more time, you jammed your fork into a hunk of meat and shoved it in your mouth, busying yourself with chewing, buying a few seconds and grounding yourself by focusing on how the crisped fat dissolved like salted butter in your mouth, rich oil coating your tongue.

Should you call him out? You could cut the bullsh*t and ask about the SIM or his true intentions. You swallowed, but in the brief reprieve, you couldn’t think of an exit strategy, your mind too bogged down this morning to come up with a cutting response that König wouldn’t just turn right back on you.

“No,” you confirmed. A cowardly answer, a see-through lie, but the only one you had the energy to give. You forced your gaze downward and fixed it on your plate, pretending that you were searching for your next mouthful of food.

König sat back. “Oh, good,” he said with a too-loud sigh of relief. “This house is very old, after all. Wood settles and shifts with the cold. It must have just been my imagination, then.”

A temporary tendril of hope wound around your heart, easing the weight there, slowing its racing enough for you to think. Maybe you were off the hook. You took a deep breath, then another, in through your nose, out through your mouth as subtly as you could.

“But I am curious how my knife came to be turned the wrong way,” he said, brows pinched and lips pursed in faux confusion. “That one I cannot figure out.”

You gripped your fork tightly, knuckles whitening long enough for him to see before you willed your body to relax, instead letting your fingertip subtly trace the looping pattern ingrained into the metal, self-soothing with each pass over polished silver. It helped for a moment.

The last shred of hope that he hadn't heard you last night was decimated, your clumsy attempt of stealth a complete failure, squashed beneath the sole of his foot. It stung. Made you feel foolish. It was your own fault for even thinking he wouldn’t notice — you knew better by now.

And it made sense in hindsight.

The squeak of the floor might have been brushed off in isolation — but the position of the knife handle in the wooden block wasn’t something you’d even given a speck of thought to, that all of them faced the same way. But of course, he knew every detail of this entire cabin. König had been alone here long enough to learn every whorl and knot in the wood, to know by heart how many tiles were in the bathroom, to recall the exact position of each of his belongings.

A single item even incrementally out of place was a giant red flag for him, laid out plainly for him to see. You’d been caught with your hand in the cookie jar, fingers stained with melted chocolate, crumbs at the corners of your mouth.

And worse was how he seemed to get some sort of perverse joy from rubbing your nose in it, just knowing that you wouldn’t say anything when he shoved your face into your mess.

“Do you…know anything about that?” König prompted.

No. I don’t know — but your tongue was tied. You couldn’t muster the breath to speak, couldn’t trust yourself not to immediately break under his will, to throw in your hand and concede that he’d won again after only a few short rounds of this game you were forced to play.

Your lower lip quivered, but you sucked it between your teeth, clamping down firmly with your incisors. Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry. You thought you’d been emptied of everything last night, your well of emotion dried up. But defeat still managed to surge at the base of your throat and prickle the corners of your eyes, tears threatening to fall.

Your shoulders stiffened and you pinched the skin of your bare thigh between your fingernails, trying to distract yourself with the pain. You barely felt the burn of breaking skin.

“No matter.” König lifted his arms into a wide shrug and let out a sigh that seemed to say, ‘oh well, what can you do?’ An easy smile stretched across his face, white teeth flashing among the coppery bristles of his beard — but it didn’t quite match the intensity of his eyes, his soft smile paling in comparison with the predatory glint above. “I must have done it, then. I suppose I have been a bit distracted lately.” His smile widened, lips curling wolfishly in victory. “Silly me.”

He reached for the carafe of coffee and you jolted in your seat from the suddenness of his reach, flinching against the backrest. Your chair rocked from your movement before settling back into place.

“Jumpy today,” he noted casually, filling his mug.

Guilty conscience? — unspoken.

The pounding in your head grew more insistent, pulsing in time with the throbbing in your foot. Your heart hammered, skipped beats aching within your chest. The air in the room was suddenly stifling, too hot and thick to draw into your lungs. You needed space, needing anything that wasn’t this right now.

“I’m just—” nausea rose, and you swallowed down the breakfast and bile that threatened to make an appearance. “Just need to lie down again. Can you take me to the bathroom first?” you asked, surprised by your breathlessness.

König’s tongue clicked. His chest rose like he was about to speak and decline or insist you stay here until you had eaten more. You gripped the table's edge with both hands and wiggled a little in your seat, feigning urgency.

He let out a low breath, then helped you stand. König moved quickly for your sake and each inelegant step sent pain zinging up your leg, worse than before. Pure adrenaline was the only thing that kept you upright at this point, your vision darkening around the edges, nothing existing outside of the tunnel of sight set on the bathroom door.

You broke free from his grasp, stumbled past the threshold, feet too heavy to lift as you half-fell down the small step into the bathroom. König let out a noise, but you immediately shut the door on him before he could harp on your clumsiness. Your hands managed to clutch the edge of the sink, keeping you up through sheer willpower even as your world blurred, unfocused as you hobbled your way to the toilet. Almost there. Just one more step, and another.

Your only goal, then you could lay down and relax. Take a nap.

Another step.

That was all.

You shrugged away the sweat-damp collar that clung irritatingly to your skin, ignoring the drop of moisture that rolled down the divot of your spine, eyes stinging as sweat slid down and collected on your eyelids.

Almost done.

You reached into the waistband of your panties and fished out the two little pills with trembling fingers, nearly dropping them as you tossed them into the bowl. A sudden bolt of agony reared up as you leaned on your injured foot, your vision darkening as you crumpled to your hands and knees heavily, barely feeling the impact on your joints.

A voice, urgent knocking outside the door. Loud, louder.

The tile was frigid beneath your palms, and you tried to get up to flush away the evidence, but your muscles refused to obey the commands you screamed inside your mind. It took the last of your energy to lower yourself to the ground and not let your head simply collide with the cold, hard ground.

You winced in anticipation of the cool tile, but it felt so good against your scorched cheek as you slid further against it, sprawled out, sweating and shivering at the same time. Your teeth chattered as you lay there, uncontrollable.

You tried to look up when you heard the doorknob turning, left unlocked in your haste, but you couldn’t peel your face off the floor. This felt nice, anyway, the chill acting as a soothing balm to your burning skin, a dip into cool water.

Yeah. This was fine.

It was easy to close your eyes, comforting to imagine yourself weighed down so heavily that you’d sink right down into the frozen earth. Maybe the dark nothingness of the hardened loam beneath the cabin would swallow you up, the dirt claiming you for its own. You hoped it would.

It didn’t.

Hands — colder than your body — gripped you, turned you onto your back, one sliding beneath your head to protect it from the movement.

You blinked, vision obscured, like viewing the world through thick, curved glass — finding a dark face streaked with red tears, twin pinpricks of light blue hidden among black folds of cloth. It was more disconcerting this way, unable to properly make out the few features you could usually see that made him human, remotely like you.

The probe of a thermometer slipped between your chattering teeth but your tongue pushed against the bothersome intrusion, shooing it away. König was having none of that. One of his hands cupped the entirety of your jaw, forcing your mouth to close around the metallic end until the number finally stopped rising, taking longer than you’d ever recalled.

König swore when he pulled it out and looked at the number, a harsh string of profanities in mixed languages. The reaction filled your chest with demented pride, the glee half-coherent, wild, and tainted by your fever. You’d worried about the pills being something sinister, a relaxant or narcotic to make you pliant, to keep you from escaping his clutches.

Your twisted joy soured. It turned out he didn’t need medication for that, anyway.

You had half-wondered if the pills were legitimate, but you’d chosen your path that first day and were facing the consequences now. But maybe self-destruction was better than whatever sick plans he had for you — you’d listened to too many true crime retellings to expect anything less at this point.

It was better to ruin his fun before it began, even if it was at your expense.

Maybe this was a mercy for you.

König’s hand jerked up under his hood, rubbing his jaw roughly in frustration, the rustle of fingers in wiry strands the only sound in the bathroom, an anxious, self-comforting gesture. He mumbled, unintelligible words from hidden lips as he looked down at you with pity and annoyance. His hand stilled when his eyes turned to the toilet, surely catching sight of the two pills in the bowl, dissolving in the water.

“Did you—” he started and stopped, a wet hitch in his throat. “You tricked me?” He sounded hurt, his voice smaller and softer than you ever expected could come from such a large man.

You waited for an explosion of anger or cruelty or violence — any response, really. But even through your fuzzy sight, you could see that he didn't look mad. No — you caught a glimpse of something that was just sad, a vein of genuine disappointment that ran deep inside of him. He stared at you like a puppy whose tail you’d accidentally stepped on, a wide-eyed accusation that you of all people had done this to him — and that wound was mirrored in the depths of muted grey-blue.

It quickly hardened into impenetrable granite, the reluctant acceptance of someone who had known rejection and betrayal time and time again and had come to expect nothing less — and now found that you were no different.

You thought you’d feel nothing or maybe even happiness at his eventual discovery of your scheme, thwarting his plan and exerting control over one the few things you could while trapped so deeply in his world. Instead, guilt burned a hole within your chest, regret churning in your stomach along with the meager bites of breakfast you’d managed to force down.

You felt… bad for him.

But you couldn’t do anything about it now. A breathless, too-late apology was lost to the ether as he picked you up without further pretense, your neck extending a bit too far as he hoisted you up. König carried you out of the bathroom, your head bumping against his chest with each of his steps.

He half-set, half-dropped you on his bed, and you bounced a little on top of the mattress, over blankets tucked in tightly with perfectly folded corners. A plush pillow cradled your head, protecting it from being jostled too much — but the movement still hurt, invisible fingers gripping and twisting behind your eyes. You looked up at König, your sight wavering in and out of single, double, and triple vision, but you could tell that he wasn’t meeting your eyes.

He stared at his watch as his fingers found the flicker of your pulse beneath your jaw, fluttering feather-soft against his touch like a trapped bird, desperately trying to fly with clipped wings. It must have been too fast from the way his eyebrows drew inward.

You could see the displeasure in his stiff posture, sensed it rolling off of him in waves as he yanked the covers down from under you, the tension between shoulder blades pulling his shirt taut as he worked to free the blanket.

You blinked — no, too long, must have slept — and when you opened your eyes, you saw König leaning over his bedside table. He was fiddling with a kit opened up into a mess of peeled wrappers, plastic syringes, and vials.

“I have an antibiotic shot for you,” he said flatly, and only then did you notice the needle, a single clear drop of fluid at the slanted tip.

Your veins filled with ice water, nausea rearing over you with a cold sweat, but you only gagged. He wanted to help, right? But you couldn’t shake the feeling of wrongness about this. Your stomach twisted and the sour taste of cowardice lingered at the base of your throat, mocking you, ever-present.

What would your sergeant do? What would Gaz do? Soap or Ghost? Captain Price?

‘Give ’em hell,’ you could hear Price’s smoke-stained voice say in your comms, the mantra that inspired you all, hummed through your veins, and filled you with courage.

You needed that confidence now.

König flicked the needle and set it down on the table carefully, then scrubbed a patch of your thigh with a cold wipe. The astringent scent of alcohol stung your nostrils, pulling your consciousness out of the fog just enough to focus on him properly. Your eyes must have revealed your fear and awareness. He picked up a vial — minuscule between thick fingers — and held it before you to confirm its contents. The letters were too tiny to read with your blurred vision, the red and black lines meaningless.

“For your infection,” he said, setting it back down. “I don’t have many doses, but you need it. You are…very sick.”

There was worry in his voice.

Good.

He planted one knee on the bed between yours and a hand on your hip as he worked, keeping you steady. The mattress dipped as he leaned over to grab the syringe. An opening presented itself perfectly, a shining opportunity you’d doubted you’d ever get again, wrapped up so prettily before you with a little satin bow. Should you take it?

Give ’em hell.

A flare of self-preservation roared within you, your training, your frustration, and your despair all lending you strength. You didn't know what good it would even do at this point, but you couldn’t just let everything happen to you. So, you lifted your uninjured leg swiftly in a kick aimed upward, landing squarely against König’s groin.

You were rewarded with a pained grunt, the end of it turning up, higher-pitched. You’d heard that noise before and knew it meant a well-placed hit. Success. But just as quickly as the sound had come from him, rough hands were on you, snatching away your victory. All the air whooshed from your lungs when König flipped you unceremoniously onto your belly.

No!

Your flailing arms were captured effortlessly by one of his hands, your wrists pathetically tiny within his oversized grip as he pressed them painfully into the curve of your lower back. Cruel fingers dug into your knotted hair, pushing your face down into the pillow, keeping you pinned in place.

König hissed a few pained breaths above you, in and out, recovering. You’d managed to turn your head so you could breathe with what little room he allowed your lungs to expand, but when your eyes strained to the side to look at him, you regretted it all.

His pupils were tiny black dots among frosty blue, eerie, the kind of wild stare you’d worried about seeing at night as a child, a boogeyman hidden in your closet or under your bed, watching with bright, fae eyes amidst darkness. A chill cascaded over you, not from sickness or fever this time, but from genuine animal fear, the stink of it prickling your armpits with pungent sweat.

There wasn’t anger in his glare — that would have been preferable — but something beyond. You’d seen it before, in Ghost’s detached stare when he returned to base after a mission. Others would peek and whisper while he hopped down from the helo, blood — not his, of course — still splattered across his tac vest and dotting the white plastic shell of his skull mask.

To newer recruits, it was an awe-inspiring privilege to watch the most elite of the 141 return to Earth with the rest of you, gods walking among men. But you knew that look wasn’t a good thing. It was tempered violence forged into a weapon through necessity, barely restrained. That was the stare of a man that had seen death, had seen the worst that the dregs of humanity could offer, things that would be carved into the backs of his eyelids so he couldn’t escape it, forced to see it again and again, even in sleep.

It was especially unnerving to see it in König’s eyes now, with the way his massive palm was splayed over your head, the bit of weight leaned into it a threat — maybe accidental, maybe purposeful, but a display nonetheless — of how easily he could crush your skull, or any part of you he touched.

But he didn’t.

Instead, scarred fingers twitched with what you imagined was the last bit of his thinned patience. He wound up a handful of your tangled hair, yanked your head to the side, and forced your neck to crane at an almost unnatural angle. It hurt, but he ignored your strangled cry. Tendons strained beside your windpipe, stretched to the limit.

König’s breathing was heavy even through the material of his hood, louder than usual, rasping against the side of your face as he leaned down over you, his body completely dwarfing yours on the bed.

“Stupid f*cking girl,” he spat, cloth-covered lips moving against the shell of your ear, voice dark and rough, the heavily accented words clawing against the inside of your skull, inescapable. “I have been nothing but kind to you. Do you prefer this instead, hm? Is this what you want?”

He punctuated his words by tightening his grip on your hair and wrists. The bones in your hands shifted, nearly crunching together as his ironclad hold shackled them together between your bodies. Your panicked breathing quickened as his body rested over yours, looming heavily above you. König pressed down to exert more of his weight over you, crushing you into the mattress.

Your breath hitched, unable to get enough air when his hips pitched lower, nearly cupping yours. You were scared — you’d be a fool not to be — but your traitorous thoughts raced to places they shouldn’t at the contact . Filthy imaginings snuck past your terror and coaxed out a depraved tendril of desire that slithered its way beneath your panic. Adrenaline-laced blood pulsed hot in your veins and thrummed in your ears, bringing more heat to the surface, scorching your skin.

Then — sh*t, what was wrong with you? — despite the pain, arousal bloomed from the pressure on your scalp, as if König was pulling it from deep within your core, exposing raw nerves. He tugged on your hair again, and this time, a breathy whine slipped past your lips, an embarrassing, debauched sound that wasn’t nearly as fearful as you’d expected.

König must have thought so, too.

His sneering laugh stung and cleaved you wide open from neck to belly. It struck right through to the softest most vulnerable part of you, desecrating the last place inside that you held sacred with shame. Tears swelled over your lashes at your body’s betrayal, but König’s breathing slowly evened out and became less harsh, mollified by your reaction.

The cushion beneath your face absorbed your silent sobs that stained his pillowcase with dark splotches. Your arms and legs bucked uselessly when he released you, a half-hearted resistance you were obligated to attempt.

But you both knew it was over. When König turned around, a heavy knee pressed into your back, his weight causing your joints to creak and pop, the bones of your spine forced to bend and give, keeping you down.

Your feet flailed, far weaker than before, and a large forearm braced against the backs of your thighs, keeping your legs still. There was a swipe of cold, a sharp, quick pain in your buttock, then burning that spread from the site.

You didn’t protest anymore when he lifted his body from yours, too tired, too weak, too sick — helpless, as König had said. Stupid girl. The words bounced around in your mind, echoed and amplified by your own crushed confidence, every last ounce of control stolen from you. So, your limbs obediently stayed right where he left them.

Stupid f*cking girl.

König plopped heavily on the edge of the bed beside you, jostling you a little. You sniffled. He rested his face in his hands and rubbed his eyes with a sound of frustration before he turned to you. The scary look was gone from his eyes as he took in the sight of yours, wet and wide, full of liquid terror. His eyes softened into the gentle blue of spring rain. Nourishing. Soothing.

Your mouth moved in silent apology, forming a string of sorrysorrysorry over and over until he took pity on you and pressed his thumb to your trembling lips.

“Shh. I know, little one,” he said, offering a patronizing pat to your damp cheek with a wet slapping sound. “I know. You did what you had to, yes? And so did I.” He stretched his long legs out in front of him and let his head loll back as he released a slow breath. “But I forgive you.”

You closed your eyes as he stroked the top of your hair, fingers brushing over where he had pulled your tresses so harshly. Your heart betrayed you, fluttering in anticipation, waiting for an apology on his end you knew wouldn’t come.
Your stomach twisted at the fact that you even cared.

Bitter tears slipped through your shut lids, but König continued to pet you. He whispered in hushed German until your crying slowed into hiccuping breaths before deepening into slow inhales and exhales in time with the stroking of his hand. You pushed your head into his palm, relaxing into his touch, his influence. Docile.

“That’s it. See?” he soothed. “It’s okay.”

It wasn’t, you knew. You fought against the darkness that licked at the edges of your consciousness until your body couldn’t spare the energy to keep you awake a single second longer.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

A weight on your shoulder, shaking. The anchor of sleep still chained to your ankle, weighing you down as you tried to surface from sightless depths. You bobbed up and down in the deep water, in and out, seeking to take a full breath above the waves, instead gulping mouthfuls of seawater, choking on it. Your eyes stuttered open before closing again as you sank.

A large forearm slid behind your shoulders, dragging you ashore as König helped you sit up, steadying you as you wobbled in bed. His arm slid higher until he cupped the base of your skull with a large hand.

“Medicine,” König said simply, pushing a tiny cup to your lips. “Open.”

Your eyes were only parted to slits, the room too bright, reigniting the throbbing in your head. You must have obeyed his command. Bitter liquid barely masked by syrupy sweetness touched your tongue and had you recoiling, but the hand braced behind your head kept you in place. He tipped the rest of the cup forward before you thought to shut your lips, emptying the contents into your mouth.

You gagged as your tongue worked to keep the gritty mixture from slipping down your throat, prolonging the metallic taste of it — but König held your jaw shut, a thumb stretching down to stroke your neck in encouragement. Too tired to fight him, you swallowed it.

“Good girl,” he purred.

König laughed quietly at the face you made, your nose scrunching against the lingering flavor. But despite the embarrassment, heat prickled along the tops of your cheeks at the praise and the affectionate sound of his laugh, so different from the cruel one you’d heard last.

“I tried to sweeten it for you,” he told you, eyes still shining with mischief. “It wouldn’t have tasted so bad if you had just taken it before.” His tone was light though, teasing rather than accusing, like you were a misbehaved child. “What would you do without me, Liebling?”

A cup pressed to your lips, cool and fresh this time — water. You sipped slowly and then König lowered you back down, cradling your head in his wide palm. You were asleep again before your face touched the pillow.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

The passage of time was indiscernible as you wove in and out of consciousness. You took the medicine he offered. Sometimes he gave you broth, sometimes plain water. He changed your dressing at least once. It hurt, but you were to tired to mind.

A few of the times you’d woken up, König was reading aloud from a book, his back propped up against the headboard. His free hand would rest on your shoulder, fingers tracing circles around the joint. The first time you woke up like this, you shrugged away from his hand, making an indignant sound that only seemed to amuse him — silly little thing .

But eventually, you accepted it.

Another time, your head found its way onto his lap as you shivered from a bout of chills. His pleased hums and whispered praise soothed you — there, there, sweet girl — the strokes of rough fingertips over your hair and face comforting you. It was nice. Kept you tethered to reality.

An unfortunate reality, maybe, but it was yours.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

Your awareness dissolved further into half-lucid imaginings, hazy thoughts rippling and shining over a dark lake. An idea emerged, cloud-soft, delicate and cotton candy sweet, spun into a comfortable blanket that wrapped itself around you. Warm hands — big, so big, heavy — sliding down parted thighs, soft lips smiling against sweat-damp skin. A dream, a good one. Wouldn’t it feel nice? Wouldn’t it—wouldn’t it—

Yes.

No protest, logic hibernating, a deeper, baser need demanding more.

Just for a minute, just to see. A taste. Give in, give in.

You ground your hips up, finding the relief you sought, a peek of light from under the oppressive weight of darkness. Oh. Warmth burned low within your belly — not only sickness and fever, now. Something else tangled up in it, lazily curling up and making itself at home in the apex of your thighs.

Want, want, want.

A sigh snuck past your teeth, delicious pressure as you rocked forward, momentarily quenching the heat only for it to surge again, hotter. Blue eyes found wherever you hid, waking or sleeping. Right there, always, always, always, seeing behind your closed lids. But this. This. Your breath puffed out again and your eyes squeezed shut, awake but not, another roll of hips into—

a thigh, König’s.

You froze, arm resting over a soft tummy, relaxed muscle turned a comfortable cushion for your forearm. Your face pressed into a clean shirt, soft beneath your cheek, mulled spice breaching your defenses, inviting, tempting. Your leg was slung over König’s hips, body flush against him, only separated by a few thin layers of clothes.

A dream — right? It wasn’t real, couldn’t be. You didn’t. Would never.

But the tiny pulse between your legs insisted otherwise, a need ignited but only half-soothed. A deep ache bloomed. You fidgeted, indecisive, maybe trying to pull back, maybe trying to push forward—

more, more.

A hand descended to your lower back, a rough palm slipping under your shirt, bare skin on bare skin — please, please — fingers dancing in circles, slow and measured.

“What are you doing, Kleines Häschen?” König teased, an edge of unbridled delight spilling through his words.

Nothing — but you couldn’t say it. You balled up a handful of his shirt in your fist, a whimper leaving your chapped lips before you nuzzled your face more deeply into the furnace-like heat of his side, nearly pressed into his armpit, breathing in. Something else there, fresh, deodorant probably, crushed pine mixed with soft musk, masculine, him.

It didn’t help. f*ck, it really didn’t.

“Have I not been tending to you properly, after all?” König asked, voice dropping into seriousness, nearly remorseful. “Left you aching and empty.”

If you replied — could you? should you? — you wouldn’t be able to trust that your mouth and body and mind were all in alignment, that one wouldn’t selfishly speak for the rest. So you didn’t answer.

“Hm,” he hummed, the rumble of it vibrating beneath you from within a deep chest.

König’s hand drifted from your low back to your hip, wiggling beneath you and the bed, the other joining on the opposite side. He began to slide your body up and over his own, and your lash-obscured world tilted and spun between half-open lids. Your hands reached out instinctively, arms pushing up against the solid torso now beneath you until you were half-propped, legs astride his thigh, spread over an expanse of fleece-covered muscle.

And, there—

the press of your groin against him. Real, definitely real. You groaned, a soft sound rasped through a sandpapery throat.

“Better?” König asked, unable to contain his joy.

Your glassy stare found his, inquisitive blue shining from behind his dark hood, the corners of his eyes crinkled in a hidden smile. The weight of your own body was too much though, and your arms shook with the strain until they finally gave out and you collapsed forward onto his chest.

Your legs tightened around his, willing the pressure of your need to disappear on its own, but it was burrowed deep within your center, thorns digging in tight, as inescapable as König.

He tensed his thigh beneath you, the muscle hardening, raising his leg and bouncing it a few times until you slid forward from the angle, grinding your thinly-clothed c*nt against him. A pained whimper slipped past your lips unbidden, and your traitorous hips rocked into him on their own, encouraged, craving more.

The puffs of König’s knowing laughter sent a shower of sparks across your cheekbones, the kindling of your desire catching as the fire spread lower, down your neck and chest, lower, gathering between your legs in an expectant throb.

Pathetic.

You turned into his chest so he couldn’t see your humiliation, your face burrowing into the bunched-up fabric of his hood. Another tentative jerk forward — that was him, not you, right? — pulled a string taut low within your belly, wound it tight, spooled up just for him.

The hands on your hips were tentative, but you felt them begin to push and pull, so gently at first that you’d barely realized he was exerting any pressure. But they soon had you in a rhythm, smooth, slow, easy — good, so good for him.

“This is what you’ve needed all along, isn’t it, little one? I’m sorry I’ve neglected you.”

A curious hand slipped back from your hip, bolder now, fingers digging into your bottom, grabbing a large handful as he pulled you forward. You should swat his hands away, should stop this — but you didn’t. Wouldn’t. Not when pleasure began to wind its way through your middle, finding all your sore spots and easing the tension. Couldn’t hurt, just once. Just for a little while, just until—

“Perhaps I can make it up to you, now,” he murmured, contrite.

It was impossible to tell how much movement was him, how much was you. It didn’t matter. Not when you were this wet, slick warmth gathering where it shouldn’t, soaking the thin cotton right through, embarrassingly quickly.

Too late to stop.

Didn’t want to.

You huffed into his hood as your breaths quickened, hands gripping his shirt for support. He lifted his leg again, jostling you, the new angle causing you to arch into his chest and pitch your body forward, your cl*t perfectly aligned with the flat of his thigh.

Your squirming hiked up his mask enough to expose a patch of fair neck and auburn beard, calling to you. You buried your face there, inhaling the scent of his bare skin and oil-softened beard, allspice and charred vanilla, seeking warmth and closeness, whining when you found it.

“Poor thing,” he rasped, turning his head toward you, his breath dissipating into your hair. “Is this what all your fussing has been about?”

He — you — picked up the pace, your thigh brushing against something firm poking at your leg. Your mind was still a few clicks behind but you tilted your head down enough to look — then it hit you that he was hard, his co*ck straining against the sizable tent in his sweatpants. Fear flickered. Your hips stuttered, would have stopped if it wasn’t for König keeping the pace for you.

Your knee was right there, you could lift it, should lift it right again where it would hurt him most. But you were getting so close — desire whispered its alluring suggestion. You should enjoy the tender hands, the warmth of König’s voice and body.

You deserved something other than pain and tears. A treat, a little reward.

Soon — later, later — you could strike where he was softest. After this, of course. It was a weak promise in a clouded mind, but what you needed to tell yourself to soothe the remaining thoughts of rebellion.

Your nipples tightened beneath your bra, sensitive as the movement rubbed them against the material. König squeezed your hip, a tad rough — oh, you liked that — and you moaned into his neck, mouth slack against his skin, wetting it.

“Listen to you, Liebling. So sweet, so needy. Just for me, yeah?”

He mumbled more things into your hair that you didn’t understand, maybe romantic or maybe filthy but you knew it was about you. Something inside of you preened at the thought, pleased. Proud. You nodded along in passive agreement.

His voice grew harsher, guttural through gritted teeth. “f*ck,” he breathed, with a powerful jerk of his hips. “Wenn ich nur daran denke, was ich mit dir machen könnte. You’d let me, wouldn’t you?”

Maybe. Yes. Anything, anything.

Spurred on by his accented voice, low and rough and hot against you, a rush of wetness pooled in your panties, joining the rest of the slick mess coating your folds. Closer, getting closer.

No — but it was too late, electricity already prickled along your skin at the tickle of his breath, the weight of his words needing no translation to understand fully, not with the solidness of his co*ck eagerly rutting against your leg as he moved with you. You tensed, a jolt racing up your spine, gasping into his neck when he moved you in shorter, quicker bursts.

“That’s it,” he said, switching back to English for your sake. “Anything I have is yours, you only need to ask.”

Your underwear was pulled taut against your c*nt, the soaked material stretched tightly. Waves of ecstasy rose, ebbing and flowing with each roll of your hips into his thigh. You shifted your face a bit, discovering your cheek was wet — not from tears, but drool, your open-mouthed panting making a mess of you both. Christ, this was probably the most depraved, pathetic thing you’d ever done . But König didn’t seem to mind in the slightest, not even stopping for a second when you wiggled in his grasp, the realization pulling you out of the moment. He dragged you back in.

“Take what you need, Hase — go on. It’s okay,” he whispered, his voice more strained than you’d ever heard it, as needy as you felt. “It’s okay,” he repeated.

It wasn’t, f*ck, it really wasn’t.

You knew that, deep down, but couldn’t do anything now, body greedily demanding more. Your mind wandered to the thick length nudging you, indulgently imagining, just for a second — it couldn’t hurt — what it would be like to be f*cked by him. The wet sounds of your drenched c*nt as he filled you, the tug as he stretched you beyond anything you’d known before, and claimed you as his. His, his, his. Those giant hands roaming your body, finding your cl*t, wrapping around your throat with a squeeze, just so—

It crashed over you all at once, the climax that you’d built up together, thighs clamping around his as bliss sang in every trembling muscle fiber. Your fingers twitched in their grip on his pecs, the firm flesh beneath you keeping you grounded. A breathless cry disappeared into the crook of his shoulder as he bucked his leg, the extra pressure sending aftershocks of overstimulation curling around your lower back, forcing your spine to arch for him.

Finally, he stilled and released your hips. Your body buzzed in the aftermath of your org*sm, pulsing vessels thrumming, sending endorphins to every last capillary. You melted against his chest, spent, floating in a hazy pool of forbidden ecstasy. The room was silent except for the sound of your breathing, quick and soft.

“Look at you,” König cooed. He brushed back the hair plastered to your forehead with sweat.

He uttered more soothing nothings into your tresses, nice things, it sounded like. Gentle. Sweet.

Without his support keeping you on top of him, you slid to the side limply, back into your spot, pressed against him like you’d been before. You felt a hand near your thigh and you tensed, clear-headed for a brief, terrifying moment. Fear spiked its way through the daze of your passion and illness, wading through the swamp of your infection to warn you of danger.

Your head tilted back to look at König.

But his eyes weren’t fixed on you for once. Instead, he was looking down past you, fingers exploring his own leg, you realized, not aiming for yours. You followed the path of his gaze, horrified to see the dark spot on the light grey of his sweatpants where your arousal had soaked through and stained the material with your wetness. And you couldn’t help but notice the sizeable bulge of his unreleased desire just to the left of it. Your eyes widened in alarm. It had to be a trick of the light and folds of cloth, the fevered exaggeration of his proportions.

There was no way that was his—

It couldn’t be all him.

Dread washed over you, souring the last wisps of your org*sm that still clung to you. Your clarity was dissolving quickly, though, worried thoughts of reciprocation sending your mind spiraling away into darkness.

“sh*t,” König hissed, fingers still dabbing at the wetness.

You ducked your head back into his side, nowhere else to go. But it felt safer there, at least angled away from his gaze and the monstrous thing between his thighs. He patted your hip.

“So shy now, after all that? Mein niedliches Häschen,” he said, a smile tinting his words.

You nuzzled into him more deeply, not dignifying that with an answer. A low laugh jostled you as it jerked his ribcage, but it faded, just as your awareness began to do.

Your stomach turned as you waited for what might happen next, what he might do — what he could easily do — but he merely curled an arm around your waist, pulling you closer to him. His hand spread over your hip, warm, inviting. His other hand trailed lightly along the contour of your arm.

Goosebumps erupted across your skin from the barest brushing of fingertips over your bicep and along the bend of your elbow into your forearm, a tingling trail following him all the way down until his hand curled around yours delicately. He held your hand as carefully as if he’d caught a butterfly, too rough and he’d crush its shimmering wings.

König brought it up to his chest, pressing your palm flat, firmly against his sternum.

“Get some rest,” he said softly.

You didn’t want to, not when there was the very real possibility of your worst fears coming to life. But you’d shared a bed with him for this long already, untouched except for just now — and it really had all been for you, not him. What was one more night?

You tried to move your hand a fraction, but he kept his much larger hand over yours, splayed out possessively to keep it near his heart. You focused on the solid, rhythmic thumping within his chest. It was strong and sure, bringing with it a song word that you felt with every beat:

mine,

mine,

mine,

mine.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

Notes:

Thank you so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed it. sort of a slow burn here, but we are approaching smut. :) it'll be about ~ 22 chapters when it's all done!

Comments and kudos are much appreciated, and I find them really encouraging. :)

writing is a hobby and it brings me immense joy to share these stories with others and getting feedback is part of that joy as well. but I also have a full-time job, a house, children, etc. that take priority in my life.

please be kind in the comments.

I am trying to keep updates every 2-3 weeks to give myself breathing room and make sure the quality is up to the standard I hold for myself. I appreciate all the support and patience between chapters. <3

You can find me on twitter or tumblr.

Chapter 6: Guilt

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

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Pain found where you hid in sleep, sharp and stinging, abruptly yanking you into consciousness. You nuzzled down more deeply into the covers, chasing after the fleeting wisps of sleep that curled around you — but they slipped through your fingers like smoke.

Your aching head throbbed as if you’d downed too many shots of cheap vodka over cards with Soap and were paying the price today. Except you weren’t curled up on your lumpy barracks mattress after a night with friends, wouldn’t be able to get up and stumble to the mess hall bleary-eyed and grumbling as you searched for coffee.

If only.

Your limbs were sprawled out over a large, firm mattress, one that your fingers and toes couldn’t find the edges of when you stretched. The scent of König lingered all around you, warm spice soaked into your clothes and hair, saturating the pillow beneath your head — but you were alone.

Your mind was trying to catch up, sorting through the — hours? days? — that you’d spent in his bed. It was a fuzzy thing, the grainy film of your memory overexposed, too washed out to properly see when you replayed the reel.

You opened your eyes enough to peek around the room, your headache grateful for the relative darkness within. To your right, an unlit reading lamp sat on the bedside table, a book set under it with a scrap of paper jutting out from between the worn pages. Scanning left revealed a window above the dresser against the far wall, the sky beyond stained in watercolor splashes of goldenrod yellow and deep orange that bled into a darkening crimson horizon. A clear, colorful sky — that meant the storm had finally stopped.

In the corner of König’s room, a wood-burning stove glowed. A small fire burned behind the metal grate over its belly, casting a gentle heat into the room.

There was the door leading out to the hallway, and another, maybe a closet. You remembered that he had come this way to get your phone — that closed door was the likely location.

You were just about to lift yourself onto your forearms to get a better look around when you heard footsteps approaching. Your eyes snapped shut in an instant.

It was hard to keep your face neutral when you felt more than heard König’s hulking figure approach, his looming presence suffocating your curiosity. The mattress dipped and squeaked as he sat on the edge of it, and your body tilted toward his from the shifting springs beneath that yielded to his weight.

You were supposed to be asleep, but you couldn’t stop the subtle flinch when the back of a scarred knuckle touched your cheek and brushed along your jaw. A thumb stretched to run over your chapped lips, along your cupid’s bow, and sloping down to one corner. You forced your eyes to stay shut, hoping in vain that he’d be satisfied with your state and leave you alone to finish processing everything — but he didn’t.

König tucked a strand of hair behind your ear so delicately, the pad of his thumb tracing the outline of your ear, showing the type of easy intimacy you’d expect from a lover, not the man who held you hostage.

“You don’t have to pretend to sleep,” König said, voice soft, disappointed.

You sheepishly opened your eyes, a splinter of guilt wedged under your skin at his tone. Your face flushed with warmth against his candor, regretting your poor, failed attempt at deception. You didn’t even know why you felt obligated to try it, your self-preservation instinct always to hide from him, to lie and conceal.

The little prey animal inside of you bristled with mistrust — understandable, you reasoned, given how cornered and vulnerable you were. Whichever way you turned, you were face to face with a grinning mouthful of sharpened teeth, jaws poised to snap. But he hadn’t pierced your delicate skin or stained you with the blood that dripped from each point. Instead, a lithe body of soft fur surrounded you, a bit stifling maybe, curled too tightly around your tiny form, but — it was gentle and warm.

Self-doubt fluttered within your chest. Your distrustful instincts had almost killed you. König had saved you twice. You had been so sure before, but now — the line between black and white blurred, the grey area expanding until it was all you could see.

You blinked up at König, and he pulled his hand away as he looked down at you, searching your face. Your most recent memories were still shrouded by heavy mist, the foggy remnants of a cool, cleansing rain on parched ground. Tastes and sound were easiest to recall, the acrid bitterness of crushed medicine — I tried to sweeten it for you — a warm body to nestle against, soothing words in dulcet tones, the rustle of paper, pages turning.

The scent of König permeated your memories just like his bedroom. Vanilla-soaked wood and toasted spice, a subtle, rich sweetness. The feeling of your face buried into warm skin, breathing him in, a beard tickling the side of your face, your hips rolling while you—

while you—

Your stomach dropped, heat bundling itself up inside you as you remembered — yes, you remembered. You let your eyes drop to his thigh, the thick muscle spreading as he sat beside you, filling out his sweatpants, the perfect size to slot between your legs.

Christ, this was bad.

“Is something the matter?” König asked, a lilt slanting his words in a direction that made you squirm.

“No,” you croaked, but it got stuck. You swallowed dryly and tried again, your throat hoarse from disuse. “No.”

“Mm. How do you feel?”

You bit your tongue, and fought back the urge to spit out a ‘fine.’ Be nice. König deserved a bit of honesty — if only to benefit you, too. More flies with honey and all that, though you weren’t sure you wanted to catch any in the first place.

“A little…out of it. Sore. Hungry.”

“Poor thing,” he said. “At least your fever finally broke this morning.”

You nodded, your thanks tying itself up in your tongue.

König offered you his hand as he helped you pull yourself upright. “How is your pain?”

You attempted to flex your foot and regretted it instantly as a jolt of pain pulled taut, the muscle seizing. “Pretty bad.”

He left and returned with a glass of water and a clenched hand. König passed you the cup and you immediately took a sip, gratefully swishing it around your mouth, washing away the dirty, metallic taste and the remaining grit from the pills he’d fed you before.

“Do you think you can swallow these today?” he asked, unfurling his hand to reveal three pills.

You recognized the red and yellow capsule, the same one from before, but the other two were white instead of the rust color you remembered, oblong, smooth.

“Yeah,” you said hesitantly.

The heat of your embarrassment flickered across your face, remembering the hurt in König’s eyes when he’d discovered the discarded pills in the toilet. You licked your lips and held your hand out expectantly, not even questioning the medication this time, even though you wanted to. You’d learned your lesson on that one, and maybe you could extend this little olive branch to him, to earn some trust.

König’s eyes darkened as he watched you, though, and he shook his head and let out a breath that sounded halfway to a laugh. Your brow wrinkled in confusion.

“I’ll take them.” Nervousness bled into your words, trickles of your desperation to prove yourself. You pushed your hand further toward him, palm up. “Really.”

“I know you will,” he said, cloyingly sweet. His tone didn’t white match his eyes, frigid gunmetal piercing through to where you were softest. He ignored your outstretched hand and canted his body toward you, fingers curling over the top of your thigh as if anticipating you might run.

You ignored the shrill sound in your mind that alarmed you to do just that. Your heart hammered in your chest, thumping rabbit-fast, unsure what he had in mind, but knowing that you wouldn’t like it.

“Open your mouth.”

Your lips parted a little, chin tilting down to look at König with wide, liquid eyes. You leaned back in the bed as he reached for your face, turning your face to avoid his touch.

König had no patience for any of that, today. He grabbed your chin roughly, no-nonsense, and squeezed, demanding your teeth unclench. Your body subconsciously tried to retreat as he invaded your space, slanting away. His firm grip dug into the soft skin of your leg — stay . It was a warning, and you were sure it was the only one you’d get. Your free hand clenched the blankets tightly, the other still gripping the glass of water you somehow hadn’t spilled yet, steadying yourself.

König’s fingers forced their way between your teeth, and your mouth watered at the intrusion. He placed both white pills on your tongue, pressing them down firmly so they stuck to the moisture there. Your tongue twitched when he pulled away, but you didn’t dare close your mouth yet.

He nodded to you, permission granted. You took a few sips of water, swallowing the pair of smooth tablets. He did it again with the capsule, and you washed it down too with a tilt of your head and another gulp.

König took the glass from you and set it on the bedside table, but didn’t release his hold on your thigh. His silence was unnerving. It was impossible to tell if he was…displeased or maybe just focused. Or something else entirely. You smiled at him, shy and small, a peace offering as if to say ‘all gone.’

His eyes didn’t soften yet, still hard as stone, marbled with unyielding veins of grey and blue. “Open.”

You nearly did what he asked automatically, his commanding voice poking at that place within you that had been broken in and trained to obey the orders of your superiors. König slipped into that tone of authority easily, but you weren’t to the point of blind acceptance of orders even from your sergeant — or König.

“What—” you started, voice more squeaky than you intended. “I swallowed them. I’m not gonna—”

“I won’t ask again.”

A single spark of resistance flared but didn’t catch, immediately fizzling out under König’s stare. The flames of your rebellion had almost burnt out completely, now mere embers among ash, not enough of a challenge blazing within you to consider defying him.

Your stomach clenched around the pills and water, acidity burning deep. You knew what he wanted. Just do it, get it over with. Your throat worked to swallow what little thick saliva you’d managed to make in that short time, but it seemed to get stuck, just like you were now.

You let your jaw drop, water-moistened lips parting a fraction, just enough to count as opening, for him to see your empty tongue. Hopefully, it was enough to satisfy him. You didn’t have any plans on hiding the medicine anymore; you’d learned your lesson the hard way on that one.

König wasn’t convinced.

He jammed two fingers into your mouth — not especially gentle — taking as much space as he wanted. His rough fingertips explored all along your gums, every spot inside between your cheeks and teeth, under your tongue, back toward your throat. That one made you gag a little, but König was wholly unbothered by your discomfort, intent on checking every crevice inside your mouth until he was satisfied.

You drooled around his fingers, a rivulet rolling over your bottom lip to drip down your chin, the hinge of your jaw forced to stretch to yield to his examination. Unsure where to look — definitely not at him, you couldn’t bear it — your eyes screwed shut, but you couldn’t pretend that this wasn’t happening.

Shame stung behind your closed lids, threatening to spill over into tears. König continued to probe into your mouth. Humiliation blazed, dotting the tips of your ears and spreading across your neck and chest like sunburn. This had to rank among the most embarrassing things that had ever happened to you — but you couldn’t even blame König. This was your fault, the consequence of your foolish actions.

Stupid girl.

Stupid f*cking girl.

Your jaw ached at the strain of accommodating his thick fingers. He’d surely searched every single crease and pocket of your mouth by now — but he kept those two fingers moving before pushing down on your tongue like he even wanted to check your throat. The slick muscle beneath twitched and you wanted to pull away so badly, to escape this moment.

Or bite — something inside you cooed, saccharine, insidious. It was tempting. König was treating you like an animal, an unruly and disobedient pet that hissed and snarled at affection and care.

Maybe you should prove him right.

You opened your eyes and found him watching you closely, pale eyes brimming with dark amusem*nt. It’s like he always knew — how? — when your thoughts leaned this way. And he wasn’t even concerned, gladly up for the challenge, goading you to fail your test of obedience. You wanted to prove him right — no, prove him wrong — it was impossible to know what the best option was.

König had shown himself to be trustworthy — or at least that he meant no immediate harm. But the fact remained that he was keeping you here, trapped against your will—

wasn’t he?

You didn’t want any of this—

did you?

But the ideas wouldn’t take hold properly in your thoughts. Your defiance kept slipping, unable to find footing in your mind, the ground too slick from your shame and self-doubt. Compliance was better, anyway, an easier path to get what you wanted, and relieve the all-consuming burn of your embarrassment.

More clear-headed than you’d felt in days, you also realized that you couldn’t just mindlessly react to everything that happened. You needed to be smart and outmaneuver König if you wanted a chance at freedom, needed to be as cool and calculating as he always seemed to be. It was his game and he knew how to move all the pieces, how to devise the best plays — but you could learn.

König must have grown bored of waiting for you to act — or maybe it was enough to prove that you were docile. His fingers pressed back incrementally further and your eyes watered at the intrusion, your gag reflex on high alert, throat spasming in anticipation.

It must have only been a few seconds, but it felt like an eternity that he waited there, two calloused digits flat against your tongue. He finally removed them from your mouth, wiped his hand on his sweatpants, and nodded at you, satisfied.

“Good.”

You immediately shut your mouth and swallowed a few times, tongue rubbing against the ridges on the roof of your mouth — but you couldn’t rid yourself of the phantom sensation of his probing fingers. The hand on your thigh hadn’t moved, and you tried to scoot your leg back to remove his touch, a subtle twitch away from him, a hint that you hoped he’d take.

He didn’t notice — or he did and pretended not to. The latter seemed more likely.

“I cooked dinner for us. Do you think you can eat?” he asked, far too casually given what he had just done.

You blinked at the abrupt shift in him. The unease churning in your stomach morphed into hunger at the mention of a meal, the basic bodily need superseding your distrust and disgust.

“Uh, yeah,” you answered.

König’s hand slid around to your lower back, guiding you to sit at the edge of the bed beside him. You tried to sit up straighter, ready to stand, but your weak core trembled, then crumbled, and you immediately tipped forward. König’s arm braced across your chest, keeping you upright.

“Careful, Hase,” he said as you sagged against his forearm. “Still weak, hm?” He clicked his tongue. “Perhaps I should carry you, for now.”

You nodded your reluctant agreement. König slipped an arm behind your knees and one behind your upper back as he lifted you and headed down the hall. Your mouth watered at the scent of the cabin — something tasty must be simmering on the stovetop, savory garlic and celery.

Before he turned to the kitchen, he paused at your tap on his chest, your hushed whisper barely stuttering out a request for the bathroom, first.

“Anything you need,” he muttered, mask-covered lips pressed to the crown of your head.

It was confusing and disorienting, the gentleness that overlaid the near-cruelty that lurked beneath the surface, only ever crossing that boundary in brief flashes before resubmerging. You were acutely aware of your lack of autonomy — it stung as König stepped across the tile and set you down right in front of the toilet, hands lightly gripping your waist. It was demeaning that you needed him for this, having to ask him to take care of your most basic needs.

After he let you go, he waited, hands raised at hip level as if he expected you to keel over at any second. But when you stayed steady, he relaxed and lowered his arms.

You swallowed thickly against the lump that seemed to be a permanent fixture there these days. “Just…give me a minute.”

His eyes flicked up and down as if quickly sizing you up. You must have passed inspection, because he retreated to the doorway, turned away at least, but left the door open. You grimaced but your need to go was too great for you to care at the moment. You looked around, distracting yourself.

The bathtub was definitely bigger than a standard one — König could probably fit in it properly, long limbs and all. There was a shower head too, the flexible metal pipe leading to a box on the wall, and a dial to adjust the temperature.

You’d give almost anything to wash up, as dirty as you felt. You hadn’t thought it was possible to feel any more grimy than you already did, but your fever had stained your skin with the sickly sweet scent of infection and coated you in dried sweat and oil.

Your stomach growled, then squealed at its emptiness. Food first, then you could ask.

It wasn’t easy to walk when your legs felt so uncoordinated, the muscles already strained from just a handful of steps — but you hobbled to the door and reached up to tap König’s shoulder. At least he’d been polite enough to keep his back turned the whole time.

Gratefully, he didn’t make you ask out loud and picked you back up, then placed you down on a chair at the table. You bit back your protest when he adjusted your legs for you like you were a life-sized doll he was carrying around to play house, rearranging and setting you up as he liked. But all your complaints fled your mind the instant he set a bowl of soup in front of you.

Chunks of shredded chicken were suspended in pale yellow broth, floating beside slices of carrot and celery. Tiny, rounded dumplings bobbed on the surface, speckled with flecks of green herbs. Tendrils of steam curled up from the bowl, and your empty stomach ached at the sight, churning in anticipation. König was still preparing his bowl at the stove, but you shoved aside all your manners and dug in without him.

Each bite was better than the last, the vegetables softened from being gently simmered, the meat so tender that it fell apart in your mouth as you chewed. The little dumplings were lightly seasoned and perfectly doughy. It all settled well in your belly, warming you from the inside out, satisfying more than just your hunger. Comfort food, perfect for a winter’s day and healing.

“Slow down,” König warned as you shoveled in another bite, but his tone was light. “There’s no need to rush — I don’t want you to be sick again.”

You slowed your pace, savoring each spoonful this time. Your eyes lifted to König who was slicing into a dark brown loaf on the counter.

“I’m glad you like the soup. I used the last of the chicken,” he said with a sigh. “No more until the snow melts and I can house some again in the coop.”

He set down slices of still-warm bread slathered with melting butter, and you reached for a piece immediately, greedy fingers slick from an inelegant grab. The bread was just as flavorful as the soup, as expected, earthy and rich, the texture with the perfect amount of give to it — not too chewy or soft. Reluctant admiration crept in, your mood shifting with your hunger sated.

König finally sat, pushed his mask out of the way, and joined you for dinner.

“Where did you learn to cook like this?” you asked, partly trying to warm König to you, but brimming with genuine curiosity. If you hadn’t tasted his cooking yourself, you would’ve assumed his meals would be more practical than lavish, calories mattering over flavor.

“My mother taught me when I was little,” he said, pausing to take a bite of bread. “Or, tried to, anyway. I wasn’t very good then. Probably just made more of a mess, but she always let me help. I…like to think I’ve improved a bit since then.”

You couldn’t help the smile that spread across your face at his words, a thread of connection that made him feel more…human. Like you. And the thought of him being little at any point in time was impossible to imagine, as massive as he was. You stifled your smile with another spoonful of soup.

“What?” he asked, cautiously matching your grin, as if he was waiting to decide if you were making fun of him or not.

“It’s…hard to picture you as ever being little,” you said.

His smile bloomed.

Your chest tightened.

It was hard to say why the interaction warmed you so, gaining a little insight into his life, who he was. It made him a bit less scary. Just a man — you reminded yourself again. Dual smiles faded into a comfortable silence, your fear lowering its guard, tail tucked down between its legs.

Gratitude crept in as you watched him eat. König was sharing his limited resources with you and went out of his way to make you comfortable, even though you’d fought him, biting and kicking as thanks for his help. Your neck warmed when you spotted the fading bruise on his forearm where you’d bitten him. Maybe you owed him a little more than that.

“Thank you for taking care of me,” you said, and meant it. “I hope I haven’t been too much trouble.”

König smiled, another genuine one. “I like a little trouble, sometimes.”

The pleased expression dimpled his cheeks alluringly beneath coppery bristles. The wariness was gone from his eyes, too, the blue softened like faded denim, a favorite pair of jeans washed and worn time and time again.

Your heart leaped at the sight, stirring up a flutter within your chest.

You’d seen this much of him before, the bottom part of his face, the angles of strong bone structure beneath unkempt red-brown bristles. Under his beard, his jaw was intersected with faded scars, like the one that cut across his lip. The thin white line pulled taut with his smile, but it didn’t detract from the fullness of his lips, soft pink surrounded by auburn beard and clear, fair skin.

König was…handsome, you had to admit. Not traditionally so, maybe, and not in a pretty or polished way. He was a little older, battered and rugged and wild around the edges, but it suited him. You scrunched your nose, weighing your thoughts. You wanted to see the rest of his face, but there was something enticing about the mystery of what lay beneath, too. The idea warmed you in places it shouldn’t, sent heat trickling downward, low and slow.

His smile spread a little more at your obvious ogling, lips tugged just too wide, and your thoughts soured, reality sinking back in. You immediately wished you could take back the idea of even beginning to think of König — your captor — in such a positive light, but you couldn’t unsee what you’d perceived, couldn’t unthink what your mind had made up.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, he winked. You stared in disbelief. f*ck, who even did that? But blood rushed to your face anyway at the gesture, embers of embarrassment burning in your capillaries. Your eyes dropped to the table and you wished you could slip between the lines of the wood, disappear right into it.

“It’s good to see that you’re feeling better,” he said, scooping up a spoonful of soup. “There’s some color back in your face at last.”

Teasing. He was teasing you.

It didn’t help the heat radiating from your face, only increased it, intensifying the flush that was always so eager to rise for him. It also didn’t help that at that moment, you distinctly remembered how you had humped his leg like a desperate dog, how you’d soaked up every bit of his whispered encouragement — a fact that he hadn’t mentioned, but sat heavily between you both, unspoken.

König didn’t push you any further though, and as you finished eating, your embarrassment dwindled along with the meal. Afterward, he gathered up the dishes and ran the water at the sink, scrubbing the bowls clean. You listened to the running water and thought longingly about a shower while you chewed the edge of your nail, wavering back and forth until you felt the sting of torn skin, tasted the metallic salt of blood.

Just ask.

You pulled in a deep breath and dabbed your finger against the edge of your shirt to staunch the bleeding. “Hey, König,” you started.

“Hm?” he hummed, peeking over his shoulder at you.

“Can I, um, take a shower? I really need one,” you added, staring down at the table, pride swallowed down as deep as it would go. Your eyes focused and unfocused, traced the patterns in the wood grain, waiting for his answer.

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” he said slowly, turning back to rinse the bowls. “You don’t have your strength back yet. Do you think you could manage it?” Doubt hovered, thick between his words.

“Maybe,” you replied, the pitch of the second syllable turning higher, unsure. The corners of your eyes stung, pressure prickling. “Probably not.”

Your heart sank at the thought of just stewing in your own stink another night. König was right, though — he always seemed to be. You likely couldn’t stand long enough to shower, and it probably wouldn’t be safe to try. Maybe you could at least ask for some towels, and take a sponge bath. The thought of sitting in the cold bathroom, wiping at yourself with damp towels wasn’t an appealing one — but if that was the only option, you wouldn’t turn it down.

König shut off the sink and dried his hands before he approached you. His eyes were unreadable, but the disappointment was surely plain to see on your face. You didn’t shrink away this time when his fingers curled under your jaw, cold and damp, gently tilting your chin up to face him. Your anxieties since the pill scenario had soothed a little, but you still pressed your lips closed in remembrance, not inviting anything more.

“What about a bath, instead?” he asked.

Your enthusiastic nod against his fingers was enough, and you could hear the happiness in his voice when he spoke.

“I can arrange that for you, little one.”

You frowned at the title, one he seemed to enjoy using with you, a reminder of how much tinier you were than he was. But you couldn’t deny the vastness of the size difference as König carried you over to the couch — and that you enjoyed the idea a little more than you probably should. He set you down on the cushions and immediately set to work relighting the fire. The room was cooler than usual without the near-constant flames, so you tugged a blanket around yourself as you snuggled up.

The stock of logs was dwindling, but König used a couple for this. You watched the fire spring to life in his skilled hands, the flames overtaking the chunks of split wood he stacked over the soot. He left and you heard the telltale sound of rushing water, the tub beginning to fill. König’s muscles flexed as he returned with a large pot, stepping carefully. He hung it by its handle on a hook before the fire, a little water sloshing out with a hiss on the hot stone below.

König busied himself as the water heated, folding the unused pile of furs and blankets beside you and hanging them over the back of the couch.

“You don’t have hot water here?” you asked, nodding toward the fire.

“Not from the faucets,” he said. “It would take too much power. Solar can only harness so much. The shower is warm, but only for a few minutes. Everything else…” he shrugged.

When the pot began to steam, he grabbed it with thick oven mitts and carried it to the bathroom, returning with another potful to heat. You pulled the blanket up to your chin and curled your legs beneath you as you watched him make the trips back and forth. He wasn’t struggling with the pots by any means, even as full as they were — surely heavy — but it still seemed like a lot of effort. You squirmed in place, wishing it wasn’t such a big affair, a favor you couldn’t reciprocate in any way.

Maybe you shouldn’t have asked at all.

König didn’t seem bothered or exhausted when he came to get you at last, and even let you attempt to walk to the bathroom with his help. You managed it, encouraged and energized by the prospect of being able to wash the dirt off your body.

A warm wave of lavender-scented air hit you as soon as he opened the bathroom door for you. You breathed in deeply, letting the steam fully fill your lungs before you reluctantly released it. König closed the door behind you both, preventing any more heat from escaping.

Beside the sink was a brand new toothbrush still in the package, along with his half-used tube of toothpaste, floss, a hairbrush, and a black elastic for your hair. On the other side, a stack of washcloths for your bath. You looked up at König, wide eyes brimming with excitement, all but forgetting your unease.

“For you,” he said, confirming your unasked question.

You needed the bath badly, but this, oh this—

A single pass of your tongue over the fuzzy layer on your teeth had you ripping open the toothbrush packaging in a whirl of torn cardboard. It made you feel like a kid at Christmas, the gift you’d been eyeing for ages finally in your hands. Your thumb ran over the handle, basic, green plastic, then the soft and flexible bristles. Perfect. You flossed — much needed — but it was the first few swipes of the brush over your teeth that were truly heavenly, nearly had you groaning in ecstasy at the crisp bite of mint bursting over your tongue. You scrubbed off who knew how many days' worth of filth, washing away the sticky film that coated your mouth.

König watched you, close enough to support you if needed, his presence looming just behind you like a too-long shadow, stretched by the setting sun. For a second you met his eyes in the mirror, blue sparkling among the folds of his dark hood. You were too happy at that moment to care that he was watching, just grateful for a chance to feel like yourself again. The plaque was scrubbed from teeth and tongue, gums shining pink and clean.

You spit and rinsed, barely noticing how frigid the sink water was against your clean teeth — and grinned at yourself in the mirror. Your smile faded a bit when you realized König might think it was for him, but it felt so good to have a fresh mouth that it didn’t matter at all. You could have cried from the relief.

“Better?”

“Much better,” you said, the ghost of a smile still hovering on your lips. “Thank you.”

You shuffled over to the huge tub next, with König trailing just behind you. The water was clear and clean, dotted with faint splotches of rainbow-slicked sheen on the surface. Scented oil — lavender and sage, maybe rosemary. Herbal and sharp. Clean. You dipped your hand in and f*ck, it was perfect and hot. The slip of the water between your wiggling fingers was delightful, and you relished the sensation.

You looked from the tub to König, a spear of true happiness finally poking through the thick layer of hopelessness and dirt that had been suffocating you the past few days. The same wonder was reflected in König’s eyes, too, as if pleased with himself that he’d gotten this right for you.

Your eagerness momentarily flickered at the thought of the logistics. “How should I—” you started, looking to him for guidance. “You know, with my foot.”

“I can wrap it.” König pulled the wooden stool from the corner and patted it for you to sit. “And if you sit sideways in the bathtub, you can keep your foot up over the edge. It should stay dry if we’re careful.”

“Okay,” you said, sliding onto the seat, willing to try almost anything he suggested as long as it meant you could soak in the water.

König knelt before you and cradled your injured foot in both his hands, gently working off your woolen sock to inspect the dressing. It was inelegant but practical the way he wrapped a grocery bag around your foot. The material crinkled in his hands, the logo on the front in a red, Cyrillic font. He worked carefully, turning your ankle in his hands as he stuck medical tape around the edges, forming a makeshift seal against your shin. You flexed your foot in his grasp to test it, and the tape held beautifully.

“Looks good,” you chirped. You gripped the edge of the large tub to stand and turned to König. “Thanks.”

You hoped he would take that as his cue to leave, so you waited, a hesitant smile still plastered on your face.

But he didn’t leave.

König stood steadfast in front of you, unwavering.

The excitement coursing through your veins congealed into a heavy sludge that sunk into the pit of your stomach. There was a catch to his kindness, after all. Of course he wasn’t just…being generous. This was his perverted little reward for being nice to you, to see you naked and watch you bathe. A sick fantasy come true for him. You swallowed down the faint taste of mint that remained in your mouth and mentally took back all the nice things you’d thought about him.

Stupid girl.

“I won’t take too long,” you tried, keeping your voice as light as you could, though a warble still made its way into your paper-thin gratitude. “Just a quick in and out, I promise.”

“No need,” König offered, settling down on the stool as he waved a hand toward the tub. “Take as long as you’d like.”

“You don’t have to…” Your breath got stuck in your throat on the way in, choking you, burning inside your lungs, “to…stay.”

“Oh, kleines Häschen,” he cooed, honey-sweet nectar dripping from his words. “I do have to. It’s not safe for you to be in here alone.”

Panic resurfaced, bubbling at the back of your throat. “Really, König, it’s— I’m—”

“As weak as you are, in this steam and heat?” he cut in and shook his head. “Something could happen to you, and I wouldn’t even know until it was too late. We won’t risk it.”

König’s arms crossed over his chest, one foot on the ground, the other resting on the bottom rung of the stool, seemingly comfortable and not ready to leave anytime soon.

You were tempted to demand that he leave anyway, or at least turn around and close his eyes. Something. You hated that he was right, though. One misstep on slippery tile, a moment of lightheadedness while you were sitting in the water — it didn’t bear thinking about.

But you also didn’t want him to be right there.

Maybe you should call the whole thing off entirely and just wallow in your filth until you were stronger. What was another few days? You could just use the washcloths for a half-hidden utilitarian scrub of your dirtiest spots. Not as satisfying as an actual bath, but at least you’d be less exposed.

A tiny voice inside of you rose to König’s defense, reminding you that he had made those trips back and forth with the hot water only for you, bringing heavy bucketfuls back and forth, laboring on your behalf. He didn’t have to, but he did. You didn't want to seem ungrateful, but you couldn’t just instantly make yourself comfortable with this.

A seed of guilt had lodged itself within you at his discovery of the pills, and now its roots took hold, creeping vines testing their reach, strangling any argument before it passed your lips.

He’d gone through a lot of trouble for you — and he’d only see maybe your bare ass at best when you got in if you were careful. Maybe a water-distorted glimpse of your breasts too, but nothing that others hadn’t seen before, or that he probably hadn’t seen before. It didn’t have to mean anything.

You wavered in place, indecision etched in the downward slant of your brow. The idea of a bath was too good to pass up — giant, masked guard or not. So, you made a choice you hoped you wouldn’t regret. You nodded, turned away from him, and began to unbutton your shirt.

This was fine.

And for a moment, you truly believed it. But a trembling began in your fingers, the nervous joints stiffening, barely allowing you the dexterity to undo the buttons — why? König had already seen you in your underwear and held you against his bare chest. You’d f*cked yourself on his thigh hard enough to soak his pants. This shouldn’t make you feel so shy.

Showing him your body now felt different because of the change between you two, further skewing whatever bizarre relationship you shared. It almost would have been easier if you still thought so lowly of him, if you believed that he was just some creep encroaching on all your boundaries to get a peek at you for his own perverse pleasure.

But…you didn’t think that he was, you discovered. Not completely.

It didn’t help that even though his face was hidden at the moment, even though you shouldn’t even have considered it at all, you found him to be…kind of good-looking. And his body — massive and muscled but still soft where it should be.

You’d be lying if a splash of self-consciousness wasn’t involved there, too, of what he might think of you, fully undressed. It muddled itself in with your discomfort, complicating everything.

You squeezed your eyes shut.

This wasn’t right. There was nothing normal about any of this, slowly losing track of where König’s influence ended and your free will began. But a line had been crossed, one you’d tugged König over too — or that he’d pulled you over — and you didn’t have the strength to push him back to the other side.

You surreptitiously glimpsed over your shoulder at him and saw that his head was turned, allowing you a sheer veil of seclusion. It wasn’t much. He could probably still see you in his peripheral vision, but it could be worse. Right? At least he offered you this — you’d take it.

So, you stuffed your discomfort deep down inside, repressed, where you hoped it would stay. You let the shirt slide to the floor in a puddle of baggy, sweat-stained flannel. Your quivering fingers were still a little numb at the tips, and you struggled with the dexterity needed to unhook your bra. If König noticed, he thankfully didn’t say anything, politely letting you struggle under the illusion of privacy that you needed.

The muscles in your legs began to quake — you couldn’t stay standing much longer. You quickly pushed down your underwear and let your bra slide down your arms and over your fingers until it fell onto the floor. You stood on the tile, clad only in a single woolen sock and the bag on your other foot, feeling too seen, too exposed, but you stepped out of the sock, too, and wiggled your uninjured toes on the cold ground.

Not too bad.

But goosebumps still rose across your skin, skittering down your spine with a tingle, as much from the chill as from the way you could imagine hungry eyes tracking your every movement. You could nearly feel crystalline blue taking in each crease and dip of you, feasting on every bare inch until you were devoured, picked clean down to gnawed bone and marrow.

You shivered.

But it might be fine, having König sit in the bathroom with you. From his position, he probably couldn’t see much once you were actually in the water.

You gripped the edge of the tub and rested your bottom on the cold lip of it, working out how to keep your foot dry. Your injured leg screamed with the strain of holding it up out of the water, but you managed to do so while turning and sliding down sideways into the tub until your rear hit the warm water. König’s idea worked out well; the tub was wide and deep enough that you could rest your heel on the opposite edge while still leaning comfortably, your back supported.

The water was luxurious, the decadent oil he’d dropped in immediately making your skin feel softer, smoother, and cleaner than it had since you’d left base. It was almost too hot when you first got in, your nerves shocked by the stark difference between the cold cabin and the warmed water, but your body quickly adjusted, desperate for this indulgence.

You sank more deeply into the water with a slow exhale, letting out fear and anxiety along with that breath. Your skin squeaked against the smooth, heated enamel behind you as you let yourself slide down further. It took a little work to tug out your hair elastic, ripping a few strands as you freed it. The bottom of your hair floated in the water about your shoulders, clinging to your skin in clumped tendrils. Your discomfort ebbed as the scented water lapped at your chest with each movement, sloshing against pearly white porcelain when you shifted.

You leaned your head back and arched your spine, stretching languidly. The moment was perfect , pure bliss compared to the near horror of the last few days, a tiny oasis in the desert, giving you new life. The world around you disappeared until all you knew was the relaxing touch of herb-scented water, cradled in a pocket of decadent warmth. It was everything you’d hoped for, everything you’d been looking forward to. It was practically a dream come true—

until wood creaked heavily right behind you.

You reluctantly opened your eyes.

A pair of knees rested against the edge of the tub in your peripheral vision, one on either side of your head, a sobering reminder of the strings attached to your bath. You didn’t really want to, but you were compelled to slowly tilt your head back until an upside-down view of König obscured your vision, practically hovering over you.

Curiosity shone in half-lidded eyes, vivid among his cloth hood that wrinkled around his hunched shoulders. He regarded you intently, resting his forearms loosely on his thighs. He leaned down further, getting comfortable — far too comfortable — and blinked slowly as if this was the most ordinary thing in the world.

The mirage of luxury shattered, the ruined shards dissolving into a pile of ash that poured through the cracks between your fingers. You'd almost forgotten König was there at all while trying to escape to your secluded bubble, but you knew you wouldn’t be able to get back to that secret place again. Not after he had forced his way in there too, trampling delicate blossoms as he made himself at home, leaving a trail of boot-crimped petals and crushed greenery behind him.

König made it clear that he wasn’t going to let you do anything or go anywhere, not even within the privacy of your own mind—

not without him.

Notes:

Thank you for reading! I hope you liked it :) Comments and Kudos are very encouraging, and I treasure each one and they help keep me fueled to keep going!

This chapter got out of hand (12k+ words) so I had to cut it where I did because it felt like...a lot. That means the next part will be expanded a little and posted next weekend instead of in 2 weeks :D

I am sure it will be a nice, wholesome bath scene :) in which nothing exciting happens :)

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

I had asked on tumblr but am wondering if anyone here minds if post some longer chapters? or if the 6-9k range feels a bit better as a reader. (or maybe there is no preference). i mostly write via a bare outline and vibes, so sometimes things kind of grow bigger than expected

You can find me on twitter or tumblr. Come say hi :)

Chapter 7: Clean

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Your throat squeezed in on itself at the intimidating figure looming over you, the request for König to scoot back trapped behind your ribs.

“Well?” König asked with a feline tilt of his head.

Well.

You sank another inch into the water. The movements disrupted the bath’s surface into gentle, distorting ripples that lapped at your chest. Your hands surreptitiously slid over your front to hide whatever parts of yourself you could.

König tracked the movement of your hands, watching your forearm glide over your chest, and lower where your palm hovered between your thighs. It wasn’t subtle, but neither was he.

Your neck was still craned back, stretched to look up at him. The angle bared your throat, the column of muscle pulled taut beneath thin skin. His keen gaze rose to watch the cartilage shift as you tried and failed to swallow past the tightness.

His eyes settled on your face again, expectant. You promptly tucked your chin to your chest to break the contact and relieve the strain of your neck against the edge of the bathtub.

You shifted your arms again to try and cover more of you. It was pointless — only delaying the inevitable reveal of what he’d probably already seen anyway. You knew you couldn’t sit like this the entire time, but your skin itched, unease crawling between bone and muscle.

“What do you think?” König asked, cutting into your thoughts. Eagerness bordered impatience, hunger barely concealed. “Do you like it?”

Thick silence hung in the air, heavy within your chest.

You could practically imagine his face beneath the hood, picture him licking lips stretched thin around a wide, wolfish smile. The bath was a gift given in glossy, paper wrapping. The edges were perfectly folded and taped, the whole thing topped with a satin bow, the ends curled so prettily — but the present wasn’t really for you. It took you a moment to pull your voice past the roadblock of your nervousness, but you finally did, a breathy, strained sound that was too high-pitched to sound natural.

“Y-Yeah,” you managed to get out. “This is…nice.”

“Do you want to wash your hair now?” König asked, skipping right past your discomfort and dragging you with him. “Or…?”

You squirmed in place. König drummed his fingers along the edge of the tub in a staccato rhythm, short nails clacking against porcelain, waiting for an answer.

The situation was far from ideal, but you couldn’t deny how much you needed to wash yourself. You were already in the tub, that internal battle already fought and won. And it did feel nice to soak like this, the water warmed to perfection. All you’d known for years were quick, efficient showers and harsh military-issued soap — you could try and enjoy this.

If you closed your eyes, you could focus on how the heat slowly eased the built-up tension held so tightly by your muscles, tempting you with the promise of relaxation, if you let it. You took a deep, steadying breath of the steamy air, filtered in through your nose. Aromatic florals tickled your nostrils while the medicinal crispness of herbs soothed the lingering headache that still gripped the base of your skull. If you focused on that, it made König’s overbearing presence more bearable.

“Okay,” you agreed, pushing forward with a shaking voice. “Hair first.”

König tipped a bottle in your direction and you held out your hand as he squeezed a cool dollop of shampoo into your open palm. Uncertainty rose. You looked around sheepishly, realizing that keeping your foot up while angling and tilting your head back far enough to wet it was going to be difficult, if not impossible with your current lack of core strength.

f*ck, were you really so lost that you couldn’t even figure out how to bathe yourself?

Your cheeks burned, and a flush crept down your neck and chest, feeling awkward and foolish with the gel slowly dripping between your fingers into the tub as you sat there, frozen. You glanced sideways at König, eye-level with his abdomen, not daring to meet his face, but unable to summon the words you needed.

“Do you need something, little one?” König prompted, calmer now, voice gentler than you’d ever heard it, almost dissolving into the humidity that filled the small space.

Your head snapped forward again, prickling against his softness, self-defense against pity. “Yes,” hissed out between your teeth. You had to force yourself to unclench your jaw. “Is there a…” your words trailed off, and you gestured vaguely with your free hand to the water and your head, “cup or something I can use?”

“Mmhm. Let me help,” he said, quiet but scratchy as flint, a heavy inflection there that caused your stomach to churn uncomfortably around your dinner.

It nearly startled you, how close he sounded then. He must have leaned down or knelt behind you. You shrunk back against the side of the tub, making yourself as small as possible, wishing you would dissolve right into the water — but there was no escaping now.

It’s not like you were a shining pillar of modesty, and König wasn’t the first person to see you naked, but it had never been like…this. He was still fully dressed — as he should be, but you felt blinded by the spotlight of being the only one nude. Shyness unfurled within your chest, making itself at home behind your racing heart.

Fingers curled around your shoulder and pushed forward, coaxing you to bend at the waist. You let him guide you. The position strained your hamstring, heel still propped up on the opposite edge. König’s hand drifted down in the water to your lower back as you shifted and scooted to find a more comfortable angle. You barely dared to breathe when a single fingertip dragged up the length of your spine, rubbing over each bony knob, bringing a wave of goosebumps along with it until his palm cupped the back of your head.

König dipped a small bowl into the water and scooped up to fill it. “Tilt your head back.”

Your lips parted to ask for the bowl — but he seemed intent on doing this for you. It couldn’t hurt to allow him this much. Maybe it would appease the desire he seemed to have to help you. You leaned back into his hand as warm water cascaded over you, running down your neck and shoulders in rivulets as he poured the bowl over your matted hair.

“Is the temperature okay?” he asked as he poured another bowlful over you. “Not too hot for you?”

“’s fine,” you mumbled, trying not to engage him more than necessary.

Once your hair felt wet enough, you spread the remaining shampoo on top — almond-scented, light and clean — and scrubbed at your crown, appalled at how knotted the strands were. It took quite a bit of work, but you made sure that the soap made it below the tangles, going as far as to scrape your fingernails against your oily scalp until it tingled. You lathered until your arms shook, surprised at how out of breath it made you, how your scrubbing devolved into uncoordinated, jerky movements that just barely got the job done. Your overworked triceps burned by the time you finally lowered your arms, tired but triumphant, ready for a rinse.

König tipped the water over your head until it ran clear, then hummed to get your attention as he held out another bottle. “Conditioner,” he offered, and waited for your hand.

Your stomach sank at the reminder of the even bigger task ahead.

The muscles in your arms twitched in protest of moving again, weakened, stretched fibers refusing to listen. You squeezed your eyes shut at the bitter realization, trying to will away the wave of disappointment that threatened to pull you under and drown you in self-doubt.

You couldn’t do this.

That fact hurt in a way nothing else had so far. Your sense of worth hadn’t been something you’d actively thought of before, but you were realizing more and more that you measured it against your performance and abilities, what you could contribute to your team, how you could lend your services to others. That was the way of things on the job — and now, you had nothing of value to offer. You couldn’t even take care of yourself.

You were a burden.

König didn’t seem to mind though, or have any other expectations of you than to listen to his instructions. And that…made sense given that life out in the middle of nowhere was apparently his area of expertise. He hadn’t led you astray so far and was treating you better than you expected. But the scales of power were unbalanced — not just his size, but what little you could do or offer in return.

You shifted in the water, blinking away the prickling that began at the corners of your eyes, avoiding the bottle König held out for you.

Perhaps he didn’t add each favor, each kindness to an imaginary tally — but you worried that he did, and what the eventual collection of that debt would look like. Your stomach twisted up at the thought. You hadn’t been the biggest or strongest on your squad by far, but you’d been entirely independent and held your own. Not prone to bouts of tears like you were these last few days, too sick, too frail to even wash your own hair properly.

König pushed the conditioner a little closer, interrupting your self-destructive spiral as he nudged your bicep with the plastic. “You should use some. It’s nice. It’ll help with the knots,” he explained slowly — as if you didn’t know what conditioner was for.

“I know,” you said in a small voice, too tired to even be annoyed by the comment, wavering with a wash of unshed tears. You shrugged, trying to be dismissive, but the wobble in your voice gave you away. “I…can’t.”

“Oh, du armes Ding,” König said a little too eagerly, though his voice was sympathetic. His hand fell to your shoulder, rubbing gentle circles. “I can. Would you like that?”

No — but you nodded, looking straight ahead, your eyes focusing on a droplet of water that dripped down the tiled backsplash before slipping into a line of grout.

König tried to pull you back toward him, but you resisted at first out of habit, spine rigid against his tug.

“Relax for me,” König coaxed, words gliding over your skin like dark silk, tempting. His thumb stroked your collarbone with a featherlight touch. “Hm?”

You forced yourself to do so with some effort, and laid back at the persistent pressure of his tug. This time, instead of your neck meeting hard ceramic, your head rested against a fluffy, folded towel he must have placed there. Thoughtful. You stared up at him with damp lashes and a bruised ego. His eyes narrowed beneath his veil, kindness crinkling in the corners, a reassuring glance, a hidden smile, just for you. It helped, a little.

He began to smooth the cream over your hair, coating every inch in toasted almond, rich and nutty and sweet. His fingers caught in the knots but gratefully kept moving without comment as though he barely noticed them.

You weren’t especially vain, rarely letting your hair down anyway due to the gear and equipment you often wore, but it was one of the few remaining pieces of you, a record of your life outside of this cabin. Each strand had grown over time, imbued with your experiences, laughter, and meals shared with friends. Silly as it may have been, you didn’t want to let go of that. You hoped it was salvageable, and that König had the patience needed to deal with it now that you couldn’t.

“It’s bad, isn’t it?” you asked, prying, unable to conceal the worry in your trembling voice. “It seemed really tangled.”

“Nothing we can’t work out together,” he assured, pressing in with his fingertips and rubbing in small, massaging motions. “Mach dir keine Sorgen.”

He was exceedingly gentle — and so, so good at this. Your tight jaw went slack as he worked, your tension easing under the alternating pressures and angles of scrubbing fingers. He slid his thumbs along your temples up into your hairline over and over until each tiny, tight muscle released under his touch. f*ck, it felt incredible.

Fear dissolved further as König massaged your scalp and neck. You let your arms fall to your sides, becoming more malleable with each pass of his hands. A creamy, dreamlike haze descended over you as he continued, but a few sharp pieces of rational sense jutted out stubbornly, refusing to be softened.

The novelty of caring for you would surely fade for him, eventually lose its excitement and become nothing more than another chore, another obligation. And then what? You hoped you’d be long gone — or much, much stronger — before that happened. But those thoughts had no place in the small bathroom, nudged out by a heady surge of oxytocin that nearly left you dizzy as he stroked your hair.

König leaned to the side and you opened your eyes just enough to peek through the curtain of your lashes, watching his muscled chest and sides flex under his shirt as he stretched and reached for the brush. You flinched in anticipation when he placed it against the tangled mess of your hair, expecting a series of sharp, detangling yanks.

“I won’t hurt you, Häschen,” he soothed, the sugared words falling so sweetly around you. “You know that, don’t you?”

You didn’t answer.

Doubt rose at the seemingly impossible task ahead, but König was true to his word, trust building as he picked through the mats, using counter pressure when he passed the brush through your tresses to minimize pain. Soon the bristles were sliding through one section, then the next, the smooth glide of it slick from conditioner.

“Look at that,” he said. “I knew we could do it.”

The corners of your lips twitched up into a tiny, reluctant smile.

Time slipped past, but König continued to work through your hair until you were nearly boneless in the water, every inch of you soothed, surrounded by warmth and gentleness and occasional hushed words of affirmation. You were far past the point of caring if he saw your body, too far gone underneath a blanket of decadence, hypnotized by the repetitive motions.

Your eyelids drooped, sleep weighing them down, and you had to fight to keep them open — a battle you were quickly losing. When you were ready for a rinse, König had to gently shake your shoulder to pull your mind forward, and helped your wobbly form sit up. He held you in place with one firm hand under your armpit as he scooped the water over your hair until he was satisfied no residue remained on the silken strands.

“It’s so good to see you like this,” König said, soft and proud. “Happy.”

A sleepy smile spread across your face. He wasn’t wrong — in that moment, you were.

“I’m going to wash your back now.”

You hadn’t intended for him to help at all, but his voice was so sure, insistent but kind, that it floated right past your barriers and snuck past the flimsy barricade you’d erected to try and keep him out. Your hair was clean, but the rest of you still needed a scrub. It might be nice to let him. He’d been so careful with you already, maybe he could—

You stiffened when a soapy washcloth touched your back before you could answer, a soft whine slipping past your lips in a half-hearted protest that dissipated as soon as it touched the air. He moved efficiently, passing over your back in broad strokes and small circles, firm enough to massage and clean. It felt like heaven, but you shouldn’t — he shouldn’t—

“Lay back, now,” König urged, helping you to recline until the plush towel cradled your neck once more.

Your spent body obeyed, your muscles following his commands even if you weren’t sure they should. You were tired, so tired. Your eyelids fluttered closed — just for a minute — but your lips pulled down into a frown, uncertainty lingering.

“Maybe I…” you tried. “I can do it.” Words spoken with no conviction.

“Are you sure?” König asked. His hands dropped to each of your shoulders, large thumbs slipping behind you to manipulate the muscle, pressing into a tight spot that pulled a groan from deep within you, unbidden.

You weren’t sure but admitting weakness was something you had always avoided at all costs during your military career. You consistently had to not just be good, but better than expected so you weren’t seen as lesser. Outpacing, outlasting. Even though The 141 didn’t hold the same backward views as some of the other groups you’d contracted with before, it was a matter of pride, a tenet at the core of your being that you hadn’t ever had to break.

Not until your injury.

Not until König.

The undeniable differences between the two of you didn’t help, either. König was strong and sure, confident in seemingly everything he did for himself, the cabin, and for you. He was capable, and you were…not. At least not in your current state.

You relied on him for your most basic needs, food, survival, warmth, and, you were realizing, your emotional well-being too. Socialization, conversation, entertainment — you needed him for all of it. You didn’t have anyone else right now, no squadmates lounging in the rec room, no phone to mindlessly scroll or text or call a friend. Every connection outside of these four walls had been severed. You didn’t even have your own clothes, besides the ones König had found you in — and you didn’t know where he’d put those, in any case.

König was all you had.

He knew it, too.

“You’ve been through so much these past few days, Liebling,” König continued, words seeping in, burrowing deep into grey matter. “Wouldn’t it be better to rest — just like this?”

You didn’t catch it, at first. Patronizing, mocking. That was your assumption. But then it clicked into place. Intentional or not, what he was really offering was an out. You didn’t have to say anything else or admit something you didn’t want to, even if you both knew the truth. All you needed to do was agree.

“I…” Your breath puffed out at the delectable pressure of his fingers, your mind tripping over all of his questions, falling into the answer. “Y-Yeah.”

“Mm. I think so too,” he murmured, affirming that you’d given the right response. “I can take care of everything.”

You let him.

His massage hurt in the way a good one should, pleasantly aching, sending endorphins rushing to meet his fingertips. König’s firm hands danced along your upper arms, and back up to your neck until you were pliant under his expert touch, moldable like warmed clay. Every last muscle group released its tension until you were weightless on a lavender-scented cloud, only held from floating away by the weight of his hands on your body.

You could have fallen asleep, pampered like this, and you almost did. But a nagging inner voice reached you through your daze, warning you to stay awake, just a little longer, just in case. Vigilance was buried, but not gone. Your heavy eyelids parted when a soapy cloth replaced one of König’s hands, bringing delicate lather across your neck and upper chest before tucking under each arm.

“Doesn’t it feel so good to be warm and clean?” he asked.

“Mmhm,” you agreed, the sound fading in your throat when he moved to your breasts.

Your nipples perked up under the scrub of the soft towel that swiped across them, the buds pebbling tightly at the attention. König spent a little too long there for your comfort, circling each one — but just as your lungs pulled in a breath to speak, he retreated, leaving your body alone in the water.

The tub suddenly felt too big, an expanse of open water, and you, a tiny dinghy flung out to sea, aimlessly carried on each wave — you were surprised to find that you missed his grounding touch. Needed it, right then. You tried to lean back and look for him, but a hand touched the back of your head, stopping you.

“Close your eyes,” König said solemnly, “and keep them closed.”

Despite the even tone, a threat was there, the ‘or else’ that silently tacked itself on to every command he gave you. But instead of pure fear, a tiny thread of curiosity wove itself into your mind — what did he need you to close your eyes for? You hoped it wasn’t something…weird. sh*t, what if it was? But you nodded anyway, and let your eyelids shut, putting a small measure of your trust into König’s hands.

You hoped you wouldn’t regret it.

Fabric rustled with a small rush of air as he moved behind you. Your heart nearly stopped waiting to see what was next, and jolted back to life, pulse skittering when he resumed washing you without warning. He wiped along your hips and thighs, leaning forward to pass the cloth over the curve of each calf, every inch of you cleansed with care. When he reached over you to get to your good foot, wiry bristles scratched against your cheek — his beard. That meant no hood, and no hood apparently meant no looking.

It figured. You tucked that rule away, committing it to memory.

It also meant that your trust had been well placed in this small way. Nothing more perverse was happening that you could tell. A glimmer of hope sparked, and you cupped your hands around it to shield it from the storm of your unease. It warded off the chill of your loneliness, comforted you. You clung to it.

König hadn’t lied to you yet that you knew of. While he wasn’t always forthright, everything he’d said up to now, how you needed to take shelter in his cabin, eat well, and let him provide medical care — it all made good, logical sense. Anyone would agree.

He hadn’t… done anything to you other than nurse you back to health, and get a little too intense and handsy at times. And you weren’t one to talk, anyway, not with the way you’d groped his chest, slobbering against his neck like a degenerate while you rode his thigh to your climax.

You tried to ignore the flush of warmth settling the tops of your cheeks. If you were really here against your will, a prisoner in this cabin…would you have done that? He didn’t force you, just helped.

The SIM card incident didn’t add up, but you hadn’t actually asked if he’d taken it out or tampered with your phone. All assumptions. You’d be lying if you said you weren’t afraid of his answer, but maybe there was a good explanation for that, too, like with everything else.

Maybe you wouldn’t end up as a statistic or a made-for-stream three-part true crime mini-series.

Maybe you were safe.

For now, a tiny voice inside reminded you. You smothered it.

Once your legs had been thoroughly scrubbed, König pulled away and his hair — bunched up, gathered and tied back low — pressed to your face when he did. Clean, smelling like the shampoo you’d used, mixed with the familiar cinnamony spice that always adorned him, too.

You heard him wring out a towel, the excess moisture dripping into the tub, then the wet plop of sodden cloth slapping down onto the tile. The water rippled when König dipped in again, the waves licking at your chest. A fresh soapy cloth skirted between your breasts, into the water, down over your stomach, slowing as it dipped lower, just below your navel.

That was all that was left.

Your weak hands lifted to König’s wrist at that, your breath tightening, the room air growing far too thin to fill your lungs properly. He stopped when your quivering, water-pruned fingers rested against his skin. Neither of you spoke while the seconds stretched into eons, an eternity of indecision.

“The rest, too?” he murmured after a while, low and sultry.

His face lowered toward yours, the tip of his nose nuzzling into your damp hair. You knew you should pull his hand away, or tell him to stop — it was obvious where this would go. Surely you could manage this part on your own. Your arms were tired, not broken, not wounded.

The words you should say got stuck in your throat, locked away behind traitorous lips that didn’t even attempt to form the words. Your fingertips clutched at his wrist, trembling.

But you didn’t stop him when the washcloth continued its journey, just feebly clasped his stretching arm to your body. He was almost there, nearly past the point of no return, past the point where you might not want him to stop once he started.

A heavy breath, close, warm, fanning out over your damp hair. An errant, lone ‘plink,’ a drop from the faucet falling into the tub. Your pulse, too quick, thready, an ineffective series of beats within your chest.

The soft fabric swiped down, and your breath caught, your nails dug into König’s forearm at the texture and pressure against your cl*t before it passed between your folds.

“König,” you said — or didn’t. You thought your lips moved that time.

Time slowed until it nearly stopped, but his hand didn’t. Your lungs seized and a discordant note rang in your ears, high and sharp, out of tune. Suddenly you couldn’t even draw a single breath, the back of your throat closing in on itself. It wasn’t even what he was doing — it had to be done. But it was too much all at once: your foot, your fever, the cabin, the bath, your weakness, confusion and conflicting wants, fear and longing, pain and pleasure and everything and him and him and him—

“König,” his name a plea on the last of your air, dredged up from the base of your burning lungs.

A knowing click of his tongue. “Oh, sweet girl. Ich bin für dich da,” he soothed, moving the towel away. “Shh. I see you, I see you. Stay with me. Breathe.”

Tone low, soft, but not a suggestion. An order to follow. You grabbed the lifeline he dropped and he pulled you back to the present, the gentle authority corralling the escaped parts of yourself back into place. Your breath rattled behind your ribs, shaky.

“Breathe,” König repeated, drawing out the word this time. He pulled a long, slow breath in and out, intentionally loud enough for you to hear and feel as it puffed against you and cooled your wet hair. “Like that. Let’s do it together.”

You willed your body to follow his lead and your chest finally rose and fell along with his exaggerated breathing, then again, and again, and again, and again. Clarity resurfaced as your breaths matched his, chasing away the fog. Each inhalation was deeper than the last, leaving you relaxed if a little lightheaded.

“Good. Keep going — perfect.” König hummed a low noise of reassurance when you kept breathing steadily on your own, the enticing sound of his approval rumbling within the cavern of his chest.

The praise entranced you, lured you into a small, dark place — safe — and you didn’t mind when he closed the door behind you.

“Almost done,” he told you, voice right beside your ear now. “You’re doing so well for me, mein kleiner Liebling.”

You would have jumped at his closeness had you been less sleepy, your head not so heavy, drunk on dopamine. He was near enough that his bare lips brushed the shell of your ear when he spoke, and you so badly wanted to turn to see him, but you didn’t. You wished it was only because of the fear of what he could do — and certainly would do — if you peeked. But another part of you just wanted to do what he asked to hear him call you good again in that deep, accented voice.

Something inside you must be very, very broken.

But the praise soothed you, words spoken low, wrapped around you like the heavy pelts he placed over you each night. You needed more, wanted to suffocate under their weight. Your stomach clenched, and lower, a tiny pulse throbbed. A slurry of feel-good hormones flooded your veins, reward pathways flung wide open as blood surged to greet his touch.

König rubbed you again with the washcloth, further back, passing over your holes. You writhed a little at that, hands tightening on his forearm in momentary fear. But his breath shushed in your ear, a calming noise that mesmerized you like a stray kitten he’d found on the street, offering you the promise of safety in a wide, open hand.

You stepped right into his palm, and let his fingers close over you.

His rough voice offered the affection you craved, the closeness and affirmation you needed after your isolation from your squad, from the world, from everything. It filled you where you were cracked, patched you up until you almost felt whole.

He scrubbed you again, more sure now, sending tingling warmth flooding low, where it pooled and swelled at the base of your belly. You sucked in a shuddering breath.

“Such a brave little thing, aren’t you?” König’s other hand slithered down the side of the tub, trailing along your upper arm. It grazed the side of your breast as it dipped into the water and delicately plucked your fingers off of his forearm one by one. “Always on guard.”

You didn’t know what to do with your hands now, lost like a lamb separated from its flock — but luckily, König was there to shepherd you. He let his free hand rest against your submerged thigh lightly, palm down, a passive invitation you couldn’t turn down. Your much smaller hand slipped over his, and you threaded your fingers between the empty spaces, finding comfort, a perfect fit. He squeezed, sealing the remaining gaps, locking your hand in place.

“It must be so exhausting to keep that up,” he said, the side of his face pressed to yours, his chin on your shoulder. “But you don’t have to do that here, Häschen. I can be strong for you when you can’t be.” The muscles beneath König’s cheek moved, a smile, you thought. A nice one, you hoped. “Or when you don’t want to be.”

It was tempting. You were tired. Maybe you could let him, for a little while.

You let out a breathy whimper, melting against him and the side of the tub when he folded the cloth and swiped again — taking longer than you expected, being more thorough than was probably necessary. It made you realize how little separated his hand and your most vulnerable parts, just a thin, soft cloth, the edges floating in the water — but you didn’t mind.

“That’s it.”

König’s voice and movements were so soothing, slowly back and forth like the ebb and flow of ocean waves lapping at the shore — good, so good — that you barely noticed when the cloth was no longer there, just his water-softened fingers stroking you gently.

When your sluggish mind caught up to the present, you tried to sit up, thoughts spinning, woozy from heat, but the arm pressed between your breasts kept you pinned to the side of the tub.

“What…What are you…” you tried, though you knew, wholly out of breath as if your lungs wouldn’t let you summon the words to stop this.

Something wasn’t right. Your thoughts were too lazy, dredged through the syrupy thick warmth of budding arousal and — the medicine. The pills were different today. What did he give you? But he said he wouldn’t. It had to be. It couldn’t just be you. You didn’t want — what did you want?

Fingers still moving, featherlight. “Hm?”

“Sh-Shouldn’t—” you faltered.

A heavy palm pressed against your cl*t, thick fingers stroked just outside your entrance, stealing the words from your mouth. Dissent dissolved as your thighs parted further, offering him more room.

“Shouldn’t…?” he asked, breath warm against the side of your face, lips barely brushing your cheek, rough bristles tickling your jawline.

You didn’t — wouldn’t, you wouldn’t dare — answer when a single finger curled, the tip of it threatening to burrow up into your c*nt, slick even through the water. But he stopped short, teasing, f*ck, why didn’t he just — just—

You realized you’d been clasping his hand too hard, your fingers curled into claws, nails digging into his palm, but he didn’t seem to care. A mumbled apology slipped past your lips when you softened your hold on him and eased back into the tub.

“It’s okay,” he whispered. “Whatever you need. I’ll take care of you, if you let me.” König shifted behind you, nuzzling his nose against your neck, beard scrubbing your shoulder. “I want to.”

His words seemed to carry magic all their own as your nipples stiffened further despite the warmth of the water sloshing over your chest. The deep timbre of his voice shot straight to your core in a smoldering wave, cl*t swelling as he pinched it lightly between two fingers. Your breathy gasp encouraged him to pick up his speed, the enthusiastic strokes well-meaning but too rough, too hard, rushing. He probably wasn’t used to sustaining such a delicate touch, not in such a harsh, unforgiving environment.

It was hard not to imagine König touching himself that way too. You could picture him in the shower, hot water streaming down his slick, muscled back, thick co*ck hanging heavily between his thighs. One massive hand would be splayed out over the tile wall for support, while the other curled into a too-tight fist, delivering firm, cruel jerks to the ruddy length until his spend swirled down the drain. Or maybe he did it in bed after a long day’s work, broad hips rutting up into his calloused palm at a punishing pace, head turned into his pillow as he spilled himself into his hand. Quick, getting to the point as efficiently as possible before going to sleep, all alone.

The vision was…kind of sad.

Maybe he’d like a gentle touch, too, if he was shown one. How long had it been since he felt soft hands there, not toughened or scarred like his own? Heat seared the tips of your ears. These were dangerous thoughts that you shouldn’t be having.

König’s breath huffed behind you. He seemed to know what he was doing with you, finding the right spots, just a little clumsy. He mentioned living here for two years, so it might have been at least that long since he last did…this. It’d been longer than you cared to admit for you, too.

You shouldn’t, you really shouldn’t, but your hips graciously rolled up to assist him — there — and your free hand decided to help as well, sliding over his scarred fingers to guide his movements. If this was happening, it may as well be good for you. If he wanted to please, you’d let him.

“f*ck,” König groaned, when your abdomen tightened at your shared touch, fingers tangling together between your spread legs. His teeth nipped at your earlobe. “Like that, hm? Show me what you want, Hase .”

What were you doing? Accusations rose and fell away, withering in the shadows.

You had to. You needed — he needed — you were getting close, so close — yes, like that—

König mimicked the motions you modeled. He was a quick study, and you let out an airy little whine as his hand began to move slower, softer. This was just a reminder; he knew this, oh, he did, muscle memory awakening at last, offering tender little flicks that sent your mind spinning, erasing thoughts of anything other than him and those nimble fingers. Better, yes, yes .

You released him when he did it just right and your arm fell limply to your side as you let him tend to you, giving in. Colors danced behind closed lids as neurons stuttered in flashing pulses. Your breaths quickened, oxygen consumed by the rising tide of your need, spurring him to wander lower. His thumb tamped down on your sensitive nub, the water-laden pads of his fingers sliding along your slit and stretching back to circle your other entrance with a curious touch.

Your lips rounded into a silent ‘oh’ and your inner muscles clenched — resisting or inviting, it was too muddled to tell. But he didn’t linger there, wistful fingers retreating, back to where you were slick. You clamped your legs tightly around his hand when his thumb drew circles around your cl*t, faster, a little harder — oh, he definitely remembered — a finger just barely pressing into your c*nt. You clenched around him, tempting, begging, don’t stop, don’t stop .

“Such a good girl,” he breathed, voice tight with his own desire as he pressed into you further, opening you up achingly slowly. “So soft and sweet and wet for me.”

Just one of his fingers was so much larger than yours, but your body didn’t resist as he stretched you, pushing forward until the digit was completely buried in your heat, finding you embarrassingly wet and wanting.

“Perfect,” he whispered, just loud enough for you to hear. “I knew you would be. Tight. f*ck.”

Your eyes shut more tightly at his words and your body squeezed around him as if to prove it further. König didn’t move, maybe not wanting to be too rough, not wanting to scare you, or just savoring your submission, how far you’d let this go. How much further would it go? You should be scared. A thought drifted past that should scratch or scream or fight him off — shouldn’t you? But you didn’t. Wouldn’t, no, no.

Not when he kept you hovering right on the precipice, not while your blood thrummed in anticipation, plumping you up in all the right places under his attention. König just stayed like that, palm pressed flat to your pulsing cl*t, his breaths rasping against your damp hair, betraying his own need, barely restrained. You rocked your hips into his hand, with a soft little whine, a wordless request for him to continue.

“More?” König asked with a raspy laugh. His finger curled and withdrew just a bit before pushing back in, moving in unhurried strokes that kept you filled, pleasantly stretched. “Das fühlt sich gut an, nicht wahr?”

He rocked the heel of his hand slowly up and down, over and over until your hips were rolling up to meet him each time. The chorus of ‘shouldn’t, shouldn’t’ at the back of your mind quieted, eclipsed by bliss. Lips pressed to the side of your neck, a huffed breath, teeth bared but not biting, close, close, close.

A swell of water threatened to roll over the edge of the tub with your added movements, but König didn’t pay it any mind. His encouragement and hand didn’t slow, but kept an easy pace while he gritted half-intelligible words against your flushed skin. You squirmed in his palm, needing him just there , a little more, please, please, please—

His finger pressed up against the front of you from the inside, intuitively responding, the pressure on your walls sending a heavy rush of pleasure sinking deeper, trickling down to your curling toes. The water washed away your arousal as he stroked you, but your body replaced it just as quickly as it was lost, paving the way for his finger, but eager for so much more. Release was near enough to grasp — almost — and you honed in on it, chased after it.

“I can feel how close you are, little one,” König murmured, breath fanning out against your damp neck. “You want it?”

You nodded against him, unable to speak, squeezing his hand so desperately, afraid if you didn’t, he’d leave you stuck, just like this. Your hips jerked in time with his fingers, tightening inside as you rose higher, higher.

“Get it, then.”

König brought you the rest of the way, and a few lazy strums of a heavy thumb against your cl*t sent you free-falling headfirst into a pool of ecstasy. Your spine arced as it washed over you, and you finally came with a low moan, a needy, desperate sound you barely stifled by biting your lip.

You ground yourself down into König’s palm, blindly rolling forward, hair plastered to your shoulders, body only kept in place by his arm over your chest, his hand holding yours. Your thighs stiffened around his wrist, your walls squeezing, pulsing around his curving finger.

König hissed a curse against your skin and caught you before you dove too deep and let you rise again, guiding you to swim back to the shining, sun-dappled surface with languid pumps and steady pressure against your sensitive bud. When the last twitches of your thighs subsided, he withdrew from you slowly, as if savoring the way your body still tried to cling to him and keep him inside. His other hand wiggled in your grasp, urging you to release your vice-like grip on him.

It took you a moment to realize what he was trying to do, and you sheepishly let go of him. You hated how empty you felt now, a betrayal by him — by your own body, your mind — but all you could do was sag against the tub, eyes still obediently shut as you caught your breath.

f*ck.

Reality hit you once the high of your climax faded. Shame scooped out what dignity remained inside, hollowed you out until you were a brittle husk that would surely crumble if he was too rough. A harsh word or a careless touch now would crush you into glittering shards, too tiny for König’s large hands to put back together. Despite the warmth of the water, you shivered, teeth only kept from chattering by the grinding of your molars.

For a while, nothing happened as you waited in the bath, liminal, lost in between waking and sleeping, in between peace and panic.

Shuffling sounded behind you, then strong, sure hands slipped beneath your armpits. You were plucked out of the water and wrapped in an oversized, fluffy towel before the chill of the cooler air could nip at the droplets dotting your skin.

“Let’s get you dry and warm, hm?’ König said. He tutted softly. “You’re shaking, poor thing. You must be so tired.”

You could only nod as he sat you on the stool and patted you dry, scrubbing the dry cloth over the rivulets of water that ran down your shoulders and dripped down your legs. He was gentle, but businesslike now, a task to accomplish as he held you upright. Your trembling subsided as he dried you — you weren’t even cold — but the pressure of firm hands passing over your damp skin helped siphon you back into yourself, molded you into something that was sort of the right shape again.

Close enough, anyway.

König threaded your arms through fleece-lined sleeves and pulled the baggy garment over your head. It cocooned you in decadence, buttery-smooth fleece on the inside, rubbing against your bath-softened skin. Your thumbs found the inside of the sleeves, stroking back and forth, along the seam inside the cuff, self-soothing.

“There. You can look, now.”

You didn’t know if you wanted to face him after… that. If he so much as teased you now, mocked you with a smug, knowing look in his eyes, you were sure you’d burst into tears. And you weren’t even confident you could open your eyes anyway, as heavy as your lids were.

But you did allow your eyelids to flutter open, first looking down to see the pocket of a dark, hooded sweatshirt, your body swimming in the excess material.

“We’re almost out of firewood,” he explained. “I should be able to cut more tomorrow, but I thought you might need something warmer tonight.”

A little thought chirped up to ask for pants, underwear, something to cover your lower half . You ignored it, doubtful that anything of his would fit you properly, anyway.

König brushed through your hair again and dabbed all the excess moisture away, untaped the bag from your foot, then picked you up, unresisting, and carried you out to the couch. He sat sideways on it and arranged you between his thighs, your back facing his chest. You leaned to the side against the cushions as König’s fingers combed through your hair, smoothing and tugging.

A faint click cut the silence in the room, followed by the sound of slick palms rubbing together. He scrunched whatever it was into the ends of your hair before smoothing the rest through your strands. A whiff of almond again. Delicate and sweet.

You passively let him tend to you, twisting and pulling strands of your hair, realizing that he was braiding it to keep it neat and untangled. The thought floated past that you shouldn’t be feeling so good right now. König was a stranger — one who was seemingly keeping you captive and sneaking his way into your personal space at every opportunity. But as ludicrous as it was, that wasn’t even what bothered you right then.

König was an odd man and unsettled you constantly. There was something within him that terrified you, a low hum of power and control and violence that you could feel vibrating just below the surface. But no matter what you’d done, going as far as to contemplate killing him — a fact he seemed to be entirely unconcerned with and even amused by — he still showed you compassion and care.

Part of you wondered if you were even worthy of this kindness, as horrible as you’d been to him. He didn’t deserve everything you’d put him through — did he? The thought confused you, but you were too sleepy, your mind too fuzzy to worry about it properly. Tomorrow.

Questions bounced within your mind, incoherent and half-formed, unable to think of the words to ask what you meant. König’s fingers grazed your neck as he plaited your hair, unspooling light breaths of contentment from your chest with each tug.

“Why are you being so…nice to me?” you asked at last.

König didn’t answer at first, but his hands kept moving, deftly securing the bottom of the braid with an elastic. His hands drifted to your shoulders, subtly exerting pressure back until you stopped resisting — a weak front, who were you still trying to fool? — and reclined against his chest.

“Mm.” A soft sound vibrated behind you, contemplative, like you’d stumped him for the first time. “Should I not be?”

You squirmed, the backs of your bare thighs rubbing against the velveteen cushions, unsure how to answer: no, yes, maybe, maybe. Your shoulders lifted into a tiny shrug against him, all too aware of how warm his chest was behind you, how completely his hips cupped yours, his body dwarfing you in ways that made your head spin.

König adjusted his position and wrapped his arms around your middle, forearms heavy over your stomach. You let your arms rest over his as lightly as you could manage, like touching him was a last resort you were forced to endure. There wasn’t anywhere else comfortable to put your arms, so you had to rest them over the light dusting of brownish-copper hairs, scars, and muscles, against the warmth that seeped through the fabric of your sleeves to grace your skin.

No other choice.

Right.

Your eyes dropped to his thighs on either side of you. The fabric over his knees was darkened, damp from kneeling on the tile. Firm muscle encompassed you, easily able to support more than twice your weight, you thought, and likely capable of doing much, much more. You stuck a pin into your racing thoughts, trying to deflate them before they lifted further to the dangerous places they shouldn’t wander.

It was a little too late, though.

Fire blazed beneath your cheeks. Your fingers itched to fidget, to pick at cuticle and nail — but the safe haven of the hoodie pocket was beneath his arms, and you didn’t want to seem so anxious right in front of him. König sat still behind you, an anchor, steadfast, keeping you grounded. You let your breathing sync to his again, calming yourself.

“How do you feel?” he asked.

A simple question with too many answers. Which one did he want? There was so much you could say—

“Good,” you said, unable to think too hard about it. Not the whole truth, but all you felt up to giving him.

He pulled you back against you more firmly with an especially long exhale. “Good,” he echoed, his chin bumping the top of your head as he nodded.

After a time, König left you on the couch and set the last log on the dwindling fire. He returned to you, slipped a clean pair of thick socks over your feet, taking extra care not to jostle your bandage, then he hesitated, just standing before you, waiting — for what? But you merely blinked, looking up at him with wide eyes, too tired to try and figure it out.

He silently motioned for you to lie down, and you did. Each blanket was placed over you with care, thick layers of fur and fleece, woven cotton heavy over you, trapping you and your body heat beneath. Exhaustion tugged relentlessly at your limp, pliable body.

One last question burned on the tip of your tongue, lingering.

“Hey,” you said softly as you ducked your chin beneath the covers, half-hiding your mouth for the question you didn’t want to ask. “The medicine you gave me earlier…what was it? It looked different from what I remembered before.”

König sat beside you on the couch, tucking back an unruly strand of hair that had already escaped from your braid. His fingers swept over your cheek, then cupped it reverently.

“You don’t trust me,” he said with a sigh, blue eyes tired — not from lack of sleep, you thought, but a deep-seated weariness that tugged compassion unbidden from your chest. A little disappointment there, too.

He pulled away.

It stung.

Guilt dug its claws in, nearly drawing blood. Your face burned with his shrewd accusation, cutting right through to your concern without games this time, no teasing or calculated words. You scooted yourself even further under the blankets as if you could hide the evidence of your shame from him.

“I just want to know what I’m taking.” Not exactly a lie, but close enough.

König’s massive form rose slowly with a grunt, as if his bones bore the exhaustion of a long day, the culmination of how heavily gravity bore down on someone his size. It was the first time you’d seen anything even remotely close to weakness in him.

A door opened and shut down the hall. He returned, bent down, and handed you a small, white box. The thin cardboard flaps at one end were torn open, a foil-lined card tucked inside. You pulled it out enough to see the mostly unbroken rows of silver wrapping printed with minuscule black letters in a language you couldn’t read, and on the other side, clear plastic bubbles containing what looked like the same pills you took earlier.

Two were missing.

You pushed the card back in and squinted at the front of the box. It was labeled in a Slavic script that you couldn’t understand, but at the bottom in tiny letters was a word and number you did recognize — paracetamol, 500.

You blinked rapidly as your world spun, off-kilter. It didn’t make sense. If that’s all you’d been given, then your compliance, how good you’d felt in the bath, how easily you’d bent to König’s whims, it was just…you, just him. No tricks.

You wordlessly handed the box back and nodded your silent thanks. König placed one last pelt on top of you, the long, luxurious tufts of fur tickling your cheeks and chin. A heavy hand smoothed over the top of your hair before skimming down your cheek and along your jaw and resting, curled beneath your chin. König breathed a sigh that sounded like he’d been holding it in for too long.

You looked up at him, cautious, curious. His eyes brimmed with longing, ice-bitten cornflower petals bending under the frost of a too-early spring, laden with loneliness heavy enough to crush you under its weight, immense enough to smother you completely. For a second, you wished it would.

It was a fleeting glimpse into a hidden grotto carved into the side of a mountain, harboring clinging lichen and wooly Edelweiss blooms that found tentative footing among rubble and dewdrops, shielded from the elements. Your heart rose to your throat, aching.

But when you blinked, you were shut out, faced with the neutral front you were more used to seeing in König. His hand moved to your shoulder, releasing you from the moment.

You couldn’t unsee it though, and didn’t know what to make of any of it. The more layers of König you discovered, the more he peeled back yours, too, leaving you raw and open to the corrosive atmosphere, less sure of him and yourself with each day that passed.

“Good night, Häschen,” König said, squeezing your shoulder through the thick stack of blankets. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Good night, König.” You nodded, feeling far too formal and stiff after all that had happened that evening.

It’s not like you were expecting or wanting a good night kiss, but there was no acknowledgment of anything more, of everything shared. Probably for the best. A yawn escaped you, half-hidden beneath the covers. You blinked away the excess moisture in your eyes that blurred your vision.

König watched you for a few more seconds, then left without another word and turned out the kitchen light, blanketing you in near-darkness.

Your thoughts bounced from one thing to the next, almost all of them disappointing you. You snuggled under the comforter, wishing there was more than just the weight of blankets over you now, unable to squash your disappointment that König didn’t bring you back to his bed.

Didn’t he want to—

Didn’t he want—

you?

You bit the inside of your cheek until you tasted copper, as if pain could bring you back to your senses.

It was better this way. This was a good thing.

You were safe for another night. Not sharing a bed with a strange man—

A strange man who had helped get you off twice, desire whispered, reminding you.

As if you could forget.

But you couldn’t pluck the thorn from your finger, the price of greedily reaching in where you shouldn’t have, eager for a handful of forbidden blossoms that weren’t yours to take. You couldn’t decide which hurt more — the fact that König left you out here by yourself, or the fact that you wanted anything other than exactly that.

You drew your knees up to your chest, curling into yourself inside his too-big sweatshirt, feeling insignificant in an unfamiliar world where König was the only constant, the only thing you could rely on. Nothing in your life or training had ever prepared you for this.

The solitary log crackled in the fireplace, lonesome snaps and pops piercing the night. You ducked your chin and nose into the opening in the hoodie and breathed deeply, frowning. It must be a fresh sweater, the lining still soft and unpilled, bearing the distinct smell of new clothing and a faint hint of cedar. Thoughtfully shared, but you would have preferred one already broken in, worn and washed.

It took longer than usual to fall asleep, the room beyond too cold, too empty, too quiet. But you finally settled down enough to begin to drift. Your thoughts crumbled into the dust of early sleep, swirling all around you in disorienting circles. You began to doze off, your awareness darkening, wishing your sweatshirt smelled more like König,

wishing your hand was back in his,

wishing you weren’t so, so alone.


⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

Notes:

whew ok ~ so after splitting that last chapter, I added some bits and it grew, as always. I hope you liked this one and it’s not a hot mess - my own writing doesn't usually make me blush, but this chapter did a little >.< I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Comments and kudos are very appreciated - I treasure each one <3

Next chapter will be up in 2-3 weeks (aiming for 2 though):)

You can find me on twitter or tumblr.

I made a moodboard for the fic as well! :) I've never done that before, but it was really fun to make.

Trapper, Keeper - babypandacakes - Call of Duty (Video Games) [Archive of Our Own] (2)

Chapter 8: Trouble

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

For the first time since finding yourself in König’s cabin, you were glad it was morning.

Your muscles ached from a night of shivering through half-sleep and the bizarre slurry of muddled dreams and thoughts that you couldn’t recall, but that left an ashy taste in your cotton-dry mouth. Your head was lighter than air, yet too heavy, your skull overfilled by a liquefied brain that you’d swear would pour right out of your ear if you leaned too far in one direction. It took you a few moments to get your bearings.

You stretched slowly as you sifted through the events of the day before, memories floating past like clumps of dandelion fluff on the breeze, too nebulous to grab and inspect closely. You weren’t sure you wanted to, anyway.

Your stiff joints popped and creaked as you straightened out from the ball you’d been curled up in all night. You gingerly squeezed the sore side of your neck with icy fingers, muscles cramped and knotted from being kept too long in the same position.

But despite all that, you felt…okay.

You rubbed your palms together to bring some warmth into your chilled hands. The fire had burnt out early in the evening, the single, pitiful log gobbled up by overeager flames that had long since died of starvation. Most of your night had been spent in near-total darkness and silence, and you’d hated every second of it.

When the world was quiet and still, you were forced to face everything you’d spent the entire day running from, those neglected thoughts catching up to you all at once. It’d been so bad that you debated literally crawling across the cabin and into König’s bed in the middle of the night for warmth, for protection, for his company.

You almost did.

It made you realize you weren’t afraid of König — though you thought you probably should be. He occupied most of your time and space, even your thoughts more often than not, never allowing you to get comfortable. Just as soon as you felt like you were settling into a version of normalcy that you could tolerate, he did or said something that sent you back, teetering on the edge, instinctively reaching out to him for balance.

The reactive animal fear you’d felt when you first met him had mellowed into something tentatively tame that you weren’t entirely sure you liked, a thin muzzle loosely strapped over still-snarling jaws.

The endless unknowns of your situation stirred again, the constant what if, what if, what if of your racing thoughts.Your head throbbed — you weren’t awake or well-rested enough to spiral into anything that complex this early.

Bathroom and coffee, first.

You tensed your body as you pushed away the covers and perched on the edge of the couch, hesitant and waiting for a burst of pain when you tested your legs — but it was bearable. You stood and peered toward the kitchen, surprised to find it empty, no breakfast ready and waiting, no sign of König.

That was…odd. He was always up before you.

There weren’t any clocks on the walls, just the watch you’d seen König wear sometimes, but the golden light of early dawn speared through the windows, elongated rays painting the walls and floor in honey-yellow stripes as the sun peeked over the sill. You could just barely hear the distant trilling of a songbird, a plaintive, lonely sound — but other than that, the cabin was silent.

König must still be asleep.

Your lack of proper rest had yanked you out of the sticky pool of self-pity you’d been wallowing in and instead thrust you into a bitter mood today. Annoyance poked at you, souring your attitude, disappointed that you let yourself sink so low. You’d made some less-than-ideal choices yesterday. And the day before…and the day before that, too. It was hard to know exactly how many days your errors had compounded, snowballing into the mess you were tangled in now.

You couldn’t pretend that the bath, that everything last night or in his bed hadn’t happened, but today was a new day. That meant a fresh start and a chance to show König that you weren’t just going to wag your tail and roll belly-up anytime he offered a treat or threat.

You were injured but still trained and educated, not merely the frail, timid girl König was convinced that you were — it was time to prove it.

Down the hall, König’s door was nearly shut, cracked an inch or two like it always was. So you took a step toward the bathroom, using the edge of the couch to support yourself, then swapped to a hand splayed against the wall to offset some of your weight. Your foot ached, a minor tug on the healing skin and ligaments still knitting themself back together, but you could push through if it meant a few precious minutes of privacy in the bathroom.

It wasn’t much, but you were glad to be able to tend to yourself without König standing in the doorway. The vision was almost comical if you thought of it, him pathetic and bent over, his ear pressed to the door, straining to hear any faint sounds or splashes. It wasn’t funny, but you smiled at the ridiculousness of that image; it made him less intimidating.

You washed your hands and opened up the medicine cabinet, finding your toothbrush nestled right next to König’s, leaning against each other like a coordinating ‘His and Hers’ set. Your nose scrunched as you pulled yours away.

Being able to brush your teeth first thing in the morning smoothed over some of the prickles of your percolating grouchiness; a moment of peace went a long way here, you found. You patted your face with water and swiped away the moisture with the soft hand towel, cheeks glowing pink in the mirror from the scrub of clean cotton.

The braid had held up well overnight, but you decided to undo König’s handiwork and let your hair dry the rest of the way. You tugged the elastic off and slowly untwisted your tresses until they fell in soft, plait-crimped waves about your shoulders. It was the most ‘you’ that you’d felt or looked since you left base to go on the cursed mission that landed you here.

You tried not to think about that and sabotage what was turning out to be a decent morning, all things considered.

You put your toothbrush back in the cabinet. Petty as may have been, you shoved his behind the toothpaste, the half-squeezed tube acting as a barrier separating the two. Before you left the bathroom, you stilled and listened for the clanging of pots or the padding of large feet plodding around the kitchen. But you didn’t hear anything obvious outside the door. Cautiously, you swung it open and peeked. König’s bedroom door was still like it was before — just you out here, safe.

If you were a ‘guest’ here like König seemed to insinuate and not a prisoner, then you might as well make yourself at home, right? So you shuffled your way to the kitchen, unable to fully shake the feeling that you shouldn’t be quite so bold, a tiny creature only brave enough to hunt for crumbs so openly because the cat still slept.

But you wanted coffee, and you were determined to make it happen.

There was a basic coffee maker on the counter, nothing fancy, the kind that dripped through a paper filter. You filled the reserve tank and hunted through his drawers and cabinets in search of grounds. In the cabinetry, you found rows of neatly organized canned goods, labels all facing outward, perfectly aligned. Some of the goods were store-bought, others sealed in mason jars with hand-written dates along the rim, like he had preserved them himself. Your fingers ran over boxes of pasta and rice and a well-used rotating spice rack, but you finally saw it when you tilted your head back. All the way up on the very top shelf, you spotted a tin, unmistakably coffee by the roasted bean motif leaping across the label. Your fingertips could just barely touch the bottom of the wide canister when you reached.

For a moment, you looked around for a folding step ladder like the one you kept in the barren flat you called home when you weren’t living on base — but you flushed when you realized that König certainly wouldn’t have anything like that here. What was there in this cabin that he couldn’t reach?

You didn’t feel like making the trip to the bathroom and back to grab the wooden stool — and trying to balance on it while still healing didn’t seem like a wise choice. You’d shrivel up and die from humiliation if König found you like that, hurt trying to do something as simple as making coffee. He would probably not let you out of his sight for a single second after that.

So instead, you tiptoed on your good leg and stretched, fingertips scrabbling against the bottom lip of the tin to pull it forward — almost, c’mon — but instead you pushed it back a little further. You took a deep breath and tried again, straining your calf. Your shoulder and elbow joints fully extended in their sockets to try and wiggle the container your way.

You nearly had it, too, when something changed. It was a subtle shift in the air against your bare legs, first, an atmospheric shift that raised the hair on the nape of your neck. Dangerdangerdanger rang in your ears . But before you could even contemplate switching gears, a firm body pressed against you from behind, leaning to pin your hips against the counter. The weight forced a tiny squeak of surprise from your throat, and you could only stare upward as a large hand effortlessly wrapped around the coffee canister and set it down on the counter in front of you. You flinched at the metallic clunk of tin against laminate.

The alarm bells didn’t quiet down yet, fight or flight still deciding which should act, waking you up more quickly than even the strongest pot of coffee could have — but instead of doing either, you froze.

“Good morning, little one,” König droned above you.

Despite the way you’d wanted to stay strong, to keep your distance like you’d promised yourself this morning, you smiled at the warmth of his greeting. König was disarming today, not what you expected. His thick voice curled up into a soft, fuzzy ball inside you, sleep-drenched words heating your belly.

“G’morning,” you muttered. Your senses returned to you, and you tried to sidle away from him, but wide palms descended to either side of you on the countertop, locking you in place.

This was a dangerous position to find yourself in, and he knew it, too. You flattened yourself as much as you could against the counter, claiming back another inch or two of space as you sucked in your body as much as you could and twisted around to face him.

That option wasn’t much better.

You were eye-level with his torso, the broad muscles of his chest stretched beneath the cotton. Even though you thought it was cold, he was still in the same T-shirt as last night, not a single goosebump to be found on his corded forearms or biceps. It was ridiculous how far back you had to tip your head to make proper eye contact with him, but you finally found his hazy stare, mildly bloodshot whites still dream-glazed. It was a nice change to see him like this, softer, less scary, less…overwhelming.

Just a man.

“You’re up early today,” he noted, the raw edge to his voice further stroking that inner warmth until it purred inside of you.

“I couldn’t sleep,” you started. “It was freezing last night.”

“Mm.” His hands slid from the counter to hover along your sides and waist, not yet touching you, just ghosting over your body buried beneath his oversized sweatshirt. “I’m hoping to change that today. The storm finally passed, so I can cut some wood for us.”

You didn’t answer, just stared up at him as his hands decided where and when to grab you, the optimal place to sink into your sides. König took so long that you nearly squeaked when he finally gripped you, suddenly and effortlessly lifting you until your bottom cleared the countertop. Goosebumps rose across your skin as the backs of your thighs spread against the chilled surface. Your legs instinctively tried to shut, but König was too close; your knees braced against the outsides of his thighs, stuck open like this. His size was dizzying; even with the added height of the cabinets, he was still so much taller than you.

“You could have woken me instead of sneaking around my cupboards like a little mouse,” he said, a knuckle tapping beneath your chin, the tease softer, overly familiar, almost affectionate.

“I wasn’t sneaking,” you said, a touch defensive. “I just wanted some coffee. Didn’t think it was worth waking you up for that.”

“It wouldn’t be any trouble. My door is always open.”

König yawned and unhurriedly reached above you. He pulled out a coffee filter while you tugged the hem of the sweater down in a futile attempt to cover more of yourself. You regretted not insisting on pants or a pair of shorts, or, anything other than opting to go commando under the nearly dress-length sweatshirt. Too late now.

“Now, let’s see,” König murmured. His hand dropped to your thigh, casually resting on the top, fingers drumming with soft taps against your flesh. “What do I have a taste for today…?”

Your eyelids sprang open as he began to lower himself in front of you. You twitched your leg, but his fingers merely tightened as he sank to his knees before you. This had to be a joke. He wasn’t going to — he couldn’t be.

Your heart rate kicked up another notch when he looked up at you from below, a devilish glint sparkling in his eyes behind his hood, and a smile to match, you bet, if you could have seen it. A question, a tease, a taunt. Would you let him? Your imagination ran wild. Would he keep the mask on? You hoped so. The dark folds of cloth might drape over your lower tummy and hips, veiling his actions, obscuring his next move as he kept you guessing, only allowing you to see his eyes, piercing blue between your thighs. Those massive hands might pry your trembling legs apart, forcing you to stay right where he liked you—

No. No.

Maybe.

Half-lidded eyes were fixed on your body now, searching for the shape of you beneath the baggy sweater. This was moving too fast, too early. Nothing hid you from him below the waist, so you forced the material of the sweatshirt down between your thighs with a hasty shove. König finally reached his destination, level with your hips—

then opened the cabinet right beneath you and rummaged around without sparing you another glance.

Oh.

Right. Right.

You cast your eyes to the side, looking out the window as shame radiated from your face up to the roots of your hair, mortified that your thoughts had gotten so far ahead of you. So much for thinking of him as some depraved loner, starved for interaction — you weren’t turning out to be much better.

You focused on the trees beyond the window, how deeply the snow-laden boughs bowed, frosted needles heavy with a thick layer ice. Each branch flexed under immense weight, bending, not breaking. Pots and pans clanged together, the cacophony loudly interrupting your meditation as König moved around below you until he finally pulled out a wooden tray.

“There it is.” He looked up again, and you could see in your peripheral vision how his eyes widened in mock surprise — as if he didn’t expect to see you so flustered while he crouched and lingering between your spread knees, head inches away from your groin.

You pretended not to see him, refusing to dignify the act with any attention.

“Are you alright, Hase?” he asked, concern heavy in his words. König stood and pressed the backs of his knuckles to your burning cheek. “Feeling a bit feverish again? I can check your temperature to be safe.

“Nope, ’m fine,” you muttered, still staring very pointedly out the window and not at him. “What are you making today?”

“Something easy,” he said as he slid the board onto the counter beside you.

You shifted away a couple of inches to offer König more room to work. He finished what you started, setting the coffee to brew before placing a cutting board down and selecting a knife from the block to lay beside it. He searched through the fridge and pulled out a few glass jars, small blocks of cheese, and a sealed package of cured meat, and began to slice it all and place it on the platter.

The scent of coffee began to fill the tiny kitchen, dark and earthy-warm. You breathed in, relaxing a bit at the familiar aroma, and you kicked your feet back and forth as you watched him, heels gently tapping the cabinetry in a rhythmic pattern. Your embarrassment faded the longer you remained beside König, finding it easier to interact with him when he wasn’t focused so intently on you.

“Where do you get all your groceries from?” you asked as you watched him stick a small spoon in one of the jars of jam. “You said before that we’re pretty far away from any cities, right?”

“We are — I don’t go out that way very often,” he glanced at you sideways, a warning, seeing right through your small talk. “It’s not a safe trip this time of year without the proper equipment and knowledge of the trails.”

You hadn’t even realized you’d begun to chew on your cuticle until König reached out and took your hand in his. He turned it, looking at the small patch where you’d already nibbled the skin away in your anxiousness, leaving the area flaked and sore. His tongue clicked in disappointment like you were some naughty pet caught chewing its foot raw after already being warned not to.

“Bad habit,” you offered, pulling your hand away and tucking it beneath your thigh, out of sight.

“Mm,” König hummed in understanding as he returned to his chopping. “I have some too.”

You bit back any follow-up questions — you weren’t sure you wanted to know.

König was quiet for a few moments, arranging thin slices of pale yellow cheese on the wooden board. “In the warmer months, I grow what I can. Trap or hunt my meat. When the snow melts, I’d like to get a few chickens again. I do make trips into town when I have to stock up on the things I cannot source myself.” He paused to turn off the coffee maker once the last few drops fell into the pot. “Sometimes, a…friend brings me supplies, if he is in the area.”

You perked up, back straightening. So, that meant others — or at least one person — lived around here, close enough to visit. But König grew quiet again, apparently revealing everything he was going to. Still, you hadn’t missed the hesitation there, the briefest pause before he chose his words. You nibbled on your lip, wondering what it all really meant, but immediately stopped your chewing when König’s eyes flicked down to it, an eyebrow quirked up.

It was hard to keep from fidgeting when you were sitting on the counter, feeling even smaller than you were with your feet dangling as König stood right beside you, still so much taller than you.

“It’s nice that you have a friend out here. You don’t have visitors very often, do you?”

“No. Every now and again,” he said, his shoulder twitching up into a tight shrug as he slid shavings of meat onto the board with a slightly too-aggressive scrape of knife against wood. “Most of the time, it’s just me.”

A sore topic, maybe. A weak point to prod.

“Doesn’t that get lonely?” you asked, using his own tactic against him, voice as tiny and sweet and unobtrusive as you could make it while still twisting in where it would hurt. “Two years here by yourself...why did you move here? It’s pretty, but—”

König set the knife down with a clatter, startling you. “It’s time for your medicine.”

You realized after the fact that pushing him while he had a knife in his hand probably wasn’t your smartest idea. But König left without another word. You heard running water and leaned forward past where the fridge jutted out to peer at him through the open bathroom door.

He was aggressively brushing his teeth, clearly agitated, hood haphazardly pushed up out of the way. His head tilted toward you, the barest acknowledgment of your peeping. You snapped back immediately, retreating to your little spot huddled on the counter, huffing to yourself at your blatant creeping, feeling as slimy as you’d mentally accused him of being earlier.

At least he wasn’t going to subject you to his morning breath when he forced you to take your pills.

He returned and set the medication on an empty patch of speckled countertop while he filled a cup of water for you. The antibiotic rolled on the counter, stopping when it collided with the dark orange tablet. Back to these two medications again. Your fingers twitched in your lap, obedience and defiance warring within you, but you resisted the urge to grab the pills for yourself. Play nice. Be smart. König set the glass of water down beside you, and you automatically opened your mouth in anticipation when he picked up the pills and stepped closer to you.

Any annoyance with you was gone now as his eyes crinkled with a hidden smile. He patted your leg affectionately, a few solid slaps against your bare outer thigh like you were some dog who had performed a trick well.

“Good girl. You learn fast, eh?”

You narrowed your eyes at that — what choice did you have? — but your indignation didn’t bother him now. He just murmured soft praise when you opened wider to allow him to place both pills on your tongue. The sound irritated you today, König was too smug, too pleased to see you accepting this.

It was hard to believe that just last night you’d missed him. This man. You swallowed the medicine with a few gulps of water, drawing out the process a little by taking a few extra sips at the end as you eyed König over the rim of the glass.

He was patient, but there was only so long you could postpone what was next. You let him pry the water from your grasp and braced your hands against your thighs, fingers curled into your palms, waiting for the inevitable, the cruel invasion of his fingers in your mouth.

But instead of just getting it over with, König breathed out a sigh and rested his hands over your fists, fingers completely engulfing yours, squeezing a few times until you relaxed. His brows drew inward over the grey-blue of an overcast sky as he leaned down to you, his forehead almost pressed to yours, near enough that you could smell the mint on his breath, fresh and crisp.

“Süßes Häschen,” he said, almost sounding regretful. “I know you don’t like this. I don’t like that I have to do it. But I cannot have you falling so ill again. Weak as you are now, I’m…not sure how well you would fare a second time.”

“I know. I swallowed the pills,” you said. “I did,” you added, words coming out whinier, more petulant than you intended.

“I wish I could believe that,” König murmured, his thumbs stroking the backs of your hands in slow, soothing circles. “But you’ve broken my trust. I need to check to be sure, for your health. You can understand that, can’t you?”

It still didn't sit quite right within you, but you couldn’t argue this particular point, you knew. So you gave him a single, reluctant nod, the barest, begrudging tilt of your chin. One of König’s hands left yours and he dragged a finger up over your chin, then stuck it into your mouth.

He was more gentle than last time, but still as thorough. Each slick surface and crevice of your mouth was rubbed with a toughened fingertip, teeth and gums inspected, under your tongue and nearly to the entrance of your throat probed, but after a blessedly short check and a satisfied grunt, he was done.

“Good. Come, let’s eat.”

König helped you off the counter and to the table, a complete gentleman now as he pushed your chair in for you. He set the table with plates and cutlery and more dainty little napkins, then put the tray and placed sliced bread at the center. The carafe of coffee followed, along with a thick slab of golden-yellow butter. It was a gorgeous spread, you had to admit. You immediately poured yourself a cup of coffee, adding a few scoops of sugar to make up for the lack of cream or milk.

His eyes followed the twirl of your spoon around your mug with a quirked brow. You were sure there was an unspoken comment there about your sugar intake, but he thankfully kept it to himself. You shrugged and blew over the steaming surface of your drink and took a tiny sip. Stronger than you preferred without any cream, but still good, the deep and rich flavor opening up over your tongue into a decadent floral base that you could still appreciate.

“I don't know how you drink your coffee black,” you said, trying to break into conversation. “It’s so bitter.”

“You get used to it.” König tucked his mask up behind his ears and filled his cup, the ceramic so small cradled between his palms. He lifted it toward you in salute, offered you a thin smile, and then drank deeply.

You grabbed two pieces of bread for yourself and spread one slice with a generous pad of butter and a dollop of the dark, unlabeled jam. Sweet berries burst over your senses at your first bite, juicy and deep and flavorful, the delicate tartness mingling with the creamy salt of the butter. It was a simple breakfast, but just what you needed.

“What do you think of the jam?” König asked you mid-chew.

“Mm-mm,” you mumbled over your bite. “Really good. Not too sweet, just right.”

“Those were the blackberries from the peak of the season,” he explained as he scooched the jar closer to him and scooped a spoonful onto his bread. “They were perfectly ripe, delicious straight from the vine. I had to stop myself from eating them all as they were. My best batch to date, I think.”

Mouth occupied, you nodded in polite agreement, finding yourself unwittingly warming to him during these isolated moments of comradery, where he was eager to talk about his interests, glad to have someone to share his creations with.

König made a small, surprised noise when a blob of the preserve smeared against the side of his finger. You couldn’t look away as he lifted his hand to his mouth and licked it up, tongue flattening to reach every last sticky speck. You nearly choked on your mouthful of bread. It was indecent the way you gawked at something so innocent, your mind instantly sinking into the gutter.

Christ, you needed to pull yourself together. It was barely past daybreak and your resolve was already unraveling before you both.

With great effort, you tore your gaze away from his mouth and busied yourself with layering a few pieces of meat and cheese on your other, barren piece of bread, suddenly very invested in creating the perfect ratio for each potential bite. You ignored the amused chuff from across the table and nibbled at the hearty crust of your bread, only daring to look back up at König when your face had cooled and your mind had stopped conjuring images against your will.

It took longer than you liked.

To your relief, he wasn’t waiting for you with an impish stare, gloating at how he had flustered you for what felt like the hundredth time. He must be feeling generous today — at least his equivalent of it letting you off the hook so easily. Sitting and enjoying a meal and a cup of coffee together was…peaceful now. It was almost nice if you didn’t think about the rest, if you dropped the games and pretense and just existed together like this, in the gentle quiet of the crisp morning as you both shook off the dust of sleep.

You let yourself enjoy it and felt your initial crankiness melt away as the food settled in your stomach. You even shared your own story about your favorite apple pancakes from a diner in your hometown, fluffy cakes topped with cinnamon-sweet fried apples in thick, gooey syrup. A taste of home. König nodded and sipped his coffee — a good listener when it suited him.

Before long the platter before you was almost picked clean — mostly his doing, a man with an appetite to match his size — and the carafe of coffee nearly empty. König let out a satisfied sigh and leaned back in his chair, rolling his shoulders in a mild stretch. You glanced at the empty plates and cups. Not much had been dirtied today, no pots or pans that needed scouring.

König had a big task ahead of him today with the wood cutting. Not that you knew firsthand, but you could imagine that it was exhausting work. Maybe you could be useful in a small way today, for his sake, but also for yours — to do something other than sit around like a damsel in distress.

He stood, stacked the plates, removed everything from the table except for his mug, and set it all in the sink.

“König,” you said, pushing your chair back as you heard the water begin to run. “If you want, I can…wash those today.” You half-regretted the words as soon as you said them, the metronome of your dislike for him still swaying back and forth, not fully settling one way or the other. But this task was more for you, anyway, you reasoned.

“Oh?” he asked, turning the water off and peeking over his shoulder at you. “You’re very sweet to offer, Hase. If you’re sure.”

König dried his hands and stepped aside with a long arm spread wide in open invitation, waiting until you hop-stepped your way to the sink before he sat back down. You ran the ice-cold water, rolled up your baggy sleeves, and began to work.

Doing something mundane like this was calming in a way you hadn’t expected, but you soon settled into it. A repetitive, simple chore you’d done thousands of times before. You tried not to think of the absurdity of offering to do König’s dishes, the man whose literal trap you’d been caught in, who deflected and countered every protest, who was maybe-or-maybe-not keeping you here as a captive.

Instead, you focused on the circular scrub of your sponge against the plate, the chill of the frigid water, and the light, clean scent of the soap bubbling up under your fingers. It was almost normal. A cocoon of comfortable domesticity wrapped all around you.

You were so lost in the task that you jolted when König reached over you to place his mug in the sink. His hand dropped to your waist to steady you, and his bare forearm brushed yours as he set the cup down gently beside the streaming water.

“Thank you,” he said.

You nodded but kept your eyes on the dishes. König’s presence hesitated, looming a tad too close with his arm wrapped behind you, but he soon left to wipe down the countertops and table, brushing off the crumbs and sticky remainders of the jam. To an outsider, it would probably look like the two of you were some cute couple, quietly divvying up morning tasks — for a few moments, you let yourself indulge in that guilty pleasure and pretend you were.

It made everything easier to bear.

A little too easy.

After the kitchen was spotless again, all dishes dripping dry in their wire rack, you settled onto the couch with König’s help.

“I’m going to be gone for a while to cut wood. I thought I would get it done now,” he said as he placed a blanket over your lap once you’d found a comfortable position. “Do you need anything before I go? I have a few puzzles. A book? I know I may not have anything exactly to your liking, but…”

You watched him closely, his hands shoved in his pockets stiffly, posture tense. He had already placed a glass of water on the table beside you, and another piece of buttered bread, just in case you wanted a snack. He almost seemed…nervous. Anxious. You were sure he didn’t want to leave you — but you didn’t know whether it was because he worried for your health or feared what you might do or get into without him around.

“I’ll try another book,” you said.

König stepped over to his shelf and let a slender finger run along the spines with some unintelligibly soft German mumbling. He passed over a few rows until he finally pulled one out, skimmed the back of it, and then presented it to you. It was in pristine condition, like he hadn’t read this one yet, or if he had tried, he didn’t get very far.

It wouldn’t have been one you’d picked on your own, but the cover art and the blurb on the back were intriguing enough.

König tapped the cover. “Look okay?”

“Yeah,” you replied. “I’ll start this one and see how it goes.”

König shifted subtly from foot to foot as he watched you, waiting. It clicked, then, what he wanted, from the slight pinch of his brows to the way his fingers twitched a little as his sides. You tucked your feet up under you, mindful of your injured one, and gave König a small smile as you flipped open the cover of the book, a show that you weren’t planning on moving for a while.

He nodded curtly. “Anything else? I’ll try to be quick.”

“I’m good,” you assured. “Thanks.”

König seemed satisfied. so he prepared to leave the cabin. You pretended to read, sliding the first page over with an intentional rustle of paper if you were starting — but your full attention was on König. You slyly watched him out of the corner of your eye, seeing him pull his gear on, a sweatshirt over his head, long legs shoved into snow pants with a slick rustle of waterproof material. His jacket was zipped and buttoned, each snap clicked together with the ease of muscle memory. He turned from you and tugged off his mask. The fur-lined hood of his coat lay against his back, wide and large enough to obscure most of his hair.

You knew you should look away and respect his desire for privacy, but you couldn’t see much anyway — and he barely allowed you the same. The auburn at his crown was unmistakable, confirmation of long reddish-brown strands pulled back, and you made out the edge of a high, strong cheekbone peeking over his beard, but your view was quickly cut off when he pulled a black balaclava over his head, hiding himself once more.

König slipped his feet into impossibly large boots, put on gloves and goggles, then with a final nod toward you, he left. You tensed at the sudden rush of cold air he let in, no fire to warm the room air back up. Instead, the fresh chill lingered, settling on the tips of your nose and ears. You pulled your hood up, hoping to preserve more body heat until he returned.

The latch clicked shut, followed by the unmistakable sound of turning tumblers — a lock. Did he really lock the door from the outside? It seemed pointless given that visitors were unlikely. Break-ins were probably unheard of out here, except maybe by curious forest-dwelling creatures in search of a snack. Just a habit, maybe.

You let out a deep, slow sigh. Or it was a warning to you to stay inside.

As much as part of you craved companionship, it was hard to breathe, let alone think with König around. His presence was suffocating beyond just his physical size. Everything about him was oppressive and…big. Mountainous. And there was so much more to him that lay hidden beneath the surface — not all of it good, you’d found — only visible when you pried or held your breath to dive deeper, hoping that you didn’t run out of air trying to get to the bottom of him.

You readjusted your position on the sofa, unable to get comfortable.

You did genuinely try to read the book. The premise was alright — but your mind kept running in circles and your eyes would slide off the page. Were you really going to accept all this and play house with König? f*ck, you’d done dishes today. And you sort of liked it. That was…not normal. This wasn’t normal. There were too many things wrong with this entire situation — and him. Not that a lone trapper in the woods couldn’t be smart, but his mind was nearly tactical, anticipating your moves and reactions, laying traps with your own words and thoughts. And even though he had size against you, he subdued you too easily, using maneuvers that didn’t just come through intuition. You closed the book and set it down beside you, craning to peer out the window.

König was out of sight.

A little look around couldn’t hurt.

This was a chance to uncover some of the truths that König kept half-hidden, to verify some of what he said for yourself. Who knows when you’d get another opportunity like this?

Despite your outward calm, your veins thrummed with adrenaline as you stood, first heading to the desk in the corner. Three sets of multi-pointed antlers were mounted on the wall above, trophies of a successful hunt. You wondered if you’d eaten one of them that first night he offered you stew.

Your deft fingers flipped open drawers and sifted through standard contents — pens, paperclips, batteries, scraps of paper, and notepads. Another held a few rubber bands, nothing interesting.

You hop-walked down the hall, to the two doors you hadn’t been through yet. You passed the bathroom, and reached for the knob of the next door — but it didn’t turn, locked in place. You shoved your shoulder against it, but it didn’t budge at all. Another day.

Across the way, you opened a closet, yelping as a broom fell out, a loud ‘thwack’ ringing out as the wooden handle slammed against the hardwood.

You hissed a curse as you pressed your hand to your heart, each strong beat pulsing against your palm in accusation, your guilty conscience already warning you that this was far enough. A few deep breaths coaxed the racing to slow, and you shoved your guilt further down. Nothing in here other than cleaning supplies and a mop bucket.

You moved to his bedroom. You didn’t know how much time you had, so you quickly ran the odds in your head — you probably had enough. You went to his bedside table first. Hair elastics, a book of sudoku puzzles, the cover folded back to reveal the page he was on, half the squares filled out in black ink. A notebook with pages written in his language, handwriting small and blocky, but neat. Further back, chapstick, lotion, and another half-empty bottle, clear and viscous liquid slowly dripping inside as you turned it onto its side — you jerked your hand back, realizing it was lube. You reflexively wiped your hand off on your sweater even though it was dry, and shut the drawer with distaste.

The dresser was the next closest, the clothes inside folded neatly and organized. You snuck your hand underneath the layers of sweatpants and T-shirts drawer by drawer, searching for anything hidden below the clothes.

Nothing.

Not a single weird or suspicious item, nothing out of place, no sign that König was anything other than the man he said he was.

Doubt surged in your mind. Maybe you were paranoid after all, inventing a narrative of nefarious schemes where there was none. How much of your distrust of him was something you fabricated all on your own? You’d been so sick the last few days that it was hard to separate fever dreams from reality.

You limped over to the closet. Either way, it would make you feel immensely better to finish checking the place out, just to be sure. You pushed open the door and were immediately greeted by the scent of cedar, woody and crisp. Rows of shirts and pants hung inside, sweaters and dark denim slung over hangers, canvas cargo pants, and a single, wrinkled dress shirt, a half-filled laundry hamper.

Nothing notable here either, other than the tall gun safe that stood in the corner, nestled against the wood-lined walls.

It wasn’t anything lavish, burnished steel, smooth and grey, but it looked solidly built. A little number pad jutted out on the door and your heart rose to your throat as you remembered the beeps, the heavy clunking noises when König had retrieved your phone for you.

Your gear.

It might all be in here. Your phone, your radio, your clothes, your pistol, your chance at freedom, at getting back to your squad, at getting away from König.

And, as luck would have it, the safe door was slightly ajar.

Excitement bubbled up at the base of your throat when your fingers wrapped around the heavy handle and pulled. The door moved an inch on its reinforced hinges — truly open.

No way. No f*cking way.

Anticipation quickly turned sour on your tongue, curdled by bile as your thoughts turned bitter and dark. König was many things — but careless was not one of them. He wouldn’t be so foolish as to leave his safe unlocked and open, especially not when he knew you’d be here alone. Your stomach dropped like a stone, sinking to the bottom of a lake, down into sightless black depths. This had to be a trap, a test, and by doing this, you were sure to fail.

He said you’d broken his trust already—

what was a bit more?

You leaned back to pull the weighted door open the rest of the way. The interior was lined with dark grey felt, and two guns hung on the inner rack, a rifle and a shotgun, the barrels kept in place by slotted leather. Both were the kind used for hunting, polished wooden accents and black metal, simple but high quality. They were well taken care of, oiled and clean. On the shelf above were two stacks of local currency, one still encased in crisp paper wrapping, the other missing a portion of the bills. Beside it sat your pistol, phone, and radio.

You hesitated and looked behind you and to the side, preparing to flinch, expecting König to somehow already be standing there, watching you with disapproving eyes and a chiding tongue. But you were still alone.

Your fingers brushed along the familiar cold metal of your weapon, but you immediately noticed that the weight felt a touch light when you picked it up. You popped out the magazine — empty. Of course it was. You reached back on the shelf, but there wasn’t any ammo here, not for your weapon or his.

It figured. König might allow you a gun, but not a loaded one.

Reluctantly, you placed your pistol back, useless as it was like this. Your phone was dead, not turning on despite holding down the power button, and your radio seemed to have suffered the same fate when you clicked the dial to try the first channel. You were about to put it away too, when you remembered—

Batteries.

The rechargeable pack inside your radio could be replaced with single-use batteries, and König had some in his desk. You set your phone back in the safe and closed the door as close as you could to the way you found it.

The range on your handheld wasn’t spectacular, but if your squad was at least within a few miles, you might have a shot at contacting them. You couldn’t have wandered that far in the storm before running into König, and your team wouldn’t have left the entire area so soon, not with you still missing. You had to believe that.

Determination kept you going despite the increasing pain in your foot, a stinging that grew sharper and deeper with each step you took to the front of the cabin. You unclipped the plastic backing off your radio and yanked out the charging pack. Your fingers flitted through the box of assorted batteries and you plucked out the three you needed, mismatched brands but the same size, a silent prayer on trembling lips that they still had some juice in them.

You were so nervous that your shaky fingers could barely manage the fine motor skill needed to pop them into place, but you did it. You switched the dial to the first channel and tamped down the talk button, and your reward was a chirp and soft static.

It worked.

It worked.

You could have cried at the sound. Rescue and relief were close enough to taste. For the first time, hope was tangible within your grasp, solid. Real.

You turned the dial to another channel, ready to try them all, run through them one at a time—

But you froze at the sound of thumping steps and metallic clicks outside the cabin door. The doorknob began to turn. Instinct and adrenaline spurred you to action. You swiped the battery box back into the drawer and hopped to the couch, where you shoved the radio down between the cushions as far as it would go. You yanked the blanket back over your legs and picked up the completely unstarted book, flipping forward a few pages to make it look like you’d read at least a little. Blood surged through your veins, pulsing hot and loud in your ears, ready to react.

The cabin door swung wide open, and König’s imposing, dark figure filled up the doorway. He dropped an armful of split wood beside the mat with a series of heavy thunks. Flecks of snow dotted his hood and shoulders, speckling black nylon and fur with white sprinkles. A small flurry of snowflakes swirled in around him and dusted the ground by the door with a chilly gust. He tapped his feet on the threshold to loosen any slushy clumps that clung to his boot treads before he stepped inside and closed the door behind him.

You curled up more tightly under your blanket on the couch and kept your nose buried in your book, just barely peering at König in your peripheral vision as you forced your lungs to slow, and willed your hammering heart to settle.

Steady.

Steady.

Steady.

Polarized lenses scanned the room and you, looking for anything out of place, seeing what you had done in his absence, if anything. You must have passed inspection for now.

He panted, heavy breaths rough through his gear, and you covertly watched him peel off the layers one at a time, methodically removing and hanging up each item. The large, thick coat was undone and shaken out, and heavy boots loosened. König stepped out of his snow pants with the crunch and crinkle of the material bunching over itself.

He was quickly back down to his T-shirt and sweatpants, and the dark balaclava that clung to his face rather than the loose hood you were used to seeing. His fingers curled around the bottom of the mask, and he turned away to exchange it for his hood.

You were still pretending to read when König approached to stack a few logs in the holder beside the empty fireplace. He stopped and stood right before you, stretching tall with a groan, arms reaching impossibly tall toward the ceiling as he did. The movement pulled his shirt up, exposing a few inches of bare abdomen, belly muscles pulled taut. A wispy line of dark hair descended from his navel and dipped into the elastic waistband slung low over his hips.

The woodcutting must have been intense; his deep chest still rose and fell in steady breaths as he recovered from the exertion, and you noticed the damp areas of his shirt, in the middle of his chest and beneath his arms where sweat had collected and stained the fabric. Your eyes wandered down again to the deep V etched into his abdomen, and the unmistakable bulge below, pushed up against the sweatpants from the way his hips rocked forward as he lifted onto the balls of his feet.

König turned to you and you had to force your nearly slack jaw to shut with a nearly audible ‘click’ when he caught your not-so-sneaky stare. “It doesn’t look like you’ve gotten much reading done,” he said, shaking his head. “Is my taste in books really that terrible?”

“No,” you answered a bit too quickly. Your cheeks flared with heat and you lifted your book higher, cutting off your view of him, heart picking up speed anew. You could barely see the words at all, your eyes jumping around pages that may as well have been written in German for how little you understood. “Just couldn’t focus today.”

You ignored his haughty huff of breath, but he stepped closer and crouched in front of you. A single, calloused finger pushed against the top of the spine, lowering it for you. Your face burned as you hesitantly met his gaze, no other choice when confronted like this. His eyes glittered bright with mischief, shining like a well with a trove of coins glinting at the bottom, wishes thrown in by the handful — you wanted to toss yours in, too.

“Is that right?”

You swallowed hard and nodded. Calloused fingertips brushed against the curve of your bare calf as he lifted a hand and let it rest on your knee, engulfing the joint.

“Tell me what’s on your mind, then. What has you so distracted?”

Your shoulders lifted into a shrug that was too stiff to be natural. He didn’t buy it. You leaned away as König tilted his body toward you, his hand gliding further up the soft skin of your thigh.

Up close, his scent washed over you, stronger than usual — not bad, but deeper, more masculine, a hint of peppered spice cutting through his deodorant, freshly split pine and sticky sap all swirling around you.

“I’m sure I could help if I knew what was bothering you,” he tried.

You — but you wouldn’t say it.

The hand on your leg moved, sliding up toward your hip in tiny, nearly imperceptible increments. You heeded the increasingly distant call of your warning instincts and pulled your legs out from between his, away from his wandering hand. You set your feet up on the cushions as you backed away from him, creating a barrier with your stretched-out limbs.

It didn’t deter König.

He joined you on the couch as if that had been the plan all along, his movements lithe, graceful despite his size as he climbed up with you. There wasn’t much room, but what little there was, he claimed as he crawled over you, overtaking you easily, his knees sinking into the cushions on either side of your clamped-together legs. You wiggled back further, trying to steal back whatever space you could.

Once there was nowhere left for you to retreat, he pressed a palm to your chest, guiding you to lay back. With no other choice, you did. Your hair fanned out over velveteen cushions, your shaky thighs still pulled in tightly, posture rigid as he caged you in place with his body. His free hand dipped into the cushion beside your shoulder, keeping you from exiting that way.

The calloused palm on your chest slid up to your throat, curving over the front of it. You swallowed, waiting. But his fingers didn’t linger over your airway; they rose to the soft space beneath your jaw, pressing into vulnerable pulse points.

“Your heart is racing,” König murmured, a teasing lilt settling into his voice as he stared down at you, head co*cked to the side. “Now, why might that be?”

Your pulse skipped faster beneath his fingertips, irregular beats that nearly burst from your chest, surely loud enough to be your answer. He was your entire world at that moment, blocking your view of anything else — all you could see, all you could smell. Pheromones curled up into every crevice in your mind, the light musk of perspiration mixed with the clean scent of his clothes and sweat-slicked skin, clove and cinnamon staining your thoughts the longer you breathed him in.

His limbs imprisoned you, locked you in — but it was a small space, safe and secure. Nothing could get in or out unless he allowed it. You wanted to shrink even more under him, be enveloped by him, smothered by him — feel the calming weight of him pressed against you until your lungs gave out and your ribs cracked under the pressure.

“I know you’ve been looking at me,” he said, not bragging or mocking, not an accusation, just stating the truth. König leaned down to you, the folds of soft, dark cloth brushing against your heated cheek as his covered lips found your ear. His breathing was still deep, but slower now, warm against you even through the filter of the fabric. “You don’t have to hide it. I don’t mind.”

His voice lowered to a whisper, raspy and rough. “You can do more than just look, too. You can touch me, little one.”

Your eyes widened — he’d never been quite so forward. No subtlety, or innuendo, just an open invitation. Maybe it was the exercise, suppressed testosterone and pent-up energy finally unleashed with hard labor. You’d definitely thought about it before, what it would be like to let your fingers explore every valley and ridge of his mammoth form, map his scars, brush against the fuzz that covered his chest, and follow the trail that led below his waistband.

But your nerves were too frazzled, your radio stowed beneath you, hastily shoved between the cushions mere inches away from his knee. So, your arms stayed locked straight at your sides, hands clenched, declining his offer with pressed-together lips.

König let out an exaggerated sigh as he reached for one of your hands. You resisted at first, and he let out a soft tut at how tightly you’d extended your elbow and balled your fist. Two thick fingers worked their way between yours until he finally breached your defenses, fingers worming their way into your damp palm. It was shocking how much larger his hands were than yours, a few digits filling your clammy hand so fully.

f*ck, it was hard not to think about what just one finger had felt like inside of you. Two would feel incredible, three would probably ruin you. He would probably ruin you.

Why did you want him to?

You shouldn’t even be thinking like that, but you were, an undeniable and confusing desire that conflicted with everything that you knew, everything that you thought you were. He was doing this to you, doing something. Or maybe it was the isolation that made you want it, sheer desperation for human interaction that made you crave more.

Your core ached and throbbed, your body not caring which option was the truth, only that it became reality. You pressed your thighs together even more firmly, creating a seal with your softness, secretly allowing yourself a little bit of delicious friction where the plush of your thighs connected.

König lifted your hand and placed it on his chest, flatting his palm over yours to hold it there. You didn’t pull away, but you didn’t grab or squeeze either, just let your hand passively rest where he had set it against the prominent swell of muscle.

“No?” he asked, not sounding especially bothered. “Mm.”

You blinked up at him silently, not offering an answer. König tucked the bottom of his mask up behind his ears. The frazzled ends of his mustache ended just above his mouth, lips plush and dark pink as if he’d bitten them. His tongue poked out, passing over his lips, leaving them soft and damp and kissable. But the curve of his mouth wasn’t the sweet, tempting smile of a lover — it was too knowing, an idea brewing there.

“I forget what a shy little thing you are, sometimes,” he cooed, sugared words nestling deep inside you. “A nice girl. I get it.”

König removed your hand from his pec and pushed it into the cushion above your head, palm up. Your lips parted, a protest hovering on the tip of your tongue, but you didn’t dare speak or move as he captured your opposite hand, too, and brought it up to join the other, wrists crossed over one another. He tightened his hold, cinching both together neatly. Your limp fingers curled beneath his grip like the wilted petals of a bouquet left too long in a dried-out vase.

“You seemed to like this before, hm?”

…before?

But you remembered — oh, you did — his hand in your hair — pulling, pulling — arms pinned behind your back, desire soaking cotton, slick and traitorous. Despite the lack of a fire in the room, the air was suddenly too hot, too thin. You couldn’t even deny König, not with the way your vision blurred, pupils likely dilating right before him, not with how your face flared with heat, a rosy tinge that gave away every single filthy thought in your head.

“I don’t…I don’t know.”

A knot twisted within your belly as you squirmed, subtly testing his grasp. It was ironclad, his fingers locked more securely around your wrists than any kind of cuffs would have been. Your bones were tiny in comparison to the width of his palm, small enough to crush and break if he chose.

You pulled in a quick, shuddering breath when he leaned down, letting just a fraction of his weight sink your captured wrists further into the cushion. Heat spiked deep within you, piercing a secret place that oozed pure want, sickly sweet. A flick of your gaze downward showed that König was enjoying this just as much, tented sweatpants revealing as much as they concealed. Your armpits pricked with sweat, mingled nerves and need dampening your inner thighs.

“If you enjoy this game…I can play, too.” His voice was dark satin, slipping around your throat and tugging, sealing your words away under a pretty little bow. König’s other hand cupped your cheek, offering a delicate stroke of his thumb across your bottom lip, back and forth. “I can be the bad guy, if that's what you need from me.”

He was sick, you were sick.

A hot ribbon of shame tangled itself up inside of your chest. But the growing wetness between your legs told you everything you needed to know about yourself at that moment. Blossoms of heat unfurled in crimson patches over your cheekbones. If you let yourself get too lost in him, you might not be able to find your way out again, trapped in an endless maze of mind games with no exit. You squeezed your eyes shut and turned your face away from his touch.

König didn’t like that.

His voice immediately took on the harsh severity of an order that dug its gripping fingers into where you’d already been whittled away so thin. “Eyes to me.”

You didn’t obey.

You should have.

All gentleness was gone from the hand that had been so delicate, so tender moments ago. Cruel fingers squished into your cheeks. He squeezed the softness of your face into an exaggerated pout as he forced you to face him directly.

“Is this what you want, kleines Häschen?”

His stare ensnared you in an instant, a wolf looking down its snout in distaste at the pitiful deer that had already accepted its fate, dainty muzzle willingly laid over carnivorous teeth and drooling tongue, patiently waiting for its delicate bones to be splintered and crushed.

“Fürchtest du dich?”

You stared up at him numbly, doe-eyed, mouth dry, knowing whatever he said was mocking you from his tone. Your heart pounded against your ribs, faster, faster, faster. All you could do was wiggle your fingers half-heartedly in his grasp, earning yourself a warning squeeze and chilling smile that should have sent terror shooting through you, but instead sent a heady wave of need rolling down over you, settling into a tiny, insistent pulse between your thighs. Your eyes burned with shame, self-loathing threatening to spill and trickle out over your lashes.

König must have seen something especially pathetic on your face that pulled compassion from his heart. The downward slant of his mouth softened and he released your face with a resigned sigh. He gave your cheek a gentle, patronizing pat, but kept his hold on your wrists.

“You don’t have to keep pretending if you don’t want to, Liebling. It’s just us here.” His free hand wandered down the front of your hoodie, lower, lower to trace swirling patterns and circles along your bare thigh.

“I’m not—” you rasped, words choked short when his fingers followed the seam of your clamped thighs, his touch a question against your silken skin. “—not pretending. I’m…not—”

But before you could finish the thought, his mouth descended to your exposed collarbone, where the wide opening of the hoodie had pulled to the side in your struggle. His lips were so warm against you as he placed a gentle line of kisses along your clavicle, leaving wet dots in his wake.

“I’m…” you rasped, words dying out on your breath.

“Mmhm,” he hummed in distracted encouragement. Calloused fingertips skimmed toward your c*nt, still hidden by your soft thighs. “Tell me.”

You would have told him anything he wanted to hear — if every coherent thought hadn’t fled your mind. His kisses scorched your skin, branding you with the shape of his mouth, passing over the bared patch of your upper chest. He explored the crook of your shoulder, growing rougher, trialing a little nip of the muscle there, bolder when you whined so prettily for him. You tilted your neck, gifting him more space which he claimed with a low dark sound that echoed within the depths of his chest, vibrating against your skin.

“That’s it — there we go.” A thumb extended toward your c*nt, pushing its way past your last line of defense, contacting your wetness, just barely reaching your swollen cl*t. “f*ck.”

Your legs tightened, not offering him more room, but you didn’t stop him, either.

“It's okay to want this, little one,” he urged, his breath cool against the moisture his mouth left behind.

You weren't so sure.

But when König’s teeth teased the side of your neck, you couldn’t choke back the low, shameful groan he stole from your chest. He sucked in a mouthful of your delicate skin, pulling at your desire like a loose thread, winding it around a spool to keep all for himself. Hot blood rushed to greet his lips and tongue when he bit harder, blunted teeth depressing flesh, warmth pooling beneath your skin, your body eager to offer him a mark, a visible reminder of his claim on you.

Pleasure inched closer to pain — too close — the two swirling together as you truly tried to pull your wrists free for the first time. A whimper escaped your quivering lips as you squirmed, but he merely pressed your wrists further into the cushions, an effortless show of bruising strength, a warning, a promise. The untamed bristles of his beard scrubbed against the sensitive skin of your neck, overstimulating frayed nerve endings that didn’t know what to focus on first.

It was taking so much to fight this, the last fumes of your energy and adrenaline long brunt off, a futile battle you weren't sure you cared to win anyway. So, you surrendered. You were sure König could feel it, too, the moment something clicked within you, the instant you gave in and submitted yourself to his whims. Your arms went slack above you, your legs eased, body pliant. Shallow breaths deepened and slowed, lungs pulling in obediently.

König’s mouth released you after a few more beats, and he leaned back to admire his work, eyes glossy with lust and pride. “Look at you.”

It surprised you, words spoken with the kind of reverence usually reserved for a religious experience. You blinked, lashes clumped together with moisture, your damp hair clinging to the sheen of sweat on your forehead.You half expected him to dive right back between your thighs and claim his prize with rough, probing fingers — but instead, König wiped the budding tears from the corners of your eyes with a swipe of his knuckle and placed a chaste kiss over where he’d bitten, a thank you and apology in one.

König smiled, a slow, lazy expression of pure joy and desire. “Du hast keine Ahnung, was du mit mir machst.”

The richly accented words soothed you, surely saying something sweet with how husky his voice was, sultry tones thick as syrup. His knee slipped between yours, rocking back and forth, coaxing your willing thighs to spread for him. Your legs were guided away from each other by the hypnotic movement until your knees fell to either side of you.

The room air was cool when it hit your now exposed c*nt and sweat-damp skin, no barrier left between you and him with your sweatshirt bunched up around your hips. You shivered, too hot, too cold, unable to decide which senses to believe — you’d have to trust König, instead.

König lowered his face to yours when his hips descended slowly, slotted between your spread legs, allowing you to feel the firmness of his co*ck trapped beneath his sweatpants. He hadn’t released your wrists yet, but you didn’t mind — not when he was talking to you like this, touching you like this.

“You must be curious,” he murmured into your cheek, letting his upper body rest against you too, to feel his entire body, a firm wall of muscle stretched over your trembling form.

König pressed a line of searing kisses along your jawline, moving close enough that your eyes nearly crossed trying to look at him. The tip of his nose bumped yours, an affectionate little back and forth as he nuzzled you with the intimate familiarity of a longtime partner. You hardly dared to breathe when his mouth brushed against yours, the bristles of his mustache tickling your upper lip, only a single millimeter separating the two of you.

“Haven’t you thought about it too?” he asked.

Your nerves tingled to life as his words vibrated across the surface of your lips, as close to a kiss as it could be without actually crossing that line.

“Yes,” you whispered, surprising yourself.

“Mmhm. You’d be so good for me, wouldn’t you, sweet girl?”

Yes, yes, yes, you would.

Those words spun themselves around your head, round and round and round, leaving you dizzy with want. They pulled you higher than you’d ever floated before, up into the stratosphere, only tethered to Earth by König’s hand on your wrists.

König’s hips pushed down, rocking forward, delivering a taste of pressure where you craved it most, offering temptation, a sample of the thick heat that could be yours if only you asked. He buried his face into your neck, lips clamping down over a spot he hadn’t explored yet. Your lashes fluttered, your assent so breathless and airy that you weren’t sure you’d given it at all. But you must have, because he let out a satisfied groan into the bite, and gave another lazy roll of his clothed hips against you.

”Show me.”

König’s hand slipped inward on your thigh, his thumb sliding along your slit with a slick little noise before he cupped your mound. He moved up, his knee sinking into the crevice between the cushions when you shamelessly bucked yourself up into his palm. The heel of his hand pressed firmly against your cl*t — please, please, please — your desperate little thrusts giving the swollen nub the attention it craved. Your panting breaths huffed in and out, his name lost among them.

You were so deep in the moment, drowning in your need that you didn’t realize at first that anything had changed. But König slowed, then stilled, distracted, head co*cked — listening.

You blinked, dazed. “What—”

His hand lifted from between your legs to cover your mouth, stifling your question. Your nostrils flared, forced to pull deep breaths through your nose, confronted with the scent of your arousal. The cabin descended into silence, but if you listened closely, it was there: the faint crackle of static, unmistakable. König’s head swiveled to find the source, his entire body immediately tense, on guard.

Your radio was happy to announce itself with a bright, cheery chirp when König leaned forward, the talk button depressed under his weight. Panic and acid bubbled at the base of your throat as the moment shattered. Rose-colored shards fell all around you like hail, pelting you with the evidence of your misdeed. Every pent-up emotion released all at once in a cold, shivering sweat that consumed you, endorphins crashing and burning in an instant.

f*ck.

An incoherent and choppy apology lurched past the lump in your throat, wet lips mumbling against König’s cupped fingers, but he didn’t care to hear it. He released you, reached down between the cushions, and pulled out your radio.

König held it up in front of him and wordlessly turned it off. His gaze flicked down to you, still spread beneath him, your eyes wide and round beneath slanted brows, damp lips parted, trembling in contrition.

But you didn’t find any mercy when you met his stare.

The warmth in his eyes had completely frozen over with a thick layer of ice, replaced by an expression so cold and unforgiving that you felt your insides freezing up too, shriveling beneath his accusing glare.

Guilt flared bright, blinding, but it was too late.

You were in trouble.

Notes:

helllooooo i am so sorry this chapter spiraled out of control into my longest yet >.< i was a little sick this week and wrote some of it in a haze and had to do a lot of editing. Hope it’s not a hot mess!

I needed to set up some things here ~ I’m really excited for the upcoming chapters :)

The smut/spice and drama is going to pick up quite a bit after this one. thank you so much for sticking around with me for this long fic and chapter! I really appreciate the support!

I'd love to hear what you thought! Kudos and comments are very encouraging and keep me motivated :)

You can find me on twitter or tumblr.

Chapter 9: Regret

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

You had never felt so exposed in your life.

König sat on his haunches, looming impossibly tall over you while you were stuck on your back, legs forced to spread wide around him. You peered up at the giant above you, fear and longing and uncertainty all packed into your watery gaze. Your eyes jumped from the radio to his face, unsure where to settle.

His stare bored into you, unwavering, accusations flashing in electric blue around a large, dark pupil. But you watched the black begin to shrink as the mood shifted, a vacuum opening to suck all the playfulness from the air between you.

You paled beneath him and wished the couch would swallow you up in a whirl of foam and fabric and springs, saving you from the moment. Unfortunately, it didn’t. A too-little-too-late apology tangled itself up on your tongue; you doubted it would have done much good anyway. Actions spoke louder than words — and yours had shown König how little you trusted or respected him.

The muscles of König’s jaw shifted beneath his beard. Teeth clenched, a breath huffed. A bull seeing red, ready to charge, to gore and pierce your soft belly with sharpened horns. You were almost giddy with discomfort; an uneasy smile tugged at the corners of your mouth, a tiny, automatic expression that your subconscious hoped would placate the man above you.

A foolish wish.

König’s upper lip curled, the thin white scar cutting through the pink, pulling taut to pucker the surrounding skin. His eyes drenched you in disdain as they flicked down to your c*nt then back up to your face in a sneer. He regarded you like you were nothing more than some sticky bit of filth that he had tracked in with the mud, now stuck to the bottom of his boot.

Christ.

No one had ever looked at you quite like that before . Not even your drill instructor in basic or any of your commanding officers had dressed you down so efficiently with a single look, like you were so low, so dirty, so f*cking worthless.

You blanched, but you couldn’t look away.

A tiny flutter twirled in your stomach at the intensity, a forbidden thrill of flickering heat beneath the embarrassment. Your core hummed, vibrations too low to hear, but that you could feel in the empty spaces between heartbeats and breaths.

The way he stared at you was demeaning and degrading — and you liked it.

Blistering shame blazed across your cheeks, slinking down your neck and chest, then lower, morphing into something you wished you could pin on the permeating warmth of König’s body so close to yours. If only you could explain this away, blaming sweat-infused clothes transferring heat, warming you inside and out. There were many things you could accuse him of — but this wasn’t one of them.

This was all you.

The realization sat like lead in your stomach, heavy and aching, cushioned by the swell of your gut. It lodged itself inside of you, exuding its gravitational pull in the secret place that you had only recently discovered existed, exposed by König. Your heart pattered its shameful encouragement behind the prison of your ribs, locked in place just like you were here in this cabin.

Blood raced to the cleft between your thighs, to the tiny bundle of nerves that was neglected, begging for more of König’s attention. Arousal rose from that deep, baser part of yourself that was hidden under gossamer-thin layers of logic and rational thought, skirting past the weak protests of shouldn’t, shouldn’t, shouldn’t that were growing quieter with each day that passed.

You weren’t sure how to process your conflicting wants. Fear and yearning battled inside of you — but it was painfully obvious which was winning. Your weak legs tried to close, to cover up the evidence of your depravity, but your knees merely squeezed against König’s strong hips, the bulk of his well-muscled body still keeping you wrenched apart, your most vulnerable parts bared in a vulgar display, just for him.

König’s mouth tightened, his lips pressing into a thin line. His eyes wandered lower again, fixated between your legs. A curious hand followed, the pad of his thumb spreading your folds open without pretense, eliciting a wet little sound — but there was no warmth in that touch, no gentle stroking or teasing, just a near-clinical inspection of the desperate state that you tried to hide from him.

It was clear that he wouldn’t allow that.

No part of you was safe from him; there was nowhere to run, nothing you could conceal from him while in his world, not your actions, not your thoughts, not your body.

König watched the way arousal leaked from you when his finger nudged your entrance, your body trying to entice him despite your budding terror. Your lashes fluttered, feathering over rose-tinted cheeks when his thumb dipped in, just barely sinking into your wetness, sending your mind racing, too quick to stop.

From what you’d seen and felt, every part of him was proportional to his hulking size; he’d push your body to the limits of what you could handle and then demand more — your punishment, your penance, your pleasure all in one.

It would be so easy for him just to take what he wanted from you — to flip you over and force you face down into the sofa, cheek smashed flat against the velveteen fabric, to press his hips forward until you were stuffed so full of him you could barely breathe. You wouldn’t be able to — oh, wouldn’t want to — stop him as he stretched your tightness, filling you over and over until he was satisfied, leaving you sticky and overflowing with his pent-up frustration.

Why didn’t he?

Your c*nt pulsed pathetically at the idea, slick walls squeezing around the stretch of his thumb. His eyes were still locked on your lower half, no hint of softness or kindness in the cold, slate-grey depths. There was no untold joke on the tip of his tongue when his finger slid upward, bringing a streak of wetness to tamp down over your cl*t.

Your thrumming blood chanted a greedy chorus of want, want, want, drowning out all reason. Before you could stop yourself, you tilted your pelvis in encouragement, the barest movement of your aching hips, a silent plea for all the things you wanted to say, to scream, to beg for, but couldn’t.

A lopsided, humorless smile flashed above you, a peek of teeth half-hidden behind wild auburn bristles.

König’s hand left your heat and your empty body mourned the loss with a pitiful throb. Your nerves buzzed in anticipation of his next move. You thought he’d be mad, but a smile — even that one — had to be a good sign. But your unfulfilled desire quickly morphed into confusion, then fear when the same thumb moved to your throat to rest over the knobs of your windpipe. He stroked back and forth, leaving a smear of your half-dried slick there. Unease settled at the base of your spine, pulling your nerves tight.

“Such a naughty little thing,” he murmured as he stared at your neck and sighed. “Was sollte ich tun?”

“What?” you rasped, but didn’t receive an answer.

König pushed down lightly on your throat, watching with detached interest as he tested the give of the thin structures beneath the pad of his thumb, how they compressed, unresisting, proving to himself — and you — how easily your body would yield to him there, too.

There was a very real possibility that he might just decide you were more trouble than you were worth — put you out of your misery with thick fingers wrapped around your neck until your world went dark. Cartilage would collapse easily under the weight of his will, your consciousness lulled to endless sleep by hushed words and heavy hands.

Your chest burned as a silent request for comfort reverberated inside your lungs. You realized that you hadn’t even reached for his hands or tried to stop him, your wrists still crossed above your head, right where he had left them. But you couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, trapped like a dream where your feet moved but you didn’t, where a soundless scream stayed locked away despite your mouth opening wide to release it.

His eyes met yours, frosty, unreadable. In the corner of your vision, you could still see the bulge between his thighs jutting out, his co*ck eagerly stretching the material of his sweatpants. Your core ached at the sight, though weren’t sure if König wanted to f*ck you or end you — maybe both.

You sucked another breath into overfilled lungs. The silence of his indecision was deafening, smothering you under its oppressive weight. The eerie calm was scarier than anything loud or brash would have been, like standing in the eye of the storm, the swirling walls of a cyclone all around you. If you moved too far in either direction or said the wrong thing, you’d be swept away under the destructive force of it, completely lost to him.

“König?” you managed to whisper.

At first, you weren’t sure he’d even heard you, but he blinked slowly, a reprieve from the too-intense eye contact. It was enough for you to let out a breath, then another. You squirmed at the strain of your hip flexors, pulled too wide for too long.

“Have I not given you everything that you needed?” König asked at last, voice even, but rough.

You tensed at the sound, his words gentle, but sharp enough to slice into your chest, a knife slipped right between your ribs. The question…wasn’t what you expected. You swallowed, throat bobbing beneath the subtle pressure of his thumb. You didn’t feel like crying, but when you blinked, you were surprised to feel moisture leaking from your lash line. Tears slid down the sides of your face, the trails dampening the hair at your temples.

“You…have,” you rasped.

“Help me understand, then.” His thumb roamed the length of your throat, up and down the slender trench beside your trachea. “I offered you my home, my food, my clothes, my medicine. Cooked for you, bathed you, tended to your wound.” His head tilted to watch as you swallowed, muscles and tendons pushing against his finger as you tried and failed to clear your tacky throat. “And yet, you tried to trick me again.”

“I just —just—” You tried, but the excuses you thought of wouldn’t come out. “’m sorry,” you mumbled instead.

Tears clouded your vision as they pooled in your eyes properly now, obscuring the intensity of König’s chilly stare and distorting your world through a hot layer of shame and saltwater. You didn’t dare to wipe them away, but in between blinks, you saw his brows draw together, concern evident in fragmented moments of clear sight.

The apology and the tears must have softened something inside of him, thawed the frozen ground just enough for tender, green shoots of forgiveness to poke above the surface and feel the sun's warmth. König moved off of you and sat on the other end of the sofa with a deep, frustrated groan. His hand jerked up under the hood draped back over his face, and he rubbed his beard and jaw with short, choppy strokes.

Without his body hovering over yours, you could finally breathe again. Your lungs released the stale breath and refilled with cool, fresh air. Crisis averted — for now.

You sheepishly closed your legs and pulled yourself together, sitting up while maintaining your distance. Your joints ached, fingers a bit numb from being held so tightly, but pins and needles soon took over as sensation returned.

The last few tear droplets fell, dripping from your jaw onto your hands, clasped in your lap. You wiped the moisture away, scrubbed it into wrists already splotched with the evidence of König’s passion. Watercolor splashes of purple and red blossomed beneath thin skin, curved over a map of veins and arteries, and swooped around delicate bones.

The abrupt shift of events left your nerves completely shot, mind still clicking a few steps behind, processing the change and trying to keep up. All the feel-good hormones that had overloaded your senses were now circling the drain and bringing with them every last bit of warmth and confidence you had, leaving you cold and empty. You pulled your sweatshirt down to cover your thighs, wishing you could just curl up inside it, tuck your head in until König, until you, until everything disappeared in the darkness.

You glanced at König out of the corner of your eye. Frustration was carved in the tightness of his unyielding posture, muscles flexed beneath his shirt, stretching the woven cotton taut. He still held your radio in one hand, evidence of your deceit.

Regret swelled in your heart, but a speck of hope did, too.

You'd gone about this all wrong.

He had welcomed you in, a complete stranger, and for the second time, you had violated his trust. You had breached the sanctity of his space and exposed him to danger by the mere proximity of you and your profession.

Surely if you explained everything calmly, he would understand. König was still a mystery to you…but he didn’t strike you as unnecessarily cruel. If you just shared your reasoning with him, maybe he’d give you a chance.

So, you reached out to him, contrite, soft fingers placed delicately against his scarred forearm. You squeezed his forearm in gentle supplication, an olive branch extended.

König pulled away from you with a grunt and stood abruptly, then began to move around the cabin. You flinched when you heard him open and close drawers in the kitchen and rifle through them, checking to see what was out of place, what you’d done. Doors opened and closed down the hall, unlocked and locked again, every cabinet and crevice of the entire place inspected from the sound of it, top to bottom. Your hope for a fruitful conversation sank lower and lower with each slam of wood on wood and each agitated step, guilt continuing to chew away at the fabric of your being, nibbling the tattered edges of you until you were moth-eaten and threadbare.

After what felt like an eternity, he returned and checked the desk, finding the box of batteries spilled in the drawer. König tidied it all, stacking each battery neatly back in the container before holding up your radio’s discarded charger pack, shoved in alongside the mess you’d made. König turned it over in his hands, inspecting it before he set it in what was apparently its new resting place.

König leaned against the desk, taking a deep breath as if gathering his thoughts before he moved and plopped next to you heavily. Cushions depressed and the frame and joints of the couch creaked with his added weight. He folded his forearms over his thighs, his back and neck hunched as he stared ahead at the floor. A long, slow sigh came from behind his hood.

You heard the soft, wet click of his mouth opening and closing, a sharp half-inhale as if he was starting and stopping, deciding what to say and coming up empty-handed each time.

“I promise I didn’t take anything of yours,” you offered, hoping to answer an unasked question. “Only what was mine.”

Silence spanned for a few more heartbeats before he spoke.

“You could have asked,” he said. “Instead of waiting until I left to poke around in my things.”

“I…I know. I shouldn’t have done that.” You swallowed and straightened your spine, unwilling to accept full responsibility. “But you wouldn’t have given me my radio, even if I asked,” you accused. So much for calm and rational.

An incredulous breath puffed out beside you and König turned to you at last, eyes hard as marbled granite. “I wouldn’t have?” he asked, the pitch of his voice rising in disbelief. “When have I denied you anything you asked for?”

Your mouth pursed into an indignant pout, ready to spout off a list — your clothes, your gun, your phone, your radio, your privacy, your f*cking autonomy — but the rebuttal fizzled out like soda bubbles, popping and bursting on the surface of your tongue. You hadn’t actually asked for much. And when you did, he had never technically said no to you — right?

Your recollection of events rushed past you, too muddled, too fast. The exact conversations with König melded in your mind into something hazy that was hard to remember properly, a blurry video viewed through a cracked screen, the words muffled through a blown speaker.

Everything he’d done had been for your safety, a logical series of choices that you might have made too, if you had the same information he did at the time. He always seemed to have a reasonable explanation for his actions. You, on the other hand, looked impulsive and erratic in comparison, jumping from assumption to assumption.

“Hm?” he prompted, impatient.

“I…guess you haven’t,” you croaked.

König muttered something softly in his language, clearly annoyed, a curse if you had to guess. He pinched the bridge of his nose through his hood as if staving off an impending headache. “Did you reach your team, at least, after all that?”

You caught it then, beneath his words, the faintest hint of something he couldn’t completely conceal. It was there in the subtle shake of his hand, fingers pressing to his face to keep them steady. Anxiousness. He was worried about your answer. Why?

Lie.

Make him afraid. Tell him help is on the way. Tell him your team is close. Just tell him — tell him — tell him—

“No.” The deceitful words wouldn’t come, the flare of rebellion extinguished beneath your guilt. “I didn’t get a chance to try. I put the batteries in, but then you came back and…” your voice trailed off, cheeks heating in remembrance.

“Mm.” König rolled his neck from side to side, sat back, and crossed his ankle over his knee. His socked foot jiggled back and forth as he tilted his head back to look at the ceiling, contemplative, quiet. His foot stilled. “You know, you never did tell me what happened…how you were separated from your squad in the first place.”

You licked your lips, taking a second to think. This was dangerous territory. There was only so much you could say, classified information that you couldn’t divulge, even to a remote civilian. You also didn’t want to step on a hidden snare and get caught again by another of König’s traps, tangled up and bound by your own words.

“We were attacked.”

“Attacked?” His eyebrows rose in interest as he turned to you, leaning closer. “By who?”

“I don’t know,” you said in a small voice. Pain rose with the memory like pressing on a bruise, reliving the deep ache of burst vessels. “I didn’t get to see much before the gunfire started. I was sent to call for help, but I…went the wrong way. Got lost,” you finished weakly, letting him fill in the rest that he already knew.

“That must have been very scary for you,” König said.

His hand slid over a discarded blanket to pat your knee — the weight on your joint was comforting. You nodded, grateful for the understanding in his voice and the soothing touch of his thumb circling your skin, keeping you grounded.

“I’m glad you weren’t hurt in the fight,” he added, voice even quieter now, compassion oozing from each word. “I can only hope the same for the rest of your team.”

Your stomach lurched, folding in on itself.

Your squad — hurt.

You had been so worried about yourself — warm and fed and well-cared for here in König’s cabin — that you selfishly hadn’t truly stopped to consider if your squad was even alive. He may as well have torn your chest open with his bare hands, bloodied fingers splitting your ribs apart to expose your leaking marrow and still-beating heart. An implosion of corrosive guilt overflowed and poured into that raw, gaping wound, burning through you.

You’d assumed, hoped, needed your team to be okay, but—

Violent visions bombarded your mind, bright flashes and muted bangs in ringing ears. Bullets flew past bloodied bodies crumpled in the crimson snow. You could see them now — your sergeant and teammates, injured, crawling away to hide, leaving a trail of maroon against pristine white. A mangled figure, sightless eyes slowly covered by fresh, falling powder. A shivering soldier, blue-lipped with ice-frosted lashes, her back to a tree, desperately praying for the help that would never come—

because you had failed the one task you’d been given.

“Y-Yeah, me too.” You wiped your clammy palms against the sofa, leaving streaks in the soft material. “I’m sure they’re fine. They’re…not…”

“Of course,” König cut in quickly, heroically saving you from having to complete that thought. He moved closer and reached for one of your hands in your lap, long fingers curling around yours and tucking them into the protective curve of his palm. “You’ve had a rough few days. It’s a lot for anyone to go through. Being sent to a foreign country, running away from gunfire, wounded, and nearly succumbing to frostbite…it’s a wonder you’ve even been up out of bed as much as you have.”

“I didn’t run,” you said, a pointless correction, but one you had to believe.

But the word haunted you, a ghost now given a corporeal form, made real by hearing it in König’s voice.

Coward.

“Right, right. My mistake,” he said, not sounding sorry in the slightest. “I hate to think that you were put in that position to begin with. Someone like you shouldn’t have been forced into such dangerous conditions, small and soft as you are.”

“I’m not — I wasn’t forced,” you tried, offended at the insinuation, mouth stumbling over the words.

“Still.” König let his breath out slowly, his chest deflating. “I have to say, I’m disappointed that you went behind my back today, Hase,” he said, words stained with melancholy. “I thought we had a better…understanding of each other than that.”

You looked up to see his downcast eyes, heavy lids drooping and red-rimmed, framed by damp lashes. The blue of his irises was brighter, standing out starkly with the contrast, the visible bits of his expression pained, hurt. You looked away, unable to face him like that.

“But I’m not upset with you,” König assured as his hand completely swallowed yours against your leg. “After facing what you have, it’s no wonder you’re so wary. All alone with a man, especially. I understand.”

You…doubted that he did understand. Or rather, he did too well and it was just coming out more menacing than intended…or exactly as intended. You couldn’t tell. Your senses immediately prickled with mistrust but you couldn’t slide your hand away, your fingers locked in place by his. A blip of panic spiked at the loss of freedom.

König was suddenly closer, his thigh brushing yours. His other hand slid up to your face, tentative fingertips running along your tensed jaw to turn it back to him. A wide palm cradled your cheek as if you were made of fine crystal, one wrong move and you’d shatter in his grasp. As fragile and shaken as you felt in that moment, you might have.

“There are bad, bad people out there. I do not want to think about what could have happened to such a pretty girl in the wrong hands.”

Your world tilted a bit at the implications, thrown into a tailspin being confronted with it all at once. But his voice was so entrancing, with a low hypnotic tone that you could barely hear. He had you leaning forward into his hand, closer to his face just to make out the words.

“It’s a good thing I found you before someone else did, isn’t it?”

Your lips trembled, but an answer wouldn’t come. König’s patient touch kept you steady, and you couldn’t tell if you eventually nodded, or if he pulled down, guiding your chin to agree.

“But I won’t let anything else happen to you, little one,” he whispered, his thumb brushing over your burning cheekbone with a slow, affectionate stroke. “You’re safe now.”

König gazed at you, soft and imploring, and you nearly dove headfirst into blue eyes shining like the calm surface of a lake, the promise of sun-brightened water, of weightless days floating on the surface, carefree and warm — wouldn’t it be nice? But you only sat on the shore, feet disappearing into the sand as the waves eroded the ground at your ankles.

“I promise,” he said.

You believed him.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

König didn’t offer you much alone time the rest of the day — but you couldn’t blame him after what you’d done. He hovered around as he tidied the cabin, sweeping and wiping down every surface while you sat dutifully on the sofa right where he’d left you, working through a space-themed page in a half-completed book of word searches. It…wasn’t exhilarating material, and you soon found your eyes watering while searching for TELESCOPE, unable to hold in your yawns.

When he saw you, he decided it was time for you to rest and didn’t even ask before he helped guide your legs up onto the couch. He maneuvered your body into what he determined was a comfortable position for you, then leaned down to pull at your sweatshirt. König’s fingers ran along the ribbed hem, straightening the wrinkled, oversized garment over your hip to preserve a little of your remaining modesty. It’s not like you had much left at this point — but you appreciated the gesture.

You waited for a more adventurous touch as his hands almost grazed your bare skin, but it didn’t come. Instead, he crouched in front of the fireplace and began to work.

König stacked a few pieces of wood over dry tinder and lit it with a practiced hand, gently blowing on the embers until they caught in a puff of smoke that wafted up into the chimney and filled the room with its acrid scent. Your eyes stung, but the smoke let up once the flames took, hungrily clawing the bark off the logs.

He was good at that, and you wondered how many fires he’d lit, only to warm an empty cabin. As intimidating as he was at times — or, really all the time — that idea tugged on your heartstrings, such a big man hunched in front of the fireplace, lighting a fire after a long day of hard work with no one to come home to. Those delicious meals cooked for one, eaten in silence in front of an empty seat.

You made a show of gratitude as you relished the gentle warmth emanating from the growing blaze, letting out a satisfied little groan while extending your hands toward it. It had been days since he’d started a proper fire here — you'd be sure to enjoy it.

König made a low, pleased sound in the base of his throat when he saw you, like he’d spotted a cat lying in sunbeams, stretching luxuriously as it warmed its soft fur. He placed a blanket and a thick pelt over you too, tucking it around and under you until you were practically swaddled.

“I’m going to take a shower,” he said slowly, eyes wandering up and down your cocooned form with thinly veiled suspicion. “Will you…be alright here?”

An unspoken threat lurked beneath the question that wasn’t quite a question, one that you wouldn’t ignore. Right. Despite his kindness, he was still…König.

“Yep,” you answered, tucking your arm beneath your head in a show of good faith. “I’ll try to take a nap.”

You didn’t move an inch when he walked away or when you heard the bathroom door close and the water run. König said he only had a few minutes of hot water in the shower, but it felt like he was in there for longer than that. Maybe he was so used to a hot-then-freezing wash that it didn’t bother him anymore, or maybe it felt good to cool off after the intensity of the morning.

He liked to keep himself and his space clean, and his clothes had been darkened with sweat earlier, the aftermath of woodcutting and muscles put to the test. It was a shame he was washing it away already, the warm musk and caramelized spice of his natural smell. You pulled your sweater up to your nose, breathing in the scent of him that still clung to the fabric, glad he wasn’t around to see you doing it.

Or…maybe he was doing more than just washing himself right now. He could be standing, wet hair loose, plastered to his back, the shower beating down over the hills and valleys of his muscled form. Rivulets of water might slick the movements of his hand along his shaft while he wished his fist was something else, warm and wet and willing.

Your hand had subconsciously moved to your neck, fingers dusting over the spot where you could still feel König’s mouth slotted over muscle and skin, sucking in greedy mouthfuls of heated flesh. You imagined it, but this time with cold, wet tiles against your back, thick arms bulging as they hoisted you up, bracketed you between them, your ankles hooked around a firm waist.

You squeezed your eyes shut, chasing away the thought as you tried to settle for some much-needed sleep. But the memory of his touch remained, phantom fingers coasting over your soft curves, winding up into your hair, curling around your wrists, a rough palm over your tummy sliding down, down, down—

Your fingers twitched with the urge to wander, but you only huffed and shifted your position on the couch, frustrated at yourself and the lingering ache between your thighs. You shoved your hands back beneath your head.

A cold shower might have done you some good, too.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

Your mood only worsened as the day dragged on. It surrounded you with a cloud of gloom that hung low and dark, storm-swollen and ready to burst into an icy rain and a boom of thunder. Your inability to nap had only given you more time for your irritation to stew as you tossed and turned on the couch, annoyance nearly reaching a boiling point.

König helped you to the dinner table, and your foot throbbed from even that short trip. You were hungry, tired, flustered, and frustrated. Above all, you were kicking yourself for throwing away another opportunity to get in contact with your team — or, rather for allowing König to swipe it right from under your nose while he distracted you with candy-sweet words and tender caresses.

Earlier, everything was mushy and confusing. His eyes had been so kind, his voice so convincing, but it was easy to see after the fact — you had fallen for it again.

And König was so goddamn cheery about it, too carefree considering everything that had happened today. It was as if he’d completely brushed the radio incident away in his mind like it had never happened at all. It didn’t make sense. Something was off, you just couldn’t place exactly what it was.

Suspicion brewed within you with the churning, lingering ache of a sour stomach. You studied König’s every move from your place at the table as he prepared your food, sharp eyes on the lookout for a slip of nimble fingers or a sleight of hand. Everything seemed…fine. His sleeves had been pushed up to his elbows while he cooked, the rest of the waffle-patterned thermal was stretched across the broad planes of his upper body.

When he crouched to grab a pot from the cabinet, his thighs flexed, stretching out the dark sweatpants that clung to his legs and the curve of his ass. Everything he wore seemed to fit just a bit too tightly, close but not quite right, like there were few things truly made for someone his size. Your gaze flicked back to his hands, guiltily remembering your mission to watch him cook.

Once the food was set on the stove, König brought your medicine to the table. You scrutinized it, but it just appeared to be the same antibiotic as always and two white pills in a small dish. König left to fill your glass with water and when his back turned, you flipped the white ones over to double-check, but nothing stood out as different than before.

You opened your mouth to take your medicine without being prompted, and he pressed the capsule to your tongue first, then the pair of tablets. You swallowed them easily enough, but a thought crossed your mind as his fingers pushed into your mouth to check afterward, an idea, a bad one. But it was tempting, insidious and sweet. You shouldn’t, but…

What if…?

The thought became action when your teeth closed around the two fingers that slid back on your tongue, biting down on his knuckles until you could feel the compression of skin and tendon below. König held strong against the firm nip of your incisors. He didn’t react or try to free his hand, didn’t panic or pull back — he merely held still while you looked up at him innocently, practically batting your eyelashes. Deep inside of you, metal struck against flint, a glint of defiance sparking.

This time, it caught.

Your chest puffed, just a little. König enjoyed acting like you were spineless, a limp, tame creature with no claws or teeth to speak of. It was time for a reminder that you did still have them, and you hadn’t forgotten that fact, not yet.

There wasn’t a lick of concern in his eyes, though, not even the faintest glimmer of fear. König let out a breathy chuckle that rumbled at the base of his throat. Cute, the sound seemed to say. The corners of his eyes wrinkled, glee shimmering lazily in azure tones as he let you test this boundary. You were overcome by the sudden urge to rip the unseen smile from his face, so you bit down further, hard enough that it must have hurt. But he still didn’t react, just let you tug against the leash wrapped around your neck, giving you a chance to tucker yourself out before he yanked you back to his heel.

The moment grew more awkward and uncomfortable for you as time ticked by like this. Your mouth watered around his fingers and your tongue twitched as you held out, unbothered. You looked to the side, knowing this was a staring contest you would never win, but you’d already committed — you didn’t want to be the one to fold.

“Open,” König said when he’d had enough.

You stared back up at him, opposition rearing.

“Open, or I will do it for you,” he warned. His voice lowered dangerously, but the smile was still there in his eyes, an unsettling mismatch that sent an icy chill dripping down the length of your spine. “And I…do not think you would like that very much, Hase.”

A choice. A taunt.

“One,” König counted. “Two.”

Bite.

König stayed steady, but his bicep tensed, muscle filling out the sleeve more fully. The fingers of his free hand clenched and unfurled with a spattering of popped knuckles. The air thickened in your lungs, almost choking you.

“Three.”

Harder.

A flash of something deep and dark behind eyes that threatened to pull you into a bottomless sea, snapping jaws ready to grip and tear and spin, to drag you down and show you what hid far beyond the reach of daylight.

“Four,” the number drawn out a little more slowly, alerting you that your time was quickly expiring.

Last chance. Do it.

Electricity buzzed in your veins, crackling with charging static.

Do it, do it, do it do it doitdoitdoit—

“Five,” he said.

You released him.

You couldn’t do it. The point had been made anyway, and any further contention would end up somewhere you didn’t want to go with him. You kept your jaw parted just enough for him to finish his inspection, but your teeth closed to scrape his knuckles as he finally withdrew from you. It wasn’t much, but you savored the tiny victory. It was the strongest you’d felt since you’d been here, the most in control of yourself.

“Good girl.” König patted your cheek with a condescending coo, stealing the wind from your sails, treating you like you were nothing but a mouthy puppy, testing its baby teeth with play-bites.

He may as well have ruffled your hair, too, as stupid as you felt. You scowled and lifted your shoulder to your cheek, wiping away the wet spot left behind by his fingers.

König held his hand up in front of him, inspecting the indents your teeth had left in his skin, eyebrows raising in interest before he went to the stove to finish heating dinner.

And, that was that.

Shame and anger rose inside of you, bubbling hot. You were upset with yourself that you couldn't even force yourself to bite him properly, half-assing it and folding at the first inkling of danger. But that tiny spark inside hadn’t been snuffed out yet, not completely. You sheltered that secret warmth and fed it bits of kindling until it grew into a flame, bright inside your darkness where König couldn’t see it and stomp it out.

You cherished it.

Dinner was hot shortly after, the remaining chicken soup from the night before. It was just as good as when it was fresh, if not better, the flavors deepened the extra time to infuse with the herbs. You even finished the additional ladleful that König scooped for you — you need your strength, little one — earning yourself a too-wide smile and another tidbit of praise that still brought a flush to your cheeks despite everything.

After you’d eaten, König tucked you in on the sofa while he cleaned up. You were tired — truly exhausted — but sleep still refused to come. Your mind wouldn’t curl up and settle beside the fire with you. You breathed in deeply of the cabin air, pulling in the aroma of woodsmoke, thick and nostalgic. For a moment it transported you back to a different time and place, toasted marshmallows with friends, lips sticky with burnt sugar and melted chocolate.

The memory just made you sad now.

So, you gave up and resorted to staring ahead sightlessly at the fireplace, letting the shapes of the dying flames etch themselves into your retinas until a kaleidoscope of colors flashed when you blinked. You snuggled more deeply under the covers, feeling as burnt out as the pile of white-hot ash beneath the fire, the lack of solid sleep and the unresolved tension leaving an empty, dry shell in your place.

You only refocused your eyes when König knelt before you, filling your vision with his streaked mask. Curious eyes studied your face before he stroked your hair away from your forehead, smoothing an errant strand back behind your ear.

“Still can’t sleep, Häschen?”

You shrugged. The real answer was too complicated, and you weren’t sure it mattered, anyway. König brushed a tuft of fur under your chin, away from your mouth. He was acting like everything was normal and okay. Forgiven. Maybe it was.

“Do you want a cup of tea?” he asked, fingers curled beneath your jaw. “That usually helps me relax. Chamomile?”

“Okay,” you agreed, cautiously optimistic at his kindness.

König went to the kitchen and returned with two steaming cups a short while later. You gratefully sat up and took the proffered mug with both hands, clutching the hot ceramic between your palms. You blew over the top and took a sip, enjoying the way soothing chamomile and vanilla rolled over your tastebuds, a little bitter but tempered by a generous drizzle of honey.

“Sweet enough for you?” he asked lightly.

“Yeah,” you said, secretly pleased that he remembered your preference. “Thanks.”

The fire occasionally popped when a pocket of sap overheated inside the logs, but other than that, König sat and sipped along with you in companionable silence. He held a book open in one hand and his mask was hiked up behind his ears to keep it away from his mouth to drink his tea. It was kind of nice, to just sit like this — except for the way his long legs spread, seemingly moving wider over time, taking up much more room on the couch than you.

You huddled in one corner to avoid pressing up against his thigh. But the bent position hurt your foot and tugged on healing tendons, so you were eventually forced to stretch your injured limb out onto König’s lap to be comfortable.

You tensed when a hand immediately rested on your calf, but soon it was aimlessly stroking up and down the length of your leg in swirling patterns, causing goosebumps to rise in its wake. König’s fingers began to dig into muscles too, finding spots you hadn’t even realized were sore. You hesitantly let your guard down enough to push your other leg into his lap for attention too, a stubbornly silent request for more. He set down his book and focused on the massage at your unspoken insistence, thumbs kneading the arch and heel of your good foot, pressing gently all along your shins and calves. A low groan slipped from your throat when a tight muscle finally released under his touch.

You settled back on the couch, feet propped up on the giant beside you, begrudgingly content. The massage, the tea, the smoldering embers of the fire, all of it was finally enough for your eyelids to flicker. It was okay to enjoy the moments of peace in between everything else, wasn’t it?

Soon, your fingers began to loosen around your mug and your head started to nod, too heavy on a weak neck. You set down your cup before it spilled, and sunk lower on the couch, laying your head down and pushing your legs all the way over König’s thighs.

Darkness began to dot the edges of your vision as he resumed stroking your calves with a feather-light touch, sending a languid shudder up your back. You stretched your body out further, and the blackness expanded and overtook your sight until it was all you knew.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

Distant pain woke you, prodding at your foot. The sting of it rang an alarm, and wrenched you through the ether, past the galaxies and swirling nebulas of soon-forgotten dreams until you were thrust back into a shaky reality with a gasping breath. It was dark out, the panes on the walls inky black, only the faintest wisps of dusk still smeared in purple on the horizon — hours must have passed.

You could see König through your lashes, still at your feet. His thumb was pressing along a dark splotch on top of your sock, exploring the mark.

“I didn’t mean to wake you, but your foot…” he said, grazing over the spot. “How's the pain?”

“’s’alright,” you said, the words slipping out a touch slurred from sleep.

“I need to change your dressing — it looks like you’re bleeding.”

Your foot did hurt earlier, aching and stinging when you were walking around the cabin too quickly, but it felt better now, the pain dulled along with your senses. You lifted your wobbly head and squinted at your sock — you hadn’t noticed before that the wound had bled, but there was a wet patch on the wool. König set your foot down and returned with an armful of supplies. He shook his head as he slid the sock down your ankle to reveal the crimson-stained dressing.

“Ah,” he tutted as he began to unwrap the layers of gauze, fingers carefully tugging and winding up the dirty material. “Look at that.”

You didn’t look — you’d learned your lesson with that one — but you didn’t need to. It was obvious from the visible blood that you overdid it, that you couldn’t even take care of yourself or be trusted to ensure your own health and safety. That fact hurt more than what he was doing, squeezed something inside of you with a too-tight fist.

Your eyes glazed over as you stared at nothing, sending your mind up into the atmosphere, a place between waking and sleeping as your vision settled on the distant wall. Each wooden panel blurred and doubled, duplicated and divided itself again as you let your eyes unfocus. Sleep tried to claim you again, but König didn’t let you go, not yet.

“You’ve been doing too much again,” he said as he turned your ankle in his grasp. “It’s only barely started to heal and you’ve torn it open again, silly girl.”

The cool splash of cleaning solution pulled your mind back forward enough for you to look down, to see him bent over your foot. His hands thankfully blocked your vision of the wound.

“There’s nothing wrong with asking for help,” he scolded gently. “You can’t do it all alone. The more you fight it, the longer this will take to heal.”

You listened, but had nothing to contribute to the one-sided conversation. König continued to speak quietly as he finished re-dressing your wound with some thick ointment and clean gauze, making comments about your progress, still better overall despite this setback. But you clearly needed more rest and more help. Less time on your feet. More nutritious food. You nodded absently.

He offered you the rest of your now-chilled tea, and you took a few more sips down to the bitter dregs before he tucked you in and gave you a solid pat on your hip. Then, he left for bed with a simple exchange of goodnights.

You dozed off and on until the fire had whittled the logs down to the last few charred bits. Exhaustion weighed down your bones and swollen eyelids, wrapping your limbs in invisible chains of weariness. But your mind was restless.

König’s words over the last few days echoed in your mind, chasing your thoughts whenever they wandered into peace, invading the tranquility you sought.

Weak. Helpless. Silly girl.

Alone.

Someone like you.

What did he even mean by that?

You sat up and your hand shot out to the couch armrest for support, a little off-kilter as you tried to rise. Deep breaths. In, out. In, out. You found your balance after a moment, your world growing still as you waited and licked dry lips with a sticky tongue, parched despite the tea.

Water. A glass of water would set you straight, then back to bed.

Your steps were uneven as you tried to keep your weight off your injury — König’s orders. Your path was lit only by the faint glow of the waning moon outside the window, a thin sliver just visible above the treeline. Your tiredness ran deeper than you thought as you limped to the kitchen, more unsteady than you expected. But you refused to go get him. You could do this.

The lines of the backsplash blurred as you rocked on your heels, panic shooting through you when the grout bent and stretched. You blinked rapidly, thoughts twisting just as wildly at the thought of König, condescending words raising your hackles.

Small and soft.

Poor thing.

Naughty little thing.

Good girl. Pretty girl. Foolish girl.

Stupid f*cking girl.

Your vision normalized as you forced yourself to focus, to properly wake up. It wasn’t easy. You clutched at the counter, knuckles blanching white. Almost done, then back to the couch. This was fine. You’d be fine.

You reached into the cabinet to get a glass and started to fill it. But your clumsy hands knocked it over when you set it on the counter, startling yourself with the noise. The water spread rapidly, the rounded edges of the puddle catching the faint illumination of the moonlight, shimmering like quicksilver as it began to drip off the counter onto the floor.

Your hand brushed the knife block as you righted the cup, a muted clatter of sharpened steel jostled against the wooden slots. The sound shook more thoughts free.

Things were only going to escalate the longer you stayed with König; you were sure of that. Each time you stood by yourself and felt stronger and bolder, he managed to shove you back down to the ground, leaving you feeling confused and less sure. You were losing faith in yourself, unable to trust your thoughts or your body, yet you continued to be fooled into trusting him.

Why?

Things were careening so far out of your control that you could hardly recognize yourself, half-naked in a strange man’s house, accepting every one of his decisions and suggestions with a wet, doe-eyed look, letting yourself be plied with home-cooked meals, massages and warm tea.

You almost f*cked him today. You had nearly kissed him, too, which somehow felt worse, surrendering more than just your body — you could maybe justify that, could rationalize that arousal was just a physical reaction outside your control. But to also give him your heart and your trust, to share in true intimacy was more than you could bear.

Bubbling nausea rolled in your belly. You wanted to believe that the antibiotic wasn’t settling, but you thought it more likely that it was your disgust with yourself, that you had let yourself get so far tangled in König’s sticky web, willingly wrapped up in silken threads while venomous fangs sank into your neck.

It was time to take things into your own hands.

You pulled a knife out of the block, the same you’d grabbed before but chickened out — except this time, you had a plan. König wouldn’t be able to talk you out of using your radio. Tonight, he’d be forced to take you seriously, like the threat you knew you could be.

You weren’t weak.

You weren’t helpless.

You weren’t alone.

You snuck toward König’s door, avoiding the squeaky floorboard. Smug satisfaction fed your confidence, pleased that you remembered the noisy spot. It took longer than expected to maintain your balance, your senses still a bit tilted — but you made it to the doorway. You pulled in a deep, steadying breath, then sidled inside, squeezing through the opening of the cracked door.

The first step into König’s room was the hardest, but it became easier when you saw him on his side, facing away from the door. You paused just inside, watching. His large chest rose and fell with even breaths, deep and slow, unchanged since you’d entered the room. The wood stove in the corner lit the space in the barest orange glow, not much, but just enough to see where you were going when you continued your journey around the foot of the bed, over to the side of the mattress where König slept.

He wasn’t wearing his hood, but his long hair was loose, tresses spilled across his cheeks and forehead, over a strong nose, veiling the other details of his face in the dim light.

König’s eyes were closed, his expression peaceful. Unguarded. Guilt almost prevented you from moving, almost dragged you back out the door with your tail between your legs. Waiting until he was asleep was a dirty move, but you needed to end the game that you didn’t even want to play once and for all, needed to get answers the only way you thought you would with him.

Now or never.

With a shaky hand, you slid the knife under the curtain of his hair and lowered the sharpened steel beneath his beard until it pressed against his bare neck. Silver gleamed against scar-ridged skin, metal overlaid with a bronze sheen from the golden-orange light of the fire. The knife was so close to pulsing vessels that you could practically feel each beat of his heart through the blade, strong and slow and sure. Anxiety surged in a rush to your head, pulling you into complete clarity.

What would you do if he fought back?

Would you actually — could you — could you do it?

You’d taken a life before — or, at least contributed when ordered with others to release a spray of gunfire to clear an area. It was such an anonymous, vague thing that it hardly felt real. There was a level of detachment to it, unlike this. This was a life held in your hands alone, so close that you could count every wispy eyelash, could see the flicker of arteries and rushing blood beneath your weapon — one wrong move, and it would pour out, hot and slick on your hands.

You were so intent on his neck and trying to keep your hand steady that you almost jumped when you looked back to his face to see open eyes. They were bright and curious, peering at you from beneath the wild strands of hair streaked across his face.

“What are you doing, little one?” he asked, steady.

“I want my radio.” You licked your dry lips. “Get up. Slowly.”

König blinked and cleared his throat. “Is this really necessary?”

“Get. Up.” You pressed with the blade for emphasis, pale skin depressing under the force of the metal, not cutting, but close. “Now.”

He sighed and sat up carefully as you kept the knife against him. His hair fell in webs across his face, his hands on the bed, palms open, a show of surrender. König reached for his bedside table and you hissed a warning, gripping the wooden handle tightly to keep your fingers from trembling.

“My mask,” he explained.

You allowed it, holding the blade to his chest instead, the tip denting his shirt over his heart. You watched closely as he slipped the dark fabric over his head, waiting for a sudden movement, but he merely reached his hands beneath it to push his hair away from his face, before letting them rest on his knees.

“It’s late,” König said, no tremor in his voice or posture. “Why don’t we discuss this in the morning?”

“No,” you said, steadfast. “We’re doing this now.”

König rose to his feet with a groan, towering so far over you that you nearly leaned back to look up at him. He muttered some bit of annoyance in German as he rolled his neck and shoulders. His movements were unhurried, unbothered, even though you now held the tip of the knife just inches from his belly — all you could comfortably reach with the height difference. He tilted his head toward the closet, and you shuffled quickly, trailing just behind, blade in hand as you tried to keep up with his long strides across his room.

His arms swung lazily at his sides as he walked. You may as well have been a clingy housepet getting tangled underfoot, stepped over with nothing more than a grumble, as much as he seemed to care about you and the knife brandished in his direction. It had felt so big in your hand but looked so insignificant held up next to him.

Your resolve faltered.

It was clear that he didn’t consider you a threat, but you stayed strong, back straight, ready to show him differently if needed. The knife — and you — didn’t need to be big, just sharp and ready. You were. You were.

König entered the code for his safe, fingers too quick for you to catch, then pulled out your radio. You stepped back as he turned suddenly and moved toward you, his body and presence taking up so much space inside the dark closet that he nearly filled it top to bottom, side to side. You shuffled back through the doorway as he neared, his eyes dull, still unconcerned even with the knife held up between you two.

“What’s the range on this?” König asked casually, taking another step forward, squinting in the low light at the tiny letters on the side of your radio. “A few miles?”

You didn’t answer even though he was correct, all your energy focused on staying upright and keeping the blade up and straight.

“Mm. Go on, then,” he said, holding the device out to you. “Call for your team. Let’s see if they’re nearby, so you can get back to them.”

The hairs at the back of your neck rose. This didn’t feel right.

It was what you wanted, but..König was just going to…let you call for help? Let you leave if you did get through to them, no fight, no argument, no slick words? He hadn’t even tried to take the knife from you, even though deep down you knew he could have easily overpowered you at this point and wrestled it away from you.

No, no, no.

This was another trick, just another round of his game. But this was check, not checkmate. Your move. Your gaze wandered from König to the radio then back again, your eyes wide, distrustful.

“Isn’t that what this whole thing has been about?” he insisted, waving a hand toward the knife as he pushed the radio toward you, the antenna jabbed in your direction. “Well? Take it. Here.”

You took the radio from him gingerly, holding it as if it was a grenade, pin already pulled and ready to go off at any second. This was the opportunity you’d been waiting for. You had risked so much for this, throwing away every last shred of König’s trust.

You wouldn’t — couldn’t — waste this chance.

It was all you had left.

König moved past you and sat on the bed, The springs squeaked, the mattress depressing under his bulk as he rubbed his eyes with balled fists. You sat as far away from him as you could, perched on the edge by the footboard, knife laid beside you where you could reach it easily.

Your radio only had a handful of channels pre-set, the frequencies programmed to reach a select few. But that was all you needed. You flicked to the first channel and turned the volume up, filling the dark room with a backdrop of rushing static.

The talk button squawked as you pressed it. “Bravo Two, this is Alpha Nine, over.”

A beep sounded as you let go of the button, the line’s static crunching as it opened back up again. Then, you waited. The seconds stretched on — and on, and on, and on. You nearly leaped up at a sudden blip in the white noise, a pause, a break in it. Your overeager and naive ears perked, waiting for a voice — please, anyone, anything — but it must have just been interference because only static came after.

Your hope began to splinter, just a little. “Bravo Two, this is Alpha Nine, over,” you tried again.

A crackle, more static. Nothing.

Your trembling fingers turned to the next programmed channel. “One-Four-One, this is Alpha Nine, over.” Your voice dropped lower, throat constricting as the cracks of doubt widened, fear wedging itself into the crevices, prying them wide open. “One-Four-One, th-this is Alpha Nine, over.”

Open static blended with the increasingly loud ringing in your ears. Your heart raced too fast as it seemed to do so often these days, a weak, pitiful thing, just like you. König waited patiently, crossing his arms over his chest in your periphery.

You tried the final channel, attempting to reach your immediate superior three times before sheepishly turning to König, unsure of what to do now that your plan had crumbled. Everything had been riding on you reaching your team. Without that, you were stuck, truly alone, except for—

“Nothing?” König asked, as if he hadn’t been right beside you, listening the entire time.

Your dry throat burned. “No.”

“That’s too bad,” he mused, holding his hand out for the radio.

You fidgeted away from him, feeling small and foolish as you clutched it to your chest like a lifeline. The sharp corner dug into your breastbone, but you barely felt it against the rising tide of your panic.

“I can try again later. In the morning. They may not have their radios on them — or they’re asleep. Maybe my transmission was recorded, and they’ll try to get back to me. We had a vehicle, and the receiver in it — it would have picked up my call. I know it.” You could hear it, how out of breath you sounded. But you couldn’t stop. “They’ll get it, I’m sure. I just have to keep trying. I have to—”

“Oh, poor thing,” König cut in as he leaned over, reaching into your personal space to click off your radio, silencing your babbling along with the static. “You seem so sure your team is still nearby. And maybe they are, of course, that’s…possible,” he added, with a patronizing tone that made your stomach turn. “I do not want to alarm you…but being a soldier yourself, you must be aware that this area is not…friendly to foreign military. Especially if there was already a fight — gunshots, you said, I cannot imagine,” he murmured the last words with a shake of his head. “I fear that would have drawn some unwanted attention. I don’t want you to get your hope up for nothing.”

You gripped the radio harder when he tried to pull it out of your hands. “Stop it,” you whispered. “I know what you’re doing.”

König tilted his head down, peering at you intently. “What am I doing?” he asked, voice dropping to match your volume.

“You’re—You’re trying to trick me. Mess with me. Just like earlier, with the safe.”

“Earlier?”

“You left your safe open because you wanted me to find my gear.”

A thoughtful, disbelieving sound came from behind the dark fabric of his mask. “You’re saying that I…purposely left my safe open because I was…hoping that you would go into my closet and snoop through my belongings while I was out cutting wood?” König’s eyebrows pinched together in concern. “That is quite the accusation.”

It sounded far-fetched when he said it like that, like it was some unhinged idea spouted off by one of those online conspiracy theorists with wild hair and waving hands. But anger and fear rose with a last-ditch battle cry inside your chest. Everything you’d been too afraid to say all this time came spilling out all at once. What did you have to lose now?

“You don’t really want me to reach my team. You’re just pretending to care,” you continued, floundering in the face of his stony exterior. “That’s why you took my radio in the first place. And my—my SIM card—”

“Your SIM card?”

A tear fell from the corner of your eye when you blinked, and you impatiently swiped it away with the back of your hand. “You took it out of my phone. Hid it or…destroyed it so I couldn’t call for help.”

“That sounds like an awful lot of effort,” König mused, humoring you like a child telling an outlandish story. “Now, why would I do all that?”

“I don’t know,” you admitted, blinking away more moisture. “To keep me here. Stranded.”

“Mm. I see.”

König stood and you flinched, prepared for him to lunge and swipe the radio from you, but he didn’t. You watched him, curious, suspicious as he walked toward his closet instead, and returned with your phone. One of your hands dropped to the bed, your fingers brushing the wooden handle of the knife, just in case.

He rummaged through his bedside table, eventually pulling out a paper clip and fiddling with it, straightening out a small section. It took you a moment to realize what he was doing, but it became clear when he sat back down beside you and peeled your phone out of its case. He pushed the end of the clip into the tiny hole on the side, and the SIM tray popped out with a faint, incriminating click.

It… couldn’t be.

Your SIM.

The tiny red and white card was there, intact, undamaged.

Your head jerked up to König in disbelief. He shrugged, bored — told you so. The thumping in your chest picked up, louder and louder and louder until you were sure your heart would pop into a shredded mess of stringy, useless muscle fibers any second now. You almost wished it would. König pushed the tray back in and tucked your phone back into its case.

“But — it wasn’t in there before. I tried to make a call and it didn’t work. My phone said ‘No SIM.’

König patted your shoulder, his gaze softening with pity. “I’m sure it did, little one.”

You wrenched your body away from him, staring with wild eyes, unable to stand the way he looked at you. “It did,” you asserted through a clenched jaw. “It did.” Less sure, words dissipating in your chest.

Your phone hadn’t had a SIM in it when he gave it to you, you were sure of it. It didn’t work. You knew what you saw — didn’t you? The alternative didn’t bear thinking about — that you simply hadn’t received any calls or messages from your squad, that no one was out looking for you, that no one even thought you were still alive.

“Mmhm. Well,” he said softly. “I…think you have had a very long day, and it’s past your bedtime, kleines Häschen.”

König plucked your clammy fingers from your radio one at a time and took it from you, his other hand surreptitiously sliding the knife away from you as well. You let him. Let him take everything from you, his voice of reason making perfect sense, like it always did. Something deep inside the recesses of your mind creaked and groaned against the weight of his logic, pushed to the limit, forced to give and give and give until—

it snapped.

“You look exhausted . Let’s put the radio away for now. I think it will only upset you more.”

Blood thundered in your ears, pulsing so loudly that you barely heard König’s words above it. Your eyes dropped to your knees, staring, chest burning as pressure built and built and built until you couldn’t hold it back anymore. Your voice wobbled as you tried to protest, words turning into an incoherent cry and hot tears down your cheeks. Everything that had been so sure and solid inside of you dissolved like a handful of sand clutched in the open ocean, swept away, leaving you truly as weak and soft as he said.

It didn’t make sense; nothing made sense. Only König did.

He wasn’t even upset with you. He should be. He should be furious that you woke him up with a knife to his neck, should be livid that you threw his kindness back in his face. Why wasn’t he? Why wasn’t he? You hugged yourself, holding out for a few more seconds, staving off the incoming flood with gasping breaths.

“Oh, sweet girl,” König said, immediately crowding you on the bed, a hand rubbing soothing circles across your back, slow and steady. “Shh. There, it’s alright.”

The compassion broke whatever was left of you, stomped on it and threw the dust to the wind. Your face grew wet with tears, an ache expanded behind your cheeks and nose.

“Hey, hey,” he soothed, dabbing at your streaming eyes. “You’re okay.”

But your tears outpaced him, swollen salty droplets that stung your cheeks as he wiped them away with rough hands. You couldn’t even see him properly, couldn’t see anything as panic tunneled your already fuzzy vision into a narrow point.

“I just w-want to go home,” you cried, wobbling words punctuated by hyperventilating breaths. “J-Just want to go h-home.”

“I know, little one.”

Sobs wracked your body, deep, ugly crying, abdomen clenching as you tried to suck in big gulps of air through a spasming throat. König gathered you into his lap and pulled you over his thighs as he cradled your head to his chest. He held your face beneath his wide palm and you buried your face into his shirt, your nose and sinuses so stuffed from the pressure of crying that you could barely even breathe except through your mouth.

“Shh. Wir stehen das gemeinsam durch. Yeah? I’ve got you. I’m here.”

You couldn’t even understand half of what he said, but it sounded so nice, so sincere. König rocked you back and forth like a blubbering child, warm breath fanning over your hair as he whispered sweet nothings into it. You snuggled in more deeply to him, wishing you could sink in deeper and curl up into his chest, be completely surrounded by his warmth and affection. He pet the crown of your head as he bent down to you, mixed English and German weaving a blanket of kind words around you that calmed you, a bit at a time, until your crying quieted into hiccupping.

Eventually, your tears slowed too, leaving König’s shirt a mess of snot and saline. Your hiccups eased, becoming less jerky, softer against the comfort of his body. You sniffled and melted against him, spent, content.

Once your breathing had resumed a normal pattern, König scooted off the bed with you and carried you out of his room. Each thumping step drove a stake of despair into your heart as he brought you to the couch, the movement starting a fresh wave of tears to overflow past your clumped lashes and soak into the already wet cotton beneath your cheek. You nuzzled into him, finding a notch to lay your head, arms clinging around his shoulders.

You didn’t want to be alone now. But it made sense. You had just threatened König with a knife to his neck. Why would he invite you to sleep in his bed?

Silly girl.

König set you down on the sofa, and you lay there, listless, unmoving as he fetched you a glass of water. His hands cupped over yours as he helped you stay upright and take a few sips. The water was cool and crisp, the iciness refreshing you, washing away the thick taste of salt and mucous on your tongue.

“I have medicine that will help you sleep.”

He showed you a tiny pink pill, pinched between his fingers. It was miniscule in his grasp, stamped with meaningless numbers that your stinging, swollen eyes couldn’t read anyway.

“Why don’t you take it and get some proper rest tonight?” he offered, allowing you the illusion of choice even as his fingers already traveled toward your mouth. “I…think you need it.”

You were so exhausted that it probably wasn’t necessary, but you let his fingers slip past your lips and took the pill, so small that you barely felt it go down with the next sip of water he pressed to your lips. You were so far beyond caring, just wanting sleep to swallow you up, to accept the relief of nothingness. You didn’t care when he swiped around your mouth after, or when he helped lay you down, or when he covered you in heavy layers of blankets and quilts and furs.

The weight was soothing, but not nearly as nice as it had been in his warm lap, his arms around you, thick and sure. König stood to leave, but as he moved past you, you snatched his wrist, halting his exit. He waited, a tall, dark statue before you, silent and still.

Your fingers clutched at him desperately, withering vines curling across hot concrete, seeking the barest hints of nourishment to sustain you. There was so much you wanted to say — how you wished you could go back in time and undo it all, to take back your baseless accusations, that from now on you would just do as he had expected, that you were thankful, grateful. But your mouth was disconnected from your brain, thoughts too tangled to relay the message.

“I’m sorry,” was all you could whisper, sliding your hand into his.

He was so warm, and you wished you could shrink down small enough to tuck yourself into the creases of his palm, to let him envelop you completely. You wanted to feel like the first time he’d touched you again, caught in the trap, his hand your only hope in a cold, cold world.

König squeezed your hand once in acknowledgment, but let you go. “I know you are.”

And with that, he left.

You heard the sound of the spilled cup being picked up in the kitchen, another one of your messes cleaned, the knife block being moved. König retreated to his room, and the door clicked shut.

He hadn’t relit your fire. You were in for another cold night, but you didn’t dare call him back and ask him to start one, not after what you’d done. The stack of wood beside the fireplace mocked you, a promise of warmth, of things that might have been yours, if you hadn’t acted so impulsively, so foolishly.

You had failed your squad, failed König, and failed yourself.

Your chest tightened and you shivered, accepting your fate, shaking in your tiny pocket of heat. Thankfully, a wave of tiredness soon descended over you, leaving you nearly drunk with it. You almost started crying again when you replayed the day over in your mind, but artificial sleep gagged you, packed it all down into a too-small box with an ill-fitting lid. Your limbs turned to lead, keeping them lax, pliant.

Your heavy eyelids slid shut, and you tumbled head over heels into a medicated sleep, just like you deserved to be —

numb,

cold,

alone.

Notes:

AHHH ok this chapter is also long, but I hope you like it!The last chapter and this one are pivotal, and it's all downhill (or uphill? ;) depending on your POV haha) from here.

kudos and comments keep me encouraged 💕 I love hearing your theories and speculations about what könig is doing and what is happening to reader. But an emoji or keysmash is much appreciated too! <3 thank you for all the support so far!

I know some of you were hoping reader would get f*cked this chapter but it wasn’t the right moment yet…I promise proper smut is on its way, i just need to follow my plot :3

and fluff is incoming!! a bit of relief from all the heavy stuff

Thank you for sticking with me so far 💕
The next update may take 3 weeks as the long ones have taken a lot out of me T.T whew. I’ll do my best :)

You can find me on twitter or tumblr.

Chapter 10: Sweet

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

You fought through heavy layers of medicated sleep, scrabbling to free yourself from the black-flecked haze that veiled your vision and the tiny pill still keeping you tethered to drowsiness. The cotton-dry wisps of drug-suppressed dreams filled your mind and mouth and throat and left a bitter film clinging to your tongue.

Each slow blink wrenched apart heavy lids, lashes tacky and eyes swollen from an evening of tears. It took some effort to sit up, rubbing your cold, stiff hands together as you got your bearings.

The cabin was doused in the bright, crisp light of late morning, and the air was bakery-sweet, thick with vanilla and browned butter, rich with the nostalgia of cinnamon sugar and nutmeg. You peeked around the couch and saw König standing at the stove. He was elbow-deep in domesticity, sleeves rolled up, flipping and stirring breakfast with the accompanying sizzle of the frying pan. Your heart rose into your throat.

How could you face him today?

You’d destroyed what little rapport you’d started to build, bulldozed every brick of trust laid and mortared between you both. Unsure what else to do, you silently slunk to the bathroom, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. Your foot ached despite how little weight you put on it, a painful reminder of the bad decisions that put you in this position.

You brushed your teeth and stared at your reflection, hardly recognizing the person looking back at you. Your cheeks were thinner than ever, illness and worry stealing some of your softness, and your heavy lids looked as puffy as they felt, skin swollen with shed and unshed tears around dull eyes. The foamy spots of toothpaste flecked around your mouth didn’t help your sickly, nearly rabid appearance. You wiped the residue away and rinsed, grimacing.

Your gaze dropped to your neck, a peek of creeping mulberry, and you tilted your head to survey the damage. The large mark that König had left you was vibrant and dark, your skin left wine-stained from his bite, a circle of deep plum and cherry with petechiae-dotted edges skirting over the crook of your shoulder. You pulled back the neck of your hoodie to get a better view, and your sleeves slid down to offer a peek of your wrists, finger-shaped splotches there too, overlapping petals in rose and lilac shades.

It… looked bad.

You hadn’t minded — and had actually enjoyed — when he left you those at the time, so entwined in the crushing force of his passion. But it was sobering to see how effortlessly his bare hands could burst capillaries and vessels or restrain you. He could seriously hurt you — and it would be nothing to him. And you had tried to threaten him with a measly little kitchen knife. What had you been thinking?

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Your cheeks burned with regret, and you wished you could scrub your brain clean of that memory entirely — sterilize it, forget the boredom in König’s eyes and voice as you held him at knife-point, erase the embarrassment when you made your silly demands. It was downright humiliating when you replayed it in your mind . You sighed and splashed your flushed face with cool water, then pressed the damp edge of a cloth to your eyes, hoping the chill would soothe the puffiness. It didn’t do much.

You hesitated at the sink and mopped up the stray water droplets along the basin with the towel, wishing there was a way to wipe yourself clean of all your mistakes, too.

But there wasn’t.

There was nothing in the bathroom left to fuss over, but you didn’t feel ready to leave the sanctity of the small, enclosed space. You also didn’t want König to get suspicious of your absence and come looking for you, assuming that you were once again up to no good.

König didn’t look your way when you exited, too absorbed in his kitchen tasks, stirring a pot with a wooden spoon. The coffee maker sputtered droplets into a carafe, and the scent of the dark-roast brew practically sang your name — but you waited. Would you even be welcome at his table after what you did last night? Probably not. So you returned to the couch and pulled your knees toward your chest, picking at your cuticles and chewing at the flaky skin of your lower lip until it was stinging and raw with the taste of copper.

“Good, you’re awake,” König said brightly.

You nearly jumped off the sofa at the sudden words and again when a large hand landed on your shoulder. Despite what you assumed by his size, he was unnervingly quiet when he wanted to be, footfalls undetectable.

“Just got up,” you muttered, guiltily shoving your fidgeting hands into your hoodie pocket where he couldn’t see them.

“How did you sleep? Did the medicine help?”

You stumbled over the morning pleasantries, not nearly caffeinated enough for them. “Um, yeah. Slept well, thanks.”

Your eyes scanned up the hand resting on your shoulder, roaming along König’s veined forearm and bicep. The crinkled fabric of his dark mask was bunched at his shoulders, where your gaze hovered, uncertain.

“What about you?” you asked.

“I had a restful night…once I got settled again.”

He paused, and you tensed, each millisecond dragging into eons — ready for accusations to be hurled your way, to be pierced by words whittled into sharp, angry points. You deserved it and would nod along with your head hung in shame.

“Are you hungry, Hase?” König asked instead, softly.

It took you a few moments to process the gentleness, not at all what you had anticipated from him today. You reluctantly met his eyes even though you felt wholly unworthy, and found kindness there. Something close enough to empathy that it looked real — maybe it was. He tilted his head just a little as he waited for you to answer, his fingers curling to rest along the ridge of your collarbone. Your cheeks immediately flared with warmth when a toughened finger subtly brushed over the unmistakable mark he’d left just above.

“Yes,” you answered, a bit breathless.

König squeezed your shoulder and then offered his elbow, which you took as he escorted you to the table. Everything was set as usual for two, napkins and cups and silverware perfectly aligned, nothing out of place. Your medicine was waiting for you too, one capsule and one burnt-orange tablet, your typical morning set.

You let him press the pills into your mouth and you took them without a peep. Two fingers explored your mouth after — quickly though, not drawn out. You passed inspection and were dismissed with a pat on your thigh when he went back to the stove.

He was a creature of habit, and you couldn’t deny the comfort of falling into a routine with him, strange as it was. It took the pressure of decision-making off your strained mind.

König scooped and plated what he was cooking, and put it on the table before you. Bite-sized bits of fried, golden-brown dough were piled high on the serving dish, edges perfectly crisped. Granules of sugar nestled into every nook and cranny of the pieces and dusted the edge of the plate. Beside that, König placed a bowl of caramelized apple slices suspended in a thick, gooey, spice-flecked sauce.

He pulled out his chair with the faint scrape of wood on wood and sat across from you. You fidgeted in your seat as your mouth watered at the sight before you, unsure if you should start with a thank you, a compliment about the food, or let every apologetic word you knew spill from your lips.

König leaned forward to wave a hand over the table in presentation. “I know it can’t replace your favorite pancakes, but I hope you enjoy what I’ve made today.” He poured you a cup of coffee, then one for himself.

“It…looks amazing,” you said, mildly suspicious as you spooned sugar into your cup and stirred it. “What is it?”

“Kaiserschmarrn. I didn’t have powdered sugar for the topping, but…” König shrugged. “I used what I had. And!” he exclaimed, startling you when he reached over the table and grabbed a carton. “I had to open some milk for the recipe. You can use it for your coffee,” König told you proudly.

You stared at him, your body working to clear the remnants of the sleeping pill still winding lazily through your veins, trying to catch up to where he was, several paces ahead of you and far more awake.

“You…always seem to be looking for it on the table,” he reminded you as if you had forgotten. “Do you want some? Here.”

He poured some into your cup without waiting for an answer and you continued to twirl your spoon in the mug, diluting the bitter darkness to your preferred mellow shade of tan. It was how you liked it — cream being your first choice — but milk worked in a pinch. You set down your spoon and sipped, letting the deep, earthy flavors bring your senses to life as your gaze slipped from the eager man before you to the uncharacteristic mess on the counter behind him.

Sugar and flour were strewn across the normally pristine surface, drips of batter congealing on the laminate, and a few sealed mason jars had been opened, too, his stock of preserved goods used for this, for you. You also didn’t miss the empty spot where the knife block usually rested. Guilt and gratitude welled up inside of you in equal measure as you tried to make sense of it all.

König used some of his resources to make breakfast for you…something he specifically knew you would like based on a single comment you made — even though you had snuck through his stuff and held a knife to his neck last night. It didn’t make sense. Your stomach churned, hunger and dread mingling into an acidic ache. Maybe it was a trick. An offering of a poisoned breakfast as payback, to rid himself of the annoying little housepet who kept making messes of his space and disturbing his peace.

No — you didn’t believe he’d do that. Thinking of him in such a bad light hadn’t gotten you very far, and was probably unfair given everything he’d done for you. It was becoming clear that you had severely misjudged him, casting your own shadow over his character, imagining malice where there was none. But why would he go through all this trouble for you, after assuming the worst of him?

König leaned forward in his chair and reached for your hand, limp on the table, still curved around your spoon. “This has all been very hard on you, hasn’t it, little one?” he asked, words subdued.

You nodded, mute.

“I understand. I know what it’s like to miss home, too,” he explained, then let you go and motioned toward the food. “Now, eat — it’s best while it’s still warm.”

Paranoia still gnawed at the base of your skull, a nagging, illogical notion. König was waiting for you to eat first, not a reassuring sign. But this could be a step toward rebuilding trust and pulling your thoughts back in order.

You scooped a generous portion onto your plate and dumped two big spoonfuls of the sticky apple compote on top. If this was how you were going to go, you were at least going to enjoy it. Golden rivulets of honey-thick syrup dribbled down the sides of the fried dough as you dropped one more heaping dollop of the apples over it all.

You threw caution to the wind and stuffed a large forkful in your mouth, nearly groaning in delight around the bite, worries dissolved as quickly as the sugar on your tongue. The pancake nearly melted in your mouth, light and fluffy, perfectly paired with the sticky-soft, slightly tart apples. Each bite was better than the last, a tiny nibble of heaven, a taste of familiarity, of comfort,

of home.

When you looked up, König had tucked his hood up behind his ears and was smiling at you over the rim of his coffee cup. An earnest expression, like he was genuinely happy to see you enjoy what he’d made, a parent on Christmas morning watching their child open a long coveted gift.

“You like it?” he asked, the question tinted by his grin.

“Yes,” you affirmed, licking lips with tacky granules clinging to the corners. “Delicious.”

You hesitated before you took another forkful. Your stare was still locked in on his smile, the way his cheeks pulled and dimpled beneath the beard. König wasn’t that scary. You’d built him up to be some kind of villain in your mind, but he wasn’t all bad, not really — just lonely. Sad and lonely and strange. Spending all this time here in the cabin alone had to have worn home down, doing the same thing day in and day out for two years. He wasn’t used to spending so much time with someone else, not like you were, so accustomed to living on base and the constant bustle of bodies.

This was an adjustment for both of you and perhaps you hadn’t extended him the grace you should have. The flashes of anger you’d seen in him, that terrifying something, seemed so far away now, a distant memory of a bear poked and prodded until it rose and swatted at the intruder barging into its den. But now. This was nice. You wanted to keep it that way.

“You said you miss home too…” you echoed, thinking back to his earlier comment, trying to find common ground. “Where is home for you?”

“Austria,” he said. “Though I spent much of my childhood in Germany. I suppose I’ve been away longer than I’ve lived there now.” He smiled crookedly, an alluring, roguish slant that shot straight through your chest. “But I would still like to go back.”

“Is your mom still there?” you asked.

His face fell. “Ah, no.”

Your hand shot up to cover your mouth when you realized. “Oh, I’m — I’m so sorry, it’s just that you mentioned her before. I didn’t mean to — yeah.”

You stared down at the table and shoved another bite of pancake into your mouth before you could fill it with your foot again. So much for trying to reforge a connection — asking about the man’s dead mother was probably not the best start.

“It’s alright, really,” König assured you. “She’s been gone a long time.”

You pushed another piece of pancake around on your plate, biding your time by sopping up as much syrup as you could.

“What about you?” he asked, setting down his mug to serve himself a large portion of breakfast — not poisoned, then. “Who do you have back home? Parents, a husband, or…?”

You made a startled noise and nearly choked on a suddenly too-dry lump of pancake swallowed prematurely. The dough and your surprise absorbed every drop of moisture in your mouth and throat.

“Are you okay?” he asked, half-lifting from his chair.

You flashed him a quick thumbs up so he wouldn’t rush over — you’d never live down that embarrassment — then grabbed your coffee and took a big gulp. Thankfully, it helped. After a few throat clears, you finally let out a breath, willing away the heat on your cheeks.

“Did I ask the wrong thing?” König asked, the end of his question turning up. “I didn’t mean to pry.”

“No,” you said a little too loudly, face flushed as you recovered. “Just…didn’t expect it. It’s fine. Have my parents back home. My job keeps me pretty busy and moving around, though. There hasn’t really been a good opportunity to…settle down.”

“Mm,” König agreed absently, chewing a piece of apple slowly as he watched you. “You were never interested in anyone on your team? Surely being in close quarters had to present an opportunity.”

“God no,” you said, more emphatically than you intended. “I mean, I can’t say I never thought about it. They were — are — nice, but more like siblings. Not people I’d want to…just not my type I guess.”

“I see,” König mused, readjusting his position in his seat, an elbow slung over the back of the chair. “I’m curious — what is your type, then?”

Your lips moved but no sound came out other than the tiny, breathy sound of a sentence that wouldn’t properly start. You were almost positive this was a statement of interest, blatant flirtation, and your response — or lack of one — was just as telling. Your face heated up as your mind unhelpfully conjured nothing as you stared at the man before you.

König wasn’t your type…was he? No. No. Well — there was an undeniable level of physical compatibility between you two. But it was only because the circ*mstances forced you to be so close to him. It was natural and expected to develop some attraction in these situations, plucked right from a psychology textbook. Two people, stranded together, bonding out of necessity.

On paper, he probably checked a lot of boxes for most too, you rationalized. He was tall and strong and kind of handsome in a rough, rugged way from what you had seen of him. Self-sufficient and a good cook. A low, accented voice that sometimes rumbled down to your core. Anyone might find that appealing.

It was hard not to think of other things too, the vague memory of his bare torso and you pressed against it, of him pinning you down, of your whining and whimpering while you ground your c*nt against his thick thigh like a dog in heat. The bath and couch and stroking fingers, and you cuddled up, crying into his chest, warm and safe.

A trickle of affection leaked from your confused heart, the warmth of it collecting and settling in the pit of your stomach. If you had met him under literally any other circ*mstance, it might have been different. A drink mix-up at a coffee shop, bumping shopping carts at the grocery store checkout, even a mutual right swipe on a dating app — all normal ways to meet someone. But König was a civilian. This wasn’t normal, wasn’t right—

even if it felt good. Really good, sometimes.

You tried to stutter out a vague reply, how you’d like someone who shared your interests and values, that made you feel wanted, happy, and secure. It was a generic answer, but not a complete lie.

An eyebrow raised in the cut out of König’s mask, but he accepted your weak response, and thankfully didn’t press further.

“I didn’t see any…pictures or anything hanging up. I don’t want to assume but…no…spouse for you either?” you asked stiffly, trying to revive the conversation.

“No.” He smiled, a little sadly. “I never met the right person.”

The silence after that stretched on too long for your comfort. Your conversational skills had apparently abandoned you, but your mouth kept moving, anxiety pushing the words past your tightening airway.

“Well, you probably won’t find that person while you’re living out here in the woods,” you said, trying to match the way he always teased you. But when you did it, your voice was too high, too breathless, the joke hitting a little too close to home. The growing lump in your throat turned to stone, unable to be washed away by the sip of coffee you used to cover your discomfort.

König tilted his head down to look at you, the corners of his mouth curled up, his eyes shining with mirth. “Mm. You’re probably right, kleines. It’s not like someone would just…show up on my doorstep. Very unlikely.”

Right.

Panicked humor was quickly replaced by something far more somber, creeping tendrils of silent angst that encircled your throat and stifled your lungs. That was just a dry joke, like always, like your comment had been — yes, of course, it had to be, couldn’t you take a joke? — but none of it was funny.

You cradled your coffee cup more tightly to keep your hands from shaking, watching the liquid inside tremble with you. König placed his hands over yours, engulfing them along with the ceramic. Your stare was fixed on his fingers, joints peppered with the ghosts of old wounds, a long history of nicks and cuts and calluses. Protective hands, shielding your much softer ones.

“I know it can feel very lonely here, so far removed from the rest of the world. I’m not sure when travel will be safe, especially since the local military is likely aware of your team’s…infiltration.” His thumb stroked across your knuckles, back and forth over each bony valley and hill.

“It might be hard to hear, süßes Häschen ,” König continued, somber, the remorseful bearer of bad news, “but I think it would be wise to lay low for a while. We may not be able to go anywhere until spring. But I want you to be as comfortable as possible in the meantime. Is there anything I can do for you or get you that would help?”

“I don’t know,” you said, trying to process his words and think of anything that you wanted or needed. You kept coming up blank. The backs of your thighs stuck to the lacquered wood of the chair as you shifted your weight, a reminder. “Pants?”

König laughed, a short, choppy sound. “Pants?”

“Yes,” you said, cheekbones burning again. “Your sweater is pretty long, but I’d like to wear something…underneath.” You hoped he didn’t expect you to elaborate further on why you didn’t want to flit about his home half-naked. “Please.”

He nodded. “Anything else?”

Without knowing what was even available, it was too vague a question to answer, and while König’s cabin was sparse, he had most of the necessities covered. You shrugged.

“Think about it,” he offered. “All you need to do is ask if you need anything. Will you promise to do that?”

It sounded simple enough, but it wasn’t always that straightforward for you when it came to König — his words were weighted and full of hidden meanings that you only learned later. Or, maybe it was that simple, and you were the one continually overcomplicating everything with assumptions of elaborate schemes. He just mentioned an end to your time here — spring. A season of hope. You would emerge from the deep snow and reunite with your team, safe because of König.

You could imagine the amazed looks on your squad’s faces when they finally picked you up, all smiles and questions in the helo as you flew to the nearest safe point. Back on base, Gaz would slap your back heartily, and sling an arm around your neck in a crushing half-hug. Maybe Ghost would even crack a smile behind his skull-printed balaclava when Soap hoisted you onto his shoulders, impressed that you had survived months in hostile territory.

Maybe you’d become a bit of a legend too, like Ghost, and get a nickname just as ominous and impressive.

But, your joy soured as reality crept in, like it tended to do. How would that work? How would you call them? What would happen to König? The whole thing might draw some unwanted attention his way. The two of you would have to travel more covertly — but he would be risking his safety trying to get you home. It was a lot to ask, and it would be far easier for him to report your presence to the police and wash his hands of you and your plight.

Would he?

Your thoughts swirled inside your head, getting further and further ahead of yourself, logic spinning in overlapping loops of anxious reasoning that left you more confused with each pass.

A soft throat clear from across the table pulled you from your floundering. König was watching you evenly, warm hands still cupping yours. You only half-remembered the actual question, so it was easier to just smile blankly and nod, even if it felt hollow. König smiled too and released you.

After breakfast, you made yourself useful and offered to wash the dishes again — a big task today with several batter-stained mixing bowls and pans glistening with milky globs of solidifying butter. But you wanted to do it, for him and yourself, so you hiked your sleeves up and got to work. You let the water begin to fill the sink as König slipped the pans under the surface to soak while you scrubbed and rinsed the soapy residue off the plates.

König moved around the kitchen, screwing the lids back on the open mason jars and tucking them into the fridge. He reached past you to wet a cloth under the running water then swiped the flour dust off the countertop, leaning with long passes back and forth over the laminated surface. You stole a sideways glance at the muscles of his back and shoulder blades that shifted and flexed as he wiped the counter until it gleamed, clean and damp.

“There’s one last piece of apple left,” he said, peeking inside the pot still on the stove. “Do you want it?”

Your eyes flicked forward, like you hadn’t just been ogling him when König approached you with the mixing spoon, loaded with a slice of apple and a golden glob of compote.

“Oh, um, no, that’s—” you started.

But he brought the spoon toward your face, polished wood entering your periphery, leaving you little other choice but to turn and squeak out a slightly too high-pitched:

“—alright!”

Your hands were soaked with soap and water, so you leaned forward and took the bite he offered, awkwardly wrapping your lips around the end of the large spoon to get the last mouthful. It was a good bite. The syrup was even richer for having stayed in the pan longer, the flavor deepened and caramelized with the additional time in the residual heat. König put the pot in the sink to let the cooked-on bits loosen off the metal.

You smiled awkwardly when you caught him staring at your mouth, still chewing. He reached for your face and you pressed your back against the counter, unconsciously backing away. The rounded edge prevented you from retreating further, but he didn’t stop his approach. He swiped his thumb against a stray bit of sticky syrup on your lip, then immediately pressed the finger into his mouth.

“Mm,” he hummed appreciatively. “The apples weren’t quite ready when I picked them, a bit too firm for my taste, but simmered in a little sugar and given some time, they softened right up. They’re good like this, don’t you think?”

You couldn’t answer properly with your mouth still full — not that your mind was coming up with a coherent reply anyway — so, you mumbled out an ‘mmhm’ and stared up at him, wide-eyed.

“Messy girl. Look at you — you’ve still got a bit, just there.”

You hastily swallowed your bite and licked up at the spot where he had touched your lip, but he shook his head.

“Let me,” he said.

König stepped forward, closing the gap between you both, movements lithe and smooth. Your heart leaped in your chest when his arms came to rest on either side of you on the counter. His body was close enough that you could feel the heat emanating from him. He must have already showered today — you could smell the clean, sharp scent of his deodorant, freshly applied, crushed pine and cedar, charred sage. He cupped your cheek and bent down to look at you, face inching toward yours — but he froze when his eyes darted to your left.

With a hissed curse, he reached past you and you turned to look too. The sink was overfull, suds jiggling precariously at the top, a deluge of bubbly water threatening to spill over the edge. He turned off the faucet with a twist of his hand and used a towel to dab at the water overflowing onto the counter.

“Oh, sh*t!” you breathed, and shoved your hand into the sink, rummaging past the dirty pans to open the drain stopper and empty some water.

You looked back to König sheepishly, but he had already resumed cleaning as if nothing had happened, grabbing all the soggy, dirtied towels and leaving the kitchen. Your shoulders sagged as soon as he left, your tense body finally able to relax for the first time since you’d woken up. König always kept you on edge despite his reassurances, sweeping you up in the teasing undercurrent of his words and actions. It was a running joke that you were never quite in on, always catching the punchline but never the setup that made it so funny.

It left you more confused, unsure of yourself and of him.

You tried to go mindless in your chore, but your thoughts were poisoned by the disappointment that lingered along with the cinnamon and nutmeg on your tongue, the anticipation of what might have been. You let out a deep breath through pursed lips, five slow counts to refocus.

König returned and helped you dry the last of the dishes. “Thank you for your help,” he said, fingers grazing yours as he took the heavy pot from your hands. “Chores go by so much faster when we do them together.”

You nodded your agreement, focusing on scrubbing an imaginary spot on the next pan to avoid meeting his gaze.

König’s hand ghosted across your mid-back as he moved past you, his touch branding your skin even through your sweater, nerves frayed and hyper-sensitive. You hid your fluster in your task, draining and wiping down the sink until the stainless steel sparkled and your arm ached, then polished it some more to burn off your excess nervous energy.

Once the kitchen had been tidied, König led you into his room and patted his bed. You sat down delicately on the bedspread, hands in your lap, almost afraid to touch it and add a single wrinkle to the pristine, tightly tucked surface. Your legs dangled over the side and you kicked your uninjured foot rhythmically, heel tapping the wooden frame as he rifled through his drawers and closet. He returned brandishing a stack of clothes then plopped the pile beside you, grabbed the top item, and knelt in front of you.

“You said you wanted something else to wear. I have a few things that might work...” he said, unfolding a pair of sweatpants and carefully guiding the opening of one pant leg over your injured foot. “This is a bit too small for me.”

“Oh, you don’t have to…” your words faded as he ignored your protest, and you remembered his warning about accepting help, even if you didn’t want to. “Okay. Thank you,” you finished instead, resigned, looking to the side as he threaded the other side up over your ankle.

You could still dress yourself, but he seemed happy to do it, so you let him. Your hands gripped his shoulders for balance as you stood, trying to offset the pressure on your wound. König’s fingers grazed the lengths of your calves and thighs as he tugged the sweatpants upward, swallowing your legs in the baggy, well-worn fleece. He focused intently as he pulled the drawstring taut and tied it above your hips, but the bottoms immediately fell to the floor in a wrinkled puddle as soon as he released them.

What you could see of his brow furrowed deeply beneath his hood, looking at the crumpled pants as if he was trying to solve some complex, multi-part math equation. He was so focused on this mission — you’d never seen him so serious.

You couldn’t help it; you laughed, a soft, tinkling sound, bringing with it a lightness you hadn’t felt since you’d arrived at the cabin. The sound bubbled up from inside of you, and König’s head jerked up, eyes narrowed in suspicion until he saw the happiness in your scrunched face. He joined in hesitantly, with an airy, amused chuff.

“I don’t think this pair will work,” you said, joy still on your breath and beading at the corners of your eyes.

“I suppose not.”

The next pair was the same result, though you were disappointed that the cozy, softened flannel pajama bottoms didn’t work out. You immediately shook your head at an offer of his underwear — ears burning at the sight of the clean boxer briefs brandished before you. You weren’t that desperate yet. A swishy pair of athletic shorts was the last option, and with some creative tugging and double-knotting, they stayed on when you stood again. You patted the cinched and ruched material to test the silken, slick fabric bunched at your waist. It held up well enough, and had nice, deep pockets — not that you had anything to put in them, but still. Pockets.

You grinned at König, crouched before you, offering him a genuine smile . The awkwardness of the morning had eased in the process of trying on clothes, having something else to focus on besides the tension. All the repeated touches and continued closeness soon had you easing into his hand instead of shying away from it.

He didn’t have to do this. But you had asked for something and he made it happen for you, just like he said he would. It was a small gesture, but it gave you back some dignity — and you were grateful for that.

König looked up at you, his hands still resting on your hips. His stare was kind, but weary, years of lonely nights sunken into the creases around his eyes and etched in the subtle crow’s feet at the corners. The jaded eyes of an old, shaggy shelter dog, skipped over for the smaller, more approachable breeds. Compassion swelled inside your chest, made you want to press up against the chain link and push your fingers between the twisted metal, offer a treat — and hope your fingers didn’t get bitten, too.

When he stood, your hands slid from his shoulders down over his chest, then rested on the healthy layer of plush that covered his abdomen. Before you thought about it too much harder and talked yourself out of it, you leaned into him, wrapping your arms around the slimmest part of his waist. His chest was solid and warm beneath your cheek, and he tensed at first, then relaxed into the hug, his arms resting over your upper back in return.

The steady beating of his heart drummed below your ear, wide ribs expanding and contracting beneath your arms with his slow, deep breaths.

“Thank you,” you said quietly. “For everything. And…I’m really sorry about yesterday.” Your eyes stung anew, regret pooling at your waterline. “I feel so…stupid. I don’t know.” You blinked and a single droplet rolled down your cheek. “This is just…a lot. I don’t know what to think sometimes.”

König tried to pull away, but you resisted, not wanting to face him until you reigned yourself in a little more. You squeezed him tightly, clinging like a limpet to a rock battered by the waves. But eventually, you let him lean back just enough so he could angle away from you and cup your jaw in his massive hands. He tilted your head back gently to look up at him.

Instead of the disappointment or pity you expected in his eyes, you only saw the blue of delicate hydrangea petals, freshly bloomed, soft and hopeful. Too pretty for such an intimidating man. He thumbed away the trail of moisture from the side of your face, the lone tear that dripped down to your jaw.

“I’m sorry,” you repeated, voice wobbling.

“I’m sorry, too, little one. I’m a bit embarrassed, if I’m being honest,” he admitted, eyes hooded in what looked like genuine contrition. “Yesterday, I should not have been so forward. I didn’t mean to overwhelm you. It’s just…been a while for me, and you looked so cute wrapped up in my blankets.”

You blinked, confused — why was he apologizing for that? That was the one part of the encounter you’d liked, at least until he found your radio, and it…changed into something else entirely. He’d threatened you, hadn’t he? No. Wait — he had, not with his words, but…the way König stroked your throat hadn’t been sensual, not when it was paired with those cold, mean eyes.

“You weren’t…mad at me when you found the radio?” you asked, trying to make sense of it.

“Oh, Liebling,” he soothed. “No — how could I be? I was disappointed that you tried to hide it from me, but I understand.”

There had been anger, you were positive, or worse, the literal weighing of your life against the trouble you caused. But one memory bled into the next, into the next, into the next, the next, the next, next, next. He looked so sincere right then, you must have misunderstood, misread the situation once again, misremembered.

Foolish girl.

“Oh, du armes Ding,” he muttered. “So troubled, aren’t you? I pushed you too far, I can see that now. Can you forgive me?”

His voice was reverent and low, already reciting his penance, a prayer that wormed its way into your thoughts, too, absolving him of his sins before you could even consider them.

Your arms were still curled around his sides, and you fisted the material of his shirt as you swayed on your feet, exhausted from the disorienting swing of emotions. This was the most honest and vulnerable you’d ever seen him, the most genuine. No contrived words or double entendres. You couldn’t deny him forgiveness if that’s all he wanted from you.

“Yes,” you agreed. “Do you forgive me, too?”

“Of course,” he said. “Water under the bridge.”

“Okay.” You smiled, tired, tentative relief sitting high on your cheekbones. “Good.”

König kept hold of you, cupping your chin, his pinkies curled beneath your jaw where you were soft and vulnerable, resting over your pulse points. He looked at you like he held the whole world between his warm palms, infinite places and people and possibilities, but he only saw you, just you. You felt like you should say something cute or playful or insightful, but when your lips parted, words failed you.

“I’m not sure I can promise to keep my hands off of you, though, Häschen,” he added, honey-coated words leaving a sticky trail where they wound through you. “Especially not when you look at me like that.”

Your heart fluttered, hummingbird wings dusting over velvet-soft petals, peony buds unfurling and filling your chest with their sweet scent, crisp and bright, the smell of hope and light, of things that would lose their magic if you tried to name them.

“Like what?” you rasped.

He tilted his head down, voice dropping as hushed as yours. “Like that.”

“I don’t mind,” you said, words husky, barely making it past your spasming throat, “if you touch me. Sometimes.”

“Sometimes? Well, then,” König mused, his eyes narrowing in a smile. “What about right now?”

You couldn’t make yourself speak a yes, but tilted your chin down, pressing your silent assent into the heels of his palms.

He leaned down — and down, and down, hunching himself to reach you, then pressed his cloth-covered lips to your forehead. It was a chaste peck, barely long enough for the warmth of his mouth to transfer through his veil to your skin, but you would have thought it was an open-mouthed kiss with plenty of tongue from the way your heart hammered and begged for more room behind your ribs. You blinked at the brush of cloth against your face, the fabric bringing his scent with it, spice and wood and dew-laden cypress.

König pulled away, thumbs dusting over the tops of your cheeks, unhelpfully drawing more attention to how hot they had become, your thoughts likely broadcast in beet red across your face.

“The world is not always kind, but look at you — still so sweet, through everything,” he murmured, gently squishing your cheeks forward. “Even stuck in this cold, miserable place with me.”

“It’s not that bad,” you said, words stumbling out over one another in your nervousness. “Your house is…really nice. And it won’t be cold forever. I bet it’s gorgeous here in the spring.”

“It is,” he agreed, eyes wistful. “The hyacinths bloom first, all around the cabin. You can smell them long before you see them. Very pretty.”

“Sounds like it.” You shook your head against his hands, relieved that you truly understood now. Everything finally made sense. “God, it all seems so crazy now.”

A beat of silence stretched just too long before König spoke. “What does?”

Giddiness overtook you. A giggle slipped out, anxious and uneasy. But it…didn’t sound right. You tried to turn it into something more normal, but the sound morphed into a strained, uncomfortable laugh that was off.

König searched your face with gentle concern. He was probably questioning your sanity right now, his heart filled with pity as you unraveled before his eyes. It didn’t help that he seemed to blink less than anyone you’d ever met — or maybe you blinked too much. Now that you were hyper-aware of it, you couldn’t tell. His grip and gaze stayed firm, almost unnervingly steady, the only things holding you together until you could explain.

“I actually thought you were trying to keep me here. I-I thought that I was — well,” you cut yourself off before you sounded more unhinged and tried on a smile that felt too tight. “It doesn’t matter now. You said we can travel when it warms up. Spring will come before we know it, right?”

Understanding crept into König’s eyes. “It always does.”

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

At the dinner table, you stared in confusion at the pills before you. König had laid out a rust-colored tablet again, along with the antibiotic capsule. You hesitated and looked back and forth from him to the medicine — your brows pinched in uncertainty from the break in the pattern he’d established. Usually, you had the white pills in the evening. The change itched beneath your skin like poison ivy, but you resisted the urge to scratch it, to ask König about it and risk appearing ungrateful or paranoid.

So you stuck your tongue out for him obediently, eyes downcast. You swallowed and he completed the ritual with his search of your mouth, the violation that you’d come to accept as part of your new normal. But really, it wasn’t that bad.

At least he was gentle again and called you a good girl after.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

König wouldn’t let you help with the dinner clean up, shooing you away to the couch and insisting that you save your energy for healing. He pushed the side table in front of you and pulled two jigsaw puzzles from his shelf, offering you the choice between two boxes: a scene with hot air balloons or a windmill over a lake.

Puzzles were not your first pick for entertainment, but your options were limited here. You’d never gone so long without your phone in as long as you could remember, but you missed it less and less each day, fingers no longer twitching over where it used to sit in your pocket, no more phantom vibrations buzzing against your thigh, no more calls or messages or gifs or emojis.

Hot air balloons it was.

You searched for edge pieces, matching the brightest colors first, biding your time. The fire had burnt out long ago, only given enough wood to keep the cabin warm during the day, but now all that remained was a single charred log and the last few orange splinters of heat breaking off of it, falling into the grey ash below.

König joined you, scooting close enough that his thigh brushed yours, and quietly pressed puzzle pieces together, adding to what you’d started. But as the light faded outside, so did your energy. You stretched and lay down, resting your head against his thigh, feeling bold enough after everything today to initiate the contact. His fingers wove through your hair, lightly scratching as he stroked you — if you had a tail, it would have been wagging, rhythmically thumping against the cushions from the attention.

Despite your emotional exhaustion, this had been your best day here, a welcome change from the constant anxiety and illness and fear that had been your constant companions. A little trust went a long way, and you’d been well-rewarded. You lounged in the glow of his favor, nuzzling down further against his leg.

König picked at a few more pieces, his cropped nails scoring your scalp as he pushed your hair behind your ear. Eventually, he stretched his long legs out and groaned into a yawn.

“Bedtime, little one,” he told you.

König scooted out and away from you, letting your head plop down on the sofa. You nearly vibrated in anticipation, waiting for him to light you a fire or invite you to his room. There was a moment of panic when he didn’t move toward the woodpile — but that was okay. A second fire wasn’t a good use of his scarce resources when he would already have one going in his room at night. It’d be better to share one, of course, and you’d only take up the tiniest sliver of his mattress.

But a pat on your hip and a basic goodnight was all you received, and you could barely blurt out the same in return before he headed to bed, without you.

Did you do something wrong? Maybe this was the punishment you thought you’d escaped — a cold night, still deserved. You pulled down another blanket from the back of the couch, determined to endure and make this work.

Tiredness burning behind your lids, forced shut to try and coax sleep to visit and pull you under. But it wouldn’t come. You curled and uncurled your body, tried every combination of the blankets König had left you to get comfortable, but you couldn’t. The dull throb of your foot intensified the longer you lay there, worse than usual. The cold didn’t help either, seeping in through the ceiling and walls, creeping under your blankets to chill you, settling on the tips of your ears and fingers before sinking bone-deep.

Today had been a decent day — good, even, sprinkled with moments of what you’d dare to call happiness. You had thought — and hoped and prayed — that your heart-to-heart with König was enough to earn a fire or a place in his bed. He’s even kissed you. Only on the forehead, but you thought it meant something.

You’d been wrong, again. Like always.

Stupid girl.

Your limbs trembled, a faint chatter in your teeth that transformed into true shaking as you lay there, trying to pretend you weren’t cold. But all the warm thoughts in the world couldn’t stop your muscles from aching with the intensifying shivering. It wasn’t cold enough to be dangerous, you didn’t think, but you couldn’t bear to spend the entire night like this.

You picked the warmest-looking quilt from the pile, tucked the hastily folded blanket beneath your arm, and skip-walked to König’s room. The door was cracked, not closed or locked. Promising.

You waited there, self-conscious, hand braced to knock, but stopped short before your knuckles contacted the solid wood. You didn’t want to barge in and startle him if he was asleep — he’d probably think that you were going to try to hurt or threaten him again. But you were equally ashamed to wake him and ask permission to share his bed.

Instead, you pushed the door open slowly and dragged your blanket into the room as quietly as you could. You curled up on the floor near the foot of the bed, tucking your quilt around you like a nest, close to the small stove in the corner. You wouldn’t bother him there.

The floor wasn’t anywhere near as nice as the couch, the woolen rug beneath you too scratchy and uncushioned, woven material meant more for utility than for comfort, but the fire more than made up for it. The heat was simply heavenly, gently bringing warmth and life back to your stiff limbs. The chill slowly retreated as you snuggled more deeply into your huddle, wrapping yourself more tightly in your blanket to preserve every bit of heat you could.

Your eyes fluttered closed, and you had just begun to sink into sleep when you heard a creak, a step. The floorboards groaned just beside you, but before you could think to move, a blunt burst of pain rammed against your shin, a startled noise, then something — an elbow? a knee? — banged against your ribs, a crushing weight nearly smothering you.

Your eyes shot open as your instincts flared at once, and you shrieked in surprise at the large figure above you. You pushed and yanked and scratched at body and limb and clothing, half-trapped beneath the blanket, primal fear surging. König had pushed himself up to straddle your hips and sucked in a hiss when you dragged your nails over his exposed forearm in your flailing. You tried to scramble away, but he was on you before you could escape, each of your wrists deftly captured and pinned beside your head as you thrashed against the scratchy carpet fibers.

Behind the cobwebbed curtain of hair over König’s face, his eyes were shadowed, pitch-black except for the faintest specks of orange, the reflection of the fire.

“Hey! Easy,” König warned as you bucked your body uselessly beneath him. “You’re going to hurt yourself. What are you doing on the floor, Häschen?”

“What are you doing?” you asked, covering your own embarrassment and pain with an accusation.

You were met with an exasperated sigh, one of the sounds of König’s displeasure that you were becoming more familiar with each day. Your eyes had enough time to adjust to the low light to catch the annoyance simmering in his gaze, sharp shadows thrown over a half-hidden hint of high cheekbones and a strong nose before you tore your gaze away.

“I was sleeping,” he started slowly, exaggerated words drawn out like he thought you were a bit thick, “in my room. I got up to put another piece of wood in the stove when I tripped over a girl doing who knows what at the foot of my bed.”

“I was trying to sleep, too,” you admitted, more petulant than intended, staring at the way the light and shadows flickered against the closet door. “I was cold out there. But I’ll just go back and freeze, I’m sorry.”

“If you were cold, you should have told me.”

You shrugged, hoping the darkness hid the blush that may as well be tattooed onto your face at this point.

“I thought we were done with all this…sneaking around.” König sighed again, more softly this time. “Have I treated you so cruelly that you are too scared to ask for the things you need?”

You looked back to him, brows drawn inward. “What? No, it’s not—”

“Today, I thought we…” he cut in, then made a dismissive noise in his throat. “Do you really think so little of me?”

“No.” Your chest constricted, a knife twisted behind your probably bruised ribs. You swallowed dryly. “I just thought when you didn’t start a fire, you were punishing me, or…something,” you added weakly.

König released your wrists and tapped a single finger on the side of your forehead. “You are overthinking things, Hase. I forgave you, and I meant that.” He scooted off of you to help you stand, then hoisted you up in his arms. “You are only punishing yourself, now.”

You tucked your face into his chest and closed your eyes as he brought you toward the door, soaking in what warmth you could before you were banished back into the living room, at least maybe with a fire now that he knew you wanted one. An indignant little voice inside of you pouted — how could he not have known that you’d be cold tonight? But it wasn’t fair to make assumptions about what he did or didn’t know. He wasn’t a mind reader, even if he did have an uncanny knack for gauging your thoughts.

König turned and set you down abruptly, and you stumbled, realizing you were beside his bed. You looked up at him with big, grateful eyes, and watched him tug to untuck all the covers, then pad around the other side. He lifted the blankets up, free hand motioning under as if to say ‘ Go on, then.’ You scrambled in and scooted yourself down into his sheets, soft and smelling of him, cinnamon and the warmth of honeyed musk and clean skin.

The mattress dipped and squeaked as he got in bed too. As soon as you turned to face him to say thank you, he yanked you closer, and your breath whooshed out when he pushed you onto your back.

You barely had time to recover or ask what he was doing when firm hands swiped up and down your arms, around your torso, breasts, and tummy, patting and squeezing through the thick sweatshirt, grabbing large handfuls of your body. You bit your tongue, stifling any complaint when you understood — he was checking you for weapons. Flattened palms swooped over your hips and between your legs, and you lay there, humiliated as he manipulated the fabric of the shorts like you were some kind of low-life criminal, making sure every pocket and crevice was checked because you simply could not be trusted.

Stupid f*cking girl.

Two fingers snuck under your sweatshirt and beneath your waistband to swipe along the elastic. You gasped when he roughly palmed your mound over your shorts and his fingers slid back — you didn’t have anything hidden anywhere, let alone there or there — but he quickly discovered that for himself.

König removed his hand and with a low grunt, then turned away from you to sleep.

A tall wave of tears loomed on the horizon, sucking back the water from the shore as you stared at the ceiling, the only warning you’d get before it all came rushing in. Something as simple as a pat-down had never left you feeling so vulnerable. You’d been checked for weapons dozens of times before, at various military checkpoints and safehouses, but it had never been in such an intimate place, or from someone whose trust you craved so badly but clearly didn’t have.

It hurt that you couldn’t even be mad at him. Time and time again you had proven yourself as unpredictable and unreliable; you couldn’t blame the man for wanting to ensure his own safety as he slept, though you wished he’d at least said good night, or given you a squeeze or a hug or something to let you know that it was okay.

You chased away your tears by chewing your lower lip until your teeth left indents on the inside, a deep groove that your tongue explored after. The sting of pain grounded you. You turned on your side too, and pulled the blankets up to your chin with a soft rustle of fabric, staring at the hills and valleys of König’s form before you, massive even when laying on his side.

“König?” you whispered.

You realized that you had f*cked up once again when the only answer was a small pop of wood in the stove in the corner. It was probably crossing multiple boundaries, but you sidled closer to him, curling yourself against the broad expanse of his muscled back, pressing your forehead between his shoulder blades.

“Good night,” you said, breathing the words into König’s shirt.

It took some time, but your troubled thoughts began to slip away the longer you were forced to lay there with your nose rubbed in them. Tomorrow was a new day, a new chance to make things right. And you would. You would. Slowly, you sank into sleep, warm, huddled against König.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

The waking world began to poke holes in the fabric of your dreams, and you clung to the unspooling bolts, wrapped yourself in the decadent silks and satins of it, desperate to enjoy it for another precious few seconds. But morning came like it always did — though it felt different, today.

Warmth and weight and comfort surrounded you when you woke, light poured over you, drenching you in liquid gold. Allspice and almond soaked into your skin and hair, cozy and familiar, but there were too many arms and legs in bed, yours and—

his.

It took you a few seconds to piece together where you began and ended in the loitering half-haze of sleep. A heavy arm was slung around your waist to keep your back to his chest, his hips cupping yours. König’s face was buried in your hair, nose nuzzling your nape as even puffs of air fanned out over your bare neck. You raised a shoulder and shied away from the tickle of his breathing, but a low sound rumbled in behind your ear, the slumbering bear growling, protesting your jostling. The arm over you tightened, pulling you back, flush with his body, and when you arced your back in a stretch, you felt something press into the plush cleft of your ass, thick and firm and—

Oh.

You sucked in a sharp breath, waiting to see what he would do, but his hand merely twitched against you, his breath unchanged. Still asleep. This was fine. You snuggled back down into your pocket of sleep-warmth and pressed yourself further against the chest braced against you, but all you could focus on was the morning wood nudging you and the lazy, sleep-drenched desire puddling low in your belly.

You tried to ignore it all and fall back asleep, then attempted to add some distance between the two of you when that failed, earning an inch of separation when you wiggled forward. But that space was reclaimed by the lead weight of König’s arm over you, his hand tucking further between your ribs and the mattress and pulling. The renewed press of his body against yours allowed his clothed co*ck to nestle below your bottom, at the upper junction of your thighs.

Well.

You were trapped unless you wanted to wake him up, and that would be…rude. That was why you didn’t want to wake him up. Not because of the budding need between your legs selfishly demanding you stay like this — just a little longer.

König’s co*ck twitched enticingly against you. You tried to ignore the heat that prickled within your chest, but temptation continued to nip at your heels. Logically you knew it didn’t mean anything, that the erection was just a normal, bodily reaction, and the cuddle was likely accidental in his sleep. But it was nice to imagine that you were already back in König’s good graces; hope bloomed in the pearlescent rose and gold streaks of twilight that shone in through the ice-frosted window.

You squeezed your thighs together to try and relieve the building ache, but all it did was highlight what lay behind you. Your arms were trapped beneath König’s, but if you wanted to you could probably slip a hand down without him waking up. It was a dangerous idea, further blurring the line between fantasy and reality, truth and dream. But with König asleep — just you now, what was the harm in it? — maybe you could indulge. You just needed to take the edge off so you could stop reacting like a blushing virgin any time he so much as glanced in your direction.

Maybe if you did this, and got it out of your system, it would prevent you from salivating over every view of bicep or scarred forearm today. Just enough so you could clear your head and stop daydreaming over those thick fingers and what they felt like around your wrists or throat or tucked into your c*nt.

You probably, definitely shouldn’t — but your shouldn’ts and wouldn’ts and couldn’ts meant so little lately, weightless syllables uttered out of obligation, floating away into the ether as soon as they left your lips.

f*ck it.

You angled your body and straightened your arm bit by bit, doing your best not to disturb König. It was delicate work, but you wiggled your hand beneath your sweater and under your cinched waistband, fingers crawling lower and lower until they finally contacted your wetness.

God, you were soaked, a single downward stroke shockingly lewd and loud in the peaceful silence of early morning. You froze at the sound, skittish heart pattering, ears perked, waiting. But you could still feel the deep rise and fall of König’s broad chest behind you, unchanged, steady.

It wouldn’t take much this morning, just a quick swipe to collect some of the abundant wetness leaking from your core and smear it over your cl*t, your fingers strumming to give the pert nub some attention. Pressure wound up behind your navel at the barest touch, sensitive and spurred on by the firm weight of König’s co*ck half-lodged between your thighs.

With his arm slung over you, it was easy to let your imagination run wild, to what it might feel like if it rose to wrap around your neck instead, his bicep and forearm a vice that locked you into place while you were trapped beneath him. The weight of him would press against your back and keep you pinned to the mattress while he grunted and huffed into your neck, powerful hips driving into you again and again.

You sucked your lip between your teeth and forced your breathing to steady as you rubbed and jerked your soaked fingertips around your cl*t, nearly losing focus as you tried to keep still except for the rocking of your hand. A little more, a little more — two fingers sliding just inside your c*nt, slick and unresisting, but they paled in comparison to the stretch of his finger, and held nothing to the way you imagined the fat head of his co*ck would wrench you open.

Your breaths were short and quick as you rushed to your peak, wishing his teasing mouth was on you instead, too busy lapping at your puss* to utter any clever, taunting words or give you that crooked, smug smile. Hastily stitched together flashes of imaginings and memory wove themselves into a vivid fantasy — bright blue peering up at you from between your thighs, eyes brimming with mischief. His mask would lay over your lower tummy, obscuring his next move, keeping you guessing as hands dug into your softness, forcing you to spread to his liking.

Would he be gentle, slow and sensual, allowing you an easy rise and fall from pleasure? No, no — he’d surely be rough, teasing your spit-slick holes, dragging you far beyond your climax. You knew König would only let you down when he’d had his fill and you’d broken yourself into pieces that only he could put back together.

Both, both — gentle and rough, cruel and kind, yes, yes, yes.

Your hips bucked into your hand, now drenched in your slick. The wet sounds of your desperate fingers were only slightly muffled beneath the covers, too loud, too much movement. You turned your face up from the pillow, listening. But König hadn’t woken up, arm still draped over your body. Desire thickened at the base of your throat, pooled languidly between your thighs, spilling out around your fingers with the press of your palm against your cl*t.

You squeezed your thighs around his length, still hard in his sleep beneath his sweatpants. Part of you passively wondered if this was wrong, somehow, but any guilt was released when you recalled his encouraging words before, the invitation to take what you need, Hase, go on. His praise trickled from the place carved out in your mind for him, a secret nook where you kept his words tucked away — such a good girl, you want it? so sweet, so needy, just for me.

Just for him.

Your release stole your breath, lungs stuttering in a ragged inhale as your belly tightened. It was a fleeting instant of euphoria that buried you in an overgrown thicket of tightly-budded morning glories, finally unfurling to greet the dawn. The afterglow settled atop your cheekbones, temples dewy with bliss as you basked in the moment. Your breathing finally settled and you went lax, boneless against the giant body curled around you, washed clean of every worry, every anxiety, a blank slate to start your day.

You settled back on your pillow and tried to wade back into the shallow waters of a leisurely morning doze. But before you could, a low laugh vibrated against your skin, sending an icy cascade of goosebumps trickling down your spine. Bare lips brushed against your neck and curved up into a smile.

“Good morning, kleines Häschen.”

Notes:

Update 5/12/24 — I ended up in the hospital this past week 🙃 so the next update will be delayed, likely until next Sunday 5/19/24. It’s been a rough few weeks T.T

thanks so much for your patience with this chapter 💕

i appreciate every single kudos and comment, short and long. I re-read them on days when i doubt myself. your support helps keep me going!

I hope you liked this one! My pace is slow but I promise I have a plan — just taking the scenic route :)

i always love to hear your favorite parts or favorite lines, any speculations about hints I've dropped along the way ~

Next chapter will be up in 1-2 weeks :D

apologize for any grammar or wording issues as i did most of the writing and editing on my phone (autocorrect >:( ). As always thank you for putting up with endless similes and metaphors because they just make my heart so happy 💕

You can find me on twitter or tumblr. I'm fairly active on tumblr when i have the time and usually post chapter progress updates there.

Chapter 11: Surrender

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Your body tensed, bliss-softened spine solidifying into steel at the sound of König’s voice. The soft morning sun was suddenly far too harsh, a spotlight exposing your misdeeds. A cold sweat broke out over the nape of your neck and prickled at your armpits. König made another sleepy noise low in his throat and shifted behind you.

“Good morning,” you replied as evenly as you could.

“Mm, I had some nice dreams,” he said, tucking his face further into your hair. “Did you?”

“No. Well—” You cleared your throat. “Don’t think I had any last night.”

It was impossible to ignore the way his co*ck still nestled at the apex of your thighs, stretching the fleece of his sweatpants taut. He slid his hand out from underneath your ribs and reached for yours — of course the one that had been busy in your pants just a minute ago — and interlocked your fingers together. He tucked it against your chest, and sighed into your scalp, content.

“It’s nice to wake up like this,” he said with a groan, pressing his pelvis against you as he arched his back in a stretch.

“Yeah,” you replied slowly.

You wanted to escape, but he held you so tightly you doubted you could move, his covered length still burrowed between the squish of your thighs. But he hadn’t called you out on your solo morning adventure. König was either being tactful, trying to shield you from embarrassment — doubtful — or maybe he hadn’t been awake after all, hadn’t noticed what you’d done.

“Sorry about, ah…” he said, wiggling his hips for emphasis, not sounding apologetic at all as his voice trailed off. “Happens in the mornings sometimes.”

Yeah, you noticed.

“It’s…okay,” you said, offering hesitant reassurance. It wasn’t like you could call him out on it or protest the way his co*ck poked you considering what you’d just done.

“Mmhm,” he murmured against your neck, the softened bristles of his mustache scrubbing the delicate skin there. “Though I’d say it’s more likely to happen with a pretty girl in my bed.”

You immediately regretted engaging, wanting to exit the bed and the conversation about his dick. It would only lead down roads you weren't ready to travel. You squirmed, but the forearm and bicep resting over your body firmed up as König flexed, tightening his hold on you.

“Easy. It’ll go away — unless you keep moving like that,” he added with a teasing lilt.

You immediately went limp in his arms like a rag doll, which only seemed to amuse him more, gentle laughter huffing out against your neck.

“Such a sweet girl,” he murmured, a lazy undercurrent of laughter still rippling beneath his words. “I shouldn’t tease you like that.”

Sweet.

You didn’t feel like it. Not when your inner thighs were still so slippery with arousal. Not when Könjg held your hand, those same fingers barely dry of your wetness. Not when you’d imagined depravity that you could never admit out loud.

You regretted it all now in your post-org*sm clarity — rubbing one out in König’s bed, while he was right there, probably secretly awake and grinning like a fiend the whole time. Christ. Your chest and neck burned with feverish heat, suddenly sweltering beneath the baggy hoodie. Perspiration and remorse oozed from your pores, the dampness collecting under your arms, between your shoulder blades, behind your knees. You must still have a raging infection now spreading to your brain because only someone truly and properly unwell would have done what you did.

You waited for retribution to strike in the form of a joke or wandering hands, but it didn’t come.

Instead, König just held you as you both adjusted to being awake, sharing body heat beneath heavy blankets. The humiliation radiating from your face faded as you relaxed against him, settling into comfortable warmth, your mind clearing of panicked haze — no fever or delirium, then. Your actions had been purely your own, done without silken König’s voice in your ear, without prompting.

That worried you more than the possibility of still being sick.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

You were quiet at breakfast.

König paid you no mind, falling into his routine with or without you. You sat at his kitchen table, brooding. He hummed an unfamiliar tune and cooked and fed you your pills — the antibiotic and the orange tablet — while you avoided eye contact.

Thankfully, he didn’t poke or prod you more than necessary. He let you sulk and lick your wounds, but still offered you food and drink and poured milk in your coffee. König shot you the occasional glance to ensure you were eating, giving you an encouraging nod and smile when you dutifully lifted the fork to your mouth.

After eating, you worked on the puzzle a little more while König tidied the kitchen. You were becoming more invested in finishing it than expected, finding peace in the process and a sense of satisfaction when you shuffled the glossy, brightly colored pieces around the table. You’d just put the yellow hot air balloon together when dark sweatpants came between you and the table, and König entered your vision, crouching in front of you.

Before you could look away, a finger crooked beneath your jaw, directing your gaze to his face. Behind his mask, his eyes were unreadable but calm — the steely blue-grey of an overcast horizon, no rain or sun there, but something in between, expectant, the sky undecided which way the weather would turn.

“How are you feeling today?” he asked, lashes cresting over hooded lids as he examined you, eyes drifting down to your injured foot. “Any pain?”

You shook your head. “No. I’m okay.”

“Good,” he said, the word drawn out like a hinge waiting to swing open. His fingertip curled deeper into the divot under your chin, pressing against the soft structures there. “I need to check my traps today.”

You swallowed with an audible click, muscles working against his finger. The tiny hairs along the back of your neck rose to attention and suspicion dripped and gathered in the pit of your stomach, sliding down to rest heavily among your breakfast.

“Okay,” you said, eyes darting to the side. “I hope you caught something. I’ll just work on the puzzle some more. I’ve almost got this corner done,” you tried, motioning vaguely toward the table before meeting his gaze again.

When he didn’t look away — or blink, didn’t he need to blink? — you clenched your clammy palms into fists in your lap, nails pressed to the heel of your hand. The tiny sting of pain helped, just barely.

“You’ve done very well with it. But…I’m concerned,” he explained slowly, softly, thumb stroking the side of your jaw before releasing you. “You’ll be here, and I…won’t.”

“I’ll stay on the couch. I promise.”

König sighed, hood wrinkling as he shook his head. “I’ve learned your promises don’t mean very much, Hase.”

Accusations and hurt brimmed hot in your stare, threatening to cloud your vision. “You forgave me,” you said. “I thought we were…good. Water under the bridge — that’s what you said, right?” You looked up at him, eyes prickling with moisture and hope.

“That is what I said,” he confirmed.

But it didn’t make you feel any better. His head tilted and his eyes overflowed with pity, the kind of look someone would give a child who didn’t quite understand what the grownups were discussing. All that was missing was a patronizing head pat or hair ruffle to go along with it. He reached for your hand on the couch, but you yanked it away, not allowing him to take it, bristling against the condescension.

“I did forgive you. I’m not upset, Liebling.” He sighed again, more sadly this time, and patted your leg. “But after everything you’ve done, I simply can’t trust you.”

Foolish girl.

“Surely you can understand the difficult position you’ve put me in,” he said, hand caressing down your thigh to settle over your knee.

The truth in each syllable broke you down and stripped the meat from your bones, picked you clean of any excuses or reasoning until you were forced to face reality. This was your fault. Deception and tricks and threats had all been useless against him, wasted time, squandered opportunities for things you could never get back.

“Yeah, I guess,” you muttered, staring at the rough, calloused palm engulfing your joint.

“Good.” His grip was too harsh to be reassuring, too possessive as he squeezed, fingers dimpling your soft skin. “I’m glad we’re on the same page.”

“I am too,” Your crackly voice bubbled up from your tight chest. “So, what do you want to — h-how can I — should we…?”

You shut your chattering jaw. The words wouldn’t come out properly but the unfinished question hovered between you two, clear as the bright winter day beyond the window. You waited for the answer to exactly how he meant to overcome his distrust, certain that whatever it was, you wouldn’t like it.

“Last time I left you, you reopened your wound. That won’t happen again.”

“I’ll be more careful,” you rasped past your sandpapered throat, a rough grit that scraped and scuffed the words that came out. “I won’t wander around.”

“I need to make sure of that.” His brow furrowed with something like sympathy as he looked into your wide, wet eyes.

No, no, no.

“I’m going to have to secure you. Bind your wrists. Maybe your uninjured ankle, too,” he added.

Your teeth clenched, an ache blooming in the root of your molars as you held back the urge to snap. This was wrong. Your head spun at the confirmation of your fear, his words whirling around inside your mind until you were dizzy. You must have misheard, misunderstood. There had to be another way, there had to be, had to—

“Would you prefer to sit at the table, or lay in bed?” he continued.

Your only answer was a mute flutter of lashes. A choppy breath sucked in past gritted teeth, overinflating your lungs.

“I wish I didn’t have to do this, but it’s for your own safety,” he explained, calmly, voice soft but still maintaining an authority that warned you that the topic was not up for debate.

His grip loosened to rub soothing circles on your knee, fingers skimming the hem of your shorts, the way someone would stroke a feral dog’s ears, back and forth, back and forth, a distraction while they slipped a leash around its neck, a loop that would tighten the more it resisted.

Panic surged in your ears, blood singing there too, a hymn of adrenaline. Your peripheral vision blurred as you looked from side to side, searching for an exit or rescue or a weapon. But any hope of fleeing was stifled by how König’s body blocked yours in, already angled in front of you as if he expected you to bolt, skittish little creature that you were.

You might have, given the chance. But where would you go, anyway?

All of your impulsive, fear-driven reactions had caused nothing but self-destruction. König held steady before you, still as a statue, a guard against your own anxiety, patiently letting your mind spin and spin and spin until it tired itself out.

König’s deep chest rose and fell with slow, exaggerated breaths, loud enough for you to hear, too. Steady. You mimicked his pacing, pulling in controlled inhalations, and letting them out, slower, slower, slower.

Better.

Another breath.

Better.

Your racing heart started to ease. This was okay. König hadn’t led you astray yet, always guiding you gently, just like he did now. He hadn’t hurt you — he wouldn’t, right? At least he was giving you a sliver of control. A choice. It was better to accept that scrap of autonomy than to fight the inevitable and give it all up just to prove a point. You’d do this, just once, just today, and then he’d see. You could be trusted.

You could be good.

“That’s it,” he said softly, eyes shimmering with warmth. “Now — bed or chair? Or, I can choose.”

Your thoughts returned to Earth, saved from a crash landing by König’s light, stroking touch. It wasn’t as bad if you considered the practicality of your options, thought of this as another mission, a training exercise.

You didn’t like the idea of sitting, tied to the stiff chair in the kitchen. Hardwood against your joints, knobs and slats and edges digging into your softness. It might be more dignified than being strapped down in bed…but you weren’t sure how long he’d be gone. Laying down on the comfortable mattress surrounded by pillows and blankets sounded far better.

“Bed,” you said, though it came out halfway to a question.

König nodded and stood, extending his open hand to you.

“Oh, right…now?” You eyed his scarred palm for a second, knowing what it would mean if you willingly went with him, what you would be giving up.

But without any other way forward in sight, you were forced to play by his rules, so you placed your much smaller hand in his, handing him your freedom, your safety, your trust. Long fingers closed over yours, the curved incisors of a carnivore sinking into the tiny mammal that had willingly laid its neck across its open maw.

He led you to the bedroom and nodded toward the neatly made bed. You stumbled forward, half-falling over the edge, feet suddenly forgetting how to function. Your knees sank into the soft surface as you crawled awkwardly onto the bed, turned, and sat in the middle with your legs tucked beneath you.

“Lay back, now,” König instructed as he sat on the edge of the mattress with the squeak of protesting springs.

The knobs of your spine were rust-eaten, almost creaking as you lay back, reclining stiff as a board, arms ramrod straight at your sides. Despite how rigid your body was on the outside, you were buzzing on the inside, every cell in constant motion, vibrating, ready to combust from the friction of each molecule rubbing against one another.

König reached beneath the bed and your eyes were immediately drawn to the braided lengths of rope dangling from his grip. A woven material, rough and undyed, already prepared and cut. Ready.

You hadn’t realized how nervous you truly were until König grabbed one of your hands, and had to tug against the unconscious resistance of your tensed muscles to move it into position.

“Oh, Häschen, it’s okay. Don’t be scared, he murmured, low and slow in overdrawn sympathy. König squeezed your hand, and gently coaxed your elbow to bend without forcing it, waiting until the joint conceded to his constant pressure. “Ich werde dir nicht weh tun.”

Conflicting emotions battled inside your chest. This went against every bit of training you’d received that taught you to claw and fight for freedom at any cost. Compliance clashed with the memory of the sparring sessions you’d had with Soap and Gaz, both men loading your arsenal with the grim but practical tools needed to get out of such a position. You were crumpling up the carefully worded advice given to you by Captain Price about the cruel reality of missions, of hostiles, the risks, the rewards.

But…König wasn’t your enemy.

He was helping you — wasn’t he? — in the best way he knew how. You froze when he pulled your wrist above your head, manually overriding wisdom and instinct, forcing yourself to comply.

Siehst du? That’s all,” he said as he slid rope around your wrist.

The cord tightened, sealing your fate. That's all.

The rough, woven threads scrubbed against the thin skin of your wrists, a lingering burn that you could hone in on, a distraction. König’s deft fingers looped and knotted the strands around you, then secured it to the bed frame.

You chanced a glance upward. His hands were steady — he knew what he was doing. This wasn’t a hasty, random knot clumsily executed, but one purposely learned and practiced to the point of second-natured ease.

He snuck his pinky underneath the loop, then released that hand with a satisfied grunt. You gave it an experimental tug, the natural fibers scratchy against your bare wrist, but the knot didn’t tighten or loosen when you moved. It wasn’t going anywhere, and neither were you.

“Comfortable?” König asked.

It was an absurd question given your position, but you were too drained to respond with anything other than a pliant little doe-eyed nod among the pillows. König cooed and moved to your other side to give the same treatment to your other hand, agile turns and tucks of finger and rope until both of your hands were thoughtfully secured. The hold was tight enough that you didn’t have much leeway, but your arms weren’t so stretched or restricted that it hurt.

König sat beside you when he was finished, and sighed as his eyes wandered up and down your supine form. “I wish I didn’t have to do this.”

Your lips parted to speak — then don’t, please don’t — but the words wouldn’t come, tied up, just like your wrists.

He brushed your mussed hair back, pushing the strands away from your forehead affectionately, fingertips rough against the warm skin of your temple. His fingers grazed your jawline as he withdrew, blue eyes fixed on yours, no regret there to match his words, but a flash of something sharp and dark, gilded with obsidian edges, soothed but not sated. Your gaze dropped, softening in offering, pretty and docile, lashes fanning over rose-tinted skin. Butterflies whirled in your stomach, gossamer wings dusting your insides with a silken touch.

Wood popped in the iron stove, a crack that nearly made you jump when it cut the silence. You blinked and met König’s stare again, but whatever was there was gone now, replaced with neutrality.

“This is a good start in rebuilding trust,” König continued, covering you with the blankets, up to your waist. “Will you behave while I’m gone?”

“Yes,” you agreed, as if you had any choice.

He patted your cheek with finality, then left. You heard him in the main room, the rustle of water-resistant fabric, the thump of solid rubber treads on the wood floor, the opening and closing of the front door, a latch.

Then, you were alone.

It felt weird to be here without König, unable to hear or see or feel him. He’d been one of the only constants in the days — week? had it been that long yet? — that you’d been here. You’d almost always been at his side, following closely at his heel like a love-struck puppy. But panic didn’t overwhelm you like you expected at his absence, instead, a weighted blanket of numb acceptance settled over you, heavy and calming.

You snuggled yourself down more deeply into the pillow, savoring the lingering scent of sandalwood and mulled spice, surrounding you with the memory of König’s warmth.

Your eyes traced the edges of the room to distract yourself, jumping to each corner, and scanning the ceiling. But it didn’t take long for doubt to slither into your cocoon of comfort, opening up a line of thought you’d been trying to avoid.

Living here was like being in one of those strange dreams where everything was off, ever so slightly, where you couldn’t shake the shadow that was always in your periphery, just out of sight. The world here was tilted a few degrees, enough to keep you off balance but subtle enough that you didn’t notice until you were tripping over your own feet at the worst, most embarrassing moments.

You shifted your wrists.

You weren’t scared, even though you thought you should be. Tied to a man’s bed in the middle of the woods in a foreign country, with no way to contact anyone you knew. Logically, you recognized that this was something out of a horror movie or crime drama, that if your squad, if The 141 knew what you were doing right now, they’d be worried sick, or maybe just disappointed — disgusted — that you’d allowed yourself into such a position without a struggle.

But, you were alive.

That had to count for something.

Fight or flight or fawn or freeze — you were doing whatever it took. After cycling through them all, it was obvious that a little obedience went a long way with König, and…this wasn’t as bad as it could be. You even enjoyed his company…when he wasn’t saying ominous and unsettling things. He seemed genuinely invested in your health and well-being, even if he showed it in unorthodox ways. Nothing about the situation or you or him was ordinary.

He was just doing his best, just like you were.

You were lucky to be here with König, all things considered, usually gentle despite his mountainous size. Gratitude bloomed, overtaking your nervousness. If this is what he needed to feel secure with you in the sanctity of his cabin, you’d allow it. A little rope was harmless enough.

It was actually a relief to have temptation taken away, really — really, it was, it was secured and unable to let your paranoid mind dictate your actions. There was no opportunity to do anything other than what he wanted, no way for you to hurt yourself, just like he said. König had suggested what was best, and you’d agreed. Decided together — sort of.

You grimaced and tugged lightly against your bonds, rope taut against the delicate bones of your wrist, securely tethered.

Truth be told, you did feel more like a pet than a person sometimes, a feral thing injured and plucked from its natural habitat for rehabilitation. Part of you worried with each day that passed, your chance of successful release stretched further away. Maybe you were too enamored with your cabin-shaped cage, already too attached to the hand that fed you and f*cked you, the fingers that scratched you behind the ears just right. Maybe if this continued, you’d no longer be able to fend for yourself, wild instincts soothed into docility by soft touches and dreams of warm weather, freedom glimpsed through frost-dusted windows.

You peered up at your hand, fastened to the bed, not exactly a reassuring view. The fingers twitched and bent when you told them to, but it was such a strange sight that it barely registered as your own extremity.

But this wasn’t a permanent solution.

Spring would come soon. König would be back soon. You could endure this—

just for a little while.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

The front door slammed.

It yanked you from a light doze, and you blinked away the downy edges of sleep that blurred your vision. Something wasn’t right. The movements outside the bedroom were faster and less measured than you were used to hearing from König, and for a moment, you worried that someone else had come in. Had he locked the door? You couldn’t remember. Cortisol poured into your veins, waking you completely. An intruder would either spell ruin or rescue for you in your current predicament.

You didn’t want to guess which was more likely.

You lifted your neck, unable to see anything through the barely-open door — but you listened. Heavy bootsteps, the squeak of wet rubber on polished wood. Thumps, rustling. But then, the fridge opened and closed, the sink ran, soapy hands rubbing together. Two thuds, the slap of palms on thighs. A loud sigh. Quieter footsteps neared, far outpaced by your frantic pulse, a figure in the crack of the door, looming dark and tall.

It swung open fully, and your stomach dropped. It had to be, please let it be—

“There you are,” König said warmly, breathlessly, hand spread over the lacquered wood. “Right where I left you.”

Relief flooded through you when he met your eyes from across the room. His words settled comfortably in your chest, pulling a hesitant smile to your lips. König’s wide shoulders relaxed at the sight of you, sloping downward, tension released.

But your smile faltered as he approached, corners of your mouth falling down, happiness curdling like sour milk in your gut. Your nose scrunched when you breathed in a faint metallic tang, viscous and sickly sweet. He looked clean. His dark sweatpants and long-sleeved T-shirt weren’t visibly soiled, but you knew that sanguine scent, recognized the way it curled up on the back of your tongue in the aftermath of a fight, overwhelming olfactory nerves and settling in your forebrain.

Blood.

König’s eyes narrowed in suspicion as he scanned your face, no doubt catching the unease creasing your features. Your heart skipped a beat, the possibility of being kept like this overriding your fear.

“Did you trap anything?” you asked quickly, covering your discomfort with another too-tight smile.

“I did,” he said as he stepped toward you.

The scent thickened the closer he came, nearly gagging you. It pulled forth memories and tragedies — violence, bloodshed — overtaking the pleasant, woody smell that usually clung to him.

You flinched when cold hands still damp from washing pressed to your wrists and undid your bindings. His skilled fingers moved easily, resting against your rapidly flickering pulse. If he noticed, he didn’t say anything, and delicately set your freed hand down onto the pillow and moved to the other side.

You turned your face into the bunched-up bedding, trying to douse your senses in familiarity. It helped until the scent of frigid air and slaughter dissipated, or maybe, you just got used to it. König finished removing your bindings and you lay there, doll-like, waiting.

He looked down at you with reverence, the back of his knuckles stroking a line of wintry chill down your warm cheek. Your lips automatically parted and a tiny exhalation slipped past them, light and airy. His hand stopped on its path along your jaw, just shy of reaching your mouth. König hesitated for the span of a few heartbeats as if enjoying the way your breath warmed his skin, then snuck his hand behind your upper back to help you sit up.

Your shoulders ached when you rose, and you rolled them forward and back, moving in a way you hadn’t been allowed in the restraints. König reached for each wrist, examining your hands and fingers, pressing against your fingertips until the bed whitened and pinked up again.

When he was satisfied that you were still in the same shape he’d left you, he gripped your hips and turned you away from him, nearly throwing you off balance from the sudden movement. König’s hands slid up to your shoulders, pressing in and around the joints over your sweatshirt.

“Sore?” he asked as he explored the muscles with his fingertips.

You opened your mouth to reply when his thumb dug into a spot that stole your voice, only letting out a pained whine. It was the nice kind of hurt that you wanted more of, skirting the line of too much but never quite crossing it. He seemed to find all the fibers that held your stress and pushed and kneaded until each little bundle released itself under his attention.

“I’m sorry, sweet thing,” he said, words laced with concern. “Let me make it better.”

You leaned back into König, your hard edges smoothed down more and more with every pass of his hands, stone eroded under the constant lapping of the river, carving the shape of itself into the bank. Each slide of his thumb around your shoulder blade and along your neck had you stifling a rough groan, relieving the burden of your stress and worries into his hands. You leaned into his touch to ease the pain, wanting him to stop, to keep going, to go harder, lower, higher, just needed more, needed him, needed—

needed—

You hadn’t realized how close the two of you had become until your upper back bumped against his chest, where you let yourself recline, a dreamy breath slipping past your lips. König gripped your waist and slid you back into his lap His arms snaked around your waist and overlapped over your abdomen.

His hood brushed against the top of your head as he bent his face to you, and you could feel the tip of his nose beneath the cloth, nuzzling into your hair.

“You were very, very good while I was gone, weren’t you, little one?” His breath dissipated through his veil, warm and gentle.

You nodded eagerly, the back of your head rubbing against his shirt, shrinking even more in his arms.

“I can see that,” he said with a rumbling, pleased laugh. “I’m very proud of you.”

The praise sunk into your skin like the summer’s glow, an emollient of salt and sun-warmed shea spread across your skin, thick and rich. It sank deeper, seeping into your veins, sending that shimmering light coursing through you, tangling itself up in the remaining shreds of your fear, banishing the lingering shadows of doubt.

“Yeah?” you asked, shamelessly hoping and pleading for more as you pushed back into him, wishing you could stay like this until spring came.

“Mmhm,” he hummed against you, hugging you more tightly to his front. “I was worried…but you’ve been such a good girl for me.”

The radiance of his words scorched you, liquefied your insides. Everything rushed south in a gooey lurch, fluttering within your stomach before settling between your thighs with a pathetic little throb. Your breath stuck in your throat as you tried to keep yourself from completely melting and trickling from the gaps between his arms.

“It’s better this way,” he said. “Neither of us will need to worry when I’m gone. It wasn’t that bad, was it?”

“No,” you breathed, willing to agree to almost anything if he kept talking, kept showering you with nice, sweet words.

König’s mouth moved beneath his mask — a smile. “You've made me happy today, Hase.”

Happy.

You basked in the light of König’s approval for a while longer, absorbing every last shining ray until he gave you one final squeeze and scooted you off his lap. He stood from the bed and you tried to pull yourself together, looking up at him for what was next. When he turned to you, his eyes were doting, heavy-lidded.

“I have to do some work in the kitchen. Do you want to keep me company?”

You smiled, glad to be included. Welcomed. Wanted. “Sure.”

König scooped you up, and you enjoyed the short ride in his arms while he brought you to the kitchen. You could have walked, but you didn’t mind the extra contact, or the way your head fit right in the crook of his shoulder, face buried in the fabric of his hood.

He set you up at the table with a cup of peppermint tea — sweetened the way you liked — and a slice of bread generously slathered with butter and blackberry jam.

“I’ll have to bake again,” König said passively as if adding it to his mental to-do list. “Maybe Brötchen…” He tucked his mask behind his ears and leaned against the counter, facing you as he chewed a bite of bread.

“What kind of…prep are you doing today?” you asked as you nibbled on your snack, not missing that he took the tough, dry heel of the loaf and gave you the last desirable piece. “Bread?”

“No, not today. I have to marinate what I caught,” König said. He popped the last bit of crust into his mouth. “Game meat can be tough if not treated and cooked properly. Maybe one or two days to soak, and it should be ready to eat.”

“I’m sure it’ll turn out really good,” you said, licking jam from the corner of your mouth.

He beamed at you before he bent to the fridge. “You’re sweet to say so.” König pulled out a package wrapped in brown paper and opened it on the counter. He reached toward where the knife block used to be, and his face fell. “Ah.”

His fingers curled in the air, remembering, and he left and went to his room. The distant wall-muffled beeps of his safe caused guilt to well up, souring your good mood. The knives were stowed away because you had tried to use them against him — twice.

Whoops.

You chewed on the inside of your lip as you waited for König to return and stared at the three small headless, skinless carcasses, half-covered by the crinkled paper on the countertop. You’d never eaten wild meat besides the venison König served you, but you couldn’t be picky out here — you’d eat what you were served. Your compliment wasn’t empty flattery anyway; he was an excellent cook, and if anyone could tempt you to eat game meat, he could.

“What are you going to make with those?” you asked when he came back, carrying two knives.

“Hasenpfeffer.” He slid the first tiny body onto his cutting board, and promptly began slicing into the flesh. “Not my favorite dish, but this is the meat we have. It's a bit of an old-fashioned recipe — it belonged to my Oma.”

Something clicked into place in your mind alongside the wet, popping sounds of separating joints and cartilage, meat and bone. Your brow furrowed, cogs and gears turning with an ominous, high-pitched creak.

Hasenpfeffer.

Hase. Häschen.

“Hasen…” you started, a whisper as you sounded out the word.

Hasenpfeffer. Rabbit stew,” he clarified when he peered over his shoulder at your confused expression.

Rabbit.

Your stomach flipped. You’d never questioned — or understood — the nickname he’d given you. There had been far more urgent concerns than caring what he called you. But it was disconcerting now, associating the nickname with what he was doing, butchering the rabbits he’d caught in his traps. You tried not to think about it too deeply, and gulped your tea, focusing on the lingering bite of peppermint and the rich honey washing across your tongue.

König continued, smashed garlic cloves and diced onion, and occasionally glanced at an index card covered in scrawled cursive. He measured out dried thyme and peppercorns, and vinegar. He scooped these all into a large pot and uncorked a bottle of wine, pouring some on top of the mixture. Your eyebrows raised when he fished a handful of blue-green berries from a mason jar.

“Juniper berries,” he explained as he tossed them into the pot, “pair well with wild meat.”

The kitchen filled with the almost eye-watering scent of the aromatics as the concoction rose to a boil — not bad, just hearty and well-spiced. He turned off the heat and put the pot of prepared marinade aside to cool while he arranged the cuts of meat at the bottom of a large, glass dish, readying them for their two-day soak.

You watched König pour the mixture over the meat, pity and gratitude filling you at the sight of the butchered meat, now unrecognizable from its original form.

It was strange to see your food in such a raw form, processed by hand. At least the rabbits’ deaths weren’t in vain, becoming a nourishing meal. If a trap didn’t catch them, maybe a wolf or other predator would have instead. Crushed by teeth and paws rather than metal jaws. Maybe it made no difference to the rabbit.

Apex predators would always come out on top, it was in their nature — but so would the smart, the cunning. Tiny creatures without snapping maws or ripping canines needed to use every skill to their advantage — hiding or playing dead, doing whatever it took to survive.

A little luck probably helped, too.

You stared out the window, imagining what the rabbits might have looked like, white-coated hares hopping through the fresh powder. Pink noses and velveteen ears would twitch as they dug and searched for a tender shoot of grass hidden deep beneath the layer of ice, delighting in a stray bramble or frozen berry — only to get caught in a trap. A life of frolicking through grass and snow, ended with an instant of immense, insurmountable panic — then nothing, then…this.

König snapped a lid onto the container and set the whole dish in the fridge. Those three rabbits wandered unaware into his land and hadn’t noticed the traps until it was far too late. Maybe you weren’t so different from the other creatures he caught — but your fate would be. You’d come out of this alive and well, you were sure of it.

You just needed to get through the winter, first.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

You lounged on the couch after dinner with a belly full of pasta, your usual white pills and antibiotic churning along with it. Oregano and basil still lingered on your tongue, washed away by tiny sips of red wine, the remainder of the bottle he’d opened for the marinade — safe to take with your medicine, per König. You held the delicate glass between your fingers, enjoying the initial burst of dark berries, sweet and bitter, and the depth of charred oak, subtly smoky. The fire in the living room dwindled down to the last crackling bits of char, so you stretched your legs to reach it, enjoying the fading warmth.

It was a treat to laze in the hedonistic aftermath of a carb-heavy meal and alcohol, sluggish as you curled up on the sofa. König offered you another book from his shelf, but you weren’t in the mood to read or focus too intently on anything at all. He shrugged and sat opposite you on the cushions, and you couldn’t help but peek at him as he read, reclined, his hand cupping the book, keeping the pages spread. There was so much to König that you didn’t know, but you were finally beginning to learn, to see the side of him that you should have welcomed all along.

It would have saved you a lot of pain and worry if you had.

You set your empty glass on the table and lay down, curled up on the sofa, watching him, lost in thought. His eyes were focused forward on the pages, but suddenly flicked your direction, keen gaze locked on yours. You jerked your head to the side, caught red-handed.

“Do you need something, Hase?” he asked.

You shook your head and rested your face in your arms, folded beneath your head, shifting a time or two to get into a comfortable position. “No. Well, just a question.”

“Ask, then,” he encouraged.

“You call me Hase and Häschen,” you started, the words a bit clumsy on your wine-stained tongue. “Do they mean…rabbit?”

“Mmhm,” König acknowledged. “Rabbit, bunny.”

You curled yourself more tightly where you lay. “Why do you call me that?”

“Do you not like it?” König closed his book with a muffled ‘thwap’ and set it down when you hesitated.

“No.” Heat creeped along your cheekbones. “I mean, I don’t mind it, but…”

“But…?” he prompted.

You tucked your face into the bunched-up material of your hoodie sleeves, mouth half buried in the material to muffle your words. “It’s nothing, really.” How could you get him to understand what you meant when you barely knew what you wanted to say?

“Come here,” he said, cutting the silence.

You pushed yourself up enough to look at him properly, anticipation brewing within your chipped and cracked heart. He lifted his arm over the back of the couch, fingers curling, head tilting, beckoning you to fill the empty space he created beside him.

Cautiously, you inched closer, and slotted yourself next to him, leaving a small strip of sofa between the both of you. It wasn’t close enough for König — his arm wrapped around your waist pulled and tucked you against him. He slipped a hand beneath your knees and lifted your legs so they rested between his thighs, locking you together like two of the stray puzzle pieces littering the table.

Hesitant joy surged as you made yourself comfortable against his warm, firm side, and you even dared to burrow an arm between his back and the couch, and let your other one rest over the front of him, laid against the relaxed muscles of his abdomen in a proper snuggle.

You nuzzled your heated cheek further against the soft cotton of his shirt, breathing him in now that he smelled like himself, now, no jarring notes of blood or flesh or metal, just nutmeg and clove, and lingering hints of the fresh garlic and onion he’d chopped. The scents of a lived-in home, good, hearty food cooked with care — and someone to share it with. König was warm and inviting like this, affection radiating from his fingertips, praise and a crooked smile ready on his lips.

You could get used to this.

But—

A half-formed thought lapped at the edges of your mind, a concern you didn’t have the words to voice but that hovered in the space between heartbeats. A nagging sense of wrongness you couldn’t shake, something a bit off. Maybe it was just the wine, the beginning of a slight buzz flickering at the base of your skull.

“You know you can ask me anything, don’t you, little one?” he asked.

A loaded question, one you couldn’t really answer properly — but you nodded, understanding the intent.

“I was just wondering why you call me bunny,” you said, face pressed into his ribs to avoid making eye contact. “That’s all.”

“Oh,” he said, the way the arm around you relaxing. “It’s just a, ah,” he paused, thinking, “something nice to call someone. A common nickname. Cute, isn’t it?”

“It is,” you conceded.

Even though you should have been happy with a tame answer, part of you was disappointed that the reason wasn’t more…special than that. That you weren’t more special to him, getting a standard and common language that he might have given any other girl. You quickly shoved away the thought, reminding yourself to be grateful that he wasn’t calling you anything weird, and that you shouldn’t care much anyway.

But you couldn’t help that you did.

“It fits you,” he added, tone lowering, “When I first saw you in my trap, you were such a pitiful little thing, laying there in the snow. So scared and alone…it broke my heart to see you like that.”

He sighed, and let out a low sound that reverberated within the deep cavern of his chest. You hugged him tighter, waiting to see what else he would say, excitement and horror mingling into something grotesque you couldn’t look away from.

“But when I touched your face and you looked up at me, so innocent and sweet, I could see how badly you needed safety and protection.”

It was almost…romantic, how he seemed to remember your meeting, lamenting his bleeding heart when he should have been calling emergency services. You understood why he didn’t — it made sense now — but his recollection was slanted much differently than the way you recalled it, painted in broad strokes of lilac and blush, smeared with rose pastels and dotted with gold leaf. He didn’t seem to recognize that for you, it hadn’t been some meet-cute. That while you’d accepted his help, it was because you had no other choice while bleeding out and succumbing to frostbite.

“You’d been terrorized — traumatized, even. Abandoned.”

His voice was honeyed gravel, dripping such raw emotion that you were compelled to look up. His stare captured you at once, beyond infatuation — possessiveness drenched in frost-flecked blue, ensconcing you beneath thick sheets of ice, a prison and safe haven all in one. You couldn’t have looked away even if you’d wanted to, frozen in place, immobilized beneath his intensity.

“But I saved you,” he said.

Your insides roiled, his words not settling well with the medication and noodles and wine. But…you weren’t as disturbed as you had expected, not when König pressed his veiled mouth to the crown of your head. Warmth shot down your spine, melting the ice you were trapped in, just a little, allowing you enough room to squirm against him and wiggle your fingers and toes.

“You’re safe here, though,” he mumbled into your hair. “Ich beschütze dich.”

“Okay,” you said, a weak reply considering what he had just dumped out onto your lap.

Nothing felt right as a follow-up to that. But you didn’t want to fall back into silence either, needing some background noise so you didn’t sink too far into your own dark, unhelpful thoughts. Tomorrow, you could process his words. For now, you’d brush them away in a little corner, out of sight, out of mind.

“Will you read to me?” you asked, sliding down to lay your head on his thigh, one of your new favorite resting places.

“Of course,” he said, hand draping over your side. “I’m in the middle of the book, though. It probably won’t make much sense.”

“That’s okay,” you said. “I just want to listen.”

König did as you asked, falling into a steady tempo as his hand stroked a tingling line along your lower back where your hoodie had ridden up. After a while, you shifted and bumped your hip against his hand, nudged your cheek against his thigh, hoping to coax his hand higher. He didn’t take the hint.

Just ask.

You chewed on your lip, waiting to jump in between page turns, not wanting to interrupt. “Can you,” you started, suddenly feeling guilty when he paused and waited for you like you had something important to say. “Can you play with my hair? Like you did yesterday?”

Embarrassment blistered beneath your skin and you were glad you didn’t have to face him after such a silly request. But a pleased hum rumbled above you. Blunted nails contacted your scalp, stroking your hair back, fingertips tracing the outline of your ear. You shuddered and settled down again, eyelids beginning to droop to the backdrop of his accented voice and scratching fingers. Each slow blink took longer and longer to force back open, until you let your eyes stay closed, just for a second.

You jerked upright with a gasp — asleep, you’d been asleep . König was barely visible in the dying glow of the fire, standing on the other side of the room. He put his book back on the shelf, pushing the spine until it aligned with the others. You blinked in the darkness, lights already off, the cabin set for bedtime.

“König…?” you tried, voice thick with sleep.

“Yes?” he asked, turning to you.

“I don’t want to be alone tonight,” you explained, tucking your hands between your thighs to keep yourself from fidgeting. “Can I sleep with you? In your bed, I mean,” you added reflexively. “Or — or maybe you can just start a fire here. That’s okay, too. I don’t want to—”

“Shh,” he shushed, already moving toward you, his elbow extended for you. “Let’s get you to bed.”

König helped you to the bedroom, picking you up halfway there when you stumbled. You tried to say you were fine, just tired, but he wasn’t having any of it. You’d conceded after the weakest flare of obligatory protest, feet already dangling in the air. He set you down on the mattress and you burrowed under the covers while he started the fire in the corner stove.

It was colder in here than you’d expected without the tiny, contained blaze in the cast iron woodstove, or the massive man preheating the blankets for you. You huddled, shivering slightly in the chilled sheets, watching the match light spread as the kindling took, soon licking up the logs. Your eyes burned with interrupted sleep as they followed König, walking toward the other side of the bed. His hand hovered at the bottom of his mask.

“Turn over,” he prompted, flicking his wrist to show you which way he meant — away from him.

Fabric rustled behind you once you did, then the mattress dipped and wood creaked. Your body tilted toward the divot König created as he clambered under the blankets with you. He turned off the lamp on the bedside table with a click, dropping the room into near-darkness. The faint glow of the growing fire cast dim light and shadows, long flickering shapes that danced and shifted against the walls.

You watched them for a while, pride filling your chest that you were here. You’d spoken up tonight, asked for what you wanted, and received it.

And yet—

This wasn’t quite right. Your body couldn’t create enough heat by itself. The mattress cradled you, but it wasn’t much better than the couch when your joints still ached with cold. You scooted back, just an inch, then another, as inconspicuously as you could manage, rewarded with more and more warmth the closer you got to König. You greedily chased after his body heat, shuffling until you bumped into him.

He didn’t protest, so you pulled and tucked the pillows and blankets around you, making a nest for yourself, surrounded by well-worn cotton and heavy quilts and König’s furnace-like chest. Direct heat was better for your goose-bumped skin and his fleece-covered legs were more efficient at warming your bare feet when you pressed against him below the covers.

But you still couldn’t settle.

It had to be that the blankets were too bunched up, the pillow too lumpy, too flat in the center. You adjusted it all, wriggling and stretching your legs, arching your back to relieve the ache of tired muscles. None of it helped. The only variable that you hadn’t messed with was still stoic and unmoving behind you.

More confident now that König hadn’t scolded you yet, you jostled the mattress as you pushed your bottom fit right into the curve of his hips. You squirmed until the angle was just right, exactly like you had lain this morning, though there was one very obvious difference between then and now.

Your cheeks blazed at the thought, and you buried your face in the pillows, letting out a frustrated breath.

No. Don’t go there, don’t f*cking go there—

“What’s wrong, little one?” König finally asked, only sounding mildly annoyed.

“I can’t sleep,” you muttered, adjusting your hips and receiving a sinful moment of gratification when you felt König’s co*ck begin to plump up against you.

König’s arm snaked over your hip, sliding under your sweatshirt to splay against your bare abdomen to keep your body still. “It doesn’t feel like you’re trying very hard to sleep right now.”

“I’m not comfortable.”

König huffed a choppy laugh through his nose. “Look—” His chin bumped the top of your head, beard tangling in your hair as he lifted it toward the empty expanse of bed you’d commandeered. “So small and all that space, just for you — yet here you are.”

“I’m cold,” you explained, a little breathless when his stiffening length nudged against you and his fingers dug more deeply into your soft belly.

He pulled you flush to his body with the palm pressed to your middle when you nodded. His bottom arm slid beneath your pillow. “Better?”

“Mmhm,” you hummed, trying to squash the wicked thrill that twisted in your belly at the closeness.

“Good.” His voice dropped to a low whisper above you. “But…you know, you should really be more careful.”

“What do you mean?” you asked, even though, f*ck, you knew. You knew you were tempting fate, dangling fresh honeycomb before the hungry grizzly bear, waiting with a big dumb smile and hoping you didn’t get mauled.

König’s fingertips danced in lazy circles over the soft expanse of your stomach, tracing the waistband of your shorts before dipping just under the elastic to stroke the vulnerable, silken skin there. “Someone might think you were after something other than sleep, moving the way you were.”

You opened your mouth, trying to come up with something clever — or literally anything — to say in reply, but merely squeaked when his touch sank lower . Your hand flew down to grasp his wrist, but you couldn’t fully wrap your fingers around it, your palm only forming a small, warm crescent around one side.

“Mein süßer Hase,” he sighed, slowing his hand’s descent. König bent his knees, notching your hips within his, co*ck now strained against his sweatpants and you. “Why are we still playing this game?”

“I’m not—I don’t know—” you whispered.

You sucked in a breath — isn’t this what you wanted? — when his hand slid further below your waistband despite your grip on him, his middle finger sliding down and contacting your cl*t. The steady pressure of his toughened fingertip sent a zing of electricity sparking through you, what could be the beginning of chain lightning if he just — just—

“You don’t know? Well.” He clicked his tongue in disappointment as he started to pull his hand away. “I just find it a little strange…”

You swallowed down your rising dread, sure you’d regret asking but did it anyway. “What?”

“You weren’t so shy this morning.”

Oh. Oh.

Ice water replaced all the blood in your veins, chilling you despite the warmth of the massive body cupping yours. He knew. He knew all day and hadn’t done or said anything. Just went about as normal and let you make a fool of yourself. This was more embarrassing than if he’d called you out on it when it happened.

The timing couldn’t be worse — or better, for him, maybe — confronting you with your own depravity while his hand was still halfway down your pants.

“You put on such a cute little show for me, those tiny fingers working hard. Your eyes were shut so tight…you must have been imagining something nice.” His eager breath was hot behind you, softened lips and mustache brushing the edge of your ear without his mask. “I was, too.”

Crimson shame splashed across the apples of your cheeks and nipped at the tips of your ears. The silence stretched on and on into a tightrope, a precarious balance that already had you tipping, falling with no safety net.

“You could have asked for some help,” König whispered, offering your cl*t a tentative stroke.

“I…” you started, wandering as close to the truth as you could. “I didn’t want to bother you.”

“Ah,” he sighed. “I was wondering why you were so quiet…almost like you thought I was still asleep and were afraid to wake me. Imagine that.”

You shied away from the bristly tickle of his beard, pressing your face into the pillows in humiliation. For all your mental accusations against him, you were the pervert here, sleazy behavior leaving your skin coated in a layer of slime. Maybe if you smothered yourself, you could escape all this, rebreathe enough carbon dioxide to slip into unconsciousness and leave your body behind to deal with the aftermath of your reckless decisions.

“Poor thing,” König breathed a dark, lofty laugh against your hair. “It’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”

Easy for him to say when he wasn’t the one repeatedly making a fool of himself. You always did with him, still fumbling through every interaction, somehow continuing to make foolish, impulsive choices every step of the way.

Stupid girl.

Your panicked fingers flexed when he tried to move lower again, your nails stamping half-moons into his scarred skin, but he didn’t stop this time. It didn’t take him long to discover why you gripped him so tightly as he explored your pitiful state, wet and eager and so devastatingly empty. König stroked the source of your slick with two thick fingers, the sounds lewd and loud in the otherwise quiet room.

“Listen to that,” he sighed. “Hiding this from me all day.”

The craving for his affection and favor overwhelmed your shame, your own yearning mixed up in it too, filling your head and leaving it too heavy to hold up. It was easier to give in to the baser desire that burned deep inside, to offer it this little bit of kindling before it completely consumed you.

You ground yourself against his hand, seeking more, your rolling hips speaking for you. Your inner muscles clenched, enticing him in, just to feel the stretch of his fingers — just one, just a little, just for a second .

“I thought I had pushed you too far,” he mused, fingers swiping, bringing some wetness up to run tight circles over your cl*t. “But…maybe this is what you want after all.”

It was. It was.

But—

You were sinking in over your head, dragged further and further into waters so deep, the sun became a distant shimmer far above, specks of light tiny as stars against the sky of a dark ocean. Your fingers scrabbled against the sheets as you lay on your side, feeling lost, wanting to do something, anything, everything. But you were stuck, stifled under the immense pressure of the water rushing into your mouth and nose and lungs, drowning,

drowning,

drowning.

König’s calloused hand slid along your inner thigh, throwing you a lifeline, the arm under you bending to brace across your chest. The sheer mass of him behind you was dizzying, mountainous. Solid. Grounding. His body was big enough that you could shelter yourself there in the lee of him, protected and warm. So you tucked yourself into the safety of his embrace, focusing on the scrub of rough palm on your leg, letting him pull you back to the surface long enough to take a breath, then two, then three, finding your center in him.

“There. That’s it. How long has it been since someone else took care of you?” His voice was low and soft, wording delicate, as if he was worried you might splinter and shatter in his arms. Curious fingers continued to move beneath your shorts, up and down, tracing along the crease of your thighs.

“A while,” you admitted, voice disintegrating into a drawn-out keen when his finger moved back toward your center.

“Such a shame,” he tutted, sympathy oozing from his words. “Going through this world all alone, left untouched for so long. It’s no wonder you've been acting out the way you have.”

No—

You weren’t ‘acting out’ like some unruly kid, or a family dog nipping at guests’ heels and sneaking food off the counter when no one was looking. You were a soldier — not even that, a coward, remember? — but you barely recognized that part of yourself anymore. A real operator wouldn’t make one sloppy mistake after another, wouldn’t have gotten caught and injured and broken down into… this. Tears beaded up at the corners of your eyes, dampening your pillow, staining it with your grief and longing. You must look so stupid, reduced to whining and crying in this man’s bed, a sad sight, unworthy of any title.

No wonder König thought so little of you — you did, too.

Pathetic.

“Well, you have my attention now,” he assured you, hand burrowing back between the plush softness of your thighs.

The timbre of his voice rumbled against your skin, words slithering down to your core, coiling up low. You instinctively parted your legs as he nudged his knee between yours, keeping you propped open enough for him to cup your mound.

“You should forget all those little troubles of yours.” König began to press his finger into your c*nt but he stopped, only up to the first knuckle. “Let me worry about the difficult things. Don’t you want that?”

“Yes,” you whispered, voice edged with a mortifying level of desperation, searching for anything to hold on to. “Please.”

You melted further into the pillow when König found no resistance inside of you, only a slippery welcome mat for the finger now bottoming out. It wasn’t as scary now to let go, not when he moved in and out of you so carefully, not when you were still pressed back against his chest, spooned so closely that it almost felt like—

like—

Your hips began to move in time with his wrist, tentative at first, but soon you fell into a sinuous dance, a primitive rhythm as you chased the pleasure he offered you. Your cl*t ground against the heel of his hand, the bud smashed flat from the pressure. His finger bent to mimic the curve of you, your arousal gathering at the base of his knuckles, leaking into his palm.

His covered co*ck nudged the back of your thigh as you rode his finger, but your self-consciousness melted away at the encouragement breathed in your ear — das machst du gut, like that, sweet thing. Drowsy neurons woke and twinkled to life in your brain, new pathways forming, linking you to König and all the sweet words his lips pressed into your hair.

König lined a second finger up, prodding at your c*nt, pausing when it was a tighter fit than expected. Your breath puffed with the strain, a tug and burn that wasn’t unwelcome, but the size of your fingers had been nothing compared to his.

The stretch against your walls was distracting — too much, too much. You buried your face more deeply into the pillowcase, soaked with tears and sweat and spit, mouth falling slack in a silent cry for mercy, for more, for the things you wanted to say but couldn’t. But all that came out was a puny noise, a pitiful sound nearly lost to the air — but König captured it, breathed it in with your half-hearted protests.

“Shh, shh,” he soothed, sinking his fingers as far as they’d go. “I’ve got you, Häschen. Okay?”

Your breathless agreement was masked by the wet slide of his fingers, your body conceding and giving up the space he demanded. His fingers reached so much further than you could have, curling just so to hit something inside of you — there, oh, right there. Stars streaked across your vision and your spine was already curling in a slow, languid arch.

“There she is,” he rasped. “That’s my girl.”

His. His.

Your eyelids fluttered shut, heaven rushing through your veins. Whatever was left of your identity dissolved in a tangle of blankets and limbs and heated skin, nothing else in your head at that moment except muddled want and the smell of sweat and sex and him. You wrapped your hands more tightly around the forearm across your chest, scratching red trails into his skin as you jerked your hips forward and back, shamelessly using his arm as leverage to take his fingers deeper.

“Look at you, he grunted, grinding his hips against you, clothed co*ck bumping your bottom. “This is what you need, hm? It's yours. Every day, if you want.”

Yes, yes, yes.

Your breaths dissolve into needy whimpers, thighs and stomach aching from the activity, the most strenuous thing you’d done since your bath. Your release rose, but you were losing steam. You whined as your twitching hips stopped, muscles burning, parted legs collapsing around his knee in defeat.

“Tired already?” he murmured sympathetically, pumping fingers slowing down to just rest inside your puss*. “All that walking around and getting into trouble instead of resting.”

König rocked his hand against you instead, a gentle swaying back and forth that stretched you deliciously. Your insides clenched and pulsed each time his fingers pressed forward, — again, again, again .

“You deserve to be spoiled. Happy and warm with your belly and c*nt kept full. Tucked in bed every night after cumming on my fingers or tongue.”

Embers burned red-hot within your tummy as you nodded along to his filthy words, chin bumping his arm, breaths thin.

“Work you up to taking my co*ck,” he told you, pulling out halfway to tease your stretched hole with a third finger that you couldn’t take, not yet, not like this —

Your walls gripped him as pleasure rippled within you, forming a seal around an already tight squeeze, greedy c*nt pulling him back in until the heel of his palm was pressing, pressing — don’t stop, say it, say something

“König, I’m—” you whined. “’m gonna—”

Tendrils of heat unfurled, bliss licking around your lower back, a solar flare that had your eyes squeezing shut against the blinding blaze. Your body bucked forward, too hot, too immense to contain, almost arching out of König’s grasp as it escaped you. He worked you through it as you spasmed around his fingers, choked groans and nonsense babbled wetly against his forearm until your twitches finally slowed, then stopped.

König smiled against your hair when he pulled his fingers free, wet digits smearing arousal against your thigh. “Are you alright?”

You closed your eyes as you caught your breath, damp tresses plastered to your forehead and temples. “Yeah,” you breathed through your bliss, fingers and toes and teeth tingling as your blood slowly recirculated. “I’m good.”

“Good.”

König pulled his arm from under your head, smoothing your hair back from your face. You settled in bed, waiting for his arm to slide around you in a cuddle, but it didn’t. Both his hands bumped your lower back, moving behind you. Hot blood refilled your capillaries when you felt a heavy thump against the cushion of your bottom.

f*ck.

You reached back with a fumbling hand, finding the hill of his hip and moving over the bare patch of skin where he’d lowered his sweatpants a few inches. Your fingertips followed that line of exposed flesh, grazing wiry, short hairs and finally ghosting over ridges and bumps of velvet-soft skin. Your heart rose into your throat as you explored the obscene length of him.

f*ck.

You knew that opening this door might invite in more than you bargained for, but you didn’t feel remotely prepared for that. A tremor started in your joints when you wrapped your hand around as much as you could, just as proportional here as the rest of his body, truly Goliath, and you weren’t even David, you were just—

just—

you.

You clamped your thighs together tightly when his hand slipped around your hip to untie the knot at your waistband. The little string was a pitiful guard, but it held up the only barrier between your naked body and his. König pushed the shorts over your hip, silken material bunching at your knees as he wiggled it down. The room air found your exposed wetness, highlighting the mess you’d made together.

Reality stuck a pin in the inflated, false confidence that had started this whole mess, the full breadth of your poor calculations laid out. Uncertainty grew like a weed, prickly leaves spreading wide, roots shooting deep, dandelion seeds catching the breeze to fill every corner and crevice with nervousness.

“Wait,” you whispered as you felt the fat head of his co*ck nudging where you’d closed yourself off. “I’m-I’m not…don’t think I can… we can’t—”

Christ, you couldn’t stop stammering, shaky syllables spilled against the pillowcase in an incoherent dribble. König wasn’t your first, but you were timid as a doe newly foaled, taking a few shaky steps on weak, wobbly legs and falling flat on your face when his co*ck slipped along your slit.

“I know, Liebling . I won’t. I won’t.” He gave your plump rear a reassuring squeeze. “Relax.”

It was an impossible ask while you were completely at his mercy, muscles spent, energy drained, the thickness of his co*ck passing over your slick hole. But he didn’t try to bully his way inside, only hovered right there, savoring the moment and you.

König leaned back and gripped your bottom, angling himself away as he spread you open. His hand spanned over your hip, dimpled flesh and fat spilling between his splayed fingers, keeping you tilted to offer him the perfect front-row view.

“f*ck,” he groaned. “Du fühlst dich so feucht an.” His thumb stretched and dipped into your c*nt before passing over the tight furl of your ass.

You squeezed your inner muscles, nerves lighting up as his wet thumb circled you there. You whimpered and tried to move away, but couldn’t, his wide hand locked over your hip. He watched the way you tensed yourself up under his scrutiny, barring him entry before he even knocked.

König laughed — not mocking, but a sound like the gentle patter of rain falling all around you, soft, good-natured amusem*nt. The corners of your trembling mouth pulled down and your brow scrunched at the sound. He sighed, leaving your clenching hole alone to knead your bottom instead.

“I know,” he murmured.

His other hand bumped your puffy c*nt as he stroked himself slowly, leisurely passes of his hand up and down. The thick head of his co*ck nudged you as he f*cked his fist, leaving a sticky dot of precum wherever it bumped you — but didn’t push in, true to his word. He was quiet for a while, focused, and your body buzzed in the aftermath of panic and pleasure, enjoying the way he was getting off on just the sight of you.

His quickening breaths panted behind you, and you let yourself grin at the sound of his emerging desire — all for you. He stroked himself faster, movements slick and smooth from your combined fluids, the tip of his co*ck pressed to your inner thigh, skin hot enough to brand.

But something began to change—

Not all at once, but bit by bit, a subtle atmospheric shift. You sensed it in the way König’s grip shifted to get a better handful of your body, in the way his grunts and huffs grew silent, only leaving the slippery sounds of his co*ck in his fist. Your smile faded. Anticipation gathered like static electricity in the air between you, ready to strike.

“I don’t know what kind of training you had, but, it’s…not very wise to let yourself get into a position like this so easily,” König told you.

You blanched. “I…trust you,” you said, but tried to scoot away from him anyway, just a little.

“I know you do,” he said, voice grittier, darker, hand tightening painfully on your hip. “But if someone else had found you first…they would have taken advantage of you. Hurt you.”

“But… you found me.” Confusion welled up inside of you, a hollow ache that leaked out between your ribs. What did you do wrong? “I don’t understand.”

“This is why you need me,” König growled. His voice grew more strained the faster he moved, cruel strokes that had his knuckles digging painfully into the plush of your thighs. “You don’t understand what’s out there, what they would do to a sweet thing like you given the chance.”

“Who?” You asked as you tried to move away, unsettled, but only managed to turn onto your front, face smashed amidst the pillows.

König’s hand pressed between your shoulder blades, keeping you pinned to the mattress. Your arms thrashed out in blind panic, digging for air, pushing away the bedding and blankets that had bunched up around you. You took a shuddering breath and jerked your head to get your hair out of your face.

“Did you do this for your squad, too? Your sergeant?”

“Wh-What? No,” you answered quickly, half-horrified, half-insulted by the insinuation.

You craned your neck to glimpse him in the darkness, finding nothing but a massive shadow and a face half-veiled by wild, loose hair. Your body curled inward, instinctively making yourself a smaller target, non-threatening. All the safety and security had dissolved, leaving you weak and vulnerable to his whims.

“No?” König scoffed. “I know how men like that think and talk…how they look at girls like you.”

“They never — they would never—”

“But you would?” he cut in.

“No!” Fat tears of frustration streaked down your temples. “I…don’t… do this. I’m–I’m– not–”

It was a pointless statement to finish considering how you probably looked now, pants halfway off and thighs coated in your half-dried cum, but it was the truth. König had to see that — he knew you by now, didn’t he? You swallowed down a sob, nearly choking on the thick bubble in your throat that was ready to burst.

There was a long, slow breath above you. The hand on your back lightened, a weight lifted. Your ribs creaked, deflated heart refilling with hope.

“Just for me, then,” König said, voice softer again. “Is that it, sweet girl?”

You nodded in relief, blinking away the tears stinging your eyes. “Just for you,” you confirmed.

“Okay,” he soothed, a hand cupping your hip gently now, the spot that ached like a deep, spreading bruise. “Come here — shh, no more crying, now — like this.”

König lifted your bottom half so you were up on your knees, chest still down, legs wobbly from exhaustion. His hold kept you steady as his knees nudged yours wider on the mattress, making more room for himself. He rubbed the head of his co*ck against you again, gathering up what remained of your wetness.

“I know you’re tired,” he said, with the fleshy, slick sounds of his co*ck sliding through his fist resumed. “Keep being good for me, just a little longer.”

Your thighs trembled, hips joints ached. You tried to rise onto your hands too, but your core wobbled as you fell forward, arching your back more prettily for him, presenting yourself in an even more prominent, vulgar display. König stroked your soft skin, his hand resting over the globe of your ass now, not gripping or squeezing or hurting, just petting you, gently, gently.

You closed your eyes, drifting.

It didn’t take much longer for his body to stutter behind you, a quiet curse hissed through gritted teeth. Streaks of warmth splashed over your exposed holes, nearly jolting you forward from the suddenness. König leaned into you, smearing the mess into your skin, his fist and co*ck dragging across your ass as he painted the last of his spend into a sticky line against you.

König left with a firm, meaty pat to your flank and you collapsed, prone on the bed. His cum was probably dripping onto the bed, making a mess, but you were powerless to do anything but lay there, muscles quivering from exertion. König returned and pressed a cool cloth to your face, wiping away the salt of tears and sweat, dabbing at your stinging cheeks.

“Such a mess,” he cooed as he tended to you.

You whined at the sudden chill of the wet towel between your thighs, feeling colder there than you’d expected when he swiped, wiping you clean of him, of everything you’d released.

Too tired to bother with your shorts, you just kicked your legs until they caught at your ankles in a tangle of swishy fabric. You lay like that on your stomach until König returned to bed. He threaded your pants off the rest of the way and maneuvered and rolled you as he tidied the pillows and blankets. When everything was to his liking, he lay down too and pulled you back into his arms, a broad thigh propped between yours, entwining your legs beneath the covers.

“I had a good day with you,” he sighed against the crown of your head.

You swallowed thickly. “I did too,” you managed to say, but it didn’t really feel as much like a lie as you’d expected.

“I’m sure tomorrow will be even better,” he added, snuggling down behind you and jostling you with him. “Good night, little one.”

“Good night.”

With no other choice, you lay there with a pounding heart as König’s breathing slowed, and deepened into gentle snores. You tried to readjust your position, but even in sleep, his thick arms were unyielding as iron bars over your middle.

His words from the day replayed in your mind, but they were so distant now, like a song half-forgotten. You could only recall the tune and a few scraps of the lyrics — but it was better not to dig down rabbit holes of misremembered words and fall into assumed intentions or misunderstood meanings like you always did.

Silly little thing.

You slid your fingertips along König’s forearm, reading the story of his life carved in scars and sinew, tracing down until you found his hand, tucked just under your waist. You wiggled your hand underneath it, wrapping your fingers around as many of his as you could.

König stirred behind you. Lips and mumbled words pressed into your hair. “Geh schlafen, Häschen.”

He squeezed your hand and bent his knee higher, drawing you back more deeply into the press of his chest. Your eyelids grew heavier and heavier as you focused on the rhythmic movement of his breaths against your neck, the crackling of the fire, and the even thumping of your own heart keeping time,

until sleep finally claimed you, too.

Notes:

Thank you for reading! Please consider leaving a comment (long or short, emoji or keysmashes all welcome!) if you enjoyed it! Comments and kudos keep me encouraged to keep going ☺️

I appreciate your patience with the delayed update. <3 I ended up in the hospital for a few days last week. Some of my organs decided to rebel T.T. I'm okay now! Need surgery at the end of June, but it's nothing too major.

As always, I love to hear your thoughts and speculations, lines you liked, your fave moments. I'm also compiling a spotify playlist for the fic, so if there's a song that makes you think of reader/Konig/the story, i'd love to listen to it and add it to the playlist!

Please excuse any mistakes as I had to rewrite big chunks of this because the vibe wasn’t right. this chapter is SO LONG, I dissolved into a hot mess while writing this T.T but I hope you like it too

You can find me on twitter or tumblr! I answer questions and post writing updates on tumblr :)

Chapter 12: Good

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

One day crawled past, then another.

You eased into the tiny niche König had carved out for you in his life. When your racing mind finally slowed enough to enjoy it, you were comforted by the mundane domesticity of it all. You zoned out to the sounds of a lived-in home, the slosh and splat of a mop — every Tuesday, you learned — and the bristly scrape of broom and dustpan. You’d doze off to the rustle of turning pages as he read beside you, sometimes silently, sometimes out loud, if you asked him to.

Your favorite moments were spent sitting at the table while he cooked, sampling tidbits he offered you. You grew bolder, asking questions about the recipes over the sizzle of onion caramelizing in bacon grease, engaging him a bit at a time until you felt something growing within your chest, a fresh, green bud, tightly tucked and holding unexplored possibilities.

It unfurled bit by bit, filling the empty spaces inside you with sweetly scented petals. Not quite friendship, not quite more, complicated and strange, but—

It was… nice .

Heaven — or maybe purgatory, as close as you could probably get here — was starting your days in the cushioned cage of König’s arms and ending them there too. At night, you were tucked in a warm bed as promised, his fingers slick and buried to the hilt in your c*nt while your mind floated among the emerging stars outside the window. He didn’t ask for anything in return — not much, anyway. Just your hips lifted into the air while his thumb ghosted over your slit and the pucker of your ass, letting him enjoy the view and whisper dirty nothings into your skin or hair while he rubbed himself to completion behind you.

A small price to pay.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

Another morning rolled over the horizon, rising as slowly as the last two.

A flutter pulled you from the delirious comfort of your dreams, a line cast with irresistible bait, hooking and reeling you in. Butterfly wings flitted at your temple, whispering summer wind tickling the shell of your ear, warm lips at your nape, a kiss — a kiss

König.

You sucked in a deep breath as the gap between dreaming and waking widened, the bedroom materializing along with the giant body curled protectively behind yours. A hefty thigh wedged between yours, offering you a firm, solid seat.

“Good morning, Hase,” he said into the back of your neck, offering you another peck there.

“Mornin’,” you mumbled with a dry tongue, still sticky with sleep.

A yawn contorted your face and drowsiness started to drag you back into its depths with fluttering lashes and a sweet siren’s song, but König’s hand squeezed your thigh, keeping your feet planted on the shores of reality.

“You can’t stay in bed all day,” König told you.

“Why not?” you grumbled, trying to turn and burrow more deeply into the mattress.

“It’s late.” He refused to let you escape, keeping you pinned against his chest. “Sleepy little bunny,” he mumbled, mirth woven into his words. “At this rate, we’ll miss breakfast. Maybe lunch, too.”

König gave you another squeeze and popped out of bed, tending to his morning needs while you took your time rolling and sitting up on the edge of the bed. You wobbled once from the change of position, vision dimming as your heart struggled to keep up — but it passed just as quickly. Your arms rose high above your head as you stretched and arched your back, groaning into the pull of sleep-stiff muscle and tendon.

He returned a short time later and scooped you up, carrying you to the bathroom to kickstart your daily routine here in his home whether you were ready or not. You scrunched your nose at the taste of your own mouth, trying not to breathe on him, always feeling filthy in comparison to the clean scent of his clothes and skin. He bathed at least every other day, more often if his chores were strenuous. Your last bath was too far away, oil and sweat already building up over your congested pores, your scalp matting with grease.

“Can I take a shower today?” you asked as he set you down on the tile.

“Hm,” he said, eyes flicking up and down your body, sizing you up and finding you lacking. “I don’t think that’s safe yet. And a bath would take too long to prepare…”

“What about just some towels? I can just kind of…wash up,” you brushed your loosely closed fist against your chest, imitating a scrubbing motion. It was far from the first time you’d ever had to give yourself a utilitarian bath, used to deployments that didn’t allow anything other than a quick efficient wipe down of your grimiest bits and creases.

Your face fell as you watched König consider your words, sensing the ‘no’ already hovering on the tip of his tongue. You reached for his hand, small fingers weaving in between his.

“Please?” you tried, offering wide eyes and furrowed brows. “And a new shirt?”

A good-natured sigh sounded from behind his veil, his eyes narrowing in a reluctant, soft smile you couldn’t see. “Alright . Only because you’ve asked so sweetly…”

You relieved yourself quickly and leaned against the lip of the bathtub as you waited for him to return, seconds stretching into minutes — or maybe it just felt that way, your impatient fingers twitching and palms growing damp in his absence. You wiped your hands on your sweater, ready to change into something fresh and not stained with days of sweat and spit and other fluids you didn’t want to think too much about.

Three short taps against the door echoed in the room, and König came in. He set you up at the sink with a bowl of water, towels, and fresh clothes. “Will you be alright by yourself?” he asked. “I’d like to start breakfast. It would have been ready by now, but I was…held up by a certain girl who wouldn’t get out of bed.”

You ignored the way the tips of your ears burned at the tease. “I’ll be okay.”

He left you, his eyes on you through the closing gap until the very moment the door latched shut. You pulled off the baggy hoodie and frowned at the freshly paved road of bruises littering your body; the newest, a large, vaguely hand-shaped mark at your hip, where König had held you in place — did you do this for your squad, too? — a field of purple and green blooming like summer violets across your softness.

A burgundy splat curved over your ribs, the edges already washing out with watercolors of lilac and yellow while your shin still boasted a dark plum bump — both from when he’d tripped over you, kicked you — an accident, but still. You poked at the raised mark and winced at the familiar hurt, but couldn’t stop yourself from prodding at it again to feel the ache one more time.

The usually well-defined ridges of your calves had been sanded down, like the ridges of strength there had been rubbed down with coarse grit paper into something more rounded and delicate. It hadn’t been that long — had it? — but your body was already sacrificing the muscles now that you were no longer lugging around thirty-odd pounds of gear, gladly cannibalizing itself to keep you alive, keep you soft and weak—

Just how König seemed to like you.

You scrubbed the layer of grime off your face, glad there was some color there now, cheeks refilling with life under König’s attentive care and nutritious meals. Your warm cloth skirted down your neck, swiping over the bite there that was finally receding, your body reabsorbing the evidence of König’s brutal passion, leaving only a ghost of it dotted in dark pink.

Smoky tendrils of steam rose and curled off the rippling surface of the bowl, but the bathroom held a chill within the tiles, allowing cool air to nip at the water as soon as it touched your body, stealing your heat. Goosebumps erupted over your skin, rippling over your arms, and down your bare torso and legs. You stared at the remaining unused washcloths wistfully as you clenched your jaw to keep it from shaking, too — the rest of your body would have to wait for another day.

You dabbed at yourself with the dry towel and slipped your arms into König’s flannel, hastily pushing up the too-long sleeves, hands moving quickly to button up the orange and grey plaid. The soft, brushed weave of the fabric surrounded you in comfort and warmth, locking in your body heat before the frigid bathroom sapped the rest of it away.

You brushed and flossed your teeth and borrowed a few swipes of his deodorant — he probably wouldn’t mind. Your dry knees and elbows were crying out for moisture, so you peeked in the medicine cabinet, opening one of the tins in search of moisturizer. The clear balm inside had been used enough that the bottom of the container was visible in the center, a dull, silver divot from fingertips dipping in time and time again, wearing it down. Camphor and eucalyptus stung your nostrils, clean and astringent, something to soothe aches and pains.

It shouldn’t surprise you that a man whose life was full of physical labor had the occasional sore knee or shoulder, but König always seemed so invincible, an impenetrable wall of a person that it had never occurred to you. You put the tin back where you found it and crouched beside the under-sink cabinet, listening for him — just in case — before opening the little door.

You pushed aside the row of cleaning supplies as you searched for moisturizer, finally spying a brand you recognized despite the foreign words on the label. You flipped open the cap and sniffed — plain and unscented, hopefully not expired — so you spread the cream over your parched knees and elbows before smoothing the rest over your bruised legs.

You half-ducked inside the cabinet and tucked the lotion back where you found it, but stopped before you closed the door, eyeing the cardboard boxes at the back. A wisp of interest rose in the back of your mind and flicked back and forth like a cat’s tail, tempting, hypnotic. If you were going to live here for the foreseeable future, you should know what was in here.

Just in case.

The medicine cabinet didn’t actually have medicine in it — perhaps he stored the pills down here, and you could compare the packaging to what he said he gave you, just to confirm what he told you was true. Or maybe he kept something… else back there. You remembered the lube you’d found in his bedside drawer and your mouth pulled down in mixed disgust and morbid interest at the possibility of what he might have stashed around his cabin, a lonely man with no one to keep him company.

One quick peek couldn’t hurt.

You tucked your fingers around the edge of the cardboard and tilted it toward you. It was heavier than you expected, and the sound of glass clinking against glass ricocheted loudly through the small room. Your rabbit heart raced, ears perking — but all was calm.

You reached inside, trembling fingertips grazing smooth plastic and glass bottles topped with medicine dropper lids. Had König been spiking your food? Your drinks? You reached in deeper to grab one, just grasping the top of a bottle when wood creaked outside the door, a single, heavy step.

f*ck.

The doorknob clicked and started to turn, no warning knock this time. Another test, another failure.

f*ck.

You jolted, bumping your head against the sink basin as you backed out, knocking over a few bottles in your rush. A yip burst from your throat when you fell backward, bare bottom contacted the frigid tile, icy ceramic stinging your flesh. König stepped inside and immediately looked around, then down at you. His eyebrows were pinched together beneath his mask, confusion and displeasure etched in the scrunch of his brow.

König bent down on one knee and looked in the cabinet, then met your eyes, unamused. You waggled your fingers at him in a guilty little wave, hoping to reassure him that you weren’t up to anything. It probably looked suspicious, but you weren’t doing anything bad — not really.

“What are you doing on the floor?” he asked, reaching past you to put the bottles back where they belonged.

“I was looking for lotion,” you tried, offering most of the truth as he helped you stand.

“Mmhm.” König’s hands gripped your waist firmly and plopped you on the countertop beside the sink. “It seems I can’t leave you alone for even five minutes,” he said, eyes narrowed. “Perhaps I should put a bell on you, so I can hear when you start getting into trouble.”

Your mouth had started to twist up into a hesitant smile at his words — he was kidding, right? — but the hope of humor melted away when you met his eyes. His tone was teasing and light, but there was a dark shade of displeasure swimming across sapphire that made your spine straighten and your toes curl within your woolen socks. If you had hackles, they’d be rising in warning — danger, danger — with a curled lip and a snarl building at the base of your throat.

Maybe you’d gotten too comfortable with him, forgotten what the wolf looked like without its sheep clothing. Too used to frolicking with him disguised as he was, not realizing he wasn’t hungry for the patches of sweet clover you laid in, but just for you.

“I wanted to see what was in the boxes,” you admitted, voice cracking over the words, knowing he’d pluck the truth out of you anyway.

“These?” he asked, crouching down to drum his fingers along the flat side of the cardboard. König turned to you slowly when you hummed your assent. “Why? What do you think is in them?”

Embarrassment blistered sunburn-hot across your face. It’s not like you could tell him that you were looking for sex toys or drugs or some secret piece of his life that he didn’t want you to see, so instead, you muttered: “I don’t know.”

“Mm. Well. You know what they say about curiosity, don’t you?” König reached for you and let a single fingertip trail up your shin.

All the saliva in your mouth dried in an instant. You knew the old proverb, one of those things you’d heard a million times without ever thinking much of it. But now, the words carried real weight, hanging like lead in your chest — killed the cat —

“But I suppose all could be forgiven when the cat is as cute as you are,” he mused. “This time, anyway.”

“Oh.” You blinked down at him, mind trailing behind as it processed his words — trying to make sense of the threat or joke or whatever it really was he was trying to tell you.

“So serious. I’m kidding,” he said, patting your knee.

It really wasn’t that funny, not when the dark reality was that he could kill you and had displayed the skill and strength to do so easily — but you would play along like he wanted. You forced out a wheeze that almost sounded like a laugh.

König sighed and pulled the boxes in question out one at a time, opening the flaps to show you the contents: extra bottles of soap and shampoo, dark glass jars with dropper tops — he pulled two out to show you the labels, at your request, only lavender and tea tree oil — a few rolls of toilet paper, and spare toothbrushes.

Ordinary. Why did you always expect something sinister?

“Satisfied?” he asked before putting it all back.

Shame simmered low beneath your skin as you squirmed under his scrutiny, chastised like a puppy caught rifling through the trash, a candy wrapper still lodged between its baby teeth. You rested your hands on your thighs for good measure where he could see them. Innocent, contrite. Good.

“Yes,” you said.

You lifted your legs out of the way as König stood and closed the cabinets, then he ducked out the door to bring in a basket filled with crumpled clothes. He opened the corner closet and flipped up the lid of a small washing machine. You leaned forward on the counter, not daring to move from your spot, trying to peek and see if your clothes were in the mix.

“I didn’t know you had a washing machine,” you commented, watching him scoop powdered soap in. “You live so…” your voice faded, trying to think of how to describe it without offending him, “off the grid.”

“I’m surprised you hadn’t already discovered it for yourself, with how you like to snoop through all my things,” he said dryly.

Your stomach churned, but König turned over his shoulder to peek at you with raised eyebrows, and it took you a moment to realize he was joking again. You gave him a thin smile barely held up by tight cheeks, hoping it was enough.

“Most chores I don’t mind doing by hand,” he explained as he picked up the sweatshirt you’d left crumpled on the floor. “Washing clothes is…not one of them. It’s a lot of work to get everything truly clean.” König grunted as he bent to grab the soiled washcloths you'd left scattered on the floor, and tossed them in, too.

Guilt emerged as you thought of the nearly empty tin of balm, König’s joints bearing the brunt of his hulking stature every day, and here you were, adding to his workload. He was scary sometimes — really, a lot of the time — and overwhelming, with a strong personality and an emerging dry, dark humor that you were still figuring out, but he treated you well. All he asked for was a level of obedience, for you to fall in line with how he lived and how he needed you to act to fit in here.

Yet you couldn’t even manage that.

“Sorry,” you mumbled.

“For what?” König closed the washer and started the cycle, the metal lid muting the sound of rushing water filling the drum.

You weren’t exactly sure — sorry for the mess you left, for the supplies he wasted on you, for the daily worry and headache you undoubtedly caused him, for the growing debt that you had no way to repay, for doubting him time and time again. Your shoulders lifted up into a casual shrug, but the jerkiness of the movement belied the worry beneath.

König approached where you sat, your feet dangling over the edge of the cabinetry. He occupied the space between your spread thighs, broad hips forcing you to open further for him. Heavy hands fell to your shoulders, bringing the fresh, sharp smell of detergent with him. His closeness forced you to lean back until your head bumped into the mirror so you could tilt your face to meet his stare.

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” he said gently.

You swallowed down the thickness in your throat. “I’m a burden. I feel so…out of control sometimes. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” You hugged yourself, arms crossed over your middle. “I’m not usually like…this.”

“No? What are you usually like, then?” he asked.

It took you longer than you liked to remember, to think of yourself before all this. “Responsible. Independent.” You paused. “Adventurous. Strong. Reliable.”

“Mm. Those are good traits to have — but difficult to maintain when you’re sick. I promised to take care of you, and I will. You don't need to be sorry for that,” he said slowly. “Unless you’ve…done something wrong. Have you?”

You shook your head from side to side. “No.”

“Good. I don’t mind a little mischief here and there…but it’s better for both of us when you behave.” His hands slid over the slopes of your shoulders, down your arms and up again to meet near the base of your throat. “Wouldn’t you agree?”

The rhythmic spinning of the washing machine filled the vacancy where your immediate answer should have been. You stiffened at the looming threat of his fingers against your airway, the span of his grip enough to completely encircle your throat with room to spare.

Your chin dipped into a tiny nod, and his arms moved over you in a hug. You closed your eyes as your face pressed into his shirt, wishing the black cotton would swallow you up like a black hole and send you hurtling into oblivion, a crushing dark place where you didn’t have to think or worry or cry anymore. But the embrace comforted you enough for you to lift your arms to hug König back, fingers flexing, self-soothing by stroking the softened material beneath your fingertips.

“Feel better?” he asked, words rumbling beneath your cheek, vibrating along the bones of your skull.

You sank further into the solid mass of his chest, muscles bulging as he squeezed you more firmly into his torso. “Yeah.”

“I like when you tell me what’s wrong or what you need. I want you to be happy here.” His hug grew tighter, arms constricting, almost shortening your breaths. “I know you don’t feel like yourself right now, but recovery takes time, and…injuries can change us. But for what it’s worth, I enjoy your company just as you are.”

You weren’t sure that made you feel any better, but your mumbled ‘thank you’ was enough for him to release you and hoist you into his arms, conversation dismissed.

The oily scent of fried meat grew stronger as he brought you into the kitchen, thick and rich. Your mouth watered and your stomach complained loudly and repeatedly, grumbling a request for a meal.

“Hungry today?” König asked, holding your hand as you lowered yourself into your seat at the table.

“How could you tell?” you retorted, trying to force yourself back into the light banter that had been evolving over the last few days. It didn’t come out quite right, your attempt too breathy and high-pitched, nerves still shaken.

“Call it a sixth sense,” he played along anyway, giving you a wink that sent a flutter twirling behind your chest, turncoat heart skipping despite your uncertainty.

You looked away and readjusted yourself in your chair while König moved back to the stovetop, sliding a cast iron skillet into the oven. He set your pills in front of you, but you couldn’t help but bite at the inside of your cheek as you stared at them, fighting the fresh wave of discontent and bile that rose in your throat. These weren’t the usual morning pills — these were the evening pills, two white tablets and the capsule.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

What was he doing? You needed the orange one. That was the routine. Changing it now didn’t make sense — did it? Or maybe you didn’t need either anymore, and the order was irrelevant anyway.

Your voice was soft and hesitant when you spoke up. “Shouldn’t I be taking the…the other one?”

“Not today,” he said without turning to you.

“How long do I need to take these?” you asked, anxiety offering you boldness. The stifling uncertainty that you’d been pushing away sidled back up to you, knotting itself up in your gut.

König turned an egg timer in his hands with a wind and click of plastic gears and set it on the counter. “The antibiotic…ten or fourteen days should be long enough, as long as your wound looks good and your fever doesn’t return.”

Your half-asked question received a half-answer. But you had to tread carefully. You had to be clear, otherwise König might twist your words until you no longer recognized them, flipping meanings and intentions until you weren’t sure what you meant all along.

“And…how long for the white ones? They’re still paracetamol, right?” you asked.

An edge of annoyance seeped into his voice. “You should take them as long as you’re still in pain.”

“The pain is mostly gone, though. I just…I think that’s partly why I’ve been feeling a little off,” you said, confidence waning. “I don’t know, I’ve just been so tired…”

Your voice trailed off as König lowered himself beside you, a dark figure looming in your periphery. The wooden chair scraped against the floor as he turned you and your entire seat toward him, not offering you an out from this.

König’s bulk filled your vision, his black T-shirt a dark, hulking backdrop nearly blocking your view of the room. Blue-grey eyes locked on yours, his stare backed with a scaffolding of unbendable will forged and tempered like steel. He picked up the white pills and held up the pair between his fingertips.

“I know you’re scared,” he told you. “I get it. But I would not give you something you didn’t need.”

Your face flushed as he deduced what you really meant, what you were really asking and insinuating, indirectly. You may as well have been entirely transparent, flimsy sinew and bone woven from tulle and ribbon as easily as he saw through you. He lifted the pills toward your mouth, but doubt still surged. It flashed like a struck flint behind your eyes, a shower of sparks, blindingly bright, allowing you a single moment of clarity. You backed away from his hand as far as the wooden slats of the chair allowed.

“I’m not used to being on anything long-term,” you explained further, hoping he understood. “Just today, can I try maybe… not taking them?”

“Häschen,” König warned, eyes narrowing into dangerous slits, clearly done indulging you. He straightened his shoulders, authority looming tall despite the way he was crouched before you. “Do you remember what happened when you didn’t take your medicine? When you hid it from me?”

“Yes,” you admitted, voice a rough whisper. Stupid f*cking girl. “But that was before—”

“And just the other day,” he cut in, “you claimed to trust me — unless that was another lie.”

Panic flared at the possibility of losing what little rapport you’d started to rebuild. Your eyes widened, finding only the cool, detached exterior he was so good at holding up against you, closing you out, leaving you alone to flounder in the open sea.

“No,” you whispered urgently — be good, be good . The light of rebellion landed on damp kindling, fizzling out into a puff of smoke before it even came to life. “No, I do. I–I trust you. I do.”

“You’re not strong enough to be on your own right now. I expected a well-trained, responsible operator to know when to accept help, and how to follow instructions. Am I mistaken?”

“No,” you clipped back, resisting the urge to tack on the ‘sir’ that accompanied your answer when someone spoke to you in that tone.

His words wormed into that place where obedience had been drilled into you through repetition. But König wasn’t your commanding officer. He wasn’t here. He was gone. Retreated, or injured, or captured,

or dead.

You clamped the points of your canines over your tongue to stave off your tears and turned to the side, breaking eye contact. König grabbed your chin between his thumb and forefinger, pulling you back to him, not yet dismissed.

“You are a good little soldier, aren’t you?” he cooed.

Your eyes burned at the open mockery there, but you couldn’t — f*ck, you really couldn’t — dignify that with an answer. But instead of the fiery anger you wished would rush through your veins —spitfire, give ’em hell, bite his finger until bone scrapes against your teeth — all you felt was humiliation, stripped bare of the things that were once so important to you, the things that made you who you were, that made you feel even remotely human.

“Hm?” he prompted.

“Yes,” you whispered.

“‘Yes’ what?”

You blinked at him. He wasn’t really going to make you repeat what he’d said. Not after what you’d told him this morning. König wasn’t cruel, he wasn’t. You had to be misunderstanding. This was another joke with a punchline you were missing.

“I don’t understand,” you whispered.

‘Yes, I’m a good little soldier.’ ” He spoke slowly, exaggerating the syllables as he tugged down on your bottom lip to mimic you speaking.

“Yes, I’m a good little soldier,” you repeated, degrading words curdling like spoiled milk on your tongue.

König nodded, satisfied. “Then, open.”

You did.

The pills and your dignity were practically shoved down your throat, two of König’s thick fingers pressing back until you gagged around them. Your eyes welled up with moisture, but you swallowed it all down with a few sips of ice-cold water. You coughed on the last sip, throat burning as König rubbed soothing circles across your back until it cleared. Your stomach clenched and squealed around the medicine, aching for something more substantial.

“That’s better,” he murmured as his fingers hooked your cheek and swiped along your gums to poke at the soft spot beneath your tongue.

König jostled you as he turned your entire chair back to face the table. You grabbed one of the cloth napkins from the place setting, dabbing away the leftover moisture that sparkled at your waterline. Unspilled tears soaked into the embroidery, ivy stitching darkening as it wicked away the evidence of your discomfort.

König moved about the kitchen calmly. He poured coffee for himself and you as if nothing had happened — that was probably best. You gripped your mug with both hands, the tremor in your joints calmed by the heat and the much-needed boost of sugar and caffeine. If you closed your eyes, the sounds of König cleaning were soothing, the rush of running water, the ‘clack’ of dishes bumping one another.

When the timer dinged, you nearly sloshed your drink into your lap from the sudden, loud chime. König stepped toward the stove and slid on the oven mitt to remove the steaming skillet from the oven. He cut into the dish and scooped upward, stringy tendrils of melted cheese clinging to the skillet before snapping and sticking limply to your plate.

Steam rose from the neat slice set before you, a perfect triangle of pale yellow egg speckled with bacon, red peppers, and tender shreds of potato. You huffed around the first, piping hot mouthful of gooey cheese and fluffy melt-in-your-mouth egg. The softness offered the perfect contrast to the fresh bite of the vegetables and the hint of spice, paprika, maybe, just enough heat to offer a faint, lingering burn.

You took another bite even though it was still a little too hot; at least when your mouth was full, you couldn’t say something you’d regret. You’d done enough damage this morning.

König polished off three slices to your single piece. Your mind drifted as you watched him, reminded of the times you opted to eat in the mess hall on base. The food there wasn’t half as good — really, not even a quarter as good — as what König cooked you, but you never went hungry.

Military scrambled eggs were reconstituted from a powder — if you were lucky, they were dry, too, not drowning in a pan of excess water. The chow hall bacon was either limp or burnt to a crisp depending on who made it, but everyone shoved it into their mouths by the forkful regardless. Food was fuel, and starting the day on an empty tank was unwise, and sometimes downright dangerous depending on the day ahead.

You took a sip of coffee and your lips curved against the ceramic as you remembered the time you tried to join Gaz and Ghost at breakfast. It was the most you’d ever seen of Lieutenant Riley, his skull-printed balaclava lifted above a stubbled jaw, rucked up just enough to create the clearance needed for fork and mug. He and Gaz ate like it was their first and last meal in days, gobbling down piled-high plates before you were even half-finished with yours. Their pace didn’t allow much room for conversation, and your two polite attempts at small talk were left unanswered.

“Sorry love,” Gaz had told you as he stood with Ghost. He tapped his knuckle against your chin, followed by a wink and a boyish grin that you couldn’t help but mimic. “Loadin’ up in twenty — raincheck on the chat?”

You’d only been able to nod in reply, a bit starstruck, but never had a chance to cash in on his offer. He’d been deployed, and then you had, too, sent here on this cursed, godforsaken mission with your own team, and then—

and then—

You blinked away the surfacing memories, unwilling to spoil them, and instead, you tried to tuck them away where they’d be safe and hoped you’d be able to recover them later. They were nothing but an exquisite form of self-torture now, reminding you of things you couldn’t have — not until Spring, anyway.

This is what you had now.

Your eyes lifted from König’s nearly empty plate to glance at him. When he caught you staring, he dabbed away the tiny flecks of egg stuck in his beard and tilted his head to the side in silent question. His gaze drifted to your mouth, catching the shadow of the smile still clinging to the corners of your lips. He grinned at you as if your happiness had been because of him — but the expression was a touch too wide and too sharp, a smile full of shark’s teeth, serrated for ripping and tearing into where you were most vulnerable.

You forced a return smile, offering up your soft underbelly and hoping that he didn’t bite.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

König was right about the pills.

You conceded as soon as he set you on the couch and pulled off your sock. He began to unwind the gauze and hadn’t even reached your wound yet before you yelped in pain. Tacky globs of congealed blood and lymph had seeped all the way through, lumped the layers together like paper mâché, a glue too thick for the vials of saline solution to wash away.

Even König couldn’t contain his curse when he first saw it, a rushed mouthful of German expletives breathed out from under his mask. It wasn’t reassuring.

Your jaw clenched until the strain ached all the way up to your temples and wrapped around your skull like a rubber band, a welcome distraction from the pinching and pulling of skin and scab.

Your fingernails clawed streaks into the velveteen cushions as you clenched and unclenched your hands. Sweat erupted along your hairline. You tried to breathe through the bolts of agony shooting through your foot, but the pain worsened with each strip of gauze König pulled free. The muscles in your thigh twitched and quivered, König’s firm grip on your calf and the weight he leaned against you were the only things keeping you from leaping off the couch and your foot from jerking out of his grasp.

Pain curled and twisted like a thorny vine along your nerve endings when he pulled the last of the bandages free and dabbed at the raw edges of the wound bed. König was speaking, but you barely absorbed the words as he explained that the dark red color was a good thing, that it didn’t look infected, at least. A little bleeding now meant your flesh was still alive. Healthy. You were lucky, he told you.

Lucky.

You didn’t feel like it, not when big fat tears blotted your vision, not when the pile of blood-soaked gauze grew taller and taller on the floor beside König, crimson clotting beneath his short nails. Christ, if this was how much it hurt with the medicine, you didn’t want to even think about what it would have felt like without it.

Your cry for mercy was trapped behind trembling lips, a weakness you were determined to suppress despite the way it bit and scratched at your insides, trying to break free. All that escaped was a pathetic little whine, a half-sob that shuddered from your chest.

“I know. I know,” König murmured as he worked without slowing. “I’m sorry, little one. I was hoping it was more healed than this, but it looks like we had a bit of a setback when you reopened it…poor girl.”

Your fault.

Your fault.

You had undone days of healing and König’s hard work. You had moved too quickly and stolen your radio back and reinjured yourself, causing all this. Another mistake, another thing König had to fix for you.

Poor girl. Poor, poor girl.

Pathetic.

“We’re almost done now — and look at you, so brave, sitting through this.”

Pain reared and shot up your leg as your mind detached from your body, eyes unfocused and listless as you half-watched him squeeze a generous amount of ointment onto the wound. He covered it all with a padded bandage plucked from a paper package, then secured it with a fresh roll of gauze.

“That should do it. The dressing dried too quickly last time,” he said as he tucked in the edges of the wrap, task thankfully complete. “We’ll have to change the bandage daily for a while so this doesn’t happen again.”

You couldn’t even fathom doing this again tomorrow. You could only stare at him through wet, clumped lashes as he slipped your sock back on. Your foot was suspended delicately in his hands like something out of a fairy tale, a prince kneeling before a princess, sliding dainty toes into a glass slipper — except König wasn’t much of a prince, his hands stained with your blood, and your slipper was just some oversized woolen sock. You weren’t feeling much like a princess either, not when you were half-nude in a baggy, damp shirt, panting, wet strands of hair curled and plastered to your forehead.

You almost laughed at the absurdity.

Your foot throbbed when he set your foot down to dangle against the couch, even that small movement stirring up a fresh bolt of discomfort and causing a mournful, bitten-off noise to slip past your gritted teeth. König leaned toward you, stroking the stubborn, wild hairs away from your face.

“Do you need something extra for the pain today, süßer Hase?” he asked, blinking wide, guileless eyes while he waited for your answer — as if it wasn’t obvious. “Or did you want to…try without it, like you told me earlier?”

“No, I…I want it.”

He left you half-reclined on the couch and helped you sit up when he returned with water and another white pill. It looked the same as the ones you knew, but you didn’t ask what it was — you’d take it anyway, did it even matter? The pill was easy to gulp down, but your pride caught there, the most difficult thing you’d tried to swallow yet.

But you choked it down, too.

At least König had the decency not to say ‘I told you so.’

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

The savory scent of Hasenpfeffer filled the cabin that afternoon, aromatics of juniper and rosemary wafted above notes of garlic and thyme. The flame on the stove was set low and slow until the meat was juicy and fork-tender, falling off the bone when König prodded it. A heart, early dinner — and bedtime — was just what you needed tonight, König told you. Your weary mind and weak muscles didn’t disagree.

He plated dinner beautifully; a haunch of rabbit dripping with the wine-infused marinade, the brining liquid cooked down until it was a thick, spiced gravy that pooled enticingly beneath the meat. He added a helping of sliced carrots, roasted in a honeyed glaze until the edges had just browned in a burnt sugar crisp. All of it was served alongside your medicine, plus another extra pill, same as that morning — just one more dose, Hase, so the pain doesn’t keep you up tonight. You need your sleep. You look exhausted, little darling —

You took it.

The meal was delicious despite your reservations. The tiny, gamey haunches had transformed into a delicacy through König’s patience, rendering the wild rabbits into something almost unrecognizable, delicate and easy to eat.

You even asked for seconds.

By the time dinner was finished, your stomach was full, but your head was too light, stuffed with dandelion fluff, light enough that you were sure it’d float away on the breeze if it wasn’t attached to your body. König told you about his gardening plans for the spring — what fruits and vegetables he wanted to grow this year. Flowers too, to attract pollinators. You nodded along, feeling like a bobble-headed doll as you waited for him to stop talking so you could leave to get some air, to take a breather and splash your face with some water.

When he finally finished, you stood and excused yourself to go to the bathroom — oh, something wasn’t right, too dizzy, needed to move, to get away — but your legs wobbled as soon as you tried to take a step, knees knocking together, muscles too relaxed. Your hand shoved your plate across the table when your palm spread across the wood, catching yourself before you tipped over.

Your glassy eyes were wide, staring at König, waiting for his reaction. He wiped his lips with his napkin and stepped around to you, unconcerned. Wasn’t he worried? You were — but wisps of spun sugar stretched across your mind, pulled like webbing over your looping thoughts, keeping them hazy, coated in saccharine clouds.

“Easy. I’ve got you,” he said, hand snaking around your waist to escort you to the couch as you leaned into him.

“Wha’did you—th’ pills?” you mumbled as you leaned against his side, feet heavy and slow, only kept upright by the thick arm cinched around your waist.

“You must be so tired after the day you’ve had,” he said, bringing you to the sofa. “Doesn’t a nap by the fire sound nice?”

It did, oh it did — warm and comfortable. But it felt like all you did these days was sleep and eat and sometimes do an activity if he offered one. You nodded anyway, your face smashed against his ribs as you stumbled along.

You half-sat, half-plopped on the cushions, and a cool glass of water was pressed to your lips shortly after. You drank automatically, then were laid down on the couch underneath a stack of heavy blankets, tucked up to your chin. König patted your head gently and added a fresh log to the fire. The blaze threw heat and light across where you huddled on the couch, warmth seeping in, reaching you below the fur and fleece piled over you.

König set up a drying rack beside the fire, neatly hanging his shirts, pants, and socks. Your clothes were there too: the standard issue undershirt, jacket, and pants he’d found you in. When you’d first arrived, you wanted your own clothes back so desperately — but now, your fatigues seemed so stiff and restrictive compared to the soft flannel you wore, oversized and warm, bunching up around your hips. Your panties were the only thing you really wanted to wear from the bunch, but you didn’t see the pair among the drying clothes.

Figured.

You closed your eyes as he worked. It had to be the medication that wound lazily through your veins, lapping at your remaining pain until it receded into a distant, barely-there throb. The pain relief was welcome, but pressure buzzed at the base of your skull like droning cicadas, the cyclic humming drowning everything else in your brain. Your eyelids began to fall, so you pinched your thigh until you nearly broke the skin — you didn’t want to sleep.

But you only grew more disoriented the longer you fought it, lost in a sea of dopamine and overwhelmed receptors. So you stopped struggling, and let the undertow carry you away until you barely felt anything at all, numb to pain and fear.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

A deep ache began in your uninjured foot, but the nice kind of hurt, the pleasurable release of tight muscles, pressure rolling along your arch. Two thumbs pressed into your heel, then the ball of your foot, tiny muscles you hadn’t even realized were sore. The world finally came into focus as you blinked down at your supine body, still sleep-drunk. König was at the other end of the couch, your good foot swallowed up by his large hands, massaging it thoroughly.

“There she is,” König whispered as he smoothed his grips up your calves, pushing away more blankets in his quest for your aching muscles. “You must have really needed that.”

“Mmhm,” you hummed.

You melted back into the couch, cheek flat against velveteen cushions, breathing in the fresh scent of laundry detergent rising from the drying clothes. König carefully ran his thumbs along the sides of your shins, avoiding your bruise. Your body was warm and limp, malleable as a little chunk of clay he’d been kneading until it was doughy, pliable, ready to sculpt into whatever shape he wanted.

König finished rubbing your legs, but instead of replacing the blankets, he pulled you into his lap, your head rolling on a weak neck, landing against his chest with a gentle thump. You curled into him, wishing you could shrink enough to tuck yourself into the crook of his elbow or fit in the center of his calloused palm, his to keep and cherish.

It was a reflex to question König’s intentions and push him away, an obligation, what you should do, what you thought your squad, what The 141 would want you to do. But they weren’t here — left you, all alone, helpless .

König was here.

You could choose to end the constant ebb and flow of suffering and enjoy your time here if you let him in. His words had already carved a home in the back of your mind, dizzying praise and soothing words that cocooned you in decadence. A shiver rocked up the base of your spine at the thought alone, needing more, needing König.

Even though you were in his lap already, it was too far away. You nuzzled at the fabric of his mask, seeking a hint of bare neck, craving contact and closeness. He allowed it, wordlessly lifting his hood and letting you find solace in the dip of his shoulder beneath it. His hands gripped the backs of your thighs to keep you in place, and you breathed in the spiced warmth and natural scent of his skin, small and safe in his arms. You nuzzled your face further back, away from the bristly tickle of his beard, pressing your lips to his skin in a tiny kiss before you yawned.

His fingertips traced the contours of your thighs, and you basked in the blissful skin-to-skin contact, sharing in the secrecy of the darkened space beneath his veil.

But you didn’t get to enjoy it for long.

Your world shifted as König rose with you in his arms. He set you down on the side of the bed, hands on your biceps until he was sure you wouldn’t keel over. You watched with staticky vision, grateful as he started a fire to keep you warm tonight. But when he returned, he didn’t untuck the blankets to let you snuggle into them. Instead, he knelt in front of you and took your hands in his.

“Kleines Häschen,” he murmured, thumbs gliding along the hills and valleys of your knuckles. “Today was a hard day for you.”

You nodded.

“I think you deserve a better night,” he said, eyes sliding down your face to rest on your throat.

König placed your hands on the bed and reached up, unbuttoning the first button of your flannel. Your collar fell away to expose a patch of your bare chest, your skin catching the coppery glow from the wood stove.

“König…?” you whispered, blurry vision righting itself as you focused, staring at him in confusion. Your hands instinctively rose to stop him at the next button, hovering around his wrists, thoughts racing, flickering like an old TV with poor reception. “I — I don’t need to — to—”

“You skipped a button,” he explained calmly, shooing your hands and worried thoughts away.

You looked down at your shirt. He was right, as always. The buttons were misaligned, leaving your shirt crooked. Your hands dropped back to the bed, letting him correct your mistake — another one, how many more would you make?

It must have been like that all day. You would have never left your room looking like that before. Your old commanding officer would have had you running laps until you puked if you showed up for duty so disheveled. You were getting more and more careless with each day that went by, losing your grip on the things that used to matter to you.

But…you weren’t on duty here.

Here, you were as much a civilian as König. You didn’t have to hold yourself to that high standard, didn’t have to stay vigilant and on edge, or remember every detail. König was more than willing to handle those things for you, to take on the worrying and planning, so you could heal and relax.

It was…kind of nice to live like this compared to the strict, regulated life you were used to. And if you were being honest, part of you was starting to enjoy being fussed over and pampered like a spoiled Pomeranian.

You exhaled, worries blowing out with your deepening breaths as he unfastened each button, taking his time. His fingers grazed sternum and breast and rib as he moved down the shirt, knuckles rough against your soft skin.

“There. Almost undone, now,” he murmured.

Your nipples peaked when a wider strip of your body was exposed to the chill of the air not yet heated by the fire, buds poking against the well-loved flannel in a way König couldn’t miss. The rub of the softened material rose above your diluted senses, conflicting stimuli bombarding you, waking you,

tempting you.

A sticky-sweet stream of desire pooled inside of you, thick and rich as molasses. It tricked down your spine, tacky and viscous, awakening the sleeping pulse between your thighs.

You shrugged it away, forced it down, but the sugar lingered on your lips. You couldn’t ignore it for long, not when nimble fingers — the same ones that filled you each night — flitted down your belly, moving button by button until the oversized shirt hung open over your torso. König widened the gap as he tugged on the sides to line up the buttons, causing one side to slip off your shoulder.

Your hands jerked up to grab the collar before it fell, instinctive modesty making an appearance through your haze. Excess flannel pooled in your clutches and billowed at your hips, leaving your neck and the unblemished curve of your collarbone exposed above the fallen shirt. The rounded swell of a breast peeked above the fabric, only a few kept up by your hands.

“Hase,” König said, voice husky, eyes shining as he met yours, not straying down your body. “You don't want me to see?”

You wobbled in place on the mattress, unsteady. The answer wasn’t no, but it wasn’t yes either. It was something else entirely, complex and tied up in your vocal cords, double-knotted in your throat.

It was silly.

Stupid, really.

König had seen you undressed before. He’d warmed you against his bare chest your first night here and bathed you from head to toe. His fingers had already been inside you — last night, even — but it hadn’t been like this .

This was different from the transactional view of your lower half you allowed König in the evenings. You could compartmentalize that, justify and explain it to yourself and to him and then bury it six feet under your psyche so when this was all over, no mandated therapist would ever, ever be able to find it.

This was… intimate . The kind of thing two lovers shared at the end of their day, falling into bed together with teasing fingers, all flushed skin and kiss-swollen lips. Crossing those lines would change everything, even if only subtly.

And you and König weren’t lovers — weren’t even anything —

were you?

No. No. Well—

The only thing you knew for sure was that you were tired. Tired of fighting this, him, the medicine, the care, his guidance, his touches, his advances. He’d taken such good care of you. Gave you everything you needed and then some. Good meals and praise and medical care and affection. It was becoming more and more clear what he wanted in return — a man with carnal desire, no different from any other — though he hadn’t demanded it. König could just as easily snatch whatever he wanted from you with a hand tangled in your hair and another securing your wrists, keeping them cuffed into the mattress or your lower back,

but he didn’t.

You didn’t offer him anything in return except trouble and ingratitude — but maybe you could change that all now. A female body was a sight he probably didn’t often get up here in the woods, if at all, something small to touch and hold and squeeze. Your hands dropped to your sides in acceptance of your fate, bracing yourself for whatever violation would come next.

“That’s my girl,” he breathed. “I want to take care of you…get you straightened out and settled for the night.”

My girl.

His. His.

Rough palms dragged over your hips and fluttering tummy as he journeyed upward, impossibly wide hands covering large swaths of your naked skin. You fought back a shiver as you gripped the blankets beneath you, fists curling around handfuls of quilted cotton when his fingers drifted to your breasts. You closed your eyes, expecting him to paw at you immediately, to squeeze and squish your softness with brutish force — but he didn’t.

Your mouth fell open, damp lips parting as tough thumb pads flicked over your nipples with a delicate, exploring touch. He circled around them, giving each peak the attention it deserved, nerve clusters sending electricity shooting to your center. Syrupy warmth gathered in your core, c*nt squeezing around nothing in a lonely ache. You clenched the covers harder when he cupped handfuls of your breasts, gently kneading as you shivered from cold and want.

“f*ck,” he cursed.

Your eyes shot up to his, but he wasn’t gazing at your face anymore. It was easy to see why when you followed the direction of his stare down the planes of your body. The flesh of your breasts, spilled out between König’s fingers, a startling contrast of labor-worn hands against delicate skin. Lower, the cushioned lip of your belly rested above your exposed puss*, thighs spread unwittingly under his attention to reveal the glimmer of your need, the glaze of arousal glistening in the low light. Your insides clenched, sending a trickle of moisture to join the rest, leaking out onto the bedspread.

Christ.

No wonder he thought you were so desperate and easy; here you were, a few sweet words and you were opening your legs so readily for the first man you’d come across after losing your way in the woods. But your shame eased a touch when your eyes flicked to the bruise on your hip. Vessels crushed under the weight of his affection, left unchecked, violence doled out as easily as pleasure at the tips of his fingers. You swallowed.

You did what you had to. That’s all this was — an offering in exchange for safety and protection. Companionship and care. The mutual pleasure of two people isolated from the rest of the world, nowhere else to get it from but their own hands

Nothing more.

The air was still cool on your slick center when he shifted forward on his knees until his thighs pressed against the side of the bed, claiming the space between your legs. You couldn’t ignore — and were sure he didn’t miss — the wet little noise of your spreading folds when he pried your thighs even wider and slotted himself between your legs. You retreated, leaned back, propped up on your elbows on the bed, legs split wide to accommodate him. Your shirt was forgotten, barely hanging on at your wrists, crumpled beneath you.

König tucked his mask up to free his mouth and rubbed at his jaw, rustling the wiry strands of his beard as he drank in the sight of you. His eyes lifted to yours, but he wasn't looking at you like a conquest won, spoils of war to be taken and defiled — no gloating there, no sneer of a poor sport who’d won the game and came to gloat. The shimmer in his eyes was just shy of religious ecstasy, lids hooded over cerulean heavens, a man genuflecting before an altar adorned in gold and mother of pearl.

No one had ever looked at you like that.

His hands slid under your bottom and squeezed as he pushed you further back on the bed, causing your arms to give out from under you. You bent your legs and tried to sit up, but the vast spread of König’s hand over your chest kept you down.

“Entspann dich,” he rasped. “Let me spoil you the way you deserve.”

You barely dared to breathe when he leaned over the barrier of your knees and planted a kiss between your breasts, chaste and light, a tithe paid to show his devotion. All the butterflies in your stomach took flight at the tone, rising to your throat. The muscles in your legs betrayed you and gave out, falling to either side on the bed for the giant, gentling himself for you, just for you.

His lips mapped the plush contour of each mound with the soft, wet sounds of mouth on skin before he lowered himself onto his elbows between your thighs, leaving a damp little trail of affection in his wake.

“Pretty,” he murmured against your navel. “So pretty. I wonder if you taste as sweet as you look, Hase.”

He stroked the satin-smooth skin of your inner thighs as he nipped at the curves of your belly, offering a soft touch to contrast the play bites. Primal want surged to take over and stomp out any of your remaining doubt, tenuous strands of self-control the only things keeping you from bucking up into his touch. He pet you everywhere but there by now, grabbing at every bit of tender skin he could reach, leaving your slit untouched, tempting and teasing.

König’s mouth found its way near to where you ached and dripped, lips sneaking closer and closer, almost right where you wanted them — but he stopped short. His breath fanned out over your nakedness, highlighting how drenched you were, and at that, you finally let a pathetic little whine free from your throat, a sweet, plaintive sound.

A single finger ran through your wetness, tracing the seam of your c*nt and bringing a smear of wetness up to your cl*t.

“So wet already,” he sighed against your inner thigh as he rubbed the tight bud, nipping at your plush with teasing teeth. “Dripping. All that fussing today — this is what you needed, wasn’t it? You should have told me earlier.”

You didn’t want to admit it, but his breath was warm, so close to your puss* — still too far — that you couldn’t help the gurgly groan that slipped past your lips when he dipped down and waited, his mouth inches from where your body pulsed with desperate need. But he didn’t move yet, just offered your cl*t a few tiny strums, waiting for your answer. You lifted your hips toward his mouth, a begrudging wiggle in his direction, the closest he would get to confirmation that he was right about you, about everything.

It was enough for König.

He dove into the apex of your thighs, dragging his tongue through your folds, tentative at first, then growing bolder as he lapped at you with obscene, breathy noises of enjoyment. Your cheeks prickled with heat at the sounds. It was almost distracting how loudly he tended to you — but there wasn’t anyone else around to eavesdrop or gossip, no nosy neighbors ready to bang their fists on paper-thin walls.

It was just you, just König.

He took a few moments to get his bearings, but what he lacked in finesse, he more than made up for in effort. His nose bumped your cl*t as his tongue laved your slickened hole, greedily searching for every drop of your arousal, head bowed in worship. The strands of his mustache tickled as he scratched his pleasure into your sensitive skin, scrubbing your inner thighs with softened bristles. His tongue moved with slow, broad strokes before circling your cl*t, tight swirls that sent your mind spinning along with it, twisting up into the clouds, higher,

higher,

higher.

König’s mask came untucked and draped over your stomach in a crinkle of soft cotton, stitched edges brushing gently against your lower tummy, obscuring his actions. But you didn’t need to see him when you could feel his mouth, molten hot on you, his tongue probing you, licking every inch of sensitive skin he could reach, wet and eager.

The bed beneath you began to shake — rhythmic bounces and creaks of the frame. You craned your neck to peek at him, watching him grind his pelvis against the mattress in a weak imitation of f*cking you. You wanted to think of him as pathetic, so desperate and lonely that he was literally humping into his blankets like some horny teenager — but you couldn’t.

Not when you were just as pitiful, joining his rhythm, rolling your hips up into his mouth in time to his thrusts against the covers, not when you wished it was you beneath his powerful hips instead of the comforter and mattress. Shame mottled your skin like spilled ink, scarlet dripping down your neck to pool at the divot at the base of your neck.

It was hard to convince yourself that this was for survival. Fight or flight or freeze or fawn — this was beyond any of that. It couldn’t be your preservation instincts acting alone — no, no — not when you were so, so willing.

No — this was a match to his want, a give and give and give to his take, an answer to his prayers.

His eyes were closed in rapture, but he must have sensed your stare. König looked up at you, half-lidded and drunk with desire, pupils blown so wide that only a thin ring of sapphire was left around a large, coal-dark center. Your head lolled back onto the mattress when two fingers pressed into your sloppy heat, slick and saliva paving the way for an easy entry — but you still winced at the burn of the stretch, his fingers too wide to be taken so suddenly, but you managed anyway with a sad, breathy moan. You gasped and struggled when his fingers bottomed out, inner walls spasming around the intrusion, nerves pulled taut, low in your belly.

He braced his arm over your middle to keep you in place, but soothed you with his tongue flicking at your cl*t in apology, his penance for being too rough. König bathed you in bliss as he sucked your cl*t, pulling the remaining breath right from your lungs. You couldn’t move or think or speak when he held this position, fingers buried deep, keeping you filled and pinned, as trapped as your swollen cl*t was between his lips. Gravity released you before König did, nearly floating away as the world around you cracked and fractured.

Your hands scrabbled down to his head when he wouldn’t let up, mussing his hood, maybe pulling him down or trying to push him away, you couldn’t tell anything apart from the heat expanding from within your core like an imploding star, fire rising to the surface and spreading across your skin. Almost — not enough, too much, too much, you were going to — to—

König pulled his fingers out and broke the suction of his mouth with a wet ‘pop’ just before you came, and his probing tongue took its place without missing a beat. Long, wet strokes lapped up the length of your slit, morphing into short flicks around your cl*t as you teetered on the edge of your release. Your weak fingers released his mask to fall to the mattress, the threads of reality slipping away from your grasp just like the fabric.

“Isn't it better to behave and get this?” he mumbled against your c*nt, slowing to a tortuously leisurely pace before pulling away from you completely and lifting his mask out of the way again. “I could do this every morning, every night, whenever you want if you’re a good little bunny for me.”

You nodded against the mattress — you’d be anything he wanted, anything, anything. Your hips jerked up, trying to find his mouth again, to chase after the bliss he pulled away. Without him, you tipped backward off the rising peak, falling, falling, desperately reaching out for handholds on the side of the mountain before you lost your momentum. Something incoherent that may have been English at one point stuttered from your lips, vowels and consonants flaking apart like shale beneath your hand.

“Tell me what you want, sweet thing, and it’s yours.”

“You,” you whined, hands searching for his face, far beyond caring how you looked or sounded. “Please, I was so close. Wanna—”

König lowered himself into your waiting grasp, allowing you to guide him by the mask where you wanted him. Your back curved as soon as his mouth was back on you, over sensitive nerves scorched, synapses misfiring as they tried to align once again into the proper pathways. His mouth and hand worked in tandem, a flattened tongue, a nip between gentle teeth, fingers stroking and curling just so — f*ck, there , right there—

“Kö—”

Your breath hissed in through your teeth, his fingers slowing for a third to begin to push next to the other two, stretching you, coaxing muscles to offer him room you weren’t sure you had to give. You wiggled in earnest, but his bicep flexed, adding pressure on your tummy to keep you right where he wanted you.

“Can’t. Can’t. Oh, f*ck,” you groaned, hot beads of moisture darkening your eyelashes. “Please—”

Your eyes snapped shut as König pushed past the barrier of your weak protests and spasming walls, and you crashed head-first into pleasure and pain with a wretched cry.

He didn’t let up when your thighs lifted and clamped around his head, muscles tightening as they bracketed his ears. He only pushed in deeper, practically splitting you in two, right down the center like the logs König cut for the fire, splinters flying from the powerful swing of his axe. You constricted on the fingers wrenching you open, wetness leaking around the digits, dripping down to stain the quilt with your bliss.

“I knew you could do it. Perfect,” he purred. “Mein braver Hase.”

König pumped his hand a few more times to prove his point, then planted a kiss on your swollen cl*t. Aftershocks rippled through you, had you arching into his palm, body contorting to his whims. But he finally released you, and you slumped back on the bed, legs flopping against the mattress. All you could do was lay there and catch your breath, completely boneless. Your hands fell to the side, unsure what to do with them, what to do next.

Your eyes flickered back open when the mattress dipped, and König rose to his knees above you. You looked up — and up, and up — and saw him lick his lips, shiny with your combined mess, pearlescent droplets of your release still clinging to his beard. He peered down at you with a smoldering gaze. A roguish smirk tugged at one corner of his mouth when he pulled his shirt up under his chin, and your eyes dropped to take in the sight.

You sucked in a shuddering breath at the landscape of thick muscle towering over you, well-formed and well-fed with a healthy layer of fat overlaying it all — but you could still see the bulk of his strength flexing below the layer of softness. You couldn’t help the way your eyes drifted lower, down the trail of dark hairs that led from his navel to his waistband, and the prominent bulge that strained against grey fleece, a tiny dark splotch at the tip.

A fresh flood of traitorous warmth rushed between your thighs, your body preparing itself for what it hoped would come next. König pushed down his underwear and sweatpants to free his co*ck and let out a small groan as it sprung out, swollen and leaking the evidence of his arousal, painfully hard if you had to guess by the look of it. He didn’t waste any time and clutched his shaft within his fist, rubbing himself with long, lazy strokes over your supine form.

You suddenly felt smaller than ever, shrinking beneath his shadow, needier in a different way than before, for his approval and acceptance, to be desired by him. The thought flooded your veins like venom, a sickness that seeped into your marrow to fester. You shouldn’t want that, but you did, f*ck, you did. Your thoughts were a jumbled slurry of half-formed wishes, but you didn’t know how to process or communicate any of it.

His hand glided up and down his length smoothly above you, leaning back on his knees as his eyes roamed your body. You started to lift a hand toward him, but let it fall back to the mattress weakly — he’d worked you open only to leave you empty. You were right there.

Why didn’t he just f*ck you?

You’d let him, too, you would, you would. Moisture rolled over your lash line, a deep hurt you didn’t know how to explain. Maybe it was childish and petulant, but it still cut like a betrayal. You crumpled up the last shreds of your dignity to speak.

“Don’t you want to—” you choked out around your cotton-dry tongue. “Don’t you want—” Your voice failed, stuttering words cut short, overcome with shyness, which was ridiculous considering that you were lying nude before him and his lips were still wet with your fluids. “Want…me?”

“Oh, sweet girl.” His expression softened slightly at your forlorn words, brows coming together. “I do. But…there is one small problem.”

He bent down over you, and let his co*ck drop against your abdomen with a fleshy little slap, heated skin rested against you. You craned your neck to look down, and swallowed, wetting your sandpapered throat

Well.

It was… not a small problem.

König’s co*ck stretched impossibly long against you, a sticky bead of arousal rolling down the swollen head to marr the smooth skin of your belly. He offered you preview of how deeply he’d be inside of you, how close to your navel the very tip of him would need to burrow into your warmth.

sh*t.

In his own large hands, he was proportional — average, even. But pressed against you, so much smaller, more delicate bone structure nothing compared to the mass of his, you were forced to face the reality of the size difference between the two of you. You’d felt the thickness of his fingers and co*ck toying with your holes in the evenings and knew it would be intense, but the direct comparison was something else entirely.

It was dizzying. Wouldn't fit, wouldn’t be possible, would completely ruin you—

but you wanted him to try.

You tried to raise your pelvis to line up with his in a silent invitation, but his hand splayed across your bare tummy, pinning you in place with effortless strength despite your writhing. His other hand still stroked his shaft, growing slicker with his own leaking arousal.

“No,” he warned, voice deepening into a near growl.

You cowered beneath him, scruffed. König bent himself over you, hand releasing you to press into the mattress beside your head, trapping you, massive form blanketing you, allowing a fraction of his weight to press on you. He would have blotted out the sun above had you been outside, not allowing even the light to touch your skin, only him,

only him.

The heat of his body simmered low against you, your own private hearth. His hand bumped against your stomach with each pass along his co*ck. Warm prespend oozed down onto your belly, pulled forth by his stroking over where you lay. His mouth lowered to your ear, bringing with it the heady scent of sex and your arousal that clung to his beard. You felt his lips curled back, his teeth nipp the edge of your ear, nearly tickling, but you managed to keep your shoulder from rising to push him away.

“I promised I wouldn’t hurt you,” he huffed. “But you’ll learn to take it in time. All of it.”

You nodded as he jerked himself faster — yes, yes, yes — your empty hands reaching up to wrap around his ribcage, fingers clinging to the sides of his T-shirt.

“Eager little thing.” König huffed a laugh into your hair at your fervent nods, a dark, rough bark of a sound. “I know, I know. I won’t leave you empty for long.”

A sob bubbled up past the lump in your throat at the same time your c*nt throbbed, lonely and forgotten while he chased his pleasure. Some fundamental part of you must be deeply, truly broken to want this, enjoy this, your brain forced to rewire itself to make sense of it all, forging new connections that shouldn’t exist, soldering them so they stuck.

“Listen to you.” König pressed his lips against the side of your face. “Shh, so sweet. You’ll take what you’re given, wherever it’s given, won’t you?”

Your insides knotted and cramped at the thought of him fitting in your c*nt let alone anywhere else. But the reflexive ‘no’ on your lips withered away, another one of those little white lies that you were compelled to tell to preserve some ingrained expectation of feminine innocence. König wouldn’t buy it anyway. While you were here, no matter how scared or angry or hurt or tired you were, you knew you’d always end up like this, on your back or side or face down, accepting whatever his affection looked like that day.

Somehow, you’d make it work. You would bend and rearrange yourself inside and out, let him break you down and reform you into whatever he wanted or needed, even if it meant crying pretty tears into his pillowcase — as long as he kissed them away afterward.

König knew it, too.

“Anywhere,” he added, dark insinuation staining his voice, hot breaths quickening against the side of your face. “Hm?”

“Yes,” you rasped, mouth drying up as he fisted his length against you.

“That’s right,” he said between grunts, words lost among the lewd sounds of his fist jerking up and down his co*ck. “f*ck. I knew you’d be perfect for me. A nice, good girl to fill up again and again — make you mine.”

With a choked groan from low in his throat, he rose from you and leaned back, hips stuttering into his palm. Warm splashes of his release landed over your abdomen, pooling in your navel and settling in the divots that led down to your groin.

König pumped himself one last time, and another streak arced from his co*ck, lower, dripping down over your c*nt. He rolled his neck to the side, recovering from his stun with a few harsh curses and breaths. He sat back on his haunches, spent co*ck still half-hard and dangling obscenely between his thighs. It took him a few moments before he seemed to remember you were there, but his eyes brightened when he did, a wild light shining through the fog of his climax.

He reached for you, thumb sliding through the milky evidence of his pleasure dappling your skin, glistening in the golden firelight. König was silent except for his deep breathing as he stared intently at your lower half. His slicked finger slipped downward and pressed inside of you, effortless with how wet you already were, prepped for more, for bigger. Your tightness squeezed him instinctively, greedy c*nt gripping him, trying to draw him in. But one last lift of your hips was all you could manage before you dropped, finally, finally spent, not a single ounce left to give him.

You closed your eyes, the remaining glow of your release settling into a pleasant fullness at the base of your stomach. The mattress shifted and a cold towel passed over your abdomen and c*nt, cleaning you in long, scooping swipes.

“A shame,” König tutted, slipping your shirt off your limp arms. “It’s dirty now. We’ll have to wash it.”

It wasn’t long before he’d maneuvered your nude body under the familiar weight of his blankets. But when he didn't join you in bed, you forced your heavy lids to blink open, and you peered up at him as he stood beside you.

“Aren’t you coming to bed, too?” you asked.

“I have some work to do first.” König smoothed the blankets over your shoulder as you turned on your side. “But I’ll be back soon,” he said, patting your shoulder. “I promise.”

You didn’t want him to leave, but mostly, you just didn’t want to be alone. He was already leaving, though, so you offered a whispered ‘okay’ as he stepped away. Your eyes stayed open to slits as he closed the door, lashes criss-crossing over your barely-parted lids.

The nearly-set sun drenched the room in amber tones, motes of dust catching the light like flecks of gold floating across the room. It was a gorgeous view — but you were far too exhausted to appreciate it, preferring the darkness you found behind the backs of your eyelids instead.

⋆⁺₊⋆☾⋆⁺₊⋆

Strange, distant images rose and fell, incoherent sensations and sights and colors smeared across your mind like an abstract painting. Bright splashes of iridescence swirled over an inky sea of nothingness. But through it, under it, around it, a man’s voice emerged, muffled. Far away, so far away.

Not König’s. Then—

whose?

Your name next, your actual name, not Hase or Liebling or darling or thing or girl. You ran blindly through the darkness, calling out — here, I’m here! But he didn’t hear you, couldn’t see you.

A shape emerged. A figure. A man. Your name again — accented, a thick brogue. You knew it, recognized it, yes, you did. It had to be him, not your squad, not Ghost or Gaz or Price. It was — was—

Soap.

Soap?

The 141. Here? You screamed for help, but no sound came out of your throat, your plea for salvation trapped behind thick glass that emerged before you, impervious to the way your fists smashed against it. But it splintered eventually, a hairline fracture in the perfect surface, and you wedged your nails into the crack until they peeled and split from your fingers, palms cut on shards as sharp as double-edged blades, spilling burgundy streams down your arms.

You clawed your way to freedom, for yourself and for Soap trapped on the other side. He reached through the blood-stained hole you’d torn in the glass, gripped your shoulder and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed until his fingers tore tendon from muscle and bone, decimating your joint. You screamed through a hoarse throat — stop, stop, stop, help — Soap was hurting you — why? He couldn’t hear you, or did and didn’t care.

Left you, alone.

A shadow loomed, darkening everything. Your voice was stifled by the familiar scarred fingers suddenly on your tongue, one, then two, then three, then four, then five, too big, pushing forward, ripping your mouth at the seams of your lips, choked into silence by—

by—

“Hase,” König called out.

You bolted upright at the rough shake, fingers denting the muscle of your naked shoulder. Your chest heaved, your body readying itself to run. But a thick thigh fenced you in on the bed so you stilled, sucking in cool air and thick woodsmoke. You coughed at the too-deep breath, airways spasming at being overfilled. Confusion gathered around you in the darkness as your mind and lungs cleared. Jersey-soft cotton beneath your thighs. Wood walls, the cabin. A hand back on your shoulder. König’s. Gentle, now.

A dream. It was just a dream.

“Hey, hey,” he said, leaning over you on the bed. “Shh. Are you alright?” he asked, eyes dark in the low light as he scanned your face, unreadable.

“Bad dream,” you rasped past your sore throat, not entirely sure what it was, but that was close enough.

“Ah,” König tutted, looking down at your hands, the near-punctures of deep crescent moons pressed into your palms by the force of your nails. “Look what you’ve done…” He clicked his tongue as he rubbed over the self-inflicted marks, and yanked away your covers to inspect the rest of you for injury.

The sudden cold shocked your naked body — right, he’d taken off your flannel — but a quick scope up and down your form must have satisfied him that you hadn’t harmed yourself further. He pulled you closer for a half-hug as he sat on the side of the bed with you. Your arms rose to curl around him, seeking his comfort while your eyes flickered open and closed. He fluffed the pillow just right before guiding you to lay your head back again.

König leaned over you and swiped his thumb over your bottom lip. You winced — why did that hurt?

“Must have been quite the nightmare,” he mused, turning his finger in the dim lighting, examining the spot of blood that transferred from your lip. “What was it about?”

Lie. Lie.

“I don’t remember,” you said against your better judgment, eyes dropping to his thighs to avoid meeting his gaze. Your tongue poked at your lip, licking away the taste of salt and copper.

“Mm,” he hummed. “That’s probably for the best.” He sighed and patted your cheek. “So frightened here without me. I hate to ask you to wait even longer.”

“What were you doing?” you asked, chancing another look back up at him. “Were you talking to someone?”

Obsidian glinted within the depths of his eyes, gilded by the firelight. The pretty light blue of his irises was darkened by night, an eerie effect behind his mask, eyes like voids that would swallow you up if you ventured too close, if you foolishly reached for the illusion of gold reflected there.

“No,” he said simply, pausing a beat too long. “Why?”

“Thought I heard…something,” you muttered, looking away. “Someone.”

“No one else is here. There’s no need to be scared.” König pressed his covered lips to your forehead. “I’ll just be a few more minutes. Try to get more rest, little one. You need it.”

You watched him leave the bedroom, rattled, but still sank back into drowsiness, forced there by exhaustion beyond what could be natural — it had to be the medicine still dredging its way through your bloodstream.

Before König shut the bedroom door behind him, you noticed a strip of concentrated light you’d never seen before, stretching into the hallway. Not from the broom closet, not the bathroom — no, it couldn’t be. It was closer than that, coming from the locked door just down the hall, never opened in your presence.

You’d always assumed it was a door to the back of the property, a pantry, maybe, or for utility access behind the bathroom. Maybe that’s what he was doing, a plumbing repair or meal prep, something ordinary. Everything else so far had turned out that way, all your ideas of secret plots and plans had left you looking foolish in the face of König’s logical explanations

But that idea wouldn’t settle. It buzzed under your skin, itching like a mosquito bite you couldn’t reach. Adrenaline spiked, battling your weariness, keeping you present just a little longer.

The bedroom door clicked closed, and you heard another door open. You listened closely, even holding your breath to hear better between heartbeats — steps — stairs? — quieter, quieter,

then only silence.

You wanted to stay up and wait for König, to keep listening in case you heard something interesting. The voice — Soap’s — had been so real. It couldn’t have been your imagination. But then again, maybe it was just the desperate dream of a sad, lonely girl, wounded and sick.

Your pounding heart slowed, and the suspicion fizzled out like everything else around you, the world dissolving as sleep began to drag you under. Still, uncertainty burned like popping candy on the tip of your tongue. You held on to your questions, running through it all again and again, praying you’d remember the dream, the voice, the light, everything.

You couldn’t forget come morning, couldn't lose them to the ether like most of your dreams and ideas, brushed away by König and the rising sun. You would remember, you would,

you would.

You wanted answers, whether König would provide them or not — and your bet was that he would not. You’d have to take things into your own hands, wait until you had all the information this time before making any big claims. Investigate.

König’s warning from earlier rose to the forefront of your mind — curiosity killed the cat. A joke, he said. Maybe. Maybe not.

You just hoped it wouldn’t get the best of you, too.

Notes:

Thank you SO much for reading and supporting my writing! I hope you liked this chapter! If you enjoyed it, please consider leaving a kudos or comment - they keep me fueled and inspired to keep going ☺️

Ok so I know könig is sort of terrible in this. yet sometimes nice yet awful but i love him like that. this fic does have a relatively thought-out plot, but it does also wander and degenerate into absolute filth at times.

this chapter was longer because i wanted to set things up for the coming ones, the next two especially :)

But, I hope you enjoyed it ~ I'd love to hear your thoughts on plot points, potential clues left, the dream, the door (I promise I didn't pull that out of my ass, Hase did try to open it before) etc :D

Hoping to get one more update in before my surgery on the 26th!! 💕

You can find me on twitter or tumblr.

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