It was a clean shot, the arrow taking her in the throat, and she tried to bolt, staggered, fell. As Vanastin approached her head whipped around, dark eyes glittering and large, rolling in the sockets as she looked for her unseen killer. Finding him, she struggled, tried to flee, but her legs betrayed her as surely as her panicked breath betrayed her.
He didn't let her suffer, soothing those last moments with a gentle touch and quiet prayer. For a moment she seemed to understand, in that instant before he ended it quickly as possible, that she would be a life-giver even in death, that though by her age she was certainly past the rearing of fawns she was still plump enough to fill a few bellies, to sustain and supply the roving stewards. So she died quietly, no fear or struggling in that last instant.
"Impressive, for someone who's vallaslin is hardly dry." Vanastin rolled his eyes before glancing over his shoulder to look at Tamlen, who approached with practiced silence otherwise.
"If a year and a half is hardly dry, then you're fit to serve as elder." The jab was light as he could make it in his dark voice, and Tamlen would surely understand.
"I've often thought so myself," Tamlen said, stretching languorously, just a hint of a smirk betraying his words for a jest. "But then I might have to do my own work instead of pushing it off on you."
Standing, Vanastin turned to him, stopped Tamlen with a hand against his chest. "In that case, you can carry her."
The undergrowth in this northern forest was too thick to rightly stalk prey, and they had waited so long for this deer that returning to the aravels would be more prudent than finding a new site and waiting for a second. True darkness was fast approaching, and they'd find little hunting then—best to return at morning twilight.
They'd passed a deep pool from a spring on the way in, and Vanastin stopped here to wash his hands of the kill's blood before it could dry. He would only dirty them again in dressing her, but it was a habit. Tamlen knelt to drop the doe's carcass silently as he could, because this was an opportunity he simply couldn't pass up. He stalked up behind Vanastin, quietly, then shoved him roughly. Vanastin toppled out of his crouch into the water, flipping as he fell and sucking down a lungful of air.
Too absorbed in his laughter, Tamlen didn't notice the deep breath, and Vanastin's descent into the pool kicked up enough mud to obscure him from the surface. Vanastin was a strong swimmer, and he counted on Tamlen's confidence in his abilities. So Vanastin touched bottom, easy in his armor, counted until his lungs had just started to burn, then relaxed, letting himself float back to the surface face-down. Though garbled, he could hear Tamlen's fading laughter. "Quit that. We both know better."
And Tamlen nearly called his bluff, because Vanastin wasn't sure he could hold his breath safely much longer, but a panicked, "Lethallin?" goaded him on. Tamlen splashed into the water, and then there were hands on his shoulders--Vanastin whipped up, taking in another deep breath to ease the ache in his lungs, then put all his weight down on Tamlen to dunk him. When he resurfaced Tamlen sputtered angrily, spitting water, but Vanastin retreated to shallower water to have a good laugh of his own. Pale hair slicked to pale skin, sky-colored eyes glowering, Vanastin couldn't hold back, "You look like a drowned halla," between laughs.
Tamlen joined him in the shallower water, the little waves of his motion lapping at the lower portion of Vanastin's chest, and seized him for a brief, hard kiss. On parting Vanastin asked, "What was that?"
"You know how I feel about your laugh," Tamlen murmured, and he leaned in to kiss his way up Vanastin's jaw, running his lips up the bottom of Vanastin's ear and nibbling at the tip. Vanastin mirrored this motion with his hand, running his fingertips up the bottom of Tamlen's ear and then sliding them into his soaking hair, pushing Tamlen closer as the taller elf descended to kiss at his neck, sucking and biting, but careful not to leave any visible marks.
"Don't tease," Vanastin cautioned. "You know we won't have time to finish this in camp."
"Then we'll make time now," Tamlen growled, biting down a little harder than intended, and Vanastin gasped, arching against him. They made short work of the soaked armor and padding, the motions of disrobing each other familiar, and carefully put everything ashore. By silent agreement they returned the water, an area shallow enough that Tamlen, taller by a few inches, stood more or less exposed, and Vanastin tried to return those intimate gestures, licks and nips of earlier, but Tamlen would have none of it tonight. Tamlen preferred his powerful and confident hunter helpless and quaking with lust before taking him, and toward this end teased and stroked hard, muscular flesh with lips and hands. By the time Tamlen's hand found Vanastin's entrance, the smaller elf was shuddering against him, buried his head in the crook of Tamlen's neck, nodded his assent.
Tamlen lifted him easily, and Vanastin wrapped his legs around Tamlen's waist, bringing Vanastin fully out of the water and supporting him well enough that Tamlen could spare a hand to stretch toward the bank and grope around for the scant pouch of supplies he carried. One of the hunters, originally from another clan, had counseled him on this relationship just after Vanastin's coming of age—and after his cautions on subtlety and secrecy, his advice that the lust of men was unpredictable and to "be prepared, always" was most valuable. As he palmed the purposefully mislabeled bottle of oil from his pack, Tamlen thanked the hunter as fervently as he might the Creators, slicked his fingers, and nearly dropped the bottle, barely retaining the wit to set it aside when Vanastin ground against him. He'd done his job too well, Vanastin too ready and too eager, and such unabashed desire drove him on as well, unable to hold back a little thrust of his own.
So he was a little harsher than he meant to be in preparing Vanastin, a little too eager himself, but Vanastin endured, curling against him once more and kissing Tamlen harshly, all urgency and need. Drawing away, Vanastin worried at his lower lip to stifle any utterance as Tamlen slid yet another finger in, but was unable to contain a whimper—whether in pain or need Tamlen couldn't tell, so he finished as quickly as he could, slicked himself.
"We're alone," Tamlen murmured, and that drew Vanastin's attention back to him. "There's no need to be silent. No one will hear us, and no one will care."
As Tamlen slid in, slowly, giving Vanastin time to adjust, the smaller elf let loose a vehement curse—funny, the parts of their language that survived the ages—and he couldn't help but ask, "Are you alright?"
"You take too long," Vanastin growled. And Tamlen laughed, holding him a little tighter. Moments of intimacy were rare, for fear of being discovered, and this in particular was still new and novel. Though they were often rough with each other, taking out their lust on one another with enthusiasm, the very last thing Tamlen wanted was to hurt Vanastin. Any injury would draw unwelcome questions, and guilt. It was their duty, after all, as young and virile hunters, Vanastin in particular as he was well-regarded within the clan, to find mates and settle down to help strengthen the race. This was seen as a youthful indulgence, to be discouraged in adulthood in favor of duty.
So they both savored this moment, all too aware that as soon as someone questioned their closeness in just the right fashion they had few options, the easiest of which would be what the older hunter and his lover had done—parting ways, leaving for separate clans as if in shame. Every kiss and impassioned exchange was a moment stolen against that inevitable parting, and any moment stolen while with the clan was a risk. Worth it, they had both sworn to each other.
And in moments like this, it was. Vanastin kissed him again, on more equal terms this time, and they set a pace together, trying to find a balance between need for release and need for intimacy. In the end the former won, as Tamlen drew close too soon, Vanastin tight and hot around him, and the quiet sounds of Vanastin's pleasure, normally restrained for fear of prying ears, driving him on. Vanastin matched this new, animalistic rhythm, this driving need, with equal abandon, and Tamlen couldn't resist running a hand down Vanastin's sculpted body to palm his hardness, working it between them roughly. Growling his name, Vanastin nipped just a little too harshly at one ear, but the pain only drove Tamlen on.
In the end, it was more like the rutting of animals than the lovemaking of two mates, Tamlen emptying himself into Vanastin pushing the smaller elf over the edge, Vanastin straining to take more of him in even as Vanastin threw his head back, climaxing with a harsh and throaty gasp, voice breaking. But there was a sweetness in this, too, the promise of playful words and gentle touches later, in the privacy of their own tent at the clan's camp. And a threat of loss, too.
They clung to each other, sweaty and breathless in those moments after, as if it might be their last embrace. It very well could be.