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The fire burned low, and two quiet voices whispered in the flickering light, the sound covered by the howling of the blizzard outside the cave.

"But he'll hear us!"

"Shhh! No, he won't. He's asleep, Merle. If we whisper like this, and we're real quiet, he'll never know."

"Umm... But..."

"Please, Merle! I love you so much."

There was silence for awhile, save for the wailing of the wind and the quiet crackling of the fire.

"Oh, Tinker! Yessss.... That feels so good..."

Merle heard a scrape of steel armor on stone, and her eyes flew open. Xaa's yellow-gold eyes gleamed back at her in the firelight. He quietly put another log on the dying fire. "Call me when you're finished," he rumbled, his eyes burning a hole through her soul. He then rose from the fire, tucked his swords into his sash, and walked to the entrance to the cave. Xaa then sat down again, and flakes of snow began to settle on his shoulders.

"Oh, Spirits," Merle said, her heart sinking low in her chest.

"What did he say, Merle?" Tinker asked, his ears burning crimson.

"He said to call him when we're finished," Merle replied, and nearly sobbed.

"Umm... I kind of... Umm... I kind of already am, Merle. I'm sorry - I've never done this before," Tinker said, and Merle could see he was very embarrassed.

"It's alright, Tinker," Merle said, sighing as she struggled to hold in her tears.

"I'm so sorry, Merle. Was it alright for you? Did you like it?" Tinker asked, still very embarrassed.

Merle hugged Tinker gently beneath the blankets. "Yes, Tinker. It was very nice, really. Please don't worry, everything is fine," Merle said, and clapped her mouth shut to hold in a sob.

"But-but you sound like you're about to cry."

"It's alright, Tinker. I've never done this before, either," Merle replied, and began to weep quietly.

Tinker hugged her, nuzzling her neck, but it was a long time before Merle finally stopped crying. She kept looking over to Xaa, sitting there near the entrance to the cave, his legs crossed in his lap, as immobile as a statue, the snowflakes from stray wisps of air gently landing on him.

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Chapter One<<<<