"This is as much for my own enjoyment as it is about you learning what you're capable of," he said.
His thumb found my clit before I could complain, just pressing gently. I breathed through the dull, sugary pressure of the touch, and he lowered his face just enough to brush his lips over mine.
"Please," I whispered, trying to rock myself into his hand, but he was careful to move with me, never growing lighter or firmer.
"The trees," Jude prompted.
I groaned, closing my eyes and finding their strong, old souls around us again. And as I groaned, they did too, an ancient and dangerous and slow moan of roots and branches and thick, sturdy trunks. I gasped, laughing, and then whimpered as Jude rewarded me, swirling his thumb, petting at me with a few fingers.
"More," he said.
But I was already there, my heart pounding through the ground, into the tangling net of roots that burrowed their way toward the water beneath our blanket. I opened my eyes, and above me stretched the future ghosts of branches, a hundred years or more from now. The sun was skimming and feeding me by the edges of their leaves.
Jude pressed two fingers inside of me, and his mouth kissed my slowing pulse in my throat. I was languid, falling into the patient life of the trees, ready to rest and grow and feed the earth.
And then Jude pulled away again.
I whined and the branches rustled, complaining on my behalf. I blinked up at Jude to find him grinning, and this time, I was still connected to the woods around me, not pulled entirely out of the moment.
"Undress," I murmured.
"You don't want to keep—?"
"I do. Undress," I said.
He had nice hands, those fingers that had touched me shining faintly with my own eager interest as he reached up to pull at the buttons of his shirt. I rolled on the blanket, rising to my own knees, unfastening the waist of my skirt and eagerly tugging off the blouse I'd been wearing. The woods were protected, and Asterion knew we were out here. We'd be alone.
"Come here," Jude said, shedding his shirt and reaching out to me with dark eyes and a silky smile.
But I rose up, wearing my white slip and nothing else, and danced out of his reach. The trees were laughing with me, Jude's open desire written plainly on his handsome face. He was bare chested, wings growing denser as we both grew more comfortable out in the woods. This lovely place was well-suited to a fae too. And he was right—there were still parts of myself I didn't know yet.
"Catch me," I said.
Jude's brow furrowed, and then his eyes grew wide as I dashed for the tree line, my feet bare and my hands pulling the skirt of my slip up to make it easier to run.
"Hazel!" he cried, but I heard his own steps follow.
These woods were wild, thorny, but the undergrowth parted for me as I ran into the shade, soft moss blooming under my steps. His laugh was low behind me, and I picked up my pace, wanting the chase, wanting to play and tease and tempt Jude. I pulled the thin slip higher and then gave into the urge, drawing it up and over my head completely, tossing it into the air. The air was sharp and cool on my body, nipping my breasts and stroking between my thighs as I ran.
I'd played games of chase on stage before, barely a dozen meters to run, the scene controlled. This was so much better, wilder, and it made my muscles eager to win, to keep running, to never be caught.
I was headed straight ahead, grinning and prepared to close my eyes, when a sudden tall tower of shadow rose up ahead of me. My steps stumbled and I swerved, glancing back over my shoulder to find Jude behind me. His wings were massive, brushing against tree trunks as he passed.
"We'll both learn new tricks out here," he called.
He was right. This woods was nothing like Stepney Green Park. London was somewhere in the distance, a brick wall to the endless stretch of comforting wild around me. It was easier to find my mother's blood in my veins, to touch the trees around me, when I was so far from the busy city and the curious eyes of humans.
I ran for a cluster of beech trees, two trunks growing together in the ground with a cradling V shape between them. My body felt lighter, my feet steadier, and I climbed up into their shelter. Jude's shadows caressed me, a cool lick between my legs, a soft brush down my back. I lay down against the reclining tree trunk and offered Jude an inviting glance as he prowled closer.
His hands were on the front of his pants, his grin sharp, and he leapt up into the heart of the trees, stretching over me, balancing with his hands placed above my head.
"I knew you were too beautiful to be human the moment I saw you on the street that night," Jude said, his face hovering over mine.
I nearly abandoned my plan at the praise. I closed my eyes and softened on the rough tree bark, Jude's weight slowly pressing into me, comforting and complete. His lips brushed my cheek, and then I wrapped my head around the slow, quiet pulse of the beech and vanished into its solid presence.
My name was faint, muffled. I opened my eyes, and it wasn't a hollow tree trunk around me but threads of life, trails of color in front of my eyes. The path of the water up through the roots, the beat of the sun soaking into the leaves, and the little traces of creatures and insects that made the tree their home. It was peaceful and fascinating, and I was sliding down, down into the heart, where the trunk reached the forest floor.
"Hazel! Where are you?" Jude's voice was moving away. He was so light in this place, his shadow mere whispers, his footsteps like gentle knocks above my head. I followed them, and it was a sluggish version of swimming.
He was worried now, and that was all it took to draw me out of the reverie. I followed a new, more lively set of roots and came back up in a new heart, a younger oak.
"Fuck. Hazel, where are—"
I reached out of the oak and grabbed Jude's hand, laughing at his bellow of surprise. I'd barely stepped out of the tree, drawing him closer, when I found his mouth and kissed him roughly. The taste of the earth was on my tongue, but it was replaced quickly by Jude's gentle smoke and shadow.
His hand found my hip and gripped it tightly, no doubt trying to keep me from slipping away again. I didn't want to. Coming back out of the oak was a reminder of life, of my own faster and more frantic energy in comparison to the woods. I wanted Jude, wanted to remember my body and how much pleasure it could offer me.
I pulled my second leg into open air, my hands wrestling into Jude's pants. He groaned as I cupped his cock, gripped and stroked it, and then he was hauling me up from the moss at the foot of the oak.
My arms circled Jude's shoulders as he spread my knees wide. Our eyes met as the head of his cock kissed my sex, his wings casting us in a hazy shroud of privacy from the rest of the woods, the bark of the oak biting into my bare back. And then he was driving inside of me, my relief a sharp cry into the air, answered by the birds in the trees as they took to the sky.
Jude growled in my ear, pressed me into the trunk of the tree, hid his face in my throat. I stroked my hand over the back of his head as his arms tightened around my back.
"Thank you," I whispered to him, remembering he'd said the same after the scene on stage.
He huffed. "We're not done yet, Hazel Nix. I won't be done with you for a long time."
"Good," I said, starting to move, to roll my hips for friction.