thene: and the space is filled with stars (centuries)
[personal profile] thene posting in [community profile] last_herald_mage
Some end-of-year deck clearing. I've been kicking these scenes around for way too long, as is evidenced by the fact that I posted the first two for Gilda's birthday. Pillow talk here but no porn. Also alludes to sexual abuse, no details.



It had been frenetic.

They hadn't spoken much beforehand. At first, Vanyel thought it was merely the kind of overwhelming he was accustomed to receiving from Stef - the little fears and frustrations (and Stef had many) become passion, sometimes to spill out later in lovers' talk, more often not. But tonight he had no warm hunger.

Stef had been quiet since he'd brought Vanyel off between his lips. Most times, their silences were the moments Van cherished most - it was some relief to fall asleep beside his lover, without words rattling like stones down in the hidden chasms in the night around them. He was cautious in that landscape of pitted, unhealed wounds. Silence brought rest, if not sanctuary. His hand still instinctively found that place low on Stef's ribs. It felt different, now; Stef had filled out, though was still slender enough that Breda and Shavri liked to remind him to eat. (At least he trusted the Palace food now). His skin was less dry. Stef had always been graceful, and kept himself neatly groomed save for his unruly hair, but the manners he pretended toward had shifted; before Randale or any of his courtiers, Stef now spoke only in the noble tones that still sounded, to Vanyel's ears, a little like mockery.

I'm being awful. Thinking I understand him just because I care for him. Gods, I'd do anything I could for him.

And Stef knew it. And it was awkward as hells, trying to be a mentor. Knowing he'd come too late to be a protector, and couldn't be a healer. Nothing made sense between them except that they were lovers. It was so close to impossible but he didn't know how to stop. The thought of allowing their differences to drive them apart was unbearable.

After such strangely impersonal lovemaking, it was hard to avoid that thought.

There's no sign that he's losing interest, Van tried to reassure himself. He's not taking his moods to anyone else's bed. Maybe I let myself hope for too much from him. What started with secrets can't progress to promises. He stroked Stefen's hair regardless. So close, how could he feel so - needy? Was this all they had? Just sex between two hopelessly ill-matched souls?

Will he ever let me know his soul?

"Van," and the lightness in Stef's voice felt like a feathered line dropped in dark and choppy waters. "You don't mind whores, do you? You said it was a time since you had one."

"Oh, that? Only once, when I was fifteen," he replied, confused. "My father bought me a courtesan because he was trying to get me interested in girls."

"Didn't work, huh," and Stef laughed darkly.

"No." He wondered how his father could ever have believed that it would. "It was my birthday. Father told me it was time to become a man. All I still remember about her is what a disappointment being 'a man' was. And that the next morning was a high holy day - I got all this nudging and winking my cousins at breakfast, and thence to chapel where Father Leren warned of the dire punishment that came to those who indulged the sins of the flesh." He shook his head. "It didn't make sense. I hadn't indulged anything, and it seemed I'd be pestered and lectured whatever I did. I didn't realise until later that there were proper sins, and then there were improper sins."

Stef acknowledged his small complaints with a low grunt; he wasn't scoffing, Van knew. Just trying to feel his way through Vanyel's shadows. Van's hand dropped to his lover's shoulder, waiting for some explanation for the turn of conversation. He could never rely on receiving one. Stef was very still, his skin strangely cold. "I ask you cause that's what it were like back then," he said quickly.

"What do you mean?" The words felt like ice, slipping away from his hands.

"I knew how to work him any way he wanted. Could keep him real calm, kept me in good favour. It weren't so bad," and his voice trailed to a questioning whisper.

Anger jumped in his blood like a flame. Silently, blinding him in smoke. "You were enslaved - you weren't a whore," he snapped.

Stef shrank from him, and Empathy jabbed him cold. "I was doing what I had to. That's only doing same as what them lanternlight girls does."

Vanyel willed himself silent if only because arguing with Stef's madness would be unimaginably stupid. And silence dropped hooks of its own.

"I weren't no innocent," Stef spat.

Van's hands tightened on him. "That doesn't matter," he insisted. He knew he shouldn't have responded, and Stef's face curled in a sneer. "Why would you care what I thought?" he asked.

In his fingertips, he felt Stef's rustle of confusion, and an overwhelmedness that verged on awe. "Sex never used to mean a thing," he said. "I never felt like it matter with anyone else," and he was almost pleading.

For my forgiveness.

The rage hit him again in the moment that Stefen sprang like a snake into Vanyel's body and curled into his chest.




That soft knock that didn't want Van's neighbours to overhear. They hadn't spoken in days, but the sound didn't surprise him. It felt inevitable. He rose to his feet to open the door, though he didn't have to; he felt he needed all the strength he could keep.

Stef was...not his usual self. Rumpled, hair sodden and dark. His eyes were shadowed. Van admitted him silently, not willing to say a word until the door of his room was firmly closed. They'd suffered gossip enough in better times - gods, was that only weeks ago? - and Stefen's demeanour didn't suggest that tonight would be a return to those times. How long had he been outside? Probably for longer than it took to walk from Bardic Collegium to Vanyel's corner of the Heralds' Wing. It was a wild night to go walking, but he could neither predict nor police Stefen's forays. The city streets held some comfort to him that the Palace, with all its luxuries, did not. Maybe just the knowledge that he has other options.

Options other than me.

A world orchestrated by someone else was worse for Stefen than none at all; if it took unknowable nighttime wanders to keep him coming back, Vanyel would bear that. He's never gone for long. And he's in little danger, and he doesn't haunt bars or brothels... Van wasn't sure he did anything other than watch the shadows. But often, his wanders left him in an unfortunate mood.

Like tonight.

"Something the matter?" he asked softly.

Stef's head whipped around, shedding raindrops on the smooth wooden floor. "Dunno, is there?"

Van looked away, fighting not to snap back at him. I'm only trying to be honest. Something is wrong between us. I can't keep pretending otherwise. Whatever impossible balance they'd struck was lost. It had held fast until they'd returned to Haven, and been whittling away ever since; maybe seeing how other people treated Vanyel had been too much for Stefen to handle. It wasn't a dream or a game any more, and now Stef had settled into Bardic Collegium, perhaps he had enough on his plate without romancing a much older man who most of his peers saw as a distant god.

He couldn't handle it. I should never have expected he should - what can he even say to everyone who asks why we're close? Anyone who insinuates that we shouldn't be? Hasn't he troubles enough without all that?

Stef sniffed, wounded by his silence in a way Vanyel couldn't deal with. He knew Stef wanted a fight, not this silent despair. He never used to be this way. His moods have been getting more delicate the longer this goes on. He tests me. At first I thought he was just letting out his emotions more around me - he's been hurt enough. I tried to be patient. It's never been easy to understand how he feels... Stef slipped out in unguarded moments; early mornings when Vanyel caught him looking at him with soft and stinging eyes. In their nervewracking passion. Empathy guided Van perilously through his darkest moods, showing him what Stef needed without ever helping Van learn where he stood. He'd long forgotten what was expected of a lover - that part of his life had been empty too long, and now it overflowed with chaos and wonder. He'd rarely been so emotionally exhausted as when they were together.

He'd never been so happy.

And terrified, because I don't know what he wants from me. I don't know how I could ever make this last.

Stef paced his way to a chair - to lean against, rather than to sit. Van hung his head. Maybe it had been a crass greeting after days of barely looking at each other. Seeing him at Court earlier had hurt - the way Stef had glanced at him, dangerously silent, lips pressed together and head imperceptibly shaking, as if he saw something beyond belief - half a dream and half a lie. "I'm sorry. I'm always glad to see you, you know that."

His voice shook even though it was true - or because it was true - and Stef shook his head again. His manner seemed wrong, a paring back of the poise and caution he wore like armour. Van had seen the signs that something inside Stef was unwinding. Numbness fading, hot flashes of hurt. Outside this room, he's always performing - and underneath all his charm and determination, he's just a troubled young man?

The word didn't suit. Stefen was not troubled in that sense - not full of aimlessness, anger and drink like Vanyel had once been. He's been hurt, and nothing so reductive made sense either. He doesn't belong, but by now the Palace would fall apart without him. I would fall apart without him, Van admitted to himself, and he wondered if he already was.

Stef scowled at him, and he crossed the room to pull the curtains closed as he did when he came to make love. He turned, hands resting against the windowsill behind him for a second, then pushing off in agitation. "I was talking with Breda earlier - about music at Court and all their rules and - She ask me what I was so afraid of." Stef shook his head. "I didn't know I was until she asked."

"Breda sees a lot," Van said softly. He didn't know where Stefen's wavering words were going, but he wasn't immune to the rhythms of doomed romance. He could feel Stefen's pacing reaching a tipping point. Anyone else would be telling him they needed to talk.

"I don't know," and Stef's voice was all confusion. "I keep thinking this ain't real. Must be laying sick by the river and dreaming it. Then I pinch myself and," he shook his head.

You didn't think I was real, back then. But nothing was real when you weren't living in it, and maybe Stef was only trying to say that Vanyel's role in his life was over. They didn't make sense any more. What else was there for him to do, after upending Stef's little world in Cul Aber? Stef had no need of him in Haven, and so many other options. Perhaps it had been over for weeks and Vanyel had wanted it too much to realise.

Stef toed a knothole in the floor. "I never done this before. But I know it's not enough for you. You had the love of your life, and I'm just some, some gutter scum who hasn't land nor learning." No, he thought, his heart wrenching so hard he couldn't speak. "I don't know what I'm doing with you. We're not strangers no more."

Van dared to meet his eyes. "Is that what's wrong?" You only liked me until you knew me. Until you saw how different we really are.

"No. I like knowing you," and Stefen shook his head. "I like that so much I - that's how I remembered how to get scared." He blinked, and Vanyel saw tears at the edge of his radiant eyes. He stepped slowly forward, and Stef looked up at him as if utterly confounded by what he saw. "Oh Van, I love you. That's stupid. If this was a story I'd be in love with you. Except I am."

Vanyel pulled Stef close as the shock of his words ran through him. His fears felt like birds sprung from a cage, aflutter and clamouring as they left him. He had been so afraid - that Stef had been through too much, didn't and couldn't care for him. "I love you too. I couldn't tell you. I didn't want to - to make you feel trapped with me," and Stef pulled back from him to stare at him incredulously.

"I always tried not to believe songs. Guess I should have heeded the one that says all lovers are fools," and Van smiled at him ruefully. "Thought you said you was an Empath."

"Empathy never made me wise," he reflected, and tugged Stef back into his arms. Stefen closed his eyes, and Vanyel could feel a calm, a relief from him that was close to transcendental. I was so sure that he wouldn't want to know how I felt. That talk of love would only hurt him. Was it really all he needed, all this time?

"I were never sure," Stef murmured. "I know you got things on your mind. You sometimes seem...angry about me, or afraid."

I'm really not as good at hiding my feelings from him as I think. Touch-empathy, or careless shielding. "Stef, of course I'm angry about what happened to you -"

"Rage don't change what's past." He stepped back, and sat heavily on the edge of the bed as Van could only ache at the thought of that hard lesson. "And I don't like to make you angry. So I can't say aught of it, and it all - sticks in my head."

"I'm sorry. And a fool," he readily admitted as he sat beside his beloved. "I don't want for you to bear that alone. I'll try to be better at listening to you, I swear." Gods, but he could think of a thousand reasons that anger would frighten Stefen into silence. "And you were right, I was afraid, too." He closed his eyes. "I love you so much and I couldn't see a way for us. I only saw ways I would ruin everything we had."

"Such as?" Stef asked darkly.

"What if I have to leave Haven for a while?" Stef frowned a question. "I think I've found him," he said slowly. "The mage who killed Herald Harren. I'm - I can't be sure it's not just a wild goose chase. But I think he's somewhere beyond the Ice Wall, and the sooner I find him, the better."

"Then take me with you."

Fear rushed over him again, and he felt his refusal choked in his throat. He'd spent too long denying Stefen out of fear. "I'll think on it," he said.

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