Summer sun glinted across the Palace towers, all but blinding any courtiers who had shaken off sleep early enough to witness the Lineas-Baires delegation’s arrival. It struck against the sharp white to highlight streaks of blonde in the hair of the most prominent member, rendering a lovely face even lovelier.
Tashir, you’ve grown. Vanyel stared at the boy he’d known, now a man, and bit back a smile. Nobody can keep their eyes off of you. Little doubt of that; from his vantage point of the council room balcony, he saw no fair number of noble lords pushing their blushing daughters into more noticeable positions. That’s what a broken engagement will do to you, lad. Best of luck warding all of them off.
He wasn’t set as a member of the greeting party, but early as this hour rang for some, it was long past the dawn of his day; he’d sparred two bouts with the Armsmaster and breakfasted already. I suppose I’d better bathe. I have our Karsite spy reports to complete before noon council with the delegation. But he’d wanted to see Tashir; it had been years, and though he knew the boy had succeeded admirably, he no longer had a true face to put to a name. Sparing a second to study said face, he felt the smile tug at the corners of his mouth again. Gods, he looks well. Strong lines of muscle had replaced soft youth, and that baby face had shifted into sharp cheekbones, full lips, all crowned by a ripe tumble of golden hair.
:Not too hard on the eyes, is he?: Yfandes’ Mindvoice held the strong apple flavor of humor. :Don’t stare too long, love.:
He sent her back a mental shove. :Silly horse, he’s a child.:
Yfandes' response indicated that she thought much to the contrary—and knew he did, too. Dismissing her, he turned from the balcony and slipped out of the empty room, heading to the communal bathhouse. I’ll have to ask someone to fix the pump in my room, he reminded himself.
For years, he’d simply bathed in the general Heraldic baths, but after his second return from the Karsite front two years ago, it was impossible for him to take his shirt off with anyone else in the room.
:Poor Van. So eminently desirable, yet so incapable of returning any hint of affection.: Yfandes’ hint of a chuckle drifted through their link.
:Closer to afraid than incapable.: He retorted with a mental image of himself pawed by dozens of hands. :They’d eat me alive!:
:Oh, nonsense. They’re you’re fellow Heralds—if you didn’t hold yourself so distant, you’d be less of an enticing enigma.:
He sent her back a vague sense of doubt and disagreement as he opened the door to the baths. Blissfully empty.
Hours later, he was bathed and clothed in formal Whites, with spy reports in hand. Tashir was here on a diplomatic mission in name, but Randale hoped far more than formalities would be exchanged. We need his troops, and the agreement I arbitrated did not state he had to provide them. The reports Vanyel was holding indicated a mass recruitment on the part of the Karsite priests; now, not only men, but children as young as nine years old were being forcibly inducted into the armed forces. Or into the black robes. He repressed an involuntary shudder. A child trying to handle such power would just as likely be ripped to shreds as succeed. Randale could not ignore the signs of aggression, and as pre-adolescent recruits were definitively not an option, he had to look beyond the strict, ancient borders to the less traditionally “Valdemaran” districts. I hope Tashir will be amenable. I hate to have to call on our first meeting…
Unbidden, the memory of Tashir’s face, lonely and confused, rose in his mind. So young, so innocent—
A voice interrupted his reverie. “You have the reports?” Joshe, still new to his post and charmingly informal, held out a hand. Vanyel noticed it trembled ever-so-slightly. For all his brash questions, he’s petrified of me. The thought did not bring him any comfort.
He handed the papers over. “It’s all there. I have four Heralds reporting currently, and two we had to pull out a fortnight ago. These are their sightings from the past two months.”
Joshe flipped through them, bits of surprise written on his features. “Did you write all this up yourself?”
“I—yes,” Vanyel answered, deciding the truth could not be qualified as boastful. Who else would have done it? It’d have taken half again as much time to dictate it to one of those near-sighted scribes they keep on hand, and we’ve only got about four of them.
Vanyel shrugged. “Duty, my friend.”
Two high-level courtiers brushed politely past them, and Vanyel tilted his head towards the chamber. “Shall we?”
Their seats were toward the far end, close together; as Vanyel was the link between field and Palace, Joshe was the link between Vanyel and council, saving him from having to reveal all he truly did. The non-Heralds would be aghast to learn how many pots I have my hands in. It still scared him, sometimes—or not scared, precisely, but made him feel strangely out of tune with himself. I often wonder if that peacock who thought Haven was notable only for its latest fashion statements was truly me.
The other courtiers had already filed in; they typically were first, with little else to fill their days. None of them write up ten-page reports; they simply argue with what they contain.
:Now, now. Rude thoughts never did a good Council begin.:
Vanyel huffed a laugh and Lord Danway looked sideways at him. :Can I think rude things now, please?:
:Only about him.: She responded primly. The Companions all detested the Lord, who insisted every foaling season that they should be sent out to improve the base stock of Valdemaran horses.
The door swung open again, this time admitting the subject of everyone’s interest—Tashir of Lineas-Baires. The councilmen sat up a bit straighter as Shavri, fulfilling one of many King’s Own duties, announced him solemnly.
He looks even better close up. Vanyel tried not to stare openly, as most of the men around him were—although for very different reasons. Lord Danway has five daughters; he must be foaming at the bit. Tashir took his seat with little ceremony, pausing only to glance briefly at Vanyel, who offered him a small smile of acknowledgment. Good—he remembers his supporters. I do trust he’ll be of help, but people change.
“King Randale of Valdemar,” Shavri declared, returning many men’s gazes to the doorway. Randale, on the other hand, looked as worn-down as he ever did, hair dull and lines of pain etched around his eyes. The contrast was rather depressing, and Vanyel preferred not to dwell on it.
“Good afternoon lords, ladies.” Randale’s smile of welcome was still warm, despite his rapidly weakening physical state, and everyone relaxed an inch. I’ve never been able to inspire such faith. I’d have been a terrible king.
:You sell yourself short.:
:Good, you’re listening in. Keep an eye on some of the lords—I’ll gauge Tashir’s reactions.:
He turned his attention back to the conversation before she could retort, watching Tashir carefully as Joshe presented the spy reports. He’s good. He knows what we’re after, and he’s not batting an eyelash or showing a hint of opinion, favorable or not. The only tremor in his façade came when Joshe relayed the reports of the harsh training camps for child recruits; Tashir’s eyes widened slightly and his hands fisted on the table. Angry. That’s perfect.
Joshe finished and had barely taken a seat before Danway spoke up. “How can you know all these—rumors—to be true? These are events leading up to only a day ago, in Karse! Impossible for them to have been relayed here so quickly.”
:Trust Danway to doubt Heralds, and magic.:
:And me.: Vanyel lifted an eyebrow. “Not rumors, Lord Danway. Words and images sent directly from our agents in Karse to me. I promise you, there are no lies mind-to-mind.”
:He knew that anyway. He just likes to make you speak up.:
“That seems a long way to Mindspeak.”
Randale raised a tired hand. “There is no doubt that the information is accurate, my good lord. We’ve already discussed in many sessions how Herald Vanyel’s gifts are unlike any others. If you’d like a demonstration—“
“No, no,” Danway grumbled. “I just don’t want to ask for more recruits without good reason.”
“I know that many of your lands have been drained dry of men, and resources,” Randale said, looking at him with more compassion than Vanyel could have managed. “We are quite loath to ask any of the central provinces to recruit yet again—which means we need a new option.”
:Danway did give him the perfect lead in, though.:
Yfandes sent back a mental nod of agreement.
Tashir fidgeted slightly in his chair, exchanging a glance with his Lord Marshall before speaking up. “We of Lineas-Baires have not sent any troops to support the Valdemaran effort.”
“Nor are you required to,” Randale replied softly. “We’d hate to lose the good will of a land so recently befriended.“
“But a land who owes much to you, and yours.” Tashir inclined his head toward Vanyel. “Without Herald Vanyel, I’m unsure there would be a Lineas-Baires.”
Many lords nodded in agreement, surprising Vanyel. :I didn’t realize I had such support.:
:Of course, ke’chara. You’re the Savior of the land!:
He rolled his eyes back at her; thankfully, thoughts did not alter his expressions. “Lord Tashir is too kind. I only did what any Herald would: helped the true ruler to his rightful seat. Neither I nor any Valdemaran would claim Lineas-Baires owes us.”
“But in many ways they claim our protection,” another Border lord chimed in—Kaster, that’s his name. “And protection must come at a cost.”
Tashir’s mouth had tightened slightly; no ruler liked to be reminded of his debts and weaknesses. “We have never denied Valdemar, my lord.”
“Certainly not.” Randale offered him a small smile. “Indeed, your words here have been most supportive and comforting.”
Tashir’s Lord Marshall inclined his head. “We hope so. It is our intention to aid you; we do not—cannot—condone an army of children, and we have more able men than women. The… troubles with Lord Vedric left an unbalanced country; many of the servants who were victims of the spell attacks were women. That means lots of unmarried young men—and we’d be happy to have somewhere to land their aggression.”
:I’m shocked he’s discussing it so openly. He’s originally of Lineas, and you know how they used to feel about mentioning magic.:
:He seems a blunt man, and devoted to Tashir. That can change things.: Vanyel looked at Randale, sensing his pleasure at the amicable negotiations warring with utter exhaustion.
“Thank you, Lord Marshall. Your words are most welcome to Valdemar and her servants.” Vanyel stood. “I think it best we adjourned on such a note; we can pick up after everyone has enjoyed the lovely repast.”
Randale shot him a grateful look and rose slowly out of his chair. “Please, lords, friends, make yourselves at home, and take full advantage of all the Palace can offer.”
The mention of food always did wonders to empty a room, and Vanyel watched as most of the courtiers hurried out, momentarily blocking his view of Tashir and his delegation.
“That went well,” Joshe said, catching his attention. “As well as could be hoped.”
“Yes, they were most amenable--” He broke off as the sense of a presence behind him caused him to turn his head, and meet soft brown eyes.
“Herald-mage Vanyel Ashkevron,” Tashir said warmly. “It has been far too long.”
Joshe collected his papers and inclined his head. “My lords Tashir, Vanyel, a wonderful afternoon to your both.” He moved to the door, leaving them alone in the room.
Tashir held out his hands to clasp Vanyel’s with familiarity. Firm and strong, their grasp sent a slight shiver up his spine. “You look well,” Tashir added with a smile.
“Undoubtedly better than you last saw me, charging about half-starved in my robe,” Vanyel replied unthinkingly. Gods, why did I bring that up? The poor child is likely desperate to forget that moment.
But Tashir’s smile only broadened. “Indeed. I was grateful for the excuse to come visit,” he added, lowering his eyes. “I’m eternally in your debt.”
“Oh, Tashir,” Vanyel sighed, letting go of his hands. “If we felt ourselves indebted to all those who guided us through the roughest patches of youth, we’d never claim a penny of our own.”
Memory. “I want you to be my lover, Vanyel.” Ache and urge—
“But nothing. Don’t be ridiculous. I was just as pleased to hear of your visit; you’ll have to tell me how all the Forst Reach servants are getting on!” He led Tashir gently to the door. “That should fill the lunch hour.”
Tashir chuckled in response and followed his lead, launching into a tale of Melenna’s desperate search for able serving girls.
Five days later, Vanyel was convinced he still hadn’t exhausted Tashir’s reserves of Forst Reach stories. There was no other clear explanation for how often Tashir seemed to seek him out, after Council or at the various group meals. I wonder if he’ll be seated near me tonight.
:You wonder or you hope?:
:Oh, ‘Fandes, don’t be absurd. I know the boy’s not shaych; he followed that lovely niece of mine everywhere a few years ago and he just ended an engagement to one of Lineas-Baires’ most appealing young women.:
:Exactly. Just ended it.:
:If that makes a man shaych, I have far more options than I previously considered.:
:Well, no, but as you thought…:
:He seems to be seeking me out? That could simply have been for reassurance, or in the hope of more information about Randi’s treaty. It can’t have been easy for a young ruler to sign off on such a far-reaching document, love.:
:Joshe is closer in age and just as aware of the agreement’s ramifications:
The truth was, he enjoyed Tashir’s conversation, but he still struggled to think of him as anything other than a wide-eyed child trapped by his troubled upbringing. An adolescent who had, as adolescents do, sought his company uncertainly before summarily rejecting the very idea of such a liaison. I know he’s older, and he’s clearly shown his political acumen, but first impressions last.
Stirring himself out of his thoughts, he picked through his closet for his dress Whites. Utterly impractical for the field, he thought with a small smile, fingering the satin and velvet trimming, and entirely pleasing to my younger self. He’d had more opportunities to wear these than he would have originally thought; since his reassignment to the palace, dinners of state were every few fortnights. As he pulled them on, he noted the closeness of the fit with pleasure. I was skin and bones for so long, I almost began to think clothes were supposed to hang off your frame. Now, he managed to fit arms practice with Tantras or another willing Herald once, if not twice, a day, despite his packed schedule, and made sure never to miss a meal. My mage-working would suffer tremendously.
:Is the old peacock lifting his head out of his feathers?: Yfandes sounded more pleased than critical.
:Nothing wrong with appreciating my clothes fitting for once.: He picked up a comb from the side table and ran it through his hair twice, working out the tangles and studiously avoiding looking at his reflection in the side mirror.
:They do fit nicely.:
Succumbing to temptation, he turned and measured himself against remembered visions of his younger self. He looked… good. Gods, I don’t think I’ve looked this healthy and rested in a decade. His hair was mostly white, but it suited him, and his Whites hugged his leanly muscled body in all the right places. Though I don’t know who I’m trying to impress. I haven’t had a lover since the whole shambles with Vedric and the demons…ah, Jays. Poor Jays, and how close that came to harming Jisa or Shavri! The memories brought him more pain than he liked to admit. So few left who even know Tylendel’s name, and even fewer who whisper it in remembrance rather than fear or disdain. Jays deserved a better death.
He shut down the train of thought as he had learned to do; meandering in the dark realms of lost loves and friendships hurt, badly. I should simply be grateful for a hot bath and clothes that fit. Havens know I lived long enough without either.
A church bell chimed somewhere in the distance, and he hastened out the door without further thought.
By the time he arrived, the party was well underway. Tonight was more than dinner; it was a feast, a dance, and everything else that could fete such successful negotiations. Randale had expected cooperation, but not the full-fledged oaths of support Tashir had provided. His signing of the final treaty at noon Council had relieved Randale of his greatest fears: that Valdemar couldn’t hope to meet Karse on a battlefield, or that he’d have to risk the support of the central provinces.
And so, this: the best Valdemar could summon to entertain a young lord who had proven himself kind, compassionate, and loyal. I admire the man he’s become.
He never meant to make an entrance; it just seemed to happen. Though the music prattled on happily, heads turned and no few dancers stopped in their tracks.
:Surprised, ke’chara? When the Whites fit…:
He sent back a mental snort, eyeing the room for Tantras, who had just returned from a tour of duty last night. A shame he had to miss the negotiations, but I was not going to be the one to drag him out of his bed after a tour through the Border lands. Spying the familiar broad shoulders and dark hair, he strode purposefully across the room. I do wish they’d stop staring.
“Van!” Tantras turned with a smile, but not before Vanyel saw who he’d been speaking with. Tashir, resplendent in a Lineas dark blue doublet rather than Whites, his hair pleasantly tousled and his cheeks flush with a bit of drink. “It feels as though it’s been years, old friend.”
Tearing his eyes away from Tashir, Vanyel managed a smile through his strangling whirl of thought. Dear Gods, he’s beautiful. Like ‘Lendel, but almost more…
“We missed you at Council, but I know better than to wake you after traveling through Holderkin lands.”
Tantras grimaced. “It’s as if time moves backwards there. If Karse could take any province—“
“I wouldn’t wish that on anyone,” Vanyel replied grimly.
“Come, gentlemen,” Tashir interjected with a smile that would have melted a harder heart than Vanyel’s. “This is no place for talk of politics.”
“What would you have us speak of?” Tantras countered, grinning. “The Court flowers?”
Vanyel rolled his eyes and stole a glass of wine from a serving man’s proferred tray. “Tashir, you must remember that Tantras has been among the religious and the celibate for months. Turn his mind from politics, and there’s only one thing else he’ll discuss.”
“You do have quite the array of lovely ladies,” Tashir commented, to Tantras’ chuckles. “Will you dance?”
“Vanyel, or me?” Tantras replied. “If you convince Vanyel to dance, I’ll eat my hat.”
“No, and no. Amusing at that sounds, and entertaining as you both are, I’ve no wish to risk life and limb tonight.”
Tashir shot them a quizzical look.
“Vanyel tends to get… mauled. You see, as he rarely enters the fray of the Game, if he hints at the mere possibility of being interested…well, the ladies seem to lose their minds a bit.”
“A bit?” Vanyel snorted. “I’ve had the shirt almost torn from my back, and half a dozen indecent proposals in the space of a dance.” He finished his glass. “When I was younger, and thought I could still partake in the normal courtly gestures.”
Tashir looked bemused. “They don’t know?”
“Know what?” Tantras took on a shocked look. “What are you implying, Lord Tashir, about the renowned Herald-Mage Vanyel Ashkevron?”
“N-nothing,” Tashir stuttered, blanching.
“Oh, for pity, Tran.”
With a guffaw, Tantras clapped Tashir on the shoulder. “I’m sorry. No, they don’t know or care to know. It’s no secret, but on the other hand, Vanyel is so circumspect…”
Grabbing a second glass of wine, Vanyel looked at him balefully. “A new conversation is in order. Tashir, thank you again for all you’ve done. I have to wonder—are you here for purposes beyond the war?”
“You mean, the broken engagement?”
“Bluntly, yes, I suppose.”
“Now who’s making inappropriate comments?”
Tashir’s cheeks reddened. “Really, Herald Tantras, it’s fine; I don’t mind discussing it. Vayna was… a beautiful girl. Is. Just—not what I wanted right now.” He took a long swallow of his wine, his blush deepening as he looked away from Vanyel.
What in the Havens? The answer was so bizarrely evasive, he couldn’t resist extending a tendril of his Empathic senses. What he found…Desire??? For whom???
“Tashir, you don’t have to speak of it.” Tantras’ voice interrupted his musings. “Vanyel is wondering more out of fear than curiosity. Certain Councilors are wont to tear each other apart in hopes of scoring an audience for their marriageable offspring.”
“Ah…yes, I’d noticed the looks. Truly, though, I did not visit for marriage. I know it seems a bit much to come myself when I could have sent my Lord Marshall with a trusted delegation, but I wanted the experience of negotiation. I need my men to believe in me.”
A good answer. “You’ve done remarkably well. I can’t imagine any of them regretting your leadership.”
Again, that flash of desire, hot against his senses. For me? Every instinct said yes; every bit of rational thought screamed no.
“That means a good deal to me, Vanyel.” Tashir moved closer to him, setting his empty glass on a serving girl’s tray. “I’ve always looked to you as a moral standard. Ever since our first meeting, when I—“ he paused, looked at Tantras. But Tantras’ eyes were elsewhere, locked on a dark-haired woman in dusky red. Tashir lowered his voice. “When I treated you so basely and foolishly, and you were nothing but good, respectful, honest. I’ve always hoped I could repay you.”
Empathic senses still attuned, he Felt the want behind the words. Dear Gods, but I could have sworn he was not fully shaych. Is it simply the power that impresses him? He doesn’t seem the type. And Tashir was close, so close. And Tantras had followed his Bard to the dance floor. “Tashir… I only did what was right.” He kept his tones as quiet as he could. “You were not shaych; you were but a boy wondering why he was different. It would have been utterly selfish—“
“Selfish?” Tashir’s eyes lit. “Because you were interested? Vanyel, I am not shaych, true. I’m—elsewise. Both, if you will.” He gestured vaguely, a flush tinting his cheeks. “I didn’t understand then, and Vayna certainly didn’t understand my desires to know myself more, but I was—am—very interested.”
Vanyel’s hands trembled around his wine stem. The floor was too crowded and his thoughts too full, his body too long untouched to respond with any sense. If we weren’t two men, I would take him to the dance floor, every last, golden inch of his youth-blessed body. I would let him court me without whispers, I would. But far more rides on this than my wants.
Tashir’s face fell, his blush deepening. “I suppose it must seem a bit ridiculous to you. Perhaps that I’m toying with you, or that you simply don’t want—“
“No, Tashir, no,” Vanyel replied emphatically. “No, but—it’s too open, and I can’t, and half the party is left to endure; the clock has barely struck eleven. I—yes, I would say yes,” and he nodded at the passing courtiers twirling in dance. “But you leave tomorrow, and I am no man for pleasure travels. I thank you, I do. It means more than you know…”
“Vanyel, please.” Tashir took his arm, and Vanyel looked at his hand, frozen. “I know not now, but tonight—later. I could come to your rooms—“
“It would be unwise.”
“And are you always wise?”
Two candlemarks later, and Vanyel definitively knew he was not wise. He was not stumbling drunk, but he was a bit further into his cups than was good for him, which was likely why he had given Tashir specific directions to his rooms. The rooms where he now waited, still fully clad, and entirely unsure of his choices.
This is why I never let myself hope. It’s painful, and distracting, and for the young.
His Senses tingled with another presence coming into his shields; tendrils identified it readily as Tashir’s, and his heartbeat quickened. So he did come. The tap on his door was not needed; he opened it under Tashir’s fine, strong hand.
Golden-brown eyes locked with his, hot with want and wine. The mouth found his before the door was shut, Vanyel frantically reaching a hand around to close out wandering eyes. Tashir’s lips were soft, pressing gently against Vanyel’s, and he opened his mouth instinctively against such sweet request.
Hands ran down his back, pulled him closer, the kiss deepening as Vanyel slipped into his body’s wants. Gods, but it feels good. Tashir was no boy any more, and he pulled away, keeping one hand on his back, while he deftly undid the laces on Vanyel’s shirt with the other.
Vanyel took the moment to draw in a breath, look up at the taller man. “Tashir, have you ever…”
“With a man?” He freed the last of them, slipped Vanyel out of his formal shirt, offered him a crooked smile. “Yes. That was the end of things with Vayna, I think.”
The feelings of desire stirring his Empathy were undeniable. “I just—I’m older than you are, I don’t want you to feel pressured.”
“Vanyel.” Tashir chuckled warmly, sending shivers up his barely clad torso. “If anyone is doing the pressuring here, it’s me.” He ran his hands down Vanyel’s chest, looking him deep in the eyes. “I’ve wanted this for, dear Gods, at least five years, when I finally realized why I was such an idiot to you.”
His hands traveled further, dangerously low, and Vanyel gasped slightly. Tashir smiled. “The rumors must not be true.” He withdrew his hands, pulled his own shirt off, revealing a chiseled and all too tempting torso. Vanyel drew in a sharp breath.
“Which rumors?” He managed quietly, as Tashir pulled him close again to feel the warmth of his bare skin.
“That you’re made of ice, impossible to touch.” Tashir kissed him warmly on the lips, drawing him away from the door and toward the couch perched against a back wall. “All from the ladies, of course,” he whispered, breaking the kiss with a smile.
Vanyel sighed, let himself be pulled onto the comfort of the couch and Tashir’s waiting lap. “Of course.”
Tashir rolled his hips upward, letting Vanyel feel his excitement through his breeches. “But they know nothing,” he whispered, capturing Vanyel’s mouth again. The hardness of his cock more than encouraged Vanyel’s own, his body shivering with the unexpected delight. Tashir smiled again, raised a hand to the outside of Vanyel’s breeches and touched, ever so gently. Vanyel inhaled sharply, eyes closing. Holy Gods, it’s been far too long, and he’s so, so, beautiful, a beautiful boy looking up at me in my rooms—it’s been years, yes, a decade, and my God, he’s touching again—
He didn’t mean to, but he moaned, and Tashir took it as encouragement, undoing his breeches, pulling them down—Havens, this is moving quickly, but I don’t think I can stop him—
And his cock sprung out, fully hard, and for the love of all things holy, Tashir took him into his mouth, and Vanyel wasn’t expecting that; he cried out, sharply, his breath leaving him in a rush of pleasure. Then he moved his mouth, up and down, like trails of ecstasy, Vanyel barely able to breathe, his body so tense with forgotten feeling. He knew it wouldn’t take long and was far too sense-lost to care, every muscle in him tightening further before it, that moment, that piercing pleasure that shook him head to toe.
He collapsed, limp, in Tashir’s arms. Tashir grinned widely, his own breeches tented, and shifted Vanyel to his stomach on the couch. Looking over his shoulder long enough to see that Tashir had come more prepared than he anticipated, he nodded at the questioning brow. “Yes, I…like it,” he confessed, flushing down what felt like the length of his body.
Tashir ran his hand along his cock at Vanyel’s statement, eyes closing for a moment. “Gods,” he murmured, coating a finger with some sort of unguent, and sliding it in to Vanyel’s gasp, “too perfect.” Recovering a bit of sense, Vanyel focused enough to let his Healing gift relax his body, Tashir’s second and third finger sliding in more easily. He closed his eyes at the missed feeling, whispering, “Please, now,” and feeling the answering moment of emptiness before the fullness of Tashir’s cock, filling him past completion. Tashir was clearly no novice, his thrusts rhythmic and measured, erasing the last of Vanyel’s shreds of dignity as he melted into wordless rapture. When he hit that spot, Vanyel shook, shivering with his joy, murmuring what encouragement he could manage. Tashir’s breath were quick and ragged, his hand dipping under to find Vanyel’s cock, half-hard again already, stroking it as he panted against Vanyel’s back, bringing him just far enough to tighten and cry out again, a slack, breathless man; Tashir moaned, incoherent, his cock thickening that final bit before he climaxed with a boneless shudder.
Words failed both men as they breathed into the candle-lit room. Finally, Tashir pulled himself up, made to stand. “Don’t bother,” Vanyel murmured. “I’ll Fetch the rag,” and Tashir looked amusedly at the rag in his hand. “I could have,” he commented.
“You wouldn’t have known which one,” Vanyel retorted, smiling and finding the strength to somehow sit up. Tashir wrapped him in his arms, helping him clean off. “Havens, Tashir, I don’t know that I’ve ever been so pleasantly surprised.”
“I can’t believe you didn’t figure it out. All week, I’ve been courting you.”
“I thought you were simply very interested in the affairs of Forst Reach servants.”
Tashir snorted. “For an incredibly intelligent man, you can be obtuse.”
“I’ve been told.” And Vanyel smiled one of his rare, true smiles at Tashir before he faded off to sleep, clutched comfortably in those strong arms he’d long hoped to touch.