Not as special as he once believed.
Leonides scoffed. He wasn’t special in those days. He’d been a fool and nothing more. Now, now he was so much more. An empire bowed to him. The balance of continent-wide alliances and peace weighed on his shoulders.
He strode towards the crooked table. Pen and paper were already left out for him. Wet robes dragged behind him and he shrugged them off before throwing it over the back of the chair. Leonides’ shirt was still uncomfortably damp and it stuck to him like a fine film.
Valera’s eyes on him.
Looking him up and down.
Familiarizing himself without how much he changed over the years.
He knew, didn’t he? Beneath the thick cloth, the long shirts and councilmen robes he wore in the usual Escana heat were all the marks Valera left him with. Valera might be the one imprisoned but it was always Leonides who would never be free.
“Just make a statement and I’ll leave.” They could put this to rest.
Valera shifted his glasses, almost leering down his nose as if the proposal was personally offensive. “What are my crimes?” The chains clinked together as he rounded the table, walking smoothly and with unfounded confidence. He rounded the table, corners of his lips quirking as Leonides backed away.
Idly, he brushed his finger against the pen from where it rested.
“You know your crimes.”
“I’ve been arrested more times than I’d like to count, Your Highness. The law dictates you have to repeat them to me.”
To repeat all his offenses would take a lifetime.
Valera’s teeth sank deeper. For a moment, one filled with the purest bliss, Leonides wished he was fragile. Like an egg, he wished he could crack open for him. Yolk leaking out of the ripped shreds of his skin. His nails bit his back and they racked him.
Eyes closed, he imagined the stark red trails raising on his unscarred back.
Held so close. Hands cupping his ass. Valera moved him, guiding his hips in circular motions as he lapped at his neck. Valera’s tongue in the ditches and grooves of the teeth marks. It made him shiver. He moaned. Pathetically. Loudly. He knew his face looked ridiculous, still licking his own lips while he longed for the taste of another. Mouth open. Eyes either closed or eyelids fluttering.
Valera’s tongue dragged across his throat. First his tongue. His lips came second, pressing a kiss to the hollow of his neck.
But not enough.
His blood pulsed where he’d been bitten. It crackled underneath his flesh, screaming and begging to be released. So hot it burned him.
He wanted to bleed. Crack open the eggshell. He wanted to hurt.
“Well?” Valera looked older up close. The corners of his eyes were wrinkled. Not elderly. More mature. His eyesight seemed to have gotten worse. Even behind his glasses, Valera narrowed his eyes in that studious squint he used to pull when he was reading.
“Conspiracy to commit treason–”
“–is there no limit to how much time should pass before I face the consequences of my thoughts.”
“No,” Leonides snapped sharply. He pulled back the chair and gestured for him to sit. “Thoughts are dangerous. And ones such as yours need to be killed.”
His father would have said the same.
But Valera didn’t sit. He crossed his arms. “And what if I don’t confess? You have no evidence I ever wanted to do anything Escan. I certainly never wrote about it.”
“When you escaped custody nineteen years ago, I claimed you an official exile. Stepping on Escana territory is against the law.”
“Your people arrested me and brought me here.”
Not his people. Queen Liliana’s. The distinction likely wouldn’t matter to him.
“You were in Karri, that’s Escana Territory.”
His eyebrows shot up to his forehead. Valera shook his head as he laughed to himself. “Tell that to the Karric.”
They have. Several times. Through wars and other disputes.
“Conspiracy to commit treason and crossing into Escana territory. Those are your crimes.”
“Well, at least it’s a very short list.” Valera tried to look into his eyes.
Leonides wouldn’t let him.
“And what is the punishment?” The way he said it. The goading joke. He knew. He would force it out of him. He would make him.
“Sit down and make the statement.” Leonides spat words out through clenched teeth. They were dirty. Rotten. Drinking rainwater dredged from the city trenches rather than wine.
“Oh my,” Valera gasped. He palmed the side of his face. “You never used to tell me what to do. Things really have changed.”
“Please, don’t make this difficult.”
But he stepped closer. He ignored the chair. The table. He only looked at him.
He only saw him.
“I’ve always wanted to ask. Are you proud of what you’ve done?”
Leonides said nothing. There was no point. No point in chiding him or telling him to stop. Of answering honestly. Of answering the way he wanted.
So, Valera continued. His voice seemed to erupt from like. Had he been waiting? All this time, all these years, to yell at him over a betrayal?
But was it Leonides’ fault?
He wasn’t the one with the gun under his bed.
He wasn’t the one who threatened someone’s family for the sake of his idea of justice.
“Was your father proud?” Valera came closer. He lifted his hand, pointing at him as if aiming where he wanted his words to hit. “Did he ever thank you for all the work you did for him. Or did he just use you and die with his belly fat with greed while you silently did his dirty work.”
He smelled him. The first time in years. Valera’s scent was soured by Alda. By its muck and grime. By the bile and blood. But there it was, hidden beneath the layers. So irresistibly him.
For a moment, a moment where his heart filled with horror, his mouth watered. His knees shook. In the old days, he would have crumbled to the ground. He would have bowed to Valera, wrap his arms around his legs and sobbed for his attention.
For his affection.
For his hands to cradle his neck, run his fingers through his hair.
For his voice, reading aloud to him, telling him the complex political climate of countries whose revolutions he helped fuel.
For his eyes. The soft way he looked at him in the afternoons. The concentrated, scholarly look when they discussed books or politics. The warm, pleased look he gave him when his body laid over his. The way his eyes lit up when he caught Leonides’ gaze lingering on his lips.
Valera leaned close. His breath brushed his face.
Familiar as always.
“Do you want to know how we celebrated when he died?” he whispered.
Involuntarily, Leonides’ hands clenched into fists. He felt his jaw tighten. No. His father never did thank him, but he also never knew just how much Leonides did for him. Just how much he gave up for him.
And his father had died fat from his greed. Richer than most Escana kings in history, he’d humbled the nobles, rose himself far above their beginnings, created the real raising middle class. Leonides had done good, both for his country and for his father. It wasn’t the change Valera wanted. It perhaps wasn’t even fair.
But he didn’t know.
He didn’t know how hard it was.
They were all so greedy. The men in the council had an endless list of wants. And the people were prejudice, hateful against those they didn’t see as equals. Too many times they saw themselves as conquerors, saw colonies as their right to property and ownership of the people they kicked out of their land. Leonides could not undo years of injustice, no matter how he tried. It’d taken him years to open funded schools outside of Graza. Years still to finally get ambassadors from the countries they’d colonized.
He could not undo what his countrymen had done. He could not undo the appetite it gave them.
He’d tried, Saints did he ever try.
“I am not my father’s son.”
Valera shook his head. Slowly. Almost sadly. “I think you are.”
“Master,” he moaned. Leonides snuggled close, he pushed his head between Valera’s and his shoulder. He wrapped his arms around him. Panting and desperate, he held onto him as Valera continued with slow thrusts. “Make me bleed.”
Valera snickered in his ear. “Is that what you want?”
So pathetic. Like one of his father’s dumber war hounds, sat on their hunches with lolling tongues and wagging tails. Leonides was not a dog. He did not want to be a dog. Put the way a dog’s master seemed so pleased with every obedient action, rewards laden with physical affection and praise.
Perhaps he wanted that.
Valera’s tongue traced his ear. His heart would stop. He just knew it. “Get up then.”
Leonides lifted himself up carefully. He rolled out of bed when his legs stopped wobbling. His feet met the rug the same instant the wind threatened to break the windows by force alone. The curtains covered the glass, but if he peeked through the silts between them he saw how the trees bent to the wind’s will. Storms so close to the shore were common. The world could be so merciless. But the Pala Harviso was an old manor with a long history. Several names and former masters. It was built to withstand coastal storms.
“I left them in the drawer, by my books,” Valera reminded him.
“Cheeky,” he said with a ‘tsk. “Get a glass of water, would you, dear?”
Valera’s knife–their knife–wasn’t in the drawer. They left it out on the small round table where they drank coffee on days either too muggy or too windy to spend their afternoons outside. Warm and pleasant by the fireplace, Valera’s mouth full of poetry chunks of sugar cubes he dipped instead of stirring into the mixture.
Leonides’ mouth watered at the political talk, the vigor and passion in which Valera proposed the future and how the world could be better, but he loved it when he recited poetry most of all.
Always the classics.
Men who died. Begging the world to remember who they loved.
“We can no longer separate.”
He returned to bed, curved blade in one hand, a length of rope thrown over his forearm, and a glass of water in the other.
The ice clinked together as he handed it to Valera.
Sighing, he took a long drink. Leonides’ eyes drank in Valera’s bobbing throat. He imagined the points of his teeth sinking into him, like biting through the skin of an orange and greedily sucking as the juices trickled between his fingers. What made Valera so sweet? What did he have to do to devour him the same way Leonides felt he was being preyed upon? He too wanted to leave his mark. He too didn’t want to be forgotten.
Sensing his eyes on him, Valera reached out and pinched his cheek. “You’re so good to me, Lee. My last–”
“–don’t do that?”
“Talk about the others. It’s mean.”
Valera set the glass down on the bedside table. He was smiling again. Wide and almost maliciously. Teeth gleaming in the low light. “Mean? It’s not mean to move on.”
“It would be,” Leonides mumbled. He looked down at his hands. Looked at them wrangle together like worms in his naked lap as he knelt on the edge of the bed. The knife rested by his knee. The rope gathered around his arm.
Would that be him one day? A story Valera’s new lover heard while precious fingers trailed up and down his back as he fell asleep? A disappointment. A failure. History with no significance. A fate worse than death.
“If you did it to me.”
Valera’s arms snaked around him. He pulled him into his lap, cradled him to his chest even while Leonides yelped in surprise. “As if I could ever! I would cut out my own heart if you asked me.” He winked. He held Leonides with one arm and with the other, tugged the rope free.
Leonides didn’t need to be asked. He closed his hands into fists and held them up side by side so Valera could bind his wrists.
“Why would I ask such a thing?” He tried to wipe the smile from his face. An embarrassment to show Valera how much the thought of being bound and bleeding before him made him glow.
Valera’s brows scrunched together as he focused down on his work. The completed a knot, the first of several. He tugged the rope to make sure it was tight. It dug into Leonides’ flesh. He gasped. He flinched.
“Does that hurt?”
“Not nearly enough.”
Valera gave his cheek another pinch. “And I suppose you have no need to ask, little prince. I am yours to command.” Another tug of the rope.
Leonides’ eyes watered.
In the years that passed between them. Between his foolish youth and true adulthood, Leonides taught himself not to be overcome by his emotions. He rose to the head of his family. Even if many misliked or distrusted him, it was them they looked to when things got hard. He was the steady voice, the calm and cool brother who always had a plan.
So, he did not expect to blink back to reality and find himself with his hands on Valera’s neck or that he’d pushed him up against the grimy stone wall.
Nor did he expect Valera to be grinning like a jackal. “It was always your daddy,” he seethed. “Always upset you the most.”
He was in control here.
His fingers only needed to squeeze Valera’s withered frame. Throttle the life out of him. Put him to an end. Put their shameful history behind him once and for all.
But in all those years, every cursed one of them, he never thought of killing him. He thought so rarely of him. The memories never filled him with rage.
As much as he denied it, it was not vengeance he wanted.
Leonides tore his hands away. He stepped back as his hands ripped at his own collar. He yanked away at the buttons. And Valera watched him, watched him with his back flat on the wall and as unmoving as the ancient rocks of Alda themselves.
“If I am anyone’s product–” Leonides’ shirt pulled open. He threw it off his shoulders and let it fall to wet clump on the cold floor. “–I’m yours.”
He pointed to himself, hands moving frantically. The scars. The ghostly remains of burns. The words. His name. Carved into his skin. Time healed the wounds. Time stopped them from tearing open when he stretched. But time did not fade them to nothing. They littered his chest, his arms, starting below his collarbone and stopping a few inches above his wrists.
Valera’s eyes poured over him hungrily. What did he feel when he saw him? Pride? Regret?
“Look at me. Look at what you’ve done to me.”
Forever marked. The only one who had to suffer a constant reminder of their affair. Leonides closed his eyes. He shook his head. He didn’t want to see this. He didn’t want to live through it.
“I haven’t been with anyone since. No one’s seen me since.” The words were whispered. He wished he couldn’t hear his own words.
He wished he couldn’t hear the truth. Most times, he ignored it. The urges. The need. Someone else. Anyone else. Nights could be so long, and the part of himself he hid always pressed against the surface. Few men tempted him in the same way, fewer looked interested in the things he wanted. But few didn’t mean none. And each he avoided. Each time he ignored the need.
Almost twenty of them.
But he imagined Valera would have no sympathy. Or if he did, it would fade behind the sharp look in his eyes, the smugness of his upturned lips. He’d glide forward, look at him like he had all those years ago, smile and curse him with a silken tongue.
“Shall I feel bad for you?”
Leonides opened his eyes. Too slow. He couldn’t jerk back by the time Valera brushed his knuckles on his cheek. He shuddered. He suddenly felt so cold. So naked. So unforgivably bare. The rain and the cold pressed against the stones, curling in through the cracks.
Slowly, perhaps to test the waters, perhaps to see if he would flinch away, Valera lifted his other hand to cup his face.
Leonides could melt.
He wanted to.
So long since he’d been since. So long since he’d been touched.
“You have many reasons to be ashamed.” Had Valera gotten shorter or had he gotten taller? He remembered when they used to be at level with one another. He couldn’t escape his eyes. The warmth of them. The coldness. He never wanted to.
“This isn’t one of them,” he added. He gripped the sides of Leonides’ face and shook him as if it was a last-ditch attempt to force some sense into him. But which one of them were in the wrong? The treasonous revolutionary or the prince simply doing his best?
“I did everything I could.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“You’ve never stepped foot in the council.”
“I never would. I would dismantle it from the ground up.”
Valera’s thumbs traced his lips. His glasses slid down his nose as he kept his gaze leveled at his throat, eyes flickering up to his eyes every so often. He refused, it seemed, to truly have to look up at him.
Leonides never imagined he’d be taller. Or Valera getting older at all. He always remained twenty-six in his mind, somehow older and wiser no matter the years passing.
He palmed the sides of Valera’s face. Perhaps he wanted to push him back, pull him closer, focus on anything other than the heat his hands brought to his mouth.
“You’ve never kissed me,” he said. “Not once.” Never when Leonides rolled over in the early mornings to find Valera brushing the hair out of his eyes. Never when they leaned together in the afternoon sun, cooling cups of coffee in their hands. Never when they swung idly in the hammocks out in the breeze, Valera’s voice lifting over the wind as he read about the downfall of monarchies in the east.
“I’ve always wanted to.” Valera came closer, his forehead hitting his nose. “To taste you when you became ripe.”
The sweetness of him, the closeness. It made him dizzy. It made his mouth water. Leonides had to get away. If he stayed…if he stayed…
Leonides lifted him by his chin. He craned his neck. Just once.
But Valera pulled back. He tugged Leonides with him. And now it was him with his back against the wall. The world spun and his face greeted the stones, his palms sliding against rough rock and muck alike.
He wanted to scream. And scream he did when Valera’s mouth pressed a kiss where his neck met his back. Tongue teasing the bone that pressed to his skin. It was a cry of frustration. He was being robbed. Of his closure, of his ending, of a kiss he’d waited well over a decade for.
Valera’s hands ground his hips. He cupped his back as if trying to meld them into one. Leonides couldn’t avoid it. Feeling him. Lean chest curled with the bend of his back. His hardness swelling under the layers separating them.
Time changed their emotions. Time changed them. It never seemed to change the need. Leonides felt his knees shake. His legs weakened like they did in the old days. If he was nineteen years younger, he would have dropped to the floor. He would have crawled to Valera and begged for the right to please him. He would have cried whether he was denied or granted his wish. And he would have filled his mouth with him like it was a gift.
“What are you doing, Your Highness?”
Valera’s voice came from above him.
Reality must be warped. Or his body acted out of his instinct instead of sense. He was on his knees. He’d turned to face him and his hands hovered over the laces of Valera’s breeches.
“I–” Saints, what was he doing?”
Hands in his hair. Pulling hard. Tugging him closer. Leonides couldn’t help but inhale him. The smell of him. The stink. The bundle of his pure essence nestled between his legs. Still, he gripped Valera’s hips to brace himself as he forcefully rubbed against something so shameful to crave.
His mouth watered. The sobs choked in his throat.
“I want you,” he admitted. Nothing changed. Nothing.