The first thing Valera taught him was his inclination towards pain was not about his self-worth, or about what he deserved.
Leonides never thought he needed it because his existence was so hateful. It only made him think of when he was younger, holding his hand over open flame until someone snatched him back.
And now, now he was holding his breath. His arms secured over his head as he laid on his back, Valera straddling his waist. Each tug, each jerk of the arm, drove the ropes further into his wrists. They rubbed him raw. A blade pressed to his throat. A hand tangling its fingers in the curly hair between his legs. Leonides’ throat seemed to shiver underneath the edge of the blade. He tried to keep still, tried not to swallow or gulp. All he imagined was his slicing his own throat open, spilling out all over Valera’s hand, coming undone in a river of red. What would come first, he wondered. His climax or his death?
Fingers. Grasping him. Curling around him. Valera’s thumb pressing against the largest vein. Leonides tensed, his back bending towards him. Valera touched him so rarely. Nothing more than grazes with his nails, teasing flicks of his tongue if he was lucky, or idly tracing every inch of him while Leonides stood before him cold and bare. Rare and precious touches. His eyelids flickered as Valera stroked him. He hated the sound escaping his lips, scratchy and desperate moans.
Valera looked down at him. His eyes were dark behind his glasses. The pace of his hand, so hypnotically slow Leonides could do nothing but shake and try to keep still as the drool dripped down his chin.
Already, Leonides felt how his thighs clenched and unclenched. Shuddering legs. His eyes, looking dumbly off into the distance. Mouth forming a perfect ring between each sigh and inhale of breath through gritted teeth.
“Don’t you dare,” said Valera. “Don’t end this for me so quickly.”
Leonides’ hands had a mind of their own. They continued to undo Valera’s breeches under his watchful eyes. He hadn’t trembled so much in nineteen years. He lost his composure even less. But he moved as if he was possessed, or at least so starved to feel someone else. To taste someone, feel the weight of them on his tongue. He moved without thinking. He undid the laces, reached through the layer of underclothes and a bundle of springy hair to release him.
The head of his cock tapped him on the nose. A muffled snort came from above him.
“I…” Leonides closed his mouth. So close. “I haven’t done this in years.”
“Funny, I always imagined your type sucking each other off for all you’re worth.”
It would be in his best interests to ignore the jab. More arguing would get them nowhere. Doing this would get them nowhere, but it at least would quell an urge he’d suppressed for longer than he’d like to admit.
He leaned forward. Valera passed through his lips, sliding into his mouth. Almost immediately, Leonides started to choke around him. So out of practice, and Valera thursted forward into his throat as he took hold of both sides of his head. His hands pressed against his thighs. Leonides could only try to gag, try to ignore the heat radiating beneath his cheeks when Valera chuckled.
How dare he? It’d been so long. So long since he ran his tongue along the length of someone. So long since he carefully bobbed his head back and forth, felt his mouth fill with his own saliva and mix with the droplets leaking out of Valera’s tip. So long since he flinched out of embarrassment and concern when his teeth grazed sensitive flesh.
A sharp intake of breath. Valera’s long, drawn out sigh before he gripped Leonides head harder and forced his nose to press deep into his skin. Leonides sputtered, eyes widening before he made them close. First, the thrust drove his tongue deeper in his own mouth. He flicked it loose, swirling it frantically around Valera as if that would convince him to ease up. Give him air. But he held him in place, pumping his hips slightly as he groaned in content.
Holy offerings. The Saints pressing moldy bread to the roofs of worshippers’ mouths and begging them to take their blessings in pieces. His mouth wrapped around Valera. The tears tracing the curve of his cheeks. His hands trembling as they grasped onto his anchor. The pulsating heat, lodged so deeply in him he couldn’t breathe. He didn’t want to. He would be content to die like this. In the purest form of prayer.
Nothing has changed.
Taste of skin and sweat. He sucked almost greedily. As if Valera was offering him the sweetest nectar and he hadn’t drank in weeks.
Muffled sounds erupted from his throat. They had no where to go. Leonides pressed closer. Hairs scratched and tickled him. His scalp burned from how harshly Valera tugged him.
“Look at me.”
To be seen like this would be his greatest shame.
“Look at me, Lee.”
The sound of his voice. Slightly gravelly. Leonides used to like that the most, evidence of what he did having an impact on Valera. All too often it seemed like he was the only one who got lost in the world they’d built. Sinking so deeply in the things Valera promised him, in the feelings he gave him. Nothing and no one existed.
He opened his eyes.
He craned his neck to look up, straining until he could meet Valera’s gaze while he let his mouth hang open for him. Valera moved one of his hands to grip his jaw.
What had he expected would happen when their eyes met? He would have some epiphany? He had nothing but aching knees and a cock hitting the the back of his throat.
Fingers dug deep into his jaw. He winced as if they were as sharp as razor points. Valera increased his pace. His glasses slid dangerously down his nose.
“Oh, Lee,” he moaned.
Valera squeezed him. Too hard for comfort. Too hard to be enjoyable. The sudden change in sensations made him jolt and the knife teased his throat.
“Oh, Saints.” Leonides should apologize. He wasn’t supposed to get so close without begging. Without asking for permission. But so rarely did he ever finish from the feeling of actual pleasure and not a knife trailing down his chest, wax cooling on his skin, or cords of leather biting his thighs. It surprised him.
“You should know better. Nothing is given without asking for it.” Another squeeze. His eyes nearly rolled back.
“Forgive me, Master.”
“What will you do for me?”
Leonides tugged at his binds. The urge to touch him seemed to spring forth out of nowhere. It was strong nevertheless.
He wanted to wrap his arms around Valera. He wanted to suck his neck, trace his tongue along his jaw and up to his ear. He wanted to run his fingers through his hair, wavy from its usual braid. He wanted to lick and trail kisses down his chest. Massage his back, bite him between the shoulder blades. Cup his ass, rub his face against his groin. Trace ever curve of his legs, lay under his feet, let Valera walk on him like he was a part of the floor. Every part of Valera was worth touching.
Could Valera sense his longing? He smirked as if he could. Certainly, Leonides’ fidgeting could not be missed. He leaned close. His breath in his ear.
“Didn’t I tell you not to move?” The whisper stilled him. He envisioned himself as a statue as Valera moved the knife from his neck. The blade teased him, each press on his fragile neck made him gasp. It slipped between his collarbone, trickling down his chest.
The blade pressed harder. A light flick of Valera’s wrist. Red blossomed to the surface of his skin. Tiny beads of blood dotted him and he shivered. The kiss of a knife. The burn as it sliced it open. He wanted to tear himself wide for Valera. Open himself completely. Hide nothing. Let every ticking part of him be seen and inspected.
Valera watched him. Watched him release a moan that filled the room and roared louder than the thunder and howling wind. Watched his back arch and legs tense. He tightened his fist, pressing his nails into his skin until he felt the indents they left. Leonides shuddered to a halt before his body completely flung his mind from him. Something escaped him, surely. The essence of his pleasure, all too eager from the glory of the first cut.
“Didn’t I tell you not to move?”
His jaw was beginning to ache. Valera kept slamming his hips into him, almost frantically now.
They were older. Time slowed them down.
Even so, for the first time in a long time Leonides felt strangely warm. The embers sparked in the pit of his belly. To please someone. To be on his knees before them. To be bare for all his marks to be seen. To have his mouth used mercilessly. To feel himself pressed against the fabric of his pants, begging to be touched.
He missed this.
He missed this so much.
Valera’s hands threatened to rip open his skull. The sporadic movements slowed until he all but buried Leonides’ face between his legs, releasing shuddering groans as he emptied into his mouth.
He held him. Bending his torso over his head as he wrapped his arms around him.
“Oh, Lee,” he moaned.
Leonides felt so full. Even as Valera softened in his mouth he was still so full of him. Full of the taste of him. No choice. He swallowed.
Hands patted his head, massaging his scalp as if to make up for almost ripping the hair from his head.
“You’re still so lovely.”
Leonides tried to shake his head. They couldn’t do this. They shouldn’t. Valera held him steady.
He shushed him, rubbing his head and the back his neck like he was a frightened animal that needed to be soothed. “Like this, I need you like this. Always more open-minded when you can’t speak.”
Leonides could push him. He could wrap his arms around his knees and force him down. He could even bite him. But he stayed still.
He always stayed still.
“Why did you do it?” Valera’s voice softened. Sounded further away. Maybe his flesh remained unblemished but the past stayed with him all the same. “Burn my books? Try to have me arrested? What were you afraid of?”
Leonides made no move to speak. It wouldn’t help to try. He simply let Valera rest on his tongue. He tried to block the memories.
His mind always brought him back.
Leonides avoided the Pala Harviso for a whole year before he returned. There, he’d found a letter left for him before Valera’s escape and unofficial exile. He’d remembered every word, the implications behind them.
I foolishly thought you’d come back.
Waited for him. Wanted him to change a mind. Leonides had to stop himself from tearing the letter to bits and screaming.
They changed everything, didn’t they? Changed his belief that Valera had done nothing but use him for his own gain. It forced him to confront that maybe they’d meant something to each other and Leonides ruined it.
But, did he not have a good reason?
Choose country and family or a man he…a man he might have loved.
Valera always knew the right time to release him. He stepped back, turning away to fit himself back into his breeches as if modesty meant anything. It took Leonides a few moments to relax his jaw. He massaged the tendons, easing his mouth closed slowly.
“Does it matter?”
“It matters to me.”
Valera didn’t need to know how he spent his life. Giving everything he had first to his father and then to Cidro. He’d done nothing for himself, as hard as it was to believe. For anyone to believe. They all saw him as selfish. They all thought he rose to power because he was greedy.
It was never for him.
It was all for them. Lord Barraza would have had Argus on a leash if he hadn’t intervened, Codua would have crippled their economy, the nobles would have united their power once again and toppled their family. Cidro’s children, the things he was most proud of, they would have first been used as bargaining chips before either being slaughtered at raised at the mercy of people who would take all their grudges against him and his father out on them.
Perhaps his hands were dirty. Perhaps the tactics he used were ones to be ashamed of. But he did it for them. He did it for his family. And he’d pulled them through the fire. They were happy. They were healthy. They wanted for nothing and Leonides could keep those who wanted them dead at bay.
But he could not be good to do it. Being good helped no one.
Leonides shook his head. “We’re too different now.” He could not be the boy he was at eighteen.
He started mumbling apologies before Valera silenced him with the back of his hand. He clenched his jaw to keep from crying out, all but biting his tongue to keep from making more noise or moving as his head spun.
Leonides saw stars.
He felt at home among them.
Leonides froze. He remained frozen as Valera dipped his hand into the jar on their bedside table, his fingers coming away shiny and slick. He sank his teeth deeper into his tongue, blood mixing with his spit as Valera teased his fingers around his entrance. He held his breath and tried not to make a noise as he slipped inside him. He squeezed his flickering eyes shut as Valera’s fingers and the knife kissing his chest threatened to make him lose sense.
Let himself be used like a toy. To probe and unravel. Explore and study. Valera’s fingers made him dizzy. His stingy cheek and irritated wrists the only thing keeping him in his body. Holding him to the world, to the bed, as he fought the urge to curl to the pleasure. To moan for him. To scream about how much it pleased him.
Or even to tell Valera he did not deserve it. That he needed to be pressed to the floor and stepped on. Spanked and whipped until he was blubbering mess incapable of a sentence. So pathetic and unholy. Disgusting. Unworthy of Valera’s affection. He craved the discomfort, the aches of sore muscles and a body forced to uphold a a groveling shape. He craved the warmth of Valera’s hugs and soothing massages. His lips on his cheeks and neck.
Leonides wanted it all.
But it was too much.
It was all too much.
Sense lost. It always did.
“Oh, please. Now…can I? I need–”
Valera did not slow his fingers. Not like he expected him too. Leonides felt stretched around the digits. He spread his legs under him, he curled them to his knees to stop them from shaking so much. Saints, he needed this. He wanted this.
Valera took him in. Every shameful part of him. Swirls of blood on his chest, drool slipping out of his mouth, ignored dick turning almost purple.
“Go ahead, little prince.”
He was always most embarrassed of his climaxes. They were often dry, nothing spewing out of him as he gasped and moaned his release. His head lifted off the bed, neck bending as much as it could. He hardly heard Valera’s satisfied little laugh as he watched his body shudder.
Valera was always the first to move afterwards. He always untied him first before stepping away from the bed. Leonides barely had time to rub or tend to his own wrists before he back, with cooling creams, damp clothes, and something to stop the bleeding. Although, Valera rarely cut so deep to cause concern.
He tended to him silently, humming to himself as if nothing in the world was as mundane as tending to a lover he’d just teased with a knife. Or perhaps, he was merely happy. Valera helped him into a sitting position, stacking the pillows behind him so he was comfortable.
When he was done, Valera crawled behind him, wrapping both his arms and a soft sheet around Leonides. He pulled him into his warmth, nestling his chin on his shoulder.
Leonides was always the first to speak. “You didn’t–”
“–mercy me. I didn’t get you any water. Do you want water?”
“Did I…I didn’t please you.”
Valera tightened his hold around him. “This is enough,” he said. “For now.”
Leonides said nothing. He wondered if Valera could sense he was pouting.
“You did please me, Lee.”
So, he could sense it, then.
Leonides inclined his head towards him. The windows creaked under the weight of the wind.
“It scares me, being with you like this.”
Idly, Valera traced his finger up the length of his arm. Up. Then down. Leonides’ eyes closed against his will. Better than being rocked to sleep.
“Tell me why.” His voice directly in his ear. No where else he wanted to be.
“You make me so happy.”
Valera scoffed. “Can you not trust your happiness?”
All Harvers were cursed. His uncle said so himself. His father ignored the curse, laughed in the face of it, said they wouldn’t have gotten to where they were if such a silly thing existed. Uncle Sebastian never lied to him. Generations of Harvers suffered early deaths and ruined relationships. Estranged children, familial feuds, bad luck.
And all his dead step-mothers, that had to be a part of it.
A sigh tickled his ear. “You’re young, Lee. You have plenty of time–”
“–is this what you told the others?”
“I thought you didn’t like to talk about the others.”
“I don’t like being compared to them.”
Valera cupped his chin and tilted him so Leonides could meet his eyes.
Valera was smiling.
He’d taken his glasses off. He always seemed so different without them. Still just as insightful and brilliant, but not so posed. So human when he had to squint to notice details.
“What do I have to do to prove you’re special to me?”
“Shall I drag you to the altar myself? Pay the local priest on duty until he gives us our vows? Although, and listen to me, I never liked the idea of involving the church. It’s none of the Saints’ business who I–”
“Don’t.” Leonides narrowed his eyes. “That isn’t funny.”
Marriage was serious. Serious for anyone, especially for Harvers. His father continuously got married. Cidro would be sooner or later. So would he. To someone like Pamela Gorska. Someone he was fond of, someone he may even like talking to, but someone he could never…
Valera’s eyes seemed to glow, set aflame the same way they did in the middle of debates. “You think I’m joking?”
Leonides shook himself loose, patting the mattress for his underclothes. “It’s not funny,” he repeated as he ripped the linen free from underneath the pillows and tugged them up his thighs.
He rolled out of bed.
“And I’ve never been a very funny man, I’ll admit. But I’m not joking. If I was I’d say I’d want it done in some grand chapel. Certainly, spend more of the money you rip from a poor man’s hand on celebrating empty vows of affection and obedience when there…are so much more intimate and priceless ways to get the same result.”
Shaking his head, Leonides stomped his way to the door. His cheeks felt warm, but his stomach swirled with anger. He didn’t want to hear such things as a joke. Certainly not when Valera knew he’d escaped an engagement to come here.
To be with him.
“This is not funny, Val.”
Leonides reached the door. He stepped out into the hall.
“Prince Leonides you will come back here and listen to my proposal!”
He didn’t turn back.
“Oh, Saints.” Valera rolled his eyes. He snatched Leonides to his feet, hooking his arms under his armpits so swiftly Leonides hardly had time to shake him off.
“Stop being so difficult!” He squished his cheeks.
Leonides closed his eyes.
On his nose.
Not his mouth.
Groaning, he pushed Valera away and threw his hands up in frustration. “You drove me away!” He jabbed a finger in his direction. “With this, all your childish games.”
“I’m so childish so your solution was to threaten me with death? You have issues, Lee.”
“I have never tried to have you killed.”
Valera crossed his arms. “What is the punishment then, for my crimes?”
“I didn’t want you here.”
“And the first time?”
“I hoped you would get away in time.”
Valera rolled his eyes again. He reached up to rub his temples as he shook his head. “You think I was never scared? Never worried about this? Us? I knew what I was doing. I knew my beliefs put me in a compromising position. But I never…I trusted you.”
Leonides knelt to pick up his shirt. How foolish of him. Now that Valera was done with his mouth, it all felt so silly. Why had he gotten down on his knees? Why did he let it happen? Was he really so desperate?
Did he miss him so much?
“Perhaps you shouldn’t have.”
“Don’t say that.”
“Why shouldn’t I? I betrayed your trust. This should mean nothing to you,” he spat. Leonides shrugged the shirt on. So many of buttons had popped. He had to hold it closed.
The corners of Valera’s eyes crinkled. He frowned. “You always meant something to me. Even after, I was inconsolable.”
No. Certainly not what he wanted of needed to hear.
“You’re colder than me.”
“I cannot live if I have to think those months were meaningless. I have survived off those precious memories for longer than I’d like to admit, more than I ever thought I would tell you.”
“I was never special. I was always just another hole to fuck.”
“I loved you, Lee. You know that, don’t you?”
How could he? Valera never said such a thing. Not in so many words.
His feelings. Everything. It gathered in his throat. To leave. To wrap himself around Valera’s legs. Beg for forgiveness. Beg for affection. No one, no one had such an impact on his life. He’d changed for him. Hardened himself to become all the worst parts of Valera’s personality. All the wit without the passion. The calculation without the care.
It wasn’t Valera.
Just Leonides who was cold. What he wouldn’t give to be warm again. His father was gone. His uncle was gone. Cidro was gone. No one else he could be vulnerable around. No one to humble himself before and relax as the weight of an empire left his shoulders for even a passing second.
The chains jangled as Valera brought himself to his knees. He muttered his discomfort as he dragged himself against the stones. No. This wasn’t right. Valera wasn’t the one who should crawl. He was never the type.
Leonides shook his head. He was too busy to keep his shirt closed to stop Valera from touching him, from wrapping his arms around his shoulders and touching his forehead to his.
Leonides couldn’t do anything for himself. He had to let think Queen Liliana win something will effectively ruining her reputation with the common people. He couldn’t let the council or his enemies know he had something that could be used against him. Secrets were deadly in Graza.
But this wouldn’t be a secret. Valera was not the type to live in silence. He would be no better than Argus, parading his drunken criminal around for all to see. They said awful things about Argus, things he worked hard to keep from reaching his ears.
And Valera was too radical to be quelled. He would not silence his opinions, or his yearning for change. How could Leonides handle such a thing? When Valera’s wish directly conflicted with his way of life?
How would he know? How would he know Valera wouldn’t be doing this to simply to avoid his fate of a life in Alda or an execution?
Trust. He couldn’t trust anything.
“We can’t.” Leonides’ voice cracked. He swallowed down a sob.
“We can change the world.”
Leonides had more to say. So much more. But lips pressed against his. It almost felt strange. Alien. To feel a mouth move over his, a tongue flicking his bottom lip, teeth grazing him. With his hands on his shoulders, Valera pulled him closer.
He only realized then.
He’d never kissed a man before. Not truly. He never imagined he would get to. Justice Zisa had a bride lined up for the regent, he wasn’t keen on being held accountable for any affairs, he’d let go of having such an experience.
Valera kissed him slowly, exploring him as he always did.
He pulled away first, still cradling their heads together as he moved his hand to brush the strip of hair on Leonides’ chin.
“I only have one condition, little prince.”
Valera was in no position to bargain.
But Leonides knew. He always knew.
He would give him the world if he asked. If only to have him back.