BY : WonderMint
Category: Final Fantasy XIV > Yaoi - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 1739
Disclaimer: Final Fantasy FFXIV: ARR is owned by Square Enix and based on the creation of Hironobu Sakaguchi. May they ever walk in the light of the crystal. I own no right to the characters and settings herein and seek no profit therefrom.

A/N: The soundtrack for the last several chapters (Knave through Adventurer) has been represented primarily by various renditions of Ship of Regret and Sleep, from the Xenogears OST, Myth, and Light. I thought that would carry on for a while but the soundtrack for this chapter has shifted to music from Braid, specifically Lullaby Set, with honorable mentions for Downstream and Maenam.

For those who are inclined to see metaphors, please rest assured that I have much better reasons for the whopper in the second half of the chapter than annoying you with the obvious. The pun is, in this case, not even remotely intended. Of course, if anyone is actually interested in my reasoning for things like this, they could ask in a review, hint hint.

Yunachan: Thank you for my first review for this fic! I am so sorry to hear you mention liking metaphors, right at this particular chapter. I am a bad, bad person for this one. I will try to do better in the future. I am glad that you're rooting for them though. They need it.


To say that Alphinaud had made a choice was an exaggeration. It was truer to say that he had identified a problem, and had a set of outcomes he wished to avoid. That being said, it was fairly obvious that what he was doing now was in bold contradiction with his intended course. As the sun gazed dimly from between the Coerthan peaks, he was making his way towards the infirmary, scolding his feet with every step.

Tataru met him in the courtyard, carrying a stack of papers in her hands and a piece of buttered bread in her mouth, and looking a little surprised to see him up with the sun. Such industry was so fitting of her bright disposition, of course, that it hardly occurred to him that she might ever do otherwise.

She smiled warmly in greeting once he approached, breaking the piece of bread in half and offering him the unbitten side. He accepted the offering dumbly, having quite forgotten that bodies required food to go on working. “Good morning, Alphinaud! I see that you are wearing your coat today. I trust you won't be forgetting it again?”

He tore off a bite and swallowed hurriedly, amazed that the simple crust of bread was so appetizing. “Yes, thank you Tataru. As usual you have quite a bit more sense than I.” Ordinarily he would be irritated with her mothering, but he felt he could do with some reminding of his folly for a time. He was shaken, and the badgering of his friends was a reminder that he was alive, and might well help to keep him that way.

Without any other direction, Tataru resumed her course toward the Intercessory, and he followed, arguing with himself over his ill-advised desire to see the knight as he finished the morsel of bread. “Oh,” said Tataru suddenly. “Ser Aymeric gave me a message for you last night.”

Stupidly, Alphinaud whipped his gaze about the courtyard in alarm, long braid cutting through the chill air. “In private,” he said quietly, finding them to be largely alone save for a few servants or guards here and there, all well out of earshot. Stone echoed, there were many hidden vantage points, and he would take no chances. They walked the rest of the distance to their refuge, his heart thudding loudly, struggling with each step not to rush.

When they reached the small office, she was watching him quite queerly indeed. Against his wishes his eyes wandered to the chair where Aymeric had sat while they had traded diplomatic barbs, a feeling like a stone in his chest, heavy and dull. In all his time here, despite Lord Haurchefant's insistence that he make himself at home, he had never sat in the large chair by the wall. It had not felt right. Now, he suspected, he never would, ever avoiding the ghost of a man who hardly even used the room at all. With effort Alphinaud relaxed and doffed the coat, throwing himself into another of the chairs scattered about the room. He wondered if he should tell her, what he should tell her. He was certain she wouldn't judge, but the risk was yet too close, the fear too real. He bit his lip, deciding once again to hedge, guilt fraying at the edge of his conscience. He had long ago learned that the most effective lie was to tell the truth.

“I apologize, I seem to be... a bit jumpy. I feel as if I'm losing my wits lately. But Lord Haurchefant is correct; we must take care not to draw undue attention to ourselves.” He took an unsteady breath, no longer certain of anything he did, but pressing on anyway. “And I do not feel it wise to appear too friendly with Ser Aymeric in public. It could damage his position, and thus ours.”

The diminutive woman nodded obediently, sympathetically even, but he couldn't shake the feeling that she knew he was hiding something. “Of course,” she said, shaking her head slightly in bemusement. “These Ishgardian folk... they're rather odd about outsiders, aren't they?”

“You have no idea,” he answered, more to himself than her. “What of the message?”

“Oh! He said to repeat it exactly: 'Please...' no. 'Pray accept mine gratitude and apologies. I am bound by duty and must away. Someday I wish—sincerely wish—to return your kindness.' That's all. He left for the See last night, so I suppose he was healthy enough to travel.”

The message was clearly laced with double meanings, or he would not have asked Tataru to repeat it word-for-word. Clever of him to deliver the message in such a neutral way. To anyone else, including the messenger, it would seem a simple thanks for a life saved, an apology that he could not deliver it in person, and a feeling of obligation to repay the service in kind. Only Alphinaud knew better what service he actually wished to repay, and he fought to keep the color from his face that might give it away. He repeated the message several times in his mind, turning it over like an hourglass. That Aymeric wished to 'return the kindness,' meant that he was still interested, whether in a relationship or something more physical. That much was obvious from the way they had parted. The stone in his chest increased in weight as he remembered the parting kiss before the gate, foolish beyond measure. The 'sincere wish' could indicate the strength of his ardor or... that he recognized it as foolish to act upon, an idle dream. 'Someday' was the word that bothered him most. It signaled an ambiguous, unspecified time in the unknowable future, and while it could also mean someday soon, that option seemed rather unlikely.

When he combined that likelihood with the phrase 'bound by duty,' he was forced to conclude that the knight had reached the same answer he had earlier: that they could not continue their relationship, given his office and his faith. Hence the apologies. His gratitude likely referred to the joy with which he had seemed to receive their time together. Aymeric had taken it all in the moment, a gift, to be treasured and not regretted, even if they would likely never be able to repeat it.

He was not so sure he was strong enough to remember it with such joy and equanimity. So this was what heartbreak felt like, he thought numbly.

“Alphinaud?” Evidently he had buried his face in his hands, and he was surprised to find moisture pooling in the corners of his eyes, tears taking advantage of his distraction to wage an insurgent war on his dignity. “Are you quite alright? Are you sure you don't need to see the healer after-all?”

He peeked through his fingers to see her at his knees, peering up at him with concern. Quickly he blinked away the half-formed tears, sitting up properly to answer. “No. Though, now that I think on it... I am quite hungry.”

She grinned widely, glad to finally be able to help. “Let's go see the cooks, then. We've gotten quite friendly, and I'm sure they'll be happy to get our hero an early breakfast!”

They made their way out again into the cold, but Alphinaud let his gaze linger for a moment more on the empty chair behind the desk. Reluctantly he turned his back on it and followed the lalafel, shrugging back into his warm coat and wishing, sincerely, that he could trade it instead for a strong embrace.

Days passed in silence, possibly weeks, he was having difficulty keeping track. No winds blew, and the occasional snows wafted downwards with the stillness of a painting, beautiful and calm like the pure ideal in some artist's eye. Time passed without anything seeming to move at all.

Tataru had given him his space, seeming to sense his ennui but asking no questions he didn't want to answer. He ate properly, stayed warm, spake with the many adventurers they entertained, made conversation with Lord Haurchefant in the deep nights. He did it all without feeling alive, ever his thoughts pointed toward Ishgard, where some day soon they were sure to hear word or their diplomatic petition. Presumably, he would hear it from Ser Aymeric, though he could never quite answer the question for himself as to whether he wanted to see him again, knowing that they would have to pretend that nothing had happened between them.

Abruptly, the decision was made for him.

Alphinaud had risen to make his way to breakfast, walking down the hallway from his room with coat in hand and grimoire at his side, mind gone to some other place. The initial bustle of activity in the early morning had already calmed, the halls quiet until around noon when the servants would begin to keep house in the visitor quarters and prepare for tea. So when he passed by an unadorned wooden door, set just slightly ajar, he was not expecting it to suddenly swing open.

He was also not expecting to be pulled roughly into the dark, a strong hand clasped over his mouth to silence his shout of alarm.

He was most especially not expecting to be pressed against the door with an iron grip at his shoulder, a sense of familiarity and longing filling him before he even registered who it was that held him captive. By the time his voice had stilled and his mouth was released, he had already identified the man down to his scent and the silken texture of his fingerless gloves.

Aymeric withdrew his hands, and a clumsy clattering beside him suggested the forcing of a wooden rod through the door handle to keep it securely closed, from within and without. He then felt, rather than saw, the hands move to plant against the door over his head, leaning over him but refusing to touch. On instinct, Alphinaud held absolutely still, as if under the watchful eye of a deadly predator.

Neither spoke.

It took only a few moments more for his sight to adjust to the dim light flowing beneath the door. It was indeed a supply closet he'd been pulled into, of all the foolish things, though he noted a few weapons here and there, as if the staff might be expected to take up arms against a dragon while they turned down a bed.

Aymeric was peering down at him, and while his eyes were concealed in deep shadow, he could feel their intensity. The other man was tense, he could almost smell the nervousness on him, mixed into the warm scent of sweat and well-worn armor. He was close, perhaps only ilms between them. By some mutual agreement they kept their distance, though the scant space almost felt as if it required conscious effort to maintain.

As it seemed the knight had abdicated the responsibility, Alphinaud spoke first, as quietly as he could manage with the hysteria that threatened to overwhelm his calm. “Why are we in the broom cupboard?”

The knight let out a breath, suggesting that he had perhaps been holding it in for some time. A moment, two perhaps, passed before he answered. “I was hoping we could talk.” Blessedly, the deep rumble of his voice had been constricted to a tight whisper, so it was only the exhale of breath near his ear that made Alphinaud feel dizzy and out of his mind.

“... In a closet,” Alphinaud clarified.

“In private.”

“Where anyone could happen in, at any time, looking for a broom, or mop, or sword. This is possibly the worst place in all of Coerthas for a clandestine meeting.” His whisper had morphed into a frantic hiss, panic lapping at the shores of his reason, fingers tightening into the fur lining the edge of his coat. Really, they had private rooms. Even the Intercessory would have been better. Tataru would surely afford them some privacy if asked, keeping any suspicions to herself.

Thinking about having the man alone in the Intercessory was probably a bad idea. His proximity was reminding him of so many things that he wanted, and he was certain there were better uses for that desk than paperwork and diplomatic meetings. He caught an unsteady breath, unable to keep his pulse from quickening, and he was sure that the knight was aware of it because he heard an answering hitch in the other man's breathing, as if their thoughts and bodies were attuned perfectly.

“I rather intended the meeting to be brief,” answered the knight, with just enough voice to remind Alphinaud that it made him crazy, even as the words stabbed like needles. “I must know...”

It was well apparent that he had something he needed to say, but the sentence choked off into silence, dying before it reached his throat.

The silence burned around Alphinaud's ears, filled with the sound of his blood, the squeak of hinges and ancient woodwork, the quavering of the knight's breath. He waited, struck dumb and refusing to imagine the sentence's completion. There was danger in the air, mixed with eddies of dust and the taste of tools long worn to rust and despair.

Aymeric shifted closer, giving in a little to the gravity between them and resting his elbows on the door. He seemed to slide downward a fraction as well, giving heat and moisture to the breathing in his ear. Alphinaud closed un-seeing eyes against the assault and raked his fingers against the door behind him, wishing for something more secure to hold onto, coat sagging forgotten to the dusty floor.

“I must know if you feel as fondly for me as I do for you,” Aymeric finally murmured, the sentence tumbling forth all at once, trembling only on the final word.

It hurt. It hurt exquisitely, the pain opening like a morning glory in his chest, sweet and beautiful and vulnerable to the world. It overwhelmed him for several long moments, washing through him like the dull warmth of a hot autumn sun, bewildering in its strength.

Unconsciously, a shaking hand reached out for the man before him, resting lightly on his stomach and reveling in the heat pooling beneath the fine cloth. The contact jolted him, jolted them both. Aymeric sucked a hard breath through his teeth, twitching away from the contact just a hair's breadth before relaxing against it. One of the arms the knight had braced against the door slid downward, and a searching hand burrowed behind his shoulders to embrace him without pulling him close. The taller man stilled again, pointedly avoiding more contact, face tucked just almost into the hollow of his neck, awaiting his answer.

It was the same question, he realized, once the pain had dulled to a warm ache in his bones. The same question Aymeric had asked in their private purgatory, though then he had tried to hide his desperation. It was loose now, and the knight had apparently had to resort to caging it like a wild animal, attempting to shut it away so that only the object of his need could see how deeply he suffered.

Alphinaud knew the answer to that question now. He just didn't know what he should do with it. Or whether, in the end, he really had a choice.

“I'm a fool,” he whispered at last. “It is a foolish thing we do. But I find I cannot bear to do otherwise.” A hot breath at his neck quickened in surprise, held again, as if unable to believe his words. Alphinaud reached out his other hand, tracing them both across the other man's front until they came to rest at either side of his hips, a light touch, welcoming. “Would you forgive me my selfishness if I said... even though I fear for you... that I cannot let you go?”

He let the declaration echo out between them, frightened suddenly by the finality of it. But it was all true, and he would not take it back even if he had wanted to. Aymeric made a strange, sad sound beside him, a high-pitched gasp that was almost a sob. And then finally, whatever force was counteracting the pull between them, ebbed and broke apart. They barely even moved, and their standoff effortlessly became an embrace, soft and cautious. The breath at his neck tickled, then became a touch, the knight drawing his nose and lips over his skin, kissing and nuzzling up his chin, missing his mouth for his cheek. He pressed their foreheads together, tilting his head and caressing the back of Alphinaud's neck with insistent fingers, and finally locked together the spot at the bridge of his nose, the connection deep and intimate, eyelashes fluttering against too-soft skin. They stayed like that for a long breath, reluctant to move now that they both knew what they wanted, and had it, if just for a time.

That time was so brief, so fragile. Fraught with risk, ready to drop and break any time like a lily made of glass. Knowing what they wanted was only the first step. It was the steps after that that could see them fall.

The stillness did not last. The precarious balance of gravity shifted, and Aymeric was kissing him, cradling him close as if he needed them to occupy the same space. The kiss was chaste and slow, and Alphinaud allowed him to dictate the pace. He was shocked into meditative compliance, experiencing the moment as Aymeric first had, with joy and wonder tinged with only a taste of sorrow. The lips that moved against his seemed nothing short of a miracle. When the other man's mouth finally opened to him, tracing his lower lip with gentle teeth and vibrating with a deep satisfied hum, Alphinaud was possessed by vertigo, feeling as if he had been briefly pulled out of time and then back again before a beat of his own heart had passed.

Where his lips went, his tongue followed. It was no longer enough to be held, his hands seizing in Aymeric's clothing and pawing in irritation at the edge of the breastplate that blocked his touch. Why did he need so much damn armor? Surely it was uncomfortable. The close air in the closet was overheated and stiflingly still, and Alphinaud felt sticky with sweat even in his light tunic. Aymeric seemed to agree with his frustration, pulling his head backwards with a firm hand in his hair, no longer patient to explore, seeking instead to claim, with his teeth and tongue and breath.

Alphinaud moaned quietly into his mouth, sensing urgency now that time had ticked forward. Abandoning his feeble efforts to touch the man's chest, he let his hands reach around the man's waist, where he pressed forwards with his own hips. Their embrace had already turned lusty, but it evolved into sin in that moment, the heat of the knight's erection burning through their clothing and pressing into his stomach. The other man gasped, not surprised but thoroughly gratified, and he answered by shifting his stance to press an armored leg firmly between Alphinaud's. With minute care he drew the leg upwards, leaning heavily into the door until the hinges creaked and the broom handle groaned, searching for just the right angle of his hips to caress the younger man's cock and tease of so much more.

As it happened, every angle worked fine, but the small movement drove his body and imagination wild. He abandoned their fraught kiss to bury his face into the other man's neck, back arching with pleasure, licking up droplets of sweat and salt and the taste that was Aymeric. His breath shuddered into gasps of need as the friction ceased, and he wanted, needed, more.

“Please,” he whispered, though his voice trembled, blown like a leaf on the winds of his emotions. He was afraid, he realized, afraid of something just out of his sight, something other than the abstract worry that had been relegated to world outside their embrace. But he could simply no-longer identify the source. The fear was still there, making him hesitate to fully submit, but he could deny the coiling tension within him no longer. He felt that if he didn't answer it his spine would shatter like overwound clockwork. “Please, Aymeric,” he repeated breathlessly, unable to give name to his desires, trusting the other man to find a way to make them come true.

His trust was not misplaced. Aymeric made a sound that seemed a mix between a breathy moan and a shuddering gasp of pleasure, renewing the pressure on his groin and trembling just slightly. Not enough. But the hand that stroked his neck and shoulders released him, winding down his back and side with something like impatience, dancing with his fingers but unable to stay long enough to truly tease. He had a clear destination in mind, and this time he didn't even pause for confirmation, grasping Alphinaud's clothed erection in his palm. He didn't stay still either, flexing his fingers gently as he pressed downwards, sliding his hand along the length and dipping between his legs to caress his scrotum. Alphinaud nearly slammed his head against the door, not shunning the attention but somehow shocked by the boldness of it, the tips of his ears heating with embarrassment. The firm pressure against his shaft was delightful, and the knight didn't let up, though he kept his movements small and precise. The teasing of his fingertips bewildered him with softness and care, stealing the breath from his throat before it could reach his lungs. Aymeric leaned their foreheads together again, weight still heavy on the arm that held them both secure against the door, humming a soft sound in the corners of his attention, almost a song but not quite.

“Is this what you want, love?” His voice was quiet, not a whisper but a rumble in the deep, reigned in so that only he could hear. Alphinaud's hands were moving of their own volition, clawing their way up the man's back and tangling in his cloak, trying to pull him closer, confounded by the barriers between them and around them. He sought out the knight's lips again, needing the comfort of his mouth, needing to use his lips and tongue to diffuse the overwhelming feelings. The pleased hum continued, long notes trailing into silence and starting again, seeming to fill them both, a lifeline in the dark.

He wanted more. Vainly he tried to press into the warmth of the knight's palm, but it did little good, the knee between his legs pushing him firmly against the warming wood at his back. The stroking was firm and even, grip shifting at intervals and pace increasing only slowly. It made him starved for air, gasping around the other man's tongue in frantic bursts. A small light of clarity penetrated his clouded mind, just for a moment, reminding him that he could no longer feel the other man's arousal pressed against him. He loosed a hand from the maze of leather and fabric wound around the knight's back and went hunting on his own, making Aymeric hiss into his mouth when he found his target. Alphinaud had no shyness when it came to touching his lover, certainly not anymore. He twisted his hand flat against the other man's stomach and drove his fingers beneath the line of his belt, finding heat and slickness and much more. With some effort against the restrictive clothing he grasped the large cock in his hands, a surprising amount of fluid having soaked into his smallclothes. He liked that, liked that it was for him.

He liked that it made Aymeric lose himself just a little, stilling against him and groaning deeply, pressing his forehead against the door and panting disconnected breaths. It took only that long for the lack of movement to become urgent, need quickly building into something almost like pain, and he wiggled his hips against the knight's hand to remind him of his task. His shame, apparently, lay forgotten on the floor with his coat.

“No,” said the knight, dark with promise, in such a way as to make it sound like a 'yes.' But he grabbed his hand away from Alphinaud and wrapped it around the younger man's wrist, gently pulling the offending hand free. Alphinaud had a mind to struggle, but obeyed, his only act of defiance a firm finger run over the tip as he retreated, making the other man grunt and twitch. He brought the finger to his mouth, allowing his tongue freedom do to as it pleased, lapping up traces of the viscous pre-cum and savoring the vivid memories it recalled.

Aymeric growled softly, apparently able to see just enough of the display to appreciate it. Alphinaud tried to return a challenging glare, but succeeded only in smirking petulantly into the darkness.

Large hands were on him again, though not where he wanted them. They pushed him softly away, hands at his hips pressing him firmly against the door. The strong leg that had held him so securely was gone, leaving him with a cold sense of loss. He wanted to yell with frustration, but something other than the need for stealth stayed his breath. He waited, watched the vague shape of Aymeric shift, then heard the muted clank of plate armor as the man dropped to his knees before him.


He suddenly remembered his shame, and wildly attempted to merge backwards into the door in a bright moment of panic. Long fingers soothed him though, reaching up to stroke his exposed side, then rubbing circles on his stomach. The light was clearer by the floor, and when he took a steadying breath he could dimly see the soft expression on Aymeric's face as he gazed up at him. Suffused with need, panting lightly through parted lips and close, too close. Alphinaud just had to touch him, threading fingers through his hair and stroking him all the way to the small hairs at the back of his neck, tracing the point of his ear with reverent fingertips.

Aymeric took the action as an invitation, and he supposed, after the fact, that it was.

The knight ran careful hands up his thighs, pushing the edge of the tunic up and away and exposing his stomach. He kissed the area lovingly, lips and tongue and even teeth. It wasn't the area he explored but the thought behind the attention that was so arresting. That coupled with the novelty of the touch made him sigh with contentment, breath trembling but a little. He felt exposed, but it was a good kind of exposure, like telling a secret to a trusted friend and giggling all the while. He almost did laugh when the tongue dipped unexpectedly into his navel, but at the last second it became a tiny moan.

Aymeric dipped lower, and to Alphinaud's surprise he ran his lips down over his tight-fitting shorts to his erection. He made no effort to free it or remove the material, merely grasping it with his teeth and applying firm pressure. That got his attention, touch far too light to satisfy but more than enough to tease. He wished he could see the other man's face fully. As it was, he could see only the graceful lines of his jaw and cheek-bone, and the place where his open mouth disappeared into grim shadow. He was sure his eyes held dark mischief in them, narrowed with playful temptation as he dragged his teeth back and forth, the mere ghost of a suggestion of the promise of pleasure.

So when the holy knight searched with his fingers for a way to free him of the offending clothing, Alphinaud spent only a moment in indecision. When he moved to assist with the buttons on his shorts and Aymeric laced their fingers together, his breath caught with feeling. It was like when he had learned to swim, years ago. Letting go, letting the water hold you, trusting it not to let you drown. It was fear at the same time as trust, not opposite but equal. Trust for Aymeric, and surprisingly, trust for himself. He whimpered with the surge of feeling, and then everything was forgotten, drowning, down, down into the depths of the dark.

Falling. For a brief moment he didn't know which way was up, the world spinning exquisitely around him. He was pressed against the door, his head tipped back against it, shoulders and arms ram-rod straight, the anchor that kept him secured to reality. His mouth had flown open into a silent scream, then all he could do was gasp, the act of drawing air too complex to complete. Aymeric had apparently expended all of his patience, because the man's tongue was all over him, tasting every corner of his skin. It had shocked him, the heat and softness, the way the saliva cooled instantly as soon as the probing tongue moved to caress another spot, the firm grip at the base of his shaft that had a tendency to wander, caressing his balls and stroking between his thighs. Aymeric gave no quarter, taking every ilm for himself, memorizing it, cataloging flavor and texture and scent, leaving only sight for later, and evidently doing whatever he could to provoke him into sound. Or perhaps the knight was providing the sound, because now that he was no longer falling into space, he could hear an assortment of growls, small and quick like the tiny touches of his tongue and grazes of his lips, just loud enough to feel the vibration.

“Ah... Matron...” the pathetic whine was the first sound he could manage, though he had been certain there had been either more force or more coherence to the words before he said them. One hand had to seek the other man out, wind into his hair and pull, not to move him but to feel the resistance. The action stilled the other man, not his intent at all, but he did not regret it. The clever tongue slowed its movements, focused them. It drew slowly up the length, pressure firm and wet and honey-sweet. Warm breath flowed over his skin, tingling and making him feel hot and cold at the same time. Lips, soft, cool and dry in comparison, gently caressed his shaft with fluttering kisses, before he felt the hot mouth swallow him whole.

Alphinaud was surprised that the lusty moan was his, too deep, too ragged, too loud by far. Aymeric seemed determined to take all of him at once, so when the knight rumbled a deep answering groan, he felt it, felt it in ways he had never imagined. He needed to get control over himself, though he couldn't remember why, he could feel danger pressing around him, hushing him to silence. His last anchor against the solidity of reason, the arm he'd been leaning into the door with all his sanity, lifted to his lips. He thought he could feel the back of the man's throat constricting around the head of his cock, or maybe he was being eaten alive. He barely had time to grasp his glove in his teeth and worry it aside before biting hard onto his bare wrist to muffle a hard, lusty groan. The pain became his new anchor, bleeding into him and winding through his sensations and flavoring them a quick, dull red.

Sounds by the floor, movements. Metal clinking, fabric rustling. Movements that had slowed and stilled suddenly gained new significance as another deep groan sounded around his cock, and he knew that Aymeric had given in to the urge to touch himself. He cursed at the darkness in half-formed phrases laced through his pleasure, eyes unable to focus even without the gloom. He let his fingers signal his approval, softly tugging at the hair at the base of the man's skull, pulling just enough to say, more.

One of the knight's hands returned to his hip, the other being thoroughly occupied. Whatever stillness had settled over him was dispelled, moving not just his head but perhaps his entire body to thrust deeply against the younger man. His tongue was alive, wicked, venomous, stroking him all the while and paying particular care to the tip as he drew back, resolved to lap up anything Alphinaud gave him. He feared it wouldn't be long, his breath was coming in hoarse gasps from around his abused wrist, salt long licked clean, tasting of Copper now instead of Sodium, the flavor felt not just by his tongue but his teeth, his lips. It wasn't enough to keep him quiet, but it at least prevented the harsher sounds from echoing around the room, keeping them muted, safe, a warm embrace.

It was sound that did it, sound transformed to touch. Like electricity, Aymeric's pleasure vibrated through him, and it wasn't just the feeling but the implication, part memory, part imagination, all laced with the clear fact of the holy man's insane desire for him, for him. He came undone, the sound flowing through him and turning to actions, turning to whimpers and blood and ejaculate, his whole body shuddering and tensing and releasing all at the same time. There was a pause where he ceased to exist, like a note of rest in a beguiling melody, and then he was moaning again and sliding down the door, guided down gently by a firm hand. Cradled soft, close. The man was leaning over him, pressing together foreheads slightly chill with sweat.

Trembling still, not even sure which way gravity was pointing, Alphinaud reached out a hand to capture the other man's wrist, bringing his fingers to his lips. Salt, alkaline, earthy, he drew them into his mouth, noting with some pleasure that the glove still covered his palm, now smeared with semen, filthy like his transgressions. When he released the hand, Aymeric seized him again, a quick frantic kiss, the last gust of the storm. They lay that way for a long moment, tasting each-other's breath, shaken to the core.

Reality had a way of intruding.

First at the edges of his awareness, dim worry. Reflected on the features of his lover, a bright beam of light finally illuminating his eyes now that they huddled on the floor.

“I don't care,” Alphinaud said, voice still a bit shaken. Callous words, transformed into a declaration of love, as they had been on the snowy plain. The words seemed to have a soothing effect on the other man, drawing away the worry from his eyes like poison leeched from a wound.

“It seems I don't either.” And Aymeric smiled a little bit, smiled as if accepting a challenge.

Then reality knocked.

The door rattled on its hinges, then a fist pounded at the door. Both men startled, clutching each other's elbows in wild instinct, silent like mice in the shadow of a cat.

“Lucy!” A woman's voice pressed against the door, harsh and insistent, focused to penetrate their prison rather than resound through the hall. “I know it's you in there! There's work to do, I'll need you and the mop. And another mop besides, like as not, and I don't mean your friend. You have five minutes to finish and then I'm coming back for you!”

Alphinaud was dizzy, catatonic with fear, but Aymeric was moving already. He snatched a cloth from somewhere, using it to clean himself, then set about straightening his clothing as quietly as possible given that half of it was beaten metal. Alphinaud moved after only a moment of overriding panic, pressing his ear against the floor to confirm that the footsteps had faded down the hall and out of hearing range. Then he took the rag and mirrored Aymeric's actions, and stuffed the evidence beneath a shelf where it would likely lay abandoned for moons.

“Me first,” he mouthed, almost no breath passing his lips to give the thought voice. The stoic knight nodded grimly, what little that could be seen of his expression having turned to steel.

He didn't care. Time to test his mettle.

Ear to the door, no sound. He opened it slightly, then peeked into the sliver of light, seeing nothing. The footsteps had trailed off in the other direction from the way visible from the door, meaning that the girl had gone towards the exit, and he would be unable to see her approach from within. Deciding to cut his losses, he stepped out boldly and shut the door to near closing, leaving his palm visible to the man still concealed within to signal when it was safe.

At that moment, the maid returned, in defiance of both convenience and her own timetable. She rounded the corner at the end of the hall, and looked at him blankly.

It was the same young woman he had helped with the blankets earlier, a part of him registered with disinterest. She was carrying a bucket of water, which was only noteworthy because she immediately dropped it, the water sloshing out onto the floor and staining the faded carpet with foam.

Then she drew her hands to her mouth, daintily almost, curling her knuckles white at her chin.

And she shrieked, a quick, muted sound like a mouse grabbed by an owl. She shrieked with terror, as if he had been a voidsent emerging from the closet and not a seventeen-year-old politician. He had barely managed to widen his eyes in shock and horror, raising an arm as if to calm her, when she fled around the corner, feet thudding at what must have been her top speed.

“Run,” he said to his hidden companion, though in retrospect it had hardly needed to be said.

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