For Love Of Death
Twilight was generally a quiet time of the day. The sunlight ceremonies were over, the priests beginning to retire for the night or setting up for one of Tezca's ceremonies in the nighttime hours. Tezca was with his priests, his presence serving to speed things up as no one wanted to linger over pointless details when watched over by that eerie silver gaze. Quetz was up on top of the temple again, watching the sun set as he often did.
Xol was wandering. He knew every stone and ornament in the great temple by heart, but he still liked to walk its corridors and enjoy the cool stillness. In this he knew he was wildly different from his outgoing twin, so full of life. In his dominion over death, Xol usually found peace and comfort in a lack of people rather than their presence. Quetz didn't understand it, but he also didn't protest when Xol went out to spend some time alone.
He'd made it all the way down to the lowest level and was just about ready to head back up when the sound of voices caught his ear. Three voices. Two angry, one... desperate.
Following the sounds, Xol turned a corner and found himself at one of the smaller antechambers leading out of the temple. It was occupied by three men, two of them the warriors that guarded the temples but the third was unfamiliar. Plain, worn clothes, dark hair in a simplistic plait, signs of dirt and toiling despite evidence that he'd attempted to clean himself up. A common laborer, then, especially if one considered his sturdy, muscular build. Not unattractive, even with all the dirt.
Curious, Xol kept himself to the shadows as he listened to what the three were saying.
"Please, you must hear me. She is dying! I only wish-"
"Supplicants must take their requests to the priests. No one sees the gods directly."
"I tried! But I am only a poor man and the priests will have nothing to do with me. Couldn't you please-"
"No one enters the great temple but the priests. You want to see a god, go to the ceremonies."
"I have tried!" Xol could easily hear the frustration in the man's voice. "And still she gets sicker and sicker. Without the blessing of the gods, she will surely..."
"Then take her to a healer. It is no business of ours."
Xol could see the desperation in every line of the man's body as he clung to a fragile shard of hope. To have come to the temple directly, in defiance of protocol, he must truly have no other options. This was his last resort, and he was being sent away.
Xol stepped out of the shadows.
The would-be petitioner saw him first, eyes widening. When the warriors realised they were no longer the focus of his attention they turned, starting when they saw Xol and dropping to their knees.
Ignoring the warriors, Xol strode calmly toward the man who hadn't even made an attempt at kneeling - probably because he was too busy gaping dumbfoundedly.
"What is your name?" Xol asked, noting with amusement that the man was a good handspan taller than he was. But then again, most people tended to be taller than he and Quetz. Though none of the priests had anywhere near this man's mass.
"Uh, Mitzi... I mean, Acolmiztli, Lord Xolotl." Apparently finally recognizing his audacious manners, the man dropped to the floor in supplication.
"Someone is sick? Injured?" Plastered to the floor like that, the man's broad shoulders and back were very nicely displayed. Xol gave into the impulse to walk slowly around the man, noting that his backside was just as nice beneath the scant covering of his loincloth.
"Sick, my Lord," the man replied, unaware of the scrutiny. "My sister, she has been sick for months, but we cannot afford to pay a healer nor a priest to pray for her."
Xol supposed he should be surprised, but he wasn't. Not really. Their conquerors treated the common people far differently than their old kingdom had.
"Please, my Lord," the man begged when Xol did not immediately reply, "do not let my sister die. She is my only family."
Family. That was one thing that Xol understood, and like this man Xol would do anything for his.
"I can keep her from death," Xol said slowly, "but I cannot heal her. That is not within my power..." Not his, anyway, but Quetz was another matter. "Wait here."
He made his way up to the peak of the temple, calling for his brother before he'd even cleared the last step. A moment later Quetz's head popped over the edge of the raised platform, peering down at him.
"Xol? I'm not skipping any ceremonies! ... am I?"
Xol rolled his eyes. "No. But I need your help. Get down here."
Although he half expected a protest, a few moments later there was a faint rustling of cloth and jewelry and Quetz dropped gracefully to the floor. He stole a kiss - he always did - and linked his hand with Xol's.
Not bothering to waste time explaining, Xol just settled for dragging Quetz back inside and downstairs. It was usually easiest just to point him at something and set him loose rather than try to explain it. Quetz understood things in his own special way, and his way usually clashed with everyone else's.
All three mortals were still there when Xol returned. They'd resumed standing in his absence, but promptly returned to the floor as he and Quetz entered.
"Hello," Quetz greeted cheerfully, throwing Xol a bewildered look.
Xol snorted. "This man's sister is sick. Dying. He came to us for help."
Quetz's eyes widened. "Oh. Where..."
Xol prodded the prone man until Acolmiztli looked up at him. "Where is your sister now?"
"Uh, at home, my Lord..." His eyes flicked briefly to Quetz. "Lords." He didn't quite seem to know what to do with himself. Xol supposed it wasn't often that one of the common people came face to face with not one but two of their gods.
Then again, the man had come to the temple looking to find them. Maybe he hadn't clearly thought out what would happen when he did find them.
Xol eyed Quetz, raising one brow in question. Quetz nodded and inclined his head toward the warriors. Xol's nose crinkled and he muttered beneath his breath, "Where's Tezca and that flute of his when you need them?"
A heartbeat later a sweet sound filled the air, beautiful and poignant with an undercurrent of bitter sorrow. The three mortals blinked once, swayed, and quietly toppled over. Xol and Quetz looked toward the doorway.
"Your timing is strangely suspect," Xol said flatly.
Quetz simply stepped into Tezca's arms to receive his proper greeting kiss, which he then shared with Xol.
Tezca shrugged. "I saw yourself and Quetzalcoatl in the hallway and followed."
Xol snorted, but didn't protest when Tezca leaned down to kiss him. "Aren't you supposed to be at a ceremony right now?"
Tezca shook his head. "They are still setting up, and should not require me for some time yet." He glanced at the unconscious men on the floor. "I suspect there is a reason I put them to sleep?"
"Yes." Quetz nodded. "We're going out."
"We only really needed the guards to sleep," Xol pointed out, kneeling next to Acolmiztli and prodding him. There was no response.
Tezca looked at each of them, then at the man on the floor, before systematically stripping off his armor and setting it in a tidy pile in a corner. When he was finished, he stepped next to the unconscious Acolmiztli and knelt down long enough to hoist the man over his shoulder and stand again.
Xol exchanged a glance with Quetz, then the two of them removed the most obvious of their adornments until they were as plain as they could make themselves. Hopefully no one would look too closely at their hair or eyes.
Leading the way, Tezca stepped calmly over the sleeping warriors and out of the temple. He led them several streets away and around a corner before stopping and setting his burden down on the ground. Once his hands were free he drew his flute out of a pouch at his waist and played a short measure.
Acolmiztli's eyes fluttered open. "What...?"
"How do we get to your home from here?" Quetz asked, crouching down next to him.
"Um, I..." Acolmiztli looked around, eyes widening as he took in Tezca, and then their surroundings. "I..." Scrambling to his feet, the man looked around again with a bit more urgency. "That way."
Tezca gestured for Acolmiztli to lead the way, then they all set out through the streets of the city. It was almost strange, to see the city without water everywhere. This was what it looked like day to day, the way the common people saw it. It was... interesting.
They finally stopped outside of a house in even shabbier condition than the one in which he'd found Quetz. Acolmiztli pushed aside a tattered curtain and entered. A moment later, the three gods followed. The interior was just as run down as the exterior, being a single room with an earthen floor and a bit of chipped cookware in a corner. In another corner was a single pallet, occupied by a gaunt, pale young woman barely out of childhood. Death hung over her; with a thought, Xol held it at bay.
"Oh!" Quetz rushed past Acolmiztli to kneel at the woman's bedside, his hands reaching out to touch her face. Whatever he did wasn't visible to the rest of them, but Xol could feel the cold grasp of death easing.
He turned toward Acolmiztli. "She should be fine."
Acolmiztli looked at him and blinked. He looked briefly back at Quetz and the girl, then back at Xol. "How do you... what did he..."
Xol smiled, surprised and a little bit relieved when the man didn't cringe. People usually did, around him. "What he did, I have no idea. Quetz heals, but nobody knows how he does it. As for how I know, I can feel it. Death doesn't cling to her as strongly now."
"Oh." Acolmiztli looked back at them again, then gave Xol a weak smile. "It's a little unbelievable. I mean, I came to you for help, but I didn't... I didn't expect... this." He gestured at the three of them, standing (or in Quetz's case, kneeling) in the midst of the humble surroundings.
Xol laughed quietly. "What did you expect?"
"I..." Acolmiztli shook his head. "I have no idea. I just..." his voice softened, "wanted her to get better."
"She will," Quetz said, standing and making Acolmiztli jump. "I have cleared the sickness from her body. She is still weak, but will improve."
Xol nodded. Acolmiztli still looked overwhelmed. "I... th-thank you."
"You're welcome." Quetz smiled, standing on his toes to brush a soft kiss across Acolmiztli's lips, then he retreated to the circle of Tezca's arms.
The expression on Acolmiztli's face was priceless. Xol struggled not to laugh. "Don't worry," he reassured the man, "Quetz does that."
"Oh." Acolmiztli still looked rather stunned. Xol supposed Quetz's kisses could do that to a man.
"Xol, are you coming?" Quetz asked. Acolmiztli blinked.
"But... what if she gets worse?"
Quetz blinked. So did Xol. They exchanged a glance; Quetz looked rather bewildered.
Xol hid a smile, then turned toward Acolmiztli. "I can stay for a little while to make sure nothing happens." He allowed a tiny bit of his smile to show. "No one can die while I'm watching them, if I don't want them to."
Acolmiztli nodded slowly, relief and something else in his posture. But no fear. Still no fear. It was strange. "Thank you. I would like that."
Tezca's quiet voice broke in. "Will you be all right, coming back by yourself, Xolotl?"
Xol made a face. "I think I can take care of myself, Tezca. I'm the god of death after all."
Still Tezca hesitated. Xol wanted to smack him, but that would most likely be entirely futile. No one hit Tezcatlipoca unless Tezca allowed them to. Instead, Xol threw a pleading look to his twin.
Quetz laughed and prodded Tezca. "Huitzi's gone. You don't have to be so protective. Xol is fully capable of taking care of mortal threats."
When Tezca continued to look unconvinced, Xol sighed and reached out with the power he so seldom deliberately used, and tapped him. Just a bit. Tezca started, then looked at him carefully. Xol crossed his arms.
Finally, Tezca nodded, and after yet more kisses all the way around, Tezca and Quetz left.
Shaking his head, Xol picked the cleanest patch of ground he could find and sat down. After a moment, Acolmiztli checked first on his sister, then cautiously joined Xol on the ground. Not too close, but not as far away as mortals - and even some gods - kept from him.
"She looks better," Acolmiztli said slowly, alternately meeting his eyes and watching the floor. Apparently he didn't know how to speak to one of his gods. Truthfully, Xol didn't know how it was done either. They seldom saw anyone but the priests and each other.
"She is." Xol gave his best Quetz-impersonating smile. "I've never known anyone not to get better after Quetz healed them."
The man nodded slowly, daring a faint smile back. "I... cannot thank you enough. I had almost given up hope."
"If you had," Xol pointed out, "You wouldn't have come to the temple."
Acolmiztli flushed. "Well, yes, but..."
Xol grinned. "You didn't exactly expect to play host to three gods?"
The flush deepened. "Something like that."
Xol chuckled softly. "Well, we like to get up to mischief every now and then. And it was a good excuse to sneak out of the temple. We don't usually get a chance to see how the common people live."
Acolmiztli actually looked directly at him, expression doubtful. "It's not very interesting."
Xol laughed. "That's because it's normal to you. Normal for us is attending ceremonies, controlling the weather, dealing with priests and tribute... that sort of thing. I haven't a clue how to... to grow corn or weave cloth or whatever it is that you do."
That seemed to do it. Acolmiztli laughed quietly and shook his head. "I am not a farmer either, though I work in the fields when many hands are needed. I am strong, and I do those tasks which others do not have the strength for." He spread his hands, as if apologizing for his size. "I work some with my hands, but they are too big for any fine work."
With great effort, Xol managed not to imagine other things those large hands would be useful for. "I'm not even sure what fine work is," he admitted.
"Oh." Acolmiztli blinked, then got to his feet with a surprising amount of grace for a man his size. He went over to the corner containing the cookware and picked up a large urn, bringing it back over to where Xol was sitting. He knelt, reaching into the urn and drawing out an irregular piece of wood that Xol realised after a moment had been carved in the shape of a bird.
"Oh." It was far from the elaborate decorations of the temple, but somehow it had never really occurred to him before that someone had to make them. That someone had made them, with their own hands. "You made this?"
Acolmiztli flushed and nodded. "It's not very good... big hands. But it is something to do in the evenings."
"It's incredible," Xol said, and meant it. He couldn't imagine doing anything like this himself. He could call lightning, summon fire, control death, but the most he could manage with his hands was to dress himself and impersonate Quetz.
Well, and do certain other things that he was very carefully not thinking about.
Acolmiztli fidgeted and rubbed the back of his head. Xol supposed that a man his size would have more blood in his body, and therefore more of it was capable of rushing to his face. He couldn't think of another explanation for the fascinating shade of red.
"Thank you, Lord Xolotl," Acolmiztli managed to mumble.
Further conversation was interrupted, however, by a quiet gasp. Xol looked up to see that the girl was sitting up and staring at them, her eyes impossibly wide. Quetz's power certainly did work fast.
"Teteoinan!" Acolmiztli exclaimed, rushing over to her. "You're awake." He embraced his sister, who was still staring at Xol.
"M... Mitzi..." the girl stammered, her face white as chalk, "Is that really... L-lord Xolotl...?"
Acolmiztli smiled broadly. "Yes, Teo. Lord Xolotl came here with Lord Quetzalcoatl and Lord Tezcatlipoca to heal you. Isn't it wonderful?"
The terror in her eyes was proof that, to Teteoinan, it was anything but. It was a look that Xol knew all too well, and had been enjoying the respite from. Apparently, the respite was over.
He stood, drawing Acolmiztli's attention and prompting a quiet shriek from his trembling sister.
"It seems your sister is indeed recovered, and so I should be returning to the temple." It was rather ironic, but he couldn't help but add, "I wish you both a long and happy life."
Acolmiztli blinked. "Lord Xolotl..."
The smile was stiff on Xol's face. For a little while he'd been allowed the illusion that he wasn't the fearsome god of death, only to be plunged back into reality like a slap of cold winter rain.
"If there are any further problems, you know where to find me." He turned, making his way out of the little house as quickly as he could and all but running back to the temple where there were those who looked at him with something other than fear in their eyes.
He made it to his suite without incident, despite the startled cries of the guards on duty, and dropped down onto his bed. It hadn't seen much use of late, but he needed a few minutes to himself. Quetz loved him unconditionally, but Quetz could never understand him. They were completely opposite, life and death, and Quetz could no more comprehend what it was like to be him than he could figure out why Quetz could love everyone. Quetz didn't even hate Huitzi, and Huitzi had tried to kill him!
Tezca seemed to be more of a mind with Xol on the matter of Huitzi, but that still didn't mean he was easy to understand. Nobody knew what Tezca was thinking behind those unnerving mirrored eyes.
But even though the people were wary of Tezca like a man facing a jaguar, even Tezca didn't have to deal with the stark terror that Xol inspired in them. War was dangerous; death was inescapable.
Most days he didn't mind it too much. It was simply what he was, and he was used to it. But he hadn't recognised the weight of it until, just for a little while, it was lifted. It would almost have been easier if Mitzi was afraid of him just like everyone else.
The sound of his name brought his head up, and a wry smile twisted his lips. Almost everyone else.
Quetz padded into the room, soundless but for the faint clinking of his golden jewelry and the rustle of feathers in his hair. He came over to where Xol was sitting on his bed, leaning down and touching their foreheads together briefly before dipping his head to grant a soft kiss. Xol slid his arms around Quetz's waist, holding his twin close.
It was nice, to be held. Quetz's presence always made him feel better, regardless of the mood he was in. It was impossible to be near Quetz and maintain low spirits. His presence was like a balm. Like sunlight.
Eventually they moved, Quetz ending up sitting next to him, just... being there. What he needed. He felt something ease inside of him.
"He wasn't afraid of me," Xol said after a moment, soft. "He wasn't afraid of me at all... but his sister was. Just like everyone else."
Quetz didn't say anything for a long moment, fingers running soothingly up and down Xol's back. When he finally did, it wasn't the Quetz who was forever skipping ceremonies and getting into trouble.
"All men fear death. It is the one thing they cannot control, cannot defeat. It takes a man of exceptional strength and courage to face death and not back away. Men like that are destined for greatness. It is the mark of a king."
Xol smiled sadly. "He is a common laborer, nothing more."
For a single moment, Quetz's eyes looked almost as eerie as Tezca's. Like they could contain the entire world, and simply didn't choose to.
Xol looked at him, but didn't ask what Quetz meant. Sometimes Quetz just knew things, like Xol knew when a man would die. Although he didn't really like the idea of Acolmiztli as a king. The man was too... something... to be a king.
But Quetz hadn't been wrong yet, so Xol would simply have to wait and see.
And in the meantime, Quetz's hands had grown less comforting and more playful. They removed Xol's sparse attire with ease; it took a lot more effort for Xol to undo Quetz's own flamboyant finery. He ended up leaving on some of the smaller bracelets and necklaces rather than take the time to remove them all. Not that time was a pressing concern, but he wanted to feel Quetz, feel his hands and his mouth, his endless, boundless love.
The thought made him feel guilty, but it was nice not to have to share Quetz with Tezca for once. There was nothing wrong with Tezca, and he was a generous lover, but every now and then Xol couldn't help the thought that Quetz was his brother. Long before Tezca had entered the picture, they'd had each other. It was selfish of him, but he didn't like having to share Quetz's love.
He thought, sometimes, that maybe Quetz knew that too. Maybe that was why he was here, now. It would be entirely like Quetz.
He wasn't going to think about it. Not now, not tonight. He'd simply enjoy Quetz's company and let tomorrow be tomorrow.
The next day things felt better. Quetz had stayed with him all night and even attended the morning ceremony without a fuss - and on time! Tezca met up with them for breakfast and the three of them spent the morning harassing Tlaloc and his fawning flower twins. After a brief stop to change clothes after Tlaloc soaked them in revenge, they had lunch and then Quetz dragged Tezca off to go spar with some hapless warrior.
Xol chose to abstain, instead wandering the halls and taking a closer look at all of the intricate decorations he'd only barely noticed before. He'd made it as far as one of the mid-terrace flower gardens when the conversation of a pair of passing priests caught his attention.
"What did you say?" he asked, stepping out from around a corner and making both men jump.
"It- it is nothing to trouble your grace with..."
Xol bared his teeth. Both men flinched. "Humor me."
A brief look was exchanged, then the younger one shifted awkwardly. "There was a peasant, my lord, a common laborer, who kept demanding to see you. Naturally we would not debase you with such rabble, so he was sent away."
"Sent away." Xol's voice was deceptively even. "Perhaps I wanted to meet with this laborer." Another time it would have made him sick, the way the men were all but cowering before him. Now, it just fueled his anger.
"H-he was no one, my lord. Could not even give proper tribute, just a crude piece of wood..."
"Where is it?" Xol snapped.
"I... d-downstairs. The east entrance. The guards were going to throw it out..."
The crack of thunder overhead was deafening. Xol turned without another word and stalked downstairs, thoughts of what he would do if the fools really had thrown it out alternating with thoughts of Mitzi. The man had brought one of his carvings. For him? Probably for Quetz; Quetz was the one who'd saved his sister. But the priests had said that Acolmiztli was asking to see him...
He stormed into the east antechamber, snapping "Get up" before the two guards had time to do more than jump. "Where is it?"
"M-m-m... l-lord Xolotl?"
"The carving, from the man who was here earlier."
After exchanging puzzled and apprehensive glances, one of them moved to a low table containing the remains of a meal. He picked up a small item and offered it hesitantly to Xol.
Xol thought he showed remarkable restraint in not violently snatching it away. Instead he turned and stalked out with his prize, priests and servants alike scrambling to get out of his way. Good. He wasn't in the mood to deal with any of them.
Finally he reached his suite and allowed himself several moments of slow, even breathing to let the anger drain away. When he was no longer feeling quite like causing the untimely death of every priest and warrior in the temple, he dropped into a nearby chair and carefully examined the little piece of carved wood.
It was a dog.
Xol's breath caught in his throat. This was obviously not for Quetz. Quetz's avatar was the feathered serpent. The dog... the dog was Xol's.
He turned it over slowly, then over again. Representations of his avatar were rare, few craftsmen being willing to chance drawing too much attention from the god of death. On those occasions when his image was shaped, it was nearly always in conjunction with Quetz's serpent. Life to balance out the risk of death.
But this, this was all his, and beautiful. Mitzi's skill was obvious; compared with this one, the one he'd seen the night before was like a candle against the sun. Many hours and great care had gone into the crafting of this wooden dog, and a laborer such as Mitzi had few hours to himself as it was. How long had he spent, snatching time when he could, to create this beautiful little figure?
And then he'd given it away.
He was still sitting there, lost in thought, when Quetz came to collect him for dinner.
The rising sun greeted Xol the next day as he slipped out of the temple on four silent paws. Although he didn't look quite like a normal dog, no one really paid him any mind as he made his way through the city to Acolmiztli's house. He wasn't there - his sister was, but Xol backed out quickly before she saw him - and it took several minutes of aimless wandering before the thought arose that, being a laborer, Mitzi was most likely working. Somewhere.
It took another hour's worth of hunting before he finally figured out where 'somewhere' was.
There were men and supplies everywhere, moving in a pattern incomprehensible to Xol but seemed to make perfect sense to those doing the moving. They were doing something with stone and mud in a large clearing, and it took quite a bit of watching before Xol finally realised they were building a structure of some sort. Far too big for houses, yet smaller than the great temple. There was one man who seemed to be in charge, shouting out orders to the rest of the men, but Xol really only had an interest in one man.
There, helping another man lift a heavy stone into place. All of his muscles were clearly defined against his dusky skin as he wrestled with the weighty thing and there was a fine sheen of sweat coating his entire body.
Xol wanted to lick him. Instead, he found a nice patch of shadow and sat down to watch. There was much to be learned here, and there was nothing wrong with enjoying the sights while he filled in the gaps in his knowledge.
He learned quite a bit about building, in the hour or so he watched from the shadows, but he learned more about Mitzi. The man was strong, that much was obvious, but he was also kind, and smarter than the men around him seemed to give him credit for. More than once Xol saw him helping another worker struggling under a load, or subtly correct things that hadn't been placed quite right.
Unfortunately, Xol wasn't the only one who noticed Mitzi's tendency to help.
The fur on his back bristled as the loud man in charge stormed up to Mitzi, bellowing at the top of his lungs about falling behind and leaving other men to their work. Mitzi didn't even try to defend himself, didn't say a word, just let the man rant and scream in his face. No one else seemed to notice the exchange, no one but Xol, as if it was all perfectly normal.
He would have been willing to let it go, since Mitzi didn't seem particularly upset, but then the man raised his hand.
Before the blow fell, Xol was between them, his hands coming up to catch the coming strike.
They met each other's eyes, him and the loud man. For a long moment all they did was stare, and then the screaming began.
All around them people were panicking, some running, some attempting to kneel, some apparently frozen in place. Xol could almost smell their fear, even without the added senses of his canine shape, and he could most certainly hear it.
Cursed. His appearance at their work site meant that many men would not live to see the new temple complete. He could hear the tremor in their voices as they wondered aloud who would be the first to die.
The old bitterness welled up in him as their voices washed over him. If he'd stayed a dog all day as he'd meant to, they'd never have known he was in their midst. But he'd changed to protect Mitzi, forgetting as he did so that he hadn't even made a cursory attempt to disguise himself before leaving the temple. All of his silver skulls were clearly visible, marking him to even the most casual looker as the fearsome god of death. The fool him, thinking he could enjoy himself for a single day.
Releasing the loud man's wrist, Xol turned and stalked away with as much dignity as he could manage, given that inwardly he wanted to scream. He made it all the way to the edge of the construction site before he heard a voice - Mitzi - call his name.
He didn't turn. He'd caused enough trouble for the man already.
The hurrying footsteps behind him didn't fully register until a large, warm hand wrapped itself around his upper arm. Then he stopped, staring at the hand in bafflement. It was touching him. No one touched him.
The hand dropped, Mitzi's cheeks coloring as he rubbed at his nose. "Ah, I apologize for the impertinence, Lord Xolotl. I meant no disrespect..."
The apology barely registered. Xol could still feel the warm imprint on his arm where Mitzi's hand had been. Touching him. Willingly.
"Why aren't you afraid of me?" he wondered aloud.
Mitzi's flush deepened. He shifted restlessly. "I won't deny you're enough to unsettle any mortal man," he admitted, "but I would rather face my fears and look upon you than have to look away and be denied the sight."
That made even less sense than Mitzi touching him. Mitzi wasn't afraid of him because... he wanted to be able to look at Xol? Did that mean... What did that mean? Did Mitzi...
People were staring at them.
Whatever was going on, Xol wasn't about to discuss it here. He grabbed Mitzi's arm and started walking quickly toward the temple, somehow unsurprised when the big man came along without the slightest hesitation. It wasn't really in Mitzi's nature to be contrary, but this felt different.
They made it back to the temple without too much fuss, aside from the typical reaction of the common folk to Xol's presence. Mitzi didn't say anything about it, but every time Xol glanced back at him he was frowning slightly as his eyes flickered over their audience.
The guards at the east entrance weren't the same ones Xol had terrified yesterday, but they still jumped and dropped to the floor with haste. Xol ignored them, focused on getting somewhere private before anyone thought to ask questions. They did get a few odd looks from the handful of priests they passed, but fortunately they were out of sight before anyone thought to ask about Mitzi.
Eventually, finally, they made it back to Xol's suite. He contemplated barricading the doorway, then decided that was a bit overkill. It wasn't like anyone ever came into his suite without permission.
At last he turned toward Mitzi, realizing in that same moment that he had no idea what to say.
Neither, apparently, did Mitzi. They both looked around, as if searching for something that would inspire words to come. Their eyes landed at the same time upon the little carving, Mitzi brightening considerably.
"You did get it!"
Xol scowled, but it faded in the balm of Mitzi's happiness. "Eventually." He hesitated, a thousand questions crowding his mind. "Thank you... it looks like it took a lot of work."
Mitzi's cheeks pinked. "Yes... I... yes." He looked down, then up again. "Do you like it?"
"It's beautiful." Xol didn't have to force a smile, it simply happened. It was a little strange; the only other person who had that effect on him was Quetz.
Hopefully Mitzi wasn't as prone to mischief as Quetz. Xol didn't think he was capable of keeping up with two troublemakers.
Mitzi murmured a shy thank you to somewhere around Xol's knees, daring a quick look up before dropping his gaze.
Xol chuckled softly. "I won't take offense, if you wanted to look." He hesitated. "You said you wanted to..."
It was almost a visible effort, the way Mitzi gathered his courage before meeting Xol's eyes. He didn't flinch, didn't shudder. There was no fear in him.
But desire, oh, Xol felt he'd have to be blind to miss that.
Reaching up, Xol wrapped his hand around the back of Mitzi's neck, pulling the big man down to a height where Xol could lean up and taste his lips. Mitzi drew in a sharp breath; Xol could feel the air upon his lips.
Then there was the very softest, most tentative pressure returned, as though Mitzi was not quite certain he was really allowed to do so. Part of him found it endearing; the other part promptly set about proving with touch and tongue just how very much Mitzi was allowed.
It took a minute or two, but after a bit Mitzi's touches grew bolder, his mouth hotter, and Xol had no trouble whatsoever steering them over to his bed.
The mix of reverence and desire, hesitance and need, was a heady sweetness. There was almost an innocence to Mitzi at odds with the things he did. It was confusing at first, until Mitzi blushingly admitted to having experimented with others, but could never quite bring himself to go the final step.
That meant Mitzi's first time would belong to Xol.
No, Mitzi belonged to Xol.
He knew it before he ever entered the man, and afterward, lying content and sated in one another's arms, he knew he'd never allow anyone to touch his Mitzi again. Including that aggravating overseer. Xol wasn't above shortening that bastard's lifespan if he tried. In fact, it was sorely tempting to do it anyway.
Maybe later, when he wasn't relaxed and peaceful and basking in the afterglow.
For the first time ever Xol deliberately skipped a ceremony, preferring instead to explore every finger's width of Mitzi's body, losing himself in the man over and over, and talking quietly when they were too exhausted and spent to do anything else.
He told Mitzi of Quetz, and the land they'd come from. He told of the mischief Quetz dragged him into, both willingly and unwillingly, and admitted for the first time that it was Quetz who kept him sane. Whole.
In return, Mitzi told him about his sister, his childhood, and the parents who'd lost their lives to sickness leaving Mitzi to care for Teteoinan alone until she married. He'd managed well enough until she'd gotten sick, when the fear of losing her too had driven him here, to Xol.
Xol couldn't imagine losing Quetz. He simply couldn't even consider it. Life without Quetz simply... wasn't life.
Mitzi knew that too, although the manner in which he'd interpreted it was odd. They were lying quietly, Xol's hands trailing over Mitzi's stomach, Mitzi's toying with Xol's hair. Xol had told him another of Quetz's misadventures, and Mitzi's response made him sit up in surprise.
Mitzi's cheeks reddened. "I, ah, would not wish to get between you and your... lovers."
Xol blinked slowly. Apparently he'd heard right the first time. It was a bit baffling, but he supposed it made sense from a human standpoint. Still, he needed to set Mitzi straight before anything else could happen. Maybe the human wouldn't be able to understand, but so far he'd already shown himself to be far more than his peers. Xol was beginning to see what Quetz had meant, about greatness and the mark of a king. He was beginning to see it too. He still didn't want Mitzi to be a king - he wanted Mitzi to be his - but that was another problem altogether.
"Mitzi," Xol said, aware as he voiced the name that it was the first time he'd ever spoken it aloud, "there isn't anything to worry about. You... no one could come between Quetz and myself. It simply isn't possible. But that's different from this." He gestured between the two of them. "And besides, Quetz has Tezca. So if I want to keep you, then that's no one's business but yours and mine."
"But, you, before... Lord Tezcatlipoca..." Mitzi's flush deepened. "I saw him kiss you."
Xol rolled his eyes. "Tezca's amusing to play with, but he's much more Quetz's than mine." He snorted. "He's also annoyingly overprotective."
"Oh," Mitzi said faintly, sounding a little overwhelmed.
"I wouldn't worry about him," Xol assured him, petting gently in contrast to his firm words. "Tezca won't be touching you." His voice softened, filling with amusement. "Quetz, on the other hand, will probably pounce you at some point because that's Quetz and he does things like that."
"Oh," Mitzi said again, eyes wide.
"You can try to tell him no," Xol said with fond exasperation, "but it probably won't do any good. He doesn't even listen to me most of the time."
That wasn't very reassuring, obviously, but Mitzi managed a faint smile regardless. "If you truly wish me to stay," he said softly, "then there is nothing I would not endure."
Xol felt his own cheeks getting unaccountably warm. It was difficult to meet that clear brown gaze; he found himself looking at Mitzi's hands instead.
"Do you want to stay?" he asked. "I admit I should have asked your wishes first instead of... assuming, as though it were my due."
Mitzi's hands jerked.
Xol looked up to see what that meant, but he only caught a brief glimpse of wide eyes before they both started.
"Xol! Xol, where are y-"
Quetz broke off as he entered, blinking slowly at them. Xol scowled, feeling Mitzi tense as a deep crimson flooded his features.
"Your timing leaves much to be desired," Xol muttered.
Quetz blinked at them again. Xol scowled deeper. Mitzi shifted and attempted to pull some of the coverings up over himself, and that was what finally broke Quetz from his spell.
"Oh Xol!" Quetz beamed, dashing over to embrace him tightly, then do the same to Mitzi, to the man's obvious shock. But Quetz wasn't content with that, of course, and followed up with a kiss.
If it had been anyone else, Xol probably would have been furious. But when it was the two people most important to him, it was mostly just amusing.
Especially considering the look on Mitzi's face.
Xol had tried to warn him.
Quetz pulled back, beaming. "I have to go tell Tezca," he announced, practically glowing as he bounced off to do just that.
Xol looked at Mitzi, who still appeared rather stunned, and made a face. "I suppose we had better get dressed," he said with some annoyance. "Trust me, it's much easier to face Tezca with clothes on."
That got a reaction. Mitzi colored all the way to his ears as he made an undignified scramble for his discarded attire. Xol thought the man might even have uttered a small squeak, but he was slightly distracted by the lovely view presented. It was such a pity to have to cover it up. Hopefully the visit with Tezca would be brief and Xol could bare it all again.
He took his time getting his own clothing on. Tezca had seen him before, and he had more of it than Mitzi to get back into anyway. He'd just finished with the last of his ornaments when Quetz returned with Tezca in tow, and Xol shot Quetz a pointedly annoyed look.
As usual, Quetz appeared oblivious. He pointed Mitzi out to Tezca as though Tezca hadn't seen the man before, then sat down on Xol's bed - right next to Mitzi. Xol twitched, but fortunately Tezca didn't attempt the same and instead stood a few paces off and watched. As usual, his mirrored eyes made it impossible to tell what he was thinking.
Xol wasn't certain if that was annoying or not.
"Acolmiztli." Quetz spoke softly, but commanded immediate attention. "I doubt, when you came to the gods for aid, that you ever suspected to find yourself here."
Mitzi shook his head mutely. Quetz smiled.
"How is your sister? Is she well?"
Mitzi brightened almost immediately. "She is. I have never seen anyone recover so swiftly. It is almost as though she was never sick at all."
Quetz smiled. So did Xol. Part of it was pride in his brother, but part of it was a simple warmth in response to such heartfelt wonder. The priests were used to living around gods; the common people were not.
"I am glad to hear that," Quetz murmured, startling Mitzi again by petting his leg. "I could not bear it, were Xol to get sick."
Mitzi's eyes widened. "Gods can get sick?"
"No," Quetz replied with a slight shake of his head. "Only war can weaken us enough to die, but the thought of losing Xol at all is..." He shuddered, and Xol automatically moved into touching distance before Quetz even began to reach out for him. Slender arms encircled his waist and Quetz hid his face against Xol's stomach.
After a moment Quetz pulled back, giving Xol a grateful smile before once more turning to Mitzi. "You are very strong, to have endured such pain."
It was obvious that Mitzi didn't know what to say to that. Xol rather wondered if red was going to become the normal color of Mitzi's face. Probably, if he spent much time around Quetz.
The intensity with which he hoped Mitzi would have the opportunity be embarrassed by Quetz was almost startling, so much so that he missed whatever Mitzi finally did say to Quetz along with Quetz's following question.
He did hear Mitzi's soft "No, my Lord," even if he had no idea what it was in response to.
Although, that look in Quetz's eyes...
"You will miss your sister, once she marries," Quetz prompted gently, and Xol knew he really had missed something.
Mitzi nodded. "Yes, my Lord, a little, but I have done my best to raise her to be strong, and I will not allow a lazy man to court her. She has much to offer, and I think that she will have a better life than I have been able to give her." He smiled then, softly, and confided in a quiet voice, "I have noticed the goldsmith smiling and watching her when he thinks she is not looking, and she likes to spend much time watching him work even though we cannot afford his wares."
Xol blinked. So did Quetz. Then Quetz laughed in delight.
"Oh how wonderful!"
Mitzi flushed. Xol just shook his head, though he was smiling. It was just like Quetz, to take such pleasure in another's happiness. For a few moments the joy even occluded the strangeness in his eyes, and then it returned, stronger than ever.
"And you? Have you any thoughts on who you might marry?" Quetz asked casually.
Xol started. "Quetz!"
He didn't any further than that before a firm hand landed on his shoulder. "Hear him out," Tezca said quietly.
Although he wanted nothing more than to grab Mitzi and forbid him to ever leave, Xol forced himself to stay calm and wait for the answer. Mitzi deserved the right to choose; Xol would never become like Huitzi, taking and discarding lovers as he chose with no regard for their wishes.
Still, it was one of the hardest things he'd ever done, to say nothing.
A wide-eyed Mitzi looked been Quetz and Xol, finally dropping his gaze and shaking his head slowly. "N-no, Lord Quetzalcoatl. I... I have never wished to... marry."
"Never?" There was no surprise in Quetz's voice. "Once your sister marries, you will have no one. Surely you do not wish to live the rest of your life alone."
"I..." Mitzi hesitated, his eyes flicking to Xol before lowering again. "N... no..."
"You don't sound entirely certain," Quetz prompted gently.
Finally Mitzi looked up tentatively, looking quite unsure. "I... It would be hubris to want..."
"Mmm." Quetz tilted his head to one side, and that look made Xol's entire body tense up. He knew that look. It was the one he'd seen only two short days ago. The one that meant Quetz knew things. "Perhaps it would be more helpful were I to give you a choice."
Mitzi stared at Quetz; only Tezca's firm grip on his shoulder kept Xol from doing something he'd regret.
Quetz simply continued on as if everything was completely normal. "The paths your destiny may take are twofold. One path will lead you to become the greatest king this world has ever known. You will be revered, your name never forgotten. Or..." He held up one finger, expression intent. "You can remain merely a servant, always subject to the authority of others, but..." Quetz smiled softly. "You would be allowed to stay with Xolotl for as long as you wish."
Xol and Mitzi both started. Xol hadn't heard Quetz use his full name in centuries, if not longer. It was disorienting. Almost as disorienting as the rest of what Quetz had said.
Mitzi sucked in a sharp breath, hope and disbelief warring in his features. He shot Xol a brief, nervous look, and said quietly, "If Lord Xolotl does not object, I would rather stay with him."
In that instant, as Quetz's smile went from soft to blinding, Xol realised it was a test. One that Mitzi had passed without even having to think about it. Xol didn't think there was another man alive who would have done the same. Mitzi had been offered everything a man could dream of. Instead, he'd chosen Xol.
The hand on his shoulder slid away as Xol crossed the floor to where Mitzi perched on his bed, leaning down to take a hard kiss, putting every bit of the possessive pleasure he felt into it. Mitzi responded immediately, leaning into Xol's touch, surrendering his mouth, and for a single perfect moment the entire world ceased to exist.
Then Quetz's parting words registered.
"What?" Xol asked, tearing himself away from Mitzi and whirling toward the doorway.
But Quetz was gone, and Tezca with him, and Xol found himself frowning at the empty archway until the sound of Mitzi's voice dragged his attention back.
"What did he mean, ceremony?"
Xol shook his head slowly. "He's up to something, but more than that I don't know. He gets this way sometimes, and there isn't much anyone can do but wait it out." He paused, faltering, then continued on. "He was testing you... before. Did you... really mean it? What you said?"
Mitzi's cheeks, which had only just begun to lose the color in them, darkened once more. "Yes..." His words were soft. "Does that displease you?"
"No, I just..." Xol was at a loss for words, feeling a bit flustered. "You have so much to offer, and I am only..." He gestured helplessly. "You saw how the people regard me. There are those who would think you must be bespelled, or mad, to take up with the god of death."
The color in Mitzi's face deepened. "I... ah..." He ducked his head, taking a few slow breaths before once more meeting Xol's eyes. "If I have been bespelled, I have been so for a long time. When I was not yet a man and my parents took me to my first ceremony... I saw you there, and I could not look away. I did not know that I was supposed to fear you until much later, and by then... I could not."
Xol stared at him, his mind refusing to accept that. Years, it meant, that Mitzi had been watching him. Waiting. Wanting.
Of all the gifts, of all the tributes ever bestowed upon him, this was by far the greatest, and the most priceless.
Mitzi watched his face for several moments, then smiled shyly. He reached up, wrapping his large hands around Xol's waist and pulling him down for a slow, sensual kiss. Xol let him take the lead until the feeling of awe wore off, then promptly set about demonstrating exactly how much he appreciated Mitzi's gift of love.
They were dressed - mostly - when Quetz breezed back in again and dragged them down deep into the dark heart of the temple. It was not a short journey, yet Xol saw no priests nor guards in the corridors. He thought he saw one briefly, down an adjacent hallway, but the man almost appeared to be asleep on his feet.
He got no chance to wonder before Quetz was dragging him into a large chamber lit with numerous ornate torches. After a moment he realized that most of the torches were arranged in a wide circle, with three placed inside it to form a triangle. As his eyes adjusted to the dimness he could see where designs had been drawn upon the stone floor - a circle, a smaller triangle, and many snaking lines criss-crossing back and forth between them.
Ceremony, Quetz had said. This was more than just a simple ceremony. High Ceremonies like this was laid out to resemble hadn't been performed since before they'd been brought to this place.
Quetz shushed him, guiding him over to one of the points of the triangle. At another point stood Tezca, implacable as always, while the third point was bare. As Quetz guided Mitzi to stand in the center, it was obvious the third point was for him.
Of course, that still left the question of what Quetz was up to. Most of the High Ceremonies had been long forgotten, by priest and god alike. Those few that remained were reserved for important occasions, and none of those were applicable here. What Quetz was doing was something else.
Had Quetz managed to uncover one of the lost ceremonies?
The question died on his tongue as Quetz carefully placed a handful of dirt - earth - into Mitzi's hands and took his place at the third point. As soon as he was in position Tezca moved, striding toward Xol with all the deadly grace of a true warrior. As soon as he was close enough, he snapped out a hand to catch Xol's wrist, bringing it out toward him.
There was a sharp pain across his wrist, but Tezca's powerful grip prevented him from jerking away. Several drops of blood fell from the wound, caught in a small golden bowl which Tezca held underneath for just that purpose. His was not the only blood in the bowl, and it was all fresh.
Tezca released his wrist and stepped away, going to where Mitzi stood and having him add his handfuls of earth to the blood before handing him the bowl. As Tezca resumed his former position, Quetz looked pointedly at Xol.
Xol was the god of fire. Only a god could set fire to earth and water. Only a god could draw the blood of another god. Only a god could perform this ceremony.
As he brought forth flame to the bowl in Mitzi's hands, he knew what Quetz was doing.
He couldn't believe Quetz was doing it.
He couldn't believe Quetz knew how to do it.
But if he'd learned anything at all in his long life, it was to never underestimate his brother.
And it was Quetz himself who added the final element, wind to stir the contents of the bowl, then his wings manifested in full glory as he carefully reached back and yanked out one crimson-tipped emerald feather. Although it had to have pained him, he moved with ease and purpose to where Mitzi stood, dipping the feather into the bowl and using it to paint intricate designs all across Mitzi's body.
Any other man, Xol suspected, would be terrified. Mitzi's eyes were wide, his breathing quick, but his hands and body remained utterly steady through the whole ordeal.
His eyes remained ever upon Xol.
When Quetz stepped back into place, he spoke a single, quiet word, and the designs on the floor and upon Mitzi's body all lit up as though the sun itself was shining through them. It was nearly impossible to look upon.
Xol did not look away.
Quetz's voice echoed through the room, despite the near-whisper in which he spoke, but Xol did not hear the words. All he could think about was Mitzi, and what was about to happen.
Then the light was gone, and there was only silence to be heard. Xol blinked several times to clear his vision, moving forward to where Mitzi still stood. The designs that had been painted upon his skin were gone, although those on the floor still remained. Even as he made the observation a slight breeze arose to scatter the designs into nothing more than meaningless dust.
Mitzi's eyes met his, lips darting out to wet dry lips, but his words died in his throat as Quetz and Tezca joined them.
The sting in Xol's wrist faded at Quetz's touch. Quetz smiled at both of them, kissing them each with affection before stepping back into Tezca's arms. "Yell at me later," he told Xol cheerfully, then winked. "Right now, you'll have to teach him the basics."
Quetz and Tezca were gone before Xol had finished processing all the implications of that, which left him with no one to yell at. No one who deserved it anyway.
"I..." Mitzi's voice held a trace of hoarseness, and he cleared his throat. "I feel strange."
Strange was not really the proper word for it, Xol thought. Reluctantly, he drew in a slow, deep breath. "Yes, you probably do. Quetz... he... sacrificed a small piece of each of our power to make you a god."
Mitzi started violently. "A god? But I don't want to be a god! I didn't even want to be a king!"
"You're not a particularly powerful god," Xol said apologetically, though it hadn't been his idea and therefore he shouldn't be the one apologizing for yet more of Quetz's mischief. "You're more a... supporting god. Like the flower twins."
Mitzi still looked very uncertain. "But I... will I still be able to see my sister?"
Xol blinked. "I don't see why not..." He considered. "Actually, since none of the priests know what Quetz did, I don't see any reason why anyone has to know you're a god now." Which was probably what Quetz had been planning all along, the miscreant.
"But..." Mitzi had gone from wary to confused. "If no one is to know, then why did he..."
Xol snorted. "Because Quetz is a romantic and gods are immortal."
Mitzi blinked at him, then his eyes widened.
"Then... I get to stay with you?"
Xol nodded, slowly. "If that's really what you want."
Mitzi's smile was as bright and warm as the sun as he pulled Xol close and kissed him soundly.