AN: So this really is the end of Akrin and Kego-centric works. They do both appear in the spin off I'm working up about Rendali. ^_^ The lovely PyroTech suggested I call this a sort of 'Life with Akrin' section, and I couldn't have found a more appropriate title. Thanks for reading! I'd love to know what you think of it. Please enjoy:
~ Life with Akrin ~
Akrin nodded to his estate overseer as the old servant accepted the general's street robe. He slipped out of his sandals and sat to wash the street-dust from his feet while his entrance attendant knelt to provide the same for Akrin's companion. Of course, according to protocol and his status, Akrin should have waited until his entrance attendant could finish with his guest and then serve her master, but the man just didn't have time for that.
"My lord," the man began, "I would have seen to suitable arrangements if you would have only conveyed word of that you would be escorting a guest."
"I know, Arwel," Akrin answered. "This was rather last minute. Where are…?"
"They retired to the wisteria patio after the evening meal, my lord," Arwel answered with an indulging smile before Akrin could finish his question. Without even waiting for the next question, he answered it as well. "He ate a little more today than he has thus been."
"Thank you, Arwel. Please send for fruit, water, and wine. Are there any household matters that require my attention?"
"Nothing worthy of delaying you immediately, my lord. I will personally prepare and bring a tray."
"Thank you." When Arwel turned to do as requested, Akrin turned towards his silent companion. "This way."
They walked through the modestly-decorated hallways of Akrin's family estate in silence. At last, a small giggle rose from the young man at his side—as if he simply could no longer contain his mirth. "My goodness, General Failn, I never would have guessed you could behave in such a manner. You must know they call you 'Stone General'; whatever would the general populous think to discover this side of you?"
Akrin clenched his jaw and felt his face flush. "Well…"
"I apologize," the smooth voice comforted. "I trust you will forgive my laughter. I was only surprised and charmed to observe the Crimson Hammer's most trusted warrior lost to fretting—I do hope I was not too bold in my appeal to become acquainted with your friend."
"No, of course not." Akrin smiled a little. "I can see why Emperor Gaethrin took a liking to you, Mrethne. You are as pleasant as he boasts of." He was satisfied to see his comment drew a flush from his young guest. At least he wasn't the only one blushing now.
"General, how long has the young man dwelled within your household?"
Akrin grew serious along with the conversation. "The past seven-month."
Mrethne sighed. "Though I hope I can, I cannot promise I will be able to help him. After all, we were not the same class of slave, nor did we arrive at our slavery the same way; preparations for our lives would have been quite… different."
"I understand," Akrin answered. The word 'slave' turned his stomach. Every time he thought about the fact that his household, that he, still owned two slaves, the saber of guilt in his gut twisted. He knew it was for the 'best', but gods damn him if he didn't hate it.
Voices began to waft through the air when they left the cool interior of the stone building and pressed into the heavy, moist air of the deep-summer night that had settled over the Failn Estate's extensive gardens.
"…know, Gata-Ke? I think Master Arwel said he could get it."
"Ren, it's not important."
"But…" The boy stopped speaking as soon as his pale eyes settled on the two people that stepped into the wide ring of light cast by the hanging fire holders, whose smoky existence also served to keep annoying summer insects at bay. The scent mixed with the sweet fragrance of the patio's namesake as the clusters of purple flowers waved in the gentle breeze.
"Gata-Rin!" the boy bubbled as he sat a little straighter and leaned forward, excitement reflecting in his eyes just like the light from the fire holders. "Welcome home!"
Akrin nodded. "Good evening, Ren." His gaze shifted to the young man who stretched atop a lounging chair with a light blanket spread over his legs. "Good evening, Kego."
The crimson head turned and a bright, if tired, smile spread over his lips to sweep through his deep, green eyes. "Welcome home, Akrin."
Akrin strode across the small vine-enclosed patio and lowered to also sit on the lounge, facing Kego. He brushed his fingers over the flushed cheek even while Kego lowered his eyes. Akrin's other hand pressed over Kego's woven fingers which rested against his abdomen. "You're still cold?"
"Arwel, said you ate a little more today. Is your appetite coming back or did you force it?"
Kego smiled and pulled one of his hands from beneath Akrin's to rest it on top. "I was a little hungrier than yesterday," he answered. "I do wish you'd stop worrying about me so much."
Stop worrying? Kego's wasted form had persisted for months now, and after a slight stint of improvement, seemed to be getting worse again; he wanted Akrin to 'stop worrying'? Despite the twist in his gut, Akrin simply shook his head and smiled. "I brought someone for you both to meet." He turned to his guest, who still stood at the patio entrance. "This is Mrethne, the emperor's personal aide and companion. Mrethne, this is Rendali, and this is Kego, both of my household."
The young man with pale skin, ice-blue eyes, and hair of pearl-white nodded in acknowledgement, first, towards the ebony-headed boy and, then, the slender younger man Akrin worried over. "It is a pleasure to finally meet you both," he offered as he stepped forward and lowered into a chair that faced them all.
Akrin felt Kego tense, though when he spoke, it was smooth and clear as the decorum-demanded words flowed forth: "The honor of this acquaintance is all ours. Welcome."
"I hope you'll forgive my presumptiveness, Master Kego," Mrethne smiled, obviously not put aside by the rather impersonal return of his initial greeting. He went right on being personable. "Your general agreed to my selfish request when I expressed a desire to meet you."
Kego blinked. "Meet me?"
Mrethne smiled again. "Why yes. He speaks so highly of you that I wished to see you for myself. There aren't many people my age that Gaethrin trusts enough to let me socialize with, but it seems he has faith in General Failn's judgment. It does get terribly lonely at the palace when Gaethrin is busy; it is always nice to meet a potential friend."
Akrin lifted a brow in confusion when he felt Kego relax a little.
"I see. You are… you're the emperor's…?"
"Lover," Mrethne answered without pause when Kego fell into awkward silence. "Forgive me for being forward, but you are the general's, correct?"
Kego inhaled sharply and started to squirm. Akrin frowned and squeezed his hand, indicating he didn't have to answer if he didn't want to. Kego glanced up at him and smiled.
"He is," Akrin answered for him.
By that time, Arwel had appeared and disappeared unnoticed, but left behind the promised tray of fruit and beverages. Without being asked, Rendali immediately moved to attend the guest.
"Ren, you don't have to do that," Akrin reminded, wanting to tack on that he was no longer an entertainer of any kind, but he felt that might cross certain boundaries that must never be crossed.
Rendali only smiled and shifted closer to the beautiful stranger. "I am aware of that, gata-Rin. Thank you for reminding me. It is my pleasure, however." His smile turned mischievous as he directed the rest of his words towards Mrethne. "After all, it's not everyday he brings another of the north to visit. And one so attractive, too; I'm beginning to think gata-Rin simply has a penchant for us northern flowers."
Mrethne laughed and accepted the cup of wine, Rendali offered him. "Well aren't you just a charmer?"
Akrin sighed and reached for the pitcher of water, deciding it would be better to ignore that particular conversation while the two continued to banter. "Kego are you thirsty?"
After pouring some into a tumbler, he turned Kego's hand and pressed the heavy object against the smooth palm. He frowned a little when he sensed that perhaps Kego didn't actually have the strength to confidently hold it.
"Should I help?" he asked.
Kego flushed and bit his lip in that same gesture he used to use when he was embarrassed or frustrated with a situation he couldn't control back at the Bell House. "Akrin, you're going to embarrass yourself if you don't think of your position in front of your guest," he whispered.
Mrethne laughed. "Master Kego, I hope that you will overlook the rudeness of my eavesdropping, but I am your guest. I've seen General Failn any number of times at the palace and, I assure you, he bores me to death. It is you and this delightful child I wished to see. I know it was rude of me to come when you are not feeling quite yourself, and I apologize. I do hope you'll find it in your heart to forgive me in this as well."
Again, Kego looked at Mrethne as if he wasn't quite sure how to make out this individual. Rendali, for his part, giggled at the bold statement. Akrin wasn't sure what he should do.
Kego apparently wanted to ignore the entire situation. He nodded and turned back to face Akrin. He squeezed the general's wrist. "Help me with the water, Akrin?"
Akrin smiled, his heart breaking. "Of course."
He held the back of Kego's head for no other reason but the need to touch him as he steadied the tumbler at the cracked lips. When Kego arched his head forward, Akrin tilted the cup, allowing him access to the cool liquid. Kego's dark eyes trained on the shadow-laden surface while slow swallows guided paltry sips down his throat. When he tilted his head back again, Akrin pulled the cup away.
"Are you hungry?"
Kego shook his head.
Akrin frowned. "You need to eat."
"I can't help it if I'm not hungry," Kego returned.
"My lord, forgive my interruption," Arwel cut off Akrin's frustrated words. "Another guest has arrived."
"Gaethrin!" Mrethne blurted as he jumped from his seat to rush to the tall man behind the old servant.
"Please don't stand," the emperor said when Kego moved to follow both Akrin and Rendali in their hurried rising and follow-up bow.
As soon as he finished speaking, Mrethne threw his arms around the broad shoulders and pulled himself up and the emperor down for quick kiss.
The emperor smiled and petted the back of the snowy head and the long hair. "My Little Fish seems to have forgotten every one of his manners."
Mrethne slid under Emperor Gaethrin's arm. "Forgive me, General Failn, Kego, Rendali," he said, with a slight bow as he slipped back into decorum-riddled boundaries—those Akrin had never seen him overstep before this evening. Quite honestly, he'd never even heard of Mrethne conducting himself as anything except quiet, reserved, and the perfect model of deferring calm. Was this his real self or perhaps something of an act he slipped into for Kego and Rendali's sakes? The young man looked up at the emperor, adoring clear in his eyes even for the poor lighting—that, Akrin had seen many times. "I forget everything when I see you."
The emperor smiled and turned to Akrin. "Forgive my rude interruption, Failn," he offered. "I realize the hour is late and I am unexpected."
"Of course there is no trouble, my lord," Akrin answered. "I see that you returned earlier than expected from Halrin. I would never have dreamt of bringing Mrethne this evening if I had known."
"Forgive my forward offer, your majesty," Akrin started. "It is a long journey back to the palace. I could quickly prepare a room for you for the evening as I was already planning to do for Mrethne."
The emperor chuckled after a quick glanced down to his companion, whose eyes begged a quiet affirmative. "I always did appreciate your kindness. Yes, Failn. That would be nice. Thank you."
"It is my honor."
Rendali stood. "Gata-Rin, will you entrust me with this matter?"
Akrin nodded. "Yes, thank you, Ren."
Rendali approached the two. He bowed and extended his arm. "Please follow me, your imperial majesty."
Akrin sighed and shook his head as he sank down beside Kego again. Someday that man was going to give him a heart-attack. If it wasn't his daring battlefield tactics and his lack of self-preservation, it was his unexpected arrivals at the strangest times. Akrin shoved away all thoughts of the emperor, the emperor's consort, and anyone else except this person before him. He slid his arms around the thin shoulders and drew Kego close to breathe in his scent. "I'm so concerned about you, my love."
Almost reluctantly, Kego slipped his arms around Akrin's waist. "You have more important things to be concerned over."
Akrin shook his head and pulled back, realizing with a twinge that Kego's every touch and expression still held reservation and subtle rejection—the way they had when the two had first met. "When will you understand that there is nothing in this world as important as you?"
Kego looked down.
With another sigh—this one of resignation—Akrin stood and gathered Kego's slender form in his arms.
The younger man leaned against Akrin's chest. "You're getting to old for this," he teased. "Someday soon, you'll try to pick me up, and your back will go to go out. How will you explain that to his imperial majesty then?"
Akrin chuckled as he made his way back towards the manor, wishing that Kego's weight was enough to challenge the strength of his back. He wouldn't have to worry quite so much if that was the case. "I guess I'd tell him I'd received a sign from the heavens telling me to retire to a nice, cushy advisor-position."
Shortly, they'd arrived at Kego's rooms—a suite connected to Rendali's by a modest bathing chamber. Of course, they all knew that Akrin wanted Kego in the master suite with him, but they all also knew it was still impossible: not after everything that had happened. Of course, Akrin still loved Kego, and he knew with all his being that the adoration in Kego's eyes had not changed, but Kego was weak in mind and body. Therefore, except for the first month in which Akrin slept in a bed-side chair, every moment terrified he'd wake to find his beloved had given up on life in his sleep, they had not spent a single night together.
Like the practiced dance it was, Kego pulled the blankets aside when Akrin bent enough that he could reach. Akrin then lowered him to the bed and tucked protective, warm blankets around his beloved, his heart screaming in pain that he couldn't do more, that it was Rendali who chased away Kego's frequent nightmares.
When Kego close his eyes and sighed, he looked like death. It made Akrin tremble, and just to assure himself, he touched the pale face, making Kego startle a little and open his eyes again.
"Good night," Akrin murmured and tried to smile.
Kego's expression grew concerned, and he caught Akrin's wrist before the soldier turned away. Kego struggled to sit up even as he forced a hurried: "Sit down."
When Akrin did so, Kego's fingers wiped away tears Akrin hadn't even realized he'd allowed. Kego curled forward to press against Akrin's chest. "I'm so sorry."
Akrin slid his arms around Kego's shoulders. "Don't apologize. You haven't done anything wrong."
By that time, Kego was shivering in his own quiet weeping as he clung to Akrin. "I… don't have the right… I… I keep pushing you away… Tonight, I—I thought he was… I was so jealous… he's so pretty… just like what you deserve… I thought you might… he might… I love you… but… Northern gods… I feel so sick all that time… I keep seeing… I don't want to die… Akrin… I'm hurting you so much… Rendali tries to help… Akrin… gods…"
Akrin held Kego as tears dissolved his words completely, leaving nothing comprehensible behind. It wasn't fair. It wasn't gods-damned fair. Why did gentle Kego have to suffer this way?
At last, when Kego was still and quiet again, Akrin leaned him back and adjusted him in bed, wishing, but not believing, this sleep might last the night over.
"Don't leave me," a whisper froze him at the door.
He turned back. "Kego?" he whispered in response, just in case he'd imagined it or the younger man wasn't actually awake.
"I'm cold without you, Akrin. Please come back."
Akrin sighed and shook his head with a smile as he returned to the bedside, shrugging off the majority of his day-wear. He slid beneath the covers and pulled Kego against his chest, where the slight individual curled against him. Akrin closed his eyes as Kego's breath moved over his chest.
"We're going to find out why you're sick, and we're going to fix it. Kego, I'm never going to abandon you. Never."
Akrin glanced out the window yet again. In the courtyard below, three forms stretched out in the shade of the plumb tree—one slightly over-dressed for the early fall-warmth. Akrin jerked his attention back to where it should never have left when he realized that last comment had been directed at him.
"I apologize, my lord," he fumbled. "Forgive my distraction. What was that?"
The emperor chuckled. "I said that if you didn't start behaving more like General Failn, people were going to wonder if you've been hexed with some kind of body-switch."
Akrin flushed. It would probably be best to ignore that comment. "Your majesty, it is kind to send your escort to allow Kego and Rendali to accompany me to the palace."
"What kindness?" the young emperor laughed. "It is in one's best interest to keep one's lover happy. If Mrethne will ask for so little as to have friends join him here, what fool would deny it? Especially if it also helps one of my Cardinal Generals… even if it does seem to distract him."
Akrin flushed. "I apologize, my lord."
"Don't worry about it," Emperor Gaethrin laughed. "Since your mind isn't on task anyway, perhaps you would care to down there with me?"
Akrin nodded. "Yes, my lord."
Without another word, the two men arranged their things. Akrin looked down at the region reports and couldn't help the sigh of relief. It truly was a gods-blessed event when the previous emperor had become so angry that he fell into a coma and then quietly died some few months later. Emperor Gaethrin really was what their empire needed to keep from collapsing in on itself. The boarders had been quiet for months now and only occasional word arrived of unrest. Those few reports that did come, the emperor dealt with quickly, efficiently, and generally in a non-violent fashion—which curtailed further unrest.
The general stood and followed after his lord, a slight smile on his face. The emperor may have teased him about being distracted, but judging by his face it seemed the youthful man had merely been looking for an excuse to visit his beautiful lover. At least Akrin wasn't the only one who thought more of love than state lately.
They passed any number of servants, government officials, and councilors as they made their way through the grand palace. Unlike the previous emperor, Emperor Gaethrin met every gaze and nodded in return to every bow. Akrin couldn't help but smile. It truly seemed he'd taken the years of Akrin's training to heart; after all, no man can see deception and betrayal in a face he refuses to look at. Foolish notion may hold the emperor is above meeting the gaze of his followers, but that same notion had lead to the downfall of many.
An excited cry of "Gaethrin!" erupted as soon as they passed the guards at the only entrance to the courtyard. Akrin smiled and stepped aside to let the snow-haired youth wrap around his emperor and pull the strong man down into an eager kiss.
"Gata-Rin!" Rendali called, equally excited, but obviously for a different reason. He held up a short piece of parchment, pride shining in his vibrant eyes. "Look how much my script has improved!"
Akrin nodded as he dropped to his knees next to where Kego lounged at the short table where Mrethne had been schooling the pair at reading, writing, and the more-beautiful scripting.
"I see," he acknowledged with a smile. "It does seem that you have a calligrapher's hand."
"You should see gata-Ke's!" he bubbled. "It's even better."
Akrin smiled and turned his focus to the fire-haired beauty at his side. "Really?"
A pale flush rose in the young man's face, and he lowered his dark eyes. "It…it's not that good," he murmured.
"He's being humble," Mrethne laughed as he and the emperor finally rejoined them at the table.
Kego's flush deepened, and he shook his head. "Akrin, may I poor some honey tea for you?"
"That would be lovely," he answered. He let his hand slide over to press a discrete squeeze over Kego's knee when the beauty shifted to do so. Of course, his goal had not been to darken that lovely flush over the pale skin, but he didn't complain when that was the result.
In short order, the group settled into quiet, content companionship. Rendali returned to his practice of copying beautifully lettered poems in his own hand. Not as elegant yet, but bold and certain. If he kept practicing he would become skilled enough to challenge the great masters.
Emperor Gaethrin and his consort fell into a semi-private world of their own. The young emperor reclined sideways against a large back-support and Mrethnen knelt, facing away from him in the crook between the man's abdomen and thighs. The white-haired beauty chattered quietly about his day while pouring his lord tea, showing off new poems and lettering. All the while, Emperor Gaethrin gazed at him with an expression Akrin had only ever observed on the powerful man's face when he was in Mrethnen's presence—one that suggested he comprehended very little of the words that fell against his ears but fully at peace with the melody of the same. His often sword-weary hand alternated between rolling the ends of white silk and running a languid caress along his consort's ear, neck, and shoulder.
This left Akrin and Kego to fall into their own exchange. Kego said little, pouring tea and answering questions when asked, smiling and showing every level of regard and attention he always had when he served tea to Akrin. Despite this, every moment or two, Akrin realized he was sitting just a little closer. The general smiled when Kego finally sat so close that his hip pressed against Akrin's. A smile tilted the older man's lips as he let his hand slide around Kego's waist. He leaned a little closer to whisper in Kego's ear.
"I love you."
It was simple. It was 'easy' to say, yet Akrin knew how much it meant—to both of them. After so many lonely years without anyone, and after so many more years where he felt the sentiment but couldn't speak of it, saying it now in the public of their very close friends—even if none were paying much mind—it was like coming home after a long journey. Even more, the improved health that his beloved exuded gave his heart wings of hope and everyday laid a little more of his worry to rest.
Kego's eyes lifted to his gaze, and the soft adoration there answered better than any words he might have formed. He leaned closer until Akrin could feel the warm breath against his jaw and neck. Soft lips connected just below his ear and he felt them curve into a smile.
"My lord," he breathed. "Would you care to see my scripting?"
Akrin tightened his hold. "I wish to see anything you would share with me."
He frowned a little in discontent when Kego pulled away to rifle through the parchments. Of course, Akrin knew it was unreasonable. He said he wanted to see Kego's scripting, and the young man had to get it in order to show it. However, his heart was not so reasonable as to understand such things when his beloved pulled away from such an exquisite arrangement.
In short order, Kego returned, nestling even closer than before—almost sitting in Akrin's lap. The general smiled. He would have to find an appropriate way to show his thanks towards the emperor's consort for his calming presences and obvious influence. After all, it seemed the more Kego witnessed the waif's forward and open behavior towards Emperor Gaethrin, the more he released himself into the same with Akrin.
Kego sighed and held up a small parchment stack. On the very top sat a blank piece of paper. Akrin raised an eyebrow and looked to Kego, who only smiled at him and then pulled away the sheet.
Akrin's jaw dropped. Mrethne had not been mistaken when he declared Kego's modesty. Very few of even the professional scribes and word-artists could turn out such lovely scripting. While Kego had not been able to read or write before Mrethne's training, he had been quite accomplished at painting—perhaps that made the difference.
"It's beautiful," Akrin breathed, not knowing what else he could or should say without beginning to sound overdone or blinded by love. "It's truly marvelous."
Kego smiled and snuggled closer so that his low murmur would only be heard by the general. "Don't just look at it, Akrin. Read it."
And so he did. The more he read, the further his eyes opened and his jaw slackened.
"Is… is this true?" he asked, his arm tightening around Kego. Certainly he believed that Kego loved him, but these words of blatant adoration and undying affection caught him off-guard. Of course, he loved Kego more than he loved his life, and he knew that the younger man returned the love, but he'd never suspected that Kego's feelings were as powerful as those caught on this small page. Certainly, he knew he'd improved Kego's and Rendali's life when he brought them to his home, but this regard seemed a little much even for that. He felt a flush rise in his own face.
Kego smiled. "Every word."
Akrin leaned closer and placed a tender kiss against Kego's temple. "It's nice to know that we are in agreement."
Kego laughed, beautiful and delicate like the flight of a butterfly. He leaned into the gentle kiss and sighed. "Thank you for everything, Akrin."
"I would do anything for you."
The general smiled. "I cannot express how relieved I have been to see that you seem to be happier and more comfortable these days—and stronger."
Kego twisted a little to brush his lips over Akrin's, summoning a furious flush from both of them even while Kego threaded their fingers together. Luckily the emperor and Mrethne were too wrapped up in each other to care, and Rendali was too busy with his letter.
"You have made me so," Kego murmured. His eyes lowered; his flush deepened and spread down his neck and what little of his chest Akrin could see. "And I hope that, tonight, you will make me yours once again—that you will welcome me into your bedchambers permanently."
For a moment Akrin couldn't say anything, so lost in surprise and more than a little thrill. He shook his head, a wide smile claiming his lips as he nuzzled Kego's ear. "Anything you desire, my love, anything to make you happy—now and always."
"Then all I need, for now and always," he returned, "is you."
AN2: By the way, the title of this work is a reference to Kego's name. In the Northern Tongue 'kego' means empty hope, hence the reason Rendali didn't believe that his name was really 'Kego' when they first met with the claim that no one would give their child that name even if they didn't like them. ^_^ CHEERS!