A/N: If you're going to bark at me because it's incest, please just skip this story and save your time and mine. Most of my stories aren't incest (in fact...none of the others are), and suffice to say, it's easy enough to skip over. Consider yourself warned.
Kaleth found him at the edge of the Evenshire Wood, perched on a high rock overlooking the babbling stream beneath and crouched low, but relaxed, his elbows on his knees and hands hanging loose and empty in the space between them. Though he must have heard him approach—Kaleth made no effort to mask his movements, and even if he had, Issavan was far quicker and cleverer than he when it came to the art of stealth and deception—his brother made no move to flee, and in fact, did not even acknowledge Kaleth's presence until he stepped fully out from the shadows of the trees and into the light of the dying day.
"I wondered who they might send," Issavan said finally, standing slowly in a single succinct motion, but keeping his back to Kaleth as he did. "Besset, I thought, or Valinor…Terivan, perhaps, but I'll admit…" His hair—coal black and straight as a dagger's blade—hung loose, but kempt and tidy, just long enough to reach past his shoulders, "…of all those I presumed to suspect…" There, at last, he turned, and his eyes met Kaleth's dead on, frigidly sharp as they were acute and attentive, "…you were not very high on my list."
"I volunteered," Kaleth said, because it was true, and Issavan's eyebrows arched impressively.
"You were so eager to see me to my death?"
"I trusted no one else with the task," Kaleth corrected. "Also, I…" He hesitated, and frowned, before eventually adding, "I worried another might have hurt you, or…taken unnecessary liberties."
Issavan laughed – not an unkind sound on the surface but laced with a lethal undertone – like a glass of water peppered with glass shavings. When he spoke again, he drawled, his tone lazy and amused, "While I appreciate your concern, brother…" Kaleth watched as he stepped down from his perch, effortlessly graceful in his descent despite the steep edge of his chosen roost, "…I have reason to believe your fears are greatly misplaced. You'd do better to fret over the well-being of whoever might have been sent after me in your stead. In fact, simply by foolishly – regardless of however valiant you might have considered the action to be at the time – volunteering to come after me yourself, you've already interfered with my intended plan…"
"Which was?" Kaleth asked, not sure why it unnerved him so that Issa waited until there was but a foot of distance left between them before he stilled his advance.
"To kill whoever your father sent after me, naturally."
"Your father," Issavan insisted. "But no matter…obviously killing you at this point would rather defeat the purpose of saving you in the first place, don't you think?"
Up this close, Kaleth noted that his brother was dressed far too lightly for the task at hand – not like one ready for a hunt, and certainly not one ready to be hunted. Instead of thick, protective leather, and weapons, he wore no armor, merely a simple, faded black linen shirt with a shallow 'v' of unfastened laces at the collar (which make his throat look strikingly white and vulnerable), loose cotton britches and leather boots. His only weapon was a dirk attached to his belt, strung beside a small satchel, presumably filled with flint, or, if he was feeling the need to make himself totally helplessly unprepared, coins. Kaleth voiced his opinion aloud.
"You look prepared for nothing more dangerous than another day alone in your room, tucked away with your books…forgive me for failing to see how you might pose a threat to those who would see you come to harm."
Issavan smiled, but it was wry and humorless, clearly a far cry from genuine. "You fail to see many things," he answered, "…but consider yourself forgiven, regardless. Night is coming. Shall we make camp?"
The abrupt shift in subject threw Kaleth for a loop. "Shouldn't you be running from me?" he asked, and Issavan's eyebrows twitched up once more, this time less genuinely surprised and more humored – teasing, even.
"I don't know," he responded, and tilted his head, curious as he dragged his eyes over Kaleth in a manner that had no right to make him feel indescribably naked, as though baring all his secrets to the open sky. "Should I?" Issavan asked. "Because I seem to recall, a minute before, you assuring me that you volunteered to come after me so as to prevent the task falling to someone who would accept it with the intent to harm me. Somehow, that translated in my mind to imply that you didn't wish me harm and that I have nothing to fear from you, but by all means, if that isn't the case and you intend to slit my throat in the night, warn me now so that your task will be that much more impossible to accomplish…"
Kaleth scowled. "Must you make even this more difficult than it already is?"
"Funny," Issa said, without sounding as though he thought it was, "and here I thought you were the one making things needlessly difficult…"
They set up camp.
Hours later, after game had been hunted – because Kaleth, unlike his brother, had brought weapons, namely his bow and best dagger, short sword and skinning knife – their tent set up, meal prepared and eaten, and night fallen dark around them, they sat as a silent pair in front of their gradually dwindling fire.
Or, rather, Kaleth sat, staring broodingly at the flame and trying very hard not to devote entirely too much attention to the fact that his brother was stretching three feet away from him, lounged out on the grass like a great cat with his weight popped up by his elbows. Issavan arched his back when he settled himself, shutting his eyes and tilting his head back in a way that caused the firelight to dance up along his throat, painting it in wild, licking stripes like the wet bristles of a paintbrush. When he began to roll his ankles, lazily flexing his legs – which were far too long and lithe for his own good – as though to work a kink from the muscles there, Kaleth pushed his attention forcibly back to the fire itself.
"So," Issavan began, likely tiring of the silence, "…tell me again why it was that you insisted on volunteering to drag me to my death sentence personally?"
"I told you."
"Ah yes, I remember…so that no one would take any 'unnecessary liberties' with me…" The edge of Issavan's mouth curled up, as though keenly amused by some obvious, unspoken joke that escaped Kaleth's notice. "Pray tell, brother, where does one draw the line between unnecessary and necessary liberties, and will you be taking any of the necessary sort with me?"
Kaleth took a moment to give thanks that he wasn't drinking anything, because if he had been, he likely would have lost it, choking on it, and abruptly he wanted very much to retire to his tent. Alone. And sleep. Perhaps for a very, very long time. And think about anything but Issavan.
He stood. "I misspoke-"
"As you often do."
Ignoring the bait, Kaleth persisted, "I will not be taking any liberties with you." Unnecessary or otherwise.
In the morning, Issavan was gone, and Kaleth wondered whether he ought to be frustrated or relieved. Tracking his brother, chasing him, and even catching him, he suspected, would be the easiest components of the task ahead. Keeping him, not allowing himself to be driven mad in his presence, and eventually delivering him home, on the other hand, might prove to be quite near impossible.
He found him again, at dusk, this time tucked high in the branches of a thick, aged tree, legs dangling free, hands folded over his stomach and eyes shut. He might have been napping for all that he looked so relaxed, and somehow this irritated Kaleth immensely because he'd been tracking him all day and Issavan looked as though he hadn't walked a full mile since daybreak.
"You're very fond of high places, brother," he greeted, letting a coarse grain of his frustration edge into his tone, but if Issavan noticed – which he almost surely did, since he noticed everything – he didn't react any more than to open his eyes and blink, owlishly innocent, down at him.
"Oh, there you are," he said by way of returning Kaleth's greeting, and Kaleth made a point to count grass blades loudly in his head as Issavan unfurled himself from his perch: stretching, again, bowing his back and drawing his thin wrists above his head with a happy little moan that sounded far too practiced to be entirely accidental. "I wondered when you would finally show up…"
"Oh?" Kaleth retorted, letting himself look again only when Issavan dropped, light as a bird coming to perch, on the forest floor. "Forgive me for dallying, do tell, how long have I kept you waiting?"
"Mm, approximately…" Issavan made a show of pretending to tally up the time before answering succinctly, "…all day."
"All—? That's impossib-"
"Actually, no," Issavan interrupted neatly, "…no, it's not. Impossible, that is. Because I did wait all day, meaning it's more than possible, it happened. Now…" His eyes flicked to Kaleth – storm grey and inquisitive, "…you look tired. Would you like me to pitch camp while you rest?"
Pride demanded that Kaleth help, but if he were honest with himself, Issavan ended up doing most of the work; even if Issavan hadn't, Kaleth had travelled all day, departing at dawn the instant he realized Issavan was no longer around and then making good time, barely stopping for meals, let alone rest, and now, exhausted with nothing to show for it, it irked him that his brother seemed to have so effortlessly stayed miles ahead of him the entire time. Regardless, their camp was ready before nightfall, and once settled, he collapsed gratefully on a log to sit and rolled his knuckles over the sore muscles in his shoulders.
"How is it that you made so much better time?" he asked, accepting the warm cup of broth that Issavan offered up for him, and his brother's eyebrows rose primly.
"Didn't you hear?" he responded. "I'm a wicked, wicked witch. Shouldn't that be answer enough?"
Kaleth snorted, and his answer was a grunt. "No."
"I don't believe it."
"Pardon, but don't believe what, precisely?" Issa inquired, and Kaleth eyed him, taking in his narrow frame – too slim, really, to be completely healthy – all sharp angels, jutting hipbones and ivory skin doused with that shock of black hair like ink spilled on snow. Dangerous to Kaleth, perhaps – who took far more of an interest in that particular set of characteristics than any truly honorable older brother rightly ought to – but not dangerous as a rule.
"You're not a witch," he said, and Issa snickered, giddy, like they were five years old again and Kaleth had told a particularly amusing joke.
"I see," Issa said, clearly figuring he was humoring him, but he smiled nonetheless, his eyes alit with honest amusement. "So how did I heal you? When none of our healers could, not even the best, traveling in far from the outer rim kingdoms, hm?"
"They never hit on the right remedy," Kaleth answered, frowning. "Sometimes healers are wrong, Issa, sometimes even many healers are wrong at once, but it only takes one person with the right idea to get the job done." When Issavan looked, Kaleth held his stare, determined. "Just because you figured out how to help me when no one else could does not make you a witch, brother…"
"So you would deny my guilt," Issavan stated, bitter as an early frost, "but take me in and deliver me to suffer my sentence anyway?"
"I would not see you die," Kaleth snarled. "I would take you home and make father see reason. Surely, if you simply explained to him in simple words what you did, told him what herbs you used, what method you put in place, step by step…he would have to see reason."
For a fleeting instant, Kaleth thought that Issavan looked…sad? But the next moment he masked it, whatever it was disappearing under a carefully schooled frown, and when he sighed, he reached out. His fingers felt warm – no, hot – against Kaleth's cheek, and painstakingly gentle. "Sometimes, Kaleth," he said, his voice tender as one consoling a child, "…you are so innocent, it is painful…"
Kaleth's lips pursed. "I'm innocen-"
"Yes." Issavan made the statement plain and flat. "You are. Your father will never see reason when it comes to me."
"Then I will tell him-"
"He'll think I've bewitched you."
"If only you came before him honestly," Kaleth insisted, stubborn. "If you approached him with sensible answers and spoke with him openly, he would have to remember that you are kin and-"
"But I am not kin," Issavan bit back, his eyes suddenly flinty and dark, sharply visible even in the night and the flecks of silver in them lighting up like lightning scattered among dark clouds. "I am the meek, pitiful little creature that your mother found and took pity on twenty years ago, bless her poor, foolish, merciful soul, and oh, what a terrible shame that all their hard work only served to raise a vile, traitorous insect that turned on them at the last minute and used his dark magic on their only real son-"
Kaleth slammed into him, knocking his brother's smaller body to the dirt effortlessly and shoving his wrists into the ground. Clearly caught off-guard, for several seconds it seemed that all Issavan could manage was to gasp for the breath knocked from his lungs and squirm futilely under him, arching his hips and kicking his heels into the dirt without results, like a beached fish struggling to gain its bearings.
"Do not speak of yourself that way," Kaleth growled, and slowly, coming down from his shock, Issa's struggles stilled, his writhing giving way to a practiced calm, and his gasping fading out into short, breathless laughter.
"By the gods, Kaleth, truly…" His eyes lit with mirth when he managed to open them, and Kaleth would never understand how his brother's moods shifted so rapidly as the multitudinous, rippling faces of a mirage, "…you have the world's most beautiful temper."
"I have a temper-"
"Yes," Issavan answered without pause. "Yes, you do, and," he added, "I would humbly request that you try your utmost to refrain from repeating my statements back at me like that. It makes you sound like a parrot."
"A parro-" Kaleth caught himself an instant too late, and Issavan's laughter shook his whole body. Meanwhile, Kaleth's cheeks heated like hotplates. "Rat," he growled, but without venom, and it did nothing to appease Issa's rolling laughter – if anything, it seemed only to incite him further – and Kaleth shut his eyes, making a show of calling on all the patience he could muster. "I swear to you, if you do not stop laughing, I will strangle you…and bring father your corpse to make peace with…"
Issavan's snickers, very slowly, petered out, but his amusement remained. "Oh, but he'd be so disappointed, Kaleth, surely you wouldn't deprive him the pleasure…"
"I would," Kaleth said, but it came out more distracted than his last statement, his attention veering off sidelong in face of the fact that Issavan still lay under him, his cheeks alive with color from the recent exertion and his hair wildly tousled into disarray, peppered now with leaves and bits of twig. His pulse beat a quick, neat rhythm in his wrists under Kaleth's grip.
Then, Issavan shifted – perhaps to get more comfortable, though in retrospect Kaleth would suspect ulterior motives – but whatever the intent, it pushed his hips once directly up against Kaleth's, slotting them together, and Kaleth released him instantly, jerking back and scrambling off as though burned. His panicked reaction earned him another round of laughter, if slightly softer and less mocking than the last time.
"Really, Kaleth," Issavan teased without rising, and Kaleth found it infuriatingly unfair that he managed to look entirely in control of the situation while laying on his back on the forest floor looking ravished, "I don't know what you're so afraid of."
Nothing. You. Everything.
"It's not as if we're actually related."
Kaleth glowered and sincerely hoped that his expression looked as smoldering as he intended it to. "We are related."
"We are not."
"We suckled from the same tit as infants," Kaleth snapped. "I would think that counts for something, don't you?"
"If we'd bedded the same whore, we'd have suckled from the same tit, Kaleth," Issavan pointed out breezily, "…so you'll have to forgive me for saying, no, I hardly see that as counting for much of anything."
"You still call me brother." Kaleth spoke that as a last resort; something he'd clung to since the moment the truth of Issavan's origins had been revealed and his brother had henceforth refused to acknowledge him as genuine kin.
As he watched, Issa stood smoothly, rising from the dirt in one flawless motion and carding his fingers through his hair to usher out the extra bits of earth and nature. It smoothed under his touch like magic, and perhaps it was, but Kaleth didn't believe it. Magic, in Kaleth's mind, was something spoken of in fables. Something that existed only in the vilest of places, if it existed at all, and practiced only by those who had long since lost touch with humanity. Not by Issavan – not his little brother.
"I do," Issa answered eventually, when he looked perfectly put-together once more, as though dirtiness had never touched him. "Habit, I suppose, and regrettably I still find myself harboring a particular fondness for you, regardless of whatever runs through our bloodlines. Oh, and also…"
He moved in, slowly, approaching at a pace that instinctively set off warning bells in Kaleth's mind, but then Issavan's wrists were resting on his shoulders, freezing him in place, his face close and eyes intent with mischief.
"I love it when you're staring at me…" he said, his voice a low purr that seemed to draw Kaleth into a trap like a spider's web or a slow, sweet poison, "…watching me like you would kill just for the chance to fuck me, and then I say 'brother' and you make this deliciously wrecked expression like you've just realized you want something filthy beyond imagining, but you want it so desperately you still can't bring yourself to look away…"
Kaleth meant to speak. He meant to move. Meant to anything, but his tongue felt huge and dry and useless in his mouth, sluggish and clumsy, and even when he managed to finally shake his head, it came out meek and unconvincing. "I…" He swallowed once, hard, his voice hoarse and cracked even to his own ears, "…I don't want-"
"You're an atrocious liar, Kaleth," Issavan whispered, his mouth so close that his breath teased over Kaleth's dry, parted lips, warm as a summer breeze. "You always have been, and always will be." And then-
He was gone.
Backing up, turning away and retreating to his tent without so much as a "Goodnight," and Kaleth watched him, fairly certain his entire body was shaking, because Issavan hadn't kissed him, hadn't touched him with anything more than the briefest of impersonal touches, and yet he was leaving him behind hot and hard and aching, and-
Kaleth sort of wanted to kill himself. He also sort of wanted to kill his brother, and he definitely wanted to fuck his brother. Of the three, he couldn't decide which was worst, and he never made it to his tent that night. He woke the next morning lying in the dirt with stiff, sore muscles, his clothes damp, his skin cold, his mind muddled, and his body painfully unsatisfied, curled up by a dead campfire.
And Issavan, as he soon discovered, was gone. Again.
Swearing profusely to all the gods his family worshipped – and then several others whose names he'd heard spoken only by passing travelers – Kaleth vowed darkly that the next time he caught up with his brother he would bind him to the largest tree he could find, wind the ropes as tight as he dared and leave him there for the night to assure that he stayed put. And probably gag him, as well, because he deserved it, and also because he wasn't sure if he could hang on to his sanity if Issavan were permitted to talk.
And…maybe, just possibly because a meek, tiny voice in the back of his head mentioned that Issavan would probably look lovely gagged and bound to a tree. But that was a very, very small percentage of the justification for the plan. Honest.
A/N: I regret nothing. Pleasedontkillme.