|5|

"Whatever happened," Issavan spoke with his eyes shut—a picture of repose despite being shackled to the furs beneath him with Kaleth looming over him like a vengeful god, "to 'I don't want this'…'We're brothers'…'I won't be taking any liberties with y—"

"I changed my mind." Kaleth kept his words sharp and to the point, both to stave off further comment on the subject and to mask the buried uncertainty there. This was not a topic he wanted to discuss. Not now. When Issavan's eyes flicked open, though, they pinned him — surely and unremittingly as a stick-pin traps a hapless insect to a board. And Kaleth felt as transparent as glass. The guilt in his gut knotted. "Issa—"

"Did you?" Issavan asked. A rhetorical question, undoubtedly, and calm as a lake on a windless day.

Kaleth envied him that calm. That poise and reservation. Not for the first time, he wondered what sort of parents Issa must have come from to be gifted with such a talent for equal parts practiced indifference and raw intellect.

"Tell me," Issa asked, continuing before Kaleth gathered the voice to speak, "did you ever think past this moment?"

"You seemed willing enough a moment ago—"

"As willing as I still am now," Issavan said. "I simply wonder what you think will happen when you take me in before your father…"

"You will prove your innocence," Kaleth snapped, impatient. They did not need to have this conversation now of all times. Issavan was half undressed beneath him, Kaleth was entirely undressed above him, and they were sequestered away, alone together in an alcove where no one could possibly intrude upon them. Sometimes Kaleth felt certain Issavan purposefully chose the most needlessly inconvenient times conceivable to cook up arguments between them. "You will prove your innocence and then…things will…"

"Things will what?" Issavan asked after a moment. "Return to the way they were? After we've bedded one another? Somehow I doubt your mother and father would approve of this arrangement…"

Kaleth stifled a wince.

"So would we simply pretend it never—"

"No," Kaleth cut in. "I wouldn't do that to you. We would…" He hesitated, hating the stab of reality that came with Issa's arguments. "We would make it work…somehow. We would…"

"Keep it secret?" Issavan asked with a quirk of his eyebrows. "Until you're inevitably married off—"

"No," Kaleth snapped again. "I wouldn't wed—"

"Ever?" Issavan challenged, emphasizing mock surprise. "That would be very odd indeed, for your father's only blood heir…"

Kaleth shut his eyes. Praying for patience and mercy, he drew a slow breath and released it at a contained pace. At length, he asked, "What would you have me do? If I were to take any action that you asked of me, what would you have it be?"

When he opened his eyes, Kaleth found Issavan watching him, the stare speculative. Almost hesitant for once. "What if your father finds me guilty?" Issavan asked instead of answering.

"He won't—"

"What if he does and I am sentenced to burn?"

"Then I won't let him," Kaleth said, suddenly fierce. "I'll keep you from him. Issa, I would leave with you if that's what it took—"

"Why not leave with me now," Issavan said. And in that moment, the heart of his request was abruptly clear to Kaleth. Like night clouds, parting to reveal a sea of stars, all suddenly bright. "We could forget the entire ordeal. Forget this plant, forget my sentence, forget everything and simply leave…"

Kaleth's gut coiled, guilt, responsibility and dread meshing together. "Issavan…"

"It would be easy."

"I can't just—"

"You said a moment ago that you could," Issavan argued. "If the situation were extreme enough—"

"But…" Kaleth shook his head, trying to argue with both himself and his brother at the same time. "We don't know it's that extreme yet. I have responsibilities. And I can't just run from Father and Mother and abandon them without a word…"

"So you would sooner risk my life—"

"I would sooner exhibit patience," Kaleth snapped. He tried his best to ignore Issavan's rightfully dubious look. Patience was not generally his weapon of choice. "Just…to see what the truth of the situation is," he finished weakly, "…before making any rash decisions."

Issavan sighed. A soft, unobtrusive sound. Not pleased, but resigned.

Kaleth wondered why it felt so awful to win this argument. "Brother—"

"You will make your choices as you will," Issavan said. "As I will make mine…"

The lack of accusation or bitterness in his words surprised Kaleth, and when Issavan tugged, he let him go, freeing his brother's previously trapped wrists. He fully expected Issavan to squirm away then—to sidle out from under him and leave him to sleep alone. But Issavan remained where he lay. After an extended moment, Kaleth blinked and frowned, suddenly entirely uncertain how to proceed.

"Well?" Issa prompted, and Kaleth felt his cheeks warm—uncooperative, traitorous things that they were.

"Ah…" Kaleth cleared his throat.

To his surprise, Issavan's lips curled upwards into his first smile since their argument, and his eyes lit with something bordering genuine amusement. "We have this night, Kaleth, if no others," he said by way of explanation. "Seems a pity to waste it, don't you think?"

"Oh," Kaleth said in a small voice—and then blushed all the brighter. Why was he stumbling now, when he'd been so sure of himself before?

Frustrated with his own antics, Kaleth leaned down, determined to act. Yet, he faltered again an inch from Issavan, concern pinching his brow and uncertainty roiling in his chest even as the heat of Issa's breath rippled over his lips. Was he merely using his brother, as Issavan's former arguments might suggest? Making up excuses to sate himself now, when realistically this could never last? Was this entire ordeal as vile of a thing as their family—their friends, their village—would certainly say if they ever learned of it?

"Kaleth…" Issavan's words rolled over him. Hot and close.

Kaleth shuddered. Eyes dipping shut, their foreheads, though not yet their lips, fell together, and Kaleth simply felt as a single finger—Issavan's, uncalloused, smooth, and dry—trailed down his chest. Issa painted a strip with the digit, one that started high at his collar bone, meandered down and came to a wavering standstill only upon reaching his solar plexus. There, Issavan splayed his hand, fingers tunneling out into the healthy patch of burnt blonde curls on Kaleth's chest.

Kaleth felt Issa lean up, and then there were lips on his. Warm. Pliant. And entreating. His own parted, as though bespelled by Issa's offering, and his brother murmured something into the kiss. A tight, indeterminable flicker of words, like a match lit only to sputter out a moment later. Instantly afterwards, an almost electric wave of sensation rippled out from Issa's palm on his skin. Like a faint breeze of raw energy, it billowed, buckled, and faded as quickly as it came, leaving Kaleth's skin tingling, warm, and—

Dry.

A lock of hair fell forward against Kaleth's cheek, loose and no longer forced by its dampness to cling to his neck. He blinked, wholly startled, and drew back. Beneath him, Issavan flashed a stilted semblance of a smirk and reached up, curling the dry tress around his finger—not so long as his own, but long enough to catch.

"Better?" Issa asked.

Kaleth nodded mutely, bewildered. "How—?"

"As with most of your questions, Kaleth…" Issavan's hand on Kaleth's chest slid down as he spoke, and before Kaleth could think to intervene — "…there are so many more interesting things…" — Issavan's fingers coiled around his naked length, two coiling tugs effortlessly re-inspiring interest and dragging a startled, raw groan from his lips, "…that we could be concerning ourselves with…"

For once, Kaleth couldn't help but agree.

Thus, "Witch…" was his only rebuttal as he dipped in, and then Issavan's lips were on his, under his when he pressed to them, his brother's hum sinking into the kiss, and his brother's hair was silk as he carded his fingers into it and gripped. Issavan angled his hips up. He tilted his chin back to bare his throat when Kaleth pulled in the hair at his nape, and his fingers — long, bony, and dextrous — worked at him in deft, encouraging strokes.

"I am that…"

Kaleth hooked his fingers under the waistline of Issavan's pants. When he rocked his palm down, pressing to and shaping the ridge of Issavan's trapped cock, the sound it elicited drew an answering growl from Kaleth. He pinched his teeth to the skin of his brother's neck. "I want to fuck you…"

Issavan's mouth opened. Whatever tart retort might have come naturally to him, however — 'I gathered as much…' or 'Somehow, I managed to guess that…' — never quite made it. Instead, a moment later, Kaleth was shifting down, hoisting Issavan's hips up, and mouthing over the offending cloth there, kissing until Issavan was mewling and panting. "Kaleth—"

Between the two of them, Issavan's remaining clothes stood little chance, and soon they joined Kaleth's in a pile of forgotten things, well outside the circle of importance. All the world consisted of the two of them, the candlelight flickering over their skin, and the bedding beneath.

If Issavan looked pale while dressed, he looked like a body of ivory and starlight once stripped. Narrow, angular, stark and smooth with the dark bristles of their sleeping furs contrasting against his skin. Kaleth traced up his leg, drew the pad of his thumb over the plane of his brother's hip, and watched the way his dark lashes moved. When he leaned in and down, notching a hand to the back of Issavan's knee and lifting to bend it up and kiss at the skin of Issa's thigh, his brother's fingers pinched into the bedding.

When Issavan's mouth opened, Kaleth brought his in. His brother's moan was glorious. Ragged, breathy, soft, and low, and he slid so easily into his mouth, his cock on his tongue giving an appreciative twitch at the attention. Kaleth could not claim to be especially practiced at the art as it was. Quite the opposite: he had never attempted it before. But between knowing what he liked himself and not considering it a terribly complex endeavor, he was not particularly concerned. Issavan seemed pleased enough with his efforts, in any case, if his muted keening noises as Kaleth moved his tongue over him, shifted, and sucked meant anything. And that was all that mattered.

When he let Issavan drop from his mouth long enough to speak, it earned him a fuss of frustration, and Kaleth cupped, gripping meaningfully at the other's arse in order to remind him — as if it were necessary — of the direction they intended to head. "I'll need some sort of oil or—"

Issavan clipped something. A slither of words accompanied by a precise gesture drawn in the air, though Kaleth couldn't begin to interpret it, and he watched the flush climb into his brother's cheeks. "Done."

Kaleth blinked. "Done…?"

"Done," Issavan repeated in a huff. "I'm—it's—just…" He grit his teeth, avoiding Kaleth's stare for a moment. "Do what you intended to do, if you'd been given oil. I trust, even with the poorest of observation skills, you will manage to deduce my meaning once you do…"

Kaleth was predictably dubious. After a moment's hesitation, however, he did as he was bid, slipping one hand down, between his brother's legs and to—

When his fingertips brushed the heated, slick rim of Issavan's entrance, a flush of his own climbed into his face, much to his abashment. He shot Issavan a convoluted look, opened his mouth, and then — deciding momentarily against it — slotted a finger inwards instead. Issavan quivered. His palm jumped to fit over his mouth, muffling his initial sounds, but then Kaleth was up, grunting, catching at Issavan's wrist and pinning it to the furs.

"Look at me."

Issavan shuddered, swallowed, hesitated, and then obeyed. Kaleth met his stare, and held it as he watched, sliding his finger a half-fraction out, and then twisting as he pressed back in. The shifting train of his brother's expressions was at once addicting and telling.

"You have a spell for that?"

Issavan's laugh was chopped. "Efficient, no?"

"You've never done this before," Kaleth said. "Have you."

Issavan's lashes flit shut. "One would…think…that having mastered a spell such as this, with such limited utilities but for one or two purposes, might suggest the opposite…"

"It might." Kaleth coiled his finger, watched his brother's lip disappear between his teeth with a sharp bite, and added a second. "But you are too tight."

"My sincerest—apologies…" Issavan's breath hitched and released in turns as Kaleth worked at him. Careful. Slow. Gradually opening his body up.

"Too tight to have done this," Kaleth clarified on a grunt. "And you would have told me so if I were wrong."

Issavan's lashes lifted, his stare pinning and sharp somehow, even in the state he was: flushed, lips parted, and faintly rocking towards Kaleth's presses. "And if I told you you were wrong, would you believe me? If I said…I'd let a hundred men fuck me—"

"There aren't a hundred men in our village, let alone with cocks fit to fuck anything."

"Twenty, then," Issavan said. "Or ten. Perhaps I left the village, and on those occasions where Mother and Father couldn't find me I was somewhere else, seeking out anyone who would take me and letting them do as they pleased, pinning me to filthy brick walls and pushing my legs apart only to—"

"Shut—" Kaleth pressed his mouth over Issa's, the only immediate way he knew to shut his brother up at this point, and it was a hard, held kiss, his eyes squeezed shut. For a moment, he swore he could feel the stutter of Issavan's heartbeat through his chest to the skin of his own. In the next, he slotted a third finger roughly in. Hard enough to earn a brief, fractured cry against his lips, and then Issavan was biting, hard enough that when Kaleth yelped and jerked back his tongue tasted blood when he ran it over his bottom lip. He panted, frowning down at his brother. "Stop…talking…"

"You don't like that version as much, mm?" Issavan observed, his tone oddly subdued and his expression curious. "Does it make you jealous?"

Kaleth shook his head. "Just…"

"Do you prefer the one where I was an innocent? Would it anger you if I had dared — heavens forbid — to sleep with anyone but you and soil myself while you were off gallivanting with every pretty girl you—"

"I said—" Kaleth removed his fingers, shifting his position, lifting and twisting Issavan until he was face down to the bedding, his back to Kaleth's chest, "—stop—"

"Does it bother you? To think of all the sounds I might have made, calling anyone's name but yours, begging—"

"…please…" Kaleth breathed the word, pressing it to the low nape of his brother's back, just above his shoulder blades. He kept his eyes shut as he held his brother's smaller body tucked close, skin tight against him, and his words stayed quiet when he spoke again. "Please, Issavan…stop…"

For whatever its worth, Issavan let the silence hang for an extended period between them, his posture dropping so that his forehead rested against the backs of his hands in the bedding. At length, he rocked himself, shifting to press towards and against Kaleth. "Fuck me…"

Kaleth gave a minute shake of the head. "No."

Issavan's scoff was sharp and frustrated. "Kaleth—"

"Not yet." Kaleth pinned Issavan's retreating squirm with one hand, holding him to the bedding. "Not until you tell me the truth."

"I've told you two potential truths," Issavan snapped. "It is inevitably one, the other, or something in between. What does it matter what the 'truth' is? Pick whichever one you like, believe it and rest on it, get over yourself, and then—"

"I don't want a potential truth," Kaleth growled. "I want the truth—"

"And if you were angry with me?"

"I will not be angry with you!"

"You are angry now…"

"Because—" Kaleth grit his teeth, pinching his fingers into Issavan's hip, but forcing himself to relax, and breathe. His exhale skirted over the skin of his brother's shoulder. "I do not care what the truth is, Issavan. I care that you lie to me. I do not like it when you lie to me. It hurts to hear you…to…" Inhale. Exhale. "Can you not trust me with one truth?"

Issavan held his position for a long moment, propped on his elbows so that the jut of his shoulders looked especially high, and the scatter of his hair like dark threads clinging to the shapes of them and his shoulder blades. When Kaleth nudged, urging him back onto his back, Issavan cooperated, sinking back onto the furs so that he was staring up at Kaleth, his frown subtle, but there. "Do I have a choice?"

"Have you ever shared a bed with anyone?"

"No." Issavan's frown pinched a fraction tighter, and after a moment, he diverted his gaze. "It is not as though I wouldn't have, if I had found anyone worth bedding. I wasn't saving myself for you, you should know, I—"

Kaleth kissed him. Issavan gave a frustrated grunt. But then, Kaleth was lifting and folding his legs up, and Issavan allowed them to be gathered, hooking them cooperatively around Kaleth's waist when encouraged to do so. Kaleth held his body up, one hand to Issavan's hip, the other guiding himself into position. Then he pressed. A gradual, paced thrust that sank him, inch by inch, into his brother's body. Issavan's nails were talons, grounding themselves in the skin of his back, but he found he did not care. Issavan's body was tight. Hot. Quivering. And everywhere.

When he kissed him, Issavan kissed back, lifting into it like he needed the contact in the most earnest body language Kaleth had ever seen from him. He savored it.

"I love you," he said. Kaleth folded the words into the kiss, into Issavan's throat, and to the base of his ear as he took up a pace once his brother adjusted. He didn't expect to hear them returned, wasn't sure if he expected to hear anything back at all. But it was enough to know he said them. Enough to know that Issavan heard, and here, in this moment on this night, he could love him in all the ways he wanted and not a soul would have a say in it. And, even without words, Issavan gave him the answers he needed.

He moved with Kaleth, arched to meet his advances, clung, panted, wanted with him, and spoke in every way but vocal. For once. He clutched to Kaleth's hair, pushed into his kisses, parted his lips and sucked like a man starving for each one as much as the last, and when he drew near to his finish and Kaleth's fingers found their way back around him, Issavan's voice disintegrated into an endless loop: "Yes, yes, yes, Kaleth…Kaleth…"

And they might as well have been spellwords, as lovely as they sounded on his tongue.

When he finished, shuddering and spilling himself between Kaleth's fingers with a tangled mess of a moan, Kaleth followed soon after. He buried his release deep and held his position — looming and panting over his brother — for far longer than necessary. When he did withdraw, it was with careful reluctance, and he settled close beside Issa as he did, reaching and pulling to notch him into a fitted tuck against his chest. Issavan shifted, relaxing into the position only a moment before rolling so that he was facing Kaleth's front.

There, Issavan leaned forward, pressing an almost chaste kiss to his chest and the patch of hair there. "Satisfied, are you?" he asked.

Kaleth gave a muted grunt. Kissing the crown of Issavan's head, he wound an arm loosely over his brother's shoulder and drew his knuckles in a gentle up, down stripe along the small of his back. Lethargic, and contented. "Yes…" He paused a moment. "And you?"

"Mm." Issavan's smile could be felt against the skin of Kaleth's chest. Then: "Very."

Kaleth meant to leave it at that. Or, he thought he meant to. But then, his fingers were carding through Issavan's hair, his thoughts shifting out in directions he did not wish to let them — to where they were headed, to why they were here, to what might happen, and to all the things Issavan had said immediately prior to their bedding. He felt as though he were clinging to a moment, piteously brief in a sea that swept faster and more powerfully around him than he could control.

"I love you…" he said again, this time a whisper, a promise, and this time, Issavan shifted and lifted his head to eye him. Issavan's gaze studied him, piercing and observant until it felt as though he were being dissected. His words, his expression, the moment. There was a fraction of an instant where something in Issavan's features hinted at a tipping point, and Kaleth felt — much to his shame — that if his brother had asked again, there in that moment, that they leave together, he would not have had the strength to say no.

Issavan opened his mouth, but then, no words came immediately and he dipped his gaze again, reaching instead and coiling his fingers lightly around Kaleth's neck as he tucked back close. "I know you do…"