It began, as these things most often do, with a simple touch.
It shouldn't have come as a surprise to me, and yet it did, possibly because it had taken so long to make itself known. But everyone deals with the past in one's one time and fashion. Imriel, I knew, was going to take longer than his peers to come to terms with what it meant to become a man, to be a scion of Kushiel, and when he began to figure it out, it would, of course, happen in spectacular fashion.
He was angry, and I was worried. I fussed over him like he was still a child, but he wasn't, not really. He was almost a man grown, nearly at his majority. He went out to find himself and came home a tormented, furious wreck.
I should have known. Kushiel's mercy is sweet and just but difficult to accept, even, at times, for an anguisette such as myself.
I reached to feel Imriel's brow, wanting to see if he was fevered, but he moved fast, faster than I'd expected, grabbing my wrist and halting me before I could touch him. His fingers clamped tight around my wrist, tight enough to hurt, tight enough for my vision to swim for just a moment, the sound of beating bronze wings surging in the recesses of my mind.
In that instant, we both saw each other truly, mayhap for the first time since he'd begun his journey towards manhood. Imriel has come to know who and what I am, but perhaps now, he understood better than before. As our eyes locked, I felt as if he were seeing all my faults and needs and fears, and I knew that, save for his mother, he was one of the few to see all of it and know. And I saw everything of him in that split second, his fingers locked tight around my wrist. I saw his darker desires that he tried so hard to keep buried away, the trauma of Darsanga still too fresh, even all these years later. I saw all the ways that he wanted, Kushiel's scion true, with all the urges and needs that brought on.
I saw and, oh, Elua, I wanted, too.
My life has been the subject of gentle, yet ribald, jesting from many; Kushiel's Chosen, the only living anguisette, taking up with an anathema Cassiline, the one man in existence who could never, ever be with me in the way that satisfies my own darkest of urges. We have both come to peace with it; after all, love as thou wilt is our highest calling, and if there is anything that Joscelin and I have done, it is exactly that. To hell and back, to the furthest reaches of the world, we have done naught but love one another.
Imriel released my wrist and we parted with haste. It was not something we would speak of; at least, not until he was ready. I had no desire to force this issue with him.
Or, should I say, I had the desire, but also the knowledge that it was a terrible risk, a risk of pushing Imriel to do somewhat that he may come to regret. I have always resolved to allow Imriel to make his own choices, but this was different. It was not his own choice if I goaded him into taking the opportunity presented to him.
I spoke of it to Joscelin, later. I had debated saying nothing, as we didn’t always discuss the parts of my nature which took pleasure in these sorts of things. But this was different. This was Imriel, our foster son.
“Would you act on it?” Joscelin asked mildly, once I had told him what had transpired, what I knew now lurked tensely between Imriel and myself.
I closed my eyes and nestled against his side, hoping to draw from his calm demeanor. My Joscelin, always calm, always strong. I wish I could claim the same for myself.
“No,” I said, although I hesitated for a bit too long. I dissemble well, but not well enough at times.
“You would,” he countered, reading my pause for what it was. His fingers, which had been threading through my hair, paused and then withdrew. I felt him stiffen next to me.
“Joscelin.” I sat up and looked at him, wondering not for the first time how he so calmly weathered my every whim and idea. “Truly, I do not know. He needs to learn, but I do not think that I should be the one to help him understand.” I reached out, resting my hand lightly at Joscelin’s knee. “I will not lie to you and say that the prospect isn’t... interesting.” Joscelin interrupted me with a light snort of laughter, and I swatted playfully at his leg. “I’d never thought overmuch of it before today. If he came to me...” I spread my hands, palms up. Imriel may not have been my natural born son, but I had raised him, true enough; even in Terre d’Ange, that just wasn’t done. “If he came to me, I don’t know that I could deny him outright,” I admitted, much as it pained me to do so.
To Joscelin’s credit, he heard me out, even if my words were distasteful to him. There are many lesser men who would not do the same. Then again, Joscelin has never been like other men. It is the best reason I can give as to why he has stood at the crossroads and chosen, time and again, to forge his path to mine.
“Ah, love,” he said, reaching to clasp my hands with his. Joscelin leaned forward and pressed a light kiss to my brow.
“I would not, if only--”
“Hush,” Joscelin said, interrupting me before I could let my mind wander, untangling the complications that this created. “We will speak of this if it becomes necessary. Not every burden is yours to bear. Perhaps this one can be someone else’s.”
We had given up much for Melisande Shahrizai’s son. There was little else he needed to say.. In years past, we would have argued, but now, we were much past the age of having angry fits at one another. We hurt each other with great frequency in the past, a different sort of pain than the type that I relish.
This, too, like all other things, we would weather.