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to win thy after-love

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There won't be any nonsense about favors or trades. Bolingbroke styles himself so thoroughly as bluff and practical, a pragmatic man with no appetite for delicate manipulations or for show, that he'd never entertain anything as decadent as that.  He certainly offers no nightmarish bargains for the saving of Richard's life at the expense of whatever Aumerle might do for him, whatever services he may choose to negotiate at a later date. Those he expects for Aumerle's own ransom.

He's seen Henry's own sons. The oldest of them is not yet Aumerle's own age, a miniature of his father more delicately painted. They're to be his heirs, these boys. No more public insults, no more challenges -- for mother and father's sake Edward will be gentle and comply. Even that gloss of filial obedience is a hateful lie -- the sin was his, and the penance will be too. Even Richard's dogs fawn on Henry now, they leap up to lick his face and nose insinuatingly at his knees when he's at table. Aumerle is lower than a beast. He'll learn.

Aumerle goes to unbuckle his borrowed gorget and King Henry assists -- he's no longer Henry Bolingbroke only, personable commander and bluff old soldier, he must be the king as well. If it'd make Henry feel any nobler about the undertaking they could do this on a bed of samite.

He rubs at Aumerle's throat, where the leather has chafed him; when he turns his head, jaw tight, Henry shifts a little on his feet. His disapproval can be felt like a radiant heat.

"Your grace," he says, helplessly.

"None of that from you." It's impossible to tell from his face if he's angry or simply not in the mood for nonsense, as he pulls the coat from Aumerle's shoulders. "I have no intention of using you roughly."

The thought has obviously crossed his mind that his dear cousin is at his mercy as far as he pleases to push him and it chills him to the bone. Perhaps he thinks he's used to ill treatment and that he'll be grateful. Perhaps he thinks Aumerle wouldn't mind one more man for a lover as long as he condescends to handle him gently. Perhaps this is the punishment, clumsily administered.

His throat feels tight with anger, but he bows his head and makes his mouth shape into a placid line.

"I know, my lord. You've been most gracious. I'm not afraid."

"You should be," he says, mirthlessly matter-of-fact. "But your mother's been very persuasive on your behalf. You ought to be grateful you're young; you're still capable of learning from correction. You'll do as the Duchess tells you, and mend your ways?"

"I will, my lord."

"You've put aside all treason?"

Or die, as his fellows have, as he abundantly deserves, rather than be spared for the sake of an old woman's tears or an old man's good name or his own young body. He won't give such good sport as the others, but perhaps Henry will make an exception once he's had him and kill him anyway. Either decision seems quite sensible.

"I have, my lord."

Aumerle lowers his eyes, hoping to make his shame look sweeter. It's a wonder God doesn't strike him dead then and there. And he embraces him, drawing a sharp breath against his shoulder. In close quarters he smells like civet. Henry's hands run down his sides, half in admiration of Aumerle's trim stockiness and half, he imagines, checking for a concealed weapon. He wonders if it's not his body Bolingbroke wishes he were handling, but someone else's. Edward envies him the ability to imagine if he can -- even trying makes his head and heart ache. The two men are like night and day in terms of all their differences and Edward has no idea what in God's name he's supposed to do. He's not in awe of Henry, simply afraid, which is almost easier to bear -- there's nothing divine about this sort of fear. He doesn't find him beautiful. If he weren't brazening through this his knee-knocking terror would be immediately evident; even to have King Henry looking at him is courting danger, and he's a dreadful liar, as circumstances have shown. It all shows in his face.

Aumerle has to reach to manage it, but he kisses him with a passion that's unsettling; he finds it's easier when he's not weeping, when he's the one to take the lead and capture his mouth in a manner much more confident than he himself feels. For his part the kiss feels teeth-clackingly clumsy, but it's warm and close and it sends a kick of recognition through his blood that makes him more bold. Henry sways backward a little, great soldier that he is, as if he's staggered by Aumerle's arms slung around his neck.

They break apart from one another, and Henry rubs at his mouth with a raw-looking hand. Surprise isn't an attitude that suits him; he'd look rather stupid, if not for the way his dark eyes have fixed on Aumerle's. Some part of him wants to yield immediately, to fall on his knees and beg forgiveness for his audacity, but a long strange moment passes where he hasn't yet crumpled to the ground and Henry hasn't yet rebuked him. A portion of his soul feels as if it's departed him permanently by way of his lips.

"Now then," Henry says, as if he wishes it weren't like this. He brings him to the bed like a new bride and lays him down.

Edward can feel his breath on his neck, the coarse muscles of his belly tensing. This is a man who could kill him bare-handed. His voice is thick. Henry tells him how he'd like to have him, and if he'd seemed forbidding enough in the belly of a cathedral he's no less so in a fine bedchamber. His reassurances are undercut somewhat by the fact that he's already hard with anticipation. Aumerle makes some murmur of agreement, afraid to raise his eyes, peeling away brocade and silk before his hands can remember and hesitate. He's warm to the touch, solid and earthbound -- built like a bear, in opposition to his wirier cousin and predecessor; Henry's chest prickles with hair, and Aumerle's fingertips burn.

Is is not traitorous, that he should notice these things and be so obedient? He's acting without needing to be bidden, he knows what they're here to do and he knows what Henry's wanted to do to him since -- when? Since he first knew his heart's hope was elsewhere. His heart is far from him; it perishes an hour at a time in a drafty Yorkshire castle. He knows Richard would never have wanted this for him, but he isn't here, and the same man who's decorated London with the severed heads of Richard's other friends has taken it into his mind to treat Aumerle mercifully.

Aumerle complies, unlacing himself dutifully and is touched like a cherished thing, before Henry turns him over onto his hands and knees and ruts against his thighs for a while. The scrape of his knuckles against Aumerle's bruised hip keeps him from feeling too affectionately toward his king. He's done a lot of kneeling lately and not long earlier had taken a fall from his horse; all of his joints and muscles ache, body bared to the cold air, and it keeps him forcibly aware of every slick push between his legs.

King Henry isn't exactly a fond man, even if he's too principled to brutalize him further, so Aumerle tries to put memories of friendship behind him and make do with desire only half-recognized and unfinished. He sinks down under the new king's weight and tries to forget. Henry palms between his legs, making Aumerle's cock twitch, and presses his knees apart.

He struggles without thinking and Henry presses down on his back with a hand balled into a fist until the apologies tumble out of him and he's still again. He still hitches underneath him but proves incapable of more useful movement, pressed with fumbling fingers that take no time whatsoever in finding his weakest places. With a muttered apology he presses into him, mounting higher on his body to slip his cock in. His hard hands brace Aumerle's hips. The hurt is more minor than expected, which makes it worse when something yields smoothly enough -- he's taken care to slick him up first, what else of his predecessor's has he stolen for his own use? -- and every thrust is a sharp jostle that reminds him of Windsor Castle and of chapel floors. His cheek is prickling against the bedspread, the opportunity to shave having not produced itself since several nights prior; this is the first thing he wants to do, even before bathing, and as the thought crosses his mind it changes abruptly to an idle vision of cutting his own throat.

His cock aches; he feels sick. It shouldn't be possible to be aroused and so thoroughly ashamed both at once. The shame at least is right and proper to his position. His breaths come quick and shallow, scarcely seeming to even reach his lungs; his head is swimming and it feels like a ghastly dream, every touch and jostle happening to some other body besides his own. He remembers Bagot with his face scrubbed clean, who had been the last of all Richard's friends to laugh at any jest.

William Bagot had secrets to sell. Aumerle has nothing left with which to part that won't make it all worse.

This business is insufficiently brief for comfort. Just when it seems to have gone on for ever, when it's too much to bear and he can no longer stifle himself against the backs of his hands, a whistling sob starts to escape him; Henry puts out a hand to press against his back in an approximation of a caress and Aumerle manages to halt it in his throat and wriggle back like he's stifling an expression of pleasure. If he starts weeping now he'll never stop. Why would it ever stop?

When it ends it ends grudgingly and he holds still for it. Henry slumps against him, seeming scarcely more satisfied. They lie there for a while, too worn-out and sick with themselves to move, he imagines. Henry's breathing is drowsy-heavy, like some great beast safely subdued. His arms are heavy around him, his head on Aumerle's shoulder. If not for his aching bones and the sickly dampness of his thighs they could be any two bedfellows in December.

"I'll have no more trouble from you, will I?" Henry says, sounding utterly broken. He rubs at the nape of Aumerle's neck fondly with two fingers.

"No," Aumerle says. He won't.