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Innocence Without Ignorance

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It was, by a very large margin, the dumbest thing Mikleo had ever heard and yet there they were, standing in the great hall of the illustrious Trial of Purity. Rather than smooth stone the walls, floors and ceilings were of polished marble of untarnished white that shone brightly in the wavering light of torches, broken into scattered rainbows by the rushing water and mists of the fountains bubbling throughout the room. The architecture was most definitely pre-Asguard with heavy indicators towards the levels of powerful arts applied in its construction. It was beautiful to behold and yet still nothing but an eyesore. A trial of purity? Mikleo would rather eat Dezel's hat.

"It is important a Shepherd be wholly pure of thought and action and not simply innocent due to being naive," the guardian Seraph explained, her robes the same, shimmery shade of white as surrounded them on all sides. "The Path of the Shepherd is full of experiences and knowledge that will try the heart's purity to the fullest. For such a sheltered Shepherd, it is necessary that precautions be taken to assess the source of his goodness. Otherwise, his prime and sub lords will surely pay for his descent into malevolence."

It sounded fine when she described it, but Mikleo was more than a little worried about the explanation given by Zaveid on their way in. "Alright!" he'd shouted, slinging his arms across their shoulders. "Time to make you a man, Sorey! Welcome to the passionate trail of forbidden love!"

That sounded much less pure than the intentions this seraphim conveyed. But it was really just a matter of wording.

"You will be separated from the others to ensure your failure will not affect them. You will then be taken to the baths to be washed and properly clothed. Once you are settled in your room, an offering will be brought to you. If you accept it, the ceremony will commence. If you deny it, you will forfeit the trial and your pact with your prime lord."

"Offering?" Sorey asked, his head tilting slightly to the side.

"A woman," Zaveid answered, his sly grin wide as he elbowed him in the side. "You lucky dog."

This was stupid. This was so, so stupid. Why did Sorey have to have sex with some stranger to prove he was inherently pure and not just woefully naive? Mikleo clenched his hands at his sides, not wanting to interfere but actually really, really wanting to interfere. How did any of this make sense in the context of war?

Sorey's blush colored the back of his neck red as he stood in an inelegant stupor. He looked uncomfortable and unsure. Mikleo was certain he'd decline the trail outright and trust his purity without such lengths to prove it. He'd never fall to malevolence. Mikelo knew it without question. Sorey had always been and always would be kind hearted to a fault.

"Don't worry," the guardian seraphim said. "The offering we bring you will be nothing less than your greatest fantasy. Our arts give us the ability to read thoughts and desires you aren't even aware you have. It will not be distasteful or in any way impede your ability to perform."

Mikleo had to hide half his face just in shared embarrassment alone. Were they really going to talk about this sort of thing in this way?

Sorey looked so incredibly uncomfortable as he stood there, his lips drawn thin as he contemplated the task. He was going to say no, Mikleo was certain. He had more pride than to submit himself to such a thing, surely. But Sorey nodded and Mikleo's stomach dropped. There was no way this was actually happening. More seraphim came through concealed doors, loosely clad, their faces obscured behind masks. They took Sorey by the hand and began to lead him away. He'd said yes and the trail would commence.

"Got anything on the menu for the rest of us, ladies?" Zaveid asked, though Mikleo's brain had already disengaged.

The guardian seraph nodded as another round of attendants came through the room. Mikleo allowed himself to be lead on principle alone.

"You will be pampered, of course," the guardian promised. "It would be uncivil to have you simply sit and wait."

And so they were lead away to washed of the grime and stench of travel.

Mikleo felt ill the moment Sorey was out of sight.

They had all been given their own private baths, it seemed. Mikleo's was a serene hall of tricking water and bubbling cascades meant to drown out the world as the waves of it all rushed down over his head and shoulders. It would have been marvelous in any other situation. Even now, it felt wonderful even without hope of relaxing. But Sorey was somewhere, in that very building, being prepared to have sex with someone. There was no conceivable way Mikleo was going to be able to relax knowing that. It was going to be hard enough to make sure he didn't look sad or angry when he saw him next. It was stupid to be jealous and even more ridiculous to be annoyed. Sorey was a grown man who could do what he wanted to. It wasn't as though they had an understanding. They were just silly childhood friends.

The best thing about bath water was how indistinguishable it was from tears. Mikleo was glad they'd been given a bath all their own. Nothing would have been more cruel than to have to listen to that gleeful pervert Zaveid.

Mikleo was still trying to enjoy his bath when the door opened, the steam cut by the fresh air. The guardian seraph helped herself to the room, her hands clasped in front as she stood by the pool's lip. "I have a favor to ask you," she said simply without preamble. "Would you consent to being the offering?"

Mikleo was sure he'd misheard her and stepped out from under the flowing waters, his hair sticking flat to his head. "I'm sorry, what?" he asked, scowling with confusion as much so as with distaste.

She smiled despite his disagreeable mood. "We need a male offering. I was asking if you were willing to volunteer."

He had heard her right and it sent a furious blush to his cheeks, his mouth hanging low as thoughts tried to form words. "I-I-I can't do that!" he stammered, not sure why he suddenly felt so cold. "He--we're not--I mean, like this, it--"

"He won't know it's you, if that is what you are most worried about," she interrupted knowingly. "You'll be masked in our arts to give you the appearance of what he most desires. You will be anonymous as far as he's concerned."

How was that better? Surely that made it worse? To deceive him so completely just to get him in bed?

"You love him, don't you?" she asked with no hesitation, as though such feelings were normal and expected. Between a human and a seraph, though, surely nothing was more unnatural. The was she spoke without judgment made Mikleo's own understanding of things worse.

He nodded though, sensing there was no point in lying to the seraphim of this trial. If they could read human hearts, he was certain his own was open in full to their careful scrutiny.

"And it hurts you to think of him bedding someone else?"

Mikleo winced, his eyes dropping to the currents of his bath. "It's not that it's someone else. It's that it's someone who doesn't love him," he explained, the words only half a lie.

"Then will you consent to be the offering?" she asked again.

It seemed even more cruel the second time. But... but it would be the kind of experience Mikleo wished for him to have. He'd be with someone who loved him and cared for him and wanted only the best for him as Sorey and not the Shepherd. It would take such a clinical and sterile excuse for experiencing pleasure and turn it in to something that meant more than just a stupid test of his heart. And selfishly, it would give Mikleo something he knew he could never ask for. And Sorey, their very friendship, would never have to know.

He agreed on the pretense of making something good of a bad situation. Sorey had agreed to have sex with some unseen, unloved stranger. What did it matter, in the end, if it was someone who loved him in disguise?

The attendants whom seemed to be birthed from the marble itself descended upon him in droves. They dressed him in drapes of cloth like their own, tended to his hair, and scented his skin with oils that gave off a golden glow. His nails were trimmed and polished, his teeth scrubbed, his circlet put aside with his personal effects and promised not to be lost. In the mirror he saw with utmost clarity the potential he had for great beauty. But it was himself, still--indisputably himself. This was doomed to fail from the start.

"He'll recognize me," he assured them as they tried to lead him down the hall.

"Our arts will not disguise you to your own eyes," the guardian explained. "Only Shepherd Sorey will be affected by them. You may see yourself in the mirror, but to him you will be his heart's desire."

He had to trust that she told the truth. Otherwise, this was about to get very embarrassing. He was already filling rapidly with regrets as his steps brought him closer to Sorey's room. He was going to have sex with his best friend. He was going to somehow have secret yet consenting sex unbeknownst to the person he was intending to sleep with. How on earth did any of that make sense in any line of rational? And did the lines of deception matter when Sorey had already accepted what was going to happen? He didn't know it was going to be Mikleo but he did know it would be someone whose appearance was to be cloaked in a veil of his own making. It was so hard to feel good about this but the alternative was agony. He didn't want it to be anyone else but him. No one else could do this with love.

When the door opened to the private chamber, Mikleo was startled to silence by how amazing Sorey looked. His tan skin was glistening in oils that accentuated every muscle, his bright green eyes were shining in torchlight like iridescent gems. The sashes of cloth draped over his naked body left absolutely nothing to the imagination. He looked amazing--like nothing Mikleo had seen before. He'd seen statues of divinity that looked less perfect than him.

Sorey, on the other hand, looked startled. His mouth fell open, moistened lips parting in a surprised inhale as his eyes darted from Mikleo to the guardian seraph standing aloft. "That's... really something..." he stammered, his cheeks burning red. He looked away, eyes drawn to the ceiling instead. "I guess I should have known, but that's... really, really real."

Not for the first time, Mikleo wished he knew what he looked like to Sorey. He'd have given anything to know what it was he appeared as. It certainly had an affect on him given the way he hurried to avert his gaze. Sorey was embarrassed. He was pleased but shy in the presence of his most secret desire.

The guardian seraph stood between them and beckoned them both to step close. In her hands she held a chalice of clear liquid. Mikleo obeyed silently, watching as Sorey did the same.

"Do you accept this offering?" she asked.

Sorey nodded, his eyes locked tight to Mikleo's.

With his blessing given, she beckoned him to drink, holding the chalice still as he swallowed lightly from it. After he was done, she extended it to Mikleo as well. The drink was sugar-sweet with an aftertaste of rosemary.

"There is no limit to the time you must take. When you are done, simply return your offering to us." With the limited ceremony complete, she left them alone in the room to consummate the trial. The sound of the heavy door falling shut gave Mikleo shivers.

What the hell was he supposed to do now?!

They stood at arms length, staring at each other, neither of them moving except for the occasional blink. Sorey looked enthralled and yet terrified, unable to keep his tongue from moistening his lips as he observed him but kept himself detached. "Um.. do you want to.. sit down? Um.. maybe talk?"

Oh, this could not be going any worse. Mikleo balked at the idea of conversation, of having to pretend to be something he didn't know. But what was he supposed to do otherwise? Grab him tight and throw him to the bed? What if that didn't play into his fantasies? Oh, god, he'd made a mistake. He should have let someone else do this. A professional. Someone who was better equipped to perform to Sorey's expectations. Why had he only thought of this now, when it was too late? Was it acceptable for the offering to run?

Sorey seemed to sense his hesitation, his face morphing past embarrassment towards concern. "Are you okay?" he asked, his hand touching gently at his elbow. "Have I done something wrong to upset you?"

"No, not at all," Mikleo assured him, feeling far less appealing than a human's true earthly desire. "I just don't want to fail at being everything you want me to be. If we talk, I might spoil everything."

Sorey frowned sadly, his fingers running up against his arm. "This must be very awkward for you. I'm so sorry."

"No! No, this is nothing! What about you? You have to go through with this just because some other Shepherds proved themselves to be good only by virtue of ignorance rather than innocence," Mikleo proclaimed, ashamed he'd caused that face to frown when so much had gone into giving him happiness. "I'm just... I wish circumstances were different for you. That's all. I know you're a genuinely good person. It seems like... such a waste to have to prove it like this."

"If I can cause pain to strangers in the name of my path, it shouldn't be so terrible to grant pleasure as well," Sorey calmly explained.

Mikleo nodded minutely, finding some small grain of solace in that resolution, then leaned in to accept a kiss.

It was the longest prelude to a kiss he'd ever imagined. Sorey's hands were soft against his face as he gently guided him close. Fingers stroked against his skin, warm breath flirted over his lips, their mouths glancing so just the barest of skin touched in a whisper of an almost embrace. It made Mikleo tremble with anticipation, not willing in the least to hurry the other young man up. He enjoyed the sense of exploration in his approach. He felt like he could melt from just this if nothing more.

The actual kiss was almost a disappointment. It happened and then they stood there and then it ended and it was... okay. Strange. Not the same buzz of near enlightenment the previous movements had become but it was pleasant enough and worth repeating. Mikleo placed his hands against his shoulders and invited him back for more.

And more, at the very least, was good. More lit a fire in his belly as Sorey's arms wrapped tight around his waist. More was the startling realization that their cloth drapings separated little and every point of contact felt like naked flesh. More was enough to wonder what exactly had been in that drought from the golden chalice. More made Mikleo's knees turn to jelly and prompted their relocation to the bed.

The bed was massive; the makings were luxurious. It felt like the finest silk caressing the warmth of his skin with cool feathers all the way down his back. He'd only a moment to contemplate it before other sensations arose, such as Sorey grinding down between his legs.

There was definitely something in the drink they'd shared. The guardian seraph had promised nothing would impede the Shepherd's ability to perform. He supposed there were fail-safes for when reluctance arose.

"Sorry," Sorey grunted, hanging his head. "I don't... I don't actually know what I'm doing but I'm not sure I can really stop."

Mikleo nodded enthusiastically, not bothered in the least as he reached up and dragged his head down. These kisses were much less demure, like open mouthed screams where the only exchange was themselves. Mikleo loved the way Sorey grunted and groaned with need in a way only he was allowed to satisfy. Sorey's whole body was begging for something it didn't understand, tasking Mikleo with the act of his satiation. The attending seraphim had given some small manner of instruction. It had sounded disgusting before. Now it sounded like the most logical thing.

"Gel," he bit out between tongued kisses that left his mouth feeling raw. He extended his hand towards the bedside table, his short reach leaving him patting the mattress instead.

Sorey wasn't stupid, though. He reached up and grabbed it in a sweating palm, bringing the open jar of gel into Mikleo's reach before bending down to present kisses to his neck. It presented an interesting obstacle to move in just the right way with a body on top of his, but Mikleo managed to coat his fingers in gel and slide them down the bed behind him to rub generously around his own hole. The position caused his back to arch, his body pressing firmly against Sorey's heated chest. It was rewarding, in some way, to know Sorey hadn't a clue what he was doing. He rather liked the idea of presenting the option as a surprise and giving that sense of restless thrusting a sense of impending purpose. The sliminess felt weird, though, but the first finger was an interesting sensation. The seraphs has suggested two or three so he did his best to work up to them. It was awkward and cloying but not bad. The slimness was definitely the worse part about it. He hated the sensation of its squish.

Sorey grew curious after a while as to where Mikleo's attention had gone, sitting back as his gaze followed the unseen arm. His eyes grew wide when he spotted those thin fingers inside him, his hips rocking against them now that Sorey's body weight was gone.

"Do you like that?" he asked, sounding surprised as he continued to stare.

It was embarrassing to be watched but not enough so to stop. Mikleo arched his back more to push in deeper. "I've never done it before," he admitted, wondering if he should have lied. "They suggested it might feel good for you so I.. I thought I'd make it ready."

"But do you like it?" Sorey asked again, his own warm fingers tracing along the path of Mikleo's own. The surprise touch sent a jolt through Mikleo, his lips letting slide a gasp as his knees drew shut.

Sorey prized his knees apart gently before leaning through them and reaching beyond. He found the resting gel and dipped his own digits into it, trails of goo dropping from his fingertips. With gentle prodding he coerced Mikleo's fingers from their task, and with equally considerate motions pressed two of his own inside him. Mikleo's knees did their best to slam together again, stopped firmly by the arm between them. Sliminess was no longer the prevailing sensation from below. Sorey's fingers were bigger than his and their movements were uncalculated. The randomness of their strange caress bloomed warmth at the base of his spine. Just when he felt he knew exactly what it felt like to be touched by him within, he elicited a whole new set of sparks that had him nearly clawing at the bed.

"I think you like it."

"Yes! I--oh--I can't... please?"

Sorey smiled wickedly and attempted the stroke again.

Mikleo kicked his leg out with a cry. "Oh, oh, oh! Little less! Oh, wow.. I.. less. Less but more. Also you. Now. Now is good." None of the words actually made sense but he hoped that they did anyway.

"What do you want me to do?" Sorey asked, his fingers stalling as he waited for instruction.

Mikleo wanted to throw the whole tin of gel at his head. "This goes on that," he breathlessly explained, pointing from the gel to Sorey's rosy erection, "and that goes in there!"

Sorey looked between the two like there was no way that was going to happen. His fingers scissored experimentally.

Mikleo let his head roll back. He was so close he honestly didn't care what Sorey did. But he really wanted to make this worth it for him. It certainly wouldn't be his fault, though, if he didn't take him up on it. For his own part, it took every bit of resolve he hand not to touch himself to completion. It was right there, looming heavy in his gut. The tightness beckoned him for some attention to bring fulfillment to his needs.

Sorey removing his fingers did not appeal to his desire for more stimulation. Mikleo groaned loudly in protest as he fished for his lover's thighs with the hook of his ankles. Sorey was busy, though, with the tin of gel and in applying a layer on himself. The glans of his erection were shiny and exposed, the whole member a beautiful shade of dusty pink. Mikleo had seen him naked a hundred times but never in this impressive state. He was just built thick all over it seemed. He supposed it wouldn't look right if it were more like his own.

He grabbed Mikleo by the hips and pulled him up against his lap, the slimy head of his erection leaving a trail against his ass. "Are you sure?" Sorey asked, his pupils blown with desire but his thoughts still centered on what would be okay for them to do.

Mikleo nodded, grunting, trying to buck against the hands that held him firm. "Let me do this for you. Please," he whined, desperate for something more.

Sorey bit his lip and adjusted for entry. With a little bit of force he sank right in.

Yet again, the sliminess quickly stopped being the most notable sensation. Mikleo's head fell back as he tried to breathe, parts of his mind forgetting that this wasn't attempted murder. Fingers had been alien but this was an outstanding deviation from all normal forms of feeling. There was a dick inside him and it felt a million times bigger than it had looked. Whatever it was he thought he'd been prepared for was woefully inadequate in expressing the sensory excursion involved in accepting the width and length of an erect human penis. It stung like persistent bug bites and settled inside with a fullness beyond full. He covered his face his his arms, not wanting to dissuade Sorey by his facial expression. It didn't feel great but he could withstanding it for him.

Sorey moaned deep from his chest as he bottomed out, rolling back and forth on that final little inch. "This.. this is really okay?" he asked, his stomach muscles clenching with furious wanting. His voice was tight with his desire not to harm.

Mikleo loved him. He loved him so much it took his breath away. "It's more than okay," he assured him, moving his arms to pull him down, Sorey's head bowing to his chest. He stroked the taut muscles of his back as he felt him withdraw slowly from his body then sink back in like a book on a tightly packed shelf. It wasn't an attractive analogy but far more fitting than the violent imagery of a sword buckling into its sheath. Sorey was slow and meticulous, pulling nearly all the way out just to settle back in. It made the stinging sensation subside. The fullness... well, it wasn't so bad.

Sorey kept an even pace, preferring long, slow strokes to much shorter, faster ones. It was lulling, in a way, as predictability lent itself to further acclimation. Mikleo found himself trying to alter their speed, thrusting himself up against Sorey's hips to piston him hastily inside. It only took a few bold moves to drive home the point. Sorey's tactics changed swiftly from the kind of slow moves they could kiss to towards the pounding that made Mikleo whimper. And every so often, like a well executed combo, he'd bounce against Mikleo's weakest spot and set him clawing at his shoulders in wordless ecstasy. It took very little time for nothing at all in the world to matter or exist outside the pleasures they created and obeyed.

It seemed to end so fast and yet in the moment all time had ceased. Sorey breathed heavily as though he'd run marathons, himself still buried deep inside where his seed had been disgorged. Mikleo was a mess, almost positive he might die, his muscles cramped in the position they'd ended with: his chin tucked to his chest and ass in the air. It would have been worth it. Everything had been worth it. But still something nagged at his consciousness underneath all the clouds of bliss and muscle aches.

Sorey all but fell to the bed once he'd carefully uprooted himself, rolling onto his back with a great heave of breath as he stared at the ceiling overhead. Mikleo stretched his legs, welcoming circulation back into his feet, as he fell calmly into the tempo of their breaths. Looking across the mattress, however, did not show a happy face. Sorey looked troubled, his lips drawn thing and green eyes heavy. Mikleo stroked his face with a frown.

"I don't even know your name," Sorey whispered hoarsely, his voice no longer use to words where there had been only exultations.

Mikleo remembered, quite suddenly, that this had all been pretend. This wasn't an expression of them. He sat up gingerly, finding the discarded yards of the thin cloth that had once been their clothes, and tried to drape them back on as others had done for him. "My name doesn't matter," he said regretfully. "I'm supposed to be nothing but the person that you see."

"Can I see who you really are?"

Mikleo looked away and shook his head. "I think it best if you don't," he said. He made a poor attempt at concealing himself with the ribbons of cloth afforded, trying not to seem like he was hurrying in order to escape the awkwardness fast. He felt like crying, though, in the wake of his own loss of reflection. It was supposed to be about helping Sorey. Somehow he'd made it all about himself. "Don't get your heart all in a tangle; this was just part of a trial," he reminded his friend, bitter to think that he might have affection for his farce. "Whatever I seem to be, this was about duty. We don't mater to each other in the end."

Sorey smiled with a wince, his shoulders sagging with the wound. "I know you're not really him but it still kind of hurts to hear him say that."

That was right. He was someone else. We was the personification of Sorey's grand desires. Was he taller than he appeared? Darker? Have more musculature? Were his eyes a deep blue instead of lavender? Was he handsome more so than kind of pretty? What was it that Sorey wanted in a lover and how far off the mark was Mikleo himself? He shouldn't want to know but it was right there for the asking. How little chance did he really have? "Who do you see when you look at me?" he questioned a rather disappointed Sorey.

The Shepherd smiled just a little, hugging his knees up to his chest, his face masking the hurt with his troubled grin. "I came here with a group of friends. One of them I've known all my life. And..."

And if Mikleo looked like Zaveid right now, he would properly scream. But no, he wasn't so lost in doubt as to not understand the meaning of his pause. "Mikleo? I... you see Mikleo when you look at me?"

Sorey nodded, wincing all the more. "She really wasn't lying when she said I'd see my heart's greatest desire. You look exactly like him. It really is too perfect," he pronounced.

Mikleo was stunned into silence, not sure whether to be furious or scared. On reflection, no one had ever actually lied to him about what had transpired. It just seemed too fantastic a thing to believe. "Sorey... I'm not one of the trial seraphim. They came and asked me if I would help them out."

Sorey blinked in confusion, his head tilting to the side "Eh?" was the best he could do.

"You--!!" Mikleo shouted, his fist shaking furiously in the air. "You wanted to have sex with a stranger who was pretending to be me!?"

"What? Wait, why were you pretending to be someone else trying to pretend to be you so you could sleep with me?!"

"I--!... Never mind; there is no high ground here," Mikleo submitted, trying to disguise the blush coloring his cheeks.

Sorey stood up from the bed, both his eyes and mouth wide, as he slowly crossed he room towards him. "You're really Mikleo?" he asked, smelling of sex with his hair in complete disarray.

"Yes!" Mikleo shouted defensively, then quickly clasped both hands against his mouth. "Oh, my god, Sorey, we just had sex."

"I know," Sorey agreed, though he seemed to be missing the point.

"No, I mean, we did. On purpose. With each other! We just had sex!" he frantically tried to explain.

"I know," Sorey repeated, wrapping his arms around his waist. "So maybe now you might want to come back to bed?"

Sorey was either a humongous idiot or, for once, he was right. They'd just had sex. With each other. For real; not make-believe. And it had been amazing. It had been quite a bit more than he'd expected. And that it had happened at all still blew his frazzled mind.

Sorey gave him a quick kiss, then rubbed together their noses. "I love you," he said, and squeezed him tight.

Those words, more than anything else, felt wondrous to hear. "I know," he told him plainly. "And for some strange reason, I love you too."

In the end, Sorey passed the trial, proving himself to be pure of heart and deed when faced with both knowledge and ignorance. Zaveid begged for details but Sorey swore secrecy, saying only that the arts of the guardian seraphim were amazing.

Which would have worked fine if Edna hadn't poked Mikleo in the ass with her umbrella and asked if he'd put his underwear on backwards or if Sorey was just that big.