Beshelar stood with his hands against the wall of the quarters he shared with Cala, the writing desk that normally occupied the space moved out of the way to accommodate him. He was stripped bare to the waist, eager and ready to receive the discipline he had all but begged of Cala. It had taken much convincing for Cala to agree, but he had eventually seen that Beshelar truly needed the absolution and clearing of conscience that corporal punishment would provide, and had understood that His Serenity would not order it, nor could Beshelar go over his head to ask Captain Orthema to discipline him.
Now, long weeks later, during which Cala had learned and practiced whip usage and Beshelar had anxiously awaited his preparation, it was finally time.
“Please, turn and face us, Lieutenant,” Cala said calmly.
Without a word, Beshelar did as he was told. His eyes were drawn to the long, thin whip coiled in Cala's left hand. Heart thudding in his chest at the sight of it, he lifted his gaze to Cala's face. Though it hadn't been apparent in his voice, now that Beshelar was looking at Cala he could tell the maza was nervous and trying not to show it. It was apparent in the hesitancy in his gentle eyes, and in the way he was standing—far more rigidly than his usual. Cala was still wearing his shabby blue robes and looked not at all like a commanding military officer, though Beshelar knew he was much more powerful than he seemed. Still, administering corporal punishment might be outside his abilities.
Beshelar closed his eyes and sighed. He had been a fool to ask this of Cala. “Athmaza, you do not have to do this if you truly wish not to.”
“We do not believe we have given thee the signal to speak as yet, soldier,” Cala said, a firmness to his voice that was absent from his general carriage. He gave Beshelar an awkward half-smile at the look of stunned surprise Beshelar was surely giving him.
It was answer enough: Cala would play his role as best he could. He would act in the place of the Captain of the Untheileneise Guard to carry out the disciplinary ritual on Beshelar, and had in fact begun already. A thrill went through Beshelar at the realization. He bowed his head and awaited instruction.
“Now, if thou wouldst, please describe for us the reasons thou art here before us for discipline.”
Beshelar swallowed. “We violated propriety and did besmirch His Serenity's very person on the night of Winternight by falling upon him and spilling our blood onto his fine Imperial white clothing. We also did not acquit ourself as befits a First Nohecharis during the altercation with Eshevis Tethimar, having not the wits nor reflexes to draw our blade against him. We therefore owe our partner, Cala Athmaza, a great debt, for protecting us as well as the Emperor.”
“It was my duty and my... well, not pleasure as such, but I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Cala said, slipping out of character to utter this reassurance.
With a single, solemn nod, Beshelar acknowledged it, and silently pleaded for Cala to continue as the authority figure and not as his partner and... friend. He knew already that he had Cala's forgiveness, and the Emperor's too. It was Beshelar who could not forgive himself his faults.
Cala sighed and straightened, assuming his role once more. “We are satisfied that dost know why thou art to receive the lash. Ten lashes will be sufficient, we believe, to drive the message home and absolve thee of thy trespasses. Dost agree, soldier?”
“Yes. Ten lashes will we gladly take.” In truth, it seemed Cala was being lenient. He had seen men take far more than ten lashes for less offense than he had given. And yet, Beshelar had to admit to a certain amount of relief. This was to be his first time under the lash, and though he meant to bear up under it with conviction, he was not entirely sure how he would take it. In his time in the Untheileneise Guard, he had seen far stronger men than he break beneath the whip.
An he did, it would be no more than he deserved. The relief of guilt and the clarity of mind and purpose afterwards would be his reward.
Cala licked his lips uneasily and let the long loose end of the whip trail free of his hand so that he was gripping only the handle. “Present thy back, then, soldier, and we will begin.”
Beshelar resumed his position, hands braced against the wall, legs in an open stance to support his weight evenly. He took a few deep, steadying breaths, willing himself to relax though the anticipation was singing through him.
At the snap of the whip, Beshelar jumped.
There was no contact.
“Sorry,” Cala said sheepishly, dropping the role of commanding officer once more. “I need a few practice strokes to loosen up... I should have warned thee. Two more test strokes, and then it will land.”
Closing his eyes, Beshelar listened to the rapid beating of his own heart and the crack of the whip twice more as Cala warmed himself up to the task.
The third loud snap was accompanied by a rush of air against his bare skin, and then a sharp stinging sensation over his shoulder blade. The contact made Beshelar jump again, but the pain was not as great as he had been expecting, even as the sting began to intensify into a burning ache.
One breath. Two. Why was Cala not striking again?
“Ah, soldier, we believe it is for thee to count our strokes, is it not?” Cala was attempting the firmness of voice of a commander again, though uncertainty had crept into his tone.
Beshelar nearly cursed himself aloud for his impertinence and for forgetting such an important detail of the ritual. “Beg pardon, Athmaza, you are correct. We have been remiss. Please, you should start over again. With, ah, more force as you see fit.”
“We hardly think that's necessary--”
“Please.” Beshelar was surprised by his own vehemence. From the sharp intake of breath behind him, Cala was too.
“All right. We shall begin again,” Cala said. His voice was resolute.
This time the crack of the whip against his skin made Beshelar gasp. The sting was sharper this time, escalating quickly into a line of fire across the opposite shoulder blade. “One,” he said, proud of how steady he sounded.
Again came the whip across his back, and again Beshelar tensed at its fall. It hurt, undeniably it did, but that was what he had been counting on. “Two.”
He deserved the burning sting, the hot long stripes rising into welts on the broadness of his back. The third and the fourth blows fell, and Beshelar counted them out, his voice growing rougher as the pain mounted and built upon itself. Cala was handling the whip remarkably well, his strokes even and rhythmic, landing hard enough to hurt but not so hard that Beshelar could not handle it.
“Five,” he choked out, feeling hot tears streak down his face as that stroke landed criss-cross over other marks. The pain was scouring him clean, searing hotter than the shame of having disgraced himself upon the Emperor, of having left his partner to down the enemy on his own. Absurdly, he was grateful to be facing away from Cala so he would not see him cry. Doubtless Cala could tell anyway.
“Art doing well, Beshelar,” Cala murmured. “Halfway there. Just five more strokes.”
Beshelar found the use of his name rather than the simple address of ‘soldier’ reassuring. He wanted so to please Cala. The lash snapped again and Beshelar's whole body jerked at the impact. “S-six.”
Cala paused, then asked hesitantly, “Soldier, perhaps we should take a break and allow thee a moment's respite?”
The room was silent save for Beshelar's labored breathing. Pausing so and making him think enough to form an answer that was not a number drew him out of the oddly pleasant haze of prickling heat clouding his mind. Slowly, he became aware of heat pooling elsewhere, throbbing not only in his back but between his legs. Beshelar's knees grew weak, and it was only with effort that he stayed standing. Disgrace upon disgrace, for his body to react so in the midst of punishment.
But he could not stop now. He would see this discipline through to the end. He had asked for it, and would take the whole of it, to spite his body's strange arousal.
“No. Continue, Athmaza. We—we do not deserve such kindness.”
He heard Cala sigh in clear disagreement, but the whip came down again. This time, Beshelar let out a choked cry, the lash falling quick and sharp across already tender flesh. Aware of it now, he felt his cock twitch in the confines of his trousers as well. He almost forgot to bite out a gruff, “Seven.”
The tears fell faster now, running down his face to drip off his chin. Beshelar's arms were shaking, barely supporting him, and his legs were in a similar state. His back was aflame, throbbing with scorching pain and, incongruously, sending pleasure straight to his cock. Lash number eight fell upon him, and Beshelar counted it out with a breathy gasp.
The next time the whip cracked and laid a line of fire into his skin, a ragged moan drew out of Beshelar from deep in his chest. “Nnnhh-nine.”
If Beshelar's arousal was not already clear to Cala, it had to be now. The shame he felt at that realization was overshadowed by the cleansing flame of the whip licking at his back and the deep desire it pulled from him.
One last blow. One more, and it would be over. He heard the lash sing through the air and snap against his skin and counted out a cracked and broken, “T-ten!”
Beshelar did not know whether he wept for an end to the suffering or for the loss of it. He let his elbows fold and rested his cheek against the wall, but stayed standing.
It was over.
“Didst comport thyself well, soldier. Art now forgiven, to begin anew with a clear conscience,” Cala said, uttering the closing line of the ritual with a roughness to his voice that was not usually there.
“Thank you, Athmaza,” Beshelar said in a very small voice, vulnerable and desperately aroused and relieved and ashamed all at once.
Dropping pretense, Cala said, “Please, let me be Cala once more. Art truly all right? I managed not to break skin, but--”
“I...” What could he say? All right was not an adequate descriptor, Beshelar felt, but he did not wish to worry Cala.
“Here, let me...”
He heard rustling movement behind him, but had not the strength of will to move nor to face Cala yet, tear-streaked and hard-cocked as he was.
“Oh, merciful, nnghh,” Beshelar moaned at the feel of a cool damp cloth patted against his welted and still-burning back.
“Sorry. Is that bad?” Cala asked. The cool cloth drew away again.
“Tis good.” It came out nearly a whimper, and Beshelar's ears fluttered. Indecent.
Cala hummed thoughtfully. The next thing Beshelar felt were soft, dry lips upon the tender, hot marks. He gasped and held perfectly still, not daring to believe it was truly happening. But the kisses continued, from one shoulder to the next, alternated with the cool cloth, until Beshelar was shuddering beneath Cala's touch.
“Deret?” Cala's voice was gentle, if husky. “May I help with this too?”
Long fingers just barely brushed over the front of his trousers, and Beshelar hissed in a breath. His cock was now so hard it was painful. “Oh gods, need'st not--”
“I want to.” It was whispered like a confession into Beshelar's ear. “In truth, seeing thee so has sparked my own arousal.”
That finally got Beshelar to turn enough to look at Cala, though he winced with the pain the movement caused. Stunned wonder had his eyes wide. So this was... acceptable? If Cala, too, had been affected so, Beshelar thought it possible he could be forgiven for his lack of composure and incredible indecency. “Then... then, please,” he gasped.
Cala smiled, his cheeks and ears pinkening attractively. With shaking hands, Beshelar sought to remove his own trousers, but his fingers were numb and fumbling at the clasps.
Cala's hands reached out to still his. “Let me.”
Deftly, Cala unbuttoned Beshelar's trousers and slid them off his shaking legs. Beshelar could not help sighing in relief as his cock finally sprung free.
“Tell me what would please thee most,” Cala said, rising to press another soft kiss to Beshelar's tender back.
“Anything, so long as thou dost it quickly and with force.” Beshelar swallowed hard, feeling his face heat. It was still difficult to speak so familiarly, even in such an intimate situation as this. But he thought Cala would appreciate the effort. “If... if would'st wish to enter me, I would, ah, like that very much.”
The quiet, hungry oh he heard Cala utter gave him hope his request had not been mislaid. Beshelar had not done this often but it would not be the first time he had received another man's cock, and his blood rushed at the thought of such happening now, with Cala. Cala, who was no soldier needing to let off steam, taking ease of a barracks-mate willing to have a quick, rough go. Cala, who was instead a mild-mannered scholar, an undeniably powerful maza, and more than that, a trusted friend and companion. After the very skillfully administered whipping he'd just received, Beshelar was eager to know if Cala had further surprises in store for him. And he trusted no one more to see this side of him than Cala.
“That can be arranged, yes,” Cala answered, teasing amusement along with desire in his voice. “Here against the wall, or would’st like to move to a bed?”
“Here please, now.” Beshelar pressed his palms to the wall more firmly, and this time he spread his legs further apart and lifted his rear as shamelessly as he dared.
Cala wasted no time, though he did pause to release Beshelar and go rustling about the room muttering something about oil. He returned shortly with fingers slick with it as he pressed his own warm bare skin against Beshelar's. With a strangled groan, Beshelar arched into his touch, body tense as a harp-string with desire.
“Shhh, art doing well. So well, Deret,” Cala murmured as he worked first one and then two of his long fingers into Beshelar. The gentle reassurance and praise made pride swell in Beshelar's chest. It meant a lot to him to know Cala thought he had taken the whipping and this—whatever this was—well.
Cala's other hand was parting his buttocks, kneading at one thick cheek. It felt so good, yet was not nearly enough.
“Faster, Cala, please,” Beshelar demanded, rocking his hips and pushing Cala's fingers more deeply inside him.
“As thou wish'st.” With that, Cala's fingers disappeared, leaving Beshelar hungry and shaking. Not three heartbeats later (by Beshelar's count), the blunt tip of Cala's cock was pressing against him, sliding slowly in as his body stretched to accommodate him.
It was slow, so slow, and Beshelar pushed back to seat Cala more quickly within him, frustrated by his body's unwillingness to open more easily. It burned and ached, not as badly as his back did, but it was currently more immediate. Beshelar growled, his hands balling into fists against the wall as he tried to push his body past its limits.
“Relax,” Cala breathed, his voice gone low and breathy. “Need'st not rush so. I think I may have tried to go too fast.”
Perhaps to distract Beshelar or perhaps to keep him steady, Cala moved one arm around his waist and took hold of his cock. His strokes were slow and deliberate, infuriatingly so, but he was right—it felt better this way, to wait until his body could ease around Cala. Intensely good, in fact. Cala was good with his hands, stroking and pulling at his cock just right. He had Beshelar panting and moaning in no time, and when Cala began kissing and licking at the welts on his back it was nearly over then and there.
But then Cala began to move. Slowly again at first, testing, and when he found it possible to slide in and out with ease, he picked up the pace until Beshelar was being veritably pounded into the wall. This was what Beshelar had wanted, and Cala was not letting him down. He had just taken the time to work up to Beshelar's request that he be used 'quickly and with force'.
It did not take long after that for Beshelar to spurt his seed all over Cala's hand, trembling with the force of it and crying out in broken-voiced elation and relief. Cala followed a few shallow and erratic thrusts later, gripping Beshelar's waist tightly and uttering just a single sharp gasp as he pulsed and came within Beshelar.
For several long moments, Beshelar lost the thread of what was happening around him. He floated in a thick haze of profound relief and scoured-out emptiness and residual burning heat, as though he had been immolated and rose anew with embers still glowing inside him. Like a firebird of legend.
The next thing he was aware of was the cool cloth being applied to him again, in most intimate places. And being lifted as if by magic (likely a maz in sooth, he thought upon reflection with a much clearer head), and brought to lie in his bed. Cala was there, brushing loose strands of hair out of his face (when had his topknot come down?), murmuring gentle praise and reassurances.
With effort, Beshelar forced himself to focus. He took Cala's hand and held it, looking up into his face. “I have not words to thank thee,” he said, his voice rough with hard use and choked with no little emotion. “Cala... I did not expect events to unfold as they did tonight, but I need thee to know I hold no regrets and only vast gratitude and--” He searched for words but the right one would not come. Love seemed too strong a word, and affection seemed inadequate.
Cala smiled down at him, as mild and kindly as ever, and twined his fingers in Beshelar's. “I could say the same, Deret. Rest, now. Deservest to have that peace that has eluded thee so long.”
Beshelar could not argue. Now that he felt truly unburdened by guilt and self-reproach, as well as truly sated for the first time in longer than he could recall, sleep was stealing upon him fast. One last thing he had to say. “An ever hast need of assistance, I would not hesitate to do all I could to unburden thee, Cala. Know that.”
“I know. Art my partner. We take care of each other.”
Those words and the softest of kisses to his forehead were the last things Beshelar was aware of before relaxing into the most peaceful sleep he had known in ages.