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more of bitter aloes than honey

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"Henry, King of England, died in the year of our Lord 1189, on the sixth day of the month of July, at Chinon. He was succeeded by Richard, Duke of Aquitaine, the oldest of his legitimate sons still living, who with experience attained in dealing with the fickle and faithless race of barons that have long inhabited his continental domains was swift to quell any hint of insurrection on his new island kingdom.

While King Richard was thus engaged securing his rule, his brother Geoffrey, utterly forgetful of the ties of honour, fealty and fraternal affection that ought to have bound him to one who was both his brother and his king, wasted no time in gathering the support of such barons of Normandy, Anjou, Maine and Aquitaine as would turn their backs on God and break their sacred oaths of allegiance to King Richard.

At the head of this army of the wicked, Geoffrey, that son of perdition, sought to undermine his brother's rule and to steal for himself that highest honour which only the Almighty can bestow.

King Richard took the field against his brother armed with the support of all the lords of England and France who valued their honour and their chance of salvation too greatly ever to forget the duty they owed to God, to their liege lord and to themselves. And though their numbers were few, they knew their victory to be assured, for theirs was a righteous cause, and God and all His angels must surely fight alongside them.

They fought steel with steel and fire with fire, and soon put an end to that shameful insurrection. The death knell to the rebels' cause came when their leader, the king's brother, fell to the sword of Richard de Camville during the Battle of Le Goulet, on the eleventh day of the month of August, in the year of grace 1190.

Though Geoffrey, that son of iniquity, that second Cain, was wounded most grievously, King Richard had him brought before him in chains in the Great Hall of Caen Castle, that all may witness the victory of one brother and the shame of the other.

Geoffrey was made to kneel before King Richard, but though his injuries were so severe that he was scarcely able to walk under his own power, he refused to be humbled, but behaved with misplaced pride and arrogance, such as was sure to prove offensive to the king and displeasing to God.

The king's anger was frightful to behold, but in this as in all things he was guided by the hand of the Almighty and by the wise counsel of his lady mother. Queen Eleanor's womanly tears moved him to mercy and he was persuaded to spare his brother a traitor's death, ordering him instead removed from his sight, that he may no longer offend him by his presence." - Roger of Hoveden, Gesta Henrici II et Gesta Regis Ricardi

It was raining again. It was raining still. With the amount of water that fell on this accursed island, it was a wonder that the whole damn thing had not yet sunk into the sea. And perhaps it was nought but random chance that an absurdly rainy summer had given way to an extremely rainy autumn, had then degenerated into a particularly rainy winter, but Geoffrey took it as further proof, if any had been needed, that even the Almighty could be petty.

He pushed away from the narrow window and wandered about the room before sinking down in the armchair by the fireplace. Christ, but he was bored. It was bad enough that he was confined to this draughty old tower like a child sent to his room without supper, but Richard's recent arrival meant that all of Geoffrey's usual amusements were suddenly playing coy. They were all of them more than happy to dance attendance on their compelling, captivating charge — unsuitable company though lowly guards would normally have been for a prince — but it took no more than a glimpse of the Royal Banner for them to quickly remember that they were the king's men.

Geoffrey did not expect Richard to make an appearance. The Royal Banner had flown over Winchester Castle many times since Geoffrey had taken up residence in the very same chambers that had once been Eleanor's, but not once had his brother come to gloat, and Geoffrey wondered who he meant to torture with his constant visits: Geoffrey or himself. Both, like as not. Richard had always been equal parts a despot and a martyr.

It mattered not. His brother was bound to set him free eventually, and Geoffrey would find a way to pay him back for such generous hospitality. All in good time.

That Richard would let him out sooner or later, Geoffrey did not doubt. He was Duke of Brittany, Earl of Richmond, a king's son. Princes were not left to rot away in dungeons, and he did not expect to, either. He trusted the power of his titles. He trusted the power of his blood. Failing all else, he trusted his own ability to get himself out of it, and not once did he stop to think that Eleanor must once have felt much the same, before almost two decades spent in captivity ate away at that bone-deep certainty.

He did not turn when the door swung open, not even when the floorboards creaked under the weight of the simpleton who had yet to learn that servants were seldom meant to be seen and never meant to be heard. Alas, the quality of attendants to be found in the sort of out-of-the-way towers where inconvenient princes were imprisoned left much to be desired. Geoffrey half suspected it was deliberate. It was not enough that Richard kept him locked away in this absurdity of a prison. Oh, no. He had to plague him with inferior hirelings.

"Make yourself useful and fetch me some decent wine," he said without looking away from the flames. "And you better make sure it is decent, Ranulf, because if it's anything like the dross you've brought me so far, I'll have you drag a cask of it up here for the express purpose of drowning you in it."

"Is a man likely to hand you a sword if he knows you mean to use it to chop off his head?"

Geoffrey froze for a moment at the unexpectedness of his brother's voice. And then he rose to his feet, a smile his only armour as he turned to face Richard.

"And so my brother, the philosopher, comes to pay me a visit," he said, his tone carefully light, his shoulders deliberately relaxed.

"Your brother, the king, comes to pay you a visit."

"Ah, yes." Geoffrey watched as Richard strolled around the room, and he tried to see it as his brother might, as if for the first time: the small bed, the bare walls, the unswept floor. Not in Rouen or Paris or London had there ever been a room less fit for a prince. "And how are you liking your crown, brother? Feeling heavy yet?"

Richard looked up from the small desk where Geoffrey's meagre collection of tomes was suddenly looking particularly pathetic.

"Not heavier than your chains, I don't expect."

No, indeed.

"Oh, I don't know." Geoffrey shrugged and smiled, and poured himself a drink. There were times to be particular about the quality of the wine at hand, but this was not such a time. "I find it all very restful. I have half a mind to take up needlework."

Richard snorted, but made no reply, too busy leafing through Horace's Odes. It was the first time the two of them had been in the same room since that day in Caen, and Geoffrey could barely remember most of what had transpired then. He remembered the chains, heavy and cold against his overheated skin. He remembered the pulsating ache in his leg that sharpened into agonising pain whenever he was forced to put weight on it. He remembered the whispers and the sneers as the guards half dragged him, half carried him across the crowded Great Hall. He remembered the relief of being allowed to sink to the floor.

Mostly he remembered Richard on that throne, remote and regal and far away. A stranger in a crown. How Geoffrey had hated him then. How he hated him still.

"Vis consili expers mole ruit sua," Richard read aloud. Force without wisdom falls of its own weight.

Geoffrey rolled his eyes. "You've come to moralise?"

"No." Setting the book down, Richard removed a scroll from his pouch and threw it on the table. "I've come to get your signature on that."

Geoffrey unrolled it with steady fingers, but the moment he scanned its contents fear drove everything else out of his mind, even anger. And then panic gave way to outrage, and had Geoffrey been a different man — had he had Richard's temper or John's short-sightedness or Hal's unshakable belief that nothing could ever touch him — he might just have chosen that moment to do something monumentally stupid. But his had always been the coolest head in a family of hot tempers, and he refused to let his rage get the better of him now.

He placed the parchment down on the table, carefully smoothing down the edges of it before looking back up at Richard.

"And if I were to sign it?" It was a bad bargain, but he'd made worse ones. And besides, paper burned. "If I agreed to sign away my titles and my lands to my son, what then? Would that buy me my freedom?"

"It would buy you your life. Surely that would suffice."

Geoffrey snorted. "Now there's an original threat. Am I expected to make a scene? To fall to my knees and beg your forgiveness?"

"Oh, no, brother. This is one problem you won't be able to solve on your knees."

Blood flooded Geoffrey cheeks and he dug his nails into the wooden table, willing himself not to react. In that moment, he would've traded a kingdom and more for the chance to run Richard through with a sword.

Sadly, he was neither green enough nor foolish enough to give in to the impulse, and swords were somewhat in short supply these days.

"I have considered your offer, my lord king," he said instead with practised dignity, "and I regret I must decline. Do let me know when I'm expected on the scaffold. I'd so hate to leave the executioner waiting."

Richard glared at him, and Geoffrey glared back. He was Duke of Brittany, Earl of Richmond, a king's son, and he was afraid of no man, not even if that man happened to be Richard the Lionheart.

When Richard moved around the table, closing the space between them, Geoffrey refused to step back or to back down or to look away.

"You think I wouldn't do it?" Richard asked, standing far too close, and the growing suspicion that maybe Richard would tasted bitter in Geoffrey's mouth. "You said it yourself, brother. Dungeon doors can swing both ways, but caskets have no hinges, and I don't intend to make it my life's work to put out the fires you start."

Geoffrey ignored the unexpected and absurd sting of something that felt much like loss, and smiled a smile that was all teeth and sharp edges and fury carefully kept in check.

"Threats are easy to make, brother, but you might find them harder to carry out."

"Might I?" Richard asked, his smile a little vicious, a little cruel. "And who's there who would stop me? Who's there who would even try? Not Constance. Not your lady wife. Arthur is but a child, and in your absence she governs alone, the sole and uncontested ruler of Brittany. You know her best, so tell me, brother, is she likely to put your welfare above her own ambition?"

"Rot in hell, Richard."

"Who else? Oh yes, there's always mother. Do you expect her to plead your case? To make impassioned pleas for your release? For your life? You know her too well for that, surely. Well enough to recognise one of her schemes when you see it, no doubt."

No doubt. It was cold even for her — it was cold specially for her — but it did not surprise him. Eleanor knew all about clipped wings and gilded cages. She knew all about how effective they could be.

"Who does that leave?" Richard said. "Who's left who'd come to Geoffrey's rescue? Not your fickle barons, no, not even my own. Not for a broken pretender. So who?" He searched Geoffrey's expression as if genuinely curious, as if waiting for an answer, and then chuckled, a low, mocking sound that found its mark, cutting as deep as any blade. "God in heaven, you're not that naive. Philip. Is that who you expect to save you? Why? Out of fond attachment?" Richard drew closer to him, his gaze dropping to Geoffrey's lips, almost like a reflex, almost like a habit. "Oh yes, how well I remember it. Did he make you feel special, little brother? Did he call you beautiful while he fucked you? No… Not beautiful. He would've called you clever, I suppose. Clever Geoffrey, with his clever brain, though not clever enough to know that Philip Capet won't fight a war over his pretty lips, however much he might like the sight of them around his cock."

Richard was standing too close and the room kept growing smaller, but Geoffrey clung to the tattered edges of his crumbling certainties, filling the cracks with all the things he always kept close — Hal's easy cockiness, and John's misguided bravado, and Richard's self-righteous fury.

"If you're done making speeches, kindly show yourself out," he said, his voice strained but steady. "Kill me, don't kill me, do what you like. But you'll pry Brittany from my cold, dead hands."

And putting pride above survival was a fool's move — if Geoffrey knew anything, he knew that — but just then he did not care. If he was damned, he was damned, and that was all there was to it.

"Poor Geoffrey," Richard said, lifting a hand to Geoffrey's face and tracing the edge of his jaw with gentle fingers, a once familiar gesture that was now but a painful reminder that there was one more corner from which Geoffrey had expected salvation, one last corner from which he had expected absolution. "There's not a soul alive who'd take your side, little brother. Not your wife, not your lover, not even your own mother. How does it feel to always be everyone's last choice?"

And with that, the last of Geoffrey's self-control snapped. He seized the goblet on the table, throwing its contents in Richard's face, and quickly followed it with a powerful punch. Richard staggered back and Geoffrey pushed his advantage, too enraged to think better of it, too incensed even to register the sharp pain on his hand. One moment they were in the middle of the room, the next they were up against the wall, Geoffrey's dagger pressed firmly against his brother's throat, and Geoffrey did not even remember drawing it.

And he'd later wonder whether the reason he managed to pin Richard against the wall was because Richard had not expected him to have a dagger, or because Richard had not expected him to use it, or simply because Richard had let him.

Richard's hand flew to the hilt of his sword and Geoffrey increased the pressure on the razor-sharp blade, a thin red line visible where it cut the skin.

"Don't even think about it," he said, the hand holding the knife the only steady part of him.

"You wanted a crown," Richard said with unnerving calm despite his wine-soaked appearance, despite the single drop of blood running down the curve of his neck. "Now's your chance to get one. You will not get another."

No, undoubtedly he would not. And a smarter man would finish what he'd started, a smarter man would seize this chance. But the moment stretched on between them and neither one moved — not Richard, caught between the wall and the blade held to his throat, and not Geoffrey, caught between his own anger and Richard's piercing gaze, and all the choices that had led them both to this moment.

When he pushed away from Richard, it was all Geoffrey could do to keep himself upright. The dagger clattered on the stone floor as he stumbled backwards, blind to everything but the extent of his own stupidity, for if it was folly to try and kill a king in his own castle, it was even greater folly to back down at the last moment — and out of nothing but damnable weakness, out of nothing but absurd, unforgivable sentimentality.

Clever Geoffrey, indeed.

Richard's hand on his arm startled him out of his spiral of self-recrimination, and Geoffrey reacted instinctively, striking out without looking at what, driven by anger and resentment and rage, at himself, at Richard, at God.

But for all that he was every inch a soldier, for all that he could map out his life in the scars carved into his skin, he was no match for his brother, something immediately made clear by Richard, who easily evaded the blow and used Geoffrey's momentum to spin him around and twist his arm behind his back, shoving him forward and pushing him down hard on the table.

The impact sent the wine pitcher crashing to the floor and drove all the air out of Geoffrey's lungs, but he still tried to kick back, still tried to get enough leverage with his other arm to push Richard off.

Richard was having none of it.

"Enough," he growled, sweeping one of Geoffrey's legs to the side with his own to keep him off balance, and tightening his grip on Geoffrey's arm, twisting it hard enough that Geoffrey thought it might snap. "Know when to cut your losses."

The time to cut his losses had come and gone well before this day, but Geoffrey was not entirely impervious to good advice and he knew a hopeless endeavour when he saw one. Richard's weight half on top of him made it hard to breathe, and harder to think, and impossible to move, and if every inch of him bristled at having to admit defeat, a not so small, not so insignificant part of him found nothing but relief in the sudden stillness.

There was no movement in the small room for several moments, no sound but their laboured breathing and the soft crackling of the fire. When Richard let go of his arm, Geoffrey made to push himself off the table, but his brother pressed a hand to the middle of his back, between his shoulder blades.

"Stay down," Richard said, stepping away, and if Geoffrey had followed the spirit of that particular piece of advice when Richard had beat him to Henry's God-forsaken crown, he might not have found himself in his current predicament.

Richard picked up the dagger from the floor, inspecting it for a few seconds before placing it on the table, and only he would have been arrogant enough to put a weapon within easy reach of the man who had just tried to kill him with it.

"How familiar a position this must be for your, brother," he said conversationally, patting Geoffrey down for more weapons, "bent over a table like some cheap whore. What else did you wheedle out of my men in exchange for a quick fuck? Did you suck Old Griffin for kitchen gossip? Let Anselme have you for parchment and ink while the rest of them watched? How many fucked you until you had earned that dagger?"

And at any other time, Geoffrey would've ignored bait that blatant, but he was flustered and he was angry and his nerves were frayed. He struck back at Richard with more spirit than sense, his elbow finding its mark easily enough, and used the opening to reach for the dagger while trying to push himself up.

But Richard had been waiting for it. He jammed his knee into the back of Geoffrey's left one, gripped the back of his neck, pushing him back down on the table, and jabbed the dagger Geoffrey hadn't been quick enough to grab into the table's wooden top, a few inches from his face.

"I told you to stay down," he said, his weight familiar on top of Geoffrey, his breath warm against his ear. "Move again and that goes in your hand."

Geoffrey took a deep breath, trying to still his agitated mind, trying to slow his racing heart. His eyes looked back at him in the distorted reflection of the blade, the accusing stare of one who had known better all along, for all the good it had done anyone, for all the good it had done him.

Richard knelt down behind him, immediately finding the hidden sheath in his right boot, where the dagger had been. He then took his time making sure there was nothing else to find, carefully running warm, steady hands along one leg, then the other, his fingers firm as they pressed into flesh and muscle — from ankle to knee and then up the curve of his thigh. Geoffrey's flush deepened at his own reaction, at the increasing pressure in his groin, at the way his cock strained against the fabric of his trousers.

This was not lost on Richard, who chuckled, his hand slowing down on the inside of Geoffrey's left thigh, his thumb pressing up.

"You're not meant to be enjoying this," he said, amusement patent in his voice.

"Give me back my knife, I'll show you how much I'm enjoying it."

Standing up, Richard grabbed Geoffrey's hips and yanked him back against him, pulling him away from the table just enough that he could reach under him and cup his growing erection with a rough hand, his grip tight and unforgiving, just this side of painful.

"Tell me, little brother," he said, his lips brushing against Geoffrey's ear, "when you were being fucked by half my garrison, did you ever think of me? Did you close your eyes and pretend those were my hands holding you down? My cock buried in your ass?"

Geoffrey's cheeks were burning, and he was painfully hard, and he couldn't think other than to say, "Go to hell, Richard."

"That is not an answer, Geoff." Richard squeezed slightly, dragging a broken moan out of Geoffrey. "If I fucked you right now, would you take it as punishment or as a reward, I wonder?" Geoffrey turned his face towards the table, breathing deeply, trying to think around the too-much, not-enough pressure of Richard's hand on his cock, around the feeling of Richard's increasingly obvious erection against his buttocks. "Because you and I both know you don't deserve the latter." He pulled his hand away and Geoffrey actually whimpered, a pathetic, choked-up sound that only added to his humiliation.

Richard chuckled. "Let's call it a lesson instead." Geoffrey gasped at the friction of the fabric over his cock as Richard tugged his trousers down. "A lesson on how lesser sons ought to remember their place and the one thing they're good for." He stopped abruptly, his hand going still on Geoffrey's leg, and Geoffrey did not need to look to see what he was looking at. Le Goulet had left many scars, but that was the worst of them, a jagged, ugly thing that marked much of his thigh. Richard's thumb brushed over his skin, just at the edge of it, soft and gentle, and something twisted painfully in Geoffrey's chest.

"Did you give your attack dog a good pat on the head for that day's work?" he asked, his tone brittle and bitter. "His luck saved your crown. Did you give him an earldom, brother? Cover him in riches? Did you look properly grateful while he sucked you off?"

"Camville is a loyal, virtuous man, and you're not worthy of mentioning him."

"Camville is a dull, tedious zealot who badly wants your cock up his ass, if only he could bring himself to ask for it."

The sharp, uncomplicated pain of Richard's tight grip on his hair was almost a relief. Richard leaned over him, the fabric of his trousers soft against Geoffrey's naked skin, his erection obvious even through his clothes.

"Well, you are the expert in asking for it, aren't you, brother?" he said. "Asking. Pleading. Begging. I've seen whores in Parisian brothels show more restraint than you."

"And yet you come running every time," he said, and immediately bit back a yelp when Richard yanked his hair back.

"Stop trying my patience, Geoffrey. You won't like where it's leading."

Perhaps not. But one might as well be hanged for stealing a sheep as for stealing a lamb.

"Did I hit a nerve, brother?"

The fingers on his hair tightened further, forcing his head farther back, and Richard nuzzled the side of his face before kissing his jaw, soft and sweet despite his iron grip.

"You're a convenient hole for me to fuck, little brother," he said, his tone low and intimate. "No more, no less. And you've proved to be far more trouble than you're worth, so do yourself a favour and stop talking."

And with that he let go and stepped away, and Geoffrey blinked away the sudden burning feeling in his eyes. He tried to focus on the soft clack of hooves on cobblestones, and on the faint rumble of thunder in the distance, and on the clanging and clinking somewhere behind him as Richard rifled through his things. On anything but on how exposed he felt like this, bent over a table with his legs spread open, his trousers half way down his legs and his cock still embarrassingly hard. On anything but on the unwelcome, unexpected and misplaced heartache that seized him at Richard's words, at the loss of his hand on his hair, at the loss of his solid form draped over him.

"And which of your suiters brought you this, I wonder?" From the corner of his eye, Geoffrey could see the vial Richard was holding, could see him pouring some of its contents over his fingers. Richard stepped between his legs and parted his cheeks, rubbing a slick finger over his hole. "If at any point you want me to stop," he said, "if at any point you need me to stop," and Geoffrey could almost hear the smirk in his voice, "all you have to do is beg."

"Go to hell, Richard," he said, and immediately hissed when his brother pushed the finger all the way inside him. Geoffrey clenched instinctively, trying to flinch away, but there was nowhere to go. Richard chuckled and placed his other hand on Geoffrey's lower back, half way under his tunic.

"Easy now," he said, rubbing soothing circles with his thumb, and Geoffrey hated him for that more than for almost everything else, hated his own need for it. "Relax, you little fool."

Geoffrey's instinctive reaction to that specific note of wry amusement in Richard's voice was always to do the exact opposite, but that would really have made him a fool, so he took a deep breath and forced himself to focus on the steadying pressure of Richard's hand on his back. Only when Richard felt him relax did he start moving the finger inside him, pushing it in and out with steady, controlled movements.

"That's it," he said, and Geoffrey clung to the sliver of approval in his tone. "Stop fighting me for once."

And Geoffrey wasn't sure he knew how to, he wasn't sure he had ever learnt how, but the phantom weight of the chains holding him down had been replaced by the solid presence of Richard right behind him, by the anchoring weight of his voice and by the steadying pressure of his hands in and on him, and the aching familiarity of it was louder than his need to be contrary.

Very soon he couldn't if he'd tried to. More than anyone else, more even than Philip, Richard knew all the wicked, fiendish, devilish ways to reduce Geoffrey to a shivering, whimpering wreck, and he employed them all now with perverse delight, working him open with deliberate, maddening slowness. Richard's fingers pressed and stretched and teased, and twisted inside him in just the right way to set his very skin on fire, but it never led anywhere, it never built to anything, and if it was a choice between this and a hangman's noose, Geoffrey was starting to believe he'd rather face the latter.

His neglected cock felt hot and heavy between his legs — aching, throbbing, leaking — and if Richard did not touch him soon — properly touched him soon — Geoffrey was going to lose his mind. He tried hard to focus on the fingers pushing into him, on the slight burn on the stretch, on the slow crescendo of the rhythm that was not enough, was not nearly enough, and Geoffrey could barely breathe around the pathetic, needy sounds drawn out of him by Richard's clever hands and skilled fingers and devious mind.

The fingers inside him went still and Geoffrey would've sobbed if only he had enough air left in his lungs to accomplish that much. Richard laughed softly and leaned over him, his body warm against Geoffrey's back, his fingers still deep inside him as he kissed the side of his neck. Geoffrey reached back for him, too out of it to think not to, and buried his fingers in his brother's hair, seeking in him all the warmth and comfort he craved.

And perhaps that's what hell was — not fire and brimstone, just people looking for the things they needed in all the wrong places.

"Why would I ever set you free," Richard said, his breath warm on Geoffrey's skin, "when I can just keep you here, to use whenever I please, however I please?"

Geoffrey's cock twitched at that and he hated himself for it almost as much as for the choked-up whimper that escaped him when Richard pulled his fingers out of him.

"Will you stop torturing me and just fuck me already?" he said, struggling with every word.

"Oh no, little brother. I have no intention of fucking you." Richard stood back up and Geoffrey shivered at the loss of contact, at the coldness in his voice. "This is meant to be punishment, remember? But worry not," he added, picking up the vial of oil and uncorking it. "I have something else in mind."

Richard tipped it over the dagger and Geoffrey watched in stunned silence as the oil trickled down the rounded pommel and over the grip, covering most of the handle before dribbling down to the blade. He went cold all over, panic clawing at his chest, and he couldn't think, and he couldn't breathe, and he couldn't do anything but watch as Richard jerked the dagger free of the table, the sound of the blade sliding into the sheath barely even registering in his mind.

"Richard…" he said, a hysterical edge to his voice, and he could no longer see the dagger, but its shape was still present in his mind, its size carved into his brain, and what had once seemed like a small, discreet weapon now seemed too large, too big, too much.

A warm hand on the back of his neck scattered away all his rambling thoughts, and Geoffrey let out a shaky breath, clinging to the anchoring weight of it.

"If you want me to stop, you know what to do."

And Geoffrey wasn't too proud to beg — not if he could see an angle he liked, not when his back was truly to the wall, and not just then — but stopping meant stopping all of it: the kissing, the touching, Richard's hand on the back of his neck, and Geoffrey wasn't ready to let any of it go.

He cursed himself for a fool and took a deep breath and nodded, and Richard squeezed slightly, a brief pressure of fingers that chased away some of the ice running through him. And then Richard swept one of Geoffrey's legs to the side with one of his own, spreading his legs open wider, and the thought came to Geoffrey unbidden that there really was no sin in the world but stupidity.

Hard, smooth metal pressed between his ass cheeks, and Geoffrey's breath hitched, but Richard contented himself with rubbing the end of the pommel over his hole, cold metal against hot, oversensitive skin.

"Relax, Geoff," he said, and reached under him with his other hand, wrapping his fingers around Geoffrey's cock and slowly running them along its length, from the base all the way to the tip and back again, the pressure just shy of too much. "Stop thinking."

But Geoffrey couldn't stop thinking. He couldn't stop thinking and he couldn't stop shaking. His mind was drowning in a sea of nerves and fear and need and want, and the calloused fingers stroking his cock, and the steady pressure of the dagger against his hole, and the acute awareness of the inescapable, unavoidable chain of events that had led to this precise moment.

And then Richard pushed in and the whole world went still.

Geoffrey's fingers arched on the table, and though he opened his mouth, no sound came out. The burning pain as the large, solid pommel stretched him open drove everything else from his mind, even fear, and though he was vaguely aware of Richard letting go of his cock in favour of gently squeezing the back of his neck, he couldn't focus even on that.

And then the pommel was entirely past the rim and Geoffrey almost choked on the sudden influx of air that filled his lungs as he finally managed to draw in a breath.

"That's it," Richard said, holding the dagger still. "Breathe." He ran his fingers through Geoffrey's hair, soft and steady, and Geoffrey closed his eyes, trying to calm his breathing, trying to stop shaking, trying to force himself to relax. He covered the side of his face with his hand, but Richard immediately tutted him, tugging on a strand of hair, the briefest of warnings. "Don't. Let me see your face."

"Afraid— Afraid you might forget what I look like?" Geoffrey managed, his voice hoarse and breathless. He dropped the hand to the table, opening his eyes, and Richard brushed the hair away from his face, fingers barely touching the skin.

"Not likely, little brother," he said, and then twisted the dagger, and the sound that wrenched out of Geoffrey was a ragged, broken thing that could've been a moan or a sob or both.

Richard waited another second and then pushed the handle further in, slowly but relentlessly, without pause, without another word, carefully filling him with the hard, rigid hilt until Geoffrey was fully impaled on it, until he could feel the guard against his ass.

The worst of the pain had receded, the worst of the pain was gone, leaving behind it only pressure and fullness and the slight burn of the stretch, but Geoffrey still couldn't stop the whine rising in his throat when the handle shifted deep inside him, the rounded pommel like a hard, living thing spreading him open as Richard pulled it out almost completely before pushing it back in as far as it would go.

Richard set a slow rhythm of long, steady thrusts that drew soft whimpers and needy gasps out of Geoffrey, who very soon couldn't breathe or think or do anything but take it, clawing at the table to stop from moving as Richard fucked him with the hilt of the dagger, the whole world shrinking down to those sharp jolts of pained pleasure as the thick, hard metal pushed deep inside him. It was too much and not enough, and soon Geoffrey couldn't help moving his hips back to meet it, trying to increase the pace or get some friction or his cock or do something, anything to ease the burning need building inside him.

But Richard was not to be hurried. He shushed him and ran warm fingers through his hair and kept him on that torturous edge between want and release for what felt like hours. When he finally wrapped his fingers around Geoffrey's cock, Geoffrey almost sobbed with relief. It took no more than a few strokes for him to come all over the floor and over his brother's hand, waves of pleasure washing over him and drowning out everything else for a few blissful moments.

And then Richard pushed the hilt all the way inside him, the pressure too much, too soon, and Geoffrey gasped, instinctively trying to shift away.

"The next time you put a blade to my throat," Richard said, his lips almost-but-not-quite touching Geoffrey's ear, "we're doing this with the hilt of a sword." The sudden twinge of the dagger being pulled out of him drew a groan out of Geoffrey, who was left feeling empty and cold and hollowed out.

Richard had started to move away, but stopped short almost immediately, the aborted movement tugging slightly on the piece of fabric caught between Geoffrey's fingers.

Geoffrey's first instinct was to tighten his grip on Richard's sleeve, and his second instinct was to let go as if burned, his face heating up at such an obvious sign of weakness. He could only be glad that his face was turned the other way and that he couldn't see the treacherous hand or the offending fingers or Richard — who had yet to move, who had yet to say a word.

A moment of silence was followed by the dull sound of metal on wood, was followed by Richard's hand on his head, down the curve of his neck, briefly on his shoulder, and Geoffrey tried hard to keep breathing around the dull ache in his chest.

When Richard moved away, Geoffrey remained where he was, half lying on the table, trying to calm his breathing, trying to quiet his mind. His trousers were still half-way down his legs and he ought to pull them up, but that required moving, and he wasn't sure he remembered how.

He did move at long last, pushing himself up with shaking arms, trying to stand on less than steady legs. He leaned back against the table for support, wincing slightly, and glanced at Richard, who was sitting by the fire, no longer looking at him — as if Geoffrey were of no significance, as if he weren't even there.

And Geoffrey wanted to touch him, he wanted to hurt him, he wanted Richard's hands on him. He did not know whether half the things they did to one another — the fighting, the fucking, a world of small touches and betrayals in between — if they did them out of lust or spite or want or petty malice. He wasn't sure it mattered. He might never see the outside of this tower again, and he still wasn't sure it mattered.

Peasants whispered loudly about the Demon Countess of Anjou, about a family tainted by unholy alliances and demonic blood. The whole lot of them came from the devil, they'd say, so was it so very surprising that they all seemed to be headed much the same way? From the devil they came and to the devil they'd go, and God help anyone who stood in their path.

It was an old story, distorted and embellished with each retelling, but Geoffrey sometimes wondered whether there might not be some truth to it. It would explain much, after all.

It might even explain this.

He took off his clothes, letting them fall to the floor, and padded across the room to where his brother was sitting, the stone floor cold under his feet. The old armchair was a far cry from the elaborate throne in Caen Castle's Great Hall, but Richard sat on it much the same, an arm propping up his head, a leg stretched out in front of him, with the sort of relaxed ease of one sure of his own power. His expression was an inscrutable mask when he met Geoffrey's eyes and he did not move other than to bend back his outstretched leg. Without hesitation, without shame, Geoffrey nudged Richard's legs open enough that he could kneel between them.

"Did I not tell you—"

"That this wasn't a problem I could solve on my knees?" Geoffrey ran his right hand up Richard's leg, bold and brazen. "You did. I wonder if you're right." He touched Richard's hard cock over the soft fabric, rubbing it, squeezing slightly, relishing the feel of it, relishing the way Richard glared at him. "King Richard. How well you must like the sound of that. Tell me, my lord king, did you think of this when they dropped me at your feet back in Normandy? Did you look at the chains around my wrists, the collar around my neck, and get hard under your royal robes while your lords and ladies looked on?"

"You flatter yourself."

Geoffrey smirked, increasing the pressure of his hand. "And how regal the queen looked by your side, how motherly. Tell me, brother mine, do you think our lady mother, who always knows so much, knows about all the filthy, depraved things her little lamb enjoys doing with men? With his own brother? To his own brother."

Richard seized Geoffrey's wrist in a vice-like grip, sending a shiver down Geoffrey's spine.

"Are you done?" Richard asked, his tone low and dangerous, but Geoffrey's smile widened.

"I don't know. Am I?" He leaned forward between Richard's legs, nuzzling his erection, mouthing at it through the fabric, pushing his tongue against it. Richard tightened the grip on his wrist hard enough to bruise, but it wasn't long before the pressure eased, not long before it fell away entirely. Having made his point, Geoffrey pulled back and leaned his head on Richard's leg, looking up at him. "Richard the Lionheart," he said philosophically, "King of England, the Champion of Christendom, who could vanquish any foe except himself."

"Put your mouth to a better use, Geoffrey."

Without breaking eye contact, without letting go of the smug smile that was both shield and blade, Geoffrey unlaced Richard's trousers with practised fingers, savouring his brother's soft intake of breath, the subtle change of expression as Geoffrey wrapped his hand around his cock.

"As your grace wills it."

He stroked it slowly one, two, three times, before leaning down and running his tongue along its length. The silky skin was soft against his lips, the hot weight of it heavy on his tongue. Richard's breathing changed when Geoffrey pulled the foreskin slightly back, pressing his tongue to the slit, and it grew deeper when Geoffrey lowered himself on it, the girth of the hard cock stretching his lips open as it filled his mouth.

And perhaps Geoffrey wouldn't mind kneeling before the throne rather than sitting on it quite so much if it were always like this, with Richard's full attention on him.

He listened for Richard's reactions, for the shift in his breathing, for the soft sounds he was able to draw out of him with his hands, with his lips, with his tongue. Geoffrey lost himself in the lulling rhythm of it. The warmth of the fire kissed his naked back, and Richard's legs were a strong, solid, familiar presence on either side of him. Under him, Richard's body rose and fell with each breath, his self-control starting to fray around the edges. Geoffrey himself was starting to get hard again, but his own desire felt like a distant, unimportant thing, inconsequential.

When Richard dropped a hand on his head, it felt like a reward.

"Lower," Richard said, and Geoffrey did his best to oblige, lowering himself further on Richard's cock, feeling it push deeper into his mouth. When he made to move back up, Richard's fingers tightened on his hair. "Lower, princeling." He slowly pushed Geoffrey's head down until Geoffrey couldn't breathe, until it was all he could do not to gag. "That's it. That's it, little brother." Geoffrey curled his fingers into fists, trying not to struggle, trying not to panic. When Richard allowed him to move back, his lungs were burning. "Breathe," Richard said, his fingers gone gentle as they combed through his hair. He allowed Geoffrey a few moments before forcing him back down, his cock pushing all the way to the back of Geoffrey's throat, completely filling his mouth. Richard kept him down longer this time and allowed him less time to catch his breath before pushing him back down again, and again, and again, setting a punishing pace that made no allowances for Geoffrey's comfort or pleasure or need to breathe.

Geoffrey did his best to relax, he did his best to take it, but his throat fiercely protested the abuse it was being subjected to, and it was getting harder to ignore the animal part of his brain that was crying out for air. His mind finally snapped, panic overriding resolve and he pushed himself off, pushed Richard's hands away, desperately tried to fill his lungs.

Warm hands cupped his face, pulling him back in, and Richard's lips were suddenly on his, hot, insistent, demanding, his fingers digging into Geoffrey's skin, his tongue pushing into Geoffrey's mouth, and kissing him back was suddenly more important than struggling, more important than fighting, more important than breathing.

When Richard made to move back, Geoffrey followed the movement, a whine rising in his throat, and Richard chuckled, brushing his lips against Geoffrey's.

"Easy," he said, leaning his forehead against his, sounding as winded and out of breath as Geoffrey felt. The sound of their breathing was loud in the otherwise quiet room, and for several moments they did nothing more than cling to one another, Richard's hands on Geoffrey's face, Geoffrey clutching Richard's arms. When Geoffrey made to reach for Richard's cock, his brother seized his wrist. "No."

"Let me." Geoffrey tilted his face up, kissing the corner of Richard's mouth, but Richard tightened the grip on his wrist.

"No," he repeated, pulling away, and if contrariness were a virtue, Richard might just qualify for sainthood. "Go kneel by the bed. Hands on the mattress."

But Geoffrey did not want to go, he did not want to move. He liked the narrow space between Richard's legs; he liked his brother's form hovering over him. Mostly he liked the simple, fragile perfection of this one moment, and if he moved, he'd find a way to break it.

"Now, Geoffrey," Richard said, his voice like steel, his fingers warm on Geoffrey's neck, and Geoffrey's will bent to that tone of command in a way it seldom did, in a way he far too often craved.

The bed was too close to the window and too far from the fireplace, and the cold air left a trail of goosebumps on his skin. He fell down to his knees, his hands clenching the bed covers. The soft rustling of fabric and the clinking sound of metal marked Richard's location as he moved about the room somewhere behind him, and Geoffrey tried to breathe around the knot in his throat, around the startling sting of that "No," which hadn't felt like rejection then, but was starting to now as he knelt by himself on the cold, hard floor. And it was a foolish, absurd feeling, and Geoffrey was not that fragile — in truth, he was not — but it was getting increasingly harder to remember that.

A warm hand cupped the back of his head. "Stop thinking, princeling," Richard said, and Geoffrey let out a shaky breath, briefly closing his eyes. He widened his stance to make room for his brother as he knelt down behind him. Richard's naked chest was warm against his back, his slick cock hard and hot against his buttocks, and Geoffrey had never wanted a thing in his life more than he wanted Richard to fuck him just then.

"Richard," he said, a pathetic, pleading sound that should've been embarrassing, but wasn't. Geoffrey leaned back against him, and Richard kissed the side of his neck, wrapping an arm around his chest.

"I'm right here."

He was, and it somehow still wasn't close enough. Geoffrey tilted his head, nuzzling the side of Richard's face, and Richard turned just enough to kiss him, a messy, uncoordinated kiss, made more so by the awkward angle.

Richard moved back enough to fit a hand between them, knuckles trailing down Geoffrey's back and over the curve of his buttocks. He slid a finger between Geoffrey's cheeks, rubbing gently over his hole.

"Earlier," he asked, "did I hurt you?"

"How delicate do you think I am?" Geoffrey made to kiss him, but once Richard remembered he had a conscience, it was hard to distract him from the fact.

"It is a serious question, Geoffrey, and you will give me a proper answer."

Geoffrey sighed, dropping his head back against Richard's shoulder. "You didn't hurt me. Now, will you please, for the love of God—"

He gasped, arching his back, when Richard pushed his cock past the tight ring of muscle and all the way inside him in one fluid motion. Despite its size, Richard's cock was slick with oil and Geoffrey was still stretched enough that it did not hurt, not exactly, but the sudden, abrupt pressure of it knocked all the air from his lungs.

"Steady," Richard said, tightening the arm he still kept around Geoffrey's chest, and Geoffrey forced himself to release his deathly grip on the bed covers.

"Christ Almighty," he breathed out, and Richard chuckled, dropping a kiss on his shoulder.

"You were saying?"

But Geoffrey was all out of words. He bit back a moan as Richard pulled out almost entirely before thrusting back in with agonising slowness, stretching him out by degrees, and Geoffrey could not help moving his hips back against it.

"None of that, Geoff," Richard said, his breath warm against Geoffrey's ear. He ran his hands down Geoffrey's arms and laced their fingers together, crossing their arms on the bed. "Patience, little brother. We're taking this slowly."

Geoffrey did not want to be patient, he did not want to take it slowly, but Richard had always been a tyrant and he was one now, setting a pace so deliberately, so deviously slow that Geoffrey thought he might break under the sheer gentleness of it.

Richard kissed his neck and tightened his arms around him, and shushed him as Geoffrey whimpered, as soft moans and broken pleas fell from his lips. He could feel every last inch of Richard's cock as it pushed deep inside of him, hot and hard and hitting all the right places to send sparks flying through him, as if all his nerves were lighting up, as if all his nerves had been stripped raw.

His own cock was painfully hard between his legs, and Geoffrey desperately wanted Richard to touch him, and he desperately wanted Richard to keep holding him tight, and he couldn't decide which of the two things he needed the most. His mind couldn't focus on anything anymore, couldn't follow any of the thoughts struggling to take shape in his head. The whole world was gone and there was only Richard's arms around his chest, and Richard's lips on the curve of his neck, and Richard's cock buried deep inside him.

Pleasure built inside Geoffrey so gradually that his orgasm, when it came, took him almost by surprise. He spilt his seed with a strangled moan, his cock untouched, and for a few moments everything faded away in that bright wave of bliss, even Richard.

Richard pushed him down on the bed and fucked him right through it, his thrusts picking up speed, and it was soon too much on Geoffrey's overstimulated, oversensitive nerves. He couldn't stop the whine that escaped his lips, couldn't stop himself from trying to flinch away, but Richard tightened his grip on him, fucking him hard and fast until finally coming with a deep groan that reverberated across all the points where they touched.

Geoffrey was too out of it to speak, he was too out of it to move, but he still reached behind him, blindly searching for his brother. Richard leaned over him, kissing his back before draping himself over him, his chest expanding and contracting rapidly against Geoffrey's back as he struggled to catch his breath. Richard was heavy, and both his weight and the position they were in made it difficult for Geoffrey to breathe, but he did not care. He needed Richard right there. Breathing was of no importance.

When Richard shifted away, pulling out of him, it was all Geoffrey could do not to whimper. But Richard did not go far. Instead of getting up, he pulled Geoffrey back against him, wrapping his arms back around him, and something settled in Geoffrey's mind.

A storm raged outside, but neither wind nor rain nor thunder could touch the peaceful stillness that had descended upon the small tower room. The day had long ago turned to dusk, turned to darkness, but no servants had come to light the candles. The only light came from the logs that still burned on the fireplace, casting dark shadows on the walls.

Geoffrey drew closer to Richard on the bed, the back of his fingers just touching his brother's naked chest, and Richard lifted a hand to his face, gentle fingers tracing the shape of his features, curling around the back of his neck. Geoffrey hummed his approval, but did not open his eyes, slowly drifting closer to sleep.

Richard's hand travelled over his shoulder, along the length of his arm and back up again, and Geoffrey could get used to this, to these small, easy moments of affection that did not, had never, come naturally to either of them.

They were jungle creatures, the whole lot of them: Henry, Eleanor, Richard, Geoffrey himself. Even Hal, who had loved the whole world, even John who suspected all of it of conspiring against him. They were all of them made of claws and fangs and the deep, primal instinct to always go for the jugular, and Geoffrey liked that. He took a perverse, twisted sort of pride in it.

But he liked this too.

Richard's fingers stopped when they reached his leg, and Geoffrey opened his eyes. Richard did not meet his gaze, but stared at the scarred flesh, his expression dark and serious.

"All of this because Geoffrey wanted a crown," he said.

Geoffrey touched a hand to Richard's chin. "Maybe Geoffrey wanted attention."

"Attention and a crown."

"Well, you knew that," Geoffrey said with a smile, but Richard was not to be distracted by flippancy. He cupped Geoffrey's face, his expression carefully neutral.

"You could've died," he said, his voice so controlled as to be almost toneless. "When they carried you into my camp, I thought you had."

And Geoffrey was sure there had been times in his life when someone must've expressed concern for him and for his well-being — a servant, a nursemaid, someone — but he could not remember a time when anyone had. He could not remember the moment he had stopped expecting it.

"You'd keep me locked in a tower because I may fall and scrape my knee?" he asked, still smiling, because levity was easier than sentiment.

"I'd keep you locked in a tower, little brother, because every time I let you out of my sight, you give me cause to remember why I should."

But despite the words, despite the gravity of his tone, Richard expression had grown softer and his fingers were warm and gentle where they rested on Geoffrey's cheek.

Geoffrey closed the space between them and sought Richard's lips with his, kissing him slowly, softly, gently. Neither of them was made for softness — they had spent a lifetime cutting themselves in each other's sharp edges — but just for a moment they could pretend otherwise.

He stayed close by, his head next to Richard's on the same pillow. It made it difficult for them to look at each other, but Geoffrey did not mind. He preferred the closeness. Richard wrapped an arm around his waist and pressed a kiss to his forehead.

"You knew I had the dagger," Geoffrey said after a moment. "You made sure I did." It wasn't a question. "That's a dangerous way to test someone, brother."

"I had to know."

"If I'd use it?"


Of course he did. It was so obvious that Geoffrey wondered at not having seen it earlier. The twisted logic of it was all Eleanor's, and the arrogance of it was all Henry's, but the sheer recklessness of it was Richard's alone.

"I could've killed you."

"No, you couldn't."

Couldn't he? In truth, Geoffrey did not know. They'd both got so used to being less than careful with one another that sooner or later one of their hands was bound to slip.

But that was a problem for another day.

He closed his eyes, leaning his head on Richard's chest. There was a storm raging outside, but the room was warm and the bed comfortable, and Richard's body was solid and familiar against his.

"Whatever am I to do with you?" Richard said softly, his lips brushing against Geoffrey's forehead.

"Whatever you like," Geoffrey said, stifling a yawn. "So long as you don't do it just this second."

"On the fourteenth day of the month of February in the year of grace 1191, Richard, King of England, elevating divine mercy above worldly wisdom, let his brother Geoffrey go free. The Duke of Brittany knelt before his royal brother at Winchester Castle and renewed the same oaths of fealty that had never before kept him from taking up arms against King Richard, and against King Henry before him.

After the customary words had been exchanged, Geoffrey rose and the brothers exchanged the kiss of peace under the watchful eye of God and of the royal court. And if there were those among the crowd who, being familiar with scripture, recalled the passage where Judas Iscariot kissed our Lord Christ, most of them said nothing, but remained silent or cheered along with the rest. Prince John alone, being the brother of King Richard and the Duke, permitted himself the less than prudent observation that it could hardly be supposed that the King of the Franks would have any difficulty raising the paltry sum of thirty pieces of silver." - Gerald of Wales, De principis instructione