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Strange Sights

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Augus

*

He wasn’t asleep, exactly, but drifted in a doze as though being rocked gently beneath the water. Three hands touched him. Ash folded him in his arms, and one of the other ones stroked his back, running his fingers through the ends of his mane. He felt thoroughly seen to. He ached, though he wasn’t quite as exhausted as he’d been in the past. It turned out that three Ashes still weren’t as taxing as Ash had once been back when he’d steamrolled past everything Augus wanted, and engraved his own desires deep into Augus’ marrow.

He was sore; though not as sore as he’d expected to be when he’d first seen the products of the schema crystal that Ash had purchased. Two more Ashes that were patently not him. One practically a sycophant, the other…

Augus turned his head, looked up and saw the third Ash still standing in the corner, staring at him. Augus glared back. That Ash – whatever it was – raised the hairs on the back of his neck, made him want to stand and fight, made him want to shift. It was an odd instinct to have. The darker hair, the unblinking, bright, greener gaze – Augus knew that this was more the Glashtyn than just ‘Ash,’ and it left him queasy to know that he’d had his cock in his mouth, as well as his come, his tongue, his teeth pressing against his collarbone. Everything about that Ash was possessive, predatory, hurtful.

He didn’t want to be the one to look away first, but it was clear that all the creature – the third Ash, the Glashtyn – wanted to do was stare. He could feel his gaze prickling over his body when Ash worked him over, and it was only as things progressed that he’d been able to lose himself in sensation, but even so, as soon as his conscious mind came back to him, he became aware of it again.

He made himself look away, instincts flaring.

He wasn’t going to let that one touch him again. Ash at least seemed to understand that much, hadn’t pushed the issue. Perhaps – Augus thought – Ash was as disturbed by seeing this predatory manifestation as he was.

Ash’s lips – tasting of home where the others didn’t – moved sleepily over his own. Dragging lazily, still sensual, capturing his top lip and sucking it lightly, before giving his bottom lip the same treatment. Augus made a small, unconscious noise in the back of his throat and leaned closer, sighed through his nose when Ash cradled his head with one hand, thumb brushing over his cheekbone, the curve of his ear, fingers massaging lightly where his waterweed grew out of his scalp. It sent warm laces of ribbon all the way through him, and he moved even closer, skin sticking to Ash’s skin, a sated ache in his gut.

He’d never realised how much he required Ash’s scent, the taste of him, until he was made to swallow that electrical, magic-laden come, until he had the saliva of another in his mouth. It felt clinical. For a moment he’d felt less like a brother and more like he was at work, trying to decipher what might best please himself and his client, what the strategy might be to elicit truths and healing. The others lacked that silty base note Ash carried in both his scent and his flavour, the savoury musk of his cock that was thick and heavy, and even vaguely unpleasant when he’d been drinking. The brighter signs of fresh water in his come, his saliva, the reminder that he too was born in the dark, depths of a lake, that he was born to a clan of fae that reigned over the few naturally occurring loci of fresh water in the world.

His nostrils flared, he inhaled deeply, liking the slight bitterness of Ash’s scent, the sour-fresh mesh of the both of them.

He was stretched open, sore, the back of his throat bruised. But it was once, Ash’s birthday, and he could do once.

Stupid things always seemed to happen around Ash’s birthday, after all.

More lazy kisses and he lost himself in them. Ash was in no rush, and they both licked slowly at each other – over the lips, into each other’s mouths, slicking their tongues side by side. It was wet, messy, delicious.

Before he knew it, he’d drifted from a doze into sleep, and the world turned dark and soft around him.

*

He woke to the door clicking shut. Some ancient, feral instinct jolted inside of him, forcing his eyes wide, leaving his heart thumping an unsure, wary beat. He turned quickly, alone on a bed that was still warm on either side. The only other person in the room was the Ash he didn’t like.

‘They’ve gone to heat up the oil, yeah?’ the third Ash said, a half-smile on his lips.

‘And you, the loyal watchdog?’ Augus said, wondering where his clothes were. He wanted to reach for the blanket and pull it up to cover himself and then realised how that would look, how submissive that would appear. He was one of the strongest waterhorses the fae had ever seen. He submitted to no one.

Except your brother.

Augus resisted the urge to snarl.

The third Ash took a step closer, and Augus felt his skin prickle with gooseflesh and rued it. He felt threatened. He was supposed to be the one doing the threatening. His teeth felt sharper in his mouth.

‘I never get to eat enough,’ the third Ash said, his voice a lazy croon. ‘You know what that’s like, don’t you? Forcing both of us into this…starvation diet. What happened to you, do you think, brother, that you made us like this? That I can’t just…eat…whenever I like?’

‘Oh, you are much closer to the original Glashtyn, aren’t you?’ Augus said, smiling, allowing a predatory light to enter his eyes.

‘I’m just a guy who’s really fucking hungry,’ the third Ash said, stepping closer until his knees rested against the bed. Augus slid off the other side, standing straight, a mattress between them. He wondered if he should get Ash. Decided against it. ‘And that’s because of you.’

‘Is it?’ Augus raised an eyebrow. ‘You mean you have no autonomy at all? How does it feel knowing you’re the facsimile of the original? Or – wait – the magic doesn’t really let you think about it, does it?’

‘Nope,’ the third Ash said – almost cheerfully. ‘It just lets me think about how hungry I am.’

The movement was fast, and Augus was moving out of the way before he was aware of moving. The third Ash leapt, and Augus ducked, then felt a bolt of confusion when he hit the floor hard, landing badly on his wrist, rolled quickly to his back. He struggled, unsure of what had happened, and felt claw-tips digging into his cheek and a palm over his mouth, a hand wrapping around his throat.

‘Shhh, shhh, brother,’ the third Ash whispered. ‘Wouldn’t want to spoil the birthday surprise, would we?’

Augus tried to bite at the skin of his palm and stilled when he felt a knee slip between his bare legs, pressing threateningly against his balls.

‘Ash wanted to be happy today,’ the third Ash said, reproach in his voice. ‘It’s just one damned day after all that you’ve fucking put him through. All that angst over food and eating. All the misery. Hundreds of years of confusion and misery because you couldn’t just make a decision and either kill him, or raise him like you were supposed to.’

The knee dug up into his balls and caused a sickening swoop of pain to fall like a stone into his gut. Augus tried to wriggle backwards, the hand around his neck tightened.

He should struggle more, he knew he should, but it was hard underneath that hazel-green gaze, difficult to remember what he was supposed to do.

‘Something broke you early and you aren’t even a goddamned runt. Beats me how you’re so fucking powerful and can’t function the way you’re fucking supposed to. I mean – seriously – you ever wonder why you are the way you are? He does. He wonders it about you, I mean. You’re just so weak beneath all that posturing, aren’t you? And you know it. You know. That’s why you whined about it the other day. Poor Augus, wants to be so separate from what he really is that he gave himself a first name. Imagine that!’

The third Ash chuckled richly, pressed his lips against Augus’ nose in the parody of an affectionate kiss. Augus tried to jerk away, and the third Ash bit the tip of his nose so hard that Augus’ eyes watered.

‘I don’t love you,’ the third Ash snarled, scraping his teeth down his cheekbone as Augus struggled. ‘I want you dead. I want that lake. I want you gone. Hundreds of years we’ve put up with you and you’ve had all your stupid, piece of shit rules. You don’t even know what it’s like to be really broken.’

The knee jammed up so hard against his balls that it was a delayed lightning strike of pain and he yelped, struggling hard, calling on his waterhorse strength and needing to get his mouth free, anything. He was surprised when it didn’t work, called on more of his strength, his weight, only to be pinned and held still, laughter sounding softly in his ear.

‘I’m a fucking waterhorse too, broski,’ the third Ash said. ‘I can do it too. And guess what? I might not be as strong as you in waterhorse form, but I wrestle. And you fucking don’t. Guess who’s stronger right now?’

Augus’ eyes widened and he tried to flip his body over, then shouted in pain behind a damp palm when the knee withdrew slightly and rammed up.

He couldn’t move, toes curling, winded.

‘Now you settle the fuck down like a good colt,’ the third Ash rumbled. ‘Let me get some of this hunger out of my system, yeah? Jesus, you’ve even tried to fucking tame us in this, haven’t you? Safewords. You disgust me. You both do. This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, and you both know it, and you let yourself – stop moving.’

Augus had enough presence of mind to know he could move again and forced himself through the pain, eventually managing to scrape supernaturally sharpened teeth down the third Ash’s palm, drawing a welter of blood that fell directly into his mouth, tasting of nothing more than magic and electricity – burnt carbon on his tongue. The third Ash made a strangled sound, whipped his hand away.

‘Ash!’ Augus gasped, but he was too winded, he couldn’t get any volume.

The third Ash laughed as he punched Augus in the side of the face, and Augus flipped bodily and managed to unseat him enough that he could drag himself away. His head throbbed. He felt his waterhorse form there, waiting, but instincts told him not to do that – not yet, soon, if he had to. The waterhorse never liked to show itself before others.

‘Ash!’ Augus shouted again, trying to get himself up onto his hands. His arms weren’t working properly. What was wrong with him? He growled in panic, the sound reverberating in the room.

‘Why, but that’s my fucking name, lover!’ the third Ash said in cheerful abandon, looming over him before reaching out with a hand and dragging him upright with a fist in his mane. Augus scratched out blindly, panicking, shouting Ash’s name again, hating the laughter he heard every time he did it.

‘Hawthorn!’ he shouted, finally managing to get some volume behind the word. ‘Hawthorn! Hawthorn! ASH!’

The sound of running. It was hard to concentrate. He was drawing blood, he was being hurt. Had he been scratched? He didn’t know. A door flew open and he heard concerned shouting and he looked away long enough that he got scratched down the side of his face; ugly jagged rents that moved down to his neck, even as Ash ran past them both and slammed the heel of his palm into something that cracked, broke.

Augus fell, unsupported, to the ground. He could hear his breathing, Ash’s breathing, looked around wildly, it was just the two of them.

Augus stared at Ash in confusion, then realised that Ash had broken the schema crystal. Ash held his hand to his chest, blood dripped from it.

‘You cut yourself,’ Augus said, voice hoarse.

‘Oh my god,’ Ash said, staring in horror. ‘Oh my god. Oh fucking Jesus. What have I done? Fucking- Are you okay? Augus? Are you okay?’

‘Calm down,’ Augus said, pushing himself up onto the bed as white bursts of pain exploded up and down his spine. He sat gingerly, wanting to feel between his legs to see if any damage had been done to his balls and not willing to do that while his hands were still covered in blood. He wasn’t even sure who it belonged to.

He was working hard to compartmentalise the pain, to stay functional. It was like damming a flash flood.

‘Look at what I did to you!’ Ash’s voice breaking badly, and suddenly there were shaking hands not quite touching his head, not quite touching his chest, his hands. ‘Oh fuck. Oh, fuck, what do you need me to do? What do you-’

Calm down,’ Augus said again, taking several shaking breaths. He pressed the back of his hand to his forehead. He felt disoriented. ‘It wasn’t you.’

‘It might as well have been. I was only gone for a few- I was only-’

Ash’s voice shook, turned wet, and Augus looked up to see Ash press two hands to his face, one still dripping blood – now trickling red down his wrist. His shoulders heaved, and Augus frowned. His mind started to pick up the pieces, but it was happening too slowly.

‘We can’t do this anymore,’ Ash said behind his palms. ‘We can’t. I’m destroying you. I can’t keep fucking-’

‘It wasn’t you,’ Augus said, wanting to stand, to draw Ash down to the bed with him. He felt too bruised to move. There was something in the fervent way that Ash had spoken that struck off fear in his heart. ‘We can keep doing this. Perhaps we’ll just avoid the schema crystals for a while.’

He wanted to say more, but he felt dizzy, realised that the heavy throbbing pain in his gut wasn’t leaving. He couldn’t keep it back the way he wanted to. His eyes widened in shock as he bent over sideways and retched heavily, pressing a palm to his belly. He retched again, then surprised himself even more when he brought up bile. He could count on one hand the amount of times he’d vomited in the past centuries.

‘Can I…can I come closer?’ Ash said, breathing like he was trying to forcibly hold back tears. ‘Can I check up on you?’

Augus nodded even as his stomach spasmed again. He still felt like he couldn’t catch his breath, pain rocketing through him, getting worse. He tilted sideways onto the bed and then curled around his gut. Groaning, he tried to lift one of his legs onto the bed and couldn’t manage it around the pain.

‘Kneed in the balls…several times. Can you make sure…there’s no damage?’

‘What the fuck?’ Ash breathed, tears forgotten. ‘I…’

Gentle but firm fingers on his knees, pulling them apart and then helping him shift on the bed. He wondered if he should have felt embarrassed, annoyed, but it was Ash. The one who had come when he’d called. Who had shattered the schema crystal. It was incredibly easy to see that he and the magically-made, electricity-scented creature of before were not the same. Even as Augus worried about what the third Ash had said to him – he knew they weren’t the same.

He made a choked sound when Ash encouraged him to spread his legs wider, squeezing his eyes shut at the gentle hushing sounds he heard. Fingers crept up and he cringed, but Ash only lifted his cock out of the way. Augus realised that was sore too.

‘You look bruised already,’ Ash said, voice hitching. ‘Do you want me to get the healer? It’s pretty normal to want to throw up after… after. So, like, if that eases up- but we can get the healer?’

‘No,’ Augus said. ‘Can you help me get my legs on the bed?’

He laughed at how pathetic he felt.

‘Yeah, easy now, this is gonna…not feel great,’ Ash said, and Augus bit the inside of his lip as Ash helped both of his legs onto the bed at the same time. He felt that deep ache in his gut flare, his stomach cramped and he gagged on it – but not enough that he went through the proper motions of vomiting. Once on the bed, he let his legs fall slightly to the side, and then rubbed at the blood on his face as Ash propped his legs up with pillows.

‘This is humiliating,’ Augus murmured.

‘It’s really not,’ Ash said fervently. ‘Not for you, anyway. Hang on.’

Ash returned minutes later, and Augus felt a damp cloth brushing over spots of blood on his abdomen. Ash moved up to where it was drying on his hands. He took his wrist and paid particular attention to his fingers, even rubbing into the creases of his claw beds.

‘A lot less of this is yours than I thought,’ Ash said, though he didn’t sound relieved. Another minute passed and Ash swore under his breath, swore again. He murmured something, and Augus’ hearing sharpened, bent towards catching it.

‘I’m a fucking monster,’ Ash whispered to himself.

‘No,’ Augus said, trying to inject some force into it.

‘Look at what I did to you!’ Ash shouted, and Augus’ eyes opened, he stared – seeing tear tracks on Ash’s face, misery imprinted into his skin even as he quietly cleaned Augus up.

‘I have that part of me too,’ Augus said, turning his hand and lacing his fingers with Ash’s. ‘I have this beast inside of me that doesn’t like the way I live. Doesn’t think I eat enough. Doesn’t like you. Doesn’t like anything except the hunt, tearing things apart, doing it all over again.’

Ash blinked at him, looked horrified.

‘You have that part of you as well,’ Augus said. ‘The Glashtyn lives inside of you no matter what you do. We are what we are, brother. I’ve always told you as much.’

‘And you’re telling me I’m that? That…deep down, I’m just someone who wants to do that to you? This?’

Ash’s voice was breaking again, and Augus realised he wasn’t helping.

Can you help? You can’t unmake him. Can’t undo what he is, even as you would have when he was younger.

‘Ash,’ Augus said quietly, ‘you-’

‘I can’t believe I let this happen. Why am I always letting this fucking happen, why am-‘

‘Will you shut up?’ Augus snapped. ‘Let go of the existential crisis for a minute and listen to me. Ash – you are the one who came running when you heard me calling your name. You are the one who smashed the schema crystal. You’re the one who’s looking after me now. You’re the one who came up with the idea of safewords because you didn’t trust yourself and you didn’t trust me to look after myself; and then when I was resistant, you reminded me time and again to use them. You’ve learned how to listen to me. You’ve…’

Augus shook his head when he realised that all of it was true.

‘We’re making this work, brother. We are. Months ago, if you had asked me, I wouldn’t have believed it was possible. But we are, and mostly because of you.’

‘That doesn’t make this okay,’ Ash said, hands shaking as he kept wiping at the blood on Augus’ forearm.

Augus didn’t remember scratching the other Ash that much, but he must have.

‘It doesn’t,’ Augus agreed. ‘Which is why we’re not doing it again.’

Augus took a deep breath to say something else and caused a flare of pain in his lower back that made him groan. He pressed his head back into the bed.

‘Ah, Jesus fucking Christ, look at me making it all about me again, when you’re the one that took several hits to the ‘nads,’ Ash said, sniffing loudly.

Augus closed his eyes, nodded weakly. A wave of nausea was sending tendrils throughout him again, and dragged something heavier, tangled through his body. He felt infested with bracken. It pushed up through him, left a burning sensation in his eyes, a shaking in his limbs. He lay on the bed, exposed, and it was too much. It had been fine but now it was-

He tried to bring his knees together, to curl up, but there was too much bruising and his breath caught in his throat. A thin sound clung to the room.

‘Hang on,’ Ash said, his voice gentling, still wet. ‘Hang on, I’ve just gotta-’

Footsteps leaving the room, and Augus blinked wet eyes open, stared up at the ceiling as tears leaked from the corners of his eyes. There was still blood on his lips, in his mouth, around his cheeks. The scratch down his face and neck was bleeding. He could feel it leaking warmly into the bed beneath him. The room had smelled of sex, but now it was layered too heavily with the scent of violence, and for once it didn’t cause a corresponding thrill in his blood.

Ash returned with two of the blankets from his lounge and shook them out. He looked speculatively at the bed and then – face twisting when he met Augus’ eyes, something still deeply shaken on his face – he pulled back the edges of the bedspread until they were bunched against Augus’ body. It took some careful manoeuvring – some caught breaths and jags of pain on Augus’ behalf – but Ash managed to lift Augus onto clean sheets and then strip the bedspread and top sheet off the bed entirely, piling them onto the ground. He draped the clean blankets over Augus, then thumbed carefully at the tears on his cheek.

‘It’s just shock,’ Augus said, closing his eyes again, shivering.

‘Yeah,’ Ash said, bitterly. ‘Just shock. Give me a sec.’

Ash took the bedspread and sheet out of the room. A door opened and then closed, and Ash returned with another blanket and layered it over the other two. Augus shifted his legs, felt less exposed, sighed in relief. Ash touched his hairline so gently that Augus winced, and when Ash withdrew his hand with a sharp jerk, Augus frowned.

‘You can touch me.’

‘Can I?’ Ash said, trailing his fingers along Augus’ hairline tentatively. ‘Because it seems like a lot of the time when I do, you get really fucking hurt.’

‘It wasn’t you,’ Augus said, looking at him.

Ash offered a half-smile that had none of its usual cheer.

‘You’re a lot more forgiving of my slights than you should be, brother.’

‘It’s my choice,’ Augus said, glad when Ash returned with the damp cloth and started wiping the blood away from his face in smooth, firm strokes. They pulled at the slashes on his face, caused the pain to increase, but Augus didn’t particularly care. ‘And you need to see to your hand. I can smell your blood from here. You’ll have pieces of crystal embedded in it.’

‘I will in a minute,’ Ash said, pensive.

Time passed, Ash making noises of concern as he cleaned blood away from the scratches and saw how bad they were.

‘What happened?’ Ash asked, following the scratch to where it finished near the top of Augus’ collarbone. ‘Not an ‘Augus summary,’ but really?’

‘You don’t remember?’

‘Nope,’ Ash said. ‘Can’t tell if that’s a good thing or a bad thing right now.’

‘It’s a good thing,’ Augus said, fingers curling into the blankets and drawing them closer. He was being pathetic; he knew that he was. But if there was a time to be indulgent, to seek comfort, it was after a predatory somewhat-clone of the person he loved most had tried to take him apart.

Augus laughed in the back of his throat.

‘Where do you want me to start? Did you know he was more Glashtyn than you from the beginning? The darker hair made me suspicious; even before he started…being more overtly cruel. I didn’t feel right about him from the beginning.’

‘You couldn’t have told me?’ Ash said.

‘I thought you knew, and I thought…I thought you knew and were alright with it, and expected me to be alright with it because it was – as you said – your birthday. You knew I wasn’t fine with him.’

Me,’ Ash said.

‘You’re being obtuse. It’s one of your favourite things to do, I find. You are the Glashtyn. I am the Each Uisge. And in order to become brothers, to live the way we do, we had to become more than that. Our waterhorses aren’t terribly happy about it. You repress your hunger – but it’s not just your hunger, Ash, it’s the beast that lives inside of you. You’ve heard him. You know what it’s like to have him whisper at you before a kill, to tell you to take it that one step further, to do a little more, to eat more frequently.’

‘I just pretend it’s my…’hungry voice,’’ Ash said, sighing. ‘But, okay. Can you tell me what he did?’

‘I woke up, he went on a bit about being hungry, about that being my fault, about us both being…not right for what we are, and then he attacked me. Rather embarrassing to learn – the hard way, I might add – that I’m not as strong as you physically, at least in this form, even when drawing on waterhorse strength. Cue physical injury, some fighting back, and then me shouting for you; the end.’

‘What do you mean he said it was your fault?’

‘I wonder how much of that is true,’ Augus said, his voice smooth, betraying nothing of the shakiness in his chest. ‘Do you wonder about it? Do you think it’s my fault that you feel so much conflict over what you eat?’

‘I didn’t get that from you!’ Ash said, incredulous. ‘I got that because I didn’t want to fucking murder and eat people! Because I was happy before I realised how things were supposed to be! You didn’t make me have to do that. That’s…that’s fucking biology.’

‘A part of you wonders,’ Augus said, swallowing.

‘A part of me tried to fucking murder you,’ Ash snapped. ‘A part of me is clearly batshit and evil as fuck and let’s just be glad for repression and not falling to our basest desires all the time, yeah? Except that I’ve only like, dragged you through the-’

Augus made a sound of frustration.

‘Yes, I’m angry, alright? I’m angry at how you treated me. But you ignoring me, neglecting me, coercing me and more is still notattempted murder – alright? Do you understand the difference? Because even though I know what you are capable of, because you have inflicted it upon me; I also know you would never ever do the things to me that disgusting schema clone did.’

Augus breathed heavily, unable to stop even though each inhale brought on a flash of thick pain.

He waited for Ash to leave. To lose his temper. Something.

‘Cheers for that,’ Ash said, and Augus looked at him, surprised by the smile he heard in his voice. His expression was rueful. ‘No, really.’

Augus opened his mouth, questions on his tongue, and then decided he was too tired, too sore to bother. He closed his eyes, his head dropped back to the bed. Ash feathered fingers through his mane and hummed thoughtfully. It was a sound he’d learned to make from Augus. One of the many traits they shared with each other.

‘Actually, I think I’ve got some of that salve left from the healer. Will probably help with the bruising you’ve got. Sound good?’

Augus made a non-committal sound of agreement and looked for the black well inside of him that would lead to sleep. He wanted to not hurt anymore. His body throbbed.

His last thought before sleeping was that he was right; stupid things really did happen around Ash’s birthday.

*

A day later, some salve, and Augus was feeling much closer to whatever counted as equilibrium these days. He was surprised at how quickly he was recovering, especially with the intensity of all that had occurred. Not just the third Ash’s attack but…even the sex that had gone before. He knew he was doing better now due to Ash’s watchful eye, and Augus’ own awareness of when he got too close to his limits.

Which are, let’s admit, in need of some restructuring.

He treated himself with far more self-deprecating wrath than he would any client. Technically he knew he needed to pay better attention to his limits, but the advice he’d been doling out for years he found very difficult to embrace.

They sat on Ash’s large bed, both sipping at the tea Ash had made.

‘It’s not half-bad,’ Augus said, savouring the warmish liquid.

‘Not as good as yours,’ Ash grinned and Augus shrugged.

‘But you don’t cultivate. If this is the quality that’s growing around your lake naturally because of your energy, you have a lot of potential.’

Ash’s eyes brightened at the praise, but he said nothing and continued to sip. He made a show of it. Lifting his little finger, sipping loudly, in all ways showing that he generally preferred to be drinking soft drink, whiskey, fruit juice or something else. He was trying it because he knew Augus liked it, and Augus was amused at the show he was getting in response.

‘I’ve been contemplating the possibility of apprenticing to a healer,’ Augus said, looking down into the clear, dark green liquid.

Ash paused mid-sip and then put the cup down on the bedside table.

‘What?’

‘Think about it, for a moment. Indulge me. I am competent at herb-lore for freshwater fae. I’ve been making my own poultices, tinctures, salves and more for you, for centuries. My side hobby – not so much a hobby anymore – is trading in rare herbs and ointments in exchange for half the things I own in my house! At least, until I started working as a dominant. And even that – let’s be honest – I found fascinating because it married my predatory nature with healing.’

Ash stared at him, and Augus smirked.

‘I’ve also had new reasons to reconsider the value of healers; given they did save my life recently, and the salve has made things far less painful since I’ve woken.’

‘Yeah, but…healing. You’d have to move out of your home.’

‘I’m an adult, they’d let me return for homestays.’

‘One weekend a month? For years? I’d hardly see you. I’d…’

Ash swallowed, took a deep breath. Augus waited patiently.

‘It’s a big fucking decision, that’s all.’

‘I know that,’ Augus said, putting his own teacup down. ‘That’s why I didn’t do it when I thought of it years ago, when I was younger and you needed me more. But you don’t need me as much now, and I have been thinking that some time apart might do us good.’

Ash swallowed, his cheeks flushed. He looked ashamed. Something hurt crept into the cant of his eyebrows, the way his lips pulled together.

‘I don’t want things over,’ Augus said. ‘But you’ve been right, Ash. I’ve lost all sense of myself, I have no internal compass. I want to be with you, but I don’t want to be an extension of you. I want to do this; apprentice to a healer and then…come home and see you, once a month; unless I really need the space.’

‘We were only seeing each other once a month before this whole clusterfuck happened,’ Ash said. ‘What if I start doing what I-? I mean what if I forget and-?’

‘What if you forget and start assaulting me again? Unlikely; consider also that I may be looking forward to it.’

Augus smiled at expression Ash gave him; uncertainty, hope, trepidation…something in the wideness of his eyes that suggested excitement.

‘You see the merits, don’t you?’ Augus said, his heart-rate picking up. He would have apprenticed even without Ash’s approval, but he dearly wanted it.

‘What colour healer?’

Augus took a breath, he’d been trying not to overthink that side of things. Healers in the fae world were classed by colour, across a broad spectrum.

‘Green or brown,’ Augus said. ‘Though honestly it will depend on who will have me. My knowledge of wortcunning is specialised, not broad. I am…hoping that my knowledge of the way fae minds can work – aside from my own, evidently, and yours – might come in handy too. I may not be accepted, knowing how rigorous the initiatory tests can be.’

‘You’ll be accepted,’ Ash said immediately. ‘You would’ve ages ago and you will now. Oh man, I can see it – you know? But Jesus, I’m gonna miss you. I’m gonna-’

‘No healers will be taking on students for another two months or so, Ash. We have time.’

‘But you want some time apart,’ Ash said carefully, and then lay back on the bed, staring up at the ceiling. ‘Well, as far as things go, I kind of expected worse, y’know. When my evil schema comes up and tries to, I don’t know, murder-rape you, rape-murder you…whatever, usually brothers don’t then go, ‘Sure, buddy, let’s keep this thing going.’’

Augus shifted closer to Ash.

‘I wouldn’t say ‘sure, buddy,’ in the first place.’

‘Got me there,’ Ash grinned.

‘The fucking was good though,’ Augus said, pursing his lips. ‘That sycophantic one seemed alright.’

‘Oh, oh, trust you to be all over the slavish sycophant. Is that what you want more of, hmm?’ Ash turned to his side and nuzzled into Augus’ neck, a ticklish, snuffling weight that made Augus squirm, hum happily. ‘I bet you do. More worship. More ‘Yes, Augus, I’ll do whatever you say, Augus.’’

Ash’s hand came to rest possessively on his hip, and Augus turned into it.

‘More of that, please,’ Augus grinned toothily, deciding more serious matters could wait.

Ash smoothed his hand heavily over Augus’ stomach, starting in the middle of his sternum and ending at his pelvis. Long, soothing strokes that pushed him down slightly into the bed. Augus drifted in the weight of it, the ache in his body spreading out and becoming background noise.

Being a healer meant he’d have to travel. Clients wouldn’t often come to him, he’d be expected to see clients. Ash wanted him to see more of the world, but Augus wanted to spend almost all his time at home. The monster inside of him demanded it, scratched at him for it. Even spending time in his home wasn’t spending time hibernating at the bottom of his lake, and the great waterhorse inside him knew that.

Then again, he’d spent most of his life finding the balance between those different aspects of himself; perhaps he could find it again.

‘I keep expecting the shit to hit the fan,’ Ash murmured. ‘The fact that you’re not more upset, I think, isn’t really a good sign?’

‘I just know it’s not you,’ Augus said. ‘I pray you never truly meet the monster that lives inside me, brother. Because we won’t be brothers on that day.’

Ash shuddered.

‘I’m…not alright,’ Augus said, hesitant. ‘But we know that. Why dwell? We’re moving in a direction I appreciate. That’s all that matters. Do you truly want to wallow? I’ve been stuck most of my life, Ash, because of this mess. I’m tired of it. I could punish you for how you treated me before, but I think you’re punishing yourself quite enough, and I also think you’re showing progress. What more would punishment achieve, except harm?’

‘So you’re…looking forward?’

‘Expanding outwards,’ Augus said, and then decided he very much liked the way that sounded. It resonated like a truth within.

‘Will you ever dominate people again? Take on clients like you used to?’

‘Actually, yes. I didn’t think I would, and I don’t think I want to now, and not for some time; but I think I will again. Anyway. Shut up. You owe me some care, I think.’

He smirked, and then found the expression kissed off his lips as Ash licked his way over them.

‘You got it,’ Ash purred. ‘However long you want.’