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si non est propinquus tuus frater

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September 1185, Navarre

"Is it the girl you're looking at, or her brother?"

Geoffrey's words were designed to needle, but for the moment, at least, Richard refused to allow his hide to be pierced. "Can't it be both?"

"For some people, certainly. They're both very handsome," Geoffrey said, casting his cool, appraising gaze over the young prince and princess, where they sat on their dais to welcome visitors for the tourney. "It's just unusual for you to pay any attention whatsoever to the charms of the fair sex, dear Richard - unless of course you're writing poetry to women who don't exist."

Richard had another sip of his wine. It was an excellent vintage, and no doubt contributed to his mellow good humour this evening, despite his brother's provocations. He hadn't expected Geoffrey to be here - normally tournaments were not his area of interest - and it had been a surprise to see him, but not a completely unpleasant one. "Did they invite you because they lacked a court jester, and thought you might serve?"

Geoffrey smiled. "They asked John, but he couldn't be here - too busy oppressing the Irish. I'm to attend in his stead."

"John's proxy? God's blood, I didn't think you could stoop any lower."

"It's not so much stooping as side-stepping," Geoff replied. "I come with instructions from Mother."

That did surprise Richard. "Why is she using you as a messenger boy?"

"I suppose because I am conveniently available, and able to remember more than two things at a time. This princess, Berengaria," he said, nodding in her direction. "Mother thinks you should marry her."

"Even at her advanced age, Eleanor ought to be able to remember that I'm betrothed to Alais," Richard said dryly. "I can't simply weasel out of that."

"You're never going to marry Alais," Geoffrey told him. "Would you want one of Henry's cast-offs anyway?"

"Let her have lain with Henry, her brother, and a horse for all I care," Richard replied. "I don't want her for her maidenhead."

"Good, because that's as shattered as the walls of Jericho. I hear she's pregnant with Henry's child."

Richard gave a sharp glance at his brother. "They've threatened that before, and it hasn't resulted in any new little bastard princes. Either it's a lie, or Henry's too old to sire a healthy child."

"The fact that they've said it before means that everyone and their cat knows about the affair," Geoff said. "Do you really want to go beseech the Pope for a dispensation to marry your father's mistress?"

Richard grimaced. "It probably isn't true," he said, but Geoff could see he was worried.

"Meanwhile this girl," he said with a wave in her general direction, "is young, chaste, wealthy, and the daughter of a king. They even say she's got a brain in her head - you might appreciate that if you ever have occasion to talk to her."

"Intelligent women are dangerous, especially when they get bored. Just look at Mother."

Geoff chuckled at that. "Don't wall her up in a castle, then, and you should be fine."

Richard rolled his eyes. "And no doubt it doesn't matter at all to Eleanor that Navarre helps secure the southern border of the Aquitaine. She's already married our sister to the King of Castille - this would be another helpful union for her political strategizing, I'm sure."

"Well, as you said, she has a lot of time on her hands," Geoffrey said mildly. "I understand she has a map set up in her chambers like a game board, and pushes us around like pieces on it."

"I don't want to be pushed like a chessman," Richard bristled. "Not by Mother, and not by you. Why should I even believe any of this? She wouldn't trust you to bring her message - not without twisting it somehow. She'd have written it down."

"Writing carries risks, dear brother. If such a letter were to fall into the wrong hands, it could be perilous - especially since, as you noted, you are still technically promised to Alais. Breaking that engagement would be a blow to Philip. But then, I understand you're quite practiced at delivering blows to him."

Richard would likely have taken that bait with a snarl, but at that moment he was called up to greet Prince Sancho and Princess Berengaria, so his retort would have to wait. He spent longer than he might otherwise have done speaking to the princess, and considered his filial duties fulfilled, at least for the moment, in that matter.

He didn't know whether he ought to expect a diatribe from Richard that evening or not, but it had been a long, wearying day, and Geoff wasn't about to wait up for him. He undressed and got into bed, then dismissed the servants with a nod. The only light in the room after they left was the faint red glow of the fire, and the sliver of moonlight that slipped between the shutters. He rarely slept well the first night in an unfamiliar bed, but this time he hoped to make an exception.

His hopes of rest were dashed when the door swung open, Richard's familiar shape silhouetted in its opening. "Don't just stand there, come in," Geoffrey told him. "Or were you raised in a barn?"

"If I was, then so were you. We're a matched pair of oxen for Eleanor and Henry's plough," Richard grumbled, but stepped inside and closed the door behind him.

"Matched? No," Geoff said. "An ox and an ass shall not be yoked together, as the scripture says." He left unsaid which of them was the ass in this comparison. "We're no match, you and I - each pulling in our own direction, and too stubborn to be steered."

"You let Eleanor steer you here," Richard pointed out. "Why make such a long trip just to be her errand boy?"

"It's just nice to be asked," Geoff said in a voice that was as dry as sand. "It shows someone's thinking of me."

"Do you know what I think? I think you wanted to see me again." Richard strode across the room, closing the distance in five paces. "I just don't know whether it's for some pathetic little scheme of your own, or because Philip thinks it will accomplish something. Or maybe," he added, taking hold of the blankets and ripping them back, "you just missed me."

Geoff had only his nightshirt on, but he didn't flinch - he was accustomed to Richard's theatrics. Even when they were boys, Richard was always the one who had to be the hero in play-fights or else he'd sulk until he got his way. "I missed you," Geoff said, letting his brother win because it was easier to deal with him when he thought he was victorious, drawing his brother into his bed and telling himself it was mere machination.

Richard's weight on top of him was heavy, and Geoff shifted, twisting the way he had whenever Richard would pin him down in a fight. It didn't work any better now than it had when he was a child. Richard had always been stronger and able to get what he wanted, and Geoff knew with his entire being what Richard wanted right now. "Is it the pretty princess you'd rather be fucking, or her handsome brother?" he asked, teasing. "Who shall I be a substitute for this time?"

"Don't," Richard growled, tugging his shirt up roughly. "Be yourself for once."

"I've barely met him, I don't know how convincing the performance will be." He arched up to kiss his brother, nipping at his lower lip hard enough draw blood and elicit a snarl in response. "Philip would be easier to counterfeit, or even Eleanor..." Geoff threw that last one in as almost an afterthought, but was intrigued to see the reaction it drew from Richard. His brother recoiled, but not in disgust - perhaps shock, but not horror at the prospect. "I always wondered," Geoff continued, reaching for Richard's cock and feeling its heavy hardness through his tights, "if you fucked our lady mother. You were so very close, once upon a time..."

Richard said nothing, but the continued stiffening of his cock gave Geoff all the answer he needed. "Or if you didn't, you wanted to," he murmured, unlacing Richard's tights so he could reach the object itself, no longer obstructed by a layer of cloth. "Did she ever let you do more than hold her hand, kiss her cheek, comb her hair? She was beautiful when we were young, wasn't she? And lonely for Henry, or the closest available facsimile."

He expected the blow before it landed, a sharp cuff across the face. Richard could have hit him harder if he'd wanted to - it was a warning, no more, but it still left blood in his mouth. Geoffrey licked it up greedily, smirking. "It's understandable why you prefer men," he said through swollen lips. "After Eleanor, what other woman could possibly compare?"

"Shut up," Richard said, and to reinforce his point, clamped his hand over Geoff's mouth. "You can never just be quiet, can you - you always have to have the last word. You always have to win." He hoisted one of Geoff's legs up with his free hand, giving him unfettered access to his arse, and Geoff braced himself for the rough entry he was sure was coming. Instead, Richard started down at him with an inscrutable look.

"Lick," he ordered. "Use your tongue for something worthwhile for a change." And so Geoffrey did as instructed, running his tongue over his brother's palm, sucking on his fingers, getting his hand as wet as possible. Richard waited more or less patiently, until he couldn't be patient anymore. He used Geoff's spit to rub himself, slicking his cock to ease the way in. It still wasn't gentle, but gentler than it could have been - a measure of kindness, unasked-for but not unwelcome.

Neither of them talked - Richard was never much of a conversationalist at times such as this, and Geoff wasn't sure he could trust himself not to babble something embarrassing. Safer to keep quiet for now, at least as much as he could, although he couldn't stop the pathetic cry that escaped his bloodied lips when Richard began to thrust into him. Richard sneered, or maybe it was a smile - it was hard to tell the difference sometimes. He moved slowly, keeping his gaze fixed on Geoff as if entranced, and Geoff had to look away, disarmed by what he saw there.

At first they ground together like poorly-oiled gears, but with each stroke they slid a little more smoothly. Soon they could each respond to the other's motions, Geoff arching his back as Richard pressed deeper into him, Richard driving harder at Geoff's wordless urging. Richard's breath came quicker, and Geoff took inordinate satisfaction in the way he could make him groan with the slightest clench or release. Richard was too preoccupied to try and stop his mouth or pin his hands now, concentrating entirely on the rocking of their hips and the hard slap of flesh against flesh, so Geoff seized the opportunity to stroke his own cock, giving himself the attention he so desperately craved. It didn't take long after that for the heat to start burning its way through him, building until he could no longer restrain it. Geoff came with a hoarse gasp that was both matched and stifled by Richard's mouth against his, hard and unforgiving, blood to blood.

They were both too drained afterwards to spar further. Instead Richard wrapped himself around Geoff, possessive and oddly comforting after a fashion, and Geoff didn't feel like fighting back. In fact he might have dozed off like that, at least for a little while, except that Richard started to snore. "Get up," Geoff said, elbowing him. "You can't sleep here."

"Or what?" grumbled Richard. "We used to sleep together all the time, once..." He sounded unexpectedly wistful.

"Or else you'll have the servants gossiping, and ruin your chances with that princess," Geoff said sleepily, rolling over onto his stomach, into the warm hollow Richard had vacated. "And I'll have travelled all the way here for nothing."

"Mmhmm, nothing," Richard said, mussing Geoff's hair as he got up like he always did when they were children. Geoff was too tired to protest. "I'll try not to disappoint Mother. She does have a point about the Aquitaine's border - and about Alais."

"Let her think it was all her doing," Geoff muttered. "She's much easier to deal with when she thinks she got her way." Yet another thing she'd handed down to Richard, he thought.

"Isn't everyone?" Richard said gruffly, straightening his hose and tunic. "I know you think you're above such simple manipulation, but you're no different than the rest of us at heart."

"Don't you remember? I don't have a heart, Richard," Geoff said, voice half muffled by his pillow. "You always took the lion's share, and left me with nothing."

"I'll leave you with this," Richard said after a moment's silence. "It was good to see you again. I'd even go so far as to say I've missed you, Geoff. And you can have the last word, if you want."

"My last word is I'm going to sleep," said Geoff. But in fact, even after Richard had left, closing the door behind him, he found that he couldn't drift off despite his exhaustion. It felt like he was missing something - or someone - but that couldn't be the truth.