Fray left Cloud Nine and drank himself into a stupor.
He did not drink alone, as a rule. It was more fun with company, and company was easy enough to come by. To drink alone was the habit of a man with no prospects, no talents, no hope. That night he drank alone.
It wasn’t Sid’s fault. Fray had taken his whetstone and hidden it. If Fray hadn’t been ruined—if he hadn’t been so completely degenerate—he would’ve simply yelled at him for breaking his promise not to muck about in the drawers until he apologized. Instead, he struck him—not in the midst of a spar, but simply out of anger. Instead, he bound him and fell upon him.
He had utterly, utterly lost control of himself. He wished to undo it. He was a whore, and he’d broken his own rules. One by one the bells passed into the fog. Like any honest pervert, Fray’d given thought to what sort of lover Sidurgu was. Full often had he looked at Sid’s towering form—here alabaster, there onyx, as finely sculpted as a monument—and felt a prurient curiosity. But these were merely the fancies of a voracious man. They changed nothing. To act upon them—to take of his innocence—to draw cries of wild joy from his throat—to taste freely of his lips…
Oh, but that was the bit he couldn’t look at straight on. If it’d been lust and naught else he would never, in all the ages of the world, have kissed him.
He went home smelling of terrible piss-water ale, his hind-brain conducting for him a great many dramatic iterations of his certain and final departure from Sid’s company. But when he returned he found him fast asleep, clean and dressed in his nightshirt. Sid had conscientiously left room on the bed for him. The leather and oil had been put away. Fray stood there looking at him for a time. Then he reached under his pillow and took out the whetstone and put it back where it belonged.
He waited for Sidurgu to say something. He dreaded it. But things went on as they always had been—mostly. They spoke a bit less. They slept a bit closer. Occasionally, when he thought Fray wasn’t looking, Sid would eye him up and down. For his part, Fray forwent the company of his suitors, thinking a bit of temperance might do him good.
Three days later in the dead of night Sid asked, “Where did you hide my whetstone?”
“Under my pillow,” Fray said.
Sid groaned. He swiped the pillow from behind Fray’s head and hit him with it.
The next evening they were called to duty. Ompagne had been following, for the last moon, a likely mark: one Lans de Dzemael, a scholar of the See who spent much of his time at leisure preaching forbearance and endurance to the lowborn of the Brume. There were those who spoke well of him, saying he gave much of his time and his coin to those who’d earned it not. But others whispered tales of women and children stolen from the cold winding alleys and sold to the highest bidder beyond Ishgard’s walls.
At tea, Ompagne explained their course. “I found him enjoying the hospitality of a band of traffickers at Camp Revenant’s Toll,” he said. “He promises them new flesh on the morrow; I daresay we will find him at work tonight.”
“He’s not carrying them all off in a sack on his own,” Sid said.
Ompagne nodded. “Indeed, he will have assistance—though how much, I do not know. The gentlemen I saw at the Toll were well-guarded. The three of us will go together.”
Fray snorted into his ale.
“What?” Sid asked.
“All three of us? If any of them live,” Fray said, “they’ll take the memory with them to their graves.”
“That’s the idea,” Ompagne said, with a wicked gleam in his eye.
There were no surprises that night. Ompagne’s intelligence brought them straight to the villain’s safehouse. Twas the shell of an old tavern, open to the air, that’d served its last round of ale years before on the eve of a Horde attack. Then, it’d been called Winter’s Kiss. There were sixteen men all told, and three victims already, bound and thrown together in a pile. They were silent. A dose of somnus, most likely, to keep them quiet as they were removed from the city.
Ompagne took the fore of the place from across the street, and he and Sid staked out the shadows at the rear. Sid began the night as still and steady as a raptor, but as their vigil wore on he grew impatient, shifting his weight from foot to foot, one hand upon the hilt of Deathbringer. “I hate this bloody waiting,” he whispered.
Fray said, “Let the man himself get away and we’ll find ourselves at this chore again some other turn of the sun.”
“I know that,” Sid hissed.
“Then settle in.”
Fray heard a young girl’s voice, the words slow and stupid, and they both fell silent again. Soon enough they heard Lans approaching, too. In they came through the open door, their dark figures limned in moonlight. To his surprise, the girl was Auri—but her scales were white. Her eyes were already dull. She made little effort to resist as the lackeys bound her. One of them, a Roegadyn, took her over his shoulder, slapping her buttocks, to cheers and laughter from his compatriots.
Sid said, “When I’m done with them, they’ll pray for death.”
Fray decided he’d had quite enough of waiting himself and readied his claymore. But Sid was haunted by the Fury that night. He leapt into the throng of traffickers without waiting for Ompagne’s signal. Darkness manifest poured from his armor, its black talons clawing forth from the pool of pitch at his feet. The men shouted, scattered, drew their weapons.
It was all Fray could do to stay out of his way. He’d get the girl free, he decided. He dove into the melee, parrying the traffickers’ blows with his blade, weaving 'round the prone forms of the injured and dying. He spilled the Roegadyn man’s entrails upon the floor with one well-placed swipe of his sword. Lans, gibbering and wide-eyed, sped to the door, but Ompagne awaited him, there, and struck him down. In his cultured tenor, he said, “I see before me this night no bystanders, no hapless boys who might claim ignorance. No mercy shall be accorded thee.”
The men erupted into screams, as if cornered not by vigilantes by the very apparition of justice. Fray laughed, and the sound echoed, hellish, in his helmet. He’d taken the Auri girl in his arms; she began to wail. Ompagne brought down Caladbolg through the air and took the head from Lans’s shoulders. The blood glittered as it splashed against his greaves.
By then the battle was done. Sid had torn through their ranks, an ebon scythe through rotten grain. The last man he kicked to the ground. The unlucky beast slid, having fallen into a puddle of blood. Sid plunged across the room and dashed his head open upon the boards.
He drew himself up, slowly. The summer air was redolent of death and of terror. Black blood streamed from a wound on Sid’s face. His hair, soaked with sweat, stuck fast to his brow. He glowered at his final victim—at the crushed skull, the brains spilled upon the splintering floorboards—and his eyes burned with hate. How beautiful he was! His form the raging of a tempest. The man himself, a demon. All Hydaelyn was at his mercy—and yet, at the feet of rapture, it was Sidurgu who’d prayed to him for succor. The spectacle of his power, the memory of his submission—each was as vivid as a ruby in Fray’s mind. His heart sang with a possessive ardor; he was fully hard, then, beneath his armour. He thanked the gods no one could see it.
They took the captives back to the Brume. Ompagne vanished, as he often did after battles; probably it was wiser than what Fray had in mind. He wiped the black blood from Sid’s face with his gloved hand and took him to Iolaine’s Cups, to the Brute’s Brewery off the Forum, to the Woven Wyvern. By midnight they were both quite stupid, laughing at nothing and drawing rather more attention than they should have done. But Cloud Nine was across the Brume—a long, stumbling walk away. He took a room above the Wyvern and, grabbing him by the belt, pulled Sidurgu over the threshold.
“Time for a low profile’s past, mate,” Sid said, with a grin. Fray locked the door. He threw his helmet into a corner. Then he thrust Sid against the wall and pulled him down by the horns into a long, thorough kiss.
“Ah?” he said, when Fray released him. Fray struggled with his belt. Sid moved to help him. Fray swatted his hands away. He cast the belt aside and pulled at Sid’s trousers. Rolled the smallclothes beneath down with them. With the cuisses still on it was only enough to expose his groin and the very tops of his thighs. It would have to do.
“If you’d just wait—”
Fray glared at him. “Be silent,” he demanded.
“—I could take the armour off—oh.”
Fray ran his hands across the black patch of flesh, neither skin nor scale. It was rough, but still pliant. In its center was a slit that parted to reveal his black, shining cock—so striking against his white complexion, and warm and slick beneath Fray’s fingers. Sid sighed and gave his weight to the wall.
Fray took him in his hands. Had he not berated himself for this same sort of gaucherie mere days ago? He told himself it was the novelty—the taboo of a tryst with an Auri man. Men he'd quite liked had awaited his attention for moons, before, after all. Surely it was the lure of Sid's peculiar endowments, and not affection, which so filled him with craving. Otherwise six turns of the sun would be nothing, and he would not have gone so swiftly to the floor, nor be so eager to taste. Sid, oblivious, said, “Should I—”
“Do shut up,” Fray said, and pushed himself up onto his knees. He ran his tongue along the underside of Sid’s cock, lingering upon each of the ridges he found there, and Sid let out a scandalized moan. Fray slid the head into his mouth; the trembling of Sid’s body as he did this was sweeter than cane sugar from the South Seas, finer than Nagxian silk. He looked up. Sid’s face had gone gray—a Xaela blush. Their eyes met.
“Gods be good, Fray,” he said. He wound his fingers through Fray’s hair.
He held his gaze as he sucked him. He wished to see all there was of him—every breath, every twitch of his parted lips. Sid caressed his neck with unsteady hands. His hips, too, were out of his control, and ere long he began to fuck Fray’s mouth. Fray took it, gripping Sid’s thighs to moor himself and slackening his jaw. This roughness—this passion—so aroused him that he ached. He reached beneath his skirt with one hand to service himself.
Sid saw this and was undone. He moaned—a lush, red growl of satisfaction—and flooded Fray’s mouth with his come. Fray bore down on him, insane in his greed. Onto his tongue there poured a pearly nectar of which no man had ever tasted, a sacrament for him alone. Fray drank deeply—swallowed—pulled away. He buried his face in Sid’s thighs. They were as soft as down, and they were his. All of him was his; he had eaten of his essence.
Sid’s knees buckled. Before Fray could rebuke him he had joined him on the floor, and not an ilm of Fray’s bare flesh escaped his kisses, grateful and desperate—neither his neck, nor his ears, nor his cheeks, nor his brow… His dry lips took from Fray’s chin the spit and the mucous. They alit upon Fray’s mouth; he cared not even to stop him, for he was at the peak of his lust. Sid’s arms closed around him. Sid’s tongue was within him. Fray gave back to him the last lingering sapor of his own satiety.
Sid pushed him to the floor, dragging one great hand up his thigh in hope of touching him, but this he would not allow. It was too early in this adventure to yield up his control—too dangerous, still, to give of himself. With his free hand he twisted Sid’s fingers until he spat a cry of pain into Fray’s throat. Not even in battle had Sid ever made such a noise. It was the wail of a delicate thing betrayed; a flower that had bloomed, and was torn to pieces.
To witness this pain was all the aid he yet required. The violence of his orgasm forced a wounded shout from his throat that might’ve woken all the Brume, had Sid’s own mouth not muffled it.
Stars danced before his eyes. Sid’s hand closed around his soiled fingers. His grip was so strong it was painful. Twas well; he would take as good as he gave.
Sid hung above him, panting. “Fray,” he said, and bent to kiss him again. The hurt was still swimming in his eyes. Fray stopped him, pressing a firm hand over his mouth. He’d been called slatternly—very well. But there were things he didn’t do. He did not confuse dalliance with love, did not give his lips to his partners. He’d done it three times now with Sid. He knew what it meant, but he didn’t have to like it, and he didn’t have to keep on doing it.
He let his head fall back against the floor. He felt Sid’s lips against the palm of his hand. Sid’s fingers—his touch furtive, chastised—wiping the come from his own. Anger came upon him. What did he want? Had he hoped for savagery? Had he hoped Sid would use him? Even that might not have saved him; for would cruelty have stolen the luster from Sid’s contemptible, boyish smile? Would it smother the joy that flit through his breast when they walked together arm-in-arm? He drew in a deep breath. He opened his eyes. Sid was peering down at him, all worry and confusion.
“I’m fine, you oaf,” Fray said.
Sid frowned and pulled away.
They disrobed and cleaned up in silence. When they fell into bed it reminded him of nothing so much as the first night they’d shared a bed together as boys—each of them uneasy, unsure of the other’s intentions. For his part Fray’d been quite certain there was no place in the world that he was safe, no man who would not harm him somehow. Against all odds, Sid never had.
Half a bell passed. Fray could hear his breathing—still uneven. Still awake.
“When I said ‘I didn’t’, I—”
“What I wanted to say was…”
He waited again. Then, when Sid was still quiet, he said: “Yes?”
“I never knew I wanted it,” Sid concluded, “Til then.”
Fray rubbed the thin sheets between his fingers. He was starting to sober up. His disappointment in himself was so great he could find no words in his head that might express it. He did not even try.
“Last time, I mean,” Sid went on.
Fray said, “I know.”
“But you just… left me! Tied to the bloody bed,” he whispered, as if someone might hear. “I thought you were angry.”
“Was just having a laugh,” he said.
“Listen to this virgin,” Fray said, and fought off a smile in the dark. “Never been tied to a bed.”
Sid sputtered, “You.” He sat up.
“Look what happens if I don’t restrain you,” he said. He really should’ve tied him down again, maybe on the bed this time; if nothing else, it would’ve made it easier to suck him off. He’d thought none of this through, though, and his knees would be as sore on the morrow as his pride. He said, “I give you the use of your hands and you throw yourself upon me like some lovesick maid from a ten-gil novel—”
“It was you who started—how d’you get off—what am I supposed to do?” Sid said.
“Figured you’d call me a slut, knock me around a bit,” he said. It wasn’t true, but saying it was funny, and if he insisted on talking about it he might as well embarrass him. “Try and fuck my arse. That sort of thing.”
The temperature in the bed rose by about ten degrees. Fray couldn’t see Sid’s face, but he could see it. He choked back a laugh. “Fury’s sake,” Sid said, and threw himself upon the mattress with highest drama.
He’d finished, then. Fray settled back in, turning away. He’d only just stopped thinking idly about Sid fucking his arse when he felt the press of Sid’s body against his back.
Sid ran his hands over Fray’s chest—his fingers brushed his nipples—they trailed down his sides, his stomach. Fray wondered, amazed, if he wasn’t ready to go again already, and reached down to pinch his thigh, as if to say no more. But he only pulled Fray close, and wrapped his arms snugly about his waist.
Fray did not care to be held. A caring touch could raise his hackles more surely than an insult. His body tensed, and for a moment he was neither cherished nor desired, but trapped. Summers ago he would’ve shouted, would’ve pushed, would’ve fled and slept alone, wondering what it was, after all, that’d broken him so that he could not bear a fond embrace. Was it the evil they chased in the darkness? The cowardice of low men, which he’d witnessed again night after night—their cries for a mercy they would never deign to give? The rapes he’d seen, where the damage was already done by the time he drew steel… The lies men told themselves to preserve their pride, as if calling a child “filth” or “bastard” or “heretic” excused using them howsoever they pleased… He felt, at times, that there was nothing worthwhile in man, that all the life in Hydaelyn amounted to no more than a piss stain upon the trousers of a dead Temple Knight. Now something was different. Now there was Sid’s breath; now there was his warmth. He fell still, and endured his pain. He thought on the unexpected tenderness of Sid’s touch, the innocent hunger in his kiss, the way he uttered Fray’s name as if it were a benediction… Sid’s enormous chest rose and fell, gently, behind Fray’s shoulders. His scales were cool in the warm night air.
Fray pressed a cheek against his arm. It was striking how soft he was, at ease. An irrepressible weariness overtook him, as if he’d been running all his life.
The Darkness murmured, Fine. Show him your neck; let him eat of your beating heart. He’ll die, and leave naught but a hole in your breast.
I’ll die, too, one day, Fray thought.
He’ll die first, it said.
He thought, I’ll remember him, and cut down twice the Temple Knights.
There was no rejoinder. He slept.