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"There's an ache to the evenings out here. It feels like... losing something, every time the sun goes down."

He’s not not sure why he says it, the thought simply springs to mind and it seems the most fitting, natural comment for the moment. Dusk on the steppe: the receding light and warmth of day into the cold, almost desolate emptiness of night. At least there will be bandlight, in abundance actually, as for once the night is clear with no clouds to threaten storms or obscure the thousands of glossy, smeared brightness reflected above them.

For now though band gleam is still another few hours off, and they’re swathed instead in the warm, fiery light of sunset. It might later, in another time or place entirely, be called magic. Or even beautiful to those too dim-witted and cliche-riddled to think beyond the pathetically banal. To Ringil, it looks more like a red bleeding gash at the world’s end surrounded by mottled, purple bruising.

Egar looks at him sidelong. “What are you getting on about, Gil?”

Ringil scoffs, something almost like laughter. “Nevermind Dragonbane.” And he means it. It doesn’t matter. Nothing to read into, not that Egar ever really would have. Maybe it was just the remnants of his characteristic, aristo ennui. More likely it was the drink: whatever horrid, Majak steppe-swill that Egar had procured when they’d passed through Ishlin-Itchan on their way further into the Dragonbane’s ancestral territory.

Horrid or not Ringil takes a far-from reluctant pull off the ceramic jug when Egar offers it with his usual deep chuckle of ‘Whatever Faggot’. He prides himself on the fact that, even after they’ve finished off more than half of the jug’s contents between the two of them, he only recoils a bit from the unrelenting sourness. It’s truly that foul.

He’d have much prefered to wax philosophical bullshit with a stick of krin between his lips, but he respects Egar’s voluntary abstinence from the stuff even though he doubts that he’d have cared much. Moreover the slow drawl of the night seems too sedate to sharpen with his usual vice of choice.

Well, his prefered vice other than the one he's really known for. Obviously. And Gil suspected that Egar’s distaste for that had been established long before the Dragonbane had one too many hits of krinzanz with Imrana and had sworn off the stuff entirely. Probably. Not that he’d been there in Egar’s youth to know for sure. Maybe if he had-

Ringil glances down at the jug still in his hands and takes a bigger, punishing swallow.

Watch it, Gil. That line of thinking’ll get you nowhere.

He doesn’t bother to hide the grimace as he forces it down this time. “Hoiran’s twisted cock Eg, what self-hating fuck devised this shit anyway?”

“Cm’off it Gil, it’s not a shit drink.”

“It is most certainly a shit drink.”

That gets him another chuckle from the Dragonbane. This one louder and more unrestrained than the last (if it was ever really in Egar to show restraint). At least it’s obvious they’re both feeling the terrible, milky swill. Gil takes some pride in being able to, mostly, keep up with Egar. Although he can’t quite remember how long they’ve been at this.

“You almost sound like those pampered fucks down south, they can’t handle it either.”

Ringil gives him a look. Says plainly: “It’s revolting.” even as he swirls the jug’s dwindling contents in contemplation of another pull.

Egar shrugs, still wearing the smile his previous laugh put on his wind-scarred, bearded face. “You get used to it.

“No, really.” He decides on one more ill-advised drink, because when has he ever done what’s best for him, before he forces the bottle back to Egar and falls back on the grass. It’s the behavior of a petulant child, but fuck it - Gil is feeling petulant. The Ravensfriend and its scabbard have been unslung from his back and are lying within easy reach, so he can sprawl out while the steppe grass is still slightly warm from the ever-receding sun.

He tucks his arms underneath this head and continues. “...Which rejected third-son was so desperate to get one of your Skaranak milk-maids into the hay that he had to ferment buffalo milk into alcohol to convince them to open their legs?”

“You’ve never met a herd girl have you?”

“Take a wild guess.”

“A Skaranak girl at least’d have no trouble drinking this dry. Faster’n you.” Egar shakes the near empty jug for emphasis. “And she’d do a damn sight less bitching than you’ve done. There’s not many ‘rejected third-sons’...” He quotes for drunken emphasis “..that could out drink one. A’sides, they’ll really only fuck you if they like you in the first place.”

“Is that so…” Gil rolls his eyes and lets them fall shut. He’s lethargic and his head is swimming.

He hears Egar laugh again. “Not that the drink doesn’t loosen ‘em up a bit.” The jug’s unoccupied space echoes again as Dragonbane takes what might be the last of it.

It’s not. He hears its lingering liquid contents swish again and knows, almost preternaturally, that Egar’s holding out the damn jug again in offering. Can, in fact, somehow feel him hovering over him with the damned stuff.

“Wanna kill it Angeleyes?”

Gil’s stomach does a little pirouette at the thought, but not because of the sour taste that the stuff has left in his mouth. As per usual, he speaks without thinking.

“Trying to loosen me up a bit, Dragonbane?”

He knows, of course, that the words are wrong as soon as they slip out of his mouth. The traitorous fucking  things.

Though Ringil had never had it in him to hide what he was (not after leaving Trelayne anyway) and Egar had never really seemed to care: the joking, the jibes, the teasing flirts were always for others. Always for when it didn’t really matter, always in jest.

Always, in truth, for when he didn’t really care.

What hung around him and the Dragonbane they’d never outright discussed, or even acknowledged. And they were better for it. Egar could go on imagining that a gigantic lizard carcass and hard-won soldier’s camaraderie was all that was between them, and Gil could continue convincing himself that that was all he wanted.

And now he’d gone and cocked it all up.

He opened his eyes to see to the Dragonbane recoiled, slightly, and pointedly not looking at him. Just hovering there, still holding out the last dregs of bad alcohol. Silent and almost frozen in tableau silhouetted against the last of the ever-descending sunlight. Maybe realizing how close he’d actually gotten to Gil’s prone sprawl of limbs.

Gil rolls his shoulders back into the grass and quirks an eyebrow. “You wouldn’t need to, you know, I like you enough in the first place.” Because what has he been if not willing to cut off his nose to spite his face.

That at least gets Egar to look at him again. His eyes are wide and seem incomparably more childlike than he could ever remember them being.

“Uh.. Gil…”

He’s fucked this up past the point of salvaging it. Even blaming it on that foul, thrice-damned drink won’t erase this come morning from either of their minds. If Egar is even there come morning, come two minutes from now. At least if he’s so thoroughly ruined this, there should be no harm in pushing it to breaking. He moves in a surge of upward motion, swordsman’s grace even with his should-be impaired motor skills. He kisses him with fervor and the desperation that the dying must have when they realize their utterly doomed scenario. He may, quite likely, be joining them soon, depending on whether or not Egar’s staff-lance is within easy reach. Maybe even if not, Dragonbane’s always been more than competent with just his fists.

Instead of fists he gets Egar’s hands on his shoulders, leveraging him away with the Dragonbane’s careless strength. The blow he expects never comes. From hand or blade.

But he feels like he gets one none the less.

“Gil…”

Egar’s voice is not angry, but it hurts him more to hear the softness in it. The implicit apology that underscores his name.

Ringil can’t bring himself to look at him. Doesn’t trust himself to. Instead slants his gaze aside, focusing on Egar’s scarred hand holding him back in place. It looks massive, even curled around his broad, Swordman’s shoulder. A memory of a younger Ringil, held down and writhing under the, then, so-much-larger hands of Grace-of-Heaven Milicar springs unbidden and unwelcome to mind, but none the less sends an undercurrent shock of arousal through him. Enough to spur him on further.

They’re both more than a little drunk and the entire night has a fuzziness to it around the edges Ringil doesn’t care to think about. Some part of him has the background clarity of mind to realize that if this doesn’t happen now, it never would or could again.

"Gil... we can't."

He looks at Egar then. The Dragonbane hasn’t retreated but his expression is predictably guarded. Gil can see a receding glimmer of wetness on his otherwise chapped, dry lips from the kiss.

Ringil almost laughs, if Dragonbane knew how many men he’d heard that from and how many of those self-same men later fell into his bed or to their knees or what-have-you… He catches himself though. Presses closer, surprised at some level that Egar lets him, his hands are still on his shoulders. He could easily push him back again.

He turns that laugh into a low chuckle. “We can. It’s not as though it’s difficult.” Offers a smile that is almost his normal side-ways grin. At least a relative. ”Hoiran’s balls Eg, come on. You’ve got to have at least some idea of how it works.”

The jibe seems to restore something reminiscent of their earlier conversation and it puts Egar visibly at east even as he waffles for his next words.

“I’m not-”

Not that Ringil gives him a chance to get anything substantial in way of protest or excuse before he’s practically crawled into Egar’s lap (and was Egar really always this much bigger than him?) and has a hand working at the laces of his breeches.

Egar doesn’t push him away.

Doesn’t, in fact, push him at all until several minutes of later and Ringil’s already finished him off once with his mouth and is swallowing down the salty aftertaste. And then that’s only to pin him back down into the grass while Gil wriggles out of his own trousers. Too caught up in the act, the sensation and his own head even to remark snidely on the Dragonbane’s stamina. Far more concerned with working himself open, reaching between them, groping with only saliva-slicked fingers. Hardly the best, barely even adequate, but Ringil is far past caring. His pulse is pounding in his ears and the Dragonbane’s firm, surrounding presence above him is consuming his attentions.

His voice breaks on a cry when Egar pushes into him, too quick and unrelenting by half, just as Ringil had always imagined he would be. But it burns in the best of ways and if there are tears on Ringil’s cheeks he could say they were from the pain.

 



When later Gil wakes, alone and without the characteristic aching soreness of the act, he knows before he even opens his eyes to the bleak, nebulous marsh landscape that he is in the Grey Places.

Has in fact been in them the whole time.

Maybe he knew it the whole time too. Perhaps it was just some pretentious part of his enlightened conscious that figured it out and hid it from the rest of his forefront, altogether-too-willing-to-be-distracted mind. Like some pompous older brother who thinks he knows what's best for a naive, stupid younger sibling.

Because that's what all that had been.

Naive.

Stupid.

The only thing missing was an elder sibling who'd ever actually given enough of a shit about his happiness (rather than their own, or worse, Gingrim's).

He wishes for. For what, he isn’t entirely sure or maybe just isn’t willing to give it a name and an identity and more power to hurt. But his whole body yearns for it, for something, none-the-less. Aches for it in a way he wishes he could channel into actual, real physical pain because that is so much easier to ignore.

Instead he’s simply left impotently hating himself for wishing and wanting so uselessly - which is probably exactly what summoned this particular shade to him.

And it’s that spiral at self-loathing that catches him in its churning cycle until the Ravensfriend is in his hand and the need to do violence is sloughing off of him, overwhelming any other emotion in the maelstrom chaos in his head.

Ringil embraces it, takes what comfort it can offer.

But that too, is uselessly ephemeral. There is nothing there to raise his sword against. The Dragons are dead and Gil’s rage is just as impotent anything else he’s ever felt.

He falls to his knees.

 



It was later, another evening. The steppe was cold and there was a chill that swept over the hills and whispered the warning of coming winter through the drying grass. Clouds gathered and roiled at the edges of the world as the sunset tried without much success to the light the last dregs of the day against the onset of night.

It was thoroughly unpoetic and hard-edged all around. Even Egar seemed to give the night up as a loss and finally shifted his focus from the unimpressive end of the day. He turned his eyes back to their dwindling, dying campfire and to Ringil.

The Dragonbane looked at him and Ringil knew exactly what to say and why and what it all meant. Felt the linear-lie of time’s progression unravel around him and ripple out into its true circular coils.

He knew that the him that is supposed to really be then won’t remember the true depth of the words. Not that that knowledged helped any. It never did. But he responded anyway.

"There's an ache to the evenings out here. It feels like... losing something, every time the sun goes down."