"You didn't go back with them."
Elezar shifted his gaze away from the shrinking ship on the horizon, and turned to study the man next to him. Skellan's tone had been deceptively casual, but there was something layered underneath and he wasn't sure what to read into it.
He paused for a moment, then replied mildly, "a sharp observation."
The breeze was mild and gentle, carrying with it the cries of seagulls and salty stickiness of the ocean. Skellan worried his lower lip with his teeth, pale green eyes still fixated on the departing ship. He rested his arms on top of the stone wall, long fingers drumming against the surface.
"It's just," he hesitated and then finally looked to Elezar, mouth twisting into a smile, "I thought you would. I kept waiting for you to tell me."
Ah. It would be a lie for Elezar to say he hadn't considered it, but he suspected Skellan was imagining an entirely different scenario. "Well, I will have to go back at some point--" - and that was the moment that Skellan's strange smile froze, and his shoulders tensed, and his gaze dropped to stare at the crumbling mortar his fingers were now working loose.
So Elezar reached out and roughly pulled Skellan to him, and held him tightly. "Listen," he said, voice low, and his heart hurt with the warmth and scent washing over him, and at having put such an expression on Skellan's face. He buried his fingers in soft red hair, and felt his witch turn his face into Elezar's neck, breath ghosting over his skin. "We still have a lot to do here, don't we? I can't leave yet. And I don't want to."
Everything else he wanted to say stuck in his throat, and he hated the inadequacy of his words. Skellan's fingers dug hard into his back, and a quiet voice murmured into his neck. "But, I know. I've known since that day at the market. You have a whole life there. I'm selfish to even hope that you'll leave it behind for this. For me." Skellan pulled back and abruptly looked quite angry, eyes narrowed, "and I won't ask you to! I can do this by myself if I have to."
The sun was sinking lower on the horizon, clouds slowly stuttering across the pale sky.
"I know you can," Elezar said simply, and it was the truth, because Skellan was one of the strongest people he knew. "But I don't want you to. And I hope you know you won't have to." He watched as Skellan's eyes widened a fraction and the anger was replaced by faint surprise.
"But you just said you'll eventually go back." His tone was faintly accusing, and honestly Elezar's stomach was roiling with the decision that had been gradually forming in his mind for some time now.
"Of course I'll have to. My mother is there, I have responsibilities there, and affairs that need settling. I can't just disappear without a trace." Skellan eyed him uncertainly, so he reached up to brush a thumb along Skellan's jaw. "But I'll come back."
Elezar felt something ease in his own chest as he said it, and something hopeful finally flickered across Skellan's expression.
"I --" Skellan reached up with his own hand to find Elezar's, and squeezed it. His fingers were cold, but the warmth in his eyes made Elezar's heart skip. "I hope so, I really do. But once you're there maybe you'll realise that this was just..." he waved his free hand in the air, searching for words that wouldn't come. "And maybe you'll decide it's best if you stay there. You're an important lord, and--"
Elezar kissed him. Skellan's lips were soft and chapped, the heat of his mouth and tongue a precious comfort. When he drew back Skellan looked stunned for a moment before grinning. "We're outside, my man."
He felt himself blushing, and forced himself not to glance around to see if anyone might have noticed. He felt a sense of wonder that he had somehow forgotten where they were. Is that what is was like, to be fully at ease with oneself like Javier or Kiram?
Meeting Skellan's fond gaze, he couldn't help but smile.
"You know I have responsibilities there. And - even though it's my duty, and something I've been raised for my entire life, there's still a part of me that just wants to foist it all off on Nestor. Does that make me a coward, running away from my obligations? Is it fair of me to try and force that life on my brother? And I--" he broke off, half hoping Skellan would interrupt and save him from himself, but for once he just stayed silent, looking thoughtful as he played with Elezar's fingers. The sounds of the waves breaking softly on the shore surrounded them. "I just - I never imagined choosing happiness over duty. I never even considered it a possibility."
"Is that what you're doing?"
The words were light and cautious, but there was a pleasant, nerve-wracking finality inside Elezar as he answered, simply, "yes." He closed his eyes as Skellan threw his arms around him, and buried his face in wind-tangled red hair. "I swore to be your champion, didn't I?" A fresh chill laced the breeze, and he clutched Skellan's warmth to him. "I can't really do that from across the ocean."
There was a hot, muffled laugh against Elezar's neck. "Because I know I said I could do it without you," Skellan said, voice strong and confident, but there was still a waver he couldn't quite hide, "but, my man, I really, really wouldn't want to."