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When the Oak King proclaimed the new fae era, the ‘Season of Turning,’ we all assumed it would be a time of positive change, of growth. We are, after all, the stuff of fairytales, and we clapped ourselves on the backs for all the hardships we’d endured and looked forward to a better future.

We had our wars, battles and skirmishes, but we had many good things too. And to some, war was a very good thing anyway. We were prosperous. We had been gulled into thinking it would only get better. The Season of Turning, it held promise.

I’m certain some of us suspected the Oak King was wrong, folly though it might be to doubt the Seelie King of all that was good and light aloud. But none of us could have predicted a world turned to chaos and rust.

First, a creature who called himself the Nightmare King appeared, ruler of the darkest fears, able to see into the hearts of all and turn their lives to terror. He fancied himself a collector of fine things, if only to break them, and so he sought the esteemed Each Uisge – who styled himself ‘Augus,’ and stole him away to his underground lair.

There, horrors unspoken occurred, and when the Each Uisge returned twelve months later, he was sorely corrupted and sought power as he never had in almost all three thousand years of his life. He abandoned his vocation and ingratiated himself to the Raven Prince, eventually overthrowing him through means unknown.

Augus Each Uisge became the King of the Unseelie, with no view to making his Kingdom greater. A once-beloved member of the Raven Prince’s Unseelie Court, and a fine diplomat, was corrupted and filled with poison, unleashing a reign of terror, uncaring if he hurt Seelie or Unseelie both. With the assistance of the horrid Nain Rouge, the frightening Jenny Greenteeth, and the Dullahan, he worked to render the fae realms as barren as the Nightmare King seemed to want them. He poisoned lakes and rivers after having once been their nurturer, he trailed with him the Blight that caused freshwater fae to sicken and starve.

So the wars were not yet over, the Season of Turning not yet done with us.

A hero, then, was needed.

Gwyn ap Nudd, the Oak King’s War General and stoic warrior was nominated by the Oak King himself to be successor to the Seelie throne. Though many were unsure how he would manage a Court previously associated with leisure and frolicking, too many Seelie fae wished for the threat that was the Nightmare King and the Each Uisge to be eliminated.

With the assistance of a small band of unlikely fae – isn’t that always the way, in fairytales? – at a time when all seemed lost, and the fae world had begun to fragment and fritter away into nothing, Gwyn ap Nudd defeated the Nightmare King once and for all.

But Gwyn ap Nudd, unsuited to ruling a Court of leisure, was very suited to warfare and combat. It did not matter that Gwyn ap Nudd and the Each Uisge had once been friends, had even once conducted the Wild Hunt together, side by side. Eventually, with the help of the Each Uisge’s adopted brother, the Glashtyn, and a frost spirit named Jack, they tricked the evil Each Uisge into giving up the crown. The Glashtyn took up the Unseelie throne with a swan-maiden named Gulvi, the Each Uisge was tossed into a Seelie cell in the depths of the Seelie Court.

The fae realm was locked in a phase of unrest. The Each Uisge was imprisoned, but not dead. The Nightmare King was gone, but his legacy had left scars upon the world and the minds within it. Gwyn ap Nudd led the Seelie fae into a new realm; a martial realm of bloodshed. With no obvious villains to fight, and not warming to a life of luxury, he withdrew into himself and his Court, even as the Unseelie Court began to fragment away into weakness and unrest.

There are stories about heroes, and then there are stories about the madness that can befall heroes, that can turn even the strongest into dust. That can turn the Each Uisge to corruption, that can turn an Unseelie King into a fallen captive, and a Seelie King into his uncertain captor.

It was, after all, the Season of Turning.

 

~ Old Pete, storyweaver.

Chapter Text

Gwyn walked slowly down the spiral staircase set deep into the trunk of a giant oak tree that lay on the outskirts of the Seelie Court. No one followed him. No one was around. None of the Seelie fae particularly liked this area of the Court, where the dungeon lay, where interrogations had once been held by the Oak King. Gwyn and his Inner Court were the only fae who could enter the dungeon itself; the energy keyed to the people that Gwyn allowed.

The dungeon itself was underground, held together by the giant, sprawling roots of the oak tree. Rooms carved out of loam and dirt were dank, gnarled with roots and rock, lit with strange filaments of phosphorescent fungi. It was – for the most part – the only light in the dungeons at all.

Gwyn stalked down the long, dark corridor, passing room after empty room. He carried a thin length of rope in his pockets, along with other things that he thought he might need. He walked all the way to the end of the corridor. At the end, the final cell had been reserved for someone who had once been King.

Augus didn’t even bother looking up, though he sat on a tree root jutting out of the dirt wall with a casualness that belied his circumstance. His hair hadn’t grown, it still dripped with water – but more slowly now. He had been deprived of his own lake for over six months, and now he was wasting the same way he’d forced many other fae to waste away. He was far too powerful to waste quickly, even as underfae; it was a process that would take hundreds of years. But it was happening. 

Gwyn had tried to put Augus from his mind, once Augus was secure within the cells. For six months, he had focused on other things, as best as he could. But his mind kept drifting back to their history together, kept stumbling over the cold, seething rage he felt whenever he thought too much of the fae that Augus had killed indirectly. Gwyn had executed some of those fae himself, felt like nothing more than a hired executioner, finishing the dirty work that Augus wouldn’t finish as he laid waste to the Kingdoms.

And if he was angry at himself for not finding a way to solve the chaos earlier, for not subduing Augus years ago, he shoved it aside. He couldn’t afford it. Augus was too dangerous, too powerful even as underfae, even wasting in a cell.

Gwyn was well within his rights to make sure that Augus couldn’t attack anyone, ever again.

‘How are you finding your accommodations?’ Gwyn said coldly.

‘I could use a glass of water, perhaps,’ Augus said, hiding his expression behind a curtain of hair.

‘We’ll see what we can do about that. Perhaps I’ll ask one of the water wights about it. I’m sure they’d consider lending you some.’

‘In about three hundred years,’ Augus said, and Gwyn could hear the smug smile in his voice. Yes, even Augus was aware that he had no friends amongst his fellow water wights. About three hundred years was an accurate estimation of how long it would take for Augus to waste to nothingness, to evaporate.

‘Your brother might,’ Gwyn said, and his jaw clenched in satisfaction when Augus looked up at him. His eyes were a luminous green. His face wan.

‘I don’t want to see him.’

Gwyn stepped through the barrier of energy into Augus’ cell, padding quietly across the loamy floor. It wasn’t rock or dirt or tree roots that kept Augus trapped, but the energy of the Court itself, imbued in the walls. To the naked eye, it looked as though Augus could simply step out of the small, dim cavern in which he found himself. But he was unable to leave, unable to dig his way free.

No one had visited him in six months. Once Gwyn was sure Augus had regained consciousness, he’d left Augus alone, and advised his Inner Court do the same; not that Ondine or Albion were interested in visiting him. Augus was old enough and developed enough as a fae, that he didn’t need food. He didn’t need water. Ostracism was a powerful weapon. In the dungeons he would be secure, but he could be forgotten. Not that anyone was in a hurry to forget. Many fae still had no idea why Augus had been kept alive.

Gwyn wasn’t even sure why he’d kept Augus alive. Except that once, things had been different between them. There’d been something there...

Gwyn stared down at Augus, feeling the breadth of his anger, the coldness of his rage.

He struck out with his fist, but instead of striking him, he fisted his hand into Augus’ hair and dragged him off the tree root bench, forcing him down to the ground. Augus resisted automatically, but he was no match for Gwyn’s strength. Not demoted and weakened as he was. This wasn’t a matter of King against King, but King against underfae. Augus could be mortally wounded, he could, eventually, die from starvation or thirst.

Gwyn stared with some satisfaction. His fist in Augus’ hair was enough to keep him down on the ground.

‘Gwyn, stop this,’ Augus said, compulsion heavy in his voice.

But the compulsion didn’t work. It did nothing more than let Gwyn know that Augus was concerned.

‘Your centre is still domination,’ Gwyn said, voice cool. He bent down and placed his fingers into the collar of Augus’ damp shirt, pulled hard at the material until it gave and ripped, exposing skin that was paler without exposure to sunlight. ‘So I suppose you won’t enjoy this much.’

Augus was unresisting, but as Gwyn pulled the shirt down his arms and left it hanging ragged off Augus’ elbows, Augus spoke quietly.

‘So it is to be rape then.’

‘I’m surprised that you, of all people, would have a problem with that.

He fisted his hand harder in Augus’ hair, until a couple of ropes of waterweed came loose. Augus didn’t make a sound, even though the waterweed was sensitive, alive, attached to his scalp.

Gwyn pulled the length of rope from his pocket, and let go of Augus’ hair in order to pull both of Augus’ hands behind his back, tying them at the wrists. He didn’t care for his comfort, and more for the surety that Augus couldn’t get free. He’d never done anything like this before in his life, but it didn’t mean that he didn’t know how, that he didn’t understand the basics of it. His father had given him scrolls from a young age; the fastest ways to break a prisoner of war, crude though they may be.

‘But it doesn’t have to be unpleasant for you, Augus,’ Gwyn said, trailing a gentle hand across the back of his neck. Augus bowed forward, away from the touch, and Gwyn leaned closer and repeated the gesture. Augus bowed even further away, unsettling his centre of gravity, head almost touching the floor.

‘If you are going to do this, then do it,’ Augus said, his voice surprisingly smooth for someone who hadn’t used it – as far as Gwyn knew – for months. ‘You have always been all talk, no follow-through. That’s why you needed someone to master you, all that time ago. That’s why you-’

Gwyn pushed Augus’ face down into the ground with one hand, and with the other he pulled down Augus’ pants, baring him. Having an almost naked body beneath him, even like this, felt good. And he didn’t allow any room for regret, or second thoughts, knowing what Augus had done, knowing he was well within his rights to take this from him. Knowing that Augus knew that too.

‘I did need someone to master me. And you did a good job, back then. Perhaps I took some notes. Perhaps I think you need the same now. You are fortunate that I am here, paying you mind, because no one else wants to. Your brother hasn’t even-’

Gwyn,’ Augus said, a warning and a pleading all at once. A statement that clearly said; That’s out of bounds and you know it.

But Augus had never played by Gwyn’s rules, had never left things untouched because Gwyn had asked. Once, Gwyn had gone to Augus for help, and Augus had bound him, bled him, forced him to consume flesh and reminded him that Gwyn had done the same to others. He’d forced Gwyn into the horror of his own crimes and made Gwyn like it. Once, Gwyn had left that house within the lake and been – incredibly – of more sound mind than when he’d arrived.

But things were not like that now.

'He’s looking well, your brother. Co-King of the Unseelie Court.’

Augus made a sound of distress and it stirred Gwyn to full hardness. He pulled the vial of lubricant out of his pocket and Augus laughed beneath him, face against the ground, when he heard the pop of the lid coming off.

‘You planned this? You?’ Augus sounded a mixture of incredulous and amused. He did not sound horrified, he didn’t sound perturbed. It unnerved Gwyn to have Augus like this, underfae and beneath him, still sounding so calm, so unruffled.

Gwyn didn’t dignify him with a response, only pulled his own breeches down, knelt, pressed his chest into Augus’ back. The action forced Augus’ arms against his spine, placed pressure so that Augus’ face was kept against the dirt. Augus’ breath shuddered out on a second, silent laugh, though he tested the rope at his wrists then, and Gwyn could feel the tension in his body.

Gwyn dripped lubricant across his fingers, slicked himself up before pressing a finger into Augus with no preamble. Augus, beneath him, tensed and hissed. Gwyn drew in a shaky breath, astounded at his own audacity, aware that...this was not something he had ever thought himself capable of. The war had changed something in him. He hoped it was the war. Perhaps the dormant family madness...

Gwyn grit his teeth and moved his finger back and forth, feeling heat and tightness around him. He withdrew and pressed back with two, and Augus didn’t react. If it weren’t for the vice of him around Gwyn’s fingers, he would have sworn that Augus wasn’t affected by it at all.

If there was ever a fae that Gwyn was sure would find his way out of the dungeon; Augus was probably it. Gwyn used this fact, along with a bevy of other reasons, to wall himself away from the part of himself that would have been horrified. That part of himself was too soft, was not permissible. Certainly not down here. Certainly not now.

There was a hardness inside of him and he fell into it, finding the solace of cruelty and certainty.

‘Maybe next time, I can invite Pitch. I’m sure he can summon up a measure of the Nightmare King for you. You’d probably like that though, wouldn’t you?’

Augus’ eyes opened, his whole body jolted as if struck. He tried to tilt his head so that he could see Gwyn more clearly, but Gwyn pushed harder with his whole body, forced him down. He withdrew his fingers and took himself in hand, pressing himself against Augus’ entrance.

A sudden wave of nausea rocked him and he grit his teeth together, shoved it aside. He wanted this, he’d come down here specifically to do this, to take from the spoils of war as any King might.

‘Second thoughts?’ Augus taunted, and Gwyn bared his teeth in a snarl.

He bit hard at Augus’ shoulder, scraping his teeth over flesh. It was good, like this. It was good to have the waterhorse beneath him, restrained and weak. Augus wasn’t one to tremble, wasn’t one to make obvious his feelings of fear, but Gwyn knew that he was getting to him. Knew enough about wild creatures to know when they were wary, to know when he was getting his point across.

He stretched his slicked hand underneath Augus’ pelvis, took his limp member in a firm grip and started a persistent, merciless rhythm.

Augus’ breathing remained calm and steady for almost two minutes. Two minutes of almost silence, only the sound of Gwyn’s hand moving and his own rough breathing filling the room. He remained pressed at his entrance, imagined how good it would feel to sink deep, teased himself with the promise of soon.

Almost imperceptibly, Augus shivered. Once. He began to harden in Gwyn’s grip. His breathing went from an easy evenness, to a slight pause between the inhale and exhale, as though Augus was having to force his breathing to remain steady.

‘Don’t waste your time on niceties, now,’ Augus said, voice deeper, and Gwyn bit more deeply into Augus’ shoulder, nearly breaking the skin, smiling when Augus’ cock jumped in his hand.

‘I’m down here wasting my time with you,’ Gwyn said, pulling harder, gripping tighter. Augus made a strangled sound beneath him, his fingers twitched. Gwyn supposed it must hurt. He wasn’t being nice about it. But Augus was still hard, and Gwyn was determined to see this through, would take what he wanted, however he could get it. ‘So wasting my time on a nicety like this seems almost trifling, compared to that.’

He didn’t announce himself, he didn’t give warning. He dug his other hand into Augus’ hip and pushed his cock into tightness, squeezing his eyes shut. His mouth bit down once more and he tasted Augus’ blood against his teeth and lips, even as Augus bucked against him. Gwyn growled deep in his throat, sheathed himself fully in one demanding, brutal thrust. Augus surprised him. He did cry out. He began to tremble in his grip. He stayed hard in Gwyn’s fingers. Even as his hips shifted to get away, even as Gwyn kept him in place with the hand on his hip.

He pushed his forehead into Augus’ back, took a moment to decide what he wanted next. He could do anything, like this.

‘Feel that?’ Gwyn said, grinding against him. ‘You’re very tight. Does it hurt?’

‘Do you honestly think pain bothers me?’ Augus gasped, and Gwyn rocked against him, staying deep, enjoying the trembling. He wished he had Augus’ finesse with this, with the breaking of someone. But he only had himself. And he was a blunt tool, a coarse warrior.

But then, maybe that’s what it would take in order to break someone as sophisticated as Augus apart. Maybe that’s exactly what would get under the skin of the aristocratic bastard that he used to care so much about.

Gwyn removed his hand from around Augus’ cock and grasped his other hip, not caring if he hadn’t roused Augus to completion.

'Something tells me you’re about to fuck me like some common, boorish idiot,’ Augus managed, condescension dripping from a voice that was more shaky than Augus probably would have liked.  Gwyn laughed. He drew back slowly, savouring the tightness. When the head of him was resting just inside Augus’ entrance, he reached down with both hands and spread Augus’ legs wider, hungry and finding himself losing his wits faster than he would have liked.

‘Like a common, boorish idiot,’ Gwyn agreed, keeping Augus’ legs apart with his own, when he went to pull them back together. ‘But here you are on your knees, bound. Letting some common idiot reduce you to this. Say what you want, Augus, but the only person you’re fucking over is yourself.’

Gwyn snapped his hips forwards, pulled Augus back into him. He snarled in triumph when Augus’ fingers splayed and his wrists tightened against the rope. He didn’t bother to hold back the laugh that sounded, deep in his chest. He wanted Augus to hear it, wanted him to know that once upon a time, his centre had been triumph and he reduced his enemies to cowering masses. That he may have changed, but no one truly abandoned a centre once it had been a part of them.

His movements were punishing, rough, he sought after his own pleasure and opened his mouth hungrily as though he could lick the sounds that Augus was making and swallow them down. He wanted to pull them directly out of the air. Each one left him increasingly mindless, until he didn’t care anymore that it was Augus beneath him. Until he cared about nothing except chasing his own release.

He gasped loudly as he came, pressed himself deep, pushed Augus forwards until his shoulders jerked hard and Augus choked out whatever sound he had been about to make into the dirt beneath his face. Gwyn liked that too, he pushed harder, wondering if Augus could taste the loam beneath his lips.

As soon as he was done he withdrew quickly. He stood up, looked down at himself, saw no blood on his softening member and was surprised at the momentary flare of relief he felt at that. After all, Augus had practically crowed when he’d drawn blood from Gwyn; had laughed and said something about ‘fae healing’ and ‘get over it.’

He looked down at Augus, who hadn’t moved. Whose hands were still tied behind his back.

‘Get up,’ Gwyn said, as he pulled his own pants back up again. He could swim himself clean once he was out of the dungeon. He could enjoy the very quality of lake that Augus couldn’t.

Augus twisted awkwardly, until he could glower the full force of his fury up at Gwyn.

‘No,’ Gwyn said, reaching down and forcing his hand back into Augus’ hair. ‘I told you to get up.’

He dragged Augus upright to his knees, surprised to see that Augus was still hard. He touched his fingers to Augus’ member lightly, and then gazed at Augus as he tested the weight of him in the palm of his hand. He dragged Augus upright until he was standing, and almost smiled when he realised that Augus had difficulty finding his feet. He hadn’t stumbled, his knees hadn’t buckled, but Gwyn could tell.

‘I’m not like you, am I? Not at all like you. You broke me apart so quickly that I didn’t know what had happened, what came over me.’ Gwyn paused, remembering. When he looked back to Augus, he was surprised to see those green eyes staring at him avidly, bright with inexplicable emotion. ‘But I’m not like you. I don’t have the nous to break you down in a couple of nights.’

He stepped back and left Augus standing there, staring at him, pants around his ankles and a ripped shirt hanging off his elbows.

‘But I have the luxury of as many nights as I like, being King.’

Gwyn stepped out of the supernatural barrier that kept Augus contained, ran fingers through his hair, combing it out. He paused, looked up at Augus, at the way Augus watched the movements of his hands with a strange longing on his face.

Waterhorse, of course.

Gwyn kept combing his fingers through his hair, making a show of it, knowing how much Augus liked it himself as a waterhorse, knowing how filthy he probably felt, having been away from water for so long.

He turned and walked away, and halfway down the long, dark corridor, he paused.

‘Perhaps I’ll see about getting you that glass of water,’ he called behind him.

He had the satisfaction of hearing a single shriek of rage as he made his way back up the spiral staircase.

*

He never allowed the impact of what he’d done to hit him properly. He felt tendrils of horror, of nausea creep in, and forced them down. He leaned hard into other, darker corners of his mind, knowing it was dangerous, knowing he had to avoid the family curse, knowing that if he let his old centre of triumph swim too close to the surface...

So he had planned, originally, to stay away for a week or two. He thought he could use the time to put his mind to rights. He thought, perhaps, he could teach the waterhorse a lesson; keep him mostly naked, arms tied behind his back. It would be a win-win situation. He could convince himself that the sickness he felt was connected to dealing with the Seelie Kingdom itself, their gossip and cloying ways; that it had nothing to do with his prisoner.

But he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about it. Hadn’t been able to stop thinking about the waterhorse in his cell, naked, face covered in dirt, hands behind his back. Hadn’t been able to stop thinking about how he’d left him there, hard and unsatisfied, and how good that part had felt. So that evening he was surprised to be walking down the spiral staircase set into the giant oak again, a glass of water in one hand.

Augus was standing and waiting for him, a hungry look in his eyes. He must have been able to smell the fresh water from a distance. He didn’t even make eye contact as Gwyn approached, only stared at the glass, eyes wide and avid.

He stepped back quietly when Gwyn entered. He winced, slightly, and Gwyn pursed his lips.

‘Did I hurt you?’

Augus’ eyes widened in surprise, and then he looked at Gwyn like he was a particularly disappointing, amusing student.

‘And you were doing so well. Given up already? Enquiring after my welfare?’ Augus laughed coldly. ‘You lasted less than twelve hours in this new role of yours. I expected at least a day from you.’

Gwyn glared.

‘I was gauging how well I’d worked you over. If you’re still this articulate, I clearly haven’t hurt you enough,’ Gwyn said, putting the glass of water down out of Augus’ reach. When he turned back, he noticed Augus had stilled, was watching him with a wary measure of shock.

‘I recommend starting with blood,’ Augus said finally, composing his face, letting his eyes go liquid soft and inviting, even as Gwyn started to strip off his clothing. ‘Because why tease? That’s not your style, is it? Fuck them and run, apparently.’

Gwyn kicked off his boots, and then walked over, picked them up and set them down neatly by the entrance.

‘Maybe once you’re done with blood,’ Augus continued smoothly, ‘you can force me to lick the dirt off the soles of your feet. But that’s stretching your creativity isn’t it? Do you want me to feed you more ideas? I have more. Have you ever heard of sounding? Hmm, back when I had you in my own rooms, we never got to try that, did we? I could guide you through it, even. I’ve been told that-’

Gwyn picked up the glass of water and stared at Augus coldly. He poured some of the vital fluid to the floor.

No!’ Augus shouted, and then quickly composed himself, but it was too late. That had been real panic. All signs of goading Gwyn had disappeared, and a flash of fear had passed over his face. Gwyn wondered what it felt like, to waste so slowly, to know that even a single glass of water could mean less pain, less of that awful knowledge that you were dying.

Gwyn raised the water to his lips and took a sip, carefully.

Augus’ face stayed composed, but there was a movement in the arms behind his back, as though his hands had clenched into fists.

‘I don’t need your ideas, clearly. Since you’re so eager to be a teacher, you should be proud of me, coming up with all of this on my own.’ Gwyn put the glass of water down again, noticed how Augus’ eyes tracked it. Frowning, he picked the glass up again.

He dipped his fingers into the water and stepped forwards. He thought he’d have to issue an order, thought Augus would refuse him, but Augus was apparently so desperate for the water that his mouth was already open and his eyes were squeezed shut, as though he couldn’t bear it, the waiting, the wanting.

Gwyn pushed three fingers deep into Augus’ mouth, wondering if he’d get bitten for the trouble.  Augus didn’t react at first, though his throat worked on the tips of his fingers. Slowly he closed his lips around Gwyn’s fingers, and then he sucked, tentatively. He swallowed the droplets of water down. When he was done, Augus simply opened his mouth again, kept his eyes closed. Waited.

Gwyn dipped his fingers back into the glass of water and pressed them back into Augus’ mouth, pushing down on his tongue, massaging the muscle. Augus made a pained moan, sucked hungrily at the water.

‘I was going to come down here and fuck you into submission. But I think instead,’ Gwyn withdrew his fingers, ‘I should just leave you down here for a hundred years and come back with some water, and then you’d do anything I said, and all that cocky attitude would be gone.’

Augus’ eyes widened, he stared down at the glass of water and then looked at the side of his cell and laughed.

‘I suppose you didn’t need to start with blood after all. How quickly you’re picking up this game. Leave me then, for a hundred years. You’re probably right. Leave me for two hundred. You could collar me and leash me and have me crawl at your feet for sips of water. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Some Unseelie pet on his hands and knees, naked, and you could just slip yourself in at any time.’

Gwyn did like that image it painted in his mind’s eye. He liked that very much. He wondered at Augus’ game, though. He was very good at talking himself out of a situation, even without compulsion.

Gwyn set the glass of water down and folded his arms, stared at Augus thoughtfully.

‘I think you talk too much,’ he said, finally.

Before he’d left his own palatial rooms, he’d opened a wooden box by one of his many beds, and taken the first length of silk he could find; a black scarf of the stuff. He pulled it out of his pocket now. Augus would talk his way back into being the King of the Unseelie Court, given half the chance. Even without his compulsion, his voice was one of his most dangerous weapons.

He stepped towards Augus. Unexpectedly, Augus took a step backwards, staring at the silk, eyebrows knitting together.

‘More games?’ Gwyn said, smiling. ‘Pretending that of all of the things I could do, this scares you?’

Gwyn stalked forwards quickly, following Augus down when he stumbled and fell over his own feet, landing hard on the arms tied behind his back. Augus was still kicking himself backwards as Gwyn knelt over him, intent.

‘I never did that to you,’ Augus said suddenly. ‘I wouldn’t do this to you. You will stop this, right now!’

The compulsion was strong, and Gwyn was surprised to hear it at all. Augus knew his compulsions were nothing to Gwyn, had only used them once so far. Gwyn hesitated for all of a second before he fisted his fingers into Augus’ hair and wrapped the scarf around his mouth twice before securing it with a simple knot behind his head. Augus’ eyes were wild, the whites showing, his nostrils flared.

Gwyn’s eyes narrowed.

Was it just a bluff? Likely it was. Augus stood a better chance of figuring out how to escape if he could keep his words about him. And he could pretend at fear as well as anyone else could.

He straddled Augus fully, settling his weight down.  He stared at the struggling waterhorse, at Augus’ pleading eyes, and then reached forwards and traced fingers along the scarf over his mouth. Augus shouted behind it, his head lifted up and thumped back to the floor.

‘I can almost believe you don’t like this,’ Gwyn said. ‘You’re very convincing.’

Augus nodded frantically, and Gwyn smiled.

‘Maybe I could take it off.’

Augus squeezed his eyes shut. Gwyn placed a bare palm against Augus’ chest. He felt Augus’ heart rate, eyes widening in surprise. A waterhorse’s heart rate was usually slow, far slower than normal. But this...

Gwyn realised it wasn’t a farce. He reached underneath Augus’ back, to feel for his tied hands, and then slid his fingers up to Augus’ pulse. He exhaled slowly at what he found.

Augus was scared. Of everything that Gwyn could put him through, a single stretch of silk was undoing him.

‘Perhaps I could leave you here like this for two hundred years, and then collar you, and leash you, and then bring you up, gagged, and see how obedient you would be then.’

Augus bucked underneath him frantically, he twisted himself until he landed on the arms behind his back badly, and his lungs heaved in pain. The moan he made was muffled against the fabric.

Every centre had its antithesis. Gwyn was reminded, abruptly, of Jack’s reluctance to train or sit in on meetings while his centre had been fun. He had remembered training with him, and how it had taken a complete role reversal to get him to even appreciate the merits of it. And staring down at Augus now, holding him in place, he wondered if he’d found the antithesis to Augus’ centre. He had always assumed that it was submission, but he realised he was wrong.  

Voicelessness, perhaps. Even those who submitted could still command their partner’s attention, holding their focus. But a creature with dominance as their centre, what could they dominate without a way of expressing themselves? Tied and gagged?

Gwyn swallowed, uncomfortably. He could have made a game of it. He could have asked for anything and he knew it. But the part of him that demanded justice could not tolerate this panicked, mindless creature beneath him.

He reached up and grasped the gag in his fingers, and Augus’ eyes snapped to his, leaking water, pupils blown.

He eased his hands around until he reached the knot and untied it, feeling Augus’ panicked huffs coming through his nose as he did so. He unwound the gag and pulled it back, surprised at how quickly it had been soaked with saliva. All those droplets of water, wasted. Perhaps that was the most convincing sign of all, even more than the racing heartbeat, even more than the pulse that had skittered so fast he almost couldn’t distinguish individual beats.

‘Don’t talk, otherwise I’ll put this back on you,’ Gwyn said sternly, and Augus stared at him, mouth open, gasping for air as though he’d been suffocated.

‘I had fae coming to me, dying, while you were the Unseelie King. They begged me to intervene with you, to take their homes back from you, because they were dying. Because you wanted land and power for reasons that still haven’t been explained. These were – in at least some cases – fae that you had hunted with, that you had shared wine with, that you had previously allowed within the sanctity of your Kingdom. You let them die. Some came to me to be killed before madness overtook them. You let them waste, as you are wasting.

Augus’ eyes drifted sideways and then snapped back when Gwyn lifted the gag, threateningly.

‘You can’t even bluff your way out of this, can you? It’s too much for you. Can’t even pretend that it doesn’t horrify you to have your voice taken away. I suppose you didn’t expect me to discover this about you. Thinking I might start with blood. And then making you lick the soles of my feet. And then collaring. And leashing. And parading you in front of others. So that I could just slip right in at any time. Let’s not forget the basics though shall we? Even I know that it’s better to start with things like a blindfold. Like a gag.’

He pushed the fabric forward and Augus arched away from him, moving his head as far back as he could. He didn’t talk though. Didn’t say ‘stop’ or ‘don’t’ or use his compulsion. Gwyn remembered that he’d told Augus not to talk, remembered that the punishment for it was the gag.

‘You can answer direct questions,’ Gwyn said, and Augus’ eyes flashed angrily, but his body went limp as Gwyn withdrew the gag again.

‘Did you care about what you did to those fae?’ Gwyn said. He had to know.

Augus glared at him like he was stupid. Even terrified and shaking, he still managed to make Gwyn feel like he had the IQ of a trow.

No,’ Augus rasped. ‘Did I care? No, I didn’t care what I was doing to them. I let them into my Kingdom, I hunted with them, I shared wine with them. Maybe I even fucked some of them. What did they matter to me, truly?’

Gwyn was shocked to hear the response, having expected... anything except what Augus was offering him now, which seemed to be the truth.

‘You destroyed your own Court. You drove your brother away. You-’

‘Will you stop bringing him-’

Gwyn raised the gag and pushed it forwards angrily, and Augus actually shrieked, twisted so hard that he almost unseated Gwyn. But whatever force he’d used in the attempt must have also wrenched his arms, because he fell back to the ground, shuddering, eyes closed.

‘I didn’t ask you a direct question,’ Gwyn said, and Augus nodded fervently.

‘As I was saying. You drove your brother away. I suppose I don’t need to say anything more than that. I’d ask you if it was worth it, but as you have tear tracks drying on your face, I think I know the answer. Any questions?’

‘Just fuck me and get it over with,’ Augus said, eyeing the gag. ‘Just...drink the water, I don’t care. Leave me down here for however long you want to leave me down here. You want to turn this into some game, where you come back over and over again and break me, but you just finished this race early, as you finish everything early. What else have you got, Gwyn? Happy that you’ve reduced me to this in less than twenty four hours? I’m afraid I’m going to be boring from now on. You know how it is. Break them early, not much left after that.’

Gwyn said nothing, and Augus managed to slide his eyes away from the gag to make eye contact.

‘You know, this is usually the point where I start eating my prey,’ he whispered, a smirk in his tone, even though it wasn’t visible on his face.

‘You try my patience, Augus. It was you talking like this that got you gagged the first time.’

Augus swallowed, and then went completely boneless, exhaling through his nose.

‘Stay down,’ Gwyn said, and got up, wrapping the gag around his wrist like a rough bandage, making sure Augus could see it. He walked over to the glass of water and picked it up, brought it back with him and straddled Augus again, resting the glass on his chest. Augus stared at it and then looked away, as though he couldn’t bear for it to be so close and yet out of his reach.

‘Ask me for it, nicely,’ Gwyn said. ‘Go on, summon that aristocratic politeness that got you into such a position of power in the first place, you were able to depose the Raven Prince from his throne.’

Augus blanched. He looked down at the water again. He took a deep breath. Another.

‘Shining light of the Seelie Court, King of the Seelie Fae, if it would please you, consider giving this lowly, demoted waterhorse some water.’

Gwyn smiled slowly, he felt himself harden. Yes, this was very good. This would do very nicely. And his centre was justice now, wasn’t it? He could find a measure of mercy, enough to see how prettily Augus would swallow that water down.

He lifted the glass up and Augus’ eyes widened impossibly, as though he couldn’t believe it had worked. He lifted his head as Gwyn brought the glass forward, he opened his mouth. He closed his eyes as the first drops of it trickled down and he made the smallest of sounds; a hungry, wanting sound.

‘Spread your legs,’ Gwyn said, as Augus kept swallowing down the water. His eyes opened, he looked at Gwyn with something of disdain in his eyes. Then he looked at the gag.

He spread his legs.

Gwyn drew away the glass and set it down, making sure Augus couldn’t reach it. He leant down and sniffed at his mouth, smelling loam and dirt and sweet, cool water. Smelling the rich scent of waterweed and ozone.

Gwyn cupped his hands around Augus’ face, stretched his thumbs up. He pressed them to the tear tracks underneath Augus’ eyes, reminded him of them, and Augus jerked in protest.

Gwyn withdrew his hands and slid down, pushing Augus’ thighs further apart, reaching for the vial of lubricant that was in his pocket. He slicked up his fingers, stroked them between Augus’ legs, making a line of slickness that started underneath his balls and stopped at his entrance. He pushed two fingers in, swallowing. Augus was still stretched from earlier and Gwyn decided that, actually, not waiting a week or two had been a very good idea.

Augus had his eyes closed, his mouth open. He looked wrecked already, the gag having broken down his defences far faster than six months of solitude and Gwyn forcing himself on him had.

He fucked his fingers into Augus quickly. He slowed down just long enough to find his prostate and rub the pads of his fingers over it, impatient. It was only when he did it a third time that he was surprised at himself. He hadn’t meant to do this for Augus’ pleasure, it wasn’t about that. He hadn’t even intended the gesture as an act of humiliation. He’d just...wanted to see if he could make him feel good. Gwyn cringed at himself.

‘Do you like this?’ Gwyn said, scissoring his fingers, watching Augus wince and then release a long, shuddering exhale.

‘You...know me. Slut of the...Unseelie fae, before...King.’

Gwyn added a third finger, stretched them out at Augus’ entrance, grinning when Augus groaned. He might have been around, slept with many, but he hadn’t slept with anyone in at least six months. He was satisfyingly tight.

Gwyn withdrew his fingers and wiped them down Augus’ torso. He reached down and brought one of Augus’ legs up, hooking it over his shoulder.  

‘I want to hear you,’ Gwyn said, holding the gag that was wrapped around his wrist over Augus’ face, and watching with satisfaction as Augus pressed his head back into the ground. ‘And if I don’t, you know I will use this.’

He sheathed himself with one hard motion and Augus cried out beneath him. The muscles in his legs flexed, his spine arched, even his neck stretched out.

‘You’re...not a King,’ Augus rasped, ‘but a beast.’

‘I know,’ Gwyn grit out, pushing himself into Augus with short, sharp thrusts. ‘It should hurt, Augus; because otherwise I’m not doing it right. Besides, I thought pain didn’t bother you?’

Augus growled in his throat, a delicious sound that was made even more so when Gwyn realised that Augus growing hard against him. He reached down and tugged his cock into full hardness, licking his lips when Augus hissed at the rough treatment.

‘If you don’t come by the time I do, then you’re not coming at all.’

Ten seconds is hardly a fair deadline to anyone,’ Augus managed, and then choked off into silence at a particularly hard thrust.

Gwyn couldn’t be bothered dignifying that with a reply. It always got to this point and he just didn’t care anymore, he just wanted to come, and he knew it, and his partners knew it, and if anyone had a problem with it there were plenty of other fae to sleep with and even humans if they got bored with the fae. He thrust hard, craving friction, wishing he hadn’t used as much lubricant and moaning harshly when he realised that he probably didn’t need to, next time, because Augus was a spoil of war, not some bed-partner, not an equal.

Augus gasped beneath him, a pained noise, and Gwyn realised he was jerking him off too hard. He grit his teeth, pushed his thumb into the slit of Augus’ cock. Augus’ throat worked on a silent cry. He shuddered beneath him, his body convulsed, and he came hard, covering Gwyn’s hand even as Gwyn paused deep inside of him, finding his release, mind going blank.

He stayed bowed over Augus for some time, waiting until he’d softened fully, until Augus had too.

He withdrew more slowly this time. Augus groaned, dropped his leg to the floor as soon as Gwyn released it.

Gwyn leaned up again, shoved come covered fingers into Augus’ slack mouth.

‘Wouldn’t want to waste any of it,’ he said, voice rough. ‘Don’t you need the water?’

He pushed deeper when Augus didn’t respond straight away. And when Augus’ tongue curled around his middle finger, he smiled slowly. He had an awful idea.

A terrible idea. Maybe he was getting the hang of this game after all. And he thought maybe he’d feel less inclined to do it, as Augus licked him clean so politely, so thoroughly. But with each sensual swipe, he only felt more convinced that if the circumstances were reversed, Augus wouldn’t hesitate to do the same. That, if the situation was reversed, Augus would have relished such an idea.

When Augus was done, he reached over and took up the glass of water, and then let Augus drink the rest of it. Augus took small sips, almost dainty, and when the glass was empty, he lapped at the droplets that clung to the rim.

‘You tell me that I have everything that I need in order to break you, already,’ Gwyn said, setting the glass down and moving back up so that he could straddle Augus again properly. ‘You tell me that I’ve broken you, when it is quite obvious that I haven’t. You are uncommonly resilient, not just physically, but emotionally. You know this as well as I do. You tell me that I have the gag, and the water, so what else is there? I don’t know, Augus, you tell me. What else is there?’

Augus stared at him blankly, and then he tensed, wary.

‘No answers?’ Gwyn said.

Augus shook his head, slowly.

Gwyn unwrapped the gag so quickly that Augus had only just started to arch up in horror when Gwyn wrapped it twice around his mouth and secured it with a tight knot at the back of his head. Augus wailed behind the gag, eyes pleading, before they quickly sheened over with tears. Whatever expression he’d seen on Gwyn’s face, he didn’t like it.

Gwyn pushed Augus’ head down into the ground, held him still until he went limp, shuddering like a horse broken under the whip.

‘Do you know what else I have? It’s time. A few minutes isn’t nearly long enough to leave you gagged, now, is it? Do you think looking at me like that will make me sorry for you? Do you think I’ve used all my trump cards? Do you think they’re all gone? It’s going to take you at least half an hour to scrape the gag out of your mouth, and you’ll have to get creative if you want it gone. Don’t mess yourself up too much, because you are pretty.’

Augus stared at him in betrayal. It was an expression Gwyn had seen before, six months before to be exact, when Ash had forced his brother to submit underneath the weight of the living shadows.

‘I suppose you didn’t think I was capable of this, but I am capable of a steep learning curve. Maybe I’m learning your game after all, Augus. Think about that, while you scrape at tree roots to get a piece of cloth off your face. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Kingdom to run.’

Gwyn got up and dressed himself quickly, toed on his boots and looked back at Augus’ expression. Augus hadn’t even started trying to remove the gag, as he’d expected he would. He looked too shocked to manage much more than wide eyes, as though he hoped that at any moment Gwyn would simply turn around and change his mind. Gwyn swallowed around something hard inside of himself. Something unpleasant.

‘You drove everyone away, Augus,’ Gwyn said heavily. ‘So don’t look at me like that. Your brother wasn’t the only one you drove away. And you know it.’

Gwyn walked away. He expected to hear sounds of frustration, of fear, and was discomfited when he heard nothing at all as he exited the cell.

Chapter Text

Gwyn had gotten caught up in a dispute between domovoi and leshii, and in the end, had needed several days longer than he’d expected to prevent both factions going to war over a land dispute. The woodland factions were both prone to argument, and even Gwyn at his fiercest couldn’t get them to settle. But eventually, after shouting and vodka and realising that they just needed to yell themselves hoarse, they ended up settling themselves. Nine days later, they had finally come to a land agreement that would prevent war, would keep fae lives preserved.

That was the thing about fae. There weren’t a great many of them; immortality made them slow to have offspring, and that was if they even could. However, they were also deeply territorial, prone to argument and disagreement; battles and mercenary attacks were not uncommon.  

On the first day of the dispute, he’d thought of Augus a great deal. He hadn’t wanted to, but it was hard to wipe the memory of Augus’ betrayed expression from his mind. Even when he had known, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that justice was making sure that Augus was demoted and could never become Unseelie King again, it had chafed to know the methods he was using. No other fae had ever made him feel so desperate to get a job done. He was sure that if he didn’t try every trick at his disposal, he’d never end up creating justice for those who had died, those who still remained and needed their homes back.

He was paranoid that if he didn’t do this, Augus would somehow end up aboveground and powerful again.

After that first day of worrying about Augus’ expression and his own actions, he relaxed, knowing that Augus would have removed the gag by then. He had other things to focus on.

After the dispute between the leshii and the domovoi, Gwyn had closed up the mediation room for another day and walked through the Seelie Court itself; the idyllic forest-like place that it was, sombre birds watching from the trees, flowers growing amongst beds of grass, giant, graceful trees reaching up to the unearthly, Otherworldly sky with their branches.

He passed groups of Seelie Court fae, along with Capital fae who wanted to vie for higher status. Since the defeat of the living shadows and Augus both, his own Inner Court had dispersed out into their own realms. Albion managed the Seelie seawater fae, and Ondine was more suited to simply being a water elemental. He had stopped getting her to read his future a long time ago. He had a very small Inner Court compared to previous Kings, but he didn’t place his faith or trust in anyone easily and...he hadn’t technically placed his faith in Albion or Ondine either. Only in their power, only in their ability to fulfil their duty.

He rarely walked through his Court like this, preferring to avoid it and teleport. But he had to show his face sometimes. So it was that he paused, surprised, when he saw his mother and his cousin, Efnisien, talking quietly together in a shadowy corner.

That can’t be good.

Efnisien was rarely in the Court at all. Gwyn didn’t want him there. His centre of cruelty and his ability to make malicious sport of anything meant that he tormented the fae he found there. He only behaved himself when he was talking to Gwyn’s mother, and even then, likely because she herself was prone to manipulation and covert cruelty, and could keep his mind occupied with new plots.

Gwyn walked past them both quickly, without drawing their attention. His mother hadn’t approved of him keeping Augus alive, as he knew she wouldn’t. It wasn’t a coincidence that he’d had more formal appeals for Augus’ death since she’d begun to spend more time in his Court. And Efnisien...the less he and his cousin had to do with each other, the better. He was one of those fae that, like his mother, was incredibly fine looking, carrying an aristocratic bearing in his face and body. But there was a cruel cast to his eyes, a set to his mouth that indicated he was always wondering what he could tear apart next. Gwyn knew very well that if he couldn’t find people to menace, he would simply default to torturing forest animals.

There were few people in the world that Gwyn actually hated, but...

Seeing his mother and Efnisien in the Court together, talking quietly, made Gwyn shudder to think what they were discussing. His Court was not a safe place, though perhaps most of his Kingdom didn’t realise that was because of his family. After all, they’d enjoyed a privileged position in the Court for longer than Gwyn could imagine. Generations of family, all advising Kings and Queens before him.

So on the ninth day he forced his thoughts towards Augus again, because after everything else, thinking about Augus in a cell – one of the things he had actually gotten right – almost seemed a relief.

He made his way once more down the spiral staircase, another glass of water in his hand. He thought he should – at the very least – remove the rope binding his wrists. He would see what happened then. And if Augus attacked him, well, he was prepared for that.

He wandered down the long, dank corridor. He expected Augus to be waiting for him. To have smelled the water like last time. Augus became so obedient with the promise of something that could be found in such abundance everywhere else, except – among other places – in the Seelie Kingdom dungeon.

He couldn’t see Augus in the cell. His heart started to hammer. He almost dropped the glass of water. Had he escaped? How? It shouldn’t be possible. Not remotely possible. Even with Seelie sympathisers – not likely – they couldn’t break the energy seal around the cell, let alone get into the dungeon itself. The whole Seelie Court responded to Gwyn’s decisions as King, and if he keyed the energy for only a limited number of people, then that was sacrosanct; inviolable.

Or was it?

Then he saw a hunched form in the corner, facing away from the entrance. Augus’ arms were still tied behind his back, fingers limp. Gwyn frowned.

‘Trying a new trick, are you?’ he said, and Augus flinched in shock. It was the first time Augus hadn’t been aware of his approach. Augus turned and Gwyn felt his heart stop.

He hasn’t removed the gag.

He had tried, obviously he had tried, he had messed up that pretty face after all. One side of his face in particular was a mess of dark, black blood, scratches that went all the way down his neck. Gwyn hadn’t thought he’d tied the gag that tightly. He hadn’t...

He walked immediately through the seal and they stared at each other. Gwyn’s breathing was shallow.

‘Do you want me to take it off?’ Gwyn said, and there was a beat where Augus blinked at him like he didn’t understand. And then he made a loud, pleading noise that pierced the cell. In another room, it may have echoed. In the cell, the walls only absorbed it.

Gwyn put down the glass of water, he walked up to Augus carefully. He knew all about wild creatures and how unpredictable they could be when caught in a trap for days. He’d released some of those wild animals himself. Bears from bear traps. Deer from deer runs. Animals from pit traps.

He wondered what kind of reaction he’d get from Augus.

Augus started shaking violently even as Gwyn reached for him, and Gwyn had to bite down on his tongue to stop himself from offering a gentle word, because no, that wasn’t what this was about. It wasn’t his fault that Augus hadn’t tried hard enough to remove the gag. He could have hooked it from the back of his head and pulled it up that way, it wouldn’t have been-

Gwyn stilled when he felt the matts of clotted blood in the back of Augus’ damp hair.

He tried that too.

He frowned at the scarf, stared at it, and then he swore under his breath. Augus flinched almost completely out of his grasp and Gwyn had to step forwards again. He’d forgotten, he couldn’t believe that he’d forgotten; the black scarf had been a gift, enchanted to make sure that only he could untie it. He’d never had to use it before, so he’d dumped it in his chest with other lengths of silk and rope, along with fixings and other things he used to repair his weapons and halters, and it had been... coincidence, he hoped, that this was the one he’d picked up.

It was only supposed to be half an hour. You left him down here for nine days. Efnisien would be proud.

Gwyn swallowed around a thick knot in his throat.

Consequently, the knot gave immediately under his fingers. He barely needed to touch it, and it responded. But the scarf was stiff with blood and he had to manually peel it off, frowning when the smell of fresh blood entered the air again.

This wouldn’t do at all.

Augus, surprisingly, didn’t say anything when the scarf was removed from around his mouth. He drooped forwards, his breath was shallow and ragged. His whole body wouldn’t stop shaking. It was hard not to place a careful hand...

Gwyn restrained himself.

It wasn’t until Gwyn started untying the rope at Augus’ back, that Augus started to gasp for breath, sucking down lungfuls of air, each a dry rasp. Gwyn scowled at the rope. He’d had a bad week. A very bad week. He’d just wanted to come down here and get that out of his system, and now this.

The rope was harder, it wasn’t enchanted to obey his fingers, and he had to tug at the knots which had been made tighter through Augus’ struggles. As he managed to loosen the knots, he was less surprised to see the welts and bruises around Augus’ wrists.

Augus didn’t move his hands straight away. Augus likely knew from experience – probably not his own – that long-term bondage was hell on the body, whether fae or not. He could withstand trials that humans couldn’t, but that still didn’t mean he’d like them. Augus flexed his fingers slowly, open and shut. Open and shut. Still breathing in that horrible way, as though there hadn’t been enough air in the cells, as though there still wasn’t.

Gwyn touched fingers to the side of Augus’ face to check the damage, and Augus jerked out of his grip unsteadily. He wouldn’t make eye contact.

‘I’m not going to hurt you,’ Gwyn said, and Augus managed something that was almost a laugh. Gwyn reached out again, and Augus jerked back until his side was pressed against the wall, his head was tilted away.

‘You don’t need to check on me,’ Augus said, voice strained. ‘I’ll heal. Even as an underfae, I still have fae healing, and I’ll get over it.’

Gwyn blinked. That was...familiar. They were words he’d heard from Augus before; though in a very different context.

‘I know you’ll heal,’ Gwyn said, and then forced hardness to his voice, forced himself not to sound soft. ‘Maybe I just want to look, you’re not in a position to deny me.’

Gwyn didn’t grab his head, didn’t force him, couldn’t make himself. He reached out again, pulled Augus’ hair back from the side of his face even as Augus strained away into the wall. Augus wasn’t looking at him, instead staring ahead, trying for a stony expression, but only managing something pained, distraught.

The scratches were bad, but not as bad as they could have been. At some point, Augus must have realised – far earlier than Gwyn, apparently – that the scarf was enchanted. Some of the scratches had already knitted together. Augus was right, fae healing had taken over. It was slower than usual, even more than standard underfae healing. Augus had dried out too much, didn’t have access to enough water or food, and was wasting. His healing was sluggish.  

He stroked Augus’ hair away from his eyes, and Augus made a noise in his throat that was too raw, too honest to ever be feigned. It made Gwyn respond in the only way he knew how when he heard those noises in the wild. He reached out again, stroked the back of his fingers down Augus’ face, carefully avoiding the scratches, making sure it didn’t hurt. He made sure to be gentle.

Augus launched himself into Gwyn with a roar. He flung his arms forwards, even through the pain of stiff muscles and bones, and sunk his sharp claws into the skin at Gwyn’s throat.

‘NO!’ Augus shouted. ‘You stop! You stop this! You will stop this now!’

And once started, he wouldn’t stop, the compulsions heavy on every word, hysteria making his voice shatter. Gwyn placed his hands automatically around the welts and bruises on Augus’ wrists, warrior instincts kicking in, aiming for where it would hurt. Augus’ mouth opened and his words died out, his hands unclenched. Gwyn’s neck trickled blood where the nails had withdrawn, but it was a minor pain, and he ignored it.

Don’t use the scarf again,’ Augus said, when he saw the expression on Gwyn’s face. ‘Don’t use it again.’

There was a long pause. Augus closed his eyes, his dry lips cracked under a despairing smile.

‘Please,’ Augus added.

‘Get a hold of yourself,’ Gwyn said, uncomfortably. Augus didn’t beg. ‘You have fae healing. You’ll get over it.’

‘Truer words...’ Augus whispered and leaned weakly back against the wall when Gwyn let go of his wrists.

Gwyn silently got up and picked up the glass of water, then came back. He placed it at Augus’ lips and gently tilted the glass up. As soon as Augus felt the water, he drank it down until it was gone. Gwyn set the glass aside, waited. When Augus didn’t say a thing, Gwyn decided to speak.

‘So I’ve learned something,’ Gwyn said. Augus wouldn’t meet his eyes.

‘I’ve learned that you’ll use your compulsion to stop someone from being kind to you. But not nearly as much, to stop someone from...’

Gwyn couldn’t finish the sentence. He had only just realised what he was saying, the impact of what he was saying. When he looked back up, Augus was smirking at him weakly. A trickle of blood trailed down his chin, dripped off his neck. The worst scratches were around his mouth, likely where he’d been desperate to try and find his voice again.

Gwyn felt the uncomfortable hardness in his gut expand. Augus had done so much, had hurt so many, Gwyn didn’t want to feel this. He couldn’t afford to. What if this was a game? What if he was entangled in something and Augus was playing on his instincts? Gwyn could never leave an animal in a trap, preferring to stalk and hunt over laying pit-traps or steel and waiting for it to snag something. And Augus...did he know that? Would he use that?

He edged forwards. Augus’ smirk disappeared, his eyes narrowed in suspicion.

When Gwyn had Augus cornered against the wall and a tree root, he picked up the scarf he’d dropped on the ground. Augus tried to launch himself up and sideways, but Gwyn’s hand on his tense shoulder forced him down again.

‘If I gave you a choice,’ Gwyn said, ‘between the scarf, and comfort, which would you choose?’

Augus closed his eyes, smiled. It was a bleak smile.

‘You’re...good at this. Surprisingly,’ Augus said. ‘Didn’t expect an oaf like you to be good.’

‘I’m giving you a choice,’ Gwyn said, telling himself that he wasn’t pleased at the praise. That he wasn’t appreciative of praise given to him by one who was far better at this than he was. That it wasn’t about that either.

‘If I say...I won’t choose?’ Augus said. Gwyn looked down at the scarf before looking back up again.

‘Then I’ll do both.’

Augus flinched, and then looked disappointed at himself for flinching. His brow furrowed, he opened his eyes and looked down at the scarf.

‘You are better than this. This isn’t like you, we both know th-’

‘Stop telling me what I am, and choose. Don’t try my patience.’

Augus stiffened. His legs, already up against his chest, shifted as his feet tried to push himself back further into the wall.

‘You won’t...’ Augus said, and then swallowed. ‘I don’t know what to say. May I ask you a question?’

Gwyn swore that hearing Augus talk in that hesitant tone of voice wasn’t a turn on. But he wasn’t very good at lying to himself.

‘One,’ Gwyn said.

‘Is this so you can pick the option I want least? Is that the game?’

‘What do you think?’

Augus laughed, a tear slipped out of the corner of his eye, and Gwyn didn’t think Augus had noticed. He looked exhausted.

‘I can’t decide if you’re...if you’d do it the way I’d do it. Or if you’re, if you’re not as cruel as I was. I don’t know what to think. You’re hard to read, these days. Not...at my best, right now.’

Gwyn frowned. He didn’t want to have this conversation. He didn’t want to compare levels of cruelty. He wasn’t like Efnisien. He...

He wasn’t in the mood for explaining himself, and he didn’t have to.

‘Five seconds. Decide.’

Augus furrowed his brows further, and then knocked his head back against the wall once. Just as Gwyn had almost finished counting down, Augus said:

‘C-‘ and then didn’t seem to be able to finish the word.

‘You see, I have learned something about you today,’ Gwyn said quietly, accepting that single, hard consonant as his answer. ‘Were you always like this? Even back then?’

‘I’d rather not talk about it, actually,’ Augus said.

‘Tough.’

Augus turned his head away, and Gwyn took Augus’ hand in his own. He turned it up carefully, and then touched the tips of all of his fingers to Augus’ palm, as gently as he knew how. He reminded himself of the touches needed when dealing with forest creatures, when calming a spooked deer. He didn’t, after all, always go out into the woods to hunt.

‘I don’t want you to treat me like this,’ Augus said, and Gwyn trailed his fingers along Augus’, a languid, tender stroke. Augus jerked his hand away, and Gwyn let him, moving his gentle touch to the line of Augus’ shoulder, trailing a palm over muscle and bone. ‘I said I don’t w-’

‘Stay,’ Gwyn said, crowding him with his body. ‘Just stay.’

Augus gritted his teeth, tensed his jaw, withstood Gwyn’s touch the way most hardened warriors withstood torture. He was twitching by the time Gwyn paused, his forehead twisted up into unspeakable anguish. Gwyn found it curious, he hadn’t known that it was possible to do so much with gentleness.

It made him realise something, and the realisation unsettled something disturbing and fractious in his gut.

‘I know,’ Gwyn breathed, ‘what you did to Jack Frost. At first I thought it wasn’t so bad, even though, obviously, it was evil and cruel. I thought, of all the things you could have done, mimicking Pitch’s methods of comfort seemed...like maybe you’d gone soft, taken pity on the boy. But I was wrong. You were being unspeakably cruel by your standards, weren’t you? You went for the worst thing you could think of.’

Augus’ breathing started to escalate, he tensed for a blow.

‘What do you want from me?’ Augus said, finally, when Gwyn didn’t hit him. Gwyn didn’t do anything except leave an open palm on his shoulder.

‘As King of the Seelie Court, it is my responsibility to ensure that you will never – by any means necessary – threaten the fae as you have done so in the past.’

‘So just gag me and leave me here and come back, will you? I’m tired of all this-’

He shook his head when Gwyn touched his face again, when he slipped fingers up gently over his scalp, through the roots of his hair where the skin wasn’t damaged. He smoothed through the damp, untangled some of it. Repeated the gesture. He ignored Augus’ increased shaking and continued, untangling more of it, allowing his fingers to seek, quietly. It didn’t come easily to him, and he had to concentrate. He touched him like he touched tiny, young animals. Fledglings that had fallen out of nests, fawns that had lost their mothers.

Abandoned creatures.

Gwyn frowned again.

‘That King of shadows, he abandoned you, didn’t he?’ he said, and paused when Augus’ whole body moved on a single sob. It didn’t pass his mouth, ironic that he hated the gag so much, when he now suppressed so much of his own voice.

‘You might as well talk to me about it,’ Gwyn continued. ‘You’re going to be down here for a while.’

‘I am, aren’t I?’ Augus whispered. ‘In the dark. Alone. You coming for me when you feel like it.’

‘Don’t pretend you haven’t fantasised about doing it to others. Don’t pretend you haven’t thought about it.’

Augus shook his head in disagreement, and then nodded, sobbed again. He couldn’t hold it in, and the next one that came after it was strangled down.

‘I have,’ Augus said, ‘I have. And I don’t mind. Really. You’ve...you’re doing well. Actually. Don’t even need compulsion, and already you have me like this. Well done.’

His chest was starting to shake with repressed sobs, his shoulders bowed forwards and his arms curled around his torso, even though it must have hurt him to do it. Gwyn felt a thread of coldness wind through him. He couldn’t decipher Augus’ game, and he hardly knew his own role, except that he was supposed to be captor, and Augus was supposed to be cowed.

‘If I had known this was in you,’ Augus managed, ‘I would have done things differently, all that time ago, between us. I would have...I- oh, fuck you.’

Augus’ sobs never became more audible than shuddering exhales of air, falling one upon the other in spasm. He inhaled between each bout, curling further upon himself, until his forehead was almost brushing Gwyn’s chest. He tried to make sure that no part of him was touching Gwyn, but Gwyn was too close, and Augus couldn’t get away.

‘I wonder,’ Gwyn said, looking down at the creature he managed to crowd so easily with his body; he was intensely aware of how much larger than Augus he was, like this. ‘I wonder how vulnerable you must feel, at this moment. At my mercy. I doubt it feels as good for you as it does for me.’

Gwyn’s lips curled as Augus tried – and failed – to stop his sobbing. He was too far gone. There was something particularly satisfying about Augus crying, broken, leaning so close and yet not allowing himself to touch Gwyn’s body. And Gwyn...he shoved away whatever compunctions he had about what was happening, shoved them deep. It was his right as King to treat his prisoners however he wished. Augus had traded away his right to be treated with respect when he had started destroying the very world and community they all needed in order to survive.

He was doing the right thing.

Gwyn reached around with one of the arms he’d been bracing against the wall and draped it around the back of Augus’ shoulders. And when Augus started to pull away, Gwyn exerted the tiniest amount of strength to bring him forward and back. His face was impassive as he pulled Augus against him, as he felt that smaller body – dense with muscle – slump awkwardly against his.

He could feel dirt underneath his palm and he smoothed it away until he felt only skin. Augus shook his head in response, pushed weakly, but his wrists were still healing from their long-term bondage. He seemed disoriented. He couldn’t get enough purchase to move.

Gwyn shifted until he was leaning with his back against the wall and one of his legs drawn up. He pulled Augus across him, who was still shuddering with sobs that he was trying to quieten.

The idea that Augus loathed comfort so much that he would turn it as a torture device against a creature as young and wild as Jack Frost filled him with a special strain of loathing. He had initially thought – since discovering what had actually happened to Jack – that Augus had been going soft. He had even used it as one of his private excuses not to kill Augus outright, to imprison him as underfae instead. But now...

Gwyn kept one hand wrapped tight around Augus’ side, a reminder that he shouldn’t fight. And with the other, he started thumbing smears of dirt off Augus’ shoulders, smoothing his palm over his back.

Augus pushed up to get off and Gwyn’s arm tightened until Augus made a tiny, tight sound in the back of his throat. He stopped fighting, only tensed, shaking, against the caresses.

‘You could fight me,’ Gwyn said, ‘That might be entertaining.’

Augus tensed further, as though he was considering taking Gwyn up on his word, and then he subsided once more. There were fine tremors moving through his body, and each time Gwyn moved his hand gently over his shoulder, each time he rubbed away a stubborn stain of dirt, it reminded him very much of feeling for the tension in a bowstring; he could feel the minute shifts under his fingers, it was like learning a new weapon. The loathing he’d been trying to hold onto dripped away, leaving him curious, instead.

Gwyn raised his hand up and started untangling Augus’ hair. At that, Augus hissed threateningly. Gwyn ignored him. Augus’ hair was thick, still damp. He had dripped a great deal of blood out already, except where it had clotted too quickly. It coiled around his fingers, traced limp lines over his knuckles. Gwyn shifted where he leaned against the wall and swallowed his sigh. It was important to concentrate, because if he lulled himself with this, he would forget that Augus was a barely contained creature, waiting for an opening in which to fight back.

He reached around with his fingers and traced the shape of Augus’ ear, then curved down along his jaw, reaching up and thumbing the scratches over his mouth.

It happened quickly.

Augus slid out from under his arm instead of pushing up against it. He slapped Gwyn across the face with the back of his hand, catching him with the tips of his nails. Gwyn’s head hardly moved, it was nothing more than a brief flare of pain. Augus’ wrists were still weak after the bondage, and he couldn’t manage much force. But his eyes and the poisonous expression on his face more than made up for it.

Gwyn couldn’t help it, a corner of his mouth turned up.

At that, likely aggravated by Gwyn’s expression, Augus drew his arm back again, and before he could even start the swing, Gwyn had caught the sore, bruised joint and squeezed it between his own hand.

‘Trying to make me angry?’ Gwyn said, and Augus’ hand tensed into curled claws.

‘You disgust me,’ Augus said, putting so much venom into the words that Gwyn was almost certain that he was forcing compulsion into them. Gwyn raised his eyebrows. That would never work.

Compulsions didn’t stick to him, didn’t work their way in. His father had made sure, a long, long time ago, that Gwyn wasn’t susceptible to the compulsions of other fae. It had been a necessary thing to learn, brutal though the lessons had been. Even when Augus had been at his most powerful; King of the Unseelie fae, with all the status and energy that had implied, his compulsions had never been anything more than irritating.

‘I know what you’re doing,’ Gwyn said.

‘Oh, do you?’ Augus said, trying to tug his wrist free and failing. Gwyn let him tug several more times, and only released his arm when Augus stopped. Augus’ lips tensed at that, like he wanted to spit insults. But he held his tongue, and so Gwyn continued to speak.

‘Yes. We see feints in the battlefield all the time, Augus. Trying to incite my wrath, aren’t you? Want the violence of it? Can’t bear me doing this.’

Gwyn shifted and smoothed the flat of his palm over Augus’ collarbone, watching him carefully. Augus reared sideways and Gwyn followed the movement until Augus was flat on his back, Gwyn arching over him.

‘You’re in the dirt again. Where you belong,’ Gwyn said, tracing his hand over Augus’ collarbone a second time, a third. He resisted the urge to fist fingernails into Augus’ shoulder, to pin him down by bruised wrists. All the frustrations of the week had built and twisted upon themselves until he didn’t know which way was up. And now, leaning over Augus, he still couldn’t tell.

‘You’re the one on your knees in it,’ Augus said. ‘And you came willingly. You had to push me down. Dear me, Gwyn, you must be better about which insults you choose to throw around. This is not your finest work.’

Gwyn ducked his head, grit his teeth. Those silky taunts were far more likely to push him over the edge than any physical violence, and Augus obviously knew it. He’d made the faintest sound of mocking amusement as soon as Gwyn had lowered his head. Gwyn forced his breathing to calm.

‘Do you know how stubborn I can be?’ Gwyn said under his breath, trailing fingers down Augus’ side. ‘Do you want to find out? Keep pushing me, Augus.’

Gwyn straddled Augus and stared down at him, before moving his hands up and settling them over Augus’ shoulders, dragging them down his chest and torso, making sure to catch his nipples as he went. He repeated he gesture, watching outrage flare onto Augus’ face, his hands fist at his side. His cheeks were still wet with tears from earlier. His breathing hadn’t entirely evened out. Gwyn knew he shouldn’t be enjoying this part; but he was.  

He forced his movements to true gentleness. Made himself think of wild, lost creatures once more. It was easy after that, it made him remember something.

‘Did he abandon you, Augus? Didn’t you say that you were thrown away?’ Gwyn said, stroking fingers down the side of his ribs, and Augus jerked. His eyes widened. For a moment, Gwyn wondered if Augus was going to fight, and then Augus closed his eyes and went completely limp. Gwyn recognised this from his hunts in the forest. Playing dead. It would never work.

‘You don’t have to tell me,’ Gwyn continued, skimming fingertips up the inside of Augus’ arms and ending with his palms cradling Augus’ face. ‘But you will.’

Augus said nothing. His eyelids pressed shut, small lines appeared at the corner of his eyes. His mouth was tense. For all that he was willing his body to relaxation, he was not relaxed. And Gwyn bowed down, dragged his lips over one of the worst scratches, smelled the coppery-silty scent of Augus’ dried blood. It was almost muddy, and he licked at the taste it left on his lips.

‘Did you want to bite into it yourself,’ Augus said, breathless, ‘that heart that you made Cyledr eat? Did you hold it, pulsing and bloody in your own hands, and did your mouth water? Did you wonder? Except that you don’t have to answer me, you mad, base creature. I know, I remember. Pulling those answers from you, all that time ago, how could I not? Poor, naive Gwyn. He didn’t want to say how much the madness of it intrigued him. How appealing insanity was, after all that.’

Gwyn shivered, his eyes snapped open. Augus was staring at him, something of victory in his eyes.

‘But you still told me everything.’

Augus reached between them and pushed his hand into Gwyn’s breeches, took Gwyn in a weak grip. Gwyn was too shocked to respond, hadn’t expected it, and Augus’ hand was already moving skilfully against him. Gwyn blew out an exhale, hardened quickly, braced himself on one arm. He moved his other arm down between their bodies, a thread of fear winding through him. Augus could hurt him. A lot.

He curled his hand around Augus’, strengthening the grip until it felt good, until Augus couldn’t hurt him because Gwyn’s grip prevented it. But both of their hands around his cock...it was getting to him. He dropped his head beside Augus’.

He waited before he started moving their hands. He turned, licked his tongue into the scratches by Augus’ lips. The skin split open and he was tasting fresh blood, not nearly as silty or muddy. Fresh and liquid, slicker than most. Augus made a small, trapped sound in the back of his throat, but didn’t move away.

‘Trying to distract me?’ Gwyn said, moving his hand and forcing Augus’ into the movement. ‘It’s working.’

Augus tried to yank his hand away, but Gwyn’s grip tightened around Augus’ hand, and therefore himself. He groaned, harsh, and bit Augus’ lower lip, keeping it imprisoned between his teeth for a moment. He let go seconds later, exhaling.

No,’ Gwyn said in response to Augus trying to tug his arm away again, dragging Augus’ hand into a steady rhythm. ‘You started this. Let’s finish it.’

‘Shall I start counting down from thirty seconds? Or shall you? No. Wait. I had better, since I doubt you can multitask.’

Augus inhaled sharply through his nose as Gwyn scraped teeth over Augus’ jawbone, catching scratches from the gag. And Gwyn had wanted to drag this out, had wanted to make it last, but he had only ever intended to come down and spend himself up until he didn’t have to think anymore. Augus made him think too much. Made him remember.

He moved his mouth sideways until he could push his tongue between Augus’ lips, tasting pure, fresh water and a swirl of green; chlorophyll. He was licking the roof of Augus’ mouth when teeth closed down on his tongue, hard enough to hurt, but not hard enough to break through skin. He jolted. He’d stopped paying attention, and now this.

Gwyn grunted, opened his eyes, and Augus was still watching him. His teeth bit down harder, and Gwyn’s hand faltered in its pace. That hurt.

Augus laughed under his breath, the sound humming through Gwyn’s mouth. He moved his own hand beneath Gwyn’s, reminding Gwyn that he had stopped moving. There was a dare in his eyes, a hungry, dangerous glint.

He eased his bite off Gwyn’s tongue and Gwyn tore his mouth away, tasting his own blood. Augus had broken the skin, after all.

‘Finish it,’ Augus said, and his grip became suddenly and deceptively strong, as though his hands hadn’t been damaged by the bondage at all. His fingers tightened hard around Gwyn and forced a moan out of his throat.

No, this is not permitted, I will not-

‘If you bite me again,’ Gwyn hissed, ‘I swear on my Court, I will leave you gagged down here until you forget your own name.’

He forced Augus’ mouth open with his own and thrust his tongue deep, over-riding Augus’ rhythm around his cock with his own hand. Augus’ jaw tightened, teeth scraped his tongue threateningly but didn’t bite down again. And then Augus’ tongue wrapped up around Gwyn’s and sucked hard, tasting the blood that he had drawn with his bite, and Gwyn swore that the sound that ripped out of him into Augus’ mouth was not because of that. It was not.

He had thought he would be close, but he wasn’t. The fatigue of the week caught up with him, and he was so tired, he had just wanted to come down and...

And now they were facing each other, and Augus’ eyes were open, ever-watching, and Gwyn could feel his fingers around his cock, laced through his own, and it should have pushed him over the edge in seconds, a minute at most. But something was wrong. The sensations swam up to him from a distance, they felt good, but it wasn’t the rawness he normally looked for. Something was wrong.

Gwyn broke away from Augus’ mouth again, gathering his breath, pushing his face to the side so that Augus couldn’t see him. The taste of Augus’ mouth was in his, he felt strange, as though he’d been swimming in freshwater.

He could see the gag – a limp piece of cloth – in his line of sight, and squeezed his eyes shut. He hadn’t remembered, had he, that it was enchanted? That it couldn’t be removed?

He wouldn’t do something like that, would he?

And yet here he was, doing something like this.

A frustrated, trapped sound ripped out of him and he moved his hand faster; a relentless, punishing grip that almost hurt. And Augus flinched, his hand and wrist sore, but Gwyn was done. He shouldn’t even be down here. Everything smelled of blood and dirt and water, even though Augus was water-deprived and shouldn’t smell so fresh.

His orgasm blasted through him, more pain than pleasure, and he didn’t care. He pressed his forehead down into Augus’ hair, feeling it damp against his forehead. His hand slowed to a halt, withdrew, and then he jerked as Augus’ hand continued against him, just as tight as before, a smooth, flowing rhythm that made his gut ache.

Gwyn reached up and forcibly pulled Augus’s hand off him, holding his wrist to make sure he couldn’t go back.

‘So I’ve learned something,’ Augus said smoothly, sounding smug.

Gwyn cringed to hear the words reflected back at him. He pushed himself upright quickly, forcing himself into a standing position even though he felt terribly unsteady. He picked up the gag where he’d dropped it, shoved it into his pocket. His arm tensed, he wanted to drag his hand through his hair, but he couldn’t. Not now. He’d exposed something that he shouldn’t have. At the point where he usually tipped over into that rawness he craved, he’d fallen into something else entirely.

He needed to hunt. He needed...something.

He looked down at Augus, who was half-hard, but didn’t seem particularly concerned with doing anything about it. He took in the way Augus had raised himself up to his elbows and was looking at Gwyn with a self-satisfied, narrow-eyed expression. That lambent green saw far too much. Gwyn had to stop this, he had to stop.

‘I’m not going to tell you what I’ve learned,’ Augus said, managing an extremely superior smile for someone who still had fresh blood at the corner of his mouth where Gwyn had opened the wound. ‘I’ll save it for later. When you’re least expecting it.’

Gwyn picked up the glass that had held the water he’d given Augus. He didn’t know how Augus managed to look so composed. He was the one who had been bound, gagged, the one who had been crying and broken. And Gwyn knew that this was the evidence he needed that Augus was too dangerous, could never be trusted. Gwyn could kill him, and almost no one would care. He should have killed him when he had the chance.

But you can’t, a small voice in his mind whispered. You can’t. You coward. You remember too much.

He walked out quickly, without a backwards glance. Augus said nothing else, but Gwyn could feel his confident gaze upon his back until he was out of sight. It was only then that his tense hand shattered the glass in his grip. His skin healed quickly, but he still felt like he was bleeding when he reached his own rooms.

Chapter Text

It took a few days to marshal his thoughts together, but in the end, he forewent coming to a solid conclusion about what he should do with Augus. He knew at the very least that he couldn’t kill him. It wasn’t in his nature. He may have run up a huge tally of deaths on the battlefield, but it wasn’t his way to kill off the field. He wasn’t an executioner.

Up until Augus had been placed in it, the Seelie dungeon had been empty since the reign of the Oak King. Gwyn didn’t take prisoners, and he’d secretly been hoping that he’d be able to close out his reign without taking a single one. But it was that, or killing Augus; there was no way he could have let Augus go back to the Unseelie Court. For a start, Gulvi would have wandered down into the Unseelie dungeon and murdered him. It didn’t matter how much she loved Ash, she loved her family, and she was a trained mercenary. Secondly, Ash would never have been voted into the Kingship with Augus down in a cell in that Court. People wouldn’t have trusted Ash not to simply let Augus out at his earliest convenience. Gwyn didn’t trust Ash not to do that.

He did what he’d had to do. That was what he told himself, and he very nearly believed it.

He told himself that he should just stop visiting Augus. Should bring a glass of water down once every six months and leave it at that. The water would make sure he didn’t waste completely, but it would keep him weak, and then Gwyn could rule the Kingdom that he’d never wanted to rule...

The Seelie Court was tedious, all the time. His life was no longer about defeating a terrible, shadowy menace, or an overly-ambitious Unseelie King. And it turned out that in lieu of having antagonists to focus on, the Seelie Court just antagonised themselves.

Gwyn had only been voted in because they thought he’d be suited to defeating great evil. Now, with no great evil left, the daily chore of being royalty, being stuck in the Seelie Court, it chafed away at him. He became more aware of how much he loathed what he’d been voted in to do. That he couldn’t just walk away, couldn’t just appoint someone like Albion to take over for at least another century...it left him with the taste of bile in his throat.

Gwyn wondered if that was what he was doing with Augus. Antagonising himself. There was a strange, unsteady rage in his gut whenever he thought of him. He thought of how it had ended last time between them both, in the cells; how close he had come to letting himself be taken over, and he could not allow that to happen again. Augus, even weakened, was naturally dominating. And Gwyn responded to that, even when he knew he shouldn’t, when he knew it might have fatal consequences.

He was better than that. His family would be appalled if they knew what he was doing.

But then his family would be truly appalled if they knew that he’d been one of Augus’ clients, once upon a time, before he was King. They would be horrified to know that the reason Gwyn surrendered his centre of triumph to a centre of wildness, was because of Augus’ influence. It was one of the few times his family had ever tolerated him; when his centre was triumph. When he shifted to wildness, lived in the forest, became something truer than he knew he could be, they’d grown repulsed by him.

He ran the pale, wooden bucket through the lake water quickly. He dropped a sponge and cloth into it. He didn’t think soap would be necessary. If the fae knew he was doing this, if they knew it had gone beyond a single glass of water...they weren’t a trusting lot. It didn’t matter that they talked about how he’d defeated the Nightmare King, or Augus; their loyalties lasted about as long as they could be bothered giving them. Even in the Seelie Court, it wasn’t long.

He was the only one who could teleport directly into and out of the cell. And it was an easy enough matter to make sure the bucket was touching his foot, so he could bring it along with him. He never worried about accidentally teleporting on top of others. He could sense the shape of the space he was about to enter right before he entered it, and could make last minute adjustments. And, besides, there was a side of the cell that seemed to be ‘his side,’ and Augus never spent any time in it.

Augus was sitting quietly on one of the thicker tree-roots that ran along one side of the cell. His eyes were closed, he looked almost peaceful. But his nostrils flared as soon as he knew the water was there. His head tilted in its direction. Gwyn didn’t delude himself into thinking that Augus was reacting like that because of him.

‘Clean yourself,’ Gwyn said, picking up the bucket and placing it in front of Augus, then sitting opposite him on the other side of the cell.

‘So you can fuck me dirty again?’ Augus said, his eyes finally opening.

‘Clean yourself,’ Gwyn repeated, hardening the edges of the words, turning them to command. Augus stretched, he raised both of his arms above his head, arched his feet, and then looked down into the water. He reached over and trailed his fingers through it. Gwyn saw gooseflesh rise on Augus’ arms, pimple his torso. It was the most water that Augus would have seen in over six months. He wondered how Augus would react to a whole lake.

‘Well, I don’t know,’ Augus drawled. ‘I’ve spent quite a bit of time down here, over the past few months. Perhaps I’m accustomed to filth.’

He looked directly up at Gwyn as he finished his sentence, and Gwyn’s jaw tightened at the double meaning. That oily rage flashed through him again.

He stood up. He didn’t have to deal with this. He could just take the bucket with him and leave. He stepped towards the water source and Augus tensed, he placed his hands almost protectively over the surface of the water. He seemed to sense that Gwyn was not bluffing. Gwyn paused, and Augus stared at the water, a hungriness in his eyes.

Slowly, Augus dipped his hand in and picked up the sponge, shivering as freshwater cascaded through his fingers and down his wrist.

‘I knew you were a fool, but not this much of one,’ Augus said, though he didn’t look up at Gwyn. He dipped his fingertips into the water and took a deep breath. ‘You removed the gag when you knew it was working. You have enquired after my welfare. Now this. What, exactly, are you doing here?’

‘Clean yourself,’ Gwyn repeated. He had no answers for Augus, he didn’t have answers for himself.

‘I would prefer some privacy,’ Augus said. Something uncomfortable flickered over his face.

Gwyn remembered that Augus liked to do a great deal in privacy. He didn’t like to sleep while anyone was watching him. He ate alone. He preferred to hunt alone. Even when Gwyn had spent time with Augus in his own home, Augus had been remarkably private about how he lived his life, what he enjoyed, how he spent his time. To this day, not many people could say that they knew Augus well, even if they had known him for hundreds of years.

What, exactly, are you doing here?

Gwyn wished he knew the answer to that.

‘You would prefer some privacy?’ Gwyn said. ‘This isn’t a hotel. No one is waiting on you.’

Augus breathed out silent laughter.

‘No? What would you call this then? The water? The sponge? Are you telling them up there, that you’re doing this? Or is it a secret? Let’s not forget that you defeated me, Gwyn. And now, here you are, offering me something to clean myself with, waiting on me.’

Gwyn ground his teeth together, and Augus looked back down to the water, as though suddenly aware of his predicament.

Augus’ hand clenched around the sponge and he looked at it, measuring. Gwyn could almost see him deciding if it was worth it. The moment that Augus decided it was, he stood up and dropped the sponge back into the bucket, and then dragged the bucket closer to himself. He bent over, picked up the sponge again, then turned his back to Gwyn without giving him a second glance.

Gwyn expected that. He sat down again, reclined against the wall, watching. From this angle, the view was just fine. And he realised – as an unexpected benefit – he could see the rise and fall of Augus’ back. As soon as Augus pressed the sponge against himself, to his chest, his upper back paused. He was holding his breath. And a moment later his whole body trembled. Gwyn watched as clear water dripped down to the cell floor, relaxed further as Augus ran the sponge over himself several more times; slow and languid strokes.

Yes, Gwyn thought, this is very good.

Augus bent down again, soaked the sponge and then wrung out the excess water, and began to clean off his hands, his forearms. His breathing was forced to a faux evenness, it was far shallower than it had been when Gwyn had entered.

‘Don’t forget your face,’ Gwyn said, and Augus stiffened, as though he’d already forgotten Gwyn was there.

Augus didn’t answer him, but kept methodically cleaning off the dirt and blood-stains on his arms. Water dripped to the floor, and Gwyn’s eyes widened when he realised that somehow – osmotically – Augus must be absorbing some of the water. His hair had gotten wetter, and he hadn’t even touched his hair.

‘You absorb water?’ Gwyn said, shocked. Augus paused again, clearly uncomfortable that Gwyn was watching him. And then he nodded quickly.

‘Not usually, but if my species goes dry, we’ll absorb it through our pores.’ Augus sounded a strange combination of tense and ragged. His voice was warm, wetter. Gwyn blinked, closed his eyes, tried to remember...and then instantly an image came back from the past and he leaned forwards.

Gwyn wanted to say, It’s turning you on, I remember what that sounds like, but he kept the words locked up in his mouth. He would know enough to be certain, soon enough. And he didn’t want to refer back to that time; it was obvious that it had meant more to Gwyn than it ever had to Augus.

‘Continue,’ Gwyn said, and Augus’ head turned to the side.  For a moment Gwyn could see his jaw working in frustration, and then Augus turned back to the bucket and continued.

The water was clearly worth more than his dignity. Gwyn would have to remember that for next time.

Augus moved onto his face, then his neck. Then he started on his hair. The first time he squeezed the sponge over it, his whole body shifted, and he reached out and braced himself with a hand on the wall. Gwyn watched hungrily as Augus’ fingers dug into the loamy earth, he took a deep, slow breath.

‘What’s it like?’ Gwyn said, his voice rougher.

Augus laughed under his breath, he sounded unsteady.

‘I don’t think I’ve ever been dry for so long before,’ Augus said, ‘it’s...I’m surprised you brought so much water. It’s in your best interests to keep me weak.’

‘What does it feel like?’ Gwyn said, persistent, and Augus reached down and soaked the sponge, then hesitated briefly, before squeezing the water directly over his scalp. He reached around and started wiping the back of his neck, removing damp earth. His breath shifted and hitched abruptly, and Gwyn realised that Augus had held back a noise.

Gwyn closed his eyes, he took a long, even breath. It was easier to focus, with the distance between them.

Augus continued, combing his fingers through his hair, squeezing out murky water until it ran clear. He moved onto his torso after that, trembling as he began. Gwyn had no doubt that Augus was aroused at this point. He wondered how much more powerful a lake would truly make him, whether it was worth the risk to see how Augus would react. After all, he was still underfae, wasn’t he? Still stripped of the majority of his powers. And Gwyn very much wanted to know how Augus would react to a lake.

Augus was almost down to his feet, by the time Gwyn couldn’t take it anymore.

‘Touch yourself,’ he said, shifting around his own erection. ‘Do it, Augus.’

Augus paused, he straightened. He evened out his breathing, and Gwyn wondered if he was doing that for his own benefit, because Augus must have known that Gwyn could see how uneven his breathing had become. There would be no point in Augus making his breath steady now. He must have been doing that for himself.

‘Wrap your fingers around your cock, Augus,’ Gwyn said, letting each word fall explicit off his tongue, hooking into the consonants.

Augus made a small, wanton sound. He braced his forearm against the wall once more and leaned into it, dropped the sponge in the water with his other hand. Gwyn had expected far more resistance. He was instead pleased to see that Augus wasn’t having trouble fighting Gwyn’s suggestion, he was having trouble fighting his own impulses.

‘If you don’t do it, I will. And you won’t like it if I do it,’ Gwyn said, voice deepening.

‘Crude, but effective, I suppose,’ Augus said breathlessly. Gwyn licked his lips as Augus reached between his legs, and his eyes drank in every response. Augus refused to make a sound, but his back had stopped moving in that telltale sign that he was holding his breath. His arm tensed and the forearm that was bracing himself against the wall ended in fingers that twitched at the motion.

Augus started moving his hand against himself and Gwyn narrowed his eyes.

‘Turn around,’ Gwyn said. ‘Show me.’

Augus muttered something derisive under his breath, his hand stilled. The discomfort was back, but Gwyn didn’t care. He wanted to watch, he liked the idea of watching Augus take himself apart. He thought he might learn something from the experience. This was his favourite kind of learning.

‘You have an active imagination, you don’t need to watch,’ Augus said, and Gwyn grinned, all teeth and nothing friendly about it.

‘It’s not like I’m watching you eat a person. Just turn around and show me.’

There was a long, drawn out pause, and then Augus released himself and turned around, still hard and torso marked with droplets of water, clean of dirt and catching the small amount of light in the cell. He met Gwyn’s eyes, looked meaningfully down at Gwyn’s crotch, as though inviting him to participate by touching himself also. Gwyn tensed in response.

That wasn’t something he often did. Not alone, not with others watching him.

‘Join me?’ Augus said, and Gwyn licked his lips. His hand shifted helplessly, moved towards his own cock. He stopped himself. He had more important things he wanted to do first, like watch.

Augus half-smiled.

‘You want a show?’ he said, pressing his palm against himself and then smoothing damp skin over the head of his cock. ‘I can give you a show.’

He teased himself a minute longer, rubbing his thumb over the head of himself. He reached down between his legs and cupped his balls, as though this was something he did all the time. Gwyn suddenly wanted to undo his breeches, wanted to bring himself off, knew it would be easier to do if Augus was doing the same thing. But he knew that if he did, he’d be finished long before Augus, and he wanted to see. He took a long, frustrated breath which Augus marked with his eyes, an amused glint causing them to narrow.

Augus leaned back against the wall and dropped his chin, eyes lowering to half-mast as he wrapped a hand around himself and started an uneven, slow rhythm. Gwyn watched, curious, and then looked up at Augus’ face, the way he no longer made eye contact. His hair clung limply to the side of his face, to his neck. Gwyn looked back down to Augus’ cock and swallowed.

He had a sudden impulse to move forwards, to kneel, to take Augus into his mouth. An urge to feel hands in his hair and listen to moans encouraging him, telling him that he was doing a good job. It was an old, old urge that he squashed down before it had any chance to take root in his mind. He could not afford to be that person here. He could not afford to be that person ever again. Not ever.

‘That hand by your side,’ Gwyn said, ‘could be put to better use. Couldn’t it? How can you give me a show, if you’re only using one hand?’

Augus faltered in his movements and then lifted his gaze to Gwyn’s, something baleful in his sparked, green gaze. For all that Augus talked of putting on a show, Gwyn could see just how much discomfort was still present, that Gwyn had asked him to do this. If it wasn’t for the fact that Augus had been turned on so much by the water, Gwyn was sure Augus would have put up more serious resistance.

‘Go on,’ Gwyn said, standing and gesturing to Augus’ other hand.

Augus watched warily as Gwyn stood up and walked over, and Gwyn made a sound of annoyance when Augus’ other hand stayed still at his side. He reached over and grasped Augus by the wrist, and then raised his own hand up to guide Augus’ palm down his torso. Augus watched Gwyn, shivered.

‘I wonder,’ Gwyn said, as he threaded his fingers through Augus’ and dragged both of their hands across Augus’ chest, making sure that he caught his nipple with his fingernail. Augus hissed and his other hand against himself jerked. ‘I wonder how many would think your centre was dominance now, if they were meeting you for the first time.’

Augus closed his eyes and kept moving his hand over his cock, he seemed driven now, willing to get it over and done with. But Gwyn wasn’t done. He unthreaded his fingers through Augus’ and bent down, picking up the wet cloth from the bucket of water and crowding Augus, pressing the cool, dripping fabric against his shoulder and watching, mesmerised, as the water dripped down.

The sound that Augus made then was one that Gwyn was sure he’d be replaying for some time to come.

Gwyn bent down and soaked the cloth with more of the water, and then, pulling Augus’ hair away from his neck, pressed it against the corded muscle there, the thumping pulse at his carotid. Augus moaned outright, and then jerked his head away.

‘Will you stop?’ Augus gasped, and Gwyn laughed behind a closed mouth.

‘Are you finding it difficult to concentrate?’ Gwyn said, ‘I thought I was the one who was bad at multitasking.’

‘You are,’ Augus ground out, and then his back slumped harder against the wall and his chest heaved, as Gwyn rung the cloth out over his collarbone. ‘And let’s...not pretend that you planned this. You had no idea I’d react like this. I had no idea I’d react like this. We both didn’t know this would happen.’

‘I’m adaptable,’ Gwyn said, ‘when it suits me. Don’t stop moving your hand against yourself, Augus, or I mean it...I will finish things for you. And it will hurt.’

‘I’m honestly surprised you haven’t fallen upon me like a rabid dog,’ Augus managed, moaning as he started moving his hand again, only able to stop the sound halfway through.

‘Maybe that’s coming,’ Gwyn said, pressing his hardness up against Augus’ hip, through the material of his breeches. ‘Maybe I’m waiting for you to be done first.’

Gwyn had no intention of burying himself in Augus. Not today. This was far more tantalising, and he looked down and watched Augus’ hand moving, that same, uneven, complicated rhythm that struck curiosity off in his mind. He hardly ever brought himself off, and when he did, he got it over and done with as quickly as possible; it was stress relief and nothing more. He had a basic, workmanlike way of bringing himself to completion. But Augus, even now, took to it with far more sophistication.

As Augus kept moving, Gwyn took himself out of his breeches and squeezed, hot as a brand against his palm. His mind tipped into a glorious, empty place. He looked down at Augus’ rhythm and mimicked it, brow furrowing, mouth pulling into a frown. Why would anyone ever bother with something so complicated? Still, he followed the rhythm and tipped his forehead against Augus’ shoulder, making sure he could still see that strange, looping rhythm.

‘Are you copying me?’ Augus said, a despairing, amused note in his voice.

‘Shut up, Augus,’ Gwyn said, and realised that the rhythm really did loop in on itself. About once every seven strokes it went back to the beginning and started again. What is the point of this?

‘What is the point of this?’ Gwyn asked a moment later. Augus’ head thumped back against the wall and he groaned, his hand tightening. His mouth fell open, gusts of air huffed from his mouth, and Gwyn resisted the urge to let go of himself and wrap his hand around Augus, to override that rhythm and make Augus come with his own, harsher strokes. But he’d done that before, already, and so he shoved that part of himself back. It wasn’t easy. The more he moved his hand against himself, the less aware of his plans he became.

Augus’ back began to arch away from the wall, leaving his shoulders as the only point of contact. His torso stretched taut, and broken sounds were cut off in the back of his throat. His other hand was clenched by his side again, and Gwyn didn’t care. He abandoned Augus’ strange rhythm and focused on his own. And then, needing more, he bared his teeth and sank them into Augus shoulder, dragging the nails of his other hand down Augus’ ribs, needing that rougher, harder contact.

Augus’ tensed, shuddered as he came, cried out something that started off as a word and ended in a broken syllable. He tried to mute his movements, was trying so hard to stop Gwyn from seeing just how worked up he was, and that on its own was enough to push Gwyn over the edge. He followed almost immediately, silent, muscles contracting and expanding, over and over, until he was spent.

He stepped away and cleaned his hand in the bucket of water, before putting himself back in his pants. He stared at Augus, and then a rush of horror filled him.

What am I doing?

On the heels of that, a swirling contempt moved through him.

‘Honestly, Augus,’ Gwyn said, shaking his head as he flicked water onto the ground. ‘I thought you’d put up more of a fight than that. Only seven months ago, you were King.’

Augus hissed, stared at Gwyn with something like outrage before he quickly moved his face to stillness. Gwyn smoothed out his shirt with both of his hands.

‘You were supposed to be one of the best at playing the game, and instead you’re here, underground, a prisoner. So keep mocking me, keep telling me how uncouth and stupid I am. You did it back then, too. But you’re the one staying down here, and I’m the one going back up to my rooms, with my creature comforts. I bet you miss those, Augus,’ Gwyn said, letting that lax, feral rage that had been weighing his chest down since their last encounter push up and work its way out of him. He stared, satisfied, as Augus’ gaze turned from insulted to cautious. Augus straightened against the wall, his body tensed, as though he was preparing for a fight.

‘You can clean the outside all you want,’ Gwyn said, putting his foot on the bucket and upending the water, eyes narrowing as Augus made an abortive, desperate sound. ‘But as for the rest of you... a lying, torturing, base underfae... I don’t really know what to say about that.’

Gwyn laughed; a clipped, cruel sound.

‘I expected more fight from you, and instead I get this.’ He waved a hand in Augus’ direction. ‘I don’t need to withhold water from you to keep you weak. You are weak.’

Augus said nothing, and when Gwyn looked at him, rage steadily petering away into an aloof, casual indifference, he saw that Augus had schooled his expression to the same hollow emotion lurking in Gwyn’s gut.

They maintained a cold eye contact until Gwyn decided he’d done what he came to do; alleviate his boredom, and remind himself that he was the one who had the upper hand. He dissolved into light, turning his mind to other matters.

Chapter Text

Life was markedly easier when he thought of Augus as a prisoner first and anything else second. It was easier when he thought of ‘the prisoner’ down in his cell. He had amassed a variety of words to associate with Augus that pushed his name further and further away from the forefront of his mind. Underfae. The prisoner. The waterhorse.

His work as King continued apace. There were constant meetings, mediations, potential battles. He did his own cartography, fixed his own maps, so when he wasn’t meeting with other fae, he was often teleporting out to distant reaches in the otherworlds, checking and re-checking boundaries, making sure he knew where the major players of the Seelie fae resided. The constant travel would have kept him grounded if he could spend the time he wanted to in remote regions, but since the defeat of the Nightmare King, since the removal of the Each Uisge from power, the fae worlds were in unprecedented chaos, and Gulvi and Ash were still too new at their roles to manoeuvre with confidence. Gulvi needed his help, and he needed two stable Kingdoms.

It left a lot of work remaining.

Gwyn’s bitterness at being caught up in his job was a caustic sourness in his gut. He knew it made him crueller. The ‘family curse’, as Ondine would put it, edged closer. It was a merciless ridge in the back of his mind, difficult to repress, agitated around Court gossip, never soothed by the green, lush perfection that was the Seelie Court.

Days passed, and they drove his thoughts to dark places. Where hunting would sometimes suffice, instead he found himself wandering down towards the Seelie prison. It was deserted down this end of the Court. Older Kings had used the prison freely, and the energy of even the outer rooms was dark and gloomy. The residue of energy left behind from prisoners previously executed, tortured, left to wither, clung to the place; a last, mute appeal of the dead. Even before he entered the bole of the giant tree, it settled over him like a bleak pall.

The waterhorse had to be feeling it too.

Augus was standing insouciantly when he approached, head leaning back against the wall, eyes gazing sidelong at Gwyn. He looked brighter, fresher than he had the past few times, thanks to the water Gwyn had provided earlier. But he was still naked. Still showed signs of wasting. Still nothing like his former self.

‘Yesterday,’ Gwyn said, as he stepped through the invisible barrier. ‘Yesterday I had a family of waterfae come and petition me, very eloquently, for your death. You see, they had a daughter who had several cygnets ousted from her home. Do you remember her? No?’

Gwyn removed the lube from his pocket and held it up, turned it in his hand. He walked up to Augus, who tensed but did not shrink back against the wall. He took Augus’ hand in his own and drew it up, feeling slight resistance, and placed the lube in his palm. Pressing it harder than he needed to, glaring at Augus as he did so.

‘Let me guess,’ Augus drawled. ‘All the cygnets died. It was terribly sad. You came downstairs to fuck me to death? Well, I do suppose I have experienced your style before. If anyone could achieve it, you could.’

Gwyn smiled, a cold chill racing down his spine. Augus took a slower breath when he saw it. It was the only sign of how disturbed he was.

‘You will fuck yourself open with that,’ he looked down at the lube. ‘It’s the only preparation you’ll get.’

Augus exhaled slowly through his nose and his hand clenched around the vial.

‘I liked you more, when you were against a wall, and I looked down and your blood was on my cock,’ Augus said, voice flat and cutting. Gwyn swallowed at the crudity of it, almost shuddered at the memory it evoked. He hadn’t realised Augus had looked down and seen, hadn’t realised a great deal at the time.

‘Do they know?’ Augus said, eyes gleaming with amusement. ‘Do they know that dominating, powerful Gwyn is actually someone who submits so beautifully, so well, and prefers it? Or is that something that only I found out? That you, with your reputation preceding you of being a coarse, rough, roll in the hay who must always be on top and always in control, was actually someone who sought me out? It wasn’t just madness that drove you to me.’

Augus laughed at the expression he saw on Gwyn’s face.

‘They don’t know, do they?’

Gwyn swallowed. He preferred that even Augus not know, especially now. Besides, it wasn’t true anymore. Gwyn had...Gwyn had pushed that part of himself aside. He couldn’t afford it.

Augus uncapped the vial of lubricant with a precise pop, pouring it onto his fingers one-handed, glaring at Gwyn all the while. He held the vial out to Gwyn once he was done, who took it absently, pocketing it and feeling his heart beat faster. It didn’t matter how cutting Augus was, he still had to press his fingers up inside of himself, still had to do it while Gwyn watched.

‘It’s this, or nothing at all,’ Gwyn said, and Augus raised his eyebrows.

‘Please,did that really need to be said?’

Augus pressed his shoulders back into the wall so he could arch his lower body forwards. He didn’t look away from Gwyn as he lowered his hand, slick with lube, behind his back. There was a tense, rebellious expression on his face, in the tight set to his lips, the narrowing at the corner of his eyes.

‘You don’t want me to turn around?’ Augus said silkily. ‘I could bend over. Give you a better view.’

‘I’ll get my view when I fuck myself into you,’ Gwyn said, ‘For now I want to watch your face.’

Augus’ brow furrowed for a second, then smoothed again. He was hesitating, and the knowledge was a fire at the base of Gwyn’s spine. The stress of the days that had built upon one another began to coalesce in a thick, warm mass. It sparked inside of him. It was tiny bursts of light behind his eyes.

‘Spread your legs.’

Gwyn pressed his palm to Augus’ hip-bone, and muscles jumped beneath his skin. Augus shifted his legs apart reluctantly, but his breathing remained even. His eyes gleamed green, unusually bright even in the dimness of the cell. There was a strange, liminal quality about them, most other waterhorses didn’t have eyes so vivid. Even as underfae, that quality remained. Gwyn had always assumed it was connected to the strength of his abilities, but perhaps not.

‘Hurry up,’ Gwyn said, and Augus swallowed silently. His eyelids lowered and Gwyn leaned forwards, dragging his hand up Augus’ torso, over his ribs. He felt the minute shifts in Augus’ arm as he shifted his hand behind himself. And then, there, Augus inhaled more sharply than before, his brow furrowed again. His shoulder shifted and Augus blinked lazily, he licked at chapped lips.

‘Two. Now,’ Gwyn said, and Augus hissed a disapproval at him, but all the same his arm moved again and he Gwyn felt Augus’ body tense under his hand. Augus’ eyes closed and his body began to rock with the movement of stretching himself open. And Gwyn wanted to see, he did, but there was something about watching Augus’ expressions that kept him in place. He scraped fingernails down Augus’ skin and repeated the movement as Augus’ breathing became more unsteady

‘Is there a class lower than underfae? Because I think you’ve found it.’

Augus’ eyes shot open, the rhythmic movement of his arm, awkwardly tucked behind his back faltered.

Hurry up,’ Gwyn said, voice dropping in tone.

But Augus had stilled entirely, staring at Gwyn like he didn’t quite recognise him.

‘You weren’t always like his,’ Augus said, cautiously.

‘Then we’ve both changed,’ Gwyn said.

‘Six months in a cell and I’m feeling clearer than ever. Perhaps you should join me down here, in the dark. Oh, but wait, you do.’

‘If you don’t keep at it, I will hurt you more than you want to be hurt,’ Gwyn said, and Augus rolled his eyes, sighed as though terribly bored, and his arm began moving again.

‘What comes to mind most, at this juncture,’ Augus said, voice smooth, ‘Is the fact that you’re only able to do this to me, because I’m trapped here. But that once you came to me voluntarily, and abased yourself before me, and begged for it. Do you feel like you’re playing in the big leagues now? Hm? Are you enjoying that thrill of power, watching me fuck myself open for you? Of course you do. But you’re not in the big leagues, Gwyn. You’re just taking what you can from me, because you’re too embarrassed to beg for it again.’

Gwyn’s hand turned into a hard grip over Augus’ side. A wash of anger moved through him, and he was about to lunge forwards, about to pull Augus down by his hair when he saw that flicker of triumph move over Augus’ face. He’d recognise it anywhere. For a long time it was a look he wore himself. Gwyn paused, reassessed quickly, and then his hand trailed casually, almost lazily over Augus’ skin.

‘I’m taking what I want from you, because I defeated you. I believe the big leagues are when the King of the Seelie fae actively demotes and imprisons the King of the Unseelie fae. What do you say? Honestly I think I was there long before I convinced your brother to betray you. But surely, by your standards, that would have been the moment I stepped up to the plate.’

Augus’ other arm rose reflexively to strike, his hand twisted into claws and then he stopped himself, forced his breathing to calm. His eyes fixed in a glare though, and Gwyn could see that his teeth were gritted behind his closed mouth. Gwyn found it fascinating, enjoyed the hunger that rose in him, prodding at Augus like this. Augus wasn’t traditionally easy to provoke, instead choosing to provoke others. But here, now, Gwyn was free to do as he liked.

He reached behind Augus and trailed the backs of his fingers down Augus’ arm until he reached the back of his hand. The movement brought him closer to Augus’ body, arched away from the wall. Augus looked very much like he hated Gwyn, in that moment. Gwyn’s mouth turned up in a half-smile and he grasped Augus’ hand in his own, forcing his fingers up deeper inside of himself. Augus’ breath hitched.

Gwyn moved his hand down further, until he could cup Augus’ balls. At that, Augus tensed, and Gwyn nodded in silent acknowledgement, squeezing slowly, increasing the pressure until Augus’ nostrils flared, until his mouth tightened.

‘Three,’ Gwyn ordered, and a muscle in Augus’ jaw jumped. In different circumstances, Gwyn knew that he’d be risking retaliation, but he literally had Augus by the balls, and that was a singularly good feeling.

If there was a sting as Augus slid in his third finger, he masked it well. Which was why Gwyn slid his hand back over Augus’ and pushed his hand forward again, drinking in the way Augus winced, the sharp inhale. It was getting harder to restrain himself, now. He was uncomfortably hard in the confines of his own pants. He curled his fingers around Augus’ hand and started moving it back and forth, knowing he was straining at Augus’ wrist in the process, that it must have ached all the way up his arm.

But listening to the way Augus’ breathing altered was just too good to pass up. Augus’ discomfort, his awareness of the intensity of what was happening was not in loud cries or protests, but in the slight tension and release of his body. In the way he deliberately held his breath after each inhale. It was in the way his whole hand trembled after Gwyn pushed particularly hard. Each small, contained reaction added up as flares inside of Gwyn’s body, until he realised that he didn’t want to wait much longer, he didn’t have to. He’d given Augus plenty of time.

He removed Augus’ fingers roughly, drinking down that small sound of discomfort. He grabbed him by the torso and turned him bodily. It was easy enough then to push the ball of his foot behind Augus’ knee to force him down to the ground, to push him between the shoulder blades so that both of his hands came up involuntarily to brace himself on the tree root bench. Augus may have been strong, but Gwyn was always stronger. Gwyn had been stronger even when Augus was King. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d met a fae stronger than he was.

Gwyn opened his pants and freed himself, bracing one hand up against the wall and bending over Augus’ body, taking a fistful of damp hair up in his hand.

‘Talk to me some more about defeat,’ Gwyn said coldly, and Augus’ chest heaved with laughter.

‘Is that what you want? Truly? Conversation?’

‘No,’ Gwyn said, and lined himself up, ‘I want to fuck you.’

He pushed himself in and slid deep in a single stroke, throwing his head back, groaning at the heat and slickness of it. Augus jerked once beneath him, and Gwyn bared his teeth down at his back, pulling Augus’ legs apart further, before getting a better fix on how he wanted to brace himself against the wall of the cell.

He grasped Augus’ hip with his spare hand and held him steady as Gwyn began to fuck into him with long, deep, relentless strokes. Augus tried to keep his breathing under control, but within seconds he was exhaling audibly with every thrust. And as Gwyn picked up his pace, snapping his hips forwards and dragging Augus back into him, Augus groaned and his head dropped, shoulders trembling.

‘Now that I’m fucking you,’ Gwyn said, ‘Tell me again about how I begged you, back then. Go on.’

There was no response except for the rough, unsteady breathing of Augus, who seemed to be trying to pull himself together with little success. Gwyn leaned down and bit at the back of Augus’ shoulder over his previous bite mark, thrilled at the increase in trembling. He licked at the marks he’d left behind. Augus was warm all around him, none of that lukewarm surface temperature. He was snug and the friction was delicious even with the lube.

‘Can’t reply?’ Gwyn breathed. ‘Still getting used to me? You’re fucking tight, Augus.’

‘Saved myself...for you,’ Augus said, and then bit out a small, despairing laugh.

Gwyn knew it was intended as a joke. He knew the words were meaningless, a dig at his own captivity, but they sent a rush of heat down the back of Gwyn’s spine all the same.

Gwyn dug his fingers into the wall, became more ruthless in his rhythm. He slammed his hips up against Augus, would have rocked him over if Gwyn didn’t have fingers digging into his hipbone.

Augus’ breath caught in his chest, a moment later he growled in the back of his throat.

‘Tone it down,’ Augus managed, voice strained.

‘I didn’t hear you,’ Gwyn said, each word falling on a separate thrust. ‘Did you say harder?’

Because there was always harder. Gwyn grinned and sunk his teeth into Augus’ shoulder once more, over the original bite mark. He stayed deep inside, moving only a couple of inches before coming back, forceful and fast, demanding a reaction. And Augus gave it; short, single syllables of sound that caught in the back of his throat, some bitten off, involuntarily given. They were unwanted sounds that Augus didn’t want to express, and Gwyn was hungry for every single one.

His teeth broke the skin on Augus’ shoulder, and he moved so he could bite at the flesh on the opposite side, possessive, sensations like lava pooling together down near his balls. He was close.

He paused for a few seconds, and felt a liquid rush of pleasure when Augus dragged in a huge gulp of air, then another. He reached around and was surprised when – brushing between Augus’ legs –Augus was hard against his fingers.

‘Really?’ Gwyn said. ‘Didn’t expect this.’

‘Fuck you,’ Augus managed, and Gwyn laughed.

‘I am.’

He shifted so he could keep his hand around Augus’ cock, and then found a rhythm again. A little slower than before, less concerned with driving himself to orgasm as quickly as possible. This was far more intriguing. He moved his hand in powerful, firm motions, reaching up and dragging the callous on his thumb – years of swordfighting turning his fingers rough – over the head of Augus’ cock.

Augus cried out then, when he realised what Gwyn was doing.

‘You don’t need this from me,’ Augus said, and Gwyn looked down at him through lidded eyes.

‘I do.’

‘You don’t.’ The desperation in his voice was a balm. All day, all week, Gwyn had been soothing others, dealing with everyone’s difficulties. Not only that, but after weeks of soothing the hurts of others, reminding them that Augus was captured, hearing the grief in the voices of other fae...this was exactly what he’d needed.

‘Tell me again about defeat,’ Gwyn said, slowing down further, ‘Tell me about these mythical big leagues that I’m not a part of. Tell me about how it felt, looking down, seeing my blood on your cock, all that time ago, back when you used to be someone.’

Augus growled again, and Gwyn laughed, thrusting hard, speeding the movements of his hand. He wished he had lubricant for this part, but Augus had come from rough before.

‘I look at you, and all I see is someone who – after barely more than five minutes under the duress of those shadows – voluntarily surrendered his Kingship. You didn’t even try.

Augus cried out, bucked beneath him, actually strained to get away and Gwyn laughed again.

‘The truth hurts, doesn’t it? Now, will you hurry up, and fucking come for me?’

Gwyn redoubled his efforts, focused on the movements of his hand, dropped his forehead to the bumps of Augus’ spine. His hearing focused as it often did when he was out in the wild. His senses strained towards Augus, feeling for the minute tremors in his muscles, looking for the moment Augus conceded to what was happening. Gwyn’s mouth opened hungrily when Augus cried out a sound that was pleasure and frustration, his softer voice taking on a vivid edge.

‘Good,’ Gwyn managed, and Augus’ spine arched, his cry of frustration thinning out into a faint, broken whimper. His whole body tightened, and Gwyn hissed at the sensation of it, his hand flexed where Augus swelled in his grip, he bit once more when he felt Augus come over fingers that had risen up to catch the hot liquid only to smear it back down again.

Gwyn tasted Augus’ blood in his mouth, felt Augus clench around him and his mind went mercifully blank. Tension that had been coiling in him for far too long shattered outwards, they were lashes of light that flicked beneath his skin and scoured his major veins and arteries. He gasped, hoarse, and came hard, riding waves of pained pleasure with a handful of unsteady, deep thrusts.

He needed time to catch his breath, gather his thoughts together. Augus remained still beneath him, breathing already slow and even once more. Augus gave no sign that he’d been drawn into orgasm, even with Gwyn’s hand still around his softening cock and Gwyn still inside of him. Gwyn took a breath, sighed it out.

He withdrew, tucked himself back into his pants and decided a long, hot shower was in order. He looked at the bite marks he’d made across Augus’ shoulders as Augus straightened into a standing position, and decided he would have to take him down to the lake. He wanted to see how Augus would react to all that water, wanted to see him outside of the confines of the cell.

‘I can see it so clearly now,’ Augus said, stretching his arms out and then laying a hand over one of the wounds on his shoulder. He drew his fingers back, wet with blood, and shook his head almost indulgently. Gwyn frowned.

‘What?’

‘What a great job you have done, taking after your father.’

Gwyn’s blood ran cold. Gooseflesh raised all along his skin.

No, I am nothing like-

‘Same mannerisms-’

No.

‘Same look in your eye around the topic of subjugation-

No, this-

‘I bet,’ Augus said, directing a bored look at his fingernails. ‘I would place money on the fact that you fuck like him, too. Are you sure your centre is justice?’

‘I’m not like-’

‘You are,’ Augus said, smiling. ‘But, now, let’s not hold you up. Don’t you have a Kingdom to run?’

Gwyn stared.

‘You are not kicking me out of your cell.’

'Wouldn’t dream of it. After all, I’m lower than underfae, and you’re a great, righteous, just King. Stay then. Let’s have a conversation about how much like your father you are. I seem to recall that you didn’t want to turn out like him when you came to me that first time. I seem to recall that you begged me to break you of it; the family curse. Do you remember?’

Augus sat down languidly, showing no signs of having been thoroughly fucked, stretching his legs out and crossing them at the ankles, completely unconcerned at the stripe of come that Gwyn could see across his torso. Gwyn could feel his heart still beating. A thunderous race that made his head feel too full. His hand was still sticky where he’d caught Augus’ ejaculate. Augus watched him all the while, and then smirked.

‘Sit down, join me,’ Augus practically purred. ‘Let’s reminisce.’

Prisoner. Underfae. Waterhorse. It wasn’t working. Gwyn blinked rapidly, willed what had stirred in him down, so he didn’t have to feel it anymore. He became aware that he was breathing too fast. Even in the dimness, the outline of Augus’ smile was clear, there was a cruel cast to his eyes. Gwyn swallowed and felt his light tugging at him, wanting to whisk him away to another location.

Augus always picked this moment to strike, had done it before when Gwyn was disoriented and vulnerable. But still. Gwyn found the shreds of his anger, actively sought them out. He’d come down to try and purge himself of them, but standing here, he felt too exposed, too naked without them. He cobbled them back together and felt something approaching that dark, inflexible mood come back to him.

He wiped his hand off on his shirt, idly.

‘Oliver,’ Gwyn said quietly. ‘Tallow. Avia. Pinion. Imbris. And their mother, Olivette. All underfae. Every one of them dead. Wasted away. Children without a home who were utterly dependent on a lake they’d had for millennia. And their family, because you know how it is with swan underfae, they care for each other, they have big families... you should have heard their relatives. They were very convincing. I had no truly good reason for why you aren’t dead yet.’

The smirk had faded from Augus’ face, and his face had turned serious. He didn’t look away from Gwyn, his eyes were hard to read.

‘Lludd would have killed you immediately, without a second thought,’ Gwyn said, thinking back to his father’s actions. ‘The only time he would have afforded you, is the time it took for him to think of the best method that he would enjoy. I think that-’

‘You’re very like him,’  Augus said, no sting in his voice. That, somehow, made it a great deal worse. That Augus could say it calmly, even gently, like this. ‘Actually, in some ways, I think more than your first cousin.’

The words registered as a physical blow, Gwyn took a step back.

‘I have to leave,’ Gwyn said, and forced himself to walk through the barrier, forced himself not to simply teleport away.

‘You’ll be back,’ Augus called, a smile thick in his voice.

Chapter Text

Sometimes fae whispered about the ‘family curse’ that affected Gwyn’s family. He’d never had any idea what they meant as a child, and his father had dismissed it, saying that people mistook the ability to get what one wanted using whatever means possible as madness. It was true that Gwyn’s entire family were prone to fits of terrifying violence and cruelty, and it was certainly true that at a certain point, that cruelty tended to stabilise as a permanent character trait. His mother, father, cousin Efnisien, Efnisien’s parents...they had never been cursed, they were not insane, they were simply damaging, cruel people.

What other fae called the ‘family curse,’ was – to Gwyn – something he didn’t quite understand. Not until he’d gotten older, had seen battle. Not until his centre had changed to triumph that first time, turning him harder, making him more like his father in mannerisms and action.

He didn’t want to be cruel. Yet there was a darkness inside of him, a breadth of cruelty that crept upon him. The harder be became, while forcing himself to serve the Kingdom, the more it sprawled out of him. He could feel it – a pulsing, thumping beast that hungered. He’d spent what felt like his whole life trying to avoid it, only to find that he’d come full circle. It pressed into his mind, sat thick and heavy in the back of his throat.

Augus had compared him to his father. Had said he was more like his father than Efnisien.

It was one thing to be called cruel or heartless, he’d heard that from people in the past. It was quite another to hear a direct comparison and realise that perhaps it was apt. It struck at the heart of him, left him dazed for days after his last encounter with Augus.

He knew what kind of person Lludd was, knew better than most what his family were truly like, what hid beneath the facades and glamours they presented to the Seelie Court. Augus knew it too. Augus could make an unflinching comparison and it be true.

He didn’t want to be like his father. All this time he’d been telling himself that distancing himself from Augus, treating him cruelly, attacking him...it was necessary, it was the sort of thing anyone would do to keep a prisoner like that under control. He knew that fae Kings and Queens had done it in the past; there were records and scrolls and ledgers detailing a vast array of how to break dangerous prisoners. And all this time he was doing the sort of thing his father might do, his cousin. It turned his stomach, left him out of sorts. He avoided Augus. He avoided a great deal except the work of his Kingdom.

But once he’d admitted to himself that he didn’t want to be someone like his father, he knew that he had no reason to keep seeing Augus if he didn’t want to subjugate him anymore, didn’t want to harm him.

And that was a problem.

He still wanted to see Augus.

Two weeks later, Gwyn was sinking hours per day into sword-training, into wrestling and fighting, into advising generals and different species of fae in how to best protect their land and their homes from those who might want to encroach on them. He saw those who made formal petitions to see him; people who wanted his assistance on quests, in family disputes, in a myriad of matters that he was – for once – grateful for. Something to lose himself in.

He was tired. Since the nightmare brought upon him by the Nightmare King while he’d been climbing the mountain with Jack, ancient hurts that he’d thought he’d put behind him stirred more readily in his sleep, and he found himself unconsciously, then consciously avoiding rest for as long as possible. He knew the sleep deprivation made him unstable, but the nightmares themselves left him off kilter, disarmed, vulnerable. He woke up feeling needy, and after thousands of years of waking up from nightmares, alone and needing a level of comfort that he was almost certain didn’t exist for someone like him...he couldn’t bear willingly accepting sleep as a reality. He pushed it back, and back, until finally it devoured him and left him insensate on his bed. Often for days at a time.

Exhausted, but not yet tired enough for sleep to force its way into him, Gwyn spent one early evening in his map room, carefully inking out cartographical sketches he’d painstakingly made of a remote, treacherous otherworldly region that was little travelled. It showed promise as a possible location of lesser known species of fae, and though the environment was hostile, his King’s healing meant that he could withstand blasts of sulphurous heat, or shards of obsidian sharp enough to cut through his boots. He inked it out in red and dark brown, noting down locations and losing himself in the painstaking work.

He’d shown promise as a cartographer from a very early age, but Lludd pushed him into battle, and so Gwyn kept it up as a side hobby. His maps were appreciated, duplicated, studied, but even if no one knew they existed, he’d still make them.

His hand stilled at an unexpected knock at the door. He managed not to smear the ink. It was a small knock, and Gwyn knew it was one of the trows that served within the palace. They hardly ever interrupted him. He got up immediately and opened the door.

The trow looked up at him, eyes wide, panicked, and Gwyn frowned, a stir of worry in his tired mind.

‘What is it?’

The trows never spoke, and even now – terrified – it signed a location instead of speaking any words. Gwyn teleported, taking the trow’s spindly fingers within his own with a gentle grip. Aside from a habit of stealing the silver, trows were gentle creatures. Something was wrong.

He ended up in one of the outer circle rooms, where the Court sometimes spilled over into his palace. And there, in a room mostly constructed of moss and tree trunks, with seats of stone and mushrooms, Efnisien stood. He leered over another trow who was clutching at a freshly broken arm, paralysed with fright.

Gwyn’s mouth went dry, rage and dread both warred inside of him, but rage won. The trows were defenceless creatures that only wanted to help and assist.

‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing in my palace, to my servants?’

Efnisien straightened, deep blue eyes glittering with a dry amusement.

‘Oh, cousin, I mean – King – it’s so hard to get your attention.’

Gwyn knelt before the trow, drew her dazed attention with a gentle hand underneath her chin, and looked back over at the trow who had summoned him. It had taken a lot of courage for the other trow to do that, and Gwyn grimaced.

‘Can you take her to Pazhna?’ he asked. ‘Tell her it’s on the King’s orders.’

The trow nodded, ears pushed back, eyes still blank with fright. Then she came forwards hurriedly and drew the other trow with the broken arm away. As soon as they were safely out of the room, the sounds of their running footsteps echoed.

Efnisien tilted his head towards the sound, an appreciative expression on his face, as though he were listening to a favourite moment in a symphony.

Efnisien and Gwyn were of an age, obviously related. People who didn’t know them – especially in the past before they’d established themselves – assumed they were brothers. Efnisien was only several years older than Gwyn, hardly an age difference at all amongst the fae.

Where Gwyn was pale, Efnisien was golden. His hair wasn’t white-blond, but honeyed, curled short around his features. Gwyn’s pale skin stood in contrast to the natural tan of Efnisien’s, which he’d inherited from his father’s side of the family. But he had the classic deep blue eyes, the full lips, the aquiline nose. And though Gwyn was broader, more muscular, Efnisien was still a trained warrior, fit and angular, with a natural resource of dra’ocht that oozed from him and covered his sociopathic tendencies. Gwyn, on the other hand, had to learn how to make dra’ocht, had to force it. When he wasn’t concentrating, he possessed no natural fae glamour, which put the other fae on edge.

When the sound of footsteps disappeared, Efnisien tilted his head back towards Gwyn, offered him a lazy attention.

‘I could have you barred from this Court,’ Gwyn said. He wanted nothing more than to smash his fist into Efnisien’s face, to run him down with his sword. That was a common instinct he had around his cousin, and he had to repress it, keep things formal.

‘Could you?’ Efnisien said in a cultured baritone at odds with his uncultured cruelty. ‘What would your mother say? Cousin, cousin, Gwyn, we both know that she would whisper the favour of the Court against you if you did such a thing.’

‘Attacking the trows? You are a monster,’ Gwyn’s teeth gritted together. It was becoming harder to stay rational. He realised, belatedly, that he was shaking with rage. The trows were defenceless.

‘Jealous?’ Efnisien said, smiling.

‘You wanted my attention, you’ve got it.’

‘Cousin, you always look so uncomfortable around me, when it’s just the two of us. Why is that? You healed back then didn’t you? Surely you don’t still bear grudges against the way we played as children. I was young. You can’t hold that against me.’

‘True,’ Gwyn said, voice cold. ‘I’m sure your torture methods are far more sophisticated now. Except, of course, when they are not. Breaking an arm to get someone’s attention? Let’s be candid. You were simply looking for sport.’

‘Is it sport?’ Efnisien said. ‘I can’t help it. I’m just a victim to my centre, as we all are. For me it’s nourishment, it sustains me. Speaking of centres. Do you remember when your centre was triumph? You started to understand it then, the need. And, let’s be candid, to borrow a phrase. You know what I’m talking about. You love the break and crunch of bone and the splatter of viscera, you just need it to be in battle. You’ve always been the weak link in the family. You need excuses for what you do. I do not.

Gwyn glared. If it was anyone else who had committed such an atrocity against the trows, Gwyn would have exiled them from the Court.

It was difficult with his family. His mother Crielle had spent far longer in the Seelie Court than he ever had. The cliques, the power, they primarily rested with her. Efnisien was her star pupil, the one she fawned over the most.

So if he sent Efnisien out of his palace run through with a sword, or worse, exiled him...

‘Tell me why you’re here, I’m growing bored.’

‘Ah, well, there’s a Seelie artefact I’d like access to. You’re the only one I can ask, on account of you being King and all.’

‘Is that so, Efnisien? Well, perhaps you should have thought about the likelihood of me saying yes, after you broke that trow’s arm. Go on then, ask me nicely.’

‘Oh no,’ Efnisien said, with an affected dismay that was so exactly like his mother that Gwyn started to wonder if it was too late to go hunting.

It was never too late to go hunting. He needed to kill something.

‘Don’t be like that,’ Efnisien said, grinning, ‘Or shall I go crying to your mother like some craven taddle-tale, because you won’t help me? It’s a shame your father isn’t still alive. I would simply ask him to make you give it to me. Oh, but, he lost control over you didn’t he? Eventually. That’s right. When you lived in a forest. Like a beast. I remember now. How are you a part of this family again?’

And Augus thought Gwyn was more like his father than Efnisien. It jarred at him, especially now. He didn’t want this. He didn’t want to be like them. He did things that he wasn’t proud of, things he couldn’t think about, but he didn’t want to be someone who openly courted the cruelty.

Out of the two of them – Augus and his cousin – Augus was the preferable monster. Augus could be prone to cruelty, enjoyed inflicting pain, but the cruellest of his actions had been driven by a need to escape or deny the torment he’d experienced. Efnisien’s simply grew from pleasure and sport, encouraged by elders who loved to break their toys. It was startling to realise that Augus, in his cell, was preferable to this.

‘I’d ask you to name the artefact, but my answer is no,’ Gwyn said, and Efnisien’s eyes glittered with a frosty anger at being turned down so quickly.

‘I’m one of your citizens. You have to hear me out.’

Efnisien stepped closer to Gwyn – the precise, cautious steps of a hunter edging up on its prey. Gwyn didn’t move, ignored a distant thread of apprehension. Nurtured, instead, the coil of fury that was still suppressed inside of him.

Come closer, Efnisien. Get within striking distance. Please.

‘The artefact, by the way, is the Grimswold. You shouldn’t be the only one who gets to enjoy this near-invulnerability, yes? Share it amongst your family. Because you love us.’

As soon as Efnisien was within range, Gwyn stepped forwards with speed and smashed his fist into the side of Efnisien’s face before his cousin could get out of the way. Gone were the days when Gwyn was the younger, weaker teenager. And Efnisien couldn’t match him for reflexes or training, because Efnisien was prone to bouts of laziness, and Gwyn kept his skills honed.

Efnisien dropped, unable to absorb the blow. The status difference alone meant that Gwyn had cracked his skull, had broken his eye socket. Efnisien would heal rapidly, being Court status, but the blow was damaging.

‘Go crawling back to mother like some craven taddle-tale, Efnisien. Tell her whatever you wish. You are not getting the Grimswold; it is a sacred artefact, not a toy. If you think a few bruises on your face will turn favour against me, perhaps you truly underestimate how much I’ve done for this Kingdom.’

Efnisien staggered upright, laughing, a jovial gleam in his eyes. Violence never bothered him; not violence to himself, or violence to others. He pressed fingers into a split over his eyebrow, opened the wound so that blood streamed like a rivulet of tears along the outside of his face.

‘Damn,’ Efnisien said, chuckling. ‘Some right hook you’ve got there, cousin. What a far cry you are, from that kid I used to torment back in the day. I miss the old days. I suppose you wouldn’t. And no Grimswold? Look there’s blood on my suit.’

Efnisien took off his suit jacket. He took the sleeve and dabbed at the blood on his face until it was mostly gone, and then folded the jacket neatly and draped it over his arm.

‘It was only one trow,’ Efnisien said, incredulous. ‘They’re trash. I suppose when you came into the Kingdom, trash would follow.’

‘Why are you here?’ Gwyn said again. The Grimswold couldn’t have been it, Efnisien must have known there was no chance that Gwyn would give it to him.

‘I missed you,’ Efnisien said, smiling with delight at his own lie. ‘Wanted to see how you’ve been faring. Mother says you’ve been unwell lately. I wanted to check in on my dear, baby cousin. Can’t have been easy, vanquishing all that evil, languishing under the praise of an entire Kingdom. You see, we can understand perfectly well why you’d look uneasy during a battle; but it’s over now, Gwyn! It’s over!’

The mock reassurance in Efnisien’s tone gave way to something terrible in his gaze, and Gwyn cursed himself for not expecting the attack. Efnisien lunged forwards and tripped Gwyn up, pushing him down to the ground and landing with his knee in Gwyn’s gut.

‘It’s always so physical between us, isn’t it?’ Efnisien said, landing a vicious punch to his ribs. Gwyn caught his breath, pushed Efnisien away. Efnisien rolled off easily. Gwyn was stronger now, and Efnisien wouldn’t seriously fight him.

Only wanted to catch him off guard. Only wanted the rabbit-thump of fear in Gwyn’s heart, which he was no doubt attuned to.

‘You look like you could use a break,’ Efnisien said, standing again. ‘Being King should make you happy, not...whatever you are now. We’re just concerned for you. Your mother and I. Very concerned.’

‘Get out,’ Gwyn said, already standing. The pain in his ribs was already fading.

I didn’t move out of the family estate only to get treated like this in the Seelie Court.

Efnisien took a deep breath and grinned.

‘I just like tormenting you,’ he said.

That was the truth.

‘It’s been a while,’ Efnisien said. ‘I don’t often visit the Court. And I just wanted to rile you up a little, cousin. Forgive me, it’s not something I can do much about. My centre, and all that. You know how it goes. You did anyway. When your centre was triumph you couldn’t let go of a single argument without getting the last line in. You were much more entertaining then. I’m afraid your banter is rather dour now.’

Efnisien mocked a bow at him, and then raised his eyebrows happily. It must have hurt his face, but Efnisien was peculiarly invulnerable to pain.

‘You’ll probably be seeing a bit more of me, over the next few months. I am – I must say – really, really looking forward to it. See you around, dear cousin.’

And with that, Efnisien teleported away in a fine wisp of smoke, leaving the faint scent of char behind him.

Gwyn teleported out of the room, back into his map-room. Once there, he took several deep breaths, calming himself.

No. Why now? Why would Efnisien be interested in spending more time in the Seelie Court, now of all times? He was too tired to figure it out, it became a clotted mess in his mind.

He was not like Efnisien, he was not like his father.

Augus was wrong.

Gwyn sat down heavily on the single cot in the room, pressing a hand to his forehead. He couldn’t talk to Albion or Ondine about these matters. He couldn’t talk to anyone about them. He found himself in the precarious position of wanting to see Augus and no longer wanting to torment him. He couldn’t justify that. It turned the whole situation into something he didn’t have a word for. They’d once been friends, and he...wanted that back.

Gwyn laughed at himself. The sound was broken. He didn’t know how to have friends. It didn’t surprise him that he’d pick the one person who couldn’t get away from him – the prisoner – as a possible target. The person he’d been attacking and trying to break down. Gwyn laughed until his voice shattered, and he lay back on the bed and stared up at the ceiling, listening to the beat of his heart in his own ears.

Gwyn knew what insanity looked like. And he knew – deep down – that Augus had somehow stepped back from the worst of his madness some time ago. During his isolation, most likely. Augus was unlike Gwyn’s family, who courted it freely. And Augus was even unlike Gwyn, who stumbled into madness and couldn’t let it go again.

Augus – Unseelie and prisoner in the Seelie Court – was definitely the preferable monster.

*

Two days later, worry tripped Gwyn into a profound insomnia. And in the early hours of the morning, after having silently checked in on a sleeping trow whose arm was still healing, he teleported into Augus’ cell.

Augus never seemed to sleep either. He was sitting on the tree-root bench as he often did, his eyes lidded in that state of semi-meditation that he seemed to enter.

‘I did say you’d be back,’ Augus said, voice smooth, soft. ‘Come on then, fuck me and get it over with.’

Augus sounded bored, and when Gwyn didn’t respond, he opened his eyes properly and took in Gwyn’s appearance.

‘You look dreadful,’ Augus said. ‘Battle go wrong? Strategy didn’t pan out? Come to tell me you’re not like your father at all and how dare I and etcetera before raping me to prove yourself right?’

Augus laughed quietly. Gwyn realised that Augus was also tired. There were circles under his eyes. His mouth was drawn. He wondered what the isolation was like for him. How often he thought of his brother. If he worried when Gwyn would reappear, and what would happen next.

‘I want to try something,’ Gwyn said, and Augus tilted his head back against the wall and shrugged.

‘So try it.’

Augus didn’t even move. Gwyn stepped towards him, pushing away the myriad of voices in his mind that told him this was beyond reason, this was...this would change everything. He placed his hands around Augus’ upper arms, and looked down at him.

It was only when Gwyn dissolved them both into light, teleporting them out of the cell, that Augus’ eyes flew open. He stiffened in Gwyn’s hands, but Gwyn had a sure grip, and he knew where he was going.

When they landed, Gwyn let go, took a single step back. He was wary, but confident. They were still in the Seelie Court, within the safety of Gwyn’s palace. Augus was still a prisoner, still couldn’t escape.

Augus froze when he saw the lake. He stared at the water, his pupils expanding rapidly and his hands tensing. His whole body was a thrumming mass of tension.

Gwyn watched him. He half-expected Augus to make a run for the water, with an expression like that. But he didn’t. After several minutes, Augus tore his eyes away from the lake and stared at Gwyn in something like horror.

‘Perhaps you might tell me now, what you want in exchange for that.’

His voice was raw, and his eyes slid back to the lake again. His hands clenched into fists. Gwyn watched Augus, and then looked around the room itself.

When he’d first altered the Oak King’s palace, he’d been determined to make it fit his tastes. He’d wanted a sense of the forest within his living areas. And while his innermost circles of rooms were more like conventional bedrooms and living spaces, the outer circles were constructed of trees and moss and rock. The lake itself was enclosed within a space of trees and smooth, violet granite. The sky couldn’t be seen overhead, the canopy wove itself too thickly, giving privacy to him when he came here. The lake itself was deep, fringed with waterlilies and lotuses not now in bloom, with natural benches jutting out within the lake itself, and a gently sloping bank on one side, covered in moss and liverwort. It was an inviting space, a private one.

Augus laughed to himself, under his breath. He was staring at the lake once more.

‘I understand. You saw how I’ve reacted with water before, and now...what? You know, this is all extraordinarily tedious. Why don’t you just tell me your game? What do you want?’

Gwyn wanted to have answers for Augus’ questions, but he didn’t. He knew he was doing the wrong thing, he didn’t care. He was tired, and Augus – ironically – was treating him with civility, despite what had passed between them. He might be full of bile and venom for Gwyn, ready with insults, but as far as Gwyn could tell, all of the insults had been accurate.

‘I want you to get in the lake with me,’ Gwyn said, pulling his own shirt off his head with a simple, one-handed movement. He dropped it to the floor, and then undid his pants, sliding them down and stepping out of them. Being naked around others didn’t bother him.

‘Tell me what you want,’ Augus bit out, and Gwyn saw a faint flicker of anger drift across his features, his eyes narrowed.

‘I just told you what I wanted.’

Gwyn knew that Augus was likely playing a long game. That the civility was possibly a front; though Augus had always been civil and courteous, even at his worst. But he would prefer that over whatever was happening in the cliques of his Seelie Court. Gwyn could do this, put Augus back in his cell afterwards and who knows, maybe Augus would be more well-disposed to him in the future.

Doubtful.

Augus was staring at Gwyn as though he’d grown a second head, and then he stared at the surface of the lake again. His nostrils flared, and Gwyn reached forward and grasped his wrist, dragging him towards it. Augus followed, hypnotised by the water. Gwyn stepped down the bank first, leading him, and he could feel the tension in Augus’ arm, as though he didn’t quite know whether to bolt, or whether to run into the lake.

‘No shifting,’ Gwyn said, and Augus exhaled audibly.

‘I’m not strong enough to shift,’ he said.

‘Do not, at any point, put your head beneath the surface of the water,’ and disappear down into the depths. Gwyn’s feet entered the water, and continued down the slope.

‘Why are you doing this?’ Augus said, a note of genuine confusion in his voice.

Gwyn crouched down where the slope fell away, and slid easily into the water. He tugged at Augus, who was standing with his toes just beyond the water itself.

‘Knowing you,’ Augus said, ‘this is just about fucking me. I swear, Gwyn, you and that cock of yours.’

But Augus sounded uncertain, and Gwyn realised that initially that had been the purpose of this, but now...

The water was cool, his back found the wall of the lake itself and he pressed himself to it, tugged on Augus’ wrist again.

Augus hesitated for a few seconds longer, and then came to a decision. He stepped into the water smoothly, with a confidence born of thousands of years of entering and exiting fresh water. His feet didn’t make a sound as he entered, and ripples moved away from him silently. But Augus made a sound, he gasped as the water touched him, and then hissed out a sound of frustration.

‘You’re unusually sensitive for a waterhorse, aren’t you?’ Gwyn said, looking up at him, but Augus was staring at the water with an avid hunger.

Gwyn’s eyes flew open, he braced himself and pulled Augus back, just as Augus attempted to launch himself headfirst into the water. The result was an ungainly splash. Gwyn pulled Augus towards himself. Augus was gasping for breath, struggling against Gwyn, claws came up and scratched at the forearm holding his wrist, rending furrows that bled immediately. His irises were almost black, his pupils blown out.

The struggle was intense, but uncoordinated. Augus was overwhelmed by the water, and Gwyn wrestled him back to the bench, forcing him onto it so that he was still in the lake itself, but his head and shoulders were above the water. Augus had clawed several more furrows into Gwyn’s skin, but it seemed more about trying to follow his waterhorse instincts, than it was about truly doing any damage.

Augus blinked when his back hit the wall, and he stared at Gwyn as though remembering he was there. His breathing was laboured. His arm went lax in Gwyn’s grip, but Gwyn refused to let go. At this point, he wasn’t sure if Augus would simply slide into the deep without the restraint.

Yes. Doing this while you’re sleep deprived and Augus is desperate for water, excellent idea. His inner voice was scathing, and sounded a lot like his family. He shoved that away too.

Augus closed his eyes, his lips were tense, his forehead furrowed. He was pressing himself back into the wall of the lake, and if Gwyn didn’t know any better, he’d guess that Augus was loathing the entire experience. But Gwyn did know better, could tell the sensory overload for what it was.

‘Are you done?’ Gwyn said, and Augus shook his head.

‘The instinct to submerge is strong,’ Augus said. ‘I need a minute.’

Augus was shivering.

A minute passed, another, and then suddenly Augus moved rapidly in the water. He straddled Gwyn’s thighs, so that his own knees were resting on the underwater bench, either side of Gwyn. He placed his free hand on Gwyn’s chest, over his heart. He undulated his hips forwards, and he was hard, a hot line of temperature against Gwyn’s abdomen.

‘This is what you wanted, isn’t it?’ Augus said, voice unsteady. Gwyn stared up at him, surprised. Augus slid his hand down and Gwyn realised that he was going to wrap fingers around him. He reached out to stop him, but it was too late. He wasn’t hard, he was still trying to understand his own motives, let alone what Augus was doing. ‘I thought...’

Augus looked confused again, when Gwyn placed a warning hand on Augus’ second wrist, where it wrapped around him.

‘What are you doing?’ Augus said, and his hand squeezed at Gwyn threateningly, painfully.

‘Stop,’ Gwyn growled at him, digging his fingers into Augus’ wrist until Augus let go of him.

‘What do you want for this? It can’t just be fucking me. You can have that for free.’

Gwyn kept his other hand on Augus’ wrist, a tight grip, as he turned Augus around in the water so that his back was to Gwyn’s chest. He looped his arm around his hips and pulled him down, so that Augus was seated on top of him, head coming up a little past his own. Gwyn splayed his hand over Augus’ belly, stroked at his skin.

‘You don’t want me to die, to waste away in that cell,’ Augus said. ‘A glass of water is one thing, but this.’

Augus leaned back, slowly, at Gwyn’s encouragement. Augus rested his weight against him, not as water-light as Gwyn expected, but Gwyn had temporarily forgotten that Augus could change his buoyancy at will. Gwyn kept stroking Augus’ torso.

‘I wondered why you didn’t just kill me. You were well within your rights. It was, technically, a battlefield. You had your sword. I expected to die.’

Gwyn’s eyes widened. He hadn’t thought of it that way. He hadn’t realised that Augus, when he surrendered his Kingship, expected death. It must have been a surprise for him to wake up in the Seelie dungeon, weeks later.

Augus was being surprisingly honest, he sounded disarmed. He wondered if the exposure to so much water at once made it harder for him to keep his guard up. Gwyn trailed a hand up to Augus’ nipple and smoothed fingers across it, and Augus twitched.

‘This is crude, even for you,’ Augus said. ‘You can’t make me dependent on you by doing this, you understand. I am not suddenly going to give over my loyalty to you.’

‘Will you just shut up for once and enjoy the water?’ Gwyn said, and Augus snarled.

What are you doing?’

Gwyn’s hand stopped moving, rested over Augus’ chest, felt his waterhorse-slow heartbeat. It was still faster than normal. Augus was stressed, possibly frightened.

‘Do you think that you can use these crude techniques on me and expect them to work?’ Augus said, venom starting to crawl into his voice. His free hand dropped down and raked scratches into the outside of Gwyn’s thigh, and Gwyn exhaled between his teeth. The wounds would heal within the hour, but they were vindictive and deep. ‘Do you think that you can give me something like this and I will come to heel?’

‘Augus,’ Gwyn said, frowning, ‘I’m not entirely sure that leaving a gag on you for three hundred years would bring you to heel. Not for more than a few hours, anyway.’

Augus stilled at that, and then his fingers that were now digging threatening holes into Gwyn’s knee lifted, as though he was satisfied with what he’d heard.

Augus twisted in his lap, tugging hard and rapidly at his wrist until Gwyn let go. Augus turned and straddled him again. Gwyn took a hold of his wrist once more, and noticed with some surprise that even though Augus was obviously stressed, he was still aroused. His hair already looked more lustrous than before, it dripped rapidly as a result of exposure to the water.

Sometimes it struck Gwyn how handsome Augus was, even like this, wasted and with less power than he’d possibly ever had. The Raven Prince had first invited Augus into his Court simply to have his beauty nearby and gaze upon it. And flushed from his exposure to the water, hard beneath the surface, straddling Gwyn like this, it struck him again how beautiful he could be.

‘You wanted to see how I’d react to so much water,’ Augus said, his voice oddly empty of feeling. ‘Don’t leave me hanging. Touch me.’

Augus’ gaze slipped past Gwyn’s when Gwyn wrapped his fingers around Augus’ cock. And when he started moving over him, the friction more noticeable than usual because of the water between them, Augus didn’t seem to care at first. It was only when Gwyn’s thumb caught roughly at the underside of his flesh, that Augus stiffened and then inhaled sharply. He braced himself on Gwyn’s shoulder, dug his fingers into his skin. Blood swirled in the water around them, Gwyn’s thigh was still bleeding freely.

Augus’ reactions to Gwyn were muted. His breathing was mostly forced to evenness, except for a shaky breath here and there, a hitched moment. His head bowed forwards and hair hid his expression, though his fingers gripped tighter as Gwyn continued to move his hand against him.

Minutes passed, and Augus’ hips started to roll in the water, creating slow ripples. Droplets fell from his hair into the surface, splashing lightly. Strands of it had caught against Gwyn’s skin. He tilted his head towards Gwyn, and Gwyn noticed his eyes were closed, lashes a black smudge against his face. His mouth was open slightly, his forehead creased. Gwyn tightened his grip, and Augus’ jaw dropped on a silent gasp, his cock twitched in Gwyn’s palm.

Gwyn resisted the urge to ask if it was okay. Because it was obvious that it was, and because he was aware that the lack of sleep, the insomnia, left him scattered. Questions like ‘is this okay,’ were likely not allowed.  

Seeing Efnisien break that trow’s arm, knowing that he didn’t want to be like his family, it left him aware that he didn’t really want to hurt Augus at all.

He was fae, and they were often a cruel species. Truly malevolent and benevolent fae were far rarer than the ones who simply did what they wanted within certain parameters. Augus was not truly malevolent, and locking him up in a prison for doing what perhaps many fae might try and do in similar circumstances seemed like a human response to a non-human crime. Certainly, he needed to be locked up for the safety of the fae, but it also seemed hypocritical. Gwyn had killed enough fae himself. He knew cruelty well. Perhaps it was only circumstance or unusual good fortune that had kept him out of a prison.

Although the Kingship was enough of a prison, something he couldn’t escape for at least another century and a half.

‘You think you’re clever...’ Augus whispered, his eyes remaining closed, his hips bucking up harder into Gwyn’s hand. ‘But you’re not clever.’

I don’t feel particularly clever right now, Augus.

If anything, he felt like a new class of stupid.

He still liked Augus. Perhaps...had never stopped liking him. He knew that he’d formed some kind of attachment when he’d asked Augus to break him, when he’d visited Augus’ home that first time. And he knew that attachment had grown during the Wild Hunt, even though it had been a professional relationship between Seelie and Unseelie fae, and it was never more than the excitement of the Hunt, and the chatting and ale afterwards.

The madness inside of him, the cruelty wanted him to break Augus. To turn him into a cowering, silent, ruined wreck. But the rest of him, the parts that didn’t want to be cruel, that wanted to be nothing like his family...

They wanted something different. And they were a lot louder now that Augus was present in his own Seelie Court, now that he was so tired he couldn’t concentrate.

‘Did you think that-’

Augus opened his eyes and then stopped speaking immediately, eyes widening at whatever he saw on Gwyn’s face. His hips faltered in their rhythm, but Gwyn’s hand encouraged him back into those rocking motions once more. Augus stared at him in shock, and Gwyn didn’t know what he was seeing, didn’t know what broadcasted on his face. He didn’t even know what he was feeling anymore.

He’d spent too long without sleep. And before that, too long again. He remembered, vaguely, Augus breathlessly saying that he wasn’t at his best right now.

Neither was Gwyn.

‘What? What is it?’ Gwyn said, and Augus’ lips thinned.

‘Nothing,’ he spat, sounding disgusted. Claw tips dug into Gwyn’s shoulder, threatening to draw blood, leaving pinpricks of sensation there.

Gwyn rubbed the edge of his thumb over the head of Augus’ cock with every stroke now, knowing he enjoyed it. Augus started trembling, despite the fact that his breathing was still mostly forced to evenness.

Hardly anything changed when Augus’ trembling suddenly shifted into the repressed spasms of his release. His claws dug a bit deeper, his thighs tensed on either side of Gwyn’s, but otherwise his breathing remained mostly steady, his eyes were closed again. But Gwyn could feel it in his palm, the spasms that made their way through Augus’ cock, even the feel of his release moving through his body.

When he was done, his head sagged forward a little bit more, and then suddenly the hand at Gwyn’s shoulder moved down quickly into the water and wrapped around Gwyn’s cock. Augus set a fast, rapid pace that was intense, almost painful, and Gwyn stiffened.

Augus’ eyes were open. He stared at Gwyn, was staring past him again. Gwyn moved his hand to Augus’ other wrist to stop him, but Augus chose that moment to speed up and Gwyn choked back a noise, his hand fell away, distracted. The water made the friction raw, inescapable. His skin caught on Augus’ palm, and the small flares of pain just added to what was happening.

And he’d been close anyway, didn’t exactly have a wealth of self-control, being so exhausted.

‘Wait,’ Gwyn said, and Augus shook his head, but still didn’t make eye contact. Was still oddly unfocused.

‘Wait,’ Gwyn demanded, and managed to close his hand around Augus’ wrist to pull him away. Augus squeezed his cock too tightly, and more pain wove in with the pleasure of it. Gwyn realised that he was going to come.

Flares of light sparked beneath his skin and then detonated underneath his pores. He came with a hoarse gasp, his body arching upwards, his neck stretching taut. He had both of his hands around Augus’ wrists, but Augus stroked him through it, ignoring Gwyn’s grip and continuing to move his hand.

‘I don’t know why you require this of me,’ Augus muttered under his breath. ‘When you have the shadows to do as you please.’

Gwyn’s brow creased together at the words, and then his eyes flew open.

No.

He snapped upright, concerned, just as Augus let go of him.

Augus was staring at him now, his face devoid of expression.

‘There,’ Augus said.

‘Augus,’ Gwyn said, and Augus smiled at him. A pretty, beguiling expression.

In one smooth movement he yanked his hand out of Gwyn’s wrist and then thrust it towards his abdomen. Gwyn expected a punch, expected a blow, did not expect claws to slice through his skin and then choked.

Augus’ fingers were inside him up to the last knuckle, buried amongst his organs.

A whirl of pain, which quickly expanded throughout his gut up into his lungs, through his limbs. He gasped, wretched, and stared at Augus in shock.

You should have expected this.

He choked again when Augus shifted his fingers, menacing, and looked down between them, at the place where blood was blossoming from the wound. Gwyn was King, he wouldn’t die from it. But it was damaging. It would take time to heal.

‘If you keep making me stronger, Gwyn, there’s going to be consequences. If you’re going to torture me, torture me. I tire of waiting for you to choose between cruelty or kindness.’

Gwyn was still stunned, couldn’t think of anything to say. Augus’ fingers shifted inside of him and Gwyn cried out, and then reached down quickly, pulled Augus’ fingers free. Augus didn’t resist him at all, a smirk played on the edges of his mouth. Blood bloomed up thick and hot in the water.

Gwyn teleported them out immediately, didn’t even stop for his clothing. He dropped Augus, wet and a wild gaze in his eyes, back in his cell and teleported out again.

He ended up back in one of his many rooms, dripping blood rapidly onto floorboards. The pain was worse now that he’d teleported twice, and he sank to his knees, clutching his hand over the wound. Four stab wounds in his gut, from Augus’ fingers. The strength it must have taken to do that.

He felt, of all things, betrayed.

Gwyn started to laugh.

Augus owed him nothing. He had no right to feel betrayed. Not after what they’d both done. And yet – as he continued to laugh, each motion causing pain to rock through him – he realised, with a scathing self-hatred, that he felt betrayed.

A wave of despair followed his laughter, rocked into him with a force that dwarfed even the pain in his abdomen. Gwyn’s head sunk down to the floorboards. He dripped water and blood, even his thigh was still bleeding. He felt used up, spent.

A deep, lurking grittiness reared its head and crept closer, licking at his thoughts, asking for a way into his mind. And Gwyn opened himself to it, falling over onto his side and drawing his knees up to his chest.

He thought, with a burst of derisive laughter, that he might even be able to sleep now.

He felt like he was falling. His own Court was polluted by his family. Augus was untrustworthy and he’d known that. Cruelty beckoned him closer. A madness that had been waiting for months, wrapped careful, cautious tendrils around his thoughts and twisted them to the dark.

He could hurt Augus.

He could hurt Augus a lot.

Augus had no idea what he was really capable of.

If Augus wanted Gwyn to choose, Gwyn could choose. Gwyn had a lifetime of knowing what he was supposed to choose. What his family wanted him to choose.

He moaned softly, despair and pain twisting up his voice. He didn’t want it. He didn’t want anything to do with it. But what was the point in fighting it? Without it, he became too trusting. No one would expect it of him, but it was the truth. Outside of strategy, outside of the battlefield, he was still so naive. Without the cruelty, he couldn’t play the game of captor.

Perhaps, then, cruelty was the only thing that would keep him afloat in all of this. The family curse had kept his relatives alive for a long, long time, after all.

Gwyn’s eyes fluttered shut, and a sickening darkness cast a cape over his mind.

Chapter Text

Gwyn placed an ornate, copper plate of fresh marsh marigold on the ground, noting the way Augus stared at it avidly. Augus didn’t need food like he needed the water, but he knew that Augus hadn’t consumed anything like food – especially something like marsh marigold – for months. His core food may have been human flesh, but the vegetation was appealing regardless.

He had looked for it himself, needing an excuse to get away from the Seelie Court. Efnisien had been far more present in the Court as promised, and his cruel and knowing glances were wearing. Even embracing a greater sense of darkness, Efnisien was still an unwanted annoyance in his life. An excuse to leave and go foraging, knowing what Gwyn would be demanding in exchange for it, was very welcome.  

He undressed calmly, while Augus stared at it. After a while, Augus tore his eyes away long enough to direct his green gaze up at Gwyn. Just as quickly, he looked back at the marsh marigold again. He swallowed hungrily.  

Eventually, Gwyn stood, unashamed of his nudity. Augus folded his hands together.

‘I suppose I’m not getting this for free,’ he said, drily.

‘I want you to suck me. I want you on your knees, in the dirt, and I want you to worship my cock. And I want you to make it good.’

Augus stared at him. His hands fell apart where they had been resting neatly, his feet shifted where he stood. Gwyn almost fell upon him when Augus’ mouth dropped open. That wouldn’t do. He had a plan. He wanted to stick to the plan. He didn’t understand how he could be so good at strategising when it came to foreign politics, and yet every careful thought he had about what he could do to Augus scattered as soon as he saw him.

‘I’ve been thinking about what a pretty picture it would make,’ Gwyn said quietly. ‘You, deposed King of the Dark Fae. Me, victorious King of the Light. There are people who would pay through the nose to see this. So I think I’m letting you off lightly. No one’s going to watch. But if you want the marsh marigold, you’ll do it willingly. If you don’t, I can just force you.’

Augus looked down at the marsh marigold, long and considering. 

‘You’ve made your decision then have you? Cruelty appeared better than kindness?’

‘I think I am being quite kind,’ Gwyn said, and Augus narrowed his eyes.

A minute passed, and Augus stepped forwards gracefully. He walked into Gwyn’s personal space, looked up into Gwyn’s eyes, managing a surprising amount of venom in that gaze. And then he took a deep breath and sank down, legs folding neatly underneath him.

Gwyn licked his lips, looked down. He kept his hands at his sides, wondering where Augus would start.

‘Do you ever worry I’ll bite it off?’ Augus said idly, caressing Gwyn’s length with the back of his fingers. Gwyn grinned, his eyes remained closed.

‘I will murder your brother, and I will make you watch.’

Augus’ hand jerked back. Gwyn was surprised at the horrified expression on his face; after all, if Augus was going to bait him, Gwyn was going to respond.

‘What’s wrong?’ Augus asked, and Gwyn raised his eyebrows in disbelief.

‘What’s wrong is that your mouth isn’t around my cock yet.’

‘No,’ Augus breathed. ‘That’s not it.’

Gwyn’s expression hardened, he glared until Augus reluctantly leaned forwards, directing a look that could almost be called worried up at Gwyn, before lowering his mouth to the tip of Gwyn’s cock. The exhales alone were a turn on, each one even and careful, as though Augus had to focus hard on keeping his breathing under control. Augus’ hands returned to Gwyn’s thighs, and Gwyn resisted the urge to reach up and touch one of them, to stroke Augus’ forearm.

This wasn’t about that. It couldn’t ever be about that.

The last time, Augus had attacked him with a level of strength and malice that had been surprising, if only because they had maintained a dark sort of civility between them since Augus’ imprisonment. It didn’t matter that he was King and possessed the full spectrum of a King’s healing powers, Augus had thrust his fingers into Gwyn’s abdomen with the intention of gutting him, and curled upwards, puncturing organs and leaving Gwyn disoriented and off kilter. It had taken a surprising amount of time to heal fully from the wounds. There had likely been internal bleeding to deal with.

Whatever this was, it couldn’t ever be about anything more than the bare basics of civility, alongside the taking, the cruelty. There was nothing more. If Augus enquired what was wrong, it was because he was trying to gain ground. If Augus showed concern, it was a play at making Gwyn vulnerable once more. An underfae killing a King was simply unheard of, but Augus was stronger than the average underfae, and Gwyn couldn’t use the full extent of his offensive powers to defend himself because his light was too dangerous.

Augus wrapped a lukewarm palm around the base of him, holding him steady. It was a surprisingly light grip, almost careful. Gwyn blinked, slowly, as Augus opened his mouth and licked out with his tongue, curling around the head of him attentively. Augus kept licking, longer and longer strokes, as though familiarising himself, or easing himself in. His eyes were closed, and Gwyn wondered if he was imagining someone else.

Augus sucked at the tip of him, enveloped him in the wet warmth of his mouth, sucked with delicate precision. He was someone who knew that getting someone off was made of components, applying each step with the same exactitude he applied to his swordsmanship.

It would never do.

Gwyn grasped Augus’ wrist and pulled away the hand that was wrapped around him. And with his hand fisting in the back of Augus’ wet hair – something he would never get tired of – he pulled Augus forward until he hit the back of Augus’ throat.

Augus made a sound of shock, tried to jerk his head back. His other hand came up and pushed hard at Gwyn’s hip, and Gwyn removed the hand from Augus’ hair and grabbed that wrist too. He transferred both wrists to one hand, thrusting forward threateningly when Augus arched backwards to try and free his mouth. He had a rope around Augus’ wrists quickly, deciding that recent experience with Augus was giving him a lot of practice at how to subdue someone. He never entered the cell without at least one length of thin, supernaturally strong rope inside of his pocket.

With his hands free again, he placed them both on Augus’ head and dragged him forwards, hitting the back of his throat again. He smiled when Augus stared at up at him, shocked. 

‘I’m going all the way in. And if you get a sore throat because of it, then maybe it will shut you up for a few days.’

Augus made sound of protest that hummed around Gwyn’s cock, and Gwyn sighed at the vibration of it.

Gwyn pushed harder, meeting resistance and groaning roughly when Augus’ teeth accidentally scraped against his shaft. He knew it was an accident, because Augus’ eyes widened in alarm, and his mouth opened wider. He tensed as though he expected reprimand. But Gwyn could tell Augus was unpractised at this, and after a single, threatening glare, decided to let it slide. He pushed harder, until Augus’ throat opened around the head of him.

Augus choked around him as Gwyn changed the angle. There. Like this, he could bottom out if he wanted to. But he didn’t. He held himself still for a while, staring down at Augus, making sure Augus knew that Gwyn could thrust forward at any point. He waited until saliva was bubbling up around the corners of Augus’ mouth, until his face had flushed dark, until his shoulders were shifting and straining as he fought to free himself from the rope.

Gwyn backed off, letting Augus catch his breath.

‘You told me to suck you,’ Augus protested, ‘not to simply open up and let my mouth be fucked by a boar disguised as fae.’

‘I have never been that good with my words, in all honesty,’ Gwyn said. ‘Have you caught your breath? You’re not used to this are you? You’ve fucked practically all the fae, and yet there’s still things you haven’t done. I am looking forward to this.’

The crudities came easily when Gwyn was in this frame of mind. A far cry from his usual shyness around using such language. He raised Augus’ head up, forced his mouth open with his fingers. Augus rebelled in small ways, pressing his lips together, squeezing his eyes shut, straining away. Not enough to get the marsh marigold removed, not enough to get his brother threatened again, but enough to indicate that he wasn’t a fan of Gwyn’s idea.

Gwyn pushed back in, moved slowly but firmly, inexorably. When he reached the closed space of Augus' throat, he reached forwards and started massaging Augus’ throat.   

‘Swallow,’ Gwyn said. Augus groaned a protest, and Gwyn responded by rocking deep against the narrow space at the back of his mouth. ‘Do it, Augus.’

Augus held out for as long as he could, but the fingers at his throat and the saliva building up in his mouth combined until he couldn’t help it, and his throat opened on a swallow. Gwyn pushed himself deeper, tilting Augus’ head, looking up at the tree roots above him as he worked himself deeper and deeper, until his balls were pressed against Augus’ chin. The tightness was incredible. Augus’ throat was working against him, over and over again, helplessly trying to force Gwyn from his throat.

This is very good.

‘Ah, it does hurt you,’ Gwyn said, smoothing away the tears that were leaking from Augus’ eyes. ‘You have no idea how sweet you look, my cock down your throat, your face so eloquent. You spend all your time pretending things don’t affect you, but get you down on your knees and doing what you were made to do, and suddenly your face is an open book.’

Augus’ face twisted in anguish, his eyes screwed shut as Gwyn started rocking back and forth. Gwyn wanted to fuck, mindlessly, but some small part of his mind reminded him that he would hurt Augus a lot if he did that. Augus’ throat wouldn’t relax fully, and Gwyn couldn’t afford to lose his mind. He wanted Augus to do this again, and again, and decided it was simply enough to be buried deep. He could do rough – or at least, rougher – later.

He withdrew for a few seconds to let Augus gasp in a deep, rattling breath, before pushing back in. Augus sobbed around him, his throat spasmed.

‘You don’t like this, do you?’ Gwyn said with a calm he didn’t feel. ‘Degradation. Knowing you’re so desperate for food, and water, and likely company, that you’ll put up these mock protests without truly fighting me. I like this side of you a lot. Be careful, Augus. You’ll make me want to do this to you every day. You can play the game better than that.’

Augus couldn’t even shake his head, mouth stretched too wide, but his face tensed like he wanted to.

Ah, your throat is tight,’ Gwyn said, thrusting harder accidentally. Augus’ shout was a sharp hum around him, and he opened his eyes to see Augus staring at him, wide-eyed, pleading. There was an unusual amount of desperation there, and the tears hadn’t stopped. Gwyn thumbed them again, exhaling roughly.

Gwyn realised what an idiot he was, slowed, paused.

‘Is it better or worse to be gagged with a cock, instead of a scarf?’

That sob again, this time with a weight of despair around it. There was a look to Augus’ face that said that he hadn’t wanted Gwyn to realise. His nostrils flared as he searched for breath, his cheeks had flushed darker, his eyes were still leaking tears. Gwyn allowed himself to acknowledge that Augus was beautiful like this.

Gwyn stayed in position until Augus was trembling with his need for oxygen, and only then did he ease back. Augus gasped away and heaved in breath after breath.

‘Please,’ Augus rasped, throat already bruised, ‘just...’

‘That’s enough, you’ve caught your breath,’ Gwyn said, harsh, and Augus shook his head and looked like he wanted to crawl backwards and simply disappear into the darkness. ‘You want me to let up? No. I’m coming down the back of your throat, and I’m going to watch every expression on that face of yours while I do it.’

‘I don’t like this,’ Augus said, the words simple, sending a hot bolt through his body that made Gwyn’s cock twitch.

‘I must have spent too much time around you, Augus, if you think this is going to appeal to my sense of mercy. Come on, we might as well get this over and done with. And try not to think too much about how I’m going to be doing it again.’

Gwyn saw Augus’ muscles bunch to retreat, and before he even had a chance to move away, Gwyn’s hands struck out and grabbed him by the head, forced him up and forwards. Augus may have gained some strength after receiving water and care, but he was no match for Gwyn. Fingers digging hard into his jaw forced his mouth open, and Gwyn pushed in roughly. When Augus cried out in protest, Gwyn took advantage of his open throat and bottomed out, rocking his cock back and forth.

He stayed deep, not bothering to engage in the level of mouth fucking that he usually did. Not when Augus was already so panicked. Besides, it was already rewarding. He wanted Augus to feel him where no one else had ever been, he doubted Augus had ever done this before, not with his centre being what it was. And he knew he wasn’t going to last long. He couldn’t. Not with Augus’s shoulders twisting the way they did, not with those repeated, broken noises sounding in his throat and humming along his cock.  

He briefly considered that maybe he should feel bad, but he didn’t. It wasn’t about justifications anymore. The darkness had crept inside his mind, cruelty spread fingers outwards and grasped at what it wanted. It didn’t matter what justifications he used, it didn’t matter whether it was his right as King, or whether Augus had done worse; none of the reasons trumped the fact that Gwyn just liked to see Augus like this, made to submit, throat working to alternatively expel or try and accept his length, saliva dripping down one side of his mouth. He didn’t feel bad. He just felt like he was going to come.

‘You are going to swallow everything. A shame that you’re probably not even going to taste it,’ Gwyn said, harshly, and Augus’ tongue worked under his cock, not to arouse, but to shape words, protests, the word no.

‘Fuck,’ Gwyn breathed, his mind finding his way to crassness easily. ‘I should have done this to you a long time ago. You are perfect for this. How did you get away with being dominating for so long, when you had this in you? I will never understand it, Augus. You were made for taking cock.’

Augus keened against him, a long, pained denial that vibrated all the way through Gwyn and made him snarl with a brittle, exploding pleasure. He pushed as deep as he could and groaned as he started to come, hips convulsing in short, sharp movements. Augus was sobbing and swallowing against him, and it extended his orgasm. It was one of the longest he’d had in a while.

He withdrew once he was done and immediately forced Augus’ mouth open with his fingers, looked down his throat.

‘Would you look at that, I can barely see a single drop. You swallowed everything, Augus. Well done. Though I have to say, your throat looks a bit sore.’

Augus snapped his teeth down hard and Gwyn withdrew his fingers quickly, laughing. He leaned over and untied the rope as quickly as he could, and then stepped away as Augus dropped to his forearms, gasping for breath and quaking, coughing intermittently. Gwyn felt the satisfaction that came with knowing he’d used Augus well.

‘I don’t...want to do that again,’ Augus managed, ‘What, surely, there is something I can exchange...’

‘That I can’t simply take from you?’ Gwyn said, bringing the plate of marsh marigold over and grinning when Augus eyed it like a plate of poison. ‘What do you have? I know you likely have an estate since your time in the Court, or some land somewhere, but I don’t need that. I know you have cheated your way to fortune and treasure, but I don’t need that. I know you have your body, and the other disgusting, filthy acts that I could do to it that I haven’t even thought of, but I already have that. The only reason I’d consider not fucking that pretty mouth of yours again is if I felt sorry for you, but if you think I give a damn about that while I’m opening your throat up, then you-’

‘Then let,’ Augus made a sound of self-disgust, ‘then let me...no, fuck.’

Every time Augus couldn’t complete a sentence, every time he devolved into swearing, it meant that he was close to breakdown. This was something Gwyn had learned. He knelt in front of Augus and tried to catch of glimpse of his expression, but Augus wasn’t letting him.

‘Say it, Augus,’ Gwyn said, and Augus shuddered.

‘Then let me, let me learn how to do it, and...slower.’

Gwyn felt a curl of satisfaction move through him. The rough handling had probably been too rough today, if Augus was willing to offer up the same activity, just at a slower pace.

‘Are you honestly asking me to give up something I very much enjoy, for your benefit?’

‘You’ll still enjoy it!’ Augus shouted, though his voice broke. ‘You will still enjoy it!’

‘You take liberties, Augus,’ Gwyn said, pushing Augus down to the ground and turning him onto his back, straddling him, holding his head still. ‘I took it easy today.’

Augus’ eyes flew open in denial. For all that Augus was extremely good at domination, he was not used to Gwyn’s callousness. He thought he understood how rough Gwyn could be, but he had no real idea. Gwyn’s roughness was alien to Augus, it was obvious he hadn’t even considered that Gwyn hadn’t just gone after his pleasure as crassly as he usually would.

‘You lie,’ Augus said. ‘You’re just trying to get me to agree to that again, threatening me with- Even I know that you-’

‘I didn’t want to rock, calmly, making it easier for you. I wanted to thrust so hard that you lost your voice, that you started to black out. I wanted to force your throat open every time, not wait for you to swallow. Do you want to know all the concessions I allowed you? You tell me you want me to scale it down? Are you truly so delicate?’

Augus looked at Gwyn like he hadn’t seen him before. Gwyn didn’t care, wanting to make sure he got his point across.

‘I can still come if you’re unconscious. I can still come if your throat’s bleeding. Rough by your standards doesn’t actually mean anything. I have willing lovers who can take it rougher than you can.’

Augus didn’t reply, rendered speechless. Impossibly, Gwyn felt himself twitch again at the sight of Augus – face still flushed, eyes still bright, helpless.

‘Is that true with...everything?’ Augus said finally, forehead creasing. ‘Have you been holding back?’

Gwyn cast his mind back. Had he? He laughed, of course he had. He was rough, he had his mindless moments, but if he fucked Augus the way he wanted to...

‘I think when it comes to matters of war and battle, you should abandon that sword as your primary weapon and just fuck people the way you want to,’ Augus spat, a flicker of anger and outrage moving over his face.

‘The way I want to.’ Gwyn said, grinning. ‘Do you want to hear about it? I would hurt you, Augus. There is nothing better than reducing someone to their animal instincts. I want to use less lubricant, I want the lurch when someone realises that I’m not stopping and they had no idea what they’ve gotten themselves in for. I want the claws when a lover who’s had me before realises they’ve forgotten just how brutal I can be. I want you to think I’m pounding into you as hard as I could be, and then to scream when you realise that I like to escalate, that there is always harder. I would take my lovers dry, if I wasn’t worried about ripping the skin off my own cock.’

Deep within, a voice shrieking at him that it simply wasn’t true, not completely, and that this was dangerous, it was dangerous to let himself fall into these older, crueller instincts. He pushed the voice aside, stomped it down.

Augus was breathing shallowly, his face still deeply flushed. There was a rabbit-thump of fear in his heart, but Gwyn’s eyelids lowered when he sensed something else too. He reached behind him and palmed Augus’ cock in his fingers. He may have hated having his mouth fucked, but he was aroused now.

‘This just tells me that you want to try it,’ Gwyn said, hardening again. Augus made him feel like he wanted to quit his Kingdom and spend all his time down in the cells, finding new ways to make Augus feel him.

‘How often, how often do you really get to just...let loose, the way you want to?’ Augus said, and Gwyn tilted his head back and thought about it. A moment later he twisted his torso and started moving his hand up and down Augus’ cock, pleased when the strangled sound that Augus made was raspier because of his abused throat.

‘Not as often as I’d like.’

‘I can imagine,’ Augus gasped as Gwyn started rubbing his thumb over the head of Augus’ cock, making sure he caught the sensitive underside with his calluses, over and over again. Augus moaned, a thin sound of despair. A second later, his hips thrust up into Gwyn’s hand, seeking.

‘What if I offered you that, instead?’ Augus said. ‘What if I said I would bend over for you, on all fours, like a dog, and let you...do what you want to do.’

Gwyn laughed indulgently. After all this time, Augus still didn’t get it. He may have been less burdened by the Kingship he’d once had, but he still behaved like royalty, like an aristocrat.

‘You don’t understand, do you? I can fuck you the way I want, whenever I want. I can fuck your throat, whenever I want. I could declare myself on sabbatical and spend a week down here, and keep my cock in some part of your body so often that you’d begin to forget a time when you were ever not filled with it. There is no bargaining in this.’

‘No,’ Augus rasped. ‘But, I know you. A little. You could force me down to the ground and fuck me almost dry, or I could tell you that I wanted it, lower myself down gracefully, look over my shoulder with eyes wide, a mix of apprehension and...still invite you. Ask for it. I know you want that invitation. You wouldn’t still be holding yourself back with something like me if you didn’t worry, somewhere deep down, that it was wrong.

Gwyn breathed out slowly through his nose. The image was too vivid. Augus looking over his shoulder, ass arched invitingly into the air, pupils blown with fear and arousal, maybe even quivering at the strength it would take to force himself into that position, rather than being forced into it. That moment, that inevitable moment of sudden regret when Augus would try and escape impalement, and it would be too late. His mouth opened on a groan.

‘See, you like it,’ Augus gasped, hips moving regularly now, eyes closed and seeking out his own pleasure in the constraint of Gwyn’s hand. ‘You like it. And I... if you let me just... please, take my time, with swallowing you. Fuck. Then, I would do that.’

Gwyn jumped when he felt a palm between his legs, touching him. Augus had rarely been so bold, and it was strange to see his eloquent fingers wrap voluntarily around his cock, which was still sticky from saliva and come. It was disconcerting, knowing that the last time Augus’ fingers were that close to his torso, he’d plunged fingers through his skin and into his gut.

‘I will hurt you, more than I have,’ Gwyn said, warningly.

‘I blooded you, the first time I took you,’ Augus said, voice breaking, moving his hand slowly around Gwyn, in counterpoint to the rough strokes that Gwyn was giving in return. Every time Gwyn scraped fingernails over Augus’ head, he jerked hard, sensitised and pained . ‘Remember? You squealed. You. That was a good day for me. Haven’t you always wanted to get me back for that? I’m not some human. You could hurt me more. I could take it.’

‘You won’t like it,’ Gwyn groaned.

‘I’m assuming that’s the point,’ Augus snarled, and then cried out in pain when Gwyn pressed a fingernail into his slit, pushing down. ‘You- You- There is nothing articulate about your hand on me. You just...take.’

Gwyn’s hips thrust. Augus was working him over expertly, and Gwyn, in contrast, was simply trying to yank a reaction from Augus as roughly as he could. Augus made sounds caught between pleasure and pain, hips thrusting up and alternatively jerking away. The hand around Gwyn flexed sometimes, as though he was losing his concentration. Gwyn found himself getting harder.

‘I did bleed, the first time you took me,’ Gwyn said, ‘I didn’t like it.’

‘Join the club of people who like to do to others, but do not like to have done to them,’ Augus cried out, his hips beginning to jerk. Gwyn jacked him off harder, and then, on a whim, because he felt like he was having a good afternoon and he could afford to be generous, he suddenly gentled his grip, smoothed his thumb over the head of Augus tenderly, slicking precome over the sensitive skin.

Augus shouted as he came, his back arched and his hand dropped away from Gwyn’s cock. He heaved in breath after breath, drawing air in raggedly. His back would have come off the floor completely if it hadn’t been for Gwyn’s weight pinning him down just above his hips. Gwyn was shocked at the strength of his reaction, and kept moving his hand gently, drawing out Augus’ pleasure, swallowing down every one of his helpless, inarticulate noises.

‘There,’ Gwyn said, taking himself in hand and jerking himself off quickly. ‘You are pretty, aren’t you? What a mess of contradictions you are. You got hard when I talked about using myself up in you. You’ve behaved like the hounds of hell were after you, when I treated you with gentleness in the past. Augus, do you even know what you like?’

He went after his orgasm while Augus continued to come down from his own, gasping and shuddering like he’d run a marathon. It was that open mouth, imagining fucking it again, knowing what Augus was willing to exchange in order to avoid it, that had him coming hard a second time, ejaculate striping Augus’ chest and neck.

He bowed forwards, placing his palms down on either side of Augus’ shoulders, feeling like he was having a very good afternoon.

‘I don’t understand you,’ he said finally. ‘You don’t like being gagged, but it’s not as though you’re unable to communicate. I knew you didn’t like what was happening. Your face is very expressive.’

Augus shook his head.

‘People don’t have to listen, when there are no words,’ his voice was naked, exposed.

‘People don’t have to listen even when there are.’

‘You don’t understand, because you’re an idiot. So dense I don’t know how you run a kingdom. Words are the only currency I have that matter. Think, moron. I just bartered to have more control over something I loathe. And even if you resent that I did that, you want my willingness to be fucked almost dry so much that you still accepted the bargain. Even without compulsion, words are agency.’

Agency. Interesting word.

‘How quickly do you lose your sense of self, when words are taken away?’

Augus hissed and twisted his body, pushing at Gwyn to move him off, but Gwyn refused to move. He rubbed his come into Augus’ chest slowly, forcing him to accept that Gwyn wasn’t going anywhere. He felt disgustingly territorial, he was glad some of the other members of his Court weren’t here to see him like this.

‘Quickly,’ Augus finally said, ‘if you must know. Almost immediately. And if you want me conscious and aware enough to offer my ass up to you on a silver platter, you should know that I can’t do that when I’m catatonic.’

‘Catatonic?’ Gwyn said, laughing at the melodrama. The laughter died in his throat when he saw that Augus was staring at him, completely serious.

‘You wouldn’t know that you became catatonic unless it had been done to you before,’ Gwyn said, and Augus’ eyes widened.

With an almighty wrench of his body, Augus unseated Gwyn and pushed himself out of the way. He stood quickly. He glared. His lips were thinned.

It wasn’t the first time Gwyn had wondered about Augus’ past, his experiences. He dressed himself slowly, aware of Augus’ green gaze on every movement that he made. When he was smoothing down his tunic, Augus cleared his throat.

‘Are you going to force me to eat the marsh marigold in front of you?’ Augus said, changing the subject. He winced as his finished the sentence, the pain in his throat, no doubt.

Gwyn wanted to. He wanted to watch. He wanted to see Augus carefully chew and swallow every piece, knowing it would pain him. Knowing that he wouldn’t be able to eat it without a constant reminder of what Gwyn had taken from him.

‘No,’ Gwyn said, and Augus frowned, sceptical. ‘I think I’m going to pay Pitch a visit.’

Augus blanched, as he did whenever Pitch was mentioned, or his brother.

‘I think,’ Gwyn continued, ‘I’m going to ask him about your experiences with the Nightmare King, since you won’t tell me.’

Augus leapt forwards and Gwyn stepped backwards quickly, moving through the invisible barrier of the cell and watching as Augus slammed up against it.

‘You will not,’ Augus said, his voice breaking despite the force behind the words. ‘You won’t. You can’t, Gwyn!’

Gwyn turned and started walking away.

Gwyn!’ Augus shouted. ‘Don’t be stupid! Use it, at least! Use it as some kind of bargaining chip! Think...think what you could get from me!’

Gwyn paused and turned back, looked over his shoulder. Augus was leaning hard against the cell barrier, fingers clawed against it.

‘I am using it, Augus. That’s what I’m doing right now. And I think, from your reaction, that I could get a great deal as a result of doing this. Besides, some things are more important than what I can get from you, Augus,’ he said.

Augus sagged against the invisible barrier, his forehead pushing against it.

Don’t,’ Augus said, somewhere between compulsion and pleading.

It was the last thing he seemed to have the energy to say. Gwyn was left with the horribly uncomfortable sensation of wanting to go back and reassure him, which he would not do. He’d made a choice. He firmed his thoughts away from the remnant parts of himself that tugged at him, that asked for him to return to sanity and logic and don’t do this. He couldn’t afford to be himself. He would rely on the cruelty his family bred into him and attempted to nurture. He wasn’t as adept as his cousin, his mother, but he could learn. There was still time.

Chapter Text

Gwyn walked down to the cells, anger a deep, thick morass inside of him.

Pitch hadn’t been there when he had gone to pay him a call. But Jack had been there. Usually it was the other way around, Pitch was always there – so much more of a homebody than Jack – and Jack was out making snow days or doing whatever it was that unruly frost spirits did. But this time Jack had been quietly keeping himself occupied in their house in Kostroma, while Pitch was off on some sort of jaunt with Toothiana. Perhaps they sparred together, she was good with weapons. At least, when she allowed herself to be.

But seeing Jack quietly miss Pitch and not doing a good job of hiding his anxiety, brought back another time when Jack had been absent Pitch, and not doing so well. Gwyn remembered the vicious bite marks on Jack’s side, how close they’d come to Augus finding out all of their plans and utterly destroying Jack’s spirit...

Jack was fine now, relatively fine. Pitch had once told Gwyn that Jack carried a certain brokenness around with him anyway, due to three hundred years of not being seen by anyone. Gwyn hadn’t said anything, but a silent envy had grown inside of him. Everyone talked about loneliness as though it was the worst experience – and perhaps it was – but all Gwyn knew of company was that it was draining, abrasive, awful. His favourite daydream when he was a child was to imagine himself finding an otherworld island, making a small shack, and then living there on his own, hunting his own food and making his own weapons, until such time as he ever decided to go back to the mainland.

In that fantasy, he never wanted to go back.

But despite Jack being relatively fine now, there was a time when he’d been anything but. When Gwyn had to be unduly harsh on the boy to make sure that he focused, when he had gone back to his Court castigating himself for harsh words, harsh deeds, knowing – all the while – that the person who truly deserved the harsh words and deeds also deserved punishment, retribution, a cell at the very least.

And now Augus had one.

Augus was awake and waiting when Gwyn stepped through the barrier of the cell. He’d looked relaxed as Gwyn had approached, but now – seeing Gwyn up close – he stiffened imperceptibly. Gwyn repressed the urge to smile at him. He wanted Augus on his guard. He wanted him to hurt. Here was a creature who played politics as naturally as Gwyn breathed. The sympathy card to appeal to Gwyn’s habit of taking in injured wild animals. His almost repressed signs of arousal, to make Gwyn feel like they were somehow bonding or exchanging something important with each other. Odd moments of almost empathy, to make Gwyn feel like Augus understood what he was going through.

Augus understood nothing.

‘I hope you understand how generous I’m being,’ Gwyn said, as he unlaced his breeches, ‘when I say that you can do this at your own pace.’

Augus frowned.

‘Bad day, dear?’

‘Tell me why you didn’t complete the act of raping Jack Frost,’ Gwyn said, and felt a dark coil of satisfaction when Augus’ eyes widened. Soon after, his expression smoothed to a careful blankness, one that Gwyn was certain would last all of five minutes, until he was stuffing Augus’ mouth full and grinning down at him.

‘He runs very cold,’ Augus said, arching an eyebrow. ‘So you visited Pitch after all?’

‘Pitch wasn’t home.’

‘Ah,’ Augus said, stepping sideways when Gwyn sat down on the tree root that Augus had been occupying. It was still warm where he’d been sitting. Gwyn indicated that Augus should kneel in front of him, not caring that the ground would hurt his knees, wanting to simply grab Augus’ head and force him to swallow Gwyn down...but no, this was about something else. This was about an exchange.

‘I always knew you were oddly affectionate towards him. I don’t understand why, of course.’

‘He’s pure-hearted, of course you don’t understand why,’ Gwyn said.

Augus’ mouth thinned.

'Kneel,’ Gwyn commanded. ‘And remember what I get in exchange for allowing this.’

A dark smile crept over Augus’ face.

‘Oh, so that’s to be today is it? Felt sorry for Jack Frost, so now you’re going to make me bleed?’

‘Don’t act like you’ve never done the same to someone else,’ Gwyn snarled, and Augus stepped forwards before kneeling uneasily, placing both of his hands on Gwyn’s knees to brace himself.

‘Perhaps you see his young, nubile form and daydream about doing the same to him?’ Augus said, and then smiled when Gwyn didn’t reply. ‘Jealous? You know how sweetly the pure-hearted break.’

Gwyn struck out and grabbed Augus’ hair, tightening his wrist until Augus’ upper body twisted to stop hair from pulling out. Of course Gwyn had thought about Jack, but to compare Gwyn’s fantasies with what Augus had done.

‘Can you do this without forcing me?’ Augus said darkly. ‘Because if you can’t, you don’t get me on my knees, voluntarily, asking you to please fuck me with minimal lubricant because you are a trashy, overbred monster.’

‘Going to get through it by daydreaming about what you’ll do to me if you ever get free?’ Gwyn said on a half-smile and Augus’ eyes narrowed.

‘How could you guess? That has gotten me through many a long day.’

‘This is what gets me through my long days,’ Gwyn said, indicating his half-hard cock, ‘Shame you lost the game. Now get to it.’

Gwyn let go of the grip on his hair, knowing that Augus was right. He could fuck Augus forcefully as much as he wanted, but the exchange was that Augus would display himself for it, that Augus would ask, however much he regretted it afterwards. And Gwyn would make sure he did regret it. The darker part of him, growing in size and strength, day after unending day, wanted Augus on the floor, pained and pleading, broken into pieces. He could feel the darkness looming larger as the days passed, as he simply allowed it to be present in his mind. Ever since Augus had attacked him, Gwyn had realised that Augus could not ever be trusted, could never be anything more than this.

Augus touched his fingers to Gwyn’s cock, and Gwyn closed his eyes at the flush of sensation, pushed his hips forwards. He wasn’t worried about being bitten. Augus knew now that there were too many trump cards that Gwyn could play as punishment.

Gwyn grunted softly when Augus lowered his mouth over the tip of him, warm and wet. A moment later, Augus lifted his head.

‘You’re running far hotter than usual, do you have a temperature?’

‘Stop stalling,’ Gwyn clipped off.

Dread and arousal swirled through him as Augus lowered his head once more. Was he running hot? Gwyn realised it was probably true. His light was far closer to the surface lately, it split through his cells, made him ravenous to replace that which was destroyed inside of him. He’d learned a long time ago that he had to eat far more than the average fae, just to keep himself conscious. The light destroyed even when he wasn’t using it, his body healed what remained, it was a never-ending cycle that burnt constantly through his energy reserves.

Gwyn tried to concentrate as Augus pressed down, enveloped him with wetness, the movements precise. It felt...good, if detached. It wasn’t messy or passionate or eager, he didn’t think it ever would be, with Augus. He shivered when Augus bobbed his head up and down a few times, and then he shook his head, because this wasn’t the deal. Not this shallow, detached, wet warmth. He wanted a great deal more.

‘Lower,’ Gwyn said, and Augus’ fingers dug into his thighs. Gwyn watched the nails. They didn’t penetrate the skin, but they could, so easily. ‘Try, Augus.’

Augus lifted his head and glared at Gwyn.

‘Try,’ Gwyn said again, with a lazy, predatory smile.

‘I will break you apart one day,’ Augus said, and Gwyn nodded, because perhaps one day it would be true. If the stab in the back didn’t come from his family, perhaps it would come from Augus. He’d almost prefer it be him.

‘Jack seems very happy with Pitch,’ Gwyn said easily. ‘You breaking people apart, that has almost no staying power.’

‘He still has nightmares about it,’ Augus said, with cold certainty.

‘How do you know?’

‘Because I’m good at what I do.’

Augus scraped fingernails down Gwyn’s thighs and narrowed his eyes, and Gwyn shrugged.

‘Who defeated who? Tell me. I’ve forgotten.’

‘Shall I describe to you what your intestines felt like against my fingers?’

Gwyn’s jaw tightened. No. He didn’t want this. He didn’t know why he kept coming down here when Augus was so dangerous. One moment, he was convinced he would leave the waterhorse alone. That would be best, after all. The next he was telling himself that he was King, he’d earned this, Augus had to learn his place. He bounced back and forth in his mind on the issue, and then Augus would say something like this and Gwyn would feel like an idiot.

‘Don’t push me,’ Gwyn said darkly. ‘I’m not in the mood.’

‘Are you ever?’ Augus said, licking a firm stripe up the side of Gwyn’s cock and maintaining a smug eye contact.

Augus,’ Gwyn warned, and Augus’ smirk disappeared.

He rose up and lowered his head once more, and Gwyn hissed when he felt the light, almost playful scrape of teeth. That was deliberate. It didn’t matter if Gwyn enjoyed it, that had been a threat.

‘Obviously you don’t care about Ash,’ Gwyn bit out, recalling the threat he’d made last time, and Augus made a frustrated sound in the back of his throat that hummed through Gwyn’s flesh. Signs of teeth disappeared as he opened his mouth wider. He pushed himself down and then his shoulders tensed as he went further, and Gwyn felt the head of his cock brush the back of Augus’ throat.

He groaned, restrained himself from thrusting upwards. That felt...very good. Augus lifted his head almost immediately and then lowered his mouth again, his right hand tightening on Gwyn’s thigh, as though he didn’t want to fall. Gwyn stared down at that grip, breathing through the sensation of what Augus was doing, then tore his eyes away. He couldn’t focus on things like that or he would begin to care, again, about Augus. The attack that occurred after taking Augus to the lake was proof that he couldn’t.

Augus continued for some time, but never opened his throat on the downstroke. Gwyn shifted impatiently, and then leaned forwards and placed fingers delicately on Augus’ neck when he reached bottom. Augus immediately tensed.

‘You have to swallow,’ Gwyn said. ‘It’s the easiest way, at first.’

Augus made a stifled sound that was a mix of indignation and annoyance.

‘Try, Augus,’ Gwyn purred, and Augus growled around him. The sound rippled through Gwyn and he slumped backwards, gasping. That felt good. Augus did it again, and Gwyn grunted, spreading his legs wider.

Surprisingly, Augus did try swallowing. Gwyn felt the motion all the way along his cock and he moaned. A second later, Augus choked and rose up quickly, gasping for breath. He had his face averted, the hands on his thighs had tightened. Gwyn watched him, wondered how long he felt like waiting before telling Augus to move. He didn’t plan on finishing in Augus’ mouth, and the cold detachment he felt was keeping him from coming. Likely that would change very quickly once he was buried inside of him.

‘That’s some gag reflex you have,’ Gwyn said, and Augus shook his head in response.

‘It’s actually just that I find you repellent.’

‘Try again,’ Gwyn said sternly. Augus glared at him, and Gwyn smiled in response.

Augus rolled his eyes and then began again, swallowed, and Gwyn could tell that Augus was trying. He concentrated hard on not moving, on remaining as still as possible. Heat was spreading closer to the pores of his skin, he broke out in a full body sweat. The light was close. He’d have to watch himself when he fucked Augus if he wasn’t careful. But he didn’t want to have to do that while fucking him, he’d have to master it now. He grit his teeth and pulled his attention inwards, focused on bringing his light back down to a reasonable level.

Augus withdrew and stared at him, saliva making his lips gleam in the dull light.

‘Where are you?’ Augus said, and Gwyn blinked back to awareness. The light had sunk lower, but it still scraped at him. He shifted and met those green eyes, not knowing exactly what to say.

‘Worried you’re not pleasing me?’ Gwyn said eventually and Augus’ head tilted to the side, as he studied Gwyn curiously.

‘How long did you feel like this, before you forced Cyledr to eat Nwython’s heart?’

Gwyn’s teeth ground together. Every time Augus brought that up, it sent a chill through his spine. Augus had forced him to talk about it in explicit detail the very first time, the time he’d allowed Augus to...do whatever he wanted. Augus hadn’t given him any cause to regret talking about the incident then, but Gwyn regretted it frequently now. The others who knew of it – and enough did – never brought it up, wouldn’t dare. Sometimes they stared at Gwyn as though they couldn’t quite believe he was capable of such a thing. They all thought those actions had been the result of some kind of extended battle-frenzy, that he was in a berserker-like state. They were wrong.

Gwyn got up and pushed Augus to the ground, pulling lubricant out of his pocket.

‘All fours,’ Gwyn said, and Augus licked his lips and then wiped saliva away with the back of his hand. The casual carnality of it was a reminder that for all of Augus’ fastidiousness, he was far more familiar with sex than Gwyn had ever been.

‘Perhaps I’m not the only King who will go mad in my lifetime. You’ve already done it once, before you were King. Why not again? I’m curious though, who will you go to this time? Who will pick up the pieces? It obviously can’t be me.’

‘I am not going mad,’ Gwyn spat out, as Augus gracefully lowered himself on all fours, bowing his back and looking over his shoulder like he was made for it. The image hit Gwyn like a blow to the gut, and his mouth dropped open. A dark shaft of heat pushed through him and he stared at Augus hungrily. He wanted to hurt him, wanted to lose himself in fire and light and frenzy.

‘Is that what your victims see before you slay them on the battlefield?’ Augus said, taking in Gwyn’s expression, looking entirely nonchalant.

Gwyn slicked himself up with less lubricant than he would normally use, that was the point of all of this. He knelt between Augus’ legs, scraped his fingernails hard down the line of Augus’ spine, watching with satisfaction when the skin blanched white, then turned red. Augus hissed and his head dropped between his arms.

‘Ask me,’ Gwyn said, licking his lips.

‘For which? To fuck me? To hurt me? Both?’ Augus said, a rich amusement colouring his voice as Gwyn dug his nails into the vulnerable space where upper thigh met the base of Augus’ ass. Augus grunted and then laughed. ‘Do it, already.’

Gwyn pressed two fingers – the ones that still had residual lubricant on them – into Augus with no preamble. Augus exhaled sharply, inhaled slow, forcing his breathing to steady. The stretch was tight, but Gwyn didn’t stop until he was buried up to his knuckles. Here, Augus was no longer lukewarm, but a snug furnace around his fingers. Gwyn lowered his mouth to Augus’ side and bit so hard that he drew blood. It was hot, viscous, a coppery oil. Gwyn wanted to forget everything except sensation. He wanted Augus to forget his own name. He wanted.

He stretched Augus roughly, feeling the moment when Augus consciously relaxed against him. His breathing was ragged already, and he couldn’t help but roughly trail his hand down Augus’ chest and ribs as he worked him open.

He didn’t want to be more thorough, didn’t want to check Augus was ready, only wanted to take. It filled his mind with a raw, white energy that sparked like electricity across the back of his eyes. Augus had told him, after all, that he could probably take Gwyn’s vicious streak, had told him that he wasn’t human, had offered to do this. The grin that curled across Gwyn’s mouth was feral, exacting.

He withdrew his fingers and drank in Augus’ rough exhale, before positioning himself. He gripped Augus’ hips hard, knowing he was leaving bruises. There were things he wanted to say, sentences that piled up like needles in the back of his throat. But in the end nothing came forth, and he decided this was beyond words, beyond gloating.

Gwyn thrust forwards and almost sank himself to the hilt, the friction ripping a gasp from his throat. Augus flinched beneath him, his hips strained, he made a sound of pained shock.

‘Wait,’ Augus rasped, ‘wait, wait, wait.’

It was not the first time Gwyn had heard that said, nor would it be the last. He pulled Augus back by his hips and pushed forwards, watching the way Augus’ hands splayed and then dug into the ground. Augus moaned, broken, and Gwyn felt sparks that resolved into laughter as Augus tried to pull himself forwards.

‘I did say I would hurt you,’ Gwyn ground out, and Augus pressed his forehead to the floor, he collapsed down to his arms.

‘I did say...I could take it,’ Augus said, trembling, voice far rougher than usual.

Gwyn withdrew at those words and slammed back in. Augus – usually so reserved – cried out, then whimpered when Gwyn started a hard, brutal rhythm, pushing Augus down with one hand between his shoulder blades, the other holding his hips steady.

The heat was delicious, Gwyn swore he could taste it in the back of his throat; yuzu and pomelo, a citrusy blend that left liquid light on the back of his tongue. It felt good. It had been far too long since he’d found himself claiming a willing soldier at the end of a battle, far too long since he’d allowed himself to indulge in this. It was long before he’d met with the Guardians, before the days when he realised that Augus was up to something, when he realised he needed to focus.

Gwyn picked up the pace and Augus shuddered.

Fuck,’ Augus managed, exhaling hard on every thrust.

Gwyn paused, leaned forwards so that he was arching over Augus. He lowered his arms on either side of Augus’. He pushed his forearm underneath Augus’ collarbones so that he could get a better grip on Augus’ shoulder, sinking his teeth deep into the flesh at the base of his neck. Augus hissed.

It could have been an intimate position, except that Gwyn was increasing his leverage, wanting to have a good grip on Augus before he started again. He wanted to be closer to all the sounds that Augus would make, to those shredded exhales, the hitched breaths. Augus turned his head to the side, damp hair clinging to Gwyn’s arm. He slid eyes wet with tears up to Gwyn’s, a red flush across his cheeks, a spot of blood visible where he’d bitten his lower lip.

Gwyn stared. Augus was beautiful. It didn’t matter what he was doing, he just was. It was something both Courts knew and took for granted. It was one of the primary reasons that the Raven Prince first let Augus into his Court, simply to have that preternatural beauty nearby. And like this, green eyes highlighted with tears, flushed and most importantly, Gwyn’s...

‘Tell me you’re close,’ Augus said, voice ragged.

Gwyn nodded. Augus closed his eyes.

‘Am I deep enough?’ Gwyn said, grinding his hips forwards and feeling Augus groan against his forearm.

Yes,’ Augus said, squeezing his eyes shut further, tears leaking out of them.

‘Do you ache, Augus?’ Gwyn said, moving his hips back experimentally and then shoving forwards again, pulling Augus close to him with the hand on his shoulder.

Augus whimpered.

‘You know I do,’ he managed. ‘And I suppose this is clearly the calm before the storm.’

Yes, Gwyn thought, it is.

Gwyn’s arm tightened across the top of Augus’ chest, his fingers dug into Augus’ shoulders. The grip was good.

Gwyn stayed deep, started a steady, firm rhythm that increased in speed and force until sounds were spilling out of Augus’ mouth near constantly. It felt incredible. It was a fire in the base of him, the whirl of a disturbed bonfire. Gwyn had a moment, a single moment to realise – with some chagrin – that he’d been gentler than he’d wanted, and even now he felt like he’d been tricked somehow, that Augus was manipulating him. It moved through him as an unsettled, raw energy. Left him desperate to prove himself.

He grit his teeth and slammed in harder, increased the length of his strokes, and Augus cried out, a broken, wet sound.

Gwyn was close, familiar flares of heat gutting him from the inside out. He followed that caustic, blistering ache until everything went white behind his closed eyes, until he could taste it in the back of his throat. The light.

Gwyn shouted in arousal, alarm. It was too close. He hadn’t done a good enough job repressing it before, Augus had interrupted him.

Gwyn roared in frustration, sinking deep inside of himself even as he started to come. He unlocked from the sensation of it, furious with himself that he hadn’t done better earlier, finding the edges of light and gathering them up with a fist of energy, shaking hard and overwhelmed as he tried to balance between pushing the light down where it didn’t want to go, and emptying himself inside of Augus, barely aware of what was happening, cheated out of his release.

He’d finished coming long before he’d finished wrangling his own light. Had it really been so close to the surface lately? It was too dangerous. He mentally stomped it back down again, slumping forwards against Augus’ damp, lukewarm skin when he was done. His breathing was uneven, shallow. There’d been release, but he hadn’t felt it.

His own power had cheated him.

He withdrew from Augus, then looked down absently. A small amount of blood, hardly anything, and certainly a great deal less than what Augus had taken from Gwyn all that time ago. He didn’t know if he felt disappointed or relieved.

He did feel groggy. Snapping from one mindset to the other, so quickly, to bring himself under control like that...

And even now, he could feel the light straining up and forwards, already racing along the back of his spine, flickering behind his eyes. The light wanted out, and he couldn’t let it.

He was surprised to see Augus had already pushed himself up to a standing position. When had that happened? Gwyn put himself away, laced up his breeches, felt ill.

‘Gwyn,’ Augus said uncertainly. ‘What is wrong? I know we have no...I know it is not my place to ask, but I have to ask. Something is wrong. Before you think this is entirely altruistic, let’s keep in mind that I am entirely at your mercy. I seem to be benefitted when you’re not dabbling with madness. Besides, I know you, somewhat. I know that-’

‘Don’t you pretend that you know me!’ Gwyn shouted at him, unable to stand that false, soft voice. ‘I know that this is a trick!’

‘Paranoia?’ Augus said, and Gwyn’s hands balled into fists. He hadn’t sated anything.

‘I’m familiar with your paranoia,’ Augus said again, quietly. ‘I’ve seen this before too.’

He needed a Hunt, but the Wild Hunt was a month away. He needed...something.

‘Gwyn, perhaps-’

Gwyn struck out and grabbed Augus by his upper arms, swinging and slamming him back into the wall. Augus blinked hard, his chest heaved, Gwyn had winded him.

‘Don’t you dare pretend that you know me,’ Gwyn snarled. ‘Don’t you presume to think that because you broke me down centuries ago, you know me now. You don’t know the first thing about me, you-’

‘I know what you’re capable of,’ Augus gasped. ‘I’ve seen it. Experienced it. I know this was supposed to feel good for you, and instead-’

Gwyn didn’t want to hear any of it. He kept a tight-fisted control on his light as he let it dissolve him from the cell and back into his own room. His last image of Augus was of his eyes widening in surprise when he realised that Gwyn was simply exiting the conversation halfway through it.

Once in his own room, Gwyn turned and slammed his fist into the wall, knocking chunks out of the stone and breaking his knuckles from a combination of the force and the angle. He made a fractured noise, cradled his fist to his chest, trembled.

His hand would heal by the end of the day.

But nothing else would.

 

Chapter Text

It had been months since he’d eaten properly. Months upon months. He felt it as a gnawing, constant ache in his organs. He felt it in the weakness of his poison; weaker than it should have been, even for an underfae. And, after all, he would know. That’s where he started out in the first place. His weakness was in the brittleness of his small, hooked claws and the way less waterweed grew from his scalp.

These days he could live almost indefinitely on water alone. But not eating flesh kept him weak. And though he had never allowed himself to fall into such a state of disrepair before, he could just imagine how dreadfully difficult it would be to hunt his prey like this, without the benefit of most of his powers. His compulsions were also weaker. He tended not to look for weak-willed food, but it was the stronger-willed that were better able to resist him. And he was famished, he would eat anything, at this point. He didn’t like to dwell on how much weaker he might be in a year’s time, two, three, three hundred.

Then again, with how unpredictable Gwyn had been of late, it wasn’t as though he’d likely live out to see another three centuries in the cell. He’d either be killed, or perhaps he’d finally find a way to slaughter his way out of the Seelie Court.

He sat quietly in his cell, allowing his thoughts to bend and trickle like water through his own mind. He didn’t put up barriers of resistance but instead let them flow. Pleasant memories mingled with unpleasant ones, ripples were cast by realisations or sentences, and other ideas fell like stones into the deep, dark pool of his mind. He could spend hours, days like this if he had to. And he had. Water merged with its environment, it fit its container perfectly.

And while he would be the first to admit he was not a perfect fit for the cell, he adapted. He was the Each Uisge, and that’s what he did. He adapted.

This was not the worst cell he’d ever spent time in. Not by a mile.

It had perturbed him when Gwyn had taken him to the lake and used Augus’ love of water to pull an almost pleasant exchange out from under his skin. He still shivered to think on it, how the water had lapped at him fully. How Gwyn had seemed to be playing no game at all. How his large, often unforgiving hands were not cruel against him, but crudely compelling. Augus had realised then that he was in trouble. He didn’t particularly care for Gwyn, who had woken to the world with privilege at his fingertips and yet still managed to mope, sourly, through every day that followed. He didn’t particularly care that aspects of Gwyn’s childhood had been difficult; that was such a tired trope, and there were plenty of other people whose parents were demanding, who didn’t become power hungry creatures prone to fits of terrifying insanity.

It was one thing to confront that insanity from a position of power, to tie it up and restrain it with rope, to bleed it until it broke into pieces leaving a vulnerable, shaking man in its wake. It was quite another thing entirely to be tied up by that insanity, restrained by it, bled by it. The air around Gwyn charged and changed when he moved into that mood. It turned feverish and spilled like sparks of static electricity. Augus’ survival instinct kicked in strong and fervent; kill or be killed. The very power that made Gwyn so well-suited to directing the Wild Hunt, made him an unpredictable captor, especially when the madness was near.

He wouldn’t forget the satisfaction he’d felt plunging his weaker fingers into Gwyn’s gut, staring up at that sudden blankness, forcing Gwyn to recognise that Augus was no submissive underfae.

But Augus hadn’t thought that through. Gwyn’s attitude towards him had spoiled utterly. The last time Gwyn had visited him...

Frightening and yet intriguing. Gwyn was nothing more than a callous workhorse and yet...

Augus leaned his head back against the wall and narrowed his eyes sleepily at the loamy earth opposite him.

And yet Gwyn had still prepared him more than Augus had thought he would. He’d slowed down. He’d not actually been anywhere near as rough nor violent as Augus had been expecting. What was that about? Could he use it? He didn’t know – yet – the best way to move against Gwyn. He was the Seelie King, after all. Augus could thrust his fingers into Gwyn’s abdominal cavity, he could even puncture organs, but he was underfae; he could not break bone, could not scramble the nerves along the spinal cord. Could not kill him. He was almost certain of that. Augus had a fair idea of how powerful he was, even against the upper classes of fae, but Gwyn’s Kingship awarded him a power that Augus had experienced himself when he had been Unseelie King.

He doubted he could kill him.

And it was Gwyn’s will – literally – that kept him within the cell. He couldn’t escape even if he disabled Gwyn. He couldn’t compel it out of him, because Gwyn was damnably resistant to his compulsions. Augus had tried to use compulsion against Gwyn all that time ago, he had tried to simply compel the madness away with no success at all.

A small part of him entertained feelings of worry. It bemused him, that after all this time, he would worry about Gwyn’s wellbeing. Especially now. How dull. But it was a throwback to his purpose. He could not dominate someone, put them back together again, see them as whole as they could be in that moment, and then remove the care he nurtured in that time he spent with his clients. Once struck, it stayed, a glinting thread of awareness. It was why – for the most part – he never saw clients a second time. The care would grow, and Augus liked to stay detached from everyone.

Everyone except the Raven Prince, and Ash.

Augus laughed, a quiet, amused sound.

Look at what you did to the both of them. One is nothing more than the whisper of his former self thanks to your efforts. And the other a King, a thrice-damned, completely forgiven, unsuited for the job, King.

Thinking of Ash opened a wound in his heart, and though he did not chase those thoughts away, he winced to be confronted with them. He did not like to dwell on Ash, he particularly didn’t like to dwell on how it had gone between them, last time. The day that he’d started out as King, and finished as Gwyn’s captive; underfae, unconscious.

Thousands of years of memories behind him, he and Ash together, and all his mind offered him – time and time again – was that hideous day.

Augus’ skin prickled and he stood up quickly.

He could pick the energy of Gwyn approaching easily. And he could tell from how rapidly it rose in the atmosphere that Gwyn was teleporting directly into the cell, instead of walking down that interminable corridor, every step a threat, a promise, a possible opportunity.

Gwyn appeared in front of him. He was dressed for the Wild Hunt, even though it wasn’t time. His boots were laced up to the top of his calves, dark brown pants, the pale green shirt that looked as though it could have been constructed from leaves, except that it was all of a piece. He had his quiver of arrows attached already. He held his recurve bow with a dark confidence. Augus saw his expression, saw the look in his eye, and felt a cold, liquid dread move through him.

This is too familiar. Has he already forced someone to do the equivalent of consuming someone’s heart? Or is the insane cretin saving that for me?

Gwyn’s face was hard, he didn’t even look like he was fully present. Augus felt the singularly disconcerting feeling of Gwyn staring through him. He knew, then, there was no point offering up one of the many taunts that came to mind. He would wait for Gwyn to make the first move. His nails were sharp. He knew the pressure points to attack, he didn’t think Gwyn knew he was trained in those. Hunter and hunted. Shame the predator was crazy.

It was times like this that his mind helpfully offered up how Gwyn had looked back then. How Gwyn had simply teleported into his outer chamber, covered in blood, wild and unruly. He’d collapsed to his knees before Augus had even arrived; already penitent, seeking forgiveness for crimes that Augus could only make him voice by ripping them out of him with pain, touch, tenderness, blood. Gwyn had responded to the knife so beautifully, his face twisting in a way that left Augus wondering what it might be like if he’d had Gwyn longer. Because he knew, even back then, there was more to pull out of that dense, cluttered mind; he didn’t always want more time with the fae that visited him for his services, but he’d wanted more time with Gwyn. At the time he remembered thinking, ‘You can take more,’ right at the moment when Gwyn had cried – broken – ‘I can’t take it anymore.’

Augus stared at Gwyn as he had all that time ago, when he’d walked through his home into the outer chamber and found Gwyn, kneeling, trembling. It was a casual, indifferent stare. Gwyn hated it, the gaze unsettled him, and perfect, because if the brute was already unstable, might as well make the instability work in his favour.

He didn’t move when Gwyn reached out and dug his fingers into his shoulder, he relaxed into the teleportation. For all that Gwyn’s light was a strange, fey thing – even by fae standards – the light he used when teleporting was tame and warm, gentle and mastered. It was – like Gwyn’s talent with the sword – something that had been perfected with time. Augus reluctantly conceded, as they dissolved into their new surroundings, even his own ability to teleport wasn’t quite so refined.

Gwyn was a mess of contradictions, that such careful refinement could come out of someone who could have the intelligence of a block of wood on a bad day.  

He became aware of a forest around them; woody smells, and nearby, water. More than that, Augus took a deep, shuddering breath when he realised that they were beyond the Seelie Court. Well beyond it. The energy of the Seelie Court was a constant scrape in the back of his throat. Being beyond its walls in a forest he didn’t quite know was a weight off his shoulders, a freedom he hadn’t been aware he’d missed.

This was the closest he’d been to literal freedom in some time.

He tried to compose his face, aware that he’d let his expression slip. The pleasure of being away from the Seelie Court, out in the open, had stolen over his face. Gwyn caught the shift before Augus could smooth his features. There was a cold, smug satisfaction there, and Augus looked around the dense forest, his heart picking up its normally sluggish pace, his pulse spiralling higher.

‘Special occasion?’ Augus said, voice even.

Gwyn’s smirk widened and Augus wanted to roll his eyes. Wanted to lash out. Wanted to flee. This was not good. He much preferred to be on the predator side of the fence, being prey was so dreary. Being Gwyn’s, even moreso.

‘I find I am in need of a good hunt,’ Gwyn said, his voice flat.

He drew one of his arrows out smoothly, and then looked at Augus meaningfully.

Augus’ stomach dropped. He couldn’t believe it. He should have suspected, perhaps especially after how things had gone last time when Gwyn had been a mess in the ether. He’d been a tangle of knotted energy that Augus could no longer decipher except to see the bigger picture of not safe, not sane.

What was happening in his Kingdom that was driving him to this?

It hardly matters, what could you do even if you knew?

‘You are not hunting me,’ Augus said, incredulous, and Gwyn simply notched the arrow to the bowstring. He didn’t raise it, but the action spoke volumes.

‘Am I not? Here, I’ll make it fair. I’ll give you a head-start.’

Gwyn!’ Augus said, compulsion finding its way to his voice even though he hadn’t intended it. ‘This is insanity. You know that, don’t you?’

‘The family curse,’ Gwyn said, a strange fire in his eyes. ‘I’m well aware.’

The worst part was that he sounded so in control, and that was likely what Cyledr saw, as Gwyn was ordering him to eat his father’s heart. The stark, deadened resolve on his face was a promise, not an idle threat. Augus didn’t think Gwyn would be receptive to words, taunts, insults.

But did it matter? Did Gwyn’s imprisonment hold outside of the Seelie Court? Would it be possible to escape? Perhaps, in his waterhorse form, except...

Augus winced. No. He didn’t have the energy to sustain a change. And worse, his hooves would give away his location, he’d be loud. Gwyn was supernaturally fast when he needed to be, even without a steed during the Wild Hunt, even when he was tracking the White Stag on foot, he was fleet and silent. Augus didn’t like his chances.

But if there was a slight chance... could he get free? Had Gwyn presented him with a loophole to his imprisonment?

‘So what pushed you over the edge this time? Win a battle? Lose a battle?’

‘I’m surprised you’re not running,’ Gwyn said, raising his eyebrows and pursing his lips. ‘Don’t want that head-start after all, do you?’

‘What are the stakes?’ Augus heard himself ask, and cursed himself, it was stupid to buy into this. He should be running by now. And yet a part of him hoped, looked for a sliver of Gwyn that lay underneath the madness. But perhaps it had never been like that after all. Perhaps the madness was what lay beneath the sliver of Gwyn.

Gwyn simply tilted his head to one side and watched Augus, calculating. In that moment he was so much the product of his family, his parents, that Augus’ blood ran cold. His skin crawled. He took an involuntary step backwards and then froze when Gwyn raised the bow and arrow easily. Just like that, he had an arrow pointing at his heart.

He was underfae now. It would kill him.

‘You don’t want to kill me,’ Augus said in a rush, becoming suddenly aware of how much he did look like prey; nude, not at his best, less powerful. ‘You would turn one half of the Unseelie monarchy against you.’

‘The stupid half,’ Gwyn said, and Augus ground his teeth together. ‘The stupid half that isn’t running the Kingdom, and isn’t – strictly – necessary anymore.’

‘Who would you get to mindlessly fuck with no consequences in the future?’

That part is a shame. I’m sure I’ll live,’ Gwyn said, and Augus swallowed, stared at the tip of the arrow pointing at him.

‘And who, pray tell, will you go to when you come back to your senses? Just enough, just enough, to realise that you need help?’

‘Maybe I won’t come back this time,’ Gwyn rasped, and Augus saw the first flicker of something that might have been sanity underneath Gwyn’s expression. But what he saw didn’t reassure him. Something must have happened. Augus’ taunts weren’t scaring Gwyn back to stable ground, only reminding him of something he wanted to escape. There was desperation beneath that cold, hard facade. A lot of it.

Augus took another step backwards.

‘You don’t want to come back to your senses,’ Augus said, and Gwyn smiled, the desperation disappeared like a candle flame being blown out.

‘Augus, I don’t even want to talk.’

Augus’ eyes flickered around him, he had no idea where he was, where to go. He could sense water in two different directions. Water would make him stronger...at least, strong for an underfae. But Gwyn could sense water too, and Gwyn would expect him to go in those directions, and if he knew this forest...

‘How much of a head-start?’ Augus said, abandoning all pretence that he was indifferent to this, aware of the breathlessness in his own voice. Gwyn shrugged.

‘Minutes.’

Augus didn’t trust that he had that long. He turned and fled. He half-expected an arrow to pierce his ribs or his spine even as he struck out into the densest part of the forest. He might not have possessed Gwyn’s natural fleetness, but he was not human, born waterhorse, and even without shifting he was still preternaturally fast, able to process his environment quickly, mapping the forest with his vision even as he passed what he’d just seen.

His feet instinctively sought to put himself downwind. And he found himself curving around to lower ground, seeking water after all. If he could find those water sources, if they were deep enough, he could simply shift to waterhorse form and wait at the bottom of the black, wait until Gwyn had burnt through his madness or until he became bored and looked for some other quarry to sate his bloodlust.

And then what? Turn yourself over to the mercy of the Unseelie Court? You weren’t taken in by them in the first place, why would they take you now? What – exactly – have you done to prove that you’re remotely trustworthy, and why would you go back?

Augus only just managed to swallow down the pained sound that pushed up in the back of his throat. Ash hadn’t even taken him back into the Unseelie Court when Augus had been defeated, had forced him out of his home. He drove his thoughts away from the damaged relationship between he and Ash and misplaced his feet. He fell heavily, grunted when his hip slammed into a outcropping of jagged rock. It cut into his skin, would leave a scent  trail that Gwyn could follow. Augus growled at himself in frustration.

Get free first, worry about where you’ll go after.

At least ten minutes had passed when he came across the first source of water he’d sensed. It was nothing more than a creek, not deep enough to sustain a change. He plunged into it. It was harder to run through in his human form, but it would mask his scent. His hip was oozing blood and even he could smell it.

Time passed and Augus became paranoid that Gwyn was tracking him, was right behind him but somehow silent, just watching. He wanted to ascribe it to paranoia, but his instincts were so rarely wrong.

But it caused dread to coil up thick inside of him. Was an arrow notched even now? Was Gwyn simply enjoying his predicament?

Augus tore out of the creek and leapt over undergrowth into a particularly dense part of forest, trying to escape the feeling that he was being watched, stalked, hunted.

It was outrageous, freedom was so close he could practically taste it as fresh water and chlorophyll green and yet it wasn’t close at all. How could it be, with one of the fae’s greatest hunters after him? And there was a time to be arrogant and a time to be realistic. He was not one of the fae’s greatest hunters. Certainly, he could master the energy of the Wild Hunt, but that was different. He had no allies, he wasn’t sure where he would go except that he’d likely have to hide in the human world, but none of that mattered if he could just find a lake deep enough to hold him, to place him out of Gwyn’s reach.

In his waterhorse form, at the bottom of a lake, he’d stand a good chance against Gwyn, even if Gwyn swam down into the water.

Augus held back a thread of distressed laughter. So many ‘ifs’ – if he could find a lake, if it was deep enough, if he could fight back adequately when Gwyn was in this state of mind.  

He’d lost the control he had over the situation when he’d retaliated against Gwyn without provocation. He’d reflected on that time in the lake, had time to realise that Gwyn – perhaps without even realising – was nurturing...something towards him. To go from their first meeting, to voluntarily taking him into the pool of water and gazing up at him with that expression on his pale face...it had been something.

But Augus hadn’t wanted anything to do with it, and he’d over-reacted. Because once upon a time another creature had been gentle with him, had been – after a period of captivity – sensual and if not caring, then attentive. And even though Gwyn was worlds apart from the Nightmare King, it had made him uncomfortable when he’d realised the similarities, when he’d realised that Gwyn could play him so easily, so easily, if Augus allowed it. If Gwyn had the mind for it.

And he’d resolved not to allow it. But shoving his fingers into Gwyn’s gut had not been revenge against Gwyn. No. It had been an older, darker revenge. A promise against a formless enemy that didn’t exist anymore. Augus had treated Gwyn with a callous lack of mercy and Gwyn having seen it...nothing had been the same since.

That was when he’d lost control. The instant he’d stared at Gwyn, feeling cool water and the heat of Gwyn’s blood pouring down his fingers and pooling hot in the water around them. Gwyn’s mouth had opened in a spasm of pain, and he’d stared with a wide, shocked look on his face. He’d looked – incredibly – like Augus had broken the rules.

And now the consequences were that Gwyn – also – was breaking the rules.

To be fair to me though, I haven’t been at my best lately. He technically has no excuse.

Augus managed a barely controlled slide down an embankment, hissing as his feet were cut up on rocks barely hidden by soil and grass. The scent of water thickened in the air, and he sprang forwards because there was a lake hidden nearby. It was no creek, no jaunty, shallow brook, but a lake. He could practically feel the deep, watery silt against his fingers.

He leapt off the base of the embankment and landed surprisingly well for the twelve foot drop. Especially given the state of his feet. He saw the water gleaming beyond a copse of trees, a breeze above catching the light of the rippling surface. Perhaps there was a fae already in there, he didn’t care, he just needed to-

He fell hard, a weight slammed into him.

Gwyn.

They struggled in earnest. He was surprised it hadn’t been an arrow, and realised that he must have actually started to lose Gwyn when he’d slid down the embankment. Augus growled when Gwyn tore at his hair, because that stung and was just petty. Gwyn dug the fingers of his other hand into Augus’ throat, crushing his windpipe, and Augus caught a sight of the expression on his face as he lashed out, and then wished he hadn’t.

Not good. This is not good.

Snarling, he reached for the recurve bow hanging at Gwyn’s hip. He wrapped his fingers around the wood, gasped for breath, and then with a jerk of his whole body managed to snap the bow and make it useless.

You can kill me, but you’re not doing it like I’m some White Stag that will rise from the dead once you’re done. Do it with your hands, if you’re so desperate.

But Gwyn obviously hadn’t expected Augus to snap the bow, he paused – surprised – and Augus used the instant to backhand Gwyn across the face before clawing up at his eyes. Gwyn reared back, furrows from Augus’ fingernails opening a bloody mess down his cheek. He lifted Augus with the grip on his neck and slammed him back into the ground. Augus gasped, dazed, he needed more air.

Gwyn repeated the gesture twice more until Augus was nearly insensate. Augus was aware of Gwyn’s other arm twisting behind his back for his arrows, even while the grip stayed strong around his throat.

Augus was surprised that he wasn’t more frightened, but – he supposed – concussion would do that.

When his vision cleared and he saw Gwyn lowering the point of the arrow to the flesh of his shoulder, his panic returned. He shouted out hoarsely when the metal point pierced him, struggled, only succeeded in ripping his own flesh further.

Augus tried all the tricks he could think of – bringing his knee up, working against Gwyn’s weight, trying to use Gwyn’s weight against him, aiming for pressure points, but he hadn’t realised that Gwyn was so experienced in hand to hand combat, and Augus had always found the practice of wrestling to be beneath him. He was outweighed and disadvantaged.

The arrow pressed deeper and deeper, cutting through muscle, causing his shoulder to go into spasm. It was nowhere near his heart. It wasn’t supposed to be. Augus shouted in rage when he realised that Gwyn wasn’t even trying to kill him, not yet, just causing pain. It was a level of cold, ruthless sadism that he didn’t have the patience for. Not this.

Augus couldn’t overpower him physically, he’d have to use words. But what to use, what to use when the few forays he’d tried earlier had all been shut down?

And then it occurred to him, a split of realisation that sent an almost unholy sense of glee through his pained, bleeding body. Even if it killed him to say it, at least Gwyn would hear him. At least he’d be haunted by it.

What was it that Gwyn had said? Augus cast his mind back into the past for the exact words. He’d been ripping the story of Nwython and Cyledr from Gwyn, only to hear Gwyn recall Cyledr’s words as he held his own father’s heart.

That will do nicely.

Augus reached up with his good hand and managed to get enough air. Just enough.

‘Papa! Nwython! Forgive me!’

The arrow point slipped against his shoulder blade and Augus choked on a scream. But Gwyn had stopped moving, his hand fell off the arrow and fell to the ground, caught his weight. Gwyn blinked down at Augus in confusion, disoriented. Augus started to ram his knee up into Gwyn’s crotch, but Gwyn rolled off him quickly, pushing himself upright and away.

Augus watched, head pounding, as Gwyn staggered to the lake’s edge and threw up violently, bent double, arms wrapped around his torso.

When it became obvious that Gwyn wasn’t about to spring back and murder him, Augus pushed himself awkwardly upright with one arm, the arrow still stuck in his shoulder. He raised a hand to it and ripped it out, knowing he was doing more damage, but even as underfae he’d heal if he was just given a chance to. He felt the heat of his own blood spilling across his chest, finding the concaves of his ribs and curving along with them. It was only as he stood that he became aware of how much pain he was in. His head, his feet, his hip where he’d landed on the rock, his shoulder. He could feel the ache and sting of innumerable cuts from branches, and additional bruises from Gwyn, most likely.

Augus pushed it all aside. He could look at it later. It wasn’t killing him now. He diverted the pain as easily as one could divert a small stream of water by cupping and changing the angle of their hands. He simply poured it into a different part of his mind.

Augus approached Gwyn cautiously, watching to see how he responded. He could feel the hair-trigger of Gwyn’s madness. A palpable weight in the air. He could feel the result of it tracking blood down his torso.

Gwyn looked up at him, a startled reflex, when Augus stepped on a twig and it snapped. His eyes were wild, mad, and Augus raised his eyebrows. It was then that Augus saw that Gwyn was not unscathed. He had deep scratch marks in his cheek where Augus had lashed out at him. His shirt had torn. He had a snarl of leaves tangled up in his hair. There was a trickle of blood from a wound he’d opened on his forearm. He looked feral. Augus was somewhat relieved to know that he had at least made things difficult for him.

He said nothing, only watched. Gwyn stared at him a moment longer, and then his eyes unfocused, his brow creased heavily, and he bent back down to the ground and dry retched.

Augus knew a bad memory when he saw one, he had enough of his own to contend with.

Gwyn looked up several minutes later, not quite catching Augus’ eyes, then looked down at the ground where Augus had dropped the arrow. There was an awareness in his gaze now, he was more present than he had been, at the very least.

‘So you did come back after all,’ Augus said, bemused. And then laughed at the predicament he found himself in. At Gwyn’s bewildered expression. ‘Oh, Gwyn, you threw hard to your father’s side of the family, didn’t you?’

Gwyn made a sound that never quite made it past his throat, and then closed his eyes. He pushed himself upright and wiped at his mouth with forearm. He walked quickly towards Augus, and Augus tensed for a fight when he felt fingers lightly touch his good shoulder. Light surrounded them once more.

It was only in the midst of teleportation that Augus realised he’d missed an excellent opportunity to actually escape, Gwyn had been completely dazed, it would have been perfect. The lake had been right there for the taking. But Augus couldn’t regret that he’d missed it, given that if another fae stumbled across him, odds were high that he’d end up murdered anyway.

Augus was shocked when he saw that Gwyn had transported them not to the cell, but to the rooms of his palace. He didn’t recognise the room they were in, but he could sense Gwyn’s magic in the structure of the walls, the flowing branches of the ceiling.

‘You’ll have access to the lake,’ Gwyn said, as though they were continuing a completely different conversation. He refused to make eye contact, wouldn’t look at Augus’ shoulder.

‘I beg your pardon?’ Augus said.

‘Stay out of the way of those who stray in, there’s never many. I’d prefer it if you weren’t seen up here, for both our sakes.’

No, he can’t be serious. He can’t mean what I think he means.

‘So we’re not going back to the cell, then?’ Augus said, needing the clarity.

‘I need to think,’ Gwyn said, breathless, taking a step away from him and staggering on perfectly solid, flat ground. Augus stepped forwards, finding this shift equally disturbing.

‘Gwyn,’ Augus said, as Gwyn started to leave the room. ‘Wait.’

‘Get yourself some clothing,’ Gwyn muttered, and Augus blinked.

‘Gwyn-’

‘The trows will heed your orders, but be wary, some aren’t literate if you’re writing down what you want. You are, of course, still captive.’

How did I end up in the middle of Gwyn’s palatial rooms, with permission to order clothing, and have free access to the lake, after that?

Worse, old instincts were rising up inside of him. If Gwyn had truly snapped out of his madness so abruptly, he wasn’t okay. He shouldn’t be left on his own. At the very least, Augus wanted to make sure that Gwyn didn’t suddenly change his mind and come back to complete whatever torment he’d set his mind towards in the first place. He wondered if he was being played and then realised that the fear he sensed from Gwyn was genuine. The horror in the room was not his own.

Whatever had been pushing him over the edge of late wasn’t gone. It was likely a stimulus that was still out there. Wherever Gwyn was going, he couldn’t escape it. Augus frowned.

‘What access do I have?’ Augus said, and Gwyn paused, his hand on the door where he was leaning, supporting his own weight.

Augus felt a shift of magic around him, and realised that Gwyn was absently setting the permissions within the magic of his own palace. He did it so easily. Augus needed a great deal of time to set the permissions in his own palace when he’d been King, and here was Gwyn, doing it despite being confused and disoriented.

‘Everywhere except the outermost circle of palatial rooms, and the innermost circles, which are mine.’

The permissions even made relative sense. Keep Augus out of the outermost circles, where he was most likely to be seen...

‘What were you going to do to me? That wasn’t hunting, Gwyn, that was torture. You would never put your quarry down like that.’ Augus couldn’t stop the hard flinty tone entering his voice. The pain was starting to creep back. He couldn’t divert his awareness of the pain forever, and as fatigue crept upon him, he found it harder and harder to detach himself from what he was feeling.

Keep me alive just long enough and I will get you back for that, you thick-headed imbecile.

‘I find...it’s dangerous for me to think of you as just a prisoner,’ Gwyn said, he opened the door and Augus stepped forwards again, his torn feet protesting the movement.

‘Gwyn,’ Augus said, ‘I’m not particularly in the mood to be exposed to your torture methods again. You need help. Who will you go to? Ondine? Albion?’

‘Leave it,’ Gwyn said, voice turning wooden.

‘You need help,’ Augus said, and Gwyn turned back to him, something broken behind his pale eyes.

‘You can’t help me, Augus.’

He laughed despairingly as he exited, and Augus heard the end of Gwyn’s sentence clearly in the laughter:

No one can.

Chapter Text

Gwyn had given Augus a wide berth for several weeks. Memories of his actions at the ‘hunt’ left him nauseous, and seeing glimpses of Augus in the circles of his own palatial rooms was a reminder that he had taken things too far, that he was out of control. He honestly thought that if he could have gone the rest of his life never seeing Augus again, it would have been a relief. There were things that he couldn’t stand knowing about himself. Things that Augus threw into sharp, unavoidable focus.

He’d told the trows to accept any orders or demands Augus might have for new clothing, or anything else – within reason – that he might require, and they in turn indicated to him that Augus had taken up in a room, and was sometimes seen within the lake. Gwyn wouldn’t have been surprised if Augus was also keeping out of his way. It had seemed entirely too easy not to see him, and he suspected Augus didn’t want much to do with him either.

But life had always conspired against him. Now he had to seek him out once more. He leaned his forehead against a damp, mossy wall and stared at a tiny liverwort growing determinedly on its vertical surface.

He’d held an open Court, as he did once every three weeks. But he hadn’t expected his mother to step forward, every piece of her hair perfectly in place except for one single ringlet allowed to fall down the side of her neck. She had approached him and asked in the most respectful of ways if Gwyn might present the prisoner, Augus Each Uisge, to the Court, proof that if he was not to be slaughtered, he could at least be cowed. And Gwyn had masked his horror at her request, swallowed down his revulsion when the other fae crowed in agreement, and simply nodded.

‘That can be easily arranged, mother.’

And that would have been the end of it – bad enough certainly – except that Gulvi had listeners everywhere, and within six hours Gulvi had requested a formal audience, and asked that she and Ash be received into the Seelie Court for this presentation of a cowed and beaten Augus.

‘You want his brother there,’ Gwyn said flatly.

‘I spend hours with my sister every day. She cannot hunt. She cannot feed herself. She cannot fly. She cannot preen. She cannot even be considered a shadow of her formal self, because, darling, her very self has wasted to shreds. She will likely never change out of her animal form again. Ash will not like it, but I think he should see his brother alive and as well as you are keeping him. And I...I need to see this, Gwyn. For you cannot kill him. As we both understand. Although, la, accidents happen, do they not?’

‘You will control yourself within my Court,’ Gwyn said, and Gulvi smiled sweetly.

‘But of course, my dear, we are all royalty now, are we not? I would not take a step against you, with my remaining sister delivered back to me. I did not mean to imply that I would create the accident, dear me, no. I was only suggesting that these fae Courts are dangerous places. Wouldn’t it be terrible if you were to-’

‘You will not come into this Court and tell me that I have made the wrong decision in how to keep my prisoners. Whether outright or covertly, Gulvi. You and Ash are permitted to bear witness to Augus’ captivity, but that is all.’

‘And is he keeping well? The fox in the hen-house?’ Gulvi said, and Gwyn frowned.

Augus was keeping very well indeed. He had free access to water. He was no longer living within a prison cell. For all that Gwyn had inflicted himself upon him, Augus was likely doing far better than anyone could have expected. Far better than anyone felt he deserved. Anyone, that was, except for Gwyn, and likely Ash. The strangeness of that fact was something that Gwyn was carefully not thinking about.

‘Ash will want him back within the Unseelie Court,’ Gulvi said, abruptly.

‘I can categorically assure you that is not what will be happening. And if Ash kicks up a fuss about it amongst the Seelie fae, he will be quickly disabused of that notion, and I will remove you both. Everyone knows that the Unseelie look after their own, I can just imagine the sort of leniency Ash would show his brother.’

‘Is it anything like the leniency you showed, when you allowed that intolerable creature to live?’ Gulvi said, eyes narrowing.

‘Don’t play your games with me, Gulvi. I taught you half of what you know.’

Gulvi leaned forwards, her mouth shaping around a comeback, and then in a move that Gwyn had grown familiar with, she closed her eyes briefly and shook her head, once, sharply.

‘And it is so,’ she said. ‘This display, are you sure he will be cowed? It is, after all, Augus. What if he tries to escape?’

‘He may try,’ Gwyn said, unable to even summon a cold smile for emphasis. But whatever his expression conveyed must have been more disturbing, for Gulvi subsided. Her energy became less prickly at once. She sighed.

‘I dream of how I would kill him, often,’ Gulvi said, looking up, dark eyes glittering. ‘You cannot imagine, but this is the way it is. The only reason I have not tried is that you found my Julvia. It is a debt I cannot repay, and one that I do not wish to add to.’

Gwyn nodded carefully and then tilted his head.

‘It’s gotten to you quickly, hasn’t it? The politics of it? You’re beginning to talk like a Queen now.’

‘La, it is so fucking tedious, Gwyn!’ Gulvi exclaimed. ‘One minute I am speaking as I always have, and the next it is verbal contracts, attending meetings. These creatures cannot look after themselves! In lieu of their mothers and fathers or whatever may have spewed them into the world, they use us instead. No?’

‘It seems that way.’

‘Yes, it does. And no Wild Hunts recently? I was sad to have not gotten a chance to ride alongside you. I cannot remember the last time you refused the Call.’

Gwyn felt an uncomfortable lump in his throat but refused to clear it. Gulvi noticed everything, and for all that he was confident in his abilities to outwit her, it didn’t do to hand her fuel by acting as though he’d cancelled it for any reason other than commitments.

‘I, too, regret missing it,’ Gwyn lied, ‘I thought I was making the right decision at the time, but rest assured I will be there for the next.’

‘There is no Wild Hunt without you. None of the other fae will take it up, commanding that energy for the evening.’

Except Augus, once upon a time. And the Raven Prince, before him.

Gwyn didn’t know how he’d manage the next one. Memories of his own impromptu ‘hunt’ laced through him like rough rope. But he’d have to. Many of the battle-hungry fae needed it, and it was a good way of ensuring inter-Court cooperation.

‘You are Queen now,’ Gwyn said quietly. ‘Have you ever considered taking it up?’

Gulvi’s eyes widened, genuinely shocked.

‘You could,’ Gwyn continued. ‘I do not mean take over, of course. But perhaps you would like to lead the Hunt, one day?’

Gulvi shook her head at him, horrified. Gwyn frowned. He thought he’d done the right thing, offering it. After all, he couldn’t keep it up forever. Those at the helm of the Wild Hunt were supposed to change after a period of time. He’d been conducting the Hunt on his own for a long time now.

‘Gwyn, I am not interested in these things. I want the Hunt to be fun and fun only. I need it more than ever, now that I have a Court, a Kingdom. Alas, I am not ungrateful.’

‘Here we are, back to Courtspeak,’ Gwyn said, and Gulvi’s lips thinned.

‘Darling, would you have preferred if I just told you to go fuck yourself? I’m sure Ash will do that plenty for both of us.’

‘Ah,’ Gwyn said, blinking, and Gulvi smiled wickedly.

‘Watch your back around him, dear one. He will not try anything in your Court, but just as I have imagined the ways I would put down that waterhorse, so I am sure that Ash has imagined what you might look with your guts hanging out.’

Fantastic. He has a great deal in common with Augus, obviously.

‘I did what I had to do,’ Gwyn said, and Gulvi laughed, standing.

‘No one is denying that, Seelie King. You have even the respect of many of the Unseelie Court for doing what you did, though I doubt you care one whit about what they think of you. Still, you cannot save a Kingdom without making an enemy or two, no?’

‘No,’ Gwyn said, because that was true enough. Gwyn’s enemies were innumerable. Granted, he could deal with them all – or at least, had been able to thus far. Every enemy except himself, which was another matter he was carefully avoiding thinking about.

They continued to converse for a short time. Gulvi asked for advice on an Unseelie Court matter, and Gwyn offered what he could. After that, she left, and he promised to send a messenger to let her know when the display of Augus would be.

It would have to be soon, because it was not something he wanted dragged out. A short time ago, it would have been something he might have looked forward to, but now he wanted space from his own cruel streak, and this public display was not the way to go about it. Many of the fae could be cruel, some intentionally, some unintentionally. It was a normal part of what it was to be fae amongst so many of them – the acceptance of cruelty, making room for it in the lore. But, for all that it was a liberal wash through him, he hated it. He wanted – for the most part – nothing to do with it.

Gwyn stepped back from the mossy wall and rubbed at his forehead, before seeking out Augus.

Once he put his mind to it, Augus was easy to find. Tracking was one of Gwyn’s skills, practiced for so long that it was well-ingrained and unconscious. It was easy enough to focus and find the scent of him, an odd combination of silt and clear water. And from there, he found himself wandering into a corner of his own palace that he didn’t often visit. It was a more formal space that he was comfortable with, because he thought it was what his parents might expect of him, but his parents never visited the inner circles of his palace, not even when his father had still been alive, and so he’d decided never to use the rooms.

He stepped from mossy floor to floorboards, and wandered down a long, panelled corridor. Arched stained glass windows let in a muted light which lent the hall a dim, melancholy air.

At the end, in a small chamber lined with bookshelves filled with books, Augus sat waiting for him. Gwyn hadn’t tried to hide his footsteps, so Augus must have known he was coming. He wore a deep green shirt and simple black trousers. His feet were bare. He looked...healthier. He must have been making liberal use of the lake. With the shirt covering his shoulder, Gwyn couldn’t tell if it had healed yet. His own injuries had healed some time ago, but then, he had his Kingship to thank for that.

‘Should I strip?’ Augus said, arching an eyebrow. Gwyn shook his head.

It shouldn’t disturb him that it was the very first thing that Augus asked him, it shouldn’t, because that was the precedent Gwyn himself had set. Wasn’t it? When had he ever visited Augus within the Seelie Court, since his imprisonment, for anything else other than carnality?

‘No?’ Augus said,  ‘Am I to be going back down to the cell?’

Gwyn cleared his throat, shook his head again, and Augus leaned back in his chair. He looked mildly amused.

‘This will be good then.’

Gwyn looked around the room. There was nowhere else to sit.

‘A public display has been requested,’ Gwyn said, more curtly than he’d intended. ‘I think you should appear in your waterhorse form. It may make it easier.’

‘I’m more powerful in my waterhorse form,’ Augus said, eyes narrowing. ‘Who am I meant to be making this easier for, exactly?’

Gwyn didn’t bother answering that. If Augus couldn’t figure it out for himself, Gwyn didn’t want to make the reply explicit.

‘The request was a formal one put forward in open Court. It must be heeded. And if you do not appear appropriately cowed, there will be consequences.’

Augus grimaced.

‘Oh yes, I understand. I held enough displays of my own, while I was King.’

Gwyn nodded and kept his mouth shut. Augus narrowed his eyes, his dark, thick lashes turned his green irises to a sliver.

‘And who put forward this formal request?’

Gwyn’s teeth ground together.

‘Crielle of-’

‘You could just say: ‘My mother,’’ Augus said, standing up and watching Gwyn with a considering look on his face. It was as Augus stood that Gwyn saw the residual stiffness in his movements. Gwyn had spent too long learning the musculature of different fae, too long looking for weaknesses in bodies, in armour, to miss when something was wrong.

‘You haven’t healed,’  Gwyn said, and Augus blinked at him.

‘I’m underfae, it will take time,’ Augus said. ‘What did you expect? I am, in all actuality, healing rather fast. I was quite injured.’

‘Show me,’ Gwyn said, his heart-rate picking up. Augus frowned at him, and then seemed to think it wasn’t a matter worth fighting. He indicated his own shoulder, and Gwyn realised that Augus wanted him to expose the wound himself.

Gwyn stepped forward awkwardly, nostrils flaring for the scent of infection. He couldn’t pick it up, thankfully, and he raised his hands up uncertainly, drawing aside the top of Augus’ shirt. Augus stood quietly and didn’t protest, didn’t resist. He watched Gwyn calmly, as though this was something they did all the time. As though they hadn’t been avoiding each other for weeks.

Gwyn slid back the thin, fine material until he could see where he had pushed the arrow into Augus’ flesh. It was both better and worse than he expected. It clearly was healing, having scabbed over healthily, showing only minimal bruising. But worse too. It had been a surprisingly deep wound, given how it had been inflicted, and to see evidence of that in the stiffness of Augus’ shoulder was a burden he didn’t want, couldn’t bear to look at. He hurriedly slid the shirt back into place and took several steps away.

‘I’ll be chained, I expect,’ Augus said crisply, changing the subject. ‘Collared and chained. Led around the Court? How do the fae on your side of the fence do it? What, do tell, is the Seelie version of displaying a prisoner?’

‘Collar, chain, led around the Court. A period of time where you must wait by the throne, on your knees. That is all.’

‘Yes,’ Augus said, one side of his mouth turning up in a humourless smile. ‘That is familiar.’

‘You will have to obey promptly,’ Gwyn added. ‘People will be expecting subtle rebellions from you. They will look for any and all excuses to increase the strength of their petitions to see you dead.’

‘And you get many petitions for my death, do you?’ Augus said. Gwyn couldn’t pick the tone of his voice.

‘Not as many now,’ Gwyn said. ‘Maybe three, four a week.’

Augus raised his eyebrows, though whether he was surprised that it was so little, or so many, Gwyn couldn’t tell. It was then that Gwyn noticed that Augus looked tired. It was strange to see, because he hadn’t looked quite so tired down in the cell. But here, and healthier, Gwyn thought he could see signs that Augus wasn’t sleeping. His brow furrowed. He didn’t understand.

‘You do realise that your life would be made a great deal easier if you simply did kill me?’ Augus said, and Gwyn nodded.

‘Yes, I’m aware.’

‘And so...’ Augus said, as though Gwyn was a puzzle he couldn’t quite work out, ‘You simply like your life being difficult?’

‘In my dealings with Ash, I promised you would not be killed.’

Augus’ face went carefully blank, as it often did at the mention of his brother. Gwyn was glad for the excuse. The fact was that at the time, he simply hadn’t wanted to kill Augus. It was not something he – for the most part – enjoyed doing, as long as he wasn’t on a battlefield. When he was away from the madness that lurked inside of him, he hadn’t even wanted Augus killed when Augus was at his worst; removing fae from their homes and killing them indirectly, torturing and tormenting others, imprisoning those who would not listen to him. Execution was one responsibility that he couldn’t get his head around. If he was off a battlefield, he could not do it, had never put himself in positions where he would be expected to...not until now. Being obligated to constantly explain his decision to every fae that requested an audience with him was wearing.

Gwyn was also glad for the fact that in mentioning Augus’ brother, Augus didn’t mention that Gwyn could have easily killed him during the hunt if Augus hadn’t come up with that disturbingly effective way of snapping Gwyn out of the place he’d been in his mind.

‘Was it easy?’ Augus said suddenly, and then his face twisted. ‘No, never mind.’

‘Was what easy?’

‘I find I can’t remember what I was going to say,’ Augus lied. He lifted his shoulders into a shrug and then aborted the movement quickly, carefully lowering them again. Gwyn felt a twinge of response in his own shoulder. He’d sustained injuries when he’d been Outer Court, and those that were serious did often take at least a few days to heal. Shoulder injuries caused referred pain in the neck, the head, the back, the opposite shoulder; they persisted.

‘Are you ill?’ Gwyn said, and Augus stared at him.

‘Excuse me?’

‘You don’t seem...very much like yourself.’

Augus smirked.

‘Gwyn, for you to know that, you would have to have some grasp of who I am, and you don’t.’

It wasn’t even intended as an insult. Gwyn thought he could tell the difference now. This was just a bald statement of fact, but it jarred Gwyn to hear it. He could certainly accept that he hadn’t seen Augus being himself since being a prisoner, that was only natural. And of course, when he’d visited all that time ago, he was more a client than someone who had any right to see Augus’ relaxed, every day personality.

But he had thought that, when they’d commanded the Wild Hunt together, maybe...

‘I’m not ill,’ Augus continued. ‘I’ve just been informed by my captor that I shall be paraded in front of his crowing Court, who all want me very dead. I’m sure you think that I just blithely accept all that comes my way, but I assure you, this is something I am not looking forward to.’

Me either.

‘Will you change form?’ Gwyn said, and Augus frowned.

‘They won’t like it. They will want to see my expressions, this face. They will not want to see a-’

‘It’s not up to them. I’m not asking them what they want to see. Will you change form?’

Augus nodded after a long hesitation.

‘You do understand what is at stake here, don’t you?’ Gwyn said, and Augus’ lips slanted into a frown.

‘Of course I do.’

Gwyn ran a hand through his hair. They both understood that if Augus couldn’t play along satisfactorily, it would become harder and harder to make excuses for him, to explain why he was being kept alive. It wasn’t just for Gwyn’s benefit that Augus needed to play the game well this time. It was for his own.

‘I will organise it, then, and-’

‘Gwyn,’ Augus said sharply. ‘Are you ill?’

‘What?’ Gwyn said, confused. ‘Why...would you think that?’

‘Three weeks ago you would have been enjoying this.’

Gwyn couldn’t think of a response to that. Couldn’t deny it, because it was true. Couldn’t agree, because he didn’t want to acknowledge that reality. Couldn’t say that things had changed because he hardly knew why they had, or what was happening in his life. He just wanted to get the display out of the way and go back to trying to piece his life back together again. There were times when he felt as though something was too broken, too deeply inside of him, that he could never put it back together again. Usually that reality was easy enough to ignore, but lately it had been a glaring series of rifts and cracks inside of him, all of them spilling the light that so many others loved or admired.

He loathed it.

‘I will return,’ Gwyn said, skin crawling. He turned and left the sitting room, made his way back down the hall without a second glance. The next time he saw Augus again, it would be with a collar, a chain, and a night neither of them were likely to forget in a hurry.

*

Gwyn half-hoped that Augus wouldn’t be there when he returned a week later. Of course that would raise more problems than solutions, but there was still that moment when Gwyn hoped the problem of the display would just disappear. But Augus was standing, waiting in the area of Gwyn’s palace that felt so unlike Gwyn that he had already started thinking of them as Augus’ rooms.

Augus’ eyes were drawn immediately to the silvery collar and chain.

‘They’re too small,’ Augus said.

‘They’re enchanted to enlarge or shrink depending on how you appear. They’re designed for shapeshifters,’ Gwyn said abruptly. He held up the collar. It was a simple metal band, a magicked bronze, lacking decoration of any kind.

Augus’ mouth tightened. The fingers of his right hand twitched. Otherwise, he appeared perfectly calm. But Gwyn was getting better at reading Augus, better at knowing when he was the opposite of how he appeared.

Things weren’t faring much better in the Court proper, either. Gulvi and Ash had arrived, thankfully without too much fuss from the Seelie Court (proof – Gwyn thought – that Gulvi and Ash were perfect diplomatic figures for the Unseelie Court at this time); but it was clear that Ash wasn’t quite himself. And when Gwyn enquired about it, Gulvi took him aside and shook her head.

‘He is drugged.’

‘Please tell me you’re joking,’ Gwyn said, darkly.

‘He must see his brother, but I do not trust him to let this go, no? It is for the best. He is here. He will remember. He will see that Augus is alive. He cannot react truly.’

Gwyn looked over at Ash, who was standing and staring blankly at what looked like a chair leg, or a point past the chair leg.

‘People will expect Ash to be his usual self,’ Gwyn said, angry, and Gulvi laughed at him.

‘No, this is one thing you do not understand, Gwyn. Family. People will expect him to be in mourning. Unlike you, we do not snap out of these losses so quickly or easily.’

Gwyn grimaced when he realised that Gulvi was right. His own stress about the situation had clouded his vision. The only time stress actually worked in his favour was on a battlefield. But if he was stressed during these sorts of political events, he lost sight of the bigger picture. He sighed and nodded abruptly, but the situation still made him deeply uneasy. Seeing Ash numbed and deadened like that, wondering what Gulvi had given him, didn’t make him feel any better about finding the enchanted collar and chain in the first place and wandering down to find Augus.

Just as Augus had indicated that Gwyn should check Augus’ shoulder wound for himself, so he eventually made a gesture that Gwyn should put the collar on himself.

Gwyn stepped forwards and paused, staring down at the metal in his hands.

‘Large crowd?’ Augus said, and Gwyn’s eyes flickered up to that piercing, green gaze.

‘Large enough.’

Augus nodded calmly, and then he tensed without warning and stepped backwards, staring at the collar with revulsion.

‘Augus...’ Gwyn said, trying to convince himself that he sounded threatening, not helpless.

‘Oh, I know,’ Augus said, laughing faintly. ‘I can’t seem to help myself.’

‘Augus, I don’t want to force this upon you. But if I don’t bring you back, and soon, I-’

‘I know,’ Augus said, unable to tear his eyes away from the collar. ‘I know.’

Gwyn stepped forwards again, and Augus trembled now, visibly. He turned his face away, stared at a fixed point in the distance.

‘Do it quickly,’ Augus said, voice hoarse.

Gwyn did. He reached around with the collar and snapped it around Augus’ neck, even as Augus began to twist away. Once there, cold against his lukewarm skin, Augus’ hands came up and tugged on it, tugged again. Gwyn used Augus’ redirected focus as an opportunity to attach the chain to the back of his collar. He kept the end of the lead loosely in his hand.

Perhaps, under different circumstances, this could have been erotic. Gwyn doubted it. This was not one of his kinks, it never had been. He felt cold, but he tightened his grip around the chain all the same.

‘If I’m to shift, I want privacy,’ Augus said, stiffly. ‘Turn away.’

‘I- Yes,’ Gwyn said, letting go of the chain and walking several steps backwards, before turning and facing the wall. He was worried about putting his back to Augus, but he didn’t think Augus would try anything on this day – of all days. Gwyn had been vulnerable around Augus plenty of other times, and he didn’t think the day that the Seelie Court and the Co-King and Queen of the Unseelie Court were waiting for him, would be the day he staged his coup.

But he knew it would come, one day.

Gwyn felt his skin crawl when Augus shifted. It was an immense swell of power  that destabilised the very air in the room. Gwyn turned back, and the large, green-eyed waterhorse stared back at him. There was something cold and unutterably alien in those eyes; an expression he never saw on the face of Augus in his human-form. His coat was not as glossy as Gwyn remembered, but the last time he’d seen it, Augus had been at full health. His mane was more lank than usual, and the wound that Gwyn had made in his shoulder was now visible for everyone to see. Scabbed over, but larger and more significant.

That might be for the best, for those who expect to see a visibly beaten Augus.

The collar had stretched around Augus’ thick neck, and the chain had lengthened. When Gwyn stepped forward to pick up the end that trailed on the floor, Augus bared sharp, jagged teeth at him. Gwyn startled, and Augus – the Each Uisge – laughed in that deep, terrible voice. A voice that reverberated through the room, drew its strength from more than just a single body.

Gwyn shook his head impatiently and took up the chain.

‘Well?’ Augus said, amused, awful. ‘Do you like it?’

‘Does your personality change, in horse-form?’ Gwyn said, shortening the length of the chain and wondering where he should teleport to.

‘It does,’ Augus said. ‘I hunger, in this form.’

Gwyn took a slow and steady breath. That voice was not the soft, precise voice of Augus, but a thick, callous growl that resounded through the room.

‘You’d best not speak upstairs, in this form,’ Gwyn said, and Augus laughed, muzzle wrinkling in amusement.

‘Are you sure you want me in this form?’

‘You know why I asked for this,’ Gwyn said, frowning. ‘Don’t make me regret it.’

Augus swung his head sideways, swished his tail back and forth once.

‘There are so many things that I will make you regret, in the end.’

Augus,’ Gwyn snapped, and Augus laughed.

‘Each Uisge,’ he replied, voice cracking on the consonants.

‘No,’ Gwyn said, pulling hard on the chain and forcing Augus into step in front of him. The chain was supernaturally strong, and though he could feel Augus resist it with a force that he likely couldn’t comprehend, the waterhorse had no choice but to follow. Though he followed with a growl. ‘You will be Augus, up there. Are you done? Is this out of your system? If you can’t pretend to be a meek, tame waterhorse, change back into your human-form and let everyone see how much you enjoy the collar around your neck.’

The Each Uisge laughed deeply, with promise. Green eyes watched Gwyn coldly.

‘I’ve had you on your knees. I wonder what your organs taste like.’

Gwyn’s mouth thinned as Augus opened his maw and revealed row after row of sharp teeth, designed for ripping and shredding. He yanked hard on the chain and Augus snapped his mouth shut, eyes blazing.

‘Master yourself,’ Gwyn said, ‘Or I shall go upstairs and explain that you would not be tamed, and ask those present to witness your execution.’

Augus shuffled on his hooves and his ears flattened against his head, unhappily. But he kept his mouth shut, and didn’t say anything else.

Gwyn watched for another minute, but Augus stayed still, and Gwyn took a breath. It would have to do. He didn’t have time for anything better. And at the end of the day, he wasn’t the one who stood to lose his life over this. If Augus valued his life, he would keep himself under control.

Gwyn walked forwards and placed a hand on Augus’ neck, feeling a pelt less like horse hair and more like damp sealskin under his fingers. He teleported them both to the entrance of the throne room.

*

Augus did manage to comport himself well. As soon as Gwyn stepped forwards, hoping against all hope that Augus would play the game, Augus fell into step to his right, a little behind him, head lowered and ears forward, displaying himself as the meek and subdued waterhorse. Gwyn breathed an inaudible sigh of relief.

Gwyn did not say anything as he made the circuit around the throne room. He looked grimly at everyone who he passed, weighing their expressions, their judgements. Several fae quailed away from his gaze, and he realised that without his dra’ocht, he was coming across as far more grim than usual. In the end, he decided that was for the best.

They were almost to the throne itself when someone – one of the smaller fae, no doubt – threw a rock at Augus. It hit him square on the flank, gouged a wound into his skin. He started oozing his red blood with its distinctive oily sheen. Augus froze, nostrils flared, and everyone held their collective breath as Augus’ muscles bunched beneath his skin.

Gwyn made a quick decision. He couldn’t afford to attempt to expose the fae who had thrown the rock publically – not when everyone looked like they wanted to do the same, or worse. It was against fae law to attack another fae publically within a Court, particularly a throne room; but these were extenuating circumstances. If he challenged the attacker, he would be doing the right thing, but he would look sympathetic to Augus. He had to keep Augus moving, and pretend that not only had he noticed, but that he condoned the action and would let it slide; that his sympathies were with his Court.

He pulled Augus along quietly, stared at the throne knowing that if he could just get there, get Augus laying beside him, this would be over soon enough.

Augus baulked once more, head flying up and eyes widening. He huffed out a deep breath of shock.

Gwyn – dreading that Augus was about to make a break for it – followed his line of sight and felt his insides turn cold.

Ash. Ash who was staring at Augus like he hardly recognised him, with a numb, indifferent expression on his face. And, Gwyn realised with horror, he’d forgotten to warn Augus that he’d even be there. It had simply flown out of his mind. Augus couldn’t tear his gaze away, his body shivering with recognition. Augus was attuned to his brother’s energy, and Gwyn realised that Augus was waiting for a response, for acknowledgement, for something.

And he wasn’t going to get it, because Ash was drugged. Gulvi was staring spite at Augus next to him. Gwyn tugged hard on the chain and Augus stumbled into step behind him, more through the power of the chain and Gwyn’s strength combined, than anything else. His front hooves clattered against the hard, stone ground as he found his feet again, and then Augus continued along behind him as though nothing had happened.

Gwyn expected Augus to keep staring at Ash, but Augus’ head didn’t swing around again. He looked at nothing in particular as Gwyn sat down in his accursed throne. Augus folded his legs weakly beneath himself, lay down on the thin rug provided, and bowed his head until his muzzle was almost touching the stone. He closed his eyes. He laid his ears back.

Gwyn kept his expression neutral, but there was something in Augus’ body language that disturbed him. His eyes sought out Ash’s numb expression, then Gulvi’s.

Gulvi only smiled sharply at Augus, appreciation for seeing him so cowed. Gwyn couldn’t begrudge her that. She’d lost more than he could ever fully understand, and he knew a little of loss, how it changed someone. But still, he’d never felt more aware of how alien he was within his own Court. He didn’t enjoy things like this. Even with his cruel streak, even with the ‘family curse,’ he just didn’t enjoy these things. His upbringing made him more perfectly suited for these public displays than anyone could ever know, and yet...

Gwyn forced his features to adopt an expression of cruel amusement as he stared out into the crowd. It wasn’t hard. He only had to think about how he felt about the irony that he was doing this to Augus, when he felt utterly trapped, and the smirk came. He was pathetic.

The fae mingled amongst themselves. Almost no one came up to Gwyn. Several fae passed closer, like they wanted to, but either Gwyn’s expression was truly forbidding, or Augus’ reputation was such that even cowed and chained and presenting himself as subdued as possible kept people away. Maybe it was the combination; Gwyn imagined that seeing the ex-King of the Unseelie fae beaten by the King of the Seelie fae was probably daunting.

His mother came up though. She kneeled at his feet in a way that was all about poise and perfect posture, and not at all about actually prostrating herself before the King.

She straightened without his permission, didn’t look at Augus once.

‘It seems you have tamed him, after all.’

‘Then there was doubt,’ Gwyn said, stiffly.

‘But of course, son. You have never dealt with prisoners of this nature before. It was only natural that there should be doubt.’

Gwyn’s expression was neutral now, it had to be. His mother followed the gossip that best positioned her in the Courts, she was dangerous. Appearance mattered more to her than anything, and if there were rumours that Gwyn couldn’t manage Augus – Gwyn laughed at himself, wherever did they get that impression? – then she would align herself with those. Perhaps she even started them, seeding conversations about her weaker son, the one who was ‘such an able warrior but not so perfectly suited for Kingship.’

Gwyn knew then, with chilling certainty, that she had likely organised the attack on Augus during the display. If Augus had reacted in any other way; if he had charged or fled or even growled at the injury, the petition for his death would be official, witnessed, and Gwyn would have to heed, or lose the faith of his supporters.

Now she couldn’t request execution without looking as though she didn’t appreciate Gwyn’s methods, and Gwyn had clearly, from this display, done a more than satisfactory job.

I daresay that’s a point to me, mother.

‘Look at him,’ Gwyn said, rubbing it in, he couldn’t help himself. ‘Let that dispel your doubt.’

Gwyn’s mother shrewdly narrowed her eyes at him, then she directed her perfect blue gaze, unusually azure, over to Augus for the barest of seconds. His mother was blonde haired and blue-eyed like he was. He had received her curly hair, her paleness. His angular face and body came from his father. His voice too. But Gwyn wasn’t like her, he wasn’t perfectly put together. His eyes were paler than usual for the family blue. His hair didn’t do anything it was supposed to do, ever. His body felt too large, too awkward; he had never quite grown out of a clumsy adolescence, even though he wasn’t actually clumsy.

Not often, anyway.

Sitting in front of her, in a throne he hated and avoided, he didn’t feel like a King.

He felt like looking over her shoulder to see if his father was going to enter the throne room with that sour, unhappy look on his face. But no, father was dead.

‘Of course,’ Gwyn’s mother said smoothly. ‘But how could anyone doubt your abilities now?’

I’m sure you’ll find a way, mother.

The look she gave him made his mouth dry. The snakes in his Court were, more often than not, his family. His mother had allies; those who envied her status, her looks, her poise, the family name, the generations of Seelie that his family had thrown and all of them respected within the Court. Every one of those allies, right now, would likely be studying Augus closely, looking for a sign of rebellion. Gwyn was grateful they wouldn’t find one. Augus was  being more well-behaved than Gwyn could have dreamed possible. He hadn’t imagined, when the waterhorse-form had first stepped forwards, that Augus could be like this.

And later, he decided, he could reward himself by spending time with Augus. He could relieve his own stress, he could-

Gwyn blinked and swallowed, revulsion creeping up through him on cold fingers, pressing tacky, direct prints into his lungs. It passed in a wave, and he exhaled through his nose carefully. He couldn’t. Augus was his prisoner and he still couldn’t. The hunt had changed everything. He didn’t want...

He didn’t want that.

Gwyn sighed and settled himself into the throne, hoping the next two hours passed quickly.

*

Augus remained meek as Gwyn lead him back to his rooms. He refused to change back into human-form even when they were well away from the throne-room and safely back within Gwyn’s palatial rooms. That was when Gwyn realised – belatedly – that something was wrong. He knew that if he’d trusted his instincts, been more focused, he would have started keeping a sharper eye on Augus earlier. But his own mind had been so scattered of late, he was missing crucial things. He was missing too much.

Once back in Augus’ rooms, he hurriedly took off the collar, placed it onto a clean desk. He stared at Augus, who was not watching him, but had his head low to the ground already, ears drooping.

‘Augus, change back,’ Gwyn said, stepping away and turning around.

An abrupt energy shift, and Gwyn turned back. He stilled.

Augus wasn’t standing. Didn’t look poised. He was kneeling on the floor, shoulders bowed. Gwyn could still smell the blood from the wound that had been inflicted upon him within his throne-room, an act that even now filled Gwyn with a cold rage. From what Gwyn could see of his face, he had the same stare that he’d seen too many times during war. He was more than familiar with a thousand-yard stare.

Gwyn knelt in front of Augus, twisting so he could see Augus’ face better.

He’d done the wrong thing. He’d completely forgotten to tell Augus about Ash and Gulvi being there. And Ash’s reaction, or complete non-reaction had done damage. Augus had become unusually placid after that. Gwyn reached forwards and hooked his index finger under Augus’ chin, drawing his head up. Augus went with the motion without protest, his eyes stared right through Gwyn. It sent a chill down his spine.

‘It’s over,’ Gwyn said, knowing it for the lie that it was.

The display was over. Nothing else was. Augus was still his captive, his mother had the right to request another display in about a year. No doubt she would. And she could continue requesting them every year after, until a mistake was made and she could request Augus’ slaughter while using the event to undermine Gwyn’s Kingship.

‘Ash was there,’ Augus said quietly, his voice nothing like that of the waterhorse’s, not even like his usual voice. The words were...clumsy.

‘Yes,’ Gwyn said.

‘He didn’t...’

Augus’ vision cleared somewhat and he blinked Gwyn into focus, then jerked away, standing quickly.

‘I would like to go back to my cell,’ Augus said curtly, and Gwyn was shocked at the sudden change in his demeanour. At the words.

‘I beg your pardon?’

‘I would like to go back to my cell,’ Augus repeated, quieter now.

‘Augus, you-’

‘I think I will lose sight of something important, up here,’ Augus said, looking at Gwyn from underneath thick lashes, a strange, unusual vulnerability in his eyes. But Gwyn could read the sureness too. Augus wanted to go back. He wanted to give up the lake, the new rooms, the ability to order clothing, everything.

Gwyn wanted to feel indignant, he wanted to feel frustrated at Augus’ lack of gratitude.

Instead he reached forwards and placed his hand on Augus’ shoulder, and pulled them both into the cell.

Once there, Augus looked around and then sat down on the tree root he usually inhabited when Gwyn visited. His gaze went empty again, his mouth set in a slight frown. His hands were folded limply in his lap. He looked exhausted.

No, Gwyn realised, he looks...sad.

‘You need some rest,’ Gwyn said. ‘After that...I’m not sure you should stay down here.’

He needed to go back upstairs, he was only supposed to be dropping Augus back before going to the throne-room again. They would be expecting him. He didn’t have the time or skill to figure this out. He wasn’t like Augus, he couldn’t see into the heart of a matter during occasions like this. He couldn’t fix this. Ash drugged upstairs, Augus downstairs looking like he’d taken too many hard hits to the head.

‘It’s been a long day, Augus. I’ll be back soon enough to check on you, okay?’

Augus didn’t respond, and Gwyn had to leave. He swallowed down bile and forced himself back to the Court where the others were waiting to commend him on a job well done. He felt more and more like he didn’t belong in any part of his life.

Chapter Text

Gwyn transported immediately back to the cell as soon as he was able, which was unfortunately several hours later. People wanted to gloat, they wanted to congratulate him on his victory, they wanted to share drinks with him, they wanted to celebrate. Twice, Gwyn had to excuse himself to be physically ill, forcing himself back and thankful that his revulsion with the whole event came across as a fierceness that the others seemed to glory in, provided they didn’t get too close to it.

Gulvi and Ash didn’t stay, but for the half an hour they remained, Gwyn couldn’t take his eyes away from Ash; numbed and artificially deadened to his environment. What would he remember? Gwyn would never admit it to Augus, but it bothered him that using Ash in the way he had was the only way he knew how to defeat Augus. In the end, it was the only pathway left. He dealt with it by telling himself that Ash was only one piece of a machine that would get the outcome he needed, he dealt with it by reminding himself that Ash shouldn’t have gotten himself involved, that he was stupid, that he was absurdly loyal to someone who hadn’t earned that loyalty...

But it bothered him.

He left about one hour after Crielle did. It was the longest he could stand amongst the gossip, and everyone was surprised he had stayed so long anyway. He had never been more glad for establishing a reputation for being reclusive and disliking social events. It meant that he could exit without having to explain himself. He walked out and closed the huge double doors behind him, leaving everyone else to talk about the inane things they wanted to talk about. Likely, as soon as he left, the conversation would turn to how they still thought Augus should be killed. Few people openly expressed disagreement with his keeping Augus alive, but many fae had requested private audience and asked that Augus be put down.

It was a complicated situation. There hadn’t been an Unseelie fae in the Seelie prisons for such a long time, that a lot of them weren’t able to forget about him. There was a novelty factor that kept it fresh in their minds.

Never mind that Augus technically didn’t have to stay in the cell anymore. They weren’t to know.

Gwyn desperately wanted to change his clothing. He’d cold sweated through all of it. But he didn’t want to leave Augus alone any longer. After weeks of not knowing what to do about Augus, there were only two certainties left. The first, he couldn’t kill him. The second, he couldn’t keep him in the cells anymore. He had tried railing against it, tried reducing Augus to nothing more than an object, tried everything to unmake what his mind had decided, and only ended up driving himself to madness in the process.

The worst part, that he could still feel it, a clamouring drone of madness and cruelty in the back of his mind. It made him unstable, off kilter. He knew it wasn’t gone. It wasn’t like last time, when Augus had managed to push it far enough down that Gwyn felt like he could breathe again. No, this was centuries later, and Gwyn didn’t know how to shove it back again now that it had come up so far. All he could do was distract himself, keep himself busy, keep his light down. But a darkness bubbled inside of him, etched frantic, hungry pathways in his head. He wanted to be unleashed in battle, to not stop until he had killed so many people his gloves were too slippery to hold his sword, only to wipe them clean and start again.

Gwyn raked a hand through his hair and stared loathing at the throne room doors, before teleporting directly into Augus’ cell.

Augus hadn’t moved. He stared blankly into space, hands curled limply in his lap and the odour of blood still in the cell.

Gwyn looked at him, felt a moment of panic. What was it that Augus had said once? That he could become catatonic without access to words, without the ability to speak. Augus had his voice removed in the throne room. He could speak, certainly, but the risk would have been certain death for his rebellion. It was – Gwyn thought – the same as being gagged outright.

Gwyn stepped forwards and grasped Augus firmly by the upper arms. Augus didn’t respond, didn’t blink, stared through Gwyn into nothingness. He was so deep inside of himself that Gwyn didn’t know how to begin to get him back again.

He teleported them out of the cell. Augus said he would lose sight of something important up in the palatial rooms, but whatever he was worried about, being catatonic down in the cell wasn’t an improvement.

Gwyn shifted them both into his own room, lifting Augus automatically and placing him on the bed, up against the headboard.

Still, that stare, an emptiness in his eyes.

Gwyn stepped back and stared at him. His hands flexed uselessly at his side. This was a situation where he should get a healer, except he couldn’t. What healers were there, who would help Augus? Who would understand why Augus was aboveground and not in the prison? It was a situation where he didn’t know if Augus needed time, attention, a good shake. He just didn’t know.

‘Augus?’ Gwyn said, tentative.

Augus didn’t respond. Gwyn hadn’t expected him to.

Gwyn stared at Augus, worried. He scratched at his shirt, desperately wanted to shed his clothing, to get the night off himself. He walked over to his closet, throwing a look over his shoulder to make sure Augus was still the same – he was – and pulled a fresh shirt and pants out of it. He changed hurriedly, keeping an eye on Augus the entire time, but Augus didn’t react.

He looked around his room, then grimaced.

‘Augus, I’m just going to get you some water. I’ll be back soon.’

Gwyn teleported out of the room directly into the kitchens. The trows didn’t seem surprised to see him at all, knowing that he hated social events as much as they hated being seen too often by other fae. They shyly pushed a stew towards him, and his stomach turned over. He was certain it was delicious – everything they made was, but he couldn’t bear the thought of eating anything.

‘Thank you but not now,’ Gwyn said, voice tight. ‘Some water. A jug and a glass.’

The trows returned with it quickly, and Gwyn nodded at them in acknowledgement, and then teleported straight back to his room again.

Augus still hadn’t moved.

Gwyn placed the glass down, poured the fresh, sweet water into it, and then left it. He stood by his bed, but it felt awkward to stand over Augus like this. He walked over to the other side of the bed and got onto it, watching Augus as he did so.

Gwyn felt deeply uneasy. A part of him – not as small as he wanted it to be – crowed triumph, triumph, triumph. It scented victory, it told him that he’d won, that he’d broken him, told him to drop Augus in a cell and leave him there to waste away. Gwyn’s lips thinned, he squeezed his eyes shut and dropped his head to the bed. He didn’t know how to get rid of it, couldn’t even suppress it properly anymore. He wanted to carve it out of himself. That it was happening now, when Augus was like this, it disgusted him.

And another voice, a darker, older voice, reminding him that he’d done this. That this was his fault. That he was the one who had created this situation and that-

Gwyn’s teeth ground together. He focused on drills. He focused on old battle strategies. He forced his mind to words of study that he’d memorised. They were the only things that kept all the voices at bay. That let him focus on the present.

Gwyn sat cross-legged next to Augus, facing him. He watched him carefully.

‘Augus,’ Gwyn said, ‘I don’t know what to do.’

Gwyn laughed at himself. The wrong person to appeal to for help, possibly ever, was Augus. The catatonia was just another reason why that was a bad idea.

‘I didn’t want to do that,’ Gwyn continued, keeping his voice soft. He thought of how he coaxed wild animals out of the forest, thought of the way he talked to the hounds of the Wild Hunt, but that only reminded him of what he’d recently done to Augus, the hunt, and he made a choked off sound in the back of his throat.

‘I’ll try and find a way to make sure it doesn’t happen again,’ Gwyn said. ‘If you must know, I find these sorts of things deeply unpleasant. I’ve never held a display before, though I have been present at some held by the Oak King. They are barbaric. I suppose you might find it odd then, that I have that opinion that they are terrible...’

Gwyn placed his head in his hands and tangled his fingers through his hair, pulling hard.

‘That fae who hurt you, it shouldn’t have happened. It’s not only disrespectful to you, but to me as well. Crielle...’

Gwyn stared down at the blankets on his bed. He looked up at Augus. His hands dropped back to the bed. Augus looked fragile. He looked exhausted. It was easier to remember – now more than ever – that Augus had been tormented by the Nightmare King. That, before the time he’d spent with that vessel of living shadows, he’d been simply beloved by the Seelie and Unseelie Court. That he had a reputation for being good at what he did, for loving his brother unconditionally and faultlessly, for being profoundly private and possessing a catty, quick wit.

He’d meant to talk to Pitch about it, and instead he’d found Jack, only to come back and assault Augus again. He’d pushed aside his knowledge of this aspect of Augus, and refused to see anything other than a villain.

That was ironic, given Gwyn’s own history, his own actions.

‘Augus,’ Gwyn said, leaning closer and looking at his pupils. Gwyn reached out and placed a hesitant hand on Augus’ leg, and Augus didn’t move, but his pupils shifted. A quick dilation and contraction. So he was catatonic, but still responsive, at least on some level.

Gwyn shifted closer, reached out to take Augus’ hand in his own and then paused at the last moment, face twisting. That was too familiar and...wrong somehow. He couldn’t do that. And he felt disgusted with himself that he wanted to. There were too many voices vying for dominance in his thoughts, and the ones that wanted Augus broken, that wanted constant victory, they wouldn’t allow the gesture.

Gwyn placed his other hand on Augus’ arm instead. He swallowed.

‘Augus, I don’t know if you can hear me. It’s over. It went well. No. It went, it had the desired outcome. They have no right to ask for another display for a considerable amount of time. And next time I’ll work something out. I do not have to take them seriously when they petition for your death. And as long as my behaviour seems rational to them, even if they dislike it, they cannot raise serious dissent. Crielle may try, but your behaviour was exceptional even in the face of...’

Being attacked. Your brother being there.

Gwyn’s hand dropped from Augus’ arm. He placed his head in his hand.

‘Augus, I should have told you that Ash would be there. I...the only reason I can think that I didn’t, is perhaps to spare you from...’ Gwyn sighed. ‘He didn’t react because he was drugged. Because the only way Gulvi could get him into the Court at all, could get him to behave in a way that wouldn’t slight their reputations and therefore their positions, was to drug him. She told me herself.’

Augus inhaled audibly, and Gwyn’s head shot up. Augus was still staring ahead, but he looked more aware somehow. He looked like he was focusing on something in front of him, instead of staring out into nothingness.

‘She told me that Ash needed to see you for himself,’ Gwyn said, ‘That Ash needed to see you alive, and at least know that you were well. Augus, the circumstances aren’t ideal, but, you have to understand, you wouldn’t stop. You wouldn’t listen to anyone. No one wanted to believe that you were capable of what you were capable of, and no one knew how to stop you.’

Gwyn winced. He would not apologise for capturing Augus and demoting him. He would not. Gwyn cleared his throat and cast his mind back through what he was trying to say, and found his focus again.

‘He hasn’t abandoned you, Augus,’ Gwyn said, hoping that he was right. He didn’t understand how this sort of love worked, he didn’t understand why Ash still cared about Augus. ‘He came to the display because it’s important that he know you’re alive. He didn’t come for any other reason except to make sure that you were okay. It wasn’t...Augus, he was drugged. That Gulvi did that, doesn’t that tell you how he feels about you being imprisoned here?’

Augus made a small, thin sound. Gwyn tightened his hand around Augus’ leg, but didn’t look up. He had no idea what he was talking about. He understood that Ash was distressed about seeing Augus imprisoned, he understood that familial bonds could be like that sometimes, but he was making assurances that felt so alien to him. This was not the sort of thing he normally said to anyone, let alone Augus. The fact that it was working made his chest hurt, and he didn’t know why.

‘He was drugged,’ Augus said, his voice hoarse, as though he was remembering how to speak again.

‘Gulvi told me herself that she was worried he would attempt to bargain for your return to the Unseelie Court if he weren’t. It would have resulted in both of them being ejected from the Court.’

‘At the least,’ Augus said, and Gwyn looked up at him.

Augus was still staring straight ahead, though his mouth was thinned now.

‘I thought I asked to be returned to the cell,’ Augus said, and Gwyn closed his eyes.

‘You said you would lose sight of something important up here, Augus, but with access to the lake, and clothing, and...Perhaps you lost sight of something important in the cell.’

‘I lost sight of what was important years and years ago,’ Augus said under his breath, and blinked slowly, swallowed as though it was painful. Gwyn withdrew his hand immediately, got up and walked around the bed, picking up the glass of water. He handed it to Augus without saying anything, and Augus took it without looking at him.

There, Gwyn thought, as Augus sipped at the water until it was gone, that came in handy. That’s something.

Gwyn took the empty glass back and poured more water into it, then left it nearby for Augus, now that he knew it was there. Gwyn walked back to the other side of the bed and got on carefully, folding his legs again. Augus was staring at his hands, folded over one another in his lap.

‘I’m so tired, Gwyn,’ Augus said. ‘What do you make of that?’

He sounded world-weary. Gwyn had no answers for him. He had a head that was too full, a body that felt itchy from sweating out the dread of wanting the display to go to well, of dealing with his mother’s cold, faithful cruelty.

‘Stay up here,’ Gwyn said, facing the blankets. ‘You-’

‘He looked tired, too,’ Augus said absently. ‘He doesn’t look like he’s been taking care of himself. Not that he ever...really does.’

Augus laughed softly, and then his breath hitched in his throat.

‘He looked unwell.’

‘He was drugged,’ Gwyn said, and Augus sighed.

‘It was more than that. He’s not made to be King. He’s...’ Augus took a single, sharp breath. ‘Do you think he misses me?’

Gwyn swallowed hard. He hadn’t known Augus was capable of sounding like that, he hadn’t known. His world shifted around him, and he squeezed his eyes shut, felt the weight of this new knowledge just another precarious burden that he couldn’t manage. One day, one day soon, everything he held in his head was going to fall apart, and no one would be there to help him pick up the pieces. Augus had taunted him about it. Augus was right.

‘He misses you,’ Gwyn said roughly. ‘He...’

Gwyn didn’t know how much he should say.

‘Continue,’ Augus said, and Gwyn could feel the weight of Augus’ eyes on the back of his head. He wanted to lift up, to make eye contact. He thought he should leave, now that Augus was no longer catatonic and could look after himself again. He thought he should leave, except Augus was in his room, and he’d have to teleport Augus out first.

‘Augus, Ash has not taken your captivity well,’ Gwyn said. ‘I don’t know much, only what Gulvi tells me.’

Gwyn didn’t say anything else, and Augus didn’t respond for a long time. So long, that Gwyn was worried Augus had slipped into catatonia again. He looked up, and Augus was watching Gwyn. He did look tired. There were shadows underneath the green of his eyes, a tautness to his mouth.

‘I should take you back to your rooms,’ Gwyn said, and Augus didn’t react, kept watching Gwyn with that same expression that made Gwyn uneasy.

‘My rooms,’ Augus said. ‘My rooms. It’s your palace. Your Court. You’re thinking of them as my rooms already?’

Gwyn had no sentences available to him. There was no response that felt safe.

‘I should make you feel sorry for me more often,’ Augus said, and Gwyn winced.

‘No,’ he disagreed. ‘You were not made to be pitied.’

‘No,’ Augus said. ‘I was not.’

An uneasy silence stretched out between them. Gwyn shifted further up the bed until his back was against the headboard. He pulled a roll of parchment out from underneath one of the pillows, where it had been sticking up uncomfortably, and tossed it off the side of the bed. He looked over at Augus and grimaced, now was probably not the time to tell him that he thought Augus’ centre was changing. He didn’t know what it was changing into, anyway. And Augus would realise soon enough, if he hadn’t already.

Augus was staring ahead again. Gwyn swallowed. What if the conversation wasn’t enough? Or, what if it made things worse? What if Augus really thought about how distraught Ash would have been, would be, and-

Augus tensed when Gwyn’s hand curled around his upper arm, and Gwyn jerked it back. This wasn’t his strength. It had never been his strength. Augus turned to look at him in some surprise.

‘Are you...?’ Augus narrowed his eyes at him.

‘Am I...what?’ Gwyn said, and Augus watched him as though he didn’t understand what was going on. Gwyn supposed that was fair. He’d not treated Augus with any sort of care or consistency. And everyone knew that Gwyn was not a person one came to for comfort. Most people knew that you didn’t go to Gwyn at all, unless you needed him for something related to his Kingship, or a battle somewhere, or a war strategy.

Gwyn shifted uncomfortably on the bed.

‘Look at you,’ Augus said, one side of his mouth turning up. ‘You didn’t like any of this, did you? Not even a little? Where’d that cruel streak go? It’s still there somewhere.’

Gwyn grimaced. Augus seemed just fine.

He pushed himself towards the side of the bed and Augus caught him by the wrist. His skin was cooler than normal, and he normally ran lukewarm. A sign that he was still not out of the woods yet, that his body hadn’t reached its normal equilibrium. The touch was a shock, and Gwyn looked down at it.

‘Why are you always running away from me?’ Augus said, amused. ‘You’ve left mid-conversation before. I ask you a question, and then you decide to run away.’

Augus’ hand tightened on his wrist. He shifted on the bed.

‘Where are we? Is this your room?’ It is, isn’t it? Why did you bring me here? Were you going to fuck me?’

Gwyn tugged his wrist from the cool circle of Augus’ hand. He sat on the edge of the bed, but didn’t stand up. After all, this was his room. He couldn’t run away and leave Augus in it. He shouldn’t have brought him here in the first place. He had other places he slept or rested, but this was where he kept his clothing, his armour, his sword. It was more his room than any of the others.

‘You seem better,’ Gwyn said, ‘I will transport you back to your-’

Augus came over to him, and Gwyn’s skin crawled. Gwyn didn’t trust him, not at all. This was an Augus who had looked so darkly triumphant when he’d stabbed Gwyn in the gut with his fingers – the force that must have taken – and this was an Augus who-

Augus’ fingers encircled his wrist again. Gwyn closed his eyes, glad that Augus couldn’t see his face. It was such a simple contact, but the fact of it was reassuring. What was he doing?

‘I’ll extend you a measure of trust,’ Augus said softly. ‘I will stay here in the palace. Though it’s not really a palace so much as a network of rooms, but I will stay.’

A measure of trust.

Gwyn resisted the urge to tug his hand out of Augus’.

‘I am quite surprised there’s no moss in here,’ Augus said to himself. ‘It’s almost pleasant. Did you get someone else to design it for you? Did you simply say; ‘I am a hunter, and I’d like it to look like it belongs to the awkward King of the Seelie Fae?’’

Gwyn shifted so that he could face Augus, but Augus was taking in the individual pieces of furniture. Finally, Augus looked at the bed itself, and then smirked.

‘You can tie someone up easily, with a bed like this.’

Augus’ hand tightened on Gwyn’s wrist, and he turned and looked back at him meaningfully. Gwyn glared at him.

‘Is this what you do when you’ve had a bad night? Catatonia followed by the need to reassert your dominance over someone? I assure you, it’s not going to be me.’

‘Tsk, it was just an observation,’ Augus said, and then the mischievous light dropped out of his eyes. His mood shifted. It was like light shifting over water. First one set of colours, than another, and ripples constantly, a shift that wasn’t so much like Gwyn’s deep-seated instability, but a natural ebb and flow.

‘A little while ago you were completely unresponsive,’ Gwyn said, and Augus’ fingers around Gwyn’s wrist stroked up his forearm. Gwyn resisted the urge to move his arm away. The touch was perturbing.

‘And now I’m not,’ Augus said.

‘I know you’re not alright,’ Gwyn said, and Augus raised his eyebrows.

‘Then maybe you’re not as stupid as I thought you were,’ Augus said, and Gwyn frowned at him. He reached out with his other hand, placed it on Augus’ arm. They both looked at it like it didn’t belong, but Gwyn didn’t remove it this time.

‘You did well.’

‘I know I did,’ Augus snapped, turning a flinty, furious gaze to Gwyn. ‘I don’t need you to tell me that. Meanwhile, your mother is pure poison ivy, isn’t she? I’m curious to know, what is her version of a mother’s love? Is her mother’s milk cyanide? How long has she been working against you in your own Court?’

Augus, she’s been working against me, my entire life.

‘She didn’t want me to be King,’ Gwyn said abruptly, and let go of Augus’ arm. This wasn’t working. He couldn’t comfort Augus. Apparently the only thing that seemed to make Augus feel any better was needling at Gwyn. He reached down to tug his wrist from Augus’ grip, but Augus reached down and encircled his other wrist with his fingers.

Gwyn froze. He hoped he looked affronted, or angry. Inside, however, something turbulent calmed to an uneasy stillness. Augus squeezed both of his wrists with a cautious, increasing pressure, and the settled turbulence became an emptiness in his mind. All the voices shut down, and Gwyn was left with nothing but an awareness of that pressure, beginning to ache now, binding him too tightly. Gwyn’s eyes flew open. He yanked both of his wrists back and glared at him.

‘Do you mind?’ Gwyn said, and Augus narrowed his eyes, looked calculating.

‘I’m just trying something. If you don’t like it, you can always toss me in the cell again.’

‘I’m not putting you down there again,’ Gwyn said, and Augus tilted his head.

‘I almost believe you mean that. But you change your mind, Gwyn. Onto more interesting subjects. Your mother didn’t want you to be King? I thought-’

‘I know what you thought,’ Gwyn said, glaring at him. ‘It’s what everyone thinks.’

After all, his parents made a good show of being proud of him, they talked about what an honour it was to have a Seelie King in the family after so many years of serving the Seelie Court so loyally. They talked about how it was a reward for raising Gwyn the way they did. They said all the right things. And everyone believed them, because they were ambitious. Because between Crielle’s centre of appearance and Lludd’s centre of ruthlessness, everyone simply assumed they’d both machinated Gwyn’s ascension to the throne.

‘Why, though? Not a good enough royal son? Did she, too, see you with your awkwardness and decide that didn’t look good enough for the Court? She shouldn’t bother. The Oak King wasn’t much better. Just more jovial. Then again, that isn’t hard with you, is it?’

Gwyn ground his teeth together, he’d had enough of this. He twisted and pushed Augus down to the bed, holding him there by the hand on his chest.

‘You try my patience,’ Gwyn said, and Augus blinked up at him, looking – unbelievably – like a picture of serenity. Gwyn didn’t buy it at all. Augus still, even underneath the tranquillity and amusement of his expression, looked tired. He couldn’t help but remember how faint and soft his voice had been when he’d said, ‘I’m so tired, Gwyn.’ He had a lot of reasons to be that way. If Augus ever completely returned to sanity again, he would realise his predicament, realise the weight of his actions. Augus might not ever feel sorry for what he’d done, but he would feel the constraint all the same.

It occurred to Gwyn that perhaps that’s what he was seeing now.

‘You saw your brother this evening,’ Gwyn said, reminding him, and something flickered in Augus’ expression. ‘You were collared, chained, paraded out in front of the vindictive masses, and that was more than enough on its own. And then you saw Ash.’

Augus went to push himself upright, his expression shuttering, and Gwyn shoved him back down towards the bed.

‘You slipped into catatonia. That was something you haven’t done yet, even in the cell. Even when that gag was on you for a week.’

‘The catatonia lasted only for a few hours,’ Augus said, and Gwyn frowned.

‘That’s a short amount of time for you, is it? A few hours? That implies that you’re used to experiencing it for far longer. Is that-’

‘Don’t,’ Augus said, swallowing. ‘Don’t talk about that too.’

Augus looked truly disturbed, all signs of his previous, playful expression gone. Gwyn frowned at him, curled his fingers gently down Augus’ chest. He wouldn’t bring it up. The more he found out, the more he wasn’t sure he wanted to know what that period of time had been like for Augus.

Gwyn kept his hand on Augus’ chest and watched him, unsure. All the things that he wanted to be able to do, he shouldn’t be doing. What would they say, the Court, if they saw him like this, now? How would they react? He’d spent so much of his life trying to do the right thing by other people, and yet here he was, emphatically getting it wrong.

Gwyn withdrew his hand from Augus’ chest slowly. He placed his hands on his folded knees and looked around the room itself. He didn’t know what he was doing. His mind was a mess.

Augus pushed himself up in stages, facing Gwyn now, hair dripping far less than normal. Almost as slowly as it had the first time Gwyn had visited him in the cell.

‘Why is your hair less damp than usual?’ Gwyn said, and Augus looked surprised that Gwyn had noticed.

‘Transforming to my true-form is draining. It requires water. I wouldn’t have managed it if you hadn’t given me access to the lake, after you decided to change your mind about torturing me to death.’

Gwyn frowned. He looked at the small jug of water behind Augus and realised it wouldn’t be enough. Augus lacked lustre, there were twinned pale spots high up on his cheeks.

‘Augus, you should go to the lake,’ Gwyn said, and Augus nodded once.

‘I’m aware.’

‘I can take you,’ Gwyn said.

Augus didn’t say anything in response. He ran the flat of his palm along the uppermost blanket on Gwyn’s bed, and then wrinkled his face at the texture and ran his own fingers along his palm as though he could remove the coarseness of the fabric. Gwyn liked it, but he supposed Augus had once been used to finer things. Could possibly get used to them again, with the opportunities Gwyn was giving him.

Augus subsided into silence. Minutes passed and neither of them said anything, and then Augus got off the bed and picked up the glass of water and drained it. He poured another glass, drained that, and then emptied the jug completely, creating a final, half-full glass. He drained that quickly, looking up blankly as he did so. He set the glass and the jug down, and kept his hands around them.

‘I can get more,’ Gwyn said.

Augus shook his head absently. He carefully pushed fingers into his hair, and then held the lock of hair loosely with his other hand, pulling his fingers through it. When he was done, he brought his hand around and looked at his fingers, turning them to the light. Gwyn realised he was looking at how damp they were, checking the moisture content. Augus’ brow pinched together. He didn’t look happy with the results, but Gwyn wasn’t either.

He realised, with some shock, that he didn’t like seeing Augus unhealthy, wasting like this. Certainly there were parts of him that crowed for it, but...

Augus reached up and trailed his hand through his hair again, and Gwyn watched the way his fingers worked carefully but quickly at tangles.

‘Do you...would you want me to do that for you?’ Gwyn said, before he was entirely aware of what he’d just volunteered. He tensed at the look that Augus gave him. It was calculating.

‘You,’ Augus said flatly. Gwyn refused to look away, maintained eye contact, held up against the derision that Augus had invested into that single word. After a little while, Augus removed his fingers from his hair and his eyes narrowed. ‘Why?’

‘Everyone knows that a waterhorse would prefer someone else do that for-’

‘Yes, but you?’

Gwyn wanted to say, ‘Do you see anyone else?’ He wanted to lash out, but he kept his mouth closed, he forced back the words that spilled into his mouth and kept them behind closed lips, damaging sparks under his tongue. He’d brought Augus up to his room because he wanted to help, and if Augus didn’t want that help, or couldn’t accept it, then that was – Gwyn knew – understandable.

Gwyn thought it was a miracle that they’d stayed in each other’s company for so long, and things were still somewhat civil. It was only likely because they’d both been shaken by the events of the evening. An ideal outcome, perhaps, would be that Augus would simply agree to remain outside of his cell, up in the palace. But then that wasn’t ideal, Gwyn realised. Ideal would be Gwyn not bringing him up here in the first place.

Augus walked towards the bed and got onto it again. He sat in front of Gwyn, cross-legged, back facing him. Gwyn realised, with shock, that Augus had agreed. He moved forwards and reached up with his hand and touched it to the back of Augus’ head, gently, gauging his response. Augus did nothing. Gwyn couldn’t see his expression.

He didn’t have practice doing this with others, but his hair used to be longer, and he often used his own fingers to untangle it. He pursed his lips, concentrating, and then threaded the fingers of one hand through Augus’ hair. It was strong, but softer than he thought it would be. He brought up his other hand and held the hair still at the roots in case he met any tangles, and drew his fingers down slowly. A hidden strand of thin waterweed brushed, clean and leaved all over, against his fingers.

Augus bowed his head forwards slightly, and folded his hands into his lap.

Gwyn moved his hands methodically down one side of Augus’ head, getting the hang of it slowly. When he reached the base of Augus’ skull, Augus made a soft, absent sound. He sighed out a long breath. Gwyn watched the hair move through his fingers, a darker black than he would have thought possible. The tips were brittle, didn’t look healthy. He rubbed them between his fingers. The lake would help the condition of his hair.

Gwyn moved his hands to the other side of Augus’ head, turning it a little to get a better angle. Augus obliged, moving his head with the small shifts of pressure on his scalp.

‘How is your injury?’ Gwyn said quietly, referring to where he’d been cut open with the rock, and Augus shrugged.

‘It will heal.’

The eventually was implied.

‘What would they say?’ Augus said, and Gwyn blinked at him as he threaded the hank of hair over his palm. ‘What would they say, your Court, if they knew you were doing this?’

Gwyn stopped, he almost withdrew completely. Augus pressed his head backwards into Gwyn’s hand, and Gwyn started moving again without really thinking about it. There were times, in the past, when he’d contemplated doing things that would move the Seelie Court against him. Times where he wondered what he could do that would be bad enough to get the entire Court to unify against his position and demote him. It was the only way he could exit the Kingship, short of waiting out the centuries more he had to wait in the position.

But fae were capricious and cruel. Even the Seelie fae could not be sure to respond predictably if Gwyn did something terrible. But sometimes Gwyn wondered if this was it, if this was the thing that could get him removed from the throne. Possibly. It was also enough to get him demoted down to a lower caste, and then slaughtered. The reputation associated with Augus was strong enough, rabid enough, that simply through not treating him monstrously, everyone would assume he was a monster.

Gwyn winced and his hands slid to a stop, dropping down behind Augus’ shoulders. He was tired. He’d been putting off sleep for too long and he had to monitor the Kingdom for at least another week to see how they reacted to the display.

Augus turned and looked at him, over his shoulder. He twisted fully around and Gwyn’s eyes flew open when he felt Augus’ hand boldly rest over his crotch through his pants, massaging confidently. Gwyn stared at him, and Augus raised his eyebrows, a question.

Gwyn pushed him back and Augus laughed under his breath.

‘You have your way of dealing with things, and I have mine,’ Augus said, and Gwyn raised his hands too late as Augus moved forwards again.

‘Augus, I don’t think now is the-’

‘Like your cock thinks there’s a right time for fucking,’ Augus laughed at him.

Gwyn grabbed Augus by both of the shoulders and held him still, before sliding off the bed completely. Gwyn couldn’t think of anything he wanted to do less. Augus watched him, openly curious, and then sat back on his thighs, watching Gwyn with a look that made him uncomfortable.

‘You seem fine,’ Gwyn said, disapproving. ‘I’ll take you to the lake.’

Augus came off the bed and ran his fingers down the bedpost before walking over to Gwyn’s closet and opening it. Gwyn watched, teeth gritted together, as Augus looked through his clothing quietly. He’d have to change the permissions once Augus left, so that he wasn’t allowed back in this room, or the inner circle of rooms. He couldn’t think of anything worse than Augus going through whatever he wanted, while Gwyn was out on Court and Kingdom matters.

‘Are these receipts? You have...why do you have receipts?’ Augus picked up the sheaf of receipts and held them up. He looked offended.

Gwyn shook his head slowly.

‘If you make contracts with dwarves, it’s best to get receipts, I find.’

‘Right, and you’ve made a lot of contracts with dwa- I suppose you need to constantly keep stocked up in Court quality weapons, what with your team of ready-to-die soldiers.’

‘Augus,’ Gwyn said, and Augus dropped the receipts back where he’d found them and turned around, leaning against the closed closet door.

‘I know some of this is a lie,’ Gwyn said, and Augus smirked at him. Gwyn felt like Augus was letting him on a secret, in that moment. Something dark passed over his face, and a sadness chased it and then disappeared again. It reminded Gwyn once more of the surface of disturbed lakes, reflecting different colours depending on which way the breeze blew.

‘The lake then,’ Augus said, stepping forwards and stopping a short distance from Gwyn. ‘Since it’s so important to you, all of a sudden, that I feel better. Didn’t enjoy tonight at all, did you? Not remotely.

Gwyn grabbed onto his arms and teleported him to the lake within the palace, not having a response to that.

Once they landed at the lake, enclosed by walls and mossy beds replete with ferns and low benches, Gwyn took a step back and looked around. There was almost no sign that Augus had been using this room, or the lake itself. The ferns looked healthier, perhaps, but that was it.

Augus was staring at the water, his entire awareness drawing towards it. He had become alert, suddenly, and his hands fisted at his sides. He looked at Gwyn sidelong.

‘It’s still there,’ Augus said, and Gwyn had no idea what he was talking about. ‘Your madness.’

Gwyn swallowed and took a step backwards, running a hand through his hair.

‘It’s under control.’

‘It isn’t,’ Augus said. ‘That’s not control.’

‘Why are we talking about this?’

‘Why not?’ Augus said, unexpectedly serious. ‘Is there a better time to bring it up, than when I can escape into the lake? What are you planning on doing about it? And don’t tell me it’s not my business. Look at me and tell me who else you’ve been taking it out on.’

Gwyn winced and then shook his head.

‘It’s under control,’ he said, but the words sounded desperate, even to him. He had to go. He didn’t talk to people about this; certainly not Augus. ‘I’m sure the lake will help you.’

‘You always run away,’ Augus said, smiling faintly as Gwyn summoned the light and left the room and Augus behind him. Gwyn returned to his own room and stood, mind blank, for several minutes.

He picked up his new recurve bow where it was hanging on the wall, his quiver of arrows, and started to teleport out of the room before stopping. He looked at the weapon, and then placed both the bow and the quiver of arrows down carefully on his bed.

He hadn’t been able to hunt at all since that night, and he doubted hunting would help now.

He teleported without the bow and arrows, landing deep in a deserted forest. The tree against his back was more stable than he felt he deserved.

Chapter Text

Gwyn wore his full warrior regalia to the funeral of Efnisien. He stood, grim, as other fae said their speeches and eulogies. He returned the steady gaze of his mother, who – when she was not presenting the appearance of an appropriately grieving aunt – secretly stared hatred at him that seemed to say: It should have been you.

It was seemly for the King of the Seelie fae to be present at such a funeral. Efnisien had been a cruel, horrific monster since they were young, but he was also family. It obligated him, forced him into functions he had no interest in attending. But Gwyn stood hiding more than the fact that he hated his cousin from his fellow fae. He was hiding a great deal, in fact, about Efnisien’s sudden, unexpected passing.  

Efnisien had been murdered in Gwyn’s palatial rooms, by Augus.

Watching Crielle mourning - for once her grief real, instead of some facsimile she manufactured for those around her, bolstered by her wicked glamour - along with the rest of the hangers on who sought An Fnwy family approval and good will, something hardened into stone in his gut. He and Augus had been living a month peaceably since the display, barely seeing each other, civil when they encountered one another by chance. It had been a tentative stalemate, hadn’t it?

He had given Augus chances, had increased his leeway, and for what?

When he’d discovered Augus over the bloodied mess of Efnisien, so mauled that his face was hardly recognisable, he’d acted as quickly as possible. He’d unthinkingly used his light to knock Augus unconscious before Augus had even really noticed him. Shackled him by the wrists and ankles in his innermost room, where no one else could penetrate. And then he’d teleported the body of Efnisien, complete with parts, to the Caves of Argoth. It was a desperate act, but one he hoped would seem reasonable. Even some of the most studied, battle-hardened fae didn’t survive the Caves of Argoth.

He’d come back and reported the death immediately, stating that a fae had informed him privately of the matter.

No one had questioned the death so far.

Fae funerals were broken into several stages. Immediately following a death, those who barely knew Efnisien subtly competed to give their speeches. Within twelve hours of the announcement of Efnisien’s death, Crielle had rallied fae around her. He was after all - in her eyes - her last remaining family member. Gwyn didn't count. In the weeks that would follow, wakes would be arranged. But Gwyn needed this first part out of the way as quickly as possible, to escape his mother’s gaze, to deal with the situation he had brought down upon himself.

After the funeral, a black mood descended over him as he walked back to his rooms.

He didn’t like the idea of leaving Augus down in the cells to waste away, he didn’t like the idea of killing him; hadn’t the display been designed to avoid that very event? But if anyone ever found out the truth of what had happened, if anyone found out that Gwyn had covered-up for Augus... he would be demoted and killed. He would lose his Kingdom – no great loss – but he would be known for the creature he was, destroyed for choosing Augus over family. It was untenable.

Augus was awake, chained to the wall, spattered with Efnisien’s dried blood, yet still managed to look infuriatingly calm when Gwyn entered his room. He watched Gwyn quietly, a hint of a smirk lurking about his lips. Seeing that, after everything, caused a cold rage to burrow through him, forcing its way up and down his spine. Gwyn’s hand tensed, but he didn’t curl it into a fist. Not yet. He had to be careful. He had to maintain some measure of control. If his time with Augus had taught him anything, it had taught him that.

‘Are you going to ask me why?’ Augus purred, a dangerous, jagged light in his eyes.

‘No,’ Gwyn said coldly, noticing droplets of blood on the floorboards where Augus had struggled hard against the shackles once he’d regained consciousness. So the calm was not entirely real. Even Augus knew that there might be serious consequences to his actions.

‘You look half-mad again,’ Augus drawled, and Gwyn’s teeth ground together.

‘I was hungry,’ Augus said as Gwyn unstrapped the vambraces off his arms, throwing them down onto the bed.

‘You don’t eat fae.’

‘Perhaps I was willing to make an exception for that shitty little psychopath,’ Augus said. ‘You never told me you allowed him access to your rooms.’

‘He’s family,’ Gwyn said, angry that he was even being drawn out into conversation. ‘And the things that I don’t tell you could fill the library of Nara-Thoth.’

Augus didn’t reply after that. Gwyn continued to strip down, focusing on removing his armour. He hated wearing his regalia for funerals. Armour was for war, for battle, not for standing there while he pretended to mourn.

When he had dressed in his regular clothes, combed out his hair with his fingers, he turned to leave.

‘If you were so hungry, perhaps I should find you something to eat.’

*

Augus reacted to the smell of the human liver before Gwyn had even entered the room. Augus didn’t say anything, but Gwyn could hear the feral, frantic pulling at shackles. The kind of struggling that cared not for leaving skin intact, the desperate struggle of any wild animal.

Gwyn felt cold, dark pleasure curl up inside of him. If Augus wanted to put Gwyn’s entire reputation, his life, in jeopardy, then he could deal with the consequences.

Augus was glaring at him as he entered, entire body weight straining against the cuffs, wrists dripping blood.

‘I will destroy you,’ Augus hissed, ‘like I destroyed your cousin. Do you think I won’t?’

‘One day, perhaps,’ Gwyn said. ‘But it won’t be while I’m the King of the Seelie fae and you are nothing but underfae. And it won’t be today.’

He set down the plate with the perfect, fresh liver upon it. It had been easy enough to acquire. Humans died all the time. Not all of them were organ donors. And there were plenty of fae who fed upon humans before and after embalming; it was simple enough to put an order in, have it fast-tracked because he was the King.

He took up the fork and the knife while Augus watched with narrowed eyes, cut off a neat slice, laying it across the plate.

‘Have you ever tried it?’ Gwyn said, and Augus threw himself back against the wall and closed his eyes, squeezed them shut.

‘Here we go again. You’re going back to your roots, Gwyn,’ Augus gasped. ‘You made me break you for doing this to Cyledr. Do you remember? Do you remember how you cried and begged for me to rid you of your madness? I hardly knew you, but you knew of me, of my reputation, didn’t you? And knowing that I could deliver absolution, you bade me absolve you and I...obviously didn’t do a good enough job. Who will absolve you now?’

‘I don’t need your absolution!’ Gwyn shouted, fists clenching. ‘I gave you a measure of trust! And this is how you repay me? A month, Augus. A month you’ve had here, under my protection, knowing that no one else would see you alive, and now this? And of course, I am an idiot, which we have both always known; but this goes beyond the pale. And if you are willing to do this to me, because of an excuse like hunger, I will make sure that you get fed.’

‘Fuck you, Gwyn,’ Augus laughed, and Gwyn knelt over him and drew his fist back, looking into eyes that were part-amusement and part-despair.  Gwyn turned away, forcing his arm down, forcing himself to take deep breaths.

‘Cursing already, Augus?’ Gwyn heard himself say. ‘So I’m getting through to you then?’

Augus began to sag in his shackles, and Gwyn took his opportunity. With the reflexes born of repeated centuries of battle, he grabbed the sliver of meat and lunged back, pulling Augus’ mouth open and shoving the liver down the back of his throat. The element of surprise worked on his side, Augus swallowed reflexively as he struggled too late, eyes opening impossibly wide. They locked onto his, disbelieving. Gwyn slammed his palm over Augus’ mouth, an icy bloodlust surging through him, a familiar sensation that hadn’t awoken since the hunt.

Augus immediately tried to choke the liver back up again, and Gwyn closed his fingers around Augus’ throat, preventing him. Shackles clanked and jangled, Augus’ entire body became a roiling mass of tension. Gwyn felt when Augus summoned his waterhorse strength to his human-form, but Gwyn was stronger even than that.

After two minutes, Augus went limp against the shackles. After another two had passed, Gwyn let go, stepped back, watched. Waited.

‘Should I have asked if it will kill you?’ Gwyn said, and Augus didn’t respond, boneless and trembling, far paler than usual. ‘Never mind. I know. We once had to wrangle some information out of the Ceffyl Dwr.’

Augus didn’t look up, but he took a deep, slow breath through his nose.

‘Let me know when the pain begins,’ Gwyn said. ‘And if it doesn’t, I have acquired a whole liver. I could do this all night. Tomorrow. The next day. I could get another.’

No response.

Gwyn smashed down his own discomfort with the situation, and settled nearby in his stiff-backed chair, folded his arms. A minute ticked by. Another.

‘I gave you...’ Augus said, his voice weak, ‘a measure...of trust.’

Gwyn frowned, he leaned forwards, placed his hands on his knees.

‘To not do this to you? After you kill a family member? After you make me your disposal unit? Threaten my reign? Force me to cover up for you and go against my nature? There was nothing of justice in any of this.’

‘I wasn’t thinking that far...ahead.’

‘It was cold-blooded murder. You weren’t thinking at all. You were reverting to type.’

Augus drew his knees up as far as the manacles around his ankles would allow him. His shoulders bowed forwards.

‘You are like him, you know,’ Augus said. ‘You are very like Efnisien. Were you friends?’

Gwyn narrowed his eyes. He didn’t appreciate the comparison. And Efnisien had been back in Gwyn’s rooms again, this time had made his way deeper into the palace of concentric circles. To torment him no doubt. Except that Efnisien knew that Gwyn would be absent from the palace, didn’t he? Gwyn had announced it himself; that he would be away on important business. Had Efnisien forgotten, when he wandered into the palace? Was he looking for the artefact he had asked for and been denied? Gwyn had assumed that was a front.

‘Your ham-handed methods of punishment don’t teach anything at all,’ Augus managed. ‘If you think this will make me ignore the plot that you have both made against my brother, you had best get a lot more liver.’

Gwyn sat up straighter. Confusion flared into sudden, sharp understanding.

‘There is no plot against Ash,’ Gwyn said, and Augus jerked against the chains holding him.

‘That is what you would say, isn’t it? You pushed Gulvi and Ash into power, but we...both know that Ash is the weaker link there. If he was deposed, if he was removed as King...’

Everything made a great deal more sense, an awful sense. Efnisien would threaten something like that, he would goad, he would be cruel.

This is why you were a terrible King,’ Gwyn said, walking over to the desk and getting the keys for the shackles.

A shadow of doubt twisted into something far more painful. There was no crushing down how he felt about himself in that moment. Augus had warned him, Augus had told him he didn’t have the madness under control. He knelt beside Augus and unlocked the first manacle, growling when he saw how much damage had been done.

‘You don’t take the weak people out of power,’ Gwyn said angrily, ‘You leave them in power. You make them aware that you put them there. Then they are easy to manipulate. Even Unseelie fae like to square their debts. When you made your Court, I couldn’t believe you asked the Nain Rouge to join you. She was going to do you, exactly what you did to the Raven Prince. It was as though... you had all the ambition and skill and charm and power to get there, and then once you got there,’ he unsnicked the other manacle and pulled it away from Augus’ limp wrist, ‘you didn’t know how to do any of it.’

Augus tilted alarmingly forward, and then managed to hold himself back through sheer strength of will to stop his forehead from touching Gwyn’s shoulder. He was trembling. Gwyn tasted bile in the back of his throat. Augus had even asked him; Are you going to ask me why? He’d even offered to tell his side of the story. But no, Gwyn had felt trapped, had responded in a way that would make his family proud.

‘I would never plot to take Ash out of power. He’s a pliable idiot. I might be terrible at everything interpersonal, I know that; but I can rule a Kingdom. Under my reign, we have seen the final destruction of the Nightmare King. I have restored an element of balance to the Seelie and Unseelie Kingdoms. I have ended wars before they have begun and stopped tyrannies in their tracks. And the one thing that you seem to have missed, is that I don’t work against those that can be easily manipulated.’

‘You shouldn’t...talk about my brother...that way.’

‘Shut up, Augus,’ Gwyn said, lifting Augus up into his arms and leaning backwards so that he didn’t tip right out of them again. He walked out of his room, away from the liver. Where his hands accidentally glanced from the fabric of Augus’ clothing to his skin, they slipped on sweat. ‘You know it’s true. You love that he is guileless. That he doesn’t have the mind for it. You just don’t love it, now that he’s in power, and can be easily manipulated by everyone else while you aren’t there to make sure it doesn’t happen.’

‘This all sounds...very reassuring...but you, you would do something like this. You’ve used him before. You...you know how I would react, if you, if you were to...’ Augus trailed off and then muttered a long string of faint curse words that dissolved into nothing but ragged breathing. Gwyn swore once, sharply. He walked faster. He thought, maybe, water might help. He took a right turn, and then another, walking through several curtains of vines.

‘Efnisien played you, and underestimated your love for your brother. And he paid the price for it. I can’t say I’m tremendously sorry about Efnisien, being that he was a ‘shitty little psychopath,’ as you eloquently put it. But if anyone ever found out that I...’ Gwyn entered the dim room with its quiet, tranquil lake and walked straight into the water, getting his pants wet, his shirt, Augus’ clothing. Augus tensed as soon as his legs hit the lake. ‘If anyone ever found out that I covered up for you. For the least loved fae in both Kingdoms.’

‘I wasn’t thinking that far...’ Augus said. ‘He was a...crude wordsmith, but...effective.’

Gwyn had felt betrayed, so betrayed, and he had only seen far enough ahead to how trapped he was. He was so tangled up in the mess that he’d started with Augus, and he had done it to himself. Efnisien wouldn’t have known that Augus was there in the first place, would have been stunned, though not shocked enough that he couldn’t taunt him. And Gwyn had placed him up there, the monster in the palace, a minotaur in the maze. All because Gwyn couldn’t stomach killing or imprisoning someone who needed to be contained, leashed. Because Gwyn had never believed in human punishments for fae.

Augus continued to tense until he shook violently from it. And then, clearly trying to suppress pain through a closed mouth and clenched teeth, he moaned thinly.

‘Is it too late to throw it up?’ Gwyn said, and Augus breathed a pained laugh against his chest.

‘You...made sure.’

Gwyn settled them both down on the underwater bench. The last time Gwyn had been in this position, on this bench, Augus had stabbed fingers into his gut. Gwyn grimaced. He tried to shift Augus so that he wasn’t completely on his lap anymore, so that he was next to him, but Augus turned sideways into him and refused to move. They were both immersed almost up to their shoulders in the water, the tips of Augus’ hair floating out limply. He’d never seen Augus in so much pain. He knew it would only get worse.

Distract me,’ Augus gasped, and Gwyn reached up automatically, hesitated, then curved an awkward arm around him.

He had met all kinds of monsters in his lifetime, he was related to them, he had defeated them, he had avoided them, he had killed them. But the one he couldn’t get away from, the one that seemed to do the most damage, was himself.

‘What did Efnisien say to you?’ Gwyn said, his voice echoing off the surface of the water.

‘Not with...conversation,’ Augus managed a look that was so exasperated it levelled him. Gwyn’s eyes widened.

‘I’m not sure we should-’

Augus made a pained noise that ended up strangled in the back of his throat. He rolled his eyes up to the ceiling, and they sheened with tears, before he rolled them back down again, desperate.

‘Do not, do not make me beg you, Gwyn. I-’

Augus lifted his head, brushed chapped lips against the side of Gwyn’s face. It was clumsy and unfocused. Augus’ tongue slid along his jawline, a warm streak that ended with Gwyn feeling Augus’ nostrils flare against his lips as another spasm of pain worked its way through his body. Gwyn held him, helpless, as Augus’ entire body revolted against the small slice of liver inside of him.

Augus had never pressed lips to him before, not like that. Had never willingly kissed his face. Gwyn stared ahead, blank, uncertain. Was he pretending Gwyn was someone else? That, more than anything, made him worry for Augus’ wellbeing, his safety. His hand moved fretfully across Augus’ back.

‘How long will the pain last?’

‘Under...fae,’ Augus gasped, smeared wetness against the side of Gwyn’s cheek as his body shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position around a pain he couldn’t escape. ‘Long. Could be...fatal. When I was...King, I accidentally took a bite once and...tasted bad, made...very sick. I recovered in time. Different now.’

Gone were the precise words and sentences, the smoothness of his voice. Augus sounded ruined, and Gwyn could smell the fear rising from him, the acrid silt of it. Augus was afraid for himself, his life, possibly of the increasing agony.

Gwyn doubted that he could truly distract Augus from the pain. He knew it was rising, quickly, and that for it to be bad enough that Augus could no longer hide it, it was beyond bearing.

You did this to him. You did this without thinking, as always, because you had a bad day. How many times have you gone to Augus, with your bad days, and turned into what your family always wanted you to be?

Gwyn choked off a sound in the back of his own throat. He couldn’t deal with this now. But his mind was relentless, and on its heels, a bleak, consuming hatred. It eclipsed what his mother felt for him, it bloomed along his spine like a disease.

What will you do? And you thought defeating Augus was difficult when he was King. What will you do now that the only beast you have to contend with is yourself? The Kingdom might notice, now that they have no villains to fixate on.

Augus rattled a sound that was half wet breath, half agony, and then juddered against Gwyn in a violent wracking of pain. Gwyn squeezed his eyes shut. He couldn’t bear this.

He had a terrible idea.

Another one.

He pressed his lips absently to the side of Augus’ head, lost in thought. He knew the idea was wrong, was a sign of how far down the rabbit hole he’d fallen. But he was already so close to losing his Kingship, he’d already done something which would get him demoted and killed if it was ever discovered. When he removed the body of his own cousin, he’d already committed to protecting the stupid creature in his arms in far more ways than could ever be forgiven.

He couldn’t tell which way was up anymore. His chest knotted up.

Augus’ centre was changing. And he was being dragged along with it, caught up in an undertow he thought he could control.

‘Augus,’ Gwyn whispered against the side of his face. ‘Augus, can you hear me? Are you listening?’

Augus didn’t respond. A new wave of whole-body cramps was moving through him, turning his muscles to spasms, making them writhe. Augus bit out long, faint, keening sounds, trying to keep what might have been screaming under control. Augus was barely able to manage his own body, now.

Gwyn knew that if he was going to do it, he’d have to do it soon. The liver poisoning could kill him, and there was hours of this torment left – at least – and he hadn’t even thought to factor in Augus’ status. Why did he constantly forget that Augus was underfae?

Perhaps because you don’t believe he should be.

‘Augus Each Uisge,’ Gwyn said softly, formally, wishing he could claw out his heart and replace it with the just, fair spirit that used to beat there instead. The reality was, it hadn’t been there for months. ‘I, Gwyn ap Nudd – King of the Seelie Court – revoke your status as underfae and...’

Gwyn took a deep breath as Augus stiffened in his arms, a combination of pain and disbelief. The shock of it thrummed through both of them like a tuning fork. Gwyn’s gut churned, but he could see no other way out of what he’d done. Worse, it felt like the right thing to do.

‘I hereby revoke your status as underfae, and raise you up to the status of Capital.’

Augus made a choked sound deep in his throat, sobbed as another rush of pain flooded through him. The status change wouldn’t be immediate, but it would start soon enough. Gwyn was glad that status changes were private matters for fae to announce for themselves, so that no one else would know. He was glad that Capital status meant that Augus couldn’t teleport, and couldn’t make his magical domes. Glad that Augus was still a prisoner.

He was horrified, chagrined at himself. He wanted to demote himself. He still believed, somewhere inside of him, that Augus was playing some terrible long-game. And if he was, if he was, Gwyn had played straight into his trap.

But the frail, weak creature whom Gwyn had just force fed an agonising poison couldn’t have known that Gwyn would use liver against him. Could never have predicted that Gwyn would feel a shred of guilt over the matter once he had. Did, in fact, believe that Gwyn was plotting against his brother, and had retaliated to protect the person he loved.

I gave you a measure of trust.

Gwyn closed his eyes, pressed a wet palm against his face. He told himself that the water was from the pond, wasn’t mixed with anything else, that his eyes weren’t burning, that he was fine, he was running the Kingdom that he never wanted and he would be fine, because everyone expected justice, and light, and seemed to forget his roots; everyone except Augus.

The next hour passed too slowly. Augus ended up wracked with near constant pain, and when he started clawing at his own belly, Gwyn had the horrible job of keeping his sharp nails away from his flesh, making sure he didn’t gut himself. Augus was using enough force that he fully believed that he might end up killing himself without realising, trying to remove the flesh to dig out the toxins inside.

And when Augus finally started to sob, broken and desperate, noises that would have humiliated him if he’d had the awareness to know what he was doing, Gwyn couldn’t do much more than hold him close and whisper apologies that Augus would never hear. And if, at one point, Gwyn spoke the words ‘absolve me’ in his own hitched up voice, Augus didn’t hear that either.

Gwyn could tell when the power started flowing back. He could tell before Augus could. It didn’t relieve the pain straight away, but he could feel a shimmering greenness, a coalescing murk that swelled back into place. It thickened Augus’ hair, caused waterweed to sprout more freely from his scalp. It made Augus grip him more tightly when the cramps came, his musculature responding. The change was happening much faster than it normally would, but perhaps that was because they were both bending their wills so desperately towards it.

Capital fae, those who were allowed to enter – without permission from the Kings and Queens – the Courts of the fae. Not yet Outer Court, not yet Court, but a status of repute.

‘What have I done?’ Gwyn said to himself, hoping that if he said the words out loud, he would wake up. But he didn’t wake up, and his eyes burnt acid.

He wasn’t made for this. He was made to pick up swords and fight clear, armed enemies. He was suitable for advising Kings but not being one. He’d been trained as battlefield fodder. These situations were beyond him, and the only reason more people didn’t know that, was because he could – at times – move people against each other effectively, could strategise.

Time passed and Augus, after some time simply resting limp and exhausted against him, shifted. It was a purposeful movement, though it was still weak. He moved until he could press his forehead into Gwyn’s shoulder, and Gwyn told himself that the only reason he didn’t remove his hand from Augus’ back, didn’t stop stroking, was that he wanted to be prepared in case Augus tried to escape.

‘I was dying,’ Augus said, quietly. His voice was a poor attempt at his usual smoothness.

‘Yes,’ Gwyn said, voice strained, ‘I...didn’t think that far ahead.’

They seemed to be borrowing each other’s words.

‘I thought you meant for me to die,’ Augus said. ‘I thought, at first...that you had planned to harm my brother. And that because Efnisien couldn’t keep his foul mouth shut, you would make sure that I couldn’t reveal the plan to...by the gods, these sorts of politics are beyond my ken, it seems, when Ash is involved.’

‘Careful, Augus,’ Gwyn said, horrified that Augus actually thought he would kill him, horrified because he’d almost done it twice now. ‘You’re admitting to being bad at something. You’re better than that.’

‘I heard you,’ Augus said, scraping his teeth over Gwyn’s skin, biting hard enough that Gwyn winced. ‘Absolve me.’

Gwyn went still, dread crept up into his throat. He’d hardly been aware of saying it, and he was sure that Augus hadn’t heard him.

‘Do you think... I should?’ Augus said, a manacle-damaged wrist sliding against his chest, fingers spider-walking down his torso. The movements were not as precise as usual, but they were still absurdly confident. Even with Augus’ centre changing, he slipped into dominance so easily. And Gwyn couldn’t want it, couldn’t trust him, certainly not now. And yet...he remembered two hands encircling his wrists and the look on Augus’ face that said he knew exactly what he was doing, exactly what Gwyn needed.

‘Should I make you work for it?’ Augus rose up and pushed his tongue into Gwyn’s ear. ‘It’s what you’ve wanted since before you had me in the cell, isn’t it? Have you been able to admit it to yourself yet? All those times you...looked after all of us, both Kingdoms, and wished there was someone you could visit to make all the bad, wrong feelings go away? Because don’t they just build up otherwise? They build, and build, and you end up poisoning a waterhorse you care for, with only one way to extract yourself; one method that the other fae will never, ever forgive you for. Raising my status from underfae. You can imagine their faces, can’t you?’

Gwyn turned his head away, but Augus shifted easily in the water, stronger now, empowered in his own element.

‘Don’t you hate yourself? Just a little? Do you wonder if you’re like Efnisien? You’re related. You share blood.’

Gwyn didn’t respond, and he gasped when he felt a sharp fingernail press through the barrier of his skin at his neck like it was nothing. Blood welled around the wound and trickled down his skin. It was a sharp, grounding pain.

‘I asked you a question, Gwyn. And you will answer me.’

Gwyn told himself he should stop this. He told himself he had to. Things had gone far enough. He had disposed of a body. He had lied about how Efnisien had been killed. He had done it for a criminal, for someone who would always be remembered as one who could never be forgiven, could never be released. He had attended that funeral knowing full well that he deserved demotion, that he could be killed for what he had done. He had raised Augus up from underfae to Capital, because he couldn’t bear the thought of Augus in that prolonged pain, of him dying. And he could revoke that status again but...he didn’t want to.

‘What goes on in that head of yours?’ Augus whispered, trailing fingernails down the side of Gwyn’s face and pressing threateningly. ‘You come across as being more dense than a block of hardwood. But what really goes on? You didn’t answer my question. Do you wonder if you’re like Efnisien? Look at what you’ve done in the past. Look at what you did to Efnisien. Look what you did for me.’

‘They’re just words, Augus. I can remove your status at any time.’

‘So do it,’ Augus laughed, and even though it was a hoarse shadow of his usual easy laughter, it rippled with a dangerous arrogance. ‘Make me underfae again, Gwyn. I see you. I’ve seen you for a long time. Didn’t you wish, the first time you came down to that cell, that I would split you open, make you bleed, and you would not have to think anymore about how hard it is up there, playing the game, doing the strategy. I could tell you were having a hard day.’

Gwyn became vaguely aware that he was shaking. He realised, as Augus slid fingers up into his hair and then clawed them down his scalp, that he was dropping too quickly. He was losing complete control of the situation, had already lost it, and then what if he ended up like Efnisien, what if he ended up mangled and broken and unrecognisable and everyone discovered it was because he’d given in, he wasn’t strong enough to resist for-

‘It’s been so long, you don’t need much,’ Augus said, straddling him, sliding warm thighs across Gwyn’s hips, making sure his breath gusted against Gwyn’s skin, ‘do you? But here, Gwyn, listen to me. You do so like to hear me talk, don’t you?’

Gwyn made a sound of disagreement that faded away to nothing when Augus scraped his fingernails through his scalp again. It sent trails of fire down the back of his spine. He was swimming up through fog, trying to remind himself of all of his duties, the ones he may have just thrown away, because he couldn’t handlehis responsibilities like a functioning King.

‘Do you want to know what I learned about you, all those years ago? I learned that you are a wild creature who tames himself for others, because that’s what your family taught you was right and proper. But wild creatures don’t take to the yoke well, that’s why we domesticate humans, and horses, and dogs. Not fae. And you tame yourself for others, but there are serious consequences, a barely restrained madness perhaps, and afterwards you’re so bewildered. You are so damaged by your reality that you need someone else to give you permission for it. Can you imagine? A wild creature, asking permission to be wild.

‘How convenient I was for you, down there in the cells. I’m a wild creature too. And you...well,’ Augus laughed quietly again, ‘who were you really trying to break apart, Gwyn?’

Augus reached down under the water, slid his hand under Gwyn’s shirt, trailed fingertips over Gwyn’s skin. He reached lower, unbuttoned his pants, worked aside the clingy wet fabric with ease. Gwyn made a sound of revulsion when Augus rubbed his mangled, torn up wrist over his cock. He tried to move away, heart beating wild palpitations in his chest. He lurched sideways but Augus shifted with him, murmuring something that he couldn’t catch.

‘You did this,’ Augus said softly, biting Gwyn’s lower lip. He laughed when Gwyn didn’t move again, when his head dropped back and he stared, unseeing, at the ceiling. He was in too deep, he was drowning, there was too much to sort out. He’d have to hide what he’d done from everyone, he would have to hide the truth from them forever. There was no justice in what he’d done. Not in hiding a family member’s body for Augus. There was no justice left to give. He couldn’t see into his own self. He didn’t know what was left.

‘You are dropping fast,’ Augus purred. The wrist against him turned into a hand grasping him firmly, stroking him to hardness with an ease that was almost embarrassing. Augus’ hands were too clever, even when they were tired. And Gwyn, well, Gwyn had never needed clever.

The first time he had been with Augus, he hadn’t felt worthy of that careful, thorough, meticulous breaking. He had expected to be taken apart like an animal, and it was worse – almost – this attention.

‘You’re the King of the Seelie Court, letting me do this to you. Don’t avoid it, Gwyn. Look at the reality in front of you. Honestly, why aren’t you stopping me?’ Augus said. Gwyn made a sound in his throat, tried to shift again, but his body wasn’t listening. He was paralysed; apprehension and anxiety and the appeal of Augus all drawing up together until he felt sick with it.

‘You don’t need me to break you anymore,’ Augus said, his voice almost soothing. ‘You broke. You didn’t even need me to break you the first time. You were already broken. No, stay, stay, listen to me. The first time you saw proof of your wild nature, the first time you realised you weren’t tame like your family, that you weren’t the royal son they’d expected, it put a rift in your soul. It cracked you wide open.’

Stop,’ Gwyn said, and groaned when Augus squeezed him harder, and then lightened his grip, teasing.

‘After that, you did what any animal does when it’s been injured. You ignored the injury, or buried it with leaves and muck, hoping that it would stay hidden. And you...you dumb idiot, thought you had fixed yourself. Only to find out, again and again, that the rift would not heal, and that you were a wild creature. For a while there, we had the Wild Hunt, didn’t we? You almost, almost embraced it. Imagine that, your core, and you still couldn’t embrace it fully.’

Augus twisted his palm over the head of Gwyn’s cock repeatedly, and the sensations were dragging him down. The water lapped gently against him. Augus’ hair was sticking to the side of his neck, curling around his shoulders.

‘You’ve never forgiven yourself for it. You’ve never been able to forgive yourself for how you betrayed yourself when you realised what you were, how you’ve continued to betray yourself ever since. Don’t pretend now, that you don’t know what I’m talking about. Should I say it? Should I tell you what you are?’

‘I...’ Gwyn didn’t know what he wanted, didn’t know what to ask for, didn’t know what he was doing, hadn’t known for a long time. Augus’ hand was undoing him, but the words were getting the job done faster. He was coming apart and there was nothing left to hold onto.

‘You made a son eat his father’s heart, and you liked it. I can just imagine the shit-eating grin you had on your face because I’ve seen it.’

Stop,’ Gwyn gasped, and his hands came up, he pushed at Augus and tried to twist out of his grip. In response, Augus closed his hand punishingly around his cock until it sent a sharp pain lancing up through him, he bit down at the side of Gwyn’s neck so hard that his teeth broke skin. Gwyn froze, and seconds passed in that tense moment. Slowly Augus relaxed his grip, resumed stroking. He withdrew his teeth and lapped at the blood.

‘Still sore about it, aren’t you? You asked for absolution, but you never realised that you don’t get absolution, Gwyn. It’s not something that you get to have.’

Gwyn blinked up at the ceiling, shuddering, close to tumbling over into some abyss that he couldn’t name. He’d been near this before. He told himself – one half-hearted attempt at reassurance – that after this was over, it would go back to normal. Everything would go back to normal.

‘You don’t get absolution,’ Augus pushed his lips against Gwyn’s, breathed the words against his mouth. ‘You don’t get absolution because it’s not a sin to be yourself, Gwyn.’

Gwyn’s eyes flew open, his chest heaved with a dry retch even as Augus pushed him back into the bank of the pond hard and twisted his hand in a way that promised he was better at getting Gwyn off, than Gwyn was himself. And as a litany of denial poured from his lips directly into Augus’ mouth, his back arched and his mind went blank, he came hard, fire and terror and light throbbing through him.

His eyes were shut but he could see the burst of light behind his eyelids. His pores felt split with the stuff. It was as though an electrical current was being run along his spine. He was distraught, he was supposed to keep the light under control but he couldn’t concentrate and Augus’ hand was still moving on him and he was still coming, even as he wanted to flee the whole cursed Kingdom.

Augus tore his lips away from Gwyn’s and kept moving his hand well past the point that was comfortable. Gwyn shifted, tried to move Augus’ arm away, and he should have been strong enough to do it, but his limbs weren’t listening to him, he felt shattered.

‘But I’ll still break you, if you want it,’ Augus said, shifting his other hand so he could undo his own pants. He canted his hips forward until he could wrap his hand around both of them, Augus hard against him, pursuing his own pleasure even as Gwyn was over-sensitive, pained.

‘Look at you. How beautiful you are, when you cry,’ Augus said with a smirk, lapping up trails of tears that Gwyn hadn’t realised he’d been shedding. ‘Beautiful, with that light of yours, when you supernova. So when you come to your senses, how long – do you think – before you have to punish one of us because you were just being yourself? And which one of us is it going to be? I rather think you’ve got the ‘two birds, one hand’ thing figured out, if you ask me.’

Gwyn had no words left, nothing of language. He shook uncontrollably as Augus brought himself off. He wouldn’t open his eyes when Augus asked him to, not even when fingernails tightened at the base of his neck and threatened to sink into skin. There was no physical pain on the planet that would make him face the broken down mess he’d turned his life into. And the over-sensitivity, Augus’ hand on him, it was a tenuous anchor. He’d rather that, than nothing at all.

Augus sighed when he came, pressed his chest against Gwyn’s, pushed water up between them. And Gwyn wanted to ask him if he was still in any pain, if the status change had helped, if it was worth it. If any of it was worth it.

Augus hadn’t retaliated. Hadn’t done what Gwyn had expected him to do all along, hadn’t destroyed him, as Gwyn had tried to do in turn, as Gwyn was doing to himself.

‘I fed you liver,’ Gwyn said, ‘I don’t understand you.’

Augus hushed him, twirled a lock of hair into his fingers and tugged.

‘You came to your senses. You didn’t let me die. And you are...a mess, Gwyn. I accepted my nature such a long time ago. It felt good, it probably helped that I had a brother who is – in his moments – just as bloodthirsty and vicious as I am, despite that generosity and compassion that shines out of him. But you never had that. And, indeed, the family member who you would have seen that would have reminded you of yourself, was Efnisien. Whose centre has always been cruelty. And so... I believe I have you quite figured out.’

Gwyn curled forwards, exhausted. He was stunned when an arm curled around his shoulder, when fingers brushed his hair back and tucked it behind his ears.

‘Gwyn,’ Augus said, and Gwyn nodded tiredly, beyond speech.

‘Could you find out if there is a plot against my brother?’ Augus asked. ‘Efnisien had details, I wouldn’t have lost control like that if he hadn’t known...things. I have to know. Ash is...Ash is not made for politics, and even as King, he could be easily deposed if the right people were plotting against him. I could do it in my sleep.

‘Ash. Yes,’ Gwyn said. ‘Okay.’

‘Gwyn?’ Augus said, something of pleasure and trepidation in his voice, an odd combination. ‘If you are going to revoke my status again, you should do it now.’

Gwyn shrank down, tried to become small and invisible. Old instincts were kicking in, his oldest instincts. Hide when there was a threat. Fight when the threat persists. Bite back if anyone got too close.

‘Ah, well,’ Augus said lazily, ‘knowing you, you’ll probably save it up for some punishment until you fuck up again and nearly kill me.’

Gwyn couldn’t think of anything to say. He didn’t want reality to come back, he didn’t want his Court, he couldn’t give it away. No one else would tolerate Augus. And others would want retribution. What would they do if they found out Augus’ status had been changed? Why? They would ask, What would possess you to do such a thing?

‘You need this, you know,’ Augus said quietly. ‘Not all the time, but more than you get it. You sink so easily into the headspace, it is actually dangerous. In the wrong hands, you could be deposed. Think about that, for a moment. With all of your skill as a King, this betrays you. Your willingness to be broken down. I used to daydream about it, sometimes, when I was King. About getting you in my clutches.’

‘You are my prisoner,’ Gwyn said, shivering with something he hoped wasn’t arousal at Augus’ words, ‘I can’t just let you-’

‘Yes, you can. In controlled circumstances, under blood-oath, you can. You are still stronger than me. You can revoke the status at any time, can you not? Give me a real reason that I shouldn’t dig my fingers into that rift of yours, and perhaps I shall pay heed.’

Gwyn whimpered at the thought of it. He couldn’t think of anything worse and yet...

‘I’ll lose the Kingdom. I’ll-’

‘No,’ Augus said. ‘You will lose the Kingdom if you go on the way you have been going. And deep down you know that. Take it from someone who has a deep understanding of madness.’

‘You are an idiot if you think I’ll trust you in this, if you think-’

‘Yes, please don’t give me all of your trust, that would be foolish. I will find my way back to power again and you know it. Not this century. Not the next. Or perhaps maybe, I just need a the right moment to come up and present itself. It’s good that you’re worried, Gwyn. I’d be concerned for you if you weren’t. I think you’re just the right amount of scared of how much you care for me, and how much you couldn’t stop this even if you wanted to.’

Gwyn shook his head, denial and fear and longing thick in his throat. Augus’ arms tightened and lips pressed against his forehead like he might be worth something. It made Gwyn want to throw up.

‘I have to leave,’ Gwyn said, ‘There are meetings to attend, a war tribunal, and-’

‘At least you’re amusing when you’re dumb,’ Augus sighed. ‘You’ll take time out of your busy schedule to torture me, but not to sit in a lake? You will stay until I say you can leave. I don’t care if you’re stronger than me, that is what will happen. And if you try and leave, I will shove you so far down that darkness, you will never find your way out. Ever.’

Gwyn swallowed, shifted, knew it was true. Knew it was true from the moment he walked down into the underground prison for the first time, convinced that if he just struck hard enough, struck at the right points, he could make it so that Augus could never see into the truth of him again.

‘You just sit here,’ Augus said softly, ‘while I think of ways to dig you open under blood-oath. What will you let me do, Gwyn? How far will you let me go? I think, actually, you will let me do what I like, once I get started. I think, actually, you have no idea how much of yourself you have revealed, over the past months. The sore spaces I could stab into.’

Gwyn made a sound of dissent, nausea pressing through him. It was all coming apart. It was almost completely unravelled now. He didn’t know how to begin putting things back together again. He didn’t think admitting that he needed the help of a criminal, power-hungry, sadistic waterhorse was the first step.

He opened his eyes, stared into the shadows underneath Augus’ chin. He felt ill, unkempt, ruined. And he didn’t know what to think at the relief that lurked nearby. He didn’t want the eagerness. No creature should yearn to be broken so much, should they? He was doing everything wrong, he was-

‘If you don’t stop thinking,’ Augus said, ‘I’m going to start right now. And I’m sore. And angry. And vengeful. I don’t think you want me to start right now.’

Gwyn shook his head at himself, at Augus. Shook his head because Augus didn’t understand, or perhaps he did, perhaps he was just offering a fair warning.

‘Yes,’ Gwyn said,  ‘I...I think I do want you to start now.’

‘You poor, dumb animal,’ Augus laughed, ‘you have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself in for, have you?’

Chapter Text

He felt cold and sick. He definitely had no idea what he was letting himself in for, but wasn’t that the point? He hadn’t known what he was getting himself into the first time he’d visited Augus in his cell. He’d certainly not expected his days to become filled with thoughts of what to do about his ‘situation with the waterhorse,’ and he’d not expected any of it to culminate in having to hide the unrecognisable, bloody mess of his cousin, poisoning said waterhorse with liver, almost killing him in the most excruciating way possible and then only being able to extract himself from that mess by raising the waterhorse to a higher status.

He was still shivering when Augus slid his palms down Gwyn’s arms and grasped both of his hands. He squeezed and then pulled Gwyn forwards through the water, out of the lake. Gwyn swallowed. He’d asked for this, hadn’t he? He’d asked for it. But Augus was a murderer, and he was stronger now, and Gwyn...

‘Out of the water. Come along, Gwyn,’ Augus said, showing few signs of having been almost mortally poisoned, aside from a fatigue in his features. His new status would really be taking hold now. Augus was Capital fae, Gwyn blinked to clear his head. He couldn’t bring himself to change it, he knew he should, but he couldn’t.

Augus stepped out of the pond smoothly, and it was Gwyn who stumbled, feeling disoriented. He could feel Augus’ eyes on him as he straightened, and he refused to make eye contact. He had no idea what he’d just asked for. He had a feeling he’d accept almost anything. The worst part was there was no part of his mind large enough to shut that down. His hand flexed by his side, uselessly. He didn’t know what to do.

Augus laughed, shaking his head.

‘I don’t think you need me, I think you’re doing a fine job of breaking yourself, Gwyn. Perhaps I should just leave you here and come back in an hour, after I’ve had a nap.’

Gwyn didn’t look up until the silence stretched, and when he finally did make eye contact with Augus, his breathing became shallow. There was a small smirk playing around the corners of his mouth, and his eyes were calculating. Gwyn felt like Augus wasn’t missing anything.

‘So where should this take place, Gwyn? I have two options in mind. There’s ‘my rooms,’ as you know them. Or we can go down to my cell, since we all know how much you like to fuck down there.’

Gwyn had made up his mind as soon as he’d heard the choices, but he hedged a little longer, because he thought it might look bad if he didn’t at least put on a show of thinking about it.

‘Well?’ Augus prompted, and Gwyn looked down at the mossy bank they were standing on.

‘The cell,’ Gwyn said.

He tensed when Augus walked up to him. Then held his breath when Augus placed a single, pointed fingernail between his collarbones.

‘I don’t need you in a cell to make you feel dirty, Gwyn. You should know that.’

Gwyn felt himself flush, realising only too late that Augus never had any intention of taking him down to the cell. Of course not, it wasn’t his style. He would never choose to conduct a scene somewhere like that unless he was forced to. He was simply trying to gauge Gwyn’s state of mind.

‘My room, Gwyn. Now.’

The point of contact against his collarbones didn’t move, and it was all he needed to teleport them both. He didn’t think he could reach out and touch any other part of Augus, not without admitting to something he didn’t think he could admit to himself.

They dissolved into light, and Gwyn shifted them both into Augus’ room. He had to make a last minute adjustment, the furniture had been moved around slightly since he’d last been there. He looked around curiously as the light faded.

The trows must have liked Augus, since they were working fast for him, and Gwyn knew from other fae that they could drag their feet if they didn’t like someone. Gwyn realised it was a good thing that he had a significant amount of wealth, and that he hardly used any of it himself; he hadn’t expected Augus to get furniture made for himself. He recognised the quality of wood.

‘You’ve replaced the bed,’ Gwyn said, blankly.

‘You will not speak unless spoken to,’ Augus said, command laced all the way through his words despite how softly he spoke. Gwyn looked away from the new, dark oak frame, and stared at some fixed point past Augus. All of this was so familiar, even though it had been such a long time since he’d done anything like this. The last time had been with Augus. That had been long before he was King. Augus liked his bed partners to concentrate, and Gwyn – as dazed as he felt – wanted to at least try.

It was while looking past Augus, that his mind unhelpfully reminded him; You tried to kill him.

Gwyn hadn’t tried to do that, had he? He hadn’t been trying to kill him. He-

He watched, wary, as Augus walked over to his new, dark oak desk and pulled out a small, well-crafted pocket knife from a drawer. The desk was new, but the pocket-knife was old. Gwyn had shoved it in another drawer in one of the many unused guest rooms and forgotten about it. The Court had given it to him years ago, as a gift for...something. As Augus approached him with the pocket knife, his heart started to skip beats, fear pooled through him. He forced himself to remain still.

Instead, Augus stopped in front of him and looked at the inside of his index finger.

‘What’s out of bounds, Gwyn?’

Gwyn remembered that Augus said, ‘in controlled circumstances, under blood-oath, you can.’ He hadn’t realised that Augus had meant it. A broken blood-oath meant death for almost all fae. He blinked down at the pocket-knife and his mind started racing. What didn’t he want? What was out of bounds? His mind immediately blazed an image of Efnisien’s body, torn and gored and a bloody, unconsumed mess.

‘I...no murder. I don’t want you to kill me,’ he said, surprised at how thin his voice was.

Augus’s eyes narrowed. He stared at Gwyn hard, and Gwyn skated close enough to making eye contact to realise that Augus was checking if he was joking or not. Gwyn didn’t want to make a joke out of it, he wanted Augus to oath that he wouldn’t do it. At least not now. Not like this.

‘You want me to oath not to murder you? I suppose I did leave quite the mess for you to clean up, didn’t I?’

Gwyn said nothing, and Augus nodded as though that was an answer in and of itself.

‘Anything else?’

Gwyn scrambled to think of something. He’d forgotten all of his limits, forgotten the things he didn’t like. It had been so long since he’d been in this position. And Augus hadn’t blood-oathed not to do anything last time anyway. After all, Augus had a reputation of being dominating, of breaking people, but of also being able to put them back together again. Gwyn had left more a whole person than he’d been when he arrived. Augus didn’t do blood-oaths; people knew when they arrived that they were surrendering themselves into his care, whatever that might look like at the time.

‘Gwyn, focus,’ Augus said, a hard edge in his voice bringing him back from his drifting thoughts.

‘No permanent injury,’ Gwyn said, automatically.

‘No permanent injury,’ Augus repeated, eyebrow rising. ‘You do realise you’re the King, don’t you? What, pray tell, could a Capital fae do to you, that would cause permanent injury?’

‘I’m sure you’d think of something,’ Gwyn said, and Augus’ eyes widened, and then he laughed.

‘So far we have no murder, and no permanent injury. You’re leaving me with a lot left over, are you sure you don’t want to add something else to the list?’

Gwyn’s breath started coming faster. He felt like he was being baited, like he had missed something, but he couldn’t think. He squeezed his eyes shut and wracked his brain, and all he heard was static. If he could just-

He jumped when he felt that fingernail pressing between his collarbones again.

‘Too late,’ Augus whispered. ‘I rather feel like I’ve hit the jackpot.’

‘Wait,’ Gwyn said and Augus shook his head.

‘Oh no, you’ve had time to think. I’m tired, and I’m not sure how generous of heart and spirit you think I am, but it’s not that generous. You did just nearly poison me to death, after all.’

‘Augus-’

The fingernail pushed until it pierced his skin, and Gwyn swallowed a sound.

‘No talking. I haven’t asked you to speak, so you will not speak.’

Gwyn bit the inside of his lower lip and watched as Augus withdrew his fingernail from Gwyn’s skin and unsnicked the pocket-knife. The slow, up and down look he gave Gwyn’s body while holding it sent a cold chill down Gwyn’s spine. But seconds later Augus cut the inside of his own index finger. He looked at the blood speculatively as he tossed the knife onto the bed with a careless motion.

The oath that Augus then made was simple but covered all bases, and even though Gwyn knew that blood-oaths weren’t foolproof, he felt a small wash of relief all the same. The relief was short-lived when Augus critically looked at the state Gwyn was in, and Gwyn abruptly realised that everything outside of murder and permanent injury was still fair game.  

‘You’re still clothed. That’s going to be a problem, I’m afraid.’

He walked forwards and dug his fingers into the top of Gwyn’s damp shirt, open at the laces, and then sunk his fingernails in and ripped it cleanly down the middle. He tugged the damp material off, letting it fall limply to the ground. He stayed behind Gwyn and then drummed a pattern with his fingernails on Gwyn’s upper shoulder. It paused, and then the rhythm started again. It wound Gwyn up inside, and he tried to even out his breathing. Augus hadn’t even started anything yet, not really.

‘Take your pants off,’ Augus said, and Gwyn’s hands twitched. He moved to untie the fastenings. They were wet, he had to practically peel them off his body. Halfway through, claws sunk deep into his shoulder and then raked furrows down the side of his back. Gwyn gasped as pain lanced through him, he felt blood pool and then trickle down his side.

‘Faster, next time,’ Augus said, and Gwyn tensed when he realised that Augus wasn’t moving, could easily scratch him again. He tugged his pants off the rest of the way and stepped out of them.

Hands placed themselves flat on his back, over his ribs. Augus’ touch was sure, and even after prolonged exposure to the cool pond water, his skin was warm. It made Gwyn realise that his own body temperature had dropped. He usually ran hotter than Augus did.

One of the hands smoothed down his skin. Fingers reached out and stemmed the flow of Gwyn’s blood. Gwyn listened, staring ahead with wide eyes, as Augus brought his fingers to his mouth and sucked the blood off of them. If he wasn’t so cold, if he hadn’t just come, he would have started to get aroused by that. Instead he felt a tentative curl of heat shift through his gut. It ached inside of him.

Augus moved his fingers back to the slowing flow of blood and collected more of it up on his fingers, coating them liberally. He then walked around Gwyn and faced him again.

‘Open your mouth,’ Augus said, a dark, hungry expression on his face.

Gwyn knew what was coming, he couldn’t not. It was Augus, after all.

He opened his mouth, and Augus raised blood-coated fingers up and made sure Gwyn could see them. But Gwyn wasn’t intimidated by his own blood, and he would never tell Augus, couldn’t, but he wanted his fingers inside his mouth. He wanted that very much.

‘Perhaps you could pretend that it’s the blood from that father you murdered. You know the one, don’t you? The father you murdered and then forced his son to eat?’

Gwyn blinked in shock, made a sound of horror, tensed to move away. Augus – using the same speed that Gwyn had used when shoving the piece of liver down Augus’ throat – stepped forward quickly and lashed his hand through Gwyn’s hair, pulling tight, while shoving two of his blood-stained fingers so deep into Gwyn’s mouth, that Gwyn felt those wickedly sharp fingernails press against the back of his throat.

His throat closed around Augus’ fingertips, he couldn’t help the involuntary response, he choked, trying to remember to keep his mouth open, to not snap down accidentally. Augus chuckled and pressed deeper, and Gwyn’s breath rushed out through his nose in a hiss. Augus’ fingernails were grazing the back of his throat, and it was uncomfortable. Not because of the sensation itself, but because Augus could scrape deep furrows into the back of Gwyn’s throat if he wanted to, it wouldn’t cause permanent injury, it wasn’t covered by the blood-oath.

‘Are you remembering that time, back then? What drove you to me in the first place?’ Augus said, and Gwyn moaned in protest. He didn’t want to.

He could taste his own blood; burnt metal and coppery tang. It tasted like a wasteland he hadn’t visited in a long, long time, charred black and still carrying the smell of fire centuries later. Augus had brought something dangerous close to the surface and Gwyn shut his eyes and tried to focus, tried to concentrate.

The fingers in his hair tightened. The claws at the back of his throat were leisurely, threateningly stroking. Gwyn’s mouth was filling with saliva, and he swallowed it down, sucking absently as he did so. At that, Augus hummed approval, and Gwyn exhaled hard through his nose as he sucked harder, tongue moving up hesitantly to push up into the crease between Augus’ fingers.

His mind began to empty. The pain he felt from the furrows in his back fell away, his hands flexed at his sides.

Augus left his fingers there until they almost clean. When he slid them out of Gwyn’s mouth, pressing hard against Gwyn’s tongue as he went, Gwyn found himself leaning forwards to make sure they didn’t leave. Augus breathed a sound of amusement and withdrew his fingers just enough that he could add a third, before shoving them back into Gwyn’s mouth. The fingers stretched and plunged deep and Gwyn gagged, and then he made a broken, pained sound when Augus used the hand at the back of his head to force Gwyn’s head forwards, made him take his fingers even deeper.

It took Gwyn a full minute to gain control of his reflexes, and then he was able to work his tongue again, able to apply suction. And at that, Augus’ hand loosened in his hair, and then stroked through his curls. It was a reward, it sent warmth through his scalp and made his jaw relax further. He sighed at that, he hadn’t expected rewards. He didn’t think Augus would be in the mood. He didn’t even know if he wanted him to be. But in the moment, he felt surrounded by Augus, and that wasn’t a terrible thing.

It should have been though, he knew that much.

Augus withdrew his fingers and held his hand up by Gwyn’s mouth, and Gwyn licked the rest of the blood off, keeping his eyes downcast as he did so. This part was easy. He was sure there would be other parts he wouldn’t enjoy nearly as much. But this? He didn’t need to be told to do this.

When Augus was satisfied, he curled his fingers briefly around the side of Gwyn’s face.

‘Kneel,’ Augus whispered.

Gwyn paused, not because he didn’t want to, but because he was overwhelmed with how much he wanted it. If Augus was intending what Gwyn thought he might be, Gwyn was going to reveal something about himself he didn’t want to. Not now. Not with Augus as his prisoner and Gwyn trying to hang onto any semblance of dignity that he had left.

‘If I have to ask you again, I will hurt you,’ Augus said. His hand reached up, fingernails promising, and Gwyn sank to his knees without another thought.

Augus was peeling himself out of his clothing, dropping it to the floor. He was fully erect, but he ignored Gwyn, on his knees, and walked over to a dark oak wardrobe – also new – and drew out an olive-green shirt. It was long-sleeved, and didn’t button up down the middle; far more casual than what Gwyn was used to seeing Augus normally wear. He wondered if it was the kind of clothing that Augus wore when he knew he wasn’t going to be doing anything important.

And that thought, unexpectedly, made Gwyn cringe.

When Augus walked back, he stood only a short distance away from Gwyn, looking down at him. Gwyn flushed hot, because it was hard to ignore the fact that Augus was fully erect and it was extremely hard to ignore the fact that his mouth was already flooding with saliva. He hoped...he didn’t dare hope. Augus placed his hands on his hips and cleared his throat.

‘I’m not usually quite this crude. But, Gwyn, get to it.’

Yes, Gwyn’s mind shouted, but he held himself back, swallowing spasmodically.

‘How?’ he asked.

‘How what?’ Augus said, eyes widening, as though he hadn’t expected the question.

‘How do you want it?’

Fast? Slow? Teasing? What? Gwyn refused to lick his lips, he was worried that if he appeared too eager, Augus would stop. After all, this wasn’t supposed to be about Gwyn getting what he wanted, was it? Gwyn had done something terrible. Had done many terrible things. His heart was beating too fast, he thought that if he were better in this role, if he were better at submitting, he’d own up to how much he wanted to do this, he’d give Augus the choice to withdraw what he was offering.

‘How do I...I want you to choke on it, actually.’

Gwyn looked up and made eye contact with Augus, surprised to see the depth of anger on his face. He hoped that his eagerness wasn’t obvious, because this was definitely not supposed to be a good thing. He shivered when he realised what Augus was paying him back for. Gwyn couldn’t bring himself to regret doing what he did to Augus, in this. Each noise and tremor ripped from Augus’ body as he had made himself take more of Gwyn down his throat, were ones that Gwyn savoured and thought about later.

The idea that he could instead savour the feeling of Augus’ cock in his mouth instead was dizzying. Augus hadn’t done this when Gwyn had visited him, all that time ago. And Gwyn didn’t offer it to many people because Kings were just supposed to be better than that, weren’t they?

‘Aren’t you going to tie me up?’ Gwyn said, confused.

‘No,’ Augus said, ‘you asked me for this. Why? Worried you’ll run? Rest assured, Gwyn, you always have to come back to your palace, and I’ll be waiting for you. Let’s not imagine how much worse things will be if you run.

Gwyn nodded absently.

‘Now, what was it you said to me? Let me see if I can remember,’ Augus said, pretending that he couldn’t. ‘Ah yes, that’s it. ‘I’m going all the way in. And if you get a sore throat because of it, then maybe it will shut you up for a few days.’’

Augus stepped forwards and rubbed his cock against the side of Gwyn’s face, and Gwyn felt his skin crawl with gooseflesh, felt his hands fist by his sides to stop himself from rushing. He was not supposed to be eager. And besides, he hadn’t done this in so long. He didn’t doubt it would be difficult. But he didn’t mind difficult.

‘One more thing,’ Augus said, staring down at him. ‘If I pull your teeth out, will they grow back?’

Gwyn felt his blood run cold.

‘I...don’t know.’

‘Tsk. Then don’t bite me.’

Gwyn closed his eyes. He brought a hand up to wrap around the base of Augus’ cock, only to find his wrist caught in a tight grip.

‘Oh no, why allow that common courtesy? Mouth only, Gwyn.’

Gwyn exhaled slowly. Augus smelled water-clean against his face, as fresh as the pond-water they’d just exited. A hot brand was creeping up his spine, vertebrae by vertebrae, until it reached the base of his neck and his face flushed dark. Augus hadn’t released his wrist, and Gwyn found he didn’t want him to. His hand was shaking, and he wondered if Augus was looking at that, or if he was looking down at what Gwyn was about to do.

He opened his mouth and allowed the head of Augus’ cock to rest on his tongue. He closed his mouth around it experimentally and sucked, knowing he should go faster, but he found himself unexpectedly shy. Augus tasted good; fresh and green and musky all at the same time.

Augus reached up with his free hand and threaded fingers through the hair at the base of Gwyn’s skull, and Gwyn tensed – couldn’t help it – because if he were Augus in the same position, he would-

Augus pressed forwards with his hips at the same time that he dragged Gwyn forward by the curls of his hair. And Gwyn made his jaw hang open, tried to relax for it, but then cried out in shock when Augus didn’t wait at the barrier of his throat and simply angled down and pushed harder.

Gwyn gagged, his eyes flew open and he looked at Augus, only to see Augus smiling down at him in an entirely unfriendly way. Augus was still pushing, he was going too fast. Even Gwyn had waited, initially, before pushing further. But Augus was having none of it, and Gwyn’s throat was forced open.

‘Take it, Gwyn,’ Augus purred, and Gwyn choked as Augus pushed painfully against the back of his throat, using an involuntary swallow to bottom out until Gwyn’s nose was pressed against Augus’ pelt of pubic hair and he felt paralysed. He couldn’t control his gag reflex, and his eyes squeezed shut as he tried to concentrate on it. If he had been allowed to go at his own pace this wouldn’t have been a problem. He felt panic rising up in him as he struggled for air. At the same time, his body betrayed him. He was growing hard again.

He raised his free hand up to Augus’ hip, and Augus immediately reached down as though to remove it. But then he seemed to realise that Gwyn wasn’t trying to push him away, wasn’t trying to gain purchase for himself. Gwyn wanted the contact, he just had to master his panic and relax his throat, but his body wasn’t listening. If he could just catch his breath and find his own rhythm. His instincts were taking over. He couldn’t breathe.

Augus withdrew, enough that Gwyn could catch his breath through his nose. He did so in staccato hiccups, blinking tears out of his eyes. It had been too long. This was embarrassing. He wanted to be good for Augus, not this.

He remained absurdly grateful that Augus didn’t withdraw all the way. His fingers scraped shallowly against Augus’ skin, at his hip, reminding himself that Augus was there. The voices in his head that told him he should be shutting this down, he should take Augus back down to underfae status and make him stay there...they had disappeared.

Gwyn’s breathing evened out, finally. His fingers were rhythmically flexing and releasing where they rested on Augus’ waist and in Augus’ grip on his wrist. He didn’t want to wait until Augus pulled him back again, he wanted to prove that he could do it. Augus had taken him by surprise, but this used to be something he could do.

He moved the hand on Augus’ hip around until he could actually pull Augus forwards. He breathed carefully out through his nose, took a breath and allowed his aching throat to open. He choked much less this time around and his shoulders shuddered in relief. Because he didn’t want this to be a punishment even though it should have been. Because he didn’t want to forget how good this could be.

When Augus bottomed out again, Gwyn sucked hesitantly, focusing hard on coordinating himself and feeling each one of his thoughts falling further and further away.

He flinched when Augus trailed fingers up the back of Gwyn’s head. And Augus paused at that for a few seconds, then continued until he’d reached Gwyn’s hairline at his forehead. Then he lowered his fingers and started again. Gwyn moaned in the back of his throat, because he didn’t want Augus to stop, but he didn’t know what Augus was planning either. He doubted it was anything like kindness. But Augus didn’t stop running his fingers soothingly over the back of Gwyn’s head, and Gwyn got tired of waiting for whatever Augus was planning.

When breath was starting to become an issue he withdrew just enough to take a breath, and then he started a tentative rhythm, keeping his throat open and sucking hard every time he withdrew. He didn’t have much room to move his tongue, but he tried.

Augus seemed happy to let Gwyn find his own rhythm, though he did push hard on the downstroke, and Gwyn knew the back of his throat was bruised. It was already grazed where Augus had scraped his fingernails. The pain didn’t bother him. It helped him stay present, and he didn’t mind this kind of overwhelmed. He sped up and wished he could preserve Augus’ sudden uptick in breathing so that he could remember that later.

He moaned thickly when everything seemed to coalesce into a perfect moment. Augus’ cock deep in his throat, his breathing working to a rhythm, saliva pooling in his mouth and Augus’ hand wrapped around his wrist, squeezing tighter, more helpful than Augus could possibly know.

And then the moment was shattered. Augus let go of Gwyn’s wrist and gripped the back of his head in a punishing grip. He withdrew completely and Gwyn coughed, opened tear-filled eyes.

‘Are you enjoying yourself?’ Augus said, eyes narrowing. ‘You are!’

I’m sorry, Gwyn didn’t say. He couldn’t bring himself to apologise for it. His mouth felt empty and he wasn’t finished yet and Augus had interrupted him and Augus...

Augus looked angry.

‘I’m sorry,’ Gwyn said, voice hoarse. Augus’ eyes widened. Gwyn didn’t want to see what was coming next, so he looked down at Augus’ chest instead, and noted with some satisfaction that Augus was breathing unevenly, raggedly. He’d been doing well, he thought, and it was good to see a sign of that.

‘You’re sorry,’ Augus said, and Gwyn averted his eyes completely, looked at a different point in the room. What was he even doing? He was the King of the Seelie fae, he shouldn’t be on his knees apologising for enjoying sucking someone’s cock. And certainly not his prisoner’s. He leaned backwards to push himself away and Augus’ hands tightened in his hair, holding him still.

‘Where did you learn that, I wonder? I certainly didn’t teach you,’ Augus said, some deeply mocking tone in his voice that made Gwyn press his eyes shut. He was still teary from the blow job, he hoped, because he didn’t want it to be from anything else.

‘Swallow me like that again, we’re not done yet,’ Augus said, and Gwyn hesitated. He hadn’t wanted Augus to know that he liked it, precisely because Augus would use it against him. This wasn’t something Gwyn wanted to feel ashamed of, not any more than he already did, anyway.

Now,’ Augus said, his voice turning hard. Gwyn nodded and then opened his mouth, only gagging once when Augus bottomed out in his throat. He went to withdraw, to pick up his rhythm, but Augus stopped him with both of his hands on the back of Gwyn’s head. The palm of one of his hands dropped down to his shoulder and Augus breathed out laughter.

‘Oh, Gwyn, you’re positively shaking. Didn’t want me to find this out, did you? Was it a secret? The cat’s out of the bag, I’m afraid.’

Gwyn made a thin sound of protest, and Augus groaned as the sound hummed through him.

‘You are far, far better at this, than you are at fucking,’ Augus breathed, loosening his grip on the back of Gwyn’s head and allowing Gwyn to find his rhythm again. Gwyn found it more reluctantly this time, wishing that he could disappear. But as he continued, the worst of his shame evaporated and he brought both of his hands back up to Augus’ hips. He dared to curve them round and brush the top of Augus’ ass. At that, Augus bucked down his throat, his breathing hitched.

‘I hope you realise that I can’t ever learn to be as good at this as you are, Gwyn. Because I wasn’t made for it, like you were.’

Gwyn was sure it was meant to be insulting, but he wasn’t insulted. It meant he was doing good again, and Augus hadn’t asked him to stop, and he just wanted to keep going – as long as it took – until Augus spent himself down Gwyn’s throat. He didn’t even care about how hard he was, that was secondary, it was background noise. He just wanted this.

He couldn’t stop the sound of protest he made when Augus withdrew again. He was still dizzy, and he bowed over to catch his breath. Even though he had found a rhythm he liked, he was still deprived of air. He brought a hand up and wiped saliva away, it had bubbled at the edges of his mouth, he had started drooling. He wanted to continue, but Augus had already stepped away from him. Gwyn knew then that things weren’t over.

He was still focusing on catching his breath when Augus kicked him over onto his side, rolled him over onto his back, and then lowered his bare foot onto Gwyn’s chest, staring down at him. Gwyn looked up, swallowed. He started to bring his elbows underneath himself to lift himself up and Augus pressed down harder, then leaned over his knee, lowering more of his weight onto Gwyn.

Gwyn stared up, unable to move. And when Augus leaned his weight even further, compressing Gwyn’s chest so that he could lower an arm and trace the shape of his swollen lips, Gwyn felt breathless.

‘Some King you are,’ Augus said, as smoothly as though he were offering everyday conversation. ‘Did you imagine yourself like this when you dealt with Efnisien’s body? Is imagining taking cock what makes things easier for you?’

Gwyn shifted to get up, finding Augus’ vulgar words disturbing, it was a return to reality far more painful than it should have been. Augus slapped him, the pain stinging and mocking.

‘Don’t move,’ Augus hissed. ‘I’m not done with you yet. Not nearly.’

He slipped two fingers into Gwyn’s shocked mouth and mimed the rhythm that Gwyn had established only minutes ago. The last thing Gwyn saw as he closed his eyes, unable to keep looking into Augus’ confident, green gaze, was the smirk.

‘If you weren’t King, I could rip your jaw off, like this,’ Augus said softly. ‘It’s what I did to your cousin. You should have heard the sound it made.’

Fear powered through him as he imagined it. He felt his cock go limp, felt all the relaxation he’d managed to find for himself chased out of his body. He sucked on Augus’ fingers automatically, meekly, hoped Augus was feeling merciful while doubting he ever would again. It frightened him, that Augus knew Gwyn feared him. Augus was at his most dangerous when he had figured someone else out, and then used that knowledge with his own gains in mind.

‘And you, King, lying on the ground, sucking my fingers like you were born for this and nothing else. How long have you known that you enjoy this? And why are you always hiding these things from me? This would have made our Wild Hunts so entertaining.’

Gwyn made a sound, shook his head. Augus’ fingers in his mouth were surprisingly gentle. They went deep, but there was no force. They stroked at his tongue. Tickled the roof of his mouth. When they rubbed at the side of his gums, Gwyn sighed out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. It was unexpected, Augus treating him like this. It suddenly didn’t matter what he was saying, or that it was hard to draw full breaths with Augus’ foot compressing his chest the way it did. It felt good.

Augus withdrew his fingers and wiped the saliva off on the side of Gwyn’s face. He stepped back and looked over at the bed, and looked back at Gwyn with a promising expression.

‘Get up,’ Augus said. ‘On the bed.’

Gwyn got up slowly, and his eyes drifted over to the pocket-knife that was resting on the sheets where Augus had tossed it. Augus followed the line of his gaze and he shrugged.

‘Maybe,’ he said. ‘But as your back can attest, I don’t need a pocket-knife.’

Gwyn hesitated before getting on the bed, and when Augus stepped towards him, Gwyn stepped back, worried. Not fast enough.

‘Gwyn...’ Augus said, smiling wider, showing a hint of teeth. ‘Get on the bed, now.’

‘This is far enough,’ Gwyn said, his voice ragged from the throat fucking. ‘This has gone far enough.’

‘No,’ Augus said, striding forwards and backhanding Gwyn hard across his cheekbone. Hard enough that Gwyn’s head flashed with pain. ‘I did not tell you that you could speak.’

Augus grabbed Gwyn by his hair and applied an astounding amount of force, dragging Gwyn bodily towards the bed. Gwyn’s hands came up as he took an unwanted step in the direction of the bed, but Augus lifted his other hand and swiped sharp nails down the side of his arm, splitting the skin. Between the pain in his head and his arm, the disorientation, Gwyn found himself pulled onto the bed. He could have used his light against Augus, he should have, but Augus reminding him that he wasn’t supposed to speak was dropping him back into submission again.

‘You don’t know the meaning of far enough,’ Augus said coldly, ‘Get on your hands and knees. And without the token dissent, this time, please.’

Gwyn felt himself flush all the way down to his chest as he pushed himself up into position, feeling horribly exposed. Blood was running down the side of his arm, trailing down his wrist.

‘Are you worried about me fucking you?’ Augus said, getting off the bed and pulling a vial of lubricant out of his top drawer. Gwyn realised it was one of his. He wondered just how many things Augus had been appropriating into this room. ‘You should be. Don’t think I’m not feeling especially reproving, with you constantly disobeying me.’

Augus moved gracefully back onto the bed. He hadn’t removed his shirt, and Gwyn realised he probably wasn’t going to. He hadn’t stripped down fully the first time he’d taken control of Gwyn, and when Gwyn had commented on it at the time, Augus had only laughed.

When Augus smoothed his hands over Gwyn’s back, Gwyn cut off a sound in his mouth. Augus curved his hands around Gwyn’s ass, digging his fingers into the back of his thighs, scraping with his nails.

He trailed one of his arms down further, and then Gwyn startled when he felt something wet and cold coil over his calf. He turned around, looked behind him, and was surprised to see a snake of waterweed knot around his calf and then attach itself to the bedpost. That was a direct result of the status shift. Augus hadn’t been able to use his waterweed as underfae. Gwyn swallowed, and Augus stroked the waterweed quietly.

‘I thought you said you wouldn’t tie me up,’ Gwyn said, and Augus hissed.

‘What did I tell you?’

Gwyn swallowed, he dropped his head. Why did he keep doing this?

‘Oh no,’ Augus said, uncapping the vial. ‘That was a question. Answer me.’

‘Only speak when spoken to,’ Gwyn said. His arms weren’t shaking, they weren’t shaking. He felt deeply uncomfortable, and he dropped his head further, wishing that his hair was longer like it used to be, so it could hide his face. Guilt crawled back through him, a thick ooze that ended in the back of his throat. It was becoming harder to hold himself up for Augus, knowing what was coming. He wanted to shut everything down, and yet...

His eyes widened when he felt slick fingers tracing over his entrance.

‘You make it hard to know what to do, sometimes,’ Augus said, pushing Gwyn’s legs apart further and kneeling between them, circling the rim of Gwyn’s entrance. ‘You elevated me to Capital fae, which is the only reason I can tie you up with the waterweed. You tried to kill me, which is the only reason you elevated me to Capital fae. I don’t think you understand quite how much it hurts, eating that liver, especially as underfae. And you’ve done it before, you said? To the Ceffyl Dwr? Shame on you.’

Gwyn’s mouth dropped open on a gasp as Augus’ finger breached him and then slid in; one easy, swift movement that made Gwyn see sparks. He wanted to remind Augus that he might not have understood before, but he had a fair idea. That had been one of the most difficult things he’d experienced, watching Augus go through that, knowing he’d been responsible. It had been so difficult to witness, he’d made a decision that would get his Kingship removed sooner rather than later, he was sure. His stupid decisions were why they were in this mess in the first place.

Augus slid his finger all the way out and then returned with two. It was too fast, and Gwyn hissed at the stretch of it. It had been a very long time since he had allowed anyone to fuck him. And the last time, he’d been so blind drunk that he could hardly remember the experience, except that he’d been sore and alone when he’d woken up.

‘You are practically unused,’ Augus said quietly, smoothing his other hand over Gwyn’s lower back. ‘Do you remember our first time down in the cell? I was practically unused then too, and you didn’t care.’

No, Gwyn thought, tensing helplessly. Augus’ fingers curled inside of him, and Gwyn didn’t feel good, wasn’t turned on. He just felt...invaded. He dropped down to his elbows and then choked when Augus pressed threatening nails up inside of him.

Up,’ Augus said, and Gwyn pushed himself back up onto his hands immediately.

It wasn’t that Gwyn minded rough-handling, he really didn’t. It was the position, it was that Augus still had his shirt on and Gwyn could feel it every time Augus pressed closer and the material brushed against his skin. It was that he’d seen the carnage that Augus had left behind when he’d killed Efnisien, and it didn’t matter that Efnisien was disliked or that it had been justifiable. It was easy, sometimes, to forget how dangerous Augus could be. And now, with Augus’ fingers inside of him, he couldn’t forget.

‘Always thinking too much,’ Augus said, ‘how ironic.’

Augus’ fingers crooked and then began to move in a steady, firm rhythm. Gwyn blinked down at the bed, at the blood soaked into dark green sheets, turning it black. The movement was hypnotic, unchanging. It moved through him, sent sensation curling up through his spine. He locked his arms into place and his breathing started to shift in response.

‘Just like that,’ Augus said, approving. ‘Just like that, Gwyn.’

Gwyn made a wet, deep sound in response. The coldness inside of him was eroding, being washed away.

The movement of Augus’ fingers continued, repetitive and hypnotic, easy to focus on. Gwyn felt his back begin to bow, and his breath shivered out of him when Augus leaned closer, looping his arm around Gwyn’s chest and placing his palm over his heart, monitoring the beat. Augus made a satisfied sound behind him, and after a minute, moved the flat of his hand over Gwyn’s nipple, and then repeated the gesture slowly, in counterpoint to the thrusts of his fingers. Gwyn gasped, and then forced his mouth shut, not wanting to betray himself any further.

‘You don’t know what you want, do you?’ Augus said. He began to deliberately stretch Gwyn out, and Gwyn’s jaw tensed, his fingers fisted into the sheets beneath. ‘Here you are, wanting to be broken. Not wanting to be broken. You want to be punished, and yet you don’t. I can’t help but feel that if I did one or the other, you’d be disappointed with me.’

Gwyn shook his head, remembering that he shouldn’t speak, but wanting to let Augus know that he was absurdly grateful, that this was wiping so many of his thoughts away.

‘Gwyn,’ Augus laughed, ‘it can be both, you know. I can do both. Did you know that?’

Augus withdrew his fingers and Gwyn wanted to rest his head on the sheets so badly, he wanted to lower himself down to his forearms and not think anymore, but Augus had said Up, and so Gwyn was trying to do that. His arms were shaking. It occurred to him that he was tired. He’d been tired before he’d even found Augus over Efnisien, growling hungrily like the unearthly monster that he was. He’d been putting off sleep. He hated sleeping. There were always nightmares.

‘You remember this part, don’t you?’ Augus said, pressing himself, slick and hard against Gwyn’s entrance. ‘Tell me what happened when I first fucked myself into you, all that time ago.’

Gwyn’s weight canted as he lifted one of his arms and covered his face with his hand.

‘I bled,’ Gwyn said, remembering how Augus had switched from gentle to rough in the blink of an eye, ripping a scream from his gut as Augus had pushed deeper than anyone else ever had. After all, before Augus, he’d only ever let one other person do that to him.

‘You did,’ Augus said, stroking Gwyn’s hips with long fingers. ‘You loved it. Eventually.’

Gwyn nodded behind the dark space of his hot palm and then lowered his hand again, bracing himself.

‘I’ve already bled you this time,’ Augus said, and Gwyn’s forehead furrowed. ‘I don’t need to do it again.’

Gwyn’s eyes flew open when Augus eased into him with a slow, deliberate pressure. It was nothing like the last time. Augus’ fingers were drawing Gwyn back, he pushed forward. Halfway through, he arched over Gwyn and wrapped fingers around his shoulder, pulling harder. He didn’t stop until he was fully seated, and then he tugged at the curls at the base of Gwyn’s neck while Gwyn shook and adjusted and didn’t think he was worth this patience and couldn’t stop the racing of his mind. He made a short, distressed sound, and Augus murmured something behind him, before shifting against him.

‘Relax,’ Augus said. ‘Relax your arms.’

Gwyn’s elbows buckled and his shoulders sank towards the bed, he gasped as Augus settled behind him, easing deeper as the angle changed.

‘Out of all the things I imagined as a result of my imprisonment, this was not one of them.’

Augus draped his weight over Gwyn’s back and placed arms by his shoulders, experimentally rolling his hips. Gwyn pushed his face into the sheets to hide the sound that rippled out of him.

‘I find,’ Augus said, ‘I’m quite tired. Funny how almost being poisoned to death will do that to someone. Did you know?’ Augus rolled his hips again, and then snapped them forwards, punching the breath out of Gwyn’s lungs. ‘If you had forced me to eat any more, the status change wouldn’t have been enough. What do you think of that?’

Gwyn hung onto the question as Augus started a slow, flowing rhythm that stayed deep, making him painfully aware of the position he was in, of Augus surrounding him, inside of him.

‘I’m sor-’

‘No,’ Augus said, ‘I heard about a hundred of those while I was in the lake. You’re sorry. I’d better not let myself think about that too much, or I’ll get angry again.’

Augus lifted slightly and sped up, and Gwyn’s whole body became a mass of warmth. There was almost no pain, just Augus demonstrating that six months in a cell, and further months being subjugated to Gwyn’s idea of fucking, hadn’t damaged his own sensibilities in the least. Augus was able to roll himself against Gwyn’s prostate with almost every shift of his hips, and Gwyn felt pleasure start in his lower back and stretch out all the way through him, until he was leaking precome onto the sheets and rhythmically fisting his hands into the fabric in time with Augus’ movements.

His hips began shifting back in concert with Augus’, and when Augus encouraged him to spread his legs further, Gwyn did so unthinkingly, moaning deep at the stretch in his thighs and the growing, sharpening ache inside of himself.

‘Close?’ Augus breathed, and Gwyn nodded.

‘I’m so surprised,’ Augus said, a sweet sarcasm making Gwyn’s lips lift into a half-smile where they were pressed into sheets that were far higher quality than his.

Augus stilled, deep inside of him, and Gwyn made a sound of frustration.

But Augus only reached his hand around and trailed his fingers up Gwyn’s cock, teasing.

‘You raised me up to Capital fae,’ Augus purred. ‘I have more of my powers back. You want to see a trick?’

Gwyn’s eyes snapped open. Augus mentioning the word trick while his fingers were against his cock could not be a good thing. He tensed, something cold chased its way into his lungs.

‘Look what I can do now,’ Augus whispered, just as Gwyn felt panic slam into his mind. He bucked as something cold and rubbery slid around the base of his cock and cinched tight. And Augus was telling him to calm down, to stop panicking, that it was just a rather creatively made cock-ring, and it was only once Gwyn heard those words and connected it to the feeling around himself that he slumped back down, panting.

What did you think I was going to do?’ Augus said, sounding perturbed. Gwyn looked between his legs and saw the thin strand of waterweed wrapped around the base of his cock. He hated cock-rings at the best of times. He should have known Augus was going to do something like this.

‘Nothing,’ Gwyn said, frustrated.

He’d assumed the worst, and the fear had broadsided into him and left him disoriented.

‘Does it have anything to do with the fact that earlier I brutally murdered your cousin? And now you’ve increased my powers, and you’ve let me inside you? Is that it?’

Gwyn was shaking, he felt weak. Augus had peeled back too many layers, and there wasn’t much left of himself that Gwyn felt was his alone. Whatever was left, Gwyn didn’t really want anyway.

Augus resumed moving again, still hard. Gwyn shook his head, pressed his forearms close. He’d over-reacted, he’d panicked. One moment everything had been going along so well and the next...

‘That monster threatened my family,’ Augus said, ‘He deserved what he got, and you can’t tell me you’re even a little bit sorry that he’s dead. You’re only sorry you had to do the dirty work afterwards.’

‘Take it off,’ Gwyn said, referring to the cock-ring, and grit his teeth together when Augus laughed.

‘Did I give you permission to speak? No. I think I’ll leave it on for longer now.’

Gwyn growled in pure annoyance, and scowled into the bed when it only made Augus laugh harder.

After that, Gwyn was done for. Augus sat upright again and grasped Gwyn’s hips with his hands, digging his nails in just enough that they were points of pain, not quite cutting through skin. Augus moved with an easy confidence, nowhere near close to coming while clearly interested in pulling the fastest reaction out of Gwyn that he possibly could.

And Gwyn felt himself swell against the restrictive, rubbery weed. Felt the moment that peaking pleasure turned into intensity and discomfort and almost, almost release, and then nothing happened. He swore into the sheets and reached a hand between his legs to remove the waterweed himself, because Augus hadn’t said he couldn’t do that, only for Augus to grab his hand and lace his fingers between Gwyn’s in a mockery of affection.

‘Oh, Gwyn, were you going to jack yourself off? Was that it? Here, let me help you.’

He wrapped Gwyn’s hand and his own around Gwyn’s cock, and Gwyn shouted at the hypersensitivity of Augus increasing the pressure of both of their hands and then starting a rhythm that moved in syncopation to his own thrusting hips. Gwyn tried to tug his hand away, but Augus had the benefit of not being nearly as disoriented on his side. Gwyn’s whole body felt like it was overheating, his limbs felt weak. He was sure he would have come by now, at least once, and Augus wasn’t letting up.

‘Augus,’ Gwyn said, turning his face to the side and panting to catch his breath. His face felt like it was on fire.

‘Hmm?’ Augus said, and Gwyn whined as the sensations inside of himself began to escalate again. Gwyn’s hand went lax against himself, in a bid to slow down the rise in intensity, but Augus only responded to that by tightening his own fingers and moving faster against Gwyn’s cock, chuckling. ‘Is this a problem?’

Fuck you, Augus. Gwyn thumped his forehead down into the pillow and clawed at the sheets so hard that they pulled up from the mattress.

‘It’s funny,’ Augus said, rubbing his thumb over the head of Gwyn’s cock repeatedly, until Gwyn cried out. ‘I’m fucking you, I’m jacking you off, I’m really trying to be quite considerate, and here you haven’t come yet. This is so unlike you.’

Augus,’ Gwyn groaned, and Augus used the hand on Gwyn’s hip to pull him back sharply, humming in approval when Gwyn made a noise in the back of his throat that would have been a sob, if he hadn’t caught it in time.

Pleasure was building into something pained and uncomfortable. It shot lances of heat through his nerves, ended in flashes of light behind his eyelids. It was getting harder to catch his breath, and when Augus dropped his head down and trailed damp hair down Gwyn’s back, Gwyn sobbed at how oversensitised he was becoming. He couldn’t handle this. It was already too much.

Please,’ he said, and Augus didn’t stop moving his hand, didn’t stop undulating his hips. ‘Please, Augus, please, please, please.’

‘So soon?’ Augus said, ‘But there’s so many favours I haven’t even returned yet. For example, remember the times you did this to me?’

Augus dug his fingertip into the slit of Gwyn’s cock, and stars burst in front of Gwyn’s eyes, he screamed as he was torn down a line balanced only barely between pain and pleasure. Augus chuckled darkly behind him, though more breathless than before. For a moment, his rhythm faltered, though he resumed it again a moment later.

‘I can see why you find that one so satisfying. What pretty sounds you make,’ Augus purred, and Gwyn pressed his face hard into the mattress, sobbing.

‘I wish your Court could see you, right now,’ Augus said wistfully. ‘Can you imagine? I bet they’d all be shocked at first, and then I would place money that more than half would want to fuck you for themselves, seeing how red you got, the sounds dour, stoic Gwyn could make when he finally got a cock inside of him.’

Gwyn was sketching out long syllables of sound. He held the bunched up sheets he’d dragged half off the mattress up by his head, wanting it over. He turned his face to the side once more, needing several tries to remember language.

Augus, please.’

‘You do feel a little wound up,’ Augus said, and just as Gwyn started to feel a wave of relief to hear that considerate tone, he heard Augus cheerfully amend his statement with: ‘Soon.’

‘No,’ Gwyn said hoarsely, trying to yank his hand out of Augus’ grip, where it was still wrapped around his own swollen cock. ‘Now.’

‘Just a little longer,’ Augus soothed, but nothing about his actions were soothing at all. ‘Wait for me, Gwyn. I’m close. Just wait.’

Can’t,’ Gwyn managed, and then had to bury his face in the sheets again, muffling all the noises that were being ripped out of him. The skin of his entire body felt stretched too tight. He thought that he’d desensitise to Augus moving inside of him, but he felt more aware instead, found it harder to breathe every time Augus pushed in deep or ground his hips when he was inside. His mind became a cacophony of protest and sensation and please and can’t.

Augus was moving faster now, his breathing becoming uneven and ragged, just as it had when Gwyn had deep-throated him. Gwyn heard him utter a small, contained sound of pleasure and his pulse picked up in the hopes of soon, soon, soon.

All at once, Augus dragged his hand away from Gwyn’s cock and sliced a fingernail through the tough waterweed, before reaching back straight away to grip Gwyn’s cock in a hard, fast-paced grip. His movements became shaky, and Gwyn didn’t care, couldn’t pay any attention, because pressure was building inside of him and his vision was greying out and everything was coalescing together into one huge ball of shattering light and-

Gwyn had only the barest sliver of consciousness left to make sure he didn’t burst into rays and hurt Augus, before he came harder than he could remember coming since...the time he’d visited Augus in his own home, centuries ago. And that time he’d blacked out.

So at least the sensation was familiar, when he found himself doing it again.

*

He came to with a start, lying on his side and something cool pressed against his forehead. His whole body felt wrung out and sore. He was exhausted.

‘How long was I out?’ he said thickly, and Augus shifted by his side.

‘Oh, not long. A few minutes.’ Augus continued to move the damp cloth over Gwyn’s face, and Gwyn listed into it, before he remembered that Augus wasn’t a free fae and couldn’t be trusted, he forced himself to move backwards again. The events of the day came tumbling back and he groaned. He had the beginnings of a terrible, menacing headache.

‘I have meetings,’ Gwyn said, but didn’t open his eyes. He realised, belatedly, waterweed was still wrapped around his calf and attached to the bedpost.

‘You have meetings every day. I don’t know what the Seelie fae do with their time, but they seem like a lot of bureaucratic fools, have you ever noticed that?’

‘I can’t not notice,’ Gwyn complained. Augus chuckled and smoothed a damp curl away from Gwyn’s face. Gwyn rolled onto his back and winced as a wave of dizziness rushed over him. He held his breath, and then swallowed. He felt a cool glass pressed into his hand and looked sideways, it was water. He looked up at Augus in confusion.

‘You need it,’ Augus said quietly. ‘Small sips though. Can you sit up?’

‘Of course I can,’ Gwyn spat, pushing himself upright and shuddering out a thick, queasy exhale as the room tilted. He didn’t understand why he should be so tired, and then he remembered how much effort he’d needed to hold back the light, and he realised exactly why he felt so bad. He normally didn’t let himself get pushed that close to his limits. Augus was lucky. They were both lucky.

He sipped at the water until half the glass was gone. He was tempted to drain the rest, but Augus was already taking it away and setting it down on the cabinet next to his bed.

‘You bought new furniture,’ Gwyn said, and Augus shrugged.

‘I bought a lot of things. You’re just not very attentive to detail.’

Gwyn wanted to nod, but feared the motion would make his head feel even worse, so he just focused on breathing instead. He still felt overheated, he could still feel Augus inside of him, felt – vaguely – that Augus was still there, moving relentlessly. He groaned and lowered his head into his hand.

‘We shouldn’t have done this,’ he said. Augus said nothing, did nothing, and when Gwyn looked up at him, Augus was returning his gaze with a measured, serious expression.

‘I disagree,’ Augus said, ‘And you will too. You’ll be back for more of this. And my enjoyment of it aside, you know things are already far out of your control, so why do you keep pretending they are not? You have me up here in your palace, and you clearly don’t want me back in the cell. If you have me here, why not take advantage of what I can offer you? This I am willing to give.’

‘I wonder why,’ Gwyn said flatly, and Augus laughed. Gwyn took a deep breath and another, and then reached past Augus and picked up the glass, drained the rest of the water in one gulp. He felt it move, cold, all the way down to his stomach.

‘You should sleep.’

Gwyn stared at him, lowered the glass. He couldn’t think of anything more stupid, allowing himself to fall asleep next to an Augus that had just taken control of him in a way that still frightened him. He had come terribly close to releasing his light at full strength, he knew he had. The light was always close when he came, but it was never like that.

‘No, I’m not sleeping.’

‘Gwyn, you’re tired. You’re not thinking straight. This whole debacle, all of it happened because you’re not thinking straight. You push yourself too-’

‘No!’ Gwyn said, reaching down and tearing the waterweed off his calf in a single motion. Augus sat bolt upright at that, shocked. Perhaps, Gwyn thought, he was realising that Gwyn was past ‘token’ resistance. ‘No! I’m not sleeping, and I’m not sleeping here.’

He dissolved into light before Augus could reach for him, and landed in his innermost room. There, he briefly whispered the words that would remove Augus’ permission to enter, and sank to his knees. He saw the liver from earlier in the corner of his eye, sitting wet and glistening on his floor, and he bent over himself, gagging. He felt sick, and the water he’d just drunk was a cold, shifting weight in his stomach.

He was tired, the weight of recent events were crushing him down, and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d needed sleep so much. Even managing the Court back before defeating the Nightmare King and bringing Augus down hadn’t been so stressful.

If his family discovered what he’d done. If anyone did...

Gwyn made a sound that he’d heard tortured out of other people and wrapped his head around his ears so he didn’t have to hear it the second or third time he made it.

*

He startled when he heard the doorknob rattle, and then pounding at his door.

‘You will let me in, Gwyn!’ Augus called, a mix of anger and something else lacing together in his voice. ‘You’re a mess. You are in no state to provide aftercare for yourself.’

Fuck aftercare, Gwyn thought blackly, dragging one of the many blankets off his bed and throwing it over the liver. He could deal with that later. Burn it or throw it down a well, perhaps. It was a waste of good meat. He couldn’t believe what he’d done.

He stared balefully at the door where Augus had started insistently knocking again.

‘I misjudged. You don’t need to sleep,’ Augus said through the door, and Gwyn closed his eyes, pained.

The problem was that he did.

But not with Augus anywhere near him.

He pressed his hand against the wall, concentrated, moved the magic that would bar Augus from the second innermost circle of rooms, and the knocking abruptly stopped. Augus would find himself suddenly in another section of the palace; still able to access his own rooms, the lake, whatever he needed. And Gwyn...wouldn’t have to put up with that knocking anymore, those false assurances of aftercare. He didn’t want it.

Gwyn crawled tired, naked, onto his own bed and burrowed into the blankets, away from the pillows. He rested his forehead on his forearm and closed his eyes. He knew he had to sleep, but he hated sleeping. He felt hot and sore, he still felt sick with himself. He’d wanted something from Augus and he thought he’d almost gotten it, but Augus was right, there was no absolution for him; though not for the reasons that Augus thought.

He exhaled a dry, weak sob and reluctantly gave himself over to the blackness of sleep.

Chapter Text

Gwyn slept for three days. He woke up from a familiar nightmare, bolted upright, clawing at the pain of loss in his chest as though he could remove it. He blinked dazed at his own room, still feeling out of sorts. The sleep helped reinforce his flagging energy levels, but in all other ways he didn’t feel right. He felt colder than normal, and there was a creeping queasiness that remained in his stomach and left him nauseous. It only worsened as he walked past the blanket-covered liver rotting on his floor and dragged on clothing that would help him face the Seelie Court.

He’d missed at least three crucial meetings. One had been designed to prevent a small war over a land dispute. Seelie land fae were getting pushed out of their territories by human habitation and decided to fight each other about it instead.

Guilt that he had could have directly contributed to a new war left him determined to throw himself into his responsibilities as King. Apprehension that Augus might not actually be happy with him for pushing him out of the inner circles of his rooms rose and fell inside of him in waves. Below that, the chaos of everything he had done over the past months clamoured inside his head, dim bells that he tried to ignore.

His time with Augus came back to him in both moments that were blurry and those that stabbed into him with sharp clarity. Every now and then Gwyn also felt the ghost of the physical pleasure Augus had evoked within him. It raced through him, stealing his breath. It was a wrench to his nerves that made his vision blur.

What Augus had done had been very tame, compared to what they both knew Gwyn enjoyed. Gwyn may have protested at the time, but...Augus had delivered. In a way that Gwyn hadn’t expected. He had expected revenge, torture, pain. That was what he knew he had earned with his actions. Augus had gone in a different direction to what Gwyn had expected, offering pleasure, and fleeting moments of touch that left Gwyn feeling disturbed and queasy. People were not gentle with him. People had never been gentle with him.

Gwyn was a masochist, naturally submissive, though he hid this from others. Hiding the truth of himself was helped by his habit of turning bloodlust into lust immediately after a battle and simply taking those of his soldiers who wanted to be taken. Augus had been right, however. What had he been looking for when he went down into those cells? Who had he been wanting to break?

In his family it was weakness to wish to be dominated, to enjoy being dragged down a path of pain and pleasure and not be the one doling it out. But he was not unusual in his tastes, most fae had a wide range of creative tastes in their sexual pursuits. They healed quickly, especially those with higher statuses. They lived a long time, they cared not for human taboo. Most fae had time to explore different forms of sensuality and sex, time to explore blood and pain and the outer limits of their endurance.

It was the words Augus said that carried the true damage, he’d flayed him with language. Everything else had been...

Gwyn shivered.

He spent the afternoon reviewing the enchantments of his palatial rooms, the ones that kept some in, others out. He was the King, and his permissions were sacrosanct, whatever he decided was Law. In the end, he decided to re-work them so that even more of the palatial rooms were restricted from the rest of the Seelie fae. Very few people found their way into his palace in the first place, but it disturbed him that Efnisien had found Augus. Had he seen Augus, looking healthier than he should have at this stage of his captivity, and suspected?

Efnisien was crass, but no idiot.

Gwyn looked down at his hands as he stood, later, in the Seelie dungeon. They were shaking. Fungi winked blue-green light at him, he was surrounded by shadows. He’d changed the permissions a little while ago, so that only he might enter the entire dungeons – he was the only one who used them anyway, and he hadn’t wanted anyone else visiting Augus. But now he double-checked to make sure the permissions were still in place. He couldn’t afford someone like Albion coming down and noticing Augus was absent. He placed his hands against the dirt walls and felt for it – only his energy signature present, thrumming in response to him. Everyone else would be as unable to enter the dungeons at all, just as Augus had been unable to leave the invisible barrier of his own cell. Just as Augus now couldn’t leave the palace beyond the bounds of Gwyn’s will.

He needed to make sure his bases were covered. Realistically, the only way to ensure his bases were truly covered would be to demote Augus once more and shove him back in his cell and simply not visit him.

The thought of that turned Gwyn’s stomach. He wished, for once, that there was someone he could talk to about these things. He wanted to visit Pitch, perhaps. Except that Pitch was understandably unreasonable over the subject of Augus, and he was certain of what advice he would receive. Have you considered killing him? Outside of Pitch, he couldn’t think of anyone else to confide in.

He rescheduled a second emergency meeting with the factions of fae who were prepared to go to battle over the land dispute for the late evening.

Then, Efnisien’s threats. He had to know if they were only empty words, or if there was a kernel of truth to them.

And when he learned that, in fact, there was a plot against Augus’ brother, Gwyn set about doing the things that he knew how to do. The entire day was spent teleporting, gathering information, keeping Gulvi apprised of the situation. It was – at first glance – a flimsy plot, it seemed based on the premise that a co-King and Queen had less power overall and were easier to defeat. It was a lie. Gulvi and Ash were equally powerful, and bestowed with just as much raw magic as Gwyn was.

Gwyn could think of several reasons why Efnisien would be involved in such a plot – Crielle immediately came to mind. But to tell Augus of it? He became certain that aside from the thrill of threatening an ex-King, Efnisien would have used any and all information gathered as leverage against Gwyn. He and Efnisien had never seen anything eye to eye as children, and that had turned to flat, mutual hatred in Gwyn’s early twenties. At that time, Efnisien stopped seeing Gwyn as a victim, and started seeing him as an amusing threat.

What were you planning, cousin?

And of course, behind Efnisien, always his mother. They had been spending more time together, and she...

Gwyn’s teeth ground together.

He laid out his armour on his bed, teleported out of his room to look for something to clean his floor. He had trows who would gladly help him, but he had carved something of a quiet space for himself when he’d stopped relying on his servants so much back at his family’s estate, and started learning how to do these things for himself. The habits continued, and while the trows helped sometimes, he serviced his own core room. He preferred it that way.

He realised he might never know exactly what Efnisien was planning. Efnisien was secretive. His only confidante was Crielle, but otherwise, like Gwyn, he kept all of his games to himself until it came time to reveal his hand. Likely Crielle realised the full extent of his machinations, likely she had directed him towards them.

There was something eluding him about the plot. Why would a group of mid-level fae plot to take over Ash, who was so beloved? They weren’t waterfae, so it wasn’t a matter of vicarious revenge against Augus. They could not ever hope to have enough power to do anything meaningful other than make a show of attempting to demote him, so it wasn’t grounded in a serious bid for power.

If it wasn’t a true bid for power, and it wasn’t revenge related, it was a step in a larger plan. Gwyn considered that perhaps even Gulvi – as chaotic as she was – may have orchestrated an attempt against Ash to prove her own power as Queen when it came to defending her Court, saving Ash from peril. She would gain followers, loyalty. She was capable of that, even though she’d never truly harm Ash. But that was the rub, he didn’t think Gulvi would actually orchestrate anything that had the potential to harm Ash, even if it benefitted her in the long-term.

He frowned as he tossed away the liver, the blanket he’d used to cover it, and then went to work cleaning his own floorboards. Why would there be a plot against Ash at all? What would the endgame be? And did Efnisien and Crielle discover it and piggyback onto it, or had this been set in motion by them some time ago? Likely the latter.

Was it a convoluted play for the Seelie throne? Efnisien had boasted about doing just that when they were younger, and he’d always considered Gwyn the weakest out of the two of them. And Crielle didn’t want Gwyn on the throne and now that Augus and the Nightmare King were defeated, no one needed him on the throne.

He had to know her involvement, but of course she would not have shared what she had planned with anyone barring Efnisien. He was under no illusions that she was the puppet-master, Efnisien a willing puppet. But Efnisien had only talked to one person about the details – Augus had said there were details – and...

Gwyn realised, with a groan, that he’d have to talk to Augus about exactly what Efnisien had said. This was only one move on the chess-board, and he could feel himself, suddenly, a piece trapped and unable to recognise the other pieces that were hemming him in. He tried to put it out of his mind, but it stayed, cloying, while he put cleaning equipment away and then wiped his hands, ready – finally – for the rescheduled meeting.

He rubbed at his forehead and then strapped on his armour carefully, focusing on the ritual of the act.

He had to focus, there was a meeting to mediate. He wasn’t in the mood. His body felt like a betrayal. He had come so close to letting go of his light. He heard his father’s voice; Do you need to visit the old family estate again? Do you need to remember what kind of monster you are? Did he? He wanted to hide ensconced in his bed and stare up at the ceiling, as he always did when he needed to disappear.

He needed to disappear.

He didn’t have the time. There were things to do. 

*

Mediating amongst the two factions of Seelie fae was long and laborious. Hours passed, and everyone expected him to come up with a solution that would make everyone happy. But the only solution that would make everyone happy would be to stop humans from encroaching on their land, which wasn’t possible. Sacrifices had to be made, compromises were necessary. In the end, he managed to prevent a war that would have ended in lives lost, but he knew it wouldn’t be the end.

Instead of outright war, there would be plots and intrigues. The manipulations and blackmail would come. It took the fae centuries to adjust to restricted home sizes. And until they adjusted, they would ease their own process with sniping at one another, sometimes fatally, to resist looking at what they had truly lost.

He was melancholy when he made his way back to his room. He had spent his entire life attempting to avoid the notice of the Court, even though he was Court. He’d spent centuries avoiding even being present at the Seelie Court; electing to live out in forests wherever possible. He had thought he’d escaped everyone’s notice. He had assumed that everyone thought of him as a soldier; competent on the battlefield, and that was it.

His father had spent so long making him memorise historical strategies, the tactics and methods employed by different human cultures, different species of fae, that he’d unknowingly moved Gwyn into a position where he’d become more than a soldier. What had been a way to make Gwyn stay out of sight and therefore out of mind when growing up, turned into something that had – unbeknownst to him – brought him to the attention of the Inner Court fae who held the most power.

He’d gone from eking out – if not a satisfactory existence – then something less stressful than life could have been in the Courts, to feeling an unexpected, unwanted rush of profound power. His Kingship had invaded him on a sunny, warm afternoon, and forced him away from his forest cabin that very day. Even recreating his forest home as a palace in the Seelie Court hadn’t helped. He’d left the hide of a healthy stag halfway-tanned, arrow shafts that still needed fletching, a recurve bow that wasn’t fit for a King and was likely now in the possession of some other woodland sprite.

It had been such a shock to him, it had destabilised his centre of wildness, the only one he’d ever felt truly comfortable with. It never returned to him.

He removed his armour quickly, resigned to searching out Augus and asking him about Efnisien. That would not be a fun conversation, by any stretch of the imagination. He knew Augus would have something to say about being locked out of the innermost rooms, and no conversation ever went easily with Augus anyway. They never had. Even during their more light-hearted moments during the Wild Hunts, Augus was rarely genuinely laidback. Or, perhaps – Gwyn realised – it was more that he was only laidback when he was making everyone else around him uncomfortable.

Not that Gwyn ever found conversations especially easy with anyone. He seemed to be missing some basic skill-set. He laid the dra’ocht thick during diplomatic events and significant encounters with others, but he appreciated the short, abrupt way soldiers often spoke to each other, and every now and then, at the Wild Hunt, he was given glimpses of how things could be if he found conversation easier.

But it was never easy.

He put away his armour, shrugged on a new shirt, and stared around his room for several minutes. He sorted his thoughts out as best as he could and left his room, determined to get the confrontation with Augus over and done with.

He took no more than two steps out of the innermost circle of rooms when long, thick ropes of waterweed shot out and wrapped around his ankles and calves. He tripped and fell heavily, landing badly on his wrist. He turned to see Augus stepping out from behind a tree trunk, coils of waterweed lying heavy in his hand. Gwyn winced when a coarse, wet length of waterweed wrapped around his sore wrist and squeezed hard.

This was...perhaps what he should have expected.

He tried to push himself upright, but it was Augus who pulled him up with the help of his waterweed and shoved him back against a wooden log bench against the wall. More lengths of waterweed curled over Gwyn until he was secured in a sitting position by his wrists, his neck, his legs. Augus was standing over him, very close now, a calculating expression on his face.

When Gwyn opened his mouth to draw Augus’ attention back to the plot against his brother, Augus pushed two fingers into his mouth and pressed down on his tongue. His fingers felt lukewarm, which meant that Gwyn’s temperature was at least back to normal. Gwyn blinked up at Augus, not nearly as outraged as he should have been. Though he worried about being distracted, he really did have to ask about Efnisien. He resisted the urge to suck on Augus’ fingers, and kept his mouth carefully still.

‘No talking,’ Augus said. ‘Miss me?’

Gwyn’s eyes darted around the room and Augus smiled.

‘Worried someone else will see you like this? You should be. This is a very compromising position you’re in. I could, of course, make it more compromising, but then I doubt you’d be capable of listening to me.’

Augus’ fingers shifted, rubbed gently. Gwyn inhaled slowly through his nose, and Augus gave him a smile that was predatory.

‘It’s hard for you, isn’t it? I can tell you’re restraining yourself. I see it so rarely.’

Gwyn swallowed, and Augus nodded as though that had been the answer he was looking for.

‘We have to have a little chat,’ Augus said, turning his fingers sideways and then up and curling them down the roof of Gwyn’s mouth, as though he wanted him to come closer. Gwyn pressed himself back into the mossy wall behind him. He was King, this shouldn’t be happening, this arrangement was supposed to happen on his terms.

‘Although I have to say,’ Augus continued, ‘this is rather distracting. All I can wonder is how long I could keep my cock in your mouth, before you lost interest. And of course the answer to that is never.’

Augus turned his fingers again and gave Gwyn a lazy, confident look as he started mapping out the inside of his mouth. It was invasive, it felt...like the scene from three days ago hadn’t ended, was still going. It was a firm, knowing pressure, and Gwyn liked it. Unfortunately, the knowledge that Augus found this so easy to do, had immobilised Gwyn so quickly, turned that appreciation into something else entirely. Augus had said that Gwyn was vulnerable to losing his kingdom because he was so easy to take advantage of in this manner. What Augus hadn’t said was that he was the one planning on exploiting it.

Though Gwyn should have known, really.

‘You still don’t look your best and brightest, Gwyn,’ Augus said. ‘Still shaking off nearly killing me?’

Gwyn scowled. Augus’ expression was unfathomable, and then seconds later it hardened.

‘Well? Are you?’ he said, cold.

Augus withdrew his fingers, but left his thumb on Gwyn’s chin and kept the rest of his hand hovering nearby. Gwyn swallowed, located his sprawling thoughts and corralled them together. He tugged at the waterweeds binding him experimentally. There was no getting out of this mess without a serious show of power, using his light, or making a fool of himself.

‘I have news about the plot against Ash,’ Gwyn said. Augus frowned. The hand hovering over his face shifted and grabbed the side of Gwyn’s head, knotting in his hair.

‘You could have told me this sooner.’

‘You didn’t give me much of a chance,’ Gwyn said.

‘Then go on, do tell,’ Augus said. Gwyn laughed and raised his eyebrows.

‘I’m not talking about this with you until you’ve removed me from these restraints,’ he said. Augus waved his hand in a short, sharp motion and the waterweed withdrew immediately, then disappeared. Gwyn stood up and looked around the room. It was not safe.

‘We could go to your room, except, oh, I’m not permitted,’ Augus said.

Gwyn stood and paused, before placing a hesitant hand on Augus’ arm.

‘Your room will be fine,’ Gwyn said, and then teleported them both.

He was momentarily distracted when they arrived. He had sense-memories already associated with this room. He found himself looking around for a sign that he had been there, that Augus had fucked him here, but there was nothing. The bed was made, the room was spotless. Gwyn walked over to the closed door and leaned against it. Augus’ arms were folded, his expression intent.

‘What did Efnisien say to you?’ Gwyn said, and Augus laughed.

‘Oh no, what did you find out about my brother?’

‘It doesn’t work that way. I need to know what Efnisien said, in order to know exactly what’s happening.’

‘Gwyn...’ Augus said, threateningly, and Gwyn stepped away from the door, glared at Augus.

‘No. I don’t have patience for this. You will tell me. Your strength isn’t deciphering political intrigue. And don’t tell me about how you assisted the Raven Prince. After all of your help, he still didn’t see you coming, so he didn’t learn all that much from you, did he?’

Augus looked like he was seriously considering putting up a fight, and then he pulled out the chair at his desk and sat down, crossing one leg over the other. There was nothing casual about his expression though. For the briefest of moments, Gwyn wondered what it must be like, to have someone care so much in the way Ash and Augus cared about each other. His mind replied that it could only be dangerous, that it was no good thing. After all, Augus had almost been in full control of Gwyn, and now with only a few words, he was being made to tag along in a conversation he had no hope of controlling. All because of his brother.

‘Efnisien’s a talker. I’m not sure what you want to know,’ Augus said.

‘What did he say about the plot? You said he had details. And what did he say upon noticing you in these rooms, instead of down in the cell?’

‘You mean aside from promising that the only reason I’d been moved to nicer accommodations was so that it would be easier on the both of you when you fucked me?’ Augus drawled.

‘Yes, aside from that,’ Gwyn said, not falling for it.

‘When he saw me here, he was surprised,’ Augus said. ‘And then he seemed positively delighted. As to the plot itself. Let me see. He mentioned a mid-level fae faction who were going to exploit the fact that Ash is a weaker King, precisely because he’s co-King, and-’

‘That is not a fact,’ Gwyn said. ‘That is a myth.’

‘No, it isn’t,’ Augus said, eyes narrowing. ‘Everyone knows that when-’

‘Everyone is wrong. It is a myth. Ash and Gulvi have exactly as much power and status as I do. It is not halved because there is two of them.’

Augus pursed his lips.

‘Then why not just declare everyone King and Queen, and give as many fae as we want this super-charged status?’

‘The limit is two per Court,’ Gwyn said.

‘I suppose your Court education is how you know all of this,’ Augus said, and Gwyn shook his head.

‘Not quite. Efnisien bought into the myth as well, and he is also Court. I had to read a lot when I was younger.’

‘If this is the result of all of that reading, I would hate to see how dumb you were without all of those books.’

Gwyn held back laughter. Augus was uncomfortable. He was getting better at reading the spectrum of Augus’ discomfort and as a result, it was easier not to take his pettier insults so personally. Augus referring to Gwyn as stupid was something of a staple. He moved his hand briefly, to indicate that Augus should keep talking about what Efnisien had said.

Augus’ eyes flickered down, before moving back up and holding Gwyn’s gaze with his steady green one.

‘On the night of the Winter Solstice, the longest night, Efnisien said that you were going to draw me out of the cells and into the Wild Hunt – that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? He said it would be a publicised event, limited audience, but Seelie and Unseelie would be invited. As Gulvi is and has always been a member of the Hunts wherever possible, Efnisien was sure that Ash would find out. That, knowing I was in such danger, Ash would be drawn out, and make himself vulnerable in the process.’

Not such a bad plan after all, Gwyn thought, taking a breath. Efnisien was lying through his teeth that Gwyn was involved, and Ash was at full King status, replete with power. On the surface, it sounded false, but beneath that Gwyn could see the workings of his mother’s mind, and it sent a chill down the back of his spine.  

Likely, Efnisien or Crielle were planning on suggesting a Wild Hunt with Augus as the sport to the entire Court. The Seelie Court for the most part loathed Augus, and Gwyn could not have said no to such a suggestion without coming across as a weak King. The Wild Hunt was considered fair and neutral ground. If Augus had been put up as the quarry, both sides would have claimed it to be an example of fair justice, even though it would have been nothing but. And if Crielle became the mascot for the idea, Gwyn would risk turning the cliques with the most influence against him.

‘Did Efnisien say that I knew of this already?’ Gwyn said, and Augus took a breath. He blinked out of the calculating expression he’d been directing at Gwyn.

‘Yes. It wasn’t so much of a leap for me to imagine that this would be something you’d plan, and I’m sure you know why.’

The memory of that night lay between them, and Gwyn took a second, shakier breath.

If Gwyn agreed to put Augus up as the quarry in the Wild Hunt, Efnisien would have a clear opportunity to make an aggressive move against Ash, who would have been lured out and vulnerable. Ash would survive it, but Augus likely wouldn’t, and the Unseelie Court would be dealt a damaging blow; Ash wouldn’t be stable after Augus’ death, he wasn’t stable now. Gulvi would expect Gwyn’s support, but he wasn’t able to publically show such support of the Unseelie King and Queen, which Crielle would know, and Efnisien had enough nous to figure that out as well.

Gwyn’s teeth ground together. He felt ill and absurdly grateful Efnisien was dead.

For, of course, if Gwyn refused to put Augus up for sport – which Crielle would have known was more likely – it wouldn’t have mattered how pretty or fair his speech was, it wouldn’t even have mattered if his Court accepted the words as a true transmission from his centre of justice. Crielle and Efnisien would have their proof that Gwyn was showing a display of unseemly weakness. It could be a potentially decisive blow against his Kingship. Gwyn still had a lot of social currency simply based on the fact that the Nightmare King had been defeated during his reign, but it would have been possible. The reign of the Nightmare King was already not so fresh, and Augus was still alive...the fae might begin to be swayed towards a more ruthless King.

And Efnisien had been demonstrating less public cruelty lately. Was he slowly trying to alter his reputation to make himself more suitable for potential Kingship in the future? Was he hoping to make everyone forget centuries of measured, evil monstrosities? The worst part, it could have worked. Centres changed, the fae could have believed in him given enough time. Crielle had him well-groomed to behave within the Court, and even in a short period of time, he was well-favoured.

‘Did Efnisien say anything in relation to me and the Unseelie Court?’ Gwyn said, and Augus’ brows drew together, as though he didn’t expect the question.

‘Actually he did,’ Augus said slowly. ‘He said that even Gulvi was a part of the plan, that she had been a member of the Wild Hunt for a long time, and always wanted to reign solo as Queen. I found that harder to believe. You have seen her around Ash. The likelihood that she would do anything to harm him is exceedingly slim. But alongside this, Efnisien said that you could talk Gulvi into the plan, because you had that kind of power over the Unseelie Court, given that you demoted me and installed them into their current positions, and that they owe you an unusual amount of debt.’

I am glad that he’s dead.

‘He acted like he was part of your inner circle, and it was easy to believe,’ Augus said, shaking his head. ‘I didn’t think it was common knowledge that you’d begun manipulating the Unseelie Court into supporting Gulvi as Queen, well before I was even demoted.’

‘It’s not,’ Gwyn said, ‘Efnisien was confirming a suspicion. He floated the idea and you reacted in a way that confirmed what he suspected. If my Court knew how often I’d met with the Inner and Outer Court of the Unseelie, they would have had something to say about it. And none of it good. For all that they talk of Seelie and Unseelie cooperation, they do not truly want it.’

‘Will you tell me about this plan against Ash? Is it halted? Surely the death of Efnisien is not enough to stop it from going ahead.’

‘Did Efnisien say anything about me?’

‘Concentrate for at least five minutes, Gwyn, this isn’t about y-’

Augus stood up in a single, fluid movement and stared at Gwyn.

‘Are you saying he wasn’t planning on attacking Ash?’

‘No,’ Gwyn said grimly. ‘Now will you answer my question, please.’

Augus’ face darkened as he tried to make the connections that Gwyn had made. He then looked at Gwyn with an expression that Gwyn couldn’t read.

‘He said that I looked surprisingly well, given that I was your prisoner and that I should have been drying out. He made some joke that you were giving me water to keep me well-fuelled for fucking, but he seemed honestly surprised that I was not manacled, and that I was free to walk around. There were a few minutes, before he mentioned any plan at all, where I thought that I was not the one who should be watching my back around him. This was a plot against you, wasn’t it?’

‘And your brother,’ Gwyn said. ‘And likely you as well. Efnisien doesn’t come up with plans that have only one favourable outcome. He sets himself up so that every possible result is favourable.’

Gwyn left out the part where he was certain that this was his mother, because Augus didn’t need to know that.

‘Except for the part where I destroyed him,’ Augus said darkly, and Gwyn’s smile echoed his.

‘Except for that part. Likely he never expected that an underfae could triumph over a Court fae.’

‘Is the plan still...in effect?’ Augus said and Gwyn nodded.

‘I’m not sure how successful they’ll be. Medium-level fae against a King? Please. Ash was a brawler, was he not? And Gulvi is aware of what’s happening, and has stepped up security in her Court. Efnisien was – from what I can tell – manipulating mid-level Unseelie fae into a vicarious revenge plot, it won’t work now that he’s dead.’

The other plots however...Crielle could be suggesting a Wild Hunt to the Court at this very moment, suggesting more exciting prey, a certain waterhorse perhaps. She knows I would refuse. She has always known how much I hate killing fae outside of battle.

‘What aren’t you telling me? How is this about you?’ Augus said, and Gwyn didn’t feel like going into it, because taking a walk through his family’s minds to try and figure out exactly what was going on, reminded him too much of growing up around them. Crielle had loathed him from birth, and was cruel and vindictive, not opposed to harming him physically or mentally. Efnisien liked immediate and long-term gratification. Even as a teenager, he would take advantage of an impromptu spot of cruelty, even while working on some other plot that would take two or three months to execute.

Perhaps Gwyn should have informed his father that Efnisien was surprisingly helpful at inadvertently teaching him battle strategies and tactics.

‘You can rest assured that Ash will not befall any danger,’ Gwyn said, slipping into the formality easily. He’d found out what he needed to find out. He would scour his own Court for the worst of Crielle and Efnisien’s sympathisers and find a way to eject them if he could. If someone came forth and asked about submitting Augus to the Wild Hunt as quarry...he’d still be obligated to say yes.

Gwyn would have to pay the King of the Forest a visit. If he could get the support of the white stag, then Gwyn’s refusal to allow Augus to be a part of the Wild Hunt, no matter who suggested it, would be cause enough for everyone to dismiss the idea once they knew he had the King of the Forest’s support. That was if he could get it.

‘Look at you, still thinking,’ Augus said, walking over. Gwyn opened the door quickly, recognising that it was time to leave, and Augus raised his eyebrows. ‘And now the hasty retreat? Like last time? I don’t think so. Didn’t I say that we had to have a little chat?’

Augus reached out and removed Gwyn’s hand from the doorknob, closed the door again. Gwyn wasn’t sure exactly how Augus was doing it, but he felt crowded. Augus leaned in and pressed his lips against Gwyn’s ear.

‘If you teleport out of here, I will find you, and I will rip you apart.’

Gwyn’s eyes widened.

‘I’m not going to-’

‘Sit down on the bed, I have some things to discuss with you about this arrangement.’

‘We don’t have an arrangement,’ Gwyn said, and Augus laughed.

‘Sit.’

Gwyn rubbed a hand over his head.

‘I think we should re-establish the fact that I am King of this Court, and that you are-’

The fist that Augus clenched in Gwyn’s hair lashed out quickly, Gwyn was dragged down forcibly to his knees. The hand in his hair gave a shake and Gwyn’s breath escaped him on a pained hiss. There was nothing relenting about that grip.

‘I’m sick of this. You revoke my status right now, and put me back in that cell, or sit down on the bed.’

Gwyn swallowed. He should. He should do it now that he had the opening. He should.

‘Well?’ Augus said, something dangerous in his voice. ‘Are we going to keep playing this game? Because I’ll play it, if you like. But you won’t like the outcome. Remind me that you are King of this Court, that I am your prisoner. Please.’

Gwyn reached up and grasped Augus’ wrist, when Augus’ hand tightened so hard he felt hair pulling out of his scalp. Augus dug the fingernails of his free hand into pressure points that made Gwyn’s whole arm feel like it was burning, and he yanked it back. It was the first time Augus had used pressure points against him, and it felt awful. He knew Augus had been trained in the art, but he had almost forgotten he could do it. His arm still ached.

‘Efnisien knew I was your prisoner. The whole fae world knows that I’m your prisoner. Even I know it, because I’m stuck here. If you think that reminding me that you put me here, that you put my brother in a position where he is about to be attacked, is going to help you... oh, I despair of you, Gwyn. You’re just going to get hurt.’

Let me go. Gwyn didn’t dare utter the words because they would damn him. He could, after all, still teleport. Even if Augus came with him because his grip was so tight, the teleportation would be enough that Gwyn could still shake him off. He could even use the light. Though no, he couldn’t, he couldn’t use it, not after last time. It was too close to the surface.

‘I’m going to take your silence as agreement that when I let go of your hair, you are going to sit down on that bed and listen to me. If you don’t, this will go very differently. I may actually push you to the point where you have no choice but to revoke my status. Do you understand?’

Gwyn nodded, winced at the pain in his head.

Augus let go and Gwyn stood, walked over to the bed and sat down on it, rubbing at the back of his scalp. Any more force, and he was certain he would have been bleeding.

Gwyn watched as Augus drew the pocket knife out of his desk drawer again. He tossed it over to Gwyn, who caught it, bemused.

‘You’re going to make a blood-oath of your own, today,’ Augus said, quietly, turning his desk chair around and sitting so he could face Gwyn. His face was free of any smirks, surprisingly serious.

‘Excuse me?’ Gwyn said, looking at the pocket knife and then back at Augus.

‘You ran. And then you locked me out. Do you know, I have had clients and colleagues refuse aftercare before, at least at first, but there’s always a point where they succumb because they understand its necessity. And I thought, at first, that this was your play. You would run, and I would – exhausted, I might add – follow you. But you were making no false play, were you? I don’t trust you to allow me to administer aftercare.’

‘I don’t need aftercare,’ Gwyn said, furrowing his brow. Was this what this was about?

‘No?’ Augus said, uncrossing his legs and leaning forward. ‘Gwyn, might I remind you that you almost couldn’t keep down water?’

Gwyn hid the pocket knife in his fist and maintained a confident eye contact he did not feel.

‘I slept, as you suggested. But on my own, which makes a great deal of sense, given that you yourself said I shouldn’t trust you. I fail to see how-’

‘Why did you allow me to administer aftercare the first time you visited me? Back then?’ Augus said, tilting his head, as though Gwyn was a puzzle he couldn’t quite figure out.

‘I didn’t ‘allow’ it,’ Gwyn said, laughing cheerlessly at the memory, ‘I don’t recall that I had a great command of language after you were through with me, that first time.’

‘So you wouldn’t have allowed it?’ Augus said, confused. ‘Gwyn, I don’t do one and not the other. They’re part of the same offering. Two sides of the same coin. I...’

Gwyn swallowed when he realised that Augus was actually speechless. He opened his hand and looked at the pocket knife, frowning. He didn’t need to be fussed over. That wasn’t what this was about. He’d done the wrong thing, he deserved-

‘You say your mother has been working against you. Efnisien might be plotting against you. Your family aren’t the supportive bastions they appear to be, are they? Is this madness your family’s doing?’ Augus said, and though the words were directed at Gwyn, they were quiet enough that he might as well have been talking to himself. ‘What a convoluted maze it is, inside that head of yours.’

‘Augus-’

‘If you do not blood-oath to me that you will allow me to administer aftercare, for a length of time that I deem sufficient, then that’s it. We are done. This? It’s done.’

Gwyn was shocked when he realised that Augus was serious. He could never imagine a circumstance where Augus would pass up dominating someone, especially his captor, in a situation like this.

‘Don’t be ridi-’

No,’ Augus stood and glared. ‘This isn’t negotiable, Gwyn. It’s a blood-oath, or nothing.’

Gwyn moved the pocket knife between his hands. He didn’t like blood-oaths at the best of times. He’d do it, if he had to, but he felt them heavy in his cells. Why blood-oath for this, of all things? It was just trivial.

‘Look at you,’ Augus laughed, though there was a breathless quality to it. He stepped up to Gwyn and looked down at him, and Gwyn stared up, belligerent. ‘Perhaps I should have expected this, from the one who only made me blood-oath not to murder or permanently injure him, but left everything else wide open.’

‘You didn’t give me enough time,’ Gwyn said, clenching his teeth together.

‘Pick up the pocket knife, and blood-oath that you’ll let me give you aftercare.’

A strange, horrified pounding stuttered in Gwyn’s heart.

‘Why? What do you want to do?’

Augus stared at him, the corners of his lips turned down.

‘What do you think aftercare is, Gwyn?’ Augus said. ‘It’s clear that whatever is going on in that blockhead of yours, you think it’s worse than what has actually been done to you. Yet here you are, still requiring it because you wouldn’t let it happen three days ago.’

‘Did you sleep?’ Gwyn asked, and Augus narrowed his eyes.

‘Yes, I slept. A day and then some. Focus, please.’

‘I don’t still require it from the other day, this is the most absurd conversation I’ve had with you since-’

‘First,’ Augus said, holding up a finger. ‘I pushed you too hard. More than once. Second, you were not in any state to run your kingdom before you force-fed me liver and you definitely weren’t afterwards; I would like you to keep in mind that when you put your own position as King in jeopardy, I become unfortunately and rather acutely aware of the position I’m in. Third-

‘Augus, I-’

‘I apologise, it must have sounded like I was asking for your opinion, when in actual point of fact I was not. You will listen to me. I pushed you too hard. And you would have required extensive aftercare even if I hadn’t, because that’s the direction you slide, Gwyn.’

It is not, Gwyn thought, but he didn’t dare say it, because Augus looked like he was losing whatever patience he had left.

He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t want to blood-oath that he would stay for aftercare, he didn’t want that. But he didn’t want this new dynamic to be over, either. He worried he would be taken advantage of, hurt, manipulated, but Augus had been right. A part of him needed what Augus had to offer. A part of him had maybe always needed that. And he didn’t know if he could be the one to walk away from their exchange.

His mind wasn’t helping. The memory of the thoughts in his mind draining away under the care of someone else, Augus’ cock in his mouth, of the way Augus’ breathing had changed and turned ragged, knowing now that that was how he sounded when he was close... he didn’t want to give that up.

‘This must be hard for you,’ Augus said quietly, taking the pocket knife and flipping up the blade, before placing it, just so, back in Gwyn’s hand.

‘I don’t want you to ask me to sleep again,’ Gwyn said.

‘If you remember, I had retracted the request that you sleep.’

Gwyn turned the pocket knife in his hands again, keeping his fingers free of the sharp blade. Augus’ palm settled on the top of his head and he told himself that he didn’t flinch.

‘You want what I can give to you,’ Augus said. ‘Let’s not prevaricate and pretend you don’t. I do know I was right when I pointed out that you weren’t just trying to break me in that cell. I can tell you think this is extreme, me asking this of you. I do see that, Gwyn. I’m taking that into account.’

‘Why are you being like this?’ Gwyn said, and Augus shifted his hand on Gwyn’s hair, sighed.

‘Are you going to make the blood-oath or not?’

‘You’ll use it against me,’ Gwyn said, surprised at how strained he sounded. He winced when he realised his voice was shaking. Augus’ hand in his hair paused and then he feathered fingers through several strands of hair. ‘You told me not to trust you,’ Gwyn added.

‘It is a yes or no question,’ Augus said crisply. ‘Are you going to blood-oath or not? Make a decision, Gwyn. I can’t force you to blood-oath. And you don’t like that, do you? This would be easier if I could just make you do it. You do understand why I can’t, don’t you?’

Not particularly, Gwyn frowned.

‘When will this be starting?’ he asked.

‘If you blood-oath now, then now,’ Augus said. ‘I seem to recall a time when you asked me to choose between comfort and a gag, do you remember that? You should. Did you know that you had a problem with comfort also?’

That was it, Gwyn realised, he couldn’t do this. Augus didn’t offer promises of aftercare laced with cruelty, he offered the real thing. For all that Gwyn worried that Augus would somehow use it against him, manipulate him into giving Augus more power, he was acutely aware that between the two of them, Gwyn had attempted to do more damage. There had been nothing merciful in him when he’d given Augus that choice. That Augus could then turn around and offer something without – it seemed – actually wanting to hurt him, it wasn’t right.

He was halfway through getting up when Augus placed a hand on his shoulder and applied light pressure.

‘Some warrior you are,’ Augus said. ‘Coward. What must it have been like, I wonder? Lludd as your father, Efnisien as your first cousin and you two of an age. Your mother, her centre was appearance, was it not?’

‘It still is,’ Gwyn said.

‘Don’t they just represent everything that is best and brightest about the Seelie Court? You say your mother did not support you being King, but did your father? Did he help manoeuvre you into that position? Was it your birthright?’

Gwyn closed his eyes, he very carefully said nothing.

‘Was it seasoning first on the battlefield? Nights spent studying and learning what it might mean to be Seelie King?’

‘Augus-’

‘We lived close by, do you know? When I learned of you – this young, aristocratic creature born with a silver spoon in his mouth... You were lucky our paths didn’t cross.’

Gwyn looked up at Augus, and was surprised to see no smirk, no hint of the condescension he expected.

‘What you must have thought of me then, when I turned up at your home, half-mad,’ Gwyn said, laughing in spite of himself.

Half?’ Then Augus did laugh, he moved until he could sit down on the bed next to Gwyn, still laughing. ‘If that was you half-mad, I’m not sure I want to know what the entirety of your madness looks like. Do you force ten sons to eat their father’s dead hearts, instead of just the one? Do you...’

Gwyn looked fixedly at the door when he saw the way Augus was looking at him.

‘I’d like you to make the blood-oath now,’ Augus said, all traces of mirth gone from his voice. ‘Ah, it confuses me. You’re not doing so well, are you?’

Gwyn blinked at the gentleness that smoothed and lightened Augus’ voice. He looked down at the blade of the pocket knife, a bland silver, and then startled when Augus placed a hand flat on his back.

‘All you need to do is oath that you will allow me to administer aftercare, for a length of time that I deem sufficient. That’s all.’

Gwyn took a deep breath and placed the edge of the blade at his little finger. Augus’ hand was warming against his back, the touch oddly neutral. Augus said nothing as Gwyn made the nick in his finger, closing the pocket knife. Augus reached forwards and took it away with his other hand, placing it down on the bed.

Gwyn watched the blood well, closed his eyes.

‘I, Gwyn ap Nudd, blood-oath to allow Augus Each Uisge to administer aftercare, for...a length of time that he deems sufficient.’

He brought his little finger up to his lips, to remove the blood, but Augus caught his wrist with his hand.

‘Thank you,’ Augus said, drawing Gwyn’s wrist to his own mouth and licking off the small droplet of blood with a warm flick of his tongue. The blood-oath activated. It was an almost-bruise under his skin. The hand on his back dropped, and Gwyn felt the cool air that rushed to replace it as an acute, uncomfortable flash of sensation.

‘Crudely worded,’ Augus added, using the hand around Gwyn’s wrist to encourage him further onto the bed. ‘No definition of aftercare, no stipulations, nothing. anyone would think the subject made you deeply uncomfortable.’

‘Can we just get this over and done with?’ Gwyn said, lying down reluctantly when Augus pushed him down onto his back. Gwyn brought both of his knees up, and then folded his arms across his chest.

Augus took one of his wrists within his fingers and then tugged, repeatedly, while leaning over him.

‘Here,’ Augus said, moving Gwyn’s wrist until his hand was braced on Augus’ arm. ‘Like this.’

‘I don’t understand-’

Breath escaped him when Augus lowered himself down until he could press his lips against Gwyn’s. He kissed with a closed mouth, and then opened his lips only slightly so he could drag them across Gwyn’s, damp hair tracing wet patterns in Gwyn’s shirt, across his neck. Gwyn’s hand tightened on Augus’ arm reflexively, and Augus smiled against his lips.

‘This isn’t aftercare,’ Gwyn said, stupidly.

‘You don’t even know what aftercare is,’ Augus said against his mouth. ‘You don’t know that it has to change, depending on the circumstances. You don’t know that it’s different per person. It changes depending on the hour, the day, the need.’

Augus had modulated his voice. Even without compulsion, it was hypnotic, and the last thing Gwyn saw as he let his eyes close, were the calculating green of Augus’.

‘Tell me about Efnisien,’ Augus said, kissing the corner of his mouth. ‘Tell me what it meant to have him as your cousin, when his centre was cruelty.’

Gwyn sighed. His other hand came up and he pressed fingers into his eyes. The headache he hadn’t been able to shake entirely was returning in force.

‘I fail to see how this is aftercare.’

‘Indulge me,’ Augus said. ‘I’m curious. Truly. What was it like, growing up with him? You weren’t friends, were you?’

No,’ Gwyn said, and Augus kissed him chastely with a closed mouth in response.

‘Was his centre always cruelty?’

‘Yes,’ Gwyn said, and Augus chuckled.

‘What a nightmare he must have been for his parents.’

Gwyn shrugged. It was a nightmare for everyone. And, yet, even though his family had minded their hounds and horses and hunting falcons around him, he had still had his appetites indulged. The key with Efnisien, according to his blood-line, was simply ‘redirection.’ He was permitted to be cruel, as long as he found the right place to direct it. His father counselled that cruelty didn’t matter, especially on a battle-field, where it could be an asset. Unfortunately for Gwyn, the family thought he was a wonderful target for redirection.

‘What a nightmare he must have been for you,’ Augus continued, and then opened his mouth against Gwyn’s properly, licking a hot, wet stripe across the seam of his closed lips. ‘Open, Gwyn. Open for me.’

Gwyn shuddered at the words, warmth curled through him and one of his legs straightened. His mouth opened automatically. Augus licked at his bottom lip, slowly, and then slanted his mouth over Gwyn’s and exhaled softly against him. It was simple, sensual, and when Augus withdrew, Gwyn took a deep, slow breath. He began to relax in spite of himself.

‘Were you made to play together? I know how it is, when you have two young fae that are a similar age. Everyone over two centuries expects that they will just enjoy each other’s company by default. So of course...’

‘Of course,’ Gwyn said, thinking that was one of the most stupid of fae presumptions. That age would correlate directly with friendship.

‘He must have made your life miserable.’

Gwyn shook his head.

‘It wasn’t as bad as you presume. I could often outsmart him, and on those occasions I would leave him to his own devices.’

Often?’ Augus said, ‘and pray tell what occurred on the occasions when you could not outsmart him?’

‘Well, I would heal, wouldn’t I?’ Gwyn said, brow furrowing. ‘We were Outer Court even then, there wasn’t much he could do that would leave lasting damage. And he wouldn’t risk mother’s wrath by leaving anything like a scar. Her centre is appearance, remember?’

Augus was silent for some time, and Gwyn wondered what he was thinking. But just as he thought he should check that Augus wasn’t distracted, Augus pressed his mouth against Gwyn’s again. He kept the kiss languid, leaned closer, reaching underneath Gwyn’s head so that he could trace firm fingers along the back of his neck. Gwyn was surprised at how good that felt, moaned. When Augus had talked about aftercare, Gwyn didn’t know he meant this.

‘Your cousin abused you,’ Augus said, as he withdrew, ‘and the only way you could stop it, was – at least for a while – to run away from him.’

Gwyn narrowed his eyes at Augus, confused, and Augus was frowning at him.

‘Your family is a nest of adders,’ Augus said. ‘And you? What kind of snake are you?’

A chill crept over him at that, and Gwyn felt tension flood through his body. Augus leaned in to kiss him once more, and Gwyn jerked backwards. Augus looked vexed, and then the fingers at the back of his neck started stroking again.

‘Am I still pushing you too hard?’ Augus said, ‘Really?’

He leaned in again, and Gwyn decided he’d had enough. It wasn’t that he hated it, it was just that he didn’t spend time with people like this. He could never tell when he was in dangerous territory. It wasn’t like looking at a chess board, or a map, and knowing where to go next.

Gwyn lurched sideways, pushed himself up off the bed and-

-A terrible pain ripped straight through his chest, rust and nails splitting through him. He hunched in on himself, heard the echo of his own cry in his head, had a fist pressed up hard against his sternum and focused on breathing, because gasping – even though it carried the illusion of breathing – was not the same thing. His cells felt like they were burning from the inside, and it was an old, familiar agony. He didn’t know what to do to make it stop, there was nothing else except the pain, and trying to suppress the pain.

After a few minutes he became aware of a hand rubbing circles into his upper back. He was shaking. Another hand was pulling gently at his shoulder.

‘Gwyn, come along, lie down. Lie down. Can you hear me? Are you listening?’

Gwyn made a sound of acknowledgement, and Augus swore in what sounded like relief.

‘Lie down, Gwyn. Come along now. Lie down. You almost broke the blood-oath, you stupid fool.’

His eyes opened wide, realising that Augus was right. He lowered himself back onto the bed in stilted movements, and Augus followed, mouth pinched with worry.

It was all so odd. This was not the Augus he had come to expect from his actions as the Unseelie King, this was very much an Augus he had met a long time ago, the one that Ash remembered. Could that even be possible? And if it was, when had it happened?

‘I expected you to have difficulty with this oath, but not like this,’ Augus said, as Gwyn bent his legs once more, folded his arms over his chest. ‘Not within ten minutes of making it.’

‘Good to know I can surprise you,’ Gwyn managed, chest aching. He was exhausted.

‘Yes, it’s fantastic. How much pain are you in again? Tell me how good that is for you.’

Gwyn didn’t reply, too busy trying to breathe through the pain. It was still sharp. It felt as though foreign objects were clogging his veins and arteries. He hated fae law at the best of times, he loathed blood-oaths.

Augus slid his fingers under Gwyn’s folded arms until his palm was resting over his heart. He measured its beat, which Gwyn didn’t think would be too difficult, as he could feel it pounding away himself.

‘You idiot,’ Augus said quietly. ‘You idiot.’

‘Is this also aftercare?’ Gwyn said, voice hoarse with pain, and Augus actually bared his teeth at him in a snarl.

‘You have to let me learn how to do this for you. You blood-oathed it Gwyn, you can’t just quit, remember? Not until I deem it sufficient aftercare. And I don’t.

‘Release me from the oath,’ Gwyn said, as he lowered his head back to the pillows, wishing the pain would just ease off. He understood, already, that he’d almost broken the oath. He didn’t need the oath to keep reminding him of that fact.

‘No,’ Augus said, putting his hand up to Gwyn’s lips and stroking them. ‘No. I won’t. Definitely not now.’

He licked his way along Gwyn’s jawline, all the way up to the upper rise of his cheekbone, where he then shifted so that he could press his lips against Gwyn’s once more, asking permission by licking against his closed mouth, patient and slow, until Gwyn sighed and realised that he wanted this part. He wanted it more than he thought he could. His mind was clearing, the headache was falling away. For the first time since waking up, he felt something that was almost good. It was so rare that he wanted to preserve it for years. He never felt like this. Augus’ hand was still pressed against his chest, still measuring his heartbeat.

He opened his mouth, touched Augus’ tongue as it slid in carefully, and Augus made an approving noise that went a long way to soothing the pain in his chest. He leaned up, wanting to see if he could draw the noise forth again, and Augus chuckled and pulled backwards.

‘Slow,’ Augus said. ‘I’m not fucking you. You’re not fucking me. It’s just this.’

‘Yes, okay,’ Gwyn said, and Augus kissed him again, a smile on his lips. He pressed closed lips to the edges of Gwyn’s mouth, ran his tongue again over Gwyn’s bottom lip, his top lip, and then shifted so that he was leaning closer. His fingers pressed into Gwyn’s chest, and Gwyn’s arms unlocked. He lifted one arm and curled fingers around Augus’ shoulder, heart leaping when Augus made that approving noise again; half-hum, half-groan.

The pain eased further, and Gwyn straightened one of his legs, followed Augus’ pace. For all that Augus didn’t believe him, Gwyn wasn’t interested in fucking. He was too tired. The day had been too long. But this was...good. Unexpected, but still good.

‘The first thing you did, when you woke up, was start chasing up that plot against my brother. Wasn’t it?’ Augus whispered against his mouth, and Gwyn shrugged.

‘I got dressed first.’

‘You’re sure Ash will be safe?’

‘I’m not done with following this up. I’ll tell you when I’m sure,’ Gwyn said, and then he forgot what he was going to say next when Augus slid his tongue back into his mouth. Augus took the lead and the kiss was a slow, drugging affair that ended with Gwyn hesitantly carding his fingers through Augus’ damp hair and finding something like relaxation threading all the way through him. Augus withdrew slowly, and Gwyn absently licked at the thin string of saliva that connected them.

Augus looked down at Gwyn appraisingly.

‘I didn’t realise you had problems sleeping around others,’ Augus said, ‘I do as well. I wouldn’t have suggested it, if I had known.’

Gwyn opened his mouth to reply, but Augus kissed him again. Gwyn went with it. He often ignored kissing in his own encounters with others, it was too intimate, it distracted him from what he was trying to do. But Gwyn enjoyed it very much. He didn’t bother opening his eyes when Augus withdrew again, only shifted so that he was more comfortable on the bed. The ache in his chest was a distant memory, the blood-oath itself already feeling surprisingly more settled within his skin.

‘There, there we go,’ Augus said quietly. ‘You hold yourself back from it, don’t you?’

‘From what?’ Gwyn said, but Augus didn’t reply. He rubbed his hand over Gwyn’s chest, ducked his head until damp hair was brushing against Gwyn’s cheek.

‘I don’t think you need to stay here anymore, if you don’t wish to. I think this is sufficient, especially for someone with...the problems you have with this. But I’d like for you to stay longer. No one will come in here. It will be quiet. I do know you like quiet.’

Gwyn blinked and realised that Augus was releasing him from the aftercare. Gwyn considered getting up, leaving as quickly as possible, but if he went back to his own room, he would only teleport straight back out again. There were always things to do in the Seelie Court. Especially now that he had to make sure he wouldn’t be put in the awkward position of having to explain why he flatly refused to allow Augus to be a quarry in the Wild Hunt.

‘Stay,’ Augus said, kissing him gently. ‘Stay.’

‘An hour,’ Gwyn said, and Augus nodded, his lips shifting against Gwyn’s mouth with the movement. Then Augus slanted his lips over Gwyn’s and they kissed until Gwyn felt himself start to stir. Augus withdrew and looked down with sleepy eyes, blown pupils.

‘I’m stopping now,’ Augus said, smiling. ‘We’re just going to lie here for an hour. And then you can decide what you want to do after that.’

Augus moved until he was lying alongside Gwyn, one arm across his torso, hand up and over his chest.

‘So this is aftercare?’ Gwyn said, realising that he was getting used to parts of his body being damp as a result of Augus’ hair.

‘Right now, yes. Later? Who knows.’

‘Because it changes,’ Gwyn said, deciding that he just...didn’t need to move for a little while. He lowered his other leg carefully, and Augus immediately slung his leg over it. It was possessive, but Gwyn couldn’t bring himself to mind. He licked his lips, tasted Augus on them. He kept expecting to start panicking, to fear how quickly and easily Augus had brought him to heel; but the panic felt far away. It had fallen so far he didn’t even want to reach for it anymore.

It could wait.

Chapter Text

To say he felt shaken by the events of the past few weeks was an understatement. How he’d managed to end up with Augus getting him to blood-oath that he’d accept aftercare, of all things, was something that he still felt bewildered about. If he thought about it for too long, he ended up getting very distracted in meetings, trying to figure out at which point his life had become completely unrecognisable.

He wanted something of normalcy back, wanted to remind himself that he was – actually – in charge of the situation he found himself in. The very idea made a tiny part of his mind burst into derisive laughter, but that part of his mind sounded a littlelike Augus, and he shoved it away.

Gwyn carried a thin, wooden box, his heart thumping with anticipation. He’d had some very interesting conversations over the past week, with some very interesting people. He’d ended up outsourcing a small amount of labour to a discreet metal-smith. He spoke a long forgotten dialect that Gwyn himself only knew because his father had encouraged him to study lost languages when he was younger; although that was so that he might learn rare or forgotten war strategies and apply them in battle.

Augus had given him an idea, and finally he decided to act on it. There weren’t many people he could ask ‘What is sounding?’ to, and in the end he’d requested a private audience with Gulvi and put the question to her.

Once she’d stopped laughing at him, she’d asked him why he wanted to know, eyebrows arched and face wearing the tiredness of someone new to being Queen and still finding her way through it all. Gwyn shrugged, which he’d used as explanations before, and  Gulvi accepted and had explained it to him. Eventually he’d realised that she was delighting in making him squirm, and he asked her to be more serious. At that, she’d shaken her head and actually explained it so that it didn’t sound like a horror story.

And now he held a thin, wooden box, carried a thin line of tension down the back of his spine.

Augus was waiting for him when Gwyn entered his main bedroom. He was sitting in a chair, one leg folded neatly over the other, moving his foot slowly back and forth and staring at the doorway even as Gwyn entered. Augus could always tell when he was coming, though Gwyn rarely approached quietly. Augus looked at the box, intrigued. He closed the book that he’d been reading – something about humanitarian philosophy – and Gwyn stared at the title in shock. Augus looked at the title himself and then grimaced.

'It’s not to my taste,’ he said, though he sounded oddly defensive as he said it.

‘Come with me,’ Gwyn said, and Augus smirked at him.

‘Am I back to being a prisoner again?’

‘You are a prisoner,’ Gwyn said, voice hardening, and reached out with his free hand to clench his fingers around Augus’ upper arm.

He teleported them to one of the lesser used rooms in the interior of his circular, maze-like home. He eschewed the rooms covered with moss and bracken, carpeted with lichen, and brought them both instead to a sprawling bedroom panelled in pale ash. It was a bedroom, study, it even had a stretch of cleared space wide and long enough for shortsword drills whenever Gwyn decided he needed to brush up on his weapons skills. Wooden stools and chairs were up against the wall, by the bed, in the middle of the walkways. It wasn’t so much that he used them – he hardly ever used them – it was that he couldn’t decide on a final design, and so kept choosing, hoping the right one would present itself. In the end the room had ended up with too many and Gwyn had simply moved to another one.

He’d developed some strange habits, since becoming King.

‘Always a hoarder,’ Augus said quietly, looking at the collection of stools.

‘Sit,’ Gwyn pointed to a chair, and Augus simply folded his arms.

‘Oh no,’ Augus laughed, ‘don’t start taking my obedience for granted.’

‘Do you think I take your obedience for granted?’ Gwyn said, and Augus shrugged eloquently.

Gwyn thought of different things he could say, but instead he opened the box, and let Augus’ eyes wander over the long, metal sounds. Augus’ eyes narrowed, and then his lips tightened into a scowl.

‘I sincerely hope you’re showing me these to illustrate that you’d like me to try. On you.’

Gwyn smiled, he couldn’t help himself. Augus’ eyes widened.

‘If you recall, you were the one who suggested it, Augus,’ Gwyn said and Augus threw his hands into the air. The gesture was so exasperated that Gwyn suddenly felt like he was younger, when his sword-master had frequently made the same gesture in a mixture of frustration and impatience when Gwyn had taken too long to learn a new skill.

‘Yes, I also brought up blood. First. So why don’t you go get some sharpened knives, come back, and you’d still do less damage.’

Gwyn frowned.

‘You’ll heal,’ Gwyn said, and Augus’ fists clenched. He looked affronted that Gwyn had even said as much.

‘I may be Capital fae now, but perhaps you’d like to remind yourself how long even Capital fae take to heal from serious internal injury. Do you even remember? You probably don’t, as I don’t recall you have ever been anything lower than Court, with your privileged upbringing and your estate. Aside from the fact that you could ruin your fucktoy for weeks, tell me how many fae healers you’d trust to look after me?’

Gwyn stared at him, shocked. He supposed he should have expected this, but Gwyn had been very careful about looking up sounding, asking Gulvi, even talking to the metal-smith about it. Augus made it sound like Gwyn was just going to ruin his internal organs and walk away. Gwyn’s teeth clenched. Whenever someone thought he couldn’t do something, an old rebellion awoke in him. It stirred inside of his chest, awakening an old stubbornness.

I can do this.

Augus suddenly walked over to the chair and sat down anyway, crossing one leg over the other, folding his arms in what looked like a fair attempt at a tantrum. Gwyn pulled up another chair and sat opposite him, resting the box of sounds on his own lap. Augus eyed it warily. Gwyn expected him to put up more of a fight, given that Augus had only dominated him a short time ago. Perhaps the fight was coming.

‘I’ll be gentle,’ Gwyn said, wincing even as he said it. It wasn’t that he couldn’t be gentle, but it wasn’t exactly like Augus had any reason to believe him. Which was probably why Augus was laughing at him. The sound grated.

‘I’m sorry, I apologise, but you? Gwyn, I’ll spell it out for you... If you make one mistake, if you get over-excited like the undersexed dog that you are and make one mistake, you could – among other things – ruin my bladder. Believe me when I tell you that I’m not interested in pissing blood for weeks, or days, or really, at all. And I may be Capital fae, but internal injuries can still kill me if infection sets in, if the damage is bad enough. And as a bed partner, you don’t just make one mistake, you seem determined to make all of them. Why don’t you just put the sounds down, and fuck me like the beast you are, instead?’

Gwyn could hear the fear in the back of Augus’ words. It made the insults easier to bear.

‘Did you ever injure any of the people you did this to?’

‘Injure? Of course. With sounds? You have got to be joking.’

Gwyn swallowed, edged closer. Augus stared at him in shock, as though only just realising that Gwyn was serious.

‘Then I’ve got a good teacher, have I not?’ Gwyn dragged his chair forward and placed both of his hands on Augus’ knees. The gesture wasn’t designed to be reassuring, it was proprietary. It was a reminder. Augus stared down at Gwyn’s fingers and took a sudden, sharp, shaky breath.

His muscles bunched to stand, and Gwyn acted quickly. With one hand he placed the box of sounds on a nearby table, at the same time, he reached up and dug his fingers into Augus’ shoulder. By the time Augus reached out to dig fingers into pressure points, no doubt, Gwyn had immobilised both of his wrists in a single hand, and was standing up himself, staring down at him.

‘I told you to sit,’ Gwyn said, and Augus stared at him. ‘If you thought that you would dominate me once, and that would be the end of this, you were mistaken. And if you thought that you could cow me away from having you in the manner that I want you, then you need to remember your place.’

Augus’ eyes were flinty. He splayed his fingers and then jerked them hard. Gwyn stumbled, but didn’t fall. Gwyn had under-estimated how strong Augus could be, and transferred Augus’ wrists to both of his own hands, squeezing the joints hard enough that Augus winced.

‘I would prefer not to tie you up for this, but I will if I have to,’ Gwyn said.

‘This is a dangerous game you play with me, Gwyn,’ Augus snarled. ‘The next time you need to be broken, perhaps I will truly break you. Who will run your precious Kingdom then?’

Gwyn pursed his lips.

‘Show me how to do this correctly,’ Gwyn said, his voice softening. This would go far easier if he had at least a measure of Augus’ cooperation. ‘Extend me a measure of trust.’

Augus’ expression changed. Something showed beneath a crack in the hardness of his features, as though he hadn’t expected Gwyn refer to those words again.

‘I did the same to you, didn’t I?’ Gwyn said, and Augus’ fingers trembled as they bent into claws, as though he would like nothing better than to slice Gwyn’s skin open and tear him apart. Gwyn kept a firm grip on his wrists, waited.

‘Oath it,’ Augus said. ‘Oath it that you will listen to me, and that you will be gentle, and tell me that you can think of a single fae healer that would attend me, and then I’ll consider it.’

‘You want an oath?’ Gwyn looked over at the box of sounds, bewildered. ‘You want blood? Again?’

‘Yes, actually, if you don’t mind.’

Gwyn realised that Augus was serious about the blood-oath.

‘Aftercare, and now this? Augus, I-’

‘No,’ Augus said, voice firm. ‘I oathed not to cause you death or permanent injury. I require something of the same from you in this. You want me to extend you a measure of trust? Look at you. You’re not a graceful, gentle creature. Now let go of my wrists and make the oath. Obviously you won’t be reasoned with, because you’re an oaf who likes nothing more than to follow the foolish directions of his own cock; but in this, in this, you will listen to me.’

Augus’ gaze slid sideways to the sounds gleaming new and dangerous, like slender weapons, in their box. He swallowed, and Gwyn felt the shudder he gave all the way through the fingers where he held his wrists.

Gwyn let go, stepped back and waited to see what Augus would do.

If Augus truly decided to fight him now...

He’d killed Efnisien when he was still underfae. Gwyn realised, with a sort of sinking horror, that Augus could possibly kill Gwyn now that he was Capital. He had too much power for a waterhorse. If Augus decided to seriously pit his strength against Gwyn’s now, Gwyn found himself wondering if he’d actually have to dump Augus back in the cell or demote him again. He found himself almost glad to have an excuse for it, he knew he shouldn’t keep Augus up in his palatial rooms, protected, as a Capital fae. He knew he shouldn’t.

Augus watched him, considering, and then lowered himself back to the chair again, exhaling slowly. He folded his arms, managed to look singularly unimpressed.

Gwyn realised that if he wanted to do this – and he did – he would have to actually listen to Augus,  actually pay attention, practice self-restraint. Not his normal version of self-restraint, which involved paying attention a little bit and pushing hard whenever there was a moment of leeway.

Gwyn walked to the table where the sounds were resting and drew out drawers slowly, rummaging inside of them until he found an old, copper letter opener. The sides were blunt, but the tip was still sharp. He came back and sat down opposite Augus, who seemed nonchalant about everything that was occurring. Gwyn could read his tension in the stillness of him, in the way he couldn’t see Augus’ hands properly when they were folded like that.

‘Pazhna, she would heal you if anything went wrong. She wasn’t waterfae, and wasn’t directly affected by your actions. She’d do what I said.’

It was a risk to take, however. Pazhna might do as he said, but she might not keep his secrets. He’d have to make sure he didn’t injure him.

He didn’t want to injure him.

Gwyn nocked a mark into the side of his little finger. His little finger was marked with tiny scars, including a recent, reddish one that was still fading; a result of his oath to agree to aftercare. The blood-oath scars never went away, it didn’t matter what status one was. Fae didn’t need much blood as a sign of proof, the law of nature provided enough consequence if an oath wasn’t upheld. Augus shifted restlessly at the sign of the blood, and Gwyn looked from the welling drop to Augus’ hungry eyes. Interesting.

‘Thirsty?’ Gwyn said, and Augus looked away, his fingers clenched. It seemed like he hadn’t wanted Gwyn to know that he was still yearning for the taste of blood and flesh, in whatever form it came in. He would die from lack of water long before he would ever die from lack of human meat, but that didn’t mean Augus wasn’t feeling it.

It rocked Gwyn to realise that Augus was weak as a Capital fae, and he was still as strong as he was. That he had killed Efnisien without the benefit of a single proper meal for months...

Gwyn stilled, eyes wide. That was disturbing. He looked over at Augus, calculating.

‘If you let me do this, I could possibly see about getting you something to eat.’

‘Let’s be crass, you mean someone,’ Augus said.

Besides, Gwyn hadn’t said anything about when he would get Augus something to eat.

‘Your feeding habits never bothered me, Augus. Now, this oath.’

Gwyn thought carefully about his wording, and eventually managed to cobble something together that was half-decent. He felt strange offering yet another blood-oath up to Augus – oaths were something you offered an equal – and to offer two in such a short space of time was unusual even amongst comrades, friends or family. He felt strange promising to be gentle, promising to listen, to not injure. He was offended that Augus thought he couldn’t do either without the promise, yet he knew that he’d given Augus no reason to think that he could. It twinged at something inside his chest.

‘Adequate,’ Augus said, when he was finished.

‘Tell me what to do,’ Gwyn said quietly, looking at the small cut on the side of his little finger. He could actually feel the oath. That he could feel it already was perhaps a sign that he did need it. An oath only tended to be felt upon its making when there was a chance that the maker was on the edge of not respecting its requirements.

‘Do we need to move?’ Gwyn said.

Augus frowned, shifted uncomfortably.

‘Sitting is fine. Show me the box.’

Gwyn brought the box over the from the table, and showed it to Augus. He took it from Gwyn’s hands and looked at the sounds. After a while he heaved a huge breath, pursed his lips together.

‘I haven’t experienced this before,’ Augus said, hands fisting on the crafted wood.

Gwyn blinked.

‘But...you do it to others. You know how,’ Gwyn said, shocked. Augus nodded, closed-mouthed, radiating discomfort. ‘You never tried?’

Augus didn’t answer, which was itself an answer. Gwyn wondered just how long Augus had been doing to others, but not accepting in return. He wondered how Augus had ever stumbled across the concept of sounding in the first place, and if he’d made any mistakes the first time he’d tried it. Knowing him, likely not.

Gwyn moved his chair forwards until his knee slipped between Augus’. He took the box carefully and set it down on a stool beside them, picking up the vial of lubricant and the thinnest sound; a slender, straight metal rod that rested lightly in his hand.

‘Not...that one,’ Augus said, closing his eyes, pained. His voice was taut.

‘But-’

‘Counterintuitive, I know, but the thinnest ones are more likely to pierce or do damage if mishandled.’

Gwyn paused, looking down at the sounds. He was completely out of his depth, and he knew it. He picked the next size up and looked over at Augus, who nodded reluctantly. He realised his own breathing was shallow. He glanced up at Augus’ chest, and noticed that although Augus was keeping his breathing mastered, there were odd pauses between every inhale and exhale, as though he was constantly holding his breath.

‘They’re good quality,’ Augus said, though he stared at the sound apprehensively.

‘Yes,’ Gwyn said. ‘I...had them made.’

Augus’ eyes shot up to Gwyn’s and he managed a dark breath of laughter.

‘Taking notes?’ Augus said. Gwyn looked at the sound and then turned it in his fingers.

‘I was curious,’ Gwyn said, wondering if Augus understood. Gwyn couldn’t help it. There were a great deal of things, especially these sorts of things, that he didn’t know about. Augus had introduced him to some things, but Gwyn was still curious.

‘When you do it, what were you trying to make them feel?’ Gwyn said, as he placed a liberal amount of lubricant onto his fingers and the sound, slicking them up as much as possible. The sound was cold, and he warmed it in his palm. It felt like a thin arrow shaft.

Augus’ breath hitched.

‘Tell me,’  Gwyn said, ‘I made an oath I’d listen to you. I want to know.’

Augus said nothing, shaking his head slowly, staring at the sound between Gwyn’s fingers.

‘Okay,’ Gwyn said, moving in closer, resting the vial of lubricant nearby, so that it was in reach. ‘Undress. And tell me what I should be looking out for. What’s bad?’

Augus stood quietly and unbuttoned his pants, stepping sideways so that he could step out of them gracefully. He didn’t remove his shirt. Gwyn thought about pressing him to, then decided that this was already uncomfortable enough for Augus. Perhaps that would be pushing it. Augus sat down again, and Gwyn looked down at his bare legs, the knees resting on either side of his own.

Augus closed his eyes as Gwyn moved his chair further forward until his knee bumped up against Augus’ chair, forcing his legs slightly apart. He reached forwards, looking up at Augus quickly, before looking down and taking Augus’ limp member carefully between his hands. One of the people he’d talked to said it was better to start this way.

Gwyn positioned the sound, thinking perhaps he should have offered something approaching foreplay first, but Augus likely wanted this out of the way as quickly as possible, and Gwyn was unaccountably nervous. He wanted to focus. He had to concentrate. He could feel the blood-oath in his blood, a reminder that he’d promised to be gentle and slow and listen. He felt oddly attuned to Augus, aware of the way he was quietly holding his breath on every inhale, of the way his left thigh trembled briefly, but his right didn’t.

When the tip of the sound touched the head of Augus’ cock, Augus thinned his lips, his head bowed forward.

‘What you should be looking out for,’ Augus said, voice quiet.

‘Tell me,’ Gwyn said, the volume of his voice matching Augus’. He felt now that they were doing something secret, it was disconcerting.

‘Discomfort...is okay,’ Augus said, and Gwyn shivered, warmed. ‘Burning...usually okay. Try and avoid it. Sharp pain, not okay.’

‘So it’s meant to make you uncomfortable?’ Gwyn whispered, and his cock stirred in his pants.

‘Will you just start?’ Augus said, and Gwyn shook his head, bowed his head beside Augus’. He could smell his hair; fresh water and silt, greenness and something that could have been pollen. It was like stumbling across a lake in a forest. He could sense the fine shivers moving through Augus’ body.

‘I can’t, you have to tell me how. Also, I find that I’m nervous,’ Gwyn said, and Augus huffed out a single breath of laughter.

‘But you won’t stop, will you?’

Gwyn flushed, heat moving through him. No, he didn’t plan on stopping. He wanted this.

‘I like making you uncomfortable, Augus. I like the idea of doing something to you that’s never been done before. How do I start?’

Augus made a sound of frustration. He wrapped cautious fingers around Gwyn’s, where they rested on the sound. He left three of his fingers on Gwyn’s hand, and took his thumb and forefinger to the sound itself, running the flat of his thumb along it as though testing the lubricant.

‘Do I need more?’ Gwyn said, and Augus looked at him. He opened his mouth and then seemed to think the better of it, closing it again. He lowered his head, and Gwyn felt his curls snag against the dampness of Augus’ hair. They were close, both concentrating, and Gwyn was starting to feel impatient, because he wanted to seewhat it would be like, even if they never did it again.

Augus eased the tip of the sound into the slit of his cock and then his breathing stumbled. He paused, and then forced his breathing to evenness again, but the side of his head pressed against Gwyn’s and his other hand had clenched into the top of his thigh.

‘Slowly,’ Augus said, ‘Push slowly. Whatever you think slow is, do it slower.’

Augus let go of the sound, but kept his fingers on Gwyn’s.

‘Aren’t you going to guide me?’ Gwyn said, breath starting to desert him.

‘Gwyn, the logic of this is simple. You’re easing metal into my cock. If you don’t understand that, then perhaps you might want to find a Mage who can improve your intelli-’

Augus’ breath cut off with a gasp as Gwyn applied a slow, firm pressure to the sound. Contrary to what Augus might think, he was more than capable of doing something like this slowly. He’d had to draw arrows back with an infinite patience, not spooking animals he was hunting. He’d had to creep silently along forest floors that seemed made of twigs and dry crackling leaves. He knew how to control his body, and despite his nervousness, despite his awareness of the blood-oath, he could do it now.

The tip disappeared, and Gwyn felt the slight pressure of Augus’ urethra against the sound, and suddenly Augus’ hand moved from his own leg to Gwyn’s, his claws dug through his pants.

‘Slow,’ Augus whispered.

‘Does it hurt?’ Gwyn said, his voice deeper. He applied a little more downward pressure, slowed down, watched mesmerised as the sound continued down another centimetre. His blood-oath stayed dormant. Augus was trembling now, it was harder for him to even out his breathing. His exhales were shaky.

‘Does it hurt?’ Gwyn repeated and there was a pause, Augus bit off a sound in the back of his throat. ‘You want to tell me that it hurts doesn’t it? But you can’t. It’s a lie.’

‘I...’ Augus’ fingers dug into the back of Gwyn’s hand. ‘It’s uncomfortable.’

‘That’s the point, isn’t it?’ Gwyn whispered, and Augus shuddered on his chair. When Gwyn twisted the sound, carefully, hoping to distribute lubricant more evenly, Augus made a small, shocked sound.

‘Did that hurt?’ Gwyn said, even though his blood-oath was staying mercifully silent.

‘No, it’s just,’ Augus laughed. ‘It’s different.’

Different. Gwyn could work with that.

He applied downward pressure again, moving with care, gentleness. The sound continued to disappear, deeper still, until Augus’ breathing was nowhere near even and his hand flexed and released on the back of Gwyn’s hand with a strange, helpless tension. The other hand on Gwyn’s thigh had drawn blood, but as it hadn’t moved and Augus clearly wasn’t trying to injure him, Gwyn ignored it.

Augus suddenly opened his mouth and a syllable of sound fell out of it, sharp but not pained.

‘Wait,’ Augus said, and Gwyn stopped immediately. ‘You’re...you’re going to hit resistance, if you keep, if you- Stop when you reach it. Stop and hold the sound still.’

‘I haven’t reached it yet,’ Gwyn said, sensitive to the feel of what he was doing.

‘No,’ Augus agreed, and suddenly his forehead was resting on Gwyn’s shoulder. He moaned when Gwyn twisted the sound again, and then held on when Gwyn started moving the sound once more. Gwyn honoured the concept of slow, but he didn’t plan on stopping. It was strange, seeing Augus coming apart like this. Strange being the one to do it. He was used to Augus being the one in control – even when Gwyn was hurting him, Augus still kept his breathing mostly even, there was still something detached and separate about him. But now, this was...

He liked the feel of Augus’ forehead pressing hard against his shoulder. He liked knowing how vulnerable Augus was, not because he could hurt him, but because he wasn’t.

‘Wait, wait, wait,’ Augus said again, slightly panicked, and Gwyn slowed down even more, but didn’t stop. He felt no resistance, he could tell that this was Augus’ discomfort, and not a physiological issue.

‘Shhh,’ Gwyn whispered. ‘It’s supposed to be uncomfortable. Remember?’

Augus’ voice cracked into nothingness, and he reached forward with the hand on Gwyn’s thigh, and clutched at his abdomen instead.

‘Remember your oath,’ Augus said and Gwyn nodded.

‘Remember to breathe,’ he said, and Augus laughed on short, shallow breaths.

Gwyn stopped as soon as he hit a point of resistance, and held his hand still, cradling Augus’ cock in his hand, and holding the sound still with the other. He waited, occasionally twisting the sound and drinking up every full body shudder it wrung out of Augus. His own breathing was shaky, and he forced it to calm. He was hard, couldn’t help it. He hadn’t expected to enjoy this so much. It wasn’t so much the sounding itself, but the fact that Augus was leaning against him, was still holding on even though all movement had stopped. Seeing him like this was addictive.

‘How does it feel?’ Gwyn said, and Augus shifted his head until it was tucked against Gwyn’s neck.

‘Deep,’ Augus said. ‘Hilarious, because I know there’s more to come.’

‘There is,’ Gwyn said, twisting the sound again. Augus’ throat worked on something that might have been a whimper, if it had come free.

‘Move,’ Augus said quickly. ‘Push. You’ll, there will be a point where the sound moves on its own. Let it. Stop pushing at that point. Do you understand?’

Gwyn nodded once, and then applied a firm, careful pressure to the sound again. He watched it disappear and paid attention to each of Augus’ reactions, the bitten off sounds, the helpless breathing, the tremors. Gwyn felt immediately when gravity took over. The sound started to move down of its own accord, and Gwyn’s eyes widened. He kept his fingers on it, making sure it didn’t move too quickly, and Augus was making caught, almost frightened noises in the back of his throat with every shallow breath.

‘You’re doing well,’ Gwyn said, and Augus shook his head.

‘You, you’re doing well. Who would have thought? You’re – ah.’

The sound stopped, seated itself at a point of natural resistance. Gwyn knew not to apply any more pressure now. He held the sound still, and Augus moaned against his neck.

‘Oh,’ Augus breathed in surprise. ‘It’s good.’

Gwyn’s cock twitched to hear him say it in that disarmed, shocked tone.

‘No wonder...’ Augus trailed off and said nothing else, and Gwyn shifted his hands so that he was holding onto Augus’ cock and the sound with one hand, and he could reach out and rub Augus’ thigh with something like reassurance.

‘What now?’ Gwyn said and Augus shivered.

‘I was going to suggest the next size up but...I think I’m going to, I think it’s going to be a tight fit soon, and you shouldn’t.’

Gwyn frowned, disappointed. It was already a tight fit, though not nearly so much as when they’d started. He had been hoping to at least move onto a slightly larger sound, but he would trust what Augus said. He’d expected subterfuge or deceit, he’d expected Augus to lie and say that Gwyn would have to stop early, or that there was nothing else to do; knowing from Gulvi and others that there were other things he could try. But Augus was participating, and Gwyn would listen to whatever he said.

‘Several things,’ Augus said. ‘You can twist it, as you have been. Like that...’

Augus’ voice sharpened and his fingers dug into Gwyn’s ribs. Gwyn twisted the sound again, and Augus claws broke Gwyn’s skin, an absent movement that left a small amount of blood trickling down his torso. Augus was taking deep lungfuls of air now, and Gwyn stilled everything once more, giving Augus a moment to collect himself. This would normally be the point at which he pushed harder, demanded more, but he was painfully aware of the blood-oath in his cells, he was aware of Augus’ trembling, the weight of his head against his neck. There was none of the detached, guarded waterhorse here.

So Gwyn felt it immediately when Augus began to get hard. His eyes widened in surprise, and Augus hissed, scraping claws down Gwyn’s skin, clearly discomfited.

‘Augus...’ Gwyn was worried. ‘Augus, what do I do, you have to tell me.’

‘It’s fine,’ Augus said, but his voice indicated that he was struggling with it. He realised the pressure against the sound had to be building a great deal, and he reached out and placed a gentling hand against Augus’ side.

‘Talk to me,’ Gwyn pleaded.

Augus cried out, shook his head, and then bit wetly at Gwyn’s collarbone.

‘It’s normal, I need a moment...to get used to it,’ Augus said, his normally smooth voice ragged.

Upon hearing that it was normal, Gwyn started to relax. Started to fully appreciate just how aroused Augus was, despite whatever discomfort he was experiencing.

‘What do I do?’ Gwyn whispered, and Augus laughed. The sound was faintly mocking, but Gwyn couldn’t tell – in that moment – who the laugh was directed at. Augus took a deep, shaking breath and then started to force his breath to evenness again. Gwyn wished he could simply trust his instincts in this, but there were no instincts available to him. He’d never done anything like this before, it never occurred to him that people could dothis.

‘Many things,’ Augus managed, voice more composed than before. ‘I would suggest twisting first, so I may get used to it. And then, you can tap your nail against the tip, to send vibrations through. You can move the sound up and down, a little, only a centimetre or so, and fuck me with it. You can tighten your hand around my cock, and tease. I do recommend starting with turning the sound though, slowly. I am not used to this.’

There was a faint, desperate edge to his voice. Gwyn had the absurd instinct to remind Augus to trust him, which was ridiculous, because Augus had no reason to trust him. Gwyn lowered the hand that had reached out to Augus’ side back to his cock, wrapping his fingers around the heat of him but applying no pressure. Still, Augus’ breathing hitched, he tensed.

‘Easy,’ Gwyn said. ‘I’m listening.’

Augus said nothing, though his toes curled against the floor when Gwyn twisted the sound. There was far more pressure now, but the lubricant made it possible, especially as Gwyn was moving so slowly. He repeated the action several more times until the sound moved more easily, and then with his other hands, he stroked fingers lightly along the skin of Augus’ cock, catching some of the lubricant from where the sound disappeared into him, and trailing it back down his length.

Augus made a sound that might have been a moan, if he hadn’t cut it off. Gwyn was harder than ever, but pushed his awareness of that away. This was nothing like what he’d done with Augus in the past. He wanted to know if there were other ways to get Augus to respond to him like this.

Gwyn pulled the sound upwards very carefully, in the hopes of distributing more of the lubricant. He pressed it back down again, and Augus shuddered against him, mouth opening against Gwyn’s shoulder, hot breath gusting out in a burst.

‘Fuck,’ Augus said, helpless. ‘Do that again.’

Gwyn, surprised, bowed under the order and repeated the gesture, and Augus made a thin noise, pressed out between lips forced shut. Gwyn kept moving the sound, up and down, only a little, enough that the motion still felt like fucking, knowing that he was penetrating Augus in a way he couldn’t help but be acutely aware of. And Augus was clinging to Gwyn, waves of shivering moving through him. He would force his body to a tense stillness, only for another wave to move through him.

‘You did this to clients?’ Gwyn said, and Augus nodded. ‘Did you ever think you’d like it this much?’

Augus said nothing, and Gwyn turned his head towards Augus’, getting a feel for the motion of what he was doing.

‘Tell me what it feels like,’ he said. His voice was soft, deep. He had to know. More, he wanted to listen to Augus make himself speak through all of that shaking. ‘Tell me, Augus. I said I would listen, give me something to listen to.’

Augus’ breath pushed out from between his teeth, a sound of irritation and helplessness. Gwyn squeezed his hand lightly around Augus’ cock as he drew the sound up, and Augus shouted against him, hoarse. His hips tensed and relaxed so suddenly, that Gwyn had been sure he was about to buck up.

‘Augus,’ Gwyn said, a warning. He didn’t have a hand spare to hold his hips down, and if Augus did buck into the sound, he would damage himself. Gwyn stopped moving the sound, squeezed Augus’ shaft again, before reaching up and thumbing the head of his cock, scraping callouses over the sensitive skin.

‘It’s different,’ Augus said, breathing shallow now. ‘It’s disarming. More so because it’s you. It was cold, but no longer. I- Ah-

Gwyn was pumping Augus’ cock gently, slowly, but it didn’t matter how lightly he did it, the pressure made Augus aware of the sound.

‘Does it hurt?’ Gwyn said, and Augus shook his head slowly, and then nodded. Gwyn’s brow furrowed in confusion.

‘An ache. Nothing damaging. I would know. You would know.’

Gwyn pressed his head against Augus’, damp hair getting the curls on his right-hand side wet. He licked his lips, concentrated. He thought, perhaps, he was starting to get the hang of it now. He wasn’t used to using tools or toys in the bedroom, wasn’t used to using anything else except his own body, and he was aware – more than most, perhaps – that there were gaping holes in his knowledge. This was something he didn’t think he’d ever forget.

He wondered what it would feel like, and a strange mix of fear and intrigue pooled inside of him. He pushed that away too, focused.

He stilled his hand around Augus’ shaft, and then started moving the sound again, up and down, attuned to Augus’ reactions. The action seemed to affect him the most, and Gwyn wondered where it edged in terms of sensation. He knew Augus was a sadist, but he didn’t know much about what Augus himself liked; had never particularly cared to find out in the past. Now he knew that Augus liked this, he didn’t feel the need to make it more complicated than it had to be. Not with Augus restraining his own hips from moving, trembling, breathing in time to the movement of the sound.

He kept moving the sound, speeding up only a little, enough that Augus made a strangled noise in the back of his throat, and then cried out, a sweet, pained sound that made Gwyn aware that he was painfully hard. He spread the leg that was on the outside of Augus’ wider, grunted.

‘Augus,’ Gwyn said, unable to help himself.

‘Don’t stop,’ Augus panted. ‘Just...’

Gwyn nodded, caught up in Augus’ orders, even while he held so much control over the situation, over Augus’ reactions. He kept moving the sound, and then his fingers drifted down and he stroked across the skin of Augus’ balls. Augus jolted hard enough that Gwyn instantly stopped moving the sound and held everything still, as Augus shook and shook and then sunk his teeth down into Gwyn’s skin and moaned.

‘Take the sound out,’ Augus commanded, and Gwyn froze, scared that he’d done the wrong thing. But, if he had, the oath would have activated, wouldn’t it? ‘I’m close. Take it out. Slowly. Finish me with your hand. It won’t take long. My stamina is...despairingly close to yours in this.’

Gwyn rolled his eyes at that, and moved the sound up and down several more times, drawing another desperate moan from Augus’ mouth, before withdrawing the sound slowly. Augus’ fingers were flexing against his ribs, absent movements that reflected how caught up in the sensations he was. Gwyn was tempted to tease, tempted to see how long Augus could hold out for, but he said he would listen, and he didn’t want to test. He didn’t know what would happen if Augus came with the sound inside of him, but he didn’t imagine it would be ideal.

When he removed the sound completely, he placed it back on the table by the box carefully, and then turned back to Augus, who was still taking deep breaths, still dragging air into his lungs.

He squeezed Augus’ cock tightly in his fingers, and Augus stiffened, his hips rolled up into Gwyn’s hand. But the sound he made was pained.

‘Sore?’ Gwyn asked again, and Augus nodded.

‘As I have promised many a client in the past...it will be worth it. Will you move your hand,’ Augus said, impatience threading into his voice and turning it into demand. He actually started to growl when Gwyn moved his hand away instead.

‘Calm yourself,’ Gwyn said, ‘Or not. I like you like this.’

He reached for the lubricant and slicked his hand up, even as Augus stared at him with a hungry, angry gaze. But his eyelids fluttered shut and his mouth dropped open when Gwyn returned, using the lubricant to smooth the way and starting a rapid, firm movement that had Augus groaning softly.

Gwyn wished he could get closer, but with both of them sitting, his knee already bumping up against Augus’ chair, there wasn’t much closer to have. With his other hand, he slipped his fingers down and rolled Augus’ balls in his fingers, and Augus made that strangled, pained noise again that Gwyn was certain had etched itself into several different places in his mind.

Gwyn had only a few seconds to realise that he probably should have stripped, before Augus stiffened and came with a silent gasp for air, hot, viscous fluid striping his shirt before he thought to catch the rest in his palm. Augus’ thighs were trembling on either side of Gwyn’s, tightening around his leg, and the claws of his fingers were digging into Gwyn’s skin once more, drawing blood.

Gwyn felt like he was underwater, everything hazy and blurred. His head ached from a combination of the stress of getting the sounding right, and having shoved away awareness of his own hardness for so long. As soon as Augus finished coming, as soon as the last of the hard, almost violent spasms left his body and the aftershocks had wrung out of him, Gwyn raised a come-slick hand to his lips and licked the taste of Augus into his mouth.

He’d wanted to do this when he’d taken Augus into his mouth. He’d wanted to know what he tasted like. Not just the salty, silt-like precome, but the fullness of his actual release.

The flavour was murky water and pondweed, bitter, with an aftertaste that was surprisingly sweet. Gwyn licked more off his palm without thinking about it, staring at the box of sounds with a strange sense of gratitude. He hadn’t expected things to go that well.

When Augus swore, quietly, Gwyn stopped what he was doing immediately and turned back, in case he’d missed something.

Augus had sounded surprised, but when Gwyn caught his expression, Augus looked smug. Gwyn realised he was still licking come off his lips, and blushed, embarrassed. Augus catching him being eager, in moments like this, was disconcerting. A stark reminder that there was nothing Kingly about licking a prisoner’s come off one’s own palm.

Excellent, Gwyn. You did this to try and gain back some control, and now-

‘Look at you,’ Augus practically purred, his voice still strained from his orgasm, from what he’d just experienced. He moved his hands from Gwyn’s torso and dragged them down to Gwyn’s pants, where he worked at the fastening with a quick, practiced ease. ‘Look at how much you liked it, and you didn’t break the blood oath either; miracle, if you ask me.’

Augus clenched his hand around Gwyn’s cock and pulled him out roughly, and Gwyn’s eyes closed, he bit his bottom lip. He was going to come. He was going to come soon. He hadn’t realised how close he was.

‘Clean your hand,’ Augus ordered, and Gwyn’s breath caught up in his lungs. ‘Go on, clean your hand with your tongue, like you were before. I want to see you lick my come off your hand. And I’d like to see it now.’

‘Augus,’ Gwyn said, a thread of warning in his voice.

I was supposed to remind him of his place.

Augus laughed at him, and then dragged the edge of a claw up the side of Gwyn’s cock.

‘Consider this: Instead of succumbing to the slow grinding of those cogs in your head, just listen to me. You were doing such a good job of listening only minutes ago. You’ll like it. I’ll like it. I fail to see anything wrong with that. You keep fighting me in this, as though you haven’t realised just how enjoyable it is for both of us when you surrender something that you want to surrender to me.’

Gwyn swallowed at Augus’ words. And when Augus’ hand shifted on his cock, he raised the heel of his palm to his lips and – with averted eyes – licked the taste of Augus’ come into his mouth. Augus made a small, amused sound, and then the tip of his index finger came up and wiped at the corner of Gwyn’s lips.

‘You missed some,’ Augus said, and Gwyn scowled at him. ‘No, I mean it, you missed some.’

‘I think I’ve had en-’

Gwyn’s words were choked off by Augus beginning to move his other hand firmly and with confidence up and down Gwyn’s cock, a rhythm that was made all the more disarming by the occasional promise of claws against his skin. Augus didn’t hurt him, but just knowing they were there made all of his nerves sing with alertness. His mouth dropped open as he drew in a breath, and Augus slipped the tip of his index finger inside.

‘See?’ Augus said, as he painted his fingertip over Gwyn’s tongue. ‘Keep licking, there’s some on the edge of your hand that you’ve missed.’

Gwyn licked the rest of his hand, and resisted the urge to bite his own palm as Augus became more clever with his fingers, twisting on the upstroke, squeezing harder at the base of him. He dropped his arm, pressed back into the chair when Augus leaned forwards. Augus used the hand that had been at his mouth to grip at his jaw.

‘You are so green sometimes, Gwyn, I swear you are ripe for the taking. With all of your experience coming in the asses of your soldiers after battle, I bet you-’

‘And you?’ Gwyn interrupted, voice rough. He was too close to coming for this conversation. ‘And you? With all your experience in sounding, there are still things you are green at, Augus. You can look at me and say what you like, but you should remember that-’

Gwyn gasped again, his voice choked as Augus drove him towards orgasm with a merciless speed that made sparks leap beneath his skin. He cried out, hoarse, and then dragged his mind back to what he was saying. It had been important.

‘You should remember when you look at me, I was the first one who did that to you, the first one that made you realise you loved it.’

Augus snarled at him, fingers dug into the line of his jaw, but his hand never stopped moving against him and Gwyn’s spine stiffened and his body tensed until his feet felt like they were going to cramp.

‘Come,’ Augus growled, and Gwyn did, the first spasm causing him to rock the chair backwards, so that Augus had to pull him back before he fell. Augus hooked two fingers into Gwyn’s mouth, pulling his jaw down so that the sounds he wanted to hold back spilled, open and raw, out of his mouth. He ducked his head, rested teeth against the top of Augus’ fingers, but couldn’t hold his cries in. Augus rode out his orgasm without mercy, keeping his hand moving against him even as Gwyn reached towards him with shaking hands to slow his wrist, and try to get him to stop. He made a sound of protest. He was oversensitive, he needed a moment.

Augus slowed the movement of his hand, and then stopped, letting go and making a show of wiping the come that was dripping from his fingers onto Gwyn’s pants. Gwyn groaned, drew his head back so that Augus’ fingers slipped from his mouth, a string of saliva connecting them for a second before it snapped.

Augus, surprisingly, didn’t talk as Gwyn collected his breath to himself. Gwyn closed his eyes and swallowed, still feeling his light jump and flare beneath the surface of his skin, tasting Augus in his mouth, feeling well-used even though he’d not been touched for very long.

‘Are you alright?’ Gwyn said to Augus, knowing that Augus was the one who had felt sore, who had been pushed to his limits.

‘Yes,’ Augus said, with a seriousness that made Gwyn open his eyes. Augus was watching him, hands folded in his lap, not even attempting to hide his limp cock where it rested.

It occurred to Gwyn that they’d both exchanged blood oaths, they’d both done things to each other that they’d never experienced at anyone else’s hands. Whatever this was, what Augus had termed an ‘arrangement,’ it bewildered him still. It had felt intimate, sounding Augus. It had felt like it had meant something, or come close to meaning something. It was confusing, knowing that Augus was...who he was. He didn’t form attachments with people. He wouldn’t form an attachment to Gwyn. 

Gwyn wondered if he had the same sober expression on his face that Augus did. He felt like he needed some time to get his thoughts in order.

‘You didn’t break your oath,’ Augus said, and Gwyn’s jaw clenched hard. A flash of anger moved through him, and Augus’ eyes widened to see it. ‘I only meant that-’

‘I know what you meant,’ Gwyn said, standing.

He pulled his pants up and walked over to the desk, picked up the sound he’d used, still warmed by Augus’ body heat. He swallowed as he dropped it into the box, clipping it closed.

‘I thought you did well,’ Augus said, and Gwyn turned to him, smiled tightly.

‘You thought I couldn’t do it,’ Gwyn said, chest aching. ‘What were you hoping, Augus? That I’d mess up? That a broken blood-oath would kill me? They do after all usually kill people when broken, don’t they? And you might not appreciate – how did you put it? I remember. You might not appreciate pissing blood for weeks, but at least the King of the Seelie fae would be dead, and-’

Augus stood abruptly, eyes wide, hands up.

‘I only meant that I thought you did well,’ Augus said, voice cautious. ‘If you travel any further along this spiral, I’ll be running through a forest with an arrow pointed at my back.’

Gwyn felt like he’d been punched in the gut.

‘You’re upset,’ Augus said, and Gwyn felt light prickling at him, tugging at him. It tried to drive him into a different location. He resisted it, but he knew he’d be leaving soon. ‘You tried to remind me that you’re in control, and it didn’t work, did it? You are a fool. Demote me. Put me back in the cell. Perhaps you might leave the Seelie Court and then come back again ten seconds later.’

Gwyn could hear his heart beating. Augus could remind Gwyn of his power all he wanted, it only served to also highlight the lack. Augus might think that Gwyn could demote him easily, but Gwyn knew if that was the case, he would have already done it. The same went for putting him back in the cell. And he could leave the Seelie Court, but he always had to come back.

The worst part was knowing that when Augus had taken control before, after the liver incident – when he had wrung sensation from Gwyn until he had begged Augus to stop – Gwyn had experienced a period of time where his mind had blessedly stopped its incessant workings. There was a period of at least two days after Augus had made Gwyn oath to accept aftercare, that he’d felt...more stable than he had in years.

And even this, enjoyable as the sounding was, something he ached to do again already, it wasn’t the same. He had more problems than Augus in his life right now. His Kingdom was a mess, and taking out the large villains had only revealed the insidious ones beneath, feeding at the peace of the Seelie Kingdom like maggots clinging to the underside a corpse. He needed what Augus had to offer, and he hated that Augus was right about that.

Augus pulled up his pants, watched Gwyn carefully, and Gwyn realised that Augus was likely worried about Gwyn’s mental stability. About the likelihood that he would be demoted, or fed liver, or hunted, or any one of a number of things.

Gwyn didn’t feel that any of those were likely. He wasn’t stable, but he didn’t feel so unstable that Augus’ life was in danger either.

‘I should let you get back to your book,’ Gwyn said, and Augus turned to it quickly, and then his mouth thinned. Something troubled passed over his features and he sighed. ‘There are other books in the library, if it’s not to your taste.’

‘I hadn’t noticed,’ Augus drawled, his expression drifting away to something detached and amused. ‘And you have a Kingdom to run, as you’re so fond of saying.’

Gwyn nodded.

‘I do.’

Gwyn found, as he teleported away, that despite having desperately protected his privacy for thousands of years; despite having never lived with anyone since his parents, he found it easy to share his living space with Augus. He couldn’t help but be aware of his presence in the network of rooms. No one else had ever lived there before. Only the trows in their quarters. Anyone else had only ever been a short-term, temporary visitor.

But Augus occupied the space, lived in it, made use of it. He ordered items, found books to read, repurposed rooms for his own uses. Gwyn didn’t even have the energy to be angry at himself about it. He could castigate himself later. He did have a Kingdom to run, and he liked the distraction that work provided. Whatever he had that looked like a personal life was a shambles, and he would address that later or – knowing his track record – not at all.

Chapter Text

Gwyn didn’t look to be in the right sort of mood for Augus to take control, but that was exactly when Augus liked to. He’d had an idea in mind – since the beginning really – but certainly over the last couple of weeks. It had happened when Gwyn left him access into his inner rooms and he’d gone snooping through everything, mentally cataloguing what he could use to escape (not much), what he could use to aggravate Gwyn (a great deal), and what he could use for purposes of personal enjoyment (also a great deal).

He’d found the wooden box of sounds buried underneath about six inches of paperwork.

He didn’t understand the paperwork side of things. He didn’t remember having to do much at all, when he’d been King. But then, he surmised, that was perhaps why he was in his current situation, and Gwyn was still gainfully employed by his Court. But, then again, he wasn’t quite so inept in all things. He had thought it might take years before he could claw back any semblance of power, and now, in less than a year, his status was Capital, and the King of the Seelie Court was letting him push at his limits. And that...tasted very good indeed.

He’d hidden the box of sounds under Gwyn’s bed. He bided his time. Older fae always talked about the rise and the fall of power, that it was a natural cycle the older one became. It was likely arrogant to think so, but his fall hadn’t lasted nearly as long has he thought it would.

When Gwyn had come back from his meeting with the rest of his Court, he’d been aggravated and stressed. He tasted like sparks of electricity in the air, burnt gases. And Augus had opened his mouth to that before Gwyn had entered his room, it was metallic and appealing. He had an aversion to iron, like most fae, but it was the only thing he could compare Gwyn’s aura to. And he didn’t have an aversion to Gwyn. Not anymore, anyway. Mostly.

Getting the drop on Gwyn was easy. Gwyn was bigger and stronger, trained with military precision. But Augus knew more about the art of ambush and a body’s pressure points than anybody reasonably should – he was, after all, trained by Fluri the mouse-maiden, who had been an expert in pressure point combat – and he made a struggling Gwyn go limp against the pain of a fingernail digging hard into a pressure point under his ear, and another underneath his collarbone. Gwyn hissed angrily and Augus applied more pressure, smirking when he sensed his attitude shift.

‘Do you have anywhere you need to be, for the next few hours?’ Augus purred, and then twisted his fingernail hard into the pressure point at Gwyn’s collarbone. Gwyn jerked from the pain, pale blue eyes widening. ‘I don’t particularly care either way,’ Augus said. ‘If you’ve got any engagements later, you’re going to miss them.’

‘Get off me,’ Gwyn rasped, body twisting to try and ease the paralysing pressure. ‘I didn’t agree to this.’

Augus had sentences of reply waiting, he always did, there were always things he wanted to say. But instead he bit at the side of Gwyn’s face, following the movement as Gwyn tried to shift away. He tasted more of that burnt, crackling energy under the surface. And Gwyn exhaled hard when he felt Augus’ teeth scrape against his skin, his body yielded minutely, even though his mind was still playing catch up.

‘I’m tying you up today,’ Augus said, and Gwyn flinched. Augus moved his finger away from Gwyn’s collarbone and Gwyn didn’t move. It was easy then, to smile in satisfaction. Resistance would likely be token from here on in.

Gwyn’s expression remained mutinous as Augus stood and told him to take his clothes off, and he stayed locked in the same surly expression as he did as asked, stripping with a quiet efficiency. Gwyn was ashamed of many things, but it turned out his body wasn’t one of them.

Not that he has anything to be ashamed about there.

And when Augus told him to lie down on the bed, on his back, Gwyn shook his head as though he was engaging in a huge waste of time. Augus indulged these petty rebellions, because it dragged out the moment nicely, and because Gwyn was still lying down on the bed as asked. Gwyn would submit properly soon enough, and they both knew it. Why put in effort when it would come naturally with time? It wasn’t that Augus was lazy, so much as he preferred the path of least resistance. Gwyn made things so difficult most of the time, that when Augus finally had a margin of control back, he wanted it to be easy. Easy for him, anyway.

Because I have my priorities in order. 

Augus tied Gwyn quietly. He could taunt if he wanted to, but again, he didn’t see the point. Best to save the most aggravating statements for when Gwyn was fully secure. It amused him how unhelpful Gwyn was. He didn’t raise his limbs to the ties like many others who were submissive would, making Augus lift each wrist and ankle. He glowered the entire time, even though in all other ways he was unresisting.

Sometimes annoying Gwyn was the best part of his entire day.

When Augus tied Gwyn’s last remaining limb, his wrist, Gwyn tensed slightly. He shifted against the ties, testing them in a way that appeared subtle to no one else but Gwyn. Augus turned away to hide his smile, and stripped off his clothing. Since being able to order fabrics and clothing through the trows, he was back to wearing the fashion he preferred – the water-wicking fabric of the waterfae, that never became damp no matter how wet his hair was. He was back to button-up shirts and pants fashioned after the modern cuts of what Ash wore, except in fae fabrics. It was the little things that Gwyn had unknowingly granted him that helped his stability, his sense that he was doing just fine. Captivity was a bump in the road, but he had lived a long time, and he knew that nothing lasted forever.

Augus turned back to watch Gwyn actually straining at the ties.

He looked Gwyn up and down, a measuring, confident look that Gwyn caught and then scowled at. Augus fingered the gag he’d pulled out of his pocket, resting it on the bed. He’d become more familiar with experiencing gags personally, thanks to Gwyn, and had decided this was one favour he definitely wanted to return. Gwyn shouldn’t have done anything to him that he didn’t want to receive in return, because Augus had memorised everything – couldn’t not, really – and he could always trump Gwyn’s casual, reckless cruelty with his own, deliberate, sadistic malice.

Augus bent easily and slid the box of sounds out from under the bed, screening them with his body so that Gwyn couldn’t tell what he had. Wouldn’t guess, either. Didn’t have a mind that worked fast enough, likely hadn’t guessed that Augus would ferret out everything about him. Trusted too easily, for someone who had been a competent King for so long.

Augus straddled Gwyn’s hips so that he was facing his feet, amazed that he had managed to stay silent for so long. Perhaps the bondage had him on edge.

And so it should, Gwyn. Honestly, trusting your captive like this, aren’t you intriguing?

He placed the wooden box by Gwyn’s torso and waited for Gwyn to see it, realise what it was, and then-

‘No,’ Gwyn said sharply, ‘Something else.’

Augus smiled wider, tucked hair behind his ear to get it out of the way. He twisted slightly and looked over his shoulder.

‘Worried about injury? Even you could manage it well enough, under my guidance. And I’m far, far gentler than you are.’

Gwyn strained against the ties, arms bulging. He used the force to raise his head and neck up, shaking his head.

‘I am not interested in this.’

He sounded almost convincing, but then, didn’t he always? Gwyn and earnestness went hand in hand. Augus turned back and splayed both of his palms on Gwyn’s thighs, scraping fingernails upwards, painting lines of sensation. He repeated the gesture again, and again, and Gwyn sagged back down again, whole body shifting as his shoulders stopped straining against the ties. There, token resistance.

‘I didn’t think I was interested either,’ Augus said, stroking a finger down the box. ‘But I changed my mind. I want to return the favour. You’ll like it. And you forget, I have done this far more times than you, and to far more fae.’

‘Augus,’ Gwyn said quietly, ‘I’m serious. Anything else. Not this.’

Augus rolled his eyes, imagined the frown directed at his back, and carefully unhooked the latch of the box. It was a quiet, audible snick, and Gwyn was straining at his bonds again, tugging them repeatedly.

Augus,’ Gwyn said, and Augus responded by lifting out the vial of lubricant and one of the long, metal sounds. ‘Augus, I can’t do this today.’

‘Just today? Why today? Do tell,’ Augus said, clipping the box closed and shifting it down the bed, where Gwyn couldn’t knock it off easily.

Any day, Augus.’

Gwyn had said his name four times already, trying to command his attention, to work his will.

‘Do you not understand how being tied up works?’ Augus said smoothly, turning around and raising his eyebrows at Gwyn’s look of concern. The expression on Gwyn’s face shifted from worry to an angular rebellion.

‘Augus Each Uisge, I formally revoke your status of-’

Augus shifted with speed, slamming his palm against Gwyn’s mouth and grabbing the gag with his other hand, using deft experience to shift his hand away and wrap the gag in place without Gwyn being able to finish his sentence. Gwyn’s eyes widened, he stared at Augus like he couldn’t believe this was happening, which, more the fool Gwyn, really. Augus couldn’t decide if he was disappointed that Gwyn seemed so quick to keep extending measures of trust, or if he personally enjoyed reminding Gwyn that perhaps he shouldn’t be so free to extend it. Both, perhaps.

Augus laughed softly, masking his own anger at how easily and casually Gwyn had started to revoke his status as Capital fae. That expression on Gwyn’s face was perfect. Surprised, betrayed.

‘You never listened to me, Gwyn. All of those times I asked you to stop, to do something different, to wait. When you think about it, this is positively tame by comparison. I won’t hurt you, really. I just want you to feel uncomfortable, but this causes no lasting damage, unlike you forcing liver down my throat. Or your cock, for that matter. I suppose that didn’t cause lasting damage, but what can I say? I have a long, vengeful memory.’

Augus turned around again, presenting his back to Gwyn’s face, picking up the lubricant and the sound. He lubricated the sound quickly and easily, listening with some satisfaction to the sounds of dissent that Gwyn was trying – ineffectively – to push through his gag. He tugged so hard at the ties at one point, that his entire body bunched, and Augus just shook his head.

‘Please don’t insult me, I know how to tie someone up.’

A pleading sound in response to that, followed by a heavily muffled sound of frustration.

Gwyn went still when Augus started applying extra lube to the tip of his Gwyn’s cock. He was limp in his hand, but he expected that, and it made things easier anyway. Best that Gwyn didn’t slip into his oversexed, rutting frame of mind during this. He’d end up hurting himself.

He could have dragged it out, but aside from quickly circling the cold metal around the head of Gwyn, he didn’t see the point. Better to get to the part where discomfort shifted to that uncertain undoing, that detonation of pleasure.

Gwyn made a shocked sound of protest when Augus tilted the cold metal of the sound down into his slit, but he didn’t move. When Augus pushed, lightly, watching a centimetre of metal disappear, Gwyn started shaking. He began to strain at his ties again, and Augus ignored him, concentrating on what he was doing. He had expected more muffled protests at this point, but Gwyn had already been quieter than usual when he’d come in, so perhaps he didn’t have as many words available to him as usual. Maybe he’d poured them all out during the meeting, and needed to recharge his inner dictionary.

Augus stopped pushing when he met resistance, and held everything still with one hand for at least a solid minute, using his other to smooth along Gwyn’s thigh, tracing tense musculature, curling his fingers along his hip.

‘It takes time, Gwyn,’ Augus offered, far more than Gwyn had ever offered him. ‘The discomfort eases. We both know I’m not actually hurting you, so the sooner you relax, the better.’

Augus moved the sound up and down, slight shifts, and Gwyn was still pulling on the ties, kicking up more of a fuss than Augus expected.

‘Pressure again,’ Augus warned, surprised at himself for saying as much. He pushed down gently, watching carefully as more of the sound disappeared. Gwyn, behind him, proved that his own bed was as finely crafted as it looked, resisting the solid, sudden bursts of force as Gwyn tugged hard. Probably designed it with his battering ram style of what he calls fucking in mind. Idiot.

There was always a point where gravity and the weight of the sound worked in such a way that pushing was no longer necessary, and Augus felt that moment and smiled to himself, because that normally meant pleasure soon, it would blur the lines between what was uncomfortable, what felt good. He waited until the sound seated itself naturally, and then twisted it in place, attuned to Gwyn’s shaking as it increased in strength.

He caught the sounds of hitched breathing, increasing with regularity, and flicked the sound with the tip of his fingernail, sending vibrations moving down it.

‘Are you crying, Gwyn?’ Augus said softly, not turning around. ‘Already? That’s quick, even for you.’  

Augus moved the sound more. Up and down, only a little, no more than a centimetre was enough. He twisted it. He tapped the tip with his fingernail, sending rhythmic vibrations down it. And then he realised that the sound was moving quite easily, and it was past time for the next size up.

He withdrew the sound slowly but evenly, curious that Gwyn wasn’t erect yet. After all, it was Gwyn.

He put the sound down, twisted around ready to say something along the lines of how the next size up might help, another twenty taunts waiting on the tip of his tongue, and then paused.

Gwyn was staring up blankly at the ceiling, eyes bloodshot and crying and rhythmically shaking with sobs that he – for whatever reason – refused to voice. But it was that blank, upward blue stare that was the most disturbing. Gwyn had checked out at some point, and didn’t look like he was interested in coming back. He didn’t seem to have noticed that Augus had stopped, and he certainly didn’t seem to have noticed that he was being looked at. That was someone who was practicing 'anywhere but here.’

A cold chill of self-recrimination moved through him, and he clenched his teeth to find himself caught in this situation. That was not the face of someone who was simply ashamed of enjoying himself, not someone who would eventually come around. And if he hadn’t come around now, he wasn’t going to.

Augus turned back quickly, opened the sounding box and pursed his lips when Gwyn flinched beneath him, no doubt imagining the next size up was following. Augus quietly cleaned the sound on the cloth in the box, and then placed the cloth, the sound and the lubricant back in the box, before clipping it closed. He took a deep breath, another, and then shifted so that he could shove the box under the bed again where Gwyn couldn’t see it (and would likely burn it later, a shame, those sounds were finely made).

He then turned properly, so that he was straddling Gwyn and facing him, hands flat on his chest. He watched, he waited. Aside from closing his eyes, Gwyn gave no other acknowledgement.

Augus reached up and untied one of his wrists, biting the inside of his lip as he did so. He expected the gag to be ripped off, the revocation of status perhaps, a quick untying of the rest of his limbs, something like revenge. He didn’t know what Gwyn would do with his free hand, but it wasn’t likely to be good.

As soon as Gwyn’s wrist was freed, he threw his forearm over his face, hiding his eyes from Augus, fingers curling into a fist by the side of his head. He didn’t even remove the gag.

Not good at all, actually. Augus, you wretch.

That he couldn’t predict Gwyn’s reactions was the most disturbing part. He had pushed fae too far before, especially early on, when he was still learning how much power he wielded over others and discovered that brute force broke a person far slower than measured sophistication did. And he was usually adept at bringing people back; there was no point in doing what he did with others, without knowing what to do when he’d pushed too far. But Gwyn wasn’t responding as he’d expected. He furrowed his brow and rubbed Gwyn’s chest, thinking what to do next.

Augus reached up and untied the gag when it became obvious that Gwyn had either forgotten he was wearing it, or – worse – didn’t see the point in taking it off anymore. It was soaked with saliva, tears, and he dropped it to the side of the bed, wrinkling his face in disgust as he did.

Gwyn’s lips thinned into a frown – surprise, surprise – but other than that, he didn’t shift. The forearm stayed over his eyes, his fingers stayed curled into a fist.

The curl of worry within Augus strengthened, and he briefly rubbed a hand over his face in frustration.

‘So...’ Augus said, on a half-smile. ‘Are you going to revoke my status now, or later?’

Gwyn didn’t respond.

Obviously later, then.

It wasn’t in his nature to self-recriminate. His general method of dealing with mistakes was to acknowledge them (sometimes), and then to decide he was going to behave differently in the future (sometimes), and then to let go of the guilt and accept that he could do nothing about the past. Usually he bypassed the first two steps and went straight to letting go of the guilt. But this... he was reminded, abruptly, of the last time he’d been overly cutting with his brother. Ash didn’t mind banter, didn’t mind Augus’ sense of humour, but Augus had been in an increasingly vicious mood towards the end of his reign and Ash had been caught in the crossfire one evening. After that, Augus had bent over backwards for several days, trying to make sure that everything was okay between them.

Clearly not.

‘Gwyn,’ Augus said softly, reaching up and smearing tears between his fingers. And because his cock was an asshole, and uninterested in anything except its own pleasure, he remained unstintingly hard. Crying turned him on. It always had. ‘Gwyn, we’ve stopped. I’m not doing it anymore. I know you’re an idiot, but surely you’ve noticed that we’ve stopped.’

Gwyn took a deep shuddering breath in response to that and still wouldn’t remove his forearm from his eyes. Augus didn’t see the point in demanding it, because it would be a waste of breath. Gwyn was beyond listening.

Augus shifted, bowed his spine and lowered his lips to Gwyn’s chest, watching all the while. He tasted the penny salt of Gwyn’s sweat on his tongue, licked his way downwards, using fingers and palms to smooth at contours of muscle, to trace the lines of nerves. One of the upsides of learning about a person’s pressure points; it alerted one to the possibility of sensitive areas. And long, long ago, he’d had the opportunity to learn many of Gwyn’s.

He kept his eyes on Gwyn the entire time, and then narrowed them when he saw the fist unclench, not fully, not much at all. But a shifting of his fingers that that meant the fist was loosely held. He was going to take that as a good sign, given that Gwyn wasn’t giving him much else. He was in unknown territory. He had mistakenly assumed that Gwyn was always, and would forever be, predictable. He knew more about his history now, knew about many of his hang-ups. He had not expected sounding to be one of them. Not at all.

What did I miss?

He shimmied down Gwyn until he was straddling his upper thighs, and wrapped a hand around him, freezing when Gwyn flinched again.

‘Gwyn, did I hurt you?’ Gwyn didn’t respond, and Augus clenched his teeth together. He needed a response to the question. ‘Gwyn, I don’t mean figuratively, or metaphorically, I mean literally, did I actually hurt you? Does this, my hand around you, does this cause you physical pain?’

A long moment of no communication, so long that Augus had almost given up expecting any sort of response at all. Right at the moment he was about to call it a day, Gwyn shook his head minutely.

He would’ve eaten his own mane at the thought that he’d done any physical damage, not likely, he was better than an accident like that. But knowing that Augus’ hand around him was causing Gwyn discomfort, mental discomfort, was not reassuring. The sounding had done a number on him, and Augus realised he should never have faced away from Gwyn, he would have realised sooner, he could have shut everything down or figured out a new direction. A few months ago he would have wanted this reaction. But things changed, and Augus changed with them.

He stroked the side of Gwyn’s ribs with his free hand, as he started a slow, easy rhythm with his other. Gwyn’s hand by his face relaxed further, though not by much. His breathing deepened. But Augus was stunned at how long it was taking him to get hard. His mind, unhelpfully, kept saying things like; but it’s Gwyn, for the love of all that is holy, I assumed that even if he was dead his cock still wouldn’t be broken.

Augus abruptly realised that he wasn’t interested in this anymore. He’d untie Gwyn, make a hasty exit, hope that Gwyn discovered his anger at the situation much later and perhaps he’d even stretch himself pre-emptively just in case because he’d dealt with that side of Gwyn before too.

‘I’m going to stop. I don’t know who to be more embarrassed for, at the moment.’

He withdrew his hand and Gwyn shifted, the fingers by his face flexed. Augus waited, breath still somewhere in the bottom of his lungs.

‘Don’t stop,’ Gwyn said, uncharacteristically meek. Augus resisted the urge to slap that tone of voice right out of him, and grasped Gwyn again instead, establishing a firmer rhythm, one that was still much lighter than anything Gwyn would think to use, but was insistent. Gwyn’s forearm was still over his eyes and it frustrated Augus to no end, wondering if he was looking up, if his eyes were closed, if he was still crying.

Gwyn hardened quickly after that, and Augus had an idea, a wonderful idea, except that he didn’t know if Gwyn still kept lubricant under his pillow, just like he kept it in other strategic locations throughout his home. Even Augus didn’t keep as much lubricant on hand, and that was saying something, really. Augus reached up underneath the pillow and bared his teeth when he found it.

Good to know some things are still predictable.

He slicked Gwyn up easily, and didn’t bother preparing himself because – loathe as he was to admit it – he’d come to appreciate the stretch of Gwyn, and, perhaps, because as much as he thought self-recrimination was a waste of everyone’s time, maybe he would find the guilt easier to let go of if he hurt a little bit, first.

He raised himself up over Gwyn, positioned him with his hand, sunk down slowly. Slower than he’d ever done so in the past with Gwyn. And he tilted his head back at the sensation of it, at the stretch and the heat. He liked slow. He liked it so much that he was constantly aware of having to speed things up for the sake of others. People wanted to be broken, they had a deadline, but Augus had all the patience for slow and steady. And with Gwyn far more passive than usual, he had a rare chance at it now.

Augus made that initial penetration last minutes, lowering himself millimetre by millimetre, canting his hips to get the angle right. He kept an eye on Gwyn through lidded eyes, mostly focused on the hand by his face and how it flexed in response to Augus moving down upon him. But he caught other minute signs, the visible pulse thumping at his neck, the way his lips shifted. His mouth had opened for a second and then closed again. 

Augus couldn’t help the small sound that he made when Gwyn rubbed over his prostate, and he paused, shaking, awash with sensation. If he ever had to direct someone in a lesson on how to break him apart, he’d recommend slowness first. It tuned all of his senses, his concentration leapt up towards it and turned into a bonfire of awareness. Gwyn was – usually – rough and crude and violent. It was those things which had allowed Augus to stay sane and collected. Thank goodness for Gwyn and his crass understanding of what breaking people actually entailed.

Not that he could talk, right now.

Augus rose slowly, lowered himself, and that point of contact where Gwyn brushed over his prostate was so perfect that he moaned softly. His eyes fell closed for some seconds, spine tingling and his arms growing lax.

When he opened his eyes again, Gwyn had rolled his forearm up onto his forehead, and was watching Augus quietly, considering.

‘Fancy seeing you here,’ Augus said, gently, and Gwyn swallowed. His eyes dropped down, back up again, taking in all of Augus. And Augus smirked when he felt Gwyn’s cock twitch inside of him. Of all the things to bring him back, it would be this. No matter, I can put on a show.

Augus trailed the fingers of his own hand down his chest and ribs, lowering himself at the same time, until Gwyn was fully sheathed inside of him, hard and inescapably present. He curled fingers around his own erection and tugged languidly, exhaling slowly when Gwyn licked his lips, blinked with a curious, relaxed focus.

Augus started rising and falling on his legs, a measured, steady pace that angled well against his prostate and left him hungry and moaning on every downstroke. This was far, far better than he was used to, lately. His eyes fluttered closed, and he became lost in sensations that twined up inside of him, a fire lit green and orange behind his eyes and spilled sparks down the centre of him. That was very nice.

Augus stilled when he felt a large hand curl around his hips, and looked down to see Gwyn’s fingers, splayed and anchoring, right there. He expected everything to change, felt a pang of regret that it would be over so quickly, because once rediscovered, he knew he wouldn’t be allowed this pace again for some time. Possibly ever.

‘Untie my other hand,’ Gwyn ordered, and Augus swallowed. Here we go, say farewell to a reasonable pace and hello to the juggernaut, just perfect.

Augus leaned forward and made a sound of surprise when Gwyn canted his hips up with the movement, keeping Augus anchored. He felt flooded with heat suddenly, pleased that Gwyn had participated, shocked at his own response. He hesitated for only a couple of seconds, and then quickly untied his other wrist, grimacing when he saw how raw Gwyn had rubbed it. It wasn’t like he’d used shackles or manacles, it was just fabric.

Yes, surprise, he really didn’t like you raping him with the sound. That’s clever of you.

Augus leaned back again and took a deep breath when Gwyn’s other hand rested on his other hip, fingers digging in. Augus waited for Gwyn to take the lead, but nothing happened. He opened his eyes and Gwyn was watching him, a strange, curious hunger in his eyes.

‘Go on,’ Gwyn said, and Augus felt something alarming like trepidation move through his body. It was his own fault. He had wanted slow. He had wanted that peak of concentration that left him more sensitive to everything. He’d done this to himself. Even those two words from Gwyn left him harder, and he bit the inside of his cheek, because hadn’t this started out with Gwyn being the vulnerable one? And, if he took in the measure of Gwyn’s face, the man still wasn’t okay. Not even close.

What a fucked up mess you’ve turned this into.

Augus raised himself up off Gwyn slowly, and then lowered himself, and Gwyn didn’t try and speed him up, though his fingers tightened. He didn’t do anything except that, just as Augus began to hit bottom, he dug his fingers in and pushed up firmly, managing to get deeper, and the angle was so good that Augus’ head dropped forwards and he braced one hand on Gwyn’s stomach, huffing out a breath of air. He tried to gather his wits about him, but was distracted by fingers alternating pressure at his sides.

‘Keep going,’ Gwyn said, and Augus nodded, because really, he had no intention of stopping.

Surprisingly, Gwyn kept to Augus’ pace. He only added small, but appreciated additions. The extra push at the end, fingers that would dig in and then stroke reassuringly and then dig in hard, leaving Augus certain he’d have multiple bruises on both sides of his hips for days to come. And every time Gwyn kept to the slow pace but pushed, invasive, inside of him, demanding more space, more room, it stole every one of Augus’ unfurling breaths, until he was shuddering and close and a collection of sparks.

It wasn’t a side of himself many got to see, and it wasn’t a side of himself he wanted many to see. Indeed, still wasn’t sure he wanted Gwyn to see it, but after all he’d done, after shoving Gwyn so far off the brink of the abyss he wasn’t sure exactly how to get him back again, he felt like he owed him something of himself. It wasn’t like Gwyn would ever be deft enough to use it himself, the power of slow. Of patience.

He kept his eyes on Gwyn’s as the sensations started to overtake him. As – hyper sensitised – he became nothing more than a lightning rod of sensory feedback. Gwyn had been occasionally looking down to where their bodies met, but as time passed, he looked only at Augus’ face, watching his expressions, shivering or twitching or clenching his hands when Augus betrayed himself by crying out regularly, close and yet far away, full and not nearly as in control as Gwyn probably thought he was.

He knew from previous experience that if he added enough sparks to the mess inside of him, he would just spill over, usually with no warning, and this time proved no different. A flash of tension raced through him and that was all the notice he got before he started to come, striping Gwyn’s chest with liquid heat and his mind collapsing into a dense blackness, like that found at the bottom of the deepest lakes. He gasped his way through, grounded by Gwyn still hard inside of him, hands at his hips, and he had the briefest of moments where he was suddenly stuck by how still and stable Gwyn was being for him, how oddly alert and...not angry, before he bowed his head fully and was lost.

The first thing he became aware of when he started to concentrate again, was – of all things – Gwyn still hard inside of him. He shifted uncertainly, because this was definitely not something he associated with Gwyn. Not at all. He looked up, frowning.

‘Should I take care of this for you?’ Augus purred deliberately, to mask what he was actually feeling.

‘No,’ Gwyn said, ‘thank you.’

No, thank you.

Gwyn’s forehead was furrowed, not with confusion at his own request to not come (which Augus would definitely have understood), but with something approaching apprehension. Augus rose up on his knees and turned easily, untying each of Gwyn’s ankles. When that was done, he crawled back up the bed, bracing his arms either side of Gwyn’s shoulders, looking down at him.

‘Get angry, Gwyn. I find this side of you incredibly dull.’

Gwyn looked away and said nothing, and Augus just wanted to lie down and rest damn it, that was the best orgasm he’d had in months. Maybe years. All he wanted was to curl up underwater, or even Gwyn’s bed, he’d take that, and just rest. And instead, no, he found himself awkwardly wondering how to even begin offering Gwyn aftercare when Gwyn was so damaged, so broken.

His mind, unbidden, flashed upon what he’d learned about Gwyn and Efnisien. There was a great deal of broken in Gwyn. In someone who assumed that torture was fine, as long as he’d heal from it. And it would have been torture. He knew Efnisien, and he knew what one could do to a Court status fae that wouldn’t leave scars. Everything was fair game – broken bones, even being cut and stabbed. Almost anything that was basically mechanical torture and not magical torture wouldn’t have left a scar.

And the rest of the fae talked about Gwyn’s reputation of withstanding torture on the battlefield and suddenly something had clicked into place in Augus’ mind, and he hadn’t wanted to feel that way about Gwyn, but he couldn’t help himself. It wasn’t right. Family was supposed to be family. Ash had taught him that.

Instead, here he was, dealing with the aftermath of a Gwyn he had broken himself. Seeing him retreat into this passive mindset was disturbing.

‘I tied you up, gagged you when you tried to ‘safeword’ out of it, and then forced a metal rod into your cock and mocked you while you cried. And although all of that sounds like a perfectly reasonable night of fun to me, can we take a moment to enjoy how spectacularly you fell apart? Why aren’t you angry?’ Augus poked him in the neck, for good measure.

Gwyn swallowed, and drew his legs up, and said nothing.

Damn it. I don’t care about you, I just want to rest, and as soon as I solve the puzzle of what went wrong, that’s what I will do. Rest.

Augus reached up and tugged at one of Gwyn’s curls, drawing it forward and watching it spring back into place again. He pushed fingers into his hair, licked the side of Gwyn’s face. Gwyn didn’t flinch away, didn’t lean into it. When Augus leaned back to survey the results, Gwyn’s eyes were closed.

Augus sighed and leaned his head on the pillow, kept moving a hand in Gwyn’s hair. This was beyond frustrating. The ache of awareness and discomfort inside of his chest especially so.

‘I’m not angry,’ Gwyn managed, finally. He didn’t open his eyes as Augus pushed himself up on one arm to look at him.

‘Why?’

‘You...didn’t know I’d react like that and you couldn’t see me, and so, it’s fine, Augus. You stopped eventually. I’m not angry.’

Augus’ mouth dropped open, because this was worse, somehow, than being temporarily demoted on a whim, or beaten, or fucked until he bled, or gagged for a month, or any one of a number of things. A cool sickness chased the remaining sparks out of his body and he resisted the urge to shake Gwyn until he snapped out of it, because firstly he could practice restraint when he had to and secondly, shaking people rarely solved his problems. Not unless he was shaking people he was about to eat, and that was a different story altogether.

‘I’m sorry, let me see if I have this straight. You’re telling me that the reason everything is fine, and that you’re not angry, is because I couldn’t see you, as though...somehow...that was not a choice I made and inflicted on you? I know logic has never been a strong point of yours anywhere but on a battlefield, but-’

Stop it,’ Gwyn said, face creasing. ‘Stop, I’m not angry. I was...well I’m sure you’ll laugh to hear it, I was just hurt. I know full well how pathetic it must seem to you, and I’m sure you can attempt to imagine how pathetic it must seem to me. I don’t want to talk about it. I would just rather forget that this afternoon ever happened, thank you.’

An unpleasant memory had thrust itself up in Augus’ head at Gwyn’s words. He remembered, suddenly, the way he’d felt when Ash had sent the living shadows over to possess him, to force him to declare his own surrender in front of Gwyn, no less. And he remembered– of all things – not feeling angry, as he had every right to. But instead only the shocked, cold fear of betrayal. The hurt of it. And not once, since then, had it ever occurred to him to feel like he needed to be angry at Ash, that he needed revenge. Not once did he begrudge his brother the throne, even though out of the two of them, only one had ever wanted it.

Hurt, not angry. Betrayed, not vengeful. What more proof do you need that he likes you?

A small part of Augus crowed victoriously in his chest. He could use this against Gwyn, this discovery of just how deeply Gwyn felt for him. And he would, one day, use it against him, he was sure. That was his way, and it was ridiculous to assume otherwise.

But a larger part of him remembered how he’d felt when Ash had betrayed him like that, and though he knew the situations weren’t the same, couldn’t ever be the same, he knew the kind of feelings that needed to be there to bypass anger entirely and drift into whatever mess Gwyn was still recovering from. His chest ached dully.

‘No more sounding,’ Augus said quietly. ‘Ever.’

Gwyn swallowed audibly, he nodded once.

‘Anything else?’ Augus said, and Gwyn opened his eyes and looked up at the ceiling.

‘Eye contact,’ Gwyn said, voice rough. ‘I need...that.’

Augus closed his eyes and despaired at Gwyn’s awkwardness, at how it plucked at something inside of him, something that made him want to forego rest and stay until Gwyn relaxed or got angry or decided to do paperwork or something.

‘Anything else?’ Augus prompted again, and Gwyn shook his head. ‘I’m going to stay here, if you don’t mind. You can imagine that me making egregious errors regarding judgement in these matters, doesn’t actually happen to me that often, and I’d like to lie here and absorb the fact of my own mistake about as melodramatically as you insist on lying here and staring up at the ceiling.’

Gwyn’s lips quirked up in something approximating a smile. Not quite, but almost. Augus moved his arm over Gwyn’s chest and curled his fingers over his shoulder, protectively.

‘I might want to come later,’ Gwyn murmured, and Augus laughed into an expanse of skin that smelled and tasted like iron and the remnants of lightning strikes.

‘Well, last I checked, I am your prisoner, so I suppose...you shall do with me what you will.’

He expected Gwyn to nod, to laugh, to appreciate being reminded of his position of power after being brought so low. And when no signs of any of that happened, he stroked Gwyn’s forearm and hoped that he wasn’t thinking what Augus had wanted him to start thinking some time ago; that the lines between prisoner and captor were blurred these days, and that Gwyn was far more captive than he was willing to admit.

‘It wasn’t all bad,’ Gwyn said finally. ‘I want to try the slower pace thing that you did. You enjoyed it so much, Augus.’

Augus raised his eyebrows, disturbed. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to show that side of himself to Gwyn again, it wasn’t even something he really showed to his clients.

But then...

He’s not a client, is he?

The part of himself that wanted to use Gwyn’s feelings for Augus against him one day quietened. It had no choice. After all, it was difficult to feel victorious when he realised he was in a similar situation.

Augus sighed and closed his eyes, tracing a small circle into Gwyn’s shoulder.

‘And you like it when I enjoy myself, do you?’ Augus said, pushing his voice into idleness, as though he didn’t care.

He felt Gwyn’s hesitation, as though he’d only just realised how much he’d revealed. He truly had no idea how much he’d revealed already. Augus exhaled slowly, for he had wanted the power to ruin Gwyn for a long time, and now that he had it, he became aware of the situation he was in.

Once, he’d destroyed a King and lived to regret it as he regretted very little in his life. He wouldn’t rush into such destruction again, he’d learned his lesson the first time.

Chapter Text

A week passed where Gwyn and Augus orbited each other. Gwyn still felt reserved after what had happened between them last time. Augus seemed to know that Gwyn both couldn’t talk about it, and couldn’t really think about it, so their conversations were limited to small matters, political matters, or simply noticing each other in the inner circles of Gwyn’s palatial rooms and nodding acknowledgements before moving in their own separate directions.

Gwyn still wasn’t entirely sure why the sounding had bothered him quite so much. He’d had no problems with it when administering it to Augus, who in turn had clearly enjoyed it at the time. That was a memory that he replayed and appreciated for how profound it was. How surprisingly intimate. And the sounding for Gwyn had been uncomfortable, even mildly painful, but not anywhere near the reams of torture that he had withstood over the years. And he’d never really cared about torture, because he healed, because pain was pain, and after a while the texture of it was the same.

Yet the sounding had been different. He didn’t even know he’d have problems with it until Augus presented him with the sounds themselves and smirked at him. He didn’t know it would be worse than he thought it would be, then worse again. Augus hadn’t been facing him, hadn’t listened, hadn’t-

But his mind wouldn’t let him think on it too much. Instead it reminded him of the aftermath; Augus’ voice when he’d asserted that the sounding wouldn’t be part of the game anymore. Ever. Gwyn had felt shaken by the sincerity of that statement. It was something he’d said once, himself. It was a time out that he’d never expected to offer, and certainly never expected to receive. Because why would they do that for each other? If they weren’t in the game of this strange give and take that they had, then what were they doing together? He doubted Augus’ honesty, but he didn’t want to, and that bothered him.

It was Augus, and Augus was dangerous. Not only because he was powerful. Not only because he surely, surely nursed thoughts and schemes of revenge that Gwyn could only imagine. Not only because he was clever and able to see through most of Gwyn’s defences. But because it was getting harder to resist him. There was a part of him that wanted to sink down into the submission that he inspired. He was still chagrined that he hadn’t enjoyed what Augus had done to him, simply because Augus wanted him to. He didn’t want to know that he felt ashamed for not pleasing him, hadn’t been able to convey that strange, concerted rush when he saw Augus taking pleasure from Gwyn’s body, the way Augus had ridden him slowly, how his breath had stuttered out of his lungs when Gwyn had – concentrating fiercely – attempted to help him.

Augus had asserted that Gwyn needed what he could give him, but the more Augus gave...

It was dangerous, because one day Augus would turn around and use it against him. Because if Gwyn were captive, if Gwyn had Augus’ history, he would do the same thing. He would find out what made Augus vulnerable, and he would turn it back on him one day. Because Gwyn was caging a fae who, once upon a time, was known not for being harmful and disturbed, but was loved for his beauty and his wit. Gwyn’s father had been witty. His mother was beautiful, at least on the outside. They were people who possessed enough natural charm when out in public, or during diplomatic events, that they were respected and their presence was often requested at gatherings.

Gwyn was neither of those things. It never used to bother him, being the one in the family who simply worked and was a soldier. He’d taken a simple, humble pride in his skills, which were hard won and that he had to persist in maintaining even now. It didn’t matter that his fellows weren’t attracted to him unless they were high on bloodlust, or drunk, and it hadn’t mattered that he couldn’t converse smoothly unless he was pointing at a map and talking about where to strike next. But he’d known that outside of being a soldier, he wasn’t fit for anything else, except – it turned out – Kingship. He wasn’t invited to garden parties, and he wasn’t requested for diplomatic events on a regular basis; Albion and Ondine did a far better job of dealing with those things.

Augus was meant for another crowd of people. The only reason he and Gwyn were spending any concerted length of time together at all was because of his captivity. And if he were Augus, if he were someone like Augus, and if he was being held captive by someone like Gwyn...

Gwyn knew he should watch his back, should disengage, but it was too late. And that last time Augus had asked him, Why aren’t you angry? And Gwyn had wanted to disappear, to melt away into light and leave the palace entirely, because it hadn’t occurred to him to be angry. Not after the initial frustration melted into fear and violation and nausea. It hadn’t occurred to him to be anything other than hurt. As though Augus had owed him something different.  

Augus’ captivity was becoming harder to bear.

Gwyn had even daydreamed what it might be like to release him. After all, Augus had to be contained for his own safety, for the safety of those around him – but if Augus were truly sane again, if he were stable and similar to what he once was...then why was he contained? Was it only to make everyone else happy? To offer them vindication? But no, they wanted vindication in the form of his death, and captivity wasn’t enough of a compromise for them. And if Augus was truly sane...

No one would understand if he released Augus. Likely even Augus wouldn’t understand it, because Gwyn was still puzzling it out himself. He didn’t think about that too much either, because it wasn’t possible; it was only that he was growing tired of being a captor, growing tired of his Court constantly asking about it. But if he released Augus...then what? It was an arrow of pain in his heart. In his mind, he imagined being able to release Augus, imagined that it wouldn’t spell the end of Augus’ life, and that was satisfying, that Augus would live, get a second chance, one that Gwyn suspected he may even deserve. But he couldn’t foresee any scenario in which Augus would want to stay in touch.

And the fact that Gwyn wanted that, even after the last time and how badly it had gone for him... it was a trap he couldn’t escape. His own body had engineered it, and it left him furious with himself. He knew to avoid entanglements like this, he knew. There was a reason he hadn’t let himself be so open since Mafydd, many reasons.

Ultimately, even if Augus betrayed him, even if Augus turned on him, Gwyn knew that the person who’d started it all was himself. He was the one who walked down to Augus’ cell and then kept coming back. He was the one who approached Augus in the first place, all those years ago. He was the one who, upon hearing one of his soldiers comment; ‘he breaks people and puts them back together again,’ wondered – even before he went mad – what being put back together again might be like. He’d spent his entire life broken, it was absurd that there was at least one fae out there who knew what to do with the pieces of someone.

Gwyn had done this to himself because of curiosity, because he couldn’t just accept that things were the way they were supposed to be.

Another week passed, and Gwyn had thrown himself back into his work. He told himself that he wasn’t avoiding Augus while knowing that for the lie that it was. He refused to sleep. He yearned for things he didn’t have a name for, and between that, hated himself for his daring. His parents had taught him, hadn’t they? He wasn’t supposed to want anything for himself, let alone more.

It was two days later that Gwyn walked through a curtain of vines only to see Augus standing, waiting for him.

‘Tsk tsk,’ Augus said. Gwyn’s heart-rate shot up, because that was not the way Augus started small talk. ‘You’ve been avoiding me.’

‘I have a Kingdom to run,’ Gwyn said and sidestepped Augus, trying to pull himself together. There was an instinct there to check if Augus was okay, if he needed anything. There was a darker instinct that told him to drop to his knees. He couldn’t stand it.

Gwyn froze when Augus reached out and casually, slowly fisted his hand in the back of Gwyn’s shirt.

‘That’s a convenient excuse,’ Augus said, ‘But as you are the King, you’re also the one who can take a break from running the Kingdom.’

Augus stepped forwards and Gwyn felt him, a sharp presence behind him, a coiled mass of energy. He smelled like fresh water and mineral-rich soil, of the land after days of heavy rain. Augus was in a mood. Though what for, Gwyn couldn’t tell.

The last time he’d been ambushed like this, Augus had tied him up, had shown him the sounds, hadn’t listened, had forced-

Gwyn made a sound before he could stop himself, tensed.

‘I think you need something you didn’t get last time I had you,’ Augus said quietly, the words hypnotic and almost soothing. ‘I think you need something that you don’t understand, and don’t know how to ask for. And I think you’re afraid now, that I just might give it to you.’

Gwyn’s stomach dropped and he swallowed, his breathing turned shallow.

The hand knotted in the back of his shirt relaxed, spread out flat across his spine, and then ran over his skin through his shirt until Augus could palm his ribs, until he could wrap his hand, possessive, around the front of his torso in what was almost a one-handed embrace. Augus was standing against him now, chest pressed against his back, breathing against his neck. Gwyn blinked rapidly, wondered what Augus wanted. Wondered what he thought Gwyn needed, because he’d been wrong last time.

‘You can go deeper, you know,’ Augus said, pressing his lips to the back of Gwyn’s neck. Gwyn shuddered, and then bit his own lip when Augus scraped teeth across his skin, a threat, a line of sensation that made him forget what he was supposed to be doing.

‘Deeper?’ Gwyn said.

‘And I’d like to see that, very much,’ Augus said, ‘I’d like to see how far I can push you. Because you fall so very hard, and you do it well, Gwyn.’

Gwyn’s eyes closed at the praise. Augus’ hand pushed into his front, encouraging Gwyn to lean backwards against his chest, and Gwyn – after hesitating – went with it. Augus was a solid weight behind him, his chin rested briefly in the space between Gwyn’s neck and shoulder. Then he moved his head so that he could lick the back of Gwyn’s neck again, licking almost up to his hairline before biting softly at a cord of muscle. Gwyn stared ahead, but he wasn’t looking at anything. He was curious, his body wanted to know what would happen next, his mind was shutting down.

‘There you go,’ Augus said. ‘Already, you want this. So easy. If I had known this about you before you defeated me, I would have simply found a way to get to you outside of the Court, and I would have stuffed your face full of cock and kept you like that for days. I’m almost certain that by the time I was finished with you, I could have cooed your name and you would have bowed your head for a leash, isn’t that right, King?’

No, Gwyn thought, weakly. He told himself the words weren’t a turn on, couldn’t be, because this was exactly the sort of thing that Gwyn was supposed to be worried about. The sort of thing that Augus would turn against him.

‘Why has no one else discovered this about you? Or are you only like this for me, I wonder? Flattering, but it amuses me to imagine you like this for anyone. You’ve been ripe for the taking for centuries. An amateur could do this. I don’t even need to bring my best game with you, Gwyn. I can  be lazy with you, and you still want to roll over.’

Gwyn grit his teeth against the insults, stepped forwards and dug his fingers into Augus’ wrist, pulling the arm away from his side. Augus immediately lashed out with his other hand and dug three fingers into points on his ribs that felt like liquid fire, and Gwyn gasped, froze.

‘I’m not done,’ Augus said sharply, disapproving. He dug his fingers in harder and Gwyn hunched over. The fingers felt like steel rods pushing into his side, his ribs felt broken, even though he knew they weren’t. The pain encroached through muscle, drifted through lungs and then made his heart lurch.

When the fingers withdrew, Gwyn stayed hunched over, the pain still racing. Unlike the other pressure points, the pain wasn’t abating. If anything, it felt like it was getting worse. He grit his teeth and squeezed his eyes shut and told himself to just bear it. He jolted when Augus returned his hand and rubbed firmly over the place where his fingers had pressed in, but miraculously, the pain unwound quickly. Gwyn sighed in relief.

When he straightened, he faced Augus and stomped down on that odd breathlessness inside of him.

‘You’re obsessed, Augus. I swallow you down once and you can’t stop bringing it up. Anyone would think you had a problem.’

Augus smirked, his eyes gleamed.

‘Well, you should see yourself – choking on it, crying, eyes squeezed shut, trembling.’

‘I don’t need to do that,’ Gwyn said, ‘When I have the next best thing.’

He stared at Augus meaningfully, and Augus chuckled and stepped forwards, placing his palm over Gwyn’s torso again.

‘I’m going to hurt you, later on today. Do, please, bring the banter with you, because I always enjoy the part where you pretend you stand a chance in hell against me, right before you break and cry. Didn’t you know? It makes the tedium of passing days here almost bearable.’

Augus patted Gwyn’s shoulder with a faux-affection, and then walked off, laughing indulgently as he went.

Gwyn stared ahead wide-eyed, wondering what had just happened.

*

The rest of the day passed as an increasing ball of tension in Gwyn’s gut. He didn’t know what Augus had planned, when he had planned it for, and around eight in the evening he contemplated teleporting out of the Seelie Court and not returning until morning.

But he suspected Augus wouldn’t be entirely happy if he did that either.

Then again, Augus had already promised that whatever he did would hurt, so how much worse could it-

Gwyn shut that line of thought down quickly, because that was just asking for trouble.

At ten in the evening, a hard knot of anticipation in his stomach and mouth dry, he ended up walking to Augus’ rooms, because his mind was conjuring up things he couldn’t bear, and he just wanted to know what Augus had planned. He felt shaky as he walked down the corridor, he stared uncertainly through the stained glass windows into the dusky twilight that never entirely reflected what the actual time of day was.

He picked up Augus’ scent and followed it into Augus’ bedroom, where he was leaning back in his chair, bare feet up on his desk, reading a thick, hardback book on the physics of light. It was a human book, and Gwyn had no idea where he’d gotten it from. Augus had obviously befriended some of the trows, because they seemed to bend over backwards to find him anything he asked for.

‘I wondered how long it would take you,’ Augus said, turning the page and continuing to read. Gwyn watched his eyes move over the page, waited awkwardly in the doorway. Augus came to the end of whatever passage he was reading and slipped a thin, metal bookmark in between the pages – the kind of bookmark that could have easily doubled as a small knife – before carefully folding the book closed. He placed it precisely on the desk, shifted it slightly with his finger until its bottom edge lined up perfectly with the edge of the desk.

He swung his feet off the desk and rose in a quick movement. He stood in front of Gwyn and the weight of that undivided attention was disconcerting.

Gwyn took an involuntary step backwards when Augus reached out for him.

‘No, no, you came here, to me,’ Augus said, tucking his fingers into the collar of Gwyn’s shirt and pulling him forwards. The backs of his fingernails scraped against Gwyn’s collarbone. ‘Aren’t you curious? Didn’t you decide it was better to know?’

‘I certainly decided you might not like it if I left.’

‘But you didn’t actually leave, think the better of it, and then return? Impressive.’

‘I don’t appreciate you playing with me like this,’ Gwyn said, and then blinked when Augus tiptoed the fingers of both his hands along the sides of Gwyn’s neck, stroking over his internal carotid arteries, drawing forth sensation. He dug his fingertips into flesh, and Gwyn was surprised at how blunt Augus’ nails were. The claws were filed down. They’d grow back quickly, but he’d smoothed them down, it was odd for there to be no sharp points threatening to break through his skin.

One of Augus’ hands dropped down and with no preamble, cupped him through his pants, and Gwyn couldn’t move. Augus blinked with a sleepy satisfaction, a predatory spark lighting up in his eyes.

‘You do appreciate me playing with you like this. See?’

It didn’t take much to rouse Gwyn to half-hardness, and then further. Augus’ hand barely shifted against him, and Gwyn stared past his face and looked at a point in the room, wishing he had an idea of what Augus had planned. When Augus smoothed his palm over him, pressing down with the heel of his hand, Gwyn’s mouth thinned.

‘You can speak today,’ Augus said, ‘When I give you a chance to.’

‘Pardon?’ Gwyn said, and his voice was already weaker.

‘But when I ask you to do something, you had best do it quickly, do you understand? Or is my hand, here, getting in the way of your ability to comprehend what I’m saying?’

Fingers squeezed at the head of his cock through the fabric, and the pressure, the texture of the cloth, the fact that he was only newly aroused and still wary all combined to make him over-sensitive. He nodded quickly, hissed uncomfortably, and Augus relented for a few seconds, then squeezed again, likely just to show that he could.

‘Close the door,’ Augus said crisply, and Gwyn turned out of Augus’ touch and closed it, uneasy when Augus pressed himself up against Gwyn’s back. He was starting to realise that Augus had a thing for crowding him. He was starting to realise that he had a thing for it. It overwhelmed his senses, scattered he rest of his thoughts.

‘Lock it,’ Augus said.

‘No one will bother us,’ Gwyn said, ‘I’m not su-’

Gwyn cried out in shock and then pain as Augus reached around and dug his fingers into his ribs again, finding the same pressure points as before. Gwyn’s hand came out and braced himself against the door he’d just closed, white sparks were exploding in his vision. It was worse than last time. It hurt.

‘I just said that when I asked you to do something, you had best do it quickly. Pay attention, Gwyn. I don’t need claws to hurt you.’

Gwyn gasped and fumbled at the lock, and it was only when it clicked into place that Augus relented, releasing his fingers from where it felt like they’d been digging through muscle directly into his bones. He didn’t know what it was about those particular pressure points, but they stayed locked up like a muscle spasm until Augus returned his fingers and rubbed over the space again, smoothing out the pain. Gwyn shuddered out an exhale of relief, and Augus made a small, unhappy sound behind him.

‘So tense,’ he muttered, almost to himself. Gwyn didn’t read an order in the words, so he took a moment to rest his head against the door. Augus pressed the flats of his fingers over certain points on Gwyn’s ribs, and pain flared briefly then released, causing warmth to flow through him. After a while, the quality of the pressure changed. He frowned as the hand soothing over the pressure points became fingers simply smoothing over his torso.

‘What are you doing?’ Gwyn said, confused.

‘I’m touching you,’ Augus said, the part where Augus said ‘you idiot,’ at the end was implied in his tone.

‘Yes, but-’

‘So eager to hurt?’ Augus said, and Gwyn’s eyes widened.

‘That’s not what I meant,’ he said.

Augus stepped back several steps and Gwyn turned around, feeling the absence of Augus’ hand from his side, and a residual dull ache where the pain had initially flared. He would like to find the fae that had taught Augus about pressure points and throttle them. Likely it was Fluri, and she was dead anyway, but still. He didn’t remember Fluri ever being that good with them, but then perhaps he’d just never been in a position to find out.

‘Take your clothes off,’ Augus said. Gwyn blinked at him, shivered.

Gwyn’s hands moved automatically to his shirt. Last time he’d taken too long, he’d had claws rake into his skin. This time the threat was likely pressure points.  Either way, he didn’t care enough about being clothed to risk getting hurt again. He dropped his shirt to the floor and went to work on his pants, letting them crease at his feet. He straightened, stepped out of the pants and looked at Augus to distract himself from looking over at the bed, from speculating about what might be happening. The bed dominated the room.

‘Now me,’ Augus said, smirking, raising an arm to indicate his shirt.

Gwyn narrowed his eyes and stepped forwards. This wasn’t something he’d had to do before, and he was curious, wary. He placed both of his hands at Augus’ shoulders, and Augus clucked his tongue in disapproval.

‘Unbutton it.’

‘It’s...’ a wide-necked shirt, I can pull it off.

Gwyn cut himself off, reaching down for the first button at Augus’ chest. It didn’t matter if it could be taken off all at once, just like it hadn’t mattered whether the door needed to be locked. These things were arbitrary. Augus was simply giving him spaces to resist his orders to see what he would do. He ignored the way Augus’ smile widened as he carefully unbuttoned his shirt, letting the fabric fall open, exposing Augus’ chest and telling himself not to look so that he could stay focused. He reached up after undoing the last button and eased the fabric off his shoulders. He didn’t know if he should let it fall to the floor, but Augus didn’t say that he should do anything else with it, so he let it drop.

He lowered his hands to Augus’ pants – dark gray today – and Augus rested his hands over Gwyn’s, a stilling motion.

‘No. Take these off while you’re on your knees.’

Gwyn’s heart-rate spiked again, he looked at Augus to double-check, then looked away as he dropped onto the hard floor. The wood was cold against his knees. He was finding this part harder, eagerness and dread tangling up together until he wasn’t sure exactly what to do. But Augus had told him what to do, hadn’t he? He reached up with his hands once more, and this time Augus didn’t stop him.

When Gwyn hooked his hands into the hem of the pants to bring them down, Augus reached down suddenly and placed his fingertips back over Gwyn’s neck, finding the shape of his carotid arteries and stroking downwards. Augus brought his fingers back up and pressed, and Gwyn felt the constriction in his throat, rasped a breath before the pressure lightened. The fingers only withdrew when Gwyn pulled off Augus’ pants properly. Augus wasn’t yet hard, but that didn’t surprise Gwyn. Still, a cool flicker of disappointment washed through him.

‘On the bed,’ Augus said, stepping back. ‘On your back. Head flat, not resting on the pillows.’

Gwyn narrowed his eyes at the odd order, but didn’t say anything. Then it occurred to him as he got on the bed, trepidation settling in his bones, that he could talk as freely as he wanted to. Augus had said he could speak.

‘Why no pillows?’ Gwyn said as he lowered himself down onto his back. In order to avoid the pillows, he had to lie down further on the bed. He was too long for it, and he bent his legs, nervously pulling at the fabric of the duvet between his thumb and forefinger. Instincts warred with each other inside of him. There was one that told him that he should be fighting back, teleporting away into light, but that voice was harder to listen to than the one that just told him to listen, to pay attention.  

‘Because,’ Augus said as he crawled onto the bed with his sleek animal grace. ‘I’m going to choke you, and this will make it easier on me.’

Gwyn pushed himself upright at those words, eyes widening. Augus placed a hands flat on his chest as he straddled him and pushed him back down with a significant amount of strength.

‘That’s why you cut your nails,’ Gwyn said, frustrated, a spool of curiosity unwinding inside of him. He didn’t want to be interested in this. It was dangerous.

‘Yes,’ Augus said, looking down at him with lidded eyes. ‘It’s actually something I quite enjoy. Usually, it’s something done while your cock is being stimulated. Hypoxia is a stimulant, you know. But as you tend to come in about thirty to sixty seconds, I wondered what would happen if I just sat here and wrapped my hands around your throat.’

‘And you think I’ll just let you do that,’ Gwyn said, flat, and Augus bared his teeth in a grin. It was feral, and Gwyn pushed himself up again, pushing at Augus with his hand. Augus grasped his wrist and dug fingers in between the veins, finding a locus of nerves that blazed like fire down his arm. It left his arm weak and his hand went limp. He growled in frustration, tried to move his hand and wrist, but they wouldn’t respond.

‘I think I’ll make you let me,’ Augus crooned, increasing the pressure until numbness followed the length of pain all the way to Gwyn’s shoulder. ‘Lie down.’

‘Last time you did the...that to me, this time you-’

Augus let go of his arm suddenly and pulled Gwyn’s jaw around with thumb and forefinger, staring at him. His eyebrows pulled together, his mouth twisted down.

That? You can’t say sounding? Say it.’

Gwyn swallowed, jerked his head out of Augus’ grip and shoved at him hard. Augus tightened his legs around Gwyn’s torso, but Gwyn was stronger, more determined, and he disengaged himself. He pushed himself back up the bed until his shoulders hit the headboard. His heart was pounding now, because he hadn’t done something he’d been asked to, because once again he wasn’t pleasing Augus. He wanted to, but he’d be damned before he’d get caught in a situation like last time.

Augus twisted on the bed, lurched forwards to attack and then stilled, the dissatisfaction on his face blending into something very different. He paused, and then settled back until he was sitting, he folded his hands in his lap. He looked contained.

‘Say it,’ Augus said, and Gwyn glared at him. ‘Don’t think about last time, think about the time with me, when you enjoyed yourself, and say it.’

Gwyn didn’t like this at all. He didn’t like that Augus knew how uncomfortable it made him. He didn’t like that he couldn’t actually say it. Or that Augus was just sitting there watching him, instead of pushing him or fighting back like he thought he would. He was confused. And it shouldn’t be hard anyway. He had to say things all the time that he didn’t enjoy saying. Talking with his mother alone was a constant exercise in forcing himself to say things that he didn’t want to say, such as – for example – anything at all. He didn’t particularly enjoy talking with Crielle.

‘You know,’ Augus said, speculatively. ‘At the time, you joked that you might want to come later. At the end, when you were slightly more at ease. But you haven’t asked me since then, and you’ve been avoiding me. When was the last time you got yourself off?’

Gwyn frowned. Now he had no idea what was going on.

It was also a subject that made him uncomfortable.

‘I don’t really...’ Gwyn shook his head, he sighed. ‘It’s been a while.’

‘You aren’t serious?’ Augus said, staring at him. ‘I had this delightful image of you tugging yourself off about twenty times a day.’

‘Three weeks maybe,’ Gwyn said, and Augus’ eyes widened. It wasn’t often that Gwyn saw Augus truly shocked, and he suspected he was seeing it now.

‘Tell me what you thought about three weeks ago?’ Augus asked, recovering from his shock quickly and tilting his head to the side.

Gwyn flushed, because what he thought about three weeks ago was Augus forcing his cock down the back of Gwyn’s throat. Gwyn couldn’t even say that he only thought about the parts where he’d gained back more control. He’d thought about all of it. Even the parts where Augus hadn’t stopped, had hurt him, had looked down at him with that smug anger in his eyes and said, Take it, Gwyn. In fact, Gwyn remembered, looking down at the texture of the duvet, that may have actually been when he’d come.

Gwyn cleared his throat, and then looked up when Augus crawled towards him, his smirk returning.

‘Tell me,’ Augus sing-songed, putting his hands on Gwyn’s thighs and raising himself up until they were on a level. ‘Did you think about me?’

Gwyn looked up at the ceiling. He was in trouble here, he didn’t know what to say. He didn’t particularly want to give Augus the satisfaction, but obviously it was too late for that, as he had an incredibly smug look on his face.

‘Because I think I can guess, if you did,’ Augus said, sliding his hands forwards until they met his hips and slid inwards. The confidence of it, having Augus find his way closer to his cock, it was distracting. Gwyn exhaled through an open mouth.

‘Augus-’

‘But I want you to tell me. Didn’t you know? Repressed, uppity Kings who are so good at talking filth when they’re in control, but can’t manage basic sentences the rest of the time, are a thing of mine. Go on, tell me.’

Augus rested one hand at the crease where Gwyn’s bent leg met his torso, and curled his other hand around Gwyn’s cock. Gwyn closed his eyes.

‘If you tell me, we can do it again,’ Augus said, voice rich and promising.

Fuck.

‘If you say it, we can maybe kill two birds with one stone. I want to see you without air, and I think you want to be without air, in a very specific context. But you have to tell me.’

‘You said you were going to hurt me,’ Gwyn said, and Augus’ expression flickered for just a moment.

‘I think I already have,’ he said, something unreadable in his tone. Then it became confident once more, transforming to smoothness. ‘And I think I will again. And I think I might tonight, if you let me bruise the back of your fucking throat.’

Gwyn swallowed, then moaned when Augus began moving his hand up and down, a slow, rhythmic movement. Augus dropped his head and placed his teeth on Gwyn’s neck in an open bite, pressing down, licking with his tongue. He withdrew and then arched up again, making eye contact.

‘Tell me, Gwyn,’ Augus said, ‘I’m being so very patient. Tell me what you thought of, three weeks ago.’

‘I...You,’ Gwyn said, looking sideways. The hand on him tightened as if in reward, moved faster. Gwyn licked at his dry lips, shuddered, wished this was easier but it wasn’t. He’d never been good at this. ‘Um, when you had me on my knees.’

‘When I had you on your knees doing what?’

The hand that had been moving on him withdrew, became a palm smoothing over his lower belly, then tracing a curve of muscle on his upper thigh. Gwyn shifted, restless, and Augus dug his fingers into muscle, scraped them over his skin. Gwyn grunted.

‘Tell me,’ Augus said, ‘And I’ll give you something else to think about, next time.’

Gwyn’s head fell backwards at the thought, it thumped into the headboard. Augus laughed in the back of his throat.

‘But you have to tell me,’ Augus said. ‘Isn’t this novel though? When you’re lording it over me, you’re all ‘suck my cock’ this, and ‘I’m going to make it hurt’ that. And now look at you. Aren’t you embarrassed for yourself? Or is that the problem? You’ve been alive for long enough, Gwyn, why are you so shy?

‘I’m not shy,’ Gwyn said, voice hardening, and then he hissed when Augus wrapped his hand around his cock again, moving slowly, maddeningly.

‘You are,’ Augus said, smug. ‘So go on then, if you’re so bold, tell me what you thought of, the last time you wrapped a hand around your cock and...well, do you stick fingers inside of yourself?’

Gwyn’s eyes flew open.

‘No!’ he said, affronted, and Augus tipped his head forward helplessly as he started to laugh. His hand paused in its movements and instead he just chuckled quietly. Gwyn ground his teeth together.

‘Not even once?’ Augus said, and Gwyn scowled. Augus was teasing him now.

‘You want to know what I thought about?’ Gwyn said, and Augus hummed.

‘I keep asking you, don’t I?’

‘I thought about how deep you were able to go,’ Gwyn said quickly, determined, ‘and how good that felt. I thought about how my throat hurt for at least a full day afterwards, which meant that you did some damage, because my healing doesn’t usually take that long. And I liked it. I couldn’t look at any one of my colleagues or citizens the next day and talk to them without thinking about it. I thought about how your breathing changed when I was able to go at my own pace, without any hands, just my mouth, and tongue, and throat around your cock. But instead of it ending the way it did, I imagined you spilling down my throat, because if you must know-’

Gwyn didn’t get a chance to finish his sentence. Augus surged up and sealed his mouth over Gwyn’s, thrust his tongue in deep. Augus’ hand worked at him, fast and confident now, thumb moving over the head of him and striking a core of warmth within, causing it to spread. Gwyn’s eyes closed, his face was burning. He couldn’t believe he’d said all of that, could hardly believe Augus’ reaction to it.

‘Move,’ Augus demanded as he pulled back, biting Gwyn’s lower lip. ‘Move so I can choke you with it again. We’re doing breathplay tonight one way or another, Gwyn. Might as well be the way you can stand.’

Augus moved up alongside Gwyn so that he was sitting with his back against the headboard, he had at some point become fully hard, and when Augus pointed at the space between his legs, Gwyn went, a hunger burning inside of him. He hoped that he had something to do with Augus being hard. He moved forwards, impatient, ready to start, but Augus placed a quiet hand on his shoulder. Gwyn looked up, confused, and Augus was watching him, all traces of self-satisfaction or smugness gone from his face, his mouth was pulled down at the corners, his eyes sober.

‘I’m serious,’ Augus said. ‘Breathplay. You have pressure points here.’

Augus reached forwards and dug his index and middle fingers into the sides of Gwyn’s jaw, where the bottom hinged into the top. Gwyn felt nothing, and then Augus inched his fingers upwards until he found what he was looking for. There was a flare of mild pain and his bottom jaw went lax.

‘I’m going to use them so you don’t hurt me. Do you understand?’

Gwyn stared at him as Augus removed his fingers from the pressure points. The pain died down. Augus kept his hands on Gwyn’s face, and Gwyn couldn’t look away. Augus was being gentle, but there was something fierce in his eyes, something determined.  

‘I don’t plan on pushing you to blackout,’ Augus said, eyes bright, ‘But I will push you.’

‘You are serious,’ Gwyn said, and he wanted to take the words back as soon as he’d said them. Of course Augus was serious. He’d been in Augus’ playrooms before, hadn’t he? He’d seen at least some of the things that Augus was versed in, he shouldn’t be surprised that this was one of them. Fear bubbled and Augus’ fingers shifted on his face, he leaned closer.

‘Your pupils just dilated,’ Augus said, and then the side of his mouth turned up. ‘Good.’

His hands slid up Gwyn’s cheeks and into his hair, and then he put increasing pressure on Gwyn’s head, pushing him down.

‘Start,’ Augus said, and Gwyn went with the movement, moving so that he was as comfortable as possible. He rested his right arm on the outside of Augus’ thigh, bracing his forearm on the blankets. He placed his left hand on Augus’ torso, wanting something to hold onto, liking the tautness of Augus’ musculature, the way his lukewarm skin warmed underneath Gwyn’s palm.

Augus’ hands slackened, rising up and shifting through his curls, letting Gwyn – at least for now – go at his own pace. Gwyn wished his mouth wasn’t so dry, but he figured that wouldn’t be a problem for long. He stretched his tongue out, licked the head of Augus’ cock, familiarised himself with the shape of it in a way he hadn’t been able to last time. His fingers twitched against Augus’ torso, where Augus – in turn – had taken a sudden, deep breath. Every breath after that was forced back to evenness, but Gwyn had noticed, couldn’t repress the pleasure that rose inside of him at that involuntary response.

He didn’t take Augus into his mouth straight away, testing his leeway. He licked a semi-dry stripe down the length of him, and Augus’ hands tightened in his hair, but didn’t force him to do anything else. He licked his way back up again and took the head of Augus into his mouth, pushing down and realising the angle was slightly wrong. He hitched his shoulders up and concentrated; not perfect, but better. It would have to do. He sank lower, breathed through his nose, head spinning already.

Gwyn started to lift his head to increase the amount of saliva in his mouth, but Augus’ hands tightened and prevented the movement.

‘All the way down,’ Augus breathed. ‘Since you’re so good at it.’

Gwyn hesitated, took in a deep breath his nose and closed his eyes, wishing the nerves would disappear. They fluttered sickeningly in his gut, made him aware that he wanted to do well, that he didn’t know what was coming, that he didn’t know if he’d manage, that he wanted to please. He lowered down anyway, Augus’ hands an unforgiving pressure, and Gwyn not wanting to resist.

When Augus hit the back of his throat, he paused, focused. He could do this. He tried to will his neck to relax as he swallowed, and Augus slid through into his throat. His gag reflex closed in immediately and he made a sound of frustration. One of Augus’ hands gentled, palmed the side of his head and then stroked his forehead and cheek in a way that reminded him of an ancient, familiar touch, and Gwyn’s mind tilted, his breath hitched. Mafydd. His heart ached, felt like it was splintering, and he moaned in despair. He’d done this before.

Augus hand stopped moving at the sound, he leaned forward, he’d noticed, but Gwyn didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to think, and he had the perfect solution for that in his mouth, entering his throat. He forced himself down roughly, not stopping until there was no more of Augus left to take in, until his nose was touching Augus’ skin, thick with the scent of him. He sucked experimentally and Augus touched the side of his face with his fingertips, then smoothed back up and ruffled his hair.

‘Up,’ Augus said, and Gwyn lifted his head, mouth wet, breathing as soon as he was able. He kept his mouth open a little as he looked up at Augus.

‘Why are we stopping?’ Gwyn said, confused, and Augus narrowed his eyes. Gwyn noticed a flush on his cheeks, and felt his own cock twitch against the bed.

‘Because,’ Augus said, expression smoothing into something dark, ‘It’s the last time you’re going to have this much oxygen in your bloodstream for a little while. You should enjoy it.’

Gwyn blinked, dazed, and then took a deep breath, wondering what he was getting himself into.

‘Down,’ Augus said, and Gwyn went with the pressure again, tracing the fingers of his left hand over Augus’ skin as he went. A small voice in the back of his mind shrieked that he should not be this easy, that he should not allow something like this, but it the voice was easy to ignore when he lowered his mouth over Augus once more and swallowed him down, finding himself overwhelmed as his throat stretched open again, the painful scrape of it, the concentration it required.

He realised that Augus wanted him to find his own rhythm, and he did, taking small catches of breath where he could, mouth kicking in and producing more than enough saliva. He was hard against the blankets, ground his hips down on a downstroke and groaned when his mind went satisfyingly blank.

The next time Augus bottomed out in his throat, Augus straightened, and one of the hands on the back of his head fisted hard into his hair, held him down. Gwyn jerked, scraped his cock against the blankets involuntarily and grunted. His throat hurt, his scalp hurt, his chest still ached.

Seconds passed, and Gwyn trembled when Augus lowered his other hand down to Gwyn’s jaw and pressed his index and middle finger into the point he had before. Gwyn’s jaw was already open, already lax, he knew Augus was just preparing for when Gwyn might not have control over his reflexes. It sent a thick wave of fear through him, because already he couldn’t breathe.

He wondered why Augus thought this would be effective though. Gwyn could simply move his head upwards, resist the pressure. And as he wondered that, Augus’ other hand on the back of his head twisted so that fingers were pointing in the direction of his neck. They shifted down to the space where skull met cervical vertebrae and stroked firmly. Suddenly Augus seemed to find what he was looking for and fingertips pressed down hard.

Gwyn’s eyes flew open, he couldn’t move upwards at all. The back of his neck had locked up, it wasn’t like anything he’d experienced before, and it was frightening. He made a sound of distress and Augus hushed him.

‘Hang in there,’ Augus said, ‘It’s temporary.’

Augus shifted, arched his hips so that his cock shifted painfully in Gwyn’s throat. It shouldn’t have been a turn on, it shouldn’t have distracted him, but it did. Gwyn made a sharp sound that might have been a moan if he’d had any air, then whined when he realised oxygen was becoming a problem. He blinked tears out of his eyes, his vision blurred. Augus’ fingers pressed into the side of his jaw and pain flared briefly, mild because his mouth was already open.

Seconds passed and Gwyn choked out several repetitive sounds of protest, and Augus made a responding sound of approval that made Gwyn’s chest feel even tighter. His body felt too hot, too wound up already. He tried to strain backwards, his shoulders bunched to push himself up and off, but the fingers digging into the back of his neck meant his spine wasn’t cooperating.

Augus hissed, and Gwyn realised that he was digging his nails into Augus’ torso, that he was clawing. The pain in his chest was getting worse, he could feel his heart labouring. He reminded himself that this couldn’t kill him. That if dying was as simple as prolonged oxygen deprivation, he would have been dead years ago. It couldn’t kill him. But the pressure and the pain were spiralling upwards and threads of black panic started to pick up speed.

Suddenly the hand lifted up off the base of his neck and Gwyn pushed up and off, chest heaving for air. He coughed wetly, gasping, and shook his head because he was so hard, he was still so hard. He thought he might even be more sensitive now than he was before.

‘Down again,’ Augus said, twisting his fingers into Gwyn’s hair and tugging him back. ‘That’s enough air.’

‘Augus...’ Gwyn said, voice shot through with raggedness. Augus cleared his throat, took a shaky breath.

Down.’

Gwyn went down on Augus again, but it was harder this time to open his throat, his lungs still heaving for air. He had less control over his neck muscles. He whimpered as Augus’ cock scraped over bruises, whimpered again when Augus dragged his fingers reassuringly over his scalp. Augus moved his hands again in a slow, drugging manner and Gwyn’s blood leapt with arousal. He pushed his hips down into the blankets, rolled them, and was able to take Augus down all the way as a blaze of heat filled him.

‘Are you close?’ Augus said, and Gwyn shrugged, because he didn’t know. It was confusing, he felt...split, somehow. He couldn’t tell.

‘Find the pace you like,’ Augus said roughly, as Gwyn started bobbing his head slowly up and down. ‘And follow that with your hips.’

Gwyn found his pace and experimentally rolled his hips into the bed, following the rhythm, realised quickly that he was closer than he’d thought. He found himself tapping at Augus’ torso, letting him know, and then his brow furrowed when he realised what he was doing. When did he start doing that?

Augus said nothing, but on a downstroke soon after Gwyn started tapping, his hand pushed down on the back of his head once more and fingers sought out the pressure point at the back of his neck. Gwyn wished he’d sucked in a deeper breath last time, and then thought flooded out of him as his vertebrae locked up and fingers found the side of his jaw, stroking twice, almost affectionate, before resting, waiting. Gwyn could feel his heart thumping hard already, feel his discordant pulse points. His whole body felt like it was throbbing.

He moaned thickly when he realised how hard he was.

‘Hold off,’ Augus said softly. ‘Hold off, and you can come next time, I promise.’

Gwyn’s head was swimming, his mouth and throat hurt, were full. Dizziness powered into him and he made a sharp, short sound when his chest heaved sharply without his input. Augus was saying something else, but sound had become murky. He had far less oxygen left in his bloodstream than he did before, and he was closer to the blackness. He became aware that he was shaking.

Sharp pain flared through his jaw, a lightning strike up through the side of his face. He startled, that had been unexpected. He realised, dimly, that Augus had pressed his fingers in before, and that Gwyn had automatically gone to close his jaw without realising. His reflexes were kicking in.

Frustratingly, he was still hard, he wanted that release more than anything. His body taunted him, told him that release would be deep, satisfying breaths of air, that it would be more than just pleasure.

Gwyn wasn’t thinking properly when Augus let go of the pressure point on the back of his neck, and – close to blacking out – Augus quickly pushed his hand underneath Gwyn’s chin and helped him up and off. Gwyn’s shoulders gave way and he gasped for air, had no idea how much time had passed. It hadn’t seemed like long at all, but now he wasn’t sure. Time wasn’t working properly. Fingers pressed into the pulse at his neck. The fingers of Augus’ other hand stroked his forehead.

‘S this good for you?’ Gwyn heard himself say between spasms of coughing, his voice too rough to cooperate. Augus smoothed his hand over Gwyn’s face, collecting tears and spreading them.

‘If you must know, I’m having to hold myself off too,’ Augus said, unsteadily, and laughed. ‘I am, after all, a sadist.’

‘Are,’ Gwyn managed, in exhausted agreement.

‘That’s enough,’ Augus said, tugging at Gwyn’s hair until Gwyn forced his arm underneath himself. He felt uncoordinated, his lungs were on fire. He didn’t know if he could do this again. There was no way he’d be able to tolerate it under any other circumstance, and he didn’t know if he could withstand it again. Deepthroating was one thing, but this was beyond what he had words for, tipped him over a line into a scattered, disorganised place.

‘Please,’ Gwyn sobbed, and Augus kept pulling on his hair. ‘Augus.’

‘It will be quick, this time,’ Augus said, and Gwyn hoped he was right, hoped this wasn’t one of those times when Augus said one thing but meant something else entirely. ‘Again, Gwyn. Focus.’

Gwyn listened, tried to obey. He lowered himself again and hissed at the pain in the back of his throat, rose up away from it, still felt like he hadn’t properly caught his breath.  

‘Come on, Gwyn. Let me come down your throat, isn’t that what you wanted?’

Fuck, Gwyn thought again, lowering his mouth around Augus, forcing his own throat open and holding back the sudden urge to laugh. He’d withstood torture, but Augus pressing down the back of his throat made him want to cry out, and he whined again, frustrated, pained, full.

Move, Gwyn,’ Augus said, voice carrying an edge which sounded like impatience, confirmed when Augus’ cock twitched in his mouth.

Gwyn started moving his head first, far clumsier than before. His hips followed, and he wasn’t going to last, his cock had a mind of its own and whatever pain was going on in the upper half of Gwyn’s body wasn’t reflected there at all. He started tapping at Augus’ torso again, over and over, because how, how was he supposed to-

That pressure again, at the back of his neck, fingers digging in at the base of his skull. And other fingers pressed into the side of his jaw as his throat closed around Augus, who was swelling against him, and his head screeched at him for air, air, air-

His eyes flew open as the bolts of pleasure shooting through him turned into a shaft of something sharper, ripping up along his spine and through his gut. He made a short, stifled sound around Augus and began to come, shattered by it. A moment later Augus gave a brief, quiet moan and began to spill down the back of his throat. Gwyn couldn’t coordinate his reflexes, swallowed a silty, rounded flavour without thinking even as his lungs screamed. Black encroached on his vision, at first slow, then with the quickness of a striking snake.

Hands were shifting around him, moving fast, moving him up and off and Gwyn was choking and coughing and still coming which was impossible, wasn’t possible, and he just wanted his lungs to stop hurting, to stop searing him with their demand for air because he was giving it to them, he was trying to breathe. His lungs had gone into spasm and he fisted a hand up into blankets, eyes squeezed shut and riding out heavy currents of sensation, some pleasurable, some painful, all tangled up in a ball that he couldn’t find his way out of.

Gwyn came back to himself slowly. He focused first on the hand that was stroking the side of his face over and over again, fingers tracing an eyebrow, then the upper curve of his cheekbone, all the way down to his jaw, before starting again. He became aware of a flat pressure against his chest – Augus’ palm measuring out his heartbeats, resting over his sternum. After a minute, that hand came up and checked the pulse point at his neck for a few seconds, before drifting back down to his chest and rubbing circles over his skin; slow, grounding circles.

Gwyn pressed his face into the blankets, struck by the sudden, unexpected urge to cry. He swallowed the sobs down, but couldn’t stop the fresh wave of tears that came. He was just too undone. He’d come too far apart.

Time passed, Gwyn’s mind drifted, floating in a blackness as deep as  that which had crested over his vision before. He became aware of things slowly. That, somehow, he had ended up half on his side, his head in Augus’ lap. That his chest was still hitching on every inhale, and that his lungs ached. His throat was a mess, and one side of his face was bruised where Augus had dug into the pressure point between his upper and lower jaw. The back of his neck also felt bruised, stiff. Gwyn felt a small flicker of dark humour – Augus had said it was going to hurt, and even if there had been a change of plans, at least he had good follow through.  

But he was dimly aware of other things too. He felt sated. There was a tension he’d been carrying for weeks which had disappeared. It was still there in the background, but for now, he couldn’t feel it. He felt lighter, somehow. He blinked blurred vision away and saw Augus looking down at him, watching him with an unreadable expression on his face.

‘Aftercare,’ Augus said, and Gwyn squinted up at him. ‘I’m getting up, getting you something to drink. Stay there. As though you could do anything else.’

Augus shifted and Gwyn’s eyes widened, struck with a sudden sense that Augus was going to go. He twisted sharply, fearful, and Augus froze.

‘Really?’ Augus said, looking down at him, mouth twisting into a tired smile. ‘I’d just like to point out that you being like this is why you had to make that blood-oath. Gwyn, I’m not even leaving the room. Calm down.’

Gwyn watched Augus as he got off the bed and walked around it to his desk. Gwyn hadn’t noticed the carafe of water there before, or the glass beside it. There were – he thought – what looked like herbs floating in the water. That was as far as his mind was willing to go before it blanked again. He blinked in surprise when Augus was back by the bed and pulling him upright, frowning when Gwyn still had problems coordinating himself.

Gwyn wrapped shaking fingers around the glass, but Augus wouldn’t let it go, and so they both guided it to Gwyn’s mouth.

‘You sink so far down, don’t you?’ Augus said softly, as Gwyn took his first sip of water. It tasted sour, astringent, and the first swallow was like thorns in the back of his throat. He winced, and Augus made a sound of sympathy. ‘All of it, the herbs will help.’

Gwyn wanted to ask him just how many times Augus had done this before, but he didn’t want to talk. He finished the glass of water slowly, noticing halfway through that his throat was hurting less, there was a numbing effect that caused the inside of mouth to tingle. He took longer sips and then watched as Augus placed the glass onto his desk and crawled back onto the bed. He took up his place against the headboard again, rearranging cushions and pillows behind himself. He sighed once he was comfortable, then reached forwards and pulled Gwyn over.

Gwyn ended up with his head back in Augus’ lap, the side of his face on Augus’ thigh and his arms by Augus’ sides. Augus placed both of his hands flat on Gwyn’s back, and then paused. Instead he reached around himself and picked up Gwyn’s arms at the wrists, moving them.

‘Like this,’ Augus said, ‘Around me.’

Gwyn furrowed his brow, unsure of what he meant, and then realisation dawned on him. Augus wanted him to wrap his arms around Augus’ torso. Uncertainly, he did it. It felt oddly sweet, and it set him on edge.

Augus placed his palm flat over one of Gwyn’s hands and pushed.

‘Press your hands into me,’ Augus said, and Gwyn did. ‘Gwyn...’

Augus laughed, and Gwyn furrowed his brow, not certain what had caused it this time.

‘Embrace me,’ Augus said, and Gwyn frowned. Why would Augus want that? And wasn’t that what Gwyn was doing? ‘Gwyn, surely you...’

Augus leaned forwards until his hair was brushing the space between Gwyn’s shoulder blades, his hands stroked a long, languid stroke down Gwyn’s back. Gwyn sighed and his arms shifted against Augus, uncertain. He didn’t know quite what to do.

‘Gwyn,’ Augus murmured, ‘when was the last time someone fucked you, and it was gentle?’

Gwyn closed his eyes, he couldn’t keep up with Augus’ thoughts, his tangents, he didn’t have the energy to even try. Instead, he cast his mind around for an answer to the question.

‘Last time,’ Gwyn said, voice still not quite his own. ‘When you rode me.’

Augus shook his head, the motion sent his hair trailing damply across Gwyn’s back.

‘No. That doesn’t count, I’m afraid. Last time doesn’t count as a gentle experience for you, regardless of what that looked like. So when? Tell me.’

‘You’re bossy,’ Gwyn complained and then pushed his face into Augus’ torso and breathed in the scent of him. It was easier to say that, than to say I don’t know. Especially because it would be a lie, he did know. It was a long time ago. Mafydd. Things he didn’t want to think about. He shook his head absently.

Augus sighed, and Gwyn shifted his head up so he could speak.

‘I don’t know what you’re sighing about,’ he complained.

‘You wouldn’t, would you?’ Augus said. Gwyn couldn’t be bothered figuring out his tone. He awkwardly pressed his hands into Augus’ sides, then shivered when Augus stroked his spine again, using the heels of his palms for added pressure. It unwound something in the base of Gwyn’s neck, and he moaned in gratitude. That was very good.

‘I wasn’t gentle with you, the very first time we met,’ Augus said, and Gwyn shrugged tiredly. Gwyn hadn’t been looking for gentle, he’d been looking for absolution.  ‘And you say you wouldn’t have let me administer aftercare that first time, if you hadn’t been tied up and dazed in the first place.’

‘And?’ Gwyn said, and Augus breathed out a laugh that had nothing of mirth in it.

‘Nothing, really.’

‘Doesn’t sound like nothing,’ Gwyn said, and Augus feathered his fingers through Gwyn’s hair. It was nice, was something that didn’t hurt. Gwyn wanted to arch his head into the touch, but he thought that might not be the right thing to do, so he stayed still.

‘You thought the last time was gentle,’ Augus said, and then laughed again, the sound soft and despairing.

‘Am I missing something?’ Gwyn said, vexed, beginning to twist around and then stopping when Augus placed a hand on his shoulder to stop the movement. The hand stroked him back down again, squeezed when he settled.  

‘I don’t think this is a conversation you’re ready to have,’ Augus said, and then he shook his head again. ‘It’s a conversation I’m not ready to have.’

‘If breathplay makes you this melancholy, Augus, it’s going to be tough to convince me to do it again.’

‘That’s a lie,’ Augus said, and Gwyn’s lips quirked up when he heard the smile in Augus’ voice. ‘It’s not going to be tough to convince you to do that again. In a week’s time, when your throat is whole, all you’re going to remember is how good it felt at the end, when you were blacking out and coming at the same time.’

Gwyn shivered at the words, and then a small laugh hiccoughed out of his lungs, hurting on its way out. His body was ridiculous – even now, with the pain, was only remembering how good that had felt. Augus was right, in a week’s time, it would be filed on his list of ‘let’s do that again’ activities.

‘Did you just laugh?’ Augus said, incredulous, and Gwyn paused. Nodded.

‘I laugh,’ he muttered.

Augus made a soft sound of scorn and then shifted out from under Gwyn’s head. He pulled him up until Gwyn’s head was resting on the pillows, and then lay alongside him, facing him. He pushed an arm under Gwyn’s arm and then – splaying his fingers on Gwyn’s spine – pulled him forwards. Gwyn was too tired to do anything but go with it. He wouldn’t let himself sleep, but he could let his thoughts drift for a little longer, he could choose not to pit himself against whatever it was that Augus was trying to do.

He moaned softly when Augus licked his way into his mouth. Augus slid his tongue along Gwyn’s so gently that it was startlingly intimate, and Gwyn moved, restless. Augus repeated the gesture and Gwyn moved his arm over, uncertain, and rested it over Augus’ ribs.

Augus withdrew when Gwyn was warm and dazed and sleepy.

‘Kiss me,’ Augus whispered, and Gwyn followed, clumsy, not opening his eyes or bothering with figuring out what he was doing. He had a while to go before he came back to himself again, and until then, he made do with a softer, lazier form of kissing. He pressed his lips to the corner of Augus’ mouth, and then pressed closed lips over Augus’. They were slow, lingering kisses, and they only deepened when Augus opened his mouth on a sigh, and Gwyn parted his lips, dragging them against Augus’ mouth.  

He took Augus’ lips between his own but didn’t deepen the kiss, preferring this because it was sensory and chaste and warm. When Augus shudder-sighed against him, Gwyn smiled. Augus pulled back and Gwyn didn’t bother opening his eyes, pushing his face down into the pillow instead. Augus reached up and tilted Gwyn’s face up, kissing him back, the same closed mouth kisses that Gwyn had offered. Gwyn smiled into them without thinking. This was very nice.

‘Gwyn,’ Augus said, and then traced the curve of Gwyn’s lips with his fingers. It made his skin tingle. ‘Rest.’

‘I am resting,’ Gwyn said, confused.

‘Keep doing it.’

His other arm tightened around Gwyn’s back, and Augus pressed his forehead to Gwyn’s. The hand on his back became fingers stroking, one after the other, tracing the line of his spine. Each one was sure and firm and reassuring, enough that Gwyn’s thoughts scattered outwards again, and he felt a strange, deep calm assert itself over him. He didn’t know how long Augus stroked his back like that, but it was long enough that he forgot about the Kingdom, about his past, about everything except those five lines of sensation and the scent of fresh, clean water.

Chapter Text

Gwyn realised that if he didn’t do something about the balance of power in his arrangement with Augus, it would all swing away from him and end up in Augus’ clutches. And it was a simple enough matter, he decided, to make sure that he retained at least some of it.

Gwyn was advising some of his soldiers on possible weapon options, when one of his retired men walked into the weapons room and had seen Gwyn. His face had lit up, he’d cried ‘Fancy seeing you here!’

That was all it took; it made Gwyn remember, viscerally, the soft moan Augus had given, the way he’d opened his eyes and looked at Gwyn and said – with a strange warmth – Fancy seeing you here.

Gwyn pushed it out of his mind, spent the rest of the day discussing weapons and strategies and ‘remember the battle of...’ and then headed back to his rooms, reaching hungrily for the image in his mind’s eye. He wanted that again. He wanted to see what he could do with it; that slow, measured method that Augus seemed to respond to. It wasn’t something that he was familiar with, but he liked learning new things, and this was something that carried an incentive he wanted – to see Augus disarmed like that. To hear the breath shuddering out of his lungs, the quiet hitches, Gwyn wanted all of it.

But Augus had never volunteered that side of himself. Gwyn decided that if Augus thought ambushing was fair game, then he could do it too.

He waited two days, watching Augus’ movements quietly. He found excuses to be near Augus’ rooms, and he was surprised when Augus didn’t seem to notice. Augus was often so insightful, so calculating, that Gwyn expected he would know immediately what was happening. But after the first day, Gwyn remembered that he’d had more active experience in hunting and stalking, and he wasn’t nearby too often anyway. He could be in a room nearby and Augus would never see him, hopefully not even know he was there.

On the third day, Gwyn waited until late afternoon, when Augus would return from doing whatever he did at the bottom of the lake, and seemed the least aware of his surroundings. A small voice in his head told him that it was not healthy to have invested so much time in this, but Gwyn shoved it away. He was staying on track with the intrigues and conspiracies of the Court, he had visited the King of the Forest and covered his bases there. And this was something he wanted, it was something he thought Augus could want, and it didn’t matter if he couldn’t have it forever, he wanted it now.

Gwyn stepped out from where he’d been hiding, lunged towards Augus and grabbed his wrists first, wary of Augus’ fingers and how unerringly they found pressure points. By the time Augus managed to get his feet underneath him, panicked and disoriented, damp and fresh from the lake, Gwyn was already teleporting them both back to his room.

They landed on his bed, Gwyn pushing Augus down beneath him. It was easy to overpower him, easy to use his full strength. He was straddling his back, wrists gathered up in one hand, the other pushing the side of Augus’ head into the bed. He lowered his head alongside Augus’, scented fear. It awoke a deeper, darker appetite within him, and he pushed that away hard. He’d done enough of that already. He wanted something else.

‘Surprise,’ Gwyn said. ‘All those times you ambushed me, Augus, it’s not much fun, is it?’

‘I have a book I want to finish,’ Augus said, voice stiff. ‘Just fuck me and get it over with.’

Gwyn felt Augus strain beneath him, try to get some leverage, but he couldn’t get any. After about a minute, he went limp and exhaled a laugh.

‘I really do have a book I want to finish,’ Augus said, and Gwyn looked down at him, wondered how to start. In the past he’d never really had to give much thought to it, but he cared now. He lowered his head, pressed his nose and mouth against Augus’ hair, closed his eyes and focused.

He tilted his head until he could press his lips against the curve of Augus’ ear. He moved his hand so it was cradling the back of Augus’ head, and Augus tensed beneath him.

‘You like slow,’ Gwyn said. ‘I remember.’

Augus tensed further, his wrists twitched in Gwyn’s grip.

‘I want to try,’ Gwyn said. ‘But you won’t let me. That’s never been a problem though, between us, has it?’

‘I can’t wait to see your definition of slow,’ Augus drawled, ‘I bet-’

‘I’m going to tie your wrists,’ Gwyn said. He had no patience for Augus’ quips. ‘I don’t trust your hands. But I’ll tie nothing else. If you fight me, I’ll restrain you properly.’

He surveyed Augus. He dug his fingers into Augus’ shirt and twisted the fabric apart, before tearing it. Augus made a sound of derision beneath him, but nothing else. Augus wasn’t like Gwyn, he wouldn’t strip just because Gwyn asked him to, he didn’t give himself over like Gwyn could. He needed coaxing. But Gwyn couldn’t coax him out of his clothes, not now. He needed both hands to get the shirt off Augus, shifting Augus’ wrists each time. Once he was done, he transferred Augus’ wrists to a single grip again, moving down to his pants. Augus chuckled and made an aborted attempt to shake his head.

‘Yes, I can see how this is very convincing. You-’

‘You know as well as I do that if I ask you nicely, you’ll retaliate. I know a little of you, Augus. I know you don’t go as easily as I do.’

‘Gwyn, I won’t go at all.’

‘We’ll see,’ Gwyn said, as he tugged off Augus’ pants and then dropped those and the shirt off the side of the bed.

He made short work of tying Augus’ wrists, then turned him over onto his back. He pushed his arm underneath him and moved him up the bed so that his head was resting on the pillows, dampening them immediately. Augus watched him, a considering look on his face.

‘You can’t do this,’ Augus said, and Gwyn realised it was less of a protest, and more a statement of fact.

‘That just makes me want to prove you wrong,’ Gwyn said.

‘I give you ten minutes, and I’m being generous,’ Augus said, and Gwyn looked at him, didn’t say anything in reply. It wasn’t worth it. He had to focus.

He shifted so that he was straddling Augus’ hips, keeping the bulk of his weight off him. He didn’t know where to start. He didn’t know what to do. This was not something he was familiar with. It was not just about being gentle, it was about being slow. He wondered why that was. What it was that made Augus so sensitive to slow and gentle.

He placed his hands flat on Augus’ chest, thinking. When he called forest animals towards him, they needed slow, deliberate movement. He realised his position was wrong. He shifted so that he was alongside Augus. It meant that Augus might find it easier to make an attempt to get away, but Gwyn was alert to that, it wouldn’t work. He moved an arm over Augus’ torso and curled his legs beneath himself, pressing fingertips against Augus’ sternum, listening to that slow thump that was his strange heartbeat. Most fae in their human-form had fairly consistent heartbeats. Augus’ always beat the slow rhythm of a waterhorse.

He picked up his hand and rested it against Augus’ side. After a few seconds he trailed his palm up slowly, feeling the texture of his skin, watching the way it shifted underneath his hand. He ended up palming the side of Augus’ face, Augus was looking at him with something like shock on his features.

‘I don’t know what you like,’ Gwyn said, frustrated with himself. He knew he could make Augus come, but that wasn’t the same as knowing what he liked.

‘I’d like to finish my book,’ Augus said, and Gwyn blinked at him.

‘There’s always tomorrow,’ Gwyn said, and Augus’ lips thinned. Gwyn could feel the movement of the muscles beneath his hand. He watched Augus’ mouth and then trailed his thumb over to his bottom lip, tracing the shape of it. He repeated the gesture, slowed it down more than he thought anyone could possibly enjoy, and was surprised when Augus inhaled into it.

Not just gentle, but slow.

Gwyn kept his thumb on Augus’ mouth and moved the rest of his fingers slowly down Augus’ face, moving over his cheekbone, tracing the hollow beneath, curving down around his jaw. Augus was watching him now, alert and uncomfortable.

He curved his hand down, finding the natural shape of Augus’ neck, before meeting his collarbone. When he trailed the back of his fingertips over that, gooseflesh followed, and Gwyn stared in amazement, and then looked up at Augus only to see a shift in his face, a slow blink, he looked dazed.

He likes that.

Gwyn did it again, and Augus’ eyes met his. Gwyn watched him, didn’t look away. He felt dizzy, all of a sudden, at all he could try. Augus was hard to read, but there were signs. He caged his responses, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there. Gwyn licked his lips, absently, and dragged the flat of his hand down over Augus’ chest, curving the calloused side of his hand over Augus’ nipple. He went slow. Halfway through, Augus’ eyelids sank down, as though he wanted to close his eyes.

‘Untie my hands,’ Augus said and Gwyn raised his eyebrows and shook his head. ‘Untie my hands and I’ll tell you when you’re doing something I like.’

‘I can tell when I’m doing something you like,’ Gwyn said, dropping his head down and pressing his lips to Augus’ collarbone while he moved his hand slowly over Augus’ nipple again, hard against his palm. ‘I know you like this.’

He licked a slow stripe over the ridge of Augus’ collarbone, and then gently scraped his teeth over it, and Augus shifted beneath him. It was a minute movement, but Gwyn felt it all the same.

‘I thought you’d hold out longer than this,’ Gwyn breathed against his skin. ‘I thought I’d be doing this for at least ten minutes before you reacted.’

‘I’m not made of stone,’ Augus said quietly. ‘You’ve made your point. Let me go.’

‘You taste good,’ Gwyn said, and as he lowered his mouth again, tongue pressing to his skin, Augus strained at the restraints.

Gwyn,’ Augus said, and Gwyn rested his palm flat to Augus’ side again, concerned.

‘I’m not hurting you,’ Gwyn said. ‘Is that the problem? You don’t struggle this much when I hurt you.’

Augus glared at him. Gwyn lifted up until he could lick the underside of Augus’ jaw, and then raised his hand and lightly touched his jaw line.

‘I’ll give you a choice,’ Gwyn said, because he’d prepared for this. ‘You can stay tied up with both hands behind your back. Or I’ll release one hand and tie the other to the bedpost with the scarf that responds only to my touch.’

Augus blinked at him, and Gwyn used the moment to push his fingers up into Augus’ hair, before pressing further over his scalp. Augus closed his eyes, and Gwyn followed the shape of his head until he’d curved fingers across the back of his neck.

‘I don’t want to hurt you,’ Gwyn said, and Augus huffed a breath of laughter.

‘But you will if you have to?’

‘No,’ Gwyn said, forehead furrowing. ‘No. I just don’t want to hurt you.’

Augus watched him carefully as Gwyn let strands of Augus’ hair move through his fingers. The waterweed was stronger than it used to be, greener too. Augus was looking healthier than he had in some time.

‘Do you really want to do this?’ Augus said.

‘I’m doing it, aren’t I?’ Gwyn said, smoothing the flat of his palm down Augus’ ribs.

‘You’re not good at it,’ Augus said, and Gwyn swallowed.

That was the first statement of Augus’ that had gotten to him. He shifted his head so that Augus couldn’t see his expression, which was useless, because the act of doing that meant that Augus knew he’d gotten to him anyway. Gwyn allowed himself a tight smile, a moment of frustration. Then he forced his thoughts back to what he wanted to do. He wanted Augus undone beneath him. He wanted that a great deal.

He turned his head back and didn’t make eye contact again. It wasn’t like Augus wasn’t right.

Gwyn trailed fingertips across Augus’ ribs, moved over abdominal muscles. He thumbed the curve of his left hip, and then slowed the movement down, slowed it further, and Augus made a small sound in the back of his throat. Gwyn shifted down Augus’ body. Augus was half-hard, and Gwyn looked up at Augus, whose cheeks were faintly flushed.

‘Does slow work here too?’ Gwyn said, touching his fingers to the pelt-like pubic hair that slicked black, sparse and straight between his legs. He feathered his fingers through it without touching Augus’ cock. He had to remind himself to be slow, to take his time as he trailed down Augus’ inner thigh, as he followed the curve of musculature and didn’t touch Augus’ cock at all. He moved his fingers back up again, ducked down and cupped his balls, keeping the touch easy, gentle.

A small, fine tremble moved through Augus’ body. That was all, but it was enough.

‘You do like this,’ Gwyn said, pleasure stirring through him. Augus’ lips turned up at the corners.

‘Of course I do,’ Augus said, and Gwyn swallowed. He couldn’t pick Augus’ mood. He seemed uncertain about what was happening, Gwyn supposed he hadn’t given him any reasons to be otherwise. But he wasn’t straining against the restraints anymore, and the fear Gwyn had scented when he’d captured him was no longer sharp, but waning.

‘You look amazing,’ Gwyn said, and then flushed. He hadn’t meant to say that out loud. Augus’ lips twisted into something like a smile. But he didn’t say anything. Gwyn wondered if he was holding back some insult, then decided it didn’t matter. He wanted more than this too. He thought he might have a chance of getting it. He wasn’t even that hard himself, it easy enough to ignore his own arousal. It moved through him in uncertain waves, like a guttering candle-light.

‘I want you to come,’ Gwyn murmured, beginning to move his hand again. He smoothed it back up over Augus’ torso, arched over him and licked the space where the underside of his jaw met his neck. ‘I want it to happen more than once.’

‘Ambitious,’ Augus said softly, but then bit off a small sound when Gwyn found his nipple again, pressing down with a firm, slow pressure.

‘You probably didn’t get attention like this often, when you were with all those people you helped,’ Gwyn said against Augus’ skin. ‘You focus on them. Maybe you didn’t trust them enough to ask anyway. You seem – honestly – a little surprised, Augus. Are you not used to this?’

‘From you?’ Augus said, amusement twining into his words. Gwyn moved over to Augus’ other nipple, intending to tease it to hardness, but it was already hard. He placed thumb and forefinger against it, lifted up so he could watch Augus’ face. He wanted to know what he liked. He increased pressure slowly, and Augus’ mouth dropped open, his eyes were shut.

‘From anyone?’ Gwyn said, and Augus exhaled audibly. ‘Who would have the patience for this? Is it because your heart-rate is slower than normal? Does the whole world move too fast for you?’

He dropped his head down again and sucked, getting the hang of the speed that Augus liked now. A measured slowness, and it had to be focused. The caresses down his body didn’t do much. But this, sucking and increasing the pressure, this worked. He placed his hand over Augus’ heart. It was beating faster.

‘I don’t know why,’ Augus said, voice unsteady. ‘And no, the whole world doesn’t move too fast for me.’

‘You’re being remarkably candid,’ Gwyn said, lifting his head up. Augus gazed at him.

‘Kiss me,’ Augus said. ‘Slowly.’

Gwyn’s heart-rate picked up again, he felt a flutter of nerves in his chest. He raised up, looked down at Augus’ lips and realised he was hard again. He had to focus. There was so much more he wanted to do. Augus was being so good for him.

‘How long do you think? How long before you snap and fuck me like a ploughman?’ Augus said and Gwyn didn’t know what expression he made in response to that, except that Augus narrowed his eyes, he frowned. ‘But you don’t want that, do you?’

‘I’m trying something new,’ Gwyn said, and Augus blinked at him. ‘You’re right, Augus. I’m not good at this.’

‘Release one of my arms,’ Augus said suddenly. ‘Use the scarf that responds only to your touch.’

Gwyn leaned backwards. He wasn’t sure what to think. But he’d given Augus a choice, hadn’t he? And so he reached for the scarf he’d secreted away beneath his pillows. It was the one he’d used to gag Augus in the beginning, the one he’d first used by accident. When Augus saw it, he stiffened. Gwyn swallowed down words, shoved guilt away. But he couldn’t help but look at Augus as he untied his wrists, couldn’t help but watch carefully as he restrained him by the wrist to the bedpost. He didn’t use a tight knot, he didn’t want to.

His eyes trailed down to Augus’ free hand, now resting against his own torso. But Augus didn’t move his arm, didn’t lash out and find pressure points, didn’t do anything except leave it there. Gwyn was glad to see that his wrists weren’t even red. He’d tried to be more careful with the way he’d tied his wrists this time.

Augus was looking a challenge at him, and Gwyn remembered that he was supposed to be kissing him. He pressed his lips down carefully, keeping his mouth closed, preferring to start like this. Augus seemed to be forward with his kissing; if Gwyn’s mouth was open when Augus began, he slid his tongue into Gwyn’s mouth immediately, it was hypnotic and disarming. But Gwyn wasn’t like Augus. Kissing wasn’t something he did often, though he liked it. And he preferred to ease into it, which – he decided – was probably for the best.

Gwyn opened his mouth and licked at Augus’ top lip. He slid his tongue along the seam of Augus’ lips, not moving his tongue within when Augus’ mouth relaxed, opened. He kissed his bottom lip with closed lips again, and then startled violently when Augus pushed his fingers into Gwyn’s hair. He reared back and Augus’ eyes widened.

‘I don’t want to hurt you either,’ Augus said. ‘Not today.’

Gwyn’s breathing was unsteady. He stared at Augus’ hand.

‘Come back,’ Augus coaxed. ‘Come back.’

‘If you use the pressure points, I’ll tie you up again,’ Gwyn said, and Augus nodded. ‘This is meant to be about you.’

‘Come back,’ Augus said, his voice rich, convincing. Gwyn watched Augus’ hand warily, but Augus simply lowered it alongside himself, palm down. Gwyn came back, expected to see resistance, but there was a sleepiness in Augus’ eyes, something that Gwyn realised was Augus’ desire. He kissed Augus again, working up to sliding his tongue in slowly, coasting over the tip of Augus’ tongue and then pushing beneath it, sucking even as he withdrew.

‘How did you learn you liked this?’ Gwyn said, as he trailed a single fingernail down Augus’ collarbone and Augus shuddered beneath him.

‘Unlike you, I had no problem learning the lay of my body,’ Augus said, humming when Gwyn’s fingernail trailed a spiral over his pectoral that ended up with a scrape over his nipple. At Augus’ words, Gwyn thought back to an earlier time when he’d told Augus to prepare himself, how amazing that had been. And that had been when Augus hadn’t even been doing it the way he wanted to, had been made to rush.

Gwyn slipped his hand beneath the pillows and brought out lubricant. He poured a significant amount on his fingers, and then reached down and tangled them up with Augus’, bringing Augus’ hand up, slicking it with strokes of his own hand. Augus watched amused, but when Gwyn slid his fingers between Augus’ and pressed down while digging his thumb into the centre of Augus’ palm, Augus’ eyes slid sideways and he exhaled audibly.

‘Will you touch yourself?’ Gwyn said, thinking his heart was too big for his chest, that it was beating too fast. The beat was pushing up into his throat, he felt dizzy. ‘Will you?’

‘Where did this side of you come from?’ Augus said, and Gwyn stared at him, hoping he’d say yes, hoping he’d move his hand between his legs. Gwyn realised what Augus had asked, and then felt the corner of one side of his mouth turn up.

‘I don’t know,’ he said. Augus shook his head and then disengaged his hand from Gwyn’s and closed his eyes, tilted his head back into the pillow, exposed his neck in a long arch. He trailed his own fingers down from his abdomen towards his hip, and then swung inwards. His fingers weren’t as calloused as Gwyn’s, weren’t as rough, and he moved them with the precision of someone who had mastered the rapier. Every movement was sure, and Augus didn’t hesitate when he finally slicked two fingertips from the base of his cock up to the tip, and then paused there, waiting.

Gwyn took his opportunity. Using his own slicked fingers, he did the same thing, starting at the base of Augus’ cock from the other side, dragging his fingers upwards, tangling his fingers up with Augus’ as his eyes flew open and his head raised up off the pillows.

‘No, really, where?’ Augus said, and Gwyn ducked his head, trailed fingers back down Augus’ cock, then moved sideways, traced the crease of his inner thigh. Augus made a small sound in the back of his throat.

‘You looked amazing, Augus, when you were moving at your own speed,’ Gwyn said roughly. He felt his cheeks flush. It wasn’t in his nature to be open like this. It wasn’t like him to do anything like this at all. But every time he added a layer of touch to Augus’ body, and Augus responded, he couldn’t find it in himself to do anything else.

His fingers were finding their way further down, following the line of response that was Augus’ unsteady breathing. He reached a hand under Augus’ hips and lifted, tracing the seam of Augus’ ass, looking up to see Augus’ throat work on a swallow.

‘Am I going too fast?’ Gwyn asked, and Augus hesitated, then shook his head. Gwyn smiled. ‘Do you still want to read your book?’

‘You think you’re so clever,’ Augus breathed, but there was amusement coiled throughout his words, and he seemed...not happy per se, Gwyn didn’t think that was possible with Augus being captive. But he seemed relaxed, at least, and eager. Augus’ index and middle finger curled back down over his cock and moved with a concerted care that made Gwyn unsteady to see it. He looked up and saw Augus’ wrist tied to the bedpost with the scarf, made a decision.

He moved his hands slowly off Augus’ skin, didn’t want to rush, and then reached up and touched his fingers to the knot at Augus’ wrist. Augus watched him, surprised, as the scarf fell away and Gwyn shoved it under the pillow. He kept a lot of things under his mass of pillows. Books, spare parchment, lubricant, whatever he thought he might need later.

Augus flexed his newly released hand and then placed it on Gwyn’s arm. The touch was a shock of sensation, distracting, and Gwyn’s lips pressed together.

'I find myself wanting to know how far you can take this,’ Augus said, voice deepening. ‘I didn’t know you could hold out like this.’

Gwyn wanted to say; There’s a lot of things you don’t know about me. But he couldn’t risk it. There were things that Augus could never find out about him, and besides, Gwyn hadn’t really known this about himself, so it didn’t count anyway.

‘I want to see how abandoned you can get, Augus,’ Gwyn said, moving back down again and curving his palm over Augus’ thigh. ‘I want to know the sounds you make when you’re not measuring them out on purpose. And I would like to be inside you, while I’m doing it.’

Augus swallowed, he blinked at Gwyn. The two fingers around his cock became five, and he curled each one precisely over himself. His cheeks had flushed further.

‘Is that what you want?’ Augus said, and Gwyn licked his lips.

‘That’s all.’

‘It’s not something I find easy to do,’ Augus said, and then his head tilted backwards again as Gwyn eased his hand back under Augus’ hips and dragged the back of his fingers over Augus’ inner thigh, finding heat instead of Augus’ usual lukewarm surface temperature. The backs of his knuckles found the underside of Augus’ balls as he slid his hand beneath and made a slick trail to his entrance.

‘Don’t you?’ Gwyn said, his voice hitting a lower register, the question pulled out of his gut as he watched Augus react to him. ‘I think you’re doing fine.’

‘Don’t get too cocky, Gwyn,’ Augus said, voice even. ‘You hav-’

Augus didn’t get a chance to finish his sentence. Gwyn ducked his head down and concentrated, pushing the tip of his finger inside Augus, using a pace far slower than he thought he could, doing something like this. He didn’t stop though, kept up the slow pace, dragging out that initial penetration into the minutes, until he couldn’t push any further inside. Augus was hot around him. When Gwyn looked up his mouth went dry. Augus’ mouth was hanging open, his hand had fallen off his cock at some point and he was digging fingers into his skin. Gwyn flexed his finger, stretched it backwards and then forwards again, and Augus breathed out a sharp exhale that caught in his throat.

‘I think I’m getting exactly what I want,’ Gwyn said, his own body flushing as he watched Augus. ‘Do you want more?’

‘Fuck, what do you think?’ Augus snapped, and Gwyn smiled.

‘Are you sure?’ he said, and Augus tightened around his finger, he lifted his head and glared balefully at him. But when he saw Gwyn’s expression, his face cleared and he looked oddly vulnerable. Gwyn crooked his finger inside of him, and Augus blinked in response, his nostrils flared.

‘I’m sure,’ Augus said, and Gwyn nodded to himself. He had to concentrate. If he got too caught up in Augus’ reactions, he was going to end up coming against the bed, and he wanted to be inside of Augus before that happened.

He shifted so that he was comfortable and began a slow back and forth rhythm, withdrawing more quickly than he entered, and grinding his knuckles against Augus when he was deep again. He rested his forehead on Augus’ hip as he concentrated, and sometimes looked up to see Augus’ fingers moving on himself; small, incidental movements that lacked focus. They were both concentrating on what Gwyn was doing.

Time passed, and Gwyn found it relaxing listening to Augus’ breathing, focusing on the way he felt. He pushed back in with two fingers this time, felt Augus stretch around him, went even slower than the first time he’d entered.

Augus whimpered. Gwyn swallowed at hearing the sound, kept up the slow pace, and Augus shivered beneath him. Gwyn remembered this. He remembered this from when Augus had been riding him. He didn’t think it was possible, but Augus was close, he was sure of it. And Gwyn was hard, but he wasn’t done yet, he wanted to see how far he could take this, he wanted to make sure the first time that he tried it, he did well. He wanted Augus to come with his fingers inside him. Wanted him to come again, after that.

Ambitious, Gwyn thought, thinking of how Augus had mocked him with the word earlier.

When he couldn’t push his fingers in any further, he curled them upwards and bit his lip. He’d thought about how he would do this – it embarrassed him at the time to imagine it, but now he was just curious. He aimed a slow and steady press up into Augus’ prostate, and Augus tensed around him, a rough cry was torn from his throat.

Fuck.’

Gwyn smiled down at Augus’ skin and released, then repeated the gesture, resisting the urge to push himself down into the blankets. He had to focus. It was difficult, Augus sounded undone already. His fingers had tightened around his cock, though they weren’t moving. Gwyn saw precome leaking from the tip and he dropped his mouth down to Augus’ hip, scraped his teeth over skin, tasted a thin layer of sweat.

I am good at this, he thought, and then his thoughts were dashed out of his head when Augus gripped Gwyn’s hair with his other hand. The grip was hard, then softened, smoothing out and massaging at Gwyn’s scalp. It was good, it sent fingers of sensation through him. It was distracting. Gwyn couldn’t help the small sound that came in response to that touch.

‘You can’t,’ Gwyn said, twisting his head out of Augus’ grip. He looked up at Augus’ flushed face, the spark in his eyes. ‘It’s...I need to concentrate.’

He was surprised to see that Augus looked disappointed. But when he flexed his fingers, withdrew them and slowly stretched out Augus’ entrance, Augus’ eyes drifted shut and he bit his lower lip, head dropping back to the pillows.

‘I want you to come,’ Gwyn said. He wished he had Augus’ finesse for words, but he only had statements, the truth. ‘Most people would want me to speed up, but you don’t, do you? You kept up that same maddening pace when you were riding me all the way through to the end, and it made you spill. So I think...if I do the same thing, now, you will come around my fingers.’

‘You don’t want to be inside me?’ Augus said, and Gwyn mouthed Augus’ hipbone, started that slow, inexorable pace again.

‘Yes, very much,’ Gwyn said against his skin, and Augus moaned. ‘But you can come a second time, can’t you? If I go slowly enough, you can?’

‘Can you though? Go slowly enough?’ Augus said, and then he laughed behind thinned lips. ‘Never mind.’

‘I like it when you’re wrong,’ Gwyn said, a wave of pleasure moving through him.

Augus said nothing else, and Gwyn went back to concentrating. He had to look away from Augus’ face, it was too arousing and he wouldn’t last if he saw the way he bit at his lip, the way his hair was spreading into messy tangles behind him. The sounds that Augus made compensated a little, but Gwyn wished he could see everything and not have to worry about coming himself. Besides, he didn’t think it would be great if he came just from Augus’ reactions alone, the feel of him snug around his fingers, the sight of Augus’ fingers on his own cock.

Gwyn focused on rhythm, he focused on pressing his index finger up into Augus’ prostate as he slid in and out again. Augus’ breathing was ragged, unsteady, far faster than usual. Gwyn slid his hand out from underneath Augus’ hips and reached up with his hand and placed it flat on Augus’ chest and felt his heartbeat, a fast thump nothing like his resting beat.

He trailed his hand back down, kept the movement slow, and then curled his fingers around Augus’ hand where it rested on his cock, briefly, before moving up and smoothing his palm over the tip of him, catching the sensitive skin with the roughness of his palm.

The sound that broke out of Augus’ mouth was wet and jagged. It was followed immediately by a gasp, another, and then Gwyn’s eyes flew open when Augus clenched hard around his deeply pressed fingers, when the first spurt of liquid heat landed in the palm of his hand and dripped back down over Augus’ cock. Augus’ back bowed into a taut arch, forcing Gwyn’s wrist down painfully into the bed, his mouth open as he drew in breath after breath of air. It was the most abandoned Gwyn had ever seen him, and when he flexed his fingers inside Augus, the cry that followed drew a corresponding groan out of Gwyn.

He didn’t withdraw his fingers from Augus, and he caught as much of Augus’ come as he could on his palm. He looked up and watched, not wanting to miss anything. The hand that Augus had held around his cock had fallen to his thigh, it was digging into skin again. His other hand was twisted up the blankets.

Augus slumped back to the bed, mouth still open, inhaling audibly, eyes closed. A sheen of sweat had broken out over his entire body. His eyelashes were a dark smudge against his face, his bottom lip was darker where he’d bitten at it. Gwyn could see his pulse thumping away in his neck.

Gwyn looked at the oil-slick shine of Augus’ come on his fingers. It was white, but the green sheen on it altered its appearance depending on how the light hit it. He raised his palm to his mouth and licked the thickest patch of it away. It was salty and muddy against his tongue. He tasted the sharpness of bitter herbs and a richness beneath that, it was like putting the landscape of a lake inside of his mouth. He licked at his palm again and then looked up, abashed, when Augus swore. He’d forgotten that Augus liked this.

Augus was staring right at him, and then he smirked.

‘Gwyn, you are filthy.’

Gwyn said nothing, but pressed his middle and index finger deep into his own mouth and licked away the come. Augus couldn’t look away. He closed his eyes when his tongue caught between the middle of his fingers. He was oversensitive, strung too tight. He didn’t know if he’d be able to last inside of Augus, but he wanted it, he wanted it with the same focus he had when he went after a new skill in weaponry, and he hoped that would be enough.

He stopped when his hand was clean, rested wet fingertips against Augus’ body.

‘I never took clients on for more than a day or two,’ Augus said suddenly, not looking away from Gwyn’s face. His hand lifted from the blankets and he traced Gwyn’s forearm with his index finger, and Gwyn shivered, moved his forearm away, because he was close, because he had a goal in mind. Augus only reached forwards and repeated the gesture, staring a challenge at Gwyn.

‘Every now and then, someone would come, some fae, and I’d want to know what it would be like if they stayed longer. A week. If I had them for a week. Two.’

Gwyn’s heart started pounding, he felt his eyes widen.

‘You were one of those fae.’

His heart did something painful, and Gwyn winced. He closed his mouth around the words, Don’t lie to me. But Augus’ forehead furrowed, he narrowed his eyes. The fingertip against his forearm became fingers curving warm over wrist, sweat damp.

‘It surprised me, at the time. Because all I knew of you was your family’s reputation – both the one they maintained themselves, and the one that floated around in the dark, of their...proclivities. Because I knew of your privilege, your upbringing. I thought I did, anyway. And even then I still wanted to see what would happen if I had you longer.’

Gwyn didn’t want to listen to this. Augus sounded serious, forthright, honest. But Gwyn couldn’t trust that, he didn’t want the words, couldn’t hear them now.

‘That scares you,’ Augus said, sounding intrigued. ‘Why?’

‘Stop distracting me,’ Gwyn said roughly.

He slowly withdrew one of his fingers, because Augus was tighter around him now. Augus’ forehead furrowed, but he looked like he wanted to continue on the subject. Gwyn couldn’t listen to him. They were words he’d once wanted to hear, but now he couldn’t. He just couldn’t.

He took Augus’ hand, the one that had been resting against his cock until the end, and drew it down between his legs. Augus looked confused, and then his eyebrows shot up in realisation as Gwyn shifted Augus’ fingers in his grip so his middle finger was pointing towards his own entrance, so that his other curled fingers were resting in Gwyn’s hand.

‘Will you?’ Gwyn heard himself ask, and Augus nodded silently, eyebrows still high. He slid his middle finger into himself, alongside Gwyn’s, and it was a little awkward, up until the point that Augus slid this tip of his finger over Gwyn’s and Gwyn realised they were doing that inside of Augus. He made a soft, small sound. His forehead dropped forwards again and he exhaled shakily.

‘Copy me,’ Augus rasped, and Gwyn closed his eyes as Augus began to move his finger. He followed the movements with his own, Augus hot and loosening around them both. Augus moved even more slowly than Gwyn did, and it was hard to follow that pace. But the more he focused on it, the less on edge he became, the more he was able to concentrate.

Gwyn lost track of time, only aware that Augus was helping him, that Augus was still gripping his forearm with his other hand, the fingers digging in and releasing, digging in and releasing with the slow movements of his finger.

Augus suddenly hooked his finger around Gwyn’s, stilled all movement, took a shaky breath. Gwyn realised Augus was shaking, realised he was shaking. He lifted his head and Augus was staring up at the ceiling, mouth open. He looked shocked.

‘Augus? Are you alright?’ Gwyn said, and Augus nodded. ‘Are you quite sure?’

Augus laughed breathlessly, his finger tightened around Gwyn’s where it was pressed inside of himself. Gwyn’s wrist ached, it was bent at an odd angle, but he didn’t care. Augus’ finger hooking into his own, it was startling in its intimacy.

‘I think you can drop the formalities when we’re both fucking me with a finger each, don’t you think?’

‘That’s not an answer,’ Gwyn said, pressing his hand into Augus’ ribs, worried that something had gone wrong.

‘I’m alright,’ Augus said. ‘I’m alright.’

He lowered his eyes to Gwyn’s. There was certainty there. Augus still looked surprised at something, but he also looked like he didn’t want to stop, and a moment later he unhooked his finger from Gwyn’s and slid it out of himself, raising his hand to his half-hard cock.

‘This,’ Augus said. ‘This is fast for me.’

Gwyn realised he was referring to how quickly he’d gotten aroused again, and it took all his concentration not to simply thrust his finger in roughly and take. He had to press his forehead into Augus’ hip, breathed slowly through his nose. He was doing well, it thrilled through him, he was doing well and he was doing well for Augus. He almost laughed at himself, but was too busy keeping his wrist and finger still. His face burnt hot.

He pressed his index finger back into Augus, slid it in at the speed that Augus was moving at, recited map locations in his mind because it was getting harder to go at this slow pace. Inside him was the light, the combustion, the need to take. He pushed hard when he couldn’t push any further, and Augus grunted. Gwyn winced, he had to focus. He had to focus.

He stopped all movement. His eyes flew open when he felt fingers tousling his hair, they moved down and massaged at his scalp.

‘You’re trying so hard, aren’t you?’ Augus said, and Gwyn swallowed.

‘I can do this,’ Gwyn said, and Augus traced the shape of Gwyn’s ear. It was dividing Gwyn’s focus, and his throat closed around a small, helpless sound. He started to move his head away, but fingers snagged into his curls and tightened.

‘Wait,’ Augus said. ‘Just wait.’

‘I need to concentrate,’ Gwyn said, and Augus trailed his fingers down to the base of Gwyn’s skull, rubbed at the back of his neck. When he dragged his fingers up through Gwyn’s hair again, a line of fire seemed to follow each one of his fingertips, and Gwyn moaned. ‘Augus.’

‘Start moving your fingers again,’ Augus whispered. Gwyn’s eyes squeezed shut, and he bit the inside of his lip, sliding his fingers out of Augus slowly, coming back even slower. He pressed up into Augus’ prostate as he went and Augus hissed, sensitive.

Gwyn tasted blood on the inside of his mouth and realised that he’d bitten through skin. He tried moving his head away from Augus’ hand again, only to find his hair caught up in fingers. He licked at the blood inside his lip, and Augus raised himself up on his elbow suddenly.

‘Why are you bleeding?’ he said, and Gwyn pressed his lips together. Of course. Augus was a predatory waterhorse, he’d be able to smell the blood.

‘I bit myself,’ Gwyn said, feeling like an idiot. It was already starting to heal, and the pain was minor. He was surprised Augus had scented it at all.

‘Concentrating?’

Gwyn didn’t answer.

‘Come here,’ Augus said suddenly, tugging on his hair. ‘Come here. Come up. Let me taste it.’

Gwyn breathed out a shallow laugh and looked up, only to see a hungry, alert look on Augus’ face. Gwyn hesitated, then – keeping his fingers still where they rested inside of Augus – he moved up the bed carefully and let Augus drag his head down. Augus slipped his tongue through Gwyn’s lips, skated his tongue along Gwyn’s, looking for the wound. When he didn’t find one, he pressed his tongue carefully in the space between Gwyn’s front teeth and the inside of his mouth, stroked his tongue along the sting of it.

Augus, this isn’t helping.

Gwyn was hard, he didn’t think he could last much longer. He had no idea how much time has passed; half an hour? An hour? More? Just moving his fingers in and out of Augus had taken a long time.

Augus sucked hard on his bottom lip and Gwyn leaned backwards, flushed.

‘It’s disturbing, how much you enjoy doing that,’ Gwyn said, and Augus smiled lazily up at him.

‘As disturbing as how much you like it?’

Gwyn shivered, and then moved backwards hurriedly when Augus reached down between his legs for his cock.

‘Will you stop?’ Gwyn said, and Augus smirked, a mischievous light in his eyes.

‘I like you like this. I want to play.’

‘If you don’t keep your hands to yourself, I will tie them up again,’ Gwyn said stiffly, and Augus pursed his lips and then rolled his eyes.

‘If you say so.’

Gwyn scowled. He was losing control of the situation, decided to do something about it. He touched his tongue to Augus’ collarbone and traced a line along it. He moved down further, licking a line down the middle of Augus’ sternum, and moving slowly sideways to place his mouth over Augus’ left nipple, licking at it, running his front teeth over it. Augus’ chest heaved, and Gwyn repeated the gesture before moving down again. He licked his way down the ridge of Augus’ left hip, before nosing at the fine, flat hair between his legs. Augus was still, Gwyn could feel the weight of his attention, could tell Augus was watching him.

Gwyn pressed his face into Augus’ half-hard cock, and then instead of licking it, he licked the back of Augus’ hand where it rested over himself. He pressed his tongue between Augus’ fingers, licked an inexorable, slow path to the tip of him, and then slowly drew the head of him into his mouth.

Augus exhaled slowly, audibly. His whole body shifted.

Gwyn sucked with the same increasing pressure he’d used when he’d pressed his fingers up into Augus’ prostate. And by the time he was sucking hard, Augus’ hips had arched up, he was completely hard. Gwyn closed his eyes in relief, but he’d have to stop this soon, because going down on Augus was one of those things that wouldn’t keep his mind off coming.

Still, he didn’t stop straight away. He licked his way back down towards Augus’ hand. He curled his tongue around Augus’ thumb. Augus moved his thumb and pressed it questioningly against Gwyn’s bottom lip. Gwyn realised what he was asking and opened his mouth wider, knowing he shouldn’t, but unable to help himself. Augus slowly moved the finger inside Gwyn’s mouth, and then pushed a sensual pressure into his tongue. Gwyn moaned thickly, closed his mouth, laved the pad of Augus’ finger.

‘Fuck,’ Augus said quietly. ‘Fuck. Will you hurry up and fuck me again?’

Gwyn moved his head backwards, and Augus’ thumb hung onto the back of his teeth until Gwyn moved away properly.

‘It’s too soon,’ Gwyn said, and Augus frowned at him.

‘It isn’t. I said this was happening fast for me. You’re going to get what you want, Gwyn.’

Gwyn realised what he meant. He reached for the lubricant again, opening the vial with one hand. Augus stopped him, a hand on his wrist.

‘There’s enough,’ Augus said.

Gwyn screwed the cap back on the vial and dropped it. He withdrew his fingers slowly, arched over Augus, his heart pounding up a fierce and painful tattoo in his chest. He lifted Augus’ leg by curling his hand underneath the knee, pulling it up and out, and Augus closed his eyes, his head thumped back into the pillows. His hair was a mess.

Gwyn pressed himself against Augus’ entrance, dug his fingers into the flesh of Augus’ leg. His instincts screeched at him to take, but he treated them with the same callousness that he treated the light inside of himself. He shoved at his instincts hard, he bit the inside of his lip again as he pushed into Augus slowly. Not as slow as when Augus had sheathed himself on Gwyn that first time, but slowly nonetheless.

He took his time, sensations of heat, tightness, friction all around him. He was shivering with fine tremors that moved rhythmically through him on every inhale. His breath was shaking. But he went slow.

The reward was Augus’ silence being broken by a rasped moan, and then a quiet cry. He sounded disarmed, and Gwyn opened his eyes as he pushed in, almost seated now, to see Augus’ head turned to the side, his own green eyes squeezed shut and a tear trailing across the bridge of his nose. His eyebrows were pinched together, he’d sunk his fingers into the blankets. As Gwyn pushed deeper, Augus’ mouth dropped open on a sudden, sharp inhale, and he cried out again.

I don’t have a chance in hell of lasting, Gwyn realised. He couldn’t look away from Augus, thought it a miracle that he managed to keep up his slow pace until he bottomed out, hips pressed snugly against Augus’. He paused, lowered his lips down until he could press them against Augus’ cheek.

‘Looks like it feels good,’ Gwyn said, and Augus moaned out a jagged rip of sound as Gwyn ground his hips into Augus. ‘Does it?’

‘Smugness...is not an attractive quality in you,’ Augus said, his voice rough and unstable.

‘Now that I’ve done it once, I have to do it again,’ Gwyn managed, pressing closed lips to Augus’ eyelid. ‘Will I have to tie you up first, every time?’

Augus said nothing, but Gwyn supposed that wasn’t surprising, as he was starting to withdraw again. He only moved a few inches back, before pressing in slowly, slower than the first time. He exhaled at the same time as Augus, their breaths matching up, both coarse and following the line of Gwyn’s movement.

Gwyn stopped moving entirely when he felt a hand snag up into his hair again. Augus’ other hand was moving slowly between his legs, fingers wrapped around his own cock. Augus’ fingers tangled in Gwyn’s hair, scratched over his scalp, traced his hairline. Gwyn whimpered.

‘Augus,’ Gwyn warned, and Augus turned his face to Gwyn’s.

‘It’s too late for you to tie me up again, and you know it,’ he breathed. ‘And I’m unexpectedly close.’

Augus arched his hips up into Gwyn and cried out again, repeated the movement, and then sealed his lips over Gwyn’s and licked his way in, pressing his hips up, increasing the friction. Gwyn cried out into Augus’ mouth, because he wanted to last, but the distractions were piling up on top of each other and he could barely begin to push any of them away.

Augus drew his mouth back, looked at him, but Gwyn couldn’t return his gaze, couldn’t look, had to keep his eyes closed. The hand in his hair became fingers caressing his neck, then fingertips stroking the hollow where collarbone met neck.

‘You’ve done so well,’ Augus said. ‘Look at you. You have no idea...how close I am, do you?’

Gwyn couldn’t reply, couldn’t form words. He lowered his head to the pillows beside Augus’ head, and met damp hair and wetness. Augus stroked his hand down his chest, and then further still, pressing into the coil of heat in his abdomen. Gwyn whimpered, the sound cracking high and desperate.

‘Fuck,’ Augus breathed again, and Gwyn ground his hips in response, unable to manage much else. Augus’ breath hitched beneath him, and he started to say something, and then dissolved into a mix of surprised laughter, sobbing, and Gwyn’s eyes snapped open when he felt Augus coming against his torso.

‘Gwyn,’ Augus cried out, pushy and demanding and wrought. The hand at his torso wrapped hard around his ribs, pulled him close and Augus’ hips stuttered against his and Gwyn stared at Augus, couldn’t stop staring, and felt the shock of the moment steal over him. He’d done it, he’d actually managed it, and Augus was a mess beneath him, gasping for breath and it sent heat racing through him, and yet...

‘Gwyn,’ Augus gasped. ‘Gwyn, will you come already? Stop showing off.’

Gwyn opened his mouth to say he wasn’t, he didn’t know what had happened, when Augus tightened around him and released his own cock in order to press his fist hard into Gwyn’s pelvis.

Gwyn shouted out as something unlocked inside of him, a knot unravelled with a sharp wash of pleasure that verged on pain. His arm buckled and his weight fell on top of Augus as he came hard, each shudder matched with sounds that fell out of his mouth on each rushed exhale. Everything was heat around him, and his mind had flown to pieces. It was electricity racing through him, spending up the remainder of his energy, wringing him out and leaving his body overheated and unsteady.

There was movement around him as he started to come down, as the spasms of his hips settled into long shudders. Augus’ legs had bent around his hips and were pressing into him, anchoring him. The arm that had been trapped beneath them both was looped around Gwyn’s lower back. Augus’ other hand was tugging gently on individual curls in his hair. First one, then another.

Gwyn realised his entire weight was pressed into Augus’ body and he lifted up to roll over. Augus’ arm tightened around his back, his legs pressed closer.

‘Wait,’ Augus said, repeating the command from earlier. ‘Will you just wait?’

Gwyn slumped back. Waiting sounded good. He was exhausted.

‘Do you know how long you held out?’ Augus said, and Gwyn sighed when he felt Augus’ hand trailed up his back, tracing over his spine.

‘Because I was paying attention to the time,’ Gwyn muttered.

‘You weigh about as much as a mountain,’ Augus said, and Gwyn laughed before he could help it.

‘I just tried to get off you, and now you’re complaining about-’

‘Kiss me again,’ Augus said, and then tightened his hand in Gwyn’s hair and dragged his mouth up. He waited, and Gwyn pressed slightly open lips to Augus’ mouth, raising himself upright so he could bracket bent arms around Augus’ face, careful not to catch Augus’ hair with his arms. Gwyn laughed again into Augus’ mouth when he realised how stupid it was that Augus was complaining about his weight immediately after Gwyn had gone to roll off him.

Augus pressed his head back into the pillow and stared at him, and Gwyn smiled.

‘What?’

‘Nothing,’ Augus said, but he was staring so intently that Gwyn flushed. He bit uncertainly at his lower lip, but when Augus smiled back at him, he relaxed a little. It didn’t even look like a mischievous smile. Just an unguarded smile. He lowered his head and kissed it.

‘I am good at this,’ Gwyn whispered against his mouth, and Augus nodded. Gwyn ducked his head beside Augus’ and hid the smile that followed that nod. He didn’t want Augus to know that he cared so much, but he couldn’t help the way he felt at the smile he’d seen on Augus’ face.

‘What’s your book about?’ Gwyn said suddenly, and Augus tugged at Gwyn’s hair. The curls bounced back again, and Gwyn made a noise when it made his scalp itchy. Augus immediately threaded his hand through Gwyn’s hair properly, and Gwyn sighed. He was starting to see why waterhorses liked that so much.

‘Gwyn, I don’t care what my book is about. Kiss me again.’

Gwyn lifted his head and pressed closed lips against Augus’ mouth. He wondered if Augus minded that he kissed like this, but Augus said nothing, only dragged his own lips against Gwyn’s and sighed through his nose.

‘Alright, get off me, you weigh a ton,’ Augus said, pushing, and Gwyn went with the motion. Augus didn’t even wince as Gwyn withdrew fully, and Gwyn rolled onto his side, blinked sleepily at Augus.

‘You look very pleased with yourself,’ Augus said, and Gwyn closed his eyes, yawning.

‘You would be too.’

‘Yes, it is quite an achievement, going from premature ejaculation to joining the ranks of those of us who can last more than a minute, isn’t it?’

Gwyn reached out blindly and thumped Augus hard on whatever body part was in reach. He hit his arm, and Augus grunted. Augus grabbed his wrist as he withdrew it, and Gwyn tensed, braced himself for the pain of pressure points. But instead Augus drew his hand back to the bed and dragged his fingernail across the curve of Gwyn’s palm.

‘You should expect retaliation for this afternoon, at some point,’ Augus said, promising, and Gwyn’s eyes opened.

‘Excuse me?’

Augus grinned at him, and Gwyn tried to ignore the way his heart started thumping in response to that. But Augus didn’t say anything else, and Gwyn closed his eyes again. His thoughts started to drift, and he was surprised when he felt Augus move closer and push and arm underneath his and then curl around his back. The contact was warm, pleasant. It made something catch in his heart, but he didn’t want to think about that. He leaned forwards and pressed his forehead to Augus’.

It felt good, he decided. The real world could wait.

Chapter Text

Augus needed more hands. It had been something of a boost to his confidence when – as only underfae – he’d managed to rip Efnisien’s jaw clean off his body, in human-form at that. But now that he was Capital fae, he felt he was letting the class down. The two soldiers were getting the upper hand, and quickly.

He’d made an error. Gwyn’s rooms were hardly ever visited by anyone, and the inner circles of rooms had never seen any visitors at all. Augus kept his guard up in the two outer circles, but relaxed it otherwise. He should have asked Gwyn what sort of permissions he had on his palatial rooms, but since Gwyn changed them depending on his mood, that wouldn’t have been much use. Not only that, but they were clearly Gwyn’s soldiers, wearing his colours and everything. That ridiculously unsuitable cream clothing and armour that showed up bloodstains all the better.

No wonder Gwyn liked it so much.

Augus had been walking into the room through one entrance, intending to take a shortcut to the workshop of the trows, and they’d entered through the other. Augus immediately felt his blood run cold as the soldiers took in his appearance, recognised him. He didn’t know the soldiers individually, enough of them died that it hadn’t been worth keeping track of them when he’d been Unseelie King, but he recognised the build of trained, higher class fae. And if no one knew he was up in these rooms, then it probably looked like he didn’t belong in the first place...

Augus ducked quickly out of the room and bolted, hoping that Gwyn’s inner room, the one where Augus had access (or at least had access, who knows if Gwyn had changed the permissions since) was one banned to others. He heard the footsteps of them running after him and grimaced. Why was he always being chased by Gwyn or his soldiers? Did they all go to some sort of demented school for hunting? Augus rolled his eyes as he ran and turned, fleet-footed, down a corridor. Of course they likely did. Gwyn probably ran it.

He had no idea where he was going, and one of the soldiers was keeping up with him. Who knew what type of fae he was, but he was fast.

Augus turned hurriedly into what he thought was a corridor, but was simply one of Gwyn’s long, strange moss rooms. There was no door to slam and hold closed behind him. There was no way of contacting Gwyn. He looked around for another exit but there was none, and the soldiers entered.

‘I don’t know how you got free, but it’s not going to last l-’

‘Oh, please,’ Augus said, thinking quickly. ‘Look at me. Look at how healthy I look. Look at what I’m wearing. Do I look like someone who’s been wasting down in a cell for almost a year? Exercise some critical judgement, if battle hasn’t bashed it out of your thick skulls.’

They stared at him, and the thinner, meaner looking one on the right gave Augus the once over, and realisation dawned on his features. Accompanying the realisation, there was a lascivious appreciation.

Excellent, soldier number two looks like he could be a rapist. This is just what I wanted, instead of being murdered.

Augus flexed his fingers, glad for the fact that the soldiers weren’t fully kitted out in armour, but only wearing shoulder plates anchored with straps across their chests. Perhaps they’d been in the middle of training and needed Gwyn for something. It didn’t matter. Augus was Capital fae now and he was going to rip them apart.

He smiled at them. He liked this part. The part where they thought he was outnumbered, and they had no idea what he was capable of.

Except now it was twenty minutes later and Augus was certain that he was fighting for his life. It turned out that Gwyn’s soldiers actually did get something approximating decent training, and he needed more hands. He could only use pressure points on one person at a time, compulsions weren’t working, he didn’t have the right build to overpower two trained soldiers at the same time. He was somewhat grateful that moss walls were at least soft. He’d bruise less at any rate.

Augus groaned as the thinner one – though certainly not thin – dug his fingers into Augus’ waist as Augus temporarily immobilised the stupid one with jabs to the neck and carotid. Augus knew he was going to be thrown into the wall even as it happened, and he landed hard. He gritted his teeth, reaching out and sending waterweed around the ankles of the one who’d thrown him, tripping him and sending him skidding across the floor. Which, unfortunately, gave the other soldier enough time to regroup and push Augus back into the ground.

Augus managed to find pressure points with one hand before his wrist was bent back and he bit his teeth around the shriek of pain that tried to claw its way out of his throat. Another hand slid sickeningly around his front, slid underneath his shirt, dug in hard at his torso. Augus squeezed his eyes shut, ignored the galloping of his heart and twisted to get some leverage, managed to wrench of his hands free.

He reached down and broke two of the fingers trying to hold onto his abdomen. His teeth grew sharper. He felt them scrape against each other, then turned and bit hard at the nearest piece of flesh that he could reach. His teeth were sharp enough to shear through muscle and ligament, and crest hard into bone. Augus winced as blood flooded into his mouth, ignored the shout of pain, spat out the hot fluid and kicked out with all his strength.

He had no idea who he was hurting anymore, it didn’t matter. He raked back with his claws. A hand hooked hard over his scalp and he reached out with his free arm to brace himself, only barely minimising the impact as his head was slammed hard into the ground.

I swear, Augus, if you’ve survived everything you’ve survived so far, only to die now...

There was a boot on his ankle. Augus had no idea when that had happened, but he could feel the bones grinding together. Another hand tugged meaningfully on the back of his pants. He used the hand bracing himself to reach back and break the wrist, only to have his head slammed back into the ground again. He gasped, dazed, found it harder to coordinate his limbs. A horrible wave of weakness moved through him and he growled low. That was too familiar. That sickening weakness felt too close to what dropping from King to underfae felt like.

He threw his strength into turning around, and his eyes widened when it didn’t work.

Fuck.

He poured away his awareness of the fist tightening in his hair, of the headlock, and wondered if he’d need to transform. It went against his instincts to transform in view of others. If anyone except Ash or his prey saw him change form, it was like a shrieking wrongness that cascaded all the way through his nerves. Even considering it set him on edge.

But it might work. He’d rather deal with that than being dead.

Though the last time he’d felt pushed to this point, the last time the Nightmare King had pushed him to that, it hadn’t worked. Augus opened his mouth on a cry of frustration, he-

‘WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?’

Augus closed his eyes in relief. He’d never been more glad to hear Gwyn’s voice. He mentally slapped himself when he realised what he’d just thought.

‘Want to join in?’ One of the soldiers said, and Augus almost laughed.

There was a commotion behind him, and both the soldiers were dragged off him. Augus pushed himself around clumsily so that he was sitting, leaning heavily on one of his arms. He didn’t feel quite ready to brave standing yet. His eyes widened when he saw Gwyn had both of them up against the wall, an arm at both of their throats.

Maybe if I was King and cared about unrealistic upper body strength, I’d have been able to do that.

Gwyn stared at them for so long that Augus was almost certain that he’d forgotten how to talk. And then he pulled the larger one away from the wall by the straps keeping his shoulder plate on, and punched him so hard that he collapsed to the ground.

‘Hey!’ The other soldier shouted. ‘Gwyn!’

‘You’ve realised, haven’t you?’ Augus said, staggering upright and bracing himself back against the wall.

Probably too soon for standing.

‘Realised what?’ Gwyn said abruptly. Augus’ eyes widened. Gwyn hadn’t realised anything at all, he was just angry. Gwyn likely couldn’t let the soldiers live. Soldiers like these told their friends everything, they gossiped. The fact that Augus was aboveground, healthy, accessing the inner circles of Gwyn’s palatial rooms? That would not go down well. Especially added to the fact that the Seelie Court was not so much a Court, as a seething underbelly of plots that Gwyn spent most of his time dealing with, on top of everything else.

Gwyn turned his attention away from Augus, and back to the soldier still standing against the wall.

‘You’re both off my army,’ Gwyn said, voice clipped. He didn’t even turn around as the other soldier pushed himself upright off the floor, a hand over what looked like a broken jaw.

‘For this?’ The one against the wall said.

‘For this?’ Gwyn repeated, his voice icy. ‘You could be put to death for touching the King’s property. The old laws still apply here.’

Now follow that on to its natural conclusion, Gwyn. Because you can’t let them go. Also call me property again, and we’ll see who owns who.

‘Why’s he so healthy, anyway? That’s...’ the meaner one trailed off and looked Augus over again. His eyes widened. ‘That’s no underfae. Gwyn, what the fuck?’

The other one worked his jaw. It made a slight crunch, but the soldier ignored it. Augus pursed his lips, impressed. The stupid one had an impressive pain tolerance. Fingers broken, jaw broken, still looked like he wanted to say something.

‘You’ve been brainwashed,’ he said, the words rumpled but clear, and Augus sighed. People threw that word around like they knew what it meant, but they didn’t. ‘Well, Uther, if we’re off the army, might as well fuck off.’

He staggered towards the only entrance, and Augus immediately moved to block him, ignoring the way his ankle protested the movement, the way his brain felt too big for the skull that encased it.

‘Well he obviously wants it,’ the stupid soldier said, exasperated. Augus looked past him, caught Gwyn’s eye.

‘Who will they tell? How many? Because you know how soldiers like to talk, yes?’ Augus said. He stepped forwards and offered a grim smile to Gwyn, before looking back at his prey. It was one against one now. Easy.

He rammed his hand up into the soldier’s nose, sending cartilage back into his brain. The soldier’s eyes went comically wide, before his face stilled and his mouth opened spasmodically. He dropped to the ground. Even so, he wouldn’t be dead completely until his spinal cord was severed. He was Court status, they came back from an injury like that. Augus leant over him and summoned his waterhorse strength, gripping his head between both hands and wrenching his neck to the side.

The other soldier was staring at him in shock.

Augus grimaced when he realised Gwyn was too.

I suppose I did just kill one of his precious soldiers. Not like he doesn’t lose enough of them in the field.

The other soldier pushed past Gwyn, ran and bowled Augus backwards back into the floor. Augus went down heavily, reached up to find pressure points only to be distracted by two punches to the gut. Even he wasn’t immune to being winded. Augus choked.

Solar plexus. Damn.

He struggled weakly as his diaphragm refused to cooperate with his attempts to find air. He snarled when the soldier drew back the heel of his hand, ready to smash it into his face, ready to return the favour that Augus had doled out to his comrade.

Augus saw Gwyn enter his field of vision, and then the soldier was picked up bodily and thrown across the room. Even struggling for breath, Augus pushed himself upright, shocked. Gwyn stalked over to the soldier and lifted him up by the straps of his armour, before throwing him back down to the ground again. The impact was sickening, even through the moss. If the soldier had slammed Augus’ head into the ground with that much force, his skull would have caved in.

Gwyn leaned down with faster reflexes than a man of his size should have been capable of, and broke the fae’s neck quickly. He straightened, breathing heavily, then surveyed the room. His eyes moved from both of the dead bodies, to land squarely on Augus.  

‘First a family member. Now two of my soldiers. You have quite a body trail growing behind you, even just in this Court, Augus.’

Augus stepped back and leaned against the mossy wall. He didn’t want to say, but he was still having trouble catching his breath. Now that both of the soldiers were dead, he was becoming acutely aware of two things. The first was that he’d like to soak in the lake for some time, so the pain would disappear. The second was that Gwyn was looking at him like he was perhaps not as stable as Augus hoped he was.

He cautiously allowed that perhaps killing one of your own men, to save the life of an ex-Unseelie King who was – he grimaced – one of the greatest pariahs the Kingdom had ever known, was probably not reassuring.

Gwyn walked towards him slowly, stepping over the body of his soldier like it was nothing.

‘Did you incite them?’ Gwyn asked, voice as cold as it had been when talking to his soldiers.

Augus stepped away from the wall and gave him a look of disgust.

'Let’s recall how you thought I provoked Efnisien, and then it turned out that you just have terrible people in your Court. I might survive being fed liver again, but you won’t.’

‘Why did you tell them you were up here for that?’

‘Because they thought I was trying to escape. Though why they thought I’d come here if that was the case, I don’t know. I realise that being a soldier often requires a lower than impressive intelligence so that you’re all inured to the idea of being slaughtered, but you and your soldiers really are impressively stupid, Gwyn.’

Augus edged sideways when Gwyn got closer, and something dark crept over Gwyn’s face.

‘How far did they get?’ he asked.

Augus ended up circling straight back into a wall, back pressing up against it. Gwyn came up and stood too close, invaded his personal space. Augus resisted the urge to grind his teeth together. Gwyn picked things up too fast for his own good. Gwyn bracketed both of his hands around Augus’ face and then bowed his head, took a deep breath. And Augus, pressed back against the wall, felt the energy in the room shift and ripple.

Gwyn was changing the permissions of the palace again.

Gwyn should not find that so easy. It wasn’t easy. Augus narrowed his eyes, perplexed. It was magic. There was no reason Gwyn should be adept at magic. He’d not trained in anything like magecraft, and it wasn’t supposed to be easy. It wasn’t supposed to be something that one could do simply because they felt like it. Augus had done it once, and then hadn’t touched the permissions again. Even as King, it had taken an absurd amount of energy to spread his mind across the vastness of the Unseelie Kingdom to determine what would be private, who could access what.

Gwyn – finished already – removed one of his hands from the wall and leaned back, looking down Augus’ body, taking in the rumpled clothing.

‘They had no right,’ Gwyn said. ‘Why did you let them see you?’

Augus scowled, and then took a deeper breath when Gwyn placed his hand over his ribs. It was a proprietary touch.

‘I didn’t let-’

‘Be quiet,’ Gwyn said. The words were a command, but the coldness in his voice was gone. Gwyn’s thumb trailed across his shirt, curious.

‘I didn’t think anyone had access to that circle of rooms. I’ve never seen-’

‘Be quiet,’ Gwyn repeated. That quiet certainty in his voice was far more disturbing than when he simply barged into a room and started ordering Augus around. Gwyn’s eyes were hooded, there was a determined look in the paleness of his eyes. Augus watched him carefully. Gwyn’s hand was a possessive, heavy weight against his ribs, unknowingly pressing into bruises that were already there. His other hand hadn’t moved where it rested by Augus’ head.

‘Was it bloodlust?’ Gwyn said. ‘You haven’t hunted anyone in some time. Perhaps you thought – after Efnisien – that you could take them on, kill them. Perhaps you let them see you.’

Augus blinked. That was...a fair strategy. It wasn’t the case, but it was plausible.

When Augus realised that Gwyn was touching him with the same hand that had broken the neck of one of his own soldiers, a small shiver went through him. He decided that he definitely had brain damage. He’d never been one to be taken by displays of brute force in the past, finding himself more easily impressed with skills that required precision; pressure points, the rapier, magic and magery.

Gwyn’s hand trailed up to a rip in the collar of his shirt. He fingered it thoughtfully.

‘They made this part easier for me.’

Gwyn moved his other hand down to Augus’ shirt to hold it in place, then tore hard with his other hand. Augus’ teeth ground together. Gwyn had ripped his shirt apart last time, too. It was a terrible, uncouth habit. The fabric was supposed to be resistant to wear and tear, it was meant to be of a high quality, but under Gwyn’s hands, it ripped like tissue paper.

Gwyn looked down Augus’ torso and then placed his fingers exactly over the points where one of the soldiers had dug fingers into his ribs.

Gwyn pressed his fingers in harder, an increasing pressure that made pain expand through Augus’ side. He hissed, glared at Gwyn.

‘Are you marking me?’ he said, disbelieving.

Gwyn looked at him, expression still, and pressed harder until Augus’ mouth thinned.

‘Yes,’ Gwyn said. The pain increased until Augus pushed at Gwyn’s hand. But without the use of pressure points – which he decided might not be a good idea when Gwyn was in this mood – he wasn’t strong enough to move his hand or wrist away.

‘Will you slam my head against the ground, too?’ Augus said, voice strained.

‘What do you think?’ Gwyn said, relenting and moving his hand away from the bruises he’d etched back into Augus skin. He smoothed his rough palm up Augus’ skin and Augus blinked when Gwyn’s fingertips found and touched his collarbone, then stroked it roughly. ‘Why am I always having to clean up dead bodies for you?’

‘Why is your Seelie Court so venomous?’ Augus said, and Gwyn ignored him. He placed both hands around Augus’ waist and turned him, pushing harder when Augus started to resist. Augus found himself facing a wall of moss. Gwyn pushed him between the shoulder blades until Augus brought a hand up to brace himself.

He knew, perhaps, that he should be resisting more. His head didn’t ache quite as much, he could feel the points where Gwyn had dug his fingers into his ribs, his ankle hurt. He could still feel his heart beating faster than usual. It had reached the point where he had considered transforming willingly in front of other people. It had reached that point.

It was strange to be the one in this position. Strange that he wasn’t immediately pushing back, pressing hard at Gwyn’s buttons, because he could tell that Gwyn had them. Didn’t take a genius to work out that he was possessive. Not the way Gwyn was leaning into him, breathing into his neck. His breath was warm against him, made his skin flush.

‘Where did they touch you?’ Gwyn said again, voice deeper than usual, and Augus closed his eyes.

He could blame this on the rush that came from killing someone. And adrenaline. And almost dying. He had a lot of things he could blame this on. Typically, people getting possessive over him was not something he enjoyed at all. For a start, it was inconvenient, given that he wasn’t particularly interested in committing to anyone. The fact that he’d somewhat committed himself to the idea of Gwyn was...

What could he blame that on?

‘You are a big, dumb, idiot,’ Augus said, but he winced, because the words could apply to the two of them, in this case.

‘Did they touch you here?’

Gwyn’s hand smoothed over Augus’ ass through his pants, while his other hand kept Augus pressed into the wall, and Augus’ breathing hitched. The touch was familiar, it moved further down until Gwyn could dig his fingers into the back of Augus’ thigh and drag that grip back up again. Gwyn pressed in closer.

‘I didn’t like seeing you like that,’ Gwyn said, and Augus felt laughter catch in his throat.

‘The almost being murdered part? Or the almost being fucked part?’

‘Yes,’ Gwyn said.

Augus laughed, but the sound was cut short when Gwyn pressed his fingers between Augus’ legs from behind, ran over fabric, smoothed over his balls and then simply stayed there, breathing faster than before.

‘I own you,’ Gwyn said, darkly, and Augus opened his eyes at the sheer audacity of the statement. He wasn’t owned by anyone.

His fingers dug into the moss when Gwyn’s fingers rubbed against him. It wasn’t painful, not as rough as he’d expected. Vines of sensation moved through him, crept along his nerves, pooled in his gut. Augus shivered when Gwyn bit hard into his shoulder. It was through the material of the shirt that was hanging off him, but he could still feel the imprint of each of his teeth, the sharp sting of one of his canines sinking deeper than the rest.

‘You don’t own me,’ Augus said, and the hand that was pressing between his shoulder blades curved around and pulled Augus backwards into Gwyn’s chest. Fingers splayed over his throat, fingertips pushing up and forcing Augus’ head back until it rested on Gwyn’s shoulder. His other hand had crested around until it could palm his hip, and Augus felt Gwyn hard against the base of his spine.

‘I just saved your life,’ Gwyn breathed. ‘He would have killed you as you killed Stornbeck.’

‘Your soldiers actually have names?’ Augus said, as Gwyn’s fingers shifted against his throat. ‘I’m surprised you don’t just give them numbers or something.’

‘Didn’t you hear, Augus? I can’t count that high.’

Augus’ eyes widened. Had that been a joke? He swallowed and stared up at the ceiling as Gwyn responded by tracing his Adam’s apple, his trachea. Gwyn was actually stroking his neck.

Augus knew, in that moment, his centre had been shattered irrevocably. The domination was still there, still within him, but instead of feeling revulsion at being controlled like this, he felt a swirl of arousal that turned his nervous system to warm water, made him feel as though lava had been buried in the floor beneath him. Heat rose up all the way to his cheeks and his face was flushed.

‘They did,’ Augus said, wanting to see what Gwyn would do. ‘They did touch me. Is that a problem, Gwyn? Do you have a problem with that? One would think you d-’

Augus’ words were cut off when Gwyn pressed fingers into his mouth.

‘Be quiet,’ Gwyn said against his ear. ‘Just be quiet.’

The old dislike of having his words silenced washed through him and he reached up, tried to tug Gwyn’s hand away. Gwyn paused, then responded in own time, withdrawing his fingers after rubbing them over Augus’ tongue. He painted Augus’ saliva over his cheek lazily and Augus swallowed.

‘How did you find me?’ Augus said, as Gwyn’s hand continued upwards, painting lines of sensation over his hair.

‘You were lucky,’ Gwyn said, pushing Augus back into the wall and biting the side of his neck. ‘One of the trows that you’d befriended saw you cornered and came to fetch me. You could have been killed.’

‘I had plenty of time,’ Augus drawled. ‘They would have fucked me first.’

Gwyn stilled, then forced his leg between Augus’ legs, raised his knee up until the top of his thigh was pressing against Augus. It was uncomfortable, his pants were tight, Gwyn’s thigh was broad.

‘I don’t have lube,’ Gwyn groaned suddenly. He thumped his forehead against Augus’ shoulder.

‘You have it everywhere,’ Augus said in disbelief, and then realised how eager that made him sound.

Well...

Damn it,’ Gwyn said, and clutched onto Augus tightly, before teleporting them both out of the room.

Gwyn let him go before the light had even dissipated, walking over quickly to a chest of drawers by a bed that Augus didn’t recognise. He looked around the room quickly, took in the pale wood everywhere, the bed with its simple, rustic blankets. There were old, hand-drawn maps hanging on the far wall, and a drawing table with broad sheets of parchment on it. The bed itself was only narrow, designed for a single person. Augus narrowed his eyes.

‘Where are we?’

He recognised Gwyn’s writing on the maps and went over to take a closer look, they looked well-made. Gwyn walked quickly back to him and pushed him up against the wall. The wood-panelling was considerably less forgiving than the moss had been.

‘Don’t get distracted,’ Gwyn said, and Augus stared at him. ‘When was the last time you were fucked up against a wall, Augus?’

Augus looked down at the vial of lube in Gwyn’s hand and raised his eyebrows.

‘There’s a bed right there,’ Augus said, pointing to it.

Being fucked up against a wall was undignified. That’s why he sometimes did it to others. It was not something he particularly wanted to  try. He opened his mouth to say as much, when Gwyn pressed his palm over his lips and blocked the words.

‘You’re in for a treat then, aren’t you?’

When Augus reached up to remove Gwyn’s hand from his mouth, Gwyn grabbed one of his wrists and shoved it behind Augus’ back, leaning against Augus so hard that his arm was pinned by their combined body weight. Gwyn reached down and yanked at Augus’ pants, and Augus – half-hard now – had the unpleasant experience of the head of his erection catching on the fabric. He snarled against Gwyn’s palm, clawed into Gwyn’s wrist instead of trying to tug it away. Blood welled from the furrows, dripped down, and Gwyn ignored it.

Gwyn placed the hand that had pulled Augus’ pants down, directly over Augus’ cock. It was a simple, warm pressure. When Gwyn didn’t immediately follow it up with jerking him off roughly, didn’t hurt him, Augus swallowed. He had no idea what was going to happen next. He’d never seen Gwyn like this. He’d seen him vindictive, vengeful, vulnerable. He’d seen him subsume his own need for submission by clawing it from Augus. He’d seen and drawn forth his submission. But he’d not seen this.

Gwyn slowly removed his palm from Augus’ mouth and then licked at the blood dripping down his forearm. It was a completely unselfconscious gesture, and it was those moments that Augus found so hypnotising. When Gwyn wasn’t being repressed or stuck up or uppity or any of the other thousand things that he was being, he was this strange, fey creature. Augus didn’t even know what kind of light fae he was. He had been trying to figure it out, and couldn’t pinpoint it. Gwyn acting on impulse was someone who licked at his own blood like it was syrup. Augus felt himself get harder. Gwyn must have felt that against his hand, his eyes flickered up to Augus’. 

‘They would have hurt you,’ Gwyn said, licking his lips as he straightened. With less pressure on Augus’ chest, Augus was able to extract his arm from where it had been pinned against the wall.

‘They did hurt me,’ Augus said, kicking his own pants off in frustration. He growled when the material caught on his bruised ankle. That would take a little longer to heal. He suspected the bones were injured.

‘They were going to kill you,’ Gwyn said, opening the vial and pouring lubricant onto his fingers. Augus watched, pressure catching up in his throat. ‘You don’t know how the fae talk about you because you’re sheltered from it. You should never have let them see you. You, of all people, should not drop your guard. You can’t afford to.’

‘And that’s a lesson you’re going to fuck into me?’ Augus said, and Gwyn wrapped a slick hand around Augus’ cock. Gwyn pumped his hand up and down several times and then slowed down drastically, taking a deep breath as he tightened the pressure and slid his hand up in increments. The unexpected change of pace hit Augus like a ball of pressure, expanding until he felt like he didn’t quite fit his skin anymore. His head fell back into the wall and his hips canted forwards. Gwyn chuckled.

‘Look at you, so confident after breaking someone’s neck,’ Augus said, and Gwyn exhaled raggedly. Because that was it, Augus realised. Rumours abounded of how unstoppable Gwyn was on a battlefield, how he became instinct and bloodlust and pure skill. It was probably one of the few places that Gwyn couldn’t afford his repression. One of the few places he could have escaped whatever horrendous things were going on at home while growing up. Augus had never personally seen Gwyn on the battlefield before, hadn’t been interested, but he was curious now. Curious what that Gwyn looked like.

And Augus, on another level, could relate. He knew the thrill of stalking and hunting and killing one’s prey. He knew the strange, prickling lust it left floating through one’s blood. And even though that soldier – Stornbeck – hadn’t been food, the crunch of cartilage had been satisfying all the same.

Gwyn’s hand sped up again, and Augus shuddered. He reached forward with his own hands and tucked them underneath Gwyn’s shirt, pressing his hands to the skin beneath. It was overheated, far hotter than usual.

Gwyn’s heart was thundering in his chest, a rabbit-run of speed. Augus pulled himself away from his awareness of the pleasure Gwyn was evoking, he shifted into another part of his mind, raised his hand up to Gwyn’s face. Gwyn blinked into awareness, looking at Augus in surprise.

‘You were afraid,’ Augus said. Gwyn frowned at him. He didn’t say anything, but a troubled look crossed his features. It was strange seeing it, the small frown, the way he looked at Augus like he had said the wrong thing. Gwyn’s hand slowed down again, slowed further, turning Augus’ mind to sensation and want. By the time the heel of Gwyn’s palm was dragging over the tip of Augus’ cock, Augus was trying to remember what he was going to say, then decided it didn’t matter.

But Augus knew now why Gwyn felt the need to say it more than once; You could have been killed. That was the heartbeat of someone who was terrified of that outcome, someone who needed a reminder that it hadn’t happened after all.

Augus could see – in that moment – so many clear pathways towards breaking Gwyn. It was something he did naturally, look for the breaking point, run his fingers upon it before pressing down hard. And Gwyn would respond. Augus could casually tell him that he would have preferred to have died, than have Gwyn’s hands on him. He could have told him that he did let them touch him, because everything in the palace was the essence of tedium and he thought the soldiers might have a better chance of pleasing him than Gwyn could. He could push in just the right direction, and Gwyn’s hands would falter. Gwyn would leave to fret over his own fears. Something he would probably do anyway, with or without Augus’ help.

But Augus wanted that less than he wanted to know more about this side of Gwyn. He wanted that less than the hand on his cock, drawing a shakiness out of his lungs. Because Gwyn wasn’t the only one surprising him lately. Because so many things were changing, and he wanted to know what would happen next.

Augus blinked, startled, when Gwyn’s hand ran underneath his thigh and lifted at his leg.

‘Up,’ Gwyn said. ‘Up, so I can fuck you.’

Augus frowned. He wanted to know every part that would happen next except the part where Gwyn wouldn’t just move things to the bed.

‘I am not some-’

His voice was cut off in a sharp cry as Gwyn dug the tip of his thumb into the slit of Augus’ cock. It was a blunt, painful intensity, one not helped at all by Gwyn’s fingers tightening under his thigh. Augus gasped through it, realised that talking Gwyn into using the bed wasn’t going to happen.

‘Up,’ Gwyn demanded. ‘Wrap your legs around me.’

Augus glared at him, then lifted the leg Gwyn had his hand under and brought it up around Gwyn’s waist. Gwyn’s hand slid up to his hip and lifted him, so that Augus could lift his other leg easily. Augus hooked one arm over  Gwyn’s shoulder, and looked down at the top of Gwyn’s head, then into the room itself. He was aware of Gwyn’s strength.

‘You’re still wearing clothes,’ Augus said, and then laughed. He was still technically wearing his shirt. Gwyn hadn’t taken it off, only ripped it apart at the front.

‘Not a problem,’ Gwyn said. ‘This is what I’m used to.’

Of course, of course it is. You’ve probably done this against trees, barbarian.

Augus snuck his hand underneath Gwyn’s shirt, at the back of his neck, as Gwyn quickly pulled his own pants down. It was ungainly, there was nothing graceful about any of this. One of his own hands was still braced palm backwards against the wall. Gwyn noticed and tugged it away, fingers gently curling around his wrist and encouraging Augus to let go of the wall.

‘You don’t need to do that,’ Gwyn said, voice low and matter of fact. Not remotely seductive. And yet as Augus brought his hand away from the wall, he closed his eyes. The position was doing strange things to him. He threaded his other hand through Gwyn’s hair, hummed in satisfaction when Gwyn paused, head bowing under that touch. It pleased him very much that Gwyn liked that. He scraped his fingers over Gwyn’s scalp, and Gwyn’s shoulders heaved under his other hand.

And then Augus felt fingers stroking at his entrance and he exhaled harder, shoulders pushing hard against the wall. Gwyn looked up at him, and Augus looked down. There was a hungry, desperate, determined expression on his face.

‘I don’t want anyone else touching you,’ Gwyn said, and Augus found it difficult to know what to say, with Gwyn’s fingers slick and presumptuous and not having penetrated him yet.

‘You don’t own me,’ Augus managed, and Gwyn’s brow furrowed further, he grimaced.

‘No. Perhaps not all the time. But now. Right now I do.’

Gwyn pushed the tip of his middle finger inside, and Augus’ jaw went lax, his arms tightened around Gwyn’s neck. Gwyn pushed as deep as he could go, though the angle wasn’t as good, and withdrew before coming back with a second finger already. He was going too fast for it to be entirely comfortable, and Augus didn’t understand when he had become someone who liked that. His breathing hitched, there was a mild stretch, and Augus tilted his hips so that the angle was better.

‘Good,’ Gwyn said absently, and Augus’ chest tightened. He could lambast himself for enjoying this later. The sensations were dragging him underwater and he wanted to follow, he wanted to sink down into the deep with them. Gwyn had showed him that it was okay, that he didn’t have to hold himself up and separate from everything like he usually did in a scene. Gwyn had showed him that when he’d carefully deconstructed Augus’ love of slow touch, when he’d sent Augus practically mindless before ever coming himself.

Augus’ legs flexed, pressed tighter to Gwyn’s hips and back. His hair was sticking to the wall where he’d shifted his head without thinking. Gwyn’s fingers were blunt and demanding inside of him, working towards only one purpose, stretching him. Or so he thought. Augus cried out when Gwyn’s wrist shifted and he felt a slow, direct pressure over his prostate.

Augus shifted his hips to increase the sharpness of the angle, and filaments of pale green shot across the outer edges of his vision. He looked down, dimly, at the pale, white-gold curls beneath him and buried fingers into his hair, tightening his grip on Gwyn’s head as Gwyn’s fingers began thrusting back and forth inside of him.

When Gwyn added a third finger, Augus hissed. It was too fast, the adrenaline had made his body lock up, he couldn’t relax fast enough. He wished he minded. He didn’t care.

‘Fuck, Augus,’ Gwyn muttered. Augus heard how rough his voice was and curved his hand around the side of Gwyn’s face, pressing his thumb into Gwyn’s mouth. Gwyn’s voice jumped an octave, and Augus bit his lower lip and changed it to his index and middle finger, pressing deep until he could curl claw-tips at the back of his throat. Not enough pressure to hurt him, but enough to scrape. Augus could hear his own breathing, could hear Gwyn’s.

And then Gwyn moved his mouth backwards, keeping the tips of Augus’ fingers in his mouth. He sucked hard, absently, thrusting his tongue up between the gap. Augus moaned softly, then stared at the bed as Gwyn withdrew his fingers from Augus’ ass, and reached between them so he could line himself up.

He didn’t care about the bed anymore. It was too far away.

Gwyn looked up again, watching Augus’ face carefully as he pressed inside. Augus winced at the stretch, couldn’t tear his eyes away from the fact that Gwyn still had Augus’ fingertips in his half-open mouth, breathing heavily over them. Augus’ arm tightened around Gwyn’s shoulder absently. The sting became an ache as Gwyn pressed deeper still, and Augus groaned.

‘You...killed someone for me,’ Augus said, and his head dropped forwards as Gwyn used a combination of gravity and a hand on his hip to control his pace. He wasn’t fully seated yet, and Augus already felt full. It was the hazard of being fucked by Gwyn, there was always more of something.

Gwyn didn’t care about speaking anymore. Augus could tell he’d reached that point where his desire to just let loose was taking over. Augus could feel Gwyn’s tension beneath his skin, in the way his hand was digging bruises into his hip, grinding against his hipbone.

Gwyn lost patience, pulled Augus down the rest of the way with a sharp, rough motion. Augus shouted, breathing became difficult. An ache had sent vines all the way up his spine into the base of his head and he clung on, shaking. That had hurt. But Gwyn paused, was heaving for breath, and Augus concentrated on relaxing, on accepting the fact of Gwyn inside of him. At some point his body turned the pain into a deep, throbbing ache that just made him aware of how hard he was, and his head tilted forwards until his head was alongside Gwyn’s.

Gwyn took a breath, then leaned backwards and removed the hand on Augus’ hip. Augus had the alarming sensation of realising that Gwyn’s hips and the cock anchored deep inside of him were the only things keeping him upright. He held on tighter, whimpered when Gwyn’s cock shifted inside of him.

‘I should have done this to you a long time ago,’ Gwyn said, voice rough. He ran a palm up Augus’ thigh and then dug his fingers into Augus’ ass cheek, spreading it. ‘A long time ago. You like this.’

Gwyn ran his hand back along Augus’ thigh and hitched it up even higher, his other hand bracing himself against the wall by Augus’ head. He withdrew slowly, then pushed back in quickly, tearing a response from Augus before he could stop himself. Gwyn’s pace picked up, and Augus focused on breathing, focused on holding onto Gwyn. He didn’t like that Gwyn was still fully clothed, everything on, the only thing different being his pants around his ankles. He tugged on Gwyn’s shirt absently, then buried a hand back in Gwyn’s hair when the ache intensified, when Gwyn started thrusting harder.

‘Lost for words?’ Gwyn managed, and Augus made a strangled sound that was frustration and want. ‘Can I help?’

Gwyn withdrew almost fully, paused, took a deep, wrecked breath and then pushed in so slowly that Augus felt his entire body contract. Sweat broke out all over his body and he spine bowed. His head hit the wall hard. Augus groaned, Gwyn kept up the incredibly slow pace.

‘Hasn’t your head been through enough today?’ Gwyn said, sounding entirely too composed for someone who was likely twenty seconds away from coming. Augus opened his mouth on a retort, but nothing came. The drastic slowdown in speed was short-circuiting his ability to think. He tried to speed things up, pushed his hips down, but Gwyn’s hand prevented him.

‘Slow,’ Gwyn murmured. ‘Just this once. Let me try.’

Let me try.

Augus opened his mouth, inhaled deeply. Even now, Gwyn was trying to please. Even now. He raked his hand through Gwyn’s hair, over and over again, and felt the resultant tremors of pleasure transmit all the way through Gwyn’s arms.

I own you, Augus realised, thoughts scrambled, the corners of his mouth turning up. Look at that. I own you even when you’re fucking me against a wall.

Gwyn made a thin sound as he hit bottom again, he was shaking now. The self-control wearing thin. Augus was grateful, because he was close, because his back and head were starting to hurt.

‘Fuck me,’ Augus breathed. ‘Properly.’

‘I’m close,’ Gwyn warned, and Augus nodded, his head dropped forwards again. He pulled Gwyn closer with his arms, with his legs.

Fuck me.’

Gwyn shifted both of his hands down to Augus’ hips, and Augus found a single, quick breath before Gwyn slammed it out of him again. Augus’ hands clung on, his body rocked back and forth against the wall at a pace that was dizzying. He hadn’t realised when he’d asked Gwyn to fuck him, Gwyn would translate that as fuck him to death.

The head of Augus’ cock caught on the rough fabric of Gwyn’s shirt and he scratched out a protest as, hypersensitive, he realised he was going to come. It was an absent, unintentional extra stimulation that opened a dam inside of him and sent heat flooding through him. His claws shredded the back of Gwyn’s shirt and then raked hard down Gwyn’s shoulder blade as he came, mixed up in pain and pleasure.

Gwyn cried out as Augus ripped the skin on his back and his rhythm faltered, his hips jerked against him. Augus smeared blood against Gwyn’s back as he pulled him closer, still shuddering himself.

Mine, Augus found himself thinking, and even gasping for breath and finding coherent sentences difficult, he couldn’t help but smirk at the fact of thinking it in the first place. It wasn’t something that he bothered to ever think, about anyone, required far too much effort and yet here he was...

Gwyn stilled against him, pressed his forehead into the wall beside Augus’ head, and then hesitantly pressed it into the side of Augus’ face, seeking. His breath was hot against Augus’ damp hair. His nose pressed into Augus’ cheek.

‘My back hurts,’ Augus said, voice hoarse. ‘And my head.’

Gwyn made a frustrated sound against his face.

‘Are you never quiet?’

‘We should have done this in a bed.’

He didn’t think that was true at all, but it was fun to say it, to feel Gwyn tensing against him. He couldn’t help himself. He turned his face into Gwyn’s and moaned softly as an aftershock ripped through his torso. Gwyn was inside him still, supporting his weight with his own.

‘You should never have let yourself be seen,’ Gwyn muttered. He shifted his grip on Augus’ hips as he withdrew. Augus winced when he felt come running down the back of his leg. He needed the lake. But he focused on standing first, his legs weak underneath him. Gwyn was still leaning against him, both hands curled around his waist, making sure Augus could stand. It was disturbing how Gwyn knew to do that instinctively. As inexperienced as Gwyn was, this rough, reckless way of having sex was something he clearly knew about.

‘You should never drop your guard, ever,’ Gwyn said, moving his head backwards to meet Augus’ eyes. ‘Ever.’

‘I’m getting the impression that you want me to not get caught in a situation like that again,’ Augus said. ‘But you forget that I didn’t particularly enjoy it either. I didn’t know your soldiers had access to that circle of rooms. I’ve never seen anyone in there before.’

‘People don’t come here often, but they do come here,’ Gwyn said, face twisting. ‘They can’t make it into the innermost circles. My room, the two circles of rooms after that. They can no longer make it into the one you were just in, I changed the permissions again. They can’t make it into your rooms. But you shouldn’t take any chances. If people need to find their way in, they will; especially if they have a need.’

‘Then they had a need to die, didn’t they?’ Augus said, pushing Gwyn aside and reaching down to pull his pants on. He was going to lie down at the bottom of that lake and let his thoughts drift. It had been a complicated day. Gwyn pulled his own pants up but didn’t bother lacing them. He turned to face Augus.

‘They didn’t need to die,’ Gwyn said, grabbing Augus by the arm. ‘They didn’t.’

‘You’re letting your toothpick-sized sentimental streak show, Gwyn,’ Augus spat.

‘It was wasteful!’ Gwyn shouted. ‘If you hadn’t let yourself be seen, they would be alive! They would be alive if it wasn’t for that. They have families. Uther has children.

Augus paused, he looked sidelong at Gwyn. Now the jealous, possessive ass was going to have a breakdown over it. He didn’t have the energy for this. Gwyn didn’t just get pounded against a wall, after all. Gwyn didn’t nearly die.

‘Uther and Stornbeck were going to rape me, and then kill me afterwards. Maybe. Maybe they would have killed me first, depending on how much they minded fucking a dead body.

Gwyn’s eyes widened, and Augus saw realisation dawn over his features. It was fear – plain, undiluted fear. For all that Gwyn didn’t know how to connect with people, there was a connection there that Gwyn was frightened of. Augus wasn’t used to seeing people worried about him, concerned for his life or his wellbeing. He’d had it from Ash, but anyone else? He’d projected a confident mien for so long that it was disturbing to see Gwyn’s reaction to his words. More disturbing, Gwyn looked so upset. That wasn’t an expression that gave him any satisfaction at all. He was almost certain that Gwyn had no idea what he looked like, how raw or telling the expression was.

Fuck.

‘But they didn’t,’ Augus said softly. ‘And they can’t tell anyone that I’m not underfae, or that you’ve breached conduct, because the situation isn’t a situation anymore. You accepted that they could die in battle, even if they have families. Why can’t you accept it now?’

Gwyn opened his mouth to respond and then seemed to think the better of it, his expression shuttering and his face wiping clean of all expression except that faint, grim disapproval he carried on it all the time. Augus reminded himself to poke at that later.

Gwyn reached behind himself and touched his back, his hand came away bloody. He grimaced, wiped the blood off on the front of his shirt. There was come on the fabric too, where Augus had released.

Augus raised his eyebrows, stifled the urge to yawn. The adrenaline was wearing off. He felt strange, far shakier than usual. He knew that most fae hated him, that he was a pariah amongst them all, but it was the first time he’d experienced the direct consequences of that in a way that had made him fear for his life. It was a reminder that if he ever got free of the Court, he’d never truly be free.

Augus placed a hand over his eyes and groaned.

‘Will you take me to the lake?’ Augus said, and Gwyn was standing in front of him immediately, hands coming up and removing Augus’ hand. Gwyn looked at him intently.

‘Are you alright?’ Gwyn asked, and Augus swallowed.

‘The water will help me heal.’

Gwyn’s face darkened, his hands tightened into fists. He looked through the wall of the room, as though he could see wherever his dead soldiers were lying beyond it. He looked like he wanted to kill them again.

Good, Augus thought. Bring them back and kill them again. Let me watch.

A wave of tiredness passed over Gwyn’s face and he sighed.

‘I should go clean this mess up,’ he said to himself.

Augus pursed his lips.  

‘Do you need some help?’

Gwyn looked at him, perplexed, and Augus shrugged.

‘I don’t really want to help,’ he added. ‘You’re better at heavy labour than I am.’

Gwyn glowered at him and Augus stretched his arms, made a show of it. He walked towards Gwyn and shrugged in that way that always made a muscle jump in Gwyn’s jaw.

‘I don’t know why you’re upset about it. You’ve spent your entire life proving that you’re better at heavy labour than the average person.’

Gwyn looked like he wanted to retort, but then his brow furrowed and he looked at Augus more closely. He looked down his body and then reached out and placed a hand over the bruises on his ribs.

‘The water will help?’ Gwyn said, checking, and Augus nodded.

‘I’m Capital fae now. It shouldn’t take more than a day.’

Gwyn nodded brusquely, all business again, probably contemplating how best to dispose of the bodies of his soldiers, since they hadn’t died in the middle of a battle. Augus would offer to help with suggestions, but now that the sex was over, his body was impatiently reminding him of all the places he hurt. It was far too many places for his comfort, he couldn’t detach completely from the pain.

‘The lake,’ Augus prompted. ‘Gwyn.’

‘Be quiet,’ Gwyn said, a rough gentleness in his voice, carefully moving his hand around Augus’ back. Augus didn’t need to brace himself for the light. Gwyn’s light, when teleporting, was always warm, an unexpected balm.

 

Chapter Text

The doe tilted her head where it rested – lax and trusting – on Gwyn’s leg. Gwyn stroked her ear with his fingers, looked at the herd of red deer that were grazing or resting nearby. His back was braced against a sturdy, ancient beech, attended by a shy, furtive dryad who had sprung out of sight as soon as she’d seen him. He wasn’t interested in interacting with her, and as long as he didn’t harm her tree – something he had no intention of doing – she would leave him be.

The doe inched closer, leaning her head into his hand, staring up with a limpid, dark gaze. It had been some time since he’d called forest animals to him, to see who would heed his call. A long time since he had simply spent time like this, still and quiet, contemplative.

Usually he did it to unwind, but there was a bitter, black tension inside of him and it would not unravel. He kept the discordance quiet enough that the deer were not frightened, but it was unusual for only a single deer to respond to his call when he allowed his energy to spool out around him. This doe, she was unusually calm, perhaps a little touched by fae magic herself. He traced the grain of her pelt, scratched the underside of her ear, leaned his head back against the beech and stared out into the distance.

Pitch hadn’t wanted to tell him anything. The visit itself had been remarkably tense. Pitch had realised almost immediately how enmeshed Gwyn was with Augus, could skim it off the top of his fears. And Gwyn had, for many reasons, always been uncomfortable with those who could read emotions. Empaths, Readers, others who understood how to see into a mass of feeling and pull out the truth. Pitch’s expression as he regarded Gwyn, was one that Gwyn had seen in his life before, and he didn’t appreciate seeing it from Pitch.

‘Before you judge me, I must speak with you on a matter relating to the Nightmare King. Specifically, what you remember of Augus’ time in captivity?’

‘Before I judge you?’ Pitch had seethed. ‘You are lucky that Jack isn’t here, I’d not tolerate you in this house otherwise. Let’s just recall, shall we, that Augus tortured him, and-’

‘And so?’ Gwyn said coldly. ‘And so I have murdered people, and forced cannibalism upon them, and raped Augus myself. Evict me from your home if you must, but at least do it on my own actions alone, and not the actions of Augus.’

Pitch absorbed the information and grimaced, mouth expressing a sharp distaste. Gwyn wanted to needle at him, wanted to say, Am I not who you thought I was then? But he couldn’t bring himself to. He’d always respected Pitch, always respected his ability to separate himself from the darkness that twisted within him even once the shadows were gone. He’d admired him. He’d wanted to be admired. And in the absence of that admiration, Gwyn was not above saying what he needed to say to find out the truth.

‘I will not speak of that time in this house,’ Pitch said finally, and stood up swiftly, directing a look at Gwyn which said plainly that their friendship – such as it had been – was damaged, perhaps gone. Gwyn followed, swallowing down the tightness in his chest, forcing himself to focus. It had been too long that he’d let this go. Too long that he’d avoided confronting this reality. It was the mark of a coward, to use something so willingly against Augus to defeat him, to be so reluctant to discover for himself what the awful truth of it all actually was.

‘I want more this time,’ Gwyn said, as Pitch closed the front door behind him and set off in the direction of the woods, Gwyn following, thinking that perhaps he should have dressed for snow. He didn’t have Pitch’s immunity to extremes of temperature.

‘I am not sure how the sordid details of that period will help you.’

‘It’s not up to you to decide what will help me or not,’ Gwyn said, ‘It’s up to me. I have a damaged fae in my custody, and-’

‘In your bed,’ Pitch said, and Gwyn’s teeth ground together. ‘Let’s make no mistake here, King, this is nothing to do with your custody of your prisoner of war. This is personal.’

Gwyn said nothing for a couple of minutes as they headed out away from Jack’s giant frost home – more sculpture than abode – and angled downhill towards a dense stand of trees. Spring was showing signs of awakening the land. Buds clung to the ends of branches, a tiny new leaf unfurled above Gwyn’s head as he looked up.

‘It is personal,’ Gwyn said. ‘If you are concerned that Augus might someday free himself, might someday come after you or Jack, I do not think you need to fear this.’

‘No, you aren’t afraid of that, are you?’ Pitch said, his voice changing from outright hostility, to something else, something quieter.

‘I need to know,’ Gwyn said. ‘I know he was captive for over a year. I know that he did not desire the Nightmare King’s attention. I know that he was a very different fae before the Nightmare King attacked him. But I would like to know the nature of that captivity. I wish to know what the Nightmare King did. You are the only one I can ask, now that he is gone. I know you do not like to think on it, however-’

‘One thing you have to understand about the Nightmare King, is that he didn’t often take personal prisoners. Very few individuals piqued his interest. He was more interested in mass destruction, than picking off the vulnerable. What was a single person to a populated planet?’

‘I am not interested in the psychology of the Nightmare King. I want to know what he did to Augus. Stop evading the subject and answer me.’

Pitch stopped abruptly, then turned with the slow promise of someone who had come to a decision.

‘Very well,’ Pitch said, ‘But you will regret asking this of me.’

Now, hours later, Gwyn sat in a forest more readily awakened to the coming of Spring, and the deer offered him a margin of solace. He thought of Augus back in the Seelie Court, closed his eyes. He wasn’t ready to go back. If he went back, he would have to confront the fact that he’d used that past against Augus, knowing hardly anything about it. As it was, his mind was taken up with sober thoughts. Could they have done something sooner? Why didn’t anyone do anything about him being missing for an entire year? Augus had never taken a sabbatical like that before, had never wanted to leave his home for so long, everyone knew that. Even Gwyn, a soldier of the Seelie fae, even he had known that.

They had failed him utterly. No one had looked, except, perhaps, Ash. A growing reputation amongst the fae, in favour with those of the Court, and no one had tried.

And Augus had been broken, down in the dark.

Pitch didn’t remember a great deal and Gwyn believed him. But what he remembered, what details had come to him over time, made Gwyn realise that he needed to understand more. He would see Augus and want to ask, and Augus would...

That would not go down well.

Understandably.

Gwyn pressed a thumb and forefinger into his closed eyelids, staving off the burning wetness he felt there. The doe nosed gently at his forearm, sensing his distress, and he brought his other hand around and soothed her muzzle. He was being self-indulgent, sitting here, finding the succour of animal company. He hadn’t earned this, the day wasn’t yet done. He could not close the box he had opened and give himself closure. He lowered his hand from his eyes and stroked a smooth line down the curve of the doe’s neck. He liked deer. They could be fierce, they could be fleet. He felt his heart calm after spending time with them.

‘Darling,’ Gwyn said quietly, ‘Thank you for your company, but you may join your herd again now, if you wish.’

The doe lifted her muscular neck and pushed the bridge of her nose into his chest, huffing out a single, stubborn breath. He laughed a rising sound of quiet delight, cupped her face in his hands, stroked fingers along her chin.

‘You are not like the others, are you? May your young be strong and well-formed; perfect, brave mirrors of their mother.’

Gwyn often forgot that he could offer benedictions like that. A long tongue rasped around his wrist in thanks, and then the doe lifted her head and turned her liquid eyes back to her herd. She swung back to stare at him, a long moment of shared connection, then walked calmly back to her kin. A short while later the herd disappeared, drifting further out into the forest until Gwyn could sense them, but could no longer see them.

He stood and pressed his palm to the beech tree, hoping the dryad hadn’t been too bothered by his presence. Forest spirits usually let him be, but this was a pocket of woodland he’d been unfamiliar with, and he hoped he’d made a good impression. After all, he hadn’t done much more than sit there and think.

Gwyn sighed. Hard conversations were ahead.

*

‘I visited Pitch today,’ Gwyn said, by way of greeting.

Augus looked up from the bolt of dark, waterfae friendly fabric he was inspecting. His nostrils flared once, his pupils had dilated, but otherwise nothing betrayed his fear.

‘You’re just in time,’ Augus said, finally. ‘Do you see what I have to go through, re-ordering shirts that you keep ripping off me? Honestly, buttons, Gwyn, do remember that they have a function.’

Augus turned back to the trow who was staring shyly between the two of them. He held up four fingers, indicating the number he wanted, and the trow nodded eagerly and quickly ran off. Despite her small size, she managed the large bolt of cloth easily.

‘We employed servants in the Unseelie Court,’ Augus mused, ‘and you have trows. I-’

‘They’re employed,’ Gwyn said, forehead furrowing. ‘They are paid. Why did you think otherwise?’

Augus looked surprised and then frowned.

‘Aren’t trows often used for servitude? They are willing to work for free, after all.’

‘I’m aware,’ Gwyn said, disturbed. Was that what everyone thought? That the trows were indentured? It was true that the vast majority of trows worked for free, but they weren’t like brownies or other forms of sprite who left as soon as they were paid for their work. The trows appreciated the reimbursement for their services. He’d even had two go on extended holidays, never to return. People didn’t talk to him about the trows. There was a faint disapproval from some of the Court, who thought that the Seelie servants should be comelier, but Gwyn liked them. They were private, resourceful and not prone to gossip.

‘You pay them?’ Augus said, staring at him, and Gwyn tried to keep his body language open, easy. Spending time in the forest had awoken his senses, and he could smell Augus’ fear. But Gwyn didn’t want to let this go so easily. Augus would never talk about it, not without someone leaning hard on the other end. He understood that about Augus, he understood that about himself.

‘Augus,’ Gwyn said, ‘just answer me one thing, honestly. Were you given reason to be afraid of the dark?’

Augus laughed lightly. It was a scathing, derisive sound, and would not have been out of place amongst those members of the Court who vied for higher positions, who gossiped as though it was the only thing to do in the Court itself.

‘Please. I was born into the black murk of a lake, Gwyn. Do you think there is a single darkness out there that can frighten me?’

Gwyn frowned. Perhaps it was true. Augus surprised him in how well he took difficulties in his stride. But in this he suspected that his own instincts were right. He cast his mind for a location, and then stepped forwards decisively, grasping Augus by the arms before Augus realised what was happening.

They dissolved into light.

They formed into an inky blackness; a tunnel at the bottom of a deep well. The location was still, empty, filled entirely with darkness. There was no way to navigate in this dry, black space, except by touch and scent.

Augus’ reaction was instant.

His breathing stilled in his chest, he started shaking.

Augus gasped as though there was no air in the oppressive space, struck out hard at Gwyn. There was a surprising amount of strength behind the blow, and Augus got free. Gwyn tensed to run, but Augus didn’t flee. He made a thin, plaintive sound that shredded at something in Gwyn’s chest, and then he fell to the dirt floor beneath them.  

Gwyn crouched in an instant, feeling out for Augus, swallowing when he found him, a huddled mass on the ground, arms up and over his face, hands digging into his own head. His breathing was an uneven rasp. Gasps were followed by nothing at all, the sound of someone holding their breath for as long as they could bear. He trembled violently.

Gwyn winced and grasped Augus, hating the uncoordinated way that Augus weakly pushed at him, hating the moan of denial that had – Gwyn knew – nothing to do with him at all.

He teleported them back to Augus’ room.

He expected Augus to get up straight away, to be outraged, but Augus stayed on the ground in the same position. He hunched in on himself further.

'I apologise,’ Gwyn said. He had wanted to be wrong. He had wanted, very much, for his suspicions to be wrong.

When Augus didn’t move, he smoothed his hand over Augus’ back. It was easier, now, after having spent time in the forest. It was easier to find his way in this. He felt Augus’ heart rate, the unsteadiness of it a frightening thing. It wasn’t just faster, it skipped beats.

Augus didn’t move, barely breathed. Gwyn sat down properly, stretching his legs out alongside Augus, brushing fingers softly over the bits of damp hair that weren’t being clutched in Augus’ fingers. He waited, watched. How long had it taken, he wondered, before Augus had been driven to insanity? Weeks? Months? Not the full year, surely.

‘Are you...happy now?’ Augus managed, and Gwyn closed his eyes.

‘No.’

‘...Seeing me like this,’ Augus added, and then his hands flexed and trembled above his head. ‘How dare you? How dare you?!’

Gwyn had expected retaliation from the very moment that he had realised Augus was terrified of the dark. Augus’ body uncoiled with a snap and he launched himself at Gwyn, claws striking out for his eyes, his throat. Gwyn caught his wrists quickly and held them firm, and Augus struggled against him before sagging. His head was bowed towards the ground, he refused to look at Gwyn, his hair hiding his expression.

‘I apologise,’ Gwyn said again. ‘But you lie to me, Augus. You lied about this. I only wanted to check if it was true.’

‘Let me go,’ Augus said to the floor. And in that moment, Gwyn couldn’t tell how present Augus was. His voice was terrible. They were likely words that Augus had said many times before, to no avail. He let go of his wrists immediately, and Augus’ arms fell, but his hands landed palm-first on the ground, Augus braced himself. When he looked up, there was something cold and dead in his eyes. Gwyn hadn’t seen that expression on his face before, even in the cell.

‘If you had known, would you have used the shadows against me as you did? You would have, wouldn’t you?’ Augus said, imperiously, despite his position on the ground.

Gwyn looked away.

‘I would have used them faster,’ he said, opting for honesty. ‘I would have...’

Guilt clawed up through him. If he had known this, he would have shoved Augus into blackness as quickly as he could and left him there until Augus pleaded for the cells and demotion and mercy instead. He swallowed. Sometimes he told himself that he would not do these things if he knew how much they truly affected Augus...but years of training, years of studying under the purview of his father, Gwyn knew that it would be a lie. There were things he did not like knowing about himself.

Gwyn cleared his throat. He could feel Augus’ eyes on him.

‘Do you know, I think you can help me feel better,’ Augus said, pushing himself up onto his hands and knees properly and crawling over Gwyn’s legs, straddling him. One hand came up and rested on his chest, and Gwyn told himself that he did not, he did not feel the urge to submit.

‘How?’ Gwyn said, and risked glancing at Augus.

There was no expression on his face. It was a blank mask, but for the lidded cruelty banked in his green eyes.

‘Why would you do that?’ Augus said, and Gwyn wasn’t sure what he meant. Augus dug his claws into Gwyn’s chest, piercing the material of his shirt. Pinpricks of pain became a small flare, his skin was broken, he felt the heat of his own blood seep into his shirt. Gwyn swallowed. Once, Augus had thrust clawed fingers into his abdomen as though skin had been nothing at all.

‘Augus,’ Gwyn said, a single warning.

‘So I am afraid of the dark,’ Augus spat, dragging furrows into Gwyn’s skin, five lines of fire that spilled stains into Gwyn’s shirt. Augus watched them, hypnotised. The corner of his mouth turned up. ‘Fight back.’

Gwyn couldn’t. There was a time when he would have, but there was a time when he would have thrust Augus into the dark, and there was a time when he had used the living shadows against him. He didn’t want to fight back. The pain at his chest was bearable. The expression on Augus’ face disturbed him.

Augus lashed out with his other hand and punched the inside of Gwyn’s elbow, causing his arm to buckle. Gwyn struggled to catch himself, but Augus used the momentum to force Gwyn’s back to the ground. He raised bloodied fingernails and Gwyn jerked backwards when Augus painted a red stripe down the line of his carotid artery.

‘You could do it now, if you wanted. Leave me in the dark. It wouldn’t take long,’ Augus said.

He slid his hand under Gwyn’s shirt and watched him, mouth firm, as he dug his claws in again, pierced Gwyn’s skin by his ribs. Gwyn thought he should put a stop to this, but he wondered if it would help, wondered if...

‘I don’t want to leave you in the dark,’ Gwyn said.

‘I would do whatever you wanted,’ Augus said, laughing under his breath at his own words. ‘Anything you wanted.’

Gwyn swallowed a growing sickness inside of him.

‘We both know it isn’t good for me, to do anything I want.’

His attention was drawn to the deliberate way Augus was carving his skin. His claws were punctuation marks, sharp at the tips but blunt at the edges. And it was with the blunt sides that Augus forced his way through Gwyn’s flesh, spilling blood and watching the stains follow with that same cruelty in the cold cast of his eyes.

Augus’ gaze flicked up briefly to Gwyn’s, and then a starburst of pain rocketed through him where Augus had dug in a single nail. He cried out, voice escaping, even though he was trying to keep himself mastered, under control.

‘Pressure point,’ Augus said, voice flat.

'Stop,’ Gwyn managed, and the fingernail stayed for a few seconds longer and then withdrew.

'‘Stop,’ he says,’ Augus muttered to himself. '‘Stop.’ Interesting. What if I didn’t? What then? Would you throw me down into the dark then?’

Gwyn was still trying to catch his breath. His muscles remained locked in place across his left-hand side. He reached out with a hand to dig his fingers in, to unlock the tension himself, and his side was warm with blood. He would live, this was nothing. He’d experienced much worse than this at the hands of his own cousin. The furrows at his chest would already be starting to heal, were already hurting less. Still, as he dug his knuckles into the space between his ribs, above the pressure point, he wondered if he should stop Augus. But it seemed like...

It was the only way to find things out, sometimes, with Augus.

‘That day,’ Augus said quietly, and Gwyn shivered when bloodied fingers traced wet marks along his hipbone. ‘That day you coerced Ash into using the shadows against me like that. That day...you were very like him. You were more like him than that empty vessel he left behind.’

Gwyn stared, but Augus wasn’t looking at him. Augus was concentrating on what he was doing.

‘Do you even know what it feels like? Those shadows? Creeping inside?’

Augus dug his claws in harder, sank an inch into flesh, and Gwyn hissed and then got his breathing under control.

‘No,’ Gwyn said, and Augus looked up at him then, smirked.

‘And it’s too late to find someone and ask them nicely to show you. What a shame. Also, you have pressure points here and here.’

Gwyn’s head thumped back into the floor, pain stealing the breath from his lungs. Augus was pressing in just above the jut of his hipbone, triggering something that spread in cramps through his entire abdomen.

‘Fight back,’ Augus said crisply.

‘I- I don’t want to fight you,’ Gwyn said, and so far, he didn’t have to. It was only pain. Bad pain, certainly, but only pain. And that always faded. Always disappeared. He healed quickly. In a few hours time, his wounds would be knitted, he would no longer be bleeding. By this time tomorrow, there’d be no sign of what Augus had done at all. He held onto that, and then choked when Augus slid a second hand beneath his shirt and dug fingers through his skin directly into multiple pressure points at his ribs. Having the claws touching them directly was completely different to simply having pressure placed on them. Gwyn’s arms fell to his sides, his hands clenched into fists.

‘Fight back,’ Augus demanded, and twisted the fingers at his hip. Gwyn moaned, pressed his lips shut. Augus tortured when he felt tormented. Gwyn knew, thought he knew what Augus was trying to do, and he didn’t want to fight back. He didn’t want to engage with whatever Augus was trying to do. But the pain was building, a mind-splintering whiteness that carved out all the words in his head, until he could only remember something Augus had said to him.

‘Let me go,’ Gwyn gasped.

The fingers withdrew from where they’d been pressed into his body, but the pain didn’t abate straight away. Gwyn raised a shaking hand to the wounds at his hip and held his palm loosely over them, bleeding against himself. He was striving to even his breathing out. He couldn’t forget why he was here in the first place. The things Pitch had told him. The things Gwyn had concluded for himself.

Gwyn didn’t want to be Augus’ captor anymore.

He didn’t want to be anyone’s captor.

He tensed when Augus wiped his fingers off on a clean patch on Gwyn’s shirt.

‘What, then, do you want from me?’ Augus said, and Gwyn pushed himself upright with his other arm, the scent of blood thick around him. ‘Why would you want to know these things that happened, if not to control me further?’

Gwyn stared at him, frowning.

‘Is that what you think?’ Gwyn said, voice rough. Augus didn’t look at him. Gwyn pulled himself out from where Augus straddled him and then brought his knees up underneath himself so he could crouch on the floor. It was still hard to catch his breath. The wounds at his hip were deep, moving was painful. He grunted as he placed his hand over them again. He could still feel echoes moving through the pressure points, aftershocks, as though the nerves refused to believe the stimulus was gone.

‘I didn’t ask so I could find out how to control you,’ Gwyn said. ‘Do you really believe that? Look where you live now. What status you are. When was the last time I truly tried to exert control over you? We aren’t counting the times we bed each other, surely. Does that not go both ways?’

Augus still wouldn’t look at him. His curtain of hair a frustrating barrier to seeing any expression at all. Gwyn had taken a risk in saying what he’d said. He still didn’t believe that Augus truly wanted him. Gwyn was available, Gwyn represented a margin of what Augus enjoyed in sexual partners, and Gwyn was someone who Augus enjoyed subjugating. It had very little to do with Gwyn himself, and more to do with the role he occupied in Augus’ life as a captor.

Augus said nothing at all, and Gwyn stared at him, anguish twisting through him. He hadn’t realised that Augus would interpret his visiting Pitch the way that he did.

‘Augus,’ Gwyn said, ‘I went because I wanted to understand you better.’

‘Why didn’t you fight me?’ Augus said, he sounded confused, and tired. Gwyn pushed himself upright and groaned. He was bleeding freely. His pants were stained. His clothing was a mess.

Gwyn placed his least bloody hand on Augus’ shoulder. He curved it around slowly. When he had a decent grasp on Augus’ upper arm, he encouraged him upright. Augus resisted at first, and then forced his legs under himself. He stood, numb. Gwyn tugged him over to the bed, wishing he had something to staunch the bleeding. There were red stains on the floorboard, where blood had trickled over his torso and started to pool on the floor.

‘I don’t enjoy this,’ Gwyn said, uncertain if Augus could hear him. ‘The only way I could find pleasure in...you being a prisoner, was to retreat to something that my family celebrated. I don’t want to fight you. Come, sit down properly.’

Augus got onto the bed, somehow managing grace even when he was worn and disengaged from what was happening around him. When Augus was settled up near the headboards, Gwyn looked through Augus’ cupboards until he found a folded blanket. It was plush and made of a material Gwyn didn’t recognise. He wondered if it was more of the waterfae friendly fabric that Augus favoured. Gwyn unfolded it and looked up at the ceiling when his hip cramped. His hands clenched into fists on the blanket. He paused and resisted the urge to place a hand over the wound again. It wouldn’t help.

‘It still hurts you,’ Augus murmured and Gwyn shook his head.

‘It’s healing.’

‘The pain shouldn’t be so bad,’ Augus said, and Gwyn closed his eyes. It wasn’t unmanageable, only distracting. He forced his breathing to calmness until the worst of it passed, and then kept unfolding the blanket. He looked over at Augus as he approached, only to see Augus looking at him through strands of damp hair. Gwyn hesitated. But Augus didn’t say anything, and so Gwyn drew the blanket over him carefully.

He pulled the edges of it up, and folded it around Augus’ sides.

‘I don’t want to fight you,’ Gwyn repeated. ‘I understand that you don’t feel the same way. And I understand why you would not believe me.’

Gwyn got onto the bed and leaned against a post at the base, facing Augus.

‘I didn’t want you to lie to me about this,’ Gwyn said, and then his breathing hitched as his hip flared up again. This time he did knuckle his hand into the wounds, and it helped slightly.

‘It shouldn’t be doing that,’ Augus said, vexed. But he didn’t move, and a few seconds later he lowered his head into his hand. He breathed a low, distressed laugh. ‘If I had caught you, while I was King, I would have forced the living shadows into you just to see what happened when a light fae encountered such profound darkness.’

Gwyn shuddered. It was something he’d considered before, how his light might respond to such a threat.

Augus stared out into the distance. His face became blank, he unfocused. Gwyn frowned, remembering how Augus did this during difficult times. He shifted closer and placed a tentative hand on his side.

‘Don’t disappear,’ Gwyn said, and Augus blinked several times in quick succession and then looked at Gwyn. He looked down at the blood smears on his hands, caught under his fingernails. And then at Gwyn’s shirt, his pants, down at the floor where the floorboards had been smeared with blood. The hip wounds were still bleeding. They’d been deep.

‘Where was that?’ Augus said, finally. It took Gwyn a moment to realise that Augus meant the place he’d teleported them to.

‘A tunnel attached to a deep well. I’d been there before.’

‘Why?’ Augus said. He shuffled over, pulling the blanket more tightly around himself. When his knees were nearly touching Gwyn’s, he reached his hand out to Gwyn’s injured hip. Gwyn held his breath, uncertain what Augus intended. But Augus’ fingers didn’t dig back into the wounds, instead pressing tentatively into the musculature. It was an impersonal, searching touch.

‘Why?’ Augus repeated.

‘A long time ago, I was reading a book on...capturing prisoners of war. It was an ancient book when I read it, some old thing that my father had acquired on his travels. He collected books on war and battle.’

Gwyn hissed when Augus pressed into a point beneath the pressure points. Pain ignited in the wounds themselves, as though Augus was digging his fingers back in. Gwyn grasped Augus’ wrist, but Augus stilled him, placed fingers that shook with fatigue on the back of his hand.

‘Wait,’ Augus said. ‘Continue what you were saying.’

Gwyn took a deep breath, focused on a different time.

‘There was a tale of a pixie who had been captured and trapped beneath the ground, in a tunnel, in a well. He was left, forgotten. A victim of the elemental battle of Aravalle. No more than a handful of lines. But I was curious. I searched.’

Augus looked up at him, eyes widening.

‘You found him?’

‘I liberated him. I found him after a couple of months of searching. He was in a...damaged state, but to my knowledge he is rehabilitating well, and integrated back with his people.’

‘How come I’ve never heard about this?’ Augus said, eyebrows knitting together. Still, he kept up that difficult, painful pressure on his hip. The pressure was increasing too, every time the pain in his wounds faded, Augus would press down more.

‘I never told anyone,’ Gwyn said, confused.

‘You read a tale, went on a quest to liberate a stolen pixie that you couldn’t be sure existed, spent months doing it, and you didn’t tell anyone that you were successful?’

‘No,’ Gwyn said, and Augus’ eyes narrowed, as though he’d seen something he didn’t know how to accept. Augus opened his mouth to say something, and then thought the better of it, closed it again. After a minute of silence, Augus slowly released his fingers from Gwyn’s skin.

Gwyn breathed a sigh of relief, then closed his eyes and breathed in deeply as he realised the rest of the pain was spooling away. Even the wounds didn’t hurt as much anymore.

‘What did you do?’ Gwyn said, and Augus shifted backwards on the bed, crossed his legs and wrapped the blanket around himself until it was up to his chin.

‘Trigger point,’ Augus said, voice muted. The explanation meant nothing to Gwyn, but whatever Augus had done, it had worked. There were no more aftershocks, no more unexpected jags of pain. He was still bleeding, but it felt like a distant thing. Hardly noticeable.

‘Have you done this before? Liberated fae? Not told anyone about it?’

Gwyn rubbed a hand over his forehead to try and clear the tension headache that was forming.

‘Why does it matter? Do you think I should be using it as social currency? Leverage? If I could have, I would. But it wasn’t relevant to anything I was doing at the time, so I didn’t.’

‘You’re still bleeding,’ Augus said, and Gwyn resisted the urge to sigh. The last time Augus had slipped out of catatonia, he’d become like this. It was as though the man who had just been cowering in a tunnel, terrified, didn’t exist. It was bewildering. Gwyn looked down at his shirt, the scratch marks in the fabric, the blood that had seeped through. It was not a pretty sight. He pulled it out, and it unstuck from his skin, making a wet sound as it detached. He let it fall back again.

When he looked back up, Augus was staring blankly ahead once more, fingers peeking over part of the blanket, forehead lightly furrowed. Gwyn moved forwards, mirroring Augus’ approach from earlier. He didn’t stop until their knees touched. He pulled up some of the blanket until it covered more of Augus’ neck, and noticed the fine vibrations shifting a lock of damp hair. Augus was still shivering, likely hadn’t stopped.

‘Oh, Augus,’ Gwyn said, more to himself. He placed a tentative hand on Augus’ shoulder and felt the trembling move through his hand. He squeezed his fingers lightly and let go again. He was no good in these situations. But, he supposed, Augus had asked him questions, and he could answer them properly.

‘I suppose I...yes, I have liberated fae before and not told anyone about it. It was something I...the pixie was the first time. It was the first time that I realised that these ancient tales, these handful of sentences, could have something like a real impact in the world. And the idea of a pixie forced to live in the dark like that, I didn’t want it to be true. After that I looked for other tales of prisoners of wars thrown into eternal prisons and I...’

Gwyn spread his fingers out on the bedspread before him and saw smears of blood on them, painting his fingertips, his knuckles, the back of his hand. He swallowed.

‘You are the first prisoner I have ever taken. I always thought how absurd it was, that I attained this reputation as a fierce warrior and strategist, when everyone could plainly see that I had a large, easily exploitable weakness; I never took prisoners of war in battle.’

‘You killed them instead,’ Augus said, and Gwyn’s head snapped up. He hadn’t realised that Augus could hear him. It was hard to tell with that blank expression, the shivering. ‘To be fair, that’s still quite intimidating.’

‘I imagine you are right.’

Augus wrapped his arms more tightly around himself, and let his eyes wander around the room. They seemed to alight on no particular item, just catalogued and moved on again. Gwyn had seen soldiers do that before, after a difficult time; reminding themselves where they were.

‘If you ever do that to me again,’ Augus said, looking over at the window, ‘I will kill you.’

Gwyn knew that wasn’t an idle threat.

‘I will not permit anyone to force me down into the dark like that again,’ Augus said, turning his slow gaze back to Gwyn’s. And Gwyn heard certainty, but he knew that if someone stronger than Augus truly desired it, Augus could be overpowered, even if he was exceptionally powerful. Gwyn himself was certain that he could do it himself. He wondered if Augus never talked about these experiences because it meant he would have to share his vulnerabilities and risk being exploited.

He hadn’t even told Ash.

‘Pitch doesn’t remember a great deal,’ Gwyn offered, and Augus hummed.

‘How fortunate for him.’

Minutes passed and Gwyn waited, only to see Augus bow in more tightly on himself.

‘Your curiosity to know the details is offensive,’ Augus muttered. The words were slightly slurred, he sounded tired. ‘Ash was the same. Why must you always go where you are clearly not wanted?’

Gwyn smiled bitterly. He had to go home every day as a child and teenager when he wasn’t on tour or in the middle of a campaign, and that probably was why he was so good at it now.

‘It is not an unnatural thing, to want to know,’ Gwyn said, and frowned. ‘And you understand this. You are only wrong-footed because you are not doing it to others for once. And you are tired, Augus. I didn’t realise how tired you were. You said once, that you have trouble sleeping?’

‘Don’t,’ Augus said, glaring at him. ‘Don’t.’

Gwyn said nothing, and Augus blinked at him, dark smudges of fatigue under his eyes. He looked nothing like the healthy waterhorse that Gwyn had seen earlier. Something had bled away from Augus in a very short space of time.

Augus stifled a yawn, and then chuckled to himself, as though something had amused him. It was odd, seeing him like this, as though a wall had been removed, or a filter was missing.

‘If only I had been a handful of lines in some fairytale. Perhaps you would have looked for me,’ Augus said, and then laughed again, the voice a deep, despairing jag that made something in Gwyn’s chest twist hard. ‘You found me too late, Gwyn. Far too late. I was only good for a war, when you found me. And look at you. You broke all your pretty rules about not taking any prisoners of war. Are you proud? Does it make you proud?’

Gwyn swallowed. It did not.

Augus’ shivering increased in severity until they were full body trembles, and Gwyn reached a hand out to rest it on Augus’ back, when Augus flung back the blanket and glared hatred at him.

‘Get out,’ Augus said. ‘You have no right to see me like this.’

Gwyn didn’t want to leave Augus alone like this. He seemed...unstable. But Gwyn also thought that after what he’d just done, forcing Augus into the dark just to check whether he was lying, he owed him this much. He got off the bed, tired himself, and wished he could say something that would help. But there was nothing to say, and Augus wouldn’t want to hear it from him anyway.

He left and closed the door behind him, pausing to take several deep breaths before walking away down the corridor.

It was only as he passed the last stained glass window in the hall that he stopped completely, and turned back to look at the closed door in the distance. He did not feel comfortable leaving Augus alone.

He leaned against the windowsill and waited in the dimness of late twilight, his mind full of many thoughts. Slowly, his mind crept into the space it found when he was hunting and needed to stay still for long periods of time. It wasn’t a quiet space, but it wasn’t too uncomfortable, and he let the time pass him by. He thought on the red deer he had met earlier. He thought on how long it had been since he hunted, and carefully avoided thinking about why he had been avoiding it.

After half an hour had passed, he walked back to Augus’ door, and knocked on it softly.

‘Augus?’ Gwyn called out.

There was no answer.

Gwyn paused, concerned, and then opened the door gently, poking his head into the room.

Augus was slumped on the bed. He must have pulled the blanket back over himself, and he lay, face down, breathing slowly and deeply. One arm was tucked alongside his body, and his other was stretched out, blood-stained fingers curled slightly into the bedspread. Gwyn blinked to see him like that, and stepped into the room, unable to leave. He closed the door behind himself again and walked over to the bed, looking down at Augus’ face in repose.

He looked strangely innocent, in sleep. The confident and often smug lines around his eyes, the smirk around his mouth, they were gone. His eyelashes were black smudges that cast shadows over the shadows beneath his eyes. His mouth was relaxed. His hair curled around face, the waterweed a lush, rich green. Gwyn wondered if it hurt to cut the waterweed, as it was a living plant, not dead keratin. He reached out and smoothed a hand down one of the strands absently, and Augus sighed. Gwyn froze, but Augus only seemed to settle further into the bed, stretching one of his bent legs out. Gwyn repeated the gesture. Augus’ hair was thick, more a mane than hair.

Gwyn got onto the other side of the bed, reluctant to leave Augus to his nightmares, after the experience he’d forced on him. It was probably the wrong thing to do. Augus would likely be upset when he awoke, but Gwyn would weather that.

Gwyn lay down on his side, the right way up on the bed. He rested his head on pillows that were no longer damp, because Augus had refitted them all with a thin waterfae fabric. He couldn’t see Augus’ face from where he lay. He closed his eyes and settled down onto the bed, wondering if Augus would ever tell him about what happened.

*

There was no warning.

One moment Gwyn’s thoughts were drifting in the doze that many fae could enter into when they wanted to rest, but not sleep. The next, Augus shrieked an awful, terrible sound, the full weight of his waterhorse voice behind it. The voice vibrated terror through the very room, and Gwyn jerked up, startled and panicked, only to see Augus clawing the blanket off himself.

‘Light! Light!’ Augus cried out, and though his eyes were open, his pupils were almost entirely covering his irises, he didn’t seem to know where he was. ‘Light!’

The rest of the sounds that Augus made were panicked, frightened things that spilled out of his mouth on every breath. His face was a rictus of fear, teeth bared. Gwyn lunged off the bed, to the door, and turned on the overhead light. The room wasn’t dark, there were lamps, and Gwyn didn’t even know if the overhead light would be enough.

He rushed back to Augus’ side immediately, who had – in response to the light appearing overhead – pressed his face into the bed and covered his head with his hands.

‘I’ll do anything,’ Augus said, voice thin and desperate.

‘Augus,’ Gwyn said, frightened. He placed both his hands on Augus’ shoulders, and Augus jerked beneath him, shrank under the touch. ‘Augus, it’s Gwyn.’

‘I just would like not to be left in the dark anymore,’ Augus said, his voice smaller than Gwyn had ever heard it. Augus turned his head to the side, a little, and stared up at Gwyn through tear-glazed eyes. His face screwed up when he saw who it was, and he pressed his face down into the blankets again.

‘I told you to leave,’ Augus said, but his voice was still fragile, and Gwyn clambered onto the bed, tucking the blanket around him again.

‘I couldn’t leave.’ Gwyn sat down next to him and pressed an arm around Augus’ side, pulling him closer unconsciously. ‘I heard disturbing things today. I don’t like any of this.’

What could he have told you if he doesn’t remember anything!’ Augus said, voice rising in distress. He didn’t seem to mind Gwyn’s arm, and so Gwyn tightened his grip and leaned over Augus, wishing he could cover him from whatever it was that tormented him. He knew he couldn’t, but he couldn’t help himself. ‘And you know enough, don’t you? Forcing those shadows into me, doing what he did. How clever you must have felt, how clever you were, doing-’

Gwyn’s eyes had widened.

‘Augus, what?’ he said. Pitch hadn’t made any mention that Augus had been possessed by the shadows before.

‘Oh, don’t pretend you didn’t know,’ Augus choked, shuddering. ‘And by the seventh time, possessed by those things, I-’

‘Augus, what are you talking about? Seven times? Pitch said he wouldn’t have survived a third possession.’

Augus started to laugh. It was a despairing sound. Gwyn felt horror stick thick in his throat, it tasted like bile and he swallowed it down.

‘Did he?’ Augus’ voice was wet. ‘Did he? Oh, that’s what you think. That’s what you become sure of. After the second time. You think you will not survive again. After all, this darkness comes in and takes your mind away, and leaves you an abyss so deep it cannot be fathomed. And when it leaves you, there is, there are parts of you missing. You feel it. As though vertebrae and ribs and joints had been removed, and you are still expected to function, to be somehow whole. After the second time you do think it will kill you. The terror sinks in. You do not want it to ever happen again.’

Augus shifted so that he was bracing himself on Gwyn’s folded legs, his forehead pushed into Gwyn’s shin.

‘And that is when you will do anything.’

Augus gagged and his body convulsed, and then he tensed for several long seconds, before gasping for breath. Gwyn pulled him closer, and the way Augus went with the movement worried him as much as the words themselves.

‘Seven times,’ Gwyn said, staring down at Augus, eyes wide. ‘How long?’

‘An hour is long enough!’ Augus shouted, and then laughed. ‘But two weeks, four weeks. Sometimes I would come back and be in a different place, and I wouldn’t...I wouldn’t remember what I’d done. I’ll never remember. And he...’

Augus laughed, and the sound turned into a wave of silent sobs. Gwyn reached up with one of his hands and tangled it in Augus’ hair, feeling his breathing come faster. He knew Augus was scared of the dark, knew he was terrified of the living shadows, but it had simply never occurred to him that the Nightmare King might force possession upon him. Let alone so many times.

‘But it had to be worth it,’ Augus muttered, his voice suddenly calm, deeper. ‘It had to be. I think of Ash going through a day of that, and I...’

Gwyn laid down carefully, pushing himself down the bed and bending his knees, pulling Augus into him. Augus tensed again, then went limp.

‘You want to know what else he did,’ Augus said, voice weak. ‘I know, I know you do. I’ll tell you what to do. Brainstorm a list of things you can imagine the Nightmare King doing to someone, and underline everything, and bring that to me, and I’ll tell you what you’ve missed.’

‘Augus...’ Gwyn said.

‘I was only underfae,’ Augus whispered. ‘I was nothing to him. But my reputation had been growing and perhaps he heard of me and thought that he had...a kindred spirit. I do not, I don’t, perhaps that’s what I hoped. I don’t...remember. I sent him away. I compelled him away. He was offensive. But he came back.

Gwyn pulled Augus closer, and Augus pressed his head into Gwyn’s arm. Augus seemed to be focusing on his breathing. He would inhale, pause, and then exhale with the forced, shaky slowness of someone trying to calm himself down. Augus felt slight beneath him. It was horribly easy to imagine him as an underfae, concerned for his brother – as he would be – and attempting to stand up to what he couldn’t have known was one of the most formidable and lethal villains either Kingdom had ever seen. Augus would have had no idea. Gwyn had felt the strength of the Nightmare King himself, experienced a single nightmare at his hands, experienced his ability to drive fear into the hearts of those who looked at him...

Gwyn shuddered.

Augus’ breathing was starting to become shallow, and Gwyn felt a wave of dread move through him.

‘Don’t disappear,’ Gwyn whispered. ‘Please.’

‘I want to,’ Augus said, his voice faint. ‘Let me. It’s never for...very long.’

But Gwyn knew that it could be a long time. He knew that Augus didn’t think a few hours was a long time to be lost in catatonia. He didn’t think catatonia was good for anyone. He raised his hand and folded it around Augus’ head, tilting his head up so he could see his expression. Already, Augus was staring blankly at some point on Gwyn’s collarbone.

‘Augus...’

Augus didn’t respond. He was lost already, breathing shallow but even, gaze blank.

Gwyn stared at him, dismayed, and then leaned forwards and pressed a gentle kiss, mouth closed against his lips. It was barely more than a light touch.

‘I’m sorry,’ he whispered. ‘I should have let you have your lie.’

When he pulled back, Augus was staring at him. It gave Gwyn a jolt to see him alert already, and he realised that Augus hadn’t sunk as deep as he’d thought he had.

‘Yes,’ Augus said. ‘You should have.’

His fingers shifted on Augus’ head absently, he frowned.

‘You’re not very good at comforting someone, are you?’ Augus said, voice very crisp, given how quiet it was. The words were designed to be cutting, and Gwyn – not prepared for them – felt them as a blow.

‘No, I...’ Gwyn closed his eyes briefly. Augus was right, of course. ‘You’re correct. And you did say...I know I shouldn’t have come back. I don’t have a right to see you like this.’

Gwyn pushed himself upright quickly, started to ease off the bed, when he felt a hand encircle his wrist. He paused and looked back. Augus was staring at him, his expression unfathomable. Seconds passed and then Augus tugged on his wrist again, indicating that he should come back. He said nothing, but there was something in Augus’ eyes that indicated that he hadn’t meant it. Augus frowned and tugged again, more insistently.

When Gwyn came back, Augus kept tugging until Gwyn lay down, stilted, next to him.

‘You stayed while I slept,’ Augus murmured. ‘How very stalker-esque of you.’

Gwyn grimaced.

‘I was concerned.’

‘Sleep is a very threatening state, after all,’ Augus mocked, and then stroked a finger down Gwyn’s chest, through his bloodstained shirt. ‘Kiss me again.’

Gwyn blinked at him, but Augus didn’t seem to be laying a trap, and so Gwyn leaned forwards. He kept his lips closed once more, didn’t want to turn it into something sexual, simply wanted to feel the texture of Augus’ lips against his. He made soft, gentle contact and withdrew slightly, before doing it again, lingering. Augus opened his mouth beneath Gwyn’s, and Gwyn drew backwards, licking his lips and feeling uncomfortable.

‘It is odd,’ Augus said, reaching up and tracing Gwyn’s lips with the tips of his fingers. Gwyn’s eyes widened at the contact. He shifted back, and Augus lowered his hand. ‘But I think that actually comes quite naturally to you.’

Gwyn said nothing, and Augus pushed himself upright and pressed a closed mouth to Gwyn’s. He stayed for several seconds, kept his eyes on Gwyn’s, and then dragged his lips sideways so he could kiss the side of his mouth. When he dragged his lips back, Gwyn became aware that he was breathing faster. He withdrew again, and Augus stared at him.

‘Sometimes I wonder, Gwyn, who you actually are.’

Gwyn blinked at him and then shook his head.

‘I don’t know what you mean.’

‘You fuck like a draught horse in heat, but you kiss like...’ Augus’ lips quirked into a half-smile, and he pushed himself up, letting the blanket fall off his shoulders. ‘Turn over.’

Gwyn’s mouth fell open and he shook his head.

‘Augus, after the night you’ve just had, and-’

‘No,’ Augus said, shifting on the bed with a litheness that belied the shaking and fragility from earlier. He slid open a drawer and withdrew a small vial of lubricant, holding it up, an unashamed gleam in his green eyes. ‘If you don’t want me to fall into nothingness, at least let me have this.’

Gwyn realised that  Augus was serious, and he remembered, also, that Augus had tried to reassert his dominance before. Gwyn had denied him last time, deeply uncomfortable, but...would it help? Augus raised a single, arched brow and then moved forwards and grasped Gwyn’s jaw between his fingers, sucked his bottom lip into his mouth. Gwyn made a small noise of shock, and Augus hummed in appreciation, slanting his mouth over Gwyn’s and sliding his tongue inside.

Gwyn didn’t kiss back straight away, still surprised. Augus’ breath huffed against him, a sign of his amusement, and then he slid his fingers up into Gwyn’s hair and thrust his tongue deep, swallowing Gwyn’s moan and smoothing his thumb over Gwyn’s ear. When Augus withdrew, Gwyn’s mouth stayed open. He licked the taste of Augus from the inside of his mouth, and shivered when he saw the way Augus was looking at him.

‘Normally I tell you to strip,’ Augus said, ‘But your clothing’s already a mess, so this won’t matter, will it? Turn over.’

Gwyn hated how quickly it came over him, the desire to do what Augus said, to obey. He looked at Augus one more time, checking, uncertain if this was going to make things worse, and then pushed himself onto his stomach. He winced as his hip made contact with the bed. Augus placed a hand on the back of Gwyn’s pants and pulled hard, exposing Gwyn’s ass to the air. Gwyn ground his teeth together and resisted the urge to turn around and push Augus off the bed.

‘You like submitting,’ Augus said, ‘But you don’t like this position, I’ve noticed.’

Augus pulled Gwyn’s pants until they were tangled around an ankle, and left them. He placed his hands on Gwyn’s thighs and pulled his legs apart, moving into the space between them. He then folded his hands around Gwyn’s hips, his left hand careful not to press directly into the wounds he’d created earlier. He lifted, and Gwyn frowned.

‘Up,’ Augus said. ‘Arch up for me.’

Gwyn bent his spine, pushed himself up so that he was braced on his knees, though he didn’t get properly onto all fours. He did not like that position. Augus smoothed his hands up Gwyn’s thighs until one could feather a too-light touch across his balls, and the other could palm him. He wasn’t hard yet, but if Augus kept touching him like that...

Augus’ other hand trailed down and stroked the inside of his thigh over and over again, and Gwyn pressed his face into the blankets, because it felt good, because his face was flushing with a mix of embarrassment and arousal. The room was thick with the scent of blood and the aftermath of Augus’ fear.

‘Move your head to the side, so I can hear you,’ Augus said, command thick in his voice, even though it was obvious he was still tired. Gwyn hesitated, and Augus’ hands paused on his skin. Gwyn thought about how he was still wounded from earlier, how easy it would be for Augus to do that again, and how much he didn’t want to disappoint. He turned his head reluctantly to the side, and Augus’ hands returned, colder than usual, but warming up with the contact.

‘Is this helping?’ Gwyn said, and Augus slid along his back until he could nose the side of Gwyn’s head. He took Gwyn’s wrist and moved it out a little, then pressed it into the bed, sighing.

‘Fucking the King of the Seelie Court always helps, I find.’

Gwyn rolled his eyes.

Augus slid back, squeezing Gwyn’s wrist almost affectionately before sliding his hands down Gwyn’s side, and ending up back between his legs. He moved one hand away, opened the vial, and Gwyn turned his head back into the bed without even thinking about it.

‘Gwyn,’ Augus said, a warning. Gwyn realised what he’d done and turned his head to the side again, gritting his teeth together. Augus’ fingers slid slick over his ass and then dipped between, stroking with an almost idle curiosity. Gwyn swallowed down the noise that caught in his throat and felt a tension along the top of his spine, the back of his neck. He didn’t want to disappoint Augus, but he felt exposed.

‘You have your way of dealing with things, and I have mine,’ Augus said.

Gwyn opened his mouth to comment on Augus’ way of dealing with things, when he felt a finger push and then press inside, breaching him. He opened his mouth on a breath, fist tightening into the bedspread. He was sensitive. It had been some time since Augus had taken him, and that-

Gwyn groaned when Augus started moving his finger in and out, in a slow, compelling rhythm. His other hand curled around and was teasing the base of his cock. It was an idle, relaxed touch. There was no rhythm to that. But still, the combined contact, along with Augus leaning over his lower back, caused warmth to spike through him, and he started to get hard. His head started to twist back towards the blankets and Augus stopped all movement again.

‘You just can’t help it, can you?’ Augus murmured, as Gwyn forced his head back. ‘And fuck, you are tight. Open for me, Gwyn. Relax.’

Gwyn’s mouth opened on a sharp inhale when Augus pressed back with two fingers. There was a stretch, a burn, and Gwyn’s brow furrowed as Augus pushed deeper, hand stroking teasing lines up and down his cock. The contact was not enough, not enough to distract him from what Augus was doing, and Augus must have known it.

‘Gwyn,’ Augus crooned, amused. ‘what do you want?’

Gwyn blinked, confused, finding it hard to tear away from the focal point of Augus’ fingers moving deeper inside him. He didn’t know what he wanted. He couldn’t recall Augus ever asking him the question before.

‘I don’t...know,’ Gwyn said, and Augus paused, then took Gwyn’s cock in a firm grip and stroked him firmly, easily. Gwyn started to moan, stifled it when he realised that Augus could hear everything.

Augus removed his hand from Gwyn’s cock again, frustrating him with the lack of contact. He moved so that he was no longer between Gwyn’s legs, shifting so that he could slide back up Gwyn’s body again, fingers pushing deeper automatically with the shift. Gwyn’s mouth opened on a silent moan. Augus rested his head alongside Gwyn’s and looked at him.

‘Kiss me,’ Augus said, ‘the way you do it.’

Gwyn tried to concentrate. Augus’ fingers were deep inside of him, they shifted from time to time. There was nothing rhythmic about it, but every movement snagged his concentration and made him painfully aware that at some point, soon, Augus was going to fuck him again. That, at some point, that had become something he allowed, even wanted. It wasn’t even something he was supposed to let happen at all.

He leaned forwards to distract himself from his thoughts and pressed shaking lips to Augus’, keeping his mouth closed, rubbing his lips back and forth the way Augus had earlier. He carefully drew Augus’ bottom lip between his and held it there. It felt good, and Augus let him, didn’t push for anything else.

But Augus did withdraw his fingers and push back firmly, and the breath exploded out of Gwyn’s lungs. His eyes flew open, and Augus was watching him, something hungry on his face.

‘Keep kissing me,’ Augus said, and Gwyn shivered. His body felt taut, but a heat was spreading through him, and it was becoming harder to focus. He leaned forwards and grunted when Augus started fucking him with his fingers. ‘Again.’

‘Augus,’ Gwyn groaned, and Augus smiled against his lips.

‘Again,’ Augus said.

Gwyn pressed his lips to Augus’ and cried out when Augus slid his fingers back and deliberately stretched Gwyn’s entrance. He shifted his legs unconsciously, felt an ache blossom in the base of his spine.

‘Gwyn, concentrate,’ Augus said, and Gwyn could hear the indulgent smile in his voice.

Gwyn kissed Augus clumsily, aware of the fingers moving almost constantly now, aware of how hard he was. He shifted on the bed, tried to make himself more comfortable, and only succeeded in making himself aware of the heat that was growing inside of him. His mouth opened on a gasp when Augus added a third finger, the tip sliding in, and he turned his head into the blankets and cried out.

Augus withdrew his fingers immediately, leaving Gwyn feeling empty, wanting.

‘Gwyn,’ Augus said, and Gwyn shook his head. Augus wanted him to be vocal, but Gwyn had never felt comfortable doing that either. He hadn’t realised that Augus would want him to do so many things that he found uncomfortable. ‘Turn your head back. Kiss me.’

Gwyn turned his head to the side again, and Augus’ fingers returned immediately, stroking outside his entrance. Gwyn’s lips thinned.

‘You’re doing this on purpose,’ Gwyn said, voice deep, and Augus blinked at him with a faux innocence, and then smirked.

‘Kiss me again,’ Augus coaxed.

Gwyn lifted his hand where it was pressed against the bed, and touched the underside of Augus’ jaw, pleased when he heard a single exhale less even than the rest. He kissed Augus gently, and then moaned against his mouth when Augus slid two fingers back into him completely, followed by the tip of the third, playing around his entrance.

‘Augus,’ Gwyn said, and Augus hummed against his mouth, kissing back. He licked his way into Gwyn’s mouth and then traced a slow, firm circle over Gwyn’s tongue, as he pushed his third finger inside. Gwyn’s voice broke, and Augus swallowed each sound he made, each shaking exhale, each noise that Gwyn wanted to hide. He wanted Augus inside of him, he wanted to come, he didn’t want Augus’ mouth to leave his. He opened his mouth wider and Augus made a noise of approval and kissed him deeply, a thorough claiming that stole Gwyn’s breath and left him feeling boneless, stuck to the bed.

Augus withdrew and gazed at him, a sleepy lust in his expression.

‘Don’t push your face back into the blankets again,’ Augus said.

He pressed his lips to Gwyn’s, a lingering, closed-mouthed touch that finished with a swipe of tongue against his lips, and then Augus slid back down again, moving between his legs.

Gwyn didn’t know what he expected, as he lay, dazed and wanting. But he didn’t expect Augus to withdraw his fingers and then simply push into him without slicking himself up.

Gwyn cried out a sound of shock at the stretch of it, the suddenness. Augus was stroking soothing lines down the outside of his thigh but still pushing deeper. Gwyn was trying to catch his breath, but it had been a long time, and Augus didn’t pause, didn’t wait for him to catch up, only took what he wanted. Before Augus had already pushed all the way inside of him, the ache in his lower back spread, and Gwyn fisted the blankets with both of his hands.

He started to turn his head back into the blankets only to be stopped by a hand fisting up in his hair and pushing down.

‘I want to hear you,’ Augus snapped.

It was too much, and Gwyn groaned as Augus settled, his hips flush against his ass, hand stroking his thigh with firm, reassuring movements. The hand in his hair withdrew and came back, grasping his hip, fingers caressing his skin. Augus shifted, flexed, and Gwyn felt full, consumed, he gasped for breath and Augus patted his hip with something that was almost affection before his fingers dug bruises into his skin.

Augus withdrew almost the whole way out, plunged back in, friction a flare of heat and nerves and almost-pain that started where Augus was buried inside of him and ended at his neck. Augus’ rhythm was fast and precise, each downstroke ending with the same twist of his hips, each withdrawal dragging back on a tilt and making it harder for Gwyn to catch his breath, before Augus returned and stole it from him again. The hand on his thigh tugged his leg further out, until he felt it as another ache, tendons pulling tight.

‘Good?’ Augus said, sounding entirely too even and smooth for Gwyn’s liking, given that he was finding it harder and harder to keep his voice under his control. Augus sounded like he knew exactly how good it was.

Yes,’ Gwyn cried out, and moaned softly when Augus dragged his palm from the back of Gwyn’s thigh, over his ass, and then down his ribs in one long, firm stroke. ‘Don’t stop.’

‘I have no intention of stopping,’ Augus said, as though he was offended at the very thought.

After that, Augus didn’t speak, focusing on what he was doing, dragging Gwyn’s focus along with him. And Gwyn, aware that this was happening in Augus’ bed, in his rooms, in Gwyn’s palace, found his mind dizzied and hung onto the bed, beyond wondering if it was helping Augus, taken up with the sparks and whirls of light that were flashing behind his eyelids. The light wasn’t too close, but it was closer, it was always brought closer at times like this. It was a cascade of energy rippling up close to his skin, it turned everything to heat and a pulsing light that seemed snagged on every one of Augus’ movements.

Gwyn realised that if Augus kept this up, he was going to come without a hand on his cock. And Augus didn’t seem to want him to last, didn’t seem interested in holding him back.

Augus shifted his hand under Gwyn’s shirt and pinched his nipple, slammed deep, rolling his hips. Gwyn shouted, sensation cresting in him, a sharp point that overwhelmed. He came, Augus holding him firmly in place as his hips strained through the movements of it. His legs shook  from it, and Augus rubbed at the healing marks on his chest, came back and grazed his nipple with the edge of his claws, said nothing as Gwyn whimpered.

Before the aftershocks were over, Augus had started moving again. Deep, short thrusts that undulated inside of him. And Gwyn, tight again from the strength of his release, whined and started to pull away, over sensitive.

Immediately, Augus pulled him back, fingers curling around his shoulder, his hips.

‘I said,’ Augus said, voice still even, ‘that I had no intention of stopping, didn’t I?’

Oh gods.

‘Augus,’ Gwyn said, pleading.

‘Come now, Gwyn, it’s not so bad. You’ll catch up eventually.’

The thrusts continued, picking up pace, and Gwyn heard his voice break, closed his mouth around the sounds that wanted to tumble forth. But the pace was too fast, even rough, and the sounds came anyway, finding their way out when Gwyn had to catch his breath, struggled to gasp around the hugeness of what he felt.

Minutes passed and Gwyn felt that he was just hanging on, his fingers sore where they clutched the bed, his legs aching from how spread they were. At one point he’d gone to move them, and Augus had tightened his grip, a clear indication that Gwyn was supposed to keep them spread.  His pants were still tangled around his ankle, his shirt was still stuck to certain places on his chest, and Augus hadn’t stripped at all, shirt fluttering against the top of his ass, one side of the hem of Augus’ pants occasionally buffeting against his balls. Gwyn whined, and Augus chuckled to hear the sound, sneaking his fingers up through the collar of Gwyn’s shirt and rubbing at his throat.

Augus’ hand trailed down again as he changed the pace once more; longer, smoother strokes, and he dragged the pads of his fingers through the come on Gwyn’s belly, catching the warmth until he could wrap fingers around Gwyn’s cock and start moving in time with the rhythm. Gwyn forgot that he was supposed to be keeping his head turned to the side, his face pressed down into the mattress and he choked a series of sounds.

‘I want to hear you,’ Augus said, his voice a little ragged now, lacking the smoothness of before. The hand around his cock tightened to the point of pain, and Gwyn – reluctant, obedient – moved his head to the side. Immediately, Augus went back to stroking him, and Gwyn husked out a cry that was as wrecked as he felt. Augus made a sound of approval in response.

Gwyn didn’t know how much time passed before he started to get hard again, lost in the sparks of feeling that rippled along his body, that turned his spine into a conductor. He moved his own hips backwards involuntarily and then Augus encouraged him to keep doing it, the hand on his hip guiding him until Gwyn followed Augus’ rhythm. He didn’t know how much time passed from getting hard, to feeling like he could come again, but it was a time punctuated with his body being rocked against the bed and Augus confident and breathing growing louder above him, a sign that he was getting close as well.

He half-expected Augus to say something as he felt himself wind up once more, his muscles coiling with tension. But Augus said nothing at all, his breathing occasionally punctuated with the odd, low sound of pleasure that reminded Gwyn of just how in control he still was. This wasn’t the Augus he had taken apart with slow movements and caresses, this was the Augus who stayed relatively detached, the pleasure an afterthought building inside of him. Gwyn by contrast felt raw, exposed, stripped down. The friction and heat of Augus inside of him consumed his thoughts.

His voice deserted him towards the end, as he needed the air more than anything. That was when he knew he was going to come again, a pierce of heat spreading a painful pleasure through him, starting at his cock, drawing up in his balls. He managed the beginning of Augus’ name three times before finally saying it, a weak acknowledgement.

When he came the second time, the light was a pinwheel of sparks whirling throughout his entire body. Augus stroked him through it, murmuring something that Gwyn didn’t catch through the thundering race of his own blood.

Augus abruptly let go of his cock and roughly wiped Gwyn’s come off his hand, smearing it onto Gwyn’s belly. He jerked Gwyn’s shirt up, hiking it up over his back, and then withdrew quickly, roughly, Gwyn’s voice breaking at the movement. Augus moaned quietly and Gwyn’s eyes opened in realisation when he felt the movement of Augus jerking himself off over Gwyn’s back.

At the first stripe of hot fluid over Gwyn’s spine, they both moaned. Gwyn slumped down to the bed, and Augus came on his back, one hand still holding his hip. When Augus was done, he paused for a few moments to catch his breath, and then idly dragged his fingers through the come on Gwyn’s skin. Gwyn was shocked, exhausted. He couldn’t quite believe that Augus had done that, didn’t know what he felt about it. He’d wanted to feel Augus come inside of him, but there was something oddly compelling about the way Augus dragged his fingers through his own release, reminding Gwyn of what he’d done.

‘You are a mess,’ Augus purred, and then surged up over Gwyn’s body and pulled his head back with the come covered fingers that tangled in his hair, slanting his mouth over Gwyn’s and licking up sensuously over his teeth, his tongue, the roof of his mouth. Gwyn was already out of breath when Augus started, and his eyes were closed and his mouth slack when Augus stopped, lying alongside him.

Gwyn didn’t move when he felt Augus cover them both with the blanket. His body was sticky with sweat and come and blood, but he didn’t want to move, just yet.

‘I can’t believe you did that,’ Gwyn managed, and Augus laughed deep in his chest.

‘You’ll let me do it again,’ Augus said, and Gwyn closed his mouth around a denial that he knew was a lie.

‘Did...it help?’ Gwyn said, and Augus didn’t reply. Gwyn opened his eyes and Augus was watching him, a quiet, sober expression on his face.

‘It helped,’ Augus said. But there was something off about the statement, something not quite true in it. Maybe it had helped in the moment, but Augus still looked worn and disturbed, behind that serious gaze. Gwyn reached out with a tired hand and found Augus’ arm beneath the blanket. He squeezed his wrist in what he hoped was reassurance and watched him.

‘None of that now,’ Augus said, moving his arm away, eyebrows knitting together.

‘Am I doing it wrong?’ Gwyn said, confused. Augus stared at him, incredulous, and then sighed.

‘Gwyn, this...’ Augus looked up at the ceiling briefly, and then his mouth twisted. ‘Ash couldn’t help. What makes you think that you...’

What makes you think that you could?

Gwyn told himself that those words didn’t hurt, because there was nothing that would ever compare to how Augus felt for his brother. Nothing. And he could expect no good feeling from Augus at all. This...civility, whatever it was that they had, it was unexpected, Gwyn knew it was wrong to mistake it for anything other than what it was.

‘Ash, though,’ Augus said softly. ‘Once I had them, I didn’t know what to do with them.’

Gwyn narrowed his eyes in confusion. He had no idea what Augus was talking about. Augus looked down at the bed and then drew a pillow down, pulling the blanket up over his shoulders. He shook his head and smiled at some private joke. It was a bitter smile.

‘Ash took some of the darkness and managed to still be Ash. And for a brief...for a while, that left me with more questions than answers.’

Gwyn held still, careful not to break the spell that seemed to have charmed Augus into talking about any of this. He was also surprised at what Augus was revealing. That he would compare himself to Ash in that way, when it was so obvious that the only reason that Ash and the Nain Rouge weren’t taken over and possessed by the shadows was because they had knowingly received them. It was obvious, from what had happened to Pitch, to Augus, that when they were forced upon someone, the shadows took over whatever consciousness existed and dragged it down, shoved it away.

‘I knew I was in trouble,’ Augus said, smiling up at Gwyn. ‘He came back, and I was not prepared. I had not...foreseen...’

‘The Nightmare King’s return,’ Gwyn confirmed and Augus’ gaze became vague, and then snapped back to the present. ‘Did he hurt you again?’

‘At first, no. He only indicated that he knew of my fear, and that he was pleased I remembered him so well. I fell into a role I’d fallen into a long time ago and...Ash noticed. He...interfered. The Nightmare King noticed Ash. I couldn’t tolerate...it was intolerable. I had to do something, I suppose.’

‘He did hurt you again,’ Gwyn said, angry at the thought, and Augus bristled, tensed. He pushed himself upright and started to move away, and Gwyn reached out quickly, stopped him with a hand on his hip.

‘Are you done?’ Augus said, voice sharp.

‘I’m done,’ Gwyn said.

‘Push me on this, and I will-’

‘I’m done,’ Gwyn said again. ‘I...’

‘What?’ Augus said, staring at him with a coldness that reminded Gwyn that he was in too deep. He only wanted to help, and Augus wanted...his freedom. Ash. Other things. Gwyn moved his hand up Augus’ side and rested his hand over his ribs.

‘I could kiss you again,’ Gwyn said, wanting to wince at himself as soon as he said it.

‘You-’ Augus opened his mouth, ready to say something cutting, and then seemed to think the better of it. His expression cleared of its coldness and his eyes held something quieter, uncertain.

‘You like it,’ Gwyn said, ‘I don’t really know why.’

Augus swallowed, and then leaned forwards, watching Gwyn with lidded eyes.

‘Go on, then,’ Augus said, a quiet challenge in his voice.

Gwyn reached up with the hand that was under the blanket and stroked the pulse he could see moving steadily at Augus’ neck. His fingers crept up and curved along the underside of Augus’ ear. He stroked slowly, not just gently, and Augus mouth tightened, as though he was offended that Gwyn had affected him.

He pressed his lips against Augus’ and closed his eyes to avoid that critical gaze. He stroked his fingers back down Augus’ neck and traced his collarbone with a slow, measured pace. He startled when he found his hand stilled. Augus had grabbed him roughly by the wrist.

‘You’re learning,’ Augus said, and Gwyn stared at him.

‘I want to,’ he said.

‘Why?’

Gwyn’s chest tightened. Why? He wanted to. He liked Augus. His heart twisted up into a complicated mess about it, and he couldn’t afford to think about it much, but...

He leaned forwards and kissed Augus again, not wanting to confront things that were too complex for him to unravel. Augus kept his hand on his wrist, but Gwyn didn’t care, lingering against his lips. He liked the way Augus’ breath fell against his skin. Augus went to withdraw after the second kiss and Gwyn followed the movement, using Augus’ grip on his wrist to push Augus back into the bed. He leaned over him, pressing gentle, chaste kisses to his lips. One after the other.

He became aware of Augus’ growing discomfort and kissed his way up to Augus’ cheek.

‘If you want, I’ll blood-oath it,’ Gwyn said, voice rough. ‘I’ll blood-oath never to do that to you again.’

Augus inhaled sharply, and Gwyn kissed his way back down Augus’ cheek again. Augus believed in blood-oaths, and through that, Gwyn could offer something that might actually help. Not only that, he didn’t ever want to see Augus in the dark again. And he hadn’t needed it to defeat him once. Even if there was ever a way that Augus could spiral out of control again, Gwyn would not do that to him. Not again.

‘You really would,’ Augus said, thoughtful. And when Gwyn pressed a kiss to the side of his mouth, Augus sighed. His whole body went lax, and Gwyn only then realised how much tension Augus had still been holding in his body. It came as a shock, and he moved his wrist out of Augus’ fingers and reached up to stroke his palm down Augus’ hair.

‘I would,’ Gwyn said, withdrawing. ‘I could oath it right now.’

He didn’t want to though. Not yet. He was sore, tired. And Augus was tugging him down, encouraging him to rest. When Gwyn rested his head properly against a pillow, Augus reached out and tugged on a loose lock of Gwyn’s hair. It sprang back into place, and Augus watched it, an unfathomable expression on his face once more.

‘Not right now,’ Augus said, pensive. ‘It doesn’t have to be right now. You should rest.’

‘And you,’ Gwyn said, and Augus smiled a quiet agreement. After several uncertain minutes passed, Augus closed his eyes and tugged Gwyn closer. Gwyn sensed the turbulence beneath the surface of Augus, but it was held at bay, and Gwyn was long familiar with internal discordance. He rested his hand against Augus’ chest, felt the thump of his heart. He felt his own heartbeat slow in response to feeling that lazy beat. He closed his eyes, fisting Augus’ shirt into his hand.

He was sleepy and surprised when Augus started quietly stroking fingers through Gwyn’s hair. The touch was soothing, calming, and when Gwyn sighed at how warm it felt, Augus pressed closer and pushed his head underneath Gwyn’s cheek, burrowing between his face and the pillow.

‘Rest,’ Augus said again, voice muffled. Gwyn nodded, a doze stealing over him before he could form a response.

Chapter Text

Gwyn could tell that Augus was uneasy, overall, after he’d revealed more of what the Nightmare King had done. It was in the small things. Augus would watch him longer, more warily, when he thought Gwyn wasn’t looking. There were times when he didn’t seem to be concentrating on what was happening around him. Once, Gwyn had walked past a room filled with books and scrolls on strategy, and then backtracked when he realised that Augus was just standing, staring through lidded eyes at a shelf and not really seeing any of the items on there at all. He’d watched for several minutes, until Augus became aware of his presence. Augus had blinked up at him then, raised an arch eyebrow and said:

‘Did you want something?’

‘Did you? Do you need help finding something?’

Augus had looked at the shelf and the books upon it as though seeing it for the first time and then shrugged noncommittally.

Gwyn felt he should say something else, but didn’t know what to say. In the end he had departed and left Augus in the room. It had made him uncomfortable to do so, but he doubted Augus would talk about the Nightmare King again, and he doubted that Augus would respond to questions about his state of mind. He’d learned enough and could fill in the blanks himself. If Augus ever wanted to talk about it, Gwyn would listen, but...Augus didn’t talk about those things.

Gwyn realised, one morning, as he polished up his armour and buffed out scratches, that he was in the odd position of wanting to do something to help him. It was more than wanting justice. He put down the vambrace carefully and closed his eyes. He was Augus’ captor, and he didn’t want to be. Beneath that, he had become someone who wanted to see Augus whole and...free.

He knew that Augus was simply using him as a way of passing the time in captivity.

When Gwyn went to training at mid-morning, he didn’t stop sparring and fighting until his muscles trembled with fatigue six hours later. Not many people – even his own soldiers – could spar with him for long; he was too strong, and too vicious when he got in the right frame of mind. A long time ago he’d commissioned a Mage to create artificial soldiers that could be called forth from three magical spheres. They had cost a small fortune, but Gwyn had won many campaigns, and amassed a vast wealth that he had almost no use for.

They had been programmed with strategy and different fighting techniques, could wield many different weapons, and they were constructed to adapt and grow in strength as Gwyn did. They were now the only soldiers he could fight at length without holding himself back; but they were brutal and mindless. After the fourth hour they started knocking him down, sightless eyes staring over him.

Time and time again he got up, fought them. All three at once, for as long as he could. Some of his own soldiers had come and gone, watching him for an hour, leaving after a while. There were often spectators at his training sessions, those who wished to see how he fought without having to step into the dangers of a battlefield. Those who wished to learn. Gwyn didn’t see what they had to learn. There was very little of sophistication in Gwyn’s fighting style; his general method was ‘get the job done as quickly as possible.’

He got up, and one of the magicked warriors changed his weapon from the broadsword to the rapier. He stared at it, was reminded of Augus with his Courtier’s weapon. He’d lost his concentration and been knocked down by one of the magicked warriors behind him, hit so hard he was profoundly grateful for his King’s healing. He sent them back to their spheres and waited for the blood to stop trickling out of the base of his skull. It had just occurred to him that Augus only became proficient in any weapons at all – the rapier, pressure points – because the Nightmare King had broken him into thinking he had to rise up and take over one of the Kingdoms.

It had occurred to him that without any Nightmare King at all, Augus would have stayed within his lake and never learned how to fight beyond his basic waterhorse instincts. He would have lived out his years without knowing any of that world. Gwyn was raised into battle, he was destined for it. But Augus was...

Gwyn pressed his fingers to the back of his head and brought them forwards. The blood was slowing. Absently, arm shaking, he placed his fingertips into his mouth and licked the blood off. An old habit.

In the shower, later, hot water soothing the trembling of his muscles. He let his thoughts drift, but he kept coming back to Augus’ nightmare, Augus crying out for the light in that desperate, broken voice. He hadn’t known Augus could sound like that. Even when he’d been in the Seelie cell, even when Gwyn had been tormenting him, he’d never sounded quite like that. 

And the Nightmare King had returned after and gone into Augus’ Court and everyone, everyone, had thought they were lovers. He remembered hearing one of his messengers tell him that the Nightmare King and Augus had been ensconced away in solitude for several days, after the Nightmare King’s return.

And they hadn’t been lovers...

Gwyn scrubbed suds out of his hair, the water pinkish with blood from a wound that had already closed.

It was, around that time, that Augus’ Court had been disbanded. Gwyn’s eyes widened when he realised that the Nightmare King had done it himself. The Nightmare King had destroyed the Nain Rouge. He’d intimidated Greenteeth into leaving. And the Dullahan left soon after that. Had the Nightmare King secretly worked to isolate Augus? Had part of his plan been to oust Augus from the throne, as Augus had ousted the Raven Prince? Gwyn shuddered to think of the Nightmare King as ruler of the Unseelie Kingdom. He wasn’t a true fae, but some of the indestructible powers associated with Kingship would have conferred to him nonetheless.

In the end, Ash was the only one who had stayed.

Gwyn made of a noise of surprise when something else occurred to him. He closed his eyes and leaned up into the hot spray, hoping he was wrong. But Augus had attacked Jack, and then compelled Jack to tell the Nightmare King. He had intended Jack as a gift. Had he intended Jack as a distraction? To partially break a spirit and lead him to the arms of his tormenter, as a way of...what? Taking attention off himself? And the use of the word ‘gift’ was interesting now, in retrospect, knowing Augus and the Nightmare King hadn’t been lovers at all. Why present the Nightmare King with a gift, a toy, if not to distract from the other one?

‘By the gods,’ Gwyn breathed, shutting off the shower and stepping out, his muscles more stable than they’d been before.

These were the sorts of things he didn’t like to think about, but his mind refused to let it lie. He wondered if his Court knew that he often looked so distracted, because his mind was pacing down these backwards corners, putting things together, deciding what to do with them, if they were any use to him now.

He had nothing he wanted to do with this, except that he wanted to help somehow. It wasn’t so strange to want to render himself of assistance to others, but to help an individual person, to offer something of himself if it would bring Augus a measure of comfort...

He is only using you as a way of passing the time.

It didn’t matter. Beneath the guilt and the shame at what he had done himself to contribute to Augus’ state of mind, was a genuine need to make reparation. It was a strange thing to find himself feeling, twinned with an unwanted affection that he was starting to feel whenever he saw Augus in his palace.

Other fae might have sunk themselves into sleep after a training session like that, but Gwyn trained for hours almost every day. And when he wasn’t doing that, and didn’t need to attend to Kingdom tasks, he went mountaineering, spelunking, whatever he could do that might keep him fit and attuned to his environment. He’d recently taken to traversing the canopies of cloud forests, because his lungs and body weren’t used to the high humidity, and it was a challenging environment.

Instead of sleep, he sat down at his work desk and did paperwork quietly. It gave him something else to focus on, and he was glad of it.

*

Two days later, Gwyn was in a chamber off the throne room. He’d finished mediating a dispute between two Seelie fae, and before anyone else could slip into the room, his mother entered. She smiled at him, charmingly, as she sauntered towards him. She sat down in the seat and Gwyn thought sourly that the expression that passed her face as she settled into the chair may have actually been disappointment that she wasn’t settling into a throne, instead.  

After all, if Efnisien could no longer occupy it, then perhaps she wanted to. He’d never understood why she hadn’t angled for the throne before.

‘Darling,’ Crielle said, looking at him from azure eyes, a blue so deep it reminded Gwyn of hot summer days and skies that stretched over empty landscapes. Her eyes were perfectly lined, lashes darkened. She was striking. Even Gwyn knew that. Even without her glamour – which she possessed in natural, unconscious abundance – she was one of the most beautiful fae to have graced the Seelie Court.

Gwyn nodded an acknowledgement at her, and waited. Others saw the beauty, but Gwyn’s heart started pounding a beat of fear whenever she entered a room.

Once, Gwyn had thought that it was he and his father against the evil and calculated malice of his mother. He’d been wrong, of course. Crielle’s cruelty was far more noticeable growing up with her, and Gwyn had always been given reasons to fear her. Even now, grown and able to bring down armies simply by showing up on a battlefield with his sword, she struck fear into his heart.

‘I miss my dear nephew,’ Crielle said, her voice unctuous. She smiled at him, a faux-sympathy stealing over her face. ‘Efnisien was a dear, was he not?’

‘Yes, mother,’ Gwyn said, but his tone said the opposite. He allowed himself these small rebellions, as she allowed herself her cruelties in his own Court.

‘Perhaps we should do something to celebrate his death. Something my dear nephew would have enjoyed. And if you helmed the event, then no one could doubt your love of him.’

‘Do people doubt it?’ Gwyn said coldly, and Crielle allowed a sliver of laughter to fall from her throat.

‘Your Court doubts your ability to feel any emotion other than bloodlust. They do, of course, appreciate your heroism and your ability to face down great evil. But they look into your watery blue eyes, see your thickly hewn body designed for the crudity of battle, and remember you better as a General. A King is supposed to enliven the Court, is he not? You know I only tell you these things to help you.’

Gwyn nodded, but didn’t agree. Crielle was one of his biggest detractors. If people thought him of possessing a weak constitution to be King, she had something to do with it. If his Court remembered him better as a General, it was likely because she wove stories of how his heroism shone on a battlefield and then chose to carefully contrast it with his dour nature in the Court.

‘They would prefer to know of your grief and your willingness to celebrate those who had once been living. What if you were to hold a Wild Hunt in dear Efnisien’s honour? And you’ve not held a Wild Hunt in some time, have you? Would it not be perfect then, to announce your return to the Wild Hunts themselves by launching them off with this special occasion?’

Dread was thick in his throat. It had been sitting there, squatting like a toad, since she had mentioned missing her nephew. Her nephew who had been plotting against Gwyn, and Ash, and Augus.

Here, then, it comes.

‘Efnisien disdained the hunts. It appalled him that the White Stag came back to life again after being honourably killed.’

‘But of course he did. However, it would never occur to you to hold some other sort of wake for Efnisien, some other celebration that fitted more with his interests. You have not the mind for such a thing. Perhaps, oh and look at me, in the position of advisor once more. Well, a mother must do what she can for her son...’

Crielle sighed, as though Gwyn was a hopeless case. Gwyn waited for the hammer to fall. He had expected this request to come from someone else. Perhaps she couldn’t find someone to pass along her message for her.

‘Even though the Display went so well, and you proved your ability to cow that terrible, terrible monster who has done so much harm to both of the Kingdoms...people still wish to see the Each Uisge dead. Efnisien more than most. Could you not, for one Wild Hunt, designate a very special quarry? After all, just like any deer, he can gallop and flee, fleet of foot, can he not? And as underfae, he would be delightfully vulnerable to any arrow that flew at him.’

Gwyn knew all of this very well himself. It still made him sick to think of it.

‘I am not accountable to you,’ Gwyn said, voice flinty. ‘He is alive, he is cowed...’

He is most certainly not living in the palace itself and definitely does not have access to my inner rooms and absolutely I have not held him through a nightmare. Or anything else.

In that moment, Gwyn hated himself with a twisted, bizarre clarity.

‘You’re flushing,’ Crielle said. ‘Is he not as cowed as you say?’

Gwyn grit his teeth, opened his mouth to respond, but she cut across him smiling.

‘I’m sure he is! Let us, instead, talk about whether or not you are accountable to me, your mother, who raised you.’

Gwyn took a deep, slow breath. He’d slighted her. He’d slighted her more than his very existence usually did.

‘My darling, call a vote tomorrow and many of the Seelie fae would vote for you to remain in power. Call a vote in ten years, and I’m sure we could say the same. But in twenty or thirty years the balance of power would swing. You made no secret that you never wanted to be King. Some of them feel pity for you. Some of them simply want a King who can entertain them again like before, who will hold the old fertility festivals and be jovial and light of heart. And, my dear, here is something of why you might wish to remember some accountability towards your mother. When you get voted out of this Kingdom, you are free of the yoke you and your family loathe seeing you toil under. Oh, your dear, dear father would chafe to see how you hated it so.

‘So, then, son, you will be voted out eventually. And there is a crude, tch, a crude saying that I can’t quite recall. What was it? When you are not King, and far more mortal than you are now, I believe the saying is accidents happen.’

Gwyn’s eyes widened, he stared at her. He hadn’t heard a death threat so explicit from her since he was far younger. Well before he’d ever been King.

‘Why are you looking at me like that?’ Crielle said, affecting a confusion so false that he knew she was practically gleeful. ‘Oh, no, you have misunderstood me! Oh, my poor, paranoid son. Whatever would make you fear such a thing from me, who has always stood in your corner.’

She smiled at him demurely, and Gwyn suppressed his shudder. Now she was just baiting him, and they both knew it. There was nothing Gwyn could say in response to her words. And the one thing he could not do, that he was absolutely within his rights to do, was kick her out of his Court. No one would understand, no one would believe she was like this; and then favour would swing against him. Gwyn forced himself to calm, shoved away the death threat. He could deal with that later. At least it confirmed one thing; the plot against Ash, the plot against Augus, it had been masterminded by his mother, and it was likely designed to get Gwyn off the throne sooner rather than later.

She had always wanted him punished for simply being upon it in the first place. Her primary disappointment, displayed for all the Seelie Court to see.

‘This Wild Hunt idea is intriguing,’ Gwyn said, voice flat. ‘You do know, of course, that he has never attended a single Wild Hunt? I do not understand this fixation of yours, mother, you have not attended one either. I thought you would pick something more...sophisticated.’

There, let her make it plain what she desires, so that I might be equally plain.

The smile that Crielle offered him was dazzling; from a distance it would have pulled people to her favour. Up close, it was a dead thing, designed to intimidate. Gwyn had seen it often as a child.

‘But you have attended many Wild Hunts, my wild, monstrous son. And, oh, let me remember, was it not the Each Uisge who invited you to them?’

‘This is true,’ Gwyn said, and then decided to place his ace on the table. ‘However, I am aggrieved to inform you that the White Stag will not allow a quarry like the Each Uisge to sully such a sacred, sacrosanct ritual.’

There.

Gwyn had checked. Gwyn had asked the White Stag about it already. And it turned out that the White Stag – King of the Forest – would not have allowed the Each Uisge to be hunted. It had nothing to do with sullying the ritual. The King of the Forest had an unerring ability to see into the hearts of those he allowed to run the Wild Hunt, and he had said – in no uncertain terms – that he would not allow a soul such as Augus to be run down in his ritual to never get up again. All in all, he was a rather compelling character witness.

‘How do you know this?’ Crielle said. To her credit, she didn’t look disappointed, or remotely put off. ‘Did you check?’

Oh no.

‘Creature, did you check? Why would you check? Not because you wanted him dead yourself, because everyone, and believe me – everyone – knows you do not! Did Efnisien say something to you? Oh, but he is so bad at keeping secrets, isn’t he? My cruel, darling nephew. He cannot help himself.’

Crielle chuckled and it sounded like a death knell. She gazed at him, a hardness creeping over her face, until he swore he could see nothing else but a giant, insatiable beast living inside of her. A beast barely caged by the centre she wore so well. His whole family, Seelie and like this. How they had maintained such an influence over the Court for so long...

‘Did you know how strange I found it, how terribly tragic, that he died in the Caves of Argoth? Terribly tragic, given that he has never been there before. But...oh, do correct me if I’m wrong; haven’t you visited the Caves of Argoth many times in the past?’

She knows, Gwyn realised. Had she known that Gwyn had been involved in his death – somehow – before this, or had she figured it out just now?

‘Efnisien has always been swung towards carefree and reckless ideas, mother,’ Gwyn said quietly. ‘You know this.’

‘And so he has!’ Crielle agreed, sounding almost fervent. But her eyes were accusing, and her nails had dug in – just slightly – into the table.

‘But it was a fair idea,’ Gwyn said, ‘Perhaps I will consider holding a wake here, at the Court. You could organise it, if you wish.’

Spread more rumours of how I’m better off as a General, and plot some more about how you’re going to put me down.

‘I couldn’t miss my dear cousin more,’ Gwyn said, allowing his voice to fall flatly. The words were correct, but since Crielle knew that Gwyn had been involved in his death – Crielle likely assumed that he had murdered him – Gwyn saw no reason to pretend otherwise. He would say the right words, but he and his mother just as often communicated in inflection, even when it was just the two of them. She would heap her hatred upon him, and he would crawl out from underneath that burden by offering her these small, trite rebellions.

She smiled a glittering hatred at him, and stood up gracefully.

‘Perhaps I will organise that wake.’

Someone else might have thought that they’d won, that they’d somehow gotten a victory over her, but Gwyn knew better. There were plots still swimming in her eyes, and secrets still played at the curve of her mouth. And, at the end of the day, she was working fervently to find a loophole in Gwyn’s dislike of killing captives. If she could get the Court to present him with a valid reason to kill Augus, Gwyn would have to say no, and she was right...favour would turn against him. They were a bloodthirsty lot.

And then he would have to be careful, because at the end of the day almost all of her plots involving Gwyn involved filicide as their final outcome.

He’d had more than one reason to get good at strategy, from an early age.

*

Augus was waiting in Gwyn’s room, when Gwyn entered. He was sitting on the desk itself, swinging his legs back and forth idly. He held a length of rope in his hands, and Gwyn stared at it when he entered. He’d had enough adrenaline rushes to last him at least a week, thanks to seeing his mother, and yet adrenaline scored his body again. He could feel his heart beating. Augus looked at him, looked at the rope, looked at him again and smirked.

‘I’d like to play,’ Augus said, something dark in his voice. Gwyn swallowed.

‘Augus, this, I’m not sure if-’

‘Today we’re going back to the cell,’ Augus said, bouncing upright to his feet. There was something in his eyes that Gwyn didn’t quite like, that made him uncomfortable. After his encounter with his mother though, he was positive he was being paranoid.

‘The cell?’ Gwyn said, and Augus took another coil of rope off the table where it had been resting beside him. Then he picked up a small briefcase, expertly worked with black leather, the edges embroidered with a deep scarlet thread. Gwyn stared at it.

‘Tools of the trade,’ Augus said, and his lips lifted in a half-smile.

‘I thought you didn’t like the cell,’ Gwyn said, and felt stupid as soon as he’d said it.

Augus raised his eyebrows and then stepped towards Gwyn, looking more like a hunter than Gwyn could remember seeing in some time.

‘The cell,’ Augus commanded, and then grasped Gwyn’s forearm with a grip that wasn’t quite cruel.

Gwyn transported them without protesting. He was too tired to fight Augus in this, and there was something about Augus which... Would it help him? Would it help him to ‘play?’ And Gwyn thought that he could do with a reason not to think about anything. It might be good to just...obey someone who he could actually please. Gwyn closed his eyes, found the cell through sense.

Augus stepped back from him and then drew out the length of rope once more.

‘Today, you shall be underfae, imprisoned in the cell of the Unseelie King. And I...shall be that King.’

Gwyn’s eyes flew open, and Augus stared at him. There was something hard in his gaze, behind the playfulness of his smile. The mischief seemed...brittle. Gwyn opened his mouth to protest, to say that he wasn’t comfortable with this, but he couldn’t help but wonder – especially now that he knew what Augus wanted – what if this would help Augus? Gwyn knew very well now that Augus liked to get power back for himself by subjugating others, by asserting his dominance.

What better way for a captive to assert his dominance, than to roleplay captor?

Gwyn blew out of a breath.

‘What do you need me to do?’ he said, his voice shakier than he would have liked.

Augus smiled a slow, hungry smile at him.

‘Take your clothes off. Turn your back to me. Cross your arms behind your back at the wrists.’

Gwyn looked around the dimness of the cell. He stared at the walls uneasily as he stripped himself down, shedding his shirt and breeches, kicking off his boots and then lining them up against the wall, surprised that Augus didn’t stop him when he did that. He hadn’t intended it as a way of slowing things down, it was just an old habit. Once naked, he faced the long corridor, glad that he was the only one who could enter the dungeon, glad that no one else could come down here and see them like this.

He moved his arms behind his back, crossed them at the wrists.

Augus tied him quickly and brutally, the cord cutting into his skin. Gwyn made a small sound of protest, but Augus said nothing, only tugging hard on the knots and making sure they were tight. He must have known how painfully he’d bound Gwyn’s wrists, checking like that.

‘You will call me King,’ Augus said, his voice colder.

Gwyn frowned.

‘Augus, I will not-’

One hand yanked at his bound wrists, making him stumble backwards, and the other found the pressure points in the vertebrae at his neck and dug down. The pain was excruciating, and Gwyn’s knees buckled, Augus’ hand on his wrists making him fall into a kneeling position, keeping him upright. Pain pulsed through him, blistered through his head. Augus must have held the pressure points down for at least thirty seconds before relenting. By then, Gwyn was gasping, blinking to clear the spots in front of his eyes.

'King,’ Augus said again, and Gwyn shivered.

‘K-ing,’ Gwyn said, closing his eyes. He hadn’t addressed anyone by such a term since the Oak King. Using the word with Augus was unsettling. He bowed his head, tried the word again. ‘King.’

‘And you don’t have a name,’ Augus said, voice practically a purr. ‘You are ‘prisoner,’ do you understand?’

Gwyn blinked at the loamy floor. His vision was still affected by the pressure points, his neck and the back of his head burnt with pain. He knew he could teleport away, knew – possibly – that he should. But after the day he’d had, after realising what he’d realised about Augus’ history. After everything...

Gwyn bowed his head.

‘Yes, King.’

Augus laughed softly, a callous delight in his voice. This reminded him very much of the Augus that had stripped him apart when they’d first met. A colder Augus, one who was attentive, but only insofar as breaking someone down. He stared at the ground, closed his eyes when he felt fingers thread through his hair.

He was prepared for the pull when it came. Augus yanked his head back so that Gwyn was staring up at him, and Augus stared down, curiosity on his face.

‘You’re good at this,’ Augus said. ‘Who knew that you would make such a meek prisoner? I expected some fight from you. You were, after all, once the King of the Seelie fae, were you not?’

Gwyn stared at him, wide-eyed.

Oh.

‘I asked you a question,’ Augus whispered, and trailed his fingers down Gwyn’s exposed throat.

Gwyn’s heart was a rabbit-thump in his chest. He looked down at the closed case that Augus had brought with him, wondered what was inside.

‘I was, King,’ Gwyn said, voice thin.

Were, past tense. Of course. How clever you must have believed yourself to be, when you conspired with Ash to infest me with those shadows.’

Oh no.

‘And yet here you are, on your knees in a dungeon, at my mercy. Do you have anything to say for yourself? You had best think of something now, prisoner. I’m not feeling particularly merciful.’

Gwyn opened his mouth, staring up into those green eyes, but words deserted him. He thought about asking for mercy. He thought again about suggesting they stop this, and do something else. But the day had been uncommonly long, and he craved it – he realised – he craved this crueller Augus. He closed his mouth deliberately, and Augus reached up and rubbed the swallow that Gwyn made, dragging the tips of his claws down his trachea.

Augus shoved him down, letting his hair go with a push that – with Gwyn’s wrists tied behind his back – upset his centre of gravity and made it harder to catch himself. Muscle control stopped his head hitting the floor, but it was a move designed to be rough. Gwyn’s heart beat hard.

He wanted to forget. He wanted whatever Augus was offering. It was likely to hurt. He wouldn’t, for the most part, classically call himself a masochist, but after his encounter with Crielle...

Accidents happen.

Gwyn heard the sound of the case opening. He didn’t know what to expect with Augus anymore. He knew it wasn’t likely to be sounding, but otherwise he had no idea. He doubted it would be sex. Augus, in this mood, was less likely to fuck someone, more likely to ruin with objects, to forego physical intimacy.

He gasped when he felt cold metal upon his lower back. He knew exactly what that was.

‘Aug-’

Gwyn’s uncertain question was cut off. Augus dug his thumb between Gwyn’s vertebrae at his neck, found that pressure point that Gwyn loathed, and pressed so deeply that Gwyn lost track of time for several seconds, vision going black. When Augus let go, Gwyn was aware that he was gasping, was aware of the flat of the knife’s blade resting over the base of his spine.

‘Address me properly,’ Augus said, and it took Gwyn a moment to even remember that he was supposed to be underfae. He’d never been underfae, not even born underfae.

‘King,’ Gwyn gasped, and turned his head sideways, wincing when his neck ached. The nerve endings felt raw. He wasn’t sure Augus had ever been so consistently rough with those particular pressure points before. It was like a bomb had been detonated at the base of his skull.

‘There are, of course, punishments for those who commit crimes against their people. For those who break fae law,’ Augus said, voice devoid of feeling.

Gwyn wondered how much it cost him to say that – if anything – knowing what he had done.

‘And you are only underfae,’ Augus said.

Gwyn pressed his lips together when he felt the knife score into his skin. It was sharp, far sharper than he thought it would be. The pain was more of a sting, and harder to block out because of it. It also meant, however, that the wounds would close only a few minutes after Augus made them.

Gwyn had been bared by the knife before, by Augus. Such a long time ago, that Gwyn had almost forgotten what it was like. That slow, calculated cutting, the knowledge that Augus cared little for the skin barrier that most others held sacred except in battle or when committing violence. Augus followed ridges and lines of muscle with his knife, found meridians of nerve endings, spilled blood.

Once, Gwyn had strained at ropes binding him to get away from the knife, terror streaking through him; he’d been naive, he didn’t know people did it for pleasure. And Augus had showed him that the knife could be a cleansing, could be a way of finding and losing focus again, disappearing into a morass of sensation with a pain that dragged a fluid, unusual pleasure behind it. He had shown Gwyn how to vanish in the red-blackness of it, and Gwyn had gone willingly, wanting respite from his own mind, his own thoughts. Back then, when Augus had realised that Gwyn liked the knife, his eyes had lit up with a wild delight.

He wondered what Augus’ eyes looked like now.

Augus moved from scoring his lower back, to his bound arms, and Gwyn jerked when he cut a shallow line into the sensitive skin in the crook of his arm. But he made no sound.

‘This is entirely disappointing,’ Augus said coolly. ‘Underfae don’t heal this quickly. Shall I cut deeper? Make it more realistic?’

Gwyn’s teeth clenched when Augus went from the shallow, quick-healing lines of red, to cutting deeply into muscle. His throat worked on a stalled exhale. That would take longer to heal. An hour maybe. More.

It was then, when Augus returned to his lower back and cut deeper into his flesh, dangerously close to internal organs, that Gwyn realised this had nothing to do with him. Nothing at all. Augus didn’t care about his pleasure. This was...

Gwyn forced himself to swallow down a cry of pain, feeling shaky. He didn’t know what this was. He hoped it would help.

‘This is still better than being left down in the dark,’ Augus purred, though there was a lifelessness in his tone that sent gooseflesh crawling across Gwyn’s skin. The words, when Gwyn concentrated on them, were disturbing. ‘But then, I don’t imagine the dark would bother you now much, would it?’

Gwyn jerked at his bonds when he realised what Augus was doing, who Augus was pretending Gwyn was; and Augus stroked at his hands with cold fingertips, hushed him with an eerie calm.

‘Prisoner, am I scaring you?’ Augus said, and Gwyn nodded.

‘Yes...King.’

He shouldn’t have said it. He should have called Augus by his name. He should have teleported away and left Augus in the cell to come to his senses, while he – dripping blood – showered himself off and waited for his wounds to heal. He should have done many things. The one thing he probably shouldn’t have done was decide to play along. Decide that he could carry the pretence. He could be the prisoner that Augus needed him to be.

He’d been tortured before, this would be nothing. This was still infinitely preferable to that brief moment with his mother in the chamber earlier in the day. And he...he couldn’t help but feel a kinship in that moment with the Nightmare King he’d helped to defeat. He learned how to create the golden light – that impossible, awful light – in order to defeat a creature that...when he really thought about it...

Augus was shifting behind him, and when he returned, he cut into Gwyn’s skin with a far blunter blade. He had to use pressure just to get the knife through his skin, and it hurt. This was nothing like what Augus had done to him all that time ago. He writhed briefly, adjusting, and then his mind began to adapt. This was more Efnisien’s style. It was easy enough then to move into a wary blankness. He was alert to what Augus was doing, but his mind stopped throwing him fully-formed sentences, and offered only words instead. Pain. Danger. Accept. Wait.

He began to lose track of time.

‘It occurs to me, prisoner, that I don’t particularly want to kill you quickly. It makes far more sense to drag this out over time. Perhaps the period of a year? What do you say to that?’

Gwyn’s mind pulled together long enough to remember that the Nightmare King had Augus for about a year. There was no mistaking now who Gwyn was supposed to be. He swallowed down a cry when Augus pressed a blunt wound on his torso, in between his ribs. The skin was sensitive there, and Augus stopped, and then repeated the same wound between the next space between his ribs.

‘Now, now,’ Augus said coldly, ‘It’s impolite not to answer your King.’

Augus dug his fingers into one of the wounds and found a pressure point that would have made Gwyn lurch sideways, had Augus’ other hand not come up and held him firm by the wrists. Augus withdrew his fingers from the wound quickly, but kept a punishing grip on the bindings tying Gwyn down.

‘Answer me,’ Augus hissed.

‘A year...yes,’ Gwyn managed, wondering at what point this would all be over. How long since Augus had started cutting him? Half an hour? Longer? Factoring in the spaces where Augus chose the next place to cut, deliberately ratcheting up the tension, it could even be close to an hour. Some of the deeper wounds were already closing or closed, no longer sources of pain.

A slow, thick guilt was rising close to the surface. It was often there, and Gwyn was used to turning away from it, shoving it down, pushing it behind walls. It was an old, ancient guilt. It had crawled over him the first time he’d taken a life, and it had never truly gone away again. It had waited, condemning, when Gwyn had tortured Cyledr. It had suffocated him during the Display of Augus in his Court. It had tripped him up when he had first gone down to the cells and decided to exercise his crueller nature to subjugate someone who had – it turned out – already been subjugated and broken, which was why he’d committed all those crimes in the first place.

It crept higher until it became hard for Gwyn to breathe. Until he was shaking under the weight of it.

When the next cut pressed into his skin, Gwyn’s eyes began to burn. It wasn’t even that it was terribly painful. When Augus dug his fingers into pressure points it hurt more than this. But Gwyn began to feel degraded, began to feel as though Augus could very well leave him in the cell, and Gwyn couldn’t protest on any moral ground. He deserved a cell. He should have been put in one a long time ago.

It was...familiar. It made the guilt inside of him press against the wall of his eyes and look around avidly, only to find the cell itself wanting, only to remind Gwyn that he deserved worse than this.

Gwyn blinked tears out of his eyes.

‘Your responses are very disheartening,’ Augus said, and his voice was a cold politeness which wouldn’t have sounded amiss in his own family. He’d heard Augus speak like this before, in the months before he was defeated and removed from his throne.

Gwyn shouted out in pain when Augus dug the blade underneath his skin, near the top of his hipbone. He lunged forwards and Augus dragged him back again, chuckling to himself. Gwyn’s breath resolved to gasps, and he pressed his forehead down into the ground. He would never, ever, ever grow used to those blasted pressure points. Not when they were dug into like that, underneath his skin. His nerve endings shrieked at him.

‘I hope you realise that we’re only beginning. You had me for a very long time, and I have not even begun to imagine how to best pay you back in kind. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I have imagined it. But to have you here, now, to learn what hurts you...’

The knife dug into his nerves again, and Gwyn couldn’t help it, couldn’t help but try and get away. It was nothing like Augus’ nails. The knife was doing too much damage to muscle and sinew, it was less precise, shredding at him. There was a struggle, as Gwyn pitted his strength against Augus’, and it wasn’t until Augus wrenched his bound arms up until his shoulders threatened to wrench out of their sockets that Gwyn subsided, remembering that he was supposed to allow this, he was supposed to. If it helped...

He would heal.

He could withstand this.

Even though Gwyn had stopped trying to get away, Augus twisted his arms up higher and Gwyn grunted at the pain.

‘You’re not skilled at being underfae, are you, prisoner? You keep forgetting yourself, your new place now. Perhaps I should leave you in the dark, and see if that helps you come to heel.’

Gwyn stilled. Were these words Augus had heard himself? His breath stuttered out of his lungs.

‘You know that I can read your fears very well, don’t you?’

By the gods, they are. Gwyn swallowed down a thick wave of nausea.

‘You, cowering like this, is delightful. But I rather suspect that I can draw far more pain from you than this, don’t you?’

Gwyn could feel himself shaking, but felt paralysed. A part of him was locked down in horror. Another part was breaking underneath the weight of those words, knowing that they still applied to him, even in this situation. It was confusing, and Gwyn had stopped thinking properly some time before, when the knife was becoming intimate with his flesh.

But those words...those inflections, they didn’t belong to Augus at all. That was pure Nightmare King. It sounded, for a moment, as though Pitch had wandered into the room.

It drew Gwyn back to a nightmare he’d had at the summit of a mountain, while babysitting a frost spirit. Where a Nightmare King had crept into his mind and brought up some of his darkest memories and laughed at them.

Ah, Gwyn, the Nightmare King had said, what a web of criminal activity you are. Have you ever thought of aligning yourself with someone like me? I could make it good for you, my Prince of Light. I know what you need. The only question is, how much could I make you bleed before you still crawled back for more, my coarse, cowardly Prince?

And here he was, bleeding, and Augus was using the Nightmare King’s words on him, and Augus was pretending Gwyn was the Nightmare King. It had tangled Gwyn’s mind up in knots, and he froze to the floor, trying to ride out full body shudders. The Nightmare King had dragged up memories Gwyn had tried to put behind him, and it was all Gwyn could do not to break out sobbing when he’d woken up, aware that he was King, had a reputation, and the frost spirit needed him to be stronger than whatever he’d wanted to be when he had awoken.

Augus cut him some more, but Gwyn found that he no longer cared about the pain. He couldn’t concentrate. When Augus tutted in disapproval and withdrew and shifted around in his case, all Gwyn knew was the ooze of blood down his back, the smell of it thick in the air.

‘This will hurt,’ Augus said. ‘I’m afraid it will hurt rather a lot.’

Gwyn tensed at the words, and then felt a knife slide in between his ribs, angling up towards his heart. He flinched, cried out, his mind a mess, and then choked when the blade slid deeper. Augus angled the blade down, as though he meant to cut into Gwyn’s ribs, and he could now, he was Capital fae, he was-

There was a sudden, terrible gasp above him, and the knife slid out of him, a rough, quick movement. Gwyn’s stab wound started pouring blood. The gasps didn’t stop, and Augus shouted in a high, fractious pain.

Augus dropped down alongside him, and Gwyn turned to him, confused, worried, groggy. Augus’ head bowed towards the ground, a bloodied, serrated knife dropped out of his hand and rolled away.

Gwyn swallowed several times, before he thought he was able to speak. In that time, Augus breathed heavily, his hand came down to clutch his chest. Gwyn thought, possibly, that Augus might be remembering something terrible from the past. He wasn’t sure. Through the haze of pain, he became aware that he wasn’t thinking very well. That last wound had been far, far deeper than the rest.

‘King?’ Gwyn said, and then tried to tilt his head to look at Augus properly. Instead, he ended up looking at the knife itself, at the blood on it.

Augus made a sound of pain and forced himself upright onto his knees. Both of his hands were clutched to his heart, and he bowed his shoulders once more, a long, syllable of pain forcing its way out of his throat.

‘My name is Augus,’ he rasped, and then bent back down to the ground again, his forearms bracing his entire weight as he rocked forwards. Gwyn wanted to get up, to check he was okay, but he couldn’t think. As he looked towards the packed earth of the ground, rested his forehead against it, he felt Augus’ clumsy arm come up and work on the knots at the rope around his wrists.

He pulled his arms forward when they came free and braced himself. His shoulders ached. His wrists were lacerated. He felt sticky, wet with blood.

‘Augus, are you...what is wrong?’

‘Why?’ Augus said, disbelieving. He sounded far more like himself than he had since Gwyn had seen him in his room. ‘Why didn’t you stop me?’

Gwyn didn’t know what to say. He felt blood trickling down his skin from between his ribs. He was lucky a lung hadn’t been punctured. Augus was Capital fae now, he could have done real damage. He-

Gwyn’s eyes widened.

‘I almost broke the blood-oath,’ Augus said, voice rough with pain. Augus forced himself upright and then placed careful fingers on one of the spaces on Gwyn’s back that hadn’t been wounded. Gwyn kept his head down to the ground. There was a tenderness in that touch that he didn’t know how to respond to.

Augus had almost broken the blood-oath, the one to not cause Gwyn permanent injury or death. Which meant that...

Gwyn squinted at the knife and then reached out to grasp it when he realised what metal it was made of. Ingrit. He would have healed, but it would have damaged the integrity of his bone had Augus cut into it. His ribs would have been weakened forever. And if Augus activated his blood-oath, that meant that he intended to cut into bone. Gwyn stared at the knife, and then dropped it when a particularly strong bout of shaking made its way through him.

The fingers on his back disappeared, and then Augus was suddenly crouching alongside him, looking at him intently. His eyes were wide, concerned.

‘Gwyn?’

Gwyn nodded a response. He knew he had to respond. He was trying to help. He closed his eyes and blocked out Augus’ face and waited for whatever would come next. It wasn’t like him, to be so groggy after something like this. He’d withstood far worse. He didn’t understand what was wrong.

He squeezed his eyes shut tightly, when he felt fingers sticky with blood touch him on the cheek.

‘Fuck,’ Augus said, and then got up again. He didn’t do anything to Gwyn, which surprised him. Gwyn stayed still on the floor, waited. Augus picked up the knife, the rope, packed up his things. He took his time about it, and Gwyn was reminded of the time that Augus had packed away the sounds methodically and with precision, when he’d realised that something had gone wrong.

Augus came back and was wiping blood off his fingers with Gwyn’s shirt. When he was done, he took the hem of the shirt and brought it up to Gwyn’s cheek, carefully wiping off the smears of blood he’d left there.

'Take us to my room,’ Augus said quietly, and Gwyn nodded, intended to move, but his thoughts were sluggish. A minute passed, another, and then Augus swore again.

‘Gwyn? Concentrate for me. Can you take us to my room?’

Gwyn nodded and reached out with his hand, surprised when Augus slipped his own hand into his. He’d thought he’d have to grasp his wrist, or his forearm. Instead, Augus squeezed his hand against Gwyn’s, and Gwyn dragged his thoughts together, found the light that would trip them both into a different space.

He landed on the floorboards of Augus’ room in his palace, stayed still. It wasn’t so much the pain that was forcing him to stay still, he’d experienced worse in battle, he’d experienced worse at Efnisien’s hands, and the pain itself was constant but not crippling. But he couldn’t seem to remember what he was supposed to do next. He stayed down. He waited.

Augus got up and walked out of the room, and Gwyn’s eyes widened when he realised he’d been left alone.

He felt bereft. Perhaps Augus had gotten it out of his system, whatever it was. Gwyn’s heart was still racing. He drew his arms backwards himself and cupped his palms protectively over his chest, lying upon them and pressing his cheek to the floor. He would just stay like this a little bit longer, and then his fae healing would have well and truly kicked in and erased the worst of the damage. He would leave. He would check in on Augus later.

His mind drifted, and he jolted in shock when the door clicked open. He opened his eyes and saw Augus’ boots, and then looked up to see Augus looking down at him, eyebrows pulled together, lips pursed.

‘Alright,’ Augus said, almost to himself. He cleared his throat. Command swam into his voice. ‘Gwyn, get on the bed. Lie on it, facedown.’

Gwyn pushed himself upright mechanically, automatically, and Augus watched him with a sober, still wariness. Gwyn wanted to apologise for the blood as he lay down on the bed, but he knew that Augus could see it was there, and so he lay down without saying anything, resting his head on his forearm. Augus got on the bed with him, and placed a warm, damp towel over his back. Gwyn hissed at that, and Augus palmed the back of his head. It was familiar, soothing, and Gwyn’s breathing started to even out. He hadn’t expected Augus to come back.

‘You should have stopped me,’ Augus said, and then sighed. ‘You didn’t think to, did you?’

Gwyn shook his head.

‘You would have let me cause you permanent injury,’ Augus said.

‘I didn’t realise,’ Gwyn said thickly. ‘I didn’t know the blade was made out of Ingrit.’

‘I doubt you would have stopped me, even if you had known,’ Augus said, pressing his hands down into the towel and helping it to absorb the blood. He took another damp cloth – Gwyn realised belatedly that must have been what Augus was doing when he’d left – and rubbed it across the back of Gwyn’s neck. Gwyn groaned softly. It soothed at the bruises left behind when Augus had dug into his pressure points. Augus paused, and then repeated the gesture, and Gwyn’s body relaxed further against the bed.

‘There,’ Augus whispered. ‘Good.’

Good, Gwyn thought, hazily.

‘You can’t leave. You have to stay here for a little while, I need to take care of you. Do you understand? Can’t have both of us almost breaking a blood-oath in a single night.’

‘But...this isn’t about me,’ Gwyn said.

Augus lay down on his stomach beside Gwyn, and then looked at him, sought his eyes. Gwyn gave the eye contact uneasily, and Augus removed the damp towel from the back of Gwyn’s neck and rubbed his fingertips across it instead. Gwyn shivered at the gentleness of it.

‘Who is it about?’ Augus said. ‘Me? The Nightmare King?’

Gwyn tensed.

‘Gwyn, why did you let me treat you like you were him?’

There was a knowingness in Augus’ eyes, and Gwyn turned his head the other way, cutting off the eye contact. He didn’t want to see that. Not with Augus’ fingers stroking the back of his neck in that gentle way, not with his back still bleeding and wounded and breathing through pain.

‘I thought it would help,’ Gwyn said, and Augus reached up and dragged fingertips through Gwyn’s hair, sighing.

‘It did help,’ Augus said. ‘It helped me get closer to the madness I thought I’d shed, and I shan’t be doing it again.’

Gwyn grimaced; that didn’t sound like it had helped at all. He pushed his face into the bed. Once, he’d been sure that Augus was beyond recovery, but six months in a cell on his own, and he’d somehow recovered himself without anyone else’s help. He wondered what people would say if they knew, if they would ever believe in him again. And he wondered how Augus would keep himself back from the abyss, but then...Augus seemed far more efficient at that than Gwyn had ever been. After all, Augus seemed able to master himself. But for Gwyn, his self-mastery was clumsy in the arena of madness.

‘Do you think you’re like the Nightmare King?’ Augus whispered, and Gwyn pulled away from that touch against his neck, from Augus’ warmth against his side. He inched sideways until he’d put space between them.

Augus simply followed and lay alongside him once more, trailing fingers through his hair again. Gwyn made a face against the blankets.

‘Do you?’ Augus said, and touched what part of Gwyn’s cheek he could reach. ‘Do you look at all the evil you’ve done, the lives you’ve ruined, the people you’ve destroyed... Do you look at the fact that he held me captive and now you hold me captive and wonder? You’ve both fucked me. Both led me down into the dark. Both kept me in isolation. You mustn’t be blind to the parallels.’

Gwyn’s hands were still cupped over his heart, and he slid them out and wrapped them around his head instead. He had no answer. He was still shaking. He didn’t want to talk about this.

‘You’ve even both used my brother against me,’ Augus said, a light jab that contrasted with the way he was now smoothing his hand over the towel itself, carefully avoiding the worst of the wounds as they healed.

Gwyn turned his head to the side, faced away from Augus.

‘I thought it would help, just to let you,’ he said again. It was all he knew to say. He didn’t want to admit anything.

‘How altruistic of you,’ Augus said drily. ‘Gwyn...’

Augus sighed. There was a heaviness in the sound itself. For one strange, bizarre moment, Gwyn thought that Augus was going to say that he wasn’t like the Nightmare King at all, but the moment passed and Augus simply trailed his hand back up to Gwyn’s neck and curved over it, like his hand belonged there.

He is just using you as a way of passing the time.

Gwyn squeezed his eyes shut, his hands clenched over his head.

‘When I saw you earlier,’ Augus said, ‘you were so ready to drop, to submit...quick even for you, and you can be quick. What happened today?’

Gwyn shuddered violently before he could stop himself. He hadn’t expected a question like that, and he hadn’t been prepared for Augus to ask it while he was healing and bloody, while he wasn’t entirely back in his mind yet. He shook his head, and Augus tensed like a predator seeing its prey for the first time.

Suddenly Augus sat up and moved so that he was facing Gwyn, cross-legged. He pulled gently on Gwyn’s tensed hands, pulled and tugged until Gwyn unclenched his fingers and moved them away from his head. Augus’ fingers curled in his.

‘What happened today?’ Augus said again, persistent.

Accidents happen, his mother had said. When he was not King, the game would begin again, and they would see which one of them triumphed. It would be his mother. He knew that. It was only a matter of time. He could be strong, even versed in minor magic, he could be adept at winning on a battlefield, but his mother would...find a way. She was more determined to see Gwyn die, than he was to live. And if she caught him in one of his bleaker moments, that would be it.

It shouldn’t still bother him, after all this time. It wasn’t like she’d ever made a secret of how she felt about him. At least, not to him.

Augus moved forwards, leaned over him, crowded him.

‘What happened?’ Augus said again, and Gwyn shook his head in response.

He didn’t want to talk about it. Next week he’d simply tell Augus that the Wild Hunt plan could no longer be executed, and that Augus was safe from such an event, and he’d leave it as a casual statement, and then end the conversation.

‘What happens in your Court that makes you like this? In that dense head of yours? Turn, turn your head to the side. Say something.’

Gwyn turned his head enough that he could get a clear breath after having his face pushed into the blankets. Augus was encouraging him to tilt his head up with fingers under his chin, but Gwyn refused to look at him. When Augus kept persisting, Gwyn tilted his head away, towards his own shoulder. Augus huffed a breath of frustration.

‘Say something,’ Augus said, a thread of command finding its way into his voice.

‘I just wanted to help,’ Gwyn said, and winced at himself.

‘How about something else?’ Augus said, sounding irritated.

Gwyn was silent for a long time, thinking. And then his fingers twitched against Augus’.

‘Are you okay?’

Augus made an actual sound of frustration, and withdrew his fingers from Gwyn’s hand entirely. Gwyn thought – suddenly frightened – that Augus might leave, but after a couple of minutes, he pushed both of his hands into Gwyn’s hair and massaged at his scalp, sending bursts of warmth all the way down his spine. Gwyn’s breath hitched on a moan he didn’t voice.

‘All these secrets that you keep,’ Augus said softly. ‘You hide your light, I’ve noticed. You’ve given me permission to dig into you, but it’s harder than it looks. You make me work for your secrets, Gwyn. You won’t even tell me what happened today. You hide your innate power. And who knows what I don’t know about your family, given that you think Efnisien’s abuse of you is...what, nothing? If you make me work for them, Gwyn, you will get hurt. I will find my way to what’s inside of you.’

It sounded like an ominous promise, but it was hard to mind so much, with Augus’ hands moving on his head like that. It was soothing. Augus lifted his hands away slightly and Gwyn froze, refusing to move up into the touch. He’d surely be showing too much of himself, if he did that. Augus sighed once more, and lowered his hands again. Gwyn had the strangest feeling that Augus was testing to see how Gwyn would respond, if Gwyn would arch up into his hands. He had an even stranger feeling that he should have moved up into the touch.

‘You let me dig all that time ago, and the most I got out of you is that you didn’t want to be like your father, and that you regretted what you’d done to Cyledr and Nwython. Which, when I think about it now, you told me hardly anything at all.’

Gwyn didn’t say anything. Honestly, it had felt like he’d revealed a great deal to Augus at the time, but when he really thought about it, Augus was right. He’d revealed a great deal by his own standards but in the long list of secrets that he kept and was expected to keep...

‘What happened today?’ Augus persisted. ‘Just this one thing. Tell me. Are you worried I’ll use it against you? I might. But why worry about something so paltry when I’ve just treated you like the world’s greatest evil anyway? I hardly think your secret is going to matter.’

Augus laughed at himself, and Gwyn blinked to hear the levity. At least Augus sounded more like himself than he had in a little while. He realised that whatever Augus had done, whether it was hurting Gwyn, or nearly breaking the blood-oath and shocking himself, or something else...it had helped. Augus might not have realised it yet, but it had.

When Augus moved both of his hands away again, Gwyn absently listed into them, and Augus hummed a rich approval at him. Gwyn’s whole body warmed in response.

‘Talk to me. With words. That don’t have ‘help’ in them,’ Augus said, and Gwyn realised that Augus wasn’t going to let this go.

Gwyn decided to stick with the barest of facts, finding a sentence he found passable. He only wanted to close his eyes and let himself drift under the sensuous touch that Augus was offering.

‘Today the plot to have you attend the Wild Hunt came to a head,’ the hands in his hair tensed. ‘Which gave me the opportunity to shut it down completely. It will never happen now. You and Ash, at least in this, are safe.’

A long moment passed, and then Augus leaned down until his head was alongside Gwyn’s.

‘Ash and I are safe,’ Augus said slowly. Gwyn nodded. ‘That means you are not.’

Gwyn ground his teeth together. He said nothing at all. He expected Augus to push more, to dig at him, but instead Augus leaned up and slid off the bed. He removed the towel. Gwyn shifted, uncomfortable, as cold air hit the damp on his back. And then he blinked in surprise when Augus covered him with a blanket, and tucked it up over his shoulders.

‘The bleeding has mostly stopped. One or two lacerations might bleed a little longer,’ Augus said, with a calm efficiency.

‘They’ll be closed by tomorrow,’ Gwyn said, and Augus sat cross-legged in front of him once more.

‘I know,’ Augus said. He stroked his fingers over the parts of Gwyn’s face that he could reach, and Gwyn tilted his head up, and then remembered that he wasn’t supposed to do that. He went to hide his face again, and Augus quickly reached out and stopped him, sliding one hand between Gwyn’s other cheek and the blankets, while caressing his forehead with the backs of his fingers.

‘Your life is in danger,’ Augus said.

‘This is nothing new,’ Gwyn said, and Augus took a slow breath.

‘Today was different,’ Augus said.

‘Yes, well, today I was tortured, wasn’t I?’ Gwyn snapped, and then his eyes widened. He was surprised at himself. The rush of indignation and annoyance left him as quickly as it had come, and he felt scoured out, like an empty shore in front of the receding tide.

Augus laughed softly.

‘Now, now, don’t get defensive. Sensitive subject, is it? Don’t pretend that the torture truly bothered you. I can guess what Efnisien did to you, at least some of it, and you care not a whit for the fact that he likely stabbed things into you and tormented you every one of those times he got you alone when your family insisted you should play together. Everyone knows your ability to withstand torture. This isn’t about the fact that I cut you, and let’s not look at the fact that you actually like a little knifeplay, from time to time. Or shall we look at that too? Where did that come from, I wonder?’

Gwyn pushed himself upright to leave, and Augus placed his fingers over the blanket, over Gwyn’s ribs, and pushed deliberately down upon wounds that hadn’t closed yet. Gwyn made a short, frustrated sound and sank down again.

‘You can’t leave, Gwyn. You’ll activate the blood-oath.’

‘This is not aftercare,’ Gwyn said, annoyed.

‘Your blood-oath was so woefully thin that it hardly matters what this is. Now, where was I? Oh...I remember. Your life is in danger. And it’s nothing new. And then your captive dragged you down into a cell and cut you, while you told yourself you deserved it, because you were just like him. I’ve got the gist of it now, don’t I? Look, I can feel you shaking. You don’t like it when I get close to the truth, do you? This is bothering you far more than me almost permanently injuring your ribs ever did.’

Augus leaned forwards and chuckled.

‘Imagine how much fun it’s going to be, when I make you show me your light?’

‘Fuck off, Augus,’ Gwyn snarled, a flash of anger moving through him. Augus had no idea what he was talking about. No idea what he was messing with. And to hear him be so jovial about it made Gwyn want to smash his fist through something. Preferably Augus’ face.

Augus’ laughter abruptly stopped.

He paused, then shifted on the bed again. Gwyn’s eyes flew open when Augus simply lay down on top of him, his chest to Gwyn’s back over the blanket. He rested his head alongside Gwyn’s head, and his arms folded alongside Gwyn’s arms. He pushed his hands back into Gwyn’s hair, and then his mouth found the side of Gwyn’s ear.

‘Shh,’ he whispered. ‘You’re still shaking, did you know?’

Gwyn’s forehead creased, his mouth thinned. He felt scattered, unsettled. Augus’ weight was surprisingly grounding, but he didn’t want to listen to anything else he had to say. He shook his head and didn’t know why he was shaking it.

Augus forced his legs between Gwyn’s, even with the blanket separating them. It made Gwyn feel oddly exposed, more vulnerable than when he was bleeding and bound in the cell.

Two fingers came and found the pulse at his neck, which Gwyn knew was racing. Augus held his fingers there, and then took a long, deep breath that pushed his sternum and ribs down into Gwyn’s back. When he exhaled, he actually pushed his face against Gwyn’s. He kept his fingers on his pulse, reaching up with his thumb to stroke his neck lightly.

‘It’s dangerous,’ Augus said, voice even and...concerned, perhaps, Gwyn couldn’t tell. ‘You wouldn’t have stopped me. If there was no blood-oath in place, I would have seriously, permanently harmed you.’

‘You ordered the weapon,’ Gwyn said, accusing, and Augus nodded.

‘Yes, I did. I ordered it back when you first told me I could ask for just about anything from the trows, and I wanted to be prepared in case you stumbled across the family curse again and decided you wanted to hunt me and then stab me in the shoulder with an arrow.

Gwyn realised that was fair. Besides, he didn’t have to like it, but he was becoming increasingly certain that Augus wasn’t going to destroy him. Not yet, anyway. Not while Gwyn was the key to Augus’ comfort levels in the palace, and his possible, eventual freedom.

It was hard to keep track of any of that, with Augus’ weight on his back, his legs between Gwyn’s legs, his arms around his, squeezing a reassuring, firm pressure into him. Augus was everywhere, and Gwyn could smell the freshness of him, the cleanness.

‘I don’t understand how no one else has realised that you’re like this,’ Augus said to himself. ‘Or perhaps some have and never took advantage because of your reputation. You’re don’t just have tendencies towards submission, Gwyn, you’re...look at you. You need this. Another secret then? One you’ve kept tucked away all the time? And of course, I never betrayed it, for I was always discreet.’

‘Yes,’ Gwyn said, ‘yes, you were.’

If anyone had realised, they’d never raised it with him. Mafydd didn’t count, anyway. And after that, certainly, he’d encountered opposition who had postured at him, who had threatened things, but no one had seriously tried to dominate him. No one except Augus, and Augus would never have tried if Gwyn hadn’t asked for it in the first place, afraid for his own life and mind. It was...Augus was right, it was another secret that he kept tucked away.

And Gwyn had established his own reputation. He fucked just off the battlefield, ruined with bloodlust, rough to boot. Soldiers and lovers knew in advance that being fucked by Gwyn was, in no uncertain terms, difficult, intense, over quickly. There were those who flirted with him because they liked the idea of danger, of being dominated. There were even those who flirted with the idea of winning the King to their beds so they could say they were with him, his consort. But Gwyn was never interested in taking on a long-term lover. He was known instead as the beast who fucked like he killed – he got the job done.

Augus tightened his body around Gwyn’s, and Gwyn relaxed into the mattress without thinking about it.

‘You’re not like him,’ Augus said, his voice cautious. ‘The parallels are there, and obvious, but you’re not. Take it from someone who knows you both quite well, and can tell the difference. No, no, don’t move...relax, Gwyn. Just...’

Gwyn had tensed at Augus’ words.

‘You’re still a monster,’ Augus said, a smile entering his voice. ‘But there are different calibres of monster.’

Gwyn thought back to his mother calling him ‘creature.’ It had been a common name, growing up.  

‘I’m a monster, too,’ Augus said, and he sounded proud of himself as he said it. It was – obviously – not a source of shame for him. Gwyn wondered if that was because he had spent so much time in the Unseelie world, amongst the fae and the Court itself.

‘You’re still shaking,’ Augus said, and Gwyn shook his head because he didn’t know what to say. The events of the day had caught up with him. He was glad for Augus’ weight on his back, the arms around his arms. He was even grateful for the tangle of damp hair that had fallen alongside his own.

Time drifted, and then Augus shifted, lifted his head, smoothed back the curls at the base of Gwyn’s neck. Gwyn expected fingertips trailing perhaps, and gasped when Augus pressed an open-mouthed kiss to the warm skin there.

‘Oh,’ Gwyn said, soft.

The kisses continued, one after another, tracing a chain down until they reached the back of his jawbone, and there Augus traced the line of it with his tongue. It was startlingly intimate.

‘Augus,’ Gwyn whispered, and Augus said nothing, only kissed his way back to Gwyn’s spine again, licking over the back of his neck. The hand that was holding his hair away smoothed it, tangled in his curls, and Augus’ other hand tightened around his arm, his legs encouraged Gwyn’s further apart. Gwyn felt as though he were on some unnameable precipice. He didn’t know how to tell Augus that no one had treated him like this before, didn’t have words for it.

After several minutes of those long, intimate kisses, Augus suddenly sank his teeth deep into the back of Gwyn’s neck, over his spine. Teeth cut through skin, and blood spilled. And Gwyn, after crying out in pain, felt his entire body shudder to a complete halt. His mind went blank, and a lassitude crept over him. He sank down into the blankets, his breathing became deep.

Augus withdrew his teeth slowly and then licked at the blood that flowed from the wounds with relish.

‘Would you look at that?’ Augus breathed with a dark sort of satisfaction.

‘What?’ Gwyn said, voice sluggish once more, lazy with warmth.

‘You’ve stopped shaking.’

Augus kept licking at him, waiting for the wounds to start healing before pressing kisses to his neck once more. And Gwyn didn’t move, only sighed into the bed itself and moaned softly when Augus scraped his teeth over his earlobe.

‘Let’s not do that again,’ Augus said against his skin, breath cool against the saliva clinging to him. ‘You’re a little too good at pretending to be a prisoner. I wonder why?’

Gwyn suppressed the urge to laugh. Augus could keep wondering. He wasn’t going to find out why.

Chapter Text

Gwyn had left Augus a few hours later in a sour mood. Augus wasn’t entirely surprised, given that he hadn’t been able to resist baiting him, and that perhaps not everyone would be well disposed to being stabbed with a knife several times. And Augus would have been willing to leave it at that, except that he knew Gwyn liked knifeplay, and he knew that Gwyn – while not generally responding well to being baited – at least expected a degree of it.

Gwyn had seemed lost inside some other space in his mind. Whatever space that was, he’d likely stumbled into it during the scene, and it had tumbled him further into a reckless submission than Augus would have ever thought possible.

And that’s saying something, really.

Augus ached from activating his blood-oath. His cells scraped and jarred. That was the closest he’d ever come to breaking one, and he didn’t want to ever repeat the experience. He had experienced a fairly diverse palette of pain; but he’d never experienced anything like that. He’d always been averse to making blood-oaths, the consequences were usually fatal if they were broken. But with the captivity and wanting to take Gwyn, to consume him, he’d decided there wasn’t much point in being precious about them now.

He’d decided he was far more likely to be killed by any number of other things first – primarily Gwyn – than by breaking a single blood-oath.

Oops.

At least he didn’t construct blood-oaths as clumsily as Gwyn did. Augus chuckled, remembering how Gwyn had oathed to accept aftercare. Gwyn hadn’t even stipulated what it was, and because he himself didn’t know, the blood-oath was delightfully broad. Aftercare was whatever Augus wanted it to be. Perhaps he should poke Gwyn into making oaths more often.

Augus’ lips tilted into a half-smile as he polished his boots.

There were times when he amused himself by replaying the truth of his current situation. He was out of his cell. He lived in a palace. The fact was that he had so far choked, knifed, bled and restrained the King of the Seelie fae. Most surprising about all of it, was not the basic satisfaction he got from knowing the balance of power had shifted, but the fact that he was enjoying himself. He would have been enjoying this even if he weren’t captive. Circumstances would never have placed him in this situation if he were free, and yet Gwyn was curious, far more than the stupid, damaged soldier Augus had assumed he was in the beginning.

Gwyn was attracted to him, admired him. There were times when Gwyn looked at him and there was an expression so painfully earnest, that Augus was torn between scratching it off his face, and keeping it close. There were so many ways to destroy him now, to tear him apart, that there was almost no sport left in it.

Augus smirked. Almost.

And it was obvious that Gwyn was broken already. Gwyn had taken to being a prisoner so well, that Augus had allowed himself to follow the fantasy down as far as he’d apparently needed it to go. His own lack of control, in retrospect, astounded him.

Look at that, you’re surprised you haven’t resolved those issues that derived from the Nightmare King?

Augus sighed, briefly closed his eyes. He placed his boots down onto the floor and the brush and polish on his desk.

Augus would have killed him.

He suspected, from the fact that Gwyn hadn’t reacted more aggressively to Augus nearly breaking the blood-oath, that Gwyn was either in too deep to realise what had happened, or that Gwyn thought Augus had been about to permanently injure him, and that Gwyn found this relatively easy to accept. Which, given that Gwyn had no signs of permanent injury on his person aside from a single, tiny scar over the back curve of his ribs on the right-hand side, was intriguing.

Aside from a single moment where Gwyn had bitched about the torment itself afterwards – which was, Augus knew, lashing out and not a serious complaint – he’d not seemed remotely angry at the time when Augus had nearly broken the oath.

Augus knew he would have killed him. He was heading straight to Gwyn’s heart, he wasn’t even subtle about it. He’d only twisted the knife back when the blood-oath had flashed a warning inside of him, and then coasted too close to his ribsand knocked the blood-oath into a full flare. He’d forgotten where he was. He’d forgotten who he was with. His bloodlust – present and suppressed, waiting for meat – had awakened.

It turned out that Kings weren’t quite as invulnerable as he’d thought. All he needed was the right knife, the right status, and an idiot who would simply lie there and take it.

It was one thing to suspect that Gwyn had a death wish. It was quite another to be made complicit in its near execution.

Augus had searched him out the next morning. Gwyn had been returning from training new recruits for his army, to replace the murdered Uther and the other one.

When Augus had stopped him and demanded that he check the wound at his ribs, Gwyn had stared, eyes narrowed. He’d stood silently, lips thinned, while Augus lifted the chainmail himself. Gwyn had even made a sound of irritation when Augus prodded at the wound to see how it was knitting together. It was a serious wound. It was still healing. Augus knew from his own time as King that it shouldn’t have taken that long.  

Gwyn had eyed him with so much impatience that Augus began to wonder if Gwyn was annoyed after all at what had transpired. And Augus had walked away wondering why he’d even bothered to check the wound.

Healers on a battlefield must love him when he gets injured. All stoic and moronic about it.

But then Gwyn had always been Court fae or higher, healing was something he could take for granted. Augus knew that wounds could be fatal, that infection could be a mortal illness, that injuries had to be tended. And he knew that even if Gwyn was King, Augus had an obligation to make sure he was healing. And that obligation was not something he took lightly.

But how far did it extend? This wasn’t a single scene, it wasn’t even two or three scenes. They were – for all that Gwyn pretended otherwise – living together. They were in each other’s space. They saw each other. And though they rarely talked, Augus knew they had an awareness of each other that went far beyond civility. How far did the obligation to make sure Gwyn was healing extend?

If there was one thing Augus could do, it was roll with what life gave him. He wanted a quiet, straightforward life, but when things went wildly awry, he knew how to adapt to that too. After several thousand years of not being interested in commitment, he now found himself doing it anyway. He was getting something out of it. Gwyn was comely, strange, intriguing. It was also in his best interests to make sure he could both control or have influence over his captor.

That was what he’d known at first, but as time passed, it became less about control, about influence. Augus didn’t lie to himself about that. He didn’t see the point.

He simply found Gwyn interesting, and he was invested in him now. Sometimes that was an immensely aggravating fact of life. Because it turned out that Gwyn wasn’t remotely invested in himself. Gwyn who didn’t know how to embrace someone properly. Who thought that being taken against his will – as long as it was slow – counted as ‘gently.’ Who had let Augus slide a knife between his ribs, and...

Augus made a sound of disgust and pushed himself up from the bed, slipping his feet into the boots and buckling them, admiring the shine.

Gwyn who was also brittle like glass, an unselfconscious beast, a vulnerable creature the next. And he kissed with that hesitant, sweet innocence that made Augus want to dig his claws into his ribcage and pull his sternum apart, look at what lay beneath in the core of him. He wanted mess and blood and viscera, he wanted to place his tongue against the rift in Gwyn’s soul and lick.

There were times when Gwyn was surprised by touch, particularly when it was tender. It was so unlike what Augus was used to. Ash by contrast was greedy for affection. He was never surprised by it, always open to it, as though it was his birthright. Which, in a way, it was. It wasn’t as though Augus hadn’t been liberal with it while they’d been growing up. Gwyn was a soldier who had grown up with a soldier’s education about sex. It made him crass and rough and familiar with crude language. But outside of that liberal education, he knew almost nothing about affection. Gwyn was sexual, not sensual.  

He liked Gwyn’s submission. He had to fight for it, and it was dangerous; Gwyn could be impulsive, and it was only a handful of words that would have Augus demoted again. He didn’t expect he’d stay demoted for long, but he knew Gwyn was more than capable, if pushed.

There was an abundance of the submission itself. It was almost as though Gwyn offered something tangible and complete, a trust that Augus could actually hold, feel, manipulate.

But that was an illusion.

How could it be complete, when there was still so much that Augus didn’t understand? Augus was beginning to suspect that alongside hiding things from himself, Gwyn was still hiding things from Augus. But he couldn’t be sure what.

The most obvious, especially now, was how Gwyn held onto his light and repressed it. He disdained it, feared it. What was the point in fearing one’s innate power? It was there to be understood, used. There was no point in sitting on it, and yet Gwyn curled around it like it was a sin inside of himself.

Augus had no patience with that.

He wanted that light.

It was a diverse, strange light. In teleporting, it was warm and soft. Yet it had destroyed Augus’ underwater dome when he was at the height of his power. It had reached through over one hundred metres of deep water, voracious and strong. Augus had never seen anything like it. Rumours at the school he’d attacked said that Gwyn created a light barrier that had stopped the Nain Rouge’s bullets. He didn’t even know how that was possible. It was light. More, he didn’t know why Gwyn elected not to use any of that on the battlefield. Instead he used his sword, his body, his armour. He used other people’s magic and their powers.

Why wouldn’t he use his own?

Then there was the light that Gwyn had accidentally released when he’d broken apart in the lake, after nearly murdering him – unfairly – with liver. That had been closer to his teleportation light, and for a moment, Augus had been certain that Gwyn was teleporting away. But he hadn’t left. His whole body had been limned with a sudden, gentle white-gold light that flashed into appearance for several seconds and then disappeared again. Ever since then, it was pushed into some box where Augus couldn’t get to it.

Perhaps I could get him to light up again, it was very pretty. It’s not every day one gets landed with a King who lights up like an ornament plugged into a power socket.

Augus had an idea. A dangerous one. Shove Gwyn too far into submission, and he gave aspects of himself that no one should give; his life being the prime example. So Augus would have to tread carefully. He didn’t want – and now there was a surprise – his life, he wanted the light of him.

There was a faint thread of worry that trickled through his mind, a wayward stream of water. Gwyn didn’t always respond predictably. Augus would push, expecting one thing, and he’d get the opposite. He was willing to attribute at least some of that to being off his game, to being hungry, to his centre changing, to being captive and out of his natural environment.

But now that he was Capital fae, stronger, in an environment that was quite comfortable given his circumstances, he knew that a great deal of it was simply not knowing Gwyn.

Gwyn who in turn had pulled truths from him about the Nightmare King that no one else knew. Who on the surface was clumsily social and possessed that rough grace of any brute who knew more about killing than about any other fact of life; but beneath that could wield his body with a mastery that left Augus breathless and wanting, a dam full of sensation. That intrigued him too.

It was a challenge then, breaking someone already so broken, to follow the badly repaired scars in his psyche and see what lay beneath them.

But Augus appreciated a challenge, it gave him something to do with his time.

*

The trows were helpful. They would not be his first choice of helper fae – they didn’t speak, some weren’t literate, they were fragile even if they did possess a surprising amount of strength. But they were faithful and diligent, they had a way of accessing materials and objects that most fae couldn’t. He wondered if it was their tricksy ways and that long ingrained habit of stealing silver rubbing off.

He’d befriended two of them. He wasn’t sure how that had happened. He hadn’t gone out of his way to treat them with kindness. It was likely that one time he’d asked their input on some fabrics he wasn’t used to seeing. And then, upon looking at what they’d selected, he’d agreed with two of their choices, because Gwyn was paying for it and it didn’t matter what he chose, although the cloth did look like it had its merits.

After that, they were the two trows that showed up most often when he had a request for something.

So they were the trows that helped to outfit one of his rooms for more specific aspects of Augus’ trade. They hadn’t questioned any of his orders. Not for the wooden cross, not for the cushioned benches he’d asked for, not for a bed at least as sturdy as Gwyn’s, not for the knives, not for anything. He suspected he wasn’t supposed to have the full kit of knives though, because the trows delivered that in secret, they’d stayed away for a few days after that.

If Augus thought he stood a better chance of surviving outside the Seelie Court away from Gwyn’s active protection, he would have used that to his advantage. But he’d experienced the humiliation of a public display now, the viciousness of Gwyn’s soldiers, the knowledge that the Seelie fae didn’t loathe him as much as many of the Unseelie did. So, he had to make do with the situation he’d created for himself. That was something he knew how to do as well. He had the knives, he could defend himself, Gwyn showed no real signs of descending back into madness.

No, that was you most recently, remember? Perhaps you should keep a tally between you both.

Augus laughed under his breath as he walked through the room, checking the sturdiness of the cross, a Gwyn-sized saltire cross that was bolted into the ground. He made sure that he had supplies, first aid, herbs that he might need, water, even food.

More than a week and a half after Augus had activated that blood-oath and been startled into scrutinising Gwyn more closely, he was ready to see if he could break that light out of Gwyn’s body.

As always, the warm, prickly awareness that came with setting up a scene moved through him. It started in the palms of his hands, the soles of his feet, the back of his neck, and became a tension in his spine, an anticipation. He breathed it out. His own reactions could wait.

*

There was no ambush this time; there was no need.

Augus ducked his head into Gwyn’s map room, knowing that Gwyn – if not training – was likely to be there or away from the Seelie Court. Gwyn turned, holding a calligraphy brush in one hand, and another balanced delicately in his teeth. When he saw Augus he quickly reached up and removed it from his mouth, frowning.

‘Did you need something?’

Augus smirked. And Gwyn swallowed, his hand tightened on his brushes.

‘Clear your schedule,’ Augus said, and Gwyn raised his eyebrows.

‘I don’t think so, Augus.’

‘From sunset tonight, onwards. I want you to meet me in my room.’

Gwyn turned back to the desk, but he kept his torso turned partially towards Augus, which was – Augus realised – because Gwyn didn’t trust him.

Excellent.

He couldn’t help it. He liked it when Gwyn was on his toes. Gwyn carefully cleaned his brushes until the water stopped staining red and green, and placed them down on his desk. Gwyn liked to buy time, he’d noticed.

When Gwyn turned back, Augus had raised his eyebrows back archly, waiting.

‘Do you think you can control yourself enough to not activate a blood-oath?’ Gwyn said, and Augus pressed a hand to his heart.

‘You wound me,’ Augus said. ‘Are you worried? Do you think you have enough self-preservation to know if I’m even close to activating it?’

Gwyn looked away for a second, looked back again.

‘Ah, see?’ Augus said. ‘Perhaps you’re not so stupid after all. Had some time to think about it, have you? Realised that you possibly should have stopped that earlier? Not that you had the presence of mind to.’

Gwyn shifted minutely on his chair. His hair was a mess, as always. He wasn’t wearing boots, which meant he’d finished with Court business some time ago. His fingertips were covered with small ink-stains. Augus’ mouth lifted in a half-smile.

‘I know you’re curious,’ he said. ‘I can tell. My room. After sunset. Try not to think about how I’ll retaliate if you don’t turn up.’

He half-expected Gwyn to make some comment about how Augus was the prisoner, and how Augus didn’t control his schedule, but he didn’t. Gwyn bit the inside of his lower lip. Augus could tell that movement now. He only needed to wait and-

‘After sunset,’ Gwyn confirmed, and Augus nodded.

He started to leave and then paused, turning back.

‘When did you last sleep?’

‘I’m not sleeping, if that’s-’

Augus sighed.

‘When did you last sleep?’

Gwyn turned back to look at his map of...whatever it was. Buying time. Augus’ eyes narrowed when Gwyn lifted his hand to his head and rubbed briefly at his forehead. He didn’t even seem to notice that he’d done it. Gwyn took a heavy breath, sighed it out.

‘After the first time. After the poison, and the lake,’ Gwyn said, ‘The first time we, that you...’

Augus stared. That was some time ago. That was...frightening. Even as King, he needed more sleep than that. He knew Gwyn needed more sleep than that.

‘I’m not sleeping with-’

‘Calm down,’ Augus said, voice firming. ‘I haven’t asked you to, have I? I’m only gauging how tired you are.’

No wonder the idiot fell apart last time.

But then, that would work in his favour.

A sleep-deprived Gwyn was one who was more malleable.

‘You don’t sleep enough,’ Augus said, and Gwyn stared at him evenly. There was a hint of that resistance that Augus had to bully his way through. Augus wasn’t interested in arguing with him on matters of sleep, not right now anyway. He needed a sleep-deprived Gwyn.

‘I don’t suppose you’ll be sleeping much tonight, either,’ Augus said, then closed the door behind him, walking back down the corridor towards his own rooms.

Augus would lay bets that Gwyn hadn’t had a healthy sleep pattern for a long time. He knew what that was like. Fae slept deeply, but they also dreamed deeply. Nightmares were crueller, lasted longer, dug their hooks in deep. It wasn’t uncommon for fae who had been traumatised to avoid sleeping, because once driven into the deep recesses of the mind, those nightmares were terribly hard to shake.

He knew that.

He saw signs of Gwyn’s lack of sleep. He’d caught him sitting on the floor in one of the many libraries, scrolls open and unrolled around him, head tilted on his shoulder and eyes half-lidded in the dozing state that fae entered when they didn’t feel safe enough to sleep. He’d observed him talking to the trows, only to break off, yawn hugely, stare blankly into space for a minute and then resume conversation. It was a side of Gwyn that he would lay bets most of his Court had never seen. Not once – not once – had Augus suspected or heard rumours that Gwyn might neglect rest when he’d been Unseelie King and actually asking around for information on his behaviours.  

Augus wanted sleep from him, too. It wasn’t likely that he’d ever observe it. And Gwyn, that sneak, had come back into his room after Augus had sent him away and simply watched him. It made him seethe that anyone had seen him like that. It had been bad enough when Ash had seen it, but that Gwyn saw it, refused to leave, comforted him. Gwyn the clumsy, unsophisticated, unintentional brute...

Augus bared his teeth.

Because it meant that he wasn’t just all of those things, that wasn’t the truth of him.

Augus hated getting things wrong. It happened, of course, but that didn’t mean he didn’t hate it.

*

It was a few minutes after sunset, and Augus was staring blankly at paragraphs in a book on Celtic folklore. He was still thinking about what he had planned. Wondering if Gwyn would be late. Turning details over in his mind.

Gwyn feared for his life. The plot against Ash hadn’t just been a plot against Ash, and Augus, but also one against Gwyn. It had been helmed by his family. It looked like Efnisien’s idea, but he was not a long-game strategist like Gwyn, like Gwyn’s father and mother. And Efnisien had ever been in the pocket of Crielle, everyone knew that. She directed him like a blunt-force instrument. And she’d directed him at Gwyn.

Which meant that Gwyn’s Kingship was disposable to his own family. An inconvenience. Being disappointed in your child was one thing. Plotting for their potential ousting from the throne was another. Augus knew about that too.

But Gwyn perceived his life as being in danger. Not that it mattered, since Gwyn didn’t care for it very much. That was frustrating, Augus wanted to live, and his encounters with the fae world since imprisonment had taught him that he was one of the very few who felt that way. He needed a King who had issues with slaughtering prisoners. He certainly needed a King who was well-disposed to him.

He did not need a King who would stomp out onto a battlefield and get himself killed out of carelessness.

Which meant he had to find a way to make Gwyn more invested in himself.

Augus sensed Gwyn approaching and closed his book. Gwyn knocked briskly on Augus’ closed door. He didn’t open it and simply walk in, as many fae Kings and Queens would have. He waited for Augus to say he could enter.

Augus’ main room, where he slept, had two entrances. Gwyn entered off the long hallway with its stained glass windows, and then another door lead to a series of adjoined, private rooms. It was an unusual, convenient design. It gave him space. It gave him a sense of privacy. He would use the design himself again in the future, if he ever got a chance to. Not that he’d ever tell Gwyn that.

Augus put his book down, stood and circled Gwyn’s wrist with his hand, pulling him towards the second, closed door. Gwyn went with the movement, suspicious, but not resistant. The next room was another bedroom where Augus had stacked books he wanted to read. Gwyn looked at the spines curiously, which Augus didn’t mind, because it meant he was distracted while Augus led him into the room he’d refitted with the help of the trows.

Gwyn stopped when he saw it. His eyes widened. He surveyed the room even as Augus closed and locked the door behind him. At the click of the lock, Gwyn flinched and turned back, stared at the door handle. Gwyn could terraform the entire palace, he was strong enough to rip the door handle off the door, he could kick the door down; the lock was only a symbolic gesture.

Gwyn looked back at the room. The reinforced bed and benches, the tools of the trade that Augus used to keep in his rooms back home, even the darker decor, the dimmer lighting. His eyes lingered on the wooden cross.

‘Is it familiar?’ Augus said, slipping his hand underneath the back of Gwyn’s shirt and sliding fingertips along his muscles until he could rest his palm flat between his shoulder-blades, measuring his heartbeat. It was rapid, but not panicked.

‘This...’ Gwyn looked around, his heartbeat picked up further. ‘Perhaps I should be restricting what you can order through the trows.’

‘I think we’re a little past that, don’t you?’ Augus said, scraping the points of his fingernails down Gwyn’s skin. He felt gooseflesh prickle beneath his palm, and smoothed at it.

‘This is like the first time,’ Gwyn said, and Augus could hear that his mouth had gone dry. ‘Why?’

‘Take your clothing off,’ Augus ordered, pressing claw-tips into Gwyn’s skin.

Gwyn shuddered as he always did when asked to undress. He turned and looked at Augus, uncertain. The room had put him off-balance. The cross, in particular, had put him off-balance. Augus had only strapped Gwyn to a cross once, but he’d broken Gwyn on it. It was something they hadn’t forgotten.

Augus slid his hand off Gwyn’s back, walked over to a heavy, reinforced table, where loops of rope rested, chains, lengths of silk, cases that contained sex toys, knives, other equipment. He picked up several lengths of reinforced rope, turned his back to the desk and leaned against it, watching Gwyn.

‘Off,’ Augus said, indicating his clothing.

Gwyn looked at the rope, looked at the cross. Normally Augus would say something about how long he was taking to make up his mind, but Augus wanted Gwyn to come to a decision about this himself.

Gwyn did. He reached up and took his shirt off, dropping it to the floor. There was no sign of the knife-wound, and Augus was glad to see the unmarred skin. Gwyn pulled his pants down and stepped out of them, and then simply stood there, unashamed and eyes roving, drinking in the details like they would somehow tell him what to expect.

Augus took a little more time to observe Gwyn. He was unscarred, except for that silvery nick at the back of his ribs which he couldn’t currently see. His skin was pale, he was muscular from thousands of years of training, which he reinforced on a daily basis. It was simple fact that Gwyn was a prime specimen of a fae who was in peak fitness, who privileged strength and brawn.

Even when Gwyn had been Court status, had turned up in Augus’ home asking for help, Augus had recognised that he was fine-looking. Appealing. And that had been before he’d heard him, had seen how beautifully he broke.

Augus walked up to him, holding the lengths of rope in his hands as he approached. He pressed himself up along Gwyn so that his clothing was touching Gwyn’s skin. He leaned the tip of his boot down on Gwyn’s foot. Gwyn went to step back absently, and Augus pressed down enough that Gwyn stilled.

‘Kiss me,’ Augus said, staring a challenge at him.

Gwyn looked around the room again, and Augus reached up and took his jaw in his fingers.

‘No, that’s not what I said.’

Gwyn’s eyes dropped to Augus’, and then down to his lips. But once more they darted up, over to the cross, and Augus pressed his claws down, making sure Gwyn could feel the edges. Gwyn jerked and looked back quickly, breathing shallow.

Gwyn shifted his foot slightly beneath Augus’ boot, testing, and Augus leaned down harder un