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A note from Mal Chants

Sorry for skipping last week's update, Easter time was busy as all hell. 

NOTE: some sexual content in this chapter. Stays PG15, but if you're completely allergic, you can skip to halfway down and you won't be missing much of the plot. 

After a motionless moment of surprise, Ryou squirmed his right arm out from where it was pinned to loop it around the armored shoulders and instinctively pull the other man closer still. The scales of the lamellar got pressed between them, hard and sharp, but he didn't care because Darius's lips had parted in a silent 'hah' that caressed his mouth and made his body pulse. Ryou's fingers clinked against the disks tied in Darius's hair and tangled in the rough curls.

Darius finally broke away and glanced at a dazed Ryou. What he saw seemed to amuse him. “Looks like you don’t need courting at that. Good, I’m terrible at it. Come on, we don’t have much time.”

Ryou went huh-uh or some other sound of non-objection, though the words could have been in their original ancient Assyrian for all he'd really paid them any attention. His body was thrumming with pent-up frustration he was only now fully starting to measure. He staggered as they moved away from the door. An arm curled around him and led him across the room, simply lifting him up over the fallen wooden partition without breaking stride.

Ryou's thighs hit wood and he was flat on his back on a soft mattress before he could gasp for air. Darius hooked an arm beneath his legs and shoved him further as if he were as light as a pillow.

"Whu-" Ryou bit his lip accidentally as Darius slipped his hands beneath his linen shirt and lifted it off of him in one rough movement. Seams cracked as he found his head and hands caught in rough cloth. Darius gave an impatient jerk. Ryou twisted to free himself and with one last wrench the shirt came off, making him wince. His glasses had tumbled onto the bed and his left arm was giving off warning aches.

Darius made a low noise in his throat, a sound of satisfaction and hunger. He shoved Ryou further up onto the mattress, a knee landing between his spread legs with a thump that jarred the heavy bed, and then his hands ran down Ryou's body in a quick preliminary appreciation before jumping straight to his belt.

Ryou gasped, a deep intake of startled air resembling a yelp. "Wait- you want to- you want to have sex now?!"

"Furies, yes," came the snorted response, Darius's concentration on what his fingers were doing. "Do you know how many days I've desired this?"

"But- but now?!"

"Especially now. "Darius gave him a smile that was dangerously feral. "Gentle magian, that's what the shedding of blood does to one of Inder's sons. You really think you're up to the truth that is Ghan the Beast, Ryou? Before you showed up, I was going to find one of Sezerena's catamites who hadn't done himself in and would be eager for my protection from the troops, and then I was going to push him down on the nearest surface and pretend it was you."

Ryou gaped. Then he reached up and punched Darius on the shoulder. The gesture had more impact than the blow through the armor. Darius gave his fist a scowl.

"That is barbaric and it doesn't impress me, Darius."

"No, it takes a lot more than that to impress you," Darius whispered and pulled him up with a jerk into a seated position to kiss him hard. Ryou was helpless, Darius's hand gripping the back of his skull, the other pressing him against the metal scales of the armor. Ryou clung on to what he could, his injured arm loose around Darius's shoulder and the other hand catching a leather strap holding the upper armor in place.

"That was truly what I was going to do, though," Darius added as an afterthought in the crook of his neck.

"I guess it's a good thing I came back then," Ryou muttered, defeated by his own desire as much as by the intuition that it'd take a stick of dynamite to derail Darius now. As for what Ryou thought of his bright plan...god help him, even as he recoiled at the implications, a breathless, sordid corner of his soul had shivered under a pulse of lust at the words 'pretend it was you'. At this point, was he still counting the number of things he had to bury along with his ethics and his prim and rigid personal standards anymore? One day there was going to be a reckoning, but it was not today, and so Ryou was going to take all that this day had to offer and more. It was part of his brand new off-the-cuff philosophy of burnt bridges and radical insanity. Yes, he was still riding high on the rush of madness that’d brought him here, it buried like an avalanche all the reasons to wait for a better time and more emotional commitment. It even carried off Ryou's concerns that they hadn’t sorted out what he’d consented to yet, as well as his long-standing rule to never have sex without a condom involved (though this latter concession was due to evident practical reasons as well as lust-induced madness).

But his eagerness to get on with things before his reason caught up was defeated by Darius’s armor under his fingers. The front and back were both solid walls of cloth and metal, too tight to slip off over his head. How the hell did this thing come off?

"Straps on the side," said the armor’s owner, guessing his thoughts; he was already jerking at them.

Ryou fumbled one-handed and pulled at the buckle near the left hip while Darius got the one at the shoulder, shoving his hand beneath the armor covering his upper body from throat to chest. He pulled the lamellar open with an impatient gesture. Underneath he wore a short tunic and a skirt of linen cloth folded so many times it was several centimetres thick, tied high up so that it covered him belly to knees . Darius tugged at a knot holding it in place and let the whole thing fall past the greaves protecting his shins. In the meantime, Ryou's fingers touched the upper body armor, attached by leather knots to the lamellar at the shoulder and down the back, and wondered how the rest was going to come off.

The next instant, Darius's weight was crushing him down again and Ryou realized that the armor wasn't coming off at all. He also guessed, from the way this was now going, that this was not going to be complicated or involved, or anything other than a quickie involving hands and a bit of spit.

Darius kissed him breathless then said, shortly: "You’re older, wiser - a well-bred better man than me altogether - but right now I really don’t care. Do you?"

Ryou didn’t know why Darius was mentioning his age, much less Ryou’s wisdom which had currently devolved to a state where the only answer it could come up with in response to Darius’s incomprehensible question was, "Huh?"

"That’s what I thought. I'll take the lead, then.”

 

---

 

Ryou, panting, stared up at the ceiling painted with complex geometric patterns he was only now noticing. As guessed, it’d only taken a few minutes - understandable with a recently surrendered city waiting for its conqueror outside - but Ryou had absolutely no complaints; a small part of him, unavowed until recently, had wanted to be this close to this man from the very beginning, when he’d held him, strong, solid, so vibrantly alive (though also heavily bleeding at the time) in his arms on the front seat of the junked Nissan.

Darius blew out his breath in a satisfied way and propped himself up on one elbow to gaze down at him. Ryou looked back with none of the distance and discomfort that'd stained the afterglow of many past encounters. With Darius looking down at him, a contented half smile on his face, and with his sense of restraint still mostly missing in action, there really didn't seem to be anything other to do than wrap his arm around his lover's shoulder and pull him down for a kiss. Darius's hand, gentle now that the urgency was spent, settled on his bare hip.

"Wait-" Darius gasped, breaking away. "Wait. I do have an army waiting for me downstairs," he added with a quirky upturn of the lips. "Terentius is an old fox. Our respective positions are too uncertain to have him pull rank on me, but if I piss him off too much, he'll be sure to tell my brother I ditched him to go screw my lover instead of properly securing Essin, and then Leyam will have my balls cut into squares and play dice with them."

That brought reality back at a gallop.

"...That's right, your brother. Rand told me."

"Yes, Leyam, my king and master," said Darius, brushing a finger over Ryou's lips.

Ryou didn’t know what was going through Darius's head right now. For his part he was once again staring at a deep gap between them, a world of unknowns.

With the sigh of a soldier pulled away from warmth and comfort to do his duty, Darius pushed himself up and got to his feet. Ryou sat up as well, absently cradling his left arm. It was all very well to talk about having no regrets; saying it didn't just make it so. Not that Ryou had any regrets at coming back and laying his heart bare and rolling around in the nearest bed, no, but he certainly had a growing list of things to worry about. His previously sacrosanct sense of reason was keeping a meticulous tally. So many unknowns, so many worlds between them, so many ties that Ryou could barely see anchoring Darius to these primitive countries, while Ryou only had this one intangible feeling gripping his chest, hurting him whenever he thought that he might have ridden off to Aksum like a self-disciplined idiot and never seen Darius again...Indefinable but undeniable feeling that swelled and blew away old repressions, and warmed him all over as he watched his new lover, totally unabashed, clean himself with a corner of the protective skirt he'd worn before. Darius tossed it back to the floor with a contented smirk, then he quickly and a little haphazardly did up the lamellar again, a gesture of unstudied ease and grace. Ryou's sense of reason was still there and doing its job - it was too ingrained in him to ever discard - but beneath it, his feelings had fully slipped their leash and were running wild. He'd not felt this terrified and euphoric since puberty.

Darius scrubbed his hands clean on a corner of Sezerena's blanket, then he moved his armor around with a contented roll of the shoulders, leaned forward and lifted Ryou's left arm by the wrist and elbow. He straightened the bindings gently and examined the wrist. "Hmm, it'll be okay, no need to rebind it. Still needs a twelveday in a splint, and a month before you can use it."

Ryou looked down at the swollen, bruised limb peaking above the wrappings. It looked pretty bad actually, but considering he'd fractured it yesterday - good god, only yesterday? - it was almost miraculous that it wasn't a whole lot worse. There was nowhere in Ryou’s world of abstract geometry and dimensional physics where he could fit in healing prayer, so he decided piecemeal that he was going to just put this down to the fact that it seemed he healed quickly, and leave it at that. He had enough to concentrate on these days.

His woolgathering was disrupted when he felt Darius tighten something around his arm and over the splint with a metallic clink, securing the whole in place.

Darius was strapping one of his bracers onto Ryou’s forearm.

"What are you-"

"Is that too tight?" Darius slipped a finger beneath the leather cord zigzagging back and forth across the linen wrapped over the ulna, making sure there was room there if the arm was going to swell some more. "This will help, stop the bone from grinding, and the sigils on the metal will invoke the goddess's powers."

"Oh. Uh… thanks, but you didn’t need to-"

"The god servants will be too busy to see to this injury properly now, so if it goes bad, the whole arm will have to come off,” said Darius, curt and practical. Then Ryou found himself pinned by a hard look that demanded his full attention. "Wear this, Uchee Ryou. Wear this until you decide it's finally time for you to go home. Until then, this crest means that you are under my protection, and not a man in this army will dare lift a finger to harm you."

Ryou stared at him, speechless.

"My enemies will treat it like the fabled beacon of Alexandria," Darius added dryly, dropping Ryou's wrist to turn and head towards where he'd left his sword, "but you're smart enough to know what you're getting into by now. I'll do my best to protect you from them. Look in those chests through there," he added as he headed towards the door, gesturing at a tapestry that was the mirror opposite of the beaded curtain leading to the concubines' room. "I think I ripped that moth-eaten shirt you were wearing, so go change. You'll find some of Sezerena's clothes through there. Don't wear anything with his sigil, that'd be of bad taste, but feel free to take anything else that grabs your fancy."

"Er..."

"I need to go." Darius settled his sheathed weapon back on his belt the way a businessman would straighten a tie. "I'll send the first man I see up here to keep watch over you and help you get back to camp."

"That won't be necessary, Lord Ghan," said someone from the corridor outside.

Darius jumped and looked around. Then he sighed noisily. "I should have known you'd show up, Rand, you always seem to know when I have a conundrum I can't order a cavalry unit to charge at."

"Well put, my Lord," said Rand, still politely staying in the corridor while Ryou scrabbled for his fallen glasses, gathered his clothes about him and made a dash to the curtain Darius had indicated.

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Mal Chants

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