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In the split second during which reality vanished and then reappeared, Ryou remembered the Honda falling a considerable distance through the air last time he'd tried to move through space by cheating his way past the usual three dimensions. And horses did not come equipped with airbags. Oh shit-
His horse screamed in panic- but its hooves hit solid surface an instant later. The animal skidded and slid to its rump, legs splaying out until it was almost flat on the ground, at which point Ryou lost whatever support his stirrups gave him and tumbled off.
He picked himself up dazedly. Nothing broken this time, though his left side was now as bruised as his right. He instinctively felt for his glasses and felt a little more centered when he found them to be still on his nose.
The surface onto which he'd fallen then took up all of Ryou's attention. Tiles. He and his horse had skidded over tiles. They were cool beneath his fingers, a beautiful deep blue with black edges in a honeycomb pattern. Ryou stared at them, frowning. The tiles were trying to tell him something, something important-
He was in a building, in a long, large corridor. And though he could not see it, his unnamed sense told him that he was at the top of a tall structure and that on the roof right above his head floated a red banner. He'd done it. He'd actually done it. Ryou took a deep, shaky breath of relief and looked around.
His horse had fetched up against a wall a few meters away from a double wooden door decorated and reinforced with wrought iron. They were thrown open, a dead body serving as a door wedge on the left side. Ryou tore his gaze away from the curlicues of blood marring the blue of the tiles, to concentrate on the picture framed by the doorway. Four armed men were staring back at him as if he was the most extraordinary thing they'd ever seen; behind them, standing near the far wall, was Darius, looking at Ryou as if he'd expected this all along.
While all the humans stood about in silence, Ryou's horse got to its feet, its hooves making a jarringly out-of-place clippety clop sound against the tiles.
The closest soldier to Ryou snapped out of his shock, gripped his sword and took one step forward.
"Hold it," ordered Darius. "I'll deal with this. All of you, leave."
"Wha-aat?!" the soldier shouted, astonishment temporarily robbing him of respect for his superior office. "But- but sir, he-"
"Out. And take this with you."
The subordinate's jaw moved helplessly, then he gave Ryou one last bewildered, fearful glare and went to get 'this' from where it lay right next to Darius. He grabbed one heel, one of his companions grabbed the other, and they dragged the body out, leaving a smear of blood on the tiles and rugs. Ryou, who'd gotten to his feet along with his horse, glanced briefly at the body as it passed by; an Aksumite man in his late forties, face frozen in a death rictus beneath the thin golden circlet around his brow. He was dressed in a toga and gold-edged tunic, but no armor or weapons. Sezerena in all likelihood, and it seemed he had not even tried to defend himself once his city and guards had fallen. Ryou couldn't find it in himself to wonder why.
The last two men took care of the other bodies; a man Sezerena's age in decorated armor and the guard who'd died by the door. Darius waited in silence. His gaze did not waver from Ryou. He looked much like he had when Ryou had last seen him, which was only three hours ago even if it felt like much longer. His sword was drawn, the edge a mess of blood, fibers and other unidentifiable particles. There was a splash of blood on his left side, black against the red of his armor. His jaw was clenched as he stared unblinking at Ryou. The latter wasn't sure what that expression meant.
A clatter in the stairwell made Ryou look around. Half a dozen Hounds rushed up the steps with weapons drawn, alerted by the sound of Ryou's horse. The one in the lead took one look at Ryou and stopped so abruptly that one of his friends barreled into him and then staggered back swearing. The first soldier whipped off his helmet to get an unimpeded wide-eyed view of Ryou, at which point Ryou recognized him as Dionysodoros. The Greek soldier stared at Ryou for three long seconds, then he took in the rest of the scene, the corpses being hauled out and the look on Darius's face, and he promptly turned and started to do crowd control, shooing all but two other Hounds back down the stairs.
The man who'd objected to Darius's order earlier, an Alliance officer by the looks of his decorated breastplate, gave his hold on Sezerena's ankle to one of the Hounds and then he marched back to the end room with a deeply suspicious look on his face.
"Bahador," said Darius without looking his way, "make sure Rand gets the body. He'll know what to do. Dionysodoros, set a guard on the stairs up to here. I'm not to be disturbed." Then he lifted one hand and crooked the fingers at Ryou in a short beckoning gesture.
Bahador had a lengthy objection scrawled all over his face, but Dionysodoros and the other Hounds had moved instantly to obey and that left him alone in the hallway with his unspoken apprehensions, the source of which was looking right at him. In the end he bowed curtly and left, passing Ryou as the latter stepped through the door frame, avoiding the trickles of blood.
The room Ryou entered was large, the width of this end of the citadel's rectangular tower. Unglazed windows pierced three of its sides, with tapestries hanging from poles to act as sliding curtains; decorated wooden slats leaned against the wall next to each, ready for servants to board them up in case of rain or wind or the owner's whimsy. Darius stood near a large marble desk full of papers and now liberally splattered with blood. His metal helm was perched on top of a bunch of leather-bound books, scarring the covers. Two thirds of the room had been a study, a library and place to lounge on couches and eat. To one side stood the bedroom portion of the room, separated from the rest by a wooden partition heavily pierced with fretwork. Several panels had been knocked down. From the pool of blood beneath them, that was where the second man in Sezerena's room had died. The bed, draped with a rich green coverlet, was on a platform with rugs and skins spread all around it. The walls were covered in symbols, geometrical patterns and figures done in earthy, vibrant colors, highlighted by draperies, statuaries and shelves with various weapons and precious objects. The room was large enough where the effect was resplendent rather than cluttered. It was a light year away from anything Ryou had seen so far in the Outlands, the diametrical opposite of the crude dwellings in tiny farmland villages. The air, redolent with the scent of incense, now mostly smelled of smoke wafting in from outside. And blood, of course, that meaty, copper tang of blood and bodies that Ryou had been blissfully ignorant of this time last month.
Ryou didn’t give his surroundings more than a cursory glance, despite all the things that could catch the eye, before he brought his focus back on Darius who had yet to move or say anything to him.
When their gazes met again, Darius spoke.
"You came back."
"Yes. I-..." Ryou fished for words to explain his behavior that didn't sound like something out of a teen romance. It was embarrassing and more to the point, the triteness of it could not explain the abysmal insanity that was moving him right now. "You didn't actually ask me if I wanted to leave this morning. I don't, I want to stay. We've been through a lot together-" but that didn't have any bearing on his decision. Ryou mentally stumbled as arguments, counterarguments and burnt bridges rushed through his mind, but he caught himself and faced without flinching this man who'd brought him here. "Forget it. I'm here now, so it's your move; if you want me to go away, then look me in the eye and tell me so."
"I thought dismissing you in public earlier and then having you escorted to the nearest border under guard was pretty much the same thing." But Darius was still looking straight at him unlike this morning, and that intense stare told Ryou that no, it was not the same thing.
"Do you want me to leave?" Ryou challenged.
Darius snorted. "Don't play coy, Ryou, you're not some simpering eunuch. You know damn well what I want by now. If you expect me to court you like a fucking Ionian, you're going to be disappointed."
Ryou felt suddenly breathless as his view of this conversation shifted. It was as if he'd thought he had a tall mountain ahead of him to climb, only to glance down and see clouds beneath him. He'd been wondering all morning how much Darius's occasional come-ons had been lies to manipulate him and how much had been teasing. Looks like it'd been neither. It was obvious Darius teased him because he liked to get under Ryou's skin, but beneath that he'd been perfectly serious about both his desires as well as the reason for not acting upon them, and he'd expected Ryou to understand that. Ryou was just not used to anyone being quite that upfront and casual about men sleeping together; the cultural gap had caused him to misread the situation, along with all those other reasons that'd been circling around his head this morning, trying to convince him that, beyond a little impersonal lust, there was nothing between two strangers from different worlds who could barely understand each other and who'd only known each other a short, dangerous, painful time.
In the same way the dimensions had opened before him - beyond description and comprehension, yet understood anyway - Ryou felt a rush. Ever since he was thirteen and let reason guide his behavior when it came to love, he had never been able to touch that pulsing, fragile, indomitable feeling again. Now he remembered why. Love was a territory where reason did not dwell and would not allow one to reach.
"I don't want you to court me," he said, and was mildly pleased when that came out in a steady voice as straightforward as Darius's.
"That's good, but you're going to be disappointed anyway." Darius moved towards Ryou slowly, propping his bloodied sword in passing against the arm of a low chair. "Other men and women have tried to advance their status by bedding Ghan the Beast, Uchee Ryou, and better men than you have tried to tame me."
"I am not trying to-"
"You saw what I did to Sezerena?" asked Darius, interrupting Ryou's cutting objection.
"It'd have been hard to miss," Ryou said sourly, once more noting in passing his moral degeneration.
Darius jabbed a finger at a red curtain lined with beadwork, half torn from a rod, which was to one side of the entrance, a side passage paralleling the corridor and leading to the room before this one. "His women are next door, as dead as he is."
That did give Ryou a jolt. "They killed themselves?" he asked, giving the side door an upset look despite himself.
Darius's slow advance hit a pause. "How did you-...you think I'm incapable of slitting the bellies of a couple of dumb ewes?"
Ryou forced himself to look away from the red curtain. "Well I don't think you'd do it personally, no, since you told me back when I got you out of the hospital in Tokyo that you don't strike women."
"You-..." Darius pressed his lips together and then he growled, "Didn't anything else I say about myself get through your head? Or are you only going to remember the few good points I mentioned?"
"That's not exactly what I'd call 'good', Darius, and no, I remember everything equally, the good and the bad, that's my nature," Ryou answered, nettled. "But in my country, back when we fought feudal wars, Sezerena's concubines would have stabbed themselves as a matter of course rather than be taken alive, so I didn't really think about your involvement one way or another."
Darius stared at him as if weighing that. "It looks like they went traditional and took poison, which is a little less messy," he finally said. "But they wouldn't have done it if Terentius was taking the citadel; they did it because they feared what Ghan the Beast would do to them."
"The effects of that reputation you mentioned a few days ago," Ryou said caustically, "the one you told me was overrated but useful for scaring your enemies into submission."
Darius gave him the usual irritated look when Ryou remembered something Darius had forgotten he'd mentioned. Then he crossed the distance between them in five swift strides. Before he could even blink, Ryou found himself caught against the opened door, his wrists pinned back against the decorated wood at shoulder height.
"What I am saying, you stubborn gods-blinded fool, is that you have no idea who I am. Haven't you figured that out by now? I would think-"
"Why, are you a liar?"
Darius's eyes blazed in sudden fury. "You dare-"
"The amount of things you failed to tell me is pretty abysmal, Darius," Ryou said and felt a little vindictive satisfaction when the steely gaze that'd never shown fear or remorse before twitched away from his for a moment. "But even if I've only known you for a few weeks, I can tell you weren't putting on an act all that time, if at all. You told me yourself that you don't dissemble, and I don't think you do, I think you're damned proud of being open, direct and blunt to the point of callousness. It'd have been easier for you to lie during our voyage, make up a fake name and some harmless history about yourself and leave it at that, but you didn't. The few personal things you did tell me were the truth. I do have an idea of who you are; what I've known of you these past weeks was your good side-"
"-and your bad side is what you've been showing me since yesterday in spades, and maybe I still don't know- Ow- Ah, Darius, stop! That's my broken-"
Darius let abruptly go of the wrists he'd been gripping. Ryou cradled his broken forearm to his chest and tried to get his breath back. The limb had been no more than sore all morning - for reasons that might or might not be related to the intervention of the goddess of good health - but the sharp searing pain when Darius's fingers had angrily tightened had reminded Ryou that he did have a fairly serious injury he should be treating with care.
"Ryou," said Darius in the warning tone of one struggling for self-control, "it was a short battle but I've been killing half the morning and my blood is high. Don't provoke me."
Ryou moved the wrist gingerly and didn't bother to comment on that.
"Look at you," Darius sneered, gesturing at Ryou's arm as if this was just one more proof of Ryou's voluntary blindness. "You told me about your life back there. You're a peaceful man with a family to return to, and since following me you've been injured multiple times and nearly killed. You're smart enough to have figured out by now the kind of enemies you'd make by my side. How can you consider staying here and risking more?"
Ryou straightened and pushed up his glasses. "I'll try to avoid getting anything broken in the future."
Darius looked like he didn't know quite what to do with that answer, so he just glared.
"It's true I don't know-...I don't know all that much about you, anymore than you know all that much about me. Maybe there can't be anything more between us." Because there might be too much of Ghan the Beast in this man, which would eventually kill the feelings Ryou had developed for Darius. That was Reason voicing its opinion again, and Ryou might have slipped out from under Reason's thumb for now, but he was still going to listen to it and see things without self-delusions. "But in the name of what there is, don't just chase me away if you're only doing this for my own benefit. If I'm wrong and you don't want me here, just tell me so instead of putting on this- this display of your less loveable qualities." Darius's eyes went wide as if he couldn't quite believe he'd just heard that. "I'll go if you tell me to and why. What the hell would I do otherwise, camp outside your tent until you change your mind? That'd be ridiculous. I am just not going to leave without setting the record straight between us. I don't want regrets. Not this kind."
Darius's nostrils flared. "You make it sound all very reasonable."
"Trust me, reasonable is the last thing I'm being right now," Ryou muttered.
Someone was shouting one floor down, it sounded like orders though Ryou couldn't make them out. In the top tower everything was silent. Darius was glaring at a corner of the room as if the statue of a plump woman holding a deer had offended him. But as Ryou watched the face that'd become so familiar, the emotions shifted, changed. Darius glanced up at the ceiling, apparently having a brief, personal conversation with whatever gods had put him in this present situation, and then his focus was on Ryou again.
"And tell me, Inlander: if it turns out that you are a fool and I am a liar, and that there's nothing here but the beast they all talk about, what will you do?"
That sounded dire, but it wasn't a threat. It was a blunt question and a bit of a challenge, and it harked back to the clashes of will they'd been having since the moment they met, part of what had drawn them together across the amazing distance of cultures and backgrounds that separated them...
"I'd leave," Ryou replied without hesitation, because it was the truth and also what Darius wanted to hear.
"That's what I'm talking about," said Darius, moving closer, placing his hands slowly, deliberately on either side of Ryou's head and boxing him against the open door once more. "Maybe I won't let you leave even if you want to."
"I don't think you're that kind of man."
"And if you're wrong and I am?"
"Did you see how I got here?" Ryou shot back, looking Darius right in the eye.
A moment of sizzling silence and then Darius's lips twitched up in a smile he was obviously trying to fight, however unsuccessfully. "I do remember how you got here and I'm going to be very angry about it later, but right now, I have to ask: you took that insane gamble with your life just to come back here and ask this bastard half-Roman soldier if I want you to leave?"
"You can't possibly think I'll say 'yes' and let a man like you walk away from me twice," said Darius and then his mouth crushed Ryou's hard enough to knock his head back into the door.
After a motionless moment of surprise, Ryou squirmed his left arm out from where it was pinned between Darius and the door 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 Ryou didn't care because Darius's lips had parted in a silent 'hah' that caressed Ryou's mouth and made his body pulse beneath the pressure. Ryou's fingers clinked against the disks tied in Darius's hair and tangled in the rough curls. Darius was now applying that rough kiss to Ryou's jaw and neck, a haste and loss of control that shook Ryou through and through. He gripped harder, a huge, hot feeling expanding in his chest, trickling down the roughed-up skin, pooling in his stomach and slithering lower.
Darius's hand dropped without hesitation to Ryou's crotch and Ryou flinched at the hard squeeze and the explosion of sensation and lust that nearly blew him off his feet.
"Looks like you don't need courting at that," Darius said with a near-silent laugh that tickled Ryou's ear. "That's 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 Darius's words could have been in their original ancient Assyrian for all he'd really paid them any attention. His hips were pressing lewdly forward into Darius's hand. It'd been a few months since his last trip to Shore, while Darius's presence these days, his heat, his scent, the touch of his skin when he handed Ryou the reins or joined him naked beneath the blanket at night, had been a growing frustration that Ryou was only now starting to fully measure.
He clung to Darius when the latter moved away from the door. Darius curled his arm around Ryou and led him across the room, simply lifting him up over the fallen wooden partition without breaking stride or letting more than half a dozen undesired centimeters between their bodies.
Ryou's thighs hit wood and he was flat on his back on the soft mattress before he could gasp for air. Darius hooked an arm beneath Ryou's 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 Ryou's linen shirt and lifted it off of him in one rough movement. Seams cracked as Ryou 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.
Ryou winced. His glasses had tumbled onto the bed, and the bindings over his right arm had been jerked loose and were now unraveling near his head.
Darius made a low noise in his throat, a sound of satisfaction and hunger as his eyes fastened on Ryou's bare chest. He shoved Ryou further up onto the mattress, a knee landing between Ryou's 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 Ryou's belt.
Ryou gasped, a deep intake of startled air resembling a yelp. "Wait- you want to- you want to have sex now?!"
"Hell 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," said Darius, lifting his head and giving Ryou 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 looking for protection from the garrison, 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 Ryou's 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 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 Ryou's neck.
"I guess it's a good thing I came back then," Ryou muttered, defeated by his own lust as much as by the intuition that it'd take a stick of dynamite to derail Darius now. As for what Ryou thought of Darius's 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 Ryou 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.
His back was being ground into the mattress again as they both sunk down once more. Ryou got his hands on his trousers and beneath Darius's fingers before they hurt him; Darius was as rough as Ryou's hidden fantasies had guessed he would be. And Ryou ached for it. Still 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 worries about being on the bottom for the first time in his life, as well as his long-standing rule to never have sex without a condom involved (though this later concession was due to evident practical reasons as well as lust-induced madness).
Darius leaned back, glanced down at Ryou's hands with an expression that sent heat searing through Ryou's entire body. "Take those clothes off," he instructed, pushing himself away from the bed and turning away.
Ryou really did need to get out of these breeches. The cords holding the front shut were digging into his erection to a painful degree. He had to toe off his shoes, then struggle with woolen material to free his legs one-handed.
Darius was back before Ryou was finished. He got rid of the breeches still clinging to one of Ryou's legs with a brusque gesture, shoved Ryou back against the finely woven blanket, and dumped the contents of a cylindrical flask right over Ryou's legs and crotch.
"Hey!" Ryou sat up with a gasp. Oily liquid ran down his thighs with a smell like roses and pungent olives, making a mess on the blanket. Darius pushed Ryou down again, this time deliberately with a provocative smirk, and he held Ryou down by that single hand on his shoulder while brown eyes raked Ryou's body up and down.
"-waiting for this," was the half-shaped whisper that slipped out of his mouth.
Ryou's hands hovered near Darius's chest; he was used to getting his partners naked rather than the other way around. Though Darius would never accept a passive role - the mind balked at the thought - nothing in his attitude suggested he'd mind if Ryou took a few matters into his own hands. But Ryou's intentions were being defeated by the armor. How the hell was this going to come off?
"Straps on the side," said Darius, guessing his thoughts; he was already jerking at them, his eyes never stopping their detailed examination of Ryou's body.
That was a start, and Ryou fumbled and pulled at the buckle near Darius's left hip while Darius got the one at the shoulder, shoving his hand beneath the armor covering his upper body from throat to chest.
Darius 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 centimeters thick, held in place by a wide belt high up the waist. Darius tugged the belt buckles and let the whole thing fall past the metal leg-guards 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.
The open lamellar was poking Ryou's sides with its metal disks, the upper armor jabbed him in the chest. The solid feel of Darius's body on his own was making Ryou's blood throb. A part of him had been waiting for this too- waitingsolong-
Darius moved his body against Ryou's as if he wanted to get as much of that contact as possible. His mouth searched blindly up Ryou's collar bone and throat. Ryou shuddered. He grasped Darius by the shoulders, gripping the strong neck beneath wild locks clinking with disks. Darius propped himself up on one elbow to take some of his weight away, and his free hand traced Ryou's body, his ribs, his hip, ending in a heavy caress kneading Ryou's thighs. Ryou's skin was a rush of sensation; the solid weight, the small titillating scratches along his ribs and legs from the armor's scales, the rasp of the linen tunic against his chest, the heady touch of bare skin on skin, and the hardness of Darius's sex against his own.
Darius lifted his head; his expression was intense, concentrating everything on Ryou and on this moment. "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," said Darius, voice low and rough. It sent waves of lust running over Ryou’s skin. He nodded without even knowing or caring what he was agreeing to, and Darius's hand reached between them. The bracer on his arm scraped against Ryou's lower rib, but Ryou forgot the graze when fingers slicked with oil closed on his erection.
Pleasure rang through Ryou’s body like a shot. He stiffened and snatched away the hand gripping Darius's shoulders to muffle the sound that tried to escape from his mouth. He wasn't- he didn't usually- he was always the one in control- and the bloody door was open!
The fingers stopped their winding trip from balls to tip and back again; they left his erection all together and reached up to where Ryou was blinking in dismay at the cessation. Darius caught Ryou's hand - gently, since it was the injured one - and, with a small tsk-tsk-tsk, pulled it away from Ryou's mouth. Ryou's gaze flickered to Darius's face and the teasing lopsided curve of his lips. Darius caught his gaze and shook his head as he let go of Ryou's wrist.
Ryou’s fingers, left to their own devices, trailed down his cheek as if his fingertips could reassure him he was not blushing as furiously as he was inwardly...but he didn't attempt to cover his mouth and face with his hand again, and Darius's fingers returned to their initial task. His face was so close; a flush darkened the bronze of his cheeks, eyes intent as when he fired his bow, focusing on what his fingers were doing to Ryou- it was too tempting, Ryou couldn't close his eyes on the sight, but he was too enslaved to habits of reserve and modesty to keep them fully open either. His eyelids fluttered as desire crawled up and down his skin...Darius allowed him this small concession, or maybe he hadn't noticed; Ryou could feel his dick rubbing against Darius's in the loose grip of those strong fingers. Flashes of Darius’s face caught through a veil of eyelashes; his mouth was open, teeth catching the lower lip briefly as he pressed into Ryou, quick hard gestures like a reflex grab at a sudden jab of pleasure- Ryou managed not to make a sound, but he was sure breathing noisily.
Darius shifted, putting a few inches of cold air between their bodies, a growing purpose and urgency to his movements. His fingers stopped tempting and teasing, and closed on Ryou's erection with an obvious goal in mind. The left hand Ryou still had on Darius's shoulder convulsed into a death grip on one of the plates covering the upper body, rough leather beneath his fingertips another sensation in the deluge. Two weeks - more than that - a flash of Darius pulling his sword from the Rajin - smiling in that fashion - Darius bathing in the river, the water running down his back- ah!
One knee between Ryou's legs to bear his weight, one hand still destroying Ryou's restraint, Darius moved his other arm, pivoting from the elbow planted deep in the mattress near Ryou's head to shove away the hand that had instinctively gone over Ryou's mouth again to catch that cry. Ryou blinked away the moisture that'd gathered when he'd screwed his eyes shut too hard, and obediently let his arm drop down to the coverlet again. Darius's hand stayed where it was, a callused thumb brushing Ryou's lips and then pushing them apart, a rough, sensual gesture. A finger followed. Ryou shuddered and his tongue licked at the taste of Darius's skin. Darius's breath, heavy and curling up into an unvoiced 'hah', brushed Ryou's cheek.
Lust was thrumming along every one of Ryou's nerves, pulling his legs apart by primal instinct from where Darius's erection was thrusting into him. It was the most natural thing in the world, it was the only thing in the world. The feeling of that hardness sliding against his skin and digging into the achingly sensitive spot behind his testes-
Darius moved abruptly, rolling to cover Ryou fully again. His weight and strength held Ryou down, armor poking him in various places. He gripped Ryou's legs and shoved them together with one undeniable push. Ryou blinked. Hands were holding his legs down now, bearing most of Darius's weight. Ryou shuddered with arousal, feeling Darius shove into the crook of his thighs, thrusting hard, so hard it had to be almost painful. Ryou's mouth opened in a soundless moan, control slipping.
"Wanted to see you like this-" Darius said, words slipping out between heavy gasps and rolling over Ryou's skin. "See that golden mask come off, come off for me."
The pressure building in Ryou skyrocketed, and suddenly nothing mattered anymore except obeying that basic primal urge. His left hand fought its way through folds of cloth and metal - got nowhere, and in the meantime the brush of Darius's abs against his erection was going to drive him insane. He squirmed, a strangled groan parting his lips. Darius glanced down, then shifted and one hand stopped crushing the skin of Ryou's thigh and grasped Ryou's dick instead.
Ryou's breath stuttered. He couldn't look away from Darius now, face so close, the eyes fixed on Ryou's expression, the serious set of Darius's lips- they parted with a short exclamation as he found the rhythm they both needed, nothing fancy, just thrusting into thighs and hand, primitive needy lust-
- tripped the fuse and Ryou's back arched and vision whited out as the pleasure - finally! - released and flooded him.
He was too pinned down to properly shove into Darius’s hand, but Darius, watching his face, knew; knew to move his fingers in those deeplonggood gestures that spilled the pleasure out, adding the gooey slick of semen to the contact between their bodies and leaving Ryou a boneless, breathless mess on the bed.
Darius let go of Ryou's fading erection to grip him by the shoulders and used his whole body to thrust- once- twice-...A ragged 'uhn' stirred the hair over Ryou's ear. Ryou gripped the man in his arms as well he could with his injury and the armor and all the rest of the details. Warmth was seeping through his body, following the fading waves of pleasure.
Ryou, panting, stared up at the ceiling painted with complex geometric patterns he was only now noticing. That couldn't have lasted more than ten minutes. The intensity, however...no complaints there. Maybe it was more exact to say it'd lasted nearly three weeks, ever since he'd held this man, strong, solid, so vibrantly alive (though also heavily bleeding at the time) in his arms on the front seat of the junked Nissan. That was quite long enough to hold in an orgasm.
Darius blew out his breath in a satisfied way and propped himself up on one elbow to gaze down at Ryou. 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 Ryou's sense of restraint still mostly missing in action, there really didn't seem to be anything other to do than wrap his arm around Darius's shoulder and pull him down for a kiss. Darius's hand, gentle now that the urgency was spent, settled on Ryou's bare hip. Ryou tilted his head against the coverlet and coaxed apart the lips meeting his. From Darius's response, he wasn't used to doing this, but neither did he seem surprised or turned off...Ryou's erection was spent, but prickles of lust still ran up and down his skin as the kiss deepened, explored...
"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 ranks are too uncertain to have him pull orders 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. Ryou for his part 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. Ryuou sat up as well, absently cradling his right arm. It was all very well to talk about having no regrets; saying so didn't make it so. Not that Ryou had any regrets at coming back and laying his heart bare and having amazing sex, no. Ryou didn't have any regrets at all (yet) 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, wipe off his lower body 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 in Ryou’s eyes. Ryou's sense of reason was still there and doing its job - it was too ingrained in Ryou to ever discard - but beneath it, Ryou's feelings had fully slipped their leash and were running wild. He'd not felt this terrified and euphoric since puberty.
Darius scrubbed his hands covered in oil and semen 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 arm by the wrist and elbow. He removed the bindings gently and examined the arm. "Hmm, it'll be okay. Still needs a few days in a splint, and a twelveday before you can use it."
Ryou looked down at the swollen, bruised limb. 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.
Darius wrapped the linen back around the splints again while Ryou's mind went hiking over the last twenty four crazy hours. Ryou didn't pay attention until Darius tightened something around the arm and over the linen bandages with a metalic clink. Ryou looked down and saw Darius strapping his right bracer onto Ryou's forearm.
"What are you-"
"Is that too tight?" Darius asked, slipping a finger beneath the leather cord zigzagging back and forth across the linen wrapped over the ulna. "This will help. The sigils on the metal will take the place of the ones that were painted on the wrappings."
"I could have gone back to the priests of Hygiea."
"They'll be busy," said Darius. Then Ryou found himself pinned by a hard look. "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 tore 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."
"I need to go," Darius said, settling his sheathed weapon back on his belt. "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 his hurried way to the curtain Darius had indicated.
I'm hoping to write a small intermediate chapter at some point where Darius and Ryou are confronted with the differences between their cultures when it comes to rolling about in the sheets. Now that they've gone ahead and become an item, there are other differences and matters of perception that are going to come trickling out in little bits and bobs...I hope you all enjoyed that, please point out the typos, this got polished at the last minute and in unseemly haste ^^;