Prise de Fer ("take the steel")

It hadn't been so many weeks since Alec had blazed, comet bright, into the Council at Richard's trial. Through caustic wit and clever stratagems drawled in the creamy voice Richard had grown to crave, Lord David of the Tremontaine house had freed his bonds using words as deadly and precise as St. Vier's parries and ripostes with his sword. Despite the dramatic rescue, the swordsman and his scholar weren't overly affectionate outside of the bedroom; in many ways, nothing at all had changed in the aftermath of their temporary incarcerations. A lord had died at Richard's hand for harming his lover, another lord had been banished to frozen steppes for trying to entrap St. Vier. Riverside remained Richard's home; Alec's honey and acid tongue continued to drip equal parts venom and disdain— except to Richard's ears alone.

Today, however, even Alec's purred entreaties rubbed Richard the wrong way. The swordsman was in a dark mood, prickly and full of dis-ease as Alec cajoled and provoked him to put on his clothes of fine wool.

"We were just at the theater," Richard groused even as he allowed his lover to button up the vest.

Alec clucked at him, the long, nimble fingers of one hand dancing into an empty watch-pocket while the other skated along Richard's jaw. "That was last season, ages ago," he said, feigning impatience as St. Vier tried to take Alec's hands in his grasp. "It's about time we give those high-brow boors on the Hill something to gossip about."

"You can't be serious," Richard snapped. He was uncomfortable, not due to the cut of the suit, which was actually as fluid as a second skin, though he'd have found it difficult to admit that to the man before him. "That duel, two days ago— wasn't that entertainment enough for you?"

He fidgeted with the cuff on the soft brown jacket, tugging it back so the inside of his wrist was exposed. Alec's wiry frame angled behind him, closer than shadow. Richard felt his hand cradled in Alec's palm, his lover's narrow thumb tracing across the faded topography of an old jagged scar.

"He insulted me," Alec breathed into Richard's ear, now exposed since he'd not taken time to go to a barber in months and he'd pulled his hair back with a sliver of black cord.

"You provoked him," Richard said, batting away the elegant fingers, the nobleman's hands he loved so intensely that he felt branded by their touch.

"You hadn't fought in a while. I know he was no challenge, but you'd been pouting," Alec said, sounding bored as he strode away to their bedroom, adjusting the shabby scholar's robe he wore that gave him a vespertilian air.

Richard didn't deign to respond. He resigned himself to an afternoon of watching a tedious farce of people pretending to be what they weren't, with Alec preening like a peacock. A small flare of gratitude warmed his heart despite himself; not that long ago, he'd believed Alec to be out of his life forever and had reconciled himself to that without a total collapse of spirit. In truth, though, he was more grateful now for each day they did have together, and it cheered him to see Alec so animated about something not having to do with his own self-destruction.

"What's the name of the show, anyway?" St. Vier called out as he walked to his small rack of swords and selected the mid-weight. The nobles on the Hill still seemed to want to fawn on him, but there were always those who wished to test his reputation. Given Alec's ebullient mood, there was also a good chance his mouth would get him into trouble. Richard turned toward the bedroom, puzzled as to why his question had been ignored. "Alec? The play?"

"Oh, nothing you'd know," he replied.

"I know that," Richard snapped.

"'Foucault's Folly'," Alec said hurriedly, stumbling over his own feet in his seeming haste to get to the swordsman's side and rectify his gaffe.

"Let's get this over with," Richard said, glowering.

"Your enthusiasm is inspiring," Alec retorted, though a troubled worry haunted his eyes, their colour an especially captivating green as they reflected the olive velvet of his suit.

With a sigh, Richard allowed himself to be steered out of their rooms and down the stairs.

* * * * *

Alec came home drunk at early hours of the morning for several days following his botched attempt to celebrate Richard's birthday. The theater excursion had been a ruse; Alec had wanted to take him on a private boat down the river with a basket of savouries, cheeses, stout bread and several bottles of wine. In retrospect, hidden in the shadowy recesses of his heart, Richard conceded that perhaps he'd over-reacted to his lover's generosity as he tried to surprise him with gifts on his natal day. But not only did St. Vier not do weddings, he most certainly didn't do birthdays, and most especially not his own! He'd lashed out at Alec, much to the amusement of the passers-by, and particularly the boatman who found himself paid without having to spend hours on the water. Alec had certainly lashed back, but instead of taking out his frustration on Richard, it seemed that some Riverside tavern-folk must have taken the brunt of Alec's abuse. Richard noticed two or three new bruises which bloomed dark purple on his pale forearm; he didn't comment on them, and Alec didn't offer to tell their tale.

This evening, Richard finished a long series of exercises and stood with one hand on the chaise lounge Alec so adored, rolling his shoulders back and forth to alleviate the stiffness that had annoyingly settled there. Worry had crept into his thoughts that day, pacing through the background of his mind like a sentry. His stomach had rumbled toward the end of his efforts and he'd decided to go down to the inns he and Alec frequented to make sure his lover hadn't provoked anyone to the point of wanting to run him through with a sword or knife. At that moment he heard the door open and he turned, expecting to be faced with a besotted Alec, perhaps bloodied and even more bruised. To his surprise he noted that Alec was sober, his clear, intelligent eyes gazing speculatively at him.

"Are you sore?" he asked, closing the door and walking with elegant ease over toward Richard, who was now flexing his arms and turning his wrists. It was all a part of his post-practise customs. Alec knew them well, even though he pretended to be nothing but annoyed by Richard's sword practise rituals in their main room. Richard grunted in response, to which Alec arched an eyebrow and took his hand, leading him to their bedroom.

"Lie down on your stomach," he said, removing his jacket with smooth efficiency before unbuttoning and rolling up the cuffs of his linen sleeves to mid-forearm.

Richard decided not to argue; he'd not felt Alec's hands on him since before the birthday travesty and he missed their touch. He took off his shirt, tangy with sweat, and lay as bidden on his stomach, awaiting the grounding weight of his lover. Alec was silent as he deftly kneaded the muscles of the swordsman's upper back and neck, taking special care with his shoulders and the corded length of his biceps. St. Vier luxuriated under Alec's ministrations, though his body began to crave attentions of a different type.

As though reading his mind, Alec said in a voice roughened with his own desires, "Your hands, Richard. I need your hands…"

The bed creaked as Alec slid to his side and Richard turned, helping Alec out of his finery with a haste fueled by the lust that ached between his legs. Laid bare, Alec opened his arms, his jutting arousal drawing Richard to it like a compass arm to true North. He took his pleasure feasting on the salty flesh, savouring the sharp musk and faint citron scent found in the treasure of tawny curls. When Alec's long fingers grasped painfully in St. Vier's hair, he released his prize, crawling over to a bedside table for unguent to slather on his own straining hardness. He took Alec with long, deep thrusts, their fingers intertwined, breaching the furnace of Alec's body over and over. When each had shuddered, crying out with their completion, Richard collapsed on his lover's narrow frame, spent and clothed in nothing but the warm mantle of Alec's willowy embrace.

Despite the spring weather, the room was chilly, especially after their exertions. Richard gently uncoupled them and tugged a blanket up to cover them in their lassitude. Alec's eyes were like verdant lakes, his lips rosy and bruised from Richard's possessive kisses. Richard drew a line up the knobbed path of Alec's spine to the bony wing of his shoulder blade, spreading his palm to pull him close. He was humbled at the maelstrom he could release, using tongue and teeth, fingers and hot breath. It was very good, he decided, to be alive and lying naked against his lover.

"I made out quite well last night," Alec murmured, his expression completely open in a rare, unfettered moment. "Let's go to Rosalie's. I'm famished."

Contentment curled in Richard like a sleepy snake and he nodded his agreement. "Between us, we should never go hungry."

A prurient smile slid onto Alec's lips.

"Some hungers are never fully satisfied."

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