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Never Like This

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Brasidas hadn’t done this since he’d been a boy. No, that was the wrong way to put it. He hadn’t had this done to him since he’d been a boy. That’s what it came down to, after all, to being held down, spread open, used – like a woman, or a boy, or a slave. No men should allow such a thing to happen to him. No citizen of any Greek pollis, and certainly no Spartan.

Brasidas’s sentiments about the matter had never been quite so passionate – he hadn’t minded when he’d been younger, young enough that it was allowed, and while he hadn’t done it again since, he knew this wouldn’t make him less than he was. And still the shame burnt in his cheeks, so hot that he was grateful for the cool earth his face was pressed into. But the shame wasn’t simply caused by the fact that it was happening at all, that he hadn’t been strong or smart enough to avoid it, but by something far worse – that a part of him had yearned for this. That a part of him, he feared, might like this, even now.

Alexios was heavy on top of him, both their skin slick with sweat and blood. In some ways they’d touched each other like this a dozen times before, sparring, fighting, hunting. Alexios had never touched him like this.

The roughness of his hands should have been off-putting, but it would have taken Brasidas more strength than he had to deny that he liked it. He’d thought about those hands countless times – what it would be like if Alexios ever followed through with the banter and the teasing, if his hands lingered when he pulled Brasidas into an embrace, if he’d be rough or careful if they ever lay with each other.

He was unbearably careful now as his hands slid over Brasidas’s sides, down to his thighs, as if that gentle touch would make it less obvious what he was doing. Brasidas shifted to accommodate him – there was no use fighting it, no use making Alexios injure him, and there was no doubt that he could. No doubt that he would, too, his mind and body not his own under the low hum of that strange artefact in the middle of the cave. Brasidas could barely hear the sound, but to Alexios it had been almost painfully loud ever since they’d entered. Loud, and impossible to resist.

There was no point fighting it, but Alexios didn’t have to be so damned tender about it.

“Just do it,” Brasidas said. He’d gone for his best commanding voice, the one that made his men flinch in fear of his disapproval. It came out too tense, a little too high. It came out afraid, and he doubted Alexios truly knew why. “Drawing it out won’t let us get out of this.”

“That doesn’t mean I have to hurt you.” Alexios still sounded as quiet as when he’d realised what was happening, horrified, helpless. After all it was his body that was barely his own anymore, pushed and prodded along by some force he couldn’t comprehend or escape. All Brasidas had to do was lie there and suffer through it – he’d done harder things in his life. Alexios swallowed. “Even more, that is.”

Brasidas laughed – laughing it off, he hoped Alexios would think, but really it was the idea that the pain was the main problem here that made him shake his head. Pain he could bear. Pain had been a constant companion throughout his childhood and his youth, and back again ever since he’d started growing older. Pain was nothing. Alexios should have known that – he was Spartan enough for that, soldier enough for it – but he didn’t seem to care that Brasidas could take whatever he did to him. Stubborn, uncompromising Alexios. When did he ever change his mind once he’d decided on something?

He kept touching Brasidas as if he – as if he wanted to. Retracing the muscles on Brasidas’s back, his thighs, his arse, lingering here and there at scars Brasidas knew Alexios had seen before. For a moment he wondered if Alexios had wanted to touch him then, too? When they’d bathed together, or shared a tent for a night and undressed in front of each other? He wondered if it hadn’t just been his feverish imagination seeing things he wanted to see. But no, that was wishful thinking now as it had been then. This wasn’t Alexios taking advantage of an unfortunate situation, it was him trying to make it as bearable as he could for Brasidas.

A slight shiver went through his body when Alexios gave his arse a firm squeeze, then let go, and when his fingers returned they were damp with spit. Brasidas shuddered despite himself when they slid over his hole, petting him, teasing. He’d only ever had this done to him with oil, slick and messy and not particularly painful as long as he’d relaxed, but he’d almost forgotten how good it felt. How sensitive his skin was there, how much the anticipation made him quiver. He shouldn’t have wanted this – because of who he was, and who Alexios was, and most of all because of this cursed situation. He shouldn’t be getting hard while Alexios was probably praying to the gods to come down from the heavens to put an end to this. He was only glad he was lying on his stomach so Alexios wouldn’t see – Alexios had wanted them to stay face to face at first, mumbling something about how he wouldn’t bend him over like a whore, and he had … maybe he had looked hurt when Brasidas told him he wasn’t going to look at him like a lover. Maybe Brasidas had imagined that, too.

What he didn’t imagine was the way Alexios’s breath caught when he pushed his fingers into Brasidas – no doubt feeling him tighten, hearing him moan. It meant nothing. Who knew what other effects the artefact’s magic – and surely magic was the only explanation for its strange powers – had on him, on his body, and even without that pitiless influence, every man appreciated a tight hole to fuck. He didn’t need to be all that interested in the body attached to it. Brasidas had to remind himself of that, because his mind was all too eager to provide images that had no basis in reality: Alexios with his eyes wide and hungry, Alexios’s lips parted, Alexios looking at him like he had in every indulgent fantasy Brasidas’s mind had conjured up in the years he’d known him. It was better that he couldn’t see him, that he didn’t have to see the anguish on his face. That he didn’t have to worry too much about what Alexios would see on his.

Alexios fucked him slowly with his fingers, as if he knew what he was doing, what he had to do to make it feel good. Brasidas’s cock twitched, trapped between his stomach and the moss. He’d rarely come just from this alone. Part of him hoped that he would now, that he could hide it maybe, so Alexios wouldn’t ever have to see how hard he was.

“Forgive me, my friend,” Alexios mumbled. His voice was closer than before, his breath washing hotly over Brasidas’s neck. “I never wanted – Not like this. Never like this.”

“I know you don’t,” Brasidas said, quietly, hoping he sounded reassuring. He could hear the guilt in Alexios’s voice, when they both knew it wasn’t his fault, when only Brasidas knew that this was probably worse for Alexios than it was for him. Maybe he should have told him, maybe that would have made this easier. What friendship there had been between them would be over after today either way. He doubted Alexios would wish to see him again. “Do it. Let’s get this over with so we can smash that cursed thing.”

For a moment it sounded as if Alexios was going to say something else, but his breath was going ragged by now, and he’d already held back for so long. Brasidas closed his eyes and only listened – to the sound of Alexios spitting in his hand and then slicking himself up, of skin moving against skin when he lowered himself against Brasidas, and his breathless moan when he pushed –

It hurt far more than it ever had when he’d been a boy, or maybe that was his memory playing tricks on him. It wasn’t slick enough, and he was far too tense, and so furious at the world at large that he could have ripped a man’s throat out with his bare hands. Alexios pushing into him burnt like having his skin torn off, and yet through it all his cock stayed hard, and his mind couldn’t focus on anything but Alexios’s moans against his neck. His lips were brushing over Brasidas’s skin – soft, accompanied by the rough scratch of his stubble, and the light tickle of his hair where it fell over his shoulders. His hands were on Brasidas’s hips, holding him tight while he sheathed himself all the way inside him, and if it had been any other time, any other place, if Alexios had actually wanted this, Brasidas could have wept with relief, no matter the pain that came with it.

Alexios’s previous patience didn’t last now, or maybe he’d finally followed Brasidas’s advice to finish this quickly so they could move on and pretend it had never happened. He was settling into a deep, steady rhythm, each thrust sending shivers of pleasure up Brasidas’s spine, and he was glad for the grass he could muffle his moans in. If he was lucky, Alexios would mistake them for sounds of pain. He still tried to keep as quiet as he could, tried to hold still instead of rutting against the ground in an attempt to get a little more friction against his cock, but he wasn’t sure he even needed it. Not when Alexios touched the back of his neck, gently pushing the braid aside before he kissed the sweat drops away that had gathered in Brasidas’s nape, hips rocking against him. It was too much, this mockery of what might never have happened if Alexios had had a say in it, and the only thing stronger than the pleasure washing through Brasidas when he came onto the grass was the shame at enjoying this. A stronger man wouldn’t have taken pleasure from his friend’s ordeal. A stronger man would have borne it stoically, and Brasidas prayed Alexios hadn’t noticed.

It certainly didn’t seem like he noticed anything at all for now, his face buried against Brasidas’s neck like he was trying to stay quiet as well, like he was ashamed of something he certainly couldn’t help. The sound that tore itself from his throat when he spilt inside him was still something Brasidas doubted he’d ever forget, something he knew would haunt his guilty dreams for years to come.

After that, it was over in barely more than a few heartbeats. Alexios struggled to his feet, and Brasidas felt both too hot and too cold and utterly filthy, and they both went out of their way not to look in each other’s direction as they tried their best to clean themselves up and put their armour back on. Brasidas kept his back turned on Alexios the whole time, because the last thing he needed was for Alexios to see what his touch had done to Brasidas. They were Spartans – Alexios would be happier knowing he’d hurt a friend than shamed him.

He only turned once he’d covered himself, and when he glanced back at Alexios, he still looked pale and drawn. Like his own ghost.

“Are you – better?” Brasidas asked, hesitation in his voice. He looked from Alexios to the artefact, which to his ears at least had stopped humming, then back to Alexios. He still wasn’t entirely sure what that thing had done to him, or why it had affected Alexios much more strongly.

“Yes. I think so. At least I am – in control of myself.” He wasn’t looking at Brasidas, fiddled aimlessly with his weapon belt as if he hadn’t fastened and checked it three times already.

“Good. We need to get out of here,” Brasidas said. Decisive, focused. He had led countless young soldiers through their first battle. What a man needed when the world was crumbling around him were clear orders. Someone who told him to put one foot in front of the other until he remembered how to walk.

“Yes,” Alexios said, but didn’t move. “Are you – I’m sorry, Brasidas, I should have –“

“You had no choice. It’s done. It won’t be undone by talking about it, and I’d prefer not to.” He’d meant to sound nonchalant, but judging by the crestfallen look on Alexios’s face, he’d sounded far sharper than he’d intended.

For once Alexios didn’t argue with him. They did need to smash that cursed artefact before it ensnared anyone else in its trap, and then they needed to get out of here. And once that was done … Brasidas didn’t want to think about that. One foot in front of the other. He took his own advice and started walking.

*

It wouldn’t have been fair to say that Alexios started avoiding him after that day, not when there were so many good reasons for them to be nowhere near each other. He’d left as soon as he’d accompanied Brasidas back to his men, after another halting apology during which he didn’t meet his eyes. And after that, well, if Alexios happened to leave every region Sparta spent Brasidas to during the next months, if he was always gone a day or two after Brasidas arrived, that could have been mere coincidence. Alexios had work to do – both the more meaningful kind and the kind that kept his weapons sharp and his stomach full. His world didn’t turn around Brasidas. And if nothing out of the ordinary had happened between them, Brasidas wouldn’t have thought twice about all those coincidences.

Over a year passed before he saw Alexios again. A year and three months, during which he tried his best not to miss him too much, not to waste too many thoughts on the friendship he’d lost that day. But regret followed him into any quiet moment, more persistent and lingering than his desire for him had ever been. Regret that he’d allowed Alexios to run off, telling himself that some time apart would do them both good, and after that that they might both be better off not seeing each other too often.

One year and three months, and then one day Alexios suddenly stood in front of him and looked just as surprised to see Brasidas as Brasidas felt to see him. For just a moment relief outweighed his concerns. Brasidas smiled and clasped his arm and pulled him close, and Alexios’s arms tightened around him in a firm embrace as if nothing had changed. It lasted only for a second before the tension was back, and the awkward way Alexios kept avoiding his gaze. He’d come to collect payment for a mercenary group that had thrown in with the Athenians, and he clearly hadn’t expected to find Brasidas commanding nearby Spartan camp. He took his money, nodded his thanks, and turned to leave. Like they were strangers, like Brasidas was just some general who couldn’t wait to get the lowly misthios out of his tent.

He almost let him go. But then he decided that the gods must have brought Alexios to him, that fate had guided them both to the same camp in the middle of nowhere. The least Brasidas could do was not waste what they’d offered him.

“Alexios, wait,” he said and grabbed his forearm, firmly enough that Alexios couldn’t merely shake him off. Alexios looked up in surprise, and Brasidas found himself unable to read the chaos of emotions that flickered through his eyes in just a few moments. But he stopped, and he waited, and Brasidas realised he hadn’t actually considered what to say to him.

After an awkward silence he settled for, “We haven’t spoken in over a year.” Not since that afternoon in the cave. Once again Alexios looked away.

“I didn’t think you would wish to see me,” he said. More quietly he added, “And I didn’t want to face your hatred.”

“My hatred?” Brasidas stopped short, wondering if he’d misheard. “For something that was entirely out of your hands?”

“For bringing you there in the first place, when I knew something about that cave felt wrong,” Alexios said. His voice was rough with guilt, or anger, or both.

“That’s why you asked for my assistance, remember?” Alexios’s skin felt too hot under his hand, but Brasidas refused to let go of him. It still didn’t seem unthinkable that Alexios would try to run off again. “If you think I regret not letting you face that alone, you don’t know me very well. I would never hate you for something I chose to walk into.”

“Hatred, scorn, whatever you want to call it.” Alexios frowned. “I dishonoured you. I don’t expect your forgiveness for that.”

Brasidas smiled a little – he didn’t think he’d ever seen Alexios be quite so serious, quite so Spartan about anything. And it wasn’t that he felt no shame anymore for his own enjoyment of what had happened, but after a year of missed moments, of hearing of Alexios’s exploits and wishing they had just one evening together to talk about them, his own doubts seemed rather inconsequential.

“I do not think a man’s honour is quite as fragile as that,” he said. “Do you? Because I cannot change it if you’ve lost your respect for me, but if you’ve stayed away for my sake –“

“Nothing could make me lose my respect for you,” Alexios interrupted him. His hand was covering Brasidas’s now, the look in his eyes burning with something Brasidas could still not quite place. As if Alexios had surprised himself with his own intensity, he added with a small grin, “Unless you joined the Cult, I suppose.”

Brasidas couldn’t help but laugh. “That can continue to be the least of your worries.” He looked at Alexios, took in the sight of that face he’d missed so much, the warmth in his little smile, the look in his eyes that was – longing, he thought. As if staying away hadn’t brought him any peace either.

“Stay tonight,” Brasidas said softly, and this time he was sure he didn’t imagine the sharp intake of breath or the way Alexios’s gaze flickered to his mouth for a moment. “Sit by the fire in a guarded camp, eat and drink with us, sleep without worrying about waking up relieved of your possessions, or about not waking up at all. Tell me all about the mighty Eagle Bearer’s heroics since I last saw him.”

Something seemed to lift from Alexios’s shoulders then, and he shook his head and laughed, as if – so Brasidas hoped – he wondered why he’d stayed away for so long, when all it took them was a few minutes back together for things to feel normal again. Familiar in a way they really had no right to feel about each other, considering how little time they’d truly spent by each other’s side.

It still took Brasidas by surprised when Alexios curled his finger tightly around his, a flicker of hesitation crossing his face.

“And if the night turns cold?”

This time it was Brasidas whose breath caught in his throat. He watched Alexios watch him, his gaze roaming from Brasidas’s lips to his throat. His expression seemed almost hungry, and Brasidas realised that he might not have seen only anguish and disgust in Alexios’s eyes if he’d faced him in that cave. He suddenly felt quite foolish, thinking Alexios had only been concerned for his well-being when he’d touched him like he’d truly wanted to.

“Then we shall do what men everywhere have always done to keep each other warm.”

“Ah.” Alexios smiled, and by the gods, Brasidas had missed his smile. The way it made his eyes look brighter, mischievous, full of promises that he’d never thought Alexios had any intention of keeping. For a moment his frown returned. “But not like – not like it was.”

“No,” Brasidas said, because there was no good way to tell him that he hadn’t even minded that much, despite the shame burning in his cheeks every time he allowed himself to linger on the memory. That he could imagine letting Alexios do that. He would not risk having him leave again, not now that a lucky trick of fate had brought Alexios back to him. He stepped closer, close enough that their breath mingled, and still had trouble believing that Alexios was right here, and that he wasn’t stepping away. “But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stay.”

Brasidas’s lips were only a hair’s breadth away from Alexios’s, soft and parted like the invitation Brasidas had never expected to get, when heavy steps outside made him flinch back just a second before one of the scouts came in to report. Once again Alexios wasn’t looking at him while Brasidas forced himself to listen to the scout, but this time it wasn’t shame and guilt that made him avert his eyes, but the fact that he clearly had trouble containing his laughter.

Alexios stayed that night, and two nights after that, and when he packed up and left on the third morning, rested, his armour cleaned, his weapons sharpened, his ripped cloak replaced by a warm red cloak Brasidas had liberated from their supplies, Brasidas was quite certain that some kind of coincidence would make their paths cross again very soon.