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Don't Let Me Go

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Peony can always tell when Jade starts having one of his fits of depression.  He stops sleeping, paperwork builds up on his desk, he hardly eats, and he’s quiet as a church mouse.  Jade does a fantastic job of masking his emotions on a normal day, everything hidden behind that perfect fake smile, muffled by a sarcastic comment or scathing remark. 

But when the episodes hit, a couple times a year for a couple of days, it’s hard not to notice something’s wrong.  That perfect façade starts to crack, the paint starts to peel.  The dark bags under his eyes highlight his pallid face, and anyone who sees him without his gloves sees where the skin has been scoured raw, a desperate attempt to wash off the remnants of the blood and gore and death that once covered them so many years ago. He looks like walking death.

The episodes always pass and he goes back to his cheerful self, the paperwork gets done, the healthy color comes back, and Jade returns to normal.  But in the days it takes for that change to revert, it scares Peony to death.  The night he found Jade standing on one of the balconies, that blank look in his eyes and legs trembling as he tried to stand up straight on the railing was the final straw. 

“Jade.”  Peony can’t mask the panic in his voice as he steps out onto the stone tiles, watching the wind whip the flaps of Jade’s uniform back and forth.  “Jade, please get down.”

Jade doesn’t answer.

Peony takes a tentative step closer, not wanting to startle him.  The colonel is like a cornered animal when he’s like this, but Peony’s never seen him like this, ready to fling himself to his death without much of a second thought. 

“Your Majesty, have you ever thought about how many people I’ve killed?”  Jade’s voice is quiet and sad, and it rips a little hole in Peony’s heart.

“Yeah, I’ve thought about it, but that was a long time ago.  Jade, get down, you’re scaring me.”  He takes another few steps towards the railing, wondering if he should try and snatch Jade and yank him off or just hope and pray he gets down safely on his own.

“I remember every single face.”  Jade is whispering now, shaking minutely, a completely different person than the usual cheerfully ambiguous man he ordinarily is.  “All of the replicas, all of the soldiers, Nebilim—

Finally Peony grabs him by one wrist.  “Jade, please, stop.”  He tugs gently at his hand.  “You’re not thinking straight; you’ve gotta calm down, and you’re sure as hell not going to do that while you’re standing on a balcony rail four stories up.”  Grasping Jade’s hand in both of his own, he gently presses a kiss to the soft fabric of Jade’s glove, the only kind gesture he can think of right now.  “So please, get down.”

For a long moment, Jade doesn’t respond, silently staring out at the lights and waterfalls of Grand Chokmah.  When he finally speaks, it’s hardly loud enough to hear. 

“Help me down.”

A wave of relief rushing over him, Peony lifts both arms to wrap around Jade’s waist and help him down from the railing.  The moment Jade’s safely on the ground Peony snares him in a hug, pressing his face into Jade’s neck, trying his damnedest not to cry.

“Don’t ever do that again, dammit,” he murmurs.

“I’m sorry, I just—“

“Nope! Don’t you apologize,” Peony retorts sharply, stopping Jade from whatever self-pity speech he’s about to start into.  Grasping him by the shoulders and looking into his eyes, Peony tries to put on his best I-am-the-emperor voice.  “You’re just… you’re sick.  You’re not feeling well.  Don’t apologize for that.  Apologize for scaring me, but don’t apologize for being sick.”  Quickly he wipes away the tears that have leaked from his eyes against his will.  Jade gives a small sad smile, but Peony thinks there’s a little bit of relief in it.

“Sorry for scaring you,” Jade whispers, reaching up to help stem the flow of tears.  “And thank you.”

Peony sniffles, swatting half-heartedly at Jade’s hands.  “Oh, shush.  And you’re welcome.” 

They stand there for a while, silently, until Peony grabs Jade by the wrist again and pulls him inside.  “I’m not going to let you be by yourself tonight,” he says sternly, leading Jade through the halls of the palace towards his chambers.  The guards make no indication of noticing anything out of the ordinary, and Peony’s thankful for it.  As he pushes open the door to his sitting room, he delivers his ultimatum.  “So you’re going to sleep with me tonight so I can keep an eye on you.”

“Your Majesty, I—“

“Nope!” Peony butts his way through to the bedroom, scooting piles of dirty clothing out of the way with his feet as he goes, ignoring the snoozing rappigs around the room.  “There’s no room for discussion here.  I’ve got something you can sleep in, so don’t worry about that.  But I’m not letting you be by yourself tonight.  I wouldn’t forgive myself if…”  He can’t bear to finish that thought, not wanting to let that cross through his mind.

Jade is silent, watching Peony through dewy eyes.  He hasn’t cried in a long time, and he’s not going to start now.  So he acquiesces.

“Alright.”

Peony grins in satisfaction as he rummages through a dresser, finding and tossing a nightshirt to Jade.  “There.  Change and get in bed.  You’re gonna sleep tonight if I have to knock you out for you to do so.”  He pads off towards the bathroom.  “I’ll be right there.”

Jade stands awkwardly alone in the room.  Hesitantly he changes into the oversized nightshirt, folding his uniform and placing it gingerly on the nightstand.  A soft oinking draws his attention, and he sees that one of the rappigs has noticed him.  Half asleep, it bumbles over to him and butts at his leg, snuffling and oinking quietly.  The rappigs have always had a strange fondness for him that he’s never understood, and usually he’s quite content to ignore them and make off-color jokes about eating them.  But tonight he crouches down and rubs the beast between the ears, watching it flatten them down in pleasure, and it’s strangely comforting to him.  He only notices Peony standing behind him when he hears him giggle. 

“I’ve never seen you even pet one of my babies before, Jade.”  He’s smiling.  “But it’s time for you to sleep.  Get on in there.”  He waves one hand lazily at the bed and plops down on it, watching Jade curiously.

Jade hesitantly reaches out and flips the blankets back.  The sheets and blankets on Peony’s bed are the most luxurious thing Jade’s ever felt, and he can’t help but marvel at their feeling despite the worry and fear and guilt coursing through his brain.  The moonlight streaming through the windows is calming, though, and Peony’s soft voice beckoning him back draws him out of his fog.

“…Jade.”  It’s the first time in a long time that Jade’s seen Peony genuinely worried about something.  The crease between his eyebrows, the firm set of his jaw seems so foreign on that tanned face.  He’s sitting cross-legged on the bed in his nightclothes, watching Jade closely. 

It’s odd to see Peony so serious.  He only ever gets like this when Jade has an episode, and some part of that cracks the stoic composure he’s fought so hard to keep up.  To think someone cares so deeply about him is a foreign sensation to him.

Peony pats the bed next to him.  “Get in.”  He grins that cheeky grin.  “It’ll be just like old times.  Remember? You and Saphir and I would always stay at your house overnights and harass Nephry.”

The memory is a fond one, one of the few ones he can still think of from his childhood in Keterburg.  The three of them would build igloos in the yard and pitch snowballs at Nephry’s window until she came out when they could pelt her directly.  They’d stay up half the night and draw on Saphir’s face when he inevitably fell asleep first, swapping ghost stories and jokes. 

“Alright.”  Jade slips into the bed, trying not to take up too much room.  Despite the closeness between the two of them, this almost feels too intimate.  Peony settles under the covers and turns off the lamp beside the bed, settling to face Jade’s back. 

“You don’t need to be so tense, Jade,” he murmurs softly.  “I’m not going to hurt you, you’re safe with me.” As gently as he can he lays his hand on Jade’s shoulder, rubbing his thumb tenderly in a small circle across the taut muscle.  “Just relax and try to sleep.”

Jade exhales a shaky breath and nods.  The soothing movement of Peony’s hand is slowly working some of the tension out of him, even if it can’t do much for the sadness.  Moments pass in silence, and Jade is quickly losing himself to Peony’s caresses.  When Peony makes a move to withdraw his hand, Jade stops him, grabbing his wrist in a panic.

“Don’t you dare quit that, Your Majesty.” He doesn’t even look back at Peony over his shoulder, suddenly mortified at what he’s just done.  The silence that follows nearly kills him until Peony finally speaks.

“Aww!  Uncute Jade is starting to act cute!” Laughing boisterously, Peony snuggles up closer and slings an arm over Jade’s waist.  “Is this okay?  Or is it too much too soon?  Do I need to buy you dinner first?”

Jade rolls his eyes, but he can’t keep the affection out of his voice.  “It’s fine.”  It’s comfortable and safe, and Jade can feel much-needed sleep trying to overtake him.  “And… thank you, Your Majesty.  Peony.”

Peony feels a little burst of happiness well up in his chest.  Jade hasn’t called him Peony in ages, probably years.  “Mmm,” Peony hums in acknowledgement, resting his head against Jade’s back and shutting his eyes.  “You’re welcome, dummy.”

 

The knock on the door in the morning startles both of them from their deep sleep. 

“Good morning, Your Majesty.  It’s time to get up.”  The maid’s voice rings out sweetly, but she doesn’t open the door, thankfully.  It’d be hard to explain why the Emperor is sleeping entwined with his colonel. 

Peony doesn’t even bother to sit up, but Jade rises slowly, rubbing sleep out of his eyes.  Peony watches with amusement as Jade goes about getting dressed again.  “Look at you, Mr. Getting-Up-On-Time.”  He stretches dramatically and props himself up on one elbow. 

“Well, unlike a certain Emperor, I’ll get in trouble if I don’t do my work on time.  I’m already late as it is.”

“It was for a good reason though.  Just tell them you were sleeping with your boss. Trying to move up the ranks.”

A little smile lights up Jade’s face, and it’s refreshing to see.  “Yes, of course.”  When he reaches out to the nightstand to retrieve his glasses, Peony’s hand catches him about the wrist. 

“You okay for now?”  He has that look on his face again, where he’s not quite sure yet if he should be letting Jade go off by himself again.  He’s looking up at Jade through soft blonde hair, sincerity in his eyes.

Jade smiles affectionately, pretending not to notice the little way his heart flips.  “Yes.  I’m fine now.”  He straightens out his mantle and heads for the door before hesitating.  “Thank you, for last night.  I’m not sure if I would have—“

“It’s alright, Jade.  You don’t need to justify it.  My door is always open, you know.  Even if you just wanna cuddle a bit.” 

Jade swears he can hear the lecherous grin.  “Of course, Peony.”  He smiles back over his shoulder as Peony snuggles back under the blankets.  “I’ll probably take you up on that offer.”

 

Unsurprisingly to Peony, their midnight sleepovers become a regular occurrence, even when Jade’s not having an episode.  The guards turn a blind eye to the Colonel going into the Emperor’s bedroom late at night and leaving in the morning, and if they’ve got anything to say they keep it to themselves. 

For the longest time it doesn’t register as anything other than intense friendship in Jade’s mind.  He just likes the way Peony curls around him, snoring in his ear and drooling on the pillow while he clings to Jade like a teddy bear.  He just likes the feeling of the warm body spooned up behind him, and definitely is not aroused by the morning wood he sometimes finds poking him in the back in the mornings. 

It’s when he starts finding himself unable to sleep without Peony that he starts worrying.

One night they’re curled up together (completely heterosexually, Jade reminds himself for the millionth time) when Peony’s hand, in it’s usual position on Jade’s stomach, begins to stray.  It’s a different sort of touch, slightly more… sensual than usual.  It’s sliding a little lower as well.  Jade is entirely too focused on it, and shifts his legs in a desperate attempt to will away the arousal starting to make itself known. 

“Jade,” Peony breathes in his ear, and Jade knows he knows exactly what’s going on, the slimy bastard.  “Is this turning you on? Just curious.”

That bastard. 

“What are you trying to do, Peony?”

“I’m trying to give you a boner.”  He giggles.  “Sorry,  I’ll stop.”

“Who said I wanted you to stop?”

The silence is deafening.  Jade swallows anxiously, not quite sure where that came from.  Peony’s hand has stilled.  He’s breathing warmly on Jade’s neck.

“Is that what you want, Jade? 

Jade tries to gauge what he’s hearing in Peony’s voice, and only comes up with pure curiosity.  No disgust, no ‘hell no’s, just… interest.

“Yes, I think it is.”

“Do you want to try it?  We don’t have to, you know, go all the way if you don’t want to.”

Well, that cat’s out of the bag.

The intense sincerity in Peony’s voice is almost unnerving to Jade.  There’s none of his usual sass, only pure seriousness.  His hand has stopped its wandering, sitting patiently unmoving on Jade’s stomach, and Jade can tell that Peony isn’t going to do any more unless he gets permission. 

Briefly he thinks with amusement how much that would surprise some people in Grand Chokmah.  He’s heard the whispers and rumors, that Peony forces himself on unsuspecting maids or cops a feel when he’s not wanted.  Jade has always known this as false, but having the Emperor spooned up behind him waiting for permission just to touch him has more than a touch of irony to it.

But he’s made the decision even before he thinks any of this.

“Yes,” he murmurs, and turns to face Peony before capturing his lips in a tentative kiss.  Peony returns it instantly, letting his hands roam down Jade’s back, so different now than their previous comforting caresses.  The gentle kiss intensifies quickly when Peony’s tongue makes a firm swipe at Jade’s bottom lip, and when Jade opens his mouth to take a quick breath, it slips in.  Taking advantage of Jade’s surprise, Peony rolls him onto his back, pushing himself up to be able to hang over him.  Jade makes a sour face and glares up at him.

“That was rude.”  And then a firm thigh is pressing up between Peony’s legs and he can’t help the groan that bursts out of his throat. 

“You little tease,” he growls out, trying not to notice the way he’s subconsciously grinding down. 

“I try my best.”

Peony laughs his grand, booming laugh, and leans down so his face is only inches from Jade, letting their breath mingle.  Red eyes meet blue and lock together, and Jade knows he’s sunk.  He’s fallen for the Emperor of Malkuth, this beautiful, wonderful man who has stood at his side and seen Jade at his very worst, consumed with obsession and with no regards for life, be it that of others or his own.  Peony has seen him kill countless men, watched him create abominations. 

And yet Peony is still here, dragging Jade away from the pits of hell and soothing away the tears and anger and raging self-hatred.  He never had to, and yet he is.

“Peony.”

“Yeah?”

The words dry up in Jade’s throat, and slip back down his throat when he sees the look of utter love in Peony’s eyes.  It’s intense and burning and Jade squeezes his eyes shut to try and stop the tears he can feel are coming. As hard as he tries a couple break through and stream down his cheeks, dropping onto the soft silk pillow below him.

Peony doesn’t say anything, but the press of his lips to Jade’s cheek says enough. 

“I don’t deserve you,” Jade whispers, hating the crack in his voice.

“Whether or not that’s true,” Peony says warmly, like the two of them aren’t trying to have sex while Jade’s crying in his bed, “You’ve got me.”  He brushes back Jade’s bangs and kisses his forehead, his eyes, the tip of his nose.  “I don’t care what you’ve done, Jade.  You’re a different man now than you were then.  I am in love with you now, and you don’t have to earn me.  I want you, Jade.  I want you so much you don’t even know.” 

Jade opens his eyes, and through the blur of tears he can see Peony smiling down lovingly, and he knows every word is true. 

He doesn’t trust himself to speak just yet, so he simply reaches up and wraps his arms around Peony’s neck and pulls him down for another firm kiss.  Peony gladly indulges him, nipping at his lip and deepening the kiss further, and his hand slides softly down Jade’s abdomen, stopping at his waistband. 

“Do you still—“

Yes, damn you—“

As fast as he can move Peony’s hand slips beneath the band of Jade’s trousers and his nails rake through coarse brown curls before finally taking ahold of Jade’s quickly hardening arousal.  Jade’s sharp gasp is music to Peony’s ears.  It only takes a few more strokes for Jade to become fully erect, and he thrusts eagerly up into Peony’s hand.  His own hand slides down and cups Peony through his pajama bottoms, rubbing slowly.  He’s rewarded with a low moan as Peony buries his face in Jade’s neck, breath getting heavier and heavier. 

So it comes as a surprise when Jade sits up and climbs out of bed.

“Wait, what are—“

Jade strips off his night shirt and trousers and underwear efficiently, and Peony gets treated to a lovely view.  He’s never really realized just how beautiful Jade is; auburn hair spills over his shoulders, and his back is lined with lean muscle and various scars.  The two long gashes that cross in an X between his shoulder blades are still a dark rosy pink, puckered at the edges from having to heal on their own.  Wounds healed by fonists tended to be smooth and only a simple discoloration, but the gashes, carved into him by Nebilim’s replica, remained the one scar Jade wouldn’t let anyone fix.

The dip of the bed brings Peony out of his reverie, and he finds Jade leaning over him, hands on either side of his head, smiling serenely down at him.  He hasn’t seen Jade genuinely smile in a long time.

He dips his head down and kisses Peony gently. “Enjoy the show?”

Peony grins.  “Hell yeah.  You’re gorgeous, did you know that?”  He runs his hands down Jade’s sides, delighting in the subconscious shudder that wracks Jade’s body.

“Never really thought about it.”  Jade’s pushing insistently at Peony’s waistband, trying to get Peony to focus for long enough to actually help.  When he finally gets the hint, Peony shimmies out of his pants and sniggers when Jade rolls his eyes at the emperor’s lack of underwear.  Jade settles back to straddle Peony’s legs, grasps their erections together in one hand and rocks forward slowly, watching the expression on Peony’s face with arousal darkened eyes.  Peony’s hands are clutching at Jade’s hips and his eyes are squeezed shut, hips moving in tandem with Jade’s.  Eventually he has to push on Jade’s hips just to get him to stop, because Peony sure as hell doesn’t want to finish this fast. 

“Nnh, stop.  I’m going to come if you keep that up,” Peony groans out.  He pushes himself up to a sitting position and reaches over for the nightstand, yanking open the drawer and rummaging through the junk.  “Hey, you’re a virgin, right?”

Jade huffs out a breath dramatically, laying his hand over his chest in mock offense.  “I’m devastated you’d think such a thing.”

“But you are, right?”

“…yes.”

“Mm, thought so.”  He shoves the drawer back closed, having found what he was looking for: a small glass jar with a clear jelly-like substance inside it.  Unscrewing the lid and tossing it off to the side, Peony scoops up a glob on one finger and spreads it across several of them, using the remainder to thoroughly coat up his erection.  Jade watches him with the tiniest bit of apprehension.  He’s almost surprised that this is making him nervous; he’s experienced pain much worse than what he imagines Peony’s dick in his ass will feel like.

A firm slap to his ass brings him back to earth, and he sees Peony grinning up at him.  “You’ve got a fantastic ass, you know.”  His voice is absolutely lecherous, and it warms Jade’s heart.  Peony leans up and kisses him on the cheek, using the momentum to gently flip Jade onto his back.  “Still want to do this?”


“I assure you, you’d know if I didn’t.”

Peony snorts back a laugh.  “Yeah, I’d be half dead on the floor with your spear up my ass.”  He kneels between Jade’s legs, spreading them with his dry hand while the one slicked with lube makes its way down to Jade’s entrance.  Jade jumps at the first touch, instinctively trying to sit up to scold Peony for startling him when the first finger suddenly slides in.

Ah-“ His voice catches in his throat at the sudden intrusion, and Peony grins up at him sheepishly.  “Sorry,” he murmurs, bending down to press a soft kiss to the taut muscle of Jade’s stomach.  “Does it hurt?”

Jade’s watching Peony’s face closely, observing the earnestness and tenderness and love so plain to see there.  Again he’s hit by the sudden realization that Peony cares about him, and he doesn’t think he can muster words up without tearing up again.  So he shakes his head and shuts his eyes, settling back against the plush pillows and letting Peony take care of him.

A second finger works its way in, followed by a third, and together they gently stretch and prod until they hit something, and Jade can’t help his back from arching and a gasp escaping his lips. 

Shit.” 

“Pretty good, eh?”  Peony smirks down at him and runs a palm firmly down Jade’s flagging arousal.  Jade flat-out moans, and almost immediately claps a hand over his mouth, mortified.  He glares fiercely at the emperor when he bursts out laughing, and averts his eyes when Peony gently pries his hand off his mouth and leans down to kiss him passionately.

“You can be as loud as you want, Jade,” he whispers in his ear, breath warm and ticklish against Jade’s skin.  “I want to know you’re feeling good.”

“I don’t want to sound like some painted whore,” Jade shoots back, face flushed in embarrassment.  He rolls his hips down against Peony’s fingers despite himself, and lets out a breathy sigh.  “It feels good though.”

“Mm, good.”  Peony slides his fingers out, wiping them on the sheets beside him.  “Then it’s time for the main attraction.”  Taking hold of Jade’s calves, he yanks him up onto his lap, then reaches up for a pillow, which he shoves underneath the small of Jade’s back.  Teasingly, he rubs the head of his dick against Jade’s hole, watching it pucker responsively against him.  “Ready?”

Jade is a picture of beauty when Peony gazes up his body.  He’s flushed down to his chest, breathing heavily with one hand laying on his chest and the other curling nervously into the sheets.  His cock sits hard and heavy against his stomach, already dripping pre-cum into a tiny puddle. 

He nods silently.

Without a further word, Peony pushes into him all in one thrust.  Jade gasps and curls his head back into the pillow, fingers tightening in the sheets and eyes squeezing shut.  It hurts worse than he thought it would, and he’s grateful when Peony’s hips settle against his and he drapes himself over Jade.  He’s shaking minutely, and Jade can tell it’s taking everything he’s got not to just go

“How’s it feel…?”  He presses a kiss to Jade’s lips and rests their foreheads together.  One hand seeks out Jade’s and laces their fingers together, and Jade grips him tight.

“…it hurts,” Jade manages.  “Give me a moment.”  Tentatively he wraps his legs around Peony’s waist and tries to even out his breathing.  It occurs to him how ridiculous is; that’s he’s a soldier who’s had every sort of injury inflicted on him, nearly died on several occasions, and yet he’s laying here like a blushing bride, nearly overwhelmed with the burning ache in his ass.  He figures it’s the emotions turning him into some teary woman. 

Softly, Peony brushes Jade’s bangs off his sweaty forehead and runs his fingers through the soft auburn locks.  He presses gentle kisses across Jade’s face, and finally kisses him firmly on the lips.  Jade returns it eagerly, and after a moment he rolls his hips as gently as he can.

“I think I’m alright now,” he breathes against Peony’s lips.  He pulls their joined hand to rest on his chest, and his free one reaches down to slap Peony as close to his ass as he can get.  “Now fuck me.”

“Gladly,” Peony whispers back gleefully, and with that he withdraws almost to the tip, then slams all the way back in hard.  Jade cries out, this time in pleasure rather than pain, not even bothering this time to try and muffle the lewd sounds he’s making.  Peony sets the pace fast when he knows Jade can take it, and Jade responds eagerly with bucking hips and cries of Peony’s name that are the best thing the emperor’s ever heard.

Breathing hard, Jade’s free hand reaches down and grasps his neglected erection, jerking himself off hard and fast to match Peony’s agonizing pace.  The emperor swoops down for a kiss and in his lusty fervor smashes his nose into Jade’s, but neither of them particularly take notice or care.  Jade’s more aware of the continued burning in his ass, but it’s more overshadowed by the waves of pleasure coursing through him with every thrust that jams into his prostate.  They kiss like their lives depend on it, until they’re breathless and gasping for air.

“I-I’m not going to last much longer,” Jade groans, hand squeezed tightly around the base of his cock in a desperate attempt to ward off his orgasm for just a moment more.

“Come for me, then,” Peony whispers into Jade’s ear, biting playfully on the lobe.  “I want to see how good you feel.  As your Emperor, I command it.”  He swats Jade’s hand off his dick and grasps it himself, pulling him in long, slow, teasing strokes.  Jade’s breath becomes erratic and with a final clench of his muscles, he arches his back and comes hard, the strongest orgasm he thinks he’s ever had.  Thick ropes of come string themselves across his stomach and Peony’s hand, some still oozing out of his twitching cock into a little puddle on his stomach.  Jade’s eyes are closed and he’s trying to regulate his breathing, and Peony thinks he looks absolutely beautiful. 

He slows his relentless assault for a moment to lean forward and gently kiss Jade’s forehead.  “That was hot,” he murmurs.  Jade’s eyes crack open, bleary and lust darkened, with tears of pleasure pricking in the corners, meeting Peony’s affectionate gaze and he smiles tiredly, panting quietly.  Peony can’t help the happy, bubbling laugh that escapes his lips, and he kisses Jade again, just because.  “I’ll be done in a minute, okay?”

To Jade’s surprise, Peony slowly withdraws from him, sitting up on his knees and jerking himself off, and if Jade’s whole body weren’t trying to fall asleep, he’d find it ungodly arousing.  With one arm, Peony braces himself over Jade, and nearly jumps when Jade’s hand wraps around his erection and joins his own to pull him to climax.  With a stuttering groan Peony comes, his own seed mingling with Jade’s on his stomach. 

Quietly the two disentangles themselves from each other, and Peony flops down bonelessly beside Jade.  Again his hand seeks out Jade’s and grasps it tight.  They don’t look at each other for a long moment, simply trying to regain their breath and letting the sweat coating their bodies cool.  Peony is minutely aware that Jade is trying to roll over, but a pained groan indicates his lack of success, and ultimately he doesn’t move from his prone position. 

“Are you alright?” Peony finally says, voice little more than a hoarse whisper, and he turns on to his side to watch Jade.  “Do you want to go take a bath or something?  You probably feel pretty gross, so—“

Peony.

“Okay then.” 

They lay in silence a moment more, still holding hands as Peony gentle strokes Jade’s hand with his thumb.  Jade’s breathing has finally evened out, and Peony thinks he’s fallen asleep before Jade finally speaks.

“A bath would be wonderful.”  He attempts to sit up again, but the sharp pain the spikes up his spine from his nether regions stops him.  “You’re, uh, you’re going to have to carry me.”  Jade’s blushing, like it’s more embarrassing that it hurts too bad to walk comfortably than the fact that he’s just had sex with his best friend.  Peony giggles and swings his legs over the side of the bed, standing and stretching dramatically.

“I can probably do that, princess.”  Despite the teasing he’s smiling so openly and affectionately that Jade can’t bring himself to meet Peony’s eyes, and his heart jumps in his chest.  Peony scoops him up bridal style and kisses him chastely on the lips as he carries him across the bedroom to the adjoining bathroom.  “You’re gonna have to stand for a minute, babe.”  Peony helps Jade to his feet and turns the tap on the grand marble bathtub, letting the warm water fill up the tub and steam fill the air.  In the meantime, Peony wraps his arms around Jade and simply hugs him, feeling a burst of love swell up in him when Jade’s arms snake around his waist and his head rests on the Emperor’s shoulder. 

The hot water is a soothing balm on Jade’s aching muscles, and he rests back against Peony and lets him do all the work, washing him off with a soft cloth and rubbing flowery-smelling soap into his hair. 

He’s about half asleep when Peony dunks him. 

Sputtering and wiping soap and water out of his eyes and mouth, Jade raises from the water like an angry beast, fuelled by Peony’s peals of raucous laughter.  In an instant that laughter is stifled by the water as well, but the torrent of bubbles tells Jade that Peony’s still laughing.  When Peony’s head breaks the soapy surface of the water, he wipes the water off his face and tries his best not to laugh any harder at Jade’s absolutely mock-offended face. 

“I’m sorry,” he gasps out between giggles, reaching out to push a wet lock of hair out of Jade’s face.  “I couldn’t help it, you were too cute, falling asleep like that.”

“Oh, I’m cute now?  I thought I was ‘Uncute Jade.’”  Jade’s smiling lovingly, and he plants himself back in Peony’s lap.  “Finish washing me.  My poor old bones are aching too much.” 

Minutes later Jade is clean and fresh and dead tired, wrapped in a soft bathrobe and toweling water out of his hair as Peony strips the dirty blanket off the bed.  He’ll make up an excuse for the sweat-and-sex scented linens in the morning, but for now the soft mattress and comforter will do them just fine.  Sliding under the blanket, Peony pats the mattress beside himself invitingly and waggles his eyebrows at Jade, who simply rolls his eyes, strips off his robe, and slips in beside him.  He lies against Peony’s chest, one arm draped over him as Peony cards his fingers through long auburn hair. 

“Jade, I need to tell you something.”

“Yes?”

“I love you. Like, a lot.”  Peony’s hand stills, and his voice has lost some of its usual gusto and confidence.  “I don’t—I want to spend all of my life with you.  I want to be old and still lay here like this and kiss you good morning and…  I don’t want to live without you.”  His heart is tight in his chest, and it drops even further when Jade moves off his chest and props himself up on one arm to look down upon him appraisingly.

“You love me.  You love me, Jade the Necromancer, who you’ve seen commit all sorts of atrocities and do all kinds of horrible things.” He looks uncomfortable, and Peony isn’t sure what to think.  Jade’s hard to read on a good day, much less when he’s just been fucked into the mattress and now has to contemplate the Emperor’s overwhelming love for him. 

“You know you’ll have to marry a woman eventually.  Have a child, an heir.  I love you dearly, Peony, but I don’t want us to go through what happened with you and Nephry.”

Peony waits, knowing there’s more coming. 

Jade reaches down and places his hand on Peony’s cheek, bends down and kisses him firmly.

“But until that day, I want nothing more than to stand by your side and tell you how absolutely insufferable you are.”

Peony can’t help the smile that lights up his face.  He reaches up and pulls Jade back down to him, holding him tight against his chest and letting his hammering heart slow to synchronize with Jade’s.  “I loooooove you.” 

“I… I love you too, Peony.”

With a quiet laugh, Peony presses his face into Jade’s hair and tries his best not to cry from joy.  “You have no idea how happy it makes me to hear you say that.”  He sighs happily.  “Let’s get married.”

“I’d be happy to, but I don’t think we’re allowed to.  And besides, what would we do about an heir?”

Peony scratches his chin thoughtfully.  “I’ll pass a law or something.  And we can adopt Gailardia, he’ll work for an heir.  We’ll be the cutest little family there ever was, us thirty-something kings and our man-child.” 

Jade shifts a bit to get comfortable, and sighs deeply as he settles down to sleep.  “Whatever,” he murmurs affectionately.  “Go to sleep.  I’m damn tired.” 

And as they drift off to sleep, Jade thinks he’s never been happier, never felt so warm and safe.

Never felt so loved.