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There’s no mark where the dagger had pierced through Uri’s forearm, of course; the wound knits itself shut the second the blade withdraws from flesh and bone. There’s no pain there, no ache, nothing to suggest that something monumental has occurred at that very site, but Uri finds himself absently rubbing at that spot whenever he gets a quiet moment to himself. His fingers run over unblemished skin again and again, until it reddens and bruises then steams and is rendered porcelain white once more.

He does this so often that Rod barks at him to snap out of it and keep his mind focused, but Uri remains preoccupied for days.

Years, even.

* * *

Kenny returns from the council meeting, hat cocked at a jaunty angle and the swagger in his stride even more pronounced than usual.

“Should’ve tried to kill you sooner,” he grins wolfishly, pushing aside the front door and barging in as though he’s been doing that for years, while Uri politely steps aside. “The looks on their ugly mugs when I turned up! You’d’ve thought they’d been made to chew shit for breakfast.”

Uri can’t help the little frown that mars his brow as he closes the door, the furtive glance out the window, the stilling of his breath as he strains his ears for the telltale crinkle of pebbles up the pathway. It’s silly — he knows that Rod will not return for several hours — but it doesn’t stop the itching feeling creeping up the back of his neck, the tension that writhes through his body. Something that tastes as bitter as guilt but as sweet as yearning floods his senses all at once as he turns to face Kenny.

“There shouldn’t have been looks,” he says. “They should have simply accepted you as though you were meant to be there all along.”

But Kenny simply shrugs carelessly, tossing himself onto the couch and throwing his feet upon the table with gleeful abandon. “Not as all-powerful, huh?”

“I’ve never claimed to be such.”

“Only the king,” Kenny snickers, looking up at him through dark lashes, his gaze mocking. “But can’t control me, can you?”

Without an answer, Uri is left staring at him. All at once he takes in this boorish, vulgar criminal who only weeks ago had screamed for mercy in the face of death. He remembers the childlike terror, the pitiful begging. His stomach churns uneasily.

Then Kenny crooks his finger and Uri finds himself drawn to him, his feet moving of their own volition, his body burning with lust. He wildly wonders who is really in control. Kenny stretches out a languid hand, entwines his fingers in a fistful of Uri’s shirt and pulls him close, closer, until their faces are mere inches apart.

“Can you?” Kenny asks again, issuing his challenge.

Uri matches him, mouth to mouth, and silences him.

* * *

The list is written in a tight, tense hand on extravagantly thick paper.

Kenny glances at the names and makes a sound halfway between a huff and a grunt, then stuffs it into his back pocket with a fresh, hardened gaze set in those cool eyes. Funny how easily he transitions from business to pleasure, how without concern for consequences he is other than the immediacy of now - more - please.

Maybe he’s got it all wrong. Maybe whatever this is that flickers between them is also business and Uri’s just too much of a willing fool to admit it.

“You’ll take care of them?”

“Yeah.”

* * *

Days blur together. It feels as though his life is running away from him, always dancing ahead just out of reach. The exacting beauty of his favourite spot by the lake is an admonishment; he cowers in its oppressive quietude.

The spell is only broken when Kenny strolls up to him, flashing that increasingly familiar grin and heartily clapping him on the back.

“Get your coat,” Kenny says, throwing Uri an imperious look, the corners of his mouth quirked in mischief. “You need to get out.”

“I must remain here,” Uri replies coldly, irritated by the assumption that the same idea hasn’t plagued him for years.

He turns his back stiffly, hands clasped tight around his knees, partly for Kenny’s sake, but perhaps also to prevent his own body from betraying him. His feet itch to follow.

Kenny crouches beside him. “How are you supposed to serve your subjects if you don’t even know anything about them, huddled up here for days on end?”

From the corner of his eye, Uri feels the cool appraisal from the other man but refuses to acknowledge it lest it shaken his resolve.

“The most important thing I can do is to keep myself away from harm. I’m no use to anyone dead.” Yet, he’s unable to fully contain the hollowness in his words - no, they’re Rod’s words, his father’s words. Uri has never wanted to believe them.

A rough, calloused hand falls upon his own. He squeezes that hand experimentally and immediately feels the corresponding squeeze - reassuring, safe, gentle. It’s the most gentle he’s ever known Kenny to be and it makes him hesitate. Expecting acerbic jibes and mocking stares but instead finding softness throws him off. Uri finally lifts his eyes to meet Kenny’s gaze.

“You’re not gonna die. Not with me around,” Kenny says in a low voice, the conviction stony and clear, leaving no doubt that he means every word.

“I know,” Uri replies quietly, allowing the other to wrench him to his feet but no longer feeling in possession of his own body. It belongs instead to that other Uri — the one who pushes aside manuals on crop production to escape into forbidden novels of adventure and intrigue, the books he keeps hidden under his bed.

A sharp pang of guilt pierces him. Those books are hidden for a reason, a very good reason. The most important reason, in fact; for the sake of humanity itself.

No, he’s stronger than that, better than that — he has to be.

Kenny tugs at his hand again, but this time Uri abruptly pulls away.

“I have matters to oversee regarding the estate. In fact, I must address them now.” The iciness in his tone is half-hearted at best but they both know it’s only for show. He starts in the direction of the house, pausing only when he notices the lack of corresponding footsteps.

“All that important, fancy, lordly work…” Kenny leers, kicking at a few stalks of wild grass in exaggerated disregard. And there it is, that scornful tone, almost comforting in its familiarity. “Can’t be done without this, right?” He holds up his hand, which glints golden in the sun.

Uri narrows his eyes — it’s his family seal, sitting snugly around Kenny’s little finger. No wonder that blasted pretence at affection. “Give it back,” he snarls, white-hot anger bubbling and humiliation burning his flushed cheeks.

Surveying the ring with detached amusement, Kenny grins. “Pretty little thing. Could probably pawn it for a tidy sum.”

“They’d recognise the crest immediately,” Uri counters.

“Gold is gold, where I came from. No one cares which Lord of Shitsburg it once belonged to.”

A growl of disgust rises in Uri’s throat.

* * *

When Kenny pickpockets Uri’s money purse all afternoon to purchase drink after drink, Uri mutters, “I would’ve paid anyway.”

And when Uri hands a coin to a ratty-haired, bedraggled urchin, Kenny calls him a fucking idiot with shit-for-brains and swiftly gives chase to the thief making off with Uri’s purse while his attention had been diverted.

“Why is my purse heavier now than when we set off?” demands Uri when Kenny returns victoriously shortly after.

The look Kenny shoots him is so eerily reminiscent of Rod’s when interrupted during prayer.

“Taxes?”

Long after Kenny has left for the day, Uri surrounds himself with his beloved tomes, but compared to the bustling heat, rolling laughter and frenzied chaos of the public house, his study feels sterile and empty. He lights a fire but still finds himself suppressing a shiver when the gold of his signet ring gleams in the flickering flames.

“I meant it though,” Kenny had said sombrely, when he steered his horse back toward town with his eyes dark and hard. “I’m not gonna let anything happen to you.”

* * *

In spite of Kenny’s bravado and filthy language, he shivers under Uri’s touch.

Uri can’t help himself. His hands roam across the scarred expanse of Kenny’s back, tracing the blade marks that dissect tough skin and dipping into each puckered poorly-healed crevice, remnants of hastily, clumsily-dug bullet holes. His fascination is morbid, bordering on obsessive, and when Kenny asks him what his fucking problem is, Uri murmurs, “You’re human,” and sinks his teeth into the back of Kenny’s neck, right across the nape.

* * *

The menace in Rod’s words mounts as the years drift by. Uri buries himself beneath his books and ledgers to forget about the curse that will drown them all.

The names of dissenters who must be silenced weave in and out of his dreams, manifesting in headaches that render him weak and pale. Exhaustion hounds him at every turn.

He sinks willingly, shamelessly into Kenny’s caresses.

Sometimes, after Kenny has returned grim-faced from a particularly harrowing task, Uri howls hateful tears as he mourns the lives he’d condemned.

Kenny never says very much when this happens, although once he had murmured, “Even as a titan, your hands were gentle,” which was somehow all the more damning.

* * *

“I’m not gonna be around much,” Kenny mumbles suddenly one day, during one of their meanders across the Reiss family grounds. “Picked up a brat.”

That’s when Uri realises that he knows next to nothing about the man he has decided to give his life. Whatever small, insignificant piece of him that is still his to give, anyway. He plasters on an encouraging smile even as the pit of his belly drops, and latches on when Kenny abruptly changes the conversation once more.

But less than a week later, Kenny’s back and pacing erratically, on the verge of hysteria. “I can’t fucking do this. That selfish bitch has fucked everything up and now I’m left with a shitty kid who barely looks at me,” he rants, shoving aside Uri’s clumsy attempts to calm him.

“Half the time it’s like I don’t even exist! But even worse is when he looks at me like I’m everything but I’m not — I’m fucking nothing!”

When Kenny finally sags, breathing heavily, Uri tries again to approach him. He’s barely placed his hand on Kenny’s arm when the other man pushes him away again, flushed with embarrassment.

“This isn’t me,” wheezes Kenny. “I can’t.”

“You can,” Uri tells him sternly. “You will.”

* * *

Without warning, on the night of King Fritz’s name day celebration, Kenny carries a wisp of a child on his back to Uri’s door.

The child barely stirs and sleeps silently, stilly, in the next room, as Uri presses fierce kisses along Kenny’s jaw, his neck, his wetly parted lips. The ache inside his belly roars ferociously as he climbs atop Kenny, suckling him, bruising him with desperate hands and takes him with such greed that Kenny chokes back a half-delirious cry.

Uri comes all too quickly.

“The child hasn’t moved,” Uri observes, a chill running down his spine, as Kenny pulls his boots back on. “What did you give him?”

Kenny doesn’t meet his gaze. “He has trouble sleeping.”

No more is said about the matter. Nonetheless, Kenny makes sure not to bring the child again.

* * *

“The Arlerts are spouting that bullshit again about heading outside the Walls. I thought you’d fixed them already last year.”

“They’re certainly persistent,” Uri sighs against a budding headache, pulling out his index of tinkered minds and balking when he sees the disproportionately high number of times he’s had to intervene. There were always particular families more recklessly vocal, whose struggles against memory alteration prove more fruitful than the rest.

Shuffling listlessly as the hesitation stretches out for several seconds, Kenny clears his throat. “I’ll take care of it.”

“No!” Uri snaps, too sharply and too quickly. He draws in a steadying breath to ward against the stirring nausea within. “No. I don’t want a repeat of the Smith incident.”

When Kenny openly scoffs and attempts a protest, Uri pins him with an outraged, vicious stare. “I’ll handle them.”

Kenny remains behind as he always does after such a report, indulging in the fine sweets littered about the room and peering at forbidden literature to snigger at the erotic sections, but tonight Uri finds it irksome and aggravating.

He knows exactly what needs to be done but can’t bring himself to do it.

He wants nothing more than to vent his frustration within Kenny’s body, bite him until he bruises blue and purple, wants to rip out his spine and swallow it whole and crush that fragile life between his fingers.

Shakily, he tells Kenny to go.

Kenny takes one look at him, blanches ashen grey, and leaves.

* * *

At his yearly sermon, Uri holds rapturous court over the amassed nobles privy to the truth. His voice rings throughout the cavernous space, echoing his praise for the vision of the First King and asserting the need for enduring peace within the Walls. He sees the occasional flicker of doubt in the crowd of faces but ignores them, resolute in the knowledge that the complete truth is his alone to bear. He talks until his voice is hoarse and his arms are heavy from gesticulating.

Kenny observes impassively from the back row, arms folded and legs crossed at the ankle.

It’s not as though they’d ever allowed themselves the luxury of setting a time to meet but it’s been over eight months without a single glimpse of that cool, grey gaze and it takes all of Uri’s self restraint not to abandon the faithful to their wretched fate to fulfil his own selfish desires. He has had to comfort himself by pouncing on Council reports for any mentions of Kenny’s name, mouthing the lines to himself repeatedly until it felt like Kenny had been in the same room as him. Suddenly having the actual man so close yet remain unattainable is destroying the last dregs of his resolve.

At the conclusion of the sermon, Kenny is gone before Uri has a chance to search for him. None of the nobles can recall which way he went or if he was even there in the first place, and Uri starts to think that maybe he’s going mad.

When Kenny finally appears at his front door that evening, Uri wrenches him across the threshold with an impatient growl and captures those yielding, feverish lips with his own. A moan escapes him as his hands fiercely seek out the contours of Kenny’s slender body, each dip and curve.

Kenny strong-arms him onto the couch and clambers on top, dark lust raging inside, feral and raw.

Grinding desperately against Kenny’s body, Uri lurches forward and pulls him into another rough kiss, his mouth drinking in each moan and cry. He feels every shiver, every frantic pulse of energy.

Uri wants to demand Where the fuck have you been? What are you doing that is so important? but the only words that leave his mouth are, “You’re here.”

* * *

Uri starts and opens his eyes. Only one candle remains burning on his desk, throwing shadows onto the walls that loom high above. But soon enough, one candle multiplies into a dozen candles and he’s suddenly kneeling on a dais, like the one in the underground chamber with a host of unfamiliar faces peering up at him. Uri looks down and balks when he sees that his hands are wrinkled and spotted with age.

Steam hisses in his face. A blast of hot air almost sends him tumbling backward.

He looks up and sees the maws of a titan descend upon him, feels the slick first drip of saliva coat his face, and then there is nothing.

“No!”

He starts and opens his eyes once more. A man with sharp grey eyes hovers over the top of him, shaking him with a shout. He pushes the man away and scrabbles for his clothes, which are strewn across the floor. The room is hot, stuffy, full of useless trinkets but nothing with which he can defend himself.

“Calm the fuck down!” the man hisses, snatching at his wrist and yanking him back from the door.

But he panics and bites down sharply on the fleshy bit beneath his thumb. Another hiss of steam swirls around him as the room rapidly shrinks — there’s a brief moment of pressure as his head bursts through the ceiling onto the floor above. He roars, the bestial cry piercing through the night. With a single sweep of his arm, the walls of the house tumble and the roof collapses.

A voice rings out from below. “Stop this!”

Brushing aside the rubble, he snatches at the little man, his fingers easily gripping around the naked, squirming body. The hunger is like a poison, bewitching his senses, and spinal fluid is the only known antidote. He stretches his jaws wide.

“Uri!”

He hesitates and does the worst thing imaginable: he looks at the prey. The little man stares back at him, wide-eyed and trembling, gasping but visibly fighting to remain calm.

“Uri,” says the man. “Uri, please stop this and put me down. Uri.”

It takes a moment for everything to catch up in his mind but when it finally clicks, he sets Kenny down and then everything is expanding, the ground comes up to greet him too quickly, and he hits the floor but blacks out before he notices any pain.

* * *

“He brings it out in you,” says Rod flatly, as they stand back to survey the newly rebuilt house. “Brother, I love you and I want to see you happy, but that man is doing something wicked to your mind.”

Uri finally relents because he’s ashamed of hurting the people he’s sworn to protect.

He sees Kenny six more times in the next six years. Always after his sermon and always lasting only until the sun rises.

* * *

The lists continue.

Dissenters, heretics, insurgents.

Uri waits until Rod has retired to bed before reading the report from Kenny. It’s his only link with Kenny during the agonising months in between. The reports are clinical and they get shorter, terser, until finally it’s just names on a page that Uri simply copies out on a fresh piece of paper and sends back to Kenny in confirmation of what must be done.

The question and the answer have become the same.

Until:

“The brat’s gone.”

And just like that, Kenny stays the night and sleeps through the sunrise, nestled deep in Uri’s bed with limbs askew and mind at peace. Uri watches him until he wakes then kisses him slow and sensual, and touches him with feather-light fingers.

The next ten years are glorious in spite of the flashbacks, the nightmares, the confusion, and the panic-stricken howling whenever Uri wakes up unable to recall even his own name.

Not once has Kenny abandoned him to deal with the confusion alone but he never knows what to say either.

* * *

A quartet of ducks drift by with resplendent indifference. High above, the midday sun is relentless. Uri rests upon the log by the lake, trying but failing to cast aside the latest bitter exchange of words with Rod. He knows that it’s fear driving his brother to frantically push the plan forward to the next step, just like it’s fear preventing him from going through with it.

“Kenny,” he says quietly at the sound of approaching footsteps.

“Are your powers weakening?” Kenny demands without preamble. “All the unrest, people getting more outspoken…shit’s flying in the street.”

Uri had flailed awake that morning, gripping the sheets with bone-white hands, slick with sweat and panting, while Kenny watched with a rigid expression.

“I don’t have much longer,” says Uri, as the memories of his ancestors flood the forefront of his mind. It’s the first time he has said that out loud. The weight of its implications bears down on him but he’s proud that his voice doesn’t waver.

“That’s pretty obvious from the look of you.” Neither does Kenny’s.

It’s time, Uri realises.

* * *

“Should I be there tomorrow?”

Yes, he wants to say.

Uri’s not so much afraid of tomorrow as he is afraid of the day after tomorrow when he’s no longer around to see it. Tomorrow he will relinquish himself freely to Rod’s daughter and fulfil his duty as guardian of the co-ordinate, and the day after he will be little more than a lingering scent in unwashed laundry, an absently discarded mug on the side table.

He wraps his hand around the curve of Kenny’s hips, presses his ear up against Kenny’s bare chest. He can hear each quickening heartbeat with maddening clarity.

“It’s family only,” he says.

Kenny swallows thickly. “All right then.”

“But you’ll stay for tonight?” Uri whispers, the enormity of the situation crushing him so hard he can scarcely breathe. He buries himself in Kenny’s scent, Kenny’s embrace, the heat and comfort of Kenny’s arms around him. It’s as though he’s free-falling from the sky, tumbling through empty weightlessness with only Kenny as his point of reference.

Everything seems so distant, like looking through the opposite end of a telescope.

“Yeah,” Kenny replies, in the same tone of voice as when he’s handed another list of dissenters to silence. “Just for tonight.”