Here you'll find
"The Sacrilege" was originally written in 2005 for the "Heron's Feathers" original slash fiction contest declared by Kiriko Moth, and Uniquely Pleasurable. Slightly edited in 2007. Length about 6,400 words, rated MA.
Sacrilege / Redemption
"Come to the herons tonight."
Like the puff of a breeze, it wafts to his ears and then it's gone. Just like the touch of a wind, cold wind. It makes the short hairs on his nape stand up, and he barely suppresses a shudder.
A deep breath, a seemingly innocuous stop to make sure that the sash tied around his hips is sitting correctly. He can only hope that nobody notices how his hands are shaking.
The bushes are full of birds, swift little birds that dart in and out of the foliage. Their chirping rings in the air over the backdrop of rustling leaves and the distant shush of wind in the tall trees covering the mountainside.
It's hard to concentrate on the lessons on a day like this. Clouds are sailing across the sky, the cry of a falcon pierces through the air, and for a moment all the birds fall quiet. Their consternation doesn't last long, though; soon they are back again, catching the flies and moths and bugs that gather to feast on the waxy little flowers of the hedge. Nobody's had the heart to clip it, not when blossoms abound like that, and the bushes have used the opportunity well. They've grown slightly out of shape, as if reaching in curiosity towards the group of boys gathered beside the paved, tiled square in the middle of the courtyard.
They are laughing, all but one of them. He's merely standing there, a solitary, scrawny figure, head hanging so that long hair hides his burning face. The others laugh again, a bright and malevolent sound.
"How many times are you going to trip and stumble today?"
"Look, his hems are all muddy! Where've you been crawling?"
"He's been hiding in the bushes to peep on En'Eliss!"
The boy's head droops still lower and his hand twitches, as if to reach down and rub the stain on the flowing robe that covers his skinny legs. So ungainly he is, with hands and feet that are in no proportion to the rest of him, the bones in his shoulders and hips and knees like protruding lumps. It's a body that doesn't want to obey him. The others are never going to let him forget his clumsiness, his too ready blush, all those times when he's lost his balance in training, and especially the time when they caught him hiding in the carefully tended bushes just outside the window of En'Eliss' room.
Oh how they laughed when they saw him there, red-faced, arms and legs full of scratches from the branches and prickly leaves, stammering something about an injured cat. Nobody believed him, of course. Why else would he have been there, if not to peep into the room, at En'Eliss?
En'Eliss laughed the hardest, eyes dancing with wicked mirth. He's the prodigy, the pet, the star in making. His body is lithe and supple, silky skin whispering over flat, adolescent muscle. Perfectly proportioned. Pleasing to the eye. Moving with impossible grace for someone so young. When he dances, he flows across the floor.
When they train, he's always up front where everyone else can see and try to imitate him. He's up front, the other boy right next to him. For him it isn't a place of honor, though, but shame. There he is always under the teacher's eyes, to be corrected over and again, to be watched so that no slip, no near-missing of a beat goes unnoticed.
Everyone else sees them, too, and snickers. That's all they dare do when the teacher is there, and as soon as the lesson ends, the boy slinks quickly away, hair like a veil. Nobody follows him, he's forgotten until the next lessons, and until then he won't be seen much. He'll show up in the dining hall and in the evening prayers. Maybe someone even catches a glimpse of him in the gardens. That's all.
En'Eliss pays little attention to the gangly, clumsy boy. Why should he care? His own path is cut clear: he'll learn more, grow stronger and comelier still, and become a temple dancer. He will please the gods and the people alike with the fluid beauty of his motions. He knows that he'll be someone to be made immortal by stories and pictures and statues, a dancer whom people will remember long after his joints have grown stiff and his posture stooped; not that he'd ever think of such distant, disconcerting things. He lives for praise and for the sheer pleasure of the dance. He's invincible.
Until that night of madness when he, consumed by intoxicating curiosity, gives in to the pull of a whim. Buoyed by the blind self-confidence of someone who's never been caught and thus believes he's never really mis-stepped, he sneaks into the Temple at night to spy on the priests performing a ceremony that he's still too young and too unhallowed to see. That night, when he is hiding behind the statues and all of a sudden feels his elbow brush a little too hard against a delicate clay image. Yes, he has stumbled a bit, and time comes to a standstill when the realization flashes through his brain. He knows it's falling, he knows he should catch it, he knows he won't make it.
With a reverberating crash the statue shatters on the polished mosaic floor.
It echoes in his ears, he stares at it with wide eyes, then feels a shove. When he spins around, he sees the frightened face of the skinny boy.
"Go!" The boy glances over his shoulder, pushes En'Eliss harder. "Run!"
En'Eliss dives into the shadows and runs on light feet, heart beating so loud that he can hardly hear the approaching steps.
He sleeps badly that night, but in the morning nobody seems to notice the dark circles around his eyes or his fidgeting fingers. The whole place is in uproar, all lessons and training canceled for the day, the teachers and priests looking grim as they talk to each other in hushed voices. There are whispers, rumors, guesses. Nobody knows what exactly is going on.
En'Eliss waits and waits, yet no one comes for him. The day passes, and the next morning they are gathered again for the training. No explanations, nothing, but everybody knows there's someone missing.
The silent, skinny boy is not there. The teacher doesn't ask for him. Later the boys hear that his room is empty, too, as if he'd never been there in the first place.
Day upon day upon day, there's no reference to him. Did he ever exist at all? Soon he's forgotten, slipped out of memory, buried and vanished like a ghost. En'Eliss pushes the night away from his mind. It never happened; and after a while it's just a crazy nightmare, nothing more.
Years fly past. En'Eliss grows taller and stronger but his body still retains its elegant beauty, and everyone agrees that such a dancer hasn't been seen in living memory.
He dances in the Temple and makes people sigh and stare. Pictures of him appear on the votive tablets sold to visitors. Statuettes attempt to capture the grace of his form, frozen in the middle of a swirl. He's fulfilling the promise the priest saw in his childish figure, on the day when his parents brought him here and pledged their son to the gods.
He enjoys his life, but some strange longing occasionally keeps him awake, staring out into the dark, pine-clad mountains until late at night. He remembers strolling underneath those dense, sharp-smelling trees as a child, but that's so long ago. Now his life is safer than he's ever been able to imagine, back when he still lived with his family, but his thoughts reach out to the fragrant shade of trees. He tries to picture what the soft, mossy ground would feel like under feet that are so used to stone and mosaic and the fine sand of the paths crisscrossing through the Temple gardens. What would it be like to hug the trunk of a tree? To feel the coarse bark on his cheek, to breathe the air scented by resin and wild flowers?
For some odd reason these thoughts plague him with increasing frequency these days. He's restless, but too proud to let it show. So he trains every day, sets a good example to all those youngsters sweating under the all-seeing eyes of their teachers, works to keep his muscles tight and his body supple. He dances at the services, entices people, lets them see the sublime beauty of the divine dances. His mind is elsewhere, though, and his heart echoes with emptiness.
He's training as usual on the day when a servant of the Temple comes to tell him that the High Steward wants to see him. En'Eliss nods, dries the fine film of sweat from his skin with a white linen towel, then follows the rotund young man.
The Chambers where the Steward is waiting are wonderfully cool, and En'Eliss feels small goosebumps on his skin as he enters. Bare feet hardly make a sound on tiled floor as he approaches, sees the Steward, then stops abruptly. The tall, imposing man is not alone, and for a moment En'Eliss thinks he's intruding. The Steward notices him, nods to indicate that he may enter.
There's another youth standing there. En'Eliss can only see his back, but an odd trepidation washes over him. The youth is somewhat taller than him but clothed in the same way; a dancer, then. An ankle-length skirt of a familiar pattern covers the long legs. En'Eliss' gaze stops for a moment to study breathlessly the way in which the cloth clings to round buttocks, then it hastily takes in the richly embroidered sash and tassel-belt wrapped around narrow hips. Above them the upper body flares out to surprisingly broad shoulders. Honey-brown eyes study the dip of the spine above that sash, then dart to glance at the long, straight hair that reaches down low enough to almost cover the shoulder blades. The uneven hair is dark, of deep reddish brown, and En'Eliss feels his heart stop.
"En'Eliss," the Steward says, and the other youth turns slightly to look. Their eyes meet, brown with blue, and En'Eliss feels dizzy. As if a lightning had just passed through him.
"Perhaps you still remember Men'Daer?"
The Steward's voice is neutral, he's not really asking a question. En'Eliss can only nod.
"He has spent these past nearly four years in our sister temple in Lao Da Berit, but he has now distinguished himself in the Holy Dance so much that he's been deemed worthy of returning here and joining you and your companions. You will take him to the House."
En'Eliss bows. What else can he do? His lips are too numb to speak anyway, but he keeps his head high. Blood roars in his ears as he turns around and gestures for the newcomer to follow him.
He's all too keenly aware of the presence trailing behind as he retraces his steps out of the Chambers, across the garden and into the House of Dancers. Neither of them says a word. En'Eliss cannot think of anything to say, and Men'Daer 每 why doesn't he speak?
En'Eliss tries to make sense of this all but fails miserably. It's not unheard of that dancers trained elsewhere occasionally end up here, in the most highly respected troupe, but this? All of a sudden that almost forgotten night is once more scarily clear in his mind and all those unanswered questions come surging back. What exactly happened then? If Men'Daer was caught at the scene of defilement, as seems likely, why didn't he reveal the actual culprit? Why hasn't he been banished from the Temples for good? Why was he sent elsewhere 每 to Lao Da Berit, or anywhere at all?
And when has he turned into such a tall, handsome creature? When has his ugly red hair transformed into that gleaming mane, the color of polished mahogany? When has he raised his head high, so that the confidence and silent strength emanating from him can be seen by all and sundry?
En'Eliss doesn't glance aside as he leads the silent newcomer to the House, and is much relieved to see the old Warden already waiting at the door. Of course the old man would've been informed of any new arrivals, so that he knows to be there to take them under his wing.
With a respectful bow En'Eliss departs and escapes to his own room, unable to miss the glance that follows him or the tiny smirk that accompanies it.
The other dancers are puzzled and wary but most of all curious. Tentatively they attempt to reconcile themselves with the once-shunned boy transformed into a mountain cat, and their advances meet with cool acceptance. Men'Daer doesn't push anyone away, he just keeps them at an arm's length. He doesn't talk about the past, nor is anyone else eager to bring it up, and things settle into their new course.
Only En'Eliss keeps his distance as much as he can. When they're training, closer contact is inevitable, and he's hard put not to let his consternation show when the teachers become fully aware of the strength packed into Men'Daer's handsome body. His hands are large and sure, and when they grip En'Eliss by the waist to lift him up, En'Eliss goes all hot and cold inside. He's afraid of Men'Daer, but there's no one else who'd be able to lift him with the same grace and confidence and so they're paired for the more acrobatic moves. Of course they must train together.
They've hardly exchanged more than a dozen words since Men'Daer has arrived, but En'Eliss knows that those eyes are following him. He can't help his nerves. He's waiting for something to happen, but days pass. Then some more days, and still a few.
He has almost given up by the day when, at the end of practice, those hands squeeze his narrow waist a little tighter before releasing him, and for a fleeting moment Men'Daer looks deep into his eyes.
"I want to talk."
En'Eliss swallows, sure that all color has drained from his face in an instant.
"Come to the herons tonight. After the night prayers."
The red-haired youth doesn't wait for an answer, simply turns and walks away. En'Eliss needs some time to get his legs moving once more.
The rest of the day passes in a haze. Mechanically he goes through the daily routine, eats, bathes, retires. There's no service that night where he'd have to perform, and he feels a quick flood of gratitude when the fact dawns on him. If there were a service, this just might be the day when the graceful, sure-footed En'Eliss stumbles. As it is, his silence is attributed to exhaustion and he's urged to make sure he rests enough, to retire in good time and sleep properly. He'd like to laugh at that but instead just nods and disappears soon after the dinner. He needs some time alone, anyway, before creeping to the Halls at nightfall.
The sun goes down and the moon, already looming pale in the sky, grows brighter against velvety blackness. En'Eliss is restless but knows there's nothing he can do. He must do it. He must go.
When the entire Temple is silent around him, he slinks from his bed and takes a deep breath. Swift feet take him soundlessly out, then towards the Temple halls, to the herons. White and graceful, they reach their delicate necks upwards, ghostly shapes in the large mural that decorates the rear wall of the hall where the shattered statue used to stand. Fear squeezes En'Eliss' throat.
Is this a trap of some kind? There's no one in the hall, and he stops to try and decide what to do. Should he wait? Should he go back?
Before he can make up his mind, a shadow flashes briefly at the doorway and his breath catches. Men'Daer approaches with gliding steps, comes closer, smiles.
"There you are."
Satisfaction in that voice. En'Eliss clenches his teeth together.
"What do you want of me?"
"I told you. To talk."
"What is there to talk about?"
En'Eliss hears how breathy his own voice is and it irritates him, because he knows the answer well enough and yet has to fight back. Men'Daer smirks.
"I'm sure you still remember."
He walks slowly around the empty pillar-like pedestal, fingers ghosting along its surface. He glances at En'Eliss.
"Such a pity. It was a beautiful statue."
En'Eliss presses his lips together and looks at the mural. He doesn't reply.
"Don't you think you owe me something?"
Men'Daer speaks in a low voice, like he always did, but now the huskiness carries a menace that makes En'Eliss' blood run cold.
"I wasn't even near here when that one idol fell. I could've run away and left you to face the storm."
A touch, light as feather, on En'Eliss' upper arm makes him start. Men'Daer laughs under his breath. "You were in such a shock that if I hadn't pushed you and told you to get out, you would've just stood here and been caught. I wonder... where would you be now if wasn't for me?"
"Why?" At last En'Eliss manages to force some sound from his throat. "Why did you do it? And why weren't you simply turned out of the Temple for good? How did you get to stay in Lao Da Berit instead?"
"They couldn't." Men'Daer's arms fold across his chest. "I'm orphaned, left outside the Temple gates as a baby. The Temple is responsible for me, whatever happens."
Of course... a Child of the Temple. The only possible explanation, one that En'Eliss really should've come to think of. Hasn't he always known that Men'Daer has no family? And yet it still explains only part of the mystery.
He raises his chin and looks straight at his nemesis.
"Why did you do it?" he repeats. "Why did you take the blame?"
"What do you think?" Men'Daer counters, eyes flashing in challenge.
"I don't know," En'Eliss admits quietly.
Men'Daer snorts. "And that's what's been bothering you ever since. Aggravating, isn't it?"
"Tell me!" En'Eliss demands, hands balling into fists. "Why?"
"Wouldn't it have been such a shame if you'd been expelled? You, the pet, the darling, the golden boy?" Men'Daer muses, the corner of his mouth quirking. "Isn't it enough that I saved you then, and that you owe me something in return?"
En'Eliss manages to swallow when Men'Daer steps so close that their bare chests are nearly touching. He can feel the warmth emanating from the taller boy, then shivers when a hand rises to play with the leather string of the amulet around his neck.
"You owe me thanks," Men'Daer whispers. "Big thanks. Shall I tell you how you can best thank me?"
En'Eliss is breathing hard. "Yes," he manages through his teeth. "Tell me, and be done with it."
"Give yourself to me."
Men'Daer smirks again, gaze boring deep into incredulous brown eyes that grow round with shock. "What? Is that such a surprise? Do you think I'm that revolting?"
The fingers tighten, tug at the string. "I'm sure you're not a virgin, beautiful. I won't believe if you try to tell me that you haven't had anyone in your bed, and not just because you didn't want to sleep alone."
Of course he's right, En'Eliss has enjoyed the nightly pleasures with a few of his fellow dancers, but still the request takes his breath away. This is different. Men'Daer is demanding submission.
His mind recoils even as he can feel how his body is reacting inside the tightly tied loincloth under the skirt. It's just the closeness and tension, En'Eliss tells himself. The words evoke memories, that is all. Why would he give in? If he heeds the sly whispers of his body and grants this now, if he takes this step, what will be the next one?
"Why?" he asks tightly.
"Because you're beautiful," Men'Daer says with a strange smile. "Because you're desirable and proud and I've wanted you for years."
"Am I?" Men'Daer presses closer. "What do you think I was doing outside your window, back then when they first spotted me there? A hurt cat? Yes indeed!"
He laughs bitterly. "I was looking at you, En'Eliss. What else would've I been there for? I was watching you, like I'd been watching many times before. The golden boy. The beauty. The one whom everyone adored, the one who despised me. You had hurt me so often, beautiful, with your scorn and your laughter and your indifference!"
Hot breath washes over En'Eliss' face, Men'Daer's voice has dropped into a hiss.
"I was a mere kid and so were you, but I'm sure you can still remember, if you want to, what you were dreaming of on some nights. What were you thinking of when you settled on your bed, naked like the day when you were born, and your hands roamed over your body until you panted, and your sweet little member was hard and weeping? Whom did you imagine in your room? Definitely not me, the ugly and clumsy and stupid one, the one everybody felt entitled to scorn and shove away, you just like every one else. How I hated you!"
The string almost cuts to En'Eliss's skin, he stares into blazing blue eyes and blinks at the pain.
"And you know what? I hated myself, too, because still I couldn't help thinking that you were the most beautiful thing there was in the whole world. I hated myself for wanting to hold you and kiss you. When the priests came running and found me there among the shards, I was still somehow hoping that you'd come to my rescue and explain what had happened, that it was just an accident, and of course they'd forgive you. How could they not forgive you?"
Men'Daer catches himself, eyes dilating, and En'Eliss braces himself for pain. It doesn't come. Men'Daer just pushes him abruptly further and grimaces.
"We both know you didn't do a thing, though, and in the end I realized how lucky I was to be sent away from here. There were fewer boys in Lao Da Berit, and funny enough, they were much kinder to me than anyone here ever was. Yes, I was lucky... but it still doesn't mean I'd have forgiven you. No, En'Eliss, I will have what I want, and you'll give it to me."
"Give me one reason why I would do that," En'Eliss demands, nostrils flaring. "Is there really no other way to thank you properly?"
"No, I don't think there is," Men'Daer says with a wicked smile. "Because if you refuse, I'll have to go to the priests and tell the truth about the statue after all."
"They wouldn't believe you!"
"Oh, but I think they would. Particularly as El'Teth was in the Temple hall taking part in the service when it all happened."
El'Teth? The friendly temple warden? En'Eliss remembers having sometimes seen him extend a comforting hand to the scraggly redheaded boy when the merciless taunting of others had once again driven Men'Daer to seek shelter from the shadows. Cold claws clutch his insides.
"He saw me back then, En'Eliss. He saw me standing in the middle of this hall when the crash sounded, and he knew already then that there was no way I could've done it. He came to talk to me after the priests had questioned me, to ask why I was lying. He asked who it was that I was protecting, and no matter how I insisted that he was wrong, he didn't believe me. You want to know what he said?"
Men'Daer looks intently at En'Eliss. "He told me, with tears in his eyes, that he knows it wasn't me, and urged me to tell what really had happened. In the end I begged him not to press it, and he just sighed and shook his head. If I now go and tell him the truth, he'll believe me, and he'll convince the others, too. Do you realize what that would mean?
En'Eliss knows it all right.
The end 每 of everything.
He closes his eyes for a moment and wills his racing heart to calm down.
"All right," he says quietly.
Men'Daer's head tilts and he smiles, an odd little smile. "Is that a yes?"
En'Eliss grinds his teeth, fighting against the fierce prickling behind his eyelids. "Yes," he grinds out, even though it feels like chewing grit. "Yes, you'll have what you want."
A strange expression passes over Men'Daer's face, and for a moment En'Eliss wonders if this was it, if Men'Daer really just wanted him to acquiesce, but then fingers close around his wrist.
"Come," Men'Daer says. "Quiet."
The moon pours its scant light on the tiny, narrow path, but Men'Daer scarcely seems to need its help. His step is sure and his grip firm as he leads En'Eliss out of the temple through a little side gate. En'Eliss can only follow blindly and hope that he won't slip or stumble on anything, because that might mean an injury and a limp, someone would surely notice those, and this is something nobody must know of.
The boldness of it all takes his breath away. He hasn't set a foot outside the Temple walls ever since his parents brought him here, nearly eight years ago, but now he's breathing the soft, misty air of the hillside once more. The whispers and shrieks of the forest surround him and make his heart swell with strange joy despite the tension and fear and anger roiling inside. Men'Daer follows the winding path downwards, and En'Eliss doesn't need to have been here before to know where it's leading: to the waterfront. He can smell the water, hear the rustling of rushes, feel the moisture in the air.
Something white flashes overhead and En'Eliss stops with a gasp, yanking his hand. Men'Daer stops and looks at him, fingers hard as iron. "What?"
"I 每" The whiteness appears again, a sleepy heron rearranging its wings as it settles more comfortably inside its nest. En'Eliss gulps. All his attention has been focused on Men'Daer's form ahead, only now he notices the large trees and the dark lumps of nests on their branches. "Nothing."
"We're almost there," Men'Daer says.
En'Eliss doesn't want to ask where, so he just purses his lips and follows. All of a sudden he feels rock under his feet, hears the whisper "Careful, now!" and his guide is pulling him upwards.
Black water below reflects the light of the half moon, and the incessant croaking of countless frogs nearly drowns the quiet rustle of the tenacious tree growing on the ledge they're standing on. Men'Daer's breath hisses as he stands there for a while, just looking around, then sits down. He tugs at En'Eliss' arm.
The face of the rock is smooth and bare and cool. Men'Daer is not cool. He pushes En'Eliss to lie on his back on the hard stone and then he's crouched on top, braced on his hands and knees, long hair tumbling over his shoulders to shroud their faces. En'Eliss can see the glint of his eyes a blink before the head lurches down and lips clamp on his neck, hot and wet.
He doesn't fight back, though, just listens to the kisses on his throat and collarbone, feeling how their heat shoots through him. He knows he's trembling as the strong body pins him down, but it's not the coldness seeping from the stone and the air that makes him shiver. Lips close around a nipple, En'Eliss tenses when a sharp tongue teases it into a peak and another scorching wave surges inside him. Teeth nip on his taut stomach muscles as the mouth travels downwards and then the tongue pokes into his navel, just above the multi-colored sash so artistically tied to hide his lower belly and the flaring hardness that is trying to force its way out of the loincloth.
En'Eliss groans, or moans, or something. Too tight, the cloth is so tight it makes him throb. It hurts.
With a shock he realizes that his own hands are clawing at the sash. Together with Men'Daer's fingers they manage to untie the knots and loosen the loincloth. How can he be this eager, he wonders distantly, shouldn't he be feeling defiled and disgusted and just want to get away? But no, his blood is singing with desire and another moan escapes from his throat when the folds unravel and his young, engorged sex springs free.
The raw need in his own voice makes En'Eliss close his eyes in shame. No, he doesn't understand this. Men'Daer has forced him into this, threatened him, broken the rules, and he should be hating this. Not writhing in Men'Daer's grip, not trying to get his legs free so he could wrap them around Men'Daer. Not begging for a touch. Not arching up to meet the kisses that fall everywhere on his body. Not fisting that long hair. Not pushing into strong, kneading hands. Not wanting.
The long skirt tangles in his legs, and feverishly En'Eliss kicks it out of the way when Men'Daer finally manages to pull it low enough. The lips have now reached their goal and his sex glides slowly between them, but when he tries to move, he can feel the sharp line of teeth just behind the head. A warning. With a whimper En'Eliss freezes in place and tries to breathe as the light bite disappears and a tongue begins to massage him rhythmically, in the hot wet heat.
He doesn't really notice that he's sinking his teeth into the back of his own wrist not to shout out loud. All he knows is that he's so close, but just as he can almost feel the glorious pulsing, Men'Daer pulls away and he's too completely taken by surprise to even protest. The cool air on his wet, hard member nearly does him in but not quite, and he wants it so badly. Needs it.
"Please," En'Eliss repeats to the hands that hold him in place, to the rapid breath on his groin. "Please, Men'Daer!"
The tongue touches his balls and he barely muffles a scream when they are sucked into the delicious embrace of those lips. Nobody's ever done this to him, never. The tongue explores and licks, finds its way to the soft flesh just behind the sac. Like the curious little fish in the stream next to his childhood home; that was how their touches felt if you let your hand trail in the water long enough. But they were cold and the tongue is hot on hot skin as it approaches the entrance and En'Eliss' unsteady breath turns into ragged panting.
Men'Daer's hands are sure as they turn him around, belly down on the rock face. It feels so hard and rough now, all of a sudden, and En'Eliss pushes his hips up. It's too hard against his own hardness, it hurts, but maybe Men'Daer doesn't want to hurt him too much after all, because En'Eliss feels how the other boy gropes for the discarded skirt and pushes it underneath him. He's grateful for that little gesture and leans on his elbows burying his burning face in the arms, utterly ashamed and yet too far gone to do anything but comply.
He knows he's never felt such crazy need before. He's never wanted anything this much before. He knows Men'Daer is doing this all just to humiliate him, but he doesn't even care. He just spreads his legs and begs for more.
En'Eliss wants to come but Men'Daer isn't letting him. He'd need just a little more, just a little push of that tongue teasing his hole or a tiny squeeze from the hands playing with him, but every time when he's only a hair's breadth from release, Men'Daer does something else instead and En'Eliss is left hovering on the brink.
There's very little conscious thought left in his head, and what there is tells him to be silent. The Temple is not far, they are at the waterfront, surrounded by rocks. If he shouts, the echo will be heard all around and someone will surely come to explore. To save him. To see his shame, to witness how he willingly yields to Men'Daer. No, nobody must hear or see anything. They would just interrupt this and then Men'Daer would not give him what he needs.
En'Eliss almost hiccups with hysterical laughter as his fevered mind locks on that. What if Men'Daer will do exactly that 每 drive him crazy with want and then stop? Wouldn't that be the perfect revenge?
Hands grip his hips as if in answer, and then En'Eliss is already pushing back to welcome Men'Daer inside him. He can't help himself. It does hurt some, but oddly enough Men'Daer isn't rushing it. At first it's just a blunt nudge but then he waits until En'Eliss relaxes and his breath slows down after the initial pain, then glides deeper, stops again. As if he didn't want to hurt, at least not too much.
En'Eliss feels the heat of Men'Daer's body bending over his back, hears the hiss of breath through clenched teeth. Men'Daer's prick is so hard but not terribly thick. He can take it, he wants more of it, it stretches him but he wills the discomfort out of his mind and it fades into the background. Good. So good. Oh gods, so good.
A touch, still deeper inside En'Eliss, and he muffles a cry into his wrist when his whole body arches and sparkles fly inside his head.
"More," he pants, Men'Daer pulls a little out and thrusts once. Then a second time. Then a third. "More!"
More sparkles, more heat, more. Fingers dig into En'Eliss' hips, with shaking arms he braces himself against the rock underneath, legs spreading, wanting. Men'Daer is growling under his breath. Maybe he wants to hurt now, maybe not, but En'Eliss feels no pain. All he feels is the shaft ramming into him, hitting right where he wants it to, pushing him closer and closer to ecstasy, and his own body eagerly responding, grinding into the assault. He falls on one elbow on the ground and reaches for his own sex, whimpers when his fingers close around it and begin to pump. So close.
A trembling brush of a thumb across the head and then he's done for. With a shuddering moan he spills himself, clenches around Men'Daer's hardness, hears the rasping grunt, feels Men'Daer's release inside him. They freeze, harsh breath cutting through moist air, oblivious to the night around. Joined.
For a long moment Men'Daer just holds on to him. Finally he pulls out and En'Eliss blinks, lets out a quiet sigh of protest. Slowly he realizes that he's still kneeling on the ground, legs wantonly spread, head pillowed on a forearm and the other hand sticky with his own seed. Stark naked. He becomes aware of the coldness of the air washing over him, of the scratches on his palms and knees, of the gentle misting of his own breath.
En'Eliss is stiff and sore all over. His arms don't want to cooperate as he pushes himself up with a wince and gingerly rolls around to sit on the discarded, crumpled skirt. He combs a badly shaking hand through tangled, curling hair and tries to pull the cloth closer to his sweaty body. Tries to catch his breath and his senses once again.
Men'Daer is sitting at an arm's length from him, arms crossed over raised knees, looking away. Or is he looking anywhere? His head is cradled on his arms, long hair hiding his face from sight. His sash is somewhere and the skirt pools forlornly around him, a puddle of pale cloth in moonlight. He is shivering.
The silence stretches. En Eliss frowns.
He shifts a little closer, grimacing as his body complains about the movement. It's really not too warm here, by the lake at night. "Say something," he prompts.
Men'Daer almost glances at him over a shoulder. It's just a jerk of the head, then he turns away again.
"Why don't you say something?" he counters under his breath.
En'Eliss' eyes widen, but before he can think of a proper reply, his teeth began to chatter. He's getting cold rapidly, so he gropes for the loincloth and gets up on unsteady feet to redo it, hissing silent curses to himself when the fabric slides into place between the buttocks and gathers his still tender genitals snugly in. Then he begins to wrap the skirt around his hips, pauses, pulls it over his shoulders instead.
As thin as the flowing cloth is, it still feels good to have something covering his upper body. It also has another effect: it restores at least some of En'Eliss' self-confidence. With a deep breath he crouches to pick up his sash, the straightens himself slowly again with a reluctant grunt. Through the darkness he stares at Men'Daer.
"You got what you wanted, didn't you?" En'Eliss says, voice carefully flat despite the maelstrom of emotions inside him and the shivers that are raking their claws through his body. "Are you satisfied now? Or will you still want something more?"
Men'Daer's head sinks lower between the arms.
"No." His voice is muffled. "I got what I wanted."
En'Eliss would like to ask if he means it, if Men'Daer really will leave him be from now on. Can he really be sure that Men'Daer won't play the same card again, some day. And he wants to hit Men'Daer, split his lip, see and taste blood, dig his fingers into skin until aching bruises appear on that smooth, muscular body. He pictures his own hand grabbing a fistful of that dark red hair and yanking, hard enough to bring tears into hooded blue eyes.
He tears the skirt from around his shoulders and for a moment just stands there, breathing hard and looking at Men'Daer's hunched form. He wants to say that he hates Men'Daer.
En'Eliss is tired and sore. He knows that in the morning it'll be hard to pretend that nothing has happened, but that's what he'll have to do anyway. In the morning the teacher expects to see them dance, body to body, arms entwining, in step like a man and his shadow. In the morning Men'Daer will put those hands on his waist and lift him, and he will have to go along, flex his body into a graceful curve and trust that grip not to fail.
For isn't that why he let this happen? In order to stay in the Temple and dance?
En'Eliss turns around. The bundle of skirt and sash is still squeezed in his hand as he slides down from the rocky ledge, fumbling for support. He hardly hears the sleepy rustling of the herons above as he walks up the narrow path, feet numb with cold on the wet, slippery ground, but he does stop when a lone feather flutters down ahead of him.
He picks it up. It's white, or perhaps pale gray, looking pearly under the moon. Pale as skin. Pale as Men'Daer behind him, solitary and motionless.
The shape of the Temple is waiting, looming above him, as he doggedly walks towards it, feet searching for the path and for the way to the gate. He wants to get back inside, back to reality, out of this strange and fevered dream, but the dream doesn't want to let him out of his clutches. It's right behind him, it would take but one glance over a shoulder to make it all come surging back.
En'Eliss doesn't look. He wants to forget again, but he knows that this time the dream will catch up with him anyway. A bad dream that he thought past and buried has crawled back into the waking world, and now he has to figure out how he's going to deal with it.
He only has until the morning to decide.
He has slept like the dead. No dreams, at least nothing he could remember, and at first he cannot understand why he's feeling so stiff and achy. Why do his knees hurt? Why are his arms heavy and his head so sluggish? He grimaces, eyes still closed, and tries to make sense of it all.
But when he squints at his hand and sees the scratches, everything comes back in a flood. He remembers it now, those feverish flashes of darkness and moon and the shadows of trees and the herons nesting high up in the canopy. All strength flows out of him. He remembers.
How late is it? Have the bells played already? No, that cannot be, for if they had and if he were late, someone would have come to wake him up and he's certain that no one has been in his room. He could not fail to know that.
He pushes himself up on an elbow, wincing at how unwilling his body is to comply, and scrambles up. Quick, he must be quick now!
Another look at the window, and a sigh of relief escapes him when he registers how slanted the rays of the sun still are. It's early, early enough to be quiet in the Temple. Not many people are up at such an early hour, and he knows how to avoid the ones most likely to be about. They will be attending to their various duties, he only needs to stay out of their way.
Clutching a bathing sheet wrapped around his body he steals out of his chamber and pads towards the bathrooms. Smooth stone is cold under bare feet, it makes his toes curl, and he makes haste to get in before anyone else.
It's so quiet in the baths that even his hushed steps echo faintly from the walls as he makes his way to the huge water tank and turns the tap on its side. Hot water gushes into a large vat, steam curling up as it hits the walls. He pours cold water in until it is not quite hot enough to scald, then closes the tap again and pushes the vat further away.
For a moment he's tempted to press his body against the reservoir but knows better. A fire has been burning under it for the better part of the night and it's still too hot to touch. It is no use trying to burn away the reminders of his shame; that would not work. Instead he immerses a big sponge in the vat and squeezes it, letting hot water run down his shoulders and chest and legs and arms, over and over again, then begins to wash himself.
Water burns in the scratches all over his body but he ignores it, just scrubs and scrubs until his skin is glowing pink and raw all over. And still he can feel it, the stain that won't go away. When he slips a hand behind his back to wash his buttocks, a rivulet runs down his spine and makes him gasp. His groin is pulsing as he washes himself all over, again and again, and his cheeks burn with something he cannot name.
Steps. Voices. Others are coming. Quickly En'Eliss lifts the half-empty vat and pours the rest of the water over his head, then grabs the sheet once more. Ready or not, clean or not, he's no more alone. With a brief nod for a greeting he slips past the other boys and returns to his chamber, swathed in the sheet from neck to toe.
Behind the closed door he takes a deep breath and looks for the first time at his arms and legs. The skin is red, all the little scratches an angry crimson, but most of them are on his legs; those will be covered by the long skirt. His muscles nearly cramp as he twists around in a vain effort to see his back, and finally he just ties the sash around his waist a little higher than usual. The arms, well, if someone asks he'll say that he's taken a fall in the baths, or leaned on a tree, or something. He tries to feel his face but cannot find anything amiss, then sits down to comb his hair.
A few small specks of something grey fall off. They look like moss. With a shiver he combs fingers through loose curls, shakes his head, puts the comb on the window sill. Next to it, a white feather shifts as if to fly away with the slight breeze of the movement.
En'Eliss raises his head high and steps out of his chamber. He doesn't feel hungry, so he walks past the dining hall and goes instead to the dance grounds. They are empty, quite as he expected, and he clenches his teeth together. He will train and think of nothing else.
The sun rises higher. Others join him but he's barely conscious of the increasing crowd around him, or of the thirst that is clawing his throat, until everything goes still. The dance master has arrived.
Obediently they all take their places on the square, but something is not right. The Master frowns at the empty spot next to En'Eliss.
"Where is Men'Daer?"
Everyone glances nervously around. En'Eliss looks straight at the Master.
"I haven't seen him," he says. His voice is level.
"He wasn't at breakfast," offers someone behind En'Eliss.
"Or the baths," adds a third voice.
The Master is not happy. He turns to a young temple warden who is standing at the door. "Go and find him."
With a bow the warden departs and the Master's gaze sweeps over the dancers once more.
"Let us begin."
En'Eliss moves as if in a dream. His heart is beating hard, each heavy thump so loud it almost hurts, but his step never falters. Not even when the warden returns on hurried feet and goes to speak to the Master in a low, urgent voice. Everyone stops respectfully to wait, but the Master waves a hand at them.
"Continue your practice."
When the two men have disappeared from sight, there is at first a baffled silence and then a murmur that grows louder by the moment. Only En'Eliss is still moving to the rhythm of the exercise he knows by heart after all the years he's been doing it. That's the only thing he is thinking about now, because that is the only thing he will think about.
The sun climbs still higher and eventually he reaches the end of the routine. By then he's alone. Everyone else has slunk away, perplexed by the absence of the Master, so he's the only one who sees the shadows that flicker past the doorway, back and forth. His mind tries to steal after them to find out what is going on, but he forces himself not to think.
Sweaty all over, he finally strolls to one of the fountains and drinks deep from the cool basin, then dips both hands in the water and wipes his arms and face and chest. What is going on? Where is everyone? Oh yes, of course; they have all gone to have their midday meal. Hunger twists his stomach, and slowly En'Eliss makes his way to the dining hall. When he gets there the silence makes him freeze in his tracks.
The Master is there, as are several wardens, and all the boys and young men sitting at their bowls are quiet. When En'Eliss enters they all turn to look at him.
"What is it?" he asks, frowning.
"Where have you been?"
Fear crunches his insides into a knot but En'Eliss looks straight at the Master.
"I was rehearsing," he says simply. What else could they possibly mean?
The Master shakes his head.
"Very well," he says. "So you have not heard that Men'Daer is ill?"
"No, Master." En'Eliss hesitates for a moment, unsure of what would be the appropriate thing to say, then asks: "What is the matter with him?"
"Fever. And it looks like he has been outside the Temple at night. Do you know anything about it?"
"I?" En'Eliss blinks. "How would I know?"
Blood roars in his ears so loudly that he can hardly hear his own voice, but somehow no one else seems to notice. The Master sighs.
"So you, too, have not seen or heard anything?"
"Very well." The old man turns away. "You will need to dance alone in the services, for the time being. Let us hope it isn't anything contagious."
"How 每 how can you tell he's been out?" someone ventures to ask. The Master looks sternly at the assembled boys.
"His legs and arms and body are full of scratches, and his feet and skirt were caked with dried mud 每 what is left of his skirt, that is. Now, if any one of you has seen or heard anything recently, anything at all out of the ordinary, or if you have any guesses as to why he would have gone out, you are to tell either me or the wardens at once."
When the Master is gone, En'Eliss takes a seat and begins to eat, in a daze, not tasting the food. He cannot understand. Bruises? Mud? Memories roll unbidden in front of his eyes, he sees Men'Daer's gliding steps, feels the sure grip on his arm. Men'Daer has been there before, many times, he must know the place and the path like the back of his hand. En'Eliss himself had no trouble finding his way back to the Temple, even in the darkness, although this was his first time there. The only trouble had been finding secure footing on the slippery ground. So how could Men'Daer possibly have lost his way so badly?
His mind is preoccupied, scattered thoughts darting this way and that, but En'Eliss still has duties. He has to perform in the services and perform he does, dancing for the gods like he always does. Only now he's alone. Recently he has not trained with anyone save for Men'Daer, and the Master knows better than to throw him together with just anyone. It's not only the lack of training and experience; their bodies, their movements, their heights and strengths complement each other and bring out the best in them both when they dance together. He and Men'Daer are a perfect match.
The realization comes as a profound shock to him that night, when he's dancing alone in front of the people. He knows there is no one by his side on the podium and yet his body tenses of its own accord, ready for those strong hands to grip his waist and lift him to the heights. Afterwards he's pensive and glum, feeling oddly discontent even though people are whispering their praises and blessings to him as he walks past them. He merely nods his thanks to them and then continues to his chamber without lighting a lamp.
Once inside, he stands by the window and stares out for a long time. The night is going to be cold. Mist is swirling around the branches of bushes, and unbidden comes the image of the lake outside the walls. The air is perfectly still, and in his mind's eye En'Eliss can see the fog hanging like a blanket over the water, and the rushes standing stiff, their sharp blades sticking through it. Are the frogs croaking on such a chilly night? He'd like to know.
En'Eliss sleeps little and dreams a lot that night, restless dreams that keep waking him up over and over again. At last he just lies on his back and stares into the darkness above.
What is he feeling? He's not sure himself. It all seems like some strange, twisted dream 每 the lake, the rock, Men'Daer's body against his 每 a dream from long ago. And yet he knows that it was only the night before that it happened. One single day ago. Like a barely remembered dream, but the strangest thing of it all is that it is not a nightmare. It should be; why isn't it?
The morning finds him tired and short of temper. He must not show it, though, so he braces himself and trains until his vision blurs and the Master tells him to rest in the shade, alarmed by how his step falters after a spin. Cool stone feels heavenly against his bare back, a gulp of water washes away the sticky lump lodged in his throat, and when the courtyard stops rocking in his eyes and he opens them to squint at the shape he knows to be in front of him, he's surprised to see the Master and a young temple warden crouched three. Both are peering anxiously into his face.
"How are you feeling?" The Master looks worried.
"I 每 I'll be all right," En'Eliss stammers.
"He looks weary," the warden observes and the Master nods.
"Are you sure you're all right?" he asks. "You have dark shadows under your eyes, and you very nearly fainted just now. I hope you are not coming down with whatever Men'Daer has?"
Fear wrenches En'Eliss's gut, so sudden and sharp that his breath catches. The men seem not to notice.
"It would hardly be any wonder," the warden observes, "they have been training and dancing together every day."
"No, I 每 I've just not slept too well," En'Eliss tries to say but he's ignored.
"You need to rest now," the Master decides. "You, make sure that he goes to bed and lies down."
The warden heeds no protests as he gently pulls En'Eliss up and steers him towards the dancers' chambers. En'Eliss does not resist. He walks numbly along the corridor, prompted by a steady hand on his back, until they reach his door. There he stops but the warden is determined not to take any chances of En'Eliss disobeying the order, and instead walks him to the bed and holds his arm as he plops down on it.
"You'd better lie down." The warden picks up an empty jug from the small table and turns. "I'll fill this for you. Are you sure you are not feeling cold or sick?"
"I'm all right," En'Eliss repeats. All of a sudden the bed feels strangely tempting and he crawls to lie in the middle. He's just going close his eyes for a moment to fend off the headache he hasn't registered until now, but when the warden returns with the water he wakes up with a start, then curls up more tightly and buries his head in arms.
Towards the evening he finds his way to the dining hall, groggy and disoriented, but cannot eat much. He's been haunted by odd dreams, each more confusing and absurd than the previous, until he's no more sure what is real and what is not, and he curses Men'Daer under his breath.
As impossible as it seems, no one has said anything, no one has observed anything odd about him 每 before now. No one knows what has happened that night, only two days ago. No one will know of his shame, unless he somehow gives himself away, and that he must not do. He must act normal. Not be sleepless, sullen, exhausted. Why should he? He has done nothing wrong! And Men'Daer has given his word, promised not to tell anyone, if only 每
En'Eliss shoves the thought away, pushes the bowl aside and gets up so quickly that the others start. They stare at him as he walks away but he has to get away. The smell of food makes him sick to his stomach. He wants to be alone.
The bathrooms are empty. En'Eliss sheds his skirt on the floor, drops the sash on top of it and slips into a basin. The water is cool, he flattens himself on the bottom and closes his eyes.
He has no idea how long he has just lain there, in the water, when a noise from outside the window startles him back to the moment. He's cold, covered in goose bumps all over, shivering. Is it really that dark outside? As if under a spell, he tiptoes across the tiles, wary of their slippery feel under bare wet feet, and peeks out.
Something white glides across the purple sky and is greeted by the calls of other herons already roosting in the trees by the lake.
Morning comes at last and En'Eliss goes through all the motions that are part of his every day: breakfast, bathing, practice. Is it just him, or is everyone somehow distracted? The other boys speak in hushed tones and for some reason that gets on his nerves, for he cannot lose the nagging feeling that they are whispering about him. What are they saying? What could they be saying?
No, it cannot be that. No one knows what has happened, they cannot. En'Eliss has always been the aloof one, the one apart from everyone else. There is nothing strange about it even if he hardly exchanges a word with the others for a day or two. He dances, that's what he does; he exists to dance.
Three days. Four days. Five days. For five days now En'Eliss has danced alone to the marveling crowds that faithfully make their way up to the Temple every day towards dusk. Five days, and that's when he overhears it as he exits the dais. A man, bowing his head in awe, addresses one of the wardens standing next to the stairs.
"When shall we again see the Dance of the Two Souls?"
The warden sighs. "I hope we shall yet see it one day. The other Soul is very ill."
"I will pray for him tonight," the man says, voice trembling with emotion.
"You do that," the warden replies with emphasis. "Do that, please."
En'Eliss nearly runs away, unable to explain why his heart is beating so hard that it is about to burst out of his chest. When he's on his own bed again, he stares at the ceiling with unseeing eyes and tries to understand.
Very ill. How ill? At death's door? And if so, how does that make him feel?
His breath catches, he chokes. Wouldn't that mean he's safe, safe for good? Then what is this, something akin to panic, that is welling up from deep within? How has it come to this? What has happened?
En'Eliss tosses and turns, knowing that he's about to face yet another ragged, fitful night. Finally he falls asleep, only to wake up again when someone knocks on his door. In the middle of the night?
He stares at the warden standing outside his door. It's El'Teth. The one who almost saw him then, back when 每 no, no, he's not going to think of it now 每 but panic grips his throat. Is this it now? Has Men'Daer broken his word after all and told of it?
The man looks brittle for weariness.
"I'm sorry to wake you up, En'Eliss," he says in a low voice, "but this is important. Please come with me."
"Men'Daer is asking for you."
En'Eliss's legs barely carry his weight when he scampers up and follows the man to judgment. He feels completely hollow.
The warden walks silently ahead, feet shuffling a little. It's eerily quiet around.
"I would've let you sleep until morning," he says just as they turn the last corner, "but I'm not sure he will last that long."
At the door he stops and turns.
"I know you are not the best of friends," he says earnestly. "You do not like sharing the attention. But please be kind to him. I beg you to be kind."
En'Eliss hardly breathes as he somehow forces himself to take those last few steps into the room and by the bed. There he stops and the warden bows down to gently touch Men'Daer's shoulder.
"He's here, Men'Daer."
Huge eyes open slowly, sunken deep and surrounded by dark rings and yet still oddly clear. En'Eliss looks at the face, hollow cheeks, clammy hair sticking in wet strands to sweaty skin, and tries to see the self-assured tormentor, or the strong, graceful dancer who can lift him so high that his head almost touches the roof beams of the Temple, but cannot. All he sees is a gaunt young man whose every bone seems to stick out through his skin and whose eyes reflect the glow of the heat that is burning him from the inside.
"En'Eliss." It's just a faint sigh, but En'Eliss thinks that the tiny twist of lips could be a smile.
The temple warden is there next to him, expecting him to do something. What is it? En'Eliss is not sure, he hesitates, then gingerly sits on the edge of the bed. He is not touching Men'Daer but still he thinks he can feel the scorching heat radiating from the body under that blanket. He doesn't want to touch Men'Daer but he knows the warden expects him to do it. So he wills his hand to move closer, it hovers above Men'Daer's fingers for a few moments and then clasps them.
They curl to squeeze him and then go limp, as if that was all the effort they are up to. Maybe it is. Men'Daer looks at him and En'Eliss looks back, trying to understand what he is seeing. That this really is the same Men'Daer. How can someone so strong and confident change so much in just a few days?
The warden shifts and touches his arm.
"En'Eliss, will you please stay for a while so I can go and get fresh water?" he asks. "Please sit with him for some time, and give him water if he needs it. I try not to take long."
En'Eliss would like to run. Instead he nods mutely, for what else can he do, and soon he is alone with Men'Daer. Alone for the first time since 每 that.
The hand in his tightens its grip and he tenses. But no, if he somehow expects Men'Daer to suddenly leap up and grab him, he's disappointed. Men'Daer merely squeezes his hand and looks at him blinking a little.
He has to bend closer to hear. "What?"
"You really must be blessed." The voice is breathy and urgent. "The gods protect you, always."
"What are you saying?" En'Eliss wants to run. Men'Daer is delirious, he thinks.
"Whatever you do, they will always protect you." Men'Daer lets out a mirthless, breathless laugh. "I touch you, and they punish me."
En'Eliss finds no words to say anything. Men'Daer's eyes make him nervous.
"Your dance pleases them." Men'Daer has to stop to catch his breath. "Why not mine?"
"Don't say that. Of course it does." How could it not?
Men'Daer shakes his head minutely.
"Please," he says and now he's desperate, En'Eliss hears it loud and clear. "Please ask them. They will listen to you."
"Ask them what?"
"To let me dance with you once more."
En'Eliss has to cringe, the hand holding him is burning hot and clasps him so hard.
"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Please ask them. I will make you shine for them like no one else, if only they let me."
The rest comes in a hurried whisper and then Men'Daer has to stop and gasp for air. Naked panic stares at En'Eliss, Men'Daer struggles to speak and En'Eliss bows closer.
"I'm so afraid..."
Men'Daer's face distorts, his body shakes, and En'Eliss feels how his own heart skips a beat. He puts his arm around broad, bony shoulders and helps Men'Daer up a little. Men'Daer sags against him but he's breathing a little easier. Dark red head sinks on En'Eliss's shoulder. The cheek is incredibly hot on his skin, and when he wraps an arm around the waist he can feel the sharp ridges of the ribs.
En'Eliss swallows. This is the first time when he touches anyone like this, and a strange feeling floods him. He knows no name for it but it is so strong that his throat constricts painfully and he blinks in surprise. No, he's never been one to reach out to others, to encourage or comfort or even taunt by touching. This is something he has never experienced before, and it confuses him like nothing ever has.
Men'Daer is leaning heavily on him, and even with En'Eliss's arm around his waist he's slowly crumbling. En'Eliss can feel how his weary muscles work for every breath, sapping both of their strength. He cannot go anywhere, this is so uncomfortable, but Men'Daer is breathing more easily like this, and after some maneuvering En'Eliss manages to shuffle back until his back is against the wall and Men'Daer is half sitting in his arms, head pillowed on his chest. He's shivering, they both are, and En'Eliss is surprised when he realizes how tired and cold he himself is. He gets an arm free and pulls a blanket around them both, wraps his arms around Men'Daer and folds them on the flat stomach.
The body in his arms is hot and under his palms he feels every labored breath, every beat of the racing heart. He closes his eyes and lets his head tilt back against the wall. His lips move. No sound comes out but he whispers it over and over again until sleep takes him.
He's dancing. Graceful and fluid, feet hardly touching the stone floor underneath, he's dancing amid the torches and lamps that light up the Temple. Curls of smoke twist around him and then disperse like the sound of flutes and drums, their rhythm snatches him along as he loses himself in the dance and flies. Then he really does fly high through the air with a strong pair of hands around his waist. Sure arms lower him and long red hair swipes his face as he turns into a spin, seeing the focused, ecstatic face of his partner. The partner who lets him fly like no one else. The partner who knows exactly what to do and when and how. The partner whom he trusts.
Trusts? The inscrutable clay face of the Archer gives him an odd almost-smile and then it explodes, shatters into a hundred shards. He wants to scream but someone pushes him and tells him to run so that's what he does, only he doesn't know which way to go. "I'll protect you", someone says, he cannot find where the voice comes from, he's trapped and the broken pieces are so sharp that his feet bleed. Blood makes the floor slippery and he falls, no, someone grabs him and again he's flying, high above those hungry shards.
He looks down and sees the Archer, no, it's Men'Daer carrying him. Men'Daer's feet are bleeding, too, but he says "it doesn't matter, I'm all right." Suddenly En'Eliss realizes they are on a cliff next to a steep drop into darkness, he wants to warn Men'Daer but is too petrified, and right then Men'Daer slips and En'Eliss wakes up with a jolt.
"Shhhh." A calm hand touches his chest and pushes him back. "You were dreaming."
En'Eliss blinks at the warden, and it takes a while before he properly understands that he's on a bed, lying on his back, with a blanket pulled over him. The room doesn't look familiar, though, and he feels completely at a loss.
"Where am I?" he asks.
"In Men'Daer's room. We didn't have the heart to move you, you were sleeping so soundly."
The warden is speaking in a lowered voice, his tone soothing, but fear lances through En'Eliss.
"How 每 is he 每" He doesn't know why it seems the most important thing in the world right now. The warden squeezes his arm gently.
"Slightly better, at least for now. I cannot thank you enough for staying with him." The warden swallows a few times, obviously battling tears. "Please pray for him, En'Eliss. You wouldn't want to lose him either, I'm sure."
En'Eliss squints at the quiet figure next to him. Men'Daer has been propped up to a half-sitting position, against the light flooding from the window his face cuts a sharp relief, and En'Eliss looks at him, at a loss to understand his own feelings. The warden is still there and he closes his eyes when a thought crosses his mind: does the man after all know the truth about what really happened that night, all those years ago? Has Men'Daer perhaps said something, feverish as he has been? No, no, En'Eliss swipes the thoughts away once again. He's just imagining, he's tired and still woozy from sleep.
He looks again at Men'Daer. The eyes are closed, cheeks hollow, wide mouth at the same time severe and so soft, so vulnerable. He cannot help it, he has to reach out a hand and touch just to make sure that Men'Daer is still alive. Yes, he's warm but not scorching hot any more, and with a sigh En'Eliss yields to sleep once more.
When he next opens his eyes, the patch of sun on the wall is red; the sun must be setting. En'Eliss blinks and sighs, wondering at the languor filling his limbs like hot water. They feel heavy, and slowly he stretches on the bed. Then he remembers. No, this still isn't his own room, not his own bed. He ventures to look.
Men'Daer is there next to him. His face is still sunken but 每 is there more color on it, or is it just the glow cast by the setting sun? En'Eliss turns on his side, props himself up on an elbow and leans his head on the hand. He wants to look at Men'Daer, and maybe try to understand.
He has always been indifferent to the world around him. Nothing has ever been able to touch him 每 or at least that's how it has been for many years. He can faintly remember crying when his parents brought him here to be dedicated to the gods, he remembers sobbing into his pillow at nights, then pushes the memory under the surface like he always does.
He knows he's the prodigy, the treasure, the golden boy. He takes the adulation but gives away nothing but his dance. He has never felt anything for anyone, until Men'Daer changed it all. Not the scrawny boy with scared eyes whom he last saw standing by the broken statue in the Temple, no, but the confident, handsome youth with hooded blue eyes that always seemed to follow En'Eliss, and the broad, sure hands to lift him high and never fail him. He has been the first to make En'Eliss pay attention, to really feel something 每 fear, worry, apprehension.
Shame, lust, ecstasy.
He closes his eyes when that memory flutters past. He doesn't want to remember but it's there nonetheless, at the same time hazily dreamlike and raw, real. En'Eliss swallows.
His hand moves closer, hesitates there and then pulls back without touching, but it's as if Men'Daer could feel it nonetheless. He opens his eyes slowly, not really seeing anything at first, then they focus and his head turns minutely. Their eyes meet, Men'Daer's lids drift shut and for a fleeting moment he seems to smile a little.
"Thank you," he breathes.
"Why do you thank me?" En'Eliss asks. Somehow everything Men'Daer does manages to put him off guard.
"Because you asked them to spare me."
"Why do you say so?"
"You did, because I can still see the sunset." Men'Daer pauses to gather his strength and En'Eliss wants to say No, you're wrong, why would I ask them not to take you, but he cannot make himself lie. He's not sure if he has actually uttered the words even once but he knows they were in his heart and on his tongue, and haven't they always been told 每 sometimes in warning, sometimes in encouragement 每 that the gods can hear even their thoughts?
"I want you to dance with me again:" The words come from somewhere and before En'Eliss quite realizes it, they are trembling in the air. Men'Daer nods.
"Wait for me," he says, voice trailing off to sleep. "I promise I will."
En'Eliss watches how his face relaxes, the breathing slows down and deepens, then he folds his arms and pillows his head on them. He feels like taking a nap, too.
En'Eliss is dancing. The skirt whirls and sways around his legs as bare feet beat their rhythm on cool stone. He turns, he flexes, he jumps, and then he's high up in the air, body frozen in a graceful arc, the skirt floating behind him. Arms reached for the skies, he lands softly on his feet and sees in the corner of his eye the relieved faces of the Master and other teachers. He stops, poised and still, chest rising and falling rapidly and his face for a moment a severe mask, then sighs and lets the tension flow out.
"Good. Very good." The Master comes closer, face anxious, but it's not En'Eliss he is looking at. "How are you feeling? You still get breathless so soon."
"I'm fine, Master," says Men'Daer. En'Eliss glances at him sideways and notices the beads of sweat rolling down his face. He also notices how Men'Daer's hand jerks, as if to wipe them off, but Men'Daer catches himself in time and just rubs his arms. "I just need to get fit once more."
"You must not push yourself too hard. It's not that long since you were so ill." The Master glances at En'Eliss. "You don't want to stumble while you are supporting your partner."
"Please do not worry, Master," Men'Daer says. "I will never drop En'Eliss."
En'Eliss picks up his towel and dries his face and arms, not looking at them. Men'Daer steps closer and En'Eliss hands him the towel. He doesn't need to look to know that those blue eyes are fixed on him. Like they always are.
"Anyway, you will not dance in the Temple yet," the Master decides. "Not until we can be sure that your body is up to the whole ceremony. Until then En'Eliss will have to dance alone."
"Yes, Master," they say at the same time and then leave the hall to visit the bathrooms before dinner.
When night falls and the air is once again filled with the endless whirring song of the small birds that nest in the forest of reeds by the lake, En'Eliss is staring at the ceiling of his room. His eyes are wide open in the darkness and he is breathing hard. He is waiting. Waiting to hear quiet steps, the brush of cloth against a wall, the faint squeak of a closing door, and to feel the bed beside him dip under someone's weight.
Finally he tosses the blanket aside and tiptoes into the corridor. Fingers of one hand running along the wall, he navigates the corners and doors until he reaches the one. Without knocking he pushes and it opens under his touch.
En'Eliss holds his breath as he pads closer, pulls off his thin tunic and crawls on the bed. He feels Men'Daer shift to make room for him.
"I waited for you," he says petulantly.
Men'Daer's arm snakes to rest gently on his waist but he doesn't acknowledge it.
"If someone finds me there, they'll punish me. But if you are found here, everything is all right."
This is Men'Daer's reasoning, always the same, and En'Eliss is not sure if he fully believes it but he doesn't feel like arguing. The warmth of the tall body has done it again, and impatiently he presses closer. There's no need to say anything, they both know why he is here.
Men'Daer is heavy on top of him, but when En'Eliss momentarily struggles to breathe, he moves just enough to take off some of the pressure and then plops down again. En'Eliss is weightless. He is floating on some liquid cloud, high up in the air or perhaps through deep waters, and if the bed underneath him is wet, he doesn't feel it. His head is reeling, his heart beating so loud, and the only thing still grounding him in this world is Men'Daer's hot weight resting on his hips. Without it the syrupy waves of this glorious heat would surely wash him away with them.
Men'Daer rolls onto the bed to lie next to him and turns a little closer, so that En'Eliss can feel the rapid heartbeat against his arm. He frowns at the darkness. Men'Daer still gets breathless quickly and takes a while to recover; he's not over his illness yet, even though the fever is long since gone. It will be a while before the people see the Dance of the Two Souls again.
But they will still see it. En'Eliss lets his eyes slide shut and burrows more comfortably into the pillow. He hears a soft rustle and feels how Men'Daer relaxes into sleep by his side. A sigh rises from deep within him, a sigh of relief. En'Eliss feels safe and calm, and that is so odd. He tries to think of what will happen if he is found here in the morning, then pushes the thought away. It's meaningless, because this is where he'll sleep the night and dream of flying.
This is where he can sleep.