Vanyel pored over the last of the report with Tantras, rubbing weary eyes in the flickering candlelight. “Is that the last of it, Tran?”
Sensing his exhaustion, the other Herald shot him a sympathetic smile. “Sorry to make you go over this, Van. I just wanted to be certain the treaty was absolutely perfect before asking Randi to sign. You know he doesn’t always have the strength to go over everything meticulously these days.”
Returning the smile with a small one of his own, Vanyel sighed. “It’s fine, I’m used to working this late. At this point, though, I’m ready to be done.” He stretched, popping his shoulders. “Or at least to have a glass of wine.”
“I can help you with that,” Tantras replied, getting up from the chair and brushing his whites off. He crouched down behind his desk and came up with a dusty bottle. “This was a gift from Mira.”
Vanyel chuckled. “Mira?! The Bardic trainee who was all voice and no brains?”
“The very same, “ Tantras replied, arching an eyebrow. “Seems she had a liking for older men.”
Vanyel nobly restrained himself from laughing again. “Well, Tran, I can’t fault her taste.” He batted his eyelashes at the older Herald. “If I had to choose a, ah, distinguished Herald myself, it would certainly be you.” Gods, I’m flirting with Tran again, he thought absently to himself. Well, he’s never minded.
Opening the wine with a pop, Tantras laughed outright. “Quite the compliment from the only Herald ever likely to join Saint Thiera’s Order of the Virgins!”
“Good gods, I’m not that bad, Tran! I’ve just gotten…. Older. Wiser. More prudent.”
“More prude, you mean?” Tantras said, raising his eyebrows. “I can’t recall the last whiff of a rumor I’ve heard regarding you. And with how closely the Court watches you, if anything was going on, I would’ve heard!”
Vanyel grabbed a glass of wine out of Tantras’ hand. “Give me that. And don’t tell me you have time for wild romantic escapades, either. The last for you must have been… why, Mira!” He exclaimed, drinking the wine with a salute.
Groaning, Tantras flopped back in his chair and frowned. “I know, it’s awful. I don’t even have to try; the women flock to me! But when would I fit them in? Between Seneschal’s duties and everything we’ve taken on with Randi’s sickness, I barely have time to bolt dinner down at night,” He paused, his expression lightening. “Not that I have it near as bad as the Great Vanyel Demonsbane, Hero of the realm, defender of the innocent, protector of—“
Vanyel whacked him with the treaty. “For that, you’ve got to fill my glass back up.”
“Done already?” Tantras exclaimed before swigging the rest of his own glass. “I’ll keep up, then. For once, we’re both off duty tomorrow morning.”
Four glasses and a second bottle later, Vanyel and Tantras had both somehow migrated to the couch. Vanyel had unlaced his shirt, flushed with drink, and Tantras seemed tempted to remove his altogether. Summer had started early this year, and with such little ventilation in the Palace, wearing full Whites was absolute torture.
“Gods, Van, that’s what happened last time you went home? No wonder you avoid Forst Reach like the plague. Although… this Melenna sounds interesting. If she wasn’t so far away…”
Vanyel snorted. “You would like her.” He paused as Tantras fanned himself with his shirt again. “Kernos’ balls, Tran, just take it off, it’s an oven in here. Unless you’re afraid to…” he waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
“Think I’m worried you’ll try to seduce me?” Tantras laughed and pulled off the offending garment. “You’ve had your chance a hundred times over, better than this one!” He mock-frowned. “Although you do flirt shamelessly.”
“Yes, but you’ve never been so desperate for amorous company,” Vanyel replied, eyeing up his friend’s tanned, muscled torso. He licked his lips. He’d always found Tantras inordinately attractive, but he’d never suspected he might welcome any advances. Yet he seemed almost… serious, and serious beyond the joking sort of flirtation they’d been engaged in for years.
“True,” Tantras replied, swallowing the last of his glass and eyeing its bottom. “Shall we open another one to toast lonely souls?”
Vanyel shrugged. “You know I’ll always take another drink, the rare times I can actually afford the time to have one.” He watched Tantras openly now, and Tantras smirked.
“Checking me out, Van?” He shot him a glance over his shoulder. “Not that it would be the first time.”
Flushing a bit despite his obvious guilt, Vanyel held out his glass for more wine. “Can’t blame me. I daresay it’s been far longer for me in that department than you. After all, my choices are limited… and my time even more taken up with useless meetings.”
“Poor Van, “ Tantras pouted. “That beautiful face and no one to share it with.” He walked back to the couch, having filled both glasses to the brim, and sprawled close to Vanyel. “I can’t imagine there’s any lack of willing partners.”
Vanyel couldn’t help it, it seemed the natural thing to do: he lay down on Tantras’ sprawled form, glass of wine dangling from one hand. Must be the drink, he thought fuzzily, feeling extremely comfortable. Tantras stiffened a moment under him, then relaxed and ran a tentative hand through Vanyel’s hair. “You’re as pretty as a girl, you know,” he half-murmured, stroking the thick black locks. “Prettier than most.”
Rolling his head to look up at Tantras, Vanyel chuckled. “Trust me, Tantras, I’m not made the same as them.”
“It can’t be that different,” Tantras continued, still half to himself, still toying with Vanyel’s hair. Is he suggesting…? Vanyel sat up and took a hefty swig of his glass. Not that I need more wine, he thought amusedly. Everything was starting to seem very funny. And the room was very warm.
“I think I’ll take my shirt off too,” Vanyel remarked to no one in particular, sitting up and peeling it off his body. He moved close to Tantras again, this time resting his head on the other Herald’s shoulder. “You know, Tran, you’re one of my oldest friends.”
“You’re one of mine, too, Van,” Tantras replied absently, his eyes on Vanyel’s soft lips. Their faces were almost touching. Vanyel reacted first, almost instinctively, turning his face toward Tantras’ and pressing a kiss onto the other man’s lips. A friendly kiss, he told himself. But—surprise of surprise—Tantras responded, opening his mouth under Vanyel’s and pulling him in closer.
Heat washed over Vanyel’s body, attraction making his head feel even lighter than it already did. He moved on top of Tantras, straddling him on the couch and cupping his face in his hands. Feeling Tantras’ muscled chest against his own was sending little shock waves to his groin and he moaned into the kiss.
Tantras broke it with a smile. “Been a while, Van?”
“You have no idea,” he muttered, tracing a hand down Tantras’ cheek. Suddenly, just who this was happening with and the strangeness of it all rushed in. He pulled back and looked into Tantras’ eyes. “ You’re not shaych, Tran. Are you sure about this?”
“Why not?” Tantras laughed. “Better you, a friend, than some court lady who wants something from the Seneschal.”
Vanyel laughed. Odd as it was, he could Sense Tantras’ attraction—and the man was old enough to know what he wanted. Drunk and experimental… “All right, I feel the same way. But—“ he played his hand down Tantras’ chest. “I think you’ll enjoy this more if I take care of you.”
He kissed Tran again, lingeringly this time, an amused thought flitting through his mind—Jonne always did say I kissed like a girl—feeling the other man hardening under him. When Vanyel pulled away from the kiss, he moved his head down to Tantras’ lap and pressed his mouth, hot and warm, against the bulge in his breeches. Tantras moaned softly and knotted a hand in Vanyel’s hair while he used his other to undo his breeches deftly. His hard cock sprung out and Vanyel took it in his mouth, all of it, then worked his tongue slowly up and down.
“Gods, Van,” Tantras breathed heavily. “The Court ladies never do that—“ His breath hitched on the last word as Vanyel sucked gently on the tip. Within minutes, he was coming, a sharp cry tearing from his throat. Swallowing and wiping his mouth, Vanyel lifted his head and fell back on the couch next to Tantras. He was still hard as a rock, but he was glad Tantras had gotten off so easily—and so well, from the looks of it, he thought, a bit smugly. I didn’t know—since he isn’t shaych—but he came as quick as anyone.
Still breathing heavily, Tantras turned to look at Vanyel. “Goddess and all the Gods above, Van, I’d have come on to you years ago if I knew you could do that.”
Vanyel chuckled and flung an arm around his friend. “I’d have tried to seduce you ages ago if I knew you’d be so willing.”
Tantras shot him an amused look then cast his eyes downward toward Vanyel’s still-hard cock. “What about you, then? You know I’m new to this… should I return the favor? Is that protocol?”
Taking a swig of his wine and ignoring his throbbing erection, Vanyel burst into whole-hearted laughter. “Protocol, Tran? Are you asking if there’s a treaty on shaych behavior?”
Tantras flushed a bit then joined him in his laughter. “All right, all right, silly question. But I feel, well, great... and you’re obviously still, um, waiting.”
“Tran, you’re not shaych, and I seriously doubt you would enjoy it. Besides, I got enough pleasure out of taking care of you—“ He paused as Tantras moved closer and slid a tentative hand into Vanyel’s too-loose breeches. As usual, I’m underweight, Vanyel thought absently, then gasped as Tantras palmed his cock.
“This, I know how to do,” Tantras said with a somewhat triumphant smile, rubbing Vanyel’s cock in slow, rhythmic motions.
Vanyel smiled a bit, breathing heavily, and murmured, “Practice often enough on yourself?”
Tantras chuckled, taking a deep gulp of wine with his free hand. “You have no idea.” He began to move his hand more rapidly and Vanyel closed his eyes, unlacing his breeches and letting his cock spring free. “I can believe it,” he breathed in response. “You’re certainly quite good at it.”
It had been months—years, Vanyel corrected mentally—and the feeling of another’s hand was intoxicating. Within minutes, he felt the world speed up, then slow down into one, long moment of intense pleasure. “Tran,” he murmured, spurting into the other man’s still-moving hand. He reveled in the feeling of relaxation for a moment before opening his eyes and favoring Tantras with one of his rare, entirely unhindered smiles.
Tantras smiled back at him, grabbing a cloth napkin from the table to wipe his hand. “Certainly worth it to see you smile like that, Van. I don’t know if I’ve had a lady so lovely in my bed—well, couch—before.”
Laughing, Vanyel grabbed another napkin and cleaned himself off. “I suppose I’ll take that as a compliment, although I find myself being compared to ladies far too frequently.”
“Cut your hair,” Tantras suggested, lacing his breeches back up with a sigh of pleasure. “Or stop shaving.”
Vanyel shot him an annoyed glance and tossed his napkin into the wastebasket in the corner. “I happen to enjoy having long hair, Tran. It’s one of my few vanities.”
“Few?” Arching his eyebrows, Tantras laughed. “I think you have more than a few, old friend.”
Vanyel shrugged and smiled self-deprecatingly. “Too true.”
After a pause, as Vanyel laced his own breeches back up and pulled his shirt back on, Tantras said with a curious look, “Is that it, then?”
“Is what it?” Vanyel replied, distracted by the offending laces of his tunic and the shaft of early morning light shooting in through the window.
“All that you, um, do?”
“Who does?” Still a bit drunk, Vanyel looked uncomprehendingly at the still-shirtless Herald. Gods, he is a specimen, Vanyel thought with a bit of a smile, eyeing Tantras’ rippling chest muscles.
“Shaych people,” Tantras replied awkwardly.
“Oh!” Vanyel exclaimed, pausing in his war with the tunic laces. He considered Tantras’ question. “You mean, what I did to you?” At Tantras’ nod, he chuckled. “No, of course not, Tran! I wasn’t about to actually sleep with you, though. I didn’t think you were quite up for that step.”
Tantras looked as if he were deeply considering the idea, his head cocked to one side. “You mean, like, you would sleep with me? How?”
Vanyel groaned. “Lord, Tran, is it really such a conundrum? And, incidentally, I usually am slept with.” My tongue really is loosened, he thought wryly. Note to self: six glasses of wine is four too many.
After mulling it over another moment, Tantras’ eyes widened. “Oh! I see." He paused. "I don’t know, Van,” he said with a sly smile. “I might have done it.”
Rolling his eyes, Vanyel replied, “I wouldn’t have. I’ve barely slept with anyone, Tran, and I’m not about to break my streak of celibacy with a non-shaych man.”
Tantras chuckled. “And you wonder why you keep getting compared to ladies! Not that it surprises me, I’m shocked you even let loose this much tonight.”
“Well,” Vanyel replied, the grin returning to his face, “I’m not that moralistic. Besides,” he continued, laying a hand on Tantras’ bare chest, “you know I’ve always wanted you.”
Placing his own hand on top of Vanyel’s, Tantras shook his head and smiled softly. “I guessed, but I didn’t know, Van. You’re fair impossible to read, even for your closest friends.” He squeezed Vanyel’s hand once, warmly. “I could wish I were shaych, for I’ve certainly never been as close, nor as admiring, of any woman before. But…”
“Gods, Tran, don’t wish for that,” Vanyel said with a hint of bitterness. “I’m sure that brief experimentation was fun, but living as a shaych man—you don’t want that can of worms.” He tilted his head and looked Tantras full in the eyes. “I hope you find that woman, though. Make time to try. Nothing—nothing—is as important as love.”
Letting go Vanyel’s hand, Tantras wrapped the smaller Herald in his arms. “I know, Van. I could wish the same for you, but I know you’ve had that moment.”
Vanyel leaned into Tantras’ chest. “I’m at peace with it. And I find comfort, still, where I can.”
Tantras chuckled, a warm rumble against Vanyel’s tightly held body. “I’d accept that comfort again.”
Closing his eyes and feeling himself losing the war against sleep, Vanyel murmured in reply, “Any time, Tran.”
When he finally woke up candlemarks later, it was with a start. Whose…? He looked around himself in half-shock, it had been so long since he hadn’t awoken in his own quarters. Tantras, he remembered with another slight start, before a smile began to widen across his face. That was fun. Apparently Tantras had made his way to the bed, for Vanyel was alone on the couch. Just as well, he thought, pulling on a boot and searching absently for the second, we certainly aren’t lovers, no need to sleep like ones.
He scrawled a brief note for Tantras, See you at Council, before letting himself out quietly. Carefully scanning the hallways—don’t want Tantras getting an odd reputation—he began to walk quickly towards his own quarters, head down. He barely noticed the man approaching him until Joshe said in quiet, surprised tones, “Van?”
Vanyel looked up and flushed. I must look a mess, he thought, running a hand through his hair. “Good morning—afternoon, Joshe,” he replied with as much dignity as he could muster.
Joshe looked down the hallway he was coming from. “Were you—did you just wake up?” Then, realizing he must have asked an uncomfortable question, he blushed and stammered, “Not—not that it’s any of my affairs.”
Sighing, Vanyel replied, “I was up late working over the treaty with Tantras, and I passed out on his couch.” Innocently. Most innocently, he thought at Joshe.
Still looking a bit surprised, Joshe nodded. “Oh. Right. Tantras sent a copy over at first light.” That’s what that noise was, Vanyel thought with vague remembrance of an interruption in his short slumber.
“Indeed.” Vanyel mustered a smile. “Well, Joshe, I really must be on my way to get ready for afternoon Council.”
“Right, of course,” Joshe replied, fiddling with the papers in his hand. “I’ll see you there, then.”
Murmuring a “yes” in reply, Vanyel hurried back to his quarters, praying to every god he knew that he could avoid any other unfortunate encounters.
:Feeling relaxed this afternoon, Chosen?: Yfandes remarked with an unwonted degree of smugness.
Vanyel grunted mentally at her, dragging a clean set of whites out of his closet and running a comb through his hair.
:Did you have an interesting time last night?:
:I thought you were sleeping: He replied, not letting her fully into his thoughts. He didn’t want to keep it from her, exactly, but he wasn’t sure he was ready to have a conversation about it.
:Well, I was, until I felt certain—unusual—emotions shooting down our bond. Emotions one of us hasn’t felt in quite some time.: Her Mindvoice held more curiosity than reproach and he stifled a laugh.
:Nosy as ever, aren’t you?: As often as he was forced to listen to her escapades, he was feeling most justified in forcing her to wait.
:It can’t have been Tran,: she exclaimed. He felt himself blush mentally before he closed the channel.
:TRAN?!: she shouted at him, forcing him to open his mind back up.
:Yes,: he acknowledged with a sigh. :I didn’t sleep with him, ‘Fandes.:
:He’s not shaych, though—I mean, Gods know you’ve fantasized about him, but—he is certainly not.:
:I realize that, love. It was just… mutual pleasure. Bodily enjoyment.:
Her snort of laughter echoed through his mind. :Tran! This is too good. I’ve got to tease Felara.:
:’Fandes!: He Mindspoke sharply. :Please keep this between the two of you.:
Her voice softened and grew more serious. :Of course, Chosen. I know you’re private.:
Candlemarks later he was changed, refreshed, and still sitting in the Council chamber— with a slight hangover headache. Rubbing his forehead tiredly, he restated—for what seemed like the seventeenth time—“Herald Tantras and I found absolutely no flaws in the treaty. We reviewed it extensively, Lord Karan.”
The older Councilor gave a noncommittal shrug. “I still don’t like signing treaties with Hardorn. They don’t think the same way we do. They might not honor it.”
“Yes, but that’s a risk we must take. Having the document and hoping they will honor it is better than having nothing and knowing they won’t,” Vanyel replied, a hint of annoyance coming into his voice.
“Except for that paper means we’ll be risking our skins to rush down there and help them, without even knowing if they’ll do the same for us!”
“But Herald Vanyel’s point is that we would be helping them in danger regardless,” Tantras cut in, eyes slightly red-rimmed. “We—or Herald Vanyel, at any rate—have already helped them in times of need. Or have you not heard the song Demonsbane?”
Vanyel stifled a groan. :Tran.: He shot him mentally. :You know how I feel about that song.:
The corners of Tantras’ lips quirked momentarily, but he pressed his advantage. Lord Karan was looking abashed at the mention of Vanyel’s heroism, and had cast his eyes downward. “We help innocent people, Lord Karan. That’s what makes us Valdemarans. So this treaty simply means that on the off-chance they do honor their word, we have extra help we would never have had otherwise.”
The rest of the Councilors were nodding agreement, many shooting somewhat hero-worshipping looks at Vanyel. He groaned again mentally, but had to give Tantras credit: it worked. The treaty was ratified shortly thereafter, with full support. Tantras met him at the door, holding the signed paper in his hand with a broad smile. “Shall we tell our King?”
Vanyel returned the smile and clapped Tantras on the shoulder. “Of course.”
Walking out of the Council chamber and toward Randi’s quarters, Tantras checked quickly to see if anyone else was around before dropping his voice and saying, “About last night…”
“Yes?” Vanyel quirked an eyebrow.
“Well, I didn’t want you to think I felt strangely—I wanted to thank you. I needed that—and I didn’t mean to leave you alone, but I am far too tall to fit comfortably on the couch.”
Chuckling softly, Vanyel replied, “You’re welcome, Tran. I needed it too. Honestly, I prefer sleeping alone—I’m far too used to solitude. But we probably shouldn’t do that again—“
“—Joshe!” he exclaimed as the younger Herald seemed to pop out of nowhere from the corridor in front of them.
Joshe looked from Tantras’ arm casually slung across Vanyel’s shoulders to Vanyel’s intimate proximity to Tantras and flushed deeply.
“I was just coming to see—to see how the vote went—“
“Relax, Joshe,” Tantras said, a smile twitching his lips. “Vanyel and I are just dropping off the treaty—it went through!”
“Wonderful!” Joshe exclaimed, his expression brightening. “Are you two—“ he broke off.
Vanyel looked at Tantras, who slowly drawled, “Joshe, if I say we are, does that mean you’ll let your sister alone with me?”
Stifling a laugh, Vanyel took pity on the younger Herald. “Of course not, Joshe. We’ll speak more about the treaty later. For now, though, we have to get it to Randale.”
Joshe nodded and sped away, leaving Tantras to look quizzically at Vanyel, who shrugged. “He saw me leaving your rooms this morning.”
“Ahh,” Tantras replied. “Anyone else?”
“Not so far as I could tell,” Vanyel said, pushing open the outer door to the hall leading to Randale’s quarters. “Regrets?”
“Absolutely not,” Tantras replied, then, with a second glance around to check for passersby, slapped Vanyel’s ass. “You?”
Vanyel gave a little jump then laughed. “Of course not. Unless you keep thinking you can do that.”
Tantras held up his hands. “All right, all right, friendly gestures only. Although—“ he paused and looked down at Vanyel. “—does that mean you’ll never suck my cock again?”
“Never say never, Tran,” Vanyel replied with a small smile. “Why? Was it the best you’ve ever had?” His smiled widened.
“Gods yes,” Tantras replied fervently, placing a hand on Vanyel’s shoulders and steering him toward Randale’s chambers. “Absolutely unbelievable.”