Brador was caught between giddy anticipation and melancholy practicality as he wandered about his personal apartments making a few last minute preparations while he checked that all was in readiness. Dozens of hand-dipped candles illuminated the room with a golden glow that was reflected off of the polished wood furniture and delicately scented incense burned in brass bowls off to the side, the sweet smoke lingering briefly in the air before drifting away on the light breeze. His normal linen bed sheets had been exchanged for his only set of silken ones and the covers had already been turned down in expectation of distracted minds and hands far too busy to deal with clinging blankets when the proper time came.
He, himself, had also made prepared for the night's entertainment. The heavy brown robe and the gaudy golden medallion that was his official uniform and badge of office had been exchanged for a lightweight silken robe in shades of shimmering green. A quick dip in his bathing tub had washed away the clinging stench of overcooked food and too many people pressing against him during the banquet and the expected mingling afterwards. He not only felt cleaner, he was sure he smelt better as well.
Now all he had left to do was await the arrival of Atesca...which was more irksome tonight than it normally was for his nerves. Usually, he felt a minor annoyance mixed in with a tiny bit of thrill over sneaking about in regard to his and Atesca's relationship. Oh, not that it wasn't a poorly kept secret that everyone was aware of anyway, still, Angarak sensibilities must be bowed down to in the Imperial City and as such, their relationship would never be publicly acknowledged as more than 'good friends'. It was a bit ridiculous, of course, and back in Melcene where they had first met it had not been such a problem. Sure, Mallorean law forbid a true legally binding marriage, but at least they had been able to openly express their affection and desire for each other. However, both of them were intelligent, reliable and capable men and they had each risen through the ranks quickly until they were here in the Imperial City as close advisors to his Imperial Majesty himself. A great honor, of course, but it came with a heavy price. Angaraks did *not* condone same-sex relationships and so to the world at large they were merely 'good friends', but behind closed doors they were so very much more.
Normally, Brador could push that all aside and privately snicker at such backward thinking even as he and Atesca continued their love in secret. Not tonight, however, for tonight might very well be the last time that Brador ever lay eyes upon his lover and he resented any time spent apart. For tomorrow, with the rest of the General Staff, Atesca would begin the long march to Mal Gemila on the coast and from there he would set sail to Thull Zelik in Mishrak Ac Thull. Tomorrow his lover was going to war and he wanted nothing more than to drag Atesca into the bedroom, pull the covers up over both of their heads and then forget the rest of the world existed. So...he waited.
It was only a quarter of an hour later, although it felt like forever, when the sound of the door in the front room opening caught Brador's attention. A smile blossomed on his round face and a flutter of happiness built up in his chest. Listening closely, he could easily hear the sound of the door shutting and then the heavy footsteps of a large man in military boots. Turning, he walked over to a low sideboard and picked up a cut glass decanter of ruby wine and poured some into two glasses.
His smile grew even wider at the sound of his lover's gruff voice. "In here, love."
A few seconds later and Atesca was walking through the door that led into the sitting room attached to both the bedroom and the bathing chamber. A tiny smug grin hovered about Atesca's mouth and his eyes twinkled with suppressed mirth. He walked over to Brador, leaned down and pressed a kiss onto his round cheek even as he casually picked up one of the wine glasses and took a small sip.
Brador couldn't help but grin cheekily at his lover. The man had an exquisitely wonderful dry wit and something had tickled his fancy.
"What has you in such high spirits?"
A single eyebrow rose up on Atesca's forehead in a silent laugh of amused disdain. "His Highness, King Warasin of Pallia was enjoying himself by making thinly veiled remarks about the...ability of the soldiers whose homelands are in certain various regions. So, I offered to make room in the military ranks for his sons...or even his own person, so that he might more effectively lead those men into battle himself. Fortunately for the Imperial Army, his Highness has pressing matters elsewhere and he can't attend the festivities."
Brador despised the petty kinglet of Pallia and found the man to be an insufferable bore. Hearing of Warasin's clash with his lover was just too good and Brador gave in to the urge to chuckle. "A pity really. I'm sure that his Highness would find Cthol Murgos...educational. Why, he might even learn to grow a backbone."
Atesca chuckled softly and reached out with one thick finger and tapped it lightly against Brador's pouty bottom lip. "Careful, love. Your finely honed Melcene prejudices are showing again."
Brador threw his lover a sheepish grin and shrugged. "Sorry, love. I can't abide stupidity and Warasin is one of the most thickskulled people I have the displeasure to know."
With a grin, Atesca finished his wine and then took Brador's glass out of his hand and placed both of them on the sideboard. "Don't think about it anymore tonight. After tomorrow you can devote yourself to coming up with a hundred ways to annoy his Highness, but for tonight you are mine."
Brador smiled up at his lover and reached out with one hand to cup his cheek. "I'm yours *every* night, my love."
With a tender smile, Atesca leaned down and dropped a soft kiss on Brador's lips. He tasted of life and love and sweet red wine. With a sigh, Atesca broke the kiss and then turned Brador around in order to gently herd him towards the bedroom. Walking over to the far wall where glass doors led to their private balcony, Atesca opened one of them.
"There's a lovely breeze out tonight."
With a soft smile, Brador walked over to the balcony as well and stood gazing out at the Imperial Compound. Many of the windows were lit up and they combined with the oil lamps placed in strategic places around the grounds to act as a surreal mirror to the night sky with it's twinkling stars. Softly, on the breeze, was carried the faint sound of the musicians playing their instruments back in the banquet hall across the garden. The deep booming bass of drums carried the swirling and haunting notes of some unseen wind instrument.
"I can still hear the music, even from so far away."
Brador leaned up against his lover even as Atesca wrapped one muscled arm about his shoulders and sighed slightly. "I can hear it too, my love. Beautiful and empirical, yet there is just a hint of sadness to it. Loneliness, perhaps?"
Usually, such a statement would make Atesca gently chide him for his well hidden sentimental streak, but this time he merely looked down into Brador's eyes with a mixture of love, devotion and just a hint of his own sadness at having to leave with the coming dawn.
"One last dance, my love?"
Brador's heart rate picked up slightly in excitement even as his knees went a bit wobbly with love. It had been so long since they had danced together. Two men simply didn't do that in Mal Zeth. However, they were in Brador's private apartments and this was the last night that Atesca would be in the Imperial City so Brador could not resist the temptation to feel those strong arms hold him close as they swayed gently to the soft haunting music singing to them from the breeze.
"Yes. I'd love to dance."
Turning in his lover's arms, Brador slid his own hands up Atesca's chest until he could drape them over his lover's shoulders even as Atesca's own hands held him at the waist. They moved together with the grace and comfort of those who knew each other's bodies intimately and well. Brador gazed up into Atesca's eyes and had a sudden flash of insight. He suddenly knew that they would be separated for a long time and that his lover would face many trials, however, in the end all would be well and they would never part again.
"Atesca, my love. I want you to always remember that I love you. There will never be another in my heart, no matter what happens. It has always been you and it always will be you. Forever."
A soft smile creased Atesca's normally reserved features and his eyes sparkled with emotion. "I know, my love. I could never forget. Never." And then Atesca leaned down and kissed him. It was a kiss full of love and desire and promises of the heart that could not be broken.
END: Last Dance