Leaning back from the table, Jared steeples his fingers. " There's one more clause," he says.
The old King looks up warily. He should. It's a watertight treaty on both sides, and it could have punitive, but Jared doesn't need a slave state. Doesn't mean he's prepared to accept anything less than absolute submission: firstborn noble sons fostered in court; annual tribute, symbolic obeisance yada yada. The old King's only got himself to blame for not siring more sons and being careless with the two he did have. Jared's about to take the one thing he still has that matters.
"I want Jensen," Jared says, and the words drop into a court that's been expecting the worst like water on tempering steel. The hiss that runs through the courtiers sounds less distressed than it should, given that it's been Jensen holding the Kingdom's borders for the last decade.
Ten years since Jared had stood in the fired remnants of his border fort and sworn vengeance. Jensen would have been twenty: Jared fourteen. The oath still held.
The courtiers shuffle and turn. Peacocks, the lot of them, and compared to Jared's court they look like they've cut up the wall hangings for damask and made their jewelry of paste. It's been a long war. Any other nation, and they would have admitted defeat when Jared closed the trade routes.
No other nation had Jensen.
He's here. Of course he's here. He's leaning against the wall. Amongst the tattered finery of the courtiers, his leathers and furs look almost threatening, wolf amongst pigeons. When Jared was fourteen, Jensen had seemed a giant of a man. But he's less than Jared's height and slender with it, although the insouciant cant of his shoulders and hips means he's never going to go unnoticed. Jared's known where Jensen stood since he walked into the hall two hours ago.
He's not looking up, Jensen, although he must have heard what Jared said. He's paring his nails, and he doesn't even flicker an eyelash 'til he's done and the knife is back in his sleeve. Then he does. Looks up and nods, once, to the old King. If he'd said no, they would have gone to war again, this tiny hill-top country with its barren acres and sheep. It's been been a thorn in Jared's side, this place, since his father came home from the first war strapped over the back of his horse.
Jared lets out a breath he can't remember holding and says - gently, carefully, he says - "You'll need time. You've got a week."
But Jensen doesn't turn his head. He and the old King, they're still looking at one another. It should be farewell, but it's not, and although Jared thought he'd been told everything there was to know about both of them he knows then he knows nothing.
Then Jensen goes. And although the clerks bustle with the new treaty copies, and five fathers want their sons placed in appropriate households, and there are problems with the olive harvest, the image Jared can't forget is the empty space of wall where Jensen was standing.
He's loosing badly, an incongruity his steward is wise enough not to mention.
It's the silence at the door that lets him know Jensen's arrived. He glances up, once, and Saara hisses through her teeth. She says, low, "Jared," which is not normally something she would say outside the bed chamber and measures just how badly she's rattled. But Jared takes his time. Makes his move on the chess board. Gestures for wine. Allows one of the wolfhounds to curl up at his side.
Then he looks up.
It's Jensen. No expression on his face. Trace of a bruise on his cheekbone. Same tattered furs, same stained leather. He's still the most beautiful man Jared's ever seen.
Leaning back in his chair, Jared allows the wolfhound to nose at his fingers. Looks, because he can. When he's had enough, he says, "Strip." It almost surprises him, how the word resonates. At this time of night the hall's normally noisy, but they've got an audience, he and Jensen.
Jensen doesn't even pretend to misunderstand. His furs go first, the wolf skin cloak and the jerkin that still has blood on the sleeve, discarded. Then his shirt. There's strapping on his ribs but Jensen doesn't ask: his fingers move nimbly, unwinding.
He has to bend to take his boots off, but the leggings and his woollen underwear he lets fall and kicks aside. Then he stands still. The only thing he's wearing is the amulet around his neck.
Naked, Jensen's gorgeous. He isn't clean, he's been travelling hard, and it shows. And he's no stripling boy. He's a man, with a man's build. A warrior. His hands are calloused, and his skin is more scarred than not: there's a cut over his thigh that comes from the edge of Jared's sword. Although his face and forearms are tanned, the weathered tan of a man who lives most of his life outside, his shoulders, thighs and belly are milk-white. But not soft. Jensen's honed hard with muscle. His cock's heavy and rounded, lying loose over the neat, lightly furred sac of his balls.
Jared lets his eyes linger for a moment. He wants more, wants to make Jensen stand for him until he's looked his fill. Instead, Jared looks down at the chess board and moves another piece. It's not his move to make and Saara knows it, but she's looking at her shoes as if they're the most fascinating things she's seen all day.
Jared's a good King. He's all for equal rights, proportional representation - so long as he has the final say - and education. He's reformed the law codes. Spoken out against primogeniture, tolerates forty-seven different religions and none of them state-sponsored. He's abolished slavery in three vassal states and his treaties are both fair and kept. In battle, he's invincible. His causes are just. His people watched him grow up, and they love him.
This, though. This is personal. Jensen's Jared's. He's owned, and Jared's announcing possession with every move he makes. There's a reason the man's standing naked in front of - by now - every single General, Councilor, noble, servitor, off-duty guardsman, nursemaid, stable-boy and pot-washer in the citadel. The hall has the hush of the white God's cathedral at wintertide.
Disconcerted by the tension, the wolfhound under Jared's chair whines. Jared runs his hand over the dog's short, harsh fur in reassurance and fingers the thick leather of its collar.
"Come here," he says, and Jensen does, the muscles of his thighs flexing stiffly. He's been riding hard. "Kneel." There's more grace to the way Jensen folds to the floor than Jared expected, the promise of fluid beauty. Close, Jensen smells of sweat and horse. It's not unappealing.
As he unbuckles the dog's collar, Jared lets himself meet Jensen's eyes. They're dark, blank. Jensen's good at hiding things. But when Jared lets his eyes drop to the floor and back Jensen knows what he means. Now, he's stiff when he drops his head and shoulders and folds in his arms. Two inches to the right of Jared's boots, his forehead rests on the stones of the hall floor.
Jensen's back is unscarred, the skin as smooth and pale as a dairy maid's. He's got an ass like an half-ripe apricot, hard muscled and soft skinned, and the line of his spine is an exquisitely sculptured curve. He's Jared's.
Under his robes, Jared's cock is as hard now as it is when the war-cry rises and the trumpets sound the first clarion-call to battle.
When he unsheathes his knife, someone gasps. Irritated, Jared glances up - what, do they think he's going to kill Jensen here, a dog's death, unarmed? - and finds the entirety of his court staring back It's exactly what he wanted. He lets himself smile, wide and vicious, and when he runs the point of the blade down the nape of Jensen's neck it leaves a fine, blooded line. The leather cord holding the amulet is double-knotted and worn, and the knife cuts through it with ease. The hall's so quiet that the ring of metal on stone echoes as the amulet falls.
In its stead, Jared buckles the dog's collar. It's broad, black, the leather worn to suppleness, and it's still warm from the dog's heat. Jared fastens the collar in place with steady fingers, but the only time he touches skin is when he checks the fit, two fingers under the leather and against the pulse in Jensen's neck.
It's only when the collar's on that Jared can relax. Jensen, though: under the touch of Jared's fingers, almost invisibly, Jensen has started to shake.
"Take him away," Jared says, suddenly impatient. He says, "I don't want him more than five feet from my bed," and knows that, if they didn't know it before, the entire court can picture exactly what Jared's doing tonight. It's the first time he hasn't cared they know. But he's got promises to himself to keep: he holds up his hand for the wine, turns back to the chess board, and gestures, emphatically, at Saara's stunned face. It's her move.
He tells himself he doesn't care, now. Jensen's not going anywhere but the foot of Jared's bed. But when it's Mikel who unclips the scarlet cloak of the King's Own Guard and drops it around Jensen's shoulders before pulling the man upright, Jared can't help smiling his thanks, the way he would have done over a fiercely fought bout or a shared camp supper. It's Mikel who nods stiffly in return, servant to King.
Jared lets his smile fade and goes back to the game.
Also as it should be, the man at the foot of his bed.
Jared had stood by the blacksmith as the staples were forged on his bed frame. Jared's a big man and his bed is - all his beds are - heavy and strong. The ironwork he's had added could hold a cart horse. But it's meant for a man, and the chain link is what Jared sees first, tangible proof of possession. Then the fur cloak, Jared's fur cloak, and under it, curled tight and unmoving, the man he's waited ten years to own. Fought a war for.
So ridiculously anticlimactic Jared almost grins, Jensen's asleep. He's wrapped in Jared's cloak as he would have worn his own in front of a campfire, his face tucked down into the fur, although the room's not cold. He looks older, Jensen. The laughter lines by his eyes are deeper, and there's a scar Jared doesn't recognize on his forehead. The bruise on his cheekbone's darkening, and he still smells of horse. It's familiar, oddly comforting. Even when Jared strips the cloak off, Jensen takes a moment to wake. It's a measure of how tired he must be, how vulnerable he has allowed himself to be.
If Jensen had wanted, he could be half way to the Western Isles by now. He's not. He's chained to Jared's bed, and the treaty holds.
Jensen doesn't move when he wakes up, but his eyes track through the room until he finds Jared, sitting on the chair by the fire with the spiced wine in his hands. Jared's robe is hanging loose, and he's naked underneath. The idea's more than obvious.
"I thought our first time would be ... prettier," Jared says, his eyes steady on Jensen's. "But it's late, and I'm tired. There's a pot of salve by your hand. Use it."
Jensen doesn't pretend not to know what Jared means, although Jared doesn't think this is anything the man's done before. He lets the cloak fall, curls up on the floor and reaches a hand behind his back.
"So I can see," Jared clarifies.
When Jensen has to think about it, Jared knows he's right. The man's no virgin, but Jared's the first man he's going to spread for, and Jared likes that. When he kneels, the chain clinks before it tightens: that's about all the length Jared's allowed. Jensen's facing the bed, with one hand on the high mattress for stability and the other spread over his ass, as the fingers he's dabbled in salve pat gingerly at his hole. Jared likes that Jensen preps slowly, an inexperienced, unintentional, tortuous tease that one day, he's going to see all the way through, but right now it's late.
"You want me to take you dry?" he asks, his voice as dispassionate as he can make it, but he's sweating want and his voice drags gutter-deep. "I will." Fair warning.
Hand sticky again with salve, Jensen's back bows as he pushes one finger inside himself. Even from where he sits, Jared can see the man's going to be tight. "Hurry," he says, and sets the wine down. Leans forward.
Jensen spreads his knees as he goes for two fingers, just as he will for Jared's cock. His salved skin gleams in the firelight, and he might be inexperienced but he's not stupid. He's pushing both fingers in up to the knuckles and twisting, stretching the muscle. More prep, lots of it, and both of them might get an easy ride, but Jared hasn't got time or inclination to spare. His robes have been open since he walked in the door, and his own hand on his cock balances him on a knife edge of need. His strokes are deliberately the pace of Jensen's fumbling thrusts, when what Jared wants is hard, fast and now.
When he says, "Hold yourself open," he can hear the tension in his voice, and he can see Jensen breath in hard before the man lets his fingers slip free. Wipes the salve off on his thighs and grips the cheeks of his ass and pulls them apart, the vulnerable, hidden valley between suddenly revealed and shiny with salve.
When Jared punches his cock home the sound Jensen makes is little more than a choked-off, soundless scream, and Jared would be grinning if his teeth weren't clenched. He's been generous with the salve on his own cock - he's not a small man, Jared, and even less so where it really counts - but Jensen's so tight he's forcing every half inch, stuttering, with most of his weight set behind every thrust as he's never done before. His hands are white-knuckled over Jensen's. Under Jared's grip, Jensen can't move his hips any way but up, but he heaves and writhes against the bed with every half-inch Jared gains and he's breathing harsh through his teeth, his face mashed down on the furs of Jared's coverlet. Under the chained collar, the tendons of his neck strain: he can't move, and he's hurting.
It doesn't matter. It's meant to hurt. This, as brutally hard a fuck as Jared can make it, is about ownership not sex and they both know it.
"Scream," Jared offers, bent over for the extra leverage, his cock so hard he's not sure coming's not going to kill him.
Under him, Jensen drags a hand free, clenches it on the back bed-board, and grits his teeth. Jared's riding him hard, and it shows.
"I won't tell ... if you won't." Jared manages, and then, finally, rocks the last half inch of his cock into Jensen's body and stops. It almost kills him to do it: he licks up the line of sweat between Jensen's shoulder blades and bites at the bunched muscles of his shoulders. Jensen's as tense beneath him as a racing thoroughbred whipped too hard to the finish. His ass spasms and cramps, exquisite.
"I've wanted you like this," Jared whispers, harsh. "For ten years. On my cock." He's started to rock in and out again, tiny sparking rushes of pleasure. It's easier now. Jensen's fucked as open as he's going to be before the pain tightens him up.
"Hold on tight," Jared says, and slams home. Pulls out, fast, scraping, and does it again. His hands are slippery with sweat and he can't hold Jensen up any more, so he crooks a couple of fingers in the collar instead and pulls Jensen back, arching, into the vicious, snapped rhythm of his hips and cock. It shouldn't feel as good as it does, but Jared's not going to last much longer. His cock's pulsing, his balls are tight as they slap against Jensen's, and his teeth are set. "Fucking- " Jared manages, and growling, "Jen-" and feels himself come moments before the force of the thing hits him and rolls him over as hard as a sledgehammer blow.
Jensen doesn't kill him, then. He could have done. Jared's seeing stars, for fuck's sake, stars and angels and if he was ever going to believe in a God, this was the moment. He rides it as long as he dares, the long sweet aftermath, Jensen solid and still and warm under his weight.
Pulling out hurts, and if it hurts Jared Jensen should be moaning. When Jared looks down, there are bruises on the man's hips, not too bad, but his asshole's swollen, red and puffy and sore. Battered. The muscles of it are still contracting, an invitation Jared actually can't take up. He's come so hard his balls feel empty and lax between his thighs.
"Stay there," Jared warns, as if Jensen's got any where else to go. There's another, different, pot of salve by the fire. He gets it. When he turns round, he can see his own come start to seep from Jensen's ass, sticky dribbles trickling down the man's crack onto his balls. It's... almost charming. It's also hot, and if Jared had anything left in him at all he would have been hard. Instead, he sits on the edge of the bed, drags Jensen's thighs apart and plays with his own come. He slicks up Jensen's skin, his inner thighs, pushes the stuff back into his asshole, until it's too tacky to use and Jensen's thoroughly marked. Then he uncaps the salve.
"You'll thank me in the morning," he mutters, because he knows this is going to sting. But the way his fingers stroke the ointment over the intricate, swollen folds of Jensen's asshole and into the softness of his body is nothing less than tender. It takes a while, but Jared's not tired. He feels washed clean, content. It's only the thought of the morning council session that makes him stop.
It's then that he realizes Jensen's asleep.
Jensen's probably been asleep since Jared went for the salve. Jared can't help it: he's laughing to himself as he tugs Jensen off the bed, rolls him up in the cloak and goes to bed himself.
He's got everything he's ever wanted. Universal suffrage, several countries, only one of which he was born to rule, a decent reputation as a real tennis player. A couple of elephants. Jensen. He's happy.
It's a small brand, and it's going to go on Jensen's back, on his left shoulder-blade. They're both swordsmen by preference, and Jensen's as good with his left hand as he is with his right: Jared's not going to screw up the man's reach. So, back it is. He'd thought about using the Royal crest, but it seems wrong. This thing between Jared and Jensen, it's personal. Jared goes for a double J in thin, swirled lines that's going to leave a mark no more than three inches high.
It's going to hurt. Jared knows this. He's got the same brand burnt in above his hipbone, four years old. It's not the only scar Jensen's given him, but it's the only one Jared chose, two weeks after his summer campaign crashed and - came to an honorable end - in the windswept, soggy borders of a country most people can't even name.
That time, Jared burnt his rage on his own skin. This time, it's Jensen's, and it's not defeat but victory.
He doesn't see the branding. It feels intrusive, and anyway by that point Jared's buried in four volumes of law protocols, trying to talk one of his vassals out of going to war over an insult to the King's fourth wife from an ambassador whose religious default is monogamy. He knows it's happened: Mikel spends the whole afternoon glaring at him from the doorway, rigid as a grandfather clock and just as wooden, and Saara won't look him in the face. Again. Also, his least favorite special envoy wants to make an urgent appointment, and no, Jared is not under any circumstances going to allow slavers back into any port he owns or has influence over. Jensen's not a slave, and Jared is not setting a precedent.
He doesn't know what he expects to see, when after the most interminable dinner he's ever sat through, he opens the door to his bedroom. Jenson's not exactly in the best of shape, and Jared wouldn't have been surprised if Mikel had broken out the best brandy, wrapped the man in swaddling bands, and tucked him in Jared's bed with a warming pan. Mikel's got a serious case of hero worship going on.
What he actually sees is Jensen, still wrapped in Jared's cloak, propped against the end of the bed watching the fire. There's an empty plate by his side which means Saara did feed the man and also, he ate.
"Hey," Jared says, and doesn't move from the doorway. If Jensen is going to kill him, he thinks now is probably the moment. Last night they were both exhausted and on edge. Tonight, Jensen's permanently marked and in pain, and even if Jared does discount political motivation - because, yeah, if Jared's dead by default the treaty's broken- he'd be pissed.
But Jensen doesn't even bother to turn his head. Letting the cloak fall, he kneels up and bends himself forward over the bed. He does it stiffly, awkwardly, and Jared can see the dressing on his back exactly where it should be. If Jared looks now, he's risking infection: he can wait until the brand heals to run his fingers over the welts. He's been half hard all day with the thought of it. Now? Now, Jensen naked on his bed, he can't see half the room let alone care if there's a full scale rebellion outside. He can't even process walking forward, although the feel of leather and the short, soft hair on the back of Jensen's neck under his hand is startlingly vivid. So is the leap of his cock when he looks down and realizes, shocked, Jensen's prepped for him. There's salve gleaming thickly over the swollen, curlicued bud of his ass, and Jensen's hips are already up-tilted, his hands braced on the bed-board.
It's never going to be anything other than viciously fast. Jared's so far gone before he even starts his hands scrabble on Jensen's shoulders and his cock jabs up the crack of Jensen's ass like a dog's, looking for home. By the time he slides in, he's panting, and the oiled ease means he bottoms out in seconds. His thighs and his balls push close and hot against Jensen's: his cock throbs, surrounded by close, wet heat. When he pulls out to do it all over again, he groans, the sound of it muffled against Jensen's back. He can't stop. All he's got left are the hard, sharp thrusts that mean he's going to come, and come soon, and when he does he's almost sobbing with the force of it.
That fast, it leaves him dry-mouthed, with a tension headache that hits in at his temples and jitters down his spine. He pulls out slowly, but Jensen still winces at the last, and Jared can't help the way his own hand runs once and heavy down the man's back before he moves away. Jared gets the seat by the fire. Jensen pulls himself up, slowly, and then folds down quite suddenly down onto the cloak with none of the grace he showed before, kneeling in the hall. But his eyes are emphatically closed.
Jared sits and sips his wine, while Jensen pretends to be asleep. When the wine's long gone, Jared rolls Jensen over and spreads his thighs apart on the fur of the cloak. There's dried blood mixed with the flaking come on his ass, but Jensen still gets his knees under him and offers, obscene and beautiful. "Sh," Jared says, smoothing on ointment, "Sh." Just as he would to an injured horse.
"I made my point," Jared says, and adds, "Is he... ?"
"No thanks to you," the doctor says bluntly, and Jared foresees a distinct lack of hangover cures in his future.
He gets Jensen to suck him off instead.
It's almost better. Jensen's got a mouth that begs for cock. The sculptured curve of his lower lip is perfectly shaped, and when Jared fastens one hand around the collar and smears Jensen's mouth open with his thumb the image of his own cock pillowed on that softness is so hot he has to tug at his balls in reminder; he hasn't actually done it yet.
"Look up," Jared says, low and hard, and Jensen does. It's not as if he hasn't done this before. It's not as if he hasn't blown Jared before, and Jensen still rolls his tongue over the head of Jared's cock as sweetly as any campfire whore, and his eyes are still the same vivid shade of green they were when Jared was fourteen. But either Jared's bigger now than he was then, or Jensen's seriously out of practice, because beyond the first three inches or so Jensen's struggling. He's not going anywhere - Jared's hand on the back of his neck and the thumb pushed in his back teeth makes sure of that - but his throat's closed and he's gagging. Jared rocks helpfully - not that much of a hardship: Jensen's mouth is so sweetly warm and wet Jared could stay there a very long time indeed - but he's not getting much further without serious effort. And Jared wants in.
His hand tightening, Jared says, "Breathe," and thrusts hard. He pushes down, feeling Jensen's throat close around his cock so tightly there's got to be no space for the air to go. Pulls back and does it again. Jensen's trying, but the lines at the corners of his eyes are deepening and damp. Jared knows, though. If he pushes hard enough, Jensen has to let him in. He goes for long, lazy strokes with a vicious thrust at the end, and every time he gains a little more space, fucking Jensen's throat open. Gasping, Jensen lets him, eyes wet, nostrils peaked, flushed. Air is the currency of this particular bargain, and Jared lets Jensen breathe every couple of strokes, sobbing breaths that will never be quite enough., while his thumb presses the outside of Jensen's throat. When he thrusts in, he can feel the line of his own cock in Jensen's throat from both inside and out. It's so perfect he's not going to last long, even though after the last two nights Jared feels he has something to prove. But pride only gets him so far. He loses it far too soon, his cock swelling and pulsing over the rough caress of Jensen's tongue.
Jensen swallows. He might even have his eyes open when he does, but Jared will never know. His own are closed.
When he looks up again, Jensen's sitting back on his heels, obedient under the loosened touch of Jared's hand. His mouth is sweetly pinked, and there's a trace of amusement in his eyes, as if Jared's just proved something he wanted to know.
"Yeah, right," Jared says, as if he's picked up the tail end of a conversation they were both having. "Don't think-"
And he stops. Because, rolling heavy between his thighs, Jensen's cock is half hard. As if he was getting off on blowing Jared, as if Jensen - Jensen's cock - thought that what they'd just done was perfectly fine. Thanks.
Tapping his fingers on the arm of the chair, Jared stares pointedly at Jensen's crotch until the other man turns his back. Chain's longer tonight, but Jensen still curls in close to the bed.
In the morning, Jared wakes up to the sound of shuffling. It's miserably early, and the light coming in the shutters is grey: when Jared crawls to the end of the bed, he takes the coverlet with him.
Jensen's doing push ups. Naked. The muscles of his back bunch and stretch, and his ass is breathtaking. Jared pulls down a pillow and watches. After a while, when he's woken up a little, he sits on the end of the bed and rests the weight of his feet on the small of Jensen's back, just to be helpful.
This is the day Mikel follows Jared around like some kind of wooden bodyguard. He's standing behind the chair when Jared goes down for breakfast, facing forward, unmoving. He's got his full dress uniform on, belt whitened, spats cleaned, and as Jared knows for a fact the man staked and lost his gilt belt buckle two weeks ago, he's either taken a sword to the quartermaster or raided Jared's stores because there's one gleaming away at his midriff.
Mikel's fond of pastries for breakfast. Jared eats three, right under his nose. The coffee's better in the private breakfast room, too, and normally Mikel would have had at least three cups. Jared puts the warmed jug right by his plate, but it's still only two cups down when he goes to the council room. They go to the council room.
Mikel even stands outside the garderobe.
It's evening when Jared cracks. He's hiding in the library, because it's too early to admit he really, really wants to be somewhere else and he's too irritated with himself to risk being around anyone else. Glenvere's Maps of Famous Battles is not having its usual soothing effect, and Mikel is still standing by the door. In council, he was behind Jared's chair. At midday inspection, behind Jared's shoulder. At dinner, behind Jared's chair. Again. It's like being followed by a disapproving toy soldier.
When Jared slams Glenvere down on the table, dust shakes free of the binding. "What is it?" he says.
Mikel stares him down. They both know what he wants. Mikel's had a hard-on for Jensen's swordplay since that nightmare, rain-driven skirmish on the way back from Jared's first covert mission.
"Fine," Jared says. "Two hours a day. No playing with other people. Ever. And get him some bloody clothes while you're at it."
Mikel's grin comes slowly, but it's spectacular in full bloom.
"Don't say I didn't warn you," Jared says.
He thinks of Jensen, exercising. If he goes upstairs now, maybe people will think he's got a headache.
He has got a headache. Luckily, it turns out a long, slow blow job with plenty of tongue is just the thing. It's entirely possible Jensen's been practicing, but Jared doubts it: there's been no bananas since Samhain.
"Sire!" she says, which at least means things could be worse, because when the dam broke it was Jared. Clearly, though, it's enough of an emergency to crack her silent protest. "Sire! Uh- "
"What is it?" Jared asks.
"We need - you're needed - upstairs," Saara says, and grimaces in a way he's never seen her do before.
Jared says, "I have to go," grabs the unfinished treaty from the table, and takes the stairs two at a time. He can hear the shouting from along the corridor, and just as he gets to the door of his bedroom there's one hell of a crash. It turns out to be some guardsman he doesn't quite recognize - possibly Rory, from the size of the boots - hitting the armoire on his way to the floor.
Mikel, the incredible idiot, has sent someone Jensen doesn't know to take him to practice. Two someones. The other one seems to be unconscious under the window. Jensen's kicked the bedside table apart, and the wooden spar, in his hands, is quite possibly a more lethal weapon than a sword in anyone else's. Jared's lucky he seems to have drawn the line at permanent disablement.
"Get out," he says, in the voice he uses in battle, not the one for Kingly suggestions. "Get the fuck out. Not you!"
Mikel, finally, has arrived in the doorway.
"What were you thinking?" Jared asks. "What the hell went through your tiny little brain? Did you honestly think he's just going to come along quietly like a tame dog?"
But Mikel, clearly, hadn't thought.
"You take him to practice," Jared says. "You. Not someone else. You bring him back. You wipe his bloody bottom if that's what he wants. Are we clear?"
Swallowing, Mikel says, "Yeah."
"And didn't I say clothes?" Jared asks.
It's Jensen who coughs. He's put the spar down. He's standing very comfortably for a man still wearing nothing at all, and he's got a shit-eating grin licking round the corners of his mouth.
"What?" Jared asks, and Jensen nods at the fireplace.
Of course he's burnt the bloody clothes. First thing anyone normal would do. Right.
Mikel, slightly subdued, takes Jensen off to the drill halls with the man dressed in Jared's teenage sweats. Saara, of course, knew exactly where they were kept.
On the bright side, by the time Jared gets back to his meeting, it seems his child bride's lost interest.
"Where did you get that?" Jared asks, but by then his robes are open and Jensen's crawling across the floor with a sinuous sway to his hips that has Jared counting the days.
The next day Saara says, not at all apologetically, "I thought he might be bored."
Then she says "Chess?" with a lift to her eyebrow that tells Jared she knows exactly what he's been doing.
"Fine," he says, because he's dammed if he's changing the nice parts of his life just because he's got his hands on the worst.
Saara knocks before she comes in, and Jared's got Jensen naked at his feet, but otherwise things are pretty much the same. There's some spiced apple juice, because Saara doesn't drink, and Jared wins two games out of three, which is par for the course, and afterwards they set the table aside and talk through the week's decisions without having to censor their words. If Saara doesn't look down, and Jared's got his fingers smoothing the leather of Jensen's collar and running through his hair, it's not that unusual.
Then Saara says, "Don't you think it's a bit much?"
"What?" Jared says, caught off guard.
"Jensen," Saara says, and Jared can feel the man tense under his fingers.
Jared really doesn't want to have this conversation. But it's Saara, and they were friends before they were lovers, and then they were friends again and have been for a very long time. He lets Jensen go, and reaches for the wine.
"We've done this before," Jared says to Saara.
The wine's trembling in its cup. He puts it down.
"But with ropes."
Jensen's moving, and the chain clinks, softly: Jared's got the links caught under one foot so he can move the chess pieces. Saara glances down, flicker of her eyelashes. When Jared follows her eyes, he can see Jensen's sitting bolt upright. His mouth is set, and he's looking at Saara. It's got to be obvious they're not, Jared and Saara, just steward and King.
"I was fourteen," Jared says, and he can see Jensen flinch.
"Oh God," Saara says, and reaches for the wine.
"I don't think he knew. Then," Jared says. Jared had been tall, at fourteen, taller than most men. Clumsy though, not yet grown to his full strength. He'd been told he was pretty. Older, Jared had learned subtlety. The advantages of long term plans and the sweetness of a revenge gone cold with the years, but never laid aside.
"I don't think... " Saara says, and stops.
"I don't expect you to get it," Jared says. "Just ... leave me alone with this one? For now?"
She nods, slowly, but she won't meet his eyes or Jensen's, and she's already gathering up her robe to leave.
Fuck the branding. Jared spreads Jensen out on the floor, goes in fast and hard face to face, and won't let Jensen look away. He's got one hand pressed down on Jensen's cock, so heavily he can almost feel the blood pump as Jensen hardens. By the time Jared comes, brutal, Jensen's fully erect.
"That's mine," Jared says, through his teeth. "Don't touch. Don't you dare touch."
Jensen doesn't. But he doesn't sleep much, either, and this Jared knows because neither does he.
Usually, Jared's been drilling in the afternoons. But this afternoon, he's got a planning meeting about currency control he's been putting off for two weeks, and so it's early when he picks up his practice rapier and heads to the halls. He's timed it badly. Just as he rounds the corner, Mikel and Jensen stroll out of the smaller drill hall. Their heads are bent together, they've got the easy, loose gait of men well-exercised, and Jensen is talking. Specifically, he is describing with both voice and hands an eviscerating move Jared last saw executed on one of his best pikemen.
Jared sees red. Spins on his heel, and collects the cuffs from the saddler.
That evening he leaves the table early and goes upstairs to the sound of the silence behind him fading into startled voices. He's shocking his court, and he knows it, doesn't care. When he gets upstairs, Jensen's reading again - Munson's Anatomy of the Horse, which is Jared's own and one of only five copies. Jared doesn't say, tonight, 'Where did you get that?' He kicks open the chain link, and says, "Bed."
Jensen scrambles, climbing up, looking over his shoulder. Jared says, "On your back," and takes the cuffs from the bedside table. There are chains to go with them, thin, strong steel links, and there are staples on Jared's bedposts. Jensen offers up his wrists, face turned away, and Jared straps him down spread-eagled and vulnerable. He's generous. He allows Jensen enough linkage at his wrists to hold on to, although the give at his ankles is for Jared, not Jensen.
Then he gets the needle case.
Jared's had ten years to plan. He's owned these needles for five of them, and he knows how to use them. There's a bowl of rubbing alcohol on his desk, linen strips, and a basin for swabs. Jared sets them all on his bedside table. Then he kneels at Jensen's side, and cups the man's genitals in his hand.
Jensen's cock is not overly long, but heavy and thick. Erect, it flushes a darkened rose, and against the color of it white come shines pretty and delicate. Lax, as it is now, it rolls against Jensen's thighs heavy-headed and soft, the foreskin bell-curved.
Rolling Jensen's balls gently in the palm of his hand, Jared watches as the base of the man's cock thickens. Slowly, reluctantly, Jensen hardens to the touch of Jared's fingers. A steady stoke down the ridge of his cock starts his foreskin unfurling: a tapping finger on the nerves of his frenulum blushes the head and broadens the base. It's fascinating, but Jensen's not watching.
Ducking his head, Jared licks up the vein. Under his tongue, Jensen's cock is hot, smooth, enticing. Jared mouths at the head of it and lets himself taste the first bitter trace of pre-come. Then he looks up.
Jensen's looking back at him down the line of his own body. His eyes are dark, and his mouth's fallen open. Grinning, Jared lets his teeth show. He's still got a hand, tight, on Jensen's balls.
Then he sits up. "You're going to want to keep that hard," he warns, and reaches for the bedside table. Swabs down Jensen's cock with gently rough strokes that send twitches across the muscles of the man's abdomen, and cleans his own hands. Then he opens the needle case.
He doesn't want to go deep. This isn't permanent. Instead, Jared drives each needle, very slowly, across the great vein of Jensen's cock. The needles are fine, the best steel money can buy, and Jared takes no more than half an inch of skin and as little depth as he can for each one. He's slow, careful, and Jensen looses nothing more than tiny drop of blood at the far tip of each piercing. It's a pretty pattern, but Jared blots the blood away with alcohol-soaked linen, as gently as he can. The threat's enough. If Jensen softens, the needles will start to pull at his skin. If he comes, the muscles will contract around steel. Either way, it's going to hurt.
Exquisitely, Jensen's suspended between arousal and surcease, entirely dependent on Jared's whim.
Jared looks up when the last needle's in place. Sweat gleams on Jensen's skin, and his chest rises and falls with the suppressed panic of his breathing. There's a fierce blush along the line of his cheekbones, and his eyes are fixed on Jared's.
"Oh," Jared says, and smiles. "You like this." He runs his thumb gently up the line of Jensen's cock. Ladder of steel under flesh, the needles gleam in the firelight, and Jensen draws in a breath that rasps through his throat. Jared says, "Pretty. Jensen. So very, very pretty. Don't move," he adds, and leans forward.
When Jared runs his finger over Jensen's right nipple, flushed and peaked, the man almost flinches. It's not that Jared's touch is anything other than gentle. But Jensen knows, now, that Jared has not forgotten just how sensitive his nipples are.
"The needles in your cock," Jared tells him. "That's temporary. This is permanent." Just because he can, Jared leans down and suckles Jensen's nipples. Sucks hard, runs the lower edge of his teeth against the points of each one. Next time he does this, there's going to be steel rings under his tongue. Jared bites, gently, and then harder, and feels Jensen's muscles tighten under his cheek. looking up this time, Jensen's got his hands white-knuckled around the chains, and blood beads again at the points of the needles in his cock. His nipples are flushed and swollen, wet. He's never let Jared do this before.
Jared rubs his chin over Jensen's skin, stubble hard and catching, and as he does he's watching Jensen's eyes. When he sits up, swabs Jensen's skin, and reaches again for the needle case; threads the first hoop on the needle - and this needle is heavy and curved - he says, "You going to say my name yet?"
Jensen says nothing.
There are two clamps in the needle case, so small it's obvious they're designed to fasten on someone's skin. Jared takes his time as he adjusts both, and Jensen's breath is near sobbing.
"Last chance," Jared says. One hand holding Jensen down, needle poised, he waits, but Jensen still says nothing at all.
Jared drives the needle home with force. It takes a surprising amount of strength to force the point through flesh, and Jared's got one chance to get it right. He does. The steel ring slips through almost as easily as a lace through pierced leather.
Jensen nearly comes off the bed with the shock of it: if it wasn't for Jared holding him down, he'd have rolled right onto the needles lining his cock. His head's back, his throat working under the collar, sweat streaming down the clenched muscles of his arms, and he's shivering as Jared screws the first ring in place as gently as he can.
But Jensen's cock's still hard. Jared says, "One down," and takes the case round to the other side of the bed. He's careful with the swabs, taps the needle as he threads it, so Jensen knows exactly what's happening even with his eyes closed. Again, Jared waits, this time with the point of the needle teasing Jensen's left nipple. "Anything you want to say? Fuck off?" Jared suggests. "Fuck off, Jared? Fuck me, Jared? I'd stop for that one," he offers.
Jensen spits in his face, and Jared drives the needle home. He's not gentle, this time, although he's still careful. He doesn't even pull on the two small steel rings that tug at Jensen's flesh, doesn't suck at nipples reddened and swollen and begging for more of the same.
When he's done, he shifts down the bed and sucks Jensen's cock, once and hard. In his mouth, the flesh of it jerks and weeps, and Jared knows that if his hand were not gripped tight around the base Jensen would have come, then.
He's smiling when he sits up. Takes his time over taking the the needles out, swabbing each piercing down with clean linen, letting the sting of the alcohol pepper Jensen's skin. When he's done, when the needles are clean and in their case and Jared's washed himself down and Jensen's cock lies denuded and flushed, arching over his belly, Jared snaps open the chain links at Jensen's ankles. Rolls him up, licks him open and fucks him hard, and under his weight Jensen twists and flails and curses silently under his breath and rubs his wrists raw, but he can't touch his own cock and Jared won't.
Afterwards, Jared loosens the cuffs and binds Jensen's wrists and tightens them up again, rolls the man onto his side. Drawn tight with the need to come, Jensen's skin goose-bumps and shivers under his touch, and Jared pets him down. Slides two fingers into the mess he's made of Jensen's ass and plays with his own come, comfortable, while Jensen twitches and pants and finally, finally, pushes back against Jared's hand, hungry for cock as Jared had been, ten years ago.
Jared could give him what he needs: he's hard again, hard as he was then, when it was Jensen teasing. He doesn't. He pulls Jensen back against his chest, drops a heavy arm over his belly, and goes to sleep.
"What am I to do with the horse?" he says, and his voice is hesitant.
"What horse?" Jared says blankly. He hasn't had coffee yet, and he didn't get much sleep.
"His horse," the stable-master says. When Jared blinks, he says, " His. Him upstairs. Your ... "
"Jensen," Jared says. "What do you mean?"
Apparently, Jensen's horse has been running free in the far paddock. It's a vicious great beastie with a fine set of legs, and it won't let any of the boys touch a hair on its coat. It's got the ..."
A horse is a horse is a horse. Jared valiantly suppresses the memory of his own first pony, an evil tempered, pot bellied creature Jared loved, and goes to see.
The stable-master's not lying. Jensen's horse doesn't come for carrots, sugar loaf or bran mash, and it stares down its nose at Jared in a way that makes it perfectly clear it's not letting anyone but Jensen anywhere near.
Apparently, Jared's mares are at their happiest under the trees in this particular meadow. And, predictably, Jensen's horse is uncut.
When Jared crashes into his own bedroom, mid morning, Jensen's got clothes on. Or rather, he's wearing Jared's pants and struggling cautiously into his sweater, and Mikel's standing by the bed with two swords in his hands, one of which Jared recognizes as his own second-best rapier. Clearly, it's time for practice.
Last night, he tied Jensen down and shoved needles through his cock and rings through his nipples, and both of them liked it.
Jared swallows. He's a King. He can do what he wants. "Your bloody horse," he says, abruptly, as both of them turn to face him. Jensen's hair is ruffled. "It's upsetting my stable-master. Find it a stable. Find some gear. Find someone who can look after it when you can't. Don't go hunting without asking. In fact, don't go out of the fucking paddocks without asking."
Jensen's face has changed. Jared's never seen him look like that, ever.
"Mikel, sort it out," Jared says, and then he realizes Jensen is taking his sweater off. The rings in his nipples glint, dull steel. "Now," Jared says. Jensen's hands are on the drawstring of his pants. Jared says, "Get the fuck out," and knows his voice has already deepened and if Mikel can't see the erection straining his leggings, the man's blind.
Mikel leaves so fast he slams the door on his way out, but Jared doesn't care. Jensen's already on his knees, and it turns out gratitude makes for exceedingly good blow jobs.
Not good enough to let Jensen come, though.
Jensen heals. Once or twice, Jared even hears him laugh. Letters start to arrive, heavily franked, and Jared finds a cedarwood box with a padlock Jensen leaves open. The marriage proposals start to tail off, and Jared's court comes to the conclusion that their King's hard on for topping one man is exclusive and no-one else needs to watch their backs on campaign.
Three weeks in, and Jared takes Jensen down to dinner. It's about as public as he can get: this man. No other. There are fourteen ambassadors to dine, and one special envoy: two archbishops, one priestess, and a acolyte from the Western Isles with blue tattoos all over his body. It's pretty, but Jared's staked his claim. One brand, two nipple rings, one collar. Enough. But even Jared thinks it's probably not quite the right mode for a formal dinner.
"Find him some clothes," Jared says. Saara does. They're black, and look as if they were made to fit Jensen's frame. They probably were. Jensen, uncomfortable, puts them on under Jared's eyes, and then - "Lose the shirt" - takes half of them off again. Saara's tutting at Jared's side, and both of them are politely ignoring the bulge in Jensen's leggings. Jared still hasn't let him come, and Jensen hardens now at the slightest brush of touch on his cock. Sheets. Feathers. Jared's hand.
There's a leash now to go with Jensen's collar, a short silver chain with a black leather handle. Jared lets it fall loose down the line of Jensen's spine, and takes him down to dinner.
It's formal enough that the assembled dignitaries rise when Jared comes in the room, but informal enough that half the people are friends, not strangers. Jared waves them back into their seats and takes his own. There's a wider gap between his chair and Saara's than there used to be, and there's a red velvet cushion sitting on the floor between them. Jensen tucks it against the side of Jared's chair, leans back, and props his feet against the arm of Saara's. He looks more comfortable than Jared feels.
Someone says a carefully ecumenical grace that's bound to offend someone else, the trumpets sound, and there seems to be fish for dinner. Also, deer, boar, geese, peacocks, and pigeons. Last year's apples, sweet and wizened. Jensen eats delicately from Jared's fingers, and the Syrian Ambassador talks about dyes. Beside Mikel, one of the archbishops falls asleep, and Jared's Captain of the King's Own Guard in his best dress uniform picks up his platter and comes to sit at Saara's feet. Jared frowns, but Mikel's feet stay propped against his chair. He seems have something to say about training wolfhounds. Jared feeds Jensen baby leeks and almonds in butter, and Jensen likes his fingers clean. Someone wants to talk about taxes.
Saara slips Jensen a frangipane swan, and when he eats it, his head drops back against Jared's arm and his eyes close. They'll be ordering sugar tomorrow, Jared knows it, and the import duty's just doubled. He cleans his fingers off and lets them slide down Jensen's skin to tug gently at one nipple ring, talking across the table as he does about the benefits of viniculture. He knows Jensen's getting hard, it happens every time, and it's still thrilling.
Next time he offers food - almond tart - Jensen bites his fingers. Jared, confronted at that point with an elderly and determined Priestess, has to choke back a laugh. Straight-faced, Saara offers him water.
Then there is music. And dancing. Jared sits by the fire, holds audiences with one hand on Jensen's collar and the man curled at his feet. Jensen twitches when he thinks someone's lying, and he's usually right.
Usually Jared stays until the last guests are carted home in wheelbarrows: he's been known to help clean the floor. Tonight he's got other things on his mind, and it's not long after midnight when he goes upstairs. Jensen crooks an eyebrow at him, going in the bedroom door and already stripping off the leggings - Floor? Wall? Chair? - "Bed," Jared says. " On your back."
Obediently, Jensen proffers his wrists for the cuffs, but Jared just smoothes them back on the cover, and when Jensen blinks up at him, he smiles. Shakily. "You stole something from me," he says, and Jensen's eyes drop down to the amulet where it lies again against Jared's skin. Jared got his pride back, too, somewhat earlier, but never his virginity.
Jared can't look at Jensen when he lets his robes fall, kneels on the bed and spreads his knees either side of Jensen's thighs. He's prepped earlier, but it's been a very long time since he's let anyone fuck him, and Jensen's not small. Both of them are breathing hard by the time Jared's fully seated, stretched open, Jensen's knees up behind his back and their hands clasped hard.
When Jared leans forward, he's still got his eyes closed, but Jensen's mouth meets his as sweetly and exactly as a sword coming into the hand.
It's a long, slow ride, and when he comes, Jared's still kissing Jensen. Or Jensen's kissing him. At least, he's got his eyes open by then, and he can see the look in Jensen's eyes when Jensen says - Jensen gasps - "Jared. Jared. Please." It's the first time, ever, he's begged.
Fucked out, happy, Jared smiles. "Ah, come on then," he says, and Jensen does. Screaming.
Jared's a good King.
Two years later, Jared wakes up. He rolls over onto his elbow and says, shocked, "You're in love with me."
Jensen looks up. In bed, he likes the covers tucked close around his face, wakes with his hair ruffled and his eyes dark with sleep.
"I've been in love with you since you were fourteen," he says, matter of fact, his voice still rasped out from last night. "It was more than embarrassing. At the time."
Jared sits up and fits his hand carefully around Jensen's collar. He's offered gold, silver, the finest tooled chamois money can buy, but it's still the collar Jared gave away that first night and Jensen won't give it back. He opens his mouth.
"I know," Jensen says.