In the dark, it’s easy to pretend they’re something they aren’t. In the beginning it was harder, because Edgar was all high-pitches and soft gasps and trembling. Now he moans deep in his throat and leaves scratches down Noah’s back. “Harder,” he says, somewhere between plea and demand, and for a few moments Noah can pretend they are equals.
There were others before him, ones he’d talked into bed to steal their secrets and sometimes to crush their throats beneath his bare fingers. He remembers he had liked to feel their pulses quicken and then slow, slow, stop. “It would be a waste not to make use of this,” Cleatus had said to him, stroking the side of Noah’s face with his gloved hand. “If you’d rather talk than fight, then honey your words and get us the things we need.” They had been far from home, the air thick and heavy against them, but somehow Cleatus still smelled of sand and dry desert heat.
Edgar, writhing beneath him now, smells of honey and fresh fruit. Beneath that is the scent of something primal, predatory, breaking through the sweetness. It is sharp in Noah’s nostrils, and he sucks the skin at the base of Edgar’s neck and swears he can taste it there.
The first time had been with a gladiator, and Noah was certain Cleatus intended to send him to his death. When he’d returned with a fistful of secrets and blood spattered across the side of his face, Cleatus had smiled at him. “You did well,” he said, and Noah’s face went hot. “I didn’t order you to kill him, though.”
“He thought me lower than him,” Noah had said, thinking back to cold hands pressing into him, an arrogant and lustful grin swimming before his eyes. “I proved otherwise.”
Cleatus’ gloved hand was on his shoulder, still warm from the afternoon sun. “I knew you weren’t all talk,” he said.
“Noah,” Edgar says, his voice gone soft.
There had been many vulnerable young bodies in his bed since then, before Edgar, but no matter what happens this will be the last one. Noah’s fingers have found Edgar’s throat. He can feel the pulse quicken and he knows that soon it will slow, slow. They always scratched at his hands, at his face, clawed at the air, but soon the thrashing would stop and Cleatus would praise him in front of everyone.
“Noah,” Edgar says again, choking on the name. He grabs Noah’s wrists, and his hands are hot, hot, and sweet scents linger in the air between them. Noah releases his grip and Edgar clutches at his throat, gasping. Noah’s heart thuds in his chest and his shoulders shake, and he can pretend he has the power again, for a few moments.
* * *
In the dark, it’s easy to pretend they’re something they aren’t. In the beginning it was harder, because Noah was all experience and rough hands and cold eyes in the dim light, but now he lets Edgar leave scratches down his back. “Harder,” Edgar says, more demand than request. Noah breathes out soft as he leans into him, and for a few moments Edgar can pretend they are equals.
There had been none before him, no one to pull him back by the hair and run fingers soft across his throat. He remembers Ayubu putting sounds to letters for him while he traced the outlines with his small fingers. “N-O-A-H,” Ayubu had said, “That spells ‘Noah.’ He’s a legendary gladiator, now. He wasn’t always.”
“Noah,” Edgar had said, burning the letters into his memory while Ayubu stared at the page.
Noah leans down now and sucks at the base of Edgar’s neck. Edgar sighs and traces letters across Noah’s back with his fingertips. N-O-A-H. Those letters have felt sharp and predatory to him for as long as he can remember.
“The first thing you will learn about your Prince,” Ayubu explained to him in the cool shade of the garden where they studied on hot afternoons, “is that he is as vulnerable as you are, and with much more weight on his shoulders. He must make difficult decisions, and the fates of others hinge on the actions he takes. He cannot show weakness in such a situation. You have to make sure he shows no weaknesses.” Ayubu’s gaze was fixed somewhere far off in the distance, something Edgar noticed him do often as the hot afternoon slipped into cool evening. Edgar wanted to know where he was looking, who he saw. “That’s your job, Edgar. Do you understand?”
Edgar’s pen had ceased its scratching and he looked up from the page at his mentor. “Prince Dromeous isn’t afraid of anything,” he had said, and Ayubu smiled at him.
Noah’s fingers are pressing hard into Edgar’s throat. He gasps letters strung together into a name, sharp and predatory on his tongue, “Noah.” The grips remains and he says it again, softer, choking on the sounds. His hands are at Noah’s wrists, and Edgar can feel his heart thudding hard in his chest, pounding in his ears. He thinks of distant things, of silver pages he doesn’t dare to look at, though his fingers have traced the edges of them too often. He thinks of wild eyes he can’t let anyone else see.
Noah releases him and collapses on the other side of the bed, his back pressed up against the wall. Edgar is breathing hard, his heart refusing to settle back into rhythm. Noah exhales in one long, steady breath, and Edgar can pretend that Noah has the power again, for a few moments.