.. | angelika | chapter 3
They spent the day in mixed silences and conversation, as two friends separated had to get to know one another again. Luca went to his job in the town after the tenthday and spent much of his time in deep thought, though his hands worked just hard enough not to catch Dunnant's notice. The shopkeeper had made it a point not to ask too much about his guest and for this, especially now, Luca was glad. When he made his way home in the evenings Aurel still came down and met him at the gate, and together they walked up to the open, inviting house to have supper, watch the sun set over the woods, and retire to the warmth of the hearth.
It was by the eve of the next tenthday that the awkwardness had truly begun to fade. While it was true Luca had accepted Aurel the very night he'd revealed himself, it was coming to grips with his own feelings that was taking longer. He found it hard not to watch the other boy when he could get away with it. He found it hard not to think of a clumsy kiss, or Aurel's words, "I want you to."
The questions were always on his mind; throughout work at the shop, through finishing odd-jobs at the keep before the sun set, through until bedtime, when he had never been more aware of the distance between their bodies, him in his room, Aurel before the dying fire.
The next morning he rose to the sound of flapping blankets and mantles. Aurel was on the front porch, shaking out his rugs. The sun had barely come up so that the land that stretched out beyond the cottage was still a steely blue hue. A somewhat cold wind blew from the east; it wouldn't be long before the first snow would come.
Luca walked outside towards the sound, a little bleary-eyed. He'd not slept well, as he'd not slept well for some days now. Aurel turned at the sound of his footsteps. He'd rolled his sleeves up and tied his long hair back to keep it out of his face, though many honey-colored strands had already escaped. His smile was bright, his cheeks a little flushed.
"You should at least put a shirt on," he said, quickly turning back to his rugs. "It's too cold to go walking around half-naked."
"I don't get as cold as you," Luca answered lightly, though wondering if for decency's sake he should have dressed. He supposed it didn't matter, Aurel seemed to be making a point not to look anyway.
"Shall we take that walk today?" Aurel asked, hanging the rugs over the porch's low banister. "We never did take it last week."
Luca looked up at the grey sky. "It might rain," he said.
"What's a little rain? Come on, it will do us both good." His smile was undeniable as he stood there, hands on his hips, his first morning's work done already and flapping in a strengthening breeze behind him. "Only please put some clothes on. You test my will when you walk around like this." He tapped Luca's bare shoulder as he passed back into the house, leaving the other with his jaw almost dropped at the blatant flirtation. There had been none for days after that night, but slowly Aurel had begun to work it back in, gently, and always with room to laugh it off should Luca not prove a willing sport.
Only now his remarks were getting much bolder. Their meaning was obvious, but he still doubted Aurel's intentions- did the boy still want something from him, as much as he had that night his desires had prompted him to come clean? Or was he merely teasing now? If the former, Luca felt that it now had been left up to him to either staunch or advance what they both had privately admitted to being between them. The latter, well, he didn't like to think about the latter at all.
Those questions were much on his mind as they padded down the hill away from the house. The sky was still grey and their surroundings had an icy feel to them. Even the rich green of a newly sprouted winter grass seemed frosted, though there was no ice on the ground. Aurel had wrapped himself up nicely to stay comfortable, and though it was cold and seemed like it really would rain, he was quite adamant about going out. After all, he was alone for most parts of the day, and the beautiful starkness of a forest in early winter was a distraction for him. He walked along touching everything he could with an idle, unconscious brush with the pads of his fingers. Out in nature like this to Luca he seemed a child in love with the sights and smells, textures and colors, as if he'd never encountered them before.
"Have you always loved it outside?" he asked as they walked.
Aurel's fingers skirted the rough bark of a tree close to their path. "No, not always. I suppose I never appreciated this so much."
"Do you walk out here often when I am gone?"
Aurel picked at some dried leaves still clinging to their stems from the long, almost bare whips of the ty-trees, hanging slack and almost to the ground, though slightly higher than usual without the burden of their leaves. He was shaking his head. "I did once. But I don't like to come out here alone," was all he said.
"Why not?" Luca kicked at a stone in the middle of the worn path. This was a trail he had often taken, and had been one of his mother's favorites. There would be no one about for leagues, it was safe as cottages as far as he was concerned, and in the weeks before his mother's death he had often come out here to be alone.
Aurel didn't respond vocally, but it was clear enough by his avoidance that it was probably for the same reason that he didn't like to sleep in the dark. Fear.
The first sound of thunder grumbled above them, though it sounded far away. Aurel's head snapped up at the sky and he gazed up for long enough that Luca looked as well, tracing the laced pattern of the tree canopy against the white sky behind with his eyes. He didn't know the name of the trees that still bore leaves, but they were outrageously tall here, and their canopy was flat on top, making it look as if there were a great net stretched over them.
"I do like it here, though," Aurel murmured. "It's like the trees are protecting us." He pulled his cloak closer around him. "Or maybe it's because you are here with me." His smile was a little shy at Luca, who looked away quickly. A little awkward silence followed as they started walking again.
"Luca." Aurel's voice was soft, but straightforward. "Must you still think of me differently?"
"I don't-" he started to protest, then stopped. It would be a lie, and he didn't want to lie to Aurel.
"You should tell me outright if you feel nothing," the other said softly. "You won't upset me. It is worse if we go on like this."
Luca wholeheartedly wished he could meet Aurel's face, but couldn't raise his eyes up from the ground for the flush in his face. "I don't know what I feel," he mumbled, knowing this was possibly the worst answer he could offer. Aurel was looking for closure, and he couldn't bring himself to give it.
A hand touched his cheek, cold but not smartingly so. His eyes still lowered, he saw Aurel's feet step closer to his and suddenly his heart began to beat furiously in his chest at how close their toes were. If he were to raise his head-
"You were brave last time," came that husky voice. "It's my turn, then." Aurel ducked his head a little under Luca's down-turned face and brought their lips together. Though he had no notion to compare, Luca knew he was practiced in this, as evident by the difference of this kiss to the clumsy one he had attempted. It was to be short, though, and when he felt Aurel begin to pull away he leaned after him. He brought his hands up, rested them on the other's hips, first to keep him from stepping back, secondly to touch, really touch for the first time.
When their lips separated, Aurel kept a hold on his face and looked him deeply in the eyes. "Now do you know?"
The thunder rumbled again, closer now, and the wind had picked up. They both automatically glanced at the sky, though it had not changed, and the moment lost its intensity, to Luca's relief. He was edgy and roused, and didn't quite know what to do with the tenseness of his body.
"Come on," Aurel said, taking his arm and pulling him deeper down the path where the canopy thickened overhead, less in a delicate lace pattern and more like fingers tightly clasped together. They could hear the first drops above them, then thousands of drops on thousands of leaves though they felt nothing yet, until of a sudden the sky opened up overhead, and they were soaked before they could think to find better shelter.
They settled down against the bowels of a relatively short, plump tree, nestled between its huge, up-jutting roots that were made to be almost benches, while its stout, plate-sized leaves made a decent cover, so long as the rain didn't get much harder. Every now and then they could feel a few drops, and for the moment contented themselves with the distraction of the rain, each with their hand out flat to feel for a change in intensity. After a few moments, though, as they sat together, wet, sides touching unconsciously, the rain was less occupying and they looked at each other again. This time Luca reached out and pulled Aurel close, his fingers wiping long wet hair away from his cheek and neck, and with new-found boldness kissed him again.
Aurel clutched handfuls of his tunic and leaned into him, against him. "We have to get home," he murmured, loud enough to hear over the spattering of rain around them.
Luca looked at him, confused, feeling the beginning pangs of mortification that somehow he had overstepped his bounds. "What's wrong?"
Aurel's return smile was beautiful, and he leaned in for another kiss. "Nothing," he said. "I would just rather not have to do this all cold and wet..."
But Luca would have been more than happy to remain in the crook of that tree for hours, though he could feel Aurel shivering as he sat with his arms around him, waiting for the rain to lighten up. Finally, deciding they could not get much wetter anyway, they crawled out into the open and made a dash for the main path, trotting as much they could to hurry, but Aurel tired easily, and Luca was obliged to slow. It was difficult; he was impatient to get home, dry and warm, but mostly to carry on with what they had begun. He squashed his selfishness and wrapped an arm around Aurel's shoulders during the final stretch over the west fence past the barn, the keep's western border, and finally up to the house. On the porch they shed their soggy cloaks, and Luca stripped to his breeches, going into the house to bring out mantles with which to dry themselves. His body was still singing with anticipation, but he couldn't bring himself to push Aurel to move faster, now that he was no longer shivering. Though the run had soaked them both, it had warmed them too, and Luca was anxious to continue. He watched Aurel strip off the last of his sopping clothes and went to wrap him in a large blanket, rubbing his hands up and down his arms to warm him more. Aurel raised his cold hands to brush Luca's wet hair from his face.
"Are you never cold?" Aurel said.
Luca smiled. He couldn't bring himself to say something so foolish about how his arousal had kept him warm, though it was the truth. He merely shook his head and guided Aurel into the house, which was loud with the sound of the rain pounding the roof. It took precious time to get a fire going, made even more difficult by the distraction of the boy seated on the floor behind him, waiting quietly.
Finally, when the embers had begun to glow and the heat reached them, he crawled back to where Aurel was sitting. Pausing, he felt the beginning of an awkward moment, until Aurel let the blanket around his shoulders drop and he reached out to pull Luca to him, laying back on the blankets and furs, his mouth open and inviting.
As had hit his mind before, Luca knew that he was practiced, but refused to think of how and where. It only mattered to him that Aurel was here now, allowing these touches, encouraging them, exposing himself selflessly and asking for nothing in return. His hands guided Luca's, his mouth taught, his skin blushed and his body arched and surrendered. He was tired after he had spent, though he was quite easy to rouse again after a doze or some quiet moments, and they made their time stretch long through the day, as the rain continued to fall well into the afternoon.
Luca stared up at the ceiling, listening to the heavy din of rain. Now the catchment would be full at least, putting to rest his worries about a dry winter. He chuckled to himself, at how he could be thinking about something like that with Aurel's long body laying against him, dozing soundly, long hair spilling over his shoulder onto Luca's chest. Luca knew his body would rouse again if he concentrated too much on the press of Aurel's stomach against his side as the other breathed deeply, so he refused the thought. He knew Aurel was absolutely exhausted, as evidenced how he could barely keep his eyes open only a few moments before, when Luca had asked if he was hungry. He had only given a lazy smile and let his lids drop, an adoring, sated expression.
No, even in the face of this newfound desire, he would let Aurel sleep. His own body protested any kind of movement with a sweet fatigue. He closed his eyes and willed himself to have some rest as well, giving no thought to tomorrow, or the day after. They were here now, with the heavy rain on the roof and a warm fire on his left, its intensity somewhat blocked by the body halfway on top of his. Aurel shifted a little and groaned, his hand opening and closing on Luca's chest. He mumbled something, a word- rain? It was pounding now, but didn't seem enough to disturb his sleep much past that.
Another week went by. Luca went to his shop in town, came home, and they made love before the fire, sometimes before supper, sometimes after and sometimes both. Once or twice more Aurel whispered in his sleep about the rain, though it was long passed. It made Luca a little uneasy that perhaps when asleep together, Aurel's body was mistaking this for another time and place, perhaps where it rained a great deal? He knew it must be only his insecurity digging into his rational thought, and back and forth, Luca would count himself as being a little foolish, since during the act itself Aurel was very much aware of where he was and who he was with; he was quite vocal in that respect. As time went on and they developed a comfort in each other that can only come from a regularity of experience, he tried to let the thought go, thinking that eventually Aurel would be able to separate the two, if it indeed was perhaps another lover his body was thinking of as it rested.
They had begun sleeping in the same bed; though Aurel had had to be coaxed away from the light of the fire at night. But so long as he was not alone he was able to fall asleep fairly easily. Luca had actually thought he was finally getting over his fear of darkness until one night a noise on the roof had roused him out of bed. Upon coming back, he found Aurel sitting straight up, pale and cold and on the verge of tears. He clamped onto Luca as soon as he'd climbed back into the sheets.
"They were only ‘coons," he said gently, chuckling a bit. "I chased them off."
"They come at night," Aurel whispered hoarsely, his voice muffled from being buried in the crook of Luca's shoulder.
Luca was about to reply that of course raccoons come in the night, but the thought suddenly struck him, chillingly, that the small furry animals, harmless but for their noise-making, were not what Aurel had meant. Eventually though, he'd had to add it to the mystery of a past he had promised not to ask about.
"I never did show you the lake I found," Aurel said one evening, wiping down their supper dishes. "It was only a bit further down that path we took." He held the dish up to the light and, satisfied, put it away.
Luca was sitting on the floor, reworking the leather lacing on the conch of a saddle he'd brought home to finish. Its commissioner was in somewhat of a hurry for it, and he didn't mind working on it late so long as they paid. Only now instead of staying at the shop amid the convenience of his tools, he brought what he could home.
"Mmm?" he grunted around the strips of leather between his teeth. He spat them out. "I think swimming was the last thing I was thinking of then," he said.
Aurel smiled and finished his cleaning. He gazed out of the open window above the counter, wiping his brow. They had closed the front door against a chilly, wintery wind- it would probably sleet tonight- but it had made the house somewhat stuffy. He had opened the scullery window when sweat had begun forming on his brow. Luca had been watching it all, though the house felt the same, comfortably warm, to him. Aurel had always seemed to be affected by warm and cold much faster than he, but lately it was more than usual. As his hands continued to work, his eyes remained on the boy by the window, watching his tired face, the sheen on his neck and how he stared out into the dark, obviously seeing nothing, lost in his own thoughts.
Suddenly, Aurel coughed, almost gagged, and his hand shot to his mouth. He looked quickly at Luca, his eyes a little glassy and he ran outside. Luca only had enough time to get up before he heard the sound of retching. He gingerly went out and followed the sound around the side of the house, the icy grass smarting against his bare feet. No moon and the presence of clouds made the night particularly black this time of year, but he found Aurel easy enough by touch, on his knees in the grass, heaving.
He knelt, rubbed his hand along the other's back, a small fright rising. "Are you all right?"
Aurel coughed again, spat. "I'm fine," he groaned. "Just ate too much." He gave a sickly laugh.
Luca allowed the easy lie to pass; Aurel never ate a lot, though lately he had seemed to gain a little more weight. He had not thought too much about it until now, when in his rising worry little things of no concern had begun to come to the forefront of his mind. Aurel may pass it off as much as he could, but there was no hiding that something wrong.
"You're not all right, you're getting sick. Come on, come back inside-" he reached to help the other up. Aurel felt heavy and weak, his body spent.
"Really, Luca, it's passed now," he protested as he was taken back inside. "It was something I ate, I'm sure." He politely shook Luca's hands off and went to wash his face and rinse his mouth in the basin. Luca lingered at the door of the washroom, unconvinced.
"You've not been feeling well lately," he said, leaning against the frame, arms crossed.
With a classically patient sigh Aurel folded the towel he'd used to dry his face and set it aside. He went to Luca and pressed up close against him, pulling his defensive arms down and hooking them around himself. "I will show you how good I feel," he said into Luca's ear with a little nibble.
It was easy enough to let go of his concerns in the face of such a distraction. Indeed, Aurel was enthusiastic enough that night to be particularly adventurous and provoking, and it drove Luca to the point of frenzy. He pushed Aurel back into the bedsheets and pinned his arms above his head.
"You are being rougher than usual," Aurel sighed, rubbing his inner thigh against Luca's hip.
"You are tempting me," he answered. After a few more moments where there could be no words, Luca nuzzled against Aurel's neck and said, "I've been thinking of something else we could try."
His fingers traveled down, over Aurel's hip and down the back of his thigh. "Here," he said. "Let me?"
Once the implication was made, Aurel's hands, which had been running circles over his back came around to his chest and pushed him up a bit. "No-" he whispered.
His shyness and naivety having long since left, Luca only whispered, "Why not?" And when Aurel gave no answer, he continued his kisses and let his hand creep around again and said softly, "I want to be connected to you-"
Again, those hands pushed against him and Aurel's body became rigid with refusal, though his voice was soft. "No, we can't do it that way."
Luca sat up a bit and tried to peer into his face, only barely lit by gentle light coming in from the main room of the house. After all that Aurel had showed him, was this really so outlandish? "Or you can do it to me," he reasoned, "I don't care, as long as-"
"No Luca," Aurel said softly, his hand pulling Luca's up where he could kiss his palm. There was more than shyness or prudence in his voice. "We must never do it that way. Promise me." His body had relaxed and he pressed up against Luca to distract him from the real issue, which had always proven easy enough. Tonight was no different, and soon Luca let the question of "why?" go, as he always had.
part 4 | back to part 2 | back to main