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Oh My Brother


Hugh of Montpellier grants a noble nod to the poems of the ancients, presenting the Englishman as his brother before his family. The irony twists his mouth. The blood they shed and shared is the least of it. It must be writ into the skin of his brow.

No one comments.

Weeks pass, and home feels like a dream. Hugh wakes time and again in a sweat, hearing the walls falling around him. Stephen nods as they pass at meals, makes no comment on their distance, nothing to show he remembers or that he wants. Stephen is a saint, has no desires but to assuage those of others. Stephen cannot sin, finds shame in nothing but war.

Stephen, who reads like a priest and owns nothing more than his shirt.

Hugh goes to him.

In the bed bequeathed him by Hugh's family, Stephen's motion is languid, above and within the youngest Montpellier son, lazy with length where a true Christian would know whatever might pass between men is not for longevity. The Englishman over him is by turns both alien and so well known, as is the ideal of Jerusalem, after all those months, the grit of that journey ground into the soul. Stephen, blond and bright, his words stilted in French, his gaze writing volumes, there at the end if not at the start.

Hugh looks away. Sunset when they started. Beyond Stephen's sleek shoulders, the moon is high with a hard, cold light, marking the shutter's filigree in a stretched pattern across the floor. He arches his neck, stares at the white of his knuckles, fingers wrapped tight around each other for lack of any other brace, and what alternative, to embrace the man? Hugh shivers. His arms, his legs, they surrendered their spasms long ago. Everything left in him is unrelenting lust.

Stephen never spoke of this after the first time, will not speak through this, or after this. Hugh finds some comfort in the silence, familiarity. He wishes they were elsewhere, the inns and bordellos of their return trip, apart from the others, the austerity of pilgrimage left behind. Hugh is uncomfortable in Stephen's room, provoked by small things. The books Stephen chooses to read, in French, in English, in Greek and in Latin, the topics strange and diverse enough that the priests eyed him askance, for scarce could he open his mouth but he blasphemed. Stephen's sword, the familiar metal on the table, the aggressive end pointing its curse of death to the door. The crisp folds of Stephen's clothes, yet the scatter of his boots and soft sandals, misaligned.

Montpellier's tolerant embrace, the mix of her people all Spaniards and Romany, dark Africans and pale Scottish, has not bred in Hugh a similar tolerance. Instead he learned myth and legend from the mystic kind, cursed by his father as having too much knowledge and no wisdom: he breathes superstition which serves his Christianity well. Hugh fears and believes in symbols, of finding meaning in the random.

For Hugh of Montpellier would never let his sword point anywhere but to the earth, lest he unwittingly wish death on a visitor. He would never let his shoes point to the bed, scattered or otherwise, for dreams move in the direction of the toe. The dreams he would curse himself with, now that this is his reality, have his heart race. He wards against terror with another borrowed, false witchcraft: this blasphemy Hugh keeps well buried, that even remission, the pilgrimage, simply another trick to bar against his fear.

Yet Stephen still moves above him, within him.

Mercifully, Hugh thinks, the Englishman holds himself distant. They do not kiss on the lips, and never kiss in private. Such tenderness Hugh supposes would be gifted to a wife, should the landless knight ever win such a thing from his King, or to a woman, should Stephen ever want such a thing. On the street they will kiss as brothers, battle-bound; lips to a sweat-slick brow for luck, or cheek to cheek with lips more on ear than anywhere else, for greeting.

Stephen found that a strangeness, Hugh remembers. Kisses were for fealty, for kings, not granted so freely to strangers. He wonders if Stephen ever thought of him with anything of loyalty.

Hugh wonders if this is his curse alone, if Stephen finds anything but distaste in this act. The Englishman's eyes are closed, sweat turning his hair to strings. The moon's light lends itself to shadow, never clarity; the bones of Stephen's face are stark, a mask of intensity without underlying meaning. Whenever Stephen ends, he wraps himself with what linen lies to hand as he withdraws, a bath sheet, a bed sheet, a shirt, to leave Hugh with liquid lust and a roll of linen between his legs. Distaste, disdain in that action, Hugh thinks: for the corporeality of this act, the consequence. Or perhaps it means nothing more than cloth rucked between them, meaningless fabric. Hugh would have burned the fabric had they enough to spare on their journey, instead spending his time scrubbing at stains.

Without words, kisses, promises, surely all consequence between them must be purely physical.

Hugh of Montpellier has age, superiority, right-of-birth and land. Stephen was a peasant before saving the life of his king in what he calls, with a grin, an accident. He was gifted his knighthood without thought to the consequence, learned to read and figure without any of the land or lordship to require or direct his knowledge. Hugh wonders if Stephen even knows he could have refused their association. But that would have required Hugh ask for affirmation or negation, and they do not talk of this, as if words could end it all.

'Stephen.' Hugh's throat hurts as he speaks, slurred as though drunk; he thinks he is drunk, on exhaustion, the emphasis slapped against his thighs. 'Stephen.'

Who opens his eyes, only the moon's glitter in those depths of shadow to show a response.

'I want you to—' Hugh pauses. Stephen's cock pulses in him, hard. Hugh tenses, unwillingly for the burn. 'Is this what you want?'

The Englishman speaks shortly, unwilling to spare breath. 'I am still a stranger in your country. What else should I want?'

'I don't know.' Hugh wants more wine; his throat is dry. This is not his country. The road was more his home than this. 'Will you— if you wanted this otherwise, will you speak?'

'Must I speak? You know my tongue. I will give offense.'

In halting English: 'If you will not speak, will you may to do it instead, what it is you want?' He thinks, of the way Stephen will look walking away from him, but instead of relief he feels the ache of the loss of a brother.

Stephen only grins, quicksilver. In French. 'You trust me, sweetheart? Yes, you trust me. More than words.'

The word, Hugh feels as a sharp throb.

As Stephen's cock throbs again, so hard and so close. Hugh closes his eyes when Stephen speeds, ends. The withdrawal is almost immediate, and as it should be when they do not lie together for love. But there is no immediate press of linen, and Stephen does not move away. Hugh opens his eyes, spun and startled, when Stephen's rough fingers close warm and tight with about his thigh, the other hand at the base of Hugh's own unrelieved lust.

Stephen shoulders forward, and does not let Hugh lower his legs.

They have had their intimacies on the battlefield as well as the bed, shared all, bound in the fluids of life and death. Stephen's lips are on Hugh's thigh, his tongue, sourcing fold of flesh, sweat and crease. Hugh nearly cries out. He should speak against this, not a behavior even granted a slang that he knows, not even something he would ask of a whore, this depravity. What can Jerusalem do for them now, what remission to shield them this far? Hugh does not speak against this. He does not want to speak against this. Stephen's fingertips stroke his lust to spend; Stephen's tongue delves the path his prick had so recently opened, deep, flicking.

The motion of his mouth there soothes, wetness and the cool breath of fast exhalation, impossibly calming where Stephen's cock only ever leaves such a burn. Hugh feels the shout wrapped by the column of his throat, released all at once by the Englishman's hand, tongue, and the unexpected scrape of his stubble.

June 2008


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