“I still don’t understand the need for all the secrecy—” Hubert says again, before feeling Ferdinand’s gloved finger press against his lips to silence him. He is blindfolded, letting himself be led away from the heart of the erstwhile monastery, the night air sharp where it pokes into the edges of his clothing. Ferdinand’s breaths are shallow, and his other hand grips too tight at Hubert’s wrist, but he’s hardly in a position to complain.
He would follow this man anywhere.
“I wished it to be a surprise. Something . . .” He hesitates. “Special for us both.”
Special. Hubert shivers, and not from the cool night. They have been circling around this subject for weeks, now—the matter of whether and how to progress their relationship. Hubert has been more than willing to offer himself up to Ferdinand in any way Ferdinand desires him—he can hardly recall those dark times in his life when he didn’t want such a thing, or at least told himself he didn’t. But Ferdinand had been far more reluctant to progress beyond the hours-long spells they’ve spent near-nightly, now, in their old rooms.
Endless and all-too-short encounters, mouths intertwined, fingers braided together, breathy gasps and utterances and sighs in each other’s ears. Hips rocking together, rubbing one another through their clothes—and then progressing to bare hands, Ferdinand’s skin searing and rich around his erection, and once, Hubert wore black leather gloves at Ferdinand’s request, expression dark and devilish as Ferdinand wailed under his touch until an irate knock on their door reminded them they weren’t alone in the world.
I want you. I want all of you that you will give me, and I want to give you my all, Ferdinand had told him after their last late-night rendezvous, as they lay together in his narrow dormitory bed with thighs tangled and arms wrapped around each other, Hubert trying to ignore the mess in his trousers that he would have to get up and deal with very soon—though not yet, not just yet. But it is still so difficult for me to forget all the absurd notions of nobility and saving one’s self for marriage that have been battered into my head.
Hubert kissed his forehead then, the thin film of cold sweat from their exertions clinging salty to his lips. I’ll give you whatever you ask of me. No more and no less.
Ferdinand tilted his chin up to peer into Hubert’s eyes, that bright unflinching gaze that pared Hubert down to his soul. But what is it you want?
Such a dangerous question: one he was wholly unaccustomed to answering before Ferdinand stormed into his heart, and no amount of fear-induced snarling and denial could dislodge him. I want— Hubert had closed his eyes, unable to speak it with that gaze on him. I want to be filled with you. Possessed by you. He was sure his face was scarlet: I’ve imagined it more times than I care to admit—relieved myself of my . . . urges . . . while thinking of it.
Ferdinand nipped at his ear, tangling closer again. I should love to know just how you accomplished that.
Hubert thought of the securely locked box hidden inside his nightstand with a nervous laugh. He would save those specifics for another time.
Regardless . . . I see now how absurd my parents’ sense of propriety was. I no longer want to feel bound by it.
I’m sure I’m hardly who your father would have wished for you to court, anyway.
And thank the goddess for that. Ferdinand buried his face against Hubert’s neck. But if you wished to . . . make love with me, I’d want to do it properly. Not in our old school dorms.
Hubert had wanted to laugh—make love was such a delightfully Ferdinand way of putting it—but he didn’t want Ferdinand to take his laughter the wrong way. Whatever you ask of me, I’m yours to claim.
And so now he is being led to a place of Ferdinand’s choosing, which, based on the lengthy bridge they’re currently crossing, can only be the grounds of the old cathedral, but he’s all too happy to play Ferdinand’s game. They come to a stop, and Ferdinand presses a brief kiss to Hubert’s temple, just above where he’s tied his red silk tie to serve as a blindfold. “Wait right here, love.”
Hubert hums, heart fluttering, and waits.
There is a heavy scrape of wood on stone; a rush of musty air over his skin laced with something more fragrant, both spicy and floral. He frowns, tilting his head as he tries to place it—but then Ferdinand is guiding him again, their boots ringing against shattered marble tiles.
At last they come to a stop, and Ferdinand clasps his hands on Hubert’s shoulders. “You may look now.”
Hubert peels off the blindfold. Even knowing where he would find himself, though, he is not prepared for the complete transformation Ferdinand has made of the ruins of the old cathedral. Nearly a dozen candelabras, filled with lit white candles, form a crescent around the altar, which has been draped with thick velvet altarcloths of royal blue and gold. White rose blossoms circle the altar’s base, as additional petals are strewn across the altar, the floor. Incense smolders in two censers dangling from their hooks nearby, filling Hubert’s nostrils with alluring spice.
“Ferdinand,” he breathes, trying to make sense of it all—the care and preparation it must have taken Ferdinand, all unassisted. The Ferdinand of their schooldays could barely dress himself absent his usual valet. And yet this . . .
“I am sorry if it is too much,” Ferdinand says, biting his lower lip. “But I thought—you deserve to be romanced properly.”
A lump rises in Hubert’s throat, and he fights the urge to throw the compliment back in Ferdinand’s face—anything to rid himself of the uncomfortable feeling it gives him, of being wanted, of being worthy. He is too in love with Ferdinand—far too in love with him to begrudge him anything, even his wish to romance a cold shadow such as himself. “It’s—beautiful.” He turns to Ferdinand; alights a trembling gloved palm on Ferdinand’s cheek. “Perfect.”
Ferdinand closes his eyes and leans into the touch. He curls one hand atop Hubert’s. “I—I am sorry. I am very nervous still—”
A cold flush tempers Hubert. “We don’t have to do anything you don’t wish to. Or anything at all—”
“No. I want to.” Ferdinand opens his eyes; steps closer, into Hubert’s orbit. “As long as you are sure—”
“Yes,” Hubert exhales, and his arm drops down onto Ferdinand’s shoulder; he joins it with his other. “Flames, how I want you.”
And perhaps he should feel strange—sacrilegious, somehow, for the deliriously wicked thoughts he’s entertaining here in the cold heart of the dead church. But all he feels is a rush of warmth as Ferdinand pulls him closer; a giddy surge as Ferdinand tilts up to kiss him. A sweet burn as their lips meet and open like hymnals to each other, as Ferdinand’s tongue glides hungrily against his own.
His knees are watery as Ferdinand sucks at his tongue, scrapes teeth against his bottom lip. His heart races as Ferdinand’s hand glides lower down his back, beneath his cape, and rests against the underside of his ass. He tangles one hand in the ocean of copper that tumbles down Ferdinand’s back, and shivers as Ferdinand sighs into his mouth when his grip tightens there.
Ferdinand sucks hard at his tongue once more, then pulls his mouth away, forehead to Hubert’s nose, breath little puffs of heat against Hubert’s throat. “I, ah. Um.”
Hubert raises one eyebrow and waits.
“I am—not entirely sure how one begins to, um.”
“It’s new to me, too,” Hubert confesses—though Ferdinand already knows this, he wants to reassure him once more. He leans forward, allowing his budding hardness to press against Ferdinand’s thigh, and Ferdinand lets out a soft gasp. “But I’d say you’re doing wonderfully so far.”
Ferdinand laughs; tightens his grip on Hubert’s ass. “For what we have done so far, perhaps. But for—m-making love . . .”
The heat welling in Hubert’s stomach calls to mind an altogether different word for what he wants to do, but he holds it back for the time being. “We’ll probably want to be wearing a lot less.”
Ferdinand buries his face against Hubert’s neck and kisses him there. “You make a fair point,” he murmurs against Hubert’s skin, his lips like a match striking. His arms fall away with a sigh, and move to his own jacket’s buttons.
“Wait,” Hubert says. He cups his hands atop Ferdinand’s. “Let me.”
Ferdinand glances up at him, eyes wide and glittering in the candlelight.
“Let me take care of you,” Hubert murmurs.
Ferdinand stares at him for a long moment, chest rising and falling. “Please.”
And so long as he focuses on the tug and release of each button, he does not fall apart; he does not feel that rush of emotion overtake him once more. He tugs the jacket down over Ferdinand’s shoulders and peels it away, but with Ferdinand’s arms still trapped at his sides, it’s too tempting to kiss him once more—and Ferdinand, with a hungry groan, answers his kiss eagerly.
The dam broken, it becomes a clumsy struggle as Hubert attempts to undo Ferdinand’s vest and dress shirt as well while their lips work back and forth. Ferdinand pauses just long enough to let him strip each item away before crushing their mouths together again. But once his torso his bared, Hubert has to stop to take in the unbearably gorgeous sight before him: Ferdinand’s well-muscled torso, the candlelight kissing downy hairs along it and freckles dotting his shoulders and chest.
“My word. What a sight.” Hubert steps back to admire him, even as Ferdinand’s face blushes deep scarlet. It’s overwhelming, everything he suddenly wants to do to it—run his tongue along the crisp grooves of muscle, suck at the delicate pink nipples—but for now, he settles for gliding the fingers of one hand down the front of Ferdinand’s chest, dipping down along a copper trail of hair toward his waistband—
But Ferdinand catches Hubert’s wrist before he can reach it. “Wait.”
Hubert freezes, heart thudding. Is Ferdinand having second thoughts? He could hardly blame him—he can hardly believe they’ve come this far, even. Not when this sun-kissed god before him could effortlessly send far handsomer, kinder, worthier men than himself to their knees—
Ferdinand raises Hubert’s hand toward his lips and then, locking eyes with Hubert, bites down on the very tip of his glove’s middle finger. A deeply unholy noise wrenches out of Hubert as Ferdinand tugs the glove off, exposing Hubert’s magic-gnarled hand, and then he lets the glove dangle in his mouth for a moment before allowing it to fall to the floor.
“I have wanted to do that for some time,” Ferdinand confesses, kneading Hubert’s bare hand in his own pristine ones. “But I kept getting caught up in the moment, forgetting . . .”
As Ferdinand kisses the center of his palm, Hubert is quite certain he might erupt in flames on the spot. When he kisses lower, pushing up the cuff of Hubert’s jacket to kiss the bony inside of his wrist, he swallows down several curses.
“I want you,” Ferdinand intones against his wrist. He rounds his mouth; sucks at thin flesh until Hubert whimpers; softens again. “Goddess, how I want you.”
“Then I, um.” Hubert’s head spins from the sudden rush of blood away from his brain. “Guh. Let’s finish undressing?”
Ferdinand nods, grinning, and starts to work his way out of his riding boots, and Hubert is grateful not to have to help with that because he wouldn’t even know how to begin. Instead he focuses on unbuckling his cape, unbuttoning his jacket, shucking his vest and his dress shirt. His boots and socks and sock garters come off more easily, and then he’s fumbling with the buttons of his trousers—
“Please.” Ferdinand seizes him by knobby hips and steers him toward the nest he’s made of the altar. “Allow me this.”
Hubert nods, mute, as Ferdinand eases the trousers down over his hips and thighs. His cock is painfully heavy in the cold air, and clear strands of precome drip from the head. Ferdinand pulls his trousers the rest of the way off, then stops, staring at Hubert’s erection.
Hubert closes his eyes with a fresh spike of shame. They’ve never been naked before each other; it’s only been hands thrust crudely down unfastened trousers. Now he’s exposed in all his wiry, sharp angles; his tight and scarred flesh, his embarrassing arousal . . . But Ferdinand closes a loose fist around his shaft and when Hubert opens his eyes, he finds Ferdinand smiling down at him.
“Just beautiful,” Ferdinand says. “I—I want to taste you.”
Hubert’s pulse leaps at that. “I’m afraid I may not last very long if you do.”
Ferdinand juts out his lower lip in a pout, which unfortunately only serves to make Hubert imagine all the ways that lip might feel wrapped around his cock. “Another time, then.” Ferdinand’s thumb grazes over the head and teases the slit, and Hubert cries out, whole body tensing. “If—you would like that—”
“Please,” Hubert breathes.
Ferdinand leans down, beaming, and kisses Hubert’s throat. The long, curly tips of his hair tickle at Hubert’s ribs, and he suppresses a shiver. When Ferdinand leans back up, he releases Hubert’s shaft, and finally, finally, finishes shoving his own trousers down and off.
Hubert sucks in his breath at the full sight of Ferdinand stretching before him now—muscular calves, thick cock jutting forward. He’d gotten a sense of its size with his hand, but seeing it displayed so lusciously before him—he’s grateful to already be leaning against the stone altar.
“I, uh. Brought some . . . oil,” Ferdinand says, ducking his reddened face so his wild hair cascades over it. “But I’m not sure how . . .”
Hubert eases himself up onto the altar fully now and stretches out on the thick velvet cloths. “—Would you like me to show you?”
“Oh,” Ferdinand gasps, and the vial of oil nearly slips from his hand. “That would be—glorious.”
Hubert doubts that very much, but he takes the vial from Ferdinand’s shaking fingers anyway, and pours a generous amount into his palms.
This, at least, he knows how to do for himself. He rolls onto his back, staring up at the cherubic mural on the ceiling above him, and the gap where the roof has collapsed that reveals bright starlight. Bending his legs up beneath him, he hoists up his hips, and teases one finger around the tight ring of his ass.
“Watch carefully,” he says, emboldened now. He shudders as he presses one finger inside himself—and how many times has he done this while imagining those very eyes on him, watching him with the same shrewdness? When others were offering their prayers to the goddess, he was whispering his desires into his pillow, yearning for this very man to dismantle him, give him someone to devote his heart and body to the way his duty and purpose is devoted to his emperor.
Hubert’s hips lift higher as he brushes his finger just right, and lets out a moan as he feels himself unwind. Tentative, Ferdinand cups one hand to his calf, watching still as Hubert eases himself open. A second finger joins the first, and he grits his teeth, growling at the sensation of being filled, but they’re angled just so that the discomfort is far, far outweighed by the hot frisson of pleasure.
Flames, he wants nothing more than to feel Ferdinand inside him right now, but it’s been a while since he’s pleased himself this way—his nights have rather been occupied with Ferdinand himself of late—so he forces himself to take his time. But the press of his fingers combined with those searching eyes on him leaves him throbbing with want; he’s never wanted anything for himself so much as he wants this, has never craved surrendering control so utterly, placing himself in another’s hands—
Hubert grunts; locks eyes with Ferdinand. His legs are shaking, now; he feels the tremor deep in his soul. And he has never been more terrified in his life.
If he were the praying sort, he would be praying that he wouldn’t break whatever magic had drawn someone like Ferdinand to him in the first place.
“Shh,” Ferdinand says softly. He strokes his fingers up and down Hubert’s calf.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“But you were overthinking something. I can tell.” Ferdinand kisses his bent knee. “Is something the matter?”
Hubert opens his mouth—but confessing his fear feels unnecessary, somehow. Just looking at Ferdinand’s face, the quiet confidence, the admiration written there—he already feels absolved.
He shakes his head. “I—I’m ready.”
Hubert eases his fingers loose, and with a sigh, Ferdinand kisses the inside of his thigh, nibbles at it, drinks up Hubert’s gasp. He climbs on his knees onto the altar, and pulls Hubert into his lap. Their gazes meet, and it’s an awkward few moments, finding the proper position, both their hands oil-slick as they angle themselves.
And then Ferdinand’s cock is pressing against Hubert’s hole; his legs are up over Ferdinand’s shoulders; there is a firm pressure bearing into him—
“Oh, goddess,” Ferdinand gasps, at the same time Hubert envelops him and cries out, “Fuck me, please—”
Ferdinand makes a few hesitant thrusts, artless and arrhythmic, but it’s more than enough to send Hubert reeling, pleasure radiating from the heavy warmth that’s stretching him just right. Then Ferdinand sinks deeper, and the groan that escapes Hubert at that exquisite agony is so sinful, lewd, delighted—
“Goddess. Look how lovely you are.” Ferdinand crouches over him and smiles, caressing his cheek; he gently pushes the bangs from Hubert’s eyes. “Lovely and clever and determined in all the best ways. I—I am in love with you, Hubert.”
Hubert can only stare, speechless, at the angelic man above him, candlelight making rays of sunlight out of his halo of curls. The ache in his center is nothing compared to the sharp pang in his heart. Overwhelmed, he tangles one hand in those locks and holds tight.
“I love you. You radiant, divine being—Fuck,” he cries again, as Ferdinand gives another thrust.
And perhaps it should feel blasphemous in the ruins of the cathedral, but with Ferdinand’s mouth on his shoulder and his hair spilled around Hubert’s body and his hands closing on one of Hubert’s wrists while Hubert’s other hand digs against muscular shoulderblades—
While his legs wrap around sturdy hips, while Ferdinand finds a steady rhythm, while their gasps and cries together into a hymnal all their own—
Hubert has never felt his soul so full, his heart so overcome with love.
“I love you.” Ferdinand sucks at his throat. “Goddess.” His teeth graze at the underside of Hubert’s jaw. “Hubert.” He bites hard at Hubert’s lower lip, so hard Hubert tastes salty blood. “Fuck—”
“Touch me,” Hubert pleads, he’s been fighting it so hard, but one touch from Ferdinand and he’ll be lost—
Ferdinand slips a hand between their bodies and clamps his fist around Hubert’s cock, thumb pressing against the flare of the head. “I love you, Hubert—”
And if sunlight can burn him, then Ferdinand is absolutely searing, pulsing hot inside of him as his honey-sweet voice dissolves into wordless cries. The wave of Ferdinand’s climax makes him clench fiercely on Hubert’s cock, and it’s too much to bear. Hubert’s joints lock; he snarls in Ferdinand’s ear, pulling hard at silky hair, as he allows himself to let go.
Allows himself to let go—to lose himself in Ferdinand’s embrace, his care. And it’s perhaps the most miraculous feeling of all.
As his breath returns to him, Ferdinand is kissing him—his cheeks, his nose, his eyelids. Hubert simply revels in the attention for a moment, yet another indulgence he’s never known before Ferdinand. His own spend is cooling on his stomach as Ferdinand’s softening cock slips out of him, but he wants nothing more than to luxuriate in this moment.
“Hubert?” Ferdinand whispers. “You are—crying.”
Hubert blinks; finds his lashes are damp. “So I am.”
Ferdinand pushes up from his forearms, and Hubert whimpers at the sudden emptiness within him. “Was I so terrible—”
Hubert sits up and pulls Ferdinand back into his arms. Chest to chest, he can feel both their hearts pounding, in lockstep with one another. He kisses mussed hair and sweat-damp forehead, and allows himself to be crushed in another of Ferdinand’s embraces.
“You are perfect. Divine. So much more than I deserve—”
“Nonsense,” Ferdinand scolds him, but kisses him all the same.
“And if I prayed, I would have prayed for you. Unceasingly.” He swallows down the tightness in his throat. “But absent anything else to worship—I’ll spend my life worshiping you, instead.”
Ferdinand takes his face in his hands and kisses him again, and it’s both the same as before and indescribably different. Not the end of the past month’s heady, fresh romance, but its beginning. And he knows, as those strong arms enfold him: he will gladly devote the rest of his life to this god who loves him as he is, and yet challenges all the same.
And he can think of nothing more sacred, nothing more holy, than this love.