Sykkuno isn’t surprised when two weeks after his banishment, there’s a knock on his door and in comes Dream, dressed head to toe in black as if he just rushed back from an assignment and hair messily hanging over his face from the wind. Knowing him, he probably did, Sykkuno thinks exasperatingly.
“You shouldn't be here,” Sykkuno says before Dream can get a word in.
Green eyes narrow at him dangerously, blazing in their fury. “You’re right,” he grits through clenched teeth, sharp and tense as the lines of his large frame. “But I’m staying.”
It’s a pity. He rarely gets to see Dream break from his carefully crafted mask of aloofness. Not in meetings with the other captains bickering at each other, or when the lieutenants and scouts make a mess of themselves. Not even when the Commander orders for a particularly brutal decision to be finalized.
But of course, it’s only when Sykkuno’s nestled away in a small house made of wood in a forest made of death does he see Dream’s cultivated walls crumble before him.
Of course it’s when Sykkuno isn’t allowed to trace those fine, handsome details with a finger and see for himself how far those specks of gold in a pond of green take him.
“I’m not joking.” He drops his arms to his sides, the sleeves of his hanfu rustling softly. Commands the tension within the room as easily as he breathes and as he has for centuries, when the hopeless gazes of many pierced at his back in their desire for an answer. “If you don’t return now, I can’t protect you from what might happen, Dream.”
It should alarm him—set off every warning bell his instincts are attuned to—when the anger in Dream’s eyes flicker in their intensity and a shadow creeps over him as the man steps closer.
“I don’t need your protection,” Dream hisses, something dangerous fluttering over his expression.
Then what do you need? What do you need from me? Sykkuno wants to throw back. Demand, if it wouldn’t set off the tight control Sykkuno’s struggling to hold onto. He thought he and Dream were on equal grounds—both working to the same goal and watching the world whirl by before them, the standing pillars of Society as change sweeps the rest into a storm. He thought what they had was camaraderie—understanding, at each other’s backs when war breaks out again and again and they’re left with no choice but to handle it with drawings of swords and knives and axes. With the scent of death and history acknowledging their legacy as the sons of blood.
The Gods of Death, the elders scorn.
The comings of heroes, the children cheer.
Our leading Generals, the scouts whisper.
Tired soldiers, Sykkuno says.
He and Dream, the center of power, beacons of whatever the Commander wants to paint them as for when fate rears its ugly head and urges for newer conflicts. It’s what he’d thought they were in agreement with—Dream never so much as acknowledging the other captains wanting a piece of what they’ve somehow become, but inclining his head respectfully the moment Sykkuno enters a room. Sykkuno falling into line beside Dream as they make their way down the parting seas of scouts watching them with revere, always just a slight step behind him. Dream searching Sykkuno out after a task, buried within paperwork and a headache forming with how his lieutenants haven’t dropped their tiresome idolization of him but always enough energy left to greet Dream with a gentle smile.
Always being greeted in response with a heavy, hungry stare and Sykkuno never so much as knowing what to do with himself when he feels a forgotten part of him burn.
Why do you look at me like there’s something you need? Why do you look at me?
“Then go,” Sykkuno flings at him sharply. He clasps his hands together and hates the way they curl into fists under the covers of his robes. “If you leave now, your absence from the following Council Meeting won’t be noted and you can avoid questioning—“
“I’m not going,” Dream butts in.
Sykkuno’s lips thin. “Please don’t be stubborn about this.”
Dream smiles. It wasn’t a nice one. “When it comes to you, I’m nothing but stubborn.” Another step; he’s close now, heat rolling off of him in waves and the scent of forest ink fire blood death ash sweet apples fresh flours invade Sykkuno’s senses. His gaze stays on the line of Dream’s broad shoulders as he’s all but crowded into the dining table behind him—trapped with nothing but responsibilities and decisions and uncertainty.
Big, rough hands come to cradle his jaw in an unbending hold and jerk his chin up. Dark brown meets bright green, and Sykkuno has to remind himself to breathe. This close, he can see every single lash crowning Dream’s eyes.
“Where you go, I follow, Captain. Nothing—not even this bullshit” —a sweep of the setting around them— “changes that,” Dream vows heatedly. “The assholes in their high and mighty seats made a pair out of us like the pathetic leaders they are. If they want to banish one of us, they banish both of us.”
“You don’t get it,” Sykkuno challenges against the feelings coiling with his ribcage. “I am banished, Dream. There’s nothing on the other side waiting for me, my House is all but destroyed, a new captain will take my place, and you’ll live. You’ll live a better life, a good one, and I’ll take my leave every chance I get if I can guarantee—“
He clamps his mouth shut, realizing he said too much.
A new murderous rage—the rage Sykkuno remembers pressed behind his back as rows upon rows of enemy forces ran at them and of which he promptly cut down—arrises. Dream pushes forward until Sykkuno’s forced to sit on the surface of the wooden table to avoid falling, their noses nearly brushing in their proximity and closer than they’ve ever been before—closer than Sykkuno’s ever allowed before.
“What do you mean guaranteed?” Dream seethes. When Sykkuno refuses to answer, he presses forward again, impossibly closer, until Sykkuno feels a thigh slip between his parted ones and a hand leaving his jaw to burn a path down to his waist, claiming claiming claiming and head lowering for lips to hover over the skin beneath his ear.
“Captain,” Dream breathes. “What do you mean by guaranteed.” It wasn’t posed as a question this time.
Sykkuno thinks of not answering again, letting silence welcome their unlikely forms and for him to keep his thoughts locked under a heavy heart with the key safely stowed away in a burial of hope. The hand at his waist only tightens its hold.
In the end, it's the look Dream gives him when Sykkuno finally shifts his face to brush their foreheads against one another. A look of broken desire and hunger and need and desperation—a look of everything Sykkuno’s never seen Dream present in front of him because he never once thought Dream would be looking at him with it.
“They realized the leash they had around you wasn’t being held by them anymore,” Sykkuno admits into the space—what little there is of it—between them. “It was after you massacred the whole clan of elders.”
“The ones who made you went through with the classified assassination,” Dream murmurs into his neck, tone pleased in all the wrong ways Sykkuno finds he doesn’t care too much about. His own hands reach up to bury themselves in Dream’s fitted cloak, seeking to touch on their own without his permission. Still, he doesn’t loosen his grip. Neither does Dream.
“You weren’t even supposed to know about that assignment, Dream,” Sykkuno says with disapproval. “It was classified and only the Commander and his scouts had the clearance, but you—“
He swallows what left he had to voice when lips meet the corner of his mouth and green eyes of death stared straight into his own.
“I broke through their meager defenses and found the information myself. I wanted to know why the Commander was walking around, all smug and arrogant, and why you let him of all people touch—“ A sharp exhale through the nose. “You let him touch you. You let him touch you, pat you on the shoulder in front of all those spineless captains who think they’re equal to you, think they’re worthy to be in the same standing as you when they’re nothing but the dirt you walk on, and the Commander touched you like you were his.”
Again, Sykkuno should be—maybe not scared. Not worried, because even with a sword to his throat, Sykkuno had smiled and cleanly slashed through the limbs of whoever his opponent was. Wary, perhaps. This was the second half to the pair that made up the Society’s generals, who fought and led and won wars and who wields the attention of their courts with an unbothered gait that rivaled Sykkuno’s regal absoluteness. This was a dangerous, dangerous man of a legacy only starting.
But Sykkuno was right there beside him. And maybe that’s why he wasn’t afraid—maybe that’s why he parts his lips and let their breath mingle together, pulling him in because he might not understand his desires or needs, but he can understand Dream. He understands Dream needs him to listen.
“So I dug up what I could, found out about the assignments and plannings and the fact that you were the only one allowed in on killing the House Leader’s daughter.” Forehead to forehead, eyes to eyes, lips lining against lips. “Realized it was all one big scheme for the Commander to show his council he was still in charge and could order you around, like you weren’t the sole reason why half of Society didn’t crumble in over itself, like you were nothing more than a trophy to parade around to be used,” Dream nearly growls. “And then I killed every damn elder who was in on it because if I can’t kill the Commander himself, I’ll kill all his people who ever had faith in his ruling in the first place.”
Sykkuno wants to laugh. It’s not funny at all—in fact, he should be horrified. But for the life of him, he can’t summon the empathy he so readily supplied within his youth.
“It’s then that I figured it out,” Sykkuno tells him. He snakes a hand up to the back of Dream’s neck and tangles his fingers into the soft strands of ash blond, watching as Dream’s eyes close and his whole body lean into the touch.
“Figured out what?”
“That I held the leash they thought they put on you. They watched me become what they wanted but could never control and made you into what they thought could control to equal me, and when they found out you weren’t under them, they—"
“They tried to get rid of the hand holding my leash,” Dream finishes. Green reappears, boring into him. “They tried to get rid of you.”
“But you followed,” Sykkuno says. He followed.
“I did,” Dream replies. “But why did you go? Why did you leave like they actually could make you?”
Why leave without me? Dream doesn't say, but Sykkuno hears.
“They promised me you’d never have to take part in the wars again,” Sykkuno reveals. “It’s the only thing I ever wanted for you. You grew up fighting wars, Dream. It was all you knew and learned, all they taught you, and I thought—“
“I grew up fighting wars beside you,” Dream fiercely argues. “I grew up learning and knowing with you. I grew up devoting my life to making sure you lived yours for another day. Every war was won for you and every blade was drawn for you because you chose this life while I never did and if we’re stuck with those decisions, I’d rather be stuck going through it with you.”
It’s strange. He’s had people declare their devotion to him before. In Toast and Rae and Corpse and Jack in the lost times of memories. Each had wanted a different life for him; craved for him to drop his knives, his swords, his darkening potential for the chance of happiness. None understood why he didn’t seize the chance when they presented it to him.
None lived long enough to understand he did choose this life for himself.
He didn’t have to be a hero. He didn’t have to dawn the mantle of a general and spill more blood than history allowed. He didn’t have to climb the ranks of his House, swatting at opponents like the flies he always thought they were, and claim the throne others too weak to aspire for hadn't.
He had a choice between desire and life, and he chose desire. For power and change and the idea of unbending authority.
Dream knew that. Better than anyone else, he knew that.
“I followed you,” Dream whispers. “I’ll always follow you, Captain.”
And Sykkuno believes him.
When Dream kisses him, it's searing in heat and want and the build up of long since buried lust, a black kind of love, and an even blacker sense of loyalty. He lays the smaller man out on the table and finally familiarizes himself with the vast plane of pale skin he'd wanted to mark up since the first time he'd glimpsed of it, back when Sykkuno had stood in the waters of the Cold Springs within his House’s mountains and the moonlight had shined upon the silver cuttings of fine scars.
Grasps thin, powerful wrists within a hand of his own and pins it above that beautiful face flushed in pleasure, breathy mewls parting from soft lips and a halo of raven hair framing him. Dream remembers when he wore it long around his waist and how scouts who hadn’t known their places dared to fantasize about it in a way Dream should cut off their heads for.
Hadn’t, and won’t, because Sykkuno, God of Death to them all, was whimpering Dream’s name as he opened him up with his fingers—like he was at Dream’s mercy and not the very thing which captivated Dream and never freed him since.
He hadn’t ever let himself succumb to this wanted vision—of Sykkuno under him and willing, oh so willing, for Dream to care for him and praise him and love him in the only form Dream ever knew how to. Hadn’t ever thought it possible to hear such a man beg Dream for more, to go harder and faster and fill him up until there’s no discerning where they meet and end.
Hadn’t ever succumbed to the idea that Sykkuno would love him back, dark and dangerous.
But Sykkuno let him bite and mark and kiss. Let him take.
And so Dream takes and takes and takes, because where Sykkuno goes, he'll follow—always just a slight step behind.