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To the Sticking Place

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“So be it,” Archer says, his smirk contoured in the glow of Kirei’s arm.

The new command seals are warmer than Assassin’s brandishment on the back of Kirei’s left hand. It’s only fitting. Archer’s brand might be warmer as well, but no, the unused command seals have returned to the climbing vines on Kirei’s arm, as if to affirm the contract, reinforce it, a seal for Kirei as much as Archer. A miracle, the way that saints once had miracles and migraines and stigmata, the swell of the divine beneath their skin.

And everything, everything, is the brilliant color of Tokiomi’s blood.

There are differences, Kirei thinks. Tokiomi’s is brighter than Risei’s, brighter than Maiya’s, brighter than his own. There’s an undercurrent of alchemy in that: the Azoth dagger releases and stores magic even where it severs, and so the blade and blood gleam with Tokiomi’s energy, with the fire and crystal of his nature. It’s odd, and oddly fitting, that Kirei’s brands are the same color, but then, everything he sees is suffused with magic and brightness now, taut at the corners like an over-focused photograph.

“So be it,” Kirei echoes. He tugs down his sleeve, but the glow doesn’t abate. Maybe it’s swelling up from the carpet. He adds, politely, “May it be a pleasure to work with you.”

Archer laughs so hard that his necklace jangles. “Oh, it will be.”

“You seem certain of that.”

“You’re already amusing me far more than you have, and that’s saying something.”

Kirei exhales. It sounds different through a smile, almost a laugh on its own. He hasn’t laughed in years. “Thank you,” he says, “excuse me,” and makes his way out the door, leaving the corpse facedown on the carpet, the Azoth dagger still channeling Tokiomi’s essence. He’ll arrange for it to be moved later.

The air rustles and shimmers like broken glass in the street. Archer reappears in front of Kirei in the hallway, eyebrows raised over challenging eyes.

“I didn’t say we were done,” Archer says.

“Oh?”

“Give me your prana.”

“I thought everything in the world was already yours,” Kirei says.

“Ha. You do have a sense of humor.” Archer stalks through his own gleam, as if he could walk through Kirei’s body, reach into it, materialize within him. “Give me your prana. Directly. Now.”

Archer’s eyes, this close, aren’t quite the same red as the blood, the seals, the frayed edge of Kirei’s sight. “Come and take it,” Kirei says, all breath and no qualms at all.

Laughter hits Kirei like the first punch. It swells against his temple, bleeds into his eye, more heat than pain. The laughter, of course, is Archer’s, but the strikes are mutual. Kirei deflects Archer’s next swing and sweeps under his arm, comes out behind and aims an elbow at the back of Archer’s neck.

But Archer is nothing but glimmering gold, and Kirei staggers forward, catches himself on the door before Archer tackles him against it.

“You’re smiling,” Archer snickers. “It suits you. Keep doing it.”

An and if I don’t? hangs unvoiced on Kirei’s lips, because Archer says “You will,” far too soon and far too close to block.

Kissing Archer isn’t kissing. It’s an assault, a feint of teeth and a jab of tongue, one throttling hand and one forearm braced like a garrote over Kirei’s throat. Kissing Archer back, therefore, isn’t kissing either: it’s reciprocal offense, Kirei’s hands tented into talons on Archer’s hips, fingernails past the grooves of the snakeskin. Kirei tastes his own blood, recognizable but stronger, thrilling. His throat sears and he scrapes the spit off Archer’s tongue to slick it. It works, and doesn’t, and he does it again and again, wonders if he could bite it clean off and use Archer’s blood instead.

It would shut Archer up for good. Kirei’s not sure how he feels about that, even if his body has supplied its own hot, present answer.

Archer cuts off Kirei’s air, blocks his windpipe; Kirei shoves off the door and throws Archer down, but doesn’t break away. He pounces, pins Archer to the floor by the shoulder and aims a strike at his eyes. It connects, but with Archer’s bracelet, his arm raised to block and his pupils blown wide and tall. Exhilaration, Kirei thinks, and arousal, and grabs him by the necklace to haul him up and share that again, to drink that breathless laughter and make it his own.

The King of Heroes is a terrible influence, Kirei thinks, as terrible and beautiful as the gods he hates.

Tokiomi’s blood has crept out onto the hallway carpet. Kirei’s fists meet it, pick up their stain and stench when Archer dodges. Somehow, Archer hooks a leg behind Kirei’s and flips them both over, slams Kirei’s head into the supports of a hall table. The blood might not all be Tokiomi’s, then. Kirei finds he doesn’t care.

Archer yanks the fly of Kirei’s trousers, strong enough that the inside button snaps clean off and the hooks and eyes warp, strain. “This is mine,” he says, already shoving his hand past, forcing Kirei’s shorts and waistband down. “Go ahead, say no.”

His hand is hot, pulsing with life and strength and heroism made animate. Kirei could wound him like a mortal man. Could. Can. Will. “I wouldn’t dream of denying you, King of Heroes,” he says, and the words break on his bared teeth.

“Good.” Archer licks his own smile, lowers it to Kirei’s navel and the trail of dark hair that leads down. His tongue isn’t forked. Kirei wonders distantly why he thought it would be. “I’ve wanted that in my mouth for weeks, priest. I don’t usually wait for what’s mine.”

“Then don’t wait,” Kirei says.

“Then don’t deny how good it feels,” Archer purrs, “and I assure you, it’s going to feel good.”

Kirei pulls himself up to his elbows, cracks his neck, breathes. There’s dust and blood on his lower lip, and somehow beneath it, that urgency under his skin. “So show me,” he says, “entertain me.”

Archer is still laughing when he takes Kirei into his throat. The walls of his mouth throb with it, his tongue hollows and scrapes, his teeth vibrate, jar, tease, and Kirei sees only the backs of his eyelids, seared red and glowing. His skin swells as if the laughter is filling it, as if he, not Archer, is the one receiving the transfer. He might be. It feels that powerful, that quickening, that present. Archer’s mouth is tighter, wetter, than anything that part of Kirei has touched. There’s magic in this, there has to be.

He takes hold of Archer’s hair, digs his fingers into Archer’s scalp, forces himself deeper. He could scald that throat, silence it, call on the art of the Tohsakas and take Archer’s precious voice with fire and come. The image drives his hips like a nightmare.

Greedy as Archer is, he takes as much with his hands as with his tongue. He throttles Kirei at the base with one and his palm is as rough as the carpet and nearly as slick. His other claws at Kirei’s inner thighs, holds them apart. Kirei remembers how Archer holds the stems and bowls of his goblets, the cavalier appreciation of a king. The comparison sets Kirei’s eyes red again, stirs the blood behind them to a boil. He smells his own, now, knows in a moment of predatory clarity the difference in scents the way a wolf or a tiger might.

When he comes down Archer’s throat, his breath is as ragged as a drowning man’s.

Archer sucks it all down as if he’s not ready for Kirei to be done. He hums, purrs really, and Kirei’s flesh is sensitive and sore enough that the sound still pulses through it when Archer finally draws his mouth away.

Light drifts in low through the windows, grey and thick with dust. Archer shines, wetly at the mouth and ruby at the eyes and gold everywhere else. He runs a hand through his hair, curls his lip distastefully at how Kirei’s grip mussed it. Kirei doesn’t care.

“My turn,” Archer says, and climbs up Kirei’s body, nestles his knee against Kirei’s groin. The snakeskin is distended over Archer’s crotch, and Archer rubs his hands down his hips, frames it, draws Kirei’s attention there. “I said I’d make an offering of my flesh, didn’t I?”

“You did,” Kirei says.

“Accept it.”

Kirei’s hands work at the snakeskin, unbutton and unzip the fly. Archer doesn’t bother with underclothes, which isn’t in the least surprising, and his hair there is a dark gold that stands out like a target around the red of his swollen skin. Kirei curls a loose fist around him, curious and more than a little dazed.

He could command Archer to take care of this himself. He has more than enough seals, he could burn one on this, or on commanding Archer to stay his hand, or tear himself apart, or damn near anything. He could take the power he’s been given and turn it against his own Servant, and not even Archer could stop him or deny his will.

Instead, he throttles Archer’s erection, tight enough to make the King of Heroes gasp and stagger. He lets the command seals glow, a threat that Archer can’t ignore.

Kirei expected power. It’s here, in the tautness of his hands and the surge of his blood and the taste of his come in Archer’s mouth. There’s always been power in sex: it’s why God touts and fears it at the same time. But he didn’t expect enjoyment, no matter what Archer said, and here it is: not just in physical pleasure but in Archer demanding it of him, and Kirei’s power to take it away or twist that need like a knife.

He’s hard again long before Archer finishes. Their hands tangle, fight for the tighter grasp. It’s absurd. Kirei laughs.