“I gave orders that I was not to be disturbed,” Nacio said coldly. His eyes glowed arcen green. Of all of them, he was taking best to Ciel’s strange and powerful legacy.
It was strange to see Nacio with glowing green eyes, but they suited him.
Tadeo felt the arcen elixir thrum though his veins, knew it made his own eyes glow blue. The elixir was hot like fire, heady like a good brandy, as addictive as both.
But he knew something hotter. Something headier. Something more addictive by far. He had only ever felt that particular hot, consuming rush twice in his life. He had always been content to let it die to a simmer, when that seemed the best thing to do.
The first time he’d felt it, had been a cousin he’d never been able to regard platonically. The second was the man he’d long regarded as his best friend. They were both brothers to him; they were both so much more. But being lovers with each of them had never felt quite right, and so he’d let them lapse back into simple brotherhood.
Later, he had realized he was the one meant to bring them together. That had made him happy, that he had been the reason Nacio and Ciel had met. If that meant he stayed their friends, well, that explained why lover had never quite worked.
But now…Ciel was dead, and Nacio was doing his best to die, a full year later.
“I do not listen to your orders,” Tadeo finally replied. “You cannot keep going on like this, Nacio.” He closed the door behind him—then locked it, and hid the key away in his clothes.
“Like what?” Nacio demanded. He stared into the fire. “Like a fallen Grand Duke desperate to hold on to his land and people?”
Tadeo moved closer, aching to see how tired Nacio looked, how haggard and near to breaking. Only a few years ago, they had been laughing, certain the problems would smooth out with time. Only two years ago, he had introduced Nacio to Ciel, and had known then he would someday stand in honor at their wedding.
A wedding that would now never come to pass—but that did not mean Nacio had to die too, not yet. “Like a man so wracked with guilt he is doing his damndest to get himself killed.”
Nacio snarled and lunged from where he sat, swinging hard. Tadeo dodged the first swing, tried to grab hold, but in the end they only wound up colliding with each other and landing in a tangled mess on the floor. “Why shouldn’t I grieve, you—”
“Grieve, damn it!” Tadeo snarled. He shoved Nacio off, then rolled over and straddled him, pinning Nacio to the floor. “Grieve, then let it go. All this rage accomplishes nothing, Nacio. You will kill yourself, and without, we’ll all fall.”
“Let go?” Nacio demanded. “Get off me, or when I push you off, you will sorely regret it.”
“No, I won’t,” Tadeo said quietly. “I’ll take whatever you do to me, without a word of complaint, if it will help you to hurt me. Just stop trying to die.”
Nacio stared, cold and furious—then he just seemed to wilt. “Why should I try to live?”
“Because Ciel died for you,” Tadeo snarled. “He died so you would live to fulfill your shared dream—our dreams, the dreams of every man with you here. Do not be angry because you got what you wanted, and had to pay a price that you probably knew you would have—”
Nacio jerked, shoved, gained his knees and swung a hard punch.
Tadeo collapsed, grunting at the pain in his jaw and his shoulder from the hard landing. Testing his jaw, he slowly picked himself up. “It’s true.”
“I know,” Nacio said roughly. “It’s just the hardest part to live with.”
Cautiously, Tadeo moved close again, and laid his hand lightly on Nacio’s arm. “Stop living with it alone, Nacio. Ciel loved you, more—more than life itself. And you know we both loved him just as much. Remember that, Nacio. He would not want you to die, or live in such an anguished state for so long. And I don’t either, Nacio. You’re my best friend, my brother even if we share no blood. We were brothers, you and I, long before the Brotherhood.”
Nacio just stared at him, the very definition of misery.
“If you need to hurt something, then hurt me,” Tadeo said. “Inflict your pain and guilt and misery on me. I will take it all, take it as long as you need. Just tell me what you need, and I’ll give it, endure it—be it. Remember Ciel loves you, even if he is no longer alive. I love you, Nacio. You and Ciel were the only men I have ever loved.”
Nacio laughed shakily, and covered his face in one hand. “We loved you, too, Tadeo. We—we always wondered why you held back.”
“Because I could not wrap my mind around it, at first,” Tadeo said quietly. “I loved each of you, but it did not quite seem to work. Then I realized you two seemed made for each other, and did not know where I fit. I was happy to call you both my best friends, my brothers.”
Reaching out, Nacio cupped Tadeo’s face, startling him. “We were going to ask—but then Kria killed all those people on the Emperor’s orders…”
“And you killed an Emperor, and now here we are,” Tadeo said with a sigh. “So please, Nacio. Remember all that has been sacrificed to bring us to this point, and all that has been gained by your actions. We’ve done much in this past year, but we need you if we are to do more. You’ll never survive if you don’t let go of some of that pain, Nacio. You are allowed to let go of it.”
“I don’t know how, Tadeo,” Nacio said, the words so quiet Tadeo only barely heard them.
He said nothing in reply, only reached up and removed the hand still cupping his face, eyes locked with Nacio’s. “Try not thinking for a little while. Try enjoying something. Do I have to keep telling you that you are allowed to do such things?”
Nacio nodded, but didn’t move.
Still moving slowly, Tadeo pulled Nacio’s arms around his own waist, then wrapped his arms around Nacio’s neck. “If you two were really going to ask, do you think Ciel would mind now if we helped each other live without him?”
He didn’t give Nacio a chance to reply, but dragged his head down and kissed him hard.
It had been a long time since he’d kissed Nacio in anything but brotherly fashion. Back then, it had not quite meshed. They’d gone back to being friends.
Now, it meshed. Tadeo made a rough sound and kissed Nacio harder, pouring out all the emotion he’d had to hold back, had to hide—because a man was not supposed to love his cousin, because he was not supposed to love two men so deeply, and now one of them was gone, and the three that might have been would only now ever be two.
And if one of them died now, he wasn’t not certain the man left standing would have the strength to go on alone.
Nacio tore away and said, “Promise me, Tadeo, that we’ll die together someday. I will not survive with both of you gone, and I won’t let you do it either—vow it.”
“I vow it,” Tadeo said. “When we die, we die together, and be reunited with Ciel.” He laughed. “We’ll be stars in the sky, and watch over our brother stars still living.”
“Idiot,” Nacio replied, the first real display of humor he had shown since being Ciel was dead. He sounded so much like himself in that brief word, Tadeo wanted to weep in relief.
Instead, he just kissed Nacio again, desperate to keep them both from doing anymore thinking.