bDisclaimer/b: Lost Odyssey and its characters don't belong to me, they belong to Mistwalker and whoever else holds the rights. I'm making no money off of this!
That This Too Sullied Flesh Would Melt
Gods, what a day!
Former Prince Tolten of Urha - now Citizen Tolten of Urha - collapsed gratefully onto the couch Lord Councilman Gongora offered. His head was still swimming with figures and columns and mathematical symbols that barely made sense to him. Thankfully, they would all make sense to Gongora. And Gongora could at least attempt to make them make sense to Tolten as well.
"You look nearly drained, your highness! Whatever is the matter?"
While Tolten relaxed on the couch, Gongora busied himself pouring wine and arranging a small platter of cheese and fruit. He was always so terribly attentive, whenever Tolten came to the manor. He hated that he came so often, but the older man never seemed to mind.
"Finances," he explained, waving a hand in a frustrated motion. "Taxes and tithes and all of that. I'm afraid the monarchy was abolished before I ever quite got a handle on the whole mess." He attempted to smile, to try and make light of his shortcomings, but it was a sad little thing.
"Perfectly understandable!" Gongora took a seat beside him and set the platter on the low table before them. "You're hardly the only young man who hasn't an idea how to manage vast finances - and I doubt anyone ever expected you to handle something like this anyway."
"I was to be king…"
"And kings have men who handle their money for them." Gongora leaned back and took a sip of his wine. "Men such as myself, in fact. Let's have a look at your ledgers, shall we?"
And that was that. Tolten hadn't even had to ask - he never had to ask. Whatever he needed, Gongora would (if he could) provide it without need for prompting or requesting. Even if it were something as small as needing cheering up, or a reminder that he wasn't an entire failure. Tolten gratefully handed the ledgers over to the older man and then turned his attention to the food and drink provided. Whatever would he do without Gongora? He couldn't imagine life without him. Of course, without Gongora, he probably would have ended on the streets, penniless and alone and doomed to die in the gutter of his beloved capital.
But when his father had died, Gongora had been there. Gongora had argued to allow him to remain in the only home he knew, promised to look after him. After all, Gongora had pointed out, he was only fourteen. Could they truly be so heartless as to cast out a child? It had stung, being called a child in front of the entire council, but he supposed it was true. And apparently the council agreed. Of course they had, they all knew him. They knew full well he had no chance of surviving on his own. And wasn't any threat.
Thank gods for Gongora.
"We truly didn't take much, did we? The Council, I mean." Gongora asked, suddenly. Tolten was shaken from his rather depressing reverie when the man spoke.
"Hmm? Oh, no. State money, of course, but my family's personal fortune was left to me." Not that it did Tolten much good. What on earth was he going to spend all of it on? A small fraction went to his minuscule staff and living expenses, but that was all.
"No wonder you're having such difficulty! I had no idea the Urha fortune was as large as this. Especially considering its been in your care for three years now..."
Tolten just shrugged. It was only money, which was of no consequence to him. "I don't spend much," he admitted.
"Have you considered investing?"
Again, Tolten shrugged. He knew Gongora was trying to help - as he always did - but it was of no matter to Tolten. He only knew that he apparently owed taxes. Or tithe. Or perhaps both. It was all ridiculously confusing! Gongora nodded and set aside the papers he had been going over.
"Well, I would be happy to handle your financial matters for you, your highness. There's no need for you to trouble yourself with such trivial matters."
Tolten started. He had expected help, but not help of this magnitude!
"Gongora, I…I couldn't. I impose on you too much as it is already…." He shook his head to emphasize his point, feeling a tightness in his chest. It wasn't fair. Whatever had he done to deserve the support and care that this man selflessly offered? And for nothing in return! Surely Gongora wasn't that entranced with Tolten's company that it was enough.
"Nonsense." Gongora chuckled. "I've a head for these things. Besides which, you never impose."
Tolten sighed and leaned back on the couch, tipping his head back and trying to keep tears from welling up in his eyes. Tears because of the affection Gongora offered, tears because he needed the man's help, and tears because he was a young man frightened of the future. By all that was holy, but he was weak!
"I'm a grown man, yet you take care of me nearly completely. Gods, what a burden I must be on you!"
"And stop it!" A deep, ragged breath helped to somewhat calm Tolten's distress. "I'm not a prince or 'your highness' any longer."
"Tolten," Gongora repeated, reaching to lay a large hand on the teenager's shoulder, "you are not a burden to me. You will never be a burden to me."
"Aren't I? You've the Council to see to, the city to run, advancements in magical energy technology to oversee…."
"And none of those things interfere with supporting you when you need it." The hand on Tolten's shoulder curled around his neck, drawing him closer to Gongora. He went gladly, sinking into the older man in a half-embrace.
"But why?" he finally asked, the waver in his quiet voice betraying the tears he fought so desperately to hide.
"What?" Gongora drew away, holding Tolten away from him to look at him. The tears were building in his eyes now, because he'd clearly angered Gongora. His only ally in the entire world, and he'd put his foot in his mouth for the last time…. "Tolten…surely you must know by now that I…care for you."
It was the last thing that the former prince had expected Gongora to say. He was so stunned, so taken aback, all he could think to say was "…me?"
"Oh…oh, Tolten." Gongora's arm was around him again, pulling him close, holding him. "Yes, you. And to head off your next query of 'why' -" Tolten flushed " - can you truly not see for yourself?"
A bitter laugh was Tolten's immediate response. Why would anyone care for him? Sometimes he doubted if even his father had ever cared. Not about him as a person at least. Oh, he'd cared insofar as an heir went, but as a son? How could he assume anyone cared for him when he wasn't even certain if his own father had?
"No, I'm afraid I can't." He left it at that, rather than list all of his numerous faults and flaws.
"Then perhaps I should illuminate for you. You are a very special young man, Tolten. You've been dealt a terrible lot in life, yet you bear it with grace. How many deposed monarchs could be content to reside in their city - in their palace! - and not grow bitter, or plot with revolutionaries? Why, look at how close you and I are! And I, one of the usurpers who govern the city in your stead! The depths of your kindness and forgiveness are unfathomable. Your perseverance is inspiring! When I look at you…." The older man trailed off, and Tolten raised himself up from Gongora's side.
"What?" he urged, voice breathless. Never had anyone said such kind and wonderful things about him. Or to him! He bore his burden with grace? He was kind and inspiring? Which Tolten Urha had Gongora been spending these last few years with?
"When I look at you," Gongora repeated as one hand clasped the back of Tolten's neck. He didn't continue, and the young man wet his lips nervously, unaware of the subtle changes in the room's atmosphere. He was only aware of Gongora's hand on his neck, the beautifully kind words the man kept spilling forth, this strange and new feeling of being wanted.
"What? Gongora…what is it that you see, when you look at me?"
He had to know. He had to hear more. A part of him realized that he was dangerously starved for affection, but he didn't care. It had been his lot in life, he supposed. But no longer. Someone claimed to cared about him. If only Gongora would speak, rather than simply stare at him with such an intense gaze!
Gongora didn't speak. Before Tolten was even aware what was happening, the hand on the back of his neck tightened and then Gongora was there, the older man's lips meeting Tolten's.
It was, Tolten would decide later, the single most shocking moment he had experienced in his seventeen years. The abolishment of the monarchy, his father's death…they paled in comparison to the sudden, unprecedented kiss.
He froze. He honestly didn't know what else to do. Or even why this was happening! A part of his mind registered that it actually felt quite nice - after processing that this was his first kiss, and a very odd first kiss at that - but most of him was stunned into catatonia.
Before he had fully registered what was happening, Gongora pulled back and leapt to his feet as though he'd been burned. Tolten could only gape at him, hands in his lap on the couch.
"Your highness! Please…please forgive me!" The horror and shame in Gongora's voice broke through the former prince's daze. "I don't know what came over me! I had no intention…."
Tolten stood. His mind began to work very quickly, replaying the scenario in his mind. Gongora holding him, soothing his heart and soul with praise. Gongora kissing him, the very first touch of another's lips on his own. Gongora saying he cared for him. Gongora's intense, passioned look.
"Please stop calling me 'your highness'," he managed. He could still feel Gongora's mouth on his, the prickle of his beard against his skin. Now he was reacting, his body warming and his heart beating terribly fast in his chest. Was he shaking? Maybe.
"Stop." Tolten took a deep breath and closed the distance between them, taking deliberate and cautious steps. He wasn't even entirely sure what he was doing, but he knew that he had never felt anything like this before. And he wanted to feel this. He wanted to feel loved. He reached up, his palm coming to rest on Gongora's cheek. The older man still looked apprehensive, as though expecting an outburst. "I…gods, I'm at a loss for words!"
"There's no more to say," Gongora offered. "We will forget this happened, and not speak of it again. I do apologize…."
"We will not forget," Tolten insisted. "You never answered my question, Gongora."
Tolten's other hand came to rest on Gongora's other cheek, holding his face gently. He felt shivers all over his body, tiny little things that he'd never quite felt before.
"I asked you what you see when you look at me. You still haven't answered." And now he needed to know even more. It was a burning inside of him, a need that felt like it would overtake him and assert itself as the core of his being. And finally, Gongora gave his answer.
"I see the proof that fate exists."
"What?" Tolten's fingers flexed against Gongora's cheeks, perplexed.
"I cannot believe it to be simple coincidence, that I would come to Urha, come to you, just as you needed me most. Just as…I needed you."
"Do you, Gongora? Do you need me?" He didn't have the strength or presence of mind to keep the desperate notes from his voice. To think that Gongora needed him?
"Yes. I do."
Something twisted inside of Tolten then, deep inside of him in places he wasn't even consciously aware of. But he felt that little change within just the same. His hands tightened on Gongora's cheeks and he leaned up, awkwardly pressing his mouth on the older man's. He was shaking now, trembling with some strange mix of fear, anticipation and awe. Gongora was a statue beneath his kiss, and Tolten moved his lips and clung to Gongora, desperate for a response. Desperate to feel that sense of caring and want and appreciation flood him.
Finally, Gongora returned the kiss. Tolten squeezed his eyes shut and when Gongora's tongue slipped inside his mouth he welcomed it. It wasn't anything like his dreams or his own silly fantasies, but it was real and it was his.
At least until Gongora pushed him gently away.
"This isn't right." Gongora's voice was firm. "I'm taking advantage of you."
"No you aren't!" Tolten worried his lower lip and shook his head furiously. "I approached you! You tried to stop the first time, but I continued! I wanted it! You cannot take advantage of the willing, Gongora!"
"You're too young, I'm an old man…"
"I am not! I am seventeen years old! And despite my reputation as an imbecile who cannot find his own backside with a map, I am fully aware of what I want! And don't attempt to tell me what an 'old man' you are, you cannot be much more than thirty at most!" It wasn't often that Tolten raised his voice, but he couldn't allow this to slip through his fingers. He didn't just want it, he needed it!
"You're quite determined, aren't you?" Gongora chuckled and ran a hand through Tolten's hair, stroking it softly. "And gods know I can deny you nothing."
That flood of warmth came then, as the older man stroked his hair and spoke his soft, kind words. Perhaps Gongora was right. This was fate, it was destiny. Why else had they found each other when they had? When Tolten had been most lost, most alone….
"But you should return to your home now," Gongora went on. "It's growing late. And I trust I needn't warn you to exercise discretion…"
"I would never do anything that could jeopardize your position, Gongora." No, he knew full well that this was something to remain secret. For both of their sakes. It wasn't as though Tolten had a reputation or position to lose, but he knew the verbal slings and tawdry rumors that would sweep the city. He didn't care if this was to be a clandestine affair. All he cared was that someone wanted him. Someone possibly even loved him. Why else was Gongora always there for him, in every way?
"I'm not worried about my position." The sorcerer smiled once more and pressed a kiss to Tolten's forehead. "Now go on. And leave your ledgers with me, your finances will be sorted by the end of the week."
"Thank you." Boldly, his stomach leaping and flipping, Tolten stretched up for a proper kiss - quick and close lipped, but proper - before turning and gathering up his cloak and purse. "For…everything."
"Oh, my dear boy…" Gongora walked him out of the room, arm around his shoulders. "It is truly I who should be thanking you. Have a safe trip home, Tolten. I shall see you tomorrow."
Tolten didn't look back as he hurried out of Gongora's office, his stomach filled with butterflies and his mind racing in a million directions and all through him this strange new sense of warmth. Had he, the cunningly satisfied cast of the councilman's gaze would have chilled him to the bone.