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Title: The Taste of Perfection
Author: Rhion
Rating: AO
Summary: A temptation, that craving for the knowledge of what true completion was - it all nearly broke him, because of the simple taste of perfection.
Disclaimer: Me no own, you no sue.
AN: An idea that popped into my head. Pre-creation of the Golden Army. As per Lei's request, I'll ad a squick warning, and there's also some major UST on Nuada's part, even if he does get laid... Ties into A Darkness Rises Beneath but takes place about two thousand years beforehand, and spans to just after Nuada's self-imposed exile. I'm operating on several assumptions, one is the fact that the Morrigan is a triplet goddess, two the Greek belief that twins were of two fathers (one godly, one mortal), three that Nuada and Nuala are as the gods made them and since their mother is a god, as per Juliette Louise's Fear Me and Fear Her mythos, that the Morrigan knew exactly what she was creating. Anyone familiar with various mythos is aware that hubris of man causes grief, and ignoring the (frequently unclear) dictates/desires of gods incurs their wrath. I wish you to take note of the fact that in this first scene, Nuada and Nuala are about a hundred years old, and that the war with humans has not actually started in this first scene. In the subsequent ones, more time passes, as these are a series of scenes of significance that will slowly add up.

Kindly beta'd by Briala, and mused with she and Janni. I dunno what I'd do without those two.

XXX

His father had taken him aside, the arching slopes of the Underhills' sky soothing shades of blue on blue, lavender and orange highlights at the edges, a womb of earthen dimness, a backdrop that Nuada had lost the appreciation for at some point. His hand rested on the pommel of his sword, comfortably keeping it steady and angled for ease of access and general movement while his thoughts traveled to plans for the afternoon. Nuada could feel his father's eyes examining him closely, but the King was silent for long enough that the young Prince was finally driven to say something.

"Is something amiss Father?" prompting as his patience wore - he had promised Nuala that he would walk with her through one of the fire-flower gardens.

Balor brushed a hand over his beard, then nodded once, "Yes, there is."

Coming alert, Nuada straightened, meeting his father's gaze evenly. "What must I do to assist?"

His father frowned, sorrow flashing over his expression. "My son, you embody all the physical strengths a man can bear. With such abilities, you are still weak in so many other ways."

"Father -" confused, hurt in some small way that his father viewed him as lacking, Nuada flinched. "Father, I do not understand. Tell me what I must do to show you that you can rely upon me in all areas, to show you that I am notweak."

The familiar hand on his shoulder was a warrior's, and it squeezed him firmly. "You are not half a man, but half a person. You contain all the weaknesses and darkness that a single person can, your honour and physical prowess all that keep them in check. But - just as you are strong physically and dark and bestial of heart, your sister is weak of body and strong where you are so weak. Will you then sully her with your darkness?"

Releasing a pained, shocked breath, Nuada wanted nothing more than to turn away from Balor's searching gaze. "I would do anything for her."

"I know my son, I know," with that his father's hand fell away. "Then you will do what it takes to protect her."

Sinking to one knee before his father, before his King, Nuada ducked his head. "Even from myself, my King."

XXX

Making notes in his sharply angled script, Nuada measured out another drop of bile into the beakers, watching the reaction between the bile and the mixture already there. It was with great care that he experimented with the potion. He already had some success in modifying the effects to allow the drinker to endure longer term exposure to direct sunlight without blindness, but such items always could use greater efficacy.

...Nuada...his name wafted through his mind as Nuala reached out for him.

Pausing in his note-taking, he carefully set the quill down. What may I do for you, my sister?

The massively thick door creaked open as his twin glided in, ethereal and delicate, "You have been absent much lately."

Unspoken was that he had avoided her. That he had been spending greater and greater amounts of time Above and Without, leading bands of warriors in skirmishes, and the occasional battle. That he had withdrawn from her as much as he could, kept his mind from seeking her out with blind need time and again for years now. He no longer reached out to touch her cheek, or press his hand to the small of her back, to embrace her. But he could not reject her outreaching, her touches, for he couldn't, wouldn't hurt her for anything by trying to change her own ways.

"There has been much that needed doing," allowing himself to meet her wide, curious gold eyes.

She had always been innocent of her effect upon him, even linked he sometimes wondered if she understood what she did. Nuala was deep and strong of heart, a vast intellect, capable of loving all around her, gracing them with a light brighter and more nurturing than the sun and moon. So he was not surprised when she drew nearer, was not amazed when she reached out her hand, wordlessly requesting him to stand, to come away from his constant working as she turned that bounty upon him.

"Is it true that there will be war, then?" her sorrow pressed at him as she sought comfort, the ever-present empathy for all the gods' creatures nearly overwhelming.

Brushing Nuala's dark gold locks from her face, not quite touching her skin daring that much, Nuada sighed. "It is no longer enough to simply warn them away from our borders, or to commit to light defense. War it is, my dear sister, and it already comes."

The urge was there, the one that took in the details of her upturned face at the light touch, the one that if their father hadn't deemed it inappropriate, would have caused him to press his mouth to hers. If she were any other woman, or he any other man, he would have done so. Instead he glanced away from the pleading look of a loved one desiring nothing other than his warmth, and let his hand fall free. Always they had been inseparable except when duty called him, and even being young adults had frequently shared a room as often as possible. It had always felt natural, and not wrong. But their father was correct to some degree - he was the dark one to her light. The feelings he had themselves were not incorrect, but his darkness, the jealousy, the demand, the fearful need that required he never be apart from her, or have another hold any of Nuala's affection - those he knew as wrong.

While she learned and practiced magics, collecting tome upon tome of knowledge, he learned war, made games of puzzles and saw alchemy as a challenge. He served destruction, in all ways. The only tethers that kept him separate from the burning hole that greed burrowed in human hearts was his honour, and Nuala. So he had turned all of those urges towards protection, in guarding his people - but Nuala above all others.

"Please walk with me then," her arm looped itself in his, and he couldn't deny Nuala her sweet request. "You will be leaving again too soon, and I must gird myself for your absence."

XXX

Slumped in the bath, Nuada drowsed, sore from returning from doing battle with humans. They were so numerous, and it felt as though for every ten he killed, thousands more were ready to spring up and fill their places. It was exhausting, left him aching for completion even more keenly than before the war had truly begun. What had once been a sweet pain in his breast and mind easily alleviated by Nuala's presence had become an agony. Adding the repressing of everything, of each urge, of each desire, no matter how simple - a kiss, an embrace, a held hand, a long walk or quiet meal together - had him ready to scream from the anguish.

So much of his energy was spent on closing his mind enough so that she would not feel his desires, for so often she acted upon them whenever his vigilance lapsed. One such night he had awoken to her entering his bedchamber to climb beneath the sheets, her feet and hands so cold when she tucked them tightly to his body. He had kept things as proper as he could, slipping over the sheet so that a layer was between them. Nuala had sent him her confusion at that action - not so long ago he had never done such a thing, never put such a space between them. But always their father would seem to know of these happenings, and would take him aside once more, admonishing him to not pervert her with his darkness.

Before he had left on the last foray to the Above and onto human controlled plains, Nuala had come to him as he had been checking his gear. A private goodbye was not anything to worry over, or so he had thought. But seeing her in blue, such a beautiful blue that captured the sky of Above in all the hues possible, Nuada had had a flash of tasting her lips, of holding her closer until their hearts were one, and he could be complete. An echoing thing had risen up in her molten gold eyes, and Nuala's smile had warmed and eased him. He felt suddenly her own ache for completion, the desire to be close and inseparable, however he was aware there were none of the same undercurrents of possession as he had. Still she stood there, tempting him with her presence and smile, inviting him as he could see the same need in her.

Always he had pulled away or diverted action but that time, when she smiled, her head tilted to the side, he could not stop himself from cupping her cheek in full. Lids had fluttered and the soft as peach of Nuala's skin rubbed over his calloused palm while she leaned into his now rare initiation of contact. Resolve cracking, Nuada was nearly helpless to stop himself from leaning in slowly, closer and closer until he could taste her breath, could count the flecks of red and black in her irises, barely more than a whisper between their lips.

Shuddering, Nuada rolled onto his side partially in the large tub, the remembered closeness driving his body to agonizing arousal. Squeezing his erection, he locked his shields down as hard as he could, so close to giving in again. He had in the field, he hadn't been able to help it, but had been far enough away that with enough mental focus he had been able to - he prayed to the gods fervently that it was so - keep Nuala from the scorching lust. Here he couldn't risk such an action not with her so close. Seeking to strangle not just his desire, but the proof of it, he wasn't paying attention, a lapse that anywhere except in his own chambers would be unforgivable.

What is wrong brother?Nuala whispered to him, and he felt steps rushing from her room to his.

Releasing a shaking breath, he clamped down even harder on his mind, but not his body, not wishing to broadcast to her his needs. Nothing my sister. I am merely over-tired.

His door made nary a sound but for the faint brushing over a rug as she entered and light footsteps came in, disregarding his nudity, giving him nearly no time to straighten in the bath. "Nuada, my brother, please." Hands that were perpetually cooler than his moved to his shoulders - his bareshoulders. "Tell me what distresses you so?"

Forcing calm, Nuada leaned forward, soaping the washcloth though he had no need to wash as he had already done so. "It is truly nothing to worry over, my sister. Fatigue has me at wits end that is all and nothing more."

Nuala reached around him without hesitation - after all, when had he ever let himself slip so much that she had reason to fear him? - to take the washcloth from his hand. What followed was a study of mental and physical torture as she bathed him with all the love and intimacy she was capable of turning upon him. It was an exercise in hellish control that he was marginally successful in muting his mind. There was a small gasp of surprise and he realized suddenly that the link had gone dim, almost as though there were a vast distance between them in spite of her being beside him, touchinghim.

"Nuada - what, what are you doing?" distress painted each word, the shock of being so bereft of his mental presence resonating to him so strongly that it was nearly a physical blow.

Swaying back Nuada pressed a heel to his temple, the pain she felt washing over him in a torrent. He could feel her but she couldn't feel him. It was her tears that caused the focus to crumble and come crashing down. Pushing himself up from the tub, water sloshing, unheeding of his state or her finery he was out of the bath and pulling her into his arms protectively. Drawing her pain into himself, Nuada siphoned it from Nuala, locking it away deep inside, while reaching for her heart to soothe it.

In his arms she sobbed, face pressed to his neck, arms wrapped around his shoulders as they sank to the floor, "Please, Nuada, Nuada never do that again. Don't take yourself away from me like that again. Please, please my brother."

Stroking her silk covered back, he pressed his cheek to her crown. "Do not cry Nuala, I'm here."

"I need you, Nuada," voice trembling and raw, her tears against his flesh like sweet acid.

"And I, you," whispering, laying a kiss to her temple the way he used to, holding her as he used to, when things were simple and he had no fear of spreading his darkness to her light.

For a brief moment he was content, for a moment he was complete. Theywere complete. Tall as she was, Nuala was slight enough for him to carry her to his bed, where he stretched out beside her, and they lay face to face, hands clasped between them, tucked over the other's heart.

...I had wished to spare you the visions in my mind,explaining silently to her.

Her fingers twitched and tightened around his. I don't care. Nuada, you are my brother, and I need you, there is nothing in you that would change that. This isn't the first time you have shut me away...why do you do this? It hurts when you mute yourself to such silence.

In his breast, his heart shuddered under the words that were absent accusation, but he had plenty to accuse himself of. There are many things in this world to protect you from, sweet Nuala. That is why.

Relief moved through him when she accepted that, and merely nestled closer. For a moment he thought she might panic as he pulled his hand away, but he sent her the warmth of his presence as he pulled blankets over them both. Kissing their entwined fingers, Nuada let himself uncoil, only keeping a small part of his mind locked away from her linking with him. In the morning he knew he would pay, but for now he could be at peace, no matter how temporary.

XXX

Answering his father's summons with trepidation, Nuada strode to the King's study. Outside the two raven guards stared from beneath their beaked helmets without emotion. Barely sparing them a glance he entered the warm office. Gold and red, the royal colours, abounded, and Balor rose from his reading chair beside his fire. The gentle clinking of his signs of office chimed, and Nuada noted with some small relief that his father was dressed informally otherwise, his great robe draped on a nearby stand.

"You summoned me Father?" asking after delivering a low bow.

"My son, why do you do these things?" the staccato rumble of his voice filled the room.

His shoulders tensed as the words fell like blows. Schooling his features to blankness, Nuada breathed slowly and measured his heartbeats. In the place she had always held, he felt Nuala wafting through his mind, but he gently began muting his thoughts, creating a section of blandness for her so that she didn't know what was happening to him. It was not so different as numbing her pain by taking it into himself, which had just been an extension of blocking his own pain from spilling over to her. Their father's disapproval and frustration beat the air, and Nuada very nearly sank to his knees to plead with his father to accept that he was unable to live up to those expectations. They were unreasonable for a simple warrior to reach for, no matter how he strove - not when he lived and breathed Nuala, not when he had to remind her to eat when he felt her hunger pangs for her, or to sleep when she was tired.

"Do you have nothing to say for yourself?" Balor pressed.

Hanging his head, knowing it was true, "Nothing acceptable."

"Then tell me something unacceptable! Tell me why your manservant found you nakedin bed with your sister. You are not children anymore to twine together like kittens in a pile!" the volume escalated, and for a moment, Nuada thought his father might strike him.

The very thought made him wish to wail.

Staring at some point over Balor's shoulder, he could at least protect and defend Nuala's honour. "She was clothed and there were blankets between us, Father. There was nothing more than company and sleeping involved."

The King sat heavily in his chair suddenly. "It does not matter if nothing more happened this time. Nuada, you are a man, and you have needs that you have never addressed. To have her so near is too great a temptation for you I fear."

In his breast, Nuada's heart spasmed in terror for a brief second before he quashed and held it all down and away from the area where Nuala was singing to herself as she read. If their father separated them in truth, what would happen? Who would keep her safe if he was not there to do so?

"My needs are few, Father," he said instead. "I keep myself in check."

"You do not stop her from seeking you out. And so you are tempted, and will be tempted again and again, unless you put a stop to it." Exhaustion, sorrow, and shame went over his father's features as he looked away from him. "Find a woman to deal with your baser natures and set your sister at an appropriate distance. Otherwise I will be forced to send her to one of the other courts."

Everything went cold, and he became dizzy at such a prospect, his gaze darting to look away, hoping to hide his horror. "Travel to another court could be dangerous, and the humans - they are so many, they could attack as she journeyed -"

"Enough. Find a woman, find a man, find whatever you need to vent those urges that make you animal and solve this dilemma before I have to solve it for you," hands clasped the carved ends of the armrests, his tone imperiously stern.

Swallowing thickly, Nuada bowed as his hands trembled. "As you command, Majesty. I live but to serve."

As he straightened, Balor stopped him, "You think it is cruelty that I subject you to my son. It is not. This is for the good of you both, as adults you must set aside this childishness and cease cleaving to that link you share. It is only physical, nothing more - you both have invested far more emotion and time on it than was healthy or necessary, breeding this sick dependency."

His heart shouted in betrayed anguish, shouted as loud as it could that the link was so much more. That his life and hers were as intertwined as two trees that sprouted from a single seed, and then the roots had grew into one. Stilling his tongue, Nuada didn't look to see his father, couldn't bear the sight of him for discounting what was so obvious. Instead he resolved to find some woman to do as he had been bid and sacrifice his virginity to ensure that Nuala wasn't sent far, so far away that he would be unable to remind her of all those things that she needed him to remind her of.

XXX

Nuada barely looked at the woman, for that is what she was - a woman. Older than him by centuries, well acquainted with men, experienced in the bedroom, and most of all, willing. It was a despicable thing he intended, but for Nuala he could and would do it. In his secret heart he had never intended to hand over his body to anyone other than Nuala, as impossible as that would be to ever gain. Better to have nothing than something disposable and meaningless. The very thought left a foul taste in his mouth, but he was both resolved and resigned with his course of action. There was no other choice.

Reaching for Nuala first, My sister, do not be alarmed, but I must...keep us separate for a brief period of time.

Surprise, startlement and a flash of fear echoed to him, Why?

Nuala, please my dearest sister, trust that I will not be absent from you over-long,urging her quietly.

...It...hurts when you mute your mind,the pleading tore at him even as he was locking the door to his quarters and pouring himself and his companion for the duration glasses of wine.

Clenching his jaw, he handed a cup to the woman who was not Nuala, covering his frustration with a long drink from his own goblet. My sister, there are some things a man needs to do alone. This is one of those times. I do not wish to hurt you, can you understand that? There will be...spill over if I do not close my mind to you.

Oh Nuada, I do not care if I feel what you feel, almost a sad but delicate laugh thrummed to him. It is better to feel you than to have you gone. What if you closed yourself to me so much that it could never be undone? What would we do then?

Deciding that there was no way to dissuade her without being more upfront, Nuala, I am going to have sex. I do not think you should be a party to it. I am sorry, but I must mute myself or you will be forced to join me in my encounter.

More confusion, innocent and unsure. I don't understand. Is that a bad thing?

Sister, exasperation came over him - she was making this far more difficult than he could bear. This...this is not negotiable. I must do this thing, and I do not wish to expose you to it. I do this to alleviate the pain I have been feeling of late. Do you understand now?

He felt her withdraw, hurt. No. But you will do as you will.

Releasing a sigh of half relief, half guilt, Nuada walled his mind off, though distantly he could feel her pain at such separation. Then he muted even that. The night's task would be difficult enough without such a distraction.

He was being watched the whole time during the short exchange, the regard earnest. That did nothing for him, or his aggravation. However he summoned up a tight smile, returning her look as best he could. In return he received a smile and he made himself take her hand, leading her to his couch. The mechanics were obvious, and even the route of seduction took little to deduce - but Nuada had no experience in it. Nor had he ever wished for any.

Her hand was frigid in his, and between sips of her wine, she examined the callouses with fingers that he wanted nowhere near him. "Your hand is so warm, Your Highness."

Setting his goblet down, Nuada steeled himself. "It has always been so."

"Oh?" a flush of interest and surprise moved over her face, the coloring right, but the features wrong. "And here I had heard you had never done this before," the strange tone coy and grating to him.

Swallowing his urge to tell her that he wished for things to pick up pace so that they could be done with the unwanted dance, "What you hear is truth. I have not." Searching for something to say that was not rude or cruel, Nuada also sought out some reason to at least pretend enjoyment. "You will have to show me what you desire me to do."

That secret place was disgusted for a moment before he comforted it with the sudden realization that this could be viewed as a learning experience. One that that secret place could hope to utilize in an arena he preferred, with the woman he actually cared for instead of this one that was not Nuala. Then his father's intentions finally made sense to some degree - he would be able to pretend, if he was very careful, who he was with, and slack his lusts and animal urges. Balor and he both knew he would do whatever was necessary to keep Nuala safe. This was just another way of doing so.

Frigid fingers reached up to touch one of the spiraled and gouged scars at his temple. "You are most definitely a warrior, my Liege, so bold. No games between us then. It has been long enough since I last felt a man's touch that I have no wish to pretend anything." She dropped her hands from him, moving to stroke the stays that held her dress closed. "I want you to touch me, and I want to touch you. Nature will take us where it will."

Knowing the invitation and direction for what they were, Nuada leaned in and began unfastening her dress while she ran her hands through his hair. Squelching his discomfort he pulled on the things he had wanted so desperately with Nuala. Spreading the collar of her dress, he lidded his eyes as he moved to press their mouths together. Her tongue was so cold, even colder than Nuala's, or what he supposed Nuala's felt like. It had been a long time since his sister had sucked that splinter from his finger, so he couldn't be sure. Still the thought fired him, and the memory of her taking his hand when the splinter slid in to the meat of his thumb as he had been sharpening a quill for her, and her soft lips wrapping about the digit, while sucking gently, her tongue flicking the blood away made it all so much easier. A moan escaped him, and it was so very, very easy to supplant this woman's mouth for Nuala's in that brief instant.

With that thought in mind, his touch turned hungry as his hands spread her dress enough to cup the breasts there. Soft flesh met his palms, and erect nipples surprised him from the kiss as he touched them. Breaking away as his curiosity demanded information, and though he had to stop so his chest and abdominal armour pieces could be removed, Nuada was momentarily drawn by the gold tinted sepia of feminine nipples. Stroking the firmly erect nubs, he barely noticed as his companion unlaced the rest of her gown so it pooled around her waist, until she arched her back while pulling his face closer.

One of her hands was sliding under the collar of his tunic, "You can use your mouth on them if you like, Your Highness."

Pausing before doing as instructed, as the momentary spell had been broken, he finally did as she said. Silken flesh and the pebbled pearl pressed to his mouth as his lips parted and the taste of skin was overpowering, swamping his senses. A growl worked up, and he didn't know why, but there was something primal that made him suck hungrily first at one, then the other, half expecting satiation from such an action, as though he were a babe. The pleasure of the roughened aureole and bud rolling against the inner flesh of his lips woke in him the need to consume and devour. The smallest part of him that was still sane fervently thanked the gods that this woman was notNuala, so that there was no fear of exposing her to rough hunger. It was that realization that brought him up short, made his devouring and grasping of his companion's chest turn slower but no less firm.

His nature may be bestial, but he was no animal.

When her fingers tugged at his tunic, he left off long enough to be free of the garment before returning to her chest, and found his mouth moving from just over her breast, but also to her shoulders and down again. This caused the pulse of her heart beneath his lips to pick up speed, and he could hear the air moving in and out of her lungs. When he found himself at her neck, the throbbing vein there drew his tongue flicking out, questing along that line, her taste and scent changing subtly to a sweeter perfume. It was nearly thick and his body flexed in time to the pulse there and with the rhythm of hands mapping his back and shoulders.

Nails scraped over his torso, aiming lower as he moved upwards to kiss her again. With a soft grunt he felt her grasp him through the fabric of his trews, and he pulled away to watch her other hand work at the folds of his sash. The pressure of her rubbing was insistent and he knew he would not keep a reign on his release if she kept that up, when suddenly her other hand was reaching for his bare flesh under the fabric.

"This will make it better. Be easy my Prince," soft murmurs as her mouth came to his once more.

Her kiss was softer, more confident and skilled than his own, and paired with the steady twisting, squeezing stroke over his manhood, left him rumbling, his hips rocking up from the couch cushion. Nuada opened his mouth further, copying the teasing of her tongue and sliding his against hers until he heard her moan just as he had earlier. The scent in the air intensified, and his body heated until he was dizzy with it.

The pressure built low, at the root of his cock, and when her second hand reached in to join the first there was a surprised pause when she reached his sack. "You're fertile?"

Flexing in her grip, he shook his head once, pulling her back, knowing that he must not stop for so many reasons. "Only ready to become so." Reiterating, "There is no risk."

There was uncertainty between them for a moment, and he understood its cause. As a virgin he should not be in this stage of readiness, should not have his body temperature so consistently high that his testicles must descend or risk damage. Only a man long partnered with a woman repeatedly had to worry over such items as pregnancy. After this encounter it wouldn't matter, his body would know this woman as not his, and while they would both gain pleasure there was no risk of laying a seed as his body would reject her womb, just as her womb would reject his essence.

With that she returned to what they were about, and Nuada threw himself into it. Not because he wanted her, but his body had presented its needs, and he would not sway from his course. He did this for his dearest, just another small cut inflicted on his soul to keep her safe. His body didn't care though, and the pressure rapidly returned, building in that only slightly familiar fashion as he so rarely indulged until he spilled over nimble fingers while lips moved against his.

The burning pressure relinquished its hold, and Nuada followed her directions, knowing that they were not done yet. While the shape, taste and texture of her body held fascination, it was all wrong. He didn't want it, or her. Even the sounds she made spurred him anyway, the dips and crevices and tastes of her sex called to his body. But none of that called to anything else. In spite of what he had told himself, he was an animal, that with the proper stimuli of scent, taste, touch and sound he could be driven to perform so easily.

In the moment when she pushed his shoulders so he would sit on the couch once more, her body naked and flushed gold from head to toe, Nuada hated this woman, and even hated his father. Until he could do nothing but feel, the wet, rippling clasp sinking down on him drowning out all thought. As she had asked, he held on as long as he could while her hips churned, one hand wedged between them to ply the pearl she had shown him earlier, but her escalating moans were the same as his, until this time he crashed and burned like a falling star striking the ground. A choking cry escaped, more of a sob as he strangled on Nuala's name, yanked his mind and heart back before they betrayed him and reached for his twin. Against him, his companion slumped, her face on his shoulder, breasts that he had enjoyed for such a brief time pressed to his chest.

Nuada felt sweaty and grotesque, ill in spirit, body and mind. He knew none of that showed on his face, wearing a mask of neutrality. Even so he was grateful when she slid from his lap, his now limp and moist member falling free of her body. Half-expected post coital touching did not come and he forced himself to look at her. She was already partially dressed, her dress being pulled around her with sure and graceful movements.

He would have said something, but her fingers, ones that tasted and smelled of their combined bodily fluids, touched his lip as she reminded him. "There is no need to pretend that this was anything but what it was, Your Highness. I need no promises."

"That will be all then," moving to stand, his body fatigued in an unfamiliar way. "If you see someone, have them send a bath."

He waited only long enough for her to be gone from his room before he found his garderobe and voided his stomach violently. Clutching at the wooden railing, Nuada spat until he was sure nothing more would come up. Quickly he gathered himself when he heard the soft knock on his door. It would not do for the heir to seem weak and sickly after enjoying the pleasures of the flesh.

XXX

Once composed, clean - and after having flipped the cushion to hide evidence - Nuada slowly opened his mind to his sister removing the blocks that allowed him to feel her. It was with a rush her thoughts filled him, her loneliness without him, the anguish that he had chosento shut her out. Wincing at the tears that pricked their eyes, he swallowed thickly once and made himself reach out to caress her mind lightly.

...Nuala...please, what may I do for you my beloved sister?his hands were busy tying the complex knot of his sash as he dressed in the green of the forests while eschewing his armour.

In a torrent she was filling him actively to completion, her heart and mind joining to his but for the place kept forever walled off from her now. Brother! Please, tell me you will not do that again.

Closing his eyes tightly, Nuada shook his head, I cannot. It would be a lie, and I will do no such thing to you, sister. Please, ask of me anything that I can do, and I gladly will.

There was a lengthy pause as he felt her going over many possible things she could ask for, most of them so poignantly simple his heart broke. An embrace, a kiss on the cheek, a walk, a flower, the warmth of his head in her lap as she read to him - small things that were nearly absent from their lives now. Before she could decide, he instead moved to join her in her room, pausing just long enough to take a flowered bracelet that had belonged to their grandmother from his small chest of keepsakes. The other thing he did was to call his manservant and request a basket with a meal for two sent to his sister's chambers, all the while Nuala was seeking and sorting what she desired.

Eventually, My brother, I only, truly, wish for your presence. I do not know what changed between us, I just know that something has. Have I done something to anger you?

Striding down the hall, the small bauble tucked in his sash, By the gods, no, you've never done anything to anger me, my sweet sister.Reaching her door he pressed it open gently to see her pacing with a book in hand, a cream and rose coloured dress draping her willowy frame. "Nuala, dearest sister, I thought perhaps a picnic might please you for my penance?"

The hesitation that came as she closed her book, hugging it to her breast as she stared at him left him broken inside. Forcing his movements to remain neutral and as normal as possible, Nuada paced closer and gently take the book from her hands so that he could wrap her fine-boned fingers with his and squeeze reassuringly. Shock as he felt her note how cold his hand was as he lifted it to kiss the backs of her knuckles, and he silently cursed the fact that he hadn't pulled on a set of gloves. Not that gloves would have hidden how cold his lips were now, for he could no longer truly tell the difference between her temperature and his. Still, the texture was such a fine grain against his mouth, and he reveled in it while sending her his love.

It was that which made her finally ease, and arms came around him when he straightened, her cheek laying on the top of his shoulder, "Anything would make me happy so long as it was with you, brother." When she pulled back it was only so she could stroke his cheeks, and he felt his heart stutter at the way such a small thing could suffuse him with joy. "But you're so cold now!"

"That is what happens," wondering why she had never made the connection between their basic biology, yet was glad she had not, for it would raise questions in her. Taking her hand from his face so he could sandwich it between his as he smiled ruefully, "I will regain my normal temperature soon enough. But for the time being, you'll not be able to use me as a foot warmer."

A knock heralded the basket of food he had requested, and he fetched it while scooping one of the throw blankets from her couch and tossed it over a shoulder. Offering her his arm which she promptly took, he led the way to one of the terrace gardens. Small fairies shed their colourful glows as they flitted about one of the little clearings, and a toad of wisdom croaked when they entered, hopping away after catching a fairy for his meal. Nuada kept his sister distracted when he noticed that about to happen to spare her the sight of such, passing her the book he had carried under his arm, wordlessly requesting she read aloud.

Spreading the blanket, Nuada removed the small pots of food, arraying them, along with two mugs for sweet cider which he poured generously. Quiet meal finished, Nuada stretched out on the blanket, hands behind his head, eyes lidded, letting his sister's voice and presence fill him and ease him. There was still the undercurrent of need, but it had dimmed enough that he suddenly had no fear of turning on Nuala to ravish her or press his want to her mind. It was tolerable instead of unbearable.

Quiet rustling as she scooted closer, pulling his head to rest in her lap, fingers tracing his brow. "I missed you sorely brother."

Taking a deep breath of her sweet pepper flowers scent, "I'm sorry sister."

"It is alright," his hair was brushed from his temples, strands plucked and picked up and he felt her beginning to braid the hairs together. "Do you think you will need to do that again?"

"Mute myself?" Feeling her nod more than seeing it, he sighed heavily. "Yes. I do it in battle, you know this. I do it when there is pain, you know that as well. Nuala," shifting his head in her lap to reach up and touch her chin, "I don't do it to hurt you, but because you would hurt much more if I did notdo it."

So often it was he who glanced away, but this time it was her turn. "I would rather share your pain, my brother, than to have you suffer alone. It is not as though I would shatter if you shared your pains with me."

Sitting up, he turned to face her. "My sister, I was born first into this world, and as such my duty and privilege has always been to protect you. How can I make you understand that the very thought of you in pain makes me wish to die, if it would not take you with me? That is why I have kept myself so distant these past years. It was to find a way to keep you safe. To ask of me anything but to be that, is tantamount to saying you wish me to die. I can be no other way than I am. Anything else I might do for you, I will. I swear it. But do not ask me to let you feel those things that you should be kept safe from." Taking her hands so that he could kiss each palm, "You are my light, Nuala, do not ask me to dim it, for I cannot."

"Why must you insist in that way?" Nuala shook her head at him, her expression sorrowful. "You know that I cannot deny you that if you put it this way."

His lips quirked sadly before he once more kissed her palms. "It is a gift. Accept it, for it is all that I am and all that I have. It is everything."

Her fingers sprouted from his hold, curving over his cheeks and bringing his head close, lips pressing to his brow. "No. You are the gift and the only one I ever will need."

Relaxing now that he knew she wouldn't fight him on that any longer, Nuada lay his head back in her lap so that she could do as she willed. Whether to read, talk, or play with his hair more - it didn't particularly matter so long as she was pleased. He was content in any case, his body's demands met, and the need of his soul for her to be near and happy appeased.

They were quiet, and he was nearly ready to fall asleep when she brought him back. "Brother, why are you all speckly? You were not always so."

Cracking a lid, "The humans call them 'freckles'. It comes from much exposure to the sun." Holding up his hand then pushing back his sleeve to reveal that further up his arm there were none, but his hands were well covered. "We burn easily in the sun's light. You know that. This is the result."

"But I thought that you had improved the elixirs used to protect us?" A soft exploration followed, and he watched from behind his lashes her fascination.

Grunting, "I have. Which is why few of us have become blind from such frequent exposure. But, that does not keep anyone's flesh from darkening like this. At least I do not look as the humans do with theirs. They are splotchy and reddish brown, as though someone had flecked their blood all over them. Rather disgusting if you ask me."

A laugh and then full lips pressed to the side of his nose as she curled over him, "Well I like them. I want some for myself. You'll have to take me Above so that I can gain a few!"

Echoing her laugh with a low chuckle, "Perhaps we shall have another picnic, one Above then. And as charming as you find them, you are beautiful enough without any gracing your fair features."

"And you are always handsome, and say such sweet things to please me." The edges of her hair hung over his face, tickling with their caresses, her hands pressed over his chest. "What is it like Above? Is it very different?"

He mused aloud, "It is. The sky is endless, and there are no walls as far as the eye can see beyond trees and those put there by the hands of people. Boundless it appears, though I have travelled to the edge once before, to see the sea. And the sky it is...blue, such a blue as nowhere else I have ever seen. The sun is bright, and rains down its rays, bathing everything in intense colour. You are like the sky and sun when you wear blue, sister dear, as though you are covering the land around you in brightness."

"You like me in blue that much?" a blush graced her cheeks, and the sudden desire to kiss her welled up.

All he could do was answer roughly before sitting up to break the spell and deny himself, "Yes."