Pastoral

© Carole Cummings

 

~~~~

It always surprises him when it comes up, though he knows it probably shouldn't. It isn't like he doesn't always know it somewhere within, even if that somewhere is stuffed deep beneath the little bit of fear to which he won't ever admit or even whatever nonsense thing they happen to be bickering about this time. An odd thing, the bickering, but it's a part of them—or Them, that unique entity known as Liam-and-Aaron they have become—and Liam can't say that it's exactly fun, but it's… interesting. Interesting in the way he learns something brand-new about Aaron every single time, even when he thinks he knows everything about him. Interesting in the way, no matter how irate they are with each other or how sharp the words become, there is always something deep within that knows they'll come through, work their way to the other side and be the better for it. Interesting in the way Liam never doubts that all of it comes from a well of something so deep between them, he sometimes wonders how other people can muddle through life without it.

It's always there beneath his skin, vibrating with a low hum, and it's stronger when he's actually close to Aaron. Though he remembers one time, when it had been months instead of weeks and they'd left themselves in a place where Liam honestly hadn't been sure if they could find their way back. Wary and volatile, both of them, back then, before they'd come to where they are now, how they are now. Before trust had replaced insecurity, before faith and knowledge had replaced blind guesses and assumptions. Liam remembers that time—when they’d nearly ended themselves before they’d begun—not as a comfortable hum, but more a screech within his head, throbbing behind his eyes, and that time… that time it hurt.

It almost hurts now, too, but in a different way, and Liam lies back in the clover, can almost feel and smell the tiny bursts of petals through the thin linen of his shirt. Watches Aaron as Aaron watches Downing. It sounds sort of grand and poetic—watches Downing—as though Liam’s making of Aaron something he isn't, romanticising him or some other such nonsense that would honestly rather make him, Liam, into the girl in this relationship. He finds himself grimacing and wrinkling his nose before he can banish that thought well and good.

All right, so yes, it's a little on the romantic side. Liam supposes it might have a thing or two to do with the way the Sun hits Aaron's skin, flares gold from bronze, and makes honeyed-amber of that hair that he can never arse himself to keep a respectable length. Liam teases him about that quite often but he thinks Aaron probably knows that Liam secretly likes his hair long, likes to twist his fingers through it, feel it wind about as though reaching for him, pulling him in. Liam sometimes wonders if that's why Aaron doesn't arse himself.

Anyway, it sounds romantic, he'll grant that, but it doesn't make it any less true: Aaron watches Downing and Liam watches Aaron do it. He loves that look in Aaron's eye, that soft distant spark that tells Liam that Aaron is probably thinking about whether the wheat fields will yield enough to allow sales to neighboring counties this year, or whether his projections were too optimistic and the money for the new silos for the grange will have to wait. Or perhaps he's pondering whether he should just go ahead and buy those parcels that Dooley wants to sell the county at a price higher than fair. But while Aaron knows that the price is too high, he also knows the yield will pay for the overage within a year or two, so he's having trouble deciding whether to tell Dooley to go hang or to rather hang his own pride and pay what's being asked.

Aaron may doubt that he’ll make the right decision, but Liam doesn't. Aaron loves his home, his land, and he knows it backwards and forwards. Sometimes Liam even wonders if it speaks to Aaron; it wouldn't surprise Liam in the least. Aaron is of it, at its very core, and Liam would envy that if it weren't such a brilliant, beautiful thing to see. Liam wants to reach out, touch Aaron's skin, see if it vibrates with the beat of the land's heart, wants to slip his fingers into that too-long hair and draw Aaron in, kiss him, taste every single element from his tongue.

Or better yet, maybe tackle him to the grass, press him down into the earth, slide his mouth over the short-sharp gasps and deep-chested groans that rumble from Aaron, bare that golden skin to Liam’s hands and paint himself all over it with fingertips tracing invisible sonnets over the tender swells of muscle. Write his secrets into the soul of the one to whom they belong. And all right, maybe it's silly and sappy, but that's the thing about a shared secret: no one else knows it's there but the one with whom you share it. Liam wants to share this, wants to make Aaron see how beautiful he is. Slide his hands down and over muscled ribs, feel the skin quiver beneath his palms, feel the rush of want and need come from Aaron's body and surge into his own. Lick salty sweat from the dip between his collarbones, feel himself lifted with a slow arch of Aaron's back, and know that he has caused this, he has turned Aaron's words to slurred moans and distorted the graceful movements of long, strong limbs to helpless grasping and stretching.

There is something about the sight of Aaron lying in the grass, all tanned and wide, golden skin laying contrast the white of his shirt, and broad chest rising and falling faster the longer he lets his smoked-ash gaze lock with Liam's own. Liam sometimes thinks Aaron could drive him to climax just with that gaze alone, and he thinks very seriously about telling Downing to go hang, making Aaron turn that gaze to him, drenching himself in it like a summer storm, and taking Aaron right here and now and all for himself.

Instead, he stays where he is and just watches. It isn't his to impose upon this, this communing of province and steward.

And that's when it hits him, how very deeply Aaron has worked his way into Liam's heart, how much Liam depends on him, counts on him… all right, fine, he loves him, and if that's romantic then Liam will be the girl on that one.

He loves him.

Liam loves Aaron.

There.

Fine.

And Liam's a big, fat, romantic girl, and next he'll be carving their initials in trees with a big ridiculous heart around them and nicking locks of that hair that's far too long and wearing Aaron's shirts so he can smell him even when he's not near…

All right, Liam had actually done that last one the last time Aaron had been to Antira. Liam's cheeks pink a little, and he dips his head to hide it, even though he is thoroughly shaded by the tree beneath which they lounge. Aaron doesn't know everything he thinks he knows, but he does always seem to know when Liam's mind has dipped into the gutter—or Aaron's trousers—or when Liam is thinking about things that would make him blush fire if he were forced to say them out loud. So, he does his best to concentrate on calming his runaway libido and driving down the color he can feel heating his cheeks. He almost lets loose with a bit of a disgusted groan at himself but manages to close his teeth over it and turn it into a sigh instead.

It’s that small noise that makes Aaron peer down at Liam, catch him staring. Liam is pretty sure he pinks some more but he hopes the tree is giving enough shade that Aaron won't notice.

A small smile from Aaron and a further softening of his gaze. "What’s got you so flushed?" he asks Liam.

He's noticed.

Caught. Drat.

Liam puffs another sigh… maybe more of a self-conscious groan. He supposes he could say he's been thinking about how beautiful Aaron is and how he's even more beautiful when he's deep in silent conversation with the land he so loves. How Liam loves him, loves him, and he misses him when they're not together. How sometimes the weeks apart are just too much. And if it all makes of him a sappy girl then so be it and bring on the petticoats.

But Liam only smiles back, reaches out and slides his fingers into sun-gold curls. "I was thinking that you're needing a haircut," is all he says.

Aaron grins a little, smirks. "I love you, too," he retorts.

~~~~

It always surprises Aaron when Liam does something like this, impulsive and a little bit reckless and oh, exciting because it's so daring, right out in the relative-open as they are. But Aaron doesn't complain, not even a small peep of protest, when Liam corners him behind the beer tent, presses his back to the stacked kegs and kisses him, deep and sound and thorough.

He is surprised, though, because all night, Liam has been wearing his metaphorical Village Council hat, making the rounds of the Faire, hailing friends and acquaintances and tenants, even buying a drink for Kilenny once and snickering into Aaron's shoulder when propriety forced the dolt to give him a nod and a smile in thanks.

All of that and the dancing, too. Aaron loves to watch Liam dance, even if Liam insists that he's horrible at it (not true) and even if he insists even more vehemently that he doesn't much care for it (so not true). He is good at it and he bloody-well knows it. He loves losing himself to it, as well, Aaron can tell; a person doesn't get that graceful at something unless he loves to do it, and Liam, to Aaron at least, is grace-personified most of the time, but on the boards, he is something else and again to watch.

Aaron has watched him, all bloody night. He's probably been a little too obvious about it, but he couldn't bring himself to tear his eyes away, else he might miss those transitory moments when Liam's eyes would flash over at him, fleet and almost-feral, with a quick, sly grin, only to skid away again, focus on his dance-partner. Aaron almost—almost, but not quite—felt sorry for those various partners. He knows how easy it is to fall in love with Liam. Knows what it’s like to have those eyes trained on you, looking into you, like you're the only person in the world, the only person who matters, as though Liam’s been waiting all his life to hear the next thing to come out of your mouth, even if it's something as trite and simple as, 'You're looking well these days'.

Aaron will admit that he's been a little bit jealous, watching those eyes fix on someone other than him, watching the blushes rise and the smiles widen and the eyes spark bright and mischievous. He envied those dance-partners the scent of clean sweat and bayberry, envied them that attentive gaze, envied them that sure grip of long-fingered hands. He knows it's a bit childish—a bit girlish, if he really thinks about it, which he doesn't—what with him standing about and staring like a love-struck lass. Next thing he knows, Aaron will be writing Liam's name in the dirt with a stick, or making up horrible poetry, or leaving love-notes hidden in desk drawers so that Liam will still think about him when he's not about…

All right, so he'd actually done that last, but he refuses to blush about it because Liam said he'd loved finding it, and Aaron had received quite the letter through the post as a reward—and made the mistake of starting to read it while his solicitor was in the room, and oh, didn't he get Liam back for that one well and good—so he won't feel too silly and romantic over it. Still, though, he knows full well that if some evil soul—or his sister—ever slipped him a truth potion and asked him which of them is the girl in this relationship, Aaron would be forced to answer that it is in fact Aaron himself, and sod off and what of it, anyway?

So, all right, he's in love and he has to admit that he lets the romance run away with him now and then, but he won't feel too awfully daft about it. And even though Liam has been busy with his Village-Councilman-visits-the-Faire business this evening and paying attention to almost everyone but Aaron but for those slick, quick glances, Aaron only feels a little jealous. All right, quite a lot jealous, because… well, because he is Aaron, after all. But he he’d known that when all is said and done tonight, when the band has packed up and the lamps have been doused, he'd have that gaze all to himself and every smile would be meant for him and him alone. So, he’d merely hovered about the fringes, watched and waited.

It was worse—or maybe better, he's not sure—when the sun went down and the moon rose in its place, streaming silver down into the grass like pearled-mist, blurring into the soft light of colored lamps and turning it all into something magic and ethereal. Somehow Liam belongs there as no one else does, in that place between gold and silver, day and night, sun and moon. Aaron, more than once, found his eyes seeking out those dancing feet, making sure they touched the earth every now and again, making sure they stayed.

There had been a time, not too long ago, when Aaron had thought he might never have this again, when there were no smiles just for him and there had been no one to make sure Liam didn’t let the dance sway him to wander off into starlight. Aaron thinks he might be better off if he tried to forget that time, put it behind him and keep only the lessons of it. Yet, somehow, the pain of it fails to taint the relief of knowing that it's done and long-past, that time, and so Aaron thinks that keeping it ever with him is perhaps not such a bad thing. Not when the remembering makes times like this all the more sweet in the living of them. And so he’d watched Liam tonight because he could, because it's his right. Because he knew that Liam knew he was watching, and those quick-flash smiles would keep coming, so long as Aaron didn’t look away.

Moon and stars had dripped down to touch Liam, firelight kept him anchored, earthbound. Aaron watched the music take Liam in, swaddle him in downbeats and two-steps and triple-times. Long legs gamboled over rough boards, leading with a grace that was more beautiful for its unconscious elegance, even when it was accompanied by a cheeky grin. Moonlight turned dark hair jet, like silvered raven's wings, and firelight streaked it sooty caramel-claret; Aaron had been fascinated by how each blended so seamlessly—at once paled and rouged flushed, damp cheeks, flared sparks in that gaze only half-tamed then cooled Liam’s eyes to languid pools of starlit water.

Oh, but Aaron has loved watching Liam all night, has loved those times when Liam would extract himself from the floor, seek Aaron out, quaff a cold ale with him and smile just for him, just for Aaron, turn those eyes on him and poof! just like that, Aaron's knees were water.

But this he loves even more, this sly, mischievous grin stretched over Liam's face and plastered over Aaron's own mouth, and this tongue swiping wide, hot stripes over his throat, and these hands, wandering to places they should not be wandering when there are at least ten merrymakers on the other side of the thin canvas of the beer tent. String and flute paint gold behind Aaron's eyes, coil warm about his chest, as Liam's voice, thick with lust, murmurs to him slow, makes a song of words seeping hot into Aaron's skin:

"Bloody hell," Liam pants, slides his hand firm to the unfurling heat in Aaron's trousers, nips and tugs at Aaron's earlobe, "need you now, now, when will this bloody thing end?"

Aaron might melt if he's not very careful to keep his head, let Liam press him right into the kegs and have his way with him, hard and fast and noisy, and too sodding bad about those partiers in the tent. He almost thinks that Liam will, if Aaron doesn't get himself together very quickly and while it's certainly not without its attraction, Aaron doesn't fancy sharing anything about Liam right now, not even a glance of smooth skin silvered by moonlight. So Aaron takes hold of Liam's busy hands, slides his own hands over Liam's wrists and guides his arms behind his back. Liam groans, low and gruff, launches a new assault on Aaron's throat with teeth and tongue, grinds himself against Aaron's hip.

Aaron swallows, manages to grate into the crook of Liam's neck, "It can be done right now. You're the Councilman, you know, and they all know their way home. Let's go."

Another nip to Aaron's ear then a searing kiss laid rough to his mouth. Liam pulls back, flashes a smoking glance to Aaron's eyes before letting it drift back to Aaron's mouth. He smiles, cunning and a little bit wild.

A slow shake of his head and: "Oh, I do love you so," he says, voice hoarse and almost bloody dripping with sex.

Aaron smiles back, tightens his grip on Liam's wrists and hauls him flush against himself, the movement rough and almost-shocking to his nerves. And he could tell Liam how he loves to hear it, how he's still not quite got used to saying it out loud, how it still gives him a bit of a thrill in his belly and turns his grins stupid when he's not paying attention. How it makes him feel so bloody lucky that he sometimes has to stop himself from asking someone to pinch him to make sure he's awake, and if that isn't more than a little girly, he doesn't know what is.

Instead he only broadens his grin, rolls his hips and lets himself smirk at Liam's low groan.

"I know," is all he says. 

~~~~

 

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