Mita had just managed to find a seller offering Assyrian cloth when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned, thinking that his father or Kuzari had come to snap at him for taking so long, and saw a big, good-looking, unfamiliar man.
“Excuse me,” said the man in accented Luwian. His voice was deep but quiet, and he’d lifted his hand and stepped back a bit; he wasn’t wearing a sword, just a tentative smile.
“I’m sorry,” said the man, “hello, I only need a minute–someone pointed you out to me, they said you know a man from Kizzuwatna?”
His Luwian was just as southern-sounding as Mita’s brother-in-law’s had been at the beginning, when he’d been courting Sumiri; he’d made them all laugh with his accent. “Yes,” said Mita, “are you looking for someone you know?” He wondered who the man had been talking to; Mita’s family wasn’t unknown in the city, but it wasn’t like they were here every day.
“Yes,” said the man, “a man named Tarikka; we’re from the same hometown. Do you know him?”
“He’s my brother-in-law,” said Mita, wondering. Tarikka never talked much about where he was from, or his family; he said that Sumiri’s family was his family now, and it was silly to dwell on the past.
“Your–” the man was frowning.
“My sister’s husband?” Maybe the word was different in the south, though he couldn’t remember Tarikka ever having a problem with it.
“Your sister’s husband.” The man was frowning, now, and it transformed his face from attractive amiability to something almost ferocious–thick dark eyebrows drawn down over dark eyes, wide mouth drawn in, shoulders hunched. Mita was starting to become a little alarmed–why be angry to discover Tarikka was married? Had he been pledged to someone else, back home? It was almost the sort of thing Tarikka might do, but–probably there was some sort of misunderstanding.
And the man was shaking his head, anyway, his face smoothing out. “I’m sorry, I had no idea–I was just surprised, I would have thought he would tell me if he was to be married,” he said, speaking more quickly; Mita wouldn’t have understood if he hadn’t been listening carefully. “Please, I would like to see him–is he here?”
“Yes, he’s–” Mita looked around, and there, by one of the shops, was his mother with Sumiri and Tarikka tagging behind her, and he was about to suggest they walk over together–or maybe that he go and find Tarikka and bring him back, he still wasn’t clear on what the man wanted, after all–when there was a rush of movement next to him. The man had looked where he looked, and was now off across the marketplace, nearly running.
“Hey–” said Mita, starting after him.
But he was too late; he saw Tarikka turn as the man came up to him, saw his mouth open in–surprise? dismay?–and saw, far too late, the flash of a knife as the man stabbed it into Tarikka’s chest, twisting viciously and pulling it out red and wet.
Mita had a hard time remembering, afterwards, what exactly had happened. He knew that one of the sons of the palace had been right nearby, and that the man was taken into custody immediately–that was a blur, the guards shoving through the crowd, people trying to get away or get closer, Mita’s father arriving to pull Sumiri away. The next thing he really remembered, though, was that they were halfway home and he was walking next to Kuzari, who had a hand on his shoulder and stood between him and a wagon with Tarikka’s body in it.
Later that day, word came–he was a man with a grudge, who had known Tarikka before he came to Hatti. Clearly guilty, not even trying to deny that it was murder. Magistrates holding him, come in to the city in two days’ time for judgment. Sumiri heard the news with the rest of them, her face set, her fists clenched.
She and their father prepared Tarikka’s body, set it out on the bier, and Mita stepped outside to watch them, standing up against the side of the house, his eyes set on the thing that had been Tarikka, just this morning. Now, Sumiri and his father would be washing their hands with oil and staying away from the temples for a week, just for touching it. He breathed carefully, holding in the noises that wanted to claw their way out.
He hadn’t been happy with Tarikka, that day. Earlier in the morning, Tarikka had smiled prettily at Mita’s aunt Manusi, said something about how much his feet hurt, and been given orders to sit in the workroom and spool thread instead of digging in the orchard with Mita under the hot sun, like he’d promised he would. He was always, always fucking off like that, and no one ever called him on it–not even Mita, especially not Mita–and he’d wished, dirty and sweating in the first spring heat, that the gods hadn’t given Tarikka such a damn pretty smile.
Now, all he could remember was that smile, and the laugh, clear and full and unguarded; he could still remember the first time he’d heard it, more than three years ago–Sumiri had been talking to a male voice he didn’t recognize, and he’d stepped outside to see Tarikka, beautiful in the sunlight, laughing at himself–oh, the city’s that way? I’m glad I saw your farm, I probably would have walked myself right off a cliff otherwise–and he’d wished he could hear a laugh like that every day of his life.
That night they burned the body, fire flickering in the darkness; Mita stood a little away from everyone else and wondered which of Tarikka’s Hurrian gods would come to take him away. He’d never talked about his gods, went willingly into the Sun-goddess’s temple with the rest of the family, stopped with them in the cella of Tarhunta to leave a little extra, nodded seriously when Aunt Manusi went on about the Gulses and their winding thread of fate. But he never swore to his own gods, never left any offerings for them that Mita could see. His mother had shaken her head over it, back when Tarikka and Sumiri first got married, at him and his bizarre Hurrian religion. Tarikka had seen her, and grinned, taking her hand to press it to his cheek and saying, “Here I am in Hatti, so I should be sure your Tarhunta and your Sun-goddess love me, too, no? Let me give the scented oil this month, so that they know me.”
“Gods are not like cats,” said Alawashi. “They know who made their offerings, not just whose hand they come from.” But she was smiling, underneath. Tarikka had had that effect, even on her.
They left the bones overnight. Mita didn’t sleep, lying in his empty bed in the silent room they had added when he married Lalanti, remembering the first night he’d slept alone here, after she died. He knew he should be grateful, that he had both of his parents and three aunts and an uncle and two sisters and a brother still alive, and more in-laws and nieces and nephews and cousins than he usually wanted to count, but somehow the dead brother and the dead wife and now the dead brother-in-law had emptied out his heart faster than the others could fill it.
He got up before his mother, even, and he was waiting in the kitchen when she came in. It wasn’t his place, but she asked anyway, “Will you help me bake the bread, then, Mita?”
“If it please you,” he said, his voice a little rough, and together they baked the thick bread, the sweet bread, and the bread with oil, and Sumiri joined them and opened up the chest with the funeral cloth, and Manusi came in last of all, holding the oil-jar in her hands. When the bread was ready, the dawn had begun creeping over the horizon, and his father and Kuzari and the children were awake. Kuzari stood at the kitchen door and looked down at where he knelt by the hearth, disapproving, while his mother put a cool, dry hand on his neck and pushed lightly.
So they went out and waited, and soon the women brought the oil, and tiny bits of silver for offerings, and the bones–Mita didn’t want to look, didn’t want to see Tarikka’s bones like Lalanti’s had been, but he watched Sumiri’s delicate fingers dipping the bones one by one into the oil until they were cleansed. And the cloth was laid down, and the bones on top of it, dark with ash and bright with oil, and then the bread-offerings, warm and broken open, falling lightly over Tarikka’s bones.
He went to Sumiri, that night, alone in her own married bed, Kuwa breathing softly in his tiny bed in the corner. He sat next to Sumiri, on the floor, and she reached out to touch his hair. He sighed silently, and then frowned; she was the one who had lost a husband. “Shouldn’t I be comforting you?” he asked into the darkness. But Sumiri and Tarikka hadn’t been as close, lately; he’d noticed it, but Tarikka had just waved it off with a laugh and said something about the company of women, his hand warm on Mita’s shoulder–
“Mita,” she said, “I knew for a long time that you loved him more than I did.”
He almost couldn’t understand the words. She let them rest, and they sat there in his head, until he couldn’t listen to them anymore and said, “Are you going to go into the city tomorrow?”
“I have to,” she said. “As his wife. Papa and Mama will be with me.”
“And me,” he said.
“No,” he said. “And me.”
“You’d better ask Papa first,” she warned.
But he was barely listening; his brain had circled around and around what she’d said before, and now he was sure she’d told him something he hadn’t known. “You didn’t love Tarikka,” he said.
“Yes, I did,” she said.
“Once,” she said. “When we were married. Remember how ridiculous he was, courting me? And somehow won Mama and Papa over anyway; I never thought he could do it. I loved him then. But it–drained away, after. It’s been years.”
“Since Asati died,” he said quietly. A lot had changed, since then. Only Kuzari’s oldest even remembered Asati, and then just barely.
“Maybe that was part of it,” she said. “I missed Asati so much, then. Tarikka reminded me of him.”
They had both been quick to smile, both been sly fuckers, at heart. Mita couldn’t help curling around his chest, a little. “Early morning tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll see you at breakfast.”
He heard her sigh, in the dark. “Goodnight, Mita.”
He caught his father before he’d truly woken up, on their way to milk the goats, and so managed to secure permission to go into the city. It wasn’t a long walk; in two hours, they were going in through the sphinx gate, climbing the rampart–Mita had loved this when he was little, but now all the stairs only made his legs tired–and up into the old city, up again to the citadel, all the way to the magistrates’ building. Sumiri gripped Mita’s hand while their father talked to the magistrate and their mother looked disapprovingly at everyone and everything.
The magistrate gave orders to his guards, too low for Mita to hear, but they left, and came back holding the man between them. Mita couldn’t breathe, suddenly, and he knew he was holding Sumiri’s hand too hard, but this–this was him. His eyes were dark and flat. Mita made himself inhale, exhale, and not let go of Sumiri to draw his knife and kill him.
“This man is guilty of murder by his own admission,” said the magistrate, in Nesite; Mita had to force his brain to understand, which calmed him just enough. “His sentence is enslavement to the family of the man he killed, if they accept. If they refuse, he will be put to death.”
The man didn’t flinch. Mita breathed. Any minute now, his father would say the words, and the man would be led off–
His father stepped forward. He looked the man in the eyes for a long minute, and then he said, “Your name?”
There was a long pause; the magistrate opened his mouth, but before he could speak, the man lowered his eyes and said in Luwian, “I’m sorry, my lord. I don’t understand.”
He hadn’t understood his sentence either, then. Mita wondered if he knew what was going to happen to him. Someone should tell him, so he would know.
“Your name,” his father repeated, in Luwian.
“Lakan, my lord.”
“No one here is a lord,” said Mita’s father. “You killed my son-in-law Tarikka?”
“Yes, sir, it was me,” said the man. He had the same southern pronunciation as Tarikka, the same odd phrasing. Mita had said to Tarikka, almost the day he moved in, Your grammar is atrocious. Tarikka had laughed, and said, That’s how we say it in Kizzuwatna! and Mita had shaken his head, and said, Southern grammar is atrocious. It had changed quickly, though, until Tarikka only barely had an accent, just enough to give an odd lilt to his words.
Mita’s father frowned at the man–Lakan–for a long time, and finally said, “Did you have a reason?”
Lakan’s eyes snapped up and locked with Mita’s father’s, and Mita stopped breathing again. His father couldn’t seriously mean–
“Yes, sir,” Lakan said, and each word was hard and sharp and absolutely honest, “I did.”
Mita’s father nodded, and turned to the magistrate. “We’ll take him,” he said in Nesite. “No need to untie him.”
The magistrate nodded to his scribe, whose stylus flickered over his tablet, and in five minutes, the man was remanded from state custody to his father’s, and they had a new slave.
Mita kept his mouth shut, somehow–years and years of learning that his father was implacable once he’d decided on something, almost as bad as his mother, even, kept him from trying to protest. He thought Sumiri’s hand was probably halfway to breaking, but she didn’t say anything.
They stopped at the market, and Mita let go of Sumiri’s hand when their mother called her over to comment on the quality of some eastern cloth, and stood behind his family, looking at the murderer. Lakan.
Anger was welling up, from deep inside, at his father for doing this and at Lakan for existing, for murdering Tarikka, who had appeared when Mita had just come from the summer’s campaign at Kinza, when he was waking up every night seeing his brother’s chest split open by one of Pharaoh’s soldiers, sleeping with his sword because he couldn’t remember how not to. And Tarikka had been there, suddenly, courting Sumiri, grinning at their parents–not trying to draw Mita out or make him better, just tipping him the occasional smile, saying something wicked in an undertone when Alawashi’s back was turned, brightening any room just by being there. He didn’t want anything from Mita, didn’t expect him to shape up and work harder like their father and Kuzari, or watch him with sorrowful eyes like Sumiri and Manusi, or ignore him like their mother, who was lost in her own grieving. He was simple, and easy, and beautiful.
And now he was dead. Mita flexed his fingers and moved up beside Sumiri so he wouldn’t do anything stupid.
They brought their new slave home; Mita’s father walked ahead with him, speaking quietly. Mita couldn’t bring himself to listen and hung back, behind Sumiri and his mother.
When they got back, Aunt Manusi refused to even look at Lakan, which was a little heartening, but Kuzari didn’t even look surprised. Mita cornered him after dinner, when Lakan had been sent out to the hut in the yard with the other field hands.
“You knew about this,” he said. “You and Mama and Papa talked about it.”
Kuzari spread his hands. “Yes, I did. We were a little shorthanded even before Tarikka was killed; you know we can use the extra labor. This man doesn’t look like a rabid killer to me, and Father says he talked to him on the way back, and he’s satisfied we won’t be murdered in our beds. You can sleep with your sword if it makes you feel better. I think I still have mine somewhere, even.”
“You only ever used a spear,” said Mita, and Kuzari rolled his eyes.
“I can’t believe you even remember that,” he said. “Stop being a brat and accept it. He’s sure to be twice as much help as Tarikka ever was.”
“Fuck you,” said Mita. He was too hot, suddenly, and his ears were ringing; he turned to leave before he tried to punch Kuzari in the face. Kuzari didn’t call after him.
It wasn’t like Lakan was hard to avoid; two weeks after they brought him home, Mita had still not spoken to him since the day he’d killed Tarikka. He slept in the hut with the hands; he worked out in the field; Mita stayed in the orchard and around the house and almost never had to see him.
But he was still so angry–furious, just knowing Tarikka’s murderer was here, living with them, and no one cared, apparently. He knew better than to ask his father if his brain had been cursed into mud that day or something, but one day he–carefully, calmly–went to his mother and asked, “Do you miss Tarikka?”
“No,” she said frankly; her hands didn’t pause in their kneading. “He was charming and pretty, but it was all cover, no substance. He wouldn’t work hard, he wouldn’t stand straight, and I don’t think he told the truth three times all the years he lived here.” She picked up the dough, pounded it down onto the stone. “I liked him at first, but that was the smile.” She shook her head. “He used it like a weapon, to get in under our roof. Sumiri shouldn’t have married him. But at least she got a son out of it, and it’s not like she’s wanting for food or a place to sleep, so it’s all ended well enough.”
“I–I suppose so,” said Mita. “I’ll go get some more water for you, all right?”
He tripped over the threshold, caught himself on the door, and stepped out into the windy spring evening–it looked like a storm, tonight, and the air tasted like rain. He wondered, randomly, if Tarhunta smelled like this, if he wrapped the Sun-goddess in thick, cool dampness when they went to bed. If they went to bed; gods might not, he supposed.
He dropped to his knees by their little spring and realized that he’d forgotten a bucket. His hands dug into the grass; he felt like he was choking.
It was true, he thought a little wildly, it was true that Tarikka wasn’t the hardest worker, and was even a little bit of a liar, but Mita had always been grateful for a little bit of lazy levity, in the middle of his parents’ practicality, Sumiri’s seriousness, Kuzari’s stick up the ass, and his own occasional, stumbling attempts at light conversation. He’d known his parents and Kuzari hadn’t loved Tarikka much, but Mita sometimes felt like days had gone by without anyone smiling at all, after Asati died, and if Tarikka wasn’t always honest, if he got out of chores sometimes–well, it was worth it to have someone laughing.
Their aunt Tunnawiya came for dinner one night, riding in a wagon because she hated walking the distance. She had her servant come with her, to take care of the donkeys.
“Alawashi,” she said, leaning in to kiss her sister on the cheek. “I don’t understand how you can live like this! Don’t you miss the city?”
“I think you know by now that I miss nothing about the city,” said Alawashi dryly, and led Aunt Tunnawiya inside. “I don’t understand how you can stand the crush of people and the courtiers and the endless kissing up.”
“The kissing up is all right, once people are doing it to you,” said Aunt Tunnawiya, who was an Old Woman of the temple and therefore probably had people kissing up to her all the time, if only to make sure she didn’t curse them in their sleep. “I will say that I like the food better out here. What’s for dinner?”
The talk at dinner was all about court, as usual; Aunt Tunnawiya was their main source of news, and Mita was fairly sure that she liked dishing it out as much as his mother liked hearing it.
“And what about the campaign?” his mother asked. “Surely this year there will be one?”
There had been no campaign last year, or three years ago; Mita and Kuzari had gone two years ago, right after the king took the throne, but it had only been short, into the west, to let Arzawa know that Hatti hadn’t vanished simply because they’d moved the capital back where it belonged. Tarikka hadn’t gone; something about being a foreigner. Mita had been busy being silently terrified that Kuzari would be killed, too, and leave him with no brothers at all. Kuzari had been surprisingly indulgent, and also indulgently surprised that Mita was an all-right lieutenant, and even liked soldiering fairly well, when his brothers weren’t being killed around him; it was probably the best time they’d had together since they were little.
Now, though, Tunnawiya was shaking her head. “We oracled about it just ten days ago; I cast the lots myself, and I saw the birds released and the livers read. No campaign this season; it’s unfavorable.”
“Will the king’s uncle be coming after him, then?” Alawashi wondered. “Word is he’s getting restless up there in Nerik; he could make a play for the throne any day now.”
“The lots aren’t saying,” said Tunnawiya. “But the king’s wise to listen; if he went down to Halap this season, I don’t know that he’d have a kingdom to come back to. So your boys are safe for now.” She glanced around, frowning. “Didn’t you used to have one more? Southern, smiled a lot?”
“I sent you word,” said Alawashi, rolling her eyes up to the ceiling. “Sumiri’s husband Tarikka was killed three weeks ago.”
“Oh, yes, now I remember,” said Tunnawiya. “Murdered, was he? Probably deserved it. Anyone who’d slither out of campaign service like he did couldn’t have been worth much.”
Mita set his knife down carefully.
Tunnawiya was given Mita’s bed for the night, as everyone else was older. He spread out blankets on the floor in his mother’s workroom, mussed them appropriately, then went to see Sumiri.
Kuwa was asleep with his thumb in his mouth, so he slipped under the blankets and stole half the pillow. “Awake?” he whispered.
“Yes,” she said back. “I missed this.”
Back when they were children, they had done this all the time, laughing at the rules that said they couldn’t, whispering with each other half the night. He smiled. “Did you hear Aunt before dinner, talking about court?”
“Gods,” said Sumiri, “if she gets any more stuck-up, she’ll hit her head on the roof,” and he had to smother his laughter in a pillow at the thought. He felt her reach for his hand, twine their fingers together, and he lifted his head.
“Sumiri,” he said, “what Aunt Tunnawiya said about Tarikka. I don’t even remember what he said to me that summer, but I know it was something about not being allowed to go on campaign–”
He could just see her shaking her head in the dark. “No,” she said. “He lied to the recruiters about an injury. Aunt heard about it and told Mama, and she was furious. Especially that Kuzari might have stayed home if he’d gone, as the heir. I think Papa had already expected something like that from him, but,” she shrugged, “that was when the rest of us fell out of love with him, I think. Except Aunt Manusi, she always loved his smile.”
“And me,” he whispered.
“You were away,” she said. “I always wondered whether I should tell you, but he made you happy just being around you, and with Asati gone–well, I didn’t want to take your replacement brother away.”
He winced. Her fingers were lax around his, and he twisted his hand around, took hold of one of them. “I didn’t love him like a brother,” he said, breathing it into the space between them. It was easier than he thought it would be; so many of his confessions had been like this, once upon a time, in the dark with Sumiri’s face soft and blurred across from his.
“I know you didn’t,” she said. “It’s all right.”
“No, it isn’t,” he whispered.
He couldn’t think, the next day–couldn’t tell what he was feeling, let alone make it go away; he felt like he couldn’t even contain it, that his body was too small and fragile, and it would break open under the strain.
That night–after a day of tension, his father snapping at him, Kuzari shaking his head, Aunt Manusi frowning and concerned–he went out to the slaves’ hut, the men’s side, where the field hands were sleeping in exhausted heaps, and he said, “Lakan.”
He had expected to have to call the name a few times, that he’d wake the other three up in doing so, but he’d barely whispered and the largest figure was sitting up, his shadow very still and his voice very quiet when he said, “Yes, sir?”
“Come outside,” he said.
Lakan stood up and followed Mita out into the cool night air; he stopped when Mita did, and stood quietly, waiting. Mita’s breath was catching in his throat; he couldn’t remember what he’d been thinking when he came out here, couldn’t remember if he wanted to shout or hit or kill or what–all of those things, maybe, except Lakan was standing quietly, waiting for what Mita was going to do, and–
“Down on your knees,” he said. His voice sounded strangled, hoarse.
Lakan dropped down; when he raised his eyes, Mita could see them in the moonlight, dark and clear.
He had his knife with him. He hadn’t brought his sword, and it occurred to him to tell Lakan to wait here, and go inside and get it. He knew it was crazy, impossible, to think that if he killed Tarikka’s murderer everything would go back to the way it had been. He couldn’t make the thought go away, though, the idea that the sword-stroke was some kind of magic, to cut away the last month, and give it all back.
Except he knew, by now, what sword-strokes did, and it wasn’t magic, it was blood and bone and your brother’s chest broken open, his heart torn in half.
“Sir?” Lakan’s voice was still soft, barely a breath.
“Why?” he hissed. He was so angry. “Why did you do it?” His voice broke.
There was a quiet moment, long enough that Mita was almost afraid Lakan would refuse to tell him, and then maybe he really would kill him–and then Lakan’s voice, again, so quiet–“At Kinza,” he said, just a whisper of sound, “four years ago, I was fighting alongside my friend, my closest friend, since we were born. He was like my brother, closer than a brother.”
“Kinza,” Mita breathed, and let his legs fold under him until he was sitting on the ground, facing Lakan. Everyone lost something at Kinza.
“He and Tarikka played dice every night, and soon enough Tarikka owed him more than he had.” Lakan’s voice was a little louder now, and steady. “So instead of paying some and promising the rest, instead of borrowing any money, when my friend refused to let it go, Tarikka went into battle next to him that day and pushed him into a Musriyan spear.”
“He–” Mita swallowed. “He didn’t.”
“He did.” Lakan’s eyes were still on Mita’s, his voice solid. Truthful. “He killed him, for money. And I was the only one who saw, and he knew I did, so he ran away. But,” the briefest shrug, “I found him.”
He wouldn’t, Mita thought wildly, he wouldn’t have done that. He wouldn’t. He stood, stumbling a little. “Go back to bed,” he choked, and fled for the house.
“What in the gods’ names were you doing last night?” his father asked him, reaching for his chin, tilting his head to look at his face. Mita shrugged and waited until he let go, and then bent his head to his breakfast, and after a second his father said, “Never mind. You’re needed out in the field today, Kuzari and I are going into the city and someone has to look after the hands.”
Of course I am, Mita thought, but he just said, “All right,” and went back to his breakfast.
It was hot, hard work, and for the first few hours after dawn, Mita didn’t need anything more than that. But by the time the sun was high in the sky, he had noticed that their older hands kept well away from Lakan, working a good distance from him, and sitting together at their midday break while Lakan drowsed beneath a tree, alone.
He caught Bel, their oldest slave, alone after the break, and asked him, “Why don’t you sit with Lakan?”
“He’s murdered,” said Bel in his broken Luwian–still terrible, after years; Mita’s mother was always telling his father to forbid the slaves to speak Aramaic among themselves–as though he were confused Mita needed to be told. “We aren’t talking with a murderer. We work with him because the master says so,” he added–not sounding resentful, but not especially deferential either–“but we don’t have to talk to him.”
“No,” said Mita, and let him go back to work.
At the end of the day, he went back to the house for dinner, leaving the hands with their meal, three of them eating with Alawashi’s two girls, and Lakan sitting in the shade of the hut, alone. The picture stayed with him while he ate, and afterward, he left his father and Kuzari carving and talking about how best to breed the goats in the coming years, and went back outside.
Lakan was still sitting in the shade of the hut. The girls were inside helping clean up, and the rest of the men were sprawled on the hillside, just in sight, but staring off at the horizon. Mita deliberately didn’t let himself think, just sat down a few feet from Lakan, out of reach but close enough to talk to.
“Sir,” said Lakan after a minute, but not like he was asking a question.
“When you came up to me, that day in the city,” said Mita.
“Yes?” said Lakan, and now he was asking a question, now he sounded apprehensive.
“I always wondered–how did you know to ask me?” Mita could remember it all so clearly, right up until the moment he’d seen Tarikka’s blood. “I wouldn’t have thought enough people would know us.”
The muscles in Lakan’s jaw shifted, a little, and after a minute he said, “I asked everyone. He was hard to find.” He looked away, and seemed to give up some tension, saying, “I’d started looking for him last year because someone mentioned he’d gone north, and it took so long to find anybody who remembered him. When I got here, I just started asking about southerners. There are a lot of them in Hattusa, actually.” He shrugged. “I asked everyone. One of the shopkeepers remembered your family, pointed you out.”
“And–when you saw him–” He didn’t even know what he wanted to ask.
“I…” Lakan rubbed his eyes. “I barely remember.”
“Me, neither,” Mita whispered. He thought of last night, of wanting to kill Lakan, and about Lakan’s friend–it couldn’t be real, his mind still insisted, but he’d spent all the rest of last night fighting it, and deciding, finally, that it must be real, that it did make sense. And maybe it did.
The next day, he sat with Lakan at midday.
“Will you–” he hesitated. “Will you tell me about your friend?”
Lakan lifted his eyes from the bread he was holding. “Sir?”
“Your friend,” Mita repeated. He shouldn’t be asking, probably, but he couldn’t–“Will you tell me about him? What was his name?”
“Asuha,” said Lakan, and shut his mouth abruptly.
“Did he–have a family? Was he married?” Mita wished he were better at this, at talking at all, but he couldn’t–he couldn’t just leave this. It couldn’t stay like it was.
“No, he–” Lakan stopped, swallowed. His fingers were clenching on his bread, gouging into it. “He was going to marry my sister. She didn’t want to be married, and he didn’t want to be married, and they thought that if they just married each other, everyone would leave them alone. When we got back from Kinza, he was going to marry her.”
“Oh,” said Mita, and it came out as just barely a breath of sound. “What was he like?”
“He was a scholar,” said Lakan, “studying to be a scribe, he just wanted to sit around and read tablets all day, I never understood–but he liked fighting, too.” He closed his eyes. “We used to pretend, when we were kids, that we were going off to war. We saw the army every year, you know–our town, it was right by the Cilician Gates, and the king always stopped nearby, and provisioned and recruited before going through the pass.” His fingers were relaxing, a little, and he was talking faster, his accent thickening. “We’d been on campaign a couple of times before Kinza, whenever the old king was conquering in the east. I liked soldiering, it was–simple. Easy, to love your comrades and hate the enemy. Until Kinza.”
“I was at Kinza,” said Mita. Lakan’s eyes opened.
“Most men were,” he said, sounding careful.
“My brother died there,” said Mita, quickly, because he still didn’t like to say it.
“I’m sorry,” said Lakan, quiet.
“Why?” Mita asked. “You shouldn’t–you don’t care about us. You hate us.”
“No,” said Lakan, and Mita blinked at the vehemence. “Your family, they’re good. I’ve been here for weeks, and I know–your father is a hard worker, so is Kuzari, they treat the hands well. I don’t see the women, but your servant-girls talk about them sometimes, and they sound the same. Your sister is beautiful, she sings while she works, she and your mother and your aunt make fine cloth and good food. You’ve worked hard in that orchard since you were a child. Just because Tarikka lied to you–he lied to everybody, it doesn’t mean anything. Your family is good.”
“It’s–” Mita swallowed. “It’s time to get back to work. Eat your bread.”
“Yes, sir,” said Lakan; Mita stood up quickly, and walked back to the field.
He watched Lakan that afternoon; he was a good worker, trying harder than he would need to just to avoid being punished, getting half again as much done as any of the others.
At the end of the day, just before dinner, Mita went up to him again. “I wanted to ask you,” he Mita, before he could stop himself, “about Hurrian gods.”
Lakan turned his head to look at him. “Hurrian gods?” he asked, and Mita could hear the slight incredulous tone.
“Tarikka never talked about them,” he said. “He just left offerings at the Great Temple with the rest of us, for the Tarhunta and the Sun-goddess. I wondered sometimes, who his gods were.”
Lakan considered that for a minute. Mita couldn’t tell what he made of it, but finally he said, “Teshub. Teshub and Hebat, those are the king and the queen.” He looked wary.
“You call them that?” Mita was careful to keep his tone light. It felt good, to do this, to look at that face and not be bitterly furious. “Our gods don’t have a king and a queen. It’d be hard to get them all together to be ruled over.”
Lakan’s face relaxed a little–not a smile, not at all, but not the slight suspicion he’d been wearing a minute ago. He was surprisingly easy to read, Mita thought, for a murderer. “Teshub’s definitely the king,” he said firmly. “And he’s the Storm-god.”
“Tarhunta’s a Storm-god, too,” said Mita. “We have a few other storm-gods, but none of them live here. One’s in Nerik, with the king’s uncle.”
Lakan frowned. “We only have one.”
“Hatti’s big,” said Mita. “Lots of storms.”
That was almost a smile. Mita hadn’t been trying to make him smile on purpose, but–it was good. Lakan deserved to smile.
He went out the next night, and he said, “Tell me about Hebat.” And he listened to Lakan talk, quietly, about the queen of the gods, the mother of everything, Teshub’s wife. When he walked away, he felt–better, somehow.
He thought, later, this must be wrong, to sit and talk with his brother-in-law’s murderer like this. But he couldn’t feel it–all the hatred had drained out of him with that imaginary sword-stroke.
So then he went out the next night, and he said, “Tell me about Sharruma.” And the next night, “Tell me about Kashku.”
That night, when Lakan was done talking about the Hurrian moon-god, Mita said, “I still don’t understand something.”
“What is it?” Lakan asked. He was half-sitting, half-leaning against a sloping rock, and he looked relaxed, almost.
“Why you spoke so well of my family, when we own you,” said Mita. “I understand why you don’t blame anyone for Tarikka being a good liar, but–you’re working our field. None of the other hands love us very much.”
“The other hands were taken from their homes when the old king swept down over their lands,” said Lakan. “They’re different.”
“And you?” Mita asked.
Lakan was quiet for a long time, and then he said, “I thought I would be put to death, as a murderer. This is better than that, definitely. And–” he paused, looking up at the sky. “After Asuha died, I felt like I didn’t have a life anymore. And all I cared about was getting revenge, which–I’m not sorry I did it, but that isn’t a good life.” His mouth quirked downward, just a little. “It wasn’t good for me. I think it is good to–have a purpose. Have something to do. Growing things is good.”
“I’m–glad,” said Mita, awkwardly, and Lakan nodded, still looking at the sky. Mita walked away quickly; his chest was tight. Fine, Mita’s family was good, having a purpose was good, growing things was good–but he was starting to think that the real good thing here was Lakan.
He thought, after that, that he might have done enough, that things might be as close to all right as they would get. But he still went back the next day, sat down next to Lakan, because talking to him felt like taking a drink of cool water, like shade in the summer. “Will you tell me about Shaushga, tonight?” he asked.
And that night, Lakan smiled–a real smile, for the first time–and he said, “I can tell you about Shaushga–or Ishtar, the Assyrians call her Ishtar–”
“I know Ishtar,” said Mita. “War and sex.”
“Everyone who’s been to war knows Ishtar,” said Lakan. “I have–well, I have a favorite story about her.”
“Tell me,” said Mita.
“I have to tell you about Kumarbi, first,” said Lakan. “He’s the one the story is really about.”
“Then tell me about Kumarbi,” said Mita.
“Kumarbi is a grain god,” said Lakan, “and once, he wanted to be the king of the gods.”
“Oh, no,” Mita said, and Lakan smiled again. His face softened, Mita thought, when he smiled. He was intimidating when he scowled, or when he was flat and blank, like most of the time, but when he smiled, Mita could really see that there was a person in there, in the face he remembered seeing at the marketplace.
“He wanted to be king of the gods,” said Lakan, “so he had to beat Anu, the sky-god, who was the king before him. So Kumarbi and Anu fought in the heavens, and Kumarbi bit off Anu’s manhood.”
“So,” said Lakan, “Anu had lost his manhood, and he couldn’t be the king of the gods anymore. Kumarbi won. But,” he held up a finger, “now he had Anu’s seed in his stomach. And the seed of the king of the gods is very potent, so it wasn’t long before Kumarbi had Anu’s children in his stomach.”
“Our gods definitely don’t work like this,” said Mita.
“Kumarbi gave birth,” said Lakan, the smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, “I’ve never understood how, exactly. But one of the children was Teshub, who’s the most powerful of all the gods, so he fought Kumarbi and won, and that’s how he became king. Though I suppose Kumarbi was actually his mother; I’ve always wondered how he felt about that.”
“All right,” said Mita, “I think I’m going inside now.”
“I haven’t even gotten to the part with Shaushga yet,” said Lakan.
“Tell me tomorrow,” said Mita, getting up to go, leaving Lakan smiling behind him.
Maybe to make up for a month of pretending Lakan didn’t exist, Mita found himself watching him, whenever he had the opportunity. Lakan kept his head down, worked diligently, didn’t bother the other hands or Alawashi’s girls, never seemed to give anyone cause for complaint, barely even looked up from his work or his food or his bed.
Except that, after a few days of evening conversations, Lakan began noticing sometimes, when Mita was looking at him; his head would come up, his eyes search Mita out, and he would look back for a second–he must not have been beaten too hard at the magistrates’ office, Mita thought, because he never hesitated to make eye contact with anyone, if he wanted to–before going back to work.
“Father,” Mita said one evening, when they were washing the day’s dirt off, “how have you found Lakan, as a hand?”
His father gave him a long look, but he said, “I never had a slave so obedient. Never complains, even. I wish the others would learn something from him.”
“They’re afraid of him,” said Mita.
“Cowardly idiots,” his father snorted, and that was the end of the conversation.
But the next morning, his father said, “Mita, Lakan will be working in the orchard with you, today; we don’t need him in the field.”
“All right,” said Mita, and went to collect him when breakfast was finished. The weeds were coming in thick around last year’s seedlings, and he was glad for the help.
“Sir,” said Lakan, when they’d been working for a half-hour or so, sounding almost hesitant.
“Don’t–” Mita stopped, thought about what he was saying, then shrugged mentally and continued, “don’t call me sir. Mita is fine.”
“Mita,” said Lakan. “You’ve never told me which gods your family worships. Should I be leaving offerings for anyone in particular, while I live here?”
None of their other slaves left offerings, as far as Mita knew–they certainly never came to the temples with the family–but he said, “Our deity is the Sun-goddess, but we always leave offerings for Tarhunta, too. And then of course if there’s anything we need from one of the others, we’ll ask it of them.”
“Which Sun-goddess, though?” Lakan asked, for once not looking Mita in the eye, digging down around the roots of a weed. “Isn’t there more than one?”
“Two main ones, but I don’t know anyone who claims the Sun-goddess of the earth.” Mita twitched at the thought.
“The–of the earth?” Lakan had stopped, and was sitting back on his heels, looking at Mita now, perplexed.
“When the sun is underground. At night,” Mita clarified. “She has it then.” He shook his head. “I wouldn’t want my god to be living in the underworld all the time.” He glanced downward, wondering if she was listening. “Sorry.”
“I never liked the gods of the underworld,” said Lakan.
“I like that she keeps the sun safe,” said Mita. “And I always thought it would be would be good to have her on your side, because no one messes with her.”
“You people have too many gods,” said Lakan, who looked a little unsettled, now.
“It isn’t our fault all the gods like Hatti so much they come to live here,” said Mita, and Lakan laughed. Mita drew in a quick breath, watching–it was small, but real, a laugh from deep in his chest. He swallowed, and continued quickly, “And you’ve barely heard of any of them, yet. Talk to Aunt Tunnawiya sometime, she can list off hundreds without even thinking about it.”
Lakan shook his head, still smiling. “It’s just strange.”
“You’re one to talk, with your pregnant grain gods,” said Mita. “Come on, we aren’t working,” and they both bent forward to keep weeding.
That night, somehow Mita didn’t manage to get up and go inside before the sun slipped below the horizon, and they were still sitting up against the rocky outcropping that made the field medium-sized instead of large while the sky darkened from blue to black and the moon hung bright against it.
“Your family’s Sun-goddess,” said Lakan, “she’s the Sun-goddess of Arinna. She lives there, in Arinna?”
Mita nodded. “She likes it in Hattusa, too, though. The kings love her, all of them. My grandparents said–the father of the old king, he loved her more than anything, more than his wife, more than his throne. He could never understand why she let the plague come to Hatti, he spent years and years asking her why, asking her what he could do to make it right.”
“Did she ever tell him?”
“She must have,” Mita said. “The plague went away.”
“Did your grandparents live on this same farm, then?” Lakan asked.
“Those were my mother’s parents, but my father’s parents did. We’ve always lived here, my family. Even when the old king moved everyone to Tarhuntassa–my mother’s family went with him and the court, but we stayed here. My mother says it was the best the city’s ever been, with no courtiers left.”
“I saw him up close, once, at Kinza,” said Lakan. “He rode through where my regiment was quartered. I thought he looked just like a king should look.”
“He spoke to my brother, at Kinza,” said Mita. “Told him he was a good lieutenant. Asati couldn’t even talk, afterwards, he was so overcome.”
“Asati,” said Lakan, watching him carefully.
“He was the next-oldest, after Kuzari,” said Mita. He took a deep breath. “I loved him. Maybe more than Sumiri, almost. He was–he laughed all the time. He loved all of us.” He blinked burning eyes. “Do you have any brothers?”
“One older brother,” said Lakan. “It’s part of the reason why I was all right coming up north to throw my life away, that I wasn’t leaving my parents childless. They have their heir.”
“Did they bless your coming, then?” Mita asked. He tried to imagine, if he had gone after Asati’s killer, to certain death. His father would probably have tied him to a chair. Probably.
“I didn’t ask them. I left word with Anniya–my sister. She wanted me to stay, but she wanted Tarikka dead more.”
Mita couldn’t picture a sister so bloodthirsty. “Sumiri would never want anyone dead that much, I don’t think.”
“I don’t know her,” said Lakan. “But what if you were killed? Wouldn’t she want you avenged?”
Mita tried, but he couldn’t make the image work. “People die,” he said. “We all lost a brother already. And a sister, but we were children then.” He barely remembers her, two years younger than he was, only just walking. “And Sumiri lost her husband, even if he was–even if she didn’t love him,” and he can almost talk about Tarikka without tripping over it, but not quite; his stomach hurts, thinking about him, and he hurries on to say, “and Kuzari lost his wife, and I did, too.”
“I wondered why you weren’t married,” said Lakan.
“Lalanti,” said Mita. “She died in childbirth, and the baby too.” It was an old, dull pain by now; he had tried to love Lalanti–like he’d loved Tarikka, by then–but. She was quiet and beautiful and sat with his mother making cloths while he worked in the orchard, and he could never think of what to say to her, and he was always sure he would do something to hurt her in bed. He’d been so sorry when she died, he’d cried into Sumiri’s shoulder–he’d been angry at the gods, for taking away someone who hadn’t ever done a thing wrong in her life. But he hadn’t loved her.
“I never–” said Lakan, “I mean, two brothers, they died when they were babies, but I was practically still a baby myself. And my grandparents, except my mother’s mother, who will probably live until the gods destroy the world. Asuha was the first person–the first person I really loved, who died. And when he did,” he shook his head, “I couldn’t remember what was up and what was down, I was numb, I was blank. There’s a lot of–right afterward, that I don’t remember. I wasn’t even really there, when your father came in to take me here.” The moonlight was just barely illuminating his face, enough for Mita to see his eyes cutting over to look at him, and flicking back up to look at the sky, out to the hillsides, over at the orchard.
Mita knew that once upon a time, he hadn’t loved anybody who died, either, but he couldn’t remember what it felt like. He did remember how he felt when Asati died, though. It wasn’t the same, but it was–as much, maybe. “It rips us open,” he said. “We’re mortals, I always thought–we should understand death, shouldn’t we? But we don’t.” He had to stop, swallow, keep going, “But it’s how life is. Sickness, war, childbirth, tripping on a rock and breaking your head open. You can’t stop it.”
“But it isn’t all there is,” said Lakan, the closest he’d ever come to contradicting Mita. “You can’t let it be the only thing, or you end up–in the forsaken wilderness of Hatti, stabbing someone on a public street at midday.”
Mita sighed, and shrugged. “I never did anything like that,” he said. “But sometimes it’s hard to remember, anyway.” He put his hands on the cool grass and levered himself up. “Goodnight,” he said.
“Goodnight,” said Lakan, but he didn’t get up, and Mita left him sitting against the rock, a still, curled shadow.
The trees were starting to flower, and he thought that if the weather cooperated and there weren’t any infestations, the fruit crop would be good this year. In the meantime, he pulled Sumiri out of the house to take midday breaks under an endless lacy curtain, dappling the sunshine onto the grass, surrounding them in a hazy white light. She fed Kuwa bits of bread and small nuts, and he tried to catch caterpillars out of the grass with tiny fingers.
“Do you ever,” he tried, and then had to wait a minute until he understood what he was trying to say. “Do you ever–not think of Asati?”
“How do you mean?” she asked, catching a flower before it went into Kuwa’s mouth.
“I mean, do you sit here under the apple blossoms, with me and Kuwa, and just think about how pretty it is, and not how much Asati would have liked to sit out here with us? Or–or anyone, Lalanti or anyone.” Asati would have been arranging petals in Mita’s hair for the last ten minutes, waiting for him to notice and twitch away. Lalanti would have been so entranced by the flowers she would have forgotten the rest of them were there. Tarikka–and he wouldn’t ask Sumiri about him, but remembering Tarikka was the worst of all, because it was bitter, bitter and wrong, knowing that Tarikka would have been halfway up one of the too-fragile apple trees, laughing at Mita’s protests, and that the protests would have been half-hearted, because he let Tarikka get away with everything.
“Mostly,” said Sumiri, “yes. I mean, I’m always sad about Asati, a little, in the back of my mind. But I don’t think about him, not a lot. Just sometimes.” Her mouth drew in, a little; she was thinking about him now, Mita could see it.
“Thanks,” he said, and she was frowning at him, now, but Kuwa started to cry, and they both had to get back to work, anyway.
“I hate him,” he said, that night. “Not like you hated him, but–it was right after Kinza, you know that, and I thought–he made me feel better. Not like–not like every time I breathed in, it would hurt. Like some things could be good, again.”
“He wasn’t–” it sounded like Lakan choked on the words. “He wasn’t good.”
“I know,” said Mita. “He was just–charming. And he laughed a lot, it reminded me of Asati. And after a while, he started doing it on purpose, I think. Especially after my parents got over being charmed by him, and–well, Kuzari never liked him–”
“Maybe I like Kuzari better, then,” Lakan muttered.
“Kuzari doesn’t like anyone, he never has,” said Mita. “But even Sumiri, after the summer before last–so it was me and Aunt Manusi, really, and she likes most people. He took time to spend around me, he’d make me laugh on purpose, he came in and slept in my room sometimes, when he and Sumiri fought.”
There was a long pause, and then Lakan said, “Did he–”
“No,” said Mita. “I think–” and this hurt most of all, but he forced it out, because otherwise it would keep sitting like a hard ball in his stomach, “I think he knew that Kuzari, and my father–if they found out–” He could remember the little touches, though, all the so-intimate smiles, keeping him wanting. He clenched his teeth.
“Is it,” Lakan hesitated, “is it against your laws, then?”
“No, it isn’t–no.” Mita pressed his hands against his burning face, and said between gritted teeth, “They just wouldn’t have liked–him doing that to me.” His father had always been gruffly protective, since he was little, seeming to forget about his existence for months on end before coming to his rescue when his cousins were ganging up on him, or telling him furiously that he was not to stand on the edge of the rampart in Hattusa, good gods what if he fell to his death, and so on. And Kuzari thought all his younger siblings should spend their days within sight of the house, ideally informing him of their whereabouts three or four times a day, so he knew everyone was safe and well-behaved. Neither of them would have liked–that.
“But,” and Lakan’s voice was so low it was almost silent, floating weightless on the night breeze, “you wanted him.”
Mita had almost, before Tarikka died, started to wonder how he might be able to get around them, how to keep Kuzari from poking his head into the orchard on the slightest pretext when they were working together, avoid his father’s pointed trips to the kitchen for gods-knew-what, several times a night, his footsteps heavy and purposeful, whenever Tarikka had slept in with Mita. He had thought about–“Yes,” he said. “Yes, I wanted him. He was beautiful, he was always with me, he laughed like a god was reaching down to tickle him–yes.”
“But,” said Lakan, “but–how do you think it would have been, with him? He might have been trying to hide that he was a murderous coward, but he was still selfish, he still wouldn’t have cared a crushed date’s worth for you. He’d have taken what he wanted and that would have been it.”
Mita had had his fantasies–too many of them, mostly ridiculous–and he hadn’t thought Tarikka would suddenly become caring and attentive, or that he would pliantly submit, or submit at all–but, “I wanted to give it to him,” Mita said. “I wanted to give him anything he wanted. I loved him,” and he was angry, suddenly, “I just wanted to touch him, to make him–” to make him something. Gasp, writhe, moan, reach out for Mita, call Mita’s name, love him back. All of it pointless, and he might have known it back then, too, just a little.
“That’s not how it should be, though,” said Lakan. “I mean–have you ever, with someone else you loved? Your wife, or someone when you were on campaign, or–”
“No,” Mita whispered, and it sounded dry, barren, “no. Never with anyone I loved.”
Lakan made a frustrated noise, and suddenly there were hands on him. Mita twitched away, startled, but Lakan had moved in next to him, big and warm along his side. “Just–shh,” he said, his voice deep and vibrating through them both. “Just let me.” His hands were sliding along Mita’s chest, under his tunic, along the outside of his thighs; Mita shivered despite himself.
“Why?” he said, wanting to twist away but not quite able to bring himself to. He had thought about this, only once or twice, late at night, but he’d thought about it. “Why are you doing this?” he made himself say. “You don’t love me.”
Lakan made a frustrated noise. “You–you don’t even know. You hated me and you loved him and you still came out here and knocked me out of my head, made me remember that I was here, now, not still at Kinza, not in the street at Hattusa with my knife in that bastard. And I was grateful for that, and I thought that was it, that I’d answered your question and you’d go away, but you kept coming, you talked to me, you sat with me–I thought it was a kindness, but I don’t think you even know what the word means, you’re so fucked-up–just let me do this. Let me. Please.”
And all Mita could say to that was, “All right,” whispered against Lakan’s mouth, and then they were kissing.
Mita let himself be teased open, Lakan’s lips moving subtly against his, his tongue flickering out–and then Mita opened his mouth and kissed back, leaning forward, reaching up to thread his fingers in Lakan’s thick, dark hair–he wasn’t some virgin, he’d done this with other boys when he was younger, and every summer campaign he’d been on, and he was good at it, he knew. He thought Lakan would maybe take offense, try to get him to lie back and enjoy whatever this was going to be, but Lakan just moaned into his mouth and pulled him forward.
They overbalanced, kissing, and Lakan landed on his back on the grass with Mita on top of him, Lakan’s hands dragging his tunic up and over his head, Lakan’s legs spreading to give Mita space to lie in. “You’re so beautiful,” said Lakan, “I’ve been thinking it for weeks, when I watched you working.”
Mita laughed a little, shook his head and ducked down to kiss Lakan again. He’d heard it before, from soldiers, and he’d never understood; to him, he just looked like himself. “I like the way you look,” he said when he’d lifted his head. “Your eyes, they’re very dark, and your face–” he traced it with a hand. “Pretty,” he said, because it was. “Especially when you smile.”
“No one ever called me pretty before,” said Lakan.
Mita shrugged. “We think different things are pretty, here in Hatti,” and Tarikka had laughed at the reliefs in Hattusa enough times for him to know that was true.
Lakan smiled, just a little. “Then thank you,” he said, and reached up to pull Mita down again.
Kissing Lakan was different from anyone else he’d kissed; Lakan seemed to give himself up entirely, open his whole body to Mita, like he was trying to pull him inside. Mita could feel him harden while they kissed; Lakan was gasping into his mouth, tracing fingers over his shoulder blades and his hipbones and underneath his ribs. “Touch me,” he panted, “and I want to touch you, Mita, touch me–”
“Take your clothes off, then,” said Mita, and pulled back enough to let Lakan strip, twisting on the ground. He laid his tunic underneath them, and pulled Mita back down, his hands hungry.
“Is this what you wanted?” Mita whispered into the curl of his ear. He wanted, suddenly, for Lakan to get what he’d wanted.
“Is it–is it like the sex you had before?” Lakan asked back. His tongue flicked over Mita’s earlobe, behind his ear; Mita gasped. “With your wife?” he asked. “With anyone else?”
“No,” said Mita, and it was true; this hungry, clutching embrace, these whispered words, kisses along his jaw and fingers down his spine–it was hard to breathe, faced with all of this. “I never had anything like this before.”
“You like it?” Lakan asked, which since their cocks were rubbing together, hard and a little slick, was a silly question, but–
“Yes,” Mita said, and his voice was lower than usual, as he worked a hand in between them and closed it around Lakan’s cock. Lakan shuddered under him, groaning, and Mita gave him a long, slow pull, and watched him come apart.
His chest felt tight, watching Lakan’s face; he’d spent enough nights trying to get a smile out of him, watching his face close up with pain, go soft with tenderness–see his mouth open in pleasure, his eyes closed and his lashes damp–it was good.
He smiled to himself, and took his hand away–Lakan whimpered, and he said, “Patience,” and bent down to take Lakan’s cock in his mouth.
Lakan made a choked noise that might have started out as a shriek. Mita wanted to smile, but his mouth was full.
Lakan’s cock was big enough that he had to think about what he was doing, but he sucked carefully and listened to the noises Lakan was making, paid attention to the places he liked the most. Lakan’s hips jerked a few times, and made Mita’s eyes water, but he gasped, “Sorry,” every time, and kept saying, “Good–Mita, so good, so good,” and it was enough to keep Mita hard and wanting himself.
Finally, Lakan said, “Gods, Mita, come up here,” and pulled at his shoulders; Mita lifted off his cock and went willingly, kissed him when he tilted his head up, let himself be wrapped up in Lakan’s arms.
“What?” he whispered, when they pulled back to breathe. “Didn’t you like it?”
“Like it–” Lakan growled, and flipped them over, biting Mita once hard on the shoulder and then ducking his head to return the favor.
Mita’s eyes nearly rolled back in his head; he hadn’t had his cock sucked in so long, and Lakan took nearly all of it at once, sucking hard and steadily, then pulling back to tongue the head while Mita dragged in air. When he went down again, it wasn’t quite as deep, and his tongue swirled around–tasting him, Mita thought, and after not too long he could feel little vibrations–he whimpered in his throat–and hear the pleased noises Lakan was making around his cock. “Gods,” he whispered. “That’s good.”
Lakan heard him, it seemed like, because he went down further, swallowing around Mita, and after that he couldn’t think at all, just lifted his hips into Lakan’s hot, sweet mouth, moving with him–his hands on Mita’s hips, encouraging him–the pleasure building and building until he came in deep, wrenching spasms.
Lakan came up beside him, kissing him with hard, desperate passion–he’d wanted to see Lakan like this, wanted to know what it was like–and Mita took his cock in hand again; it twitched against his fingers, and he thrust his tongue into Lakan’s mouth while he jerked his cock hard and fast, until Lakan strangled a scream against his mouth and came hotly into his hand.
They both took a minute to get their breath back, and then Lakan said, still panting a little, “I never met anyone like you.”
“Same,” Mita whispered, smiling, and Lakan kissed him open-mouthed.
“Do you think,” Mita said softly, after a few minutes, “the next time the king goes on campaign in the east–you can volunteer a slave, instead of a son, if you pay a penalty. My father never does, he thinks it’s cowardly, but if you volunteered, you could come with me, and see your family again.”
There was a long silence, and then Lakan pulled him close, and said, “Yes. Yes, I would like that.”
Mita smiled into his neck. “Good.”