by juou no zan (女王のザン)
Bastiaan was in his office, trying to figure out what the hell he was going to do with an office, when the light in the office shifted. Bastiaan looked up at the doorway to see a man in it. The man had managed not to make any noise and sneak up on Bastiaan, which was not something Bastiaan was used to happening. The man was very tall, and didn’t look quite young enough to be a student.
Bastiaan was used to being condescended to and challenged. He’d been a mercenary for as long as he could remember, and fourteen-year-old mercenaries were not common. No one had been happy to be shown up by a teenage mercenary. He had more than ten years of experience dealing with it now, and honestly, so far nothing at the Academy had been as bad as what he used to deal with in taverns and guild halls.
But the tall man didn’t say anything; he just continued to stare at Bastiaan, arms crossed, face expressionless. It might have worked as an intimidation tactic, if Bastiaan hadn’t been doing it himself all his life.
Finally, Bastiaan tired of the staring contest and said, “Can I help you?”
The man said, “You’re awfully young to be a professor.” His voice was deep, and he spoke slowly, without much inflection.
Bastiaan raised an eyebrow, and gave the man an obvious once-over. “You can’t be much older than me,” he said.
The man said, “A combat instructor does not require the amount of experience a full professor does.”
Bastiaan had no idea if that was true or not, although honestly he had been thinking the same thing. Appointing him to a professorship, even though he was a strange young mercenary with no teaching experience at all, struck him as a confusing, if not irresponsible, thing to do. He would do his best–god knew he was being paid enough–but surely any instructor already at the Academy would be a better choice. They would at least know the students. Bastiaan would feel much better about working at the Academy if his only responsibilities were teaching swordplay or tactics.
Still, he wasn’t going to let this guy know any of that. He was trying to psych Bastiaan out, or frighten him, or something at least, and Bastiaan did not care for that. He considered, and discarded, a number of responses, before he said, “Take it up with the headmistress,” and deliberately turned his back to the man.
Bastiaan didn’t really think the man would attack him in the middle of the administrative building, but the space between his shoulder blades prickled with the anticipation of one, until he turned around to put a small figurine on a shelf, and found the doorway was empty.
The man had not introduced himself, but the only person at the Academy who matched his description was Lennart, a melee instructor. The other combat instructors were older, or in one case, a short woman who taught archery and stealth. Bastiaan asked around, and the consensus among both faculty and students was that Lennart was a weirdo, but essentially harmless, as long as you didn’t try to talk to him. He valued his privacy and disliked talking outside of what was necessary to coordinate schedules, guard rotations, or the mercenary work that funded the Academy.
Which made it more odd, to Bastiaan’s mind, that Lennart had sought him out to try to intimidate him. But he had other things to worry about, like the classes and advising he felt wildly unprepared for, so he let it lie.
The guard rotations, patrols of the area surrounding the grounds of the Academy, and simple mercenary jobs were the easy part of the job for Bastiaan. Yes, he had to watch out for his students while doing it, and try to make sure they were both learning and reasonably safe, but that part wasn’t that different from when his old captain had put him in charge of rookies. He quickly became familiar with his students’ capabilities, and tried to encourage their interests and aptitudes, and doing it in the field felt almost natural. Since he was a full professor, though, he was rarely assigned any of those duties without any students joining him.
Then one weekend, while Bastiaan’s class was resting and studying, and both other classes had been sent out on training missions, one of the few staff still at the Academy took ill. The headmistress asked if Bastiaan would be willing to take Vreni’s guard shifts, since his students weren’t in any especial need of his guidance for a few days, and knowing how few other options there were if he refused, Bastiaan agreed, even though it would mean getting very little sleep for the duration.
He hadn’t given any thought to who would be on the guard rotation with him, because it was typically him and a small group of students. He forgot that other faculty, who weren’t responsible for every aspect of their students’ learning–for example, combat instructors–worked in pairs on their guard shifts.
His partner for the evening was Lennart. Of course it was: the other professors were out on missions, two of the combat instrcutors were with them, while Arke, the remaining combat instructor, was on leave so he could celebrate one of his holidays with his family. Vreni, obviously, was ill. Bastiaan knew that, but he was still surprised to step into the guardhouse after dinner and see Lennart cleaning his sword.
Lennart looked up at Bastiaan, then back down at his sword. “Where’s Vreni?” he asked.
“She’s not feeling well,” Bastiaan said. “The headmistress asked me to take over for a few days, to let her rest.”
“Hm,” Lennart said.
The first night was shockingly silent. Bastiaan had grown used to his students, who might be quiet one-on-one, but in even a small group tended to chatter constantly. Many of them had told Bastiaan he was a great listener, and thanked him for helping them work through their problems. Since it seemed to legitimately help them, he kept the fact that he had never had much to say to himself. Some of them seemed to take his silence, as he tried to figure out an appropriate response, as a prompt for them to think it through themselves. Bafflingly, it worked most of the time.
Or on one of these guard rotations, one of them would ask him to explain something, or come up with a wild story about something that might happen–rabid wolves attacking the walls! desperate bandits hiding around that corner! dark sorcerers plotting to break into the Academy library to steal rare tomes!–and ask how Bastiaan would handle it if it did. After the first couple times, he realized those could be perfectly adequate exercises to practice their tactical thinking; even if they were far-fetched, the skills needed to fight off rabid wolves or defend the Academy against dark sorcerers were the same as they would use defending a supply train or holding a siege. Possibly they would remember the ridiculous made-up scenarios better than the historical examples he used in the classroom.
Lennart did not spin wild tales about aggressive fauna, or tell Bastiaan his personal problems, or say much of anything. Around three bells, he said, “Did you hear that?” Bastiaan nodded, and pointed in the direction he thought the noise had originated, and they quietly went to investigate. It turned out to be a raccoon, digging up some kind of plant growing at the base of the wall. It looked up at them, eyes flashing in the torchlight, but they sheathed their swords and walked away, and the sounds resumed, now identifiable as the rustling of the plant and occasional scraping of the creature’s claws against the stone wall.
As the sun began to rise and sounds of human life started to drift across the grounds, Lennart said, “Your students speak very highly of your abilities on the battlefield.”
Bastiaan thought, I should hope so. Aloud, he said, “It’s what got me the job.”
“I would like to fight you myself,” Lennart said.
Bastiaan had much more sympathy now for his former captain, who was forever complaining how Bastiaan’s flat delivery made jokes and threats indistinguishable. He’d gotten better at it, mostly because it made life easier when he didn’t have to clarify whether or not he was serious, but it had taken a lot of practice. He understood his captain’s frustration now; he couldn’t tell if Lennart was joking, threatening him, or expressing a desire to spar.
Well, he was going to assume Lennart was not casually threatening him in the middle of their workplace, and if it was some kind of joke, it was officially Lennart’s job to clarify that. Bastiaan said, “I suppose I could make time to spar. Perhaps it might even be instructive for some of our students.”
“Hm,” Lennart said. “Yes, I suppose so.”
And that was all he said, until they finished their last patrol and went back to the guardhouse. Then he asked if Bastiaan had a time in mind, and Bastiaan said he’d have to look at his schedule. “Some time in the next week, if that works for you,” he said.
“Fine,” Lennart said, and left.
He certainly was a weirdo, but Bastiaan was not entirely convinced he was harmless. He put Bastiaan on edge, and it wasn’t just his thousand-yard stare and laconic speech. His off-putting behavior was not enough to explain it; Bastiaan had met strange and eccentric people who didn’t bother him at all. And he hadn’t forgotten Lennart’s ability to sneak up on him, which was not something many people could do.
Or was he being paranoid? The man had to be competent in a fight to be a combat instructor, and someone skilled enough to be hired at the Academy would logically be dangerous. And he had put Bastiaan on the defensive his first day in his office, purposefully. Maybe this had been his aim, unsettling Bastiaan. The headmistress would surely not hire someone without investigating them first, and being sure they were safe to have around the students.
…Though she had hired him much too quickly to have done any kind of looking into his background. Not that Bastiaan had anything in his past to worry the headmistress or indicate he shouldn’t be allowed to teach, but it did seem as if she had simply taken his word for it. Yes, the previous professor had been killed in the ambush Bastiaan had saved what was now his class from, but had it been so truly urgent that he could believe his case was exceptional, and the headmistress usually took more care?
By this time, Bastiaan had reached his room. He checked the locks on the window and door, not because he particularly worried someone would break into his room specifically, even if they managed to get past the walls and the guards, but more out of the habits a lifetime as a mercenary had taught him. Nothing was amiss, so he unbuckled his armor piece by piece, and set it on its stand. It was undoubtedly better for his armor to have a dedicated stand than to be stuffed in a trunk when he wasn’t wearing it, but it had taken some time for him to stop panicking that there was an intruder in his room when he saw it out of the corner of his eye.
When he was down to his underthings, he remembered he needed to look at his calendar. He could tell himself he would check when he woke up, but Bastiaan knew he would still be groggy from lack of sleep and almost certainly forget. He pulled on the robe he had bought himself so he would feel less silly walking down the hall to the baths, and stuffed his feet back into his boots. His office was in another building, across a courtyard from his bedroom, and while he probably should haul his calendar back and forth, he’d just been leaving it in the office. Did the combat instructors have offices? He couldn’t remember having one pointed out to him, but there had been so many people and rooms introduced to him in his first few days at the Academy that he didn’t doubt he had forgotten some of them. Thus far, whenever he had needed to find one of the combat instructors, he found them at the training grounds.
Bastiaan unlocked his office, opened up his calendar, and immediately saw there were only two times in the next week that would work for him and his students. He grabbed a scrap of paper, wrote the two times on it, and wrote a short note around them. He folded it up and addressed the outside to…hmm, he didn’t know Lennart’s surname. His students all called him Lennart. Well, if it was good enough for students, it was good enough for him, Bastiaan decided, and simply wrote “Lennart” on the note. He left it in the middle of his desk, so he would see it when he next visited his office, and went back to his room to get his inadequate sleep before he had to wake up again.
He remembered to send the note off when he dropped by his office before lunch to get a book for a student, and a runner stopped to deliver a letter from Bastiaan’s old mercenary captain. He gave the note to the runner, and forgot all about it as soon as it was gone.
The students at the Academy were a mixed bunch. Some of them were there to focus on a particular discipline, while some were there to get a more rounded education than was typically available if you didn’t live in one of the largest cities on the continent, and some were there especially for the practical experience in mercenary work, hoping to make a career as a soldier or mercenary when they graduated. It was a fairly even mix of nobles and commoners, though the common students were more likely to be merchants or land-owning farmers than the laborers and artisans that made up most of the common population. Their families had money, in other words, or at least enough standing to get someone else to put up the money necessary to send a child to the Academy. Many of the students had their own armor and weapons, though in most cases, Bastiaan had to tell them they weren’t very good. The noble students didn’t necessarily have an advantage there; several of them had clearly been talked into purchases that were more impressive than practical, or possibly hadn’t had the good sense to be talked out of them. The most ridiculous armor any of Bastiaan’s students had was unfortunately very well-made, and he had to tell the student who owned it that it was fine to wear into actual battle–though not, he emphasized, on any mission where subtlety or stealth was required.
There were two students in Bastiaan’s class who were either very important or very ambitious, and were attempting to learn as much about practical governance and leadership as possible. Bastiaan felt entirely out of his depth with them, and was constantly looking for relevant books to give them. He didn’t know anything about running a large estate, or a government ministry, or anything larger than a small mercenary troupe, but he had thus far managed to stay enough ahead of their reading to ensure he had at least one more thing to direct them to. One of them was due to graduate this year, so all he had to do was keep up with her for another nine months…and then figure out another year’s worth of curriculum for the other one.
He attempted to read a little further in a new book he had found in the Academy’s library while he ate dinner, to see if it was potentially useful to pass on, but it was too dense to wade through on inadequate sleep. The worst part was, he couldn’t tell if it was the kind of dense that was obfuscating its own uselessness, or the kind of dense that meant it was above his understanding of the subject. He supposed he could ask Professor Hanke’s opinion when she returned; she was much more bookish than he was, and there was a decent chance she had at least heard of this particular book before.
He set the book aside and wondered if it was his own youth and lack of experience that made it feel like he worked much harder for his students than Hanke and Maurits, or if, as he sometimes suspected, they were not quite as thorough as he was. Hanke spent a great deal of time on her own research, and Maurits was out on a date every night he didn’t have a duty at the Academy. Bastiaan honestly could not tell if he was working too hard, or they not hard enough.
He hadn’t given his note to Lennart or his promise to spar with him a single thought since he sent off the note, so he was momentarily confused when he walked into the guardhouse and Lennart simply said, “Wednesday.” For a moment, Bastiaan thought wildly, has it been Wednesday all day? before he realized Lennart was referring to the options Bastiaan had set forth in his note.
Bastiaan nodded, although Lennart was not looking at him, concentrating once more on cleaning his sword. That was odd, Bastiaan thought, because Lennart shouldn’t have needed his actual sword for anything since their rounds ended that morning, but then Bastiaan realized this was a different sword from yesterday. That was less odd, so Bastiaan dismissed it. He asked, “At the training grounds?”
“Where else,” Lennart said. He looked up at Bastiaan and picked up his sword, and for a moment, Bastiaan was absolutely certain Lennart was going to swing at him.
He didn’t, of course. The guardhouse would be a terrible place to start a fight in any case, since Lennart was taller than Bastiaan and would be much more hindered by the close quarters. Also because they were colleagues. Besides, only a fool would attack head-on when, living and working in close quarters as they were, there were plenty of opportunities to set up an ambush.
It was almost certainly paranoia, but Bastiaan still couldn’t bring himself to doubt that momentary certainty. Even if Lennart would never do it, he had been thinking about it, Bastiaan was sure.
Again, Lennart said very little as they patrolled. Last night, it had been strange, but tonight, already tired and feeling entirely too full of thoughts, Bastiaan found it almost restful. He had no idea what Lennart wanted from him, but he was very sure Lennart did not want conversation, and that was something of a relief.
The night passed as quickly as a night could pass, when Bastiaan was as tired as he was. He had a class in the morning, but tomorrow night, at least, he would be free to go to sleep as soon as he wished after dinner. Unless Arke was late coming back from his holiday and Vreni was still ill, in which case he supposed he could suffer through another night. More than that would be problematic, as Bastiaan knew his ability to keep functioning dropped off pretty sharply after four days of inadequate sleep.
He exchanged perhaps ten words with Lennart all evening, then went to bed as soon as he possibly could.
His students looked well-rested in the morning–apart from Koswitha, who had never looked well-rested in all the time Bastiaan had known her–and were engaged enough with the problem he gave them to more or less run the class themselves. He took a nap before lunch, and felt much better afterwards. He felt even better when, towards the end of lunch, Arke walked through the dining hall to talk to the headmistress, which meant Bastiaan wouldn’t need to do another patrol that night.
Bastiaan tried to have dinner with his students once or twice a week, though that was easier when they had a group assigned to the guard patrol; otherwise, they were doing enough different things that they might not all eat at the same time, or even in the dining hall. Some of his students routinely ate in their rooms, and a couple tended to walk down to the village and eat at one of the food stalls in the market. The house leader, Rauda, had a tendency to forget to eat when she was caught up in studying, unless someone thought to fetch her. Bastiaan usually had to invite students to dinner ahead of time if he wanted to eat with them, but once in a while it just worked out.
Tonight was a night it just worked out. He collected a tray from Koswitha, who was on serving duty and had a book on the theory of magical healing propped up behind her own dinner plate, and a small group of his students waved him over. Rauda was there, so either she had been in the training grounds, or someone had fetched her from the library.
“I don’t see why I have to take weapon lessons at all,” Minke was saying as Bastiaan sat down next to him. “I’m studying magic! I can fight with that, if I have to.”
“Good evening, professor,” Rauda said. He nodded at her, and picked up his knife to begin cutting his meat. Bastiaan had to admit, he rarely ate this well when he was a traveling mercenary.
“And what are you gonna do when someone slaps one of those mana draining things on the floor?” Sikke asked, pointing at Minke. He was talking with his mouth full again, and Rauda elbowed him. He didn’t even look at her, only gulped down whatever was in his mouth and went on, “Just get stabbed? Lecture them to death? Call for a time out?”
“Those sigils can be nullified–” Minke began, but Sikke cut him off by turning to Bastiaan and saying, “What do you think, professor?”
Rauda picked up a napkin and put it in Sikke’s hands. Sikke wiped his mouth with it, again without looking at Rauda, and handed it back to her. She sighed, and set it down on the table between them.
The group was quiet as they waited for Bastiaan to finish chewing and swallow his food. “I’m inclined to agree with Sikke,” he said, and Minke glared at Sikke. “I was once caught in an avalanche, and separated from my company. If I hadn’t learned the basics of magical healing, I would have died. Even if you never have to use it, it’s a good idea to know how to defend yourself without magic. What are you studying?”
Minke sighed heavily. “Stick fighting.”
Bastiaan nodded. “So you can use your staff, instead of needing to find or carry a second weapon,” he said. “That’s smart.”
“It was Lennart’s suggestion,” Minke said, grudgingly. He always gave others credit for their ideas, but he never sounded happy about it. Bastiaan thought he was probably used to being the smartest one in the room, but at least he was beginning to accept other people could have good ideas.
“He may be scary, but he’s really good at figuring out what weapon will suit you,” Ethel said. “Even if it’s not one he teaches. He’s the one who told me to train with Vreni.”
“Is that so,” Bastiaan said. Ethel was easily the most promising archer in Bastiaan’s class, and she routinely made shots Bastiaan wouldn’t have even attempted. He was competent with a bow, but Ethel had a real sense of place and circumstance that was an asset on a battlefield. He’d assumed she was drawn to the bow, the way some people were naturally more interested in some weapons than others.
“Lennart is not scary,” Rauda said, but it lacked the conviction her statements usually had.
“No, he is,” Sikke said, scraping a much-too-large quantity of mash onto his spoon. “I’m sure Professor Bastiaan has killed people too, but I don’t feel it the way I do with Lennart.” He put the entire mountain of food in his mouth at once.
“Sometimes he looks at people like he’s dismembering them in his head,” Minke said. “And not for fun, the way Professor Hanke would.”
“No one is dismembering people,” Bastiaan said, though he could hardly blame Minke for thinking it. If Lennart could convince Bastiaan he was about to attack, he could only imagine how much worse Lennart would seem to his students, who were younger and considerably less battle-hardened than Bastiaan was.
Minke flapped a hand dismissively. “Not literally,” he said. “She looks at people like they’re puzzles, the same way she looks at old enchantments and ruins, like she’s taking us apart in her head.”
Sikke swallowed, somehow not choking despite the unbelievable amount of mash in his mouth, and said, “But Lennart looks like he has literally dismembered people, and is contemplating what your guts would look like.” Rauda didn’t even shush him, just looked uncomfortable, which Bastiaan took to mean she agreed. Bastiaan thought there was a good chance that was what Lennart looked like when he wasn’t paying attention to what his face was doing; Bastiaan had been accused of similar things, when he was younger. He had to practice the expression of polite interest that was now his default, but he knew he had a tendency to forget about it in battle. His former captain had credited Bastiaan’s “murder face” with a number of surrenders.
Though to be fair, that meant it probably was also the expression Lennart would wear when he was dismembering someone.
“Has Lennart been an instructor here for very long?” Bastiaan asked, to draw the conversation away from dismemberment and viscera, which might bother people to discuss at mealtime.
Sikke shrugged and said, “He’s been here the whole time I’ve been here.”
“Huh,” Ethel said. “I never thought about it, but I guess he is the other youngest teacher.”
“He has been an instructor at the Academy for three and a half years, I believe,” Rauda said. Everyone looked at her, and she said, “Sikke’s father is the one who recommended him for the position.”
“So you knew him before?” Minke asked.
Rauda shook her head. “I only met him when I came to the Academy,” she said. “Lord Roosa talked about him, is all. I’m not sure he even mentioned Lennart’s name.”
“Then he might have meant someone else,” Minke said.
“None of our other combat instructors would qualify as ‘tall young men’,” Rauda said, “so I highly doubt that.” She hesitated a bit, then added, “I suppose Lord Roosa did seem a little unnerved by him.”
“To be fair, my father is uncomfortable around anyone who could kick his ass,” Sikke said, once again talking around a mouthful of food. Rauda rolled her eyes and pushed the napkin back into his hand.
At the serving table, Koswitha rang the bell that indicated dessert was about to be set out, and the conversation turned to speculation about what sweets might be on the menu for the evening. Bastiaan did not join in, but did listen; he’d found surprising students with their favorite sweets when they did especially well to be an effective way to demonstrate he paid attention to them. And he simply liked making them happy, which was harder to justify as useful, though he supposed it could hardly hurt their education to build rapport.
Bastiaan went to the library after dinner, and skimmed through a few more books to ensure he would have something to offer his ambitious students when they inevitably finished the books he had already given them faster than he expected. He found a small book, hardly more than a pamphlet, which was about incorporating simple spellwork into stick-fighting, and put it in his pile to pass on to Minke. It wouldn’t help much in a scenario where magic was being suppressed, but perhaps it would get him excited enough about the prospect of integrating the two skills to resent the weapon class less.
When he crossed the courtyard to the instructors’ dormitory, he saw Vreni sitting on one of the benches. She was wrapped in a blanket and holding a large steaming mug. Bastiaan stopped to ask if she was feeling any better.
She lifted a hand from her mug and rocked it back and forth. “Not as good as I’d be feeling if our healer wasn’t out on a mission,” she said. Bastiaan hadn’t realized Maurits was good enough at healing magic to cure a cold, but he supposed it made sense. “But better,” Vreni went on. “How was night duty with Lennart?”
Vreni had not been one of the people who told Bastiaan Lennart was harmless, but then, Bastiaan thought she was not the kind of person who ever discounted someone as potentially harmful. “Strange,” Bastiaan admitted. “Do you know what he did before he came to the Academy?”
“He was a merc like us,” she said, and then had to pause for a brief coughing fit. When it was over, she spat on the grass next to the bench. “I guess he usually worked alone, though,” she went on. “Don’t know how that worked, given how much he hates talking to people.” She yawned. “Dammit,” she muttered. “I don’t know how I can be tired again when I’ve been sleeping for three days. I don’t suppose there’s been a letter from Maurits saying they’re on the way back?”
“Not that I’ve heard of,” Bastiaan said. “Do you need help getting back to your room?”
“I have a cold, not a broken leg,” Vreni said. “Get out of here, I’ll be fine.”
Bastiaan took her at her word, and continued on his way to his room. He liked Vreni; she reminded him of his old captain, although she wasn’t nearly as old as the captain was. They had the same cautious distrust of intuition, and most people would call them paranoid. Bastiaan didn’t think they were emotionally invested enough to count as truly paranoid, they just never discounted the worst possibilities. Bastiaan couldn’t live like that, but it probably made Vreni as fine a mercenary as it had made Bastiaan’s old captain.
Bastiaan woke up early enough the next day to cross paths with Arke, who was eating after his night watch. When he asked Arke how his watch with Lennart was, it was out of politeness, but then he realized Arke had been at the Academy for over a decade, and might be able to explain a little more of Lennart’s behavior.
“He’s not very friendly, is he?” Arke agreed. He cut himself a generous slab of bread and went on, “Damn good fighter, though. Almost too good, in fact; if you take him on a mission, the students don’t get enough to do.” He gestured, and Bastiaan passed him the butter dish. “But as long as you don’t expect him to make conversation, he’s good enough company.” He chuckled as he slathered his bread with more butter than was reasonable, and said, “I’d certainly rather have him at my back than across the field of battle.”
“You trust him, then?” Bastiaan asked. On his side, he could perhaps see. At his back…Bastiaan didn’t know if he’d be comfortable with that.
“As long as the headmistress is paying him, sure,” Arke said. “I see why you’d ask, though. It doesn’t seem like he’d be put out if someone made him a higher offer and he ended up fighting against us.”
“Vreni said he used to be a mercenary,” Bastiaan said.
“That might be a generous description, from what I understand,” Arke said. “But I suppose it’s rude to go around calling your colleague a hired killer.”
Bastiaan frowned. “That sounds like the same thing as a mercenary,” he said, for he had been called a hired killer himself a few times.
Arke shrugged. “Maybe to some of the more stuck up knights,” he said. “But mercenaries generally do what you pay them to do. If that’s kill folks, well, they’re doing their job. If you’re paying them to collect tolls, they’ll do that. If you just need some extra numbers in a border conflict with your neighbor, they’ll do that too, as long as you pay them. Maybe Lennart was technically a mercenary, but he only took certain kinds of jobs.” He took a bite of his buttered bread. He swallowed, and added, “At least, as far as I know. I could have bad information, I suppose.”
“Perhaps,” Bastiaan said, although none of that sounded far-fetched and would certainly explain why both he and his students found Lennart so disquieting.
Arke finished his breakfast and went off to bed. Bastiaan’s class was doing chores around the grounds that morning, so he went back to the library to skim through a few more books. He understood the people who told him things like I could never be a mercenary or your life sounds so challenging less now than ever, for the more he read about household management and accounting, the gladder he was that he didn’t have to deal with it. He would never say he was happy his family had been murdered when he was young, but the idea that he would have been responsible for this sort of thing if they had lived was daunting. Although he supposed if he had gone to his apprenticeship at thirteen as planned, instead of attaching himself to a mercenary troupe, he’d be as comfortable thinking about market politics and consumer demand as he was thinking about siege supply lines and how to use terrain to his advantage.
Of course, Koswitha’s family was actual nobility, with an estate near the old capital, not just petty bourgeois, so presumably Bastiaan would not have needed as thorough a grounding in some of these topics as she and Sikke wanted.
There was little point in thinking about a hypothetical alternate life, so Bastiaan shook off the thoughts, and turned his attention back to evaluating whether or not these texts were worth passing along to his students.
Shortly before the midday break, Bastiaan gathered up his new stack of books to carry to his office. It occurred to him he had no idea how to test what Koswitha and Sikke were learning on this topic. Testing someone’s battle skills was straightforward, and even evaluating their understanding of tactics and strategy was simple enough, but how was he supposed to tell if they were getting the right lessons out of books he didn’t entirely follow himself? Perhaps he could ask them to explain a topic to him, as if they were the teacher; that would demonstrate some level of understanding, but the fact remained he wouldn’t know if they were on the wrong track. Or just lying to him. He doubted Koswitha would do that, but Sikke might attempt to bullshit his way through an examination.
Bastiaan came to an abrupt stop when Lennart appeared in his path. Once again, he had no idea where Lennart had come from, but at least this time he had the excuse of being preoccupied.
Without forcing Bastiaan to wait through a staring contest first, Lennart said, “You’ve been asking around about me.”
“I guess,” Bastiaan said. He hadn’t gone out of his way to do it, but he had raised the topic, he supposed.
“There is nothing you can learn of me you could not learn faster and more truly by crossing blades with me,” Lennart said.
Bastiaan resisted the urge to roll his eyes. That might be true, but “asking questions” tended to have a much lower risk of injury or death than “fighting someone you weren’t sure you could trust not to injure or kill you”. “Perhaps,” he said instead. “But that’s what sparring tomorrow is for, then.”
Lennart stared at him. His gaze dropped momentarily to the stack of books in Bastiaan’s arms. “I suppose so,” Lennart said eventually. He stepped aside, and Bastiaan tried to ignore the way his instincts were screaming at him for once again turning his back to this man, and continued on his way to his office. When he finally glanced back over his shoulder to check that Lennart was gone, he wasn’t. He was still standing to one side of the hall, looking directly down it at Bastiaan.
Bastiaan went into his office and shook his head as he set his load of books down. If he got killed working at a school, after a decade of being a mercenary, his old captain would laugh himself into an early grave. No, no one else seemed at all concerned about Lennart’s behavior, but it didn’t seem as if Lennart had challenged any of them to a duel or stalked them when they were hired, either. Bastiaan reminded himself that it would be deeply unwise for Lennart to attack him in the middle of the day, in the middle of the Academy, and attempted to put it out of his mind as he ate his lunch and collected his students for an afternoon class.
The Academy had regular examinations by the headmistress to check on the students’ progress, in addition to the monthly mock battles. Bastiaan didn’t have to do much for these examinations, since the headmistress set them and used them to evaluate both the students and the teachers, but some of his students had asked for more guidance than studying on their own. He attempted to answer their questions about the study guides the headmistress provided, though the headmistress clearly had a greater emphasis and understanding of history and its ongoing political relevance than Bastiaan really had. These group review sessions worked well for that, because even if Bastiaan didn’t know all the details, the class could collectively correct each other until they had the full story.
It was also interesting to see the way the students interacted with each other when they forgot Bastiaan was there. He doubted he’d see a miller’s son shout at a count’s heir without fear anywhere else, for one thing, but it was also simply unfamiliar to him. There hadn’t exactly been many people his age in the mercenary troupes Bastiaan had been part of in the last ten years, and by the time he was old enough that there were, he felt almost like a foreigner to them. The things normal teenagers did–courting, and less formal dating, and having silly arguments, and going to school–were all things Bastiaan had never experienced. His schooling was limited to lessons from the other mercenaries, and one time a village healer tutored him in magical healing for a few weeks. Bastiaan had been narrowly focused on revenge at first, and after a while he hadn’t felt much like he could do anything else. He had nothing to go back to, after all. Even if he had, rebuilding his family home and business would be no more ordinary and safe than being a mercenary, at that point. He didn’t have the skills for it, anyway.
Bastiaan wasn’t really that much older than his students, but it didn’t always feel that way. Although his family couldn’t have afforded to send him to a real school, let alone the Academy, watching his students bicker about the order of events in the lead up to the initial secession of the Sakkit Peninsula gave him an idea what it might have been like, to grow up more normally. To have friends instead of colleagues.
Dinner that evening was uncomfortable, because Lennart was there at the same time as Bastiaan. He stared at Bastiaan the entire time Bastiaan was eating. No one else appeared to notice, or perhaps they did, and didn’t find it notable. Once again, Bastiaan considered the possibility he was being paranoid, but he really didn’t think he was. Lennart’s behavior was strange, and it was not unreasonable to interpret it as threatening when Bastiaan considered the source. He still couldn’t imagine another reason for Lennart to drop by Bastiaan’s office on his first day at the Academy.
There was, Bastiaan supposed, the possibility he was overreacting to a strange man who had no other way of judging people except by combat ability. He had run into a few of those type when he was a merc, although none of them had put him on edge the way Lennart did. Maybe Lennart was much stronger than those others had been. Maybe Lennart, being fairly young himself, had also had a strange upbringing and legitimately did not know any other way to interact with people. If he had mostly worked alone, he wouldn’t even have had a captain or older mercenaries teaching him how to be less off-putting outside of battle.
Or maybe, Bastiaan’s instincts continued to insist, he was weighing the best ways to kill Bastiaan and get away with it.
If nothing else, Bastiaan would have a better idea how worried he should be after they sparred tomorrow evening. Until then, there was little he could do about it.
At breakfast the next morning, Rauda asked Bastiaan what his plans for the day were, since he had not scheduled another review session with the class. He told her he had arranged to spar with Lennart, and perhaps she would find it educational, if she could take a break from studying for the headmistress’s exam.
By lunch, his class was speaking of nothing else.
Bastiaan went back to his room after his meal. He went over his armor with a critical eye, checked all the buckles and straps, and put it on. It was mostly leather, with some strategic metal reinforcement. He and Lennart had not discussed it, but Bastiaan assumed it was fair to take this at least as seriously as a tournament match. For a real battle, he would also check over his sword, but they didn’t take live steel onto the training grounds apart from instructor demonstrations.
When he got to the training grounds, Bastiaan’s entire class, plus several staff members, had ringed themselves around the edge of the main arena. Was it always this much of a spectacle when teachers sparred, Bastiaan wondered, or was there something about him or Lennart that was notable? Well, it was Bastiaan’s first time sparring with another instructor, outside of the organized mock battles they held every month. Which shouldn’t really count, since he tried to avoid fightingthe other professors directly. Still, this seemed like a disproportionately big reaction.
Lennart was wearing the dull leathers he wore on patrol duty, though not the dark plate mail Bastiaan had seen him in a few times, which reassured Bastiaan he had made the right choice putting on his armor. Lennart only nodded at Bastiaan when he saw him, then walked over to the rack where they stored the training weapons. He picked up a sword, and began looking it over, so Bastiaan followed him over and did the same. The three classes took turns maintaining the training weapons, though Bastiaan supposed when the responsible class was off on a mission, the combat instructors were probably the ones doing most of the maintenance. Technically, Lennart would have had an opportunity to sabotage or sharpen the weapons, but Bastiaan had free rein of the training grounds as well, so the same could have been said of him. In any case, Bastiaan found nothing out of the ordinary with his chosen sword, so he walked back to the center of the arena. A few moments later, Lennart joined him.
The start of a sparring match was always weird, in Bastiaan’s opinion. Actual battles didn’t usually have this awkward circling, since getting the jump on your opponent was such a huge advantage. Not to mention how often people tried to surprise their opponent to take them off guard. Sparring with students wasn’t as irritating, because Bastiaan knew how seriously to fight them, but he still wasn’t entirely certain Lennart wouldn’t try to actually hurt him. A sparring accident would be an excellent excuse for injuring him.
Bastiaan made a fairly obvious feint, just to get things going, and it was clear immediately that Lennart had been waiting for him to make the first move, because he went on the offensive, and didn’t stop coming.
It only took Bastiaan a few minutes to ascertain that Lennart was not as good a swordsman as he was, but he was by far the best Bastiaan had fought since he’d gotten trapped by that rogue knight two years ago. It also became clear quite rapidly that Lennart was not holding back at all, and if that practice sword landed a hit somewhere he wasn’t wearing armor, the least Bastiaan would get away with was a nasty welt. Well, if his students hadn’t taken him seriously before, when he told them even dull training weapons and wooden swords could seriously injure someone, they hopefully would now. Lennart was swinging with bone-cracking force, and if he hadn’t been following the rules of avoiding hits at or above the neck, Bastiaan would have been in real danger. He still wasn’t completely convinced he wasn’t, but Lennart was following the sparring rules to the letter, so Bastiaan supposed his head and dick were safe enough.
It was exhilarating, actually, to fight someone who was at his level. It felt like Bastiaan was stretching a muscle he hadn’t been able to use for a while, and he almost wanted to draw out the fight, to keep feeling that excitement. But he recognized that for the dangerous impulse it was, and waited for an opportunity to present itself. He didn’t have to wait long before he managed to bait Lennart into overextending himself. Lennart almost certainly wouldn’t have done it if he hadn’t been just as aware that Bastiaan was more skilled than he was; he was hoping to use that greater reach to land a decisive blow before Bastiaan took him down. Bastiaan took the opportunity to knock the sword out of Lennart’s hand, and swung at Lennart’s neck, stopping less than an inch from his skin.
Lennart’s nostrils flared, but his expression was otherwise blank. He held up both his hands, palms-out, and said, “I yield.”
Bastiaan’s students cheered and clapped, and started shuffling around to leave. Bastiaan told himself it was because he didn’t like the look in Lennart’s eyes, but it had just as much to do with the way his blood was singing at a real fight, that he said, “The sword obviously isn’t your preferred weapon. Would you like to go again” –he quickly considered which hints he’d seen in Lennart’s style– “with a spear?”
Lennart cocked his head the tiniest bit to the side. Bastiaan could not read anything in that intense gaze. He knew he should not be giving this man another opportunity to attack him, but here he was, doing just that. Lennart said simply, “Yes.”
While Lennart went to trade his practice sword for a practice lance, Bastiaan shook out his arms and hands. His students noticed he was not preparing to leave, and stopped shuffling towards the gate.
“Professor?” Rauda called.
“We’re going to go again,” Bastiaan said. “I don’t know how educational it will be, unless you’re already very accomplished with either the sword or lance.”
“Forget educational,” Sikke said, “I wouldn’t miss this good a show!” Rauda elbowed him, but the other students made noises of agreement.
A murmur in the crowd of observers was all the warning Bastiaan got. Half-expecting to look like a fool, he threw himself into a roll on the ground, and just avoided Lennart’s practice spear slamming into the ground where he had been standing.
“That’s not fair!” one of his students yelled, but Bastiaan did not have the breathing room necessary to remind them real battles were rarely fair fights. As skilled as Lennart had been with a sword, with a spear, he was a demon. A skilled spear-user could keep all but the best swordsmen at bay, and Lennart kept Bastiaan well out of the range where Bastiaan could do any damage. He also switched seamlessly between using it stave-style, as a bludgeon or parry, and a slashing weapon, despite the dullness of the point. His greater natural reach combined with the range of the spear was a damn difficult obstacle to overcome. Sure, if they had been fighting in close quarters Bastiaan would have had an advantage, but the wide-open practice arena would have given a much lesser fighter the advantage with a spear.
This fight took much, much longer than the first one. Bastiaan had little chance of knocking Lennart’s spear away the way he had the sword, since Lennart usually had a two-handed grip, and Bastiaan could hardly get close enough to Lennart to land a hit. The only strategy Bastiaan could see having a chance was to wear Lennart down, as handling a spear would take more energy than Bastiaan was using with his sword, especially with the way Lennart was taking advantage of the reach and leverage. The trouble was, Bastiaan wasn’t actually sure his endurance was better than Lennart’s. The sword match hadn’t been long enough to get a feel for that, and he had no idea what kind of musculature Lennart did or didn’t have under his leathers; his clothes were baggy and full-coverage enough that Bastiaan had only the vague impression he must be lean, rather than bulky.
Lennart was much more comfortable with a spear. Bastiaan could not watch his feet for hints to his next move without Lennart noticing, and compensating. He could not watch Lennart’s hands for hints without Lennart noticing, and compensating. He couldn’t watch Lennart’s eyes for hints, because his face was as opaque as ever, with the exception that now there was a hint of enjoyment that Bastiaan could easily have been projecting. Lennart hadn’t been telegraphing his moves with the sword, but he hadn’t been perfectly unpredictable, either. With a spear, he was much harder to anticipate. He was also making Bastiaan expend a lot of energy, dancing around to avoid being hit, which made Bastiaan’s plan to wear him down a bit more dicey. He could keep this up for quite a while, but was it longer than Lennart could keep forcing him to dodge?
Finally, Bastiaan managed to get in close enough to land a questionably-allowable hit to the back of Lennart’s knee, which made his leg buckle. But Lennart managed to sweep his spear around and across Bastiaan’s stomach as he went down, and knocked the wind solidly out of Bastiaan. Bastiaan stumbled backwards and just managed to avoid landing on his ass, though he had to drop his practice sword to support himself as he gasped for breath.
With a real sword, Lennart would have been out of the fight after a hit like that, but with a practice sword, he barely had to limp over to where Bastiaan was doubled over.
“That was informative,” Lennart said, bending down to collect Bastiaan’s practice sword from the ground where it had landed. “Thank you.”
Well, if he had been crazy enough to attack Bastiaan in front of all those people, he could easily have done it then. If Bastiaan been thinking clearly, he wouldn’t have fought quite to his full abilities, so he would have some surprises left if Lennart changed his mind later, but he had been enjoying himself too much in an actually challenging fight. He was no more sure how a real fight between them would go now than before they had sparred, except that he’d have to work to make it through one.
“You’re welcome,” Bastiaan wheezed, because he suspected Lennart did not need him to confirm he’d enjoyed himself as well.
Lennart took the practice weapons across the yard to the rack, and Bastiaan’s students rushed to crowd around him. Most of them were gushing about how impressive and/or cool that had been, though Rauda said, “Professor, I thought joints were one of those places we should only try to hit in a real battle.”
“Right,” Bastiaan said, and had to gasp for a little more air before he could continue. “Honestly, none of you should try any of that.” He wheezed his way through another deep breath. He knew his lungs were fine, it was the diaphragm causing him problems, but knowing it didn’t make it easier to expand his lungs and get enough air. Sikke actually reached out and rubbed his back through the armor, which did absolutely nothing, but was a kind gesture. Bastiaan stayed hunched over until he could take a breath without struggling, then straightened up. “I was very confident I could bring him down without causing an injury, but Rauda is right, that was dangerous and would have gotten me kicked out of a tournament.”
“I think a lot of that was dangerous, Professor,” Ethel said.
“Which is why you shouldn’t try to copy any of that until I or your combat instructors expressly tells you to,” Bastiaan said.
Sikke nodded. “That was some real expert level shit,” he said, and startled Bastiaan into laughing, which made his diaphragm spasm again.
“Can you please try not to kill our professor?” Minke demanded, even as Rauda slapped Sikke’s arm and said, “Language!”
Now that he wasn’t actively fighting, Bastiaan became aware that he was extremely sweaty. Every bit of his clothes covered by armor was damp, and he could feel sweat dripping down his back to collect at the waistband of his trousers. He needed to change into something dry. In fact, he ought to go ahead and take a bath, since it had been a few days since he bothered with anything more than a quick wash of his hair and face. He could certainly use a nice soak in hot water, after exerting himself that much.
Bastiaan made his way back to his room, students trailing after him right up to him closing the door in their faces. He removed his armor, already feeling soreness creeping into his muscles. He made sure to train at least a little bit at his own level every week, but training to keep in shape was nothing compared to a match like that. If he’d been confident Lennart wasn’t planning to kill him, he would have suggested they make it a regular thing. Certainly, regular sparring sessions with someone that skilled would be good for both of them.
Bastiaan had already wrapped himself up in his robe and picked up his basket of bath supplies before it occurred to him there was a stronger than usual chance he would run into Lennart in the baths. And in the middle of the day, they were almost certain to be the only ones there.
He only hesitated a moment before he continued on his way. It wasn’t any better of a time to murder him now than it had been earlier. Worse, perhaps, given they had just had a very public sparring match that had been a little too serious. And Bastiaan really did want that soak.
Lennart was not in the anteroom when Bastiaan hung up his robe, and he didn’t come in as Bastiaan scrubbed himself down and rinsed the soap away with a bucket of warm water. He was not in the bath proper, either. Bastiaan made his way to the furthest corner of the tub and pulled out one of the dividers to wall himself off, though he didn’t completely block his line of sight to the entrance. Draining the entire bath and refilling it would be enough of a hassle to dissuade all but the most determined attackers, Bastiaan thought. And if you had to stop to clean up blood or other bodily fluids? No, the bath wasn’t an ideal place to kill someone. He was still being paranoid. Just because the man was a killer didn’t mean he was going to try to kill Bastiaan. Even if he was somewhat fixated on him.
Well, Bastiaan thought, perhaps now that they had fought, that was over. Maybe Lennart had gotten it out of his system, and–what was it he’d said yesterday? Learned enough about who Bastiaan was to be satisfied. He wasn’t sure how that might work, given Bastiaan himself had learned very little about Lennart from their fight, but perhaps Bastiaan was easier for Lennart to read than the reverse.
Bastiaan let himself relax into the hot water. He barely cracked an eye when he heard footsteps approaching from the anteroom to see if it was Lennart. It was, but Lennart gave Bastiaan’s corner the barest glance before heading to the other end of the tub where someone could have their back to a corner as well as a clear view of the entrance. He was still there by the time Bastiaan decided he was getting overheated and should leave, and he said nothing at all the entire time.
Bastiaan was more successful putting Lennart and his odd behavior out of his mind after that. He did not see him at breakfast the next morning, or cross paths with him all day. He answered a question Minke had about something in the headmistress’s study guide, and skimmed through a few more promising volumes in the library next to Rauda in the afternoon. He did see Lennart around dinner time, when he was leaving just as Bastiaan and Rauda arrived, but Bastiaan was quickly distracted by Rauda asking a question about one of the books he had brought down to keep reading. After dinner, he went back to his office, to find a scrap of paper on which to write a reminder to himself to ask Hanke and Maurits for advice about how to evaluate what students were learning when they studied a topic he knew little about. He suspected Hanke would encourage him to learn as much as he could before she got around to giving him helpful advice, but he was hopeful Maurits would have something useful to say, since he seemed to approach teaching with a “less is more” philosophy. Bastiaan knew for a fact Maurits did not spend his free time doing extra reading to keep up with his students, but the headmistress seemed perfectly satisfied with how his students were progressing, so he must have some advantage.
Bastiaan only hoped it wasn’t just that they were older and knew more about more diverse topics than he did.
Friday was the day the headmistress was giving his students their examination, so Bastiaan more or less had the day off official duties. He ate breakfast, and lingered in the dining hall so he could wish his students luck with their examination. Koswitha, for the first time in Bastiaan’s memory, looked alert. He wondered if that was a good sign or a bad one.
He spent the morning in the library again, and managed to collect a few paper scraps from the librarian’s repair of a history book. Paper was far easier to come by at the Academy than it ever had been when Bastiaan was a traveling mercenary, but so much of it was required to let the students work things out that it still felt precious to him. Professor Hanke had a journal for her research notes, and he wondered if that was something she requested from the Academy or had to buy herself. It seemed like much less of a hassle than Bastiaan’s collection of loose scraps, and he supposed he was hardly likely to have fewer things to write down and keep track of the longer he remained a professor. He should probably be keeping some kind of records about his students’ studies outside of his own head.
Lunch was quiet. His students were subdued, and the headmistress was quietly thoughtful. They were not quite done with their examination, and Bastiaan’s students didn’t want to risk upsetting the headmistress, or drawing any negative attention. Even Sikke was quiet, and on the occasion he had to ask someone to pass him something, he actually swallowed his food beforehand. Bastiaan wondered if Rauda had to coach him on that. No, strike that; he wondered how long Rauda had to coach him on that. The few times Bastiaan looked in Lennart’s direction, Lennart was looking back at him, but Bastiaan hardly noticed, as the headmistress was at the same table as Lennart and he was paying far more attention to her. Bastiaan didn’t think it was likely his students would do poorly, or that the headmistress would decide he was doing a bad job, but for some reason it felt more like a possibility today than it ever had before.
Bastiaan went back to his office to sort the books he had collected for different students onto different shelves. They went back to duty around the grounds this weekend, and he didn’t plan to pass out any of these books until Monday unless a student asked for them, but if he didn’t sort them out now, he’d forget which ones were which and have to spend time figuring it out again later.
Halfway through re-arranging the books he’d set aside for Koswitha and Sikke, Bastiaan had a thought about what he could do next week, when most of his students were at weapons classes with the combat instructors, and stepped over to his desk to write it down in his calendar. He should ask Minke when he was getting his stick-fighting instruction, so he didn’t schedule something during it. It couldn’t always be at the same time as his other students; when the other classes weren’t out of the Academy, there would be too many students at one time. And Minke had said he was in Lennart’s stick-fighting class as though he wasn’t the only student.
“I figured it out.”
Bastiaan whirled around, forgetting to lift his pen off the calendar and leaving a big blotchy line across the next two weeks. “Shit-gobbling mother of turds,” he hissed without thinking, then hoped, for the split-second before he registered who it was, that he hadn’t just said that around a student.
Lennart stood in the doorway of Bastiaan’s office. He looked, perhaps, excited. “I figured it out,” he repeated, as though Bastiaan’s problem with his sudden statement had been not hearing the words, and not his extremely stealthy approach and subsequent surprise presence.
“What?” Bastiaan asked. Quickly, before Lennart repeated himself again because he thought Bastiaan was asking what he’d said, he added, “What did you figure out?”
“Why I feel so oddly when I look at you,” Lennart said. “I understand now.”
“Why you what?” Bastiaan asked.
“We were fated to meet,” Lennart said. “You are the only person I have ever met who is worthy of killing me.”
Well, this conversation had taken a rapid turn. Bastiaan took a moment to look at Lennart, but apart from the impression of excitement, he looked the same as always. Dark hair tied back with a ribbon, plain but well-made clothes covering almost every inch of him that wasn’t his neck or head, brown eyes that were as ordinary as they were impossible to glean any information from. Bastiaan couldn’t even say what it was that made him look excited; if he was flushed at all, it was imperceptible to Bastiaan. Perhaps he was breathing a little heavier than usual? It was subtle, anyway. And excitement or not, Bastiaan would never have expected him to start going on about fate.
Bastiaan considered a number of responses, but it was difficult to know where to even start. What made it out of his mouth was, “Do you want to die?”
“No,” Lennart said. He paused, then said, “Well. Someday. But I had despaired of ever finding someone I would be satisfied with ending me. You could do it.”
“I suppose I could,” Bastiaan said, though he was no less baffled. Surely this didn’t deserve the gravity Lennart was giving it. “Though I don’t think that’s unique to me.”
Lennart shook his head. “It is,” he said. “From the moment I saw you, there was something about you that called to me. You are the only one I have ever met who would be able to do it right. In battle.”
Half the things he said sounded like lines from a romance, Bastiaan thought to himself. “That can’t be true,” he said, although honestly, he couldn’t think of anyone off-hand that would be able to stand Lennart’s spear onslaught for long, not on their own.
“It is,” Lennart said, as sure of himself as anyone Bastiaan had ever heard. He took a step closer, and Bastiaan had to step back to see his face without craning his neck. “I know the headmistress would not allow it, but since we sparred, I have imagined a true fight between us a thousand times. You swiftly dodging my blade, your own blade gliding through the air…then finally your sword piercing my flesh.” He cocked his head to the side, considering. “Or perhaps my blade would pierce you first,” he said. “I am not certain how it would go, between us. I would be satisfied either way, I think.”
Bastiaan frowned, because forget lines from a romance, that sounded like a particularly unsubtle metaphor from a raunchy tavern song. The quiet intensity of Lennart’s voice lent it dignity, but did nothing to dull the suggestiveness. Was he–did Lennart think this was flirting?
It did make a kind of sense, actually. He had sought Bastiaan out to talk to him. He’d come up with an activity they could do together. He had obviously enjoyed it, and even thanked Bastiaan for it. The staring certainly made sense from that perspective. And he admitted he was drawn to Bastiaan as soon as he saw him. The morbid conviction that Bastiaan could–or would?–kill him aside, that sounded a great deal like a crush.
And to be honest, the respect inherent in Lennart’s declaration that Bastiaan was the only person he thought could defeat him in battle was sort of romantic. From one mercenary to another.
“Perhaps that is closer to the truth,” Lennart said. He had taken another step toward Bastiaan in his silence. The back of Bastiaan’s thighs were pressed up against the edge of his desk now. “I’m certain there are few who could give you a fitting death. But I would. If I could.” He nodded. “That must be it,” he said. “Our fates are entwined, as the only ones who could end the other.”
“And what do you want to do about it?” Bastiaan asked. He still wasn’t entirely certain where this conversation was headed, but he did know he couldn’t move without having to get Lennart out of his way, and he no longer wanted to. Now that he didn’t think Lennart was a threat, he wanted to see where this was going.
Lennart took another step toward him, which put him flush against Bastiaan’s front. “What I want is impossible,” he said. Bastiaan could feel the breath from his words against his face. “The headmistress would not allow it. But I must ask that you not let anyone else kill you.”
Bastiaan had to lean back a little to look up into Lennart’s face now, he was so close. Lennart continued to stare directly into his eyes, heedless of how far into Bastiaan’s space he had pushed himself. It really was the same look in his eyes that he had in the training grounds, when they fought. Bastiaan said, “I’ll certainly try.”
“Professor Bastiaan!” someone called, and Lennart froze. It was Sikke’s voice, loud and close, and the door crashed into the wall as he shoved it, even though it was already open. “Professor, we’re–done….”
The knot of his students stopped short in the doorway, crashing into Sikke’s back and then all freezing themselves, as they looked at him and Lennart.
“Um,” Rauda said, distinctly.
“What’s going on?” Minke’s voice came from the back of the knot. “Why’d everyone stop?”
“Yeah,” Allard said, “what’s going on, Professor?”
Bastiaan couldn’t look at Lennart while his students were right there. He swallowed, and said, “Oh, come on, I didn’t think I had to teach you what sex was.” Half his students started giggling while the other half turned red. Rauda reached past Sikke to tug the door shut, muffling the giggling and whispers. Bastiaan looked back at Lennart, who was still frozen.
The giggles and whispers faded away as the students left. Or, more realistically, were herded down the hall by Rauda. Then it was silent again, and Lennart was still frozen in place. Finally, he said, “Why did you say that.”
Bastiaan cocked his head to the side, confused. “Is that not where this is going?” he asked.
Lennart stared at him a few moments more. “Why would you think that?”
Bastiaan rocked his hips, and Lennart’s breath caught, just a little. He immediately frowned. He looked down, as though he would be able to see what was going on when he was pressed so close against Bastiaan. Bastiaan asked, as non-judgmentally as he could, “Did you not notice you had an erection?”
“I didn’t think it was important,” Lennart said, and damn but it would be nice to have some tonal indicator of how he felt about that.
Bastiaan attempted to recontextualize their conversation again, but it was harder to shift back to thinking of Lennart as a threat. Especially since he thought it was a very real possibility that Lennart had also not noticed what he was doing. He didn’t know much about Lennart’s past, but he really couldn’t be much older than Bastiaan was, which meant it was doubtful Lennart had ever had the kind of adolescent dalliances their students were having, any more than Bastiaan had. You didn’t get that good at fighting, at their age, by having a normal childhood.
Bastiaan took a deep breath. Lennart was still looking down at their lower bodies as if he could glean anything from that. Bastiaan said, “So you weren’t flirting with me.”
Lennart looked back up at him, and did now look confused. At least by the standards of his usually expressionless demeanor. “What?” he asked.
“All that talk of swords piercing flesh was pretty suggestive,” Bastiaan said. He nodded down at where their lower bodies were still pressed together. “And then you pinned me to my desk and pushed your dick against me.”
“I suppose that does sound suggestive,” Lennart said slowly. His eyes flickered down to Bastiaan’s mouth, then back up to his eyes. “You don’t seem…distressed by the idea.”
“I’m not,” Bastiaan said. He did not point out how Lennart could surely feel that for himself, since he was fairly hard as well now. “I find it much less distressing than the idea you think we’re destined to kill each other.”
“One of us,” Lennart corrected. Bastiaan rolled his eyes. After a moment more of staring at Bastiaan, Lennart leaned down and kissed him.
He kissed like they were sparring again, and Bastiaan didn’t think that was right, but he also didn’t much mind it. Lennart pressed against his mouth so hard, Bastiaan’s own teeth were cutting into his lip. He pushed back, which only increased the pressure, and finally had to pull away. He opened his eyes to see that Lennart’s were already open, or perhaps he had never closed them. “Not so hard,” Bastiaan said, and then leaned in, keeping his eyes open, and bit Lennart’s bottom lip.
Lennart moaned, sounding like a wounded animal, and pushed Bastiaan all the way down, until his back was flat against the desk. Then he kissed Bastiaan again, more gently than before, but this time alternating between kissing and biting.
Bastiaan’s thighs did not agree with being pressed against the sharp edge of the desk, so he went ahead and hiked his legs up and around Lennart’s hips. Lennart made another low noise and shoved his hand into Bastiaan’s hair. He pulled, and Bastiaan’s head tilted back, and his mouth opened, and Bastiaan remembered something he’d never really thought about applying in his own life.
He grabbed Lennart by the jaw and said, “Open your mouth.” Lennart bemusedly did so, and Bastiaan pulled him down to fit their open mouths together, and stuck his tongue in Lennart’s mouth. He was sure he had not gotten that quite right, but the pleased noise Lennart made encouraged him to keep trying. They figured it out as they went on, and Bastiaan was sure Lennart didn’t mind their teeth clacking together too much, since he was still quite hard, and made no move to pull away for longer than it took to take a breath or nibble on Bastiaan’s lip again.
Bastiaan thought about flipping them over, so he was the one pinning Lennart to the desk, but it seemed like a lot of work when he found he rather liked Lennart’s weight pressing him down and Lennart’s arms boxing him in. It would be easier to maneuver, but then again, he thought, Lennart had his hair tied back in a queue. Bastiaan grabbed it and yanked Lennart’s head back. Lennart started to growl–whether or not it would actually turn into words, Bastiaan couldn’t predict–but he scraped his teeth along Lennart’s now-exposed neck, and the tenor of the growl changed. Bastiaan found a spot that seemed warm and inviting, and licked it a little before he sank his teeth in. Not too hard, of course, because they were not fighting and Bastiaan did not want to break the skin, but it seemed like a safe bet that Lennart wouldn’t mind.
Lennart did not mind. He tightened his grip on Bastiaan’s hair, but made no move to pull him away. He rocked his hips against Bastiaan, which startled a noise out of both of them. Bastiaan sucked at the part of Lennart’s neck he had between his teeth, and when he pulled away, there was a fairly dark bruise there.
Bastiaan wondered how it felt, so he tipped his head back and turned it a little to the side, exposing his own neck. Lennart pressed his face into Bastiaan’s neck, but did not immediately bite him. Instead, he pressed wet kisses into his skin, starting at Bastiaan’s jaw and working his way down to Bastiaan’s shoulder, rocking his hips against Bastiaan the whole time. Then he used the hand in Bastiaan’s hair to tug his head to the side, so he could repeat the process on the other side of Bastiaan’s neck, still moving his hips steadily.
The friction of Bastiaan’s trousers was beginning to be an issue, and he thought, if Lennart’s lips against his neck felt good enough to make his hair stand on end, how good would it feel to have his skin against Bastiaan’s dick? He extracted one hand from where he had apparently wrapped Lennart’s queue around it, and unclenched the other from the edge of the desk. He reached between them to try and work the laces of his trousers open, and noticed there was a gap between Lennart’s undershirt and jacket. Trousers momentarily forgotten, Bastiaan slipped his hands into Lennart’s clothes.
Lennart groaned again, which sounded louder, trapped in the space between Lennart’s arm, Bastiaan’s neck, and the wooden desk. He was hot, even through the thin material of his undershirt, and Bastiaan abruptly wanted it against his skin. “Take this off,” he said, tugging at the undershirt. In reply, Lennart finally bit his neck. Bastiaan made a very undignified sound and lost track of what his hands were doing.
Lennart released Bastiaan’s neck with a loud smacking sound, and stood up enough to pull off his jacket. He dropped it the instant it was off him, and it vanished out of Bastiaan’s sight, hitting the office floor with a flump and a single clack of a wooden toggle. Lennart had his undershirt off just as quickly, though it made less noise falling to the floor. Then he reached for the ties of Bastiaan’s vest, and Bastiaan had to sit up so he could unwrap it. Lennart pushed it off his shoulders, and bent down to kiss him again. Bastiaan fumbled with the cuffs and collar of his shirt as he kissed back, and pulled back briefly to pull that off as well. Lennart didn’t lean back in right away, instead running his hands down Bastiaan’s chest. He said, “I thought you’d have fewer scars.”
“Taking a small hit to create an opening is an effective tactic,” Bastiaan said. Lennart brushed his fingers over a scar right above Bastiaan’s heart, which was of course the remnant of a less-small hit that had not been the result of a clever tactic. Bastiaan had won that fight, but it had not been immediately clear if he would survive it. He wondered how much of that was apparent to Lennart just from the scar. The location was telling enough.
But Lennart did not comment, simply let his fingers and his eyes drift down Bastiaan’s body before coming to rest at the laces of his trousers. He glanced up at Bastiaan’s face, and Bastiaan would have sworn it was too short a glance for him to nod or indicate at all what he wanted, but Lennart looked back down and pulled the knot loose, and it wasn’t as though Bastiaan objected.
He was, however, too impatient to sit there and wait for Lennart to undress him. He had wanted Lennart’s shirt off so he could feel their skin against each other, so he grabbed the back of Lennart’s neck and pulled him close again. It was clearly as difficult for Lennart to concentrate while they were kissing as it had been for Bastiaan, because it took a good while for him to finish unlacing Bastiaan’s trousers and get his dick out. When his hand finally wrapped around Bastiaan’s cock, Bastiaan was momentarily overwhelmed, and reflexively bit him.
Again, Lennart did not mind.
He pushed Bastiaan down to the desk once more, and Bastiaan pulled him as flush against his chest as he could manage without impeding Lennart’s hand stroking his dick. Lennart’s skin was warm and pleasant against Bastiaan’s. His grip on Bastiaan’s cock was perhaps a bit clumsy, but Bastiaan supposed he hadn’t done this before. After all, he hadn’t even noticed he was turned on. It didn’t really matter, with his skin against Bastiaan’s, and his lips and teeth and hot breath on Bastiaan’s mouth. Bastiaan was enjoying this far more than any time he had bothered to masturbate.
Lennart pulled away for a moment. He rested his forehead on Bastiaan’s shoulder and reached between them to unfasten his own trousers. Bastiaan lamented the loss of his hand on Bastiaan’s cock, but he was looking forward to Lennart’s cock against his without anything between them. Lennart shoved his trousers down around his hips and ran his hand down the length of his cock. Bastiaan, who’d had little to no opinion on anyone’s cock as recently as that morning, thought what little of it he could see looked quite nice. It felt even better, when Bastiaan reached between them so he could wrap his hand around both of them at the same time, pressing them together. Lennart let out a low moan, and rolled his hips against Bastiaan, before pressing his face into Bastiaan’s neck and scraping his teeth against Bastiaan’s skin. He thrust into the circle of Bastiaan’s hand, sliding against Bastiaan’s own cock, which felt better than it had any right to.
Lennart bit into Bastiaan’s neck again, hard enough to hurt but not hard enough that it was not also intensely enjoyable, and sucked at the skin there while he continued to rock into and out of Bastiaan’s hand. Bastiaan hardly had to move his hand at all, because the slide and drag of Lennart’s cock against his provided quite satisfactory stimulation, especially with Lennart’s teeth and tongue moving against his neck. But Bastiaan eventually grew frustrated, and wrapped his free hand in Lennart’s queue again, to pull him up from Bastiaan’s neck so they could kiss again. Lennart made a low noise into Bastiaan’s open mouth, and started to move his hips faster.
Bastiaan’s lips felt swollen and hot by the time Lennart spent, his thrusts stuttering unevenly. He had Bastiaan’s lower lip between his teeth, and may not have even remembered it, as he bit down hard and came with surprising force that coated Bastiaan’s abdomen up to his ribs.
It only took a moment for Lennart to return to kissing Bastiaan fervently. He rocked his hips more slowly now, but the temporary slickness of his spend made each movement far more effective in pushing Bastiaan to his own climax. He didn’t last much longer after that.
Lennart kept kissing him, though they grew lighter and more fleeting until he finally pulled away and just rested his forehead against Bastiaan’s. They lay there atop Bastiaan’s desk, pressed together tightly, for several minutes. When Bastiaan felt he had both his breath and his mental faculties back, he said, “So. Was that a fair replacement for attempting to kill each other?”
“Adequate,” Lennart said. He kissed Bastiaan again, briefly. When he pulled away, he looked into Bastiaan’s eyes. “Less likely to anger the headmistress, I suppose.”
“Easier to repeat, as well,” Bastiaan said.
Lennart looked startled. “Could we?” he asked, with the most intonation Bastiaan had heard him use.
Bastiaan didn’t bother to think before he said, “Any time.” Then he had a chance to think, and added, “If neither of us is teaching a class. Or on a mission.”
Lennart nodded. “Understood,” he said, as if it was an order. He ducked down to kiss Bastiaan one more time, then pushed himself upright and began to get dressed.
When he was clothed again, untying and straightening his hair, he looked at Bastiaan. Bastiaan was still leaning against his desk, and not nearly as dressed as Lennart was. He kept getting distracted, watching Lennart’s precise, economical movements. He conserved energy that way, Bastiaan thought, which was why he could surge into action so ferociously. It was possible Bastiaan should have been more concerned about how quickly he went from worried that Lennart was planning to kill him to finding Lennart attractive, but honestly if he thought about it, Bastiaan had found him attractive before, it had just been drowned out by the threatening aura.
“Was it–” Lennart paused, and considered a second. He turned away, and once his back was to Bastiaan, asked, “Do you think it was always…attraction I was feeling?”
“I don’t know,” Bastiaan said, aware that answer was probably even more annoying to Lennart than it was to his students. “It sounds like it.”
“Hm,” Lennart said, and then he opened the door and left.
Bastiaan quickly put his clothes back in order and ran his hands through his hair. He had no idea where his students went after Rauda herded them down the hall, but he thought they had probably only come to find him to tell him they were done with their exam. If it was important, they would surely track him down again. Maybe he’d head to dinner early, to make sure he saw most of them.
Course of action decided on, he looked back at the note he’d been writing on the calendar when Lennart startled him. The smear of ink across the next two weeks was unfortunate, but it had gotten smeared enough not to sink through to the next page, so he decided he’d just suffer through it, rather than redraw the whole month’s calendar. He looked at the half-written note, remembered what he was going to write, and finished it, then turned back to the bookshelf he’d been organizing.
It was mostly fine, going back to his work and thinking about his students again, but every once in a while he would wonder absently why his bottom lip felt swollen, and remember and get distracted. Still, Bastiaan was practiced at redirecting his thoughts and keeping himself from distraction, so it wasn’t nearly as bad as he suspected it could have been.
At dinner, Bastiaan’s students sat down in a group around him, to talk about how the exam went and what they thought they should cover for the next one, and although some of them, like Rauda, did not meet his eyes once during the whole meal, none of them brought up the way they had walked in on him earlier. Thank god, because he had absolutely no idea what he would have said.
None of them asked after any of the books he’d collected for them, so he didn’t bother going back to his office after dinner. He went instead to the training grounds. No one was there, thankfully, so he set up a target and practiced throwing knives until all the practice knives were either buried in the target or scattered on the ground around it. By that time, it was full dark, so Bastiaan gathered up all the practice knives and put everything away. He didn’t feel any more centered or less confused, but that told him something, at least.
Lennart was definitely a weirdo, and Bastiaan still did not believe he was harmless, but he no longer thought he was in any danger from him. He didn’t know what he was in. It made him nervous, but it was also exciting, and that tracked with what Bastiaan knew of sex and romance, so he decided it was probably normal, and not worth worrying about.
He went back to his room. He wrote a letter to his former captain, since he still hadn’t replied to the last letter he’d received. He did not mention Lennart, or ask any of the questions he had chasing each other in circles around his head, although he might have, if he’d been talking to the captain in person. Writing it down felt too serious, or possibly too silly.
But when he laid down for bed, he couldn’t help recalling Lennart’s lips on his, and Lennart’s hand on his cock, and Lennart’s hand in his hair. He took himself in hand, and thought about Lennart the whole time, and while it was not as enjoyable as that afternoon’s activities had been, it was much more satisfying than his usual attempts at masturbation. Afterwards, he still couldn’t stop thinking about Lennart, but he was at least too tired to get worked up again, and he managed to fall asleep without much more effort.
The next day, Bastiaan’s class was back on duty around the Academy, taking care of the gardens and the stables and so forth. Mid-morning, the headmistress sent word to Bastiaan that Maurits was on his way back, and his class would be back at the Academy by Sunday night, therefore Bastiaan’s class would be on night patrol rotation starting on Monday. That meant rearranging his schedule for next week, but hopefully it would let him get a little ahead of their theoretical lessons. Students on night patrol rotation were not allowed to be in lessons before lunch the next day, and Bastiaan wanted to get his students back on the training grounds for practical lessons after more than a week spent mostly buried in books. Bastiaan had trouble sleeping all the way until lunch, even after night patrols, so he would have some free hours in the mornings to continue reading and planning. Perhaps he’d be able to catch Professor Maurits at some point and talk about how to teach subjects he had only basic knowledge of.
An hour or so before lunch, Bastiaan headed out to check on his students and how they were doing with their chores. Everyone seemed to be fine, though some of the students who had walked in on him were still not meeting his eye. It was embarrassing, but Bastiaan would live. He ate lunch, then spent the afternoon adjusting his schedule for the next week. He ended up copying out another calendar anyway, since he was shifting so many things around, and when he went to throw away the old page, he got distracted remembering how that encounter with Lennart turned out.
He blushed when he realized he was sitting in his office staring at an ink stain and fantasizing, although no one was around to see him. He dropped the paper in his wastebasket, and turned his attention back to next week’s schedule.
Halfway through dinner that night, Lennart sat down next to Bastiaan. It wasn’t quite as startling as some of his other approaches, but it still caught Bastiaan off guard. Without preamble, Lennart asked, “When do you usually train? For yourself. Not with your students.”
“The weekends,” Bastiaan responded, when he had finished chewing the bite of food in his mouth. “When we’re here, and I have no other duties to attend to.”
Lennart considered that a while. Bastiaan took another bite. Lennart watched him, and when Bastiaan’s mouth was unoccupied, Lennart asked, “Would you like to spar again? When you train?”
The response was out of Bastiaan’s mouth before Lennart had finished clarifying. “Yes,” he said, then again, “Yes, please.”
“Tomorrow?” Lennart asked. He didn’t exactly look eager, but Bastiaan still got that impression somehow. “Or was throwing knives it for the week.”
“Does tomorrow after breakfast work for you?” Bastiaan asked. Lennart nodded. “Great,” Bastiaan said. “I look forward to it.”
Lennart actually smiled at that, briefly. He glanced down at Bastiaan’s mouth, and for a moment, Bastiaan thought he was going to kiss him, right there in the dining hall. Then he stood up, somewhat less elegantly than usual, and left the room. Bastiaan stared after him, heart pounding for no rational reason.
It wasn’t until he was almost finished eating that he realized he’d wanted Lennart to kiss him, dining hall or no. In fact, he found he rather liked the idea of their relationship being public. If it wasn’t presumptuous to call it a relationship. That was something he ought to bring up, he thought, and resolved to mention it tomorrow. After they sparred.
Bastiaan made it through the night somehow, although he found himself easily distracted again. In the morning, he had to force himself not to rush through his routine, since it would do no good to get to the training grounds early if Lennart wasn’t there. Luckily, Bastiaan had trained his body to be able to eat no matter how nervous he was, or he might have made the mistake of not eating enough before training. Judging from the last time they fought, he would need all the energy he could give himself.
He hadn’t seen Lennart at breakfast, but if he thought about it, he rarely did. Since he was already wearing his armor, Bastiaan headed straight to the training grounds from the dining hall.
Lennart was there already, wearing his leathers, standing next to the rack of practice swords. “Morning,” he said as Bastiaan approached, which was the first pleasantry Bastiaan could remember hearing him say.
“Good morning,” Bastiaan replied. He picked up a practice sword and looked it over automatically. “Did you eat?” he asked.
“Yes,” Lennart said. He chose a sword as well, then started walking away.
“You don’t want your spear again?” Bastiaan asked, following him to the arena.
Lennart shook his head. “I will learn more from losing than you will,” he said.
“That’s somehow both cocky and humble,” Bastiaan said, as they squared off. Lennart said nothing, but Bastiaan didn’t take it personally. Some people wanted to banter, and some people seemed to have trouble with language once they were in fight mode.
The match was not over as quickly as their first had been. Lennart was more cautious, and would not be baited by any of the feints Bastiaan felt comfortable doing. He supposed he could take more risks, now that he was confident Lennart would not in fact take the chance to murder him, which would potentially make things more interesting, but he was also curious how their stamina compared.
Despite the early hour and the cool of the morning, Bastiaan could feel sweat sliding down his temples by the time he managed to corner Lennart. When Lennart froze, breathing heavily, Bastiaan could see his forehead was sweaty as well. Bastiaan lowered his sword, and Lennart said, “Again?”
Bastiaan smiled, because now that he knew what to look for, the enthusiasm on Lennart’s face was clear. “Maybe a break, first,” he said.
Lennart nodded. “I brought a canteen,” he said, and headed over to one of the benches by the grounds-keeping shed. There was a bag there Bastiaan hadn’t noticed, and Lennart pulled a leather canteen out of it. He uncapped it and drank. He turned and handed it to Bastiaan, then sat down on the bench, leaning his head back on the wall of the shed. He kept his eyes on Bastiaan as Bastiaan downed half the remaining water at once. Bastiaan handed the canteen back, then sat beside him. He could feel Lennart continuing to look at him. It still made his skin prickle, but in a different way, now. He rather wished the training grounds were more private.
When his breathing was a bit easier, Bastiaan said, “It looked like you wanted to kiss me last night.”
There was a long enough silence that Bastiaan looked over at him. Lennart was no longer looking back. He finally said, “Yes.” Bastiaan didn’t immediately know how to reply, and was gratified when Lennart spoke again. “I was uncertain it would be acceptable. Since it wasn’t sexual.”
“Ah,” Bastiaan said. That made sense, though it hadn’t occurred to him. “I don’t mind. I wanted you to, in fact.”
Lennart looked at him again, making eye contact. “Oh,” he said. “Good.” His eyes flicked down to Bastiaan’s mouth before he said, “I’m not going to now. Because I would still like to fight again.”
Bastiaan felt his face heat at the implication there. “Understood,” he said.
Lennart broke eye contact to take another drink of water. He passed it to Bastiaan once more, and stood while Bastiaan drank. “Ready?” he asked.
Bastiaan finished drinking and capped the canteen. He set it on the bench where Lennart had been sitting before he stood. “Let’s go,” he said.
Neither of them were quite as good this time. Bastiaan would have felt more embarrassed about it if it hadn’t been clear Lennart was also affected. After a few minutes, he realized they were both too preoccupied to have a particularly long match, because one of them would eventually make a silly mistake no matter what, so Bastiaan allowed himself to push and take the kind of chances he had deemed too risky earlier. It was arguably riskier now, because he knew he was in no state to respond quickly if Lennart took advantage of an opening, but then again, it was also less likely Lennart would be able to react as quickly. So perhaps that was actually a wash, as far as risk went.
Lennart certainly was distracted, because Bastiaan managed to get past his guard and bring his sword up to Lennart’s throat from behind. A practice sword could by no means slit a throat, but it was a definitive win for Bastiaan. He felt rather than heard Lennart gulp. Without lowering his sword, Bastiaan asked quietly, “My room?”
Lennart nodded. His voice was rough when he said, “Please.”
Bastiaan was glad his gambeson was long enough to conceal how hard he already was. It was a fair walk from the training grounds to his room.
No sooner had he locked the door behind them than Lennart shoved him against it, and kissed him roughly. Bastiaan clutched at his hips, and pulled them tight against his own. He was pleased, though not surprised, to find Lennart was also erect already. They ground their hips together shamelessly. Bastiaan nibbled on Lennart’s bottom lip and was nibbled in turn, until the ridge of his breastplate digging in to the back of his neck was too uncomfortable to ignore. He pulled away, somewhat breathless, and had to shove Lennart away before he could move back in. “Armor,” he said.
Lennart blinked. Then he said, “Right,” and took a step back.
Bastiaan crossed the room to his armor stand, undoing the bottom buckle on his right side by feel as he went. He could only hear Lennart follow him by the swish of his leather armor against itself. As he started on the second buckle on the right, he felt Lennart start on one of the buckles on his left side. When Bastiaan’s breastplate was loose, Lennart helped him lift it up and over his head. Bastiaan had forgotten how much easier that part was with help.
“Here,” Bastiaan said, jerking his head toward the stand. Lennart took the breastplate and started settling it on the stand, while Bastiaan untied the front of his gambeson. He realized partway through that he hadn’t removed his vambraces, and considered switching to that, but he was already halfway done with the gambeson by then, so he just went on with it. Lennart glanced at him, saw he couldn’t help, and began unbuttoning his leather jerkin.
It had been a long time since Bastiaan fumbled so much with his armor’s fastenings. He finally got both vambraces off, and could take off his gambeson, and barely had time to drape it on its stand before Lennart was pushing him backwards, toward his bed. Bastiaan thought about protesting, since he was still wearing his greaves and boots, but his knees buckled when they hit the corner of the mattress, and then Lennart was in his lap, and it no longer seemed important.
Unfortunately, Lennart was still wearing his leather trousers, which were not the sexy kind of leather trousers, being intended as light armor and not a way to show off his legs. Bastiaan did not enjoy the extra barrier between them, but he also didn’t want to kick Lennart out of his lap. He compromised by pulling Lennart tight against him, but between the height difference and the leather dampening how much he could feel, it was not nearly as satisfying as grinding against each other earlier had been. He ended up having to push Lennart away again, because every time he tried to pull away, Lennart started kissing his neck, and Bastiaan lost track of what he was trying to do.
He plucked at the thick leather encasing Lennart’s legs. “Take these off,” he said. Lennart grumbled, but climbed off Bastiaan’s lap to continue undressing. Bastiaan bent over to unfasten his greaves. He didn’t bother getting up to put them on the stand, just kicked them to the side and tugged off his boots. When he finished with that and looked up, Lennart was topless, and down to the linen trousers he’d had under his leather ones. Bastiaan spent a minute staring, before he regained enough of his faculties to say, “You can keep going.”
Lennart leaned over and pulled on Bastiaan’s vest.
“Yeah, yeah,” Bastiaan said, and turned his attention to untying his vest. Taking off his normal clothes went faster than unfastening armor, and Lennart had just finished removing his own trousers by the time Bastiaan had his vest and shirt off. He stood up, so he would be able to pull down his trousers once he had them unlaced. Lennart stepped in close to him, and put his hands on Bastiaan’s bare waist, but otherwise let Bastiaan go on without obstruction. Not that his close attention to Bastiaan made Bastiaan less fumble-fingered. When he finally made to push his trousers down, Lennart hooked his thumbs in the waistband and rolled them down Bastiaan’s legs. He bent down to keep pushing them off, and kissed one of Bastiaan’s hipbones when his face was level with it.
Feeling unsteady, Bastiaan put a hand on Lennart’s shoulder to balance as he stepped out of his trouser legs, then let himself collapse onto his bed. Lennart once more climbed atop him, but this time Bastiaan laid back, so when Lennart followed him down, their cocks were once again level, and not inconveniently staggered.
Having only their small clothes between them was much more satisfactory than three pairs of trousers, one of which was thick enough to be armor. Bastiaan couldn’t keep himself from bucking up against Lennart, seeking pressure and friction and more of Lennart’s body against his. Lennart growled, and bent down to bite Bastiaan’s neck. Bastiaan gasped.
Lennart was heavier than Bastiaan would have supposed. He’d always heard muscle was denser than fat, but he still had a hard time believing that Lennart, who was mostly thinner than him, could be so heavy when he was practically naked, even if he was taller. Not that Bastiaan would complain about it; once again, he found he liked having Lennart’s weight pressing him down. He was heavy, and his skin was hot and damp, and his cock pressed against Bastiaan’s exactly where he was most sensitive.
Lennart jerked against him when Bastiaan slid his hands down to grab his ass. He’d been intending to just pull Lennart’s hips against his own, but he couldn’t resist squeezing the surprisingly plush flesh. Lennart moaned into Bastiaan’s neck and jerked his hips forward. He lifted his head up to kiss Bastiaan’s mouth again, immediately biting into his bottom lip. The spot he’d been latched onto on Bastiaan’s neck throbbed.
Bastiaan wriggled, as they kissed, until they were a little more straight on the bed, and neither of their legs were hanging off the edge of the mattress. It caused some wonderful friction, but by the time he was done, he felt quite finished with their smalls. He started peeling his off, and Lennart followed his lead without ever ceasing kissing him.
If Bastiaan had thought having only smalls between them was good, having nothing between them was phenomenal. Lennart’s cock sliding against his and leaking onto his hip was one of the best things he had ever felt. He couldn’t keep himself from making pleased little grunts and moans as they moved together. Lennart’s hand kept tightening in his hair. Bastiaan didn’t remember when it had gotten there, but he did seem to keep going for it. His grip was so tight at this point, it was nearing actual pain, but for some reason, that just seemed to drive Bastiaan’s arousal higher.
Lennart finally pulled away from Bastiaan’s lips to mouth at the other side of his neck. His lips moved against Bastiaan’s skin, and made his hair stand on end, as he murmured, “You sound good.” Bastiaan could only moan inarticulately at that, so it was good that Lennart apparently enjoyed that.
This time, it was Bastiaan who finished first, although only just. Lennart must have really liked hearing him make those noises.
Bastiaan had previously only felt this bonelessly satisfied after an intense training session, or more rarely, a satisfying battle. If the way Lennart had completely relaxed on top of him was any indication, he felt similarly. When Bastiaan could marshal his sounds into words, he said, “That was good.”
“Mm.” Lennart nuzzled his face against the side of Bastiaan’s face, until it was pressed up against his neck again.
They laid there like that for a long time. Either they fell asleep at some point, or they had been rutting against each other for longer than Bastiaan realized, because he heard the bells strike eleven thirty. He’d left the dining hall just after eight bells, which meant it had somehow been three and a half hours already, occupied just with sparring and then fucking.
Lennart heaved a deep breath. “I should go wash,” he said.
“I need to check on my students before lunch,” Bastiaan said, although both the idea of having a bath and of following Lennart into the bath sounded very appealing.
Lennart rolled off him, with only a little unpleasant stickiness to be endured, and began to collect his clothing. Most of it was in one convenient pile, but neither of them had been thinking very much about where things ended up by the time they’d wriggled out of their smalls without coming up for air. Bastiaan sat up and finished putting his armor away.
As they cleaned up and dressed, Lennart asked, “Same time next week?”
Bastiaan frowned down at the laces of his trousers, as he tried to rethread the end that had come loose. “I don’t think we have to wait that long,” he said.
Lennart made a noise, like a mildly amused horse. “I meant sparring,” he said.
“Oh,” Bastiaan said, and felt foolish. “Yes. That sounds good.”
Lennart put a hand on his shoulder, and Bastiaan turned to face him. Lennart leaned in and kissed him, softly, then pulled away. He was fully dressed, and had his leathers bundled up under his arm. He’d taken his hair down, and it fell loose and wild around his shoulders. It did nothing to hide the fading marks on his neck, to say nothing of the new one Bastiaan did not remember putting there. He looked soft and vulnerable, and Bastiaan’s mind chose that moment to tell him this was the best chance he’d ever had to get the jump on him.
He shook his head to clear it, and said, “I’ll see you later.” Lennart nodded, then left.
Bastiaan washed his face and hands in his wash basin, then finished getting dressed. He should still have time to check on each team before they headed to the dining hall, unless they’d finished early. He thought that was unlikely, given there had been no other class at the Academy picking up the slack, so some of the chores simply hadn’t been done at all in nearly two weeks, but it was always a possibility.
None of them had finished early, but none of them appeared to need any help, either. No one asked about his morning, though Rauda did stare at his neck, where Bastiaan was sporting a lurid new bruise. She colored and looked away when she realized what she was doing. Bastiaan pretended he hadn’t noticed.
The last group he checked on before the midday break was Sikke’s. They were cleaning up the stables, though thankfully they’d finished the mucking-out portion of the morning well before Bastiaan got there. They were laying out fresh straw and hay in the barn, so apart from making Bastiaan need to sneeze, it smelled fine. As Bastiaan was making to leave, since everything was in order, Sikke saw him, and said, “Hey Prof, can I ask you something?”
“Of course,” Bastiaan said, and changed course to the stall Sikke was working in.
“Did you actually have sex with Lennart, or did you just say that to get rid of us?” He glanced up at Bastiaan in the silence that followed, as Bastiaan struggled to think of a response. Sikke’s eyes dropped to Bastiaan’s neck. “Oh,” he said, and laughed. “Well, I guess you had sex with someone.”
“Sikke, is this relevant?” Bastiaan asked.
Sikke shrugged. “I guess not,” he said. “I was just curious.”
Bastiaan sighed. “I know this isn’t a finishing school, but I do think you should know it’s generally considered rude to ask people about their sex lives. Especially your professors.”
“I know that,” Sikke said, offended. “I just thought it might be more likely he was threatening you or something. But then you seemed fine.”
Bastiaan watched him scatter the rest of the straw in his bag on the floor of the stall. He finally said, “And what would you have done about it?”
Sikke shrugged again, as he turned the bag over and shook out a few stubborn straws clinging to the fabric. “Tattled to the headmistress, I guess.” He brushed his hands against each other, to shake off some of the dust. “I’m gonna go wash up before lunch,” he said, and left Bastiaan standing in the horse stall alone.
Something about that interaction struck Bastiaan as false, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. Probably if he hadn’t known Sikke for several months by now, he wouldn’t have noticed anything amiss, but he was slowly getting an instinct for when Sikke was prevaricating. Well, he couldn’t do anything about it until Sikke came clean, or it became an issue. All he could do was hope he wasn’t jealous or something.
Koswitha sought him out at lunch, and sat down across from him. She was halfway through an explanation of something interesting she had read that morning before Bastiaan realized he had not seen her with any of the groups.
“Weren’t you supposed to be in the stables this morning?” he interrupted.
She waved a hand. “They didn’t need me,” she said. “I thought I would tidy the library instead. But, er, I suppose I did get a little distracted. And didn’t do much tidying.”
Bastiaan sighed. “I assign the duties the way I do for a reason,” he said.
“They didn’t need me,” she said again. “You can ask. Anyway,” she said, and went right back into her explanation of what she had read. Bastiaan sighed again, and resolved to speak to the rest of the group. He very specifically did not put Koswitha on library duty anymore because she inevitably got distracted reading, and nothing got dusted or reshelved at all.
As Bastiaan finished eating, there was a commotion in the main hall. Several of Professor Maurits’s students rushed into the dining hall, tossing rucksacks into seats and making for the serving table. Some waved at him, and others shouted hellos across the room to him and to their friends in Bastiaan’s class. Bastiaan cleaned up his dishes and told Koswitha she needed to go with the stables group that afternoon, not back to the library. He thought he had about a fifty-fifty chance she would listen. He headed to the building with his office in it, and leaned in through Maurits’s open door to ask if he needed help unpacking.
“I won’t turn it down,” Maurits said. He tended to buy souvenirs when he went out with his class, and then forget who he had intended to give them to. The shelves in his office were covered in more knick-knacks than books, but he insisted they came in handy sometimes. “How did the headmistress’s exam go?” he asked, as he handed Bastiaan a bag to sort through. Bastiaan told him, and some of his relief must have come through, because Maurits smiled at him. “See,” he said, “I knew you’d do fine. Your students love you, that’s the most important thing.”
“Shouldn’t the most important thing be whether they’re learning?” Bastiaan asked.
“They’ll hardly pay attention to you if they don’t like you,” Maurits said. “Unless they’re scared of you, but that seems a little too precarious, in my opinion. Now,” he said, taking a strange wooden sculpture from Bastiaan’s hands, “who’s the lucky lady?”
“What?” Bastiaan asked.
Maurits laughed. “Don’t try to tell me that hickey on your neck is from a training accident,” he said. “I’ve heard that one too many times.”
Bastiaan resisted the urge to cover the mark with his hand. “Oh, right,” he said.
“I wouldn’t have thought you’d have time,” Maurits said, moving a porcelain house to one side to put the wooden sculpture next to it. Next to the little house, Bastiaan suddenly realized it was a stylized tree, one of the kind they had in the northern swamps. “I heard Vreni was ill and you had to take some night watches.”
“I did,” Bastiaan said. “That didn’t take up too much of my time, though.” He realized that it was entirely possible he and Lennart would not have sparred if Bastiaan hadn’t taken those watches for Vreni, and they were therefore at least partially responsible for him having a noticeable hickey on his neck today. It was odd to think how recently he had completely misunderstood Lennart.
“Well?” Maurits said. “You haven’t answered my question.”
“Ah, no,” Bastiaan said. He had his mouth open to say, “No one,” when he reconsidered. What kind of person told someone to kiss them in public and then refused to say who they were sleeping with when asked? He said instead, “Not a lady. Lennart, actually.”
“Lennart?” Maurits all but shouted, dropping the book he was holding. “Sorry, that was a little loud,” he said, flushing and fumbling for the book. “I simply didn’t…really think Lennart knew how his dick worked.” That was entirely fair, since Lennart had legitimately forgotten to account for it, though Bastiaan thought it would probably be inappropriate to tell Maurits he was right. Maurits shook his head. “I suppose I should also apologize for the assumption it was a lady. Could easily have asked who the lucky lady or lad was.”
“I don’t mind,” Bastiaan said, though it had struck him as strange.
“You might not, but the headmistress has been adamant we not–how did she put it? Reinforce provincial expectations?” Maurits shook his head again. “She has a point. If we wish the Academy to be a welcoming place for students from all over, professors shouldn’t be putting their own assumptions on people’s behavior. Even if there are no students around at present.”
“Ah,” Bastiaan said. “This is the first I’ve heard of it.”
Maurits waved a hand dismissively. “No, I’m sure you haven’t,” he said. “You mercenaries are very good at keeping your assumptions to yourself. I suppose it pays to reserve judgement and keep your opinions to yourself, in that line of work. I think Vreni had been here two years before I heard her disagree with someone about something other than battle strategy.”
That didn’t align with Bastiaan’s experience of her, but he supposed Vreni had warmed up to him relatively quickly when she found out Bastiaan had also been a mercenary. It wasn’t surprising she would be more reserved around Maurits, especially given his tendency to flirt with any woman in his vicinity. Bastiaan was sure that would irritate her. He said, “It is generally considered a bad idea to tell the noble employing you that his ideas are stupid.”
“Yet another reason I couldn’t be a mercenary,” Maurits said cheerfully. He handed Bastiaan a gigantic book, and said, “Put that on the shelf behind you, would you? I suppose I shouldn’t pry further, given Lennart is also our colleague, but I have to admit, I am somewhat confused as to how that even happened.”
“Mm,” Bastiaan said, hefting the tome onto the nearest open spot on the shelf. “I did have a question for you,” he said, and asking for teaching advice neatly distracted Maurits from the prying he claimed he wasn’t doing.
“I think you’re on the right track, with your idea of having them teach you the subject,” Maurits said, after Bastiaan explained his concern. “But to keep a student like Sikke from bullshitting you, all you have to do is make sure they’re teaching you jointly. With only two or three of them, it’s harder for someone to sneak by not helping, but it’s also unlikely they’ll all agree to go along with the bullshitter. Then if you’re still confused, you know they have more work to do. Plus, now you’re better educated about the subject for the next set of students who want to learn that topic. I’d also say take notes, don’t grade them right away, and consult with me or Hanke, or even the headmistress, about whether or not it all makes sense.
“If you had more than three,” he went on, “split ’em into smaller groups, and then you can compare your notes from both their teaching sessions against each other, too.” Then he said, “And you know, there’s nothing wrong with asking someone else to help you test them. I’m bollocks at archery, geometry, ballistics, all that, so I rely on Vreni’s judgement in those areas. Your class is primarily your responsibility, but there’s no shame in asking for help. If your best judgement is that you’re not qualified, that’s a valid decision.”
“I see,” Bastiaan said. That did make sense. He’d been worried about being unable to be everything his students needed, but knowing when to defer to someone else’s expertise was arguably the most important lesson any of them could learn. He’d never expect to take an enemy camp on his own without preparations, after all.
“And don’t let Hanke tell you it’s possible to learn everything your students might need to know,” Maurits added, heatedly. “I don’t know what’s wrong with that woman, but us mere mortals cannot match her. You know what I do when one of my students wants to go into magical research? I give them one of her old papers to read, and after that they bother her about it, and we’re all happier for it.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Bastiaan said. He wondered if Hanke would preemptively dismiss Maurits’s suggestions as well.
When Maurits was down to only one bag to unpack, Bastiaan excused himself to check on his students. Unsurprisingly, they had not been as industrious that afternoon, with so many of their friends returned after a ten-day absence. Everywhere he went, his students looked up frantically at the nearest clock, and apologized for how long they’d spent talking with their peers instead of working. Bastiaan told them they’d just have to finish up between lessons during the week, which they mostly accepted, though some of their newly returned friends leapt to help them finish. Probably that was just so they could keep whatever plans they’d already made for the rest of the week, but whatever meant all the horses got groomed and the flowerbeds got weeded.
The rest of the week went pretty much as expected. Most of Bastiaan’s students weren’t too rusty from the time off duty and training, but neither were most of them advanced enough to get right back into the swing of things without a hiccup. The night patrols were uneventful, though certainly less quiet with his students than they had been with Lennart. No more of them addressed walking in on him and Lennart, thankfully, though Rauda still met his gaze less frequently than she had before.
On Thursday morning, while his students were resting after being up most of the night, Lennart showed up at Bastiaan’s office and asked if he was busy. Bastiaan decided he was not, and invited Lennart to come in and lock the door behind him. That afternoon, word came from Professor Hanke that she and her class were on their way back to the Academy. That meant they didn’t need to reschedule the mock battle, which Bastiaan appreciated, since he’d already had to rearrange his schedule leading up to it once. Late Sunday morning, he met Lennart at the training grounds. With all three classes back at the Academy, they were not completely alone there, but they didn’t have an audience the size or attentiveness of their first time. They did garner applause at the end of their bout, which was jarring and a little uncomfortable, since Bastiaan was once again fairly turned on by the time they finished fighting.
Lennart went back to Bastiaan’s room with him once more. They were a little less frantic and managed to get a little more undressed before getting distracted this week. They missed lunch. Bastiaan begged leftovers from the cook for them, and Lennart had to rush off to make his class on time.
The next two weeks passed much as Bastiaan’s previous months at the Academy had. Professor Hanke and her class returned, chores rotated among the students, he held classes. There was the exception, of course, that instead of being unnerved by Lennart’s behavior, Bastiaan had sex with him a few times a week. Sometimes, when Bastiaan was not eating with any of his students, Lennart would join him. They didn’t say much, but Bastiaan enjoyed his company. At least, he enjoyed the trust and comfort it demonstrated Lennart felt around him, even if it was somewhat distracting. It was also easy to resolve that distraction when he could just ask Lennart back to his room after the meal.
One afternoon, while Bastiaan was sitting with several students, not really participating in their conversation but certainly listening, Lennart walked over to him. He got Bastiaan’s attention with a hand on his shoulder, which Bastiaan only managed to suppress his reaction to through long training. Bastiaan looked up, not surprised it was Lennart, because no one else at the Academy both could and would sneak up on him like that.
“I will not be able to spar on Sunday,” Lennart said.
“You’re being sent somewhere?” Bastiaan asked.
Lennart nodded. “I’m to leave immediately,” he said.
“Then I suppose I’ll see you when you return,” Bastiaan said. Lennart nodded again, then bent down and kissed his cheek.
As Lennart walked away, Bastiaan realized that his students–and, indeed, most of the dining hall–had gone silent.
Minke broke the silence. “So that’s really happening.”
One of Hanke’s students, sitting one table over, said, “You guys weren’t kidding?” After that, it rapidly got too loud and chaotic for Bastiaan to really know what was happening. Rauda came over from another table and started yelling at people. Bastiaan finished eating as quickly as he could. He understood, from Sikke and Maurits’s reactions, that people were not upset at him so much as confused by their relationship, but it seemed like a great deal of fuss over something that didn’t affect anyone but the two of them.
Bastiaan took his plate back to the kitchens, and was well out of the dining hall before he registered that one of the voices he was hearing was someone calling for him. He stopped and turned to see who it was and what they wanted.
Koswitha skidded to a halt in front of him. “Oh good,” she said. “Professor, I have a question.”
“If it’s about Lennart, I don’t really want to discuss it,” Bastiaan said, more flatly than he would usually allow himself to be. Loud noises and confusion were not unfamiliar to him, but he really preferred them in contexts where he knew to expect them. A battlefield being loud and confusing was not distressing; the dining hall suddenly being that way rather was.
Koswitha frowned. “That’s fair,” she said. “But, um, it’s only kind of related.”
Bastiaan reminded himself that Koswitha did not deserve to bear the brunt of his discomfort. He took a breath to ground himself, and said, “Let’s go sit in the courtyard.” He started walking again.
He sat down on the first bench they came to. There was no way to face each other, which ordinarily would have been an inconvenience, but Bastiaan often found that when he was overwhelmed, looking directly at people made it worse.
“Professor,” she said, after a moment of silence, “how do you know if you’re in love with someone?”
This was so unexpected, Bastiaan looked at her reflexively. She was not looking back at him; she was instead staring determinedly into the garden bed in the center of the courtyard. Bastiaan said, “I don’t think I’m the right person to ask that.”
She frowned at the garden in front of them. “You clearly like him,” she said.
“Yes,” he agreed, though he was somewhat surprised she thought it was obvious. No one had ever accused Bastiaan of being easy to read, even when he made an effort to emote. He said, “But I don’t think my single experience with someone like Lennart is going to be very applicable to anyone else.”
Koswitha sighed. “Yeah, okay,” she said. “It’s just that everyone in my family has had arranged marriages. Lots of people in class are already engaged, through their families setting things up. But that’s all really more about business and families and inheritances. I don’t know anything about the feelings part.”
“I don’t either,” Bastiaan said. “It’s not something that came up much, when I was a mercenary.”
“My point is that you’re not going to judge me,” she said.
“Well, no,” Bastiaan said. “But I don’t think I’m going to be very helpful, either.” She didn’t immediately respond, so he added, “If you just need someone to listen, I can do that.”
Koswitha sighed again. “Maybe that’s it,” she said. She sat and thought for a moment, then said, “I thought I had feelings for someone, but recently, I’ve been having feelings for someone else. Which I know doesn’t sound confusing, but these two are engaged, and have been since they were children, and I just…I don’t know which one of them I’m actually interested in. But also, on some level, I wonder if it matters? They’re engaged. And presumably I have to get married at some point, so does it even make sense to try and figure this out when it’s all pointless in the long run?”
“Why would it be pointless?” Bastiaan asked. “Even if you wouldn’t marry either of them, that doesn’t mean a relationship wouldn’t make you happy or be worth your time.” She frowned at the garden plot. Bastiaan went on, “And it’s not like people don’t have lovers outside of their spouses.”
“But you’re not supposed to,” Koswitha said.
“That doesn’t stop people,” Bastiaan said. He was less convinced that people weren’t supposed to than that they were all supposed to pretend people didn’t, because most nobles he’d met had a mistress or a lover in the village or a suspiciously-incompetent-but-highly-attractive-gardener. “Plus,” he said, “I don’t see why you could only be interested in one of them. Why would your feelings for one of them be less valid than the other?” Again, she didn’t respond immediately. It finally occurred to him why she might have thought to talk to him, after seeing Lennart kiss him, and added, “If it’s because one of them is another woman, I don’t think that has to mean anything different.”
“Doesn’t it?” she asked, turning to face him. Yes, that was why she had sought him out specifically.
As her teacher, Bastiaan knew Koswitha knew that the social acceptability of same-gender relationships varied from time and place. He’d brought it up during several stories of his mercenary days, and there had been a section in one of the books he gave her about the economic benefits of less restrictive marriage rules. But perhaps it was different for her, the way it was for some people, when it was personal. Instead of repeating what he knew she already knew, though, he said, “It might make it easier to convince your family or husband it’s not a problem if you have a lover who can’t get you pregnant.”
She laughed, then covered her face with one hand. “Professor!” she said.
“That’s what the arranged marriage thing is about, isn’t it?” Bastiaan asked. “Controlling who inherits what. But I will admit, worrying about how this might affect your future marriages seems premature to me. Have you talked to either of them about this?”
“Not…as such,” Koswitha said, which Bastiaan took to mean not at all, or possibly actions were taken without talking about it ahead of time, with predictably bad results. “I wasn’t sure if….” She trailed off. After a minute, she said, “Talking about it makes it seem real.”
“I think in this case, talking about it is what makes it real,” Bastiaan said.
Koswitha sighed heavily. Bastiaan waited. Finally, she said, “It’s scary.”
“It is,” Bastiaan said. There was little he found more stressful than talking to people about intangible things like feelings. “But you can hardly expect to go through life without having unpleasant conversations.”
“I know,” Koswitha said. She sighed again. “But it’s so much easier when I don’t care much about the outcome.” Again, Bastiaan waited silently. “I know,” she said, as if he had spoken, “the fact that I care about the outcome makes it more important to actually pursue. It’s still scary.”
“You could try promising yourself a reward for doing it,” Bastiaan said. “No matter how it goes, you get a nap or a shaved ice, or something else you enjoy.”
“Could I go break targets in the training grounds?” she asked, perking up.
“I don’t see why not,” Bastiaan said, although he could think of at least two reasons that might be problematic. Well, he could pay the potter in town to make a few extra clay pigeons or give them his failures. Even if they weren’t useful for target practice, they would still be satisfying to break.
“Alright, thank you, Professor,” Koswitha said. She smiled at him and said, “You can go hide somewhere quiet now.”
“Good night,” Bastiaan said, relieved, and went back to his room, leaving Koswitha sitting on the bench in the courtyard alone.
Over the next couple of days, Bastiaan had to field more intrusive questions from students than ever before, but perhaps fewer than he might have had to if Rauda and Koswitha hadn’t started telling people off for bothering him. His other students quickly decided their curiosity was less important than defending their professor from the other classes, and by the time Lennart was back from his mission, things were more or less back to normal.
Bastiaan’s class was not on night patrols, and as Lennart had just returned, neither was he, so Bastiaan asked Lennart if he would come to his room after dinner. Lennart nodded. Bastiaan forced himself to ignore the way murmurs started around the dining hall when they left together. As they walked across the courtyard, Bastiaan reached out and took Lennart’s hand. Lennart looked down at it curiously, but didn’t pull away. Bastiaan couldn’t remember the last time he’d held someone’s hand for a non-practical reason. It was rather nicer than he expected.
Neither of them were wearing armor to remove, which at least made undressing simpler. Bastiaan had gotten himself off while Lennart was gone, but it was never quite as good as sex, and he found himself leaning into Lennart’s touch. Even the press of his bare skin against Bastiaan’s, incidental and not particularly sexual, felt good. At one point, Bastiaan pulled away long enough to murmur, “I missed you,” and Lennart shuddered in his arms like Bastiaan had said something particularly filthy. Lennart reached for his cock, and determinedly stroked him until Bastiaan was coming apart and shouting. While Bastiaan attempted to get his breath, Lennart sucked on his neck and rubbed himself off on Bastiaan’s thigh. Bastiaan reached down to offer his assistance, and found his thigh and Lennart’s cock to be slick, from all the pre-come. If Bastiaan hadn’t just finished a minute before, that might have been enough to get him going again. He knew he’d be thinking about it later.
Lennart sank his teeth into Bastiaan’s shoulder when he came, which hurt a great deal and made Bastiaan jerk as if it had gone straight to his cock, though his cock was still down for the count. He made a mental note to himself to get some basic first aid supplies to keep in his room, because one of these days Lennart was going to break skin, and Bastiaan did not want to have to explain to Maurits, their magical healing specialist, when that happened.
Lennart murmured an apology when he realized he’d bitten Bastiaan so hard, and kissed the mark as if to soothe it, then rolled over to lie beside him. They lay in silence for a while, catching their breath. Bastiaan was trying to convince himself it was too early to let himself fall asleep, and he had things he should do before then, when Lennart said, “I’m not certain you were right.”
Bastiaan opened his eyes and turned to look at him. “About what?” he asked.
“Me being attracted to you,” Lennart said, looking at the ceiling.
Bastiaan frowned. He said, “We’ve been having sex for almost a month. You certainly seemed to enjoy it.”
“Yes,” Lennart said, as if that didn’t immediately prove Bastiaan had been and continued to be right, “but I still think about killing you fairly frequently. Or vice versa. I do not believe that is generally part of a relationship.”
Bastiaan looked at him for a few moments. Although there was no way he could be unaware of Bastiaan’s gaze, Lennart continued to look at the ceiling. Half of his queue had come loose from its ribbon, and was stuck to his face and neck by sweat. “How long were you a mercenary?” Bastiaan asked. Lennart frowned up at the ceiling, as if he didn’t see what that had to do with anything. He was much easier to understand now than he had been a month ago. Familiarity helped a great deal. Bastiaan went on, “For me, it was ten years. I survived the first year or so mostly by luck, but the rest of the time what kept me alive was constantly looking for advantages and openings. I still do it,” he said. “The first time you came back to my room, right before you left, you had your armor under your arm and your hair down, and I thought about how my sword was right there,” he pointed, “and I could definitely run you through before you’d have time to react. It doesn’t mean I actually want you dead. It’s a habit. It used to keep me alive. It’s less practical now, but I can’t really help it.”
“Hm,” Lennart said. He did not sound convinced, but he also didn’t seem as confused as he had.
Bastiaan rolled onto his side to face him, and propped his head up with his arm. “I still think constantly about the quickest way out of a room. Who would I need to take out first, which door would be least defended. Sometimes I think about what political advantages I could get out of killing one of my students,” he admitted. “Which is frankly more upsetting, since none of them could defend themselves the way you could. But sometimes…” He shrugged. “It’s reassuring to know I could get out of here if I wanted to.”
Lennart frowned. “You don’t think there’s anything wrong with it?” he asked.
Bastiaan shrugged again. “Maybe,” he said. “But it also doesn’t seem like a good idea to let a teenager be a mercenary. I’m not that surprised I turned out strange. But I don’t think I’m any more dangerous than the other professors, or the other combat instructors. I don’t think it keeps me from doing anything.” He looked over at Lennart’s face again, and saw he still looked troubled. Bastiaan asked him, “Do you think about attacking other people?”
“Yes,” Lennart said at once. Not surprising.
“You’ve been here three and a half years,” Bastiaan said. “Have you ever hurt a student or colleague on purpose?”
“No,” Lennart said, again immediately. He frowned. “But it feels different, with you.”
“It feels different for me when we eat together than when I eat with someone else,” Bastiaan said. “We spar on a regular basis. We also fuck on a regular basis. I don’t think it means you’re not attracted to me. Especially since you just came all over my leg.”
“But it’s not right,” Lennart said, still frowning. “I want to do it right for you.”
“And you think that means you don’t like me?” Bastiaan asked. He realized levity was not the right response when Lennart made a move to sit up and get out of the bed. Bastiaan grabbed him and pinned his shoulders to the mattress, and rested his weight on him. Lennart was strong enough to get out of such a sloppy hold, but he made no move to do so. Bastiaan said, “Lennart, would you ever kill me?”
“I could,” he said.
“Yes,” Bastiaan said. He did not point out that, with sufficient planning and motivation, practically anyone could kill him. He instead asked, “But would you?”
Lennart stared at him. Bastiaan stared back. He did not often make prolonged eye contact like this, as he found it uncomfortable, but it also made Lennart uncomfortable, which was what he wanted to do right now. Finally, Lennart lowered his eyes and said, “No.”
“Do you like having sex with me?” Bastiaan asked. “Don’t say yes just because I like it,” he quickly added. “Do you like it?”
“Yes,” Lennart said, frowning a little again. “Of course I do.”
“Then what is the problem here?” Bastiaan asked.
For some reason, Lennart flushed. Bastiaan let himself feel a little vindication at this evidence he had been correct about there being something else on Lennart’s mind, but not too much. Conversations were not sparring matches, as his former captain had repeatedly told him. Trying to win them was a good way to ensure no one wanted to talk to you. More softly, Bastiaan said, “What is it?”
Lennart closed his eyes, then apparently decided that was not enough, and squirmed out of Bastiaan’s grip enough to grab one of Bastiaan’s pillows and pull it over his face. His words were somewhat muffled by the pillow, but he had it propped up enough that Bastiaan could hear him. “It’s what I think about when I do it myself,” he said.
“What, killing me?” Bastiaan asked. “Or just us fighting?” Lennart made a quiet affirmative noise beneath the pillow. Bastiaan smiled, and leaned down to speak more softly. “My blade piercing your flesh?” he asked, as seductively as he knew how.
Lennart pushed the pillow aside and said crossly, “Bastiaan.”
“What?” Bastiaan asked. “Is that what you’re upset about? You think that’s bad?”
“No,” Bastiaan said. “I don’t even have to ask if you’ve acted on that. I think I would have noticed if you’d ever stabbed me and then gotten off on it. Anyway, I’m the same. What did you think we were doing Sundays after sparring?”
Lennart stared at him. He had obviously not considered this. He was a fairly oblivious man, Bastiaan thought, and for some reason, he found that endearing now. Finally, Lennart said, “You mean that.”
“Of course,” Bastiaan said. “It’s not hurting anyone. I don’t mind. I don’t think you really mind, apart from thinking it’s not normal enough.” He shifted his weight to one arm, so he could rest his other hand at the base of Lennart’s neck. Lennart swallowed. Bastiaan was fairly certain what he would find if he were to look down toward Lennart’s legs. “I know people say mercenaries’ only morals are money, but I have read a few books on the subject of morality recently. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say something that doesn’t hurt anyone else isn’t bad.”
Lennart’s throat moved beneath Bastiaan’s hand again as he swallowed. He sounded confused as he said, “You don’t think anything’s wrong with me.”
“No,” Bastiaan said. “People agree you’re weird, and I’ve never met anyone much like you, but I don’t see why that would mean anything is wrong with you.” Lennart’s face spasmed, and Bastiaan leaned out of the way just before Lennart seized a pillow and dragged it over his face again. This was not exclusively, or even primarily, about Bastiaan, or even about sex, Bastiaan finally realized. This was about Lennart thinking there was something wrong with him. And assuming Bastiaan would also think something was wrong with him. Who had convinced Lennart something was wrong with him? Why were so many people unwilling to just let someone be weird without making them feel bad about it? Lennart had been an instructor at the Academy for years. The headmistress was clearly happy enough with his abilities. Even the students who found him off-putting or intimidating admitted he was good at his job and had helped them learn. The worst thing Arke had to say about him was that he was too efficient to bring along on missions where you wanted students to gain experience fighting, because he would eliminate threats before students had a chance to deal with them.
Bastiaan realized he was clenching his jaw hard enough to grind his teeth together. He forced himself to relax it, and took a deep breath. That didn’t help much, so he took another one. Then another.
When he felt a little less murderous, Bastiaan laid one of his hands on Lennart’s chest, above his heart. After a moment, Lennart moved one of his hands down to wrap his fingers around Bastiaan’s. He was taking deep breaths of his own. Bastiaan did not comment on the occasional shaky hitch in those breaths.
Lennart finally pushed the pillow off his face and looked over at Bastiaan. Bastiaan asked, “Do you want to talk about it?”
“No,” Lennart said.
Thank god, because Bastiaan really didn’t know if he’d be able to keep his composure if they did. He asked, “Do you want to stay here tonight?”
“Yes,” Lennart said, and tugged Bastiaan down to lay in his arms.
A few weeks later, the headmistress asked Bastiaan’s class to go clear a bandit camp out of a secondary pass merchants used when the weather made the shorter route through the mountains inadvisable. This pass was relatively close to the Academy, so it wouldn’t take too long to get there and back. The headmistress did not think the bandits would be hard to frighten off, so it wouldn’t take too long to deal with when they were there, either. Still, they would be gone at least a week.
When Bastiaan told his class the expected time frame, Ethel said, “Aw, you’ll miss your date night.”
“What?” Bastiaan asked.
“You spar with Lennart on Sunday mornings,” Ethel said.
“We figured that was basically a date for you two,” Minke said. “Technically it’s not a night, but no one says ‘date morning’.”
“I’ll survive,” Bastiaan said. He couldn’t decide if he was embarrassed or proud that his students had correctly identified their sparring sessions as dates. “If no one has any other concerns, you should probably go prepare. I want to leave first thing in the morning.”
He went to the training grounds, to tell Lennart he was going to miss their date, but Lennart was not there. Vreni and Gerda were demonstrating something for a group of Hanke’s students. Bastiaan didn’t want to interrupt, so he figured he would speak to Lennart at dinner, and went back to his room to pack up his own things. Bastiaan didn’t know if Lennart had been taking his meals early or eating in his room before, but he ate in the dining hall at the same time as Bastiaan more frequently these days. He wasn’t much for conversation while he ate. That was perhaps part of the reason Bastiaan’s students had slowly begun to join him even when Lennart was at the table. They didn’t exactly ignore him, but he seemed to prefer it when they didn’t speak much to him, which most of them were happy to oblige.
Tonight, however, Bastiaan’s students either weren’t eating in the dining hall, or else were sitting with their friends from other classes, because they knew they would be going a while without seeing them, so Bastiaan was sitting alone when Lennart sat down next to him. Lennart had heard already, and wasn’t surprised when Bastiaan told him he would be missing at least one Sunday. When Bastiaan kissed him goodbye, so he could go finish packing, the dining hall thankfully did not erupt into whispers or shouting.
Bastiaan was not expecting to run into trouble on the short journey up to the mountain pass, and in one sense, they didn’t. The roads were clear and well-maintained, the weather cooperated, and they made good time. But in another sense, he ran immediately into trouble, because the sleeping arrangements they had used all year when they were out of the Academy were suddenly problematic.
His students did not bring this up to him directly. They tried to solve it on their own first. It devolved into an argument, which was how Bastiaan became aware of it. He heard raised voices, and headed in their direction.
“Please, Minke!” Sikke said, as they came into view.
“It would be inappropriate for me to share a tent with a girl,” Minke said. He was standing with his arms folded across his chest and his legs spread shoulder-width apart. It did not make him look bigger, compared to Sikke’s lanky limbs, but it did make him look hard to push over. He said, “I’m not going to subject Koswitha and myself to rumor and suspicion just so you can fool around with your fiance!”
Sikke’s whole face turned red. “I’m–that’s not–not that it’s any of your business but–“
“I’ll share with Koswitha,” Allard said, poking his head out of his half-set up tent.
“I didn’t ask you!” Sikke shouted, and shoved him back into his tent. Allard yelled, and stumbled out of his tent to tackle Sikke around the waist.
Bastiaan hurried over to pull them apart. He was surprised to see Koswitha and Rauda on opposite sides of the arguing boys, neither of them joining in, although Minke and Sikke had continued to yell at each other even as Sikke wrestled with Allard. Bastiaan pulled Sikke aside and physically stood between him and Minke. “Who is your fiance?” Bastiaan asked.
Sikke looked confused and embarrassed, but he said, “Rauda.”
Bastiaan looked over at Koswitha, and she hunched into her shoulders. Well, at least he had a good idea what this was about. “Sikke, Rauda, Koswitha, come with me,” Bastiaan said. “Allard, I’ll be talking to you later. Minke, just wait here for now.” He turned and headed back toward the road, then up it a few hundred feet. He wanted to make sure they were unlikely to be overheard, but unable to get lost.
When he turned around to speak to them, he saw all three were awkwardly spaced out. Yes, he thought to himself, he had definitely identified the problem. He crossed his arms and said, “I suspect you don’t need or want me here for this conversation, but you didn’t have it on your own, so now I’m here.”
Looking steadfastly at his feet instead of his face, Rauda said, “Professor, this really has nothing to do with the class–“
“You pulled Minke and Allard into your relationship drama,” Bastiaan said. “When you are all supposed to be working together, because we are on a road we know has a bandit problem.” She did not have a rebuttal for that. Bastiaan asked, “Was it you or Koswitha who asked to change tents?” Rauda did not answer. Bastiaan looked at Sikke. “Or did you take it upon yourself to make that change?”
“I asked him to ask Minke,” Koswitha said. Bastiaan and Rauda turned to look at her. Koswitha went on, “I didn’t think he’d have a problem with it! We get along fine.”
“And you didn’t think about how your parents might react, to hearing you had shared a tent with a miller’s son?” Rauda snapped, and then blushed and looked back at the ground.
“He doesn’t even like girls,” Koswitha said, which in Bastiaan’s opinion was missing the point Rauda and Minke had made. “I just thought–you’d prefer if you didn’t have to share a tent with me.”
“Oh,” Sikke said. “Shit.” Rauda turned to glare at him, and he cringed. “I thought she was uncomfortable!” he said, gesturing at Koswitha. “I was trying to help!”
“I told you you needed to talk to them,” Bastiaan said to Koswitha. He sighed, because he didn’t particularly want to listen to three of his students talk through their feelings, no matter how fond he was of them. He addressed all three of them and said, “Either you’re keeping the old sleeping arrangements, or all three of you are sharing a tent for the rest of this trip and Minke gets one to himself. I don’t care which, and I don’t care how you choose. But you need to talk about this, and I suggest you do it now.” He began to walk back towards the rest of the class’s camp, and thankfully did hear their voices start up quietly behind him.
Despite leaving them to discuss it without him, the rest of the class was gossipy enough that Bastiaan heard what happened anyway. Koswitha and Rauda had been dating rather casually for most of the previous year–which was how Bastiaan had to think of it, because he could not bring himself to think about what two of his students “hooking up” entailed–and had kept it to themselves, since Rauda had been engaged since she was very young. This was apparently not an uncommon arrangement, for students who had an arranged marriage awaiting them after the Academy. As long as everyone was discreet, this was tolerated.
But since Bastiaan had taken over their class, Koswitha and Sikke had been spending a lot of time together, studying and discussing the books Bastiaan was giving them. They started to develop feelings for each other, so Sikke told Koswitha he was engaged to Rauda, and either Koswitha told Sikke she had been seeing Rauda, or Sikke already knew and thought it was one thing to date someone who was not the fiance his parents picked out for him, and another thing to steal his fiance’s girlfriend. This part of the story seemed to be slightly different every time Bastiaan heard it, and he wasn’t sure if that was because Sikke and Koswitha had told different stories, or if they hadn’t told any story at all for this part and their classmates were filling in the gaps.
So Koswitha and Sikke started to keep their distance from each other. That, Bastiaan presumed, was why Koswitha had insisted she was not needed in the stables that day. He wondered if that also explained the strange impression he got from Sikke the same day; if Sikke was trying to keep Bastiaan from noticing Koswitha was not in the stables with him, that could account for the feeling that Sikke had lied about something. Bastiaan hadn’t marked it at the time, but evidently some of his students had noticed that Koswitha and Rauda began spending less time together, so they must have had some kind of falling out or break up. Given Koswitha had been considering the idea that her feelings for one or the other of them was lesser or fake, that made sense to Bastiaan.
They had opted to all three share one tent, so the class consensus was that they were all dating now, though none of them had said anything to that effect. None of them were avoiding each other anymore, at least. Minke was gloating about having a tent all to himself pretty much every night. So that worked out fine, though Bastiaan couldn’t imagine three people in one of those two people tents was actually comfortable, even if they didn’t mind getting pretty snug.
Clearing out the bandits went well. Ethel pinned their leader to a wall with an arrow through the shoulder from an astonishing distance Bastiaan would not have thought viable, and the rest of the bandits surrendered quickly after that.
The journey back to the Academy was uneventful, even with the detour to the nearest town to turn in the bandits and their purloined goods. The headmistress had sent ahead a list of stolen goods, as well as a warrant for the bandit leader from the large city to the south, so the local sheriff started organizing the goods for redistribution as soon as they handed them over. At a town further from the Academy, Bastiaan might have stayed a while, to ensure the sheriff and the townsfolk stayed honest and actually sent those goods on to their destinations, but this town relied on travelers and traders heading to and from the Academy, as well as benefiting from its protection and work crews keeping the roads maintained, so Bastiaan felt confident they would resolve the problem honestly. If they didn’t, the headmistress would hear about it, and send someone out to deal with them.
It occurred to Bastiaan that the headmistress had essentially set up her own little fiefdom here. He wondered how she had managed it, and what she intended to do in the future, since she did not have anything like an heir. Who would run the school when she was older? He quite liked it, and not entirely for selfish reasons. He did think it was good to have a place for students of different backgrounds to mix, and he definitely approved of common students having access to the kind of education that was usually reserved for the children of nobility. It was beneficial on a number of levels.
They returned to the Academy in the middle of the week. They had a couple days off to unpack and recover from the traveling. Bastiaan spent a significant amount of his time in bed with Lennart.
One evening, after a delightful experiment involving his mouth on Bastiaan’s cock Lennart wanted to try, which was only breaking new ground for the two of them but was exciting nonetheless, Lennart said, “Eight years.” It took Bastiaan several moments to turn those sounds into words in his mind, by which time Lennart had clarified, “I was a mercenary for eight years.”
Bastiaan thought about that for a minute. “How old were you?” he asked.
“Twelve,” Lennart said.
For some reason, twelve sounded much younger than thirteen, though Bastiaan knew he could not even reliably tell a twelve and a thirteen year old apart.
Lennart said, “You’ve never asked why I became a mercenary. Even though you knew I must have started young.”
“I don’t need to,” Bastiaan said. Lennart made a curious noise. Bastiaan said, “You must know how it is. If someone wants to talk about it, they’ll bring it up. But there’s really only two stories. Either you lost everyone, or you’re running from something. Well, the idiots who think it’s exciting, I guess, but they don’t count.”
“Mm,” Lennart said. After a minute, he asked, “Which one are you?”
“My family was murdered,” Bastiaan said. It barely even hurt to say now, just the ghost of a feeling. He’d been an orphan almost as long as he’d had a family. He sighed, and said, “I decided I wanted revenge. I don’t know what my captain was thinking, letting a thirteen year old join up.”
“Probably knew you would try to find them on your own,” Lennart said. “Better to keep an eye on you.”
“I suppose,” Bastiaan said, because he certainly would have tried to find those raiders on his own. He doubted his luck would have been as good that first year if he hadn’t had actual mercenaries looking out for him and teaching him how to stay alive.
They lay in silence a few minutes. Since he was feeling less disgustingly sweaty, Bastiaan rolled onto his side to cuddle up to Lennart. Lennart shifted his arm to accommodate him, and slid his fingers into Bastiaan’s hair, though that was still warm and sweaty. As much as he enjoyed the sex, Bastiaan had to admit he liked the cuddling at least as much. If they had to skip one part of the evening, he’d rather miss the sex than having their arms around each other.
Bastiaan had almost forgotten they’d been talking when Lennart said, “I killed my father.”
That was a hell of a thing to drop into a conversation. “When you were twelve?” Bastiaan asked. He thought that was the implication, but it could also have been a shift to the topic of families.
“Mm,” Lennart said. When Bastiaan didn’t say anything, Lennart asked, “You don’t want to know why?”
“You don’t have to tell me,” Bastiaan said, which was not an answer to Lennart’s question. He was curious why a twelve-year-old would feel the need to kill his father, but he also couldn’t think of any answer to that question that was not extremely upsetting.
“My mother died,” Lennart said, as if Bastiaan had asked. Bastiaan wondered if he’d talked about this at all since it happened. Bastiaan had shared the story of his family’s murder dozens of times, until it felt more real and important than their actual lives. That was one reason he no longer explained it in detail.
Lennart went on: “She had been married before my father. Then she was a widow. My sister had been young enough when Mother married my father she didn’t remember her real father. But when Mother died, Father thought….” Lennart let that sentence trail off. “I killed him before he could tell Madalon.”
“What happened to her?” Bastiaan asked. He could have turned his head to look at Lennart’s face, but he doubted it would tell him anything, and it would likely make Lennart stop talking, or at least move so Bastiaan couldn’t see him.
“We have an uncle,” Lennart said. “I told him I wouldn’t contest the inheritance if he took her in. She thinks I’m dead.”
Bastiaan set aside the revelation Lennart was apparently a noble in favor of the more personal information. He asked, “Your sister thinks you’re dead?”
“I couldn’t tell her why I killed him,” Lennart said. That was bleak, though Bastiaan could certainly see how it might be easier to let her think he was dead than explain what happened. If she had fond memories of their father, it would be hard to hear his plans for her. But thinking Lennart had murdered their father would also be hard. It was easier to forgive the dead sometimes, though if Bastiaan were in her shoes, he would rather think Lennart was a living killer than a dead one. But then again, he’d never had a sibling.
Bastiaan thought about that for a while, going in a circle and not reaching a conclusion. Eventually, he asked, “How old was your sister?”
“Fifteen,” Lennart said. After a short pause, he went on, “That was why he hadn’t done it yet. He was waiting for her sixteenth birthday.” Sixteen was the youngest age most counties would consider someone able to get married, though those were usually to other sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds, or else legal fictions to solidify contracts. “He thought a younger wife might get him a better son.”
Bastiaan could not keep himself from stiffening in Lennart’s arms. He knew the prospect of a sixteen-year-old girl being raped by the only father she had ever known was objectively worse than that father thinking his son was inadequate, but he didn’t know the woman that sixteen year old girl had become, whereas he knew the man he had in his bed right now had gotten the idea something was wrong with him from someone.
“My uncle told me I had done the right thing,” Lennart said.
“I agree,” Bastiaan said shortly.
“Mm,” Lennart said. Bastiaan couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t be unhelpful or insensitive. Even if Lennart decided he needed to die, he had still been his father. In Bastiaan’s experience, people with bad parents had more complicated feelings about their parents, not less. After a few minutes, Lennart added, “My first employer had very strong opinions about kinslayers. People seemed to agree with her.”
“So you never told anyone,” Bastiaan guessed. Lennart made an affirmative noise. Bastiaan tightened his arms around him. Hearing the shit people talked about kinslayers probably hadn’t helped his conviction that something was wrong with him, even if any reasonable person would agree Lennart had made an understandable choice to protect his sister. “Thank you for telling me,” Bastiaan said. “And I’m sorry you had to do that.” Lennart hummed a noncommittal response, which Bastiaan took to mean he was done talking for a while. Which was more than fair. They had longer conversations sometimes, but not often, and they’d never been this personal.
Bastiaan leaned in the small amount needed to kiss Lennart’s collarbone. Lennart sighed, sounding pleased, and rolled over so he could put his other arm around Bastiaan. He fell asleep in surprisingly short order, probably feeling the relief of talking about something he’d kept bottled up for so long. Bastiaan lay awake a long time after that, indulging in a petty and violent fantasy about a man who had been dead longer than Bastiaan’s own family.
Several more weeks passed, in much the same fashion they had before. Bastiaan remembered to consult with Professor Hanke about some of the books he wasn’t certain about passing on to Koswitha and Sikke. He asked the headmistress what sort of things she might ask for her next regular examination, and found books in the library that could help him fill in his knowledge about the history he didn’t know. And now, most times Lennart came to Bastiaan’s room after dinner, he stayed the night. Sometimes on Sundays, after they sparred, they’d spend the rest of the day together. Often that meant Bastiaan would lounge in Lennart’s bed reading material for his upcoming lessons while Lennart cleaned one of his large collection of weapons.
Bastiaan had half-expected Lennart’s room to be bare and spartan; it was instead cramped with rare and unusual weapons, none of which Lennart treated as purely decorative. He had a small shelf for books he got out of the library, but otherwise, his room was a bed and a lot of weapons. If Bastiaan had seen this before he realized Lennart had a crush on him, he might never have noticed the crush at all.
Bastiaan was reading the memoir of a magical prodigy from a hundred fifty years ago, which was just barely ridiculous enough to keep it from being intolerable, since the magical prodigy in question had clearly been a deeply selfish and unpleasant person, when he came across an off-hand remark that stunned him into sitting and staring at the page for nearly a full minute: The so-called “white magicks” never interested me much, being far less impressive and applicable only in limited ways–barring, of course, the obvious recreational usages of healing magick, which alas, are not appreciated by polite society. It was entirely possible Bastiaan had seen this kind of reference before, or even heard it in taverns, and never even stopped to wonder what it meant.
The obvious recreational usages of healing magic. He couldn’t say for certain that the recreational usage that came to his mind was the exact one the magical prodigy Sjoerd had been thinking of when he wrote his memoirs, but he suspected they were similar enough. And if the influential Sjoerd had written about it, however obliquely, Bastiaan could probably find other writing about it.
Bastiaan had at one point been told he had a knack for healing magic, but it seemed less important to hone than other skills at the time, and he had access to another healer every time he’d needed it since then. But if he brushed up on his healing magic, he would be prepared for more serious injuries than his stash of first aid supplies could handle, and he could perhaps again broach the subject of how he and Lennart both thought about hurting each other in a sexual context.
He had to close his eyes and take some deep breaths for a few minutes, because he was reading in the library, and his immediate thought about the time he held a sword to Lennart’s neck triggered a physical reaction he did not really want to have in the library.
As luck would have it, Koswitha’s favorite research topic was different schools of white magic, so Bastiaan easily found a few books she spoke highly of or referred to often, and collected them to read through later. Preferably in his own room, if he was going to have such trouble keeping his thoughts from wandering to his goal.
Bastiaan never really thought about romance when he was an itinerant mercenary. Most of the people he spent any time with were members of his mercenary troupe, and either they had been there long enough that Bastiaan thought of them more like aunts and uncles, or they were closer to his age but so frighteningly inexperienced he couldn’t consider them peers, much less romantic prospects. And he hadn’t really seen the appeal of sex for its own sake; he’d understood it felt good, but it necessarily made you vulnerable, and while he had also understood how that might work with someone you liked and trusted, it had seemed like a pointless risk right up until Lennart pinned him to his own desk. Now, he found himself looking for any opportunity to have even a few minutes alone with Lennart, and eagerly anticipating their sparring sessions to the point he sometimes had to force his wandering thoughts back onto the subject at hand.
One evening, Lennart asked Bastiaan if he could clean and polish Bastiaan’s armor on Sunday after they sparred. Bastiaan said yes, because Lennart was the only person Bastiaan both trusted to do it right and knew liked doing it. At least, he clearly enjoyed maintaining his unwieldy large weapon collection, so Bastiaan assumed he also enjoyed armor maintenance. He probably wouldn’t have asked to if he didn’t.
So on Sunday afternoon, Lennart had all the plate pieces of Bastiaan’s armor laid out on the floor around him, and he washed and conditioned the straps and buffed out blemishes, while Bastiaan reclined on his bed, reading through an intermediate healing magic manual.
Lennart glanced up at him, and asked, “What has worked you up so?”
“What?” Bastiaan asked, not looking up from the engrossing explanation of repairing blood vessels on the page.
“You are breathing heavily, and you’re flushed,” Lennart said. He got to his knees to take another look at Bastiaan. “And you appear to have an erection,” he added, unsurprised.
Ah, so he did. Bastiaan felt his face get hotter, and more flushed.
“Is it your book?” Lennart asked. “Because if it’s the armor-polishing, I do not see the appeal.”
Bastiaan couldn’t help laughing. No matter how much he enjoyed watching Lennart’s precise, economical movements, the scent of armor polish reminded him too strongly of his captain’s attempts to instill discipline for him to associate it strongly enough with his lover to find it erotic. “It’s the book,” he said.
Lennart turned his head sideways to read the title on the spine of the book. He said, “I’m afraid I still do not see the appeal. That’s a magic manual, is it not?”
Bastiaan’s face heated again. “It is,” he said. “It’s not the contents of the book, it’s the intended application of the knowledge.” Lennart frowned, and gestured for Bastiaan to continue. “I’m reading up on healing magic,” he said. “I thought it might be…useful. Given our mutual interest in hurting each other.”
“Oh,” Lennart said, and then a few moments later, he flushed and turned his face away. “I didn’t know that was something you might pursue.”
Bastiaan was puzzled. He set the book face down on his lap. “If you’re not interested, we don’t have to try anything,” he said. “But I thought, given I have an aptitude for magical healing, it wouldn’t be completely foolhardy to move beyond biting and hair-pulling.”
Lennart settled himself back on the floor, and returned to buffing Bastiaan’s chest plate. “That was a general ‘you’,” he said. His ears were, if anything, redder than when he first turned away. “I’m interested. I didn’t know it was an option.”
“I think anything we’re both interested in and can figure out how to do is an option,” Bastiaan said. “If there is a wrong way to do this, I don’t care. As long as we’re both happy.” He picked his book back up, and said, “I think milder forms of pain are a common offering at brothels, though. Spankings and canings or whatever.”
“Why would someone want–” Lennart cut himself off. “I suppose I shouldn’t judge.”
“Probably not,” Bastiaan said. He flipped back a page, because he found he had forgotten how the first paragraph started. “But I didn’t see the appeal until recently either. I mean, I’d much rather you stab me than slap me, but it wouldn’t be completely un-fun.”
There was a quiet clank as Lennart set down the chestplate. He stood up and went to the wash basin. He washed his hands, and dried them on Bastiaan’s hand towel. Then he walked over to the bed, took the book out of Bastiaan’s hands, and set it on Bastiaan’s bed side table. Bastiaan only had a half second to feel irritated, because by then, Lennart was pushing him down and kissing him.
He should have realized this was a possibility, Bastiaan thought, but he wasn’t planning on talking to Lennart about it until he felt confident he remembered how to heal minor injuries. Ordinarily Lennart was not interested in what Bastiaan was reading when they spent time together like this, but then again, ordinarily Bastiaan was not reading things with the express purpose of being sexually adventurous.
Talking about it had gotten them both rather worked up, and Bastiaan ended up having to get out his little first aid kit and bandage both of them up. He would have attempted a spell, but bite wounds were rather more difficult to heal cleanly than a cut with a well-maintained weapon, and Bastiaan did not think it would count as easing himself back into healing magic if he jumped right to anti-germ spells. Cleaning and bandaging bites this small was easy enough to do without magic, and had less risk of sealing the germs inside the healed wounds.
Life at the Academy was by now quite a comfortable routine, though the irregular nature of the mercenary missions that doubled as income for the Academy and hands-on training for the students kept it from getting predictable. Now that he was settled in, Bastiaan found he even enjoyed the feeling he was contributing to a greater whole through mundane tasks like cleaning out the chimneys and pulling weeds in the flowerbeds, which were the kind of things he hadn’t had to do as a mercenary, and hated to do as a child.
He arranged a time for Koswitha and Sikke to explain to him what they were learning about management and logistics jointly, which worked quite well as a method of evaluating and reviewing what they were learning. It did reveal slightly more about how their relationship was progressing than Bastiaan needed to know, or they probably realized, but it was certainly an effective teaching tool. And Maurits was right, Bastiaan did feel as though he would be able to keep up with the next student who wished to study this topic more easily. Koswitha also had strong opinions about which books were most helpful, and would be useful to pass on to future students, which Bastiaan took notes on as well. He caught himself thinking it was a shame Koswitha would be running her family’s affairs when she graduated, because she would make a pretty good teacher herself.
Shortly after that, Bastiaan caught Minke practicing his stick-fighting in the training grounds in his free hours, instead of being holed up in the library reading magical theory. He watched Minke for a while, feeling a strange smug pride, because that had been Lennart’s suggestion. Lennart had found a weapon to study that not only satisfied the headmistress’s insistence that all students study at least one weapon, not only made good tactical sense for Minke to study, but that Minke also took to enough to spend his free time working on it. Lennart might not fit in with noble society, and might be unnerving to people who weren’t used to him, but he had things to offer. Bastiaan was glad at least Sikke’s father and the headmistress had seen that. Even if most people didn’t, at least Bastiaan wasn’t alone in seeing Lennart’s good side.
He was also proud of Minke, of course, for pushing through his initial distaste for any physical labor and fighting in general. Magic was the more prestigious thing to learn, and one of the only ways a commoner might find a way to a court position, but stick fighting was a practical skill, and Bastiaan thought it was always a good idea to have more than one way to defend oneself. No, this probably wouldn’t help Minke find a job or impress a snobby noble, but it also ensured he wouldn’t be helpless if, for instance, his noble employer tired of him, or someone thought it would be easy to hurt a political rival by hurting their pet wizard. And it might have been a coincidence, or simply the passing of time, but Bastiaan thought Minke carried himself with a bit more certainty and confidence than before.
Bastiaan took more time reading through the magical theory of healing before trying anything hands-on than he might have, if he had a supervising instructor. Given he was specifically learning this skill for sexual purposes, he didn’t want to ask Maurits–or worse, one of his students–to watch him and make sure he wasn’t missing things or forming bad habits. He remembered some of the teaching he’d gotten when he was younger, and read through information that was considerably more advanced than he intended to start with, to feel certain he had a handle on what he was doing. As most healing students did, he started out practicing on himself, making shallow cuts with a sterilized blade on the fleshier parts of his non-dominant arm. He hadn’t used magic on a regular basis in years, and it tired him out more than he expected, but the actual healing went easily, and felt the same as when he’d gotten magical healing from other people, which was a good sign.
So, thinking of how Lennart had cast aside his armor maintenance when they were only talking about it, Bastiaan asked Lennart if he would help him practice. He agreed, of course, and it was much easier for Bastiaan to stop casting before he got tired when Lennart was right there, trembling and growing harder every time Bastiaan made another cut. He did forget to heal the last cut the first time he practiced on Lennart, and they got blood on his bedsheets, but it was less than ended up on the sheets when some people menstruated, so he thought whoever was on laundry duty that week wouldn’t mind overly.
His progress in healing magic went slowly, since Bastiaan still had all his teaching duties, as well as the reading he wanted to do on subjects his students wanted or needed to study that he wasn’t as familiar with. It still went fast enough that Bastiaan was certain his first magic tutor had been right, he did have a knack for it, but it was weeks before he felt comfortable enough to move beyond shallow cuts to parts of the body with little risk of sustaining permanent damage.
It was also odd, to try and reverse his thinking from his combat instincts. Yes, in most fights he wasn’t aiming to kill, but he did have to think about how easy it would be to escalate to that option, and he was generally trying to disable enemies as quickly as possible, without much consideration for the long-term consequences. He was used to avoiding certain things–blows to the head and choking people out–since they were always potentially deadly and he therefore would not use them unless he was unconcerned with whether his opponent survived, but it was not quite the opposite skill set, to find places that could be hurt without potential risks and were easily healed with magic. He wanted to avoid as much nerve damage as possible, and obviously gut wounds required high levels of magical healing to not be horrible slow death sentences, but there were also muscles that were known to be harder to heal, and obviously risking their future combat abilities for a momentary sexual thrill would be foolish.
Plus it continued to take more time to work these things out than it should have, because Bastiaan and Lennart both found it difficult to think or talk about it for very long before they got too horny to function. Which was by no means a terrible problem to have, but it did draw things out.
They did eventually settle on a first experiment. It was unlikely to cause permanent damage, even if Bastiaan didn’t heal it perfectly, and it wouldn’t get in the way of sexual activity. Bastiaan suggested it might be easier for Lennart to control his reflexes if he was restrained, and he made a mental note about how enthusiastic Lennart’s response was.
So Lennart stripped to his waist, and Bastiaan tied his wrists together and secured them to the headboard of his bed. Bastiaan held the knife they’d picked out over the flame of a large candle. It was one of Lennart’s, so it was well-cared for and certainly clean, but sterile seemed like a better idea in general, and particularly when the plan was to leave the knife in place, to cut down on bleeding.
By the time Bastiaan finished sterilizing the knife and climbed onto the bed to straddle Lennart, Lennart’s trousers had a sizable tent. Bastiaan grinned, and rolled his hips against Lennart’s. Lennart’s eyes fluttered closed. Bastiaan shifted, trying to find a place to settle that would be comfortable for them both. He planned on moving once he had the knife in Lennart, but he wanted to be certain he had stability and control while he stabbed him. He ran his free hand up Lennart’s flank, and enjoyed the way Lennart’s breath stuttered. He generally let Lennart take the lead when they had sex, because they both enjoyed that and it was how they’d started, but they had agreed it was probably smarter for now for Bastiaan to be the one inflicting harm on Lennart, since it became more difficult to heal oneself the worse the injuries were. Bastiaan wasn’t exactly surprised he enjoyed Lennart bound and at his mercy, but it was novel and therefore exciting.
“Is this just the anticipation, or are you enjoying being tied up?” Bastiaan asked, rocking back a little bit to nudge Lennart’s erection.
“Yes,” Lennart said. He opened his eyes, and his gaze only shifted momentarily to the knife, before coming back to Bastiaan’s body. He said, “You are very attractive.”
“I’m glad you think so,” Bastiaan said. He bent down to kiss him, and Lennart did his best to raise up to meet him, despite being tied to the headboard. Lennart was not any less pushy or nippy than usual, even though he was tied up and pinned under Bastiaan, and Bastiaan found himself relieved.
They’d talked about whether it would be better to put the knife in fast or slow, and Lennart had eventually told Bastiaan, “Surprise me,” which had put an end to that conversation in favor of sex. So while Lennart was pinned in place by his body, Bastiaan found the spot below Lennart’s left shoulder they had agreed on, and plunged the knife in.
Lennart bit him, which Bastiaan expected, but tied up and pinned by Bastiaan’s body, Lennart’s reflexive jerk couldn’t move his left shoulder enough to affect the placement of the wound. Bastiaan pulled back to admire his handiwork–right where they’d agreed, even though he hadn’t been looking–and Lennart groaned. “Bastiaan,” he breathed, and jerked his hips as much as he could, which was not much. He whined, and said, “Fuck, Bastiaan.”
It was a fairly short blade, which was one reason they’d picked it, so it was sunk into the meat of Lennart’s chest to the hilt. It was below his shoulder and most of the important tendons there, but well away from his heart. Muscle was relatively simple to heal, so the chest muscles away from the shoulder joint were a good place to stab recreationally.
It was almost unbearably hot to look at the knife buried to the hilt in Lennart’s upper chest and know he put it there.
Bastiaan moved back on Lennart’s body, as now that the knife was in, there was only so much Lennart could do to disturb it. What he could do, restrained like he was, wouldn’t worsen the risk they were already taking, but would absolutely hurt, and feel very distinctly like he’d been stabbed. So Bastiaan settled himself on Lennart’s hips, pressing their dicks against each other, and immediately started unlacing their trousers. Lennart already had a wet spot on his smalls, and Bastiaan couldn’t imagine he’d last much longer himself.
It was possibly the least involved sex they’d had since they started, but the knife in Lennart’s shoulder could stand in for a great deal of other activity, apparently. Bastiaan got their cocks out, then bent back down to kiss Lennart, and they just kissed and rutted against each other until they both came. It did not take very long.
When Bastiaan had his breathing under control, he sat up and prepared to grab the hilt of the knife. He warned Lennart, “This is the part that’s going to hurt.” It wasn’t a serrated edge or anything, but it was his experience that your body got used to having something in it after a while, and taking it out reminded it that you were supposed to be feeling pain.
“Mm,” Lennart said. “Go ahead.”
Bastiaan pulled the knife out. Lennart inhaled sharply, but otherwise didn’t react. Bastiaan set the bloody knife carefully on his bedside table, and grabbed the towel he’d set there to wipe up blood from now until he finished healing it. It was a little awkward to try and hold the towel with his left hand, since the blood was dripping down Lennart’s chest to Bastiaan’s right, but Bastiaan was right-handed when casting as well, so he just crossed his arms and dealt with it.
Bastiaan put his hand over the wound, barely above it and out of the blood, but close enough to feel Lennart’s body heat. Lennart swallowed. Bastiaan concentrated, and called the magic within him up, and passed it out through his hand to the wound on Lennart’s chest. The blood stopped flowing, and then the skin closed up. Bastiaan pulled the towel over to the other side of the wound, so he didn’t have his arms crossed, and kept casting. Stemming the blood flow was important, but the muscle inside Lennart’s body would still need to heal. Bastiaan encouraged it to do that, more quickly than it could naturally, and kept casting until he could feel the magic sort of pool up, with nowhere to go. Then he stopped, and let his hand rest on Lennart’s bloody but unbroken skin.
“You good?” Bastiaan asked Lennart, looking back at his face.
Lennart nodded. His voice was a little hoarse as he said, “I’m afraid I’m going to have a strange reaction to any healing I need in the future.”
Bastiaan laughed. “Yeah,” he said, “I don’t think I’m going to volunteer to heal anyone else anytime soon.” He wiped up the blood that was left on Lennart’s chest, and his hands, then climbed over him to release his hands from their bonds. Bastiaan got up to wash the knife off and put the bloody hand towel in the laundry, while Lennart flexed his hands. First, Bastiaan had to pull off his trousers, since he didn’t really want to fasten them without cleaning up, so he could walk without tripping. Then he tossed the towel into his laundry hamper, and took the knife over to the extra wash basin he’d filled that morning so he wouldn’t have bloody wash water. He dunked it in the water, and since the blood was still fresh, it came off easily. He dried it carefully on another hand towel, and set it next to the dirty wash basin. Then he washed his hands in the clean basin, since he’d gotten blood all over them.
He turned back to the bed to see Lennart had also divested himself of his remaining clothing. He had one of his hands resting over the spot Bastiaan had stabbed, and the other resting on his hip. For once, there was not a new hickey or bite mark on his neck or shoulders. Bastiaan crawled onto the bed and laid down against his side. “So,” he said. “I think that was a success.”
“Mm,” Lennart said. He rolled over to face Bastiaan and put his arms around him. He kissed him, softly, and wriggled in closer, tucking his face into Bastiaan’s neck. “It was very nice,” he murmured, his lips tickling Bastiaan’s neck. “If you wished to tie me up without stabbing me, I think I would enjoy that.”
“I’d like that,” Bastiaan said. He hadn’t even thought about it until he had it, but it had been plenty compelling on its own.
“I would still like you to stab me again,” Lennart said.
“Try and stop me,” Bastiaan said, and Lennart laughed.
They cuddled a while, then Bastiaan made Lennart drink some water and eat an apple, since he had lost some blood. They went to sleep almost directly afterwards, although it was still quite early. Bastiaan woke up the next morning when Lennart did, and it was early enough that they went ahead and had sex again before bothering to get out of bed. It was leisurely and sweet, and Bastiaan thought how nice it would be to do more often. Afterwards, they got dressed and went to breakfast together, holding hands on the way over.
As the end of the year approached, Bastiaan had to set aside his study of healing magic to focus on what his students needed. Each class had another exam with the headmistress at the end of the year, and there were a number of Academy-wide contests for students to show off the skills they developed over the last year. His students all became frantic to improve quickly, and paranoid about which subjects they needed to catch up on for the headmistress’s examination, and Bastiaan got caught up in their energy. He stayed up late and got up early to work on study plans and read further ahead and meet with students.
Ethel won the end of year archery contest with a trick shot that even impressed Vreni. Bastiaan found himself getting quite emotional, watching his students show off and celebrate their progress and support their friends in other classes in their events.
Shortly before the students were due to head home, the headmistress asked Bastiaan to meet with her. He went to her office for tea while his students were doing their grounds-keeping chores.
“So,” she said, pouring him a cup of tea. “With the break coming up, I would be able to search for a suitable replacement professor and make a considered choice. However, I think you’ve done perfectly well this year, despite your appointment being a snap decision in the face of an urgent need.” She passed the cup to him. “If you would like to continue teaching at the Academy,” she said, “I would be glad to keep you on.”
It hadn’t even crossed Bastiaan’s mind that he might just finish out the year and return to mercenary work. He remembered the headmistress mentioning it, when he was very first hired, but first he’d been too busy trying to figure out how to do the job, and then he simply hadn’t thought about it. He didn’t need to think about his answer. Bastiaan said, “I’d like to stay.”
“Oh, wonderful,” the headmistress said, pouring tea for herself. “You’re no longer concerned you’re not qualified?”
Bastiaan shook his head. “I know there are areas I’m not as knowledgeable about, but I feel confident I can at least point my students to books or other instructors,” he said.
The headmistress smiled. “I’m glad to hear it,” she said. She took a sip of her tea, and Bastiaan followed suit for politeness’s sake, although he didn’t care much for tea. This tea wasn’t that bitter, though, so he didn’t have to struggle not to make a face at the taste. The headmistress put her cup back on its saucer, and said, “I also thought we might rearrange the instructors’ quarters during the break. There’s a set of adjoining rooms currently used as guest quarters I thought might suit you and Lennart. They were intended for a married set of teachers who regrettably ended up having to cancel their commitment to the Academy. They are slightly less central than your current room, but rather more central than Lennart’s.”
Bastiaan realized at that moment that logically, if all the students and other instructors knew about him and Lennart, the headmistress would as well, but he hadn’t really thought about his stately employer knowing about them. It was shockingly embarrassing.
In his silence, the headmistress went on, “Naturally, I will be making this offer to Lennart as well. Unless you’d prefer to bring it up yourself, of course.”
“I’ll talk to him,” Bastiaan said, primarily so he wouldn’t be inflicting this same awkwardness on Lennart. He didn’t know for sure that Lennart would feel as wrong-footed by talking about this sort of thing with the headmistress, but Bastiaan was sure Lennart wouldn’t mind not talking about it with her.
Since the next day was Sunday, Bastiaan waited until they were done sparring to bring it up. Well, after they were done fucking, after they were done sparring.
“The headmistress asked me to stay on,” he said. Lennart grunted, which Bastiaan took to mean Of course. “She offered to let us move to the adjoining guest rooms.”
“Hm,” Lennart said. “That would be convenient.”
“It would,” Bastiaan said. “Do you want to do that?”
“Yes,” Lennart said. “Do you?”
“Yeah,” Bastiaan said. He had wanted it as soon as the headmistress offered it, but he had been concerned that Lennart wouldn’t. Lennart’s quarters were out of the way, on their own, not even in the same building as the rest of the teachers’ rooms. He liked his privacy. Bastiaan thought it was entirely possible he wouldn’t want to alter his living arrangements. Which would have been fair, and understandable, and also disappointing. He let out a little sigh of relief.
Lennart turned to look at him. “Were you worried I wouldn’t?” he asked.
“Not worried,” Bastiaan said. “But I did think it was possible you wouldn’t like the idea as much as I did.”
“Oh,” Lennart said. “I didn’t tell you.” He rolled onto his side, and nudged Bastiaan to roll over as well, to face away from him. He wrapped his arms around Bastiaan’s waist. It was funny, how Bastiaan had once specifically thought about how he wouldn’t trust Lennart at his back, and now this was one of the positions he felt most comfortable in. Lennart’s mouth was close to Bastiaan’s ear, so he was quieter when he spoke again. “I’m still not convinced this is what people mean when they talk about love. But I don’t want to be apart from you. And I have never felt this way about anyone else. I suspect you would disagree if I said I don’t deserve you, but I can honestly say I never expected to have anything like this. I never so much as imagined someone might want me.”
“God,” Bastiaan said. He was glad Lennart often couldn’t look at him when he talked about feelings, because Bastiaan’s face was hot. He might have been close to tears, in fact. He said, “It wouldn’t be terrible if you didn’t want to change rooms.”
“No,” Lennart said. “I don’t know how this would work if you minded how strange I am. I’m sure there will be normal relationship things I do not want. But I do like the idea of being closer to you. I like sleeping with you.”
“Me too,” Bastiaan said. Lennart squeezed him in his arms. “Um, not just the sleeping together. I do like that too. But I meant all of it. You.”
“I assumed,” Lennart said, and kissed the back of his neck.
Bastiaan’s face warmed again. “Well,” he said. “I thought I should say it too.”
“Mm,” Lennart said. “Yes. Thank you.”
“So I’ll tell the headmistress yes,” Bastiaan said. He smiled to himself, and added, “Unless you want to do it.” Lennart headbutted the back of his head, and Bastiaan laughed. He twisted around until they were facing each other, and put his arms around Lennart’s neck. He kissed him, and Lennart held him tightly and kissed back.