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30 July 2011 @ 12:58 pm
"The Eagle's Two Swords" 2/3  
Title: "The Eagle's Two Swords"
Fandom: Assassin's Creed
Pairing: Altaïr/Malik, Altaïr/Kadar, mentions of Altaïr/Maria
Rating: NC-17
Spoilers: None, this is AU
A/N: My entry for AC BigBang Round 2, originally posted here. Evangeline Todd's gorgeous companion artwork for this fic is embedded in the story over at the ACBB community. Go check it out!



Chapter 3


Harem life, as Kadar found after a couple of days, was better than the life of a slave but ultimately more boring. There was little to do beyond lounging, bathing and reading. The small library Malik found tucked away in a side corridor had been a welcome surprise and they both spent several hours a day there. There were also games, as the sultan had said, but even when Kadar managed to convince his brother to play shesh besh or mancala with him, his attention was elsewhere.

The board was set up in the large communal chamber that functioned as both a lounging area and their bedroom. While they played, Malik would either be eyeing the guards’ rotations or on the lookout for Mistress Thorpe, who checked on the harem at least once a day. Despite these distractions, Malik usually won but what frustrated Kadar was how distant Malik had become. It was bad enough that their lives had changed so radically over the last few weeks, but now he felt he was losing his brother too.

The days dragged on and began to run together in his mind. They would wake in the sleeping chamber, often before any of the other women, and take breakfast out in the open-air courtyard at the center of the harem. Food was available whenever they needed it, but there was a grand dining hall where they were served mid-day and evening meals. Altaïr had been present for one of those occasions, and although Malik made sure they sat at the opposite end of the table from the sultan, Kadar felt his eyes on him through most of the meal. He suspected Malik felt the same, judging from the tension radiated from his brother.

It was obvious the women adored the sultan and whenever he was around—at dinner and when twice he’d visited the harem chambers—they fawned on him. Considering they were little more than well-treated slaves, Kadar thought this odd but the idea of talking to them about it seemed out of the question. The women were clearly afraid of Malik—in addition to his sour mood, his missing arm seemed to make them nervous—and he rarely left his little brother's side.

After three days of their new life in the castle, however, Malik grew restless and began exploring the limits of their freedom, leaving Kadar to sit in boredom. The second time this happened, once it was apparent Malik wasn't returning immediately, a group of four concubines startled Kadar by cornering him at the table where he waited. Apparently he wasn't the only one who was curious because no sooner had they blurted out their names—which he forgot almost immediately—than they suddenly began asking questions: where were the brothers from, how did they meet the sultan, what had he said at the time, did they see him fighting anyone? Kadar avoided answering the last question; he was certain that telling these women Malik had fought the sultan would only worsen their prejudices against him.

“Has anyone from the harem ever requested their freedom?” he asked tentatively, once there was a lull in the conversation. The women seemed bewildered by the question.

“Why would we do that?” one replied. Kadar thought her name might be Adiva.

“The sultan has given us a life of luxury and asks very little in return,” another explained.

“And what he does ask of us, he makes sure we enjoy!” Adiva pointed out and the women giggled. Kadar felt his ears burning and hoped the blush would not creep any lower, but Adiva seemed to take pity on him and sobered. “Out there, we have nothing. Those of us who were married were made widows by Robert de Sable's men, and what homes we had were burned to the ground. The sultan has given us shelter, fine clothes to wear and...other pleasantries.” She exchanged secretive smiles with the others before returning her gaze to him. “How can we refuse that?”

It wasn't hard to understand their logic when put that way. Kadar knew on some level that he and Malik were in a similar situation: were they to leave, they likely had no place to return to. But telling his brother that wouldn't do any good.

As if the thought had summoned him, Malik strode into the room, his face set in its usual thin-lipped scowl. The women caught sight of him and scattered but Malik paid them little attention as he crossed the room to drop into the seat across from Kadar. He looked more agitated than usual so Kadar gave him a few minutes before speaking.

“Did something happen?”

“No,” Malik replied, his tone clipped. “Only for someone who claims not to be holding people against their will, there are very few exits I have seen, and none without guards watching them.”

Kadar suspected this was as much to keep people from entering as it was to keep them from leaving, but decided it would be wise to keep that to himself.

“Were you thinking of...?” he asked instead, trailed off and looking around. Although there was no one near them to overhear, he still felt nervous about voicing plans for escape out loud, especially when he wasn't sure what the punishment would be for getting caught.

Malik looked at him sharply but after a moment of scrutiny, some of the tension left his expression.

“Don't worry yourself needlessly,” he said quietly, and he turned in his chair to reach out and ruffle Kadar's hair. “I won't let anyone harm you.” He seemed to be waiting for a response so Kadar finally nodded. The last remnants of frustration left Malik's face as he gave his brother a small smile. “Shall we play a game?” He motioned to the mancala stones, still set up as they'd let them. Kadar nodded again and began rearranging the stones for a new game, but he couldn't help thinking that Malik had not actually answered his question.

~~~

Maria had learned to step softly, but Altaïr was trained to be ever-vigilant so he heard her as she approached. It was unlikely that one of his regular guardsmen would have found him here, but Maria, on the other hand, knew his usual haunts all too well.

His favorite retreat when he needed to think was the top of the castle's lone tower. From there, everything looked so small and insignificant; it was easy to avoid distractions and sort through a problem. Today he had his reasons for wanting to be closer to the ground, and so he'd chosen a spot on the high wall that encircled the castle. Here, along the inner edge, he could crouch in one of crenels on the battlements and remain unseen, unless someone happened to be walking by. This particular perch looked down on the courtyard at the center of the castle, currently unoccupied.

Although Altaïr kept still and hoped to be overlooked, Maria came to a stop just beside his perch.

“The girls tell me you haven’t taken anyone to bed since the brothers arrived,” she said, her tone mild. Altaïr spared her a flat, thin-lipped look.

“It’s not unusual for me to keep a few days to myself,” he replied. “I am merely mortal, after all.” Maria chuckled and stepped closer.

“You forget, it had been some time before that as well. Do you not get lonely at night?” Her voice had taken on a teasing edge that had a smile tugging at his lips. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her gaze drop pointedly. “Perhaps you're having trouble…?”

Maria was quick but Altaïr was still the faster of the two. She tried to step back when he uncoiled, but he sprang forward, grabbed her wrist, and yanked her forward, turning to pin her between his body and the parapet. She laughed as she was caught and he was reminded briefly of lost days, when they'd played this cat-and-mouse game quite often. He leaned in close, taking in the mischievous light in her eyes and the familiar scent of her perfume.

“You are welcome to find out,” he murmured. “I assure you, everything is in working order.” True to his words, he felt a stir of desire coil within him, his body remembering how things had once been between them. He wondered briefly if he could kiss her or if she would hit him for the attempt.

“Altaïr,” she said and her tone—amused but with a note of exasperated warning—settled his indecision. Without a word, he stepped back so she could slip free, his expression sobering as he cast his gaze on the courtyard again. He expected her to leave but she surprised him by instead leaning her hip against the parapet, her tone softening. “What troubles you so?”

Before he could answer, a flash of color in the courtyard below caught his attention. It was Malik, dressed in an outfit of deep burgundy, with Kadar trailing behind; his own clothes were a bright gold fabric that was dazzling in the sun. Maria, seeing Altaïr's gaze was focused below, shifted to watch with him as the siblings stripped off their vests and dropped them in the shade of the large tree at the center of the courtyard. After some brief stretching, they began to jog around the perimeter. Maria murmured something, sounding intrigued, but Altaïr was unsurprised. It had become something of a routine for them, one he'd discovered by accident. Kadar seemed to treat it as merely a way to kill time but his brother was obviously trying not to let their lifestyle soften him.

Unaware of their audience, the brothers jogged easily until Kadar leaned closer and said something to Malik, though the words didn’t carry to where Altaïr and Maria were standing. Abruptly, he took off like a spooked rabbit, and Altaïr found he was gripping the edge of the parapet, ready to jump down and intercept the young man if necessary. But as they watched, Malik chased after his brother and for a few minutes, they wove around the courtyard, Kadar’s laughter echoing as he dodged Malik’s attempts to grab him.

He could only keep away for so long, though, and when he stumbled, his arms wind-milling comically, Malik tackled him to the ground. They sprawled in the grass on their backs, chests heaving from the run, and Altaïr saw that, for once, Malik’s expression was not frozen in a sour scowl. His smile was faint, not nearly as broad as Kadar's, but it was a precious sight indeed. Altaïr found himself leaning forward unconsciously, trying to see it better; when he realized what he was doing, he straightened with a frown. Eventually, Malik’s good cheer faded and he rolled over to begin his push-ups. It was a mesmerizing sight but after a moment, Altaïr turned away, aware that Maria was watching him.

“I have never kept anyone here against their will,” he grumbled after a moment of silence. “This hostility grows wearisome.”

He had expected Malik would relent after a couple of days, once he realized the life he had been given wasn't so awful after all. Wasn't it obvious they were safer within Masyaf's walls than out where Robert's men still roamed?

“The younger one is not so hostile,” Maria remarked, her voice once again mild. He shot her a look, uncertain if she was teasing him again but her expression was perfectly neutral.

“That hardly matters when his brother guards him so closely,” Altaïr growled. He had imagined a much more pleasant battle of wills but even Maria's hostility—when she was first brought to the castle—was no match for Malik's.

“A man cannot be ever-watchful forever,” Maria said vaguely and only spread her hands when he shot her a questioning glance. “If it is the sultan's will to release them, simply give the order. I will see it is done.” She was undaunted by his scowl and apparently planned to wait as long as she had to for an answer. He stifled a growl of frustration as he stalked past her.

“They stay,” was all he said, tossed back over his shoulder, and then he disappeared into the castle.

~~~

Kadar had known it was only a matter of time before they were chosen to fulfill their duties as members of the sultan’s harem. But from the stories whispered amongst the women, he was not expecting to wake in the middle of the night only to find the sultan himself crouched beside him, a hand on his arm. It was dark in the sleeping quarters, the only light coming from the torches in the hall, so the man was light from behind and his face was shadowed. Kadar still recognized the line of his hood and his voice when he held out a hand and said, “Come with me.”

The man released his hand after leading him silently out of the sleeping chamber and past a doorway he recognized as the main audience chamber. Eventually, they reached a smaller door flanked by two soldiers. They came to attention once the sultan was in view and one opened the door for their master, closing it once Kadar had followed the sultan inside. His heart was pounding with trepidation but he still couldn't help looking around with some curiosity.

The sultan's private rooms were plainer than he'd expected. Even as unexpectedly simple as the decorations for the castle were in general, this room seemed to have just enough luxury to suit someone of higher standings without any unnecessary embellishments. There was a large bed to the right that was scattered with pillows and a table beside it with a large basin and pitcher. There was a doorway on the far left of the room that Kadar guessed may have led to a proper bathing chamber, but aside from the armor stand and small rack of weapons, there was very little else to look at, besides the sultan himself. The man had moved to stand beside the bed, his hood pushed back and those strange golden eyes watching Kadar intently. He felt his cheeks warm under the attention and dropped his gaze to the floor.

"Come here."

Kadar tried to swallow his anxiety as he crossed to where the sultan waited. Despite the hushed gossiping of the women in the harem, he wasn't exactly sure what his "duties" were, now that he was here. He hoped the sultan would stick to giving instructions and prayed he wouldn't realize--or worse, get mad about--how inexperienced Kadar was.

"You can look at me." He tried not to blush deeper at the amusement in the sultan's voice and instead raised his gaze and attempted to channel some of the defiance his brother seemed to have in endless supply. Although Altaïr's lips quirked, as if holding back a chuckle, he sensed approval from the other man. Even so, Kadar's nervousness returned when Altaïr settled his hands on the young man's hips.

"I have never raped anyone, Kadar," the sultan said quietly, his eyes suddenly serious. "I only allow the willing in my bed and I'm not looking to change that." Kadar nodded, a little surprised but unsure if that meant he could decline now or needed to wait to be asked. Altaïr's thumbs were brushing against the skin just above his waistband, his hands a steadying weight on his hips, and Kadar felt tingles radiating from that simple touch, as if his whole body were resonating with the feeling.

"Have you ever been with a man?" the sultan asked but Kadar just shook his head, not trusting his voice to be steady. There was a brief pause and then Altaïr nodded, as if he'd confirmed something. Kadar wondered if that was when he should have lied and said he'd been with a woman, at the very least. Too late now. A hand slid around to the small of his back and he was pulled against Altaïr.

"If you truly don't like this, you can ask to stop," Altaïr murmured, his voice a sinful ripple across Kadar's nerves. "However, I think I should at least demonstrate what you would be turning down."

He dipped his head but instead of the kiss Kadar was expecting, he lowered his lips to Kadar's neck, his tongue rasping over Kadar's rapidly beating pulse. The sultan nibbled his way up to an ear and Kadar shivered as hot breath preceded the wet swipe of a tongue. Feeling awkwardly uncertain, he rested his hands on Altaïr's arms and closed his eyes as that mouth drifted to do the same to the other side.

It felt incredible, the sensations vibrating across his nerves and straight down to his groin, where the first few tendrils of arousal were beginning to spread. He gasped and clenched his hands in Altaïr's white robes when the man suddenly sucked hard on a bit of skin just under the vest's collar. Altaïr lifted his head finally, smirking, and then took Kadar's mouth in a deep kiss, his tongue pushing in to move against Kadar's. The young man did his best to respond, feeling a little overwhelmed, but he knew he was blushing at his own lack of experience when Altaïr finally pulled back.

"So, should I stop?" the man asked and Kadar, too caught up in the sensations, was nodding before he really heard the question.

"Wait, I mean, no! Please, um," Kadar stammered, trying to collect his wits. "I would like to continue."

There was wicked amusement in Altaïr's eyes as his smirk broadened and then Kadar had to bite back a yelp as he was suddenly turned and tossed onto the bed. The sultan was on him in an instant, pinning him with another hungry kiss and bringing their hips together. Kadar's groan was muffled as his half-hard erection rubbed against an answering firmness. Altaïr shifted above him, pausing between kisses to shrug out of his robes. When he was stripped to just his breeches, he slid a hand down Kadar's chest and abdomen, seeming to watch for a reaction as he cupped his fingers around Kadar's arousal. Kadar couldn’t help the whimper that escaped him as that hand rubbed against him.

“Touch me.” The command was whispered against his throat and Kadar hesitantly did so, running his hands up Altaïr’s back, feeling the shift of muscles beneath strangely pale skin. It felt almost taboo to touch skin that was always guarded beneath armor and weapons. He slid a hand into surprisingly soft hair and then he gasped as Altaïr’s fingers finally slipped beneath the waistband of his pants to curl around his cock.

Firm strokes soon had him panting and writhing beneath the other man, barely able to catch a breath between kisses, and a desperate whine escaped him when the sultan pulled his hand free. It was apparent why a moment later when Altaïr tugged at Kadar's pants, forcing him to lift his hips so they could be pulled down and tossed aside. The vest was disposed of next and calloused hands roamed over Kadar's chest as he fought the instinctive urge to bring his knees together. He was completely exposed and even more nervous because of it but then Altaïr kissed him again and the urgency in it had Kadar tangling his fingers in the sultan's hair and arching up in a silent plea to be touched again.

But Altaïr was pulling away, sitting up and undoing the string on his pants and Kadar couldn't help following the line of hair down his stomach to watch, almost hypnotized, as Altaïr pushed the pants down and freed his own arousal. As the other man wiggled out of the pants, Kadar felt another spike in his pulse. He may be inexperienced but he wasn't completely ignorant; he had no doubts of what role he would play as the evening's events progressed. Some of this anxiety must have shown in his expression because Altaïr chuckled as he stretched out over Kadar again.

“Not tonight, I think,” the sultan murmured. “Tonight you can just use your hands.” His eyes were bright with amusement and seemed to say, Your move,. Kadar swallowed his nervousness and nodded, sliding his hand down Altaïr’s chest to the erection pressed against his thigh.

Kadar's grip was tentative at first but as a shudder rolled through Altaïr and he moaned against the young man's shoulder, he became bolder. The cock in his hand was different from his own, slightly thicker and foreign to the touch, but when he tightened his grip and twisted like he knew he liked, the sultan growled and thrust against him. The movement bumped their hips together and Kadar bit his lip as his own neglected arousal earned a teasing brush. He wanted to take himself in hand to ease the ache Altaïr had built within him, but he wasn't sure if that was allowed.

There was precum on his fingers, making his hand slide more easily, but calloused fingers suddenly wrapping around his own length made it difficult to concentrate. Altaïr’s strokes were as unrelenting as before and Kadar could feel his focus slipping as the wave of pleasure rose within him. Altaïr was still thrusting against him, his own breath grown ragged as their hands and cocks bumped.

“Say my name,” he commanded and it was the roughness in his voice that was Kadar’s undoing. With the sultan’s name on his lips, he came, his whole body trembling as Altaïr’s fingers continued to milk him through it. He was only half-aware of Altaïr pushing aside his now-slack fingers to finish himself with a few quick strokes, groaning as his spilled his release across Kadar’s stomach. The man was panting as he sagged onto the bed, his body a warm weight along Kadar’s side and his face tucked against Kadar’s neck. For a minute or two, they just breathed. When Altaïr finally lifted his head, he looked smug and sated.

“So,” he began and Kadar felt a finger trailing through the mess on his stomach. “You enjoyed that?” The answer was obvious but Kadar still nodded with a blush. “Good.” The word was practically a purr and then Altaïr was leaning close to kiss him languidly. “Next time, I want to hear you more.” Kadar’s heartbeat stuttered at the man’s words and somewhere in the back of his mind, he began to see why the women of the harem fawned over this man.

~~~

Malik's eyes flew open, his heart racing and a feeling of dread filling him as if waking from a nightmare. As he sat up and looked around, Kadar's absence made it all too clear what was wrong. It was possible he had only woken and gone to relieve himself, but somehow Malik knew that wasn't the case. He lay back against the cushions, his stomach churning even as he clenched his hand in a fist.

He'd been waiting for the sultan to make his move, trying to be sure he was always at Kadar's side, or at least near enough. He had intended to argue with the man when he came claim his right to bed them. Malik, at least, had experience with both sexes and as much as he detested the thought of offering himself to the sultan, he would have done so to spare his brother. But he'd missed his chance, somehow slept through Kadar getting up and leaving, and knowing his brother, Malik was sure he went without a fight. He lay there, fuming helplessly and sick to his stomach with thoughts of what the sultan could be forcing his little brother to do. All these years he had protected Kadar, and now he'd failed because he’d been sleeping.

Hours passed as Malik waited and every sound, no matter how minute, made him tense in anticipation of Kadar's return. He was exhausted from the worry and anger by the time he heard footsteps in the corridor. He guessed it was must be close to dawn and he strained his ears as the footsteps came to a stop just outside the room. He heard the murmur of voices, too quiet to hear clearly, and then a familiar figure appeared in the archway, partially lit by the torches in the corridor. Malik felt his heart freeze when he saw Kadar was smiling.

His brother nodded in response to whatever the other person—the sultan, more than likely, or a guard—was saying and then he turned to enter the room. He took two steps before he noticed Malik, sitting up amongst the others, and then he froze. Malik couldn't see his face anymore as Kadar had moved away from the light, but he struggled to keep his own expression neutral. He held out a hand and waited until Kadar tentatively continued forward.

The hand that took Malik's was trembling, but he tugged on it, pulling his brother down to lie beside him. Malik could smell the faint scent of sweat and sex and had to grit his teeth not to snarl in response. Instead, he asked in a voice that was far too calm for how he felt inside, “Did he hurt you?”

“No, Malik, it was...” Whatever Kadar saw on Malik's face seemed to change his mind about what he was going to say. The smile from before was gone and when he looked down, Malik thought he saw shame creeping into his expression. His next words came out in a whisper so small, Malik barely heard them. “I'm sorry.”

Malik wanted to scream, to smash or beat or tear something apart until his rage had been vented, but instead he leaned over to put his arm around his brother, pulling him close. He could feel Kadar's whole body was trembling as his hand had, probably in fear of what his brother would say, of the acidic words that would rain down on Kadar for allowing himself to be used in such a way. Malik guessed all of this and it only lent further fuel to his fury, but that fury was not centered on Kadar. Kadar wasn't the one who'd tied them up and dragged them back to this castle as if they were mere cattle, dressing them up and declaring them members of a harem because of some idle whim.

Malik hugged his brother and struggled to gain control of his anger, lest he accidentally lash out at Kadar. Eventually, he let out a sigh.

“You've done nothing wrong,” he murmured in as level of a voice as he could manage. He felt the hiccupping breath Kadar took and then his brother's arms went around him, clinging desperately. He wasn't crying but Malik suspected he was close to it. When they were younger, the thought of facing his brother's wrath often reduced Kadar to tears and babbled apologies. There were none of those now, just the fierce hug and hitching breaths that eventually evened out as Malik rubbed his back. Only when he was sure Kadar had slipped into sleep did he ease away from his brother. He spent the rest of the night—what little was left—staring at the ceiling, his earlier rage returning to churn within him.


Chapter 4


Altaïr half-expected to awake with a dagger at his throat, to find Malik had come to wreak vengeance on him for defiling his little brother. Instead, when he finally rose hours after leaving Kadar at the harem's archway, he was somewhat disappointed to find the man hadn't shown up. Reason told him it would be better to wait at least a day before visiting the harem—there was no way Malik would mistake where his brother had been—but the temptation was too strong to resist. After bathing and dressing in his usual robes, he left his chambers and was pleased when he came across Maria in the halls, heading in the same direction. He knew she often checked on the harem in the morning, and this would allow him to use walking with her as an excuse, instead of it being obvious where he was going. Her smile was knowing as he fell into step beside her.

“Enjoyed yourself?” she asked and his broad smirk was answer enough, causing her to laugh softly. “I guess his youthful energy made up for what experience he lacked?” His silence only seemed to add to her amusement.

Altaïr was a little surprised when his pulse quickened as they neared the harem's entrance, his fingers clenching and relaxing in loose fists at his side. It was a habit he fell into before a battle, but he tried to brush it off. He hoped Malik was smart enough not to attack him on sight; even so, he knew better than to expect a warm welcome from the man.

As they came to the chamber's archway, Altaïr saw that many of the occupants were just beginning to rise. The first woman to see him uttered a soft gasp and then hurried over to drop to her knees; soon the others were doing the same. Altaïr greeted them distractedly, instead scanning the room for a familiar pair of dark brown eyes. They were already fixed on him and if Altaïr had thought they were filled with hostility before, they were practically murderous now.

Malik and Kadar were both sitting up, though Kadar looked like he'd just awoken; as Altaïr's gaze met Malik's, the other man seemed visibly bristle. The sultan shifted his eyes to Kadar and was delighted by the faint flush that rose to the young man's cheeks and the shy smile he received in return. Luckily for Kadar, Malik was too intent on staring Altaïr down to notice, and the soft expression vanished as soon as Malik turned his attention back to his brother. He snapped something that made Kadar looked down and then Altaïr's attention was forced away from the brothers by the women now clamoring around him. He managed a vague conversation but when a messenger showed up with news from a scouting party, he was grateful for the excuse to leave.

The days that followed had Altaïr spending more and more time with Kadar. He continued to sneak the young man away at night, although each time Kadar was led out of the chamber, he would cast a look over his shoulder that was half-guilt, half-pain. Still, once he was in Altaïr's bed, it was easy enough to make him forget what was troubling him.

Each time he was tumbled into the sultan's bed, Kadar became more comfortable with their actions and his touches grew more bold as a result. It was a welcome relief from constantly being asked, “What would you like of me now, Your Majesty?” Even so, Kadar occasionally would hesitate and meet Altaïr's eyes—as if seeking permission—in a way that Altaïr found quite charming. It made him want to preserve that shyness, and so he tried to go slowly but eventually he grew tired of frantic rutting and was ready for more.

On this night, after leading the young man back to his room and stripping him down, he pulled away from Kadar's eager kisses to bring out the oil they would need. Kadar's eyes widened when he saw the bottle, but he said nothing, only reached for the sultan to draw his mouth back to his own. He was putting on a brave front, but Altaïr could feel him trembling.

“Just relax,” he whispered against Kadar's lips, then sat up to pour some of the oil into his palm. He coated one finger liberally, and then slid his fingers teasingly down Kadar's cock before moving past his balls to his entrance. Kadar whimpered as he began to ease the first finger in but Altaïr leaned forward to take his mouth again, their tongues tangling until Kadar had relaxed enough to take Altaïr's finger up to the knuckle. The sultan withdrew to add more oil and this time, he let his mouth wander down Kadar's throat and chest to latch onto a nipple, nipping and teasing with teeth and tongue as he worked a second finger in.

It had been some time since Altaïr had been able to take pleasure this way but he told himself not to rush. Kadar made an enticing sight, flushed and writhing against the sheets, a sense of impatience to his movements as Altaïr moved his fingers slowly in and out. Altaïr waited for the young man to finally look at him, pale blue eyes asking what he was too shy to say out loud, and then the sultan curled his fingers and pressed deep.

Kadar's startled cry sent a jolt through Altaïr and he swallowed the next shout with a hungry kiss. He spread his fingers once last time before he deemed Kadar prepared enough, the shouts loud enough. Shifting his hand to Kadar’s hip, he rolled them over so that Kadar was on top, his legs spread wide as he straddled the sultan. Pale blue eyes looked suddenly uncertain but as realization dawned, he blushed, and Altaïr couldn't help smiling; he had grown quite fond of Kadar's occasional moments of bashfulness.

“At your own pace,” he murmured, though he couldn't help rolling his hips against Kadar's, feeling his cock—slick with the same oil—sliding against the crease of his cheeks. Kadar shivers at the feeling and then he raises himself to his knees, reaching down to grip Altaïr's cock as he slowly sat back down.

The urge to thrust up into that tight heat surged through Altaïr but he only clenched his teeth, trying to hold still. Kadar had his eyes squeezed shut, one hand braced on the sultan's chest, and he shuddered when he finally came to rest with his ass against Altaïr's pelvis. He was panting and his arousal had flagged but when Altaïr took it in hand, the young man jerked, involuntarily clenching around the shaft within him and making the sultan groan.

“Move your hips,” he said almost desperately, and coaxed Kadar into a slow, rocking motion with one hand, even as he stroked the young man's arousal with the other. He could tell Kadar was trying to comply but appeared overwhelmed by everything he was feeling. Altaïr gave him a minute to find the rhythm and then he began to thrust slowly against him, using a hand on Kadar's hip to steady him.

The first time his cock brushed the spot he'd teased with his fingers, Kadar's whole body shook and his movements faltered. As Altaïr continued to rock up into him with unerring aim, Kadar's breath came in little hitches that told Altaïr he wouldn't last much longer. He pulled the young man down for another kiss—tongues tangling and breaths mixing—and wrapped an arm around him, trapping him against his chest as he thrust without reservation.

“A-Altaïr!” Kadar finally gasped. His cock, trapped between them, twitched as he spilled across both their stomachs, but Altaïr continued to thrust through the rhythmic clenches around him until it was suddenly too much. With a grateful groan, he gave in to the wave of pleasure as it crashed over him.

As the post-coital fog settled over him, he relaxed his grip on Kadar’s hip and brushed his fingers over the red marks he’d left, earning a shiver in response. Despite the mess between them, he kept his arm around Kadar and when lips pressed tentatively against his collarbone, he felt a lazy smile curl his lips.

It would be even harder now—perhaps impossible—to get Malik into bed. He'd been viciously unwilling before out of sheer dislike for Altaïr, but each night the sultan kept Kadar away from his brother, the more that anger would fester. He wasn't giving up, though. Kadar might be sufficient unto the day, but Altaïr wanted to hold close both his troubles.

~~~

‘No weapons,’ the sultan had said and Malik thought it likely that he, or Mistress Thorpe, had passed the word along to the guards. Despite being well armed, they watched Malik closely whenever he was near. If both his arms had been intact, being without a weapon would not have been a problem. He doubted any of the men he’d seen were a match for him, and even with his handicap, he suspected he could still disarm one. But there were always two guards, which presented a problem. In order to ensure the brothers didn't have to fight their way out, Malik decided they would need a hostage.

The harem women were no good because it was obvious to Malik that Altaïr cared little for them. How they failed to see this was beyond him. The sultan himself would have been perfect but that damned wristblade was so easily hidden, it was hard to tell when he wore it and when he didn’t. Instead, Malik decided that Mistress Thorpe was their best chance. He had only seen her and the sultan together twice, and they didn't seem close, but it was still clear she was an important part of his household.

To keep her from fighting back he would need to catch her off-guard. That meant finding a dagger or knife he could keep hidden until the right moment. With a blade at her throat, he imagined she would be compliant enough. Once they were out in the courtyard, they only needed to keep her as far as the gates before they let her go. Kadar wouldn’t like the plan, but for love of Malik, he would go along with it.

Thoughts of his brother made his stomach twist again, a mixture of misery and fury, but it also reminded him of what hung in the balance. If he wasn’t careful, Kadar would end up paying for Malik’s plot before they ever had a chance to try it.

Kadar had not come back last night, again, but Malik knew where he was. Everyone in the harem knew, although the women seemed unable to understand it. Perhaps they never thought the sultan was earnest, but they began to whisper amongst themselves now that he had turned his attentions away from them. Not wanting to overhear just what exactly they thought Kadar might be doing, Malik fled to his only refuge in this godforsaken castle: the library.

Unfortunately, the hour spent surrounded by dusty tomes did nothing to calm him down, and eventually he left in as terrible a mood as when he'd arrived. He was so caught up in his thoughts, he missed the sound of footsteps approaching and stepped out of the room just as a young serving girl passed the door. She shrieked, startled by his sudden appearance, and the pitcher of water she'd been carrying slipped from her grasp. It barely missed landing on Malik’s foot but they were both hit by the splash as ceramic shattered and water went everywhere. For a moment, there was a stunned silence.

“Idiot girl,” Malik growled, but even as he spoke, he saw her eyes rolling back in a faint. Instinct had him stepping forward to grab her arm and she hung from his one-handed grip like a doll. A sharp pain in his foot reminded him of the mess on the floor and when he glanced down, he saw he’d stepped onto a piece of the pitcher; thin tendrils of red were now spreading through the puddle of water. As he stared at the blood, an idea began to form in his mind.

He eased the girl down as gently as he could, careful to avoid the smashed pottery, and then lifted his foot to inspect the damage. The sound of footsteps approaching him warned him he didn’t have much time. The piece he pulled from his foot was too small for what he needed, but the edges were more than sharp enough. He crouched down, selected a piece about the size of his thumb—any larger and it might be missed—and carefully folded it into his palm just as two guards came hurrying around the corner. They came to an abrupt halt, clearly confused by the scene that lay before them: Malik leaned against the wall, his injured foot lifted slightly, while the girl still sprawled beside the mess of water, blood and shards of the pitcher.

“This girl practically ran into me when I was leaving the library,” Malik snapped. “Apparently she was so startled, she dropped the pitcher and then fainted. I cut my foot when I tried to catch her.” He threw down the bloodied piece and their eyes widened at the sight. They exchanged a look and then one went running back the way they’d come, probably to fetch someone of higher authority to handle the situation.

Across from the library was a small garden; a few benches arranged beneath a roof latticework covered in vines. Malik had always suspected this was why the library went unnoticed but he was grateful for its presence now as he limped towards the closest bench. His foot throbbed with each step and he was aware he was trailing blood across the stones, but he finally reached his destination and sank down gratefully. The remaining guard watched him tensely, almost looking like he wanted to protest. Malik rolled his eyes.

“I’m not going to bleed out while we wait for the mistress. You could at least check on the girl. I did my best not to drop her on the broken pieces but my concerns were elsewhere.” He gestured to his foot as he propped it up on his knee. The guard stared a moment more before moving to the girl's side, watching Malik as if wary of attack.

As soon as he bent to check on the serving girl, Malik reached over to the potted plant that sat beside his bench and pushed the sharp wedge of pottery as deep into the dirt as he could. He prayed it was hidden, too afraid to draw attention to himself by looking, and instead examined the sole of his foot when the guard looked at him again. He faintly felt relief that his clothes were black, so the dirt he brushed off his fingers wouldn't show.

The wound wasn't too terrible, although it began bleeding freely after he'd removed the shard from it. He left it alone, instead watching as the guard managed to wake the serving girl up. Rapidly approaching footsteps had them all looking up to see Mistress Thorpe, the guard's partner, and several servants bearing towels, a broom, and a basket of what looked like bandages. The mistress took one look at the scene and pressed her lips together in a thin line.

“What happened?”

The serving girl seemed in danger of fainting again but stumbled over an apology for having dropped the pitcher as the guard helped her to her feet. Malik watched with feigned disinterest, thinking only of his makeshift weapon, buried in plain sight beside him. Mistress Thorpe finally cut off the poor girl off and instructed her to help with cleaning up the broken pottery before moving to where Malik sat.

“You seem unperturbed,” she remarked, waving impatiently for the girl carrying the basket of supplies to hurry over. Malik shrugged, returning the woman's gaze evenly.

“It was an accident and it is not a grave injury,” he replied. The girl with the bandages murmured an apology before beginning to swipe at the cut on his foot with a wet cloth. Malik clenched his jaw against a hiss of pain and looked away, submitting to the treatment without a word. He could feel Mistress Thorpe watching him and wondered what she might suspect.

When the girl had finished wrapping his foot up, the mistress dismissed her. The other servants had cleaned up the mess and returned to their tasks, leaving just the guards waiting uncertainly in the corridor. Malik stood and tentatively eased his weight on the injured foot, noting that while it hurt, it wasn't unbearable. He'd certainly suffered worse. He shot a look of venom at his would-be nurse when she asked if he needed any medicine for the pain.

“Shall I help you back?” Mistress Thorpe asked, and Malik could hear the faint edge of humor in her voice.

“I can manage,” he said crisply, turning away and taking a few limping steps.

“The sultan would be most displeased if you were to injure yourself further out of stubbornness,” she continued. “Perhaps I should have the guards carry you?”

Malik paused, letting out a breath as he counted silently in his head and tried to calm down. When he turned to look behind him, he applauded himself on how calm he now appeared.

“I would be glad for your help,” he said. The woman's eyebrows lifted slightly—apparently impressed as well—but she refrained from commenting further. Instead, she came to stand beside him and he grudgingly put his arm over her shoulders. Together, they walked slowly back to the harem chambers.

Kadar was waiting when they arrived and immediately rushed over when he saw the bandage on Malik's foot. Mistress Thorpe left after Malik thanked her and then he gave his brother a brief summary of what had happened. He said nothing of the broken piece of pitcher he'd smuggled away. Kadar forced Malik to stretch out on the cushions in their corner of the room and wouldn't allow him to move for the rest of the day, aside from getting up to relieve himself; even then, he wouldn't leave Malik's side.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, Altaïr showed up later that evening to see how Malik was doing.

“If you need anything, simply ask,” the sultan said. “We have several well-trained doctors in the castle.”

Malik bit back a retort about the girl who'd originally cleaned the wound and said instead, “I'm not a stranger to pain. As long as I have fresh bandages, I will be fine.”

He was still seated on the cushions and the sultan was standing, so Malik was able to see a little more of his face under the hood. Altaïr's eyes darted to what remained of Malik's left arm and then returned to meet his own, and Malik was startled to realize Altaïr was the first person to look at him completely and utterly without pity or judgment. Instead, there seemed to be mild curiosity lurking in those golden eyes whenever they shifted to Malik's handicap. He struggled to keep his thoughts from showing as Altaïr's lips twitched.

“I will let you rest, then,” he said and after sparing a smile for Kadar, he turned and left the chamber. Malik realized later that was probably the most civil he had been since their arrival.

It was another day and a half before he could convince Kadar he was perfectly capable of getting up and moving around, despite a dull ache when he took a step. After enough grumbling about being bored and restless, he badgered his brother into helping him down to the library. Once there, it was easy enough to suggest they read in the garden, and while Kadar was staring up at the castle through the vines, Malik was able to quickly retrieve his weapon unnoticed.

Slipping it behind the last page of his book, he was pleased to note that it hardly made a difference. He'd chosen this book in particular because of the folded up map it contained, which already made it bulky. When they eventually retired to the harem chamber, he brought it back under the pretense of having something to read without Kadar fussing at him.

He tucked his prize under some cushions in their corner and over the next couple of days, he fell into the habit of slipping his hand beneath the pillow to press against the book. The firm wedge was unmistakable when felt from the right spot, and he took solace in checking it as nonchalantly as possible during the day. Now it was only a matter of waiting for his foot to heal so they wouldn't be hindered in their escape.

By the fifth day, there was hardly any pain when he walked and he decided he was healed enough. Now he only needed the mistress to get close enough for him to strike. He slipped a hand beneath the cushion to reassure himself he was ready but at first felt nothing inside the book. For a moment, he couldn't breathe and even his heart seemed to stop. He fought the urge to throw aside the pillow and rip open the book, but as his fingers pressed all over the cover and continue to feel no resistance from an object hidden within it, a sick dread swept through him.

The pottery shard was gone.

Part 3