Finally, he hears it: footsteps just outside, approaching cautiously. Stan will have said goodbye to his parents at his house before beginning the journey to the hut alone. He won't be wearing any robes or perfumes: the unwrapper wears his everyday attire and cleans himself with nothing more than soap and water, traditionally. Of course, Stan isn't exactly traditional in all manners. Kyle is holding his breath when the door knob turns.
He goes tense when Stan walks into the hut. He's taller than Kyle pictured, and thicker across the chest, though not fat. He's wearing a coat of worn brown leather, carrying a traveling bag with a small guitar strapped to it, and the wind has given his hair a cowlick. He shuts the door behind him and lingers near it, smiling uncertainly. The candles give a strong enough glow to show Kyle that Stan's cheeks are very red.
"Hurry," Kyle says, fidgeting. "I don't want to lie like this much longer."
"Oh, of course -- Kyle." Stan puts down his bag down and comes to the bed, the sound of his boots thumping across the wooden floor boards making Kyle dizzy with nervous arousal. Stan falls onto Kyle with surprising urgency and kisses his lips as his hands travel down to untie the ribbon. He's clumsy with it, still kissing Kyle, his breath choppy.
"You look wonderful," Kyle says, to reassure him. "Um, strong. Bigger than I thought."
"I have a face like a kid, I know," Stan says. Kyle can see that his hands are shaking as he pulls the untied ribbon off. Despite his nerves, Kyle has begun to get hard. "It's a new one," Stan says as he carefully removes Kyle's outermost blanket.
"Well, my mother likes to quilt," Kyle says, defensively. Stan grins at him, and Kyle can't suppress a smile.
"You smell nice," Stan says. He pushes the blanket open and runs his hands over the next one, scattering flower petals. "Lilacs?" he says.
"Yes. My mother preserved them, they're from summer."
"Pretty." Stan gets to work on the next layer without hesitating. Kyle can hear him breathing in heavy, measured pushes. "I should tell you," Stan says, looking up at Kyle as he pulls the next layer off. Kyle's erection is visible now, a pronounced bump. "I went to find Kenny last night, and I couldn't."
"Went to find him why?" Kyle asks. Stan holds his gaze and shakes his head slowly.
"I don't know," he says. "I expected to figure that out when I got there. But now that I've gotten here -- I feel like I have."
"Don't mince words, dammit, tell me what you decided!" Kyle had planned on being unwrapped before they discussed any of this, to seduce Stan with his naked form, but he's really been naked this whole time, so defenseless. Stan lets out his breath.
"Now that I'm here I feel like I'd give up anything to pull off the next two blankets," Stan says.
"Even him?" Kyle asks, not able to make his voice very strong. Stan nods and leans down to kiss him softly.
"I think I lost him as soon as you kissed me," Stan says. "Or he lost me, I suppose."
Kyle can't make himself believe that this is really happening, his lips shaking terribly and ruining the kiss. Stan doesn't seem to mind. He sucks at Kyle's bottom lip gently, as if to warm it.
"Roses?" Stan whispers when he pulls off the next layer and runs his hand over the petals there, scattering them. Kyle shakes his head. He's getting very hard and almost wishes that he wasn't, wanting to separate his already overwhelming emotional relief from baser things like stiff cocks.
"Peonies," he says, his voice barely working. "Roses are next."
"Oh, don't spoil the surprise," Stan says, and he brushes his thumbs over Kyle's cheeks when his tears fall. "And don't cry. It's okay. Everything's going to be okay. I think I knew as soon as I walked in here."
"But -- Stan! You just want sex, alright, and I don't intend to trap you with it. Even if I'd like to, it wouldn't be right."
"I don't just want sex. I want you. I just want to see you, without all this pomp and decoration. The flower petals are nice, but I want what's inside. At the very center. And that's not just your body, okay?"
Kyle loses it then. He tries to cry quietly, in a restrained and manful way, sighing into Stan's mouth as they kiss. He wants Stan to tear the last layers away, feels as if he's on fire under the blankets and only Stan's touch can cool his burning skin.
"Hurry," he says, whispering this against Stan's mouth. "God, I just. I want to put my arms around you."
"Yeah," Stan says, looking slightly hypnotized. He shrugs his jacket off and lets it fall to the floor, then pulls off his sweater and undershirt before falling onto Kyle again. Kyle moans at the sight of Stan's bare chest: his parents must make him work around the house and in the yard. He has lean muscles, and some sparse chest hair that Kyle wants to investigate thoroughly once he's free.
"There they are," Stan says when he sees the rose petals. They're deep red, already wilting slightly from being pressed under the other layers. Stan picks one up and brushes it across Kyle's lips.
"Don't tease me," Kyle says, though he loves this, and that Stan isn't in too much of a hurry to rip his coverings away. They're symbolic, after all.
"Last one," Stan says, taking hold of the folded blanket. Kyle nods and lets out his breath. There are no flower petals beneath this blanket, just the robe. Along with the petals, his parents' well wishes and goodbyes will fall away with this last blanket, and he'll be truly and completely in Stan's hands.
Stan pushes the blanket away, and Kyle remains completely still while Stan surveys him. He knows his nipples are visible through the sheer robe, and his careful, labored breathing feels so obvious, though not so much as his erection, which is poking out from the robe, as red as his cheeks and wet at the tip. Kyle doesn't dare adjust himself. Stan's breathing is noticeably deliberate, too, but in a different way, almost a low growl at the back of his throat. He kisses Kyle's lips in a hasty peck before stepping back to take off his pants. When Stan reaches for the hem of his tented undershorts, Kyle undoes his robe himself, though doing so is very nontraditional. Surprisingly, in this moment, he wants to be the one to unwrap his final layer and show Stan his bare skin.
"Kyle," Stan says when he's naked, too, his cock an intimidating length of uncut glory that Kyle wants to lick all over.
"I hope you don't mind," Kyle says, his hands twitching at his sides. He's still wearing the robe, but it's open around him, exposing everything.
"You--" Stan says, and then he seems to lose his voice. He falls onto Kyle and covers him, both of them moaning at the feeling of skin on skin after so many nights of blankets, their cocks bumping together clumsily when they kiss. Kyle lifts his arms, almost afraid they won't work. He touches Stan's hair first, then his shoulders. He's so warm, and heavy in the best way, a better kind of blanket.
"I'll come," Kyle says when Stan rolls his hips down.
"Already?" Stan grins. "Didn't you beat off?"
"Beat off! No! I couldn't even eat!"
"Aww, oh -- Kyle. I jerked off three times. Thinking about you -- about what we said to each other that night. How much I want it to be real."
"Oh, god," Kyle says. He pinches his eyes shut, willing himself not to start babbling about how he can't believe this is real, that he's actually got his arms around Stan and his naked cock on Stan's thigh. "Let's get under the blankets," he says. "I feel like I'm going to explode."
They scramble into the bed properly for the first time, burrowing under layers of clean sheets. Kyle folds his mother's quilt back, not wanting it too close to all that's about to happen. He gathers Stan against him and they both laugh at the luxurious feeling of rubbing naked limbs together, their faces hot when their noses touch.
"What first?" Stan asks.
"I don't know," Kyle says, though he has some ideas. At the moment he's enjoying just touching Stan's chest under the heat of the blankets. His nipples are stiff; when Kyle pokes at one, Stan responds by fondling Kyle's left nipple.
"Lift up your arm," Stan says, and Kyle obeys. He twitches away in laughter when Stan tickles his fingers through his arm hair. "It's red," Stan says, beaming, as if he's glad to give Kyle this new information. "That's crazy."
"It's not so crazy!"
"I like it, I mean," Stan says. He reaches down to rub his fingertips around the base of Kyle's cock, shyly touching the hair there. "Here, too," he says, his voice pinched. "You're beautiful. I wish it wasn't so cold. I just want to -- look at you."
"Look with your hands," Kyle says, and he groans when Stan takes hold of his cock. "Yes, like that -- you can stare at me later, when I'm not so scared."
"Well, not scared. It's just weird! I've never been looked at, naked. Not like this, anyway."
"We can hide under here," Stan says, his hand moving on Kyle again. "It's nice like this."
"Yes," Kyle says, and they kiss. It quickly becomes wild, their legs tangling together, hips jerking, hands everywhere. The only thing holding back Kyle's orgasm is his spinning head; it's so much to take in, all at once. He sits up on his elbow and draws away from Stan, just slightly, his thigh still resting against Stan's under the blankets, and begins cataloging Stan's features with his fingertips. He slides two fingers down the length of Stan's straight nose, touches his lips and his jaw, the rim of his ear. Stan lies there patiently, swallowing. "Yours is bigger than mine," Kyle says, touching Stan's Adam's apple when he swallows again.
"Too big," Stan says.
"No, I love it! It's like a man's. All of you is, except for your sweet eyes. Look -- listen. Is Kenny going to come bursting in here?"
"I don't know," Stan says. He takes Kyle's hand and kisses his fingertips, one at a time. "He doesn't know which hut I'm in, unless he's been spying on me."
"I'd wager he has. He found my house, didn't he?"
"It doesn't matter - Kyle. There are guards, you know, and even if he came, well. It would be awful, but I wouldn't leave with him. I'm here, with you. For the night -- for the duration."
"The duration," Kyle says, flatly. That could be interpreted many ways.
"For good," Stan says, and he sits up, pressing Kyle's hand over his heartbeat. "If I ever leave this town, you're coming with me."
"And Kenny won't be joining us?"
"Highly unlikely. It will break his heart when he finds out how much I love you."
Kyle sits up and kisses Stan possessively, holding onto his ears and nipping at his lips a few times. He gives Stan what he hopes is a blazing look when he pulls back, wanting this moment to function like a spell that can never be broken, one that they both cast together.
"I loved you the moment I saw you," Kyle admits, because he has to give something up, too, he supposes, to make the spell work. He kisses Stan primly on the lips and then tunnels under the blankets to kiss his cock.
As they work through their initial curiosities, Kyle begins to almost want Kenny to come crashing through the door with his arrogant smirk, so that he could watch it drain from Kenny's face when he sees that he's been out-thieved by Kyle, a mere "boy" from the village. He supposes that's cruel, but he's feeling greedy and a little arrogant himself, transformed from an awkward bundled thing to a buffet of delights for Stan's reverent attention. When Stan flattens his tongue at the base of Kyle's cock and licks his way up to nibble at the tip, Kyle screams and comes right in poor Stan's face, very glad after all for the camouflaging music from the village square.
"Sorry, sorry," Kyle says, panting, and Stan sucks the apologies directly off his tongue. "Try to get inside me now," Kyle says, because Stan still hasn't come, and Kyle wants the first batch of their bonding shot right up his ass. "Please," he says, when Stan vaults out of the bed. "What are you doing?"
"Getting the oil," Stan says. "My mother made it for you. Well, for me. Well -- I've got lots of things in here for you," he says, digging through his bag. He looks painfully adorable, squatting naked on the floor. His back is smooth and unblemished, and his balls look remarkably good from this angle, firm and full. Kyle squirms happily under the blankets, wanting every drop of that in him. His nervousness has evaporated so easily that he's almost concerned, but very little could manage to actually bother him right now, as Stan sets out packages of cookies and dried fruit that his mother has tied up with bows. Or maybe Stan tied the bows himself.
"I'm starving," Kyle says. "But I don't want to eat until after. I want you to feed me all those sweet little things after you've, um - well, like the tradition says."
"These are the best," Stan says, holding up a red tin. "Cinnamon rolls. Can you smell them?" He sniffs the tin. "My mom showed me how to heat them up over the cauldrons."
"She's very generous to make all this for me."
"Yes, and--" Stan peeks at Kyle from over his shoulder. "I made you something, too."
Stan picks up the guitar and smiles sheepishly, placing it against the wall.
"That's for later," he says. "I wrote a song."
"Oh. Oh! How sweet. Come here, did you find the oil?"
Stan bounds back to the bed when he has, and Kyle flattens himself beneath him, giddy to have Stan's skin pressed to his again. He gropes for Stan's cock and has a spike of nerves at the feeling of its thickness in his hand, but he likes the way the foreskin slides in his grip, and he can't imagine anything Stan could do hurting him, now that he's promised to stay.
"I'm very clean," Kyle says, flushing. He's not sure if he hopes Stan will or won't want to put his mouth there. It seems a bit obscene, for a bonding ritual.
"You mean -- here?" Stan's hand slides down between Kyle's legs, his palm cupping Kyle's balls and his fingers tickling lower, until Kyle gasps and nods.
"It's so small." Stan sounds more appreciative than anxious about this, though he's touching Kyle only timidly, making him clench and shudder. "Tell me what to do?" he says, and Kyle didn't expect to want to hear that, but he's very glad to give instruction in this area, though he doesn't really know what he's doing, either.
"Use the oil," Kyle says. "Rub it, you know. Outside, first, but firmly." His face is flaming, but so is Stan's: it's fine. They're bonded in marriage now, or just a few steps away from it, anyway. Seven or eight thick inches worth of steps, by Kyle's estimation, but he can't think about that yet. He'll take a few fingers first, to get used to the sensation. He's already liquefying in Stan's hands, bracing his heels on the mattress and pressing his ass down to get more of this feeling. Stan's touch has gotten surer, perhaps because Kyle gave instructions. "Put one in now," Kyle says when he can't take it anymore, teased into a sweat by Stan's circling fingertips, his cock hard again. He stares at the ceiling and bites his lip, releasing it when Stan touches his cheek.
"Stop me if it hurts," Stan says. He leans down to kiss Kyle as his finger presses inside him, and Kyle sighs against Stan's mouth, nodding. Somehow he knew it would feel like this. The sensation itself is wonderfully strange; it's a hot, building pressure that makes him want this fullness deeper inside him. There's also the fact that it's Stan who's hovering over him, pushing into him, and breathing onto Kyle's cheek in long, slow exhales. That's what makes it more wonderful than strange, Kyle thinks.
"You're getting warmer," Stan says, muttering this in secret way that makes Kyle's back arch.
"It's okay," Kyle says. "I like being warm."
"Inside, too. God, Kyle."
Kyle isn't sure how long it takes to get two of Stan's fingers into him, but he doesn't care. He feels as if they've left time, the village, and everything that's been haunting him since he learned about the concept of bundling behind. They're alone together in the most sacred way, and Kyle feels certain that if Kenny threw open the door of their hut he wouldn't find them, or at least wouldn't see them: they're hidden from everything else by this closeness, protected.
"I might shout and squeeze your arms," Kyle says when Stan is slicking his cock, kneeling uncertainly between Kyle's open legs. "Don't worry if that happens. Stan, you look so worried."
"It's just," Stan says, and a chill pierces Kyle's heart: if Stan stops now, changes his mind, walks out the door, Kyle will be lost forever, outside of their safe world together and lost to the real world, too, adrift. Stan sits there looking fretful for a few awful seconds, holding his oiled cock like it's a sword he's not sure how to wield. "I can't believe how well I feel I know you," he says. "After such a short time. I can't stand the thought that it's an illusion, that it's not just true. It feels so true."
"Then feel it when you're inside me," Kyle says. He sits up and takes Stan's shoulders, coaxing him down. "Then you'll know it's real. I know it's real. Let me show you – come and feel it."
Kyle doesn't shout when Stan pushes inside him; it takes the breath out of his lungs. He does squeeze Stan's arms, very hard, afraid that his nails are digging in but too in need of something to brace himself on to ease his grip even a little. Stan sinks in slowly, keeping his unblinking eyes on Kyle's, suddenly not afraid. He asks if it's okay, and Kyle can only nod, his eyes wide and his voice gone. It hurts, but not like a cut or a bruise or anything he wants to end. He keeps his hands clawed around Stan's biceps and feels sweat streaking down over his temples as he waits to know what it's like to have Stan completely within him, the closest they can get. When Stan sighs into his mouth, Kyle knows this is it: Stan is all in, resting against the deepest parts of Kyle that anyone will ever touch, his balls snug over Kyle's openness. It's done; they've done it. Kyle lets out his breath and closes his eyes when Stan kisses his nose, eyelids, cheeks.
"You're right," Stan says, and Kyle relaxes a little, his fingers flexing on Stan's arms. Stan seems to close around him even more tightly, though Kyle doesn't feel squeezed, just cozy. "I feel it," Stan says, murmuring this into Kyle's ear, his stomach pushing against down Kyle's with every heavy breath. "And I'm sorry. I already knew. I was just scared. You changed all my stupid plans, everything."
Kyle stares up at Stan for a while, trying to steady his choppy breath. He thinks he's earned the right to be quiet, trying to fully absorb the feeling of being so open. He also wants to wait until he can speak without a tremble in his voice.
"I've got my own stupid plans," he says. The shape of Stan inside him is beginning to feel nowhere near normal but certainly interesting, on the verge of pleasurable, though he can't discern how or why yet. "I want – I want to sit together by a fire when it's cold outside, and I know that's not too thrilling, if you might otherwise be traveling places and sleeping under the stars, but I think it's exciting, just being under the same roof with you."
"Even being on the same earth is exciting," Stan says. "Even thinking about you during the day, wondering what you're doing, if you're thinking of me -- and I want that, too, Kyle. Our own little roof. I was so glad to see they'd lit cauldrons in here. I wanted you to be warm when I unwrapped you."
"I am warm. You can move, you know. Give it a try."
"I'll finish if I do."
"But you emptied yourself three times!" Kyle says, smiling, secretly glad that it's going to be done soon, so they can take a break to hold each other more comfortably, and eat those treats.
"It's not the same," Stan says. "My hand, I mean. This is – I never thought it could be like this."
"You never thought you'd make love to another person?" Kyle says, laughing.
"Not to someone like you," Stan says, and he pulls back just a little, his eyes fluttering shut when he pushes back in. "I didn't think I had a missing piece."
"You didn't feel it? I felt it my whole life, that longing."
"No, I did. I just didn't understand how I could find it in one person. I thought it would be – adventure, accomplishment, the whole world. I didn't think a person could feel that way, like all my hopes and dreams but real enough to touch, that I could hold that feeling in my arms—"
Kyle kisses Stan, unable to wait any longer. He holds Stan against him when he comes, petting his hair and sighing with a relief that actually feels like graduation to adulthood: he's done it. He's a man now, and he's made one of Stan, too. He feels as if he'll be invincible, for a time, fortified by this. And when his temporary invincibility wears off, he can ask Stan to give it to him again.
"Are you alright?" Stan asks as he pulls out. Kyle realizes he's wincing and nods, moaning when Stan pops out entirely. It's an unexpectedly nice feeling, the sudden hollowness and lingering ache, perhaps because Stan is kissing him as he experiences it. "You didn't come," Stan says.
"I did, before. And I will again, later."
"Yes, you will," Stan says, and Kyle shivers under the weight of him, grinning.
They hold each other under the blankets until Kyle's stomach starts making pained, whining sounds. Stan tells him to stay put, as if Kyle was going to break tradition by leaping out of bed and grabbing the food himself. He sits up and stretches while Stan heats the cinnamon rolls over one of the cauldrons.
"We're bonded now," Kyle says.
"Feels like it, too," Stan says. "I didn't expect it to feel so real, right away. I can't believe I thought I could leave -- I can't believe you were going to let me do that and walk out!"
"I don't know that I would have, really. I might have tied you up or something."
"As if I could have left you, after we did that." Stan smiles at him and tosses a bag onto the bed. "Candied ginger," he says.
"I'm holding out for the rolls." Kyle can smell them now, gooey sugar and soft bread.
"What do you want to drink?" Stan asks. "I've got some fancy wine thing from my dad, and juice. And spring water."
"I want some of everything. It's our bonding night feast. Stan!"
"I don't know. I'm happy. But I feel like I'm made out of paper, like some spark is going to ignite me at any minute. You're not having second thoughts?"
"Nope," Stan says, but Kyle still feels nervous. Stan can't have changed his mind about everything, even if he has fallen in love with Kyle. When the ceremony is over, the treats consumed and the luxurious scents washed from Kyle's skin, their real life will begin. They'll have to milk cows and chop firewood. The winter is only beginning; the nights will be so long and quiet. Kyle would happily be snowed in together for days, but not if Stan will lie suffering beside him, dreaming of faraway beaches that Kenny might be sunning himself on.
The rolls are delicious, and Kyle tries to put his worries out of his mind. It doesn't matter, anyway: what's done is done. He wishes this was more of a comfort, and eats until his stomach hurts, curled under Stan's arm with the blankets pulled up to their chests.
"This is good," Kyle says when he tries the wine, surprised that he likes it. It's sweet and almost syrupy, but not too cloying.
"My dad makes it himself," Stan says. They smile at each other, and Kyle wonders if the silence that follows is awkward. Perhaps he's just being paranoid.
"I can't believe we'll have our own house," Kyle says. "It's so strange. My father is going to make me his apprentice. That means filing scrolls and fetching his lunch, I think, but it's something."
"It's great," Stan says, and he squeezes Kyle closer, burying his face in Kyle's curls. "You smell so good," he says, muttering this in a dreamy way that makes Kyle wonder if he hasn't gotten a little drunk from the wine. Does Stan like to drink? Does he take after his father in that sense? He said before that he doesn't want to be like him, but Kyle can't help but wonder, and worry, that Stan might escape into bottles when he can't run away entirely. "What's wrong?" Stan asks, and Kyle laughs at himself.
"Just - nothing. It's all a lot to think about. Starting a new life."
"It's not entirely new. We'll still live here, have dinner with our parents once a week, all of that."
Kyle opens his mouth to blurt that 'all of that' is the life Stan was dreading six days ago, but he's startled by a sound from the door before he can. The knob is turning, very slowly.
"Oh, shit," Stan says, and his grip on Kyle tightens.
Kyle pulls the blankets up to his shoulders when the door opens, his heart beginning to pound with fury just as much as fright. This is their sacred night, their special place, and here's the fucking thief, doing what he does best: taking what isn't is. Kenny closes the door behind him after entering. He's got a large duffel bag slung over his shoulder and he seems cleaner than he did when he was in Kyle's bedroom window, like he's scrubbed himself for his own special night with Stan.
"Are you finished?" Kenny asks, looking at Stan and speaking blandly, as if Kyle isn't in the room. Kyle's heart plummets. He clutches at Stan's thigh under the blankets, afraid to look into his eyes.
"Finished with what?" Stan says. "You can't be in here - ah, god, Kenny. I tried to find you."
"I know. I saw you looking."
Kenny sets his bag down and surveys the mess on the bed: unwrapped candies and cookies, the wine cups, a jug of juice and the canteen with the spring water. The tin that held the cinnamon rolls is at the end of the bed, dark sugar crusted along the edges. Kenny smiles as if this is all very quaint and amusing.
"You saw me?" Stan says. He frowns and shakes his head. "What? Were you hiding from me?"
"Not hiding, exactly. But I didn't want to be found and have to listen to your last minute waffling. Come on, Stan. You've had your fun with the kid."
"Kenny, you don't understand." Stan is still holding Kyle, which is a good sign, but Kyle feels frozen between utter heartbreak and complete deliverance, scared to move. "I'd come to tell you that I can't leave with you," Stan says. "I'm sorry, but—"
"Chickening out like the others?" Kenny's eyes flick to Kyle, and Kyle does his best to make his gaze steely and defiant.
"He's not a chicken," Kyle says. "Stan can leave this village any time he wants. He's just not leaving now, with you."
"Kyle," Stan says, and he gives him a gentle squeeze. Kyle will die if Stan lets go of him for even a moment in the presence of this intruder. "It's not what I thought," Stan says to Kenny, his voice shaking. "I think that matchmaker is a witch after all, a real one. She found my match, and I love him."
"Or she put a spell on you to make you think so," Kenny says, and Kyle scoffs. He's beginning to spot the cracks in Kenny's tough exterior: now that he's moved closer to the bed, Kyle can see the desperation in Kenny's eyes, and his silenced shock at seeing Stan naked in bed with Kyle.
"She gave me no potions," Stan says. He's speaking softly, consolingly.
"There was tea, though, you said? At your matchmaking?"
"It was no spell!" Stan says. "I didn't fall in love right away, after drinking some tea."
"Of course you didn't. You were tricked into it, same as if you'd been given a potion, tricked by this whole charade." Kenny gestures around the hut, dismissing everything in view.
"I've come to understand Stan's objections to this process," Kyle says, trying to channel the calm mediator's tone that his father uses in situations like this. "And your objections, too, and I'm sorry they've never let you be bundled. That's horrible. But Stan is staying here. Open your eyes, thief. You can see that you've lost him. Don't embarrass yourself." Perhaps that was more his mother's tone, but he's not sorry he said it. Kenny seems to puff up a bit, defensively, but it doesn't amount to much. He looks to Stan, breathing heavily.
"Please," Stan says. "Forgive me. I didn't know myself, before now."
"Before him?" Kenny says. He looks at Kyle, nostrils flaring. "He's just like all of them, Stan. Worried about appearances and married to ritual. You may have enjoyed his body, but you don't know him, and he doesn't know you."
"You've always presumed too much about me," Stan says before Kyle can shout a rebuttal. Stan's voice is firmer now, his fingers flexing on Kyle's side under the blankets. "I didn't want to hear it when Kyle said so, but I was very young when we met, and you were so impressive to me, different and independent, and -- you're special, Kenny. You have a place in this world, I know it, but it's never been in this town. And it's no longer with me."
"Lecturing me like you're so grown up," Kenny says. "Just because you've successfully put your dick in your assigned partner. That makes you a man after all, like they promised? You're right. I never knew you as well as I thought I did."
"You wanted a friend," Stan says tightly. "I don't fault you that. And I was so enamored. I needed someone to admire. Let's not ruin it now that we're saying goodbye."
"I pray you'll be happy, then," Kenny says. He picks up his duffel and slings it over his shoulder. "I fear you won't, Stan. My little Stan. I had such hope that you would escape all this."
"I have," Stan says. "It won't be what I feared if Kyle is with me. He's the better village I wanted to find on my journeys. Right here."
"I hope you wanted a sentimental poet," Kenny mutters, looking at Kyle, who raises his lip in lieu of responding. Kenny's smug smile returns, less convincingly, and he salutes them as he backs toward the door. "Farewell, town folk," he says. "I leave you to your herb gardens and wash tubs."
"Go safely, old friend," Stan says, and Kyle is very glad Kenny didn't get the last word. Kenny closes the door hard when he leaves, not quite slamming it.
When he's gone, Kyle finally turns to look at Stan, who slumps tiredly into Kyle's circling arms. Kyle never anticipated loving just this so much: the solid weight of a worn out boy against his chest, and the thrill of letting him take comfort there.
"You were very good," Kyle says, his hand still shaking when he strokes Stan's back. "Firm but kind."
"I feel awful for him," Stan says. "But he can be so cruel when he's backed into a corner."
"He's in no such corner. Off he goes, to find his happiness elsewhere. Don't spare him another thought. Not tonight, anyway."
Kyle isn't sure this command can be obeyed, but if Stan's thoughts linger on Kenny he doesn't let on. He gets the guitar and plays his song for Kyle while Kyle drinks more wine, trying to clear the lingering nervousness from his system. He believes, at least, that Kenny won't be back tonight, and Stan's song is sweet, if a bit embarrassing. In it, Kyle is a bird and Stan begs him to answer him from the treetops and ride on his shoulder. At least, Kyle presumes he's the bird.
"Sorry," Stan says as soon as he's finished, his face very bright. Kyle shakes his head and surges forward to grab Stan's cheeks and kiss him. "I hardly ever play in front other people," Stan says when Kyle pulls back. "I don't know how I ever thought I'd be a traveling minstrel."
"You could teach music at one of the schools," Kyle says. "The music teacher in my village is so old, she must be retiring soon."
"I'll be working with my dad in the quarry until then," Stan says. "But, maybe. I should warn you, my mother says I'm not ambitious enough."
"Well, good. I wouldn't want an ambitious man. I knew a few of them in school." He's thinking of Eric, mostly. "Too often ambition comes with petty meanness."
They discuss this a bit, passing the wine, until their talking gives way to tired kissing. Kyle is too sore from his first time to take Stan again, but he wants more of something, and Stan must be able to read it on his face, or in his eyes: of course Kyle remembers what Stan said he would do for his bedmate, and of course Kyle wants it. He doesn't have to ask with words. It's even better than he imagined, Stan's tongue soothing over his raw spots and pushing in slightly, a completely different sort of penetration, soft and wet. Kyle comes with his cock in his hand, spraying himself shamelessly.
"I still can't believe I peed on you in this bed," Kyle says when they're wrapped up together under the blankets. Stan is spooned up behind him, limp with exhaustion after coming again, this time in Kyle's mouth. "What a horror story. Thank you for not telling it."
"You know, it's strange," Stan says, mumbling this against Kyle's neck. "That moment was like an epiphany for me, I think. I felt like you already belonged to me, and it was up to me to protect your pride."
"Pride! As if I had any, that morning. But thank you. Stan, thank you. I thought my life was over."
"Kyle, it was only pee. No one was standing by to execute you for it."
"Not just that! Thank you for staying. I hope you won't regret it."
"Stop fretting," Stan says, and Kyle can hear that he's nearly asleep. Kyle has never had five orgasms in one day, and this was a draining day even beyond all the sex. He's very fond of the idea that he's wrung Stan completely dry, even if he only witnessed two of these emissions personally. He presses his ass back against the heat of Stan's body when Stan goes quiet and heavy around him. Kyle is close to falling asleep but almost afraid to, because he doesn't want this night to end. It feels too much like a good dream that will become a vague memory at daybreak.
He rolls onto his stomach at some point as he sleeps, and he wakes with Stan draped across his back, Stan's arm stretched out over his on the mattress. The blankets are rolled back to rest just under their shoulders; it's warm in the hut, or maybe just in the bed, with their flushed skin pressed together. Kyle hears Stan sigh and knows he's awake. When Kyle moves his fingers, just slightly, Stan strokes him from his nails to his knuckles, then again, and again, until Kyle has nearly drifted back to sleep.
"They're going to ring the bells soon," Stan says, whispering. He kisses Kyle's ear as if to apologize for needing to wake him, but Kyle is glad that he has. The last bonded couple to dart out of their hut half-dressed when the bells ring are always laughed at by the gathered crowd. Kyle rolls onto his back and Stan sits up on his elbow, smiling down at him.
"It feels so good," Kyle says, proud of how deep his tired voice sounds. "Being naked. No more wiggling around in tight wrappings."
"It's amazing," Stan says. He touches Kyle's cheek, runs his fingertips over Kyle's jaw and down the length of his neck. "They must do it to make us appreciate being able to touch each other at last. More so than to keep us from fucking too soon, I think."
"Maybe," Kyle says. He sits up and moans at the mess on the bed: food wrappings and remnants, crumpled packaging, and some come stains that narrowly missed his mother's special quilt. His head aches from the wine; they finished the bottle. "Can we leave the room like this?"
"I think we're meant to," Stan says. "It shows we had a good time."
Kyle wants a bath, but they won't be able to have one until they're in their new home together. The thought is almost too much to bear: too joyous, too grown up, too fast. Kyle pauses in the middle of dressing, glad to be putting on regular clothes instead of some ceremonial robe. Stan notices his hesitation and gives him a hug.
"Don't worry so much," Stan says. "It's me and you now. I'll have your hand in mine the whole time."
"I'm not worried," Kyle says, because that's not quite the right word. He can hear the crowd gathering outside, ready to watch the couples walk from their huts to their new homes. He puts his sweater on, then allows Stan to smooth down his curls. They both sit on the floor to put on their boots.
"What do you think our house will be like?" Stan asks. He sounds curious; maybe not quite excited. Kyle can't wait to investigate all the details: silverware and window dressings, their own little bed, the stone work on the hearth, the color of the floorboards. He shrugs and tries not to let his excitement show, aware that Stan is less enthusiastic about domestic trappings.
"It will be like all the others in the new neighborhood," he says. "I think there are ten in a little group. We'll share a well. The houses have one bedroom, a small kitchen, interior plumbing. Probably window boxes," he says, muttering this, because it's the sort of quaint fixture of country life that might annoy Stan.
"We can plant rosemary," Stan says. He pulls Kyle to him and sniffs his neck. "I love that smell. Can you get the rest of the oil from your mother?"
"Ah - of course! Well, I think. I'll ask her."
It seems too bright when they finally walk out of the hut, answering the ringing bells down in the town square. Kyle holds Stan's hand tightly and blinks against the glare of the winter sun, waving when he spots his parents and Stan's among the revelers, cheering them on. They'll see them tomorrow; they're expected to prepare a welcoming dinner for them tomorrow night and host them in their new home. Kyle discreetly peeks at the other couples emerging from the huts near theirs: he notices Eric first, walking hand in hand with a blond boy less than half his size who Kyle feels deeply sorry for before he sees the adoring expression on the boy's face when he beams at Eric. Craig is holding the hand of a fierce girl from the village named Lizzie, who Kyle remembers chiefly for having pushed him into a pig sty at age five, unprovoked. The black-haired girl with the long braids is with a handsome boy with dark skin who has a regal air.
"Is that Wendy?" Kyle asks Stan, whispering.
"Oh – yeah! And that must be Token. Hmm, he's tall."
They wave, and Wendy pulls Token toward them when she sees Stan, somewhat lessening his regal presentation.
"So this is Kyle!" Wendy says, she and Token falling in alongside them as the couples walk toward their new homes. "Oh, look at his hair! So much more fetching than I pictured."
"Ha," Kyle says, squeezing Stan's hand. He smiles when Stan squeezes back. Already they have a kind of wordless language.
"It's good to meet you," Stan says, speaking to Token. "Maybe Wendy has told you about her friend Stan?"
"She did," Token says. "And your predicament with some woodsman. I'm glad to see you got out of that."
"Token!" Wendy says, and a wordless communication seems to pass between them, too. It occurs to Kyle that every couple in this promenade had naked, holy sex last night, and he feels his cheeks getting hot, guiltily enjoying the idea.
"He was no woodsman," Kyle says. "More like a forest sprite."
"That's accurate," Stan says, and Wendy laughs.
"You're precious," she says, and Kyle can't tell if she's talking to him or the both of them.
When they reach their little house, the mailbox reads Marshlovski and there are flower boxes under the two front windows, waiting to be filled with soil and seeds in the spring. Kyle realizes that he's squeezing Stan's hand very hard and laughs at himself self-consciously, letting up a bit.
"I'm supposed to carry you over the threshold," Stan says.
"Well, I'm tired of being carried. Six nights of my father carting me around like a swaddled baby was enough – can we just walk in together?"
"Yeah." Stan smiles so brightly that Kyle feels he deserves a medal. "That's good – yes."
The front room, a kind of kitchen and den combination, is bright and cheerful. Kyle goes instantly to the cupboards, trying not to exclaim with delight when he sees the brand new plates and long-stemmed glasses, bright white saucers and tea cups, and one whole drawer full of folded cloth napkins in seasonally appropriate colors. There's a gleaming cheese knife with a ceramic handle, a glass pitcher he'll use for freshly squeezed juice, a polished wooden salad bowl, a beautiful casserole pan in mustard yellow, his favorite color for kitchen things – he knew his mother would spare no expense to outfit the place well, but he's beside himself as he inventories this bounty, feeling as if he's tearing through ten birthdays worth of presents. He looks up from his revelry to see that Stan is nowhere to be seen.
"Darling?" he calls, and he crumples internally when he hears himself sounding like his mother, transformed from a freshly minted adult to a middle aged house wife just by the sight of new kitchen things. His heart pounds as he walks through the house, looking for Stan. Maybe he bolted as soon as he saw the cheese knife, or the way Kyle was drooling over it. What idiot could be impressed by such a thing? His eyes are blurring with tears by the time he walks into the bedroom, where he finds Stan almost glowing in the light from the big window behind the bed, which is just big enough for the two of them, framed with a cherry headboard.
"Oh, you're so tired," Stan says, hurrying to Kyle. "I was just admiring this bed – my uncle Jimbo made it, I think. He's a carpenter, and he said he had a wedding present for me. I was so afraid of letting him down, after all his hard work, and now I don't have to, I can just enjoy the bed. God, Kyle—" Stan pulls Kyle to him and hugs him tightly, kissing his curls. "Thank you for making me happy to be here," Stan says. "No one else could have."
"You don't hate it?" Kyle asks, not even sure this is audible. "How small it all is?" Stan shushes him and lifts him off his feet as if this is their threshold: over the footboard, into the bed.
"We're only sixteen," Stan says, flopping onto the bed beside Kyle. "This is big enough for now. If we grow bigger, we'll do it together, and then we'll search for our next kingdom. Won't we?"
Kyle nods and kisses Stan for a long time, though he wants to examine the bath and then take one, to scrub himself clean. He lingers, tired and glad to be kissed, even as he wonders which soaps and towels await him. He forgives himself for caring: it's not that it really means all that much. It's just that he's always wondered about the physical details that would dress the set of his great happiness, and now that he has it, all the brand new pieces in place, he can't wait to pull open every drawer.