It was a hard UHC. The sky was overcast making visibility poor, and it seemed as if the skeleton and zombie attacks were relentless. Getting hit by an arrow in the first couple of hours was demoralising, but finding diamonds soon after helped to raise spirits. Vechs was being even more reckless than usual, which was saying something. Perhaps he was just trying to irritate Zisteau, but it felt like something else. Every so often, Vechs would catch Nebris' eye and smirk. That was never a good sign.
But eventually they found an uneasy sort of equilibrium. Steadily, the teams dropped from five until just three remained. One was heavily injured. Across a lake a few hours a go, he had watched as Guude, Anderz, and Doc limp into a cave. Anderz held his arm at an awkward angle - his wrist was probably sprained.
That just left Team Canada. Nebris scowled at the thought. Every time he thought about Pause, Beef and Etho (especially Etho) his head hurt. He tried to convince himself it was just because he cared about winning. He had a title to defend, after all. And he hated being bested. It filled him with all kinds of doubt and self-hatred. It made him feel like he would never be good enough, or strong enough, or smart enough, to keep up with alphas. It made him feel weak.
There was more to it than that though, of course. Thinking about Etho made him feel light-headed - and not in a good way. The first feeling was always want, immediately followed by hatred at his own desire. Over the past few weeks however, he was starting to overcome the latter, but they had been replaced by guilt and anxiety.
Guilt because he couldn't help feeling that something was deeply wrong with Etho. Even worse, he couldn't pinpoint the exact moment Etho had started to behave... oddly. The truth was, he hadn't even noticed. He was too busy being wrapped up in his own angst, relying on Etho to guard his secrets and entertain his nights. His pride had blinded him as it always had. A part of him wanted to blame Etho for everything. Because before he became Etho's bondmate, he was certain he never would have cared at all. Etho never should have bought feelings into their relationship. It just made everything so messy. But it was becoming painfully apparent that Nebris had only himself to blame
Anxiety because he was certain Vechs was very close to knowing the truth. He could only guess at what was going on in his delightfully twisted mind - but he was sure whatever it was would mean trouble. At least Z still seemed ignorant, but it was impossible to be sure. Nebris couldn't even imagine what he would do if his secret got out. The thought of everyone looking down on him, regarding him as worthless and inferior made his skin crawl. He had fought every second of his life to be an equal - but all he had built could crumble in less than seconds if people unearthed his secret.
As he spiralled into a mental abyss, a pain ripped through his shoulder. Nebris hissed as he grabbed the arrow by the shaft and scanned the cave around him. He hadn't even noticed the skeleton. What the hell was wrong with him?
"Are you feeling alright, Nebris?" Zisteau asked. “You didn’t even try to block the arrow.”
He didn't sound annoyed, perhaps just a little surprised. Nobody took UHC more seriously than Nebris.
"He's got other things on his mind clearly Zistykins" Vechs chimed in.
Zisteau was predictably unimpressed with the nickname.
“Pretty sure he could still perform better than you with his eyes shut, Vechs.”
Vechs only laughed. Nebris bit his tongue and made quick work of the skeleton. His shoulder ached, but his head was hurting more. Neither Vechs nor Zisteau were helping.
"I'm going to look for reeds." he said abruptly, inspiration striking. "We might need books for enchanting."
He rifled through a chest before he located some of the diamond armour he had acquired earlier. He contemplated taking the diamond sword as well, but it was the only one they had so far. He didn't want to put his teammates at risk while he was on the surface.
"Don't go too far!" he heard Vechs call after him teasingly as he raced up the staircase.
The open air on his face was a relief, but it wasn't quite enough. He spied a small pond in the distance and made straight for it. He put his head under and closed his eyes, waiting for the roaring in his ears to go silent.
No reeds. That was his first thought while he reemerged. Etho was his second. It seemed no matter what he did or how far he travelled, his bondmate would always be in the back of his mind.
Although, that didn't mean he couldn't try to forget him. As he rushed into the surrounding forest, he quickly took note of the geology of Vechs and Z's location. After about half an hour of exploring, his patience and tenacity was rewarded.
A reed bed lay by the river, with more plants than he had seen in a single bed before. He hurried over, eager to collect his prize and return back to his team. He pulled up the first handful and placed them in his pack. All things considered, it was pleasant work. The sun was shining and the air was cool. If only there was no breeze rustling the trees, and then everything would be perfect.
A heady scent seemed to float in the air, electrifying his senses. His obsessing over Etho must be getting worse, because he could have sworn… No. He wasn’t imagining it. The air tasted of redstone powder.
He froze for a fraction of a second. He could hear branches moving but the reeds were stationary. It all happened in the blink of an eye. Nebris drew his sword and spun, raising the blade above his head.
From above, a shadow fell upon him as Pause sliced down with a deadly diamond blade. Nebris' weapon blocked the first attack, but the force almost made him drop it. He stumbled backwards, nearly falling into water. His heart was pounding, bile rising in his throat. The strong smell of a riled up alpha coupled with the knowledge that in the water is heavy armour would render him helpless, was enough to make him panic.
But as adrenaline pulsed through his veins, the familiar thrill made him want to laugh in delight. Then came the eerie calm, and he parried Pause's jab effortlessly and fought back with a slash of his own.
He pushed Pause backwards, managing to get back on more even footing. Pause had strength, but he relied on it far too much - leaving him vulnerable to Nebris' agility. His scent grew more overpowering as he sweated and grew in anger, but Nebris did his best to ignore it.
Where were the others? He ducked just in time as the arrow flew towards him from a couple of metres away. He caught a flash of Beef aiming another arrow as Pause raised his sword for a crippling blow.
Nebris had a split second to decide what to do. He leaped backwards, causing the arrow to miss its target, but Pause knocked him backwards off his feet.
He bit hard enough to taste blood as his leg crunched. Fire shot up his leg and his back as he slammed into the hard ground. Above him, Pause seemed gigantic. Every instinct of Nebris' screamed to give up. Submit. This was the natural order of things, lying at the feet of a strong alpha. And maybe he would be right to yield. After all, he could not keep fighting. Not with an injured leg and a back that screamed in agony.
Pause stepped forwards slowly, clearly savouring his first victory over Nebris in a long time, weapon still raised. Nebris knew Pause would never actually kill him (nobody ever died in UHC, but plenty had to drop out due to exhaustion and injury), but part of him wondered if Pause would take the opportunity to maim him further. Alphas had an amazing healing factor. Although Pause would know exactly how badly he was hurting Nebris, he couldn’t possibly expect that it might take Nebris weeks to be able to walk properly again.
Etho came from nowhere as he always did, silent as a shadow. In that moment, Nebris knew he was finally beaten. Until Etho slammed into Pause. A growl ripped from his throat like a machine gun, pinning him to the floor. His fist pulled back so fast that it almost blurred as he pistoned his hand into Pause's nose.
Beef was screaming. Etho froze, face so dead and pale with shock and horror and pain that he resembled a corpse. Blood gushed from Pause's nose, scarlet spattering into the mood.
"What the FUCK, Etho?" Pause screamed.
Etho stumbled backwards, horrified.
Pause clambered to his feet, red liquid spraying everywhere. He drew his sword again. But this time he was facing Etho.
"You fucking worthless, pathetic piece of fucking shit! You treat as like we're fucking dirt for months - lie to us about everything, and now you fucking attack me?"
Etho's face contorted with misery, silvery tears brimming in his eyes. Nebris felt as if he was being torn apart from the inside out. His leg was on his fire, but the pain of watching Etho was so much worse.
"I'm...Sorry..." Etho gasped, shaking.
But Pause was inconsolable. Even Beef seemed hostile, face hardened by betrayal, bow gripped so tightly his knuckles were white.
"You know what? We're fucking done. We never want to see you again." Pause hissed. "You're fucking dead to me Etho."
"Pause..." Etho whispered.
But it was too late. Pause was storming over to Beef, and the pair disappeared into the trees without looking back once.
The silence was deafening. It was becoming harder and harder to focus, and even breathing was an effort. Nebris knew he was going to black out, but he fought to hang on until he could reach his bondmate, who had fallen to his knees. Eventually, fatigue won out. He collapsed on a heap on the ground.
His teammates found him hours later, still passed out in the dirt. They had lost the UHC.
It took him a lot longer than he would have liked to make the journey to EthoCorp. His injury kept him bedridden for days, and when he finally got to his feet the pain almost caused him to collapse all over again.
The door was unlocked. He found Etho in his room, curtains drawn.
"What did Pause mean?"
He should have sounded angrier. He should have been furious. Thanks to Etho’s behaviour, his secret was more vulnerable than ever before. But he could sense his bondmate's turmoil, his anguish. It was obvious even without their connection.
"I'm sorry, Nebris." He answered softly.
Etho sounded nothing like himself. And, when Nebris looked closely, he didn't look like himself either. His eyes were shaded by violet and his shoulders were slumped, as if there was a great weight resting on them. Nebris tried to recall the last time he had seen him well rested, and couldn't.
The realisation disturbed him most of all. There was a sinking sensation in his stomach, as if he was grieving for something very important to him.
"No. Don't shut me out. What did he mean?"
Etho was shaking. It was slight - barely noticeable - but his hands quivered as he dug his hands into his pockets.
"I'm so sorry, Nebris. I'm not like you."
There was a hollowness to his words. As if somebody had ripped his heart out. As if Nebris had. The sentiment rang true. Etho was everything Nebris wasn't: good, honest, kind, fair.
"Stop saying that. What did Pause mean?" he asked.
He didn't need to hear all the deplorable things about himself he was already painfully aware of, and especially not from the one person he had come to rely on above all others.
"I'm not as strong as you." Etho replied, voice devoid of emotion.
Nebris would have been less perturbed if Etho had slapped him. His bondmate was strength personified. Before all of this had started, Etho had always been determined to prove his dominance over Nebris when they clashed with swords drawn. And proved it he had. A thousand times over.
"Etho. Don't say that. What are you talking about?"
The space between them was only a few metres, but somewhere along the lines an invisible division so deep had formed that they might as well have been standing on different planets.
"I've messed everything up. Pause, Beef, Doc, Seth. You. That’s what hurts the most, I think. People might guess. I've lost everything."
The same thought had occurred to Nebris, mainly when Vechs and Zisteau had checked to see how he was and assured him they didn't blame him for the loss, but it had become a sort of background noise to his anxiety towards his bondmate.
"Etho. You're scaring me. Please..."
"Please, Etho. Please"
It was all he could think to say.
"It's not your fault, ok? Whatever I'm about to tell you... I don't blame you. I could never blame you.
"I've never liked lying. Not to the people I care about. Which is why I've never lied to you. Maybe I haven't told you everything, but I've always been truthful. But when I discovered you were my bondmate, it meant I had to deceive a lot of people."
Nebris nodded. A terrible sinking sensation had started in his stomach. He wanted to be sick.
Etho had lied for him. This was his fault.
"The bond... You know what it is like. It's addictive, intoxicating. I don't know how to explain it. When I'm with you, it's like pure bliss Nebris. I want to spend every second with you. I want to pin you down and kiss you and make you moan. But it's more than that. You're more than that. I'd do anything to make you happy. Anything.
"But to do that, I had to lie. To Pause. To Beef. To everyone. And it was fine at first. But then, I started losing sleep and I wouldn't see them for days on end. I wouldn’t go home. I wouldn’t answer my phone. And Pause was so suspicious, and then he started getting angry with me. So I started avoiding them and focusing on potions when I wasn't with you. Although that's not saying much, because I was with you all the time. Eventually, my friends - Doc, Seth - gave up on me. The only person I had was you. But you didn't even want me. Not really.
"I'm not saying I'll spill your secret, Nebris. Because I would never do that. Just that... Something needs to change. I have to find that solution. I just don’t know what."
"I do want you."
"Kiss me." He sunk his teeth into his bottom lip, eyes downcast. He was aware that he must be the picture of submissiveness - meek and perfect for Etho.
"I don't want this to just be about sex. I never wanted that."
Nebris didn't want to hear it. He didn't want to think anymore. He wanted Etho to make him forget - almost as badly as he wanted to make Etho do the same.
Gently, he rubbed himself against Etho's thigh. Ensuring Etho could feel Nebris' hardness through his pants. He heard Etho's breath falter. He whined softly.
"Please, Etho. I need you. I want you."
He knew that his lavender scent must be utterly impossible to ignore, flooding Etho's senses and leaving him defenceless. Perhaps it was wrong of him. Immoral. But he wanted to take away Etho's pain and it was all he could think of.
"We'll figure something out later. I promise you. We'll find an answer. Together. But please just hold me. Fuck me, Etho, please, I need it. I need to be filled, I feel so empty."
He didn't even know which words were truthful and which were false anymore. It didn't matter. Only Etho did.
Etho's growl of desire and frustration was all he needed. He pushed Etho back against the bed, and his Alpha offered no resistance. Nebris had masterfully eroded his will. By promising everything he ever wanted, Nebris had won the battle using nothing more than his begging and his scent. The victory should have brought him a thrill - but triumph had never felt so hollow.
But kissing still left him electrified. That alone, would never change. The way their lips collided made Nebris see stars, and they only shone brighter when Etho moved to his neck. He hovered momentarily, silently seeking permission. Nebris had previously forbidden Etho to leave any marks. After all, there weren't many Alpha's covered in hickeys - and even fewer who had not found their bondmate. Nebris gave Etho a nod. It wasn't about what he wanted anymore.
He tried not to imagine Etho reading too much into the gesture. His delight was evident; He could feel him stifle a purr as he sucked just below his collarbone, breath as warm as summer. The sharp sting and heat off the bite sending sparks of electricity through his body. Nebris' hands slipped under his bondmate's shirts, running them over his sculpted chest. He felt Etho shiver as he explored his abs. Some irrational part of his mind noted how much he would like to lick them.
After a while of kissing and biting, Etho looked up at him. His eyes still held a deep and cutting pain, but at least he was smiling. His face was flushed. Holding his gaze, wanting him to commit every second to memory, he lifted his own shirt over his head. He saw Etho's pupils dilate as they raked over his body. Everything from his torso to the marks Etho left around his neck, claiming him, left his bondmate quivering with desire.
His pants and underwear followed. When Etho moved to do the same, discarding his own shorts, Nebris' hands steadied him.
"I'll do that." he murmured huskily.
He leaned his head forward, mouth lining up with the waistband of Etho's underwear. He pressed a kiss to the smooth skin he found there, surprisingly demure for Nebris' usual temperament. Then, he closed his teeth around the waistband and ever so gently dragged them down. Etho's breath hitched as his hot mouth hovered just a few centimetres above his cock.
"I'll do it all." Nebris told him, once Etho's underwear was around his ankles. Etho's scent, the heady fragrance of redstone dust clung to his body like the sweetest cologne in the world. He climbed on top, thighs already wet with slick.
Etho gasped as he caught Nebris' meaning. Instinctively, Etho rested his large hands on his hips.
Their eyes locked.
"Go slow, Nebris. Don't hurt yourself."
Nebris smirked, but inside he wanted to cry. Etho was sweet and caring enough to look after his bondmate's own well being, but all Nebris wanted was to get fucked into oblivion so he could forget all the damage he had inflicted on Etho. If he wasn't already moving, he might have curled into a ball with shame.
But it was too late to stop. Nebris had sunk down onto his bondmate's cock, revelling in its thickness and warmth. Etho growled, gripping Nebris' sides hard enough to bruise, before regaining control and loosening his grip.
Nebris might have smirked, if he wasn't too busy coming undone with pleasure. He sunk down all the way to the hilt and groaned as it hit just the right spot inside him. Lavender infiltrated the room as his desire heightened. He lifted himself up, before bringing his hips back down again. As he adjusted to the sensation, he began to bounce up and down on his bondmate's length, riding him. His pace grew faster and faster until he saw stars.
"Look at you. You're so perfect, Nebris." Etho groaned.
The part of Nebris that wasn't completely blissed out registered the compliment, and he flushed.
"Taking my cock so beautifully."
The dirty talk, so unexpected yet so arousing, was doing all sorts of things to Nebris' cock. He could feel himself growing closer every time he slammed himself downwards.
With one final movement, he brought his hips down and felt Etho knot him. The stretch was like nothing he had ever experienced, and he cried out in ecstasy. His cock was achingly hard and leaking. When Etho pumped one hand along the length, it took only seconds for him to climax.
He collapsed against Etho's sculpted torso panting and sweaty. With his knot deep inside him and his heartbeat pounding through his chest, it was all too easy to pretend that all their troubles had been nothing but a bad dream.
"Stay the night?" Etho asked him, somehow shy. "I don't want to sleep alone tonight."
Nebris pressed a kiss to his cheek.
"Of course. Everything will be better in the morning. I promise.”
They fell asleep, entangled in each other's arms. The lie was ash in Nebris' throat.
When Nebris awoke, the world was pitch black and silent. Quietly, he exited the bed and went to Etho’s wardrobe. It was too dark to see more than hazy, indistinct shapes, so he just grabbed a handful and hope for the best. The clothes would be a bit big, but he’d just have to put up with the size difference. He located a suitcase by touch under his bed. The last thing he packed was the cologne and suppressants Etho always kept in a draw just for him. The sight of them filled him with inexplicable bitterness.
He hovered in the doorway, frozen by a powerful force. He could hear Etho breathing. The sound was so comforting that he didn't want to leave. Against his better judgement, he turned to have one last look at his bondmate. In sleep, he was peaceful. It was impossible to see the bags under his eyes, but they were there. Etho had already been covered in scars before he met Nebris and he had no doubt that his relationship had inflicted even more.
He felt awful. Carefully, he moved back towards the bed. He pressed a kiss against Etho's forehead. It was something he could never do while he was awake, even though it might have made Etho very happy. All because of his stupid pride. The damage he had caused was unforgivable. He hated himself for it.
"I'm going to fix this for you." he promised, then fled EthoCorp.
It was a cruel night out in the open air - cloudy and cold. Walking away from Mindcrack, his pack, was by far the hardest thing he had ever done. But he had to. For Etho. Eventually, Etho could tell Pause and Beef everything and then they would forgive him. His hardships would end. Everything would be alright for him. That was all that mattered.
Nebris had fucked up. And now, he would give up everything to put things right.
"Running away won't solve anything" a voice called through the dark.
Nebris turned around, blank with shock. It was MC..