Tibial sobbed himself into a sluggish exhaustion after his father had left.
He had shamed his father, his entire family and for what? A man. A man he loved deeply, madly, unnaturally, and one he didn't even know if he would be able to see again.
Now Tibial was awake and curled up on his cot, his father's socks on his feet. A guard had come by shortly after Tibial's father had left to give him a late day meal and Tibial was again struck by how slow everything seemed to be moving. Time dragged on.
The lights went out at ten that night and Tibial laid awake, his body tense and shaking, his mind racing. He wished for sleep, but it wouldn't come and in the darkness, he could hear the sound of his heart beating, his watch ticking by monotonously. Seconds were endless, minutes ceaseless, hours limitless.
He lay in the lonely dark, recited prayers and hymns for the Goddess that he had memorized as a child, formulas he had memorized for school. He counted up to 883 by prime numbers, then down from 5,000 by 7s. Listed every single wine Marwhile Vineyard produced, the names of all the stores and boutiques downtown.
Interspersed between all this were memories of Chad, Chad smiling at him, kissing him, talking to him, laughing at him, teasing him, whispering sweet promises and wicked temptations into his ears.
The next day, Tibial was prepared for more hours of endless monotony, but the guard came by early the next morning, tapping his nightstick against the iron bars.
"Rise and shine pervert," the guard said. "Eat up, then get ready to go."
"Trial. You and your fuckmate are to be tried today."
"No need to waste time eliminating perverts from our land. The sooner we can kill you off, the better, in my opinion," the guard said, sliding a tray of food into the cell and walking away.
Tibial felt a knot form in his stomach. He knew that he would have to go to trial, but he hadn't expected it to be soon.
It could end today.
His entire life.
It would all end unless he denied Chad; what they were and what they had done. He wouldn’t do that.
He swallowed, panic starting to creep over his mind. He had told himself again and again that death would be preferable than being separated from Chad, that to die would be better than having to live without him, but that idea had always been a distant future possibility, almost a romantic abstract in his mind. Now that it was a large, cold reality that was very close indeed, he found himself terrified. He wasn't going to change his mind, but deep down he really did not want to die.
Hoping that his stomach would settle a little if it at least had food in it, he made a half hearted attempt at eating, though the food was tasteless and gluey in his dry mouth. He gave up after a few bites, then pushed the plate away, staring at it, the colors in his dim cell momentarily seeming too vivid, too alive.
Calm down, calm down, he told himself. He could feel his heart leaping and jumping in his chest, thundering along at a rapid pace, his breath quickening and sweat jumping out along his skin. He imagined he could feel the cold walls of his prison compressing around him, closing in, crushing him.
The click of a key in a lock made him look up. The guard was unlocking the cell door and Tibial scrambled to his feet, feeling a strong, almost irresistible urge to flee. He kept it in check, instead walked outside the cell, let the guard push him up face first against the bars and cuff his hands behind his back. Tibial followed him down the hallway.
He took a deep breath, felt it fill up his lungs and let it out slowly, feeling better now that he was outside of the cell, felt calmer and more relaxed. For better or worse, this day would determine the rest of his life, or lack thereof, and whatever was in store for him, he could face it.
Because he loved Chad.
Chad loved him and now the whole world knew about it and right or wrong, acceptable or not, Tibial could care less.
Love was never wrong.
Tibial was led to a small, windowless room with a table and a few chairs, told to wait. Tibial sat down and a few minutes later, the door reopened and Chad was led inside. Tibial looked up and as soon as the guard left and the door shut, Tibial stood up, crossed the room, and pressed himself against Chad. He couldn’t hug him with his hands still cuffed behind his back, so he just stood there, pressing every inch of his body up against Chad’s, his head against his shoulder.
“Are you okay?” Chad asked.
“Yeah.” Tibial lifted his head up and Chad bent down to kiss him, a long lingering kiss that they both knew could be one of their last.
“Are you alright?” Tibial asked when they broke away. “Your head...”
“I’m okay,” Chad said. Tibial looked at him closely, saw how one of his eyes was swollen, his lip split. A large ugly bruise spread over the side of his face.
“They hurt you,” Tibial observed. He wished he could touch him, hug him, caress and kiss away those marks on his face.
Chad didn’t answer, just kissed Tibial again. “I love you, no matter what,” Chad whispered.
“I know. I love you too.”
“Don’t be scared.”
“It’ll be all right. I promise. Don't worry, don't be afraid. I'll take care of you. It'll be okay.”
Tibial closed his eyes, rested his head on Chad’s shoulder again, pressed his lips against the material of his shirt and stood there, trying to remember everything, his smell, the heat of his skin, the heartbeat he could always hear echoing inside his head.
* * *
Tibial stood in front of the council of elders. They were seated on a raised platform, forcing Tibial to look up at them, gave them the impression of looming over him. Intimidated was a mild way to describe how Tibial felt. Scared shitless would be a more apt description. The large room was still and silent.
When he has walked in, he saw his father was there, and Mia as well. She had even smiled at him and given him a shy little wave when he had entered the room. There was no sign of his mother, or Terrasa, but Tibial wasn't surprised. Mia as well as his father had both been called up to testify, as well as two strangers, which Tibial later discovered were Chad's father and a coworker, respectively. It had been horrible to stand there, watching his father and his girlfriend testify upon his behalf, both swearing that they knew nothing about him and Chad. Mia sounded puzzled more than anything else, and Tibial didn’t miss the way she kept touching her stomach as she spoke, caressing the slow swell that was building there.
The interrogator was reading off the interview between him and Tibial when he had first been brought in. When he was through, one of the elders squinted down at Tibial. “Is that correct young man?”
“You have anything you wish to add?”
“Very well. Have a seat.”
Tibial sat back down at a table with Chad and the interrogator that had first met with him after he had been taken. His hands had been released and he was still trying to bite at fingernails that were no longer there. The back of his neck was hot and prickly.
Chad stood up.
Tibial listened as the interrogator read off the interview that Chad had given when he had regained consciousness. It sounded remarkably similar to his own.
"Is this report accurate Mr. Devon?"
Chad looked down at the table, his fists clenched. His face began to redden.
"No, Ma'am, that report is inaccurate."
There was a slight murmuring among the members of the Council. Tibial looked at Chad again, but Chad's eyes were trained on the table. "What part of this report is inaccurate?" one of the council members asked.
"When I was asked if the relationship between us was consensual I said yes. I wish to revise that statement."
"I wish to state that it was not consensual."
"That's bullshit!" Tibial cried, coming up out of his seat. The council buzzed.
"Sit down young man," one of the council members snapped, and Tibial felt a heavy pressure on his shoulders. The interrogator was pushing him back into his seat. "Stay still and shut up," the interrogator growled. "Or you'll just be making things worse for the both of you. You'll have your chance to counteract his testimony later, if you need to."
"Tibial came to me to complete the ritual to become a man and begin the coupling process. Afterwards, he would still come by to visit. He was looking for a friend. He had also found a coupling partner and had gotten her pregnant. When I found out, I was jealous. I..." Chad swallowed and his face grew a darker shade of red. "I just lost it. He came over and I attacked him. Knocked him down, forced myself on him. He fought me, hit and screamed and kicked, but I was able to overpower him. Afterwards, he said he would tell someone, get me arrested. I threatened him, his girlfriend, and his family to keep him silent and to keep him coming back. I told him that if he said anything, he would be punished too, for being a deviant, and that his girlfriend would leave him and his family would be cast into disgrace. Tibial is very young, very malleable and eager to please. It wasn't hard to convince him to keep quiet or to persuade him to keep coming back. It was only a matter of time before I was able to convince him that it was his idea in the first place. He'll deny it now, even. Even though I can't touch him, or hurt him, he'll refuse to see the truth."
One of the council members narrowed her eyes. "Why did you not say this during your initial interview?"
Chad shrugged. "Change of conscience, I suppose. I know that I'll probably die for this. And when I go before the Goddess, I will not do so with lies staining my mouth."
The council member raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Anything else you want to get off your chest?"
"Not at this time."
"Okay, Mr. Devon, thank you." She turned to Tibial. "Do you have anything to say in response?"
"It's not true, none of it. He didn't force me. I initiated everything." Tibial blinked back hot tears. "I'm sorry that what I did hurt my family and embarrassed my girlfriend, but I'm not going to lie about it. He didn't force me. He was the one to tell me it was wrong, who tried to talk some sense into me. I wouldn't let him. It was all consensual, by the Goddess, I swear it was."
One of the council members leaned forward, her eyes sympathetic. "You can speak freely here child, you know that. If he forced you, that's okay, you can tell us."
"He didn't force me!" Tibial cried out.
"You have a beautiful girlfriend, and a baby on the way, if I understand correctly. You had no reason to seek out his company. I know that you are young and young people can be easily persuaded and -"
"NO!" Tibial shouted, standing back up. "Nobody forced me, persuaded me, convinced me or coerced me. I knew perfectly well what I was doing the entire time and I did it all of my own free will."
"There's no reason to protect me," Chad said. "I'm sorry for what I did to you, but there's no reason for you to hide it any longer. I can only apologize for taking advantage of you and forcing you into a situation that you didn't want nor deserve. I'm sorry for the way I hurt you."
"You shut up," Tibial growled. He turned his attention back to the council. "No one forced me to do anything. Mr. Devon did not force me into anything unwillingly. Everything was consensual. That's the truth. I love him. And that's all I have to say about the matter."
Tibial sat back down, breathing heavily. The council members eyed each other. Then the head of the board, an elderly female, stood. "On grounds of this new information we have received we will need some time to deliberate before announcing the sentence. We ask that the friends and family of the accused step out and that the two accused be kept in holding."
"Someone will come and fetch you when the sentencing has been decided on," their interrogator said as the guard led them into the holding area and unlocked their cuffs. "Once your sentence has been read, it will be carried out immediately, so prepare yourselves. If you have any unfinished business between yourselves or the Goddess, I recommend you settle it now." The interrogator looked at Tibial for a long moment, than shook his head sadly. "May the Goddess have mercy on you both."
Tibial stood near the bars, looking out into the narrow dimly lit hallways until the guard and the interrogator was gone. Chad was in a cell directly across from him. Tibial looked up at him.
"You asshole," he hissed. He was so angry he could feel his body thrumming with it, his head pounding with it.
"I know," Chad said, smiling tiredly. "I'm such a jerk for trying to save your life."
"I don't need you to save my life! I don't need you sacrificing yourself for my sake! I know perfectly well what was going to happen when we got caught, you don't need to protect me from that!"
"You need to look hard at the reality of the situation. You are the only person who has the capability to make it out of this alive and mostly unscathed and if you are not going to take this opportunity when it's given to you I will damn well force you to take it."
"I made my decision."
"Yes, and it's a bad one. For the sake of Goddess, Tibial, they don't want to sentence you. They want to pardon you. You have the ability to produce offspring; you've already gotten a girl pregnant. All they need is an excuse, and they'll let you walk."
"And, what? You would give them one? If I hadn't said anything, if they had believed you, you would be dead by now. That's fucking unacceptable."
"Your execution is unacceptable."
"Well." Tibial leaned his head against the cool metal of the bars. "There's nothing you can do about it now."
"Because you won't let me."
"I'm not letting you sacrifice yourself to save me. That's not something I want you to do."
"I don't care what you want,” Chad responded. “Not this time, not now."
"Fuck that! I'm not a child, you don't need to take care of me!"
"Again, I don't care. I would spit into the face of the Goddess herself if that's what it took to keep you safe."
“Goddess, that's blasphemy," Tibial moaned, covering his ears with his hands. "Just stop, okay?"
"Tib...I'm sorry if you think I'm being selfish, maybe I am. But I can't stand the thought of any harm coming to you, especially if it's avoidable. I love you and I don't want to go into death with the knowledge that you'll be following me."
"And I don't want to live without you," Tibial countered.
"Well..." Chad lifted his eyebrows. "I hate to tell you this, but our options are kind of limited, are they not?"
Tibial grinned. "Yeah, not to mention out of our control." He rested his forehead against the bars again. "I love you, no matter what happens. If I die today or twenty years from now, I'll love you for always."
The guard stalked back in, ran his nightstick leisurely along the bars of the cell. "Council is at a stalemate. They won't be announcing a sentence until they reconvene the next morning." He stopped, stared at Chad. "If it was up to me, you'd both be six feet under by now."
“Thank Goddess it’s not,” Chad muttered under his breath.
The guard focused his attention on Tibial. “You’re a perversion.”
“No I’m not.”
The guard arched his eyebrow. “No? You’re not a homo? Don’t enjoy taking it up the ass?”
Tibial felt his face heat up. “I’m not a homo.”
“So how come you were caught naked in bed with another man?”
“I love him. But I’m not gay.”
“Maybe we should test that theory. I know several people around here that wouldn’t mind taking a shot at you.”
Tibial backed up from the bars, his eyes wide. “Don’t touch me.”
The guard laughed. “Don’t worry about me. I wouldn’t dare touch a pervert like you. But you just watch out. If you get a death sentence we can do whatever the hell we want to before your execution.”
He turned and walked out.
“He’s just messing with your head. Don’t worry,” Chad said, once he was sure the guard was out of hearing range.
Tibial was staring out into the hallway. “Do you think I’m a pervert?” Tibial asked. “A deviant?”
“If you are,” Chad said carefully, “then I am too. Does that bother you?”
“No.” Tibial sighed. “I’m tired. I’m going to sleep.”
Chad watched as Tibial turned away and flopped down on his cot. Chad closed his eyes and spoke to the Goddess.
You probably despise me as much as I despise you but I beg you, don't let him come to any harm. Chad sighed in helpless frustration. Please.