Angora Socks

by Wo Xi Huan (我喜歡)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/31413.html)

There was once, for there is always someone, a boy. The boy grew up in a brood of about twenty-three, thanks to the amazing reproductive capabilities of were-rabbits. Somehow, though, despite his parentage, he was not a were-rabbit, in fact not a were-anything. He was a were-without, really.

The boy grew into a young man, awkward and painfully thin, and one night when his multitudes of siblings were sleeping he left his home and never went back. It wasn’t that he had been beaten or yelled at; he simply wanted to see the world. Later on in his life he wondered, casually, if his family had noticed his absence.

He wandered for many years, tripping into this country and falling into the lap of that nation, until he was quite sick of traveling. Finally he settled down, discovered a latent talent for alchemy, and began cooking up fertility potions (with a strong dose of irony on the side) and the like. He eventually decided that he liked the place he had settled down in and picked a name to keep – he had changed his name on the road often, because he had a ‘pretty face and a prettier voice to scream in’, according to one particularly odious bar-goer.

He called himself Fen, because he had known someone on the road by that name when he was younger, and a better man he had not since known.

So Fen was firmly ensconced in his comfortable little hole-in-the-wall, cooking up potions and poultices and hair dyes and whatnot, relaxing, raising angora non-were-rabbits, when the war broke out.

“Great,” Fen snorted, when he received his drafting notice. “The one time I decide to settle down, the place goes to war.”

Various things happened. Fen went from a young man to a full-grown, full-time man. Exciting! He didn’t die! Better yet, he got promoted!

“How,” Fen coughed in the general direction of his tent-mates, teeth chattering with cold, “is t-that better t-than not d-d-dying?”

The war went on, as wars tend to do, and eventually it even ended, but Fen kept on going up and up in the ranks. Eventually he was promoted to the post of ‘Alchemy General’. He hadn’t the foggiest how this had happened, but it did. As it turned out, being the General of anything in his new country meant that you busted down doors and shouted a lot.

Apparently his new job was to find out where alchemists were making things like drugs and poisons, then blackmail them into joining the army. Fen didn’t understand what this had to do with being a General, but at least it was something to do that didn’t risk his life and limbs. (Most of the time.)

One dim, icy day, Fen broke in the door of the wrong house. That, dear, gentle readers, is where we begin our story.

“I’m sorry?”

Fen found himself thinking the same thing, looking around at the warm, cozy little house. “Um, why did you just…?” The talking armchair turned into a striking vampire, politely peering at the General with shocked interest.

Fen took in the long brown hair, a soft honey color shining with faint hints of gold, and decided he really needed to find a whore tonight.

“Sorry. Is this 777 Wrightwinger Shale?” The vampire shook his head wordlessly, his wide eyes never straying from Fen’s face. “Um. Well. Er.” Fen had never burst in the wrong door before, and he was finding it a bit awkward now.

“If you’ll fix my door, you can have some of my cocoa….” The vampire offered. Indeed, the scent of good, warm, syrupy cocoa was in the air. Fen sniffed and decided that he also needed some chocolate bodypaint for the whore.

“I’ll, erm. Where is 777 Wrightwinger Shale?” The vampire stood, extending a slim hand and resting it on Fen’s hip. While Fen was busy having a mild pulmonary convulsion at the confident contact, the vampire pushed him aside and waved a hand at the door. It flew upright, and the hinge that Fen had busted gamely reattached itself.

“You’ll have to really repair it, but the magic will keep for a few days. Can you come by on Thursday? I’ll be in all day. I might make cookies, if you like them.” Fen barely recovered himself in time to gape.

“I, erm, er, I- I am sorry about the door. I meant to get-” The vampire laughed and smoothed down the resulting ruffled hair on Fen’s nape.

“I’m sure. The place you’re looking for burned down yesterday. It’s the one across the road. Sit down, you poor thing, you’re half-frozen.” Fen was pushed down into the chair the vampire had been sitting in. He blinked a few times, certain this was all some sort of confused (maybe the vampire thought he was a callboy?) mix-up.

While the vampire puttered around the invisible kitchen, Fen looked around. Bookshelves, and resultantly books, covered every wall. There was even a bookshelf on a wall that Fen was quite sure had a window on the outside. The fire in the fireplace was warm and cheery, nothing grand. It spread the heat evenly, though, so Fen spared a Word of alchemical thanks to the flame, resulting in an impassioned increase in brilliance. The coffee table in between the floral-patterned couch and the chair he was in was covered in dirty teacups and empty packages of biscuits. (Quite good-quality ones, he noted.) The occasional plate with lingering crumbs indicated that the vampire did, in fact, bake. The footrest for the chair was the Main Compendium of Alchemical Arcana and Sigils, Volume One, and several of its sub-volumes. The vampire had possessed the taste to cover it with a violet knitted cushion, but still. (Fen got a little insulted for alchemists everywhere.)

“Here, you poor frozen thing.” Finding himself with a sudden lapful of parrot and cocoa, Fen could say nothing. The parrot sent him a considering look, then cuddled into his lap like a cat. (Fen was rather sure this Wasn’t Supposed to Happen.) “That’s Mao. He used to be a cat, now he’s a bird. He was a pig for a time; it was quite interesting.” Fen decided that, before his whore with chocolate bodypaint, he would have a good cry.

They sat in silence for a bit. The vampire smiled benignly at Fen, apparently waiting for something. Mao began to make a sound that strongly resembled a purr, flopping his wings out on Fen’s lap. Fen himself- well, he wasn’t sure what to do. He settled for figuring out what was going on.

“I, um. So the place burned down?”

“Yes.”

“Um. Er. Did…”

“Everyone died, sorry to say. It was very tragic, or would have been if there was anyone there but a smelly, horrible old woman. She used to beat her carpet every day, and if anyone laughed at her little pink bra, she’d chase them down the street and beat them.”

“….eh…..” Just as he’d began to find his balance, he’d been thrown off-kilter again. A bra? Fen busied himself with his tea, trying his best to think of something to say. When next he looked up, the vampire was lounging- yes, lounging– on the couch.

“I’m so sorry, I haven’t introduced myself. I’m Sangria.” Fen put his tea on the parrot’s back (it didn’t seem to mind).

“My name is Fen. I’ll be back on Thursday.”

“There’s no rush, is there?” The vampire had wide, pale violet eyes. Fen found himself shrinking under that stare.

“Yeee-ss…. No, erm. I guess… not.” He gave himself a mental shake. “No. There’s no rush, since the place of inquiry is gone.” Sangria laughed.

“My, how serious! Are you that new Alchemist General or such?” Fen nodded and took up his teacup again.

“You have a great deal of books here. How do you keep them from burning up?” Sangria was positively lolling on the couch at this point.

“I ask people to cast no-fire spells on them. I do it myself if I can’t find anyone to do it for me. It’s a little tricky for me, since I’m an air sorcerer,” Fen wasn’t surprised, “but I manage.”

Time passed in comfortable silence. The parrot flopped off Fen’s lap and wandered off in search of ‘seed, seed, tuna’. Sangria told Fen what size the hinges he needed were. The fire collapsed down into a gentle tent of glow.

“I should be off, then.” He said, when a clock buried somewhere near the direction of the door chimed eleven. Sangria nodded and murmured goodbye.

“You met an air sorcerer who’s also a vampire.” Fen’s neighbor was the head of Urban Development, and as such incredibly practical. Earth element and all that, wot?

“Yes.” Veren sighed and gripped at his forehead with both hands.

“Does it ever occur to you, Fen, that not everyone is as pure-hearted as you are?”

“What are you talking about? I sleep with people. I fought in a war. I’m not-”

“But you’re a good person, Fen.” Veren began to head towards the stairs, then paused and turned back towards his neighbor. “Not everyone is. Be careful, all right?”

“I’m going,” Fen stated slowly, unsure that Veren had gotten the point, “to fix his door, which I broke. There’s nothing wrong with that.” Veren gave him a Look and shrugged.

“Just make sure you bring some protection.”

Watching his neighbor leave the mailroom, Fen felt a little niggle of indignance. He wasn’t the strongest man out there, he knew, but it seemed a little out of place for his mathematician neighbor to tell him to bring a weapon with him to fix a door.

He went back to his apartment after throwing away his mail (‘Congratulations! You’ve been selected to receive twenty fresh unicorn horns!’ ‘No experience? No problem! Sorceress Magdalene will teach you everything you need to know to be a success!’).

When he stepped inside, the starkness of the place he called his home struck him. His dress uniform was hanging calmly in a corner, his latest alchemic experiment was waiting neatly for him in the kitchen. The couch was white, perfectly, with no stains or squashy cushions. His rabbits were still and quiet. His walls were unadorned, his floors cold.

He missed Sangria already.

“…. So, wait. You met some alchemist when he burst in your door?” Sangria heaved a sigh.

“Yes, o sister of mine, and he’s very nice.” Leviattha stared at him over her coffee.

“Are you serious .”

“He’s coming on Thursday to fix my door. I see nothing wrong with it- he broke it in the first place. Biscuit?” Briskly tossing back a few blue curls that had escaped her power bun, Leviattha snorted.

“For god’s sake, Sangria, are you mad ?”

“They’re very good biscuits!”

“Not that. The, the other thing. The man coming to your house.” Brushing a bit of invisible dust off her grey power suit, she continued, “He might be dangerous. If he tries to… take advantage of you….” Sangria rolled his eyes.

“I shall scream and kick him. But he didn’t for five whole hours, dear sister, and I was half-asleep most of the time.” Ignoring the horrified (power) puffing coming from across the coffee table, Sangria pulled his knees to his chest and shrugged.

“Besides, he’s good at getting the fire to warm up.”

Sangria pulled opened the door before Fen had a chance to knock. When offered a tentative twist of the lips that, in some extremely stoic circles might have been interpreted, roughly, as a smile, he beamed back.

“I missed you, Fen! I even made you cookies, I missed you so much!”

“You have a nice fire,” Fen offered in return, shutting the door and setting to work.

The silence that fell was a comfortable one, punctuated by the occasional smack of a hammer and the twist of a power screwdriver. Eventually Fen picked up his tools and pawed at the magic holding the door. It came undone at the second bat, and the door relaxed comfortably onto a real hinge.

Sangria was sitting on the couch, knitting something fluffy and deep blue. Fen sat next to him, looking at the slightly burnt cookies on the table. Sangria’s ears colored.

“I lost track of time.” Fen grunted his approval upon trying one- pumpkin chocolate chip, an exotic but favorite flavor. For a long while, the only sounds were a pleased munching and the soft click of knitting needles. When the plate was gone, Fen sat back with a small sigh and hummed his contentment. With the warmth of the fire on his feet and the squashy cushions of the couch at his back, he felt comfortable leaning sideways and resting his shoulder gently against Sangria’s.

Sangria returned the motion with a slight nudge and a contented, lazy smile. When Fen got tired and rested his head on Sangria’s shoulder, Sangria rested his head on Fen’s.

They must have fallen asleep like that, because when they next woke it was to the chime of the bell for midnight.

“Mmph,” Sangria grumbled, stretching and shaking out his feet. The fire had died down to a few lazy embers, and the parrot was gnawing on a cookie in the dimness. “Off, Mao.”

Fen grumbled, not being the happily-awoken sort, and wrapped his arms around Sangria. Sangria collapsed on top of him with a yawn and a nestling sort of motion.

They slept on the couch that night.

For the next month or so, they continued in this manner, until Leviattha stumbled in on them. After the ensuing huffing and panting fit, they moved to the bedroom, which, to Fen’s quiet amazement, was clean and yet still cozy (if half-knitted, malformed socks strewn everywhere could be counted as clean).

“…So… you’re not sleeping together?” Veren stared at his neighbor. “You’ve been sleeping at his place for a month, and-”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course we’re sleeping together,” Veren visibly relaxed, then puffed up. “I just told you that.” His poor neighbor collapsed against the wall of mailboxes.

“No, I meant, are you having sex.” Fen considered having the poise to look shocked, then shrugged and shook his head. Seven years of mercenary life had shaken dignity out of him, unlike Sangria, who positively oozed it, albeit in a greatly processed form. “Why?”

“There’s no reason to?” Veren shot him a look of utter disdain.

“Have you ever really had sex?” It was time for Fen to be disdainful. (He’d won prizes for it.)

“Of course.”

“No, I mean, not just with some two-dollar whore.” Fen eyed Veren with a rising sense of horror.

“Two dollars seems awfully low. You might want to have a doctor look at-”

“Fen! That’s not what I meant!” Veren, Fen reminded himself, was a civilian. He was not used to being frank. He was not used to telling someone that you got laid behind the mess hall last night with the nurse from that rookie squad.

Keeping that in mind, Fen tried again to interpret civilian-ese.

“Why are you so curious about my sex life?”

“…. Fine, whatever. Never mind.” Veren rushed back up to his apartment in a clatter and creak of old wood. Fen stared after him, open-mouthed.

Sangria opened the door that day and gave Fen a hug before he had even stepped inside.

“What happened?” He ran a hand through the military-short hair (“maximum: four inches long from the scalp”), admiring the piebald colors. (Sangria had long ago come to the realization that Fen came from a were-rabbit family but, upon finding no piebald rabbits in his bed on the night of the full moon, he had concluded that Fen was a fluke.)

True to form, Fen ignored the question in favor of sitting down on the couch and beginning to undo his long, long, warm military boots. Unlike other countries, the one Fen had settled down in had long ago decided on quality over quantity, and so won most skirmishes by graceful employment of guerilla tactics. Their soldiers never got frostbite, either.

When Sangria leaned down to help, Fen rested a hand on his back. It was a nice back, Fen mused, strong and supple. It had proven itself to be consistently warm in the cold nights, along with the rest of Sangria. He scratched lightly and was rewarded with the obligatory giggle.

“Nothing. Nothing important.” At the lightly amused look he was tossed, Fen amended, “Nothing that happened today, that is. Thank you. For the boots, I mean.” Sangria pulled both boots off with an ease that Fen had not yet accomplished. (It irked him a little, to be frank, but not enough to make him sour.)

“Fen, dear, I’m sorry to say that I’m a little unwell. I’ve been abed all day, but I know that sort of thing doesn’t interest you-”

“I know an excellent remedy. I picked it up in the People’s Republic of Salaaar.” Sangria looked horrified, and slightly green.

“Is that the one with lizard phalluses you were telling me about?” Fen snorted and shook his head.

“Never mind. Here.” He picked Sangria up with a low mutter, then carried him upstairs to bed despite the protests. “Mao? Mao, keep him company.” Sangria sighed in exasperated affection and flopped back into the fluffy bed as the parrot climbed out from the closet, blinking sleepily.

“Fen!” He cooed. Fen pointed at the bed. Mao laughed, laughed his little bird/pig/cat heart out, and went downstairs. After a bewildered moment, Fen nodded to himself and began to strip.

“What are you doing, dear? It’s not time for bed yet, or at least, not for you.” Fen shrugged and climbed into the bed.

They lay together awkwardly for a bit, until Fen decided that Sangria should be naked too. He reached along the vampire’s stomach, sliding under the sweater and briefly brushing along the pale skin. The shiver it elicited made Fen contemplate Veren’s question. Sex? Well…

“I’m fine, dear.” Fen shook his head and darted forwards, landing a rough, hurried kiss on the other man’s jaw. The inscrutable look he received made him want to fall through the floor, but he tried again anyways. This time the kiss landed on his lips, somehow, though Fen was sure he had been aiming for the jaw agai-

Oh. Oh, well, never mind. Sangria pulled him close, fumbling swiftly with the zipper to his pants. Fen groaned, began to fumble opened the minuscule buttons on his shirt-

“Sangria! Are you awake?” The men shared a single horrified look before frantically tucking and zipping and buttoning themselves up. “Oh, there you are. Hello, there. Fen. How nice to see you.” Leviattha had never, in Fen’s opinion, given up on the idea that he was raping her brother behind her back. (Sangria said she just had a brother complex.)

“I was worried about you, so I got you some soup. Don’t you have somewhere to be, Fen?” Fen shook his head. Wondered how his boxers had gotten onto the floor. Hoped Leviattha didn’t notice she was standing on them.

“Doesn’t Fen get soup too, dearest?” Typical of Sangria to turn the situation into a bearable one, Fen mused. How did he do it? Leviattha clearly didn’t appreciate the skill as much as he, though, and simply gave Sangria a sour look.

“There’s war again.”

As a matter of discourse, Leviattha was a political advisor for the rulers of the country. She knew of Fen, had seen him from time to time. She respected him as a fighter and a man- just not as a would-be suitor of her brother’s. (She admitted that she had a brother complex.)

Even so, she couldn’t stop the trickle of dread the slid down her throat when war was declared. She didn’t hate Fen.

The war was called for good reason. The enemy had developed terrible things, weapons made out of people. They had called up the dead and a Demon was consuming the capital- the only way to stop the entire world from collapsing into Death’s realm (and, resultantly, the necromancer’s) was to fight.

Five nations had joined the force, Fen knew, and every day that he put on his nice warm boots he thought of Sangria. His tent-mates were other generals from his country, because guerilla warfare did not allow for a mile of tents. Generals could share or step down.

Flesh-rot was everywhere in this war. There was blue-rot and green-rot and red-rot and white-rot and even, horribly, no-rot-rot. The army from the sand-blown lands were more susceptible to it, and unless there was an actual battle occurring Fen was always mixing up salves to combat the necrosis. He knew the few necromancers they had in the army were working hard, trying their best not to rip each other’s throats out (necromancers were not friendly and never would be). He knew that the healers were dropping at a faster rate than the actual combatants, drained dead, and he knew that the necromancers had to work triple time to revive the healers and the soldiers and send the dead back Home.

He knew it all and he couldn’t contain his misery. He wanted this war to end. When it had just been him and twenty-odd rabbits with fancy fur, it had been fine. But now that he knew about a little home lined with books in a windy corner of the city, all he could think about was Mao in Sangria’s lap. Vampires had been excused from the draft because they were more easily controlled by Demons, and everyone that knew a vampire was frightened or horrified or both by the idea. (Fen was horrified- he couldn’t imagine being frightened of Sangria.)

When their army was half-dead in more ways than one, a necromancer came to Fen. His eyes were the pale blue of a summer sky, and both twitched occasionally.

“We have a plan,” he said. Fen thought of the rotting flesh-monsters they had been fighting. He thought of them breaking through their lines, coming into the main city. Loping, shuffling, squirming down the street, clawing down doors. Killing his rabbits, killing his Mao, killing his Sangria.

He listened.

They charged, fueled by righteous fury, by the primal force that drove protective mothers. Fen broke through with a small troop and defended the three strongest necromancers as they sealed the Demon, crouching fat ugly pasty on a church. Its flanks heaved, throbbed- it looked like a giant intestinal worm. Fen threw up and thought of Sangria and fought on.

All his men dead, the sky turning putrid yellow, the color of pus- unearthly, unheavenly, deadly Music in his ears, the pure clear clean voices of the necromancers- a flaming bull-cat-Dead, purple and fiery, struck down

arc of green blood

dark.

He recovered slowly. He woke after a month of sleep, screaming, twisting in his sheets.

“You succeeded,” the king of the Southern Seas told him, from the bed next to his. His arms were bandaged, and a slight, blue-haired man was sleeping on his shoulder. Their lances were leaned on one another in the corner. (Fen couldn’t see his weapons.) “You’re also damaged. The doctors will tell you to rest, to try and build a new life. The healers will tell you to return to your old job, to find solace in patterns.” The man paused, shifted his sleeping mate a little.

“What would you do?” The necromancer with the summer eyes swept into the room.

“I,” the Serpent King jerked his chin at the necromancer, “would listen to Necromancer Faust.” At the name, the necromancer straightened and Fen jerked. Everyone had heard of Necromancer Faust, the teacher of the Grim Holder. Master musician, master teacher. Master necromancer, apparently.

“You’re famous.”

“And now you are too. My student is worried about you.” He remembered a shy, sweet girl with an eyepatch walking amongst seasoned warriors and frowning at their armor. “But then, she’s worried about everyone. She said to tell you to go home. That the Grim agreed.” Fen tried to remember what he knew about the Grim Holder and her Grim. They were wild and vicious and kind, so kind they were almost cruel. They smote those whom they disliked faster than God. They were sex goddesses. They were virgin huntresses. They never let anyone die, not even enemies.

He didn’t know anything other than the fact that a famous man was talking to him, telling him that something wild and angry wanted him home with Sangria. He was okay with that, he supposed.

It took longer than he would have thought, gathering the strength to go home. It was only the thought of Sangria that made him get up each morning, say hello to the Northern King and his mate, and begin to do his exercises.

He’d lost sight in his right eye and was half-blind in his second. Necromancer Faust had told him that the blood of the Merucant he had killed was poisonous, so acidic it could eat a hole to the core of the Earth. Supposedly his student’s Grim (protector of the weak, a sour little voice whispered) had stopped the blood from eating straight through his skull. There were vivid grey scars on his face, and a chunk of his chest was missing from a lash the Demon had given him when he was unconscious. He limped now, and he was told that it would be better for him to use a cane to get around once he got back to the capital.

Through it all, he thought of Sangria- alive, well, worrying- and kept working.

He traveled a long time, letting his men fill the trains and planes and cars headed back to the cities. He hitched rides on donkey carts (nobody would point at him and whisper about his scars) and with wild were-wolf packs (nobody asked him to tell them his war stories- they had enough on their own) and once, magically, with a dragon that shimmered like honey in the winter dusk (there were no words, there never would be).

He got back to the city, and he limped his way home.

Sangria was gone. The books, the shelves, the bird/pig/cat- all of it was gone. The building was gone, torn down by a stray Dead that had wandered around the front lines and into the capital.

Months flew by without Fen realizing. He survived on his pension in his cold white blank blank blank apartment and fed his rabbits. Veren always said hello and never acted surprised when he got nothing in return.

He got a letter in handwriting he didn’t recognize and ripped it opened ravenously to find a letter from a sibling.

He got a call from someone who said nothing, just breathed. Fen breathed back, and for a while he thought of the breather as his friend- until the breather hung up.

He got an invitation to a fancy party in some noble’s castle and was badgered to go by Veren.

Fen was in his dress uniform, fighting back images of writhing, pulsing worm-thing as he looked at the endless hallways in front of him.

“Where am I?” He’d followed the directions to the letter- nobles had complicated castles that often held their entire, very extended, families. It was easy to get lost, so he always paid attention to these sorts of directions.

The hallways were all dark (ambush) and scarlet (blood) and had infinite doors (empty city with Demon in the center). The last directions he had before he was left without were, ‘Open the seventh- and last- door on the left- carefully!’. It was enough to make him leave (retreat). Except… he wasn’t sure how to get back (insecure withdrawal point).

“Press on,” he growled. The door gave under his hand. He opened it- carefully (!)

“Fen,” and he had an armful of Sangria, warm and alive and smelling like pumpkin-chocolate cookies. He clutched his vampire tight, breathing in the smell of him, until Sangria squeaked and Mao wound around his ankles, beautiful and slender as a small unicorn with feathers and cat paws.

“Oh, god,” Fen moaned, burying his face in Sangria’s neck, breathing him in, “I missed- your- home- I thought you were- all that-” and only Sangria taking his face in his hands and kissing him stopped the words.

“Hush. It’s all right. My father decided that he wanted his family to live in the castle until the war was over. It’s a lucky thing he did- you saw the house?” Fen nodded into Sangria’s shoulder. “Well, yes. I seem to be living here now, on a rather permanent basis. It’s quite nice. Very warm. The bedroom has a good view.” It was Fen’s turn to be picked up and carried, the first display of vampiric powers Sangria had shown. He was put down on the bed in another room, on the big pillowy white-cream comforter. When Sangria tried to pull away Fen clung tight to his shoulders and made a pleading noise, the noise of a child freshly awoken from a nightmare.

“Please,” and Sangria stayed, letting Fen sob onto him until his neat ironed vest was sopping wet. Fen quieted after a while, when Mao jumped up and nuzzled him with a tiny little nicker and a swish of piggy-pink tail. Sangria got off the bed then, promising to return in a moment. Fen fought anxiety as he stroked the feathers of Mao’s body, touched the delicate little horn on her forehead.

…Her?

“Sangria?” He mumbled to the other man as he walked in with a tray, “Your cat has switched genders.” The vampire put the tray on the bed, helped him to undo his boots, and sat down next to him. He was, Fen realized, almost in his lap. He felt odd until he realized it no longer felt awkward to want his vampire.

“Oh, but switching species is fine?” Fen made a vague noise and leaned on Sangria’s shoulder. “I made cookies.” Sangria felt a smile, rigid, afraid to exist, curve into his neck. “The kind you liked.” They ate the plate together. They were silent, but it was the silence of lovers, not soldiers. Mao left the room, somehow nudging the door shut on hir way out.

There was only one enormous cup of milk. (They shared.) When Sangria put the tray aside, on the table covered by rejected socks (they were all running a bit large for Sangria’s feet, Fen noticed- he wondered if Sangria had met someone else) Fen looked away.

“Thank you.”

“I missed you.” Fen shut his eyes at Sangria’s words. “Every day I worried about you. I wanted to go out to the front lines to look for you after the Demon was dead, but Leviattha wouldn’t let me.” After a pause, he added, “She nailed my door shut. Father had to push my meals in through the cat flap.” He couldn’t help it- he giggled. “And all I could think about was that you could be dead, dying. I hated her so much.” Fen didn’t take offense at the laugh- he understood it. He’d done it himself. “I wished that I had been braver. I couldn’t stand the thought of you dying without knowing how much I-” Fen was forced backwards, down, by Sangria. “No. I couldn’t stand the thought of you dying. The thought of you in pain.”

Unbidden, unexpectedly, Fen spoke: “That’s why I fought. I didn’t want you to… We fought, every one of us. To protect.” Sangria nodded, his hair falling to form a curtain around them. He had Fen’s wrists in his hands.

“Thank you.”

“I missed you.” They looked at each other. Fen could have told Sangria that only he had given him the will to live on the days (there were so many) when men’s entire faces, chests, backs, legs were all rotting off. Sangria could have told Fen that every day he had knitted socks, anxiously, in Fen’s size so he could at least remember something solid about him. Neither said anything. Nothing needed to be said.

They undressed each other slowly. Fen got help with his boots, undid the countless buttons on his uniform. Sangria removed his vest, his pressed pants, his cufflinks. They pulled the comforter over them and clutched at one another tightly. Eventually Fen traced the line of Sangria’s jaw with his tongue, put a rough, cracked hand over the cream of his hip. Sangria gave him a low, seductive look and rolled them over, sliding a leg between Fen’s. He bit at Fen’s ear, made an admiring purr when Fen hissed and cupped his rear.

They were both hard, with Sangria’s hair flying everywhere as they tussled, playfully, passionately, for dominance. Despite appearances Sangria was strong, stronger than Fen, though if he won by brute force he allowed himself to be rolled over again. When Fen was tired and so ready he thought he might never sleep again, he allowed himself to be rolled over.

Sangria hissed words into his ear, mysterious lilting words that reminded Fen of how old Sangria might be. He coaxed Fen onto his elbows and knees and nipped at his neck. Fen felt a warm, soft hand on the head of his sex and bucked forwards, violently. His own hands were battle-scarred and battle-calloused, nothing like his vampire’s. Somehow, despite the softness of the hand, the strokes were fierce, demanding. It was as if Sangria was trying to ensnare his soul by claiming his body.

“Gentle,” Fen reminded him, and was rewarded with a kinder stroke of his member. Sangria was pressing hard hot firm against his back, carefully licking his spine, laving it with his tongue, past the rot scars and the blade scars and the Demon scar. Up to his neck, where he began to nibble. Meanwhile his hands were occupied with stroking Fen and shaking oil onto his hands, clean-smelling oil that belonged in the kitchen.

“It will feel odd,” he was warned, with his lover, his long-awaited, longed-for lover at his back. (Fen could have been cut opened and he would not have flinched- only for Sangria.) A finger, carefully eager, caressing, exploring, odd but bearable. Another- less bearable, but still- a third and he was being fucked with them, in and out- it was somehow good. It should have hurt (his pride at least). Instead he spread his legs a little more and moaned like a whore he’d had once (never moaned with whores) and wanted.

“Sang-” The fingers vanished and Fen stifled an already stunted noise of frustration. Then- it hurt and it burned, pain, too much, he didn’t want it that much- did he?- maybe he did, it felt good just then, yes- stillness he couldn’t handle. He felt Sangria pressing slowly into him, stretched out along his body like a second skin. “Want- now-” A moment’s hesitation, then- surge, a thrust, Fen threw his head back, throat arching and bare, sharp teeth at his mouth, on his jaw, heat, friction speed- he was bucking and growling like an animal, he could hear, Sangria was hungrily devouring his mouth, tongue stuck down his throat, long sharp dangerous teeth locked with his, sharp hard utterances of passion, hips snapping together, his cock rigid and painful and a soft hand on him now- twist of the hips and white light at the edge of his sight- like the sun-hand on him- teeth locked- hips- crashing- sun- blinding- teeth-

They collapsed in a sticky, wet pile, Sangria withdrawing his spent member after a pause to lie face-to-face with Fen, who looked thoroughly debauched and just as thoroughly pleased. Fen’s leg hurt, but he didn’t mind. (Maybe Sangria would help him pick a cane.)

“Mmgh…” Fen commented intelligently.

“Nmm.” Sangria agreed.

And, upon the morning’s light, much (power) huffing occurred. Mao played with abandoned Fen-socks and, when Leviattha got too excited, tripped her.

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