by Fuuten Eki (瘋癲 易)
The bedsheets moved and then slid aside to reveal a mess of tousled long brown hair and, sliding further down, a pale naked arm. The owner of the arm made a sleepy grunt and pulled the sheet back over himself. After a moment he rolled over to his stomach, slowly propped himself on both elbows, hair falling all over his face, and looked around.
He was alone in bed. Near the window, illuminated by pale morning light filtered through thin curtains, a tall wiry man was sitting naked at the piano, fingering the keys lightly in order not to make a sound. Once in a while he would write something down in the score while humming very quietly. After a short moment he glanced in the direction of the bed; his face showed surprise when he realised his companion was awake.
“Ah, sorry, Naisa, did I wake you up?”
“I woke myself up.” Naisa sat up, wrapping bedsheets tightly over his arms and surveying the other man from behind the curtain of his hair. “Aren’t you cold?”
Naisa laughed quietly watching his friend look for his pants. Rikin was a great composer but, as with many creative professions, it came with the danger of his getting so immersed in creating that he lost focus on real life and forgot to dress, to eat, to sleep… or that he was with someone.
Naisa sighed deeply and gathered hair off his face. This situation wasn’t easy. For him there was a certain disconnection between the physical aspect of sexual pleasure and actually doing it with someone, which he figured wasn’t a problem for most people. He had to concentrate to stay in the equilibrium and achieve arousal and get to the point where actual physical response took over. It didn’t seem to be a problem for Rikin, who could get into the mood almost on command and on top of that had a stamina that would put many rabbits to shame. Naisa’s physical stamina wasn’t something he’d normally complain about, but he could not match Rikin in that respect. Yet it was still getting more and more difficult for Naisa to actually go over the edge, because even at those times Rikin’s head was filled with music and when he saw that spark in his eyes, when Rikin inadvertently hummed a few notes Naisa lost the concentration completely. He still pretended. He helped Rikin finish. He smiled. But he ended up sore and tired and unsatisfied and angry at himself.
He wasn’t angry at Rikin – it wasn’t his fault. Naisa didn’t even tell him because he had no idea how to explain it without Rikin thinking that he failed at technique, that he did something wrong when it wasn’t the case. Naisa’s desire wasn’t directed at people – it was as simple as that. He could make himself come strong in just a couple of minutes, but when he was with somebody it took much more effort just to come at all and it was much weaker and more than for the pleasure he really ever did it for that special connection with somebody… which made the fact that that somebody was more focused on music than on him really disconcerting.
Naisa stirred, realising that Rikin said something; he raised his head and saw Rikin trying to hand him fresh pajamas.
“I said, you’re really pale and should probably sleep some more. I hope you don’t need to go to the university today.”
“I do only my own research now and can basically come whenever I want.” Naisa took the pajamas and rubbed his eyes; he was feeling drowsy.
“Maybe you should take the day off; you really don’t look too good.” Rikin went into the bed, waited for Naisa to finish dressing and embraced him tightly. “You’re cold.”
“I guess you’re tiring me out and I have no energy left for heat,” Naisa closed his eyes and let Rikin’s warmth wash over him.
“Are those still giving you trouble?” Rikin gently touched Naisa’s cheek just below one of two diagonal scars, barely visible in this light, that framed his eye. Naisa didn’t reply but Rikin saw before in daylight that the scars on Naisa’s face, arm, and hip, despite being now a good couple of months old, still looked pretty fresh. “Those damn curses really heal slow…” He gently made Naisa lie down, covered both of them with a blanket and tenderly put a hand over Naisa.
“I guess with my present stamina we probably should not do this for a while…”
Rikin murmured a confirmation and Naisa felt his fingers affectionately brush his neck.
As he was falling asleep, Naisa tried to take in everything he could: Rikin’s steady breath, his warm arm over his back, the too-big-but-comfortable pajamas. He had already decided it was the last night he’d spend here. They would meet at the parties; they would meet at the university; they would meet in other places. Rikin would spend nights with his other lovers and would soon forget they ever did it together. And Naisa? Naisa didn’t need a lover. He had really never expected to have one until he met Rikin.
As a successful violinist and composer, Rikin was used to being invited to parties and official events – sometimes as an element of interest, sometimes by more prominent fans, sometimes by his students, lovers, or friends, and very often by people who hoped to be included in at least one of the last three categories. He didn’t actually take on many students as he hated teaching people with no talent – although to be fair, many of those who approached him for lessons weren’t actually interested in learning how to play a musical instrument. Well, if they preferred a different kind of play under the guise of learning and were willing to pay, then he wasn’t really going to complain – as long as the client was male. He had tried being with women before and it was enough to convince him that his interests didn’t lie in that direction. Not that he wasn’t picky with the male clients – he definitely was – but not as much as with actual, free lovers or friends. In his position he had to have many acquaintances, but he didn’t easily let people into his inner circle of friends. As for lovers he had some standards: sometimes only looks, if he wanted a one-night adventure, but more often he wanted an interesting person in bed. If he thought about that, his standards for lovers weren’t that different from his standards for friends – and those groups very often overlapped.
This didn’t mean that he wasn’t interested in finding new candidates; and parties were always a good searching ground, as many guests were on the lookout for the same thing.
Rikin didn’t consider himself handsome, but with his strong round jaw, strong forehead, slightly beaky nose and hair that tended to look like a dusty haystack in spite of his efforts, he fitted the image of a charismatic musician quite well and apparently many people liked it. He found it quite funny that people often assumed he was a pianist while, even if his skills in that area were nothing to complain about, his main skills and passion stayed with violin and composition.
He wasn’t really enjoying the present gathering; it was very official and full of very serious people, some of whom were too important to lower themselves to the level of avant-garde music he represented – or at least that was the impression they were taking care to make. He had come here by request of a politician he knew, but said politician was quickly kidnapped to discuss some matters of state, and Rikin was left alone. He tried talking to some people and even recognised some guests, but felt he wasn’t really in the mood for talking to strangers. He noticed a cosy corner before, half-hidden behind huge potted plants, and he decided that it would be a good place to rest and consider if he shouldn’t just go home.
He was already passing between the bushes when he noticed the corner was already occupied. The person standing there was wearing a long dark blue uniform which he remembered seeing often near the mayor or the prince or other important figures and which was pretty good at obscuring the wearer’s sex unless they were either extremely bulky or busty. The stranger’s hair was long and smooth, with gentle honey-coloured highlights and front bangs tied in the back just so they would not fall on the face – and it was an extremely pretty face, with dark regular eyebrows, shapely pinkish lips and just a couple of very faint freckles around the nose. The stranger was not too tall, slender, quite beautiful and – to Rikin’s annoyance – androgynous. After what had happened with Hozka, Rikin’s brain was trying to convince him he should find some proof of the strangers’ sex although his body was giving subtle signs that it’s not going to bother waiting for confirmation.
Rikin wasn’t aware that he was staring until he realised the stranger’s dark hazel eyes were fixed on his.
“Can I ask to what I owe this intriguingly intense attention?” The stranger’s voice was pleasant and melodic and – to Rikin’s dismay – vaguely androgynous, too.
“I am sorry, I’ve been wondering about your outfit.”
“This is the a Honorary Military Wizard uniform… but,” the stranger raised one eyebrow, “this is not what you are asking about, is it?”
“I… was wondering about additional items usually worn at gatherings like this, which are a statement of gender and preference. You seem to be lacking those.”
The stranger smiled. “I don’t need them; my garments tell as much as they have to – that I am here in a professional manner.” The stranger surveyed Rikin for a moment and laughed lightly. “Are you trying to ask whether I am a man or a woman?”
Rikin looked at his glass; he was trying to flirt but now he felt as if he ended up being impolite.
“I was wondering but…”
“I don’t mind; I’d lie if I said this doesn’t happen quite often. I am neither, I’m both…” The stranger shrugged. “I don’t really know. I usually don’t mind being treated as a man. But I don’t see why that should matter if I am only here on duty.”
“That doesn’t mean you cannot prepare for later, when you are done with your duties and can… leave with someone.” Well, it was probably a long shot by now anyway.
“Ah, but that’s the thing: I am not interested.” The stranger leaned casually against the wall in a slightly sensual way that seemed to contrast with his words.
“Well, you can’t blame a man for trying.” Rikin’s tone sounded much more dejected than he had planned. He was on the verge of leaving but hesitated when the stranger looked at him with a little surprise and then laughed lightly.
“I do apologise,” he said with full sincerity. “This wasn’t a curt way of ending the conversation – unless learning that is reason enough for you to end it.”
“So it wasn’t a ‘leave me alone’ statement?”
The stranger smiled.
“I’d say it was an ‘I would not like to deceive’ statement. I’ll understand if it makes you leave and if not, I apologise for misreading your intentions; I am not too good at this.”
Rikin thought that the stranger was better at this than he himself suspected but decided against saying it out loud.
“So.” He sat on the edge of the big flower pot. “You are saying you are not interested at all?”
“Yes, I am sorry. Well, not really. Well, actually sometimes I am. I just don’t find myself sexually attracted to people even if sometimes I do wish I were.”
Rikin considered this for a while.
“I hope you don’t mind me saying it, but it’s a pity. You seem pretty… Sensual.”
“Ah…” The stranger took a strand of hair out of his face, gracefully put it behind his ear and scratched his head with an apologetic smile; there was a faint trace of blush on his cheeks. “It’s pretty hard to explain. It’s not like I am free of desire; it’s just it never really seems to be directed towards anybody and rather than force myself to do it with someone I am not interested in, I’d rather take care of it myself.”
Rikin took a gulp of wine in order to mask a sudden contemplation of a vivid image that appeared in his mind and which he’d be happy to recall sometime later in his bed. Preferably more than once. It took him more than a couple of moments to realise the stranger had fallen silent.
“I am sorry,” the stranger said finally, not looking at Rikin’s face; his own was half-hidden by his gently flowing hair. “I have no idea why I am burdening a stranger with such personal issues.”
“Maybe,” Rikin tried not to sound too hopeful and thus realised he actually was, “you subconsciously decided you would not mind me as a friend.”
The stranger surveyed him with a long, strong and calculating stare.
“It’s a theory I am ready to test.” He outstretched his hand in an elegant movement. “My name is Naisa.”
Rikin smiled and shaked his hand.
They talked about nothing until a woman who was accompanying the Mayor and wearing the same outfit as Naisa made a gesture towards them. Naisa bid his goodbye, saying it was time for him to switch places with her.
Naisa stifled a yawn. It wasn’t that the parties and official meetings were boring – even if that was usually the case – but that the Honorary Military Wizard Guard had to tag along the official they had been assigned to. They always accompanied mayors or princes, and thus all the guests they met tried to act as impressive as possible; Naisa found it ranged from annoying to repulsive and because of this he tended to hide when it wasn’t his turn to follow the big-wig, because the people still recognised the uniform and came over to score some points or flirt. The changes of guards weren’t compulsory, but luckily for him the team he was assigned to mostly shared his feelings and prefered to work on an hour or two-hour rota.
Honorary Military Wizard Guard wasn’t a permanent duty and Naisa was already counting weeks until the end of his two-year period when he would become an ordinary Honorary Military Wizard. After that his presence would only be required at some highly official events or parties – though at the latter just as a normal guest – and at least half of of those events overlapped with his academical duties anyway. It also had some nice perks like additional funding or the access to wizardly military facilities for conducting elements of research or trying out its effects.
Naisa sighed. The spell he was researching at the moment was coming along nicely and he’d rather have spent the evening setting up the next experiment to examine some more unusual changes of magic in it than listening to princes’ conversations. It wasn’t even that the prince was an unpleasant person, but he didn’t really have much to say and the same could have been said about his interlocutors. The only times anything interesting was discussed was when the conversations dwelled on some more confidential topics, which almost always involved doubts about his presence’s being a danger and an assurance that all Guards were sworn to secrecy, after which he was treated like a piece of furniture. He was currently pretending to be a vigilant chair for the eighth time in the past two hours while glancing at the clock and mentally cursing Daha, who was supposed to have switched with him five minutes ago but had disappeared somewhere. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye he noticed a head like a mop hit by a thunder sticking above most of the crowd, and he smiled involuntarily. It had been two weeks since he had met Rikin at the party, and it was one of the few guarding memories that he was fond of. It said much about how tired he was that day that it wasn’t until the next morning that he realised where he remembered Rikin from.
Naisa felt Daha slip in behind him.
“Sorry, got held up,” she said, discreetly exchanging places with him.
“You owe me ten minutes next time,” he whispered, winking.
He managed to track Rikin, but the musician was surrounded by a ring of fans. Naisa grabbed a glass of wine and sat heavily at one of the few tables, resigned to a long wait before he could talk to Rikin. He took a sip, put the glass on the table and started tracing the base with his finger.
A shadow fell on the table. A shadow of a man with a head like a slightly mutilated dandelion. Naisa looked up.
“Good evening.” Rikin was alone and beaming. “Haven’t we met before?”
“I’d like to apologize that I forgot.” Naisa saw Rikin’s smile fade and almost burst out laughing. “I’d like to apologize that last time I forgot that I had seen you before. It’s just that at the concerts I was so concentrated on the music I never paid much attention to your face; I only realised that when I looked at the labels of my music spheres and saw the name Rikin Sakeh.”
“There is nothing to apologise for; between my music and my face it is not the latter that I am proud of. Do you mind if I sit?”
“As long as you find a chair.”
Rikin looked around with a troubled expression. Naisa laughed.
“Would you mind going out on the terrace instead? The night is warm, the view is nice and there is barely anybody there if we ignore the couples kissing behind the bushes.”
“I didn’t know there was an exit from here.”
“You have to know where to look.” Naisa stood up. “Or be shown all potential emergency exits.”
The night was indeed warm and pleasant and there was only one couple hiding behind one of the enormous potted plants. Rikin was drinking from the low glass he snatched from a tray on the way here. He looked at the stars, then at Naisa, then at Naisa’s glass.
“Can you drink on duty?”
“Oh, I’m off duty for tonight. The prince has another appointment in two hours and he’ll be using his personal guard then.”
“I still don’t understand it. I’ve looked into this Honorary MIlitary Wizard business and it seems weird to me.”
“It’s simple: they award wizards for special achievements – in my case, successful research on barrier magic – and in case of need they can ask us for help.”
“That still doesn’t make sense with the guard duty. Don’t they have actual Military Wizards to protect officials at parties?”
“Well, this is a bit more than being a guard: we are present at their sides and we are being shown to guests; you could say it is a kind of power statement. It also gives the top brass an illusion of having control over us.”
“Do they have control over you?”
Naisa smiled a wicked smile.
“We’re talking about the brightest and strongest of wizards who didn’t want to join the military, forced to listen to confidential conversations for two years each; in case of trouble, who do you think would have the upper hand? Sometimes I wonder whether someone didn’t really think this through or whether they thought it through too well.” Naisa looked at his hands gripping the glass, his mind wandering. A sudden giggle from behind a nearby bush made him start a little.
“Sorry, I spaced out. I’m always tired after guarding; I wish we could talk sometime in different circumstances.”
“I think that is a great idea!” In his enthusiasm Rikin spilled half of his drink on the potted plant and floor nearby. “Do you have any evening free this week?”
“Ah… I’m booked with guarding the prince and giving lectures. How about next week?”
“We’re recording a new sphere set; hard to say how long it will all take.”
They sat in silence for a while.
“Send a message to the university when you’re finished,” Naisa said eventually. “I’ll probably be there, but they’ll pass it to me wherever I am.”
This part of the university was quite deserted and quiet: deserted because students didn’t have much to look here for unless they were taking part in the experiments; quiet because the walls were thick and reinforced with countless spells, some of which also muted sound. Rikin had never been to this part – he mostly visited lecture halls where he was a guest lecturer in the basics of music theory, since many spells used melodies or songs; now he was coming over from the sound-magic building, where, as a member of staff, he was allowed to rent the recording studios, which were much better than commercial ones. But even in the sound-magic building the walls were merely soundproof; the walls here looked like they were designed to withstand a cataclysm.
After a long, eerie walk he found the door marked XX-32 and he opened it tentatively. Behind it was a wall full of strange magical symbols and writings. With the outside wall of the room It formed a long corridor that seemed to be opened on both sides; he went to the left where he could see a light.
The corridor seemed to turn right but there was an opening right before the turn. He came through it and realized the walls were just an additional set surrounding quite a huge hall. The inside of the walls was full of cuts, tiny breaks and burn marks, and in a couple of places the surface was slightly molten. Similar marks covered the high ceiling and the bare floor. And on the floor, quite near him, a big heavy table stood, over which bending, with one knee on the chair, there was Naisa.
It was the first time that he saw Naisa wearing something else than the uniform and it was much of an improvement; unlike the uniform, these clothes didn’t seem like they were the wrong size. The outfit wasn’t very sophisticated; it looked like Naisa was dressed as practically as possible, in a simple blue and grey shirt, which was quite tight – some stubborn part of Rikin’s mind rejoiced in seeing that Naisa was physically male – and matching loose pants. He wasn’t wearing any ornaments, which made Rikin wonder, because he was sure Naisa’s ears were pierced. Naisa’s hair was tied back, although a couple of loose strands fell on his face when he fumbled, fully concentrated, with something that looked like a small red crystal in some delicately glowing intricate metal installation.
Rikin slowly came to the table, watching Naisa’s work with interest. Suddenly Naisa jumped and looked at him with surprise. The element he was fiddling with flashed with bright blue light and started smoking; Naisa cursed, releasing one hand quickly, and sucked on his burned little finger.
“What are you doing here?” he asked incredulously without taking the finger out of his mouth.
“I was passing by…” Rikin broke as Naisa looked at him with one eyebrow raised. “We finished the recording in sound-magic building and I thought I’d say hello.”
“Didn’t they teach you the proper protocol of entering the XX rooms?” Naisa gently put some part of the construction into place with his unburned hand and only then did he let it go and set a healing spell to the burn. “Right, you weren’t a student, you don’t know what XX rooms are.”
“I think I can gather enough from the look of the walls…”
“Some call them explosion rooms. We conduct more… unpredictable experiments here. Or simply ones that should stay contained inside a room. You were lucky I wasn’t testing Fire-barrier spells.”
Rikin looked at the molten part of the wall and his face went pale.
“This is what you do for a living?” He gestured at the devastated wall.
“Well, they didn’t make me an Honorary Military Wizard just for my pretty eyes; I’ve got a couple of awards for my discoveries. But worry not.” Naisa made a couple of mysterious gestures, disconnected some parts and the construction on the table stopped glowing. “I’m researching barriers, not offensive spells; those are Daha’s speciality.”
“That’s good, I guess.”
“Well, we often do experiments together. Anyway, it’s better for non-magical people not to stay in this room for too long. Do you want to go eat something?”
“I didn’t want to disturb your work,” Rikin said, despite the evidence.
“Meh.” Naisa waved his hand towards the table with slight disdain; Rikin couldn’t fail to notice he looked much more cheerful and full of life when he wasn’t performing his guard duties. “I already lost patience for it today and I’d rather it didn’t explode on me because of my carelessness. Besides,” Naisa smiled and Rikin decided this smile alone was worth the risk of coming here, “I would like to talk to you in a place where we both don’t mind being.”
They chose a nice restaurant with a big garden and sat under a huge umbrella, breathing in the chilly air of the evening. As they were walking out of the university, Naisa had gone for a moment to a small room and appeared wearing a different, slightly more elegant shirt, earrings and a ring on his left hand. He had also let his hair down. Now Rikin kept seeing the glint of light on the ring as Naisa was sucking on his burnt little finger; the view sent his thoughts in the direction he didn’t mean them to go.
“Shouldn’t you wear gloves during experiments?”
“Can’t.” Naisa surveyed his finger critically; it was still pink but looked much better than it had when they’d left the experiment room. “I cannot operate this well in gloves. Usually I use shielding spells. but this magic I’m researching discharges too easily when anything magical is too close, so I even have to take off any jewelry with magic in it.”
“Even those tiny earrings?”
“Yeah, that’s a funny thing.” Naisa touched one of the earrings and started playing with it. “Those are supposed to mute your magic signal to the outside world, but when I got zapped in my ear and woke up on the floor I decided that for the spell I’m working on it doesn’t make much difference.”
“Is your work always that dangerous?”
“What? No.” Naisa took his iced tea from the waiter, fished out one of the ice cubes and held it with his burned finger. “Accidents don’t really happen often. Today I got distracted…” He stirred the tea thoughtfully for a moment. “It’s not like I only work on dangerous projects either. Some time ago we were working on better venereal and contraception barriers with the medical department; you can imagine it was a lot of fun when we came to the testing stage. Most of the team actually volunteered and, since the spell was a success, left it on afterwards. I kind of like mine; it’s a little pretty sigil below the bellybutton, more or less where you’d normally put the patches for… Are you okay?” Naisa shot a worried look at Rikin, who was coughing heavily after having choked on his coffee.
“I’m…. okay…” Rikin used the napkin to catch the part of coffee that came out of his nose. “I just thought that you never have… that you don’t need it.”
“Well, while it is true that sex is not something I need, it doesn’t mean I don’t derive any pleasure from it and, while not often, sometimes I do make the effort if I have a good reason for it.”
“Like ‘for science’?”
Naisa laughed; Rikin realised he really, really liked his laughter.
“Yes, for example.”
“What other reasons would work? A written request?”
“A good set of shining references?”
Naisa propped his chin on his hands; there was a humorous twinkle in his eyes.
“Dear sir, are you thinking of seducing me?”
“It might have crossed my mind, once or twice,” in the past ten minutes, he added in his mind. “I hope it doesn’t offend you? I would not risk our relationship over it.”
“No, it’s just…” Naisa fumbled with the end of the spoon in his glass. “It won’t be that easy,” he added quietly.
“There is nothing like a good challenge, is there? If you don’t hold it against me if I try, I won’t hold it against you if I fail; what would you say?”
“It’s a deal.” Naisa smiled brightly. Great, thought Rikin biting his lip, make that three times in ten minutes.
This night was going to be the last of Naisa’s Honorary Military Wizard Guard service and his spirits were up. He knew Rikin was not going to be there because of the last rehearsal before tomorrow’s concert, but that didn’t worry him because his ticket for the concert was waiting on the table and he’d arranged to surprise Rikin backstage afterwards.
They’d become really good friends in the past couple of months. When they’d first met, Naisa had been worried that Rikin was only trying to pick him up and it would end when he learned that it wasn’t going to happen, but Rikin had accepted it really well. He still liked to be a little seductive since he’d learned there might be a shadow of a chance, but he was really careful to show that it was a play and whatever Naisa’s decision eventually would be, it would not change their relationship. Naisa appreciated that.
Not that he wasn’t considering it. Well, he didn’t at first; but when he’d admitted to having sex sometimes, it had been because some part of him had been considering it. Truth be told, he hadn’t expected such an eager response from Rikin, and he’d felt a little guilty for teasing him – but just a little, because he’d also teased himself. Rikin’s subtle seduction had worked long ago – it was just hard for Naisa to admit it and act on it. He thought that maybe tomorrow…
He was just passing the House of State when, on the edge of his magic sense, something felt off and it made him stop. Nothing was actually wrong, but years of working with experiments that liked to explode because of the tiniest misalignment had left him quite sensitive to subtle changes in magic that could mean future trouble. The streets were quite crowded and from the front door the crown prince was emerging with a small group of elite guards. Naisa recognised one of the guards and decided to come up and warn them just in case.
He’d almost reached the group when he felt the magic behind him shifted as if shaping itself in a spell, one Naisa didn’t know but which reminded him of the sharp, vicious ones Daha was researching – spells that had a slow and barely noticeable build-up and a violent release: a sudden attack spell.
He turned towards the direction from where the magic came while improvising a barrier that could stop the unknown curse. Alarmed by his behavior, one of the guards grabbed his arm and half-spun him around.
“Just what are you…”
Naisa ignored her, cursing under his breath, and rechanneled the spell to his free left arm but it was a fraction of a second too late; he’d only managed to set up a part of the barrier when the curse reached them. He felt a fierce burning sensation as violent streams of magic hit his face, followed by severe pain. He felt the guard release her hand as she collapsed on the stairs, bleeding profusely. He felt another attack coming and thought he wouldn’t be able to make it to Rikin’s concert after all…
Rikin was woken up by the sound of his own name. He opened his eyes to see a worried face of Hozka and, beyond it, a ceiling that seemed familiar. Backstage of the concert hall. They still had had some time before the concert and he’d picked up a newspaper…
He sat up and, ignoring the questions of Hozka, whom his sudden movement startled, looked around for the newspaper; it has fallen right next to his body. He grabbed it violently and skimmed the first page quickly to find the part he had been reading before.
“Thanks to quick reactions from nearby Military Wizards, there were no casualties among the civilians, but before the attack was subdued two Military Wizards had been killed and three seriously wounded. Among the victims, Naisa Hassanta…”
Yes, this had been the moment when Rikin had fainted before; now he bit his lip while taking a deep breath through his nose and read on:
“…despite being a part of honorary troops, showed exceptional bravery and skills. He fended off the attackers and protected his other two wounded companions and the prince before the reinforcements came. All three wounded are presently being treated at the Medical Department of the City’s Magic University…”
Rikin stopped reading and rested his face on his hands, not bothered by the fact that he was still holding the crumpled newspaper.
“What do you mean ‘among the victims‘, you made it sound like he was dead, what happened to professional journalism…”
“Rikin, look at me!” Hozka put a firm hand on his shoulder and waited until he lifted his head and looked in her eyes. “What happened? You need a doctor? Want me to say you can’t perform tonight?”
“No, I…” He realised there were tears in his eyes; he rubbed his cheek with the back of his hand, smearing some of the ink that transferred from the newspaper. “When are we supposed to go on stage?”
“Two minutes ago.”
Rikin digested it for a moment, looking at the worried and confused faces of Hozka, other musicians and the stage crew.
“Can you play Solidity?” he finally asked Hozka. “I will join you afterwards.”
“Are you sure?” Hozka looked at Rikin’s shaking hands.
“Yes, I just need ten minutes. And a glass of something strong.”
“Your performance last week was absolutely amazing.” Rikin was listening to the lady with one ear while searching with the corner of his eye for Naisa’s silhouette. “I’ve been a fan for a long time but the emotion you’ve shown at this concert was exceptional. I was crying at the end of it.”
Rikin looked at the lady with a charming smile. She was a long-time fan, she was rich and she was very supportive not only towards him but also the whole orchestra. It would have been very ill-advised to admit he barely remembered the concert because he was worried for his friend.
“I am glad you enjoyed it; I gave it my all.” Well, technically it wasn’t a lie – he had given it all the attention that wasn’t focused on Naisa; and he’d probably also channeled part of that feeling too, which seemed to have accidentally resulted in the raving reviews and praise he’d been hearing for the past week. He’d been smiling and nodding, and thanking people, and everybody’d believed he was happy until Hozka had taken one look at him, pulled him aside and given him a strong hug.
After the attack, the security had been tightened, and Rikin had needed to pull quite a few strings to get into the memorial ceremony, but even then he could only see Naisa from afar, standing a little unsteadily, dressed in his guard uniform with an ornate scarf draped over one arm. It was a bit easier to get into the small party afterwards – he came in with one of his students, who happened to be a general.
It was much more difficult to get to Naisa because, unlike at previous parties, he was one of the centers of attention. Rikin bided his time making pointless conversation and waiting until he saw that Naisa wasn’t surrounded by people anymore. He excused himself politely.
Naisa was sitting at one of the tables and talking to Daha, a dark-skinned, short-haired woman in the same uniform as his – Rikin vaguely remembered meeting her at the university. Naisa’s hair was tied in a loose braid on the side and covered part of his face. As Rikin came closer he saw that the hairstyle wasn’t a random choice: there was a bandage hidden under the hair. Naisa was very pale and slightly rubbed-off makeup hid heavy shadows round his eyes. He seemed weak and frail; it was hard to believe he was the same person who, as Rikin had been told numerous times tonight, fought off a team of enemy military wizards while hauling much bigger colleagues out of the harm’s way.
“If you had moved your arm less right after you got hurt it wouldn’t be that bad,” he heard the woman say as she looked at Naisa with a worried expression.
“If I had moved my arm less after I got hurt I’d be dead,” Naisa replied bitterly.
“I’m glad you aren’t,” said Rikin. Naisa raised his head.
“Rikin! I didn’t expect you here.”
“I used my connections to get in. I wanted to see you; they didn’t let me into the hospital.”
“No, they wouldn’t; I wasn’t actually there. They moved me to the University’s ward because there was too much interest from the media.” Naisa smiled and a brief grimace of pain flickered on his face. Rikin looked with worry at his bandaged right eye.
Naisa raised his hand and lightly touched the edge of the dressing; Rikin noticed that he raised his left hand while his dominant right arm was in a hidden under an artfully wrapped scarf sling, and he could see a piece of bandage under the edge of the sleeve.
“It will heal.”
Naisa resisted his stare for a moment.
“….Eventually,” he admitted quietly.
“Here he is.” A loud voice next to his ear made Rikin jump; he saw a brief expression of panic on Naisa’s face. “Mr. Hassanta, this is the ambassador of Tehre; he was with the prince that day and he wanted to thank you personally for saving his life…”
Rikin politely made space for the fat man and the ambassador, who, to his surprise, looked sincerely grateful.
“Seriously, can’t they see he’s ill?” Daha’s face was a picture of disgust.
“Shouldn’t he still be at the hospital?” Rikin kept looking with worry at Naisa.
Daha made a face.
“He only wanted to attend the ceremony, but after that I found out that they’d dragged him here. I’d take him out in an instant, but I cannot leave as long as the prince stays here.”
Rikin thought for a moment.
“Where is the prince right now?”
“Somewhere on the other side of the room.”
“I am sorry, but the prince really needs Mr. Hassanta right now.” Daha’s prim posture was an example of best military traditions. If both men talking with Naisa had known her a little better they would not have believed what they saw; Naisa knew how unlike her it was and he almost spilled his tea on himself. “You will have to excuse us; you will be able to talk to Mr. Hassanta later.” She bowed politely. Both men nodded and let Daha grab Naisa by his unhurt hand and drag him through the crowd.
“What…” he started until he saw Rikin waiting for them.
“Let’s get you out of here, away from those hyenas,” Rikin said with a serious expression.
“It won’t be of much help; they know all the places I could go.”
“Well, too bad for them, because you’re going to a secret place for a private concert and none of them are invited.”
Rikin’s apartment was not too big, but it was airy. Naisa took off Rikin’s jacket, which they’d put on him while exiting the party; it managed to succeed in hiding Naisa’s uniform and identity long enough for them to get into a car unnoticed. Rikin had experience in not letting persistent fans find out where he lived, and while apologising to Naisa, he led him through his secret route, through different backyards of different apartment buildings, until they reached the one he lived in. Now Naisa was half-lying on Rikin’s big, comfortable couch.
Naisa was really glad when Rikin offered some of his clothes; he looked like he could not stand to be in the uniform anymore. Now, wrapped cosily in a warm blanket, he looked both glad and slightly embarrassed.
“This must be the most domestic concert ever,” he laughed.
“Well, I won’t force you to listen if you don’t want to…” Rikin paused tuning his violin.
“No, no, of course I want to. It just feels… special.”
“Well, I definitely don’t do this often.” Rikin winked. “I’ll play something calm, so you can rest.”
Rikin played, gradually switching to more and more soothing tunes, until Naisa fell asleep.
Naisa flexed his hand; the wounds made by the curse finally closed and now his arm was covered in fresh, sensitive scars. He had to be careful not to overexert it but he could mostly go about his life normally now. It was a relief to learn that the curse didn’t impair his dexterity; it would have been disastrous for the experiments.
Naisa was sitting on the couch in Rikin’s room again. Rikin looked relieved when he finally saw Naisa’s eye without the eyepatch. The two clear scars, one slightly below the eye, the other under his brow, showed how lucky Naisa had been not to lose his entire eye.
“So does it mean you are okay now?” inquired Rikin.
“Well, it will take some time for me to get back in shape, but I am feeling much better.”
“I’m glad. I must admit I panicked a bit when you went down with fever after my concert.”
“I’m sorry I imposed myself on you then. But I admit I am grateful I could stay here where nobody could find me.”
“It was no problem. After all, as I have told you many times, you’re always most welcome in my bed.” Rikin winked.
“What about now?”
“Now you are still welcome.”
Naisa put the teacup away on the table.
“Look, I really don’t have much experience with this whole seduction thing, so I am afraid I have to count on you in this matter.” Naisa felt a blush running up his cheeks. Rikin was looking at him with a mix of disbelief and happiness.
“Do you really mean it?”
Naisa grabbed Rikin by his shirt, pulled him closer and kissed him.
Rikin lay on his stomach with his arms outstretched before him and enjoyed the pinkish fog of satisfaction that filled his mind, relieving it of all thought. Next to him Hozka was laying on her back and chewing a stick of cinnamon with a satisfied grin.
When he’d had first met Hozka, she had been dressed and behaving like a man. The illusion had been so perfect that it hadn’t been until they’d gotten to the bedroom that Rikin had learned that this wasn’t actually the case. In turn, after seeing him interact with women earlier, Hozka had been surprised to find he wasn’t too keen to find himself in bed with one. She’d convinced him to give it a try after all, saying that he could object at any moment and they’d stop. She’d put on her harness and taken him from behind, and after a couple of minutes he could not have objected even if he’d wanted to, simply because he had no longer been able to make any coherent sounds.
SInce then they’d become best friends, violin-playing partners and lovers. She was an exception to his preference of men, but then again, Hozka was a woman when she wanted and a man when he wanted, and whichever she was, she was better than most people he knew.
“Okay, what’s wrong?” Hozka asked when Rikin finally rolled over and started cleaning himself.
“Listen.” Hozka pointed her cinnamon stick at him. “I won’t pretend that I’m able to read you like an open book, but when we’re making love or music together, I can tell if you’re upset.”
“I’m not upset and I’m not going to tell you anything.”
Naisa felt a shift in magic, which suggested that someone had entered the room unannounced. He instantly put a barrier between himself and the spell he was working on; a strong discharge bounced off it and burned a hole the size of a fist in the table. Naisa turned slowly.
“Do you people have some kind of a death wish?” he shouted at Hozka, who looked shaken. “The protocol for entering XX rooms – which is, by the way, written right next to each door – exists for a reason!”
“Rikin might have mentioned something…”
Naisa buried his face in his hands.
“May I ask to what I owe the pleasure?”
“I want to ask why you stopped sleeping with Rikin.”
“Is there anything Rikin doesn’t tell you?”
“Not if I put my mind to it.”
“Well, I cannot see how this is any of your business.” Naisa crossed his arms.
“It is my business because the best composer in this country suddenly stopped being able to write anything better than this city’s average.”
“Why do you think it has anything to do with me? It’s not like we have stopped meeting at all, and besides, he has tons of other lovers.”
“Oh, is that bothering you?”
Naisa combed his hair with his hand.
“I am fine with that. More than that: I think it’s great.”
“I am his lover. Does that bother you?”
Naisa considered this. He knew Hozka as the only person in the city who was able to top and satisfy Daha.
“Well that just proves that he could not be missing sex with me. Especially since he never could stop making music in his head even when he did.”
Hozka looked at him incredulously.
“He’d spring to his score right afterwards.”
Hozka surveyed the dejected Naisa.
“And that does bother you?” she asked triumphantly. “Want to talk about it?”
Naisa didn’t expect he would end up telling Hozka all his problems. He didn’t expect she would take him to Rikin’s apartment with her. And he most definitely didn’t expect that they would all agree to her sudden proposal.
Yet, despite all his expectations, Naisa found himself in bed with both of them and was kissing Rikin while Hozka was putting on her harness. Naisa moved his kissing to Rikin’s neck, collarbone and chest, stopping a bit longer to bite his nipples, and then continued down. He felt Hozka’s warmth as she was leaning over him and kissing Rikin now, and his head brushed against her breasts when he reached out for lube. He gently eased Rikin’s opening with his fingers while taking his erection into his mouth, then he cautiously put his finger in, then another, deeper and deeper until Rikin begged Naisa to enter him properly.
Naisa got up, positioned himself and entered Rikin slowly. Rikin, impatient, started to move against him. Naisa laughed and tried to match his rhythm to Rikin’s when he felt Hozka’s fingers teasing his own entrance slowly but deliberately. Hozka’s fingers entered him and, with breathtaking precision, found the spot that made him gasp with pleasure. His own moves just increased the stimulation; his breath sped up and just as he was about to ask for more, Hozka took out her fingers, positioned her strap-on and entered him.
Naisa slowed down for a moment to get used to the feeling. Suddenly he felt a hand grab his hair and pull him upwards. He arched up and felt Hozka’s other hand gently stroke his arm and collarbone, then continue along his neck to his lips. Hozka released his hair and, avoiding his right arm in order not to touch the painful scars, started teasing his nipple while two fingers of her other hand stopped caressing his lips and went right inside; when he instantly sucked on them she gave a little amused laugh and teased the tip of his tongue.
And then she started to move.
Naisa tried to adjust to her pace. He looked at Rikin, who was extremely excited and whose eyes were fixed on him with an expression of boundless glee. Naisa wondered for a moment how much of this happiness of his was from physical feeling and how much just from watching, but then Hozka squeezed his nipple with her nails and he involuntarily closed his eyes as a shiver went through his whole body. Before the sensation had time to fade Naisa felt Hozka pick up the pace – and as she did Rikin also started moving in response, in perfect synchronisation with Hozka’s movements. Naisa struggled to keep up, but the sensation became more intense, going beyond anything he had ever experienced before, and his body moved by itself, his mind barely registering anything but pure pleasure. He was very dimly aware of hands touching him, of Hozka and Rikin’s breaths becoming faster while his own was starting to come in more urgent gasps. He tried to last, but the perfectly synchronised sensations of Hozka inside him and himself inside Rikin were too much and he came uncontrollably, longer than ever and so strongly that he almost blacked out.
He barely felt Hozka pull out. Through the haze of afterglow Naisa felt Rikin pulling him towards himself. Naisa let him, putting his own legs over Rikin’s. Naisa collapsed, his mind still too deep in the fog for him to be able to do more than just lay on Rikin with his head hanging next to his. He felt Rikin’s kiss slightly above his left collarbone. He felt Rikin’s breath deepen once more as Hozka moved into place vacated by himself. He felt Rikin’s erection rub against his tailbone as Rikin moved with the rhythm of Hozka’s thrusts. He felt Rikin’s hand embrace him as his other hand grabbed the bedsheets once again.
It didn’t take more than a couple of minutes until Rikin’s embrace tightened as he and Hozka went over the edge in perfect unison, Rikin with a long broken sigh that seemed to come straight from his core, Hozka with sighs mixed with genuinely happy laughter. For a few long moments Naisa felt jealous of this synchronicity; but the feeling subsided when both Rikin’s arms closed gently around him. Naisa slid off of him so he could breathe easily and enjoy his own shadow of pleasure; Rikin turned after him without releasing Naisa from his grip. Behind his back Hozka fell on the pillows with a radiant, satisfied smile. She caught Naisa’s eye, winked, chuckled quietly, and stretched out on her back like a cat in the sun.
When Rikin’s breath finally calmed down and he opened his eyes, Naisa was already starting to doze off. He saw Rikin’s tender expression and he felt Rikin gently hold his hand.
“I love you, Naisa.” Rikin whispered.
Naisa only managed to squeeze Rikin’s hand in response before he fell asleep.