Seven Roses

by Runa Yukarin (月・朋)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/264519.html)

Vega was out with Lyra on the night that he met Altair.

They’d been walking home, together, after a long day at market, and the night had just begun to fall, gray-purple and very soft. It was dark in the forest, and singing with insects.

Vega had probably noticed him first, but it was Lyra that stopped, resting one of her small, rough hands on Vega’s wrist. “Do you suppose he’s okay?” she asked.

“Who?”

She pointed into the shadows, and the figure grew more defined as Vega focused on it.
He was a shape at the base of a tree, dark and huddled into itself, and his brown arms were clenched over his knees. The night gleamed blue on him, and his eyes were hidden.

Vega swallowed at the sight of him. He was tired, feet aching and hands raw and tingling from handling fabric all day. Any other day, any other man, and he would have pulled on, to home and supper and sleep.

But the man under the tree lifted his head, hearing Lyra’s voice, and his eyes gleamed in the dark. They were eyes that pulled.

Vega hefted the unsold rug over his shoulder, and bent down on one knee in front of the man. “Are you all right?” he asked.

“Leave me be.” The man’s voice was clear, almost impossibly so.

“Really? I mean, it’s getting kinda cold out…” Lyra approached from behind. She had her basket of yarns and roving with her, and her head tilted kindly.

“Leave me be,” the man said again, and his eyes shifted above his knees, locking with Lyra’s.
Vega felt his heart jump. The whites of the man’s eyes were almost pearl-like, gleaming in the dark there. There were cold hooks in those eyes.

Vega extended a hand, and rested it on the man’s knee. “It’s going to be cold tonight. Winter isn’t yet over. At least stay in our home tonight?” he asked. “It’s a sin to leave someone in need alone like this.”

The man by the tree sniffed, curling in closer to himself. “I’ve been fine on my own for a while, thank you.”

“At least help us finish dinner, then. I’m certain I made too much.” Lyra’s smile was contagious and sincere, and there were few who could resist it.

The man here seemed to be no exception. He sniffed again, and unbent himself from where he sat. “Seems I have no choice, then. Take me with you.”

Unfolded and standing, it became immediately apparent that he was not only an outsider — his refusal of offered hospitality made that obvious — but a handsome one, too. His build was stocky, broad in the shoulders, and he was shorter than even Lyra. And his skin — unbelievably — was smooth, almost shiny, and the color of fresh earth.

“So, where are you from?” Lyra asked, as they began walking.

The man didn’t answer.

“Not from around here, I can tell,” she continued. “I’ve seen fishers from the coast as dark as you. Is that what you do?”

“I’m… a watchman,” the man replied; his lips lay slightly open in the pause between his words. “And tonight I am off my post with nowhere to be.”

“Oh, I see! Spend them alone, usually?” Lyra said.

The man nodded, and he looked over his shoulder at Vega. A chill unrelated to the wind ran through him; Vega had never seen such lonely eyes set in such a stern face.

“Do you have a name?” Lyra continued. “I mean, hah, of course, everyone has a name, I suppose…”

“Altair.”

“Altair, that’s your name?”

He nodded, and Lyra’s shoulders rose as she giggled. “How interesting, I’ve never heard a name like that before! I’m Lyra, and this is Vega, my older brother.”

“I see,” Altair said, and there was little else said the way back home.

Lyra lay down her basket and took to rekindling the fire, once they arrived home. The air was cold and still inside the small house, but the orange light of the fire seemed to warm it before the heat could do its work. Vega put down his rug in the corner, and in the silence, his shoulders grew hunched. Lyra was busy, so he supposed it was up to him to speak…

“Um… we have only one room for sleeping, but plenty of blankets,” he said. “So you are, um… welcome to sleep with us.”

“I sleep during the day,” Altair said.

“Oh! Oh, then, um.” Vega skimmed over his thoughts. “Please, feel free to make use of the room in the… morning, then.”

“I’ll be gone by morning. I’m just here to help finish dinner, as your sister said,” Altair said.

“Ah…” Vega tucked a lock of hair behind his ear.

Why was it that this man was making him so nervous? True, Lyra was better at talking to strangers than him, but there was just something about him…

Vega decided to take the unsold rug and move it into the weaving room, if only to try and calm down. Figure things out.

Before he could even get started, Altair was behind him. “What is this room for?”

“Um… weaving…” Vega replied, though the enormous loom — Vega’s loom — made that obvious, at least to him.

“You’re a weaver?” Altair walked forward, and began inspecting the half-made fabric.

“Yes, and my sister, she… spins. It’s how we support ourselves.” He nestled his hands, rough from work, in each other.

“Remarkable,” Altair said. “It hardly seems like the sort of thing you’d make just to support yourself.”

“Well, I…” Vega’s lips knotted. “I try to make them attractive, so they’ll sell better.”

“Mm.” Altair trailed his fingers over the white, sparkling accents in the deep blue of the rug. Vega shivered involuntarily, as if those fingers weren’t touching the rug, but…

“Boys, the stew is almost done! Come help set up.” Lyra’s voice broke the aching tension of the air, and Altair took his hand off the rug as he passed into the main room.

For a moment, his arm brushed Vega’s, and the hairs on Vega’s arm stood at attention.

It took Lyra calling out to him — “Vega, come on!” — to get him to move again.

Lyra had made mushroom stew, and though he was hungry, Vega kept forgetting the food on his spoon, letting it grow cold before each bite.

Altair ate with the delicate grace of a cat, gently blowing on each wooden spoonful until the steam disappeared, and wrapping his finely-shaped lips over each bite. He wiped the broth off his lips with his knuckles, and licked them clean when he was done.

Lyra chatted on, as well she could, and Altair replied in a patient, even manner, not quite humoring her, not quite expressing genuine interest. He didn’t ask questions, and he helped clean the wooden dishware after the meal.

Vega had questions, formless questions, but they stuck to his mouth and kept it shut.
When Lyra excused herself to get some spinning done, Altair announced he would be outside, thanking them once more for their kindness.

Vega took the opportunity to escape, tending to his loom with tender nervousness ringing in his ears. He swallowed, frequently, threading the shuttle back and forth, picking out the flower-like specks of white along the way in their improvised patterns. The yarn was smooth, Lyra’s fine work, and the blue thread had a fine luster in the gentle light of his lamp.

The blue luster of the night on Altair’s skin…

Vega closed his eyes tight and shook his head, as if trying to get water out of his hair, and tried to get back to weaving.

He got a good amount of work done, keeping his mind from wandering too far, when he heard the tap of a small hand on the wall behind him. “I’m going to bed; you coming?”

It was Lyra. Vega looked over his shoulder at her, rather than continuing his work, and a crooked smile masked how startled he actually felt. “I’m almost done here. I’ll go to sleep soon.”

“Mm. I’ll lay out your blankets, then.” Lyra turned back and trailed a hand behind her. “Night.”

What followed was not silence, but her voice again, muffled slightly by distance. She was offering to make up a bed for Altair, which he declined in that same, smooth, night-deep voice. Vega held onto it as he held his breath.

He only exhaled once he hard Lyra’s footsteps, light and bird-like, retreat to the bedroom. A moment longer, he held the echo of Altair’s voice in his mind, the image of his stone-soft lips against the spoon.

And he returned to work, as the oil in his lamp burned away, the whir-and-clack of the loom smoothing over his thoughts.

He didn’t even hear Altair enter, some lost amount of time later. But Altair’s breath, lukewarm and light, touched his shoulder. Vega could almost feel his lack of body heat, even though they weren’t touching.

“Aren’t you going to sleep soon?” Altair was almost whispering, but his voice seemed to reverberate deep through Vega’s body.

This time, Vega didn’t look back. He kept his hands on the loom, his thick fingers fast in the threads. “I… tend to not rest when I’ve made a lot of progress…” he said, inhaling in the pause. “Don’t want to lose my rhythm, see…”

He heard the ground creak as Altair knelt beside him, and in his peripheral vision Vega saw the silhouette of his head as he leaned over to get a better look. “There’s so much more here than before our meal. I’m impressed.”

“It’s nothing, really…”

A smooth hand snaked its way over to the bar of the loom, where Vega’s hand rested. “I told you, I’m impressed.”

Their fingers, for a moment, touched at their edges.

“It’s beautiful,” Altair said.

Vega cleared his throat, and fumbled with the shuttle. “If you’ll excuse me, I… think I’m done for the night…”

As he stood, and left the room, he saw Altair’s eyes follow him, dark and animal-luminous, and lonely. Eyes that stayed with him as he settled into his blankets, beside Lyra, in the silence of the dark.

Vega woke some time later, not quite at dawn, but clearly a while later. The room was dark, from the lack of moon, but he could see Lyra sleeping beside him, her black hair fanned out gently across her pale cheek.

Altair was still awake, he supposed. He didn’t feel immediately sleepy, so to check on him… would be reasonable, wouldn’t it?

Altair was not in the main room, no, but he was outside, looking up at the sky. It was beginning to pale, leaking shades of cream and orange to precede the sunrise.

“You should go back to sleep,” Altair said, without even turning back. “I’m quite fine here.”

“Oh, I know, I just… can’t sleep, either,” Vega said. “Mind if I, um… sit with you, for a while?”

“I don’t mind.”

The wood of the veranda around the house was cold. Vega wrapped his blanket around himself tighter. His mouth hungered, and he struggled with it for the right thing to say, the memory of the hand and the loom rolling and rumbling at the back of his mind.

At least he didn’t ask directly about the weather. “Are you… sure you aren’t cold?”

“I’m used to the cold.”

“Ah… Are you from north of here? If you’re used to it, I mean,” Vega said. “I hear the snow never melts there, even in summer.”

Altair shook his head. “I’m from far above north. Not a place many people live.”

“Ah…”

Vega’s breath clouded in front of him and disappeared into the dark. Altair’s didn’t. “Is it lonely, where you are?”

Altair finally turned to look at him there, and with his eyes already adjusted to the darkness, Vega got the best look at his face he’d had all night.

He had dark, bird-wing eyebrows, and eyes that were both dark and clear, like wine.

And beneath that clarity, delicious and enticing, was that loneliness, etched into the deep sockets of his eyes.

Eyes that pulled, and pleaded, locked into an unflinching face.

Vega had to do something, fuss and want wrestling under his thoughts, and concern. So he leaned forward, and kissed him. Altair’s lips were soft and yielded gently, like the flesh of a ripe fruit.

He pulled back after that, his heart beating in his throat. “I’m… I’m sorry, I just…”

Altair just stared back at him, his lips slightly parted, his brows raised.

“Don’t leave, if you don’t want to.” This was all Vega could manage, though more words, unspoken, coated his lips: “Someone as beautiful as you shouldn’t have such lonely eyes.”

Altair smirked, bitterly, and looked at the ground. “I have no choice but to leave. But…” And he lifted his face, and his clear, dark eyes seemed even more luminous in the dark. “That you wish to share my company, I’m… flattered.”

Vega’s face burned in the low dawn. Even his fingers seemed to be trembling.

“I would be happy to share the rest of this night with you, however much is left,” Altair continued. He leaned forward, and his hand, his arm came so close to Vega that he could see the fine, dark hairs on his skin.

They kissed again, and this time, Vega could taste him. He tasted of snow, and Lyra’s cooking, and the tang of storm-touched rain.

Altair’s hand was cool against Vega’s face, as he gently held Vega’s jawline, supporting his head as he kissed harder. His hands were smooth, hands that belonged to someone that had never known work.

In the pauses between kisses, where they gulped down cold air and winter silence, Vega’s head swam with questions.

Was this truly happening, or was he still dreaming, fantasizing about a stranger who couldn’t possibly be truly interested in him? It wouldn’t be the first time, with other men and other fantasies, but Altair was a man of disinterest, gentle refusal, and…

And Altair was gently easing Vega onto his back, his thick, muscled legs straddling Vega’s hips, dipping into him with each kiss, cool and smooth and real.

This man, from out of nowhere, a watchman with nowhere to be, and yet here he was, answering Vega’s movements as if he knew them by heart, had known them all his life. Vega gasped, his chest rising and falling as he wrapped his arms around Altair’s back, the cold wood of the veranda underneath him.

This wasn’t a fantasy, a dream. He felt everything: Altair’s lips, the cold air, the blood running hot and agitated through his body…

And yet, all too suddenly, he felt Altair lifting out of his arms, and in moments, he was gone. Completely.

Vega lay on his back for a while, reeling, the surge of his heartbeat resonating through the tips of his fingers, his joints, his groin. Breath clouded over him like fog, and the milk-butter light of the dawn reached over the black skeletons of trees around his home.

Once his blood had cooled, he sat up, and winced, laughing a little. Of course, it had been a dream.

He asked Lyra, once she woke up, if she knew what had happened to Altair in the night. “I don’t know,” she replied, stirring the rice over the hearth. “I assume he left while we were asleep. Why do you ask?”

Vega shrugged noncommittally. “Just… hoping he got where he was going,” he said.

In the weeks that followed, they didn’t see Altair again.

At least, Lyra didn’t. But Vega saw him, often, and in the smallest places.

At the loom, he’d feel the phantom brush of his smooth fingers against his wrist. In his bed, he’d feel Altair’s weight held over him, lips against lips. He kept these to himself, for his sister’s sake, turning over onto his side and cupping the space between his legs with cold hands until he calmed.

One month passed.

And on the next new moon, coming home from market, Lyra and Vega found Altair waiting for them at their home.

“I hope you don’t mind if I stay with you another night,” he said, after Lyra expressed her delight in seeing him. “I was… in the area again, and I wanted to repay your kindness.”

He had gifts for them, small ones, but none were more precious than the way Vega’s pulse quickened when Altair’s eyes met his, and he saw that the loneliness was gone.

What it had been replaced by, Vega did not dare assume. But his heart read that clarity, and felt longing, and want.

For Lyra, he presented a beautiful knife made of white glass, like bone.

And for Vega? “What is this?” It was a spool of some sort of material, silver-bright and sparkling where the light hit it. Thinner than yarn, something obviously meant to accompany a greater thread.

“For your weaving. I thought you might make some good use of it,” Altair replied. “Lyra’s yarns are of good quality, but I thought you’d appreciate… something more.”

The thread was cold to the touch, on its spool. Cold, and smooth.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Lyra added. “No way I could manage to spin something like that myself. I hope my brother can make something beautiful with it.”

“I hope he does too,” Altair added, and his eyes seemed to melt with warmth.

Vega stared at his hands. “I’m very grateful. Thank you.”

“It’s the very least I could do, for your kindness,” Altair said. “That, and another meal tonight, if it’s not too much trouble.”

“Not in the least!” Lyra said.

They had fish that night, salted and grilled, but Vega could hardly taste it. His mind was tangled up in too many other things: memories of lips, and silver spools of wire.

Vega took to weaving after dinner, since Altair was content to sit outside by himself in the hollow warmth of the night. It was all he could do to keep from thinking about what had happened last time, and all the wishful thinking attached.

Even with Altair there, before him, as real as he had seemed, there was so little that could convince his mind that what had happened between them was real. The memory of those smooth hands and lips was as insubstantial as air, and the ghosts of those sensations haunted him.

The loom was real, and the steady, erasing rhythm. Tonight would be the last night he’d see Altair, and he was only with them to repay the kindness of him and his sister. All the while, Altair’s gift of silver lay beside the loom, unused, too precious for the unfinished, common thing under his fingers.

Somewhere in the uncertain passage of time, Lyra came in and said she was going to bed, which Vega acknowledged with a hum and a tilt of the head.

And then, even deeper into that dark night, Vega felt the touch of cool fingers on his shoulder, cool breath on his neck. He shivered, tensing in response, before shaking his head. It was late, and his numb fingers must have been dulling his senses…

Until he felt a kiss by his ear, and he smelled rain.

Turning into the kiss, he saw Altair there. His dark eyes seemed heavy and liquid in the lamplight.

“Altair? What are you doing?” Vega said.

“The token gifts for you and your sister, those were just for your hospitality,” Altair said. “But I wish to repay you for easing my loneliness.”

Vega gulped. His heart raced. No, Altair’s eyes didn’t look lonely now. They were filled with a need of an entirely different kind.

“Please, let me repay you,” Altair said.

Vega didn’t say anything, swallowing again, and nodding several times, as if shaking off his disbelief.

Altair gently held onto the back of Vega’s head, his fingers curling into Vega’s black hair, and they began to kiss; gently, at first, their lips touching for only seconds at a time, but soon with greater and greater urgency, as if they were hungry for each other.

Vega held onto him, in time, supporting himself by resting his hand against Altair’s cheek, the sand-tan of his skin a rough contrast to his partner’s smooth, darker brown.

This, surely, was enough, Vega thought, to repay Altair. A kiss for a kiss, a touch for a touch. That it was all Altair would want, and that it would end all too soon, gone, and lifted away from him like a dream.

But Altair’s kisses began to wander down his face, his neck, and onto his chest. His small, fine fingers pulled at the front of his robe, exposing his chest, which was shining slightly with sweat. Vega could feel the soft skin of Altair’s cheek by his collarbone, his lips sweeping over his skin as he dipped lower.

When Altair spoke, breaking the breathing silence, his voice was calm, and unhurried. “Your pants. Can I take them off?”

“What for…?” Vega felt slightly dizzy.

“To repay you further. Please, let me.”

Altair’s eyes pulled and stirred at something in Vega’s stomach; he could hear his heart beating in his ears. “Whatever you… want, I suppose,” Vega replied.

And for the first time, for however short a time they’d known each other, Altair smiled. It was a slight smile, almost invisible, but it sent Vega’s mind reeling in happiness.

Slowly, almost deliberately, Altair untied and pulled away the ribbon holding up Vega’s trousers, and left him naked from the waist down, his robe completely undone.

“Stand up. Please.”

Vega didn’t even reply, and he stood, his pants around his ankles, as Altair knelt before him. His hands wandered to Vega’s chest, and he kissed him on the belly, following the trail of his navel to his groin.

And with those beautiful, small hands, he cupped Vega’s scrotum and began gently massaging his shaft. Vega couldn’t help but gasp as he began to grow hard and hot, and his breath quickened, pulsing in his chest as if he’d been running for miles.

It was completely unlike all the times he’d had to pleasure himself, in the secret, hot silences when he had the house alone. Vega’s own hands were rough, thick, and his body knew them too well to respond immediately. But Altair’s hands were so cool, and felt like stone made flesh, and each new touch sang through his body and into his joints.

Vega was erect within moments, and Altair’s hands moved in response, shifting positions and pulling with more intensity. His eyes closed as Vega began to moan slightly, trying to keep his mouth shut; Lyra was two whole rooms away, but cold air seemed so much quieter, and sounds traveled like thieves.

“Are you okay? Am I hurting you?”

Vega opened his eyes, and saw Altair looking up at him; he’d let go, but his hands hovered just by his thighs, ready to return at any moment. Vega, however, didn’t even notice that. What he noticed were Altair’s eyes, and his brows knit together in painful concern.

“No, please… keep going…” Vega said. He looked at the ceiling, and when he felt Altair’s hands upon him once more, he sucked in his breath through his nose and moaned slightly, as if stretching his limbs.

And then Altair’s hands were joined by an entirely different companion: his mouth. Altair’s lips were firm and wet, and they rippled with his tongue along Vega’s shaft, sucking and pulling more intensely than his hands had. Vega couldn’t hold himself in, letting out a gentle cry and biting his lower lip. His right hand curled by his chest, each pull on his phallus running hot through his joints, and his left hand reached for Altair’s head, for balance, for comfort, for…

Warmth, spasming and electric, began to fill his loins. It was a familiar sensation, but one he’d never felt so strongly.

“I’m… I’m almost…”

Altair seemed to understand immediately, and took his mouth away, squeezing the base of his shaft in a firm, final motion. It was enough; white jism came forth, surge after surge, more than Vega had ever experienced before.

In the heavy-breathing stillness that followed, Vega managed to come around and open his eyes. His hand was still on Altair’s head, though it had shifted to his ear, and the remains of his gratefulness lay spattered on Altair’s forehead and sleek, black hair.

Vega immediately boiled with embarrassment. “Did I… did I get it on you? Oh, Altair, I’m so sorry, I…”

Vega tripped over the pants around his ankles, but Altair caught him, and he smiled for the second time that night.

“It’s all right. That’s what I wanted to have happen,” Altair said. “There is a spring nearby where I can wash it out before I have to return home. Would you join me there?”

Relief washed over the burn of shame in Vega’s head, and he nodded, breathlessly. “Sure!”

He dressed himself, lightly, and crept out of the house with Altair. The spring was not too far, but he still worried about the jism in Altair’s hair hardening too quickly to wash out easily. It was a small worry, however; the reality of Altair holding his hand as they went through the woods together was far more preoccupying.

When they reached the spring, they undressed, and swam in the spring together. The water reflected no sky, or moon, but blackness. Altair’s hair was cleaned easily, and lay glossy and flat against his head, fanning out over his shoulders. He was incredibly lovely, there, and Vega could not help but swim beside him, above him, and kiss him again, once or twice, no longer feeling so impulsive.

They sat by the rocks together as the sky began to pale; so much time had passed, and yet Vega hardly felt tired. He did, however, feel a vague, originless unease, and only when he noticed Altair looking at the sky did he figure out what it was.

“Altair?” he said. “The last time you visited, why did you leave so suddenly?”

“I didn’t mean for that to happen,” Altair replied. “The dawn came more quickly than I expected.”

“You have to leave with the dawn?”

“It signals the return to my post.”

“Oh, yes, you told me you were a watchman…” Vega said. “Where are you posted?”

Altair pointed to the sky. “The moon is my ward. Once a month, I have nothing to guard, and I am left here on earth to do as I please.”

“The moon…!” It had been a moonless night when they’d first met, and it was moonless here, too. “Is that true? Are you a god, then?” Vega said.

“Some might call me that,” Altair said, though there was no care in his voice.

“You must be all alone up there,” Vega said. “Unless there are other guards?”

“The sun has a protector, I’m told. But I’ve only seen him on the other side of the sky, sometimes,” said Altair. His eyes were focused on the water, which had grown still and clear from their lack of movement.

Vega moved closer, sending ripples through the water, and kissed Altair on one of his high cheekbones, cradling the other side of his face. “Do I ease your loneliness?”

Altair’s hand rose to meet Vega’s, and there was a line of guilt in his smile. “Yes,” he said, “you do.”

“Then… if you want to spend those nights alone with me, instead… I will always welcome you,” Vega said.

“You… truly mean that?”

Vega nodded with more certainty than anything else he’d ever felt.

“Then I will look for you, if you look for me.”

Altair’s eyes were glossy and bright, with happiness, and tears.

They kissed a while longer, in the spring, before the dawn came and claimed Altair back to his post, his body fading into the dark as the crown of the sun began over the horizon.

Vega slept late, when he returned home. And when Lyra teased him for sleeping in so late — “Stayed up late weaving again?” — all he could do was smile at her, and tell her that their guest Altair would be joining them again the next month.

As the weeks passed, Vega would often look up at the moon, alone in the black sky, and picture his beloved’s face there, finely-carved and dark. He would wonder if Altair was looking down upon him as well, if he thought about him as often.

There was some uncertainty, as the new moon approached, that Altair would not come. But the night came, and darkness fell, and Altair came out of the woods and onto the threshold of Vega’s home, and the promise was fulfilled.

They eased each others’ loneliness, late into the night, when all was still and none would interrupt. They shared their lips and their tastes, their stories and their sighs. Vega would always wait until dawn before sleeping, never wanting to leave his beloved Altair alone, knowing the burden he carried the other nights of the month. Only after the dawn took him away would he have been able to sleep with peace.

And so it continued for the next month, and the next, until a great deal of time had passed.

Until it came to pass that, one night, Altair came to Vega with a proposal:

“Come and live with me, in the sky.”

They were laying together, under a blanket, in his weaving loom, where Vega had taken to sleeping lately. Altair’s cool, stocky body nested comfortably beneath Vega’s long, string-rough one.

“Live with you in the… sky?”

“I’ve consulted my masters, and it’s been decided that you are worthy enough to join me in my duties. We would never have to be apart.”

Vega’s heart fluttered at the thought. True, to be with Altair always would be unspeakably wonderful, but all the same…

“Do you not want to?” Altair said. He leaned over, and his hair fell in a curtain beside his face.

“I would love nothing more,” Vega said. “It’s just, I worry about my sister…” Without him, and the rugs he made, she would barely make enough money to survive on just her spun goods.

Altair’s eyes fell. “Lyra has been as kind to me as you have,” he said. “I would hate to see her suffer because I wanted to have you with me.”

“Let me talk to her. After you’re gone. Then we can figure out what to do.”

Altair’s face remained uneasy, and Vega kissed it to comfort him, but he felt the stirrings of unease within himself even after the dawn arrived and took Altair away. He was still awake when Lyra woke.

“Hey there, did Altair leave?” She began stirring the embers in the hearth to wake them.

“Mm.”

The kettle was hung in the hearth for tea. “Something wrong?”

“No, just tired. I’m going back to sleep.” He retreated to his weaving room without another word, and slept dreamlessly.

He avoided talking to Lyra about it for weeks, until the night of the new moon, and Altair’s return, was uncomfortably close at hand.

It shouldn’t have surprised him that Lyra moved to talk about it first. “Altair’s gonna be here soon. Did you two have a fight?”

They’d been working together in the living room; she was spinning, he was sewing on embellishments to a rug. The question hit him with such unexpected power that he pricked himself with his needle.

“Well, did you?” Lyra said, not even looking up from her spinning wheel.

“N-no, we haven’t… fought about anything, why would you assume that?”

“Lovers go through rough patches sometimes. It’s natural.”

In the silence that followed, she looked up from her work, and smiled teasingly. “What, you thought I didn’t know? You two are quiet, but not that quiet.”

Vega’s face felt like it was exploding, from all the heat in his cheeks. His hands trembled as he put down his sewing. “Wh-why didn’t you speak up…?”

“Because it’s rude to be nosy in matters like this,” she said. “Besides, I see the way you look at each other. You’d have to be heartless to butt in.”

Vega covered his face in his hands, unsure whether to smile or grimace.

“So, are you two fine? I’m not gonna stand for it if he’s being rude to you,” Lyra continued.

“We’re fine, it’s just…” Vega lowered his hands, keeping them somewhere by his collarbone. “He wants me to… live with him, and I’m worried about how you’ll do without me…”

“Oh, that’s what this is about? That’s nothing!” She laughed, and had to stop spinning to wipe her eyes. “I’ll be fine on my own, honest. If he wants you to live with him, then go!”

“Lyra, are you just saying that to make me feel better…?”

“You kidding? With you out of the house, I might have room for a lover of my own!”

“Y-you have a lover?”

Lyra just laughed, keeping her secrets and her joys to herself.

When Altair returned, on the night of the new moon, Vega ran to him and picked him up into his arms, and kissed him openly, feeling enormous relief and overwhelming love. They spent their night together as they had always done, only sharing their happiness with Lyra, and readying the house for Vega’s departure.

The only possession Vega brought with him, for his new home, was the spool of silver thread that Altair had given him, his first gift. It had seemed too precious to waste on a simple rug, and lain unused in the house for a very long while.

Now, Vega knew, he would have a place for it.

They held hands as the dawn came, and faded into the sky together. Lyra awoke to an empty house, but she was far from worried.

And the next night, as the sliver of the waxing crescent rose into the sky, the first star in existence rose beside it, as bright as a shard of mirror in a bolt of velvet.

As time passed, the stars increased, with Vega’s weaving gifts granting color and light to the night, so that his Altair could never be lonely.

Of course, the new moon still came, as it always had.

But on those nights, the sky would fill with shooting stars, trailing silver light like fine wire.

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