The Way of the Sword

by Kaito (カイト)

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/112374.html)

“Hey, Earl!”

The stocky security guardsman in his glass cubicle jumped at Arvid’s voice from behind his back and sputtered into his drink, spilling it all over the magazine he was reading. Arvid got a glimpse of bare breasts, now soaked in coffee, and winced. Earl looked up at him and squeezed out between coughs and trying to hide his mag at the same time, “Mr. Sveinsson! You scared me half to death. Didn’t expect you here at this time of the night.”

Arvid leaned his tall figure against the doorframe, arms crossed over his chest. “Why are you here, anyway? Aren’t you supposed to do your rounds by now?”

The man puffed up. “I just finished one at 2:30 and everything was quiet. You can take a look for yourself.” He pointed at the bank of four monitors in front of him. Each screen displayed a different security camera take of the empty Main Hall. The pictures switched every ten seconds to another location.

Arvid nodded. “And you’re always keeping an eye on the monitors, I’m sure,” he said, his face stern. The guardsman visibly tried to judge whether Arvid was joking or not, and obviously settled for yes, for he winked an eye and grinned. “Always one eye, Mr. Sveinsson,” he said.

“However.” Arvid straightened. “Samuels has been complaining about the armory being in disarray in the mornings for a week now, and I came here tonight to check it. Probably a waste of time, but I’d like to be sure. No offense to you, Earl.”

“None taken,” Earl said, although his sour face belied his words.

“Would you please radio your colleague at the back doors to say that I’m gonna be around for a while?” Arvid asked. “I’ll contact one of you when I’m leaving.”

Earl nodded, and Arvid gave him a thin smile and turned. As he walked away, he could hear Earl on his walkie-talkie. “Listen up, Razeen, we’ve got us a visitor. No, it’s Mr. Sveinsson. Yes, the stunt coordinator. Says he’s gonna check the armory. Dunno…” the voice faded to a faint murmur behind him as he entered the Hall proper. He didn’t care if they were annoyed. After more than ten years as a stuntman and actor, this was his first job as stunt coordinator and Master of Swords. And this film was an ambitious fantasy game adaptation, with a ridiculously generous budget and a director famous for blockbusters. It was all about his special subjects: martial arts, swordplay, and riding horses. Ben Johnson, leading man of the film and Hollywood’s most successful actor of recent, even took swordfighting lessons with him. Nothing, not the slightest thing, was to go awry with this job, if it was up to him. And he would not rely on derelict security men to safeguard that his charge, an armory full of valuable custom-made weapons.

Earl’s cubicle had disappeared from view behind the corner, and the Main Hall was dim and very quiet. The only light came from the stars shining in through sparse transom windows above. The beam of Arvid’s penlight crept past offices, workrooms, storerooms and studios, partly set above at the gallery, partly along the outer walls of the former factory building. The armory sat above another row of shops that divided the Main Hall; behind it, accessible through the gallery, there was an indoors training ground, and behind that, big double doors opened to the outdoor training ground, which was surrounded by the backs of some other studios and office buildings.

Soft-footed in his sneakers, Arvid climbed the stairs towards the armory and stopped dead.

The armory door, intended to be closed and locked this time of night, stood slightly ajar. He glanced at the camera pointed at the gallery; its little red eye was blind. How could the security have failed to notice this? Frowning, he eased towards the door and carefully peeked through the crack.

The room was empty and looked perfectly normal. He entered and traced his penlight over the racks where the different kinds of swords, daggers, crossbows, longbows and other weapons were neatly stowed away. He was not able to tell if something was amiss. Samuels would be, but he would not be here until morning. Right now, Arvid would call the head of security, politeness and ungodly hour be damned. Reaching for the cellphone at his belt clip, he cast a cursory glance through the observation window at the indoors training area below and frowned when he caught a glimpse of movement there.

He extinguished his penlight and stepped closer to the window to get a better look. And then his jaw dropped, and he froze, hand still hovering above the forgotten cell.

Down there, he could see a bare-chested man, the skin of his upper body so white that he seemed nearly translucent in the gloomy starlight, his head surrounded by a blur of hair, wielding a longsword in a graceful yet powerful display of perfect harmony and utter beauty. Arvid made a living out of swordplay, but he had never seen anything like this. Leap, lunge, parry, retreat. Long, lean limbs whirled in flowing motion, fighting against an imaginary adversary in a mysterious, elegant dance full of an odd intimacy that stole Arvid’s breath. Twist, leap, swing, twist, stroke. The fighter did a high jump, shearing his legs in mid-air about six feet high, then in a single smooth motion landed, turned, whipped out the sword, and sent the imaginary adversary’s head flying; Arvid could clearly see it happen.

The man stopped, chest heaving, and gave a silent salute with the sword. Then he tucked the weapon unceremoniously under his arm and walked on bare feet towards the stairs, picking up a piece of cloth from the ground as he went. Arvid closed his mouth and snapped back to reality.

Quickly, he pulled the door almost shut as he had found it and flattened himself against the wall behind it. Listening hard, he could hear silent footfalls approaching. Then the door opened, and the man came in, humming under his breath. He held the sword in his left hand while he shrugged into some kind of jacket, half tangled in sleeves and hood.

“What do you think you’re doing here?” Arvid said, or intended to say, stepping out into the doorway behind the man. Almost instantly, the man pivoted, whipping out the sword with his left, and Arvid ended in a yelp, jumping back. The sword’s sharp tip whooshed past his navel by a hairsbreadth, and then a blur of grey lunged at him, pushing him back into the railing. By pure reflex, Arvid managed to grab two handfuls of cloth and clung to it for dear life, roaring for the security while at the same time struggling to lock his foot behind the other man’s.

The blade flashed and clattered across the balcony floor as the other man toppled over backwards, bringing Arvid down with him. They tumbled in a tangle of limbs halfway through the door back into the armory. Arvid found his wrists locked in a vise-like grip and had to let go. The other man instantly shot up and bolted but Arvid tackled him around the waist, threw himself over him and held him down by sheer body weight. The gray one bucked and fought until Arvid eventually managed to straddle him, caught his flailing wrists and slammed them against the floor, leaning in.

Breathing hard, Arvid glared down at a twisted, pale face, red strands plastered to its cheeks and forehead, still half covered in the folds of the big hood. Bright green, darting eyes stared back at him. Arvid could feel the other man’s chest rise and fall rapidly, could feel his heated, shivering body underneath him, could hear his breath hissing through clenched teeth, could even smell him, sweat, metal and something sweet and musky. Then the other man let out a deep, shuddering breath and went limp, closing his eyes and turning his head to the side. Warily, Arvid gripped him even harder.

From down below, he could hear running footfalls and shouts coming nearer, and he leaned back and bellowed, “Up here!” At that very moment, the pale man’ s body arched up and sideways, his forearms twisting with incredible vigor, breaking free of Arvid’ s grip. He slid deeper through the V of Arvid’s thighs, his legs shot up, crossed and locked around Arvid’s neck, wrenching him backwards, choking him and then he was up and running. Coughing, Arvid scrambled after him; his outstretched hand closed around one bare ankle. The gray one spun and kicked his shoulder with his other foot; Arvid felt something snap, and white-hot pain seared through his right arm, and the lights went out.

~*~

It was way too bright. That was the first thing Arvid noticed. The next thing he noticed was that he was sore all over and his right shoulder hurt like hell. With a groan, he tried to shift into a less painful position.

“Easy, man,” Gary Williams’s deep voice rumbled beside him. His chief assistant’s bald head hovered above him, thankfully blocking the glare of the neon lights. Will handed him a glass of water. Arvid reached for it without thinking with his right hand, winced and sank back into the pillows. “What happened?” he croaked, then coughed and reached out for the glass again. With his left.

Will waited until he had the glass back, then said, “Seems you came across a burglar in the armory. Seems you tried to snatch him on your own and got worked over instead. Got your collarbone broken and your dumb ass kicked. They had to operate on you, and you’ve been out for half a day. Why’d you not call security first? Why did you have to go alone anyway? Now the shit has hit the fan. Big fighting and riding scenes and next set of outdoor shots ahead, director’ s crawling up the wall ‘cos you’re out of action, security’s pointing fingers like mad, blaming everybody and their gran for the fucked-up camera they failed to notice for about one entire fucking month and mostly blaming us, one of the longswords is also missing, and worst of all, our primadonna refuses to shoot the fights with anybody else but you, claiming you’re the best and nobody else will make him look that good …” Eventually, he had to pause for air, and Arvid managed to squeeze in a question.

“Did they at least catch him?”

“No, shit, dinya pay attention? Security spotted some guy running down the stairs and vanishing through the side door, but by the time they got their asses in gear, he was gone already. You know you were the only one who actually saw him? By the way, the cops are waiting outside.”

Arvid laid back and closed his eyes. “I’m afraid I can’t describe him very well. White, red hair, tall, a little on the thin side, grey clothes. Younger than me. Could have been almost anybody.”

“Don’t tell me, tell the cops.” Will stood. “Ah, well, I almost forgot. To accommodate Mr Johnson’s whims, they’re going to postpone the fights and some of the outdoors and instead will do some location scenes and studio shots first. But the shoots have to go on by Thursday next. That means, you’re not outta here ’til then, you’re out for good and I’ll be in. So you better heal fast, man. Fair warning.”

Arvid jerked upright. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You heard me.”

“Sit down!” Arvid snapped, scowling. After a moment of hesitation, long years of habit kicked in, and Will dropped back down to the visitor’s chair.

“They made an approach to me about taking over as stunt coordinator,” he admitted, slightly abashed by now. “Look, it’s no big deal. You’ve been under a lot of stress lately, and I’d gladly help you out. You could take your time to heal and get some rest, and since I know the stunting staff as well as you do…” his voice faded. “At least your name would still be in the credits,” he added lamely.

“Oh Lord Almighty! I’ve broken a collarbone, not my neck! What the fucking hell gave them the idea that I’d be crippled by that?” Without thinking, Arvid clenched his fist – his right fist – and slammed it down on the mattress. The resulting jolt of pain had him gasping and knocked him flat again.

“See?” Will said. “That’s what you get.”

“And you already figured out how to replace me, didn’t you,” Arvid said, dangerously calm.

Will nodded and leaned over. “I can coordinate and do the outdoors,” he said eagerly. “Kuzman can stand in for you in the fights. And I’m gonna use your plans and schedules, so it’s gonna be your baby still. And these swordplay lessons with Johnson – well, I never saw their point to begin with. He’s doubled at crucial scenes anyway, so why bother to keep them up? No problem at all.”

Slowly, Arvid sat back up, carefully keeping any trace of pain away from his face and posture. “No problem, my ass,” he said, his voice drudgingly restrained. “You outlined it all long ago, didn’t you? Did you set that burglar on me?”

“But…” Will started to say, taken aback.

“Shut up!” Arvid bellowed, and Will flinched away from his wrath. “You will not take my job. You will not take the credits for my work. Don’t you take me for an idiot!”

“It’s my work as well! You know what they call us?” Will leaned in, glaring. “Beauty and the Beast, that’s what they call us. For the last six years it’s always been me who’s been stuck with the dirty work while you’d be waving about your shiny swords and wiggling your queer ass at the high-and-mighty. I’d fucking love to show them just once! And you are a fag, and don’t you deny it.”

Arvid’s right hand shot up and grabbed Will by the front of his shirt, jerked him close. “Maybe I’m a fag, but not a sissy,” he snarled. “I don’t need sick leave, and well you know that. I’ll be back on set the day after tomorrow. And don’t you dare try to double-cross me again, I swear, I’ll have your ass in a sling.” He shoved Will away. “Get the hell out of my sight.”

Will straightened himself and smoothed down his rumpled shirt. Then he headed for the door. Already reaching for the doorknob, he turned again.” I did not hire the burglar,” he said. “But at the moment, that sounds like it would have been an awfully good idea.” Then he left, slamming the door.

Alerted by the noise, a nurse turned up and started to make a fuss; still fuming, Arvid tried to shoo her away. But then the pain, temporarily held at bay by his anger, came back full force and knocked him flat again. The nurse fetched a doctor, and he ended up drugged into a happy, painless, near-floating state.

A little later, the police came to question him. Their questions made no sense to him in his drug-induced state of cheer, and they seemed to despair of him and left pretty soon. Arvid fell asleep again almost before the door had closed behind them.

When he woke again, his room was dark except for the light of some streetlamps that poured in through the thin curtains. Experimentally, he sat up. No dizzyness, no vertigo, which was a boon in itself, and his shoulder hurt, but it was bearable – as he had known it would be by now. That’s what bone joint plates are for, he thought. He would be able to ride the day after tomorrow, and he would regain full command of his right arm in a fortnight, although it would be painful for some weeks to wield a sword or jump down things. Hooray. Ben Johnson would not be amused to have to go without his swordplay lessons and the bosses would indeed have to make do with Kuzman as replacement in sword fights that could not be postponed. However, he would not allow himself to be replaced by anybody over a frigging broken collarbone, least of all Will, of all people.

He felt the anger well yet again. Looking for distraction, he thought about trying to sleep again, but he was much too rested after almost twenty-four hours. Besides, he was hungry. He got up and dressed, then left his room in search of a late dinner.

He spent a comfortable half hour in the company of the night nurse, a nice, elderly woman, who fed him sandwiches and coffee and agreed with him that a broken collarbone was merely an annoyance and not a disability. She started to tell him about her grandson, who apparently wanted to become a stuntman, too. It was pleasant and funny to listen to her grandkid stories, and when he left her to get back to his room, he was still smiling.

He reclined on his bed fully dressed and stared up at the ceiling, more relaxed now. But when the ease of his talk with the night nurse wore off, his mind returned to Will and his almost pitiful attempt to outsmart him. What had the man been thinking to suggest this to him? No brains, just muscles indeed. Arvid had a hint as to who had told the bosses a broken collarbone would disable a man for a considerable amount of time. It didn’t.

But the extent of Will’s ill-will had hit him out of the blue. Especially the homophobia thing. Will had known that about Arvid for more than three years now, and he had never seemed to take offense at it. Hell, this was L.A. – gay people in the business were hardly unheard of.

From there his thoughts turned to last night’s events. In hindsight, the whole episode struck him as almost unreal. Some funky, glow-in-the-dark freak crept into the armory in the middle of the night, did the most amazing routine Arvid had ever seen, and disappeared without a trace. It was just plain weird. But then again, the man had been anything but ethereal. Arvid rubbed a sore spot at the nape of his neck, recalling the hard, muscular body beneath him. What little he had been able to see of the pale face had looked handsome, now that he thought of it. Yes, he had to admit it: his body had been interested. He felt the same bodily response rise to his memories and shook himself, deliberately stirring the pain in his shoulder. Am I really that desperate? This guy fucked me in an entirely different way, so what the hell is wrong with me?

But his mind would not let him off the hook. His imagination even lead him to believe he could smell the man right now, and he shifted in his bed and sighed, half aroused and half annoyed.

“Are you in pain?” a quiet voice said.

Arvid shot upright so fast he got dizzy again, staring at the dark corner. A figure resolved itself from the shadows and took two swift steps towards the bed, holding out a sword. The tip of it came to rest only inches away from Arvid’s throat before he could even think about moving, let alone striking out at the guy.

The man was clearly visible now in the light of the streetlamps. He was tall, nearly as tall as Arvid who stood six feet two. He wore yesterday evening’s loose, drab pants and hooded jacket, hood pulled up, and sneakers. And he was threatening Arvid with a sword.

“Please, don’t shout,” he said in a slightly accented voice.

Arvid felt the anger rise inside him. “Who the heck are you?” he hissed. “What do you want from me, anyway?” Regardless of the sword, he moved to get up. The other man drew back slightly, giving Arvid room.

“Please, don’t shout,” the other man repeated. “I came to apologize. Won’t harm you, just want to talk to you.”

Frowning, Arvid looked up at him. Then, deliberately, he continued to stand. The other drew back some more, but the sword stayed in place. “Take that sword out of my face,” Arvid said. “And take down that hood. I want to see your face. Who are you?”

For some moments, the other one still hesitated. Then he gave a salute with the sword, turned it around and handed it to Arvid hilt first, who, bemused, took it with his left hand.

The gray one pushed back the hood to reveal shoulder-length dark red hair, tied back into a disheveled ponytail, and a very pale youngish face with jutting cheekbones and deeply set eyes. His left ear was pierced twice along the upper cartilage by earrings of dull steel.

Arvid tilted his head. “Well?”

“You don’t recognize me,” the other one said. “I thought as much. My name is Tam Ross, I’m with the craftsmen. The saddle makers, mostly.”

“You’re working at the set?” The whole thing got more and more mysterious by the minute. “So what kind of business does a saddle maker have with my swords?” Arvid raised the weapon. “And why the hell are you with the saddle makers, anyway? I’ve seen that performance of yours. You could make a fortune out of it in any show. Sure you’re not pulling my leg?”

“Pulling your…no, it’s the truth.” Ross shrugged. “It’s a long story.”

Arvid sat back on the bed and put the sword across his lap. He did not let go of the hilt, though, just in case. “Since you saw fit to pay me a visit in the middle of the night, and since you brought back that sword, I think you deserve to have me listen.” He pointed to the visitor’s chair. “Have a seat.”

“Thank you.” Ross sat, hunched his shoulders and let his hands dangle between his knees. That way his face was again hardly visible in the dimness; Arvid could only see the lower half of it. “I started to study the sword when I was five,” he said. “Then…something happened, and I swore to myself that I would never touch a sword again. But…” he swallowed, Arvid saw his throat work. “But…it’s like an addiction. When I started to work here…” For a moment his lips twisted into a thin cheerless smile. “Sometimes odd skills are useful to have. Anyway, I saw all the swords all the time. I saw…” he paused, obviously restraining himself.

“One night, I could not resist anymore and sneaked into the armory. The camera had been out of order for more than a month, you know, and nobody ever noticed. So I figured I could safely work out for an hour or so without harming anyone. Turns out I wasn’t right.” He looked up. His eyes met Arvid’s. “I almost killed you. Ever since I realized that, I thanked God for your reflexes. And I am really sorry about your injury. I meant no harm, never, just wanted…” he paused again. “Anyway, I came to…whatever I can do to make up for you, I will do, I really will.” He looked down again, head bowed, waiting for Arvid’s decision.

Arvid remained silent for a while, letting the words sink in. Finally, he sighed. “I ought to just call the police and turn you in,” he said.

Ross only nodded. “That would be the most obvious thing,” he said. “I was afraid you’d do that. But, it is up to you.”

“You wouldn’t bolt?”

“No!” The bent head came up. “I said so, didn’t I?” His eyes, reflecting the light of the streetlamps, seemed to glow.

Arvid held Ross’s gaze for a minute. Then he slowly nodded. “Yes, you did,” he said. “And I think I won’t call the police right now, ’cause there actually is something you could help me with.” He paused, collecting his thoughts. Ross remained silent, waiting for him to continue. “Look, the only thing I really can’t do at the moment is wield a sword. It doesn’t matter that much for the stunts. But Ben Johnson has been taking lessons with me for almost a year now. To stop them now would mean to lose him as a paying customer, and I would probably also lose favor with him. Well, I could survive without that, but – it’s always easier in the business if you keep some buddies among the Really Important People. So what I’m asking of you is to stand in for me as Johnson’s sparring partner. If you’ve been serious about redemption, that would be it.”

Ross seemed to shrivel. His shoulders hunched up some more, and he clasped his hands so firmly that the knuckles got even whiter than they had been. “That…I…I think, you’d better call the cops, then,” he said, his voice hoarse.

Arvid frowned. “What?”

“I can’t do that,” Ross said.

“Why, for crying out loud?” Arvid jumped to his feet. The sword, forgotten, clattered to the floor, but he did not bother to pick it up. “Then why come here and run your big mouth in the first place?” He stared down at the other man who still sat motionless in the visitor’s chair. “Talk, god dammit! You owe me an answer!”

Ross sighed. “I can’t raise a sword against anybody in bright daylight. That’s simply impossible.” His voice was still eerily calm.

Arvid felt anger and frustration, old and new, boil up inside him anew. He took one step forward and grabbed Ross’s upper arm with his left hand trying to force him up. Hard, lean muscles shifted under his grip. “That’s it,” Arvid growled. “I’ve had it with you. Up!” Ross stood, and tried to remove Arvid’s hand from his arm. Arvid refused to let go, and Ross’s hand dropped. “Out with you!” Arvid commanded, furious, steering him towards the door. “I won’t call the cops now, but if you let me catch sight of you again, I’ll have you arrested. Get lost!” Arvid shoved him on then turned away. He didn’t care what that man would do now. Pompous jerk. What a waste of time. Arvid bent down to pick up the sword.

He could hear a soft slithering noise. Then the lights went on. “The last time I had a fight in bright daylight, someone died,” Ross said, and now his voice was trembling. Arvid blinked in the sudden brightness, then turned and stared at him, stunned by the sight.

Ross had shrugged halfway out of the jacket, it dangled from his wrists. His upper body looked like an antique marble statue, immaculate white skin stretched smoothly over chiseled muscles. The eyes in his pale, angular face were an almost translucent green with odd, wide, pinkish centers, and he was blinking fast. Then Ross turned, and Arvid could see meshes of thick burn scars crisscrossing his shoulders and back almost down to his waist.

“I’m nearly blind when it’s too bright,” Ross continued, steadier now, “and I can’t abide the sun on my skin.”

Arvid swallowed. Ross slowly pulled up the jacket again, lifted the hood, then reached for the doorknob.

“Wait,” Arvid said. Ross stood motionless, hand on the knob, head bowed, still facing away from him.

“You meant it? That you’d help me out?” Arvid asked. Ross simply nodded.

“Can you see properly in weaker light?” Now the man turned and looked at Arvid. The green eyes widened a bit, and the ghost of a smile crept into them. Again he nodded. Arvid held out a hand to him. “Then come back over here,” he said. ”We’ll figure something out.” And when Ross made to do so, Arvid added, “Switch off the lights first.”

Right before it got dark again, Ross flashed Arvid a genuine smile, broad and heartwarming, and Arvid thought, Tam, he said. His name is Tam.

~*~

The next morning, Arvid checked himself out of the hospital, against doctor’s orders, written and sealed. Professionally, they had to play reluctant, but in reality, they were pretty glad to let him go, mostly because the morning shift nurse had had a screaming fit when she’d found him sound asleep, hugging a sharply honed sword almost as long as himself.

Back in his own apartment, he started to make some telephone calls, and because the pain in his shoulder put him in a considerable bad mood, some of these calls got a little nasty. But alongside grumpy to serious apologies and reassurances of irreplaceability, the calls enabled him to wangle a job for Tam out of the head of security.

And it was no problem to arrange with Ben Johnson’s personal assistant for his swordfighting lessons to be rescheduled to early morning. “Actually, it will suit him better,” the PA said cheerfully, “because he likes to go jogging in the morning, and these martial arts will provide a nice complement to his physical exercise regime. And he will be glad to hear that you’re able to provide him with a substitute while you seem to be…impeded. I am sure Mr. Johnson will approve. If not, I’ll let you know immediately, to be sure.”

“Thank you,” Arvid said. His jaw hurt from clenching. Sometimes his money was earned pretty hard, to be sure.

Talking the police out of following up the matter of an attempted burglary/bodily injury turned out to be slightly more difficult, although not by far. The notoriously overstretched LAPD readily let the matter rest when Arvid claimed that it had been a security test gone a little too well. And since the sword had reappeared and the only body harmed was Arvid’s, who made clear that he didn’t intend to take the matter to court – no, not even a civil action against the producers or the security company, as he had to admit it was, in fact, his own fault and he wouldn’t stand a chance in court, but thank you for mentioning it, sir – the DI in charge eventually didn’t see a reason to engage the LAPD any further and told him so, sounding relieved, although Arvid clearly heard him think “What a douchebag!” when he ended the call.

Afterwards, Arvid just sat at his kitchen table, considering his next task. Normally, he would have called Will now. Normally, he would have called Will first, in fact, but he had postponed it, telling himself that the other matters at hand were more important. Will was a capable second-in-command, had been so far, and the outdoor riding scenes, scheduled for today, didn’t require his presence anyway.

But what if Will had left him in the lurch? He’s a professional, he won’t do that, Arvid thought, and besides, someone would have called me by now, hospital or not. But eventually he pressed the speed dial button for Will. He got dumped into voicemail. Obviously Will was at the scene and had switched off his cell. Or was he? No better way to be sure then to make sure. With a sigh, he popped some painkillers, then took the sword and got into his car.

At the set, everything was business as usual. He was assured quickly that yes, indeed, Mr. Williams had taken care of it, and yes, he was out with the lot, and we expected you back only in a week or so, good to see you so well, Sir.

Gritting his teeth, Arvid headed for his office.

First of all, he changed his password. Then he set about rescheduling scenes and staff for his meeting with the production manager’s assistant. After another hour’s worth of discussion, they had worked it out, and then Arvid sat idly in his office, feeling useless, but reluctant to go home, until Will and the team came back.

Down at the backyard, the others greeted him, some bewildered, some with obvious relief. “Thought you was s’posed to be on sick leave,” Kuzman said. “Heard you’d be out for a week at the very least. Thought about going to see you tonight.”

Arvid shook his head, carefully mastering his features. “Just broke a collarbone,” he said, “but thanks anyway. I’m afraid you’ll have to stand in for me in the actual fightings for about two weeks. Will is going to have your new schedule by tomorrow.”

“Suits me fine, Boss,” Kuzman replied, grinning. “See ya.”

Will had disappeared while he had been talking to Kuzman. Arvid found him in his office, staring at the blank screen.

“You changed your password,” Will said accusingly, looking up.

“You bet,” Arvid said. He pointed at a small stack of printouts. “The new schedule is there; you can hand it out to the others in the morning. And get out of my chair.”

Will almost jumped aside, and Arvid sat right down just for emphasis.

“Look, I didn’t mean to cheat on you,” Will said, looking sheepish. “Hell, we’ve been working together for what, five years now? You ought to know me by now. I only meant well.”

“Maybe you did,” Arvid said, heaving a sigh, “and I really thought I knew you, but now I’m not so sure anymore. You meant well, maybe, but mostly for yourself. I’m sure you’ll forgive me for being more cautious.”

“Pissy, are we?” Will snarled. “Throwing a tantrum? You can stop it, no one’s…”

“Cut it out!”Arvid snapped, his voice dangerously low, and Will was smart enough to shut up immediately. “We’ll have to work together for several more weeks, and I expect you to stay professional during that time. Afterwards, you can go wherever you want, and whatever your problem is, I won’t be it any more. Nor you mine. Got me?”

With a sullen expression, Will took the papers and left without a word. Arvid leaned back in his chair, exasperated. What’s wrong with him, he thought. Let’s hope he comes around it quick, whatever it is, or this fucking idiot will blow the whole thing right to hell and back.

~*~

The sun was about to set when Arvid arrived at the security building where he had arranged to meet with Tam and Gordon Drake, the head of security. Outside Drake’s door, Tam was already waiting for him, his hood up, wearing dark sunglasses. They nodded at each other in greeting, and then the door opened.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Sveinsson,” Drake said. “And that’s got to be – no, you can’t be serious. Blade?”

Looking from one man to the other, Arvid decided to act now, ask later. “That’s the man I told you about,” he said. “Tam Ross. Mind if we come in?”

“Yes, sure,” Drake said, instantly returning to business, and waved them on to take a seat. After the paperwork was properly taken care of, Drake said, “I need to make sure you know that you were employed on special request of Mr. Sveinsson, primarily as a night guard to the armory, but you will also support the other night guards at general surveillance. Your uniform will be ready for you tomorrow night at the beginning of your first shift. Any questions?”

“No, Sir,” Tam said. He nodded to Drake, and also to Arvid. “Thank you, Sir, Mr. Drake, Mr. Sveinsson.” When he turned to go, Arvid gestured at him to wait, and after a brief goodbye to Drake, followed him out.

As they headed for Arvid’s office, Tam said, “The security men let me watch some swordplay from time to time, and I come and go usually in darkness, you know. Thus the nickname.”

“Seems a little discriminating to me,” Arvid said, but Tam only shook his head. “I don’t mind. After all, it’s true I am a nocturnal being. And it could have been worse. Dracula, maybe. Or even Armand…”

Suddenly Arvid became aware of the grotesqueness of the entire situation, and he simply cracked up. He had to hold on to his injured shoulder, but couldn’t stop laughing, and after some amazed seconds, Tam joined in his hilarity They had to take hold of one another for support.

Finally Arvid came back to reason, mostly because he suddenly realized that he was clutching at Tam’s arms and that their faces was only inches apart. Slowly, he pulled back, and while Tam did the same, Arvid tried to decide whether it was only his wishful thinking or Tam was really as reluctant as he was to let go.

The rest of the walk passed in silence. In his office, Arvid opened the topmost drawer of his desk and got out a brand-new key. Turning towards Tam, he held it out on his palm. “You’ve got business inthe armory,” he said. “Figured you’d need a key of your own.”

Tam’s face lit up, and he slowly removed his sunglasses and slid them into his pocket before reaching out to take the key from Arvid’s hand. His fingertips brushed Arvid’s palm, settled on Arvid’s pulse and lingered there for a moment, his gaze never leaving the shiny piece of metal.

Then he looked up. His eyes met Arvid’s. “Thank you,” he said softly.

Arvid swallowed and then nodded, dropping his hand and turning away to fidget with his half-glasses, removing them and cleaning them with the hem of his t-shirt. “Come to the backyard at 6:30 in the morning,” he said over his shoulder. When he got no answer, he turned again. “Did you want something else?”

The green eyes glowed in the dim light. A smile flashed alive and vanished in a blink. “Maybe,” Tam said. He donned his shades again, then raised his hand in parting. “See you,” he said, and was gone.

~*~

The next morning at 6 o’clock Arvid was back at the set, his shoulder bandaged to immobility, chasing around equipment, grips, horse wranglers, and mounted warrior extras to load the whole lot on trucks for outdoors shootings. Will was there, as effective and competent as ever, but carefully avoiding Arvid’s eyes. By the time the backyard finally was quiet again, Tam was already overdue.

Then Johnson turned up, still in his sweats and sneakers from jogging, accompanied by his current girlfriend and his usual entourage. Whatever could be said about the Golden Boy’s attitude, when filming he was disciplined and reliable. He reached out to thump Arvid’s shoulder and only at the last second thought better of it. “Hey, Mr. Sveinsson, where’s your man?” he asked. “You good on your word or do I have to dig up another Master of Swords?” He was only half joking, Arvid could tell, and so did his best to appear neither nervous nor annoyed.

“No, Mr Johnson,” he said, casting his eyes surreptitously towards the big double doors. A man detached himself from the shadows there, loaded down with protective harnesses and face masks, two short swords dangling from his hand. “There he is,” Arvid said, secretly relieved. “Brought your gear.”

Johnson looked Tam up and down, then turned to Arvid. “He’s got a good height,” he said. “I suppose he will match. Armory nightwatch, you said? Not one of you stuntmen?”

“No, Mr. Johnson,” Arvid said, while the actor had his harness buckled. “But I assure you, he is well-suited.”

“Are you, then, Ross?” Johnson asked. Tam nodded, his face hardly discernible behind the mesh of the mask. “Yes, Sir.”

“Well, we’ll better find out as soon as possible,” Johnson said, walking away to assume position. Tam turned to Arvid and lifted his mask, flashing him a smile and rolling his eyes. “You coming or what?” Johnson yelled, and Tam, slipping the mask back down, yelled back, “Yes, Sir, coming, Sir,” and hurried over. Inwardly shaking from suppressed laughter, Arvid gave the sign to begin.

Tam let Johnson take the lead right from the start, silently and patiently responding to his strengths and masking his weaknesses. Johnson made a better picture with him than he had ever made with Arvid, because Tam unnoticeably pampered him, putting up exactly enough resistance that Johnson had to strain himself but never pushing him too hard. Arvid’s instructions were hardly necessary for either of the combatants; Tam managed to let Johnson win without any of the onlookers being the wiser, least of all Johnson.

The fight ended when Ross lost his sword to Johnson’s last stroke, to the applause of Johnson’s admirers. Drenched in sweat, but beaming, Johnson gave his salute. “Good fight, man,” he said. “What’s your name, Ross? I’m looking forward to seeing you tomorrow. Same time.”

Without waiting for Tam’s answer, he walked away past Arvid and handed him the sword. “Not bad, Sveinsson,” he said, again scarcely backing away from patting Arvid’s shoulder. “I think you’re quite good at picking your men, or so it seems.” He waggled his fingers and left, hugging his girlfriend’s hips as he went.

Tam collected his sword and stepped up to Arvid. His breath had already evened out. Arvid stuck out the other sword to him. “Thought you’d leave me in the lurch. You’d better spare me the heart attack next time.”

“Ah, but wasn’t that fun?” Tam said, sliding his glasses down his nose. His eyes sparkled above them, pinkish in the still faint morning light. “What a poser! How could you put up with him?” He reached out for the other sword. Arvid did not let go, scowling at him. Tam shrugged. “I said I would be there, didn’t I? Don’t you trust me by now?”

“Trust has nothing to do with reliability,” Arvid said.

Tam leaned in, as if to get a better grip at the two swords, and brought his mouth closer to Arvid’s ear. “I trust you. Do you want to know how much?” His finger’s brushed against Arvid’s when he took the sword. “Meet Tam the swordsman again. You ought to know where.”

And again he was gone before Arvid had time to say anything.

~*~

During the following days, Arvid was stuck in work right up his ears, with his only leisure time the morning entertainment of watching Tam sparring with Ben Johnson – although his advice was not needed at all, Arvid enjoyed the sessions too much to forgo them. He witnessed how Ross gained Johnson’s respect bit by bit. (After a week, Johnson even called Tam “Mr Ross”.)

Arvid resumed leading the outdoor battle scenes from his jeep the very first day, and two days later he was back in the saddle. In the evenings, he collapsed into bed, only to wake up to the pain in his shoulder after three or four hours of disturbing dreams, filled with sparkling green eyes and wiry muscles moving under marble-white skin. Then he lay on his back, shoulder aching and loins throbbing, staring into space and pretending to wait for the painkillers to kick in so that he could sleep again. Sometimes they did. Sometimes he had to get off first. More often than not he just mulled on and on over every tone of word, every touch, every glance, trying to decide whether he had read the signs right or not. By Friday night, he gave in. When he awoke again at three o’clock in the morning, he got up and dressed in jeans and a hippie vest without a shirt, courtesy of the hot night (or so he told himself), then drove to the studio.

No on called out to him when he opened the side entrance with his keys. Still a sloppy lot, those security guys. All the better for him.

The armory door was firmly closed and locked, but the red eye of the camera was blind again. From below he could hear rustling noises, so he rounded the corner and stepped to the railing above the training ground.

Down there, he could see Tam’s figure, standing out in silhouette against a single spotlight, his head surrounded by a blur of hair, wielding a longsword in his graceful, deadly battle-dance. Enthralled, Arvid stood, grasping the rails, his gaze riveted on Tam the swordsman in his full glory, clad only in tight, dark boxer briefs.

Suddenly the dancer stopped in mid-twist and turned his face to him.

“It’s me,” Arvid called down, softly.

Tam looked up and gave him that stirring smile, gesturing him to come down.

Arvid hesitated for one heartbeat. Then he jumped in.

They faced each other, slightly more than an arm’s length apart, taking their fill looking at each other. Tam’s eyes were a shining green again, wandering down Arvid’s body, lingering on his crotch and turning up again to meet Arvid’s blue stare. Tam raised his hands to collect his hair in a rubber band, then let them drop again and just stood, motionless, waiting.

Slowly, Arvid reached up. He splayed his fingers on Tam’s chest, marvelling at the contrast of his sun-tanned hand on this white expanse. Tam’s body felt hard to his touch, hot and sweat-slick. Under Arvid’s hand, Tam’s heart pounded, fast and strong, in time with his own hammering heartbeat. Tam’s smile bloomed again, and Arvid felt himself respond to it, felt it tugging at the corners of his own mouth.

Tam lifted his own hand to cover Arvid’s. Slowly, gradually, the white fingers flexed, started to move, stroking, gently, one finger caressing his pulse. “There you are,” Tam breathed, and then his hand slid up Arvid’s arm and then both took half a step forward at the same time, closing the space between them. Tam’s dark scent engulfed them both. Their brows almost touched. Their faces, their eyes were mere inches apart, and then Arvid gave a little choking noise deep in his throat and grabbed the back of Tam’s neck with his left hand, pulling him close, and Tam tilted his head and met his lips open-mouthed.

No hesitation any more, no anxious unease. The kiss got fiery and frantic and messy in no time. Bodys pressed against each other, rubbing, writhing. Hands roamed, stroking hesitantly at first, fingers tracing ribs and flanks and scars, quickly getting bolder, greedier. Arvid dug the fingers of his left hand in the hair of Tam’s nape and extended his right hand down to cup Tam’s ass; Tam parted Arvid’s vest, stuck his free hand under, wedged his thigh between Arvid’s, and then the sword cluttered to the ground, causing a loud rattle that reverberated in the empty hall, and Tam broke the kiss to bite Arvid’s neck, latching on, grinding himself forward against Arvid, and Arvid let his head loll back, exposing his throat, and gave a low moan…

A static crackling from the far wall, where Tam’s security uniform lay neatly folded, startled them and broke the spell. For several moments, they stood, still clutching each other, then Tam heaved a sigh and reluctantly stepped back. He walked over, crouched and took his walkie-talkie. “No,” Arvid could hear him say, his voice annoyingly steady, “Nothing. Tripped over something. Yes, all is well. Right. Gonna do your round? Right. Meet you there.” He donned clothes as he spoke, and returned to Arvid, still buttoning up, grinning a little awkwardly.

Arvid had achieved to straighten his own clothing by the time Tam reached him, and stood, holding on to his now aching shoulder, still breathing a little faster than usual.

“Got to go,” Tam said, but made no move to do so. Arvid reached up and touched Tam’s cheek. “Your hair’s a mess,” he said.

Tam leant into the touch, turning his face so that his lips brushed lightly against the palm of Arvid’s hand. His tongue flicked out and left a small wet spot where his lips had been. Then his own hand lightly circled Arvid’s wrist. That smile bloomed again, a little crooked this time, but still he held Arvid’s gaze. “Tomorrow’s my day off,” he said.

Arvid swallowed. “Care to meet me, then? Tomorrow night?” he said, all in a rush, before he could have second thoughts.

The smile got radiant again, as Tam nodded.

“See you in the morning,” he said, and it took Arvid several seconds to recall Ben Johnson’s swordplay session. He nodded, too. With a last squeeze, Tam let go of Arvid’s hand and turned, rebraiding his hair as he went up the stairs.

When Arvid passed by the armory door on his way out some moments later, the camera’s little red eye blinked at him mockingly.

Untitled, by The Winter Cynic

But on this particular Saturday morning, Arvid had no time to attend to Tam’s swordplay. As early as five-thirty in the morning, he was called out to an outdoors location shoot in the middle of nowhere, a mounted chase scene through a forest. Close-ups of Johnson, already filmed, would later be inserted during editing. Yesterday, the stuntmen had already repeated the scene several times over. The assistant director and the camera operator were sourly dissatisfied with the stuntman who had been designated to stand in for Arvid. The whole scene would be three entire minutes in the movie, a really important scene, they claimed, and why couldn’t Arvid do that little bit of riding himself? He matched Ben Johnson’s appearance so much better. Did he ride with his ass or his arm, anyway? The other stuntman seethed with anger, Arvid was precariously on edge, but in the end they had to give in.

After twenty-odd takes on an increasingly hot and humid morning, Arvid and his horse were about to keel over, and so he called it a day at noon and returned to the studio, only to walk headlong into a veritable bedlam.

It seemed that on this day of all days, someone had made a furtive attempt on Ben Johnson’s life, and it seemed further that this someone had been Tam Ross, Arvid’s protégé and Ben Johnson’s sparring partner in swordplay. He had not even attempted to flee, had simply given in to Johnson’s bodyguards and was already in police custody.

Arvid was arrested for conspiracy before he could even get out of his jeep. Fortunately, he had a lawyer of his own and had no need to rely on the filming company’s, but even so it was late afternoon until he finally got to see the suspect, as he had insisted on from the beginning.

He had had a lot of time to think it through by then. At first, he had only felt hurt to his very core. Tam’s presumable betrayal had stabbed his heart like the proverbial sword. But then, this man had revealed himself to him. He had been so open, so trustful – hell, he could have kept that goddamn sword in the first place and bolted, but he had brought it back and risked arrest in doing so. For that matter, he could have emptied the whole armory unnoticed long before. And that smile, and that kiss… Nobody could be such an errant liar.

Stubbornly persuading himself that sexual attraction had nothing to do with it, Arvid decided that it wasn’t Tam. And he repeated it to the detectives again and again until they let him identify the would-be assassin.

Well, he wore Tam’s clothes, and he looked pretty much like Tam down to the shades and the lanky hair. But when Arvid had him remove the shades, his face was not Tam’s. Not anywhere near. His reddish–brown overdyed hair was black at the roots, and his eyes were an ordinary brown. And he was almost a head shorter and a good deal stockier than Tam.

Confronted with Arvid’s testimony, the man almost immediately gave up his pretense and sang like a nightingale. He turned out to be a mad fan of Ben Johnson’s, a stalker, and also to be more than just a little messed up in the head. He had sneaked into the studio weeks ago as a grip, only to be near Ben Johnson. And he had witnessed up close the gruff saddle maker’s help promoted to Ben Johnson’s sparring partner, had watched Johnson take notice of Tam, even acknowledge him while he never ever had spared him a look or a word. Worship had gradually turned into hatred.

Tam’s distinctive looks had presented the stalker with the perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, and so he had simply waited in the locker room for Tam. He had clobbered Tam from behind, hogtied him and left him there to rot, then taken his clothes, his keys, and his place on the training court. And his sword to kill Ben Johnson – which he had fouled up royally, thank God. But it had gotten him Johnson’s attention, and that made the stalker nearly burst from pride. Once he started to speak, he seemed unable to stop and just babbled on and on about how clever and how astute he had been. If nothing else, he managed to clear both Arvid and Tam from suspicion, after all.

Even with the assaulter’s confession, it took the authorities another three hours to let Arvid go. It did not help that Tam was missing. The police had sent someone to the studio security’s locker room, but they had come back empty–handed, with only the remnants of Tam’s uniform shirt the stalker had used as ropes. The stalker swore that he had not harmed Tam further, and the police found no evidence that said otherwise.

But Tam wasn’t to be found at the address in his personnel file, either. Nor at the hospital. Nor anywhere at the studio, as security confirmed.

When Arvid was finally allowed to leave the police headquarters alongside his lawyer, the street was thronged with media and microphones. He made pretty quick work of it, leaving his lawyer to do the Cheshire Cat routine for the cameras and sneaking away at the first opportunity.

Deep in thought, he picked up his truck at the studios and drove back to his hotel. He felt sticky and dirty after the foul day and longed for a shower, but most of all he worried about Tam.

He could not help but feel guilty, although nothing of the day’s events had been his fault. Where could Tam possibly be, and fucking why did that guy not have a cell? After a quick shower and change and a handful of painkillers, he started to search in earnest.

It was already past midnight when it occurred to him, after he had searched all likely and unlikely places, to take a look at the armory, only to be certain. Again nobody challenged him when he let himself in by the side door. The armory door was closed, the camera engaged. He tried the doorknob – locked. His last hope deceived, he turned to go, when a little noise from inside made him freeze. Hastily, he unlocked the door and entered.

Inside, nothing. He switched on the light and scanned the room. From behind and under one of the racks at the far wall, as far away from the door and the light as possible, the rustling came once again. Then a low groan. “Too bright,” a voice creaked.

Immediately, he turned off the light. Momentarily blinded, he followed the sound and dropped to his knees besides Tam who huddled in a wretched heap underneath the rack. His hands met fabric, then skin, and then another pair of hands gripped his and clung to them.

“You,” Tam said, his voice a low rasp, “you came…” and groped along his arms, and Arvid hugged him firmly, murmuring comfort. He half-dragged Tam out into the room, where he finally got to see him in the weak light from outside.

Tam wore only his uniform trousers. What Arvid could see of his upper body looked raw and felt hot and uneven. He quickly eased his grip. “Christ! What happened to you?” he said.

Unbelievably, Tam laughed, a ragged, bitter sound. “Can’t bear sunlight, remember? Asshole left me in front of a window without my shirt, bound, couldn’t move, and it burned…” his fingers dug deeply into Arvid’s upper arms for a heartbeat, and then he curled up in Arvid’s lap and started to shudder, teeth clattering. “It took me ages to get free, and then it was so bright and I couldn’t think and people everywhere and they all spoke of murder and cursed me and you and I didn’t know where to go and it was dark and cool in here and I knew you’d find me here…” his voice drifted off.

All in a hurry, Arvid shrugged out of his shirt and wrapped it around Tam. “Hush,” Arvid said, already making to stand up, “I’ll get help,” but Tam’s hand clawed at his arm with unexpected force.

“No!” Tam said loudly. His eyes snapped up to meet Arvid’s. And then, softer, he pleaded, “Please, don’t. No one must see…no one must know…please, no…” He sank back, his eyelids drifted close again. “It will heal,” he said, “it always does. Just – ” he paused, took a deep breath, visibly forcing himself to speak evenly. “Could you please help me stand up?”

Arvid opened his mouth to argue, but something he saw in Tam’s face made him stop. Shaking his head, he braced himself, grabbed Tam under his armpits and heaved. It took very little effort on his side, though; Tam got up mostly by himself, and a good thing that was, given Arvid’s handicap. But then Tam leaned heavily on Arvid and seemed to have to struggle to keep upright. Arvid looked at him thoughtfully. “We make a hell of a picture,” he said. “How do you shut off the camera?”

Tam didn’t even deny it. “Need to jiggle the wires,” he said.

Arvid leaned him against the wall.”Stay upright for a sec,” he commanded. “I’ll clear the way.”

~*~

It was a piece of work to get Tam down the stairs and into Arvid’s Jeep. Tam swayed and staggered, apparently still dizzy from the blow on the head. But finally, he was securely buckled into the passenger seat. Arvid cursed under his breath when he climbed in, rubbing his right arm. “What now?” he demanded. No answer. When he looked over, Tam was hunched down, obviously about to pass out. Arvid shook him. “Stay awake!”

Tam groaned.”Get me to my place,” he said, slurring the words together. “I…will be fine tomorrow after I’ve had some sleep.”

“No fucking way I’m gonna leave you alone,” Arvid said. “You ‘ve got to stay awake. You’re concussed.” He started the engine

“No I’m not,” Tam said. His head thumped the headrest as the Jeep jumped forward, and he startled. “Ow, damn!”

“See?” Arvid said. “Stay the fuck awake. Besides, the police have your keys. You stay with me tonight.”

They covered the few blocks quickly, Arvid filling Tam in regarding recent events, Tam occasionally cursing softly, but more alert now. They made it into Arvid’s room with a minimum of fuss. Arvid helped Tam sit on the bed and left him there to switch on the nightlight. Tam squinted at it. His shoulders sagged, and he looked ready to fall over. Arvid only just caught him. “Lie down,” he said and helped Tam do so.

When Tam’s back touched the bed, he immediately rolled over on his stomach with a pained groan. Arvid’s shirt fell off him. Arvid turned the small cone of the nightlight to him and finally got a good look at Tam’s back. He hissed in a shocked breath. The skin on Tam’s back was an angry red, fat blisters had formed in places, some of which had already burst and were watering now. The back sides of his arms were burnt almost as badly, much more than his front side and face. Obviously, he had curled up in an attempt to get away from the sun’s glare. It was a miracle that he had gotten rid of his bonds. It was no concussion, Arvid realized. Tam must have been half stunned by pain. Arvid reached out and carefully touched Tam’s shoulder, and Tam hissed and buried his face deeper in the comforter. “What can I do?” Arvid asked softly.

Tam turned his face to Arvid. “Nothing!” he snapped. His eyes burned from pain and someting else – shame? Yes, Arvid decided, and shook his head again. He filled a glass with water from the bathroom faucet and carried it over to Tam, together with some of his painkillers. Tam’s eyes were firmly closed, his face taut. Arvid nudged his forehead with the cool glass. “Here,” he said.

Tam opened his eyes and shot Arvid a glare. “Don’t need that,” he said, closed his eyes again and turned his head away. Arvid reached over him and touched the glass to his forehead again. “That’s bullshit, and you know it. Don’t get dramatic on me.” He set the glass to the nightstand and spoke to the back of Tam’s head. “You don’t want anybody to know what happened to you? Take the fucking pills, then, or I’ll drag you over to the hospital, I swear.”

Arvid waited. Surely enough, after some seconds, Tam’s wired-up body gave a little, and he sighed and propped himself up on his elbows. Exhausted eyes met Arvid’s. He offered the pills again and this time, Tam took them, one by one, and then the glass, and drained it, a little awkwardly lying on his stomach. Then he dropped down again and closed his eyes. “Want more water?” Arvid asked. Tam shook his head.

Arvid eyed Tam’s back. The old scars were still clearly visible beneath the new layer of damage, and Arvid suddenly realized how Tam must have come by them. The scars looked old, acquired-in-childhood old, and he winced sympathetically.

Arvid went over to the bathroom and ran the water in the bathtub until it was as cold as it would get, then threw in some towels to soak.

When he reentered the bedroom, Tam had not moved. Arms angled above his head, face buried in the bedding, he lay prostrate, obviously still stiff with pain, occasionally shuddering slightly. “Cold,” Arvid warned, and then carefully and slowly covered Tam’s burnt back with the wet towels.

Tam’s entire body jerked, then he slowly gave himself into the cool bliss. He turned his head aside again and blew out a long breath. Gradually, his taut face relaxed.

Arvid changed the towels frequently during the next hour or so, until they ceased to heat up and dry almost immediately on Tam’s back. Finally, Tam took hold of his wrist and looked up at him, a whole bunch of emotions playing over his face: apology, relief, wonder. “Enough,” he said, smiling slightly. “Thank you. Just leave it there. I feel much better now.”

Arvid dropped to his knees besides the bed and propped his chin on his left fist, inches away from Tam’s face. Tam’s smile was still there, his eyes heavy-lidded, his face no longer crunched in pain. “You make a lousy vampire,” Arvid said. “Your ilk is supposed to heal immediately, or so I’ve heard.”

Tam’s smile got broader. “That would require fresh blood, don’t you know,” he said. He moved his hand until his palm met Arvid’s cheek, opening his eyes fully. They looked at each other for long moments, then Tam’s hand urged Arvid nearer until their lips brushed against each other. Tam nibbled Arvid’s lower lip, but without biting down, and Arvid pulled back, chuckling.

Tam moved over to make room, and Arvid toed off his shoes and stretched besides him with a sigh. Tam’s hand kept stroking over Arvid’s stubbly cheek. His fingers circled the ear studs, smoothed back dark blonde strands behind Arvid’s ear, and traced his jawline. Arvid slid his hand down the side of Tam’s nearly unscathed chest and his belly and up again besides the drying towel.

“I should call the police, y’know,” Arvid said. “Let them know that you are safe.”

“As if they would give a damn,” Tam said.

“Well, you may be right,” Arvid said. He pecked Tam’s lips. “They’ve got their felon anyway.” He kissed Tam again and rolled onto his back, pillowing his head on his folded left arm. “However, they’d probably call you in for questioning, and I have a major objection against that. A couple of hours can’t hurt.”

Tam propped himself up on his elbows and looked down at him. “I know that guy,” he said. “Used to hang around watching Ben Johnson spar with you, watching him doing studio shoots. You ought to know him too, because he went out with your crew occasionally. I even figured he was one of yours, because I saw your assistant talk to him a couple of times.”

“Will?” Arvid asked, lifting his brow. Tam nodded.

“That’s his name. Big hunk, bald head, no-nonsense stare.”

Arvid turned his head to stare at the ceiling. “Will…” he trailed off, cleared his throat. “Two weeks ago, I’d have guessed that a meaningless coincidence, but now I’m not so sure anymore.”

Frowning, Tam leaned closer towards him. “Are you saying your assistant might have had something to do with it?”

Arvid shook his had. “It’s not Will’s way, I think. But, on the other hand, that nutbag is really stupid. I can’t fathom how he’d’ve come up with a plan like this all on his own. And how did he know to leave you in front of a window?”

Tam shifted and groaned low. “Don’t think he did it intentionally,” he said. “But thanks for reminding me. I’d almost stopped hurting.”

Arvid grinned at him, then got up to fetch a fresh towel. He carefully replaced the dry one, then lowered himself to the bed again, next to Tam.

“You know what we would have been doing tonight if not for that fucker?” Tam said.

“Do you, then?” Arvid asked cautiously.

Tam closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, sparks were dancing in the translucent green. “You had no clue, had you?” he asked. “But then again, how would you?”

“What do you mean?” Arvid said, gently rubbing Tam’s upper arms.

“I’d been watching you for months,” Tam said with a mischievous grin. “Your swordplay with Mr. Bighead and with the others. Your stunts. Sometimes I followed you to outdoors shoots in the evenings. I had forsworn the sword for good. You made me ache to touch one again. And then I started to sneak into the armory. And then I ached to spar with you. And when I got to see you up close, I wanted to do all kinds of things to you, not only spar. Like this –” and he leaned in and covered Arvid’s mouth with his.

Arvid was caught unawares, and it took him several seconds to react. Then he growled, took Tam’s face firmly in his hands and kissed him back with tongue and teeth.

Finally Tam broke the kiss, drawing back and gasping for air. Arvid tried to pull him back down, but Tam resisted, putting one forearm across Arvid’s chest and stroking it lightly, barely grazing his nipple. Arvid licked his lips, then eased his hands further up to tangle his fingers into Tam’s hair.

“So you kind of stalked me, too,” he teased, smiling up at Tam to dull the edge of his words

“More like hunted you down,” Tam shot back. He flashed his canines. “You called me a vampire, remember? Predator, that is.”

Arvid twined a strand of hair around his fingers and tugged, lightly. “I’m no prey,” he said, only half smiling now.

Tam’s face got serious, and he removed his arm from across Arvid’s chest and settled down on him. “No you aren’t,” he said. “But I want you anyway. Mind?”

Arvid’s hands were still circling Tam’s face. He dug his fingertips in Tam’s scalp, massaging, and pulled gently. “Come here,” he said, guiding Tam’s mouth back onto his and kissing him deeply, which in itself was enough of an answer.

Tam shifted, straddling one of Arvid’s legs. His cock was a hard ridge against Arvid’s groin. Arvid felt his body react immediately and arched up, moaning into Tam’s mouth. He rubbed himself against Tam’s hipbone, sliding his hands down Tam’s back.

Tam jumped, and Arvid jerked his hands away, sending the still-damp towel flying. “Sorry,” he gasped.

Tam eased back down onto Arvid’s body and groaned out a heartfelt groan of frustration. “Damn that fucker,” he spat. “I won’t be dictated to by that asshole as to when and whom I fuck….” He sat up on his haunches and yanked Arvid’s jeans open and halfway down his thighs together with his underwear in one smooth motion, springing Arvid’s cock free.

“Whoa!” Arvid managed. Then Tam’s hungry mouth engulfed his cock and started to lick and nibble and suck, and Arvid could not help but arching up again as all his blood rushed out of his brains in one go, down where moist heat and a clever tongue and delicious suction had him hard and throbbing in next to no time.

Tam looked up, smiling, licking his lips. “Okay?” he said.

“Damn, you’re asking? Don’t you stop,” Arvid growled and urged him back. The smile became a mischievous grin. Canines flashed again. Anticipation crawled up Arvid’s spine, and he held his breath.

Tam took the base of Arvid’s cock in his fist and pumped slowly, drawing circles around its head with his tongue and occasionally scraping lightly with his teeth. With his other hand, he fumbled open his own belt and trousers, then grabbed his own cock and pulled in time. Open-mouthed and wide-eyed, breathing in quick, short huffs, Arvid stared along his chest and belly down at Tam. Laughing green eyes met his, and Tam’s head started to bob. Arvid threw his head back and scrunched up the bedspread in his fists, writhing, struggling against his jeans which captured him above the knees.

“Off,” he choked, kicking his legs.

Tam pulled back, then blew a gentle breath over Arvid’s wet cock. Arvid moaned and lifted his hip from the mattress, and then his jeans were yanked away, and he immediately bent his knees and spread his legs wide. Tam’s mouth was back, but now teasing him, only nibbling with lips and teeth along the inside of his thighs and his groins, tracing his wet tongue over his balls and the sensitive flesh underneath, until Arvid grabbed Tam by the hair and all but forced him down, guiding his cock with the other hand.

He saw Tam grin around it as the other man mouthed his shaft again and started to suck him in earnest, rapidly moving up and down, and then took him all the way in and swallowed. Arvid’s face twisted, his mouth rounded, he croaked out Tam’s name and his hips bucked up unvoluntarily as the heat shot through his body and down his cock and he came, finally squeezing his eyes shut and arching his body one last time…

Arvid lay there, breathing heavily, and Tam did not let go, then, but nibbled, licked and suckled, drawing it out for Arvid, until he could not bear it anymore and groped at Tam’s shoulders. “Come up here,” he whispered hoarsely, and Tam quickly obeyed. He had at some point disposed of his uniform trousers and briefs. Now he straddled Arvid’s lap, and sat upright in all his glorious shimmering nakedness, lit from behind by the nightlight, his slightly curved cock jutting out proudly between them, a thing of utter beauty. Arvid grabbed Tam’s unburnt ass firmly with both hands, kneading it, and Tam fisted his own cock and started to pump, staring Arvid in the eyes. Arvid wetted one finger in his own mouth and reached up and rubbed at the slit of Tam’s cock, and that did it: Tam let out a low groan and spurted come all over Arvid’s chest and belly, hips snapping forward, ass clenching.

Afterwards, Tam slumped forward over Arvid, planting his fists on either side of Arvid’s head and leaning heavily on them. His head hung down and he breathed hard. Not a trace of his former energy seemed left, and his arms trembled.

Arvid reached up under Tam’s armpits, easing him down beside him. He groped around until he found the discarded towel, used it to clean himself up, and threw it at the vague direction of the bathroom. Casually, he flipped the comforter up and over both of them. Then he turned his head to face Tam; and because Tam’s face was handy and his lips were easy to reach, he did so and kissed him, slowly, tenderly.

Tam opened his drowsy eyes and smiled into the kiss, utterly exhausted, but sated.

“There are better things than fresh blood,” he said.

Arvid was still chuckling when he fell asleep.


Author’s notes:There are many different forms of albinism; albinos do not necessarily have white hair and red eyes. All albinos are sensitive to sunlight; some get sunburn really fast and bad, some are receptive to skin cancer in young age, and some are day-blind. In fact, blindness of various degrees is fairly common among albinos, although the red–haired, green- or blue-eyed ones are less likely to be completely blind than others. Some of the vampire legends could have their origin in the existence of albinos; indeed they have some characteristic properties in common.
Different preferences, though.

My thanks to a wonderful beta, CalliopePurple.

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