by Shinju Yuri (真珠百合)
Outside, the wind is blowing the clouds away. It’s rained for about a week now; everything from sullen sprinkles to full-out downpours, as if the clouds were pouring all the water of the earth onto the city streets. Umbrellas are mostly useless. Even now, with the wind blowing the clouds away, the streets are soaking wet and slick with debris.
The musician gets up from the piano, goes to the window, opens it, and leans out. There’s not even a fresh smell now. Just a dank, musty feeling in the air. Still, he should go and shop before the clouds come back. It’s rainy season, after all.
He goes back to the piano, closes it. Walks out of the room, leaving silence behind him.
Outside, the air is still very damp, almost soggy. The sun has begun to shine and he knows in an hour or so it will be almost impossible to breathe the wet air. He’s used to it, though, and simply hurries along his way, his coat buttoned tightly against the chill in the air. The puddles are more like streams, gurgling down to the sewers already half-choked with rain and trash.
He walks into the store and says, “Good morning, auntie.” The storekeeper looks up, smiles at him. “May I have a basket?” he says. He shops here because it’s close and the owner, used to people like him, packs up a week’s worth of food into a basket. No muss, no fuss, nothing to do but cook it at home.
“What weather, eh,” she says, heaving the basket up to the counter. “Mind your back, honey, it’s heavy.”
“I sure will,” the musician says as he hands her the money. He leaves with the basket. The bell over the shop door makes a merry tinkling noise, very high, like a glockenspiel. He walks home. More people are outside now, beating rugs, leaning out their windows, enjoying their brief reprieve.
One of them calls out to him with a wave. “Hello, Music Guy!” she says, leaning out the window. “I heard you playing this week.”
“I hope I didn’t disturb you, then,” the musician says politely, bows slightly as best as he can with his heavy basket, and goes on. A dog follows him for a while, tail waving gently. It’s an old friend of his, and keeps him company for a block or so, before veering off to attend to other business.
The noise of the city swells, a throbbing beat in his ears. It’s the most beautiful music he knows. He could have left years ago, decades, maybe, but he stays on and on. Every day brings another variation to the music beneath his feet. He wants to hear every stanza of it.
There’s other reasons, too.
When he walks in the door, there’s a pair of shoes that don’t belong to him by the shelf. He looks at them and smiles, but he doesn’t call out to their owner. He goes into the kitchen and puts the basket’s contents away neatly.
In the piano room there’s another man, picking out notes on the piano. As the musician enters the room, the second man says, “Is your name Kane?”
“No,” he says, crossing the room and sitting down on the bench beside him. “I’ve told you, you’ll never know what it is.”
The second man scowls at the piano’s keys. His annoyance makes his markings come out strongly on his face. The musician’s always liked them, although the owner of them does not. They’re graceful, like swirls of smoke. “You might give me a chance to break the contract.”
“I do,” he says, leaning his shoulder companionably against the other’s. The unnatural heat feels good after the chill of the air outside. “I told you, you just have to know my name.” He pauses. “Phenex.”
Phenex snorts. “That’s not much of a deal,” he says, but he doesn’t move away.
“I think it’s fine,” he says. “It works out for you, too, right?” He smiles at Phenex’s grunt, and places his hands on the keyboard. “Shall I play for you?”
“Do as you like,” says Phenex, but he shifts away to let him play more easily. The musician plays a Bach concerto and Phenex listens intently. The music fills the room. Afterward, there’s a silence that stretches out comfortably until at last Phenex stirs, putting his hand on the musician’s hand lying on the keys at rest. There’s a slow sense of inevitability in the air around them. It’s like the beat of silence between one verse and the next. Phenex leans closer, says, almost in his ear, “If you let me have your name, you could play a hundred times as well as this.” His hand slides up. “A thousand times. The world would be at your feet.”
“I don’t want the world at my feet,” the musician says, with perfect truth.
“Hmm,” says Phenex, and reaches out to draw him closer. He tilts his head, yielding to the sure pressure of Phenex’s hand. Phenex’s mouth, hot and dry, touches the place where his pulse beats.
“This is all I want,” he says, softly. Phenex kisses him, his lips barely parted.
What the musician doesn’t say to Phenex is that he’s lost his name long ago; has forgotten it since the day he formed his contract with Phenex to always stay here and listen to the great symphony of the city build and grow. He’s even forgotten why he formed the idea of the contract anyway. He thinks he wanted to write a great symphony. He thinks it might have been the half-wild eyes of the demon who stood before him.
“Hey,” said Phenex, his voice low. “If you won’t give me your name, give me your body, at least.” He slides down, off the piano bench. Phenex’s unnaturally warm hands slide down over his hips, pulling him to lie on the bench. Phenex bends his head and nuzzles into the inside of the musician’s thigh. “Well?” says Phenex.
For answer he slides his hands into the heavy silk of Phenex’s hair. It feels rough, like the way he imagines a lion’s mane must feel. “Yes,” he says, “yes.” You have to give them permission. You have to invite them in. He draws a deep shaky breath as Phenex’s long fingers unfasten his pants. Phenex’s movements are slow, as if he’s savoring each moment. “Has it been so long?” the musician says, as Phenex pushes his clothing aside.
“It’s been long enough,” says Phenex. He feels Phenex reaching out, his presence or aura or whatever you could call it, lapping out into the area around his own. He shivers, less from the feeling of Phenex’s hand on his cock than the strange feeling of his self being uncovered. The musician always feels that if he were going to remember his name, it would be here, now. He’s stripped bare, he’s devoured, he’s sunk down deep into a place he’s only ever known in music. “I’m hungry,” says Phenex, on a low growl.
Phenex’s warm hands are gripping his hip, his cock, and the musician takes a deep shuddering breath. Phenex strokes the musician’s cock. The calluses on his hands feel almost like scales. He bends his head, breathing over the musician. It’s always like this. It’s almost more than his human body can bear. “Come on,” says the musician, propping himself up and looking down at the demon kneeling between his legs. “Please–”
Phenex looks up at him, his marks flaring bright. His hands and face have changed to something inhuman and beautiful. His ears are pointed. His nails are longer, almost clawed. His nose has sharpened to something birdlike. His eyes are pure gold, slit like a cat’s. The musician shudders again at the sight. Phenex bends his head. His hair shines golden-red as he opens his mouth. His hot tongue laps at the head of the musician’s cock in short, barely tangible movements. He lowers his head more, lapping and sucking at the musician’s cock. One hand is wrapped below his mouth. The other slides to hold the musician’s hip in place.
The musician moans and gasps. His hands grasp Phenex’s fire-bright hair as the demon sucks harder. He can feel the energy that the demon is feeding on leave his soul. It feels like an cup filled to the brim finally spilling over. Phenex’s hot tongue sweeps the underside of the musician’s cock, pressing against the vein there.
The musician’s hands clench tight, and Phenex moans, deep and low, like a bass note.
Afterward he’s shaky, as he always is, and Phenex pulls him off the bench, wrapping him in his arms and wings. His skin is golden in the watery light of afternoon. He smells of cedar and pine boughs and burning incense. He bends his head over the musician’s, and begins to sing.
Outside, the rain begins again. The merry drops dance over the street and drum down on the roof. The musician listens. If he pays attention, he can make out the rhythm of a song.