by Someone Else
Sage stopped in the tunnel just outside of the town of Granite. He took stock of his things: seeds and herbs he’d collected, flowers he’d cut and kept bright by singing to them twice a day, the herbarium he added to when he found new plants, his notes on his routes and on things he’d found that were too rare to collect at all, and a cart and a pack to carry them in, along with a few personal effects. Nothing for it, then, but to proceed. Sage wasn’t very comfortable with people, but it always went more or less alright, once he got up the nerve to start.
Sage walked into Granite singing out that he had flowers, flowers for all. By the time he got to the centre of town, he’d collected a crowd with his flower song and he was ready to start handing them out.
“Hello, would you like some flowers? What could I interest you in?” he said to one person, then the next, then the next, handing out flowers, talking about flowers, sometimes taking questions on other plants. Partway through, the awkward phase started, as always, as people he’d spoken to earlier came back a second time, to bring him something they’d made or to revisit a previous flower conversation, but he never recognized them, greeting them as if for the first time. Then they’d look at him oddly and clarify their business, while he stumbled over an apology and the colour rose in his cheeks. It worked out in the end even if it always tied his stomach in knots.
Faces just blurred together to Sage. He couldn’t keep them clear in his mind. People said you simply look at the features, what colour is their hair, what shape is their face, etc., but that wasn’t actually enough. Many people were blue-haired like Sage and other people had no difficulty telling them apart. Anyway, even those sorts of features just wouldn’t stick for Sage, like trying to remember long random strings of letters.
As things started to quiet down later in the afternoon, Sage’s attention was no longer constantly required on his work and he found himself overhearing someone, over to his left and a bit behind him, explaining about the history of Granite and the upcoming Festival of Growth, expositing excitedly on why the festival had come to be at this time and how the celebration of it had changed over the years. This was interesting to Sage too; the timing of the festival explained his own timing in visiting Granite each year. There was a lot of detail and nuance in the history that was new to him and it was appealing when someone was passionate and knowledgeable about technical details, even if the field was different from Sage’s.
Sage turned around to look at this person and found himself strangely drawn in. This was not a feeling Sage had had before, and he was very surprised at it. He tried to enumerate the sort of features one was supposed to look for in a face: the person was a man, maybe about Sage’s own age, with orange hair, and something sort of angular about his face. This was much easier with leaves instead of faces. Sage followed him with his eyes. He thought about what shape of leaf reminded him most of the orange-haired man.
The person made his way over to the other side of the square, speaking with others, like normal people did, smiling broadly, then throwing back his orange hair with a happy laugh, talking with a different person, touching them kindly. Sage wanted to hear him speak with that excitement in his voice again. Something about him wouldn’t let Sage look away.
As he came around closer, Sage heard him telling part of an old fairy tale about a hero saved by following quartz ridges that had been enchanted to point the way. Sage hadn’t heard that story in a long time. It was a story of kindness and patience, and the orange-haired man told it well. Sage watched him as he spoke, thinking about the curve of his throat and jaw, strong yet delicate like a shrub clinging to a cliffside.
“Excuse me, flower man, do you have anything left in red cave flowers?”
Sage hadn’t been paying attention; he’d been staring. “Red, yes.” He tried to return to the task at hand.
A few interactions later Sage looked up to see the same orange-haired man coming towards his cart. Sage couldn’t help staring, blushing, following his steps, and now he was right here and Sage needed to pretend to be a normal person for a moment, or at least just his usual awkward self and not whatever he was being right now, but his mouth was hanging open and he tried to give his standard greeting but just squeaked out, “Flowers?”
“Yes, please.” The man smiled kindly.
Somehow Sage got through the interaction and then packed up to leave as fast as he could, face still burning.
Over the subsequent months, Sage would have said he completely forgot about the orange-haired man, as he forgot most people, but all the quartz ridges caught his eye without him putting a finger on the reason.
The following year, Sage’s route naturally brought him back towards Granite. It had been a good year, he’d explored some new caverns and found some plants he’d never seen before, and which he had shared in other towns. He had a wide variety of attractive flowers.
As he got closer to Granite, the ending to his visit last year returned to mind and gnawed at him. An uncomfortable fire burned in his belly whenever he thought about it. It stood out in a way that the many awkward interactions of Sage’s life didn’t, though he didn’t understand why. Surely, though, it wouldn’t happen again. He probably wouldn’t even recognize this person.
He walked into Granite singing flowers for all and set up. He hardly looked up, sticking to his task since that was something he understood. People started to come up and he followed his usual script. Perhaps they could tell he was more scattered than usual, perhaps not. He never knew what other people would or wouldn’t know so he generally just assumed they did know, like how people always seemed to know his name but he never knew other people’s names.
He deliberately didn’t look around the square, and so he was caught off guard when he suddenly found the person who had captured him so strongly last year right in front of him. Sage recognized him right off; the pull was still there. He was so surprised that he stumbled, knocked over his display, and fell to the ground on top of it.
“Are you alright?” asked the orange-haired man.
Sage said nothing, blushing heavily, and in trying to scramble up managed to trip over some of the mess and just make it all worse.
“Let me help you up.”
Sage yelped, got himself up and ran out of town, leaving all his stuff behind.
When he got past where the tunnel turned the second time, so he could neither see nor hear anything from Granite, he sat down heavily, eyes pricking. Why was he like this? Why could he not do simple things? Why was there this one person he couldn’t keep his eyes off?
He told himself he was never going to go back to Granite, but after a while he realized he at least needed to get his pack back since it had his herbarium and notes in it, which he’d been compiling for over a decade. He waited until most people would be asleep and walked back towards Granite, stomach knotted, dreading entering the square again. However, before he even entered the town, he saw all his stuff piled neatly, with a couple of pies and a nice scarf added. Ashamed but thanking whoever had done this, he took his things and made his way onward.
The next two years he didn’t go to Granite at all.
The following year, he was over in Grace Falls, talking with one of the elders and showing her some of the newer entries in his herbarium, when she said to him, “They’ve been asking about you in Granite, wondering if you’re alright.”
Sage stopped turning the pages of his herbarium and after a moment stuttered out an incomprehensible attempt at a reply.
“Has someone in Granite been mean to you?” she asked.
“No, no, not that at all,” said Sage, and he started to blush.
“People miss you there,” she said, giving him a quizzical look.
Sage didn’t think that was likely to be true. He was awkward. Other people could collect flowers. Yet he still blushed deeper.
“A little lovestruck?” she asked with a smile.
Sage dismissed this. “I don’t really know anyone there.” Or anywhere, which surely is a prerequisite, he thought but didn’t add, though he knew now that this year he’d have to go back to Granite.
Later, crossing the three-rope bridge over the chasm on the way to Granite — eight times back and forth in order to carry all his stuff across — he couldn’t decide how he felt about soon being in Granite again. On his last trip across the bridge, with his cart’s wheels over his shoulders, he realized that even though he dreaded it, he also really wanted to see this orange-haired person again.
Coming into Granite, he was greeted with more enthusiasm than usual. He drew back and took a few deep breaths before continuing, but he made it to the town centre and set up. There were questions for him that strayed outside of either his conversation script or his plant expertise, and which consequently he struggled to answer, but he kept on gamely.
To avoid surprises he kept an eye on the whole area, and sure enough he soon saw this person who’d enchanted him. He was clearly coming into an informal leadership position in the town. People were coming to him to discuss various things and he was attentive and welcoming to them. Sage could see a warm openness in his movements. As he got closer to Sage’s set up, Sage began to be able to hear bits of their conversations.
“…with the size of the band this year, there’s not going to be enough space for people to dance.”
“How about we move the band to the other side of the pond…” this man said, and Sage didn’t catch the rest.
“Mica, could I have a moment of your time.”
Mica, his name was Mica.
Sage continued to follow Mica with his eyes. Into the afternoon, when Sage’s ability to deal with people was declining even by his standards, Mica came over towards Sage’s display. On his way Mica was waylaid by some friend whom he greeted with an amicable hug. Sage blushed at the thought of Mica’s touch. Finally Mica managed to make his way to Sage, who looked down at the ground and offered what flowers were left. Sage made it through the standard part of the interaction mostly on account of being too tired for any dramatic action.
Then Mica asked, “What do you do to keep the flowers bright once they’re cut?”
This he could handle, and he brightened up. “I sing them flower nurturing songs twice a day.”
“What are the best songs for this?”
“Most gentle, happy songs work, but the best ones depend on the flower and the environment it came from,“ said Sage, and getting rolling with the details, he gave a few specific examples singing pieces of the relevant songs. Then he trailed off as he remembered he was talking to someone, and not just any someone at that. To try to recover he asked, “Do they like the festival songs?”
“Yes,” said Mica. “You could stay and see.”
“Oh, but, people, uh, too many people, uh, for me,” Sage stammered, and the moment was lost.
That evening, walking the tunnel after leaving Granite, instead of singing flower nurturing songs to keep his remaining flowers alive, he sang them old love songs with Mica’s name substituted in.
The next year’s visit to Granite began much the same way. Sage spent too much of his time watching Mica and not enough on those who wanted his flowers. He watched Mica’s easy interactions with his friends and his kind leadership with his colleagues. He followed the lines of Mica’s body as he moved. Sage was particularly affected by the physicality of Mica’s friendships: a supportive hand on a back, a hug, two bodies touching side by side working or playing. He was envious of how easy it all was for them.
Mica came up to Sage’s cart and Sage managed to keep his own behaviour at awkward rather than disastrous for long enough that Mica could get him going on some technical point about plants, but before long he managed to derail things, and it burned more than ever when Mica took his leave.
His eyes were still on Mica, now putting up glowlights across the square, as he packed up. When he was done packing he found his legs taking him over to follow Mica. Having gotten within earshot he hung back and listened to Mica telling a story about early glowlight foraging techniques to his friends while he worked. Sage followed Mica at a distance all evening, listening and watching, enjoying just being in the broader circle of Mica’s energy, until Mica turned and saw him there.
“Sage!” said Mica.
Sage started, then blushed and turned to scurry away.
One of the other people around Mica said, “You’ve scared him away again.” Mica ran after.
Calling after Sage, Mica said, “I was happy to see you. It was just a surprise to find you there!”
Sage reached his stuff and set to leave without turning to look at Mica. He couldn’t deal with people any longer; he couldn’t deal with himself any longer.
“I like having you around, Sage, you are so knowledgeable and have been to so many interesting places. You are kind and fair no matter who you are dealing with.”
Because I can’t differentiate people to treat them otherwise, thought Sage, except for you. But he only called out, “Sorry!” and left Granite without turning back.
Over the next days Sage’s shame at having been caught following Mica shifted into shame that he hadn’t turned back, that he hadn’t been able to get over himself in order to engage.
As Sage was heading back to Granite the following year, he promised himself he would not embarrass himself by going wandering again. While he still found himself transfixed by Mica and having trouble keeping his attention on the task at hand, he kept to his display. Mica came over to see Sage earlier than usual. Sage put his nervous energy into telling Mica about the way lesser ledge asters varied in their leaf shape from east to west, but not according to the environment as you’d expect. Mica got going himself on how this lined up with the way settlements were thought to have spread through those areas. And so, for a short time, Sage was talking with Mica like a competent person and, furthermore, Sage was not only enjoying it, but it was the highlight of his year.
Afterwards, one of the other residents of Granite, while looking at Sage’s flowers, said, “I used to think you and Mica were completely unlike each other, but you both have that same passion for things.”
Less than a year later, Sage was partway up a tricky crack in a southern area he hadn’t previously visited. He’d seen a plant he didn’t recognize and climbed up to it. He sang gently to the plant and it turned its leaves towards him. He was trying to determine how rare it was; could the local plant community spare it so he could collect it for his herbarium, or would he have to settle for describing it in his notebook? Maybe the plant would offer him a seed or a cutting.
He shifted for a different view, but his hold crumbled unexpectedly and he lost his grip. His ropes caught him, and he found his way safely to a ledge just a few armspans below the plant. Unfortunately, the whole area was more crumbly than he realized, and a few pebbles dislodged above by his fall became a stream, and then a whole section came loose, including where his ropes were anchored. Partly scrambling away from the rock fall and partly dragged by it, he came down too, landing badly. He crawled away from the rocks falling around him and laid down some distance away.
When the dust settled, Sage found himself scratched and banged all over, but only the ankle he landed on seemed to be a serious injury. He wasn’t going to be able to put weight on it for some time. He called out and some people from the nearby village soon found him, whether drawn by his cries, the rock fall itself, or just out for a fortunate stroll he was never sure.
Sage spent the better part of the next two months in a bed in that village with his ankle immobilized and the better part of the following two months getting his mobility and strength back. As he lay in bed over those first two months, he realized there was no way he was going to get to Granite this year. He wondered if Mica would worry about his absence, or even notice it. He thought longingly of Mica and the way he casually touched his friends. He imagined Mica touching him and blushed to realize how that thought went to his dick. Well, he couldn’t walk away from his feelings any longer; there was no use denying the nature of his attraction to Mica. He blushed deeper and was grateful he had some measure of privacy here in the space he’d been kindly loaned in this southern village.
He couldn’t quite imagine Mica touching him sexually, so he imagined Mica with one of his friends. Presumably Mica’s relationship was or had been sexual with at least some of those friends and Sage didn’t have them distinguished in his mind anyway. Sage took his dick in hand and thought of Mica and a friend in a much more passionate hug than anything he’d ever oversee in public. He stroked himself as he imagined them first just making out intently, hands and mouths all over each other. As his need built, he thought of them ramping up, thrusting into the tight space between each other. He didn’t put himself as an observer in this fantasy, rather he was simply not a character in it at all. This gave him the freedom to move his perspective inside the friend’s skin, without bringing his own agency, and consequently his own awkwardness, into the action. In that way Mica’s hands working with increased intensity on the friend’s dick overlapped in a ghostly way with his own hands and dick as he strained into his climax.
The next year, he finally found himself making his way back to Granite once again. Reaching the three rope bridge he thought back to the many times he’d crossed it in his life and realized it had been eight years since Mica first so captivated him. Time enough for grey to have begun threading itself through his blue hair; time enough for Mica to have become a leader in Granite. Eight years lost or eight years gained, he didn’t know.
Distracted by these thoughts, his next step went off the foot rope. Panic! He felt like his heart was in his ears. He closed his hands tightly on the hand ropes. Unbalanced, his other foot, the now weaker ankle, also slid off the foot rope, and he hung by his arms over the chasm, weighed down by the portion of his gear currently on his back. Never loosening his grip, he struggled up getting his knees then his feet back on the foot rope, and stood shakily. Carefully he made his way the rest of the way across and then collapsed on the ground safely away from the edge. He laid there until his heart rate returned to normal.
There were still five more trips to make to bring all his stuff across. He couldn’t keep living like this: making mistakes from distraction, pining for eight years over a desire he hardly understood. So he decided to do things differently this year.
Sage made his way into Granite as usual. Mica saw him almost right away and came over promptly. Precipitously, before he could lose his nerve, Sage said, “Mica, would you like to come see the crystal caverns with me?”
Mica smiled and said, “I’d love to.”
That evening, Mica hugged his friends a good evening, and walked with Sage along the well worn tunnel to the crystal caverns. Sage felt like the proverbial colony of butterflies had hatched in his stomach and was happy that he’d been too nervous to eat all day so that at least his stomach was otherwise empty. Stepping into the crystal caverns he took heart; people were hard, but rocks and plants were easy; and he began to sing. The crystals responded to his song by gently glowing purple and blue. Mica added his voice to the chorus and the crystals added a light orange glow.
When the song ended, Mica said, “Sage, it’s beautiful here, and you are so handsome,” and reached over to hug Sage.
Sage flinched at Mica’s touch and Mica pulled his hand back.
“No…?” said Mica, disappointed, and the crystals darkened.
Looking down, Sage said, “I couldn’t treat a hug from you chastely.”
“I admit that when you asked me to come, I was hoping you hadn’t intended it chastely,” said Mica.
“Really?” asked Sage, looking up and very tentatively initiating a hug with Mica. Mica reached around Sage to hug back gently, waiting. Sage hugged tighter and stepped closer so their bodies pressed together squeezing his erection onto Mica’s thigh. Mica’s breath caught and he also tightened his arms, his own dick hardening. Sage stood there hugging tighter and tighter until Mica became uncomfortably squeezed.
“What would you like?” Mica asked.
“I have absolutely no idea,” Sage said a little desperately.
“You’ve never been with another man before?” Mica asked.
“I’ve never been with anyone before,” Sage said, letting his hug go sadly looser. “People aren’t my strength.”
“Oh, Sage,” said Mica, running his hands through Sage’s greying hair, and he began to sing: “Tell me you want me, ’cause I want you too / and I’ll show you some of the things we could do.”
“I want you, please show me / just please don’t let go of me,” Sage sang back.
Mica stumbled a bit with the next verse; when he’d had the First Time Song sung to him, they’d already had their clothes off at that point, but he improvised with some other images.
As intended, the song helped Sage work past his uncertainty. He ran his hands over Mica’s face keeping their bodies close. As Mica sang quietly, intimately, Sage could feel the vibrations of Mica’s throat with his hands as well as Mica’s breath on his own face. Mica ran his hands all down Sage’s body and brought them around to stop with a firm hold on Sage’s ass. The crystals pulsed with the dual rhythm of song and desire and Mica moved the song to suggest removal of clothes. Sage slowly unbuttoned Mica’s shirt from the top to the bottom and brought his face down to breathe in the newly exposed wedge of Mica’s chest. Sage paused a moment there, eyes closed, face buried in the orange fur of Mica’s chest, breathing heavily. Mica divested himself of his now open shirt without losing the contact between them and unfastened Sage’s southern-style shirt.
Then, taking off his own shirt, with skin newly exposed and briefly separated, Sage’s need to press tightly returned and he brought Mica back into a close hug panting with an uncomfortable mix of anxiety and desire, but this time the spark of his still clothed dick pressed up against Mica’s was too much to resist and he rocked his hips to rub against Mica. The crystals sparkled. Mica lost the song for a few beats, then swallowed and continued somewhat breathily while they both removed their pants.
Sage was fascinated by his first sight of Mica’s dick standing proud amid orange curls. He ran a finger gently up the side from base to tip just to feel that it was real. It was like his own and yet different, warmer in colour and a little bit thicker. He ran a thumb up the bottom seam, not a feature as readily appreciable on oneself, and then did so a second time starting further back with a hand cupping Mica’s balls and then following the seam from there back up. Mica’s dick twitched at the touch. Sage continued his exploration with fingers gently running around Mica’s foreskin. He thought that the most space for variation must be here. Likely an appropriately experienced person could distinguish individuals just by the heads of their penises.
Tension rose across Mica’s body as he forced himself to keep to Sage’s slow pace but finally Sage took him in hand and began to stroke him in earnest. While he still had breath for it, Mica finished off the song, losing a few beats here and there to Sage’s attention while the crystals flickered irregularly.
The song having faded away, replaced with the more sensual music of their breath alone, Sage began to lose confidence, afraid he was doing it wrong. As he began to falter, Mica took a more active role, thrusting into the circle of Sage’s hands, his own hands firmly on Sage’s back, holding him, finding something between leaving Sage to his anxieties and going too fast for him. This kept Sage confident until Mica broke rhythm, grabbed Sage harder, and came with a cry, the crystals pulsing in time.
Sage rubbed the sticky on his hands with wonder — he’d really done this — while Mica leaned on a nearby rock. Sage wiped the worst off on the side of the rock and then pressed himself back against Mica, his own erection insistent.
“Let’s sit down,” said Mica, sliding down the rock to the ground and bringing Sage with him. Then he in turn took Sage’s dick in hand with considerably more practised strokes started to work him as Sage sat half in his lap and half beside him. Sage laid his head on Mica’s chest, the blue threaded with grey of his hair against Mica’s orange-haired chest. Mica wrapped his other arm around Sage, holding him gently but firmly, and finally Sage left his uncertainty behind to ride on the waves of sensation. The crystals glowed softly, gently shifting colours, and surged with a sparkle when Sage came.
Sage whispered, “Thank you,” and they rested together for some time.