by Tabby Wright
illustrated by Cap O’Rushes
Akira was drifting, drifting, he absently listened to his professor’s 8AM lecture, only catching the vaguest bits of information. Something about web standards (that would be out of date by graduation), something about Ruby on Rails.
Something tugged at the corners of his mind—the memories of his fragmented dream last night. Every night, he reached and hoped and strained to grasp the dream—the memory of another world he once knew. Usually, only the void or something stupid and useless took up the space for dreaming.
Last night, he had felt his consciousness brush the familiar—he had touched it—
Akira woke up, alone, scattered, feeling like he was still halfway between worlds.
He sighed, looked back to the sterile computer screen and the lines of bland code. Not a touch of magic here, nothing alive about it. He could never figure out if he wanted to go back or push away the world that had stolen two weeks of his life and aged him a year in ways no one else could see. By day, he wanted normalcy. He wanted to finish school, get a job, find a boyfriend and adopt 2.5 kids and a dog. He didn’t miss magic sparking at his fingertips, and the cold logic of web development was welcome.
Despite this, no matter how much he planned—how much he focused on and thought about these plans, it always felt hollow and empty. The fluorescent lights weren’t the sun, the hot concrete outside wasn’t sand, the wind smelled of exhaust, never the forest nor the sea.
Here, he was normal, no one, just a face in the crowd, another absent-minded student. He was not called upon to help anyone—he was important to no one. Embracing the mundane of this world—what should feel like his world, would be for the best, wouldn’t it?
Yet all he wanted was to hunt for the fragments of a dream.
He had searched and searched after he woke up/came back (came home/left home)—he searched for any piece of information he could possibly find about the world he had fallen into in his sleep. There was nothing about the Lands of Night nor the Lands of the Sky—nothing aside from stories posted by kids that didn’t match his memories at all. Nothing more than pure coincidence. As far as he could see, he was the only one who knew of this place. Had others gone and never come back? Was he really the only one to go there ever? He had asked the residents of that world, but no one had known. He had appeared one day to fulfill a prophecy and was gone just as simply. Ripped from his world into another and, when he finally could call that place home, he was torn away from it too. Earth had never really felt like somewhere he belonged after that.
Even as he thought of it as a dream—even as he knew that he could only get there through his dreams—the world was more than that. He had bled, he had been hurt, he nearly died, he had felt the air leave his lungs and he’d seen a world that his imagination could have never dreamed of.
So why was he the only one to know about it?
– – –
In bed, he remembered the man that had fought for him—cold and insistent that he didn’t care about anyone beyond doing his job, who had the most gentle touch when Akira bled.
The man, Laurent, had described himself as Akira’s sword—his duty was to protect Akira, make sure that he could fulfill the mission and not be defenseless in the process. When Akira happened upon a barmaid, a rare moment where he was alone, he learned that Laurent had quite the reputation—he was the strongest that the Queen commanded, and the rumors went that he was born of the darkest depths of the sea. When he thought about Laurent—the tall, cold man with eyes such a dark blue they were nearly black, hair so pale it was nearly white, and the things that came out of his shadows, smelling of sea salt and winter, Akira could believe it.
When Akira asked if it was true, Laurent shrugged it off.
“Of course I came from somewhere. I think that’s the same between your world and mine.”
Truly, that wasn’t an answer at all. Akira didn’t push it, no matter how curious he was. Laurent was simply like this—a strange, dark man with many, many secrets. Akira had to admit he was charmed by the man though, and worked to chip away at the ice that surrounded his heart bit by bit by bit. He wanted to know all the sides of the man who considered himself nothing more than living weaponry.
In bed, Akira realized with annoyance that he couldn’t go a day without missing the man.
He missed him.
He missed him.
Home was with him.
Akira drifted—his head on his cool, soft pillow, blankets wrapped around him, cocooned by warmth. He remembered being close to Laurent like this, just once before he left. Just once, Laurent had held him like he cared about him beyond duty.
Akira drifted and drifted until there was only blackness, and the final remnants of his consciousness wondered if this was like being in the sea Laurent had been born from.
– – –
Cool, smooth stone, the tingle of magic in the air. Darkness—twinkling stars warped ever so slightly by the solid glass cavern ceiling far above him. He reached up, as though he held some hope of grasping the stars, touching the glass. He breathed in, focusing on the smell of smoke and the familiarity of it.
The sound of something falling, clattering to the ground.
The softest, most awestruck whisper.
Akira sat up, turned his head toward the source and felt his chest squeeze at the sight of the man, his cloak around his shoulders, his dark eyes wide, his hand empty where he once held a familiar pipe. Smoke wafted up from the ground.
“I’m home.” Akira said, and the man snapped out of his stunned trance, was at Akira’s side in an instant. They locked eyes, and the younger man reached up to grab him—to kiss him—
“Why are you here?”
In an instant, he deflated, crossed his arms over his chest without bothering to sit up, turning his head away. “Thanks for the warm welcome, asshole,” Akira muttered. “I don’t know why I’m here, aren’t you supposed to know?”
“I received no orders from the Queen.”
Akira looked back at Laurent—his sword—curious. What did that mean? Why was he here then? He decided on a different approach: “Does that mean you’re not going to guide me this time? I could get to town on my own, but I don’t have any weapons or anything. Something tragic could happen to me. Someone could take advantage of me—”
Akira stopped when he saw tendrils rise from the shadows, and the familiar smell of winter and saltwater tickled his nose.
“They will not be given the chance, Akira.”
“So you’ll come with me?”
“I can’t very well leave you defenseless.”
Laurent stood first, offered Akira his hand while a tendril retrieved his fallen pipe. The shadow slipped across the cave ground before moving up and around the pipe, something like a mole or a snake peeking up out of a hole. He felt warm leather, familiar to the touch in his grip, and the strength behind it brought him to his feet. Before he could be bothered that it was over too soon, a cloak was dropped on his head.
“You’ll need this. It’s cold out there.”
Akira drew it around his shoulders and pulled the hood up over his head. He wondered if it was winter, or if the climate had changed since the last time he’d been here. He couldn’t determine anything about the weather outside from within the cave. Snow wasn’t falling, neither was rain, and you couldn’t quite see the cold.
He walked after Laurent, the path out of the cave ever familiar to him, even having been away for who knows how long. This was where he had woken up the last time—albeit with a lot more screaming and a lot more panic. He had been overwhelmed by the beauty of the cavern: by the transparent crystals that grew out of the ground and by the fact that he could see through the roof of a cave at all. The Glass Mountain was one of his favorite places, though he liked it more during the day, when the sun bled in and scattered rainbows across the ground. When he first woke up here, the beauty of the cave had him convinced it was a dream. The world outside quickly shook him of such things.
As they neared the exit, the air did grew colder. A sharp wind cut through his uncovered ankles, though the cloak protected him otherwise. He looked to Laurent, who looked unphased as usual. For a long time, Akira had wondered if Laurent felt pain or anything at all. The truth of the matter was that Laurent was just extremely good at hiding and not responding to any kind of discomfort, whether that was getting hit with the metaphorical knives of icy winds or actual knives.
The man glanced back at him curiously. Akira took a breath before continuing.
“How… How long has it been since I was here last?”
The sword was quiet again, pensive. They were completely outside now, walking across fields of glittering, frosty white grass. It was always this color, which Akira had always thought was weird, but it only glittered when it was cold and frosty like this.
“Seven years,” he said finally. “You? You seem older now.”
Akira let out a breath. Seven years was a long time…
“… I am. It’s been three years. Time doesn’t really flow consistently between here and there, does it?”
“It doesn’t seem to, no.”
Seven years… seven years was a long time between saving the world, vanishing, and returning again.
“Do you think anyone remembers me?”
“You said you didn’t want any monuments constructed in your honor. There’s a simple plaque, in the Queen’s castle, as is our tradition to honor heroes of this land, but that’s it.”
Akira remembered the hall—it was a magnificent place, smooth floors, polished marble, and plaques lining the wall etched out of obsidian. It was hard for him to believe that he had his own there, but at the same time he felt the tiniest pang of regret that he had been humble at nineteen and told them he didn’t want a monument or something for people to remember him by.
Back where he came from: He was no one. Here: He was no one.
Akira wasn’t really sure where to begin parsing this. He’d gotten kind of used to it back on Earth, but now he was here again and all the shit he’d gone through was just… nothing worth remembering? He had been important here, once upon a time.
“The people who knew you will remember you, you can’t fault the bystanders for not.”
They walked on in silence until they arrived at the entrance to the small town of Sunside. The entrance was marked by two, large posts, with lanterns hanging from them, glowing with light from firefly-like insects that rested on leaves inside.
Akira wondered when he would be snapped back to Earth, the anxiety gnawing a pit in his stomach. Was there a purpose in him being here? What was it? When would it be over? How long would he be here?
They walked through the quiet, empty streets until they came to a tiny house—absolutely nothing special in this nothing special town. It was completely dark, and Akira was startled when he saw Laurent pull out a key and unlock the front door.
“Is this yours? Since when?”
“Since the Queen gave it to me.”
Akira frowned but followed after him, into the chilly house. Once he was inside, he lowered the hood but hugged the cloak around himself, watched as Laurent did one of his many tricks: starting the fire with a snap of his fingers. While the fire blazed, Akira looked around. The house was clearly disused, but it was furnished with the necessities. He supposed it was enough, and not out of character for a man who had always been a minimalist. Laurent took a seat in a chair that was parked by the entryway (leaving the table in the center of the room with only one chair) and unlaced his boots setting them aside before going to tend to the fire. He left his gloves on the table as he went. Akira looked down at his sneakers, and still feeling chilly, opted to keep them on. Many a time, they had stayed at inns and Laurent always left his boots by the door, as if that made some kind of difference to cleanliness when he was covered in mud and blood.
“Did you miss me, Laurent?” Akira asked as he walked away from the door, towards the fire and towards the man who didn’t answer his question. Akira stood in front of him—his weapon—his protector—and looked up.
“If you’re here because of another prophecy, it’s dangerous to involve feelings. It’s foolish. It’s hopeless—we don’t know what awaits us tomorrow.” Laurent finally said, his eyes easily meeting Akira’s.
Akira glared, grabbed the front of Laurent’s shirt, the cloak fell off his shoulders and to the ground.
“So I’m a fool then. I’m a fool who refuses to go back without talking to you first.” Akira said, and stood on his toes to get in Laurent’s face, “I’ve regretted not telling you this entire time. I refuse to go back without you knowing.
“I love you, Laurent. I love you.”
Laurent was quiet, still not looking away. He tenderly traced his fingertips over the younger man’s jaw, hardly paying any mind to how Akira was right in his face.
“It’s dangerous to bare your heart to a monster like myself. Don’t you believe I was born of the darkest seas? You’ve seen what I can do to people. You could get hurt.”
“So hurt me.”
Before Akira could draw another breath, sea salt hit his nose while winter gripped his wrists, any warmth he might’ve gained from the fire snatched away. He was thrown up against the wall a few feet away, while Laurent regarded him curiously, something unknown lurking in his gaze. The shadowy tendrils were like ice on Akira’s wrists.
“You want me to hurt you?”
Akira took a breath to steady himself, refusing to look away, “If that’s some inevitable part of loving you, yes.”
Laurent closed the distance between them, leaning in and kissing Akira tenderly, then roughly pushed his tongue in. Akira was happy to oblige once the shock passed. Was this how things were going to go? He had wondered often, but had never really been able to formulate a solid fantasy of what it might be like with him, aside from the tendrils being involved. Akira had come to assume that something so integral to Laurent like that would have to be involved in the sex.
Akira moaned softly into the kiss as Laurent’s fingers went up into his short, dark hair, holding him in a vise-like grip. Something pressed between his legs, through his pants, pressed against his growing erection. Frost met fire, flooding his body with a wave of warmth against the cold.
The kiss broke, and left Akira winded. Laurent regarded him almost tenderly now.
“You’re different,” Laurent said. “You changed a lot between the day we met and the day you left, but you’ve changed more since.”
He ran his hand through Akira’s hair and continued, “This is the same. Your voice, your eyes, your determination—how forceful you can be when you want something.”
He traced his fingers back over the shell of Akira’s ear, down to the lobe, finger tracing over the skin and the stud in it. “These are new.”
His fingers moved to Akira’s lips. “Your smartass responses to me, your confidence—those are new.” He pulled away, took off his gloves and dropped them to the floor before he push his fingers inside Akira’s mouth.
“I expected this, really, if you ever came back,” Laurent said. The tendril between Akira’s thighs continued to massage his cock. “For you to come back without changing would’ve been more alarming than never seeing you again.”
Akira made a frustrated sound around Laurent’s fingers as the man pulled out a knife from his pocket, sliced up the front of Akira’s shirt. The blade’s tip faintly touched his skin but not with enough pressure to draw blood. His sleeves went next, and he was moved away from the wall just enough for his shirt to fall to the ground and for his back be pressed against the smooth, chilly wood.
“I’m going to mark you as mine, Akira, as I trust no other man has,” Laurent said, the finger of his free hand going down the middle of Akira’s smooth chest, his soft abdomen. “I think that if anyone’s going to have their way with our Savior, it should be me.”
Akira felt his face flush with fresh embarrassment. The raw honesty—the possessive nature of his words—made his heart skip a beat. He hadn’t intentionally ‘saved’ himself for Laurent—it was more that no one else could capture his attention the way this man had—but he was happier for it in this moment.
Laurent’s fingers left Akira’s mouth and he thought for a moment that he was going to be able to talk again, but a tendril quickly snaked its way into his mouth, salty and cold, solid but with give.
“Mmgh…” Unable to communicate his annoyance any other way, Akira glared at Laurent.
“Hm? Sorry, you’ll have to keep yourself busy with that,” Laurent said, getting on his knees and untying Akira’s shoes, pulling them off, along with his socks. Akira was going to get back at Laurent later, surely. He was going to have Laurent suck him off—the visual was far too good to not act on later. Later, when he wasn’t being bound to the wall by shadowy tendrils.
He shivered as Laurent undid Akira’s jeans, pulling them down with his boxers in one, quick motion, and leaving Akira completely vulnerable. He was thankful that Laurent had decided not to take a knife to those. His heart pounded in his chest as Laurent wrapped his hand around Akira’s cock and squeezed it.
“You like this, don’t you?”
“Mmf.” Akira nodded and thrust his hips forward until he felt cold wrap itself around his thighs, and his hips were forced back against the wall again.
“You act like you’re the only one that waited for this.” He squeezed Akira’s cock again, harder this time. “You’re at my mercy now, and you will obey.”
Akira made a confused sound as Laurent let go of his cock, chilly air hitting it where his warm hand had once been. What had he done to deserve that? Confusion quickly left him however as Laurent undid the buttons on his shirt and Akira was quickly transfixed. He had seen Laurent shirtless before, but usually there was blood or bandages or mud or something messy covering him. Now, there was nothing but him—his pale skin, his muscles… his scars. He recognized some of these scars from battles they’d been in together and others that had been there forever. There was a scar above his heart where a sword had gone straight through him, and Akira felt a pang of guilt at the memory, but no—he didn’t want to think about that now. He didn’t, he didn’t, he wouldn’t.
Laurent pulled off his shirt with more delicacy than he had offered Akira’s and tossed it back onto the table behind him. His trousers came next and Akira shivered. That was… quite a lot of dick he had there.
He didn’t have time to dwell on that though as Laurent wrapped his hand around Akira’s cock again, firmly distracting him from any guilt (or intimidation).
The tendril left Akira’s mouth, slick with his saliva, and traced down his body, moving between his legs—spread his ass—began to push at his entrance. It was a bizarre and unfamiliar sensation, blurred together with lust and heat as Laurent stroked his cock. He vaguely thought that maybe this tendril was warmer than the others since it had been in his mouth, and wasn’t, in fact, freezing his asshole right now.
“Were you expecting this of me?”
“A bit—Ah—What else would you use your tentacles for?”
“They’re made of shadows, not flesh.”
“Sure they—Nn!” The tendril pushed inside him. “God—Laurent, you’re the worst.”
“I’m foggy—and you’re holding all the cards here—Nn…”
“That was the idea.”
Akira opened his mouth to say something only for a moan to escape instead. The tendril inside of him was making him feel hotter and hotter, making his toes curl against the ground reflexively. He could feel himself being stretched, the tendril thickening with every thrust. He gasped as it brushed something—his prostate, probably, and the shock of pleasure that resulted was almost too much.
Then suddenly, it was gone, leaving him empty and confused.
At least, until Laurent grabbed his hips, lifted him up and away from the wall, and the tendrils moved to do most of the supporting.
“Is there a problem?”
“Don’t drop me.”
“… I’m offended you think I would let that happen to you.”
“How am I supposed to know what you’re plotting when you keep surprising me? What if you wanted to drop me?”
“Akira, be quiet and trust me. Relax.”
Akira would’ve crossed his arms, but they were still bound.
Laurent’s cock, surprisingly hot, unlike his tendrils, began to push inside of Akira, filling the void the tendril had left. He gasped, his head getting hazier. Laurent kissed Akira’s neck as he pushed deeper inside. He sucked at the skin—bit him—then did the same on the other side, leaving the flesh tender and sore.
Akira moaned, and the tendrils finally released his wrists, allowing him to loop his arms around Laurent’s neck. He felt the cold of the tendrils flow up his sides and onto his nipples, eliciting a squeak and filling him with a surprised spark of pleasure as they traced around his areolas before playing with the erect tips. There was so much happening—so much heat—a tendril wrapped around his cock, Laurent’s hand rested at the small of Akira’s back. He was drowning in the ocean that was the man he loved.
Laurent pushed deep again, with short, filling motions that kept his senses flooded with heat. It was too much—too much—
With a gasp, Akira came, hot cum hitting his own chest and the sensation of Laurent inside of him quickly becoming overwhelming. He buried his face in Laurent’s neck, choosing to bear with it until he heard Laurent groan—felt the man cum inside of him.
Carefully, the man pulled out, leaving a void in Akira again, but not an unwelcome one this time. Before Akira could ask about standing, strong arms picked him up, and the tendrils pulled away from him entirely.
“Is this a problem?”
“… No, you just surprised me.”
Laurent’s warm body was making Akira realize exactly how cold the tendrils had been, and he pressed closer to the man—his sword—his lover, as the man carried him out of the main area and into a quiet bedroom. He placed him on the bed gently and then leaned down, pressing a chaste kiss to Akira’s lips.
“I missed you,” he said quietly. “I’m glad you came back, whatever the reason may be this time.”
“… We’ll see, I suppose.”
Laurent pulled back the sheets and Akira quickly crawled under them, soaking up the warmth. He didn’t want to think about sleeping, but he was absolutely exhausted at this point. He hoped that sleeping wouldn’t send him back, but it was what sent him back before, so he wasn’t feeling optimistic.
He watched quietly as Laurent undressed and the man crawled into bed with him. Akira pressed against him immediately, letting out a happy sigh.
“Your tendrils are really cold, you know.”
“Was it too much?”
“Well, no, but maybe we should save that for summer.”
“We could.” Akira closed his eyes, focusing on how warm and close Laurent was.
Surely, he would be here when he woke up.
– – –
Bright sunlight came in through the uncovered windows, dragging Akira out of his slumber and immediately he realized three things: one, he wasn’t as warm as he had been before he fell asleep; two, Laurent was not in bed with him; and three: his ass was incredibly sore.
But as he opened his eyes and rolled onto his back in the unfamiliar bed, he realized with a burst of relief that he was still here—somewhere that he could reach Laurent. He hadn’t been sent back. He sat up, stretching before flopping back onto the bed and rolling onto his stomach, contentedly closing his eyes.
“Are you awake?”
Akira opened one eye, and saw Laurent, now with pants on.
“I might be.”
Laurent chuckled, taking a seat on the bed, pulling back the blankets and looking over Akira.
“My, my, my, those tendrils did a number on you,” he said with a chuckle.
Akira frowned, looking over his wrists, ringed with red. He sat up, taking a closer look at his chest, his thighs—red marks.
“What the hell?!”
“I said I was going to mark you.”
“Did you give me frostbite?”
“No, the tissue isn’t dead, just a bit burned at most.”
“C-couldn’t you have given me hickies like a normal person?”
“I did that too.”
Akira rubbed his neck, frowning. He supposed he didn’t mind, really, though he would’ve liked a warning before he was… marked up like this. Perhaps it was his own fault for not taking Laurent’s line seriously.
“You owe me.”
“You do.” Akira flopped back on the bed. “First, I want breakfast in bed, because we skipped dinner last night. And you have to go get me new clothes, because you ruined my shirt.”
“I don’t recall you being quite so bossy.”
“Well I don’t recall you fucking me senseless and ruining my clothes before.”
“… All right, that’s fair.”
Akira closed his eyes, relaxing more. “Anyway, you can start earning my forgiveness there.”
“Will this be ongoing?”
“Absolutely. Until I’m satisfied. We have time.”
Laurent laughed, “Alright, I’ll have to get started then.”
The mattress moved as Laurent stood up, his footsteps tapping across the wooden floor and out of the bedroom. Akira laid still, focusing on how everything felt so perfect around him. He knew that going forward, there were surely going to be some unpleasant adventures, as there were before, but he didn’t particularly care. He would get through it, they would solve whatever the issue was, and this time, Akira was going to stay.
He had all the time in the world to be with Laurent—
He wasn’t going back.