by Domashita Romero (地下ロメロ)
It was such a rotten cliche, to be smitten with the cute boy behind the counter at the coffee shop, but, well, cliches had to start somewhere. At least in Adam’s defense, he had only been caught in deep smit for the three minutes he’d been waiting in line. The boy in question had soft eyes and long lashes and a scruffy chin and smirky lips and Adam was just fine with waiting as long as possible while he got practice at staring while pretending not to stare.
When it was Adam’s time to come up to the counter, though, he saw the barista’s nametag read ‘Smug.’ Well, at least he was properly labeled.
“What can I get you today?” he asked, and up close Adam could see he had the loveliest eyes, rich brown like strong tea.
“Tea…” Adam blinked rapidly. “Ah, no, pardon. A large cappuccino, please.”
The barista — Smug, Adam supposed — gave a glance over to the girl behind the espresso machine, who was muttering to herself and seemed to be having a bit of trouble. “Might take a few minutes more, if that’s all right with you.”
“Oh, that’s fine, just fine,” Adam said. He was the last person in the queue at the moment, so he felt no guilt for lingering.
“Right, thanks,” he said, and tilted his head back to call to the girl. “Large cappuccino please, Marian.” He got a faint grumble in return, and Adam stifled a laugh. Smug — it was ridiculous to even think of that as a name, but it was easier on the internal monologue than ‘Perfect Handsome Man at the Coffee Shop I Wish to Marry’ — told him how much he owed for his drink and handed it over. The register clanked and jingled and Adam just watched his face. Handsome eyebrows, even; he’d never thought of eyebrows as something to be handsome.
He shook himself out of his charmed reverie. “Ah, my change?” he said. Society had to keep functioning, even in the face of infatuation.
Smug just smiled at him. A bit smugly, to be perfectly frank. “I think you’ll find it’s in your hand, sir.”
“Pardon, just a little hobby of mine.” He wiggled his fingers in the air. “Sleight of hand.”
Adam brushed his fingers over the coins in his hand. God, it must have been obvious how distracted he was by his ogling if it’d been easy to pull off a trick like that. “I feel like I’ve been pickpocketed in reverse.”
Smug’s smirk stayed at the same level, but his eyelids lowered a little, like a pleased cat. “Best for me to use my powers for good, I figure.” Adam chuckled softly and put his change in his pocket. Smug’s brows drew together and he craned his neck, looking behind Adam and then around behind the counter, as though making sure the coast was clear. “Want to see another trick?”
God, he was too charming by half. “I’d love to.” This seemed flirty enough as it was that Adam didn’t think he needed to conceal much of the nature of his enthusiasm.
Smug reached into one of his apron pockets and pulled out a deck of cards. He passed it over to Adam. “Open that up, if you would?”
Adam laughed as he unwrapped the pack and cracked it open. “Is there an extra charge for magic with my coffee?”
“Nah,” Smug said. “Just a little service for patient customers.” He met Adam’s eyes then, and if he was going to look at Adam with those eyes and those eyelashes and those eyebrows like that and not intend a flirt, Adam would eat every ace in the deck. “Take the cards out, have a look at them, and if they pass muster with you, seem a perfectly normal deck, please hand them back to me.”
Adam wouldn’t know how to spot a doctored deck of cards, but he made a little show of looking before handing them back to Smug. He held the cards in the palm of one hand and skimmed the fingers of his other up along the sides to ripple them just slightly, and that was when Adam started holding his breath. He had gorgeous fingers, long and delicate and clever, good god. His shuffle was quick and dexterous, fanning the cards, making them flutter at angles that Adam would never know how to make himself, cutting and cutting and cutting them again. He then spread them out in a perfect arc on the counter.
“Choose one of those, please, and have a look.” Adam deliberated for a while before drawing one from Smug’s left side — no ring on his finger, he noted. “Now, I’m going to assume that you haven’t come for a nice coffee after spending your entire life in a cave without even YouTube, but have a look at your card, a good long look, and you memorize it.” Adam slid it across the counter and brought it up for a peek close to his body, like poker players in movies. Who knew if the coffee shop had cameras? Big Brother was watching you pick a card, any card.
“Got it?” Smug said, and Adam nodded. “You sure?”
“Absolutely,” Adam said. Three of clubs, he had no doubt.
“Slide that right back in, please,” Smug said, and Adam bit the inside of his lip to stifle a giggle at the choice of words. Smug swept the cards back up into an orderly deck again, went through another delightfully ostentatious shuffle, and then, looking at Adam with a completely straight face, dropped them into the trashcan next to him.
Adam couldn’t help but burst into a laugh. “Oh!” he said. “Oh no.”
Smug gave a little shrug. “Just remembered I’m terrible at card tricks. I’ve no idea which one you picked, sorry.” The side of his mouth curled up. “Did kill the time properly while you were waiting for your coffee, though, didn’t it?”
Adam felt a little breathless, giddy from how damn charmed he was. “It did, indeed.”
“Ah, and here that is for you,” he said. “Thank you for waiting.” He placed the lidded paper cup on the counter and gave it a very deliberate half-turn.
Adam picked it up and saw that where usually his name or the details of his order would be encoded in marker, there were just two things written: the number seven, and a drawing of a spade. His disappointment must have shown on his face, because he heard Smug let out a sigh.
“Not the right one, then?” he said.
Adam looked up at him to smile kindly. “It’s not, I’m afraid.”
Smug lifted his shoulders and let out another sigh. “Well, as I said. Terrible at card tricks.”
“You made the time fly, though,” Adam said. “Maybe next time?”
Smug winked at him. Maybe ‘Cheeky’ would be a better name for the tag. “Next time,” he said. “Enjoy your drink.”
Adam sat down at a table and stared at the same two pages of his book while taking the tiniest sips of his coffee until it had gone unpalatably cold. He kept watch from the corner of his eye, and for the remainder of his stay in the shop, didn’t see Smug try anything more magical than making correct change in his head with anyone else.
Adam couldn’t justify staying forever in the coffee shop (and also did have other things to do that day), but he could, after his daily affairs were concluded, justify making a little swing back past it on the way home. It was on the way home, though, so it was utterly normal for him to take a peek in through the window to see if Smug was still on duty. He’d be up all night if he had a coffee now, but one had to make sacrifices in life.
An Indian girl was at the till now, and a tall ginger boy behind the espresso monster filling orders. Adam sighed and started resenting what a good night’s sleep he’d get that night.
When he was turning the corner to start the last leg of his trek home, though, Adam — still staring through the coffee shop window like an urchin dreaming of sweets — walked directly into someone standing just around the bend. He saw flashes of red and gold and orange as he staggered, but a hand — a familiar, handsome-fingered hand — wrapped around his wrist before he could tumble to the sidewalk entirely.
“Sorry about that,” Smug said, and gave Adam a tug until he was firmly back on his feet. “Should’ve known the risks I was taking, standing.”
“Sorry, sorry, I’m so–” Adam corralled his fluster enough to sort out what he was looking at. “Ah.” Smug was no longer wearing the charming apron they had him wear behind the counter, but was instead dressed in what looked like a set of footie pajamas, red with patchworked spots of gold and orange. Hooded footie pajamas, at that. With a tail. “I’m sorry, are you a dinosaur?”
Smug pursed his lips in a tiny frown. “No,” he said, plainly. “Dinosaurs have feathers. Haven’t you heard?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I haven’t kept up,” Adam said, and blinked a little; he felt genuinely contrite at whatever mistake he’d just made. He’d had his share of excellent times at costume parties when he was younger, though, so he couldn’t stifle his curiosity. “Ah!” he said as he spied the small, floppy pair of little golden wings sewn into Smug’s costume at the shoulder blades. “You’re a dragon!”
The corner of Smug’s mouth turned up a little and he pointed his index finger at Adam. “Here I was going to give you three guesses and you got it in two,” he said. Little wisps of dark hair came out from the hood of the dragon costume, curling softly on his forehead. “I am a dragon.”
“You are!” Adam said. It was a sweetly sad costume, tail and wings drooping, some of the spines of the crest down his back no longer so spiny, a few of the patches more functional than ornamental. “I don’t know what else I’d’ve guessed. Man in his pajamas out for a walk?”
Smug glanced down at himself. “Oh, no,” he said. “I don’t wear this to sleep in.”
Adam bit the inside of his lip to keep from grinning too much. “Just formal occasions?” Smug had a plain canvas messenger bag slung over his shoulder, which was a surprisingly appealing look. “Off to a party, then?”
Smug looked downward, and Adam almost missed the rueful smile on his lips while distracted again by those damn eyelashes. “No,” he said. “Just off to pick up my dog.” He gave a little nod of his head in the direction that Adam was already heading. Were they neighbors, and he just hadn’t noticed?
“Ah, so…” Adam faltered, because he just wasn’t making the pieces fit together properly. “Why are you dressed like that to pick up your dog?” Adam had never had a pet himself; there could be things he didn’t know about.
“Because I’m a dragon,” Smug said, and then pushed up the edge of one red sleeve to glance at his watch. “I’ve really got to be off to get him.” He looked thoughtful for a moment, working the inside of his lip. “I’ve got a performance tonight if you’re not doing anything.”
“Performance?” Adam said.
Smug smiled a little, then his hand suddenly snapped forward next to Adam’s ear; he heard a little snap and felt a brush of fingertips that made him shiver, and then Smug was holding a little flower made out of easily-collapsible sponge before him. “You know, I get up on stage and make a few cups of coffee for a crowd. It’s not much of an act, but I’m working on it.”
Adam realized his mouth was hanging open; at least he was also smiling. “I’d love to,” he said, and reached up to take the little foam flower from Smug’s hand, but as soon as he was about to take it, Smug closed his hand into a tight fist, and then opened it again to show Adam an empty palm. “Oh, you tease,” he said.
Even in the fading daylight Adam could see a little pink rise to his friendly dragon’s cheeks. Smug put his hands in his pockets — his dragon costume had pockets, how precious was that? — and rocked a little on his feet. “Little club called Athena, on Linden near Hawthorne. I’ll be going on around eight, if you’d like to see, you know…” Smug cast his eyes to the heavens and wiggled his fingers in the air. “The magic.”
“That’d be wonderful,” Adam said. If he’d had plans for the evening he’d entirely forgotten them. “Oh! Oh, ah, my name is Adam, by the way.” He held out his hand and Smug took it, a warm squeeze that did not leave Adam with a coin or a card or a rose pressed into his palm.
“I’m Smug,” he said. “Well, I mean, I am smug, but also I’m called Smug.”
“I did notice that earlier, on your tag,” Adam said. “What’s your real name?”
Smug’s eyebrows raised, then he looked down, bashful. “Oh, no one ever asks that,” he said. “It’s an old family name and a little embarrassing. It’s Smugtholomew.”
“Smugtholomew,” Adam said. Well, he supposed flirting with a performer was bound to see you end up the audience for a little warmup.
Smug wrinkled his nose. “Yeah. You see why I go by the shortened form.”
Adam laughed. “I suppose I do,” he said, then shook his head. “I also suppose I’m keeping you from your pup and whatever else you need to do before your show. I’ll see you then?”
“Looking forward to it,” Smug said, and while Adam was vibrating in place thinking of whether he should cross the street to make it less awkward that they were heading in the same direction, he spoke again. “Ah, one thing, Adam?”
“Yes?” he said, and Smug took a step closer to him, near enough that he could feel warmth radiating from his body. Adam was distracted by the smell of campfire for a moment before he felt Smug’s fingers slip between the second and third buttons of his shirt. He took in a little breath at the brief touch of his fingers to his skin, then another at the strange cool sensation that followed. The whole while Smug stayed looking right into his eyes, keeping him caught in the little flecks of gold he could see in the deep brown of his iris at this distance. But then he was not looking at Smug’s eyes at all, but rather a playing card brought up between the two of them.
“I believe this was your card?” Smug said. He had the three of clubs held between his first and middle finger. Adam put one hand over his chest where Smug had pulled the card from and took it with the other hand. “Usually the way I play that trick is you’d find it later in the day and marvel at the magic barista, but then here you were again and, well…” He shrugged a little. “Sometimes it’s nice to get to see the payoff.”
Adam put his hand tight to his chest, more over the pounding of his heart than to feel where a card might have been hiding on him for several hours. Surely he hadn’t actually placed it on him earlier in the day. Surely he also hadn’t kept the card on him until just now, with no idea they’d run in to each other again. He slowly lifted his eyes up to look at Smug’s face again.
Smug screwed up his face, nose wrinkled and mouth twisted to one side. “I did lie a bit before,” he said. “I’m actually pretty good at magic. See you at eight?”
“Absolutely,” Adam said, still lightly frozen in place. Smug turned and walked off down the street, his sad red tail dragging behind him. Adam lifted his hand to belatedly wave goodbye, and when he opened his palm, a foam flower fell from it to rest at his feet.
Adam ate dinner with the three of clubs and the little flower resting on the center of his kitchen table. When he’d finished eating he turned the card over in his hands again and again. If Smug had really wanted to be impressive, he’d have had Adam write his name on the card. He’d have to tell him that later.
He got to Athena early enough to settle in with a gin and tonic and watch the first act, a decently funny comedian. There was no marquee or list of performers; perhaps this was some sort of open mic situation. If Smug was a magical barista and amateur dragon magician, well, this would make all the better story to tell his friends later if it went nowhere.
Smug shuffled on to stage, shoulders, wings, and tail all drooping. Under one arm he had a little fold-out table, and under the other he had a small dog, dressed in a matching red dragon costume, scaled down to puppy size. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, I’m Smug,” he said, and cradled his dog in his arms. “As you all are too, I imagine, looking at a grown man in a dragon costume.” A soft ripple of laughter went through the crowd, and Adam saw Smug purse his lips tighter to keep any smile of satisfaction away. “My name is Smug and I am a magic dragon. One of my powers is avoiding copyright litigation.” Another laugh. “This is Mr. Smuggles. He’s not a dragon; he’s a culturally appropriating dog.” He had the room now. He put Mr. Smuggles down. “For family reasons I will not be demonstrating any dragon magic tonight, but something almost as arcane and wondrous: card tricks. May I have a volunteer?”
Adam nearly raised his hand, but decided against it. He’d gotten so much first-hand experience with Smug’s tricks already today; it was time to get a look at them performed on someone else.
A slim young man came up on stage, cheered on by his friends. Adam sipped his gin and tonic and laughed as Smug did an even more elaborate version of the foam flower nonsense he’d pulled on him earlier, pulling them from all parts of the young man and making them disappear just as easily. The deck of cards came out next, another fresh one; Adam wondered how much Smug ended up dropping on card decks, if they had to be new each time.
Adam held his breath as Smug went through the artful twists and turns of his style of shuffling again, made all the better by how he embellished it on stage with a lot of eyebrow wiggling. He fanned them out to his volunteer. “Now, if you could select one, please. Memorize it, and you can show it to the audience if you like,” he said. He picked up the end of his dragon tail and brought the tip of it to cover his eyes. “I promise I won’t look.”
The man showed his card to the audience: a four of diamonds. Smug kept his eyes covered. “Now, if you would please, let Mr. Smuggles have a little sniff of your card.” The man laughed and leaned down to offer the card to the dog, but Smug interrupted. “Don’t show it to him, though. No matter how he looks at you with those eyes.”
Mr. Smuggles got a good sniff of the card and it looked like a little lick of it, too. “Right, now please put the card back in the deck,” Smug said. When the man had replaced the card Smug folded them back into a neat stack, tapped them a few times in each direction in his palm, then tossed them over his shoulder to flutter wildly across stage right. Adam was shocked into a sharp laugh; just like dropping them into the trash at the coffee shop, but on a larger scale. “Well, those were no good anymore, obviously. A dog had been all over one of them.”
Smug produced another pack of new, cellophane-wrapped cards and handed those to the young man. These cards were red-backed, Adam noted, while the ones on the floor around Smug were blue-backed. “Open that up, if you would, give them a couple of good shuffles, then give them to me.” The man was flushed red under the stagelights and grinning at this point, and he did as directed, shuffling the cards with grace that would have been impressive if not for Smug’s recent display. He handed them back to Smug, who looked the deck over seriously before cutting it somewhere around the middle and holding up a nine of hearts to the audience. “Was this your card?”
The man shook his head no, and Adam could feel the energy of the room shift just a little. A screwup could always be part of the bit, or it could be genuine, and the crowd’s mood teetered on an edge through Smug’s next few moves. “Hm,” he said, seeming concerned but not nervous. “This one, then?” He cut the deck again to show a jack of spades. The man shook his head once more. “Oh, hell,” Smug said, and put his hands on his hips as he bent down to address his dog. “It’s like you don’t even pay attention when we’re rehearsing, Mr. Smuggles.”
He scooped the dog up under his arm and put the deck of cards down flat on the center of the little fold-out table he’d brought with him. “I have to apologize for my dog,” he said. “He always wants to be the center of attention. A real glory hound.” The table had just the slightest tilt to it, so that when Smug spread his hand over the deck to spread out the cards, the audience could see how they fanned out. Smug put the dog down on the table behind the cards. “Fine, then, you do it. If you start getting top billing, though, you have to pick up my poo.”
Mr. Smuggles sniffed along the row of cards, back and forth a bit before letting his little nose stop on one. He barked twice, two little yaps, and tapped his paw on one. “That one?” Smug said. “Well, if you think it’s that one, then pull it out and show everyone.” Mr. Smuggles looked at Smug and wagged his tail. Smug sighed deeply and shook his head. “I am oppressed because of my opposable thumbs,” he said, and the audience laughed again. “Fine, I’ll do it.”
Smug reached his hand over the table so slowly, fingers spread out to lightly cover the cards from view. He put his middle fingertip down on the card that one of Mr. Smuggles’ little claws was resting on and slid it up out of the splay of cards. It had a blue back. He flipped it over to show the four of diamonds and rested the card right on Mr. Smuggles’ face, balanced nicely on his snout with the edge tucked under his little doggy dragon costume.
Smug shook the young man’s hand when the applause was dying down, and then made Mr. Smuggles hold out his little paw for a similar shake. He gathered his dog in his arms, gave a bow to each side of the crowd, then snapped up the cards on the table, the table itself, and left the stage. Adam wondered if he’d count fifty-one blue-backed cards in the pile he’d left on the stage.
The next act was a woman who beatboxed into a flute — this club was really very interesting and Adam would have to come back — and Adam was so distracted by her he didn’t register the flicker of red and gold in the periphery of his vision until Smug was sitting right next to him in his booth and Mr. Smuggles was in his lap.
“Hello again,” Smug said, quiet enough not to be a disruption to the music. “Really glad you made it.”
“I am, too,” Adam said. “You put on a wonderful show.”
“Thank you, thank you,” Smug said. “It’s still a work in progress. Got to make it longer, really. I haven’t figured out a way to work in the fire-breathing that isn’t just me saying, ‘Right, now I’m going to breathe fire.'” He blinked a few times. “Actually, that might go over well.”
“Fire-breathing, too?” Adam said, and Mr. Smuggles squirmed on his lap to get comfortable. The dog had taken off his dragon costume, even though his master had not. “You can tell me. Did you escape from the circus?”
“No,” Smug said. “I’m just a dragon.”
Adam laughed and shook his head, poking at the ice cubes in his depleted gin and tonic with the little red straw it came with. “Of course, how could I forget,” he said. “Are you a thirsty dragon?”
“A bit,” Smug said, and really, how dare he give Adam that coy look through his long lashes.
“Well, how about we head up front,” Adam said, inclining his head to the front room of the club, which was just a bar, no entertainment. “Better to drink in, better to talk in.” The flute beatboxer had gotten into a rendition of Don’t Stop Believing, which was impressive, but Adam had other things he wanted to be impressed by.
Smug smiled. “Sounds nice to me,” he said.
Adam started to scoot towards escaping his side of the booth. “I’ll snag us a seat while you get changed. Have a drink you like?”
Smug’s eyes went down again and the upward curve of his lips went a little tense. “Love a whiskey,” he said. “Won’t be changing.” He sighed a little, which Mr. Smuggles echoed. “I’m a dragon, you see.”
“I… do see,” Adam said, and stood up from the table. He was holding Mr. Smuggles in his arms; the dog was rather placid about the arrangement. Adam took a deep breath and looked at Smug, who was focused on his own hands tracing patterns in the remnants of drink condensation rings on the table. Well, so obviously he was a little crazy. He was a grown man in a dragon suit doing card tricks in a night club; of course he was a little crazy. But he had a cute dog and a sweet smile and the rise of Adam’s curiosity far outweighed any spikes of concern. “How about I get you a whiskey and you tell me about that?”
Smug lifted his head up and gave Adam a much truer smile. “I’d like that,” he said. He held out his hands, grabby finger wiggling. “Give me that beast, though. He’ll trick you into running up a huge tab if you go up to the bar with him.”
Adam handed the dog over and left the fluteboxer behind as they moved back to the front bar. The bartender gave Smug an approving nod as he settled in to one of the corner booths, and Adam found that his drinks bill was less than he expected. Mr. Smuggles seemed to be peacefully dozing on Smug’s lap when he put a glass of whiskey into his hand. He clinked his own glass against it, and said “So. A dragon, then?”
“Not many people know these days,” Smug said, scratching the dog behind one chocolate-brown ear while sipping his drink. “Obviously we used to be a bit more prominent.”
Adam played with the little straw in his drink. “You’re rather smaller than I’d been lead to believe dragons were.”
Smug shrugged. “Well, interbreeding and the whatnot, adaptive evolution and so on,” he said. “We pretty much mix right in with you lot these days. Most of us don’t even bother with the traditional clothing.”
Adam reached over to take the sleeve of Smug’s costume — or traditional clothing, whatever he wanted to call it — between thumb and forefinger, feeling around the end of it and letting his hand wind up gentle resting against Smug’s. “And this is your traditional clothing.”
“It is,” he said, and looked into Adam’s eyes. “If I didn’t wear it, how would anyone know I was a dragon?”
“I don’t know,” Adam said. “Do you fly?”
“Not often,” Smug said. “Especially since the airlines have started to make you pay to check luggage.” Adam broke into a laugh at that and Smug smiled. “No, I don’t fly. Never did have that running in my family, even back in the old days; we’ve always been the bit more terrestrial, bit more incendiary type.”
His hand was warm under Adam’s touch. “So, you breathe fire?”
“I do,” Smug said, and tilted his head to look towards the bartender. “He doesn’t like me doing it in here, but…” He turned his head to the side, cupped the hand Adam hadn’t laid claim to around the side of his mouth, and a little burst of flame erupted from behind it. Smug put his hand down and was licking his lips a little. “Always is a bit extra scorchy after I’ve had whiskey.”
It was a very nice trick, and Smug’s hand now appeared to be empty; just as with everything, Adam hadn’t the slightest idea how he’d done it. “You’re a very nice dragon, I’ll have you know.”
“I’m glad you think so,” Smug said. “I mean, I haven’t eaten any maidens in ages.”
Adam arched one eyebrow high and leaned away a little. “You’re the maiden-eating sort of dragon, then?” He’d thought they’d been very clearly flirting for some time, but he also was dealing with a dragon with a puggle in his lap, so usual social norms were a bit off.
Smug looked away, though, and his cheeks pinkened. “Well…” he said, softly. “Not really as good of a joke otherwise, is it?” He slowly turned his hand over, and then they were touching, palm to palm. Adam just felt his warm skin, no hidden coin or bit of foam or jack of hearts. “But no, no eating brave knights of late, either.”
“Now that is the most nonsensical thing you’ve said,” Adam said. “I know I have to be far from the only one swooning over you in that coffee shop.”
Smug was smiling, but the twist of his lips was a little rueful. “You aren’t, it’s true,” he said. “But most folk, well, they get a bit put off when I get off work and…” He gestured along himself, from golden spiky crest down to floppy red tail.
“I’m not put off,” Adam said. He laughed a little. “I mean… in college I dated a man who believed he was a vampire.”
“Which are not real,” Smug said.
“Exactly,” Adam said, though inwardly was relieved to hear that confirmation. “And also there was the one who ate my tropical fish right out of the tank.”
Smug wrinkled his nose. “Not a fan of sushi, myself.”
“And then all the completely normal human men who were unemployed moochers or addicts or rude to my mother,” Adam continued, and Smug laughed. “You are gainfully employed, obviously have a lot of devotion to your hobbies, and clearly are very capable of caring for a dog.” Adam brushed his thumb against the meat of Smug’s palm. “I don’t see how an… unorthodox family history should send me running.”
Smug took in a gentle breath and watched Adam through his lashes as he smiled. “Well… maybe you ought come see my lair sometime.”
“Oh, your lair,” Adam said. “Do you have a hoard?”
“I’d be a terrible dragon if I told you that,” Smug said.
“Then I’ll have to see myself,” Adam said. “And maybe I can find out how you do some of your tricks.”
Smug finished off the last of the whiskey in his glass. “You’ll be disappointed,” he said, and sighed. “People are always disappointed when they find out how magic tricks are done.”
Adam laughed. “Well, maybe not the magic tricks, then.”
Smug’s smile kept growing. “You’re a charmer, aren’t you?” he said. “Maybe you’ve got a little dragon in you yourself.”
“I’d have to ask my mother to check the family Bible,” Adam said.
Smug rolled his eyes. “No, you’re supposed to say, ‘Oh, I don’t think I do,’ and then I say, ‘well, would you like some?'” Adam let out a breathy laugh as he thrilled just from the thought of it. “And then you think I’m making a dirty joke, but then I reach over and…” He brought his hand to Adam’s chest, pressed firm against where his heart was beating quickly. He drew it away slowly, the pull of his fingertips enough to make Adam shiver. Smug held up a little plastic dragon, a tiny red thing like you might find in a cereal box. He wiggled it in front of Adam’s face. “Little dragon in you, you see?”
Adam leaned his head back and laughed, then took the plastic dragon from Smug’s hand. “I guess I do,” he said. “And I think I would.”
Smug’s eyes got heavier and his lips parted, and Adam could feel the energy change between them, the air sparking in that way right before something very good happened. But before either of them could make a move, Mr. Smuggles took the opportunity and roused himself from his doggy slumber to bark a few times and paw at Smug’s chest.
Smug let out a sigh and reached down to pet the dog. “Your costume would fit a rabbit just as well, you know that?” he said. He shook his head. “He does have a point, though. I’ve got to deal with his doggie problems and I’m opening the shop tomorrow.”
“As long as you promise I get to see you again,” Adam said.
Smug smiled at him, not just a little smirk or a grin, but a real full, lovely smile. “Absolutely.”
“Good,” Adam said, and before Mr. Smuggles could block him again, he leaned over to kiss Smug, soft and long and sweet.
His mouth tasted like smoke all the way home.
The next day at lunch with his friend Michael, Adam related the events of the day previous with a giddy ‘and then, and then, and then‘ sort of storytelling. Going on a date (and Adam felt comfortable calling it a date) with the hot barista was everyone’s dream in itself. And he was a magician (and not a creepy Doug Henning one, Adam specified). And he had a dog.
“And he’s a dragon,” Adam said, as nonchalantly as he could. He hoped Smug’s eccentricity in this arena would come off as charming to his friends as it had to him. He didn’t seem dangerously mad, after all.
“Oh, is he?” Michael said. “God, I dated one of those for spell in my twenties.”
Adam blinked. “You did?”
“Surely I’ve told you about Jher?”
“You did,” Adam said. “But not that he was…. really? Is this actually a thing?”
Michael traced his finger in a circle around his face. “With the outfit, right?” Adam nodded. “Jher didn’t wear it all the time, but…” He shook his head. “Would have stayed with him if his mother hadn’t gotten to him about bloodlines and keeping with ‘his kind.’ Last I heard he’s off in Scotland…”
Adam stared at Michael for a while. He did recall Michael talking about all of this, but foolish him, he’d assumed far more mundane reasons for a mother wanting her son to dump a white boy. “Are you having me on?”
Michael shook his head and took a sip of seltzer. “No, of course not,” he said. “Are you? I mean, there aren’t many of them about these days, but I’d have thought that you of all people would know…”
“No,” he said, and felt the phantom lingering taste of smoke in his mouth.
Michael smirked and leaned in over the table. “Well, just to let you know in advance, they’ve got this little bit on the top of their mouths,” he put his finger in his own to tap the roof of his mouth, “that’s rough. Touching it is a little like licking a battery.” Adam hadn’t felt anything like that last night, but his kiss with Smug hadn’t gotten too involved, due to public decency. “And that extends to things other than kissing,” Michael said, and winked.
“Oh,” Adam said, and just as their food arrived, got a text from Smug consisting of show tonight. no work tomorrow. i’ve just swept my lair, too. Michael smirked at him over a salad fork as he texted back show yes. work tomorrow also no. lair absolutely.
Smug’s show that night was much the same as the night before, and though Adam kept his eyes on Smug’s hands the entire time, he was sure of it, he still had no idea how he’d done any of it. When it was over, Smug marched up to him, put Mr. Smuggles into his arms, and leaned in to kiss him while he was laden with dog and could hardly object. Not that he would, in any case. That smoky taste was still on Smug’s lips; it wasn’t scotch, it wasn’t cigarettes, it wasn’t even paprika. It was intoxicating, and he wanted more.
“So,” Smug said when he had pulled away, and put his hands in his dragon pockets to rock on his heels like a little boy again. “Got a nice bottle back at the lair, and Mr. Smuggles can’t hold his liquor. Care to come to the lair and help me get rid of it?”
“I’d love to,” Adam said. “I’ve never been to a dragon’s lair.”
“I suspect it’s going to not be as exciting as you think,” Smug said, and reached out to take the dog back. “I inherited it from my gran, after all.” He nodded down at Adam’s shirt pocket. “That’s lovely, by the way. Lucky man, with such stylish suitors.”
Adam looked down to see that a red rosebud, its petals barely open, had appeared in his pocket. He plucked it out and brought it under his nose, letting it brush across his lips as he caught its soft sweet smell. “Very lucky, and very stylish. Lair?”
Smug turned his back to him and gave a little wiggle. Adam laughed and took the hint, taking hold of the tip of one of Smug’s little gold wings and letting him lead the way.
His lair was an unassuming rowhouse, and the inside of it smelled like grandmother lavender and singed fabric. Smug put his dog down when they walked in (Mr. Smuggles, it seemed, was such a prima donna he insisted on being carried home after shows), and as his little toenails clicked across wood floor and Oriental rug Adam took in the sight of his very first dragon’s lair.
It had an awful lot of doilies.
“Make yourself at home, get comfortable,” Smug said as he walked deeper into this house. “I’ve got to give this foul hound his dinner, and then I’ll get us a drink.”
Adam made a little sound of assent as he looked around. Smug’s home looked not at all like what you’d expect either a semi-professional magician’s house or a dragon’s house to look like; it had neither mysterious boxes you could saw an assistant in half with nor arcane curios, nor did it have any heaps of gold and jewels or stacks of human bones. Maybe those were upstairs. Mostly it had things covered in lace and charming little ceramic animals.
Adam nosed his way down the hallway and picked up a framed photo off of an end table. In it was a family of four who looked like a Lady and the Tramp set. Father and son — clearly a preteen Smug, straightfaced and with little curl of black hair on his forehead — in nearly matching red dragon costumes, and mother and daughter next to them dressed entirely normally. Perhaps Smug was only half-mythical creature?
Smug came into the living room with two wine glasses in one hand and the opened bottle in the other. Adam turned the photo to him and smiled. “Your family, I take it?”
“That’d be them,” he said. “Parents retired to Corsica a few years back and my sister lives in New York.”
“Ah,” Adam said. His family was geographically quite close; in other matters, though, the distance was remarkable. “If it’s not rude to ask, is your mother not…?”
“She’s only half-dragon, yeah,” Smug said, as he poured wine. “On her mother’s side. My grandmother, who had this house. She was never much into the traditional side of things like me and dad, and my sister wasn’t interested, either.” He took the photo from Adam’s hands and picked up another from the same table. “And this is my grandmother. She lived to be a hundred and three and was still spitting fire and nails the whole time.”
Adam looked down at the picture, clearly at least a decade or so old, of a handsome elderly woman in a dragon costume, slightly more ornate and well-tailored than Smug’s. If this was all some joke, it was clear, Smug had gone to just obscene amounts of preparation for it. He looked up from the photo and didn’t see the smirk of someone having a good prank on Smug’s face; he looked nervous, like he’d been to this point with people before and seen them walk right out the door.
“You have her eyes,” Adam said, and smiled. Smug let out a breath and handed him a glass of wine. “Cheers, then. May we both live as long and well as her.”
Smug clinked his glass against Adam’s and took a drink. “She always said she lived so long because she drank a glass of scotch with her tea every afternoon and never went to church.”
Adam laughed and took a sip himself. It was a nice bottle. “Well, I’ll get working on that right away.” Smug smiled at him and gestured for him to sit on the sofa. When Adam sat down he noticed the stack of about twenty fresh packs of playing cards. “Do you get a discount when you buy in bulk?”
“Yes, actually,” Smug said. For a dragon, his body language kept him awfully small, tucked up in the corner of the couch, his tail folded on his lap. “If you were wondering how it’s all done, well, that’s how it’s done.” He nodded to the cards. “I’ve gone through probably thousands of those. The trick to doing the trick is to spend your whole life locked in your room practicing it until you’ve got it perfect.” He smiled a little over his wine glass. “So that’s why I don’t so much mind living in this gran lair. Gives me more time to work if I haven’t got company.”
“Well, I hope I’m not taking you away from anything important…”
Smug blinked a few times, realizing what he said. “No, no…” He took in a quick breath and let it out again. Dragons got a little shy when in the safety of their lairs, it seemed. “I’m really glad you’re here. …I’m really glad.” He swirled his glass a little, looking down into it. “I’d seen you in the shop a few times, but not when I was working the counter. So when it all lined up, well…”
Adam snorted a little laugh. “Ah, I knew it! You’ve plotted it all! I knew it was all too perfect,” he said.
Smug shook his head. “Mm, maybe it is, but the plotting wasn’t so specifically targeted.” He ran a hand sound the front of his dragon suit. “I’ve spent ages sewing little pockets and whatnot into this thing and filling them with props so I can do my nonsense whenever to whomever. You just, well, made me want to do my nonsense.”
“Can you do something right now?” Adam said. “Some nonsense?”
They were more than arm’s reach away from each other, so Smug made a straining lazy reach to him. “Nope, nope, magic takes close contact.” He suddenly unzipped the front of his dragon costume down to the center of his chest. Adam had seen his collarbones before, the first time they’d met, but now the sight made him gasp a little. Smug slipped a hand into his dragon suit, rooted around, and pulled out a handful of little foam flowers. He tossed them onto the sofa between them. “Ta-da.”
Adam laughed and applauded in the form of tapping on his wine glass. “Amazing, I have no idea how you did it.” He picked one flower up and squeezed it in his palm until it was almost invisible. “What else have you got in there? Cards? Your little fire trick up your sleeve?”
Smug shook his head. “No, the fire’s no trick, I told you. Just a dragon thing.” He gave Adam a long look, as though weighing his options, and then leaned his head back. His hands were both holding the bowl of his wine glass, so nothing obscured his face as he pursed his lips into an ‘o’ and let out a billow of orange flame from his mouth.
Adam managed not to drop his wine glass on Smug’s grandmother’s sofa. He’d been looking right at him. He hadn’t seen anything that could be a trick — but he also hadn’t seen anything at the show that night that had been a trick. Adam didn’t know how to sensibly and logically deal with the magic and the magic and the magic that kept happening in front of him, at him, and between them. So he decided to stop being sensible or logical.
“I believe you,” he said, and saying it made it true. He saw Smug’s eyes go wide and then flutter a little as color came to his cheeks. “Smug the dragon.”
Smug took in a few slow breaths and then put his wine down before scooting across the couch. “How it works, you see — no one ever teaches anything about dragon biology in schools these days, you’ve got to go to the oddest libraries to get any anatomy texts and they’re full of inaccuracies…” He took Adam’s wine and put it aside too, and then curled his fingers around his wrist. “It’s very scientific actually. There’s this little bit in my mouth that’s got a spark to it.” He folded Adam’s fingers so only one was extended and leaned forward to slip it between his lips.
Adam was so breathless just from the feeling of his mouth, hot and wet, that he couldn’t immediately register what Smug wanted him to feel. The roof of his mouth wasn’t wholly smooth; there was a little spot in the center of it, about an inch square, that felt like rubbing a cat’s tongue or a thimble. Smug looked into his eyes, and after a few moments of rubbing that odd place, Adam yelped as he got a shock.
Smug let go of his finger and licked his lips a little. It had felt like getting zapped by a doorknob after shuffling around in wool socks. “So, that’s the bit. Get some gas going past electricity and…” Smug leaned his head back to exhale smoke again.
Adam breathed slow for a minute. He was still holding his finger pointed outward as he felt the blood rush in his ears. “So… it’s a belch?”
Smug wrinkled his nose and nodded. “More or less, yeah,” he said. “Keeps me away from too many fizzy drinks, that’s for sure.”
Adam wetted his lips and closed the space between them even more. A dragon, then. Really, actually, a dragon. Who did card tricks. Well, it would be an interesting conversation with his mother. “Has to feel very interesting when it comes to certain things,” he said.
“So, ah…” Smug was going red again, to match his costume. “So I’ve been told. Some people don’t like it.”
“It’s not dangerous, is it?”
“Not more than certain things usually are, no,” Smug said, his voice gone soft.
“Well,” Adam said, and curled his arms around Smug’s shoulders. “Let’s find out if I like it.”
Adam gently pushed Smug back against the arm of the couch as he kissed him deeply. The taste of wine lingered in his mouth, but the smoke taste was still beneath it. Smug’s breath hitched as Adam kept kissing him. The moment he touched the tip of his tongue to that little rough spot he got a jolt that ran all the way through him, down to curl his toes and make his fine hairs stand on end.
He pulled away, a little breathless. “Oh,” he said, and while Smug looked concerned, he eased when he saw Adam’s smile. “It’s like licking a battery.”
Smug screwed up his face. “People always say that,” he said. “Who licks batteries?”
Adam slipped a hand under Smug’s hood to curl into his hair. “People who don’t get to kiss dragons.”
“Fair enough,” he said, and then they were kissing again, wet and sweet, spark and smoke.
Smug’s costume was already loosened from his earlier unzipping, which made it start to give around the hood as they got ever more involved with each other. “Is it okay?” Adam asked as he started to push it back. Smug nodded quickly and then his Adam had full freedom to card his hand through the dark curls of his hair, now faintly damp with sweat.
Adam kissed Smug’s ear, his jaw, the soft spot of his temple. He was breathing hard against Adam’s neck and clutching at his hip, though Adam didn’t feel worried just then about being scorched or having a seven of diamonds tucked into his pocket. “So,” he said into Smug’s ear as he slipped his fingers beneath the open zipper of the costume. He had a thin t-shirt beneath it, but he could feel the heat of his skin and the pounding of his heart. “How much of this do you want to take off? I mean, I’m open-minded…”
Smug laughed a little, more air than sound. He’d wrapped his arm around Adam’s waist and was stroking those skillful fingers along his spine. “It’s funny, actually,” he said as Adam switched his focus to kissing every centimeter of his neck. “I’ve never been in this situation before while wearing this.”
Adam lifted his head. “Never?” The hot barista, yes; magician, sure; dragon, why not? Virgin? God help him, this was absurd.
Smug rolled his eyes a little. “Not never never,” he said. “Just never in this. My last relationships were in college, when I was trying to be… normal.”
Adam let his lips rest at the corner of Smug’s neck, kissing just to his pulse. “That sounds terrible,” he said.
“It was awful,” Smug said. “Never again.” He shifted a little. “But it turns out that having an erection in this is less than ideal.” He sighed and brushed his hand down the back of Adam’s neck, making him shiver. “I’ve got an entire deck of threes of clubs that is poking into my cock, and I’m not enjoying it.”
Adam sat up and looked at him, hair mussed, skin flushed, half-unzipped. He put his hand on the zip. “Shall I, then?”
Smug opened his mouth, looking eager, then cringed. “Not on my grandmother’s sofa,” he said, then looked upwards. “But you haven’t seen my real lair. Upstairs.”
Adam stood up. Having an erection in regular trousers was already far from comfortable. He held out his hand to help Smug get to his feet. “Ah, do I get to have you on a big pile of gems and gold?”
“Mm, not quite,” Smug said. “More a pile of my nan’s old quilts.”
“Just as good,” Adam said, and when Smug let go of his hand he realized that something had been left in his palm. A playing card, of course, folded into quarters. The King of Hearts. He clutched it to his heart for a moment and then yelled, “You’re absurd!” as he followed Smug’s trailing tail up the stairs.
Smug’s bedroom was where all the magic props lived, it seemed, scarves and balls and rings. Adam could see in the closet that he actually had a number of red dragon outfits, all apparently identical. His bed was a pile of quilts, the kind that looked half a century old, piled and shaped into something that looked like a nest or a man-sized dog bed. There was one of those, too, of course, and it already contained a restful Mr. Smuggles, who had likely had enough of interfering with them.
Smug turned to him and held out his arms. “My lair,” he said. “Behold.”
“I love it,” Adam said, and took his face in his hands to kiss him again. He was already getting to where that spark in his mouth wasn’t even making him jerk; it was actually really quite addictive. He let his hand fall to the zip of Smug’s costume. “May I?”
“Yes, please,” Smug said. He kissed Smug softly and pulled it downward. He wondered if he’d find surprises there, like perhaps scales or a little nubby tail. When Smug was fully divested of his traditional garments he was standing before him in thin t-shirt and boxers, looking soft and small… well, not entirely small. His cock was massive.
“Goodness,” Adam said as he brushed his hand up its substantial length. Smug shivered and wavered on his feet into his arm. “Is this a common thing for your type?”
Smug had opened the buttons on Adam’s shirt without him noticing. “Yes,” he said, as he kissed Adam’s collarbone. “According to a very awkward conversation I had with my father once, it is.” Adam kissed Smug again so he could feel him smiling and nudged him back on to the nest of quilts. Settling into them himself, he could see some old scorches and burn marks in the fabric here and there.
“I’d like to take off all your clothes,” he said as he slid his hand under Smug’s t-shirt. “And when you’re naked I’m still going to know you’re a dragon.”
Smug held his breath and those beautiful tea-gold eyes went wide. “You’re…” He laughed and rolled on to his back, inviting Adam to do as he please. “Look at you, a bit magic yourself, aren’t you?”
“Maybe a bit,” Adam said, and grinned as he got rid of the rest of Smug’s clothing and his own. He lay down side by side with Smug and they just touched for a while, mouths together and hands sliding over bare bodies, Adam smelling smoke and fabric softener and feeling sparks more than just where they kissed.
He reached down to take Smug’s cock in his hand. It really did seem to be the case that he could only manage to have a little dragon in him, after all. He stroked him for a while, until Smug was gasping and every once in a while emitting a few wisps of smoke from the corners of his mouth.
“I’m going to suck you now,” Adam said, and when Smug moaned in assent, he went down to do just that. Adam may have been a jug-eared, scrawny, funny-looking nerd, but he had done more than his share of getting around. So he knew how to suck cock, even when it was so much cock.
He tried to keep his head tilted upward as he teased the end of Smug’s cock with tongue and lips, stroking his shaft steadily before beginning to suck him. He saw no scales or wings or spikes anywhere on Smug, just him stretched out on the bed, his eyes and their long lashes closed. He grasped at the quilt beneath him with both hands, hands flexing as he gasped and moaned in encouragement. No props needed now; this was magical enough.
Adam did have a trick or two himself, though his were hardly appropriate for the stage. He took a breath, steadied himself, and slowly but thoroughly swallowed Smug’s cock down to the root. He sucked him hard, hard enough to make his eyes water, and when Smug came down his throat, Adam was hit with a wave of heat from what had to be a truly impressive burst of flame. What a shame it’d been, to miss such a sight. He’d just have to cause it again.
He pulled off of Smug’s cock slowly, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. All of him tasted like smoke, it seemed. He stayed settled between Smug’s knees and stroked his thighs, just watching him breathe. He opened his eyes slowly, an utterly contented smile on his face.
“Come up here, then,” he said, crooking his finger. “I want to return the favor, though I’m not nearly as good. I’ve got the spark, though. Apparently people like it.”
“Yes, please, let me find out,” Adam said, and clambered up the bed to wind up astraddle Smug’s chest. Smug brushed those lovely hands of down Adam’s chest, briefly flicking at his nipples to make him shiver, and ended up with them curled against hips. Adam was thin and Smug’s fingers were long and it felt like he could reach all around him if he stretched.
Adam was still distracted by his eyelashes, even as he was nuzzling the tip of his cock. Smug pressed his fingers to the base of his spine and urged Adam forward, letting his cock slide slowly between his lips. It was wet and tight, and Adam just breathed slow and shivery.
Until he felt the first spark. “God!” he shouted, and could no longer hold himself up. He fell forward, bracing himself against the headboard, and couldn’t stop himself from thrusting into Smug’s mouth far more quickly and vigorously than was polite. Smug just grasped his behind and let him fuck his mouth, the feeling of that little shock utterly scrambling his nerves. Adam thought he might breathe fire himself as he came, very hard and very quickly.
He was all gangly limbs as he struggled to put himself back in some normal order to lie down next to Smug again. “Good god,” he said as he gasped into Smug’s shoulder. “Yes, yes, I like that.”
Smug brushed his fingers behind his ear and made him shiver all over again. He sat up a little to reach down to the end of the bed. “If you magic a bouquet of flowers out of my bottom, I’ll leave right now,” he said, face mostly into the bed. All he felt, though, was the weight of a quilt being pulled up over the both of them.
“No, I suspect you wouldn’t,” Smug said, and kissed his forehead.
“I wouldn’t,” he said. “I wouldn’t at all.”
Smug kissed him again, just a soft gentle touch of lips. “I’m glad you came. To my shop, to my show, to my lair… and other definitions of the verb, as well.”
“I am, too,” Adam said. The stayed curled together in calm, sharing the sound of long breaths between them. “You know what’s funny?”
“My last name is St. George,” Adam said.
Smug was silent for a few moments, then groaned and buried his head against Adam’s throat. “Slain. Utterly slain,” he said, and kissed him until Adam felt the same, so happily slain.
Thank you to John van der Put and Peter Dickinson.