by Tamari Erin (玉里えりん)
As a child, Alain had never like New Year’s Eve. It was his mother’s favourite holiday, and for her sake, he’d tried to enjoy — or at least pretend not to hate — its pageantry and wild abandon. She’d take him with her to buy their masks and though he’d been vaguely frightened by the blank, eyeless faces — ranging from the mundane to the fantastical — he was touched that she was always willing to share with him her costumes when she wouldn’t even tell his father. Alain’s mother had fiercely upheld the tradition of secrecy — what was the point, she would say, of wearing a mask if everyone knew who you were under it?
After her death, Alain had thrown himself into the celebration. He’d skulked about the city as he and his mother had, searching for the perfect mask, patronising only the Blind Maskmakers, and their unique, handcrafted wares. He would sneak out at dusk on New Year’s Eve and change in a public washroom, and then prowl the city for any celebration that would be willing to overlook that he was obviously underaged.
In the morning, he would return to his father’s house exhausted but happy in the knowledge that the events of the past night would be reflected in the coming year. Every New Year’s Eve — every year — he enjoyed himself, no matter how much he’d had to actively struggle to have fun.
This year, he knew, would be different. And it would be all because of Sigurd.
Alain grimaced as he crouched down before a Blind Maskmaker, grateful that the gauzy blindfold she wore to protect the identities of those who bought her wares prevented her from seeing the expression on his face. He touched an elaborately made lizard mask constructed of glass tesserae on a fine ceramic base. She was exquisitely skilled at her craft, and one of his favourites, and he didn’t want her to think he disapproved her work. He stilled his face and looked over the dozen or so other masks spread over the heavy woollen blanket. There were a few more that were as lovely as the lizard face but none really caught his eye.
He rose and bowed deeply at the maskmaker. She inclined her head at him sadly and shrugged. For the same reason that the maskmakers wore blindfolds, speaking to or around the maskmakers was also frowned upon. Perhaps he would come back tomorrow, to see if she had anything new. He still had a few days before New Year’s Eve; there was plenty of time.
Alain sighed and started back down the marketplace’s mask alley. Truth be told, for the first time since his mother had been alive, he wasn’t looking forward to the holiday. He wished his father had never told him about Sigurd. He knew he wouldn’t be able to enjoy the parties this year with that news hanging over his head.
He laughed to himself as he passed a display of particularly garish feathered monstrosities. He wondered if that had been his father’s true motivation. Alain knew his father’d never approved of his habits, and while he’d never outright forbidden Alain from taking part in the festivities, he’d always steered him towards those that were slightly less… disreputable.
But he knew that no matter where he went, he wouldn’t be able to enjoy himself.
He and Sigurd had been best friends since childhood — for values of ‘best friend’ being ‘person you spent the most time with’. Alain had never really liked Sigurd. The other boy, small, slight and be-spectacled, was wound as tight as a top and was cripplingly shy, and on the few times he did speak, he alternated between being incredibly dull and viciously sharp-tongued. It had been almost a relief when Sigurd’s family had moved away when his father, an ambassador, had been reassigned to some northern capital — Alain hadn’t bothered to remember the name.
He shuddered to think of how much worse Sigurd could have gotten over the intervening years. It would not be a pretty sight. And it wasn’t as if he could just say hello and goodbye to Sigurd when he returned and then ignore his existence. Oh no. Alain’s father had arranged it so that when Alain returned to school in the new year, he and Sigurd would be room-mates.
Alain wondered if he’d be able to bribe someone to swap with him. And then maybe lend him a passport so he could flee the country.
The coming year was going to be awful, and he knew that New Year’s Eve would be just as ominously bad.
Alain sipped at his cocktail and sulked.
For the first time in… ever, he had bowed to his father’s wishes and accompanied him to one of his government functions.
No one, that he could see, had bothered with any sort of costuming. At most, maybe only half of the crowd was even wearing a mask. Not that Alain was one to complain — this year he’d barely made an effort himself. He’d finally found a mask after several days of searching, and while it was certainly striking — a proud-looking bird of prey with bronze-coloured feathers and a beak of tooled, stiffened leather — paired with the dinner jacket his father had insisted he wear, Alain only blended in with the rest of the crowd. Yet another politician’s son, only here to see and be seen.
He didn’t understand people who celebrated the holiday and yet didn’t bother doing it properly. The whole point was to dress up and evade retribution for what you’d done the year before and attract a fate for what you wanted in the next year, rather than what you’d earned.
In this magnificent ballroom, under the soft amber light of a massive, angular chandelier, men and women danced in their finery, people mingled, comparing their overpriced, outlandish masks, and servants in sleek grey slid between them bringing food and drink — Alain dropped his empty glass on a passing tray — and Alain realised that none of these people would see the fate they’d earned, that no matter what, they would all have the new year they wanted.
Alain strode back to the corner where he’d been lurking before, disgusted and annoyed. He wanted nothing more than to leave, but he’d promised his father he’d stay until after midnight. He wanted to get drunk and dance on the tables and scandalize all his father’s politician friends. He wanted… he wanted…
A boy was standing against one of the white and gold pillars, a tall and slender young man with shoulder-length silver hair. He had on a half-moon mask of the same colour covering the upper half of his face, with spikes radiating along the top like stylized icicles. He was drumming his fingers on the marble and looked as bored and as put-upon as Alain felt.
Alain wanted him.
Alain slid into view and made eye contact. He smiled and the boy smiled back at him, a genuine smile, all shiny, perfect teeth. Alain gave his best come-hither look — or as best as one could manage hidden behind a bird-face. The boy’s eyes narrowed and his lips curled up in a wicked smile. Oh yes. That was what Alain wanted to see. The boy tipped his head to the right and jerked his chin. A quick waggle of the boy’s fingers and Alain was after him.
They followed the wall and ducked down a recessed stairwell. Alain tried to grab at the boy’s hand, but he was just out of reach; the boy kept too much distance between them.
The bottom of the stairwell opened into a maintenance corridor. The boy stopped there, and when Alain reached the bottom, he caught Alain by his wrists, squeezed — tight — and shoved Alain against the nearest wall. The shock of the impact was still rattling through his bones when the boy kissed him, sudden and rough.
Their lips parted and Alain slid his tongue through the gap. The boy pressed closer for a moment and then broke away.
Alain blinked and met his eyes. They were cat-like, narrow and pale green. “Hullo,” he said.
“Hullo,” the boy replied. He had silvery paint on his eyelids, to match the colour of his mask. Even his eyelashes glittered faintly in the dim light.
“Do you have a name?”
The boy nuzzled him, kissed his neck, and whispered directly in his ear. “Of course.”
“Will you tell me what it is?”
He laughed. “Of course not. It’s not yet the New Year, is it?” The boy had a faint foreign accent, a pretty, musical lilt to his words.
As the boy worked his way along Alain’s jaw, Alain asked, “But what am I to call you?”
“Does everything need to have a name?” He brushed a brief kiss across Alain’s lips.
“Well, it’ll give me something to call out when you’re fucking me.”
“Oh ho. That is a good reason.” He pulled away and gave Alain a thoughtful look. “Hmm.” He touched the feathers on Alain’s mask. “Lovely work. Is it a hawk?”
“Isn’t it? An eagle actually.”
The boy smiled. “Oh, I know. I will call you Ethon, for the great bird that every morning devours the innards of the Firebringer…”
“And you can call me Ymir, for the king of the giants who live on the ice to the north.”
He touched the boy’s — Ymir’s — mask. It was metal and cold to the touch, and did look like it was made of ice. “It suits you.”
Ymir smirked. “I know. I chose it for that.”
Alain shrugged off his grip and slid his arms around Ymir’s waist. He drew him closer and kissed him, nipped at his lower lip. He slid a hand up Ymir’s jacket and then down under his trousers’ waistband. Ymir squirmed out of his grasp.
“Not here.” He grabbed Alain’s wrist — again, just a bit too tight. “Come on, follow me.”
They ran down the corridor, Ymir pushing doors open at random and glancing inside. He finally stopped at one, once they were so far along the corridor that Alain could barely see the stairwell they’d emerged from. Ymir pulled Alain in and shut the door behind them.
It looked like a cleaning closet that had been converted into a naproom. A narrow cot had been pushed into one corner, a rickety-looking chair in another, and along the wall near the door was a small, dark space heater. Alain bent to turn it on as Ymir settled on the bed.
Alain unknotted his bowtie. “Come here often?” he asked with a rackish wink.
Ymir laughed and flopped down on his back, stirring up a small cloud of dust. “Sometimes. I used to come down here to sleep or play in secret when I was younger. I’d half-forgotten where it was.” He patted the narrow slice of cot beside him. “Come here. Stop talking.”
Alain dropped his jacket on the chair and sat down gingerly beside him. The bed creaked, and then they heard the loud sproing of a breaking coil.
Ymir met his eyes and grinned. “Ominous,” he intoned. He sat up, tucking his legs under him. Alain slid his arms around Ymir and pulled that long, lean form against his. Ymir kissed him slowly, and Alain cupped his hands over Ymir’s buttocks. He massaged them as Ymir unfastened his collar and then squeezed gently.
Ymir squeaked, and they broke apart, laughing. “C’mere,” Alain said, shucking off his waistcoat.
Ymir removed his own jacket and cummerbund and dropped them rather unceremoniously on the floor. “What?”
Allain tossed his waistcoat at the chair and winced when it missed. He turned to face Ymir and ran a hand over the tiny pearl buttons down the front of Ymir’s shirt-front. “Do me,” he muttered as he began to unfasten them.
They stripped quickly, and Alain tried to strip every square inch of Ymir’s skin that he exposed. Ymir would giggle and sigh at the attention, running his fingers through the feathers on Alain’s mask and his short-cropped hair — nearly such a perfect match to the feathers that it seemed one blended into the other.
Alain straddled Ymir once they were both nude. Ymir pulled him in for another kiss, muttering “Ethon, oh Ethon” all the while.
In the drab little room, Ymir shone like a moonlet, all silver and white, and Alain loved to see the contrast of his own freckled, ruddy skin against that whiteness.
Alain shifted his weight. “Turn over.” His voice sounded husky even to his ears.
Ymir’s eyes were dark, the ring of green almost invisible. He knelt with his back to Alain, a pillow wedged between his knees. When Ymir bent forward, Alain slid an arm around to stroke his cock. It was hot and hard, and Alain felt a surge of heat sweep through him, radiating from his own erection, at the noises Ymir made as he was being touched.
He stroked Ymir until he was at the precipice, and when he drew his hand away, Ymir cried out as if he were in pain. Alain kissed the knobbly line of Ymir’s spine and murmured “Shh… Soon, soon, be patient… Just hold out for a few more moments…”
Alain spat in both his palms and spread the mixture of saliva, Ymir’s pre-come and his own down his length. he hissed at how cold it felt against his own lust-warmed skin. He felt nearly as desperate as Ymir looked, kneeling there before him.
Alain took a deep breath, hands settled on Ymir’s hips and gently, oh so gently, eased himself into Ymir’s tight opening. He was panting like an animal, sliding in and out, going faster, thrusting harder, kissing the back of Ymir’s neck, babbling nonsense in his ear–
He came with a shuddering, primal noise that Ymir echoed at his own release.
Alain kissed him again and withdrew. He kicked the sodden pillow to the floor and drew Ymir into his arms. They bumped the foreheads of their masks together with a low laugh. Alain stroked Ymir’s now-clammy skin and held him tight.
They fell asleep in each other’s embrace.
Alain awoke hours later, alone.
The bed was cold where Ymir had lain; he’d been gone for a long time. Alain sighed and shook his head ruefully. He wasn’t one to complain — he’d pulled his own share of disappearing acts on New Year’s Morn — but he’d really wanted to find out what Ymir’s real name was. He wanted to see him again.
Alain sat up and ran his fingers through his hair. The straps of his own mask were undisturbed. It saddened him that Ymir hadn’t been the least bit curious of his identity. He removed the mask and rubbed at his face. Oh, well. He couldn’t change what had happened, and who knew — he might see Ymir again some day. With that distinctive silver hair — which Alain knew wasn’t a wig — he’d certainly stand out in any crowd.
The bed squeaked as he shifted to the edge and bent to search for his clothes. He knew he’d dropped his shoes by the wall but he couldn’t see them–
Alain straightened and finally spotted them. His shoes were side-by-side, between the legs of the small chair. And on its seat, arranged in a neat pile, were his clothes. He stood up and crossed the room. Atop his carefully folded shirt was Ymir’s silver mask. Alain touched its cool metal surface and laughed feebly, tears burning at the corners of his eyes.
“Thank you,” he murmured, picking up the mask and placing a kiss on its brow.
Maybe this year wouldn’t be so bad after all. Sigurd… Sigurd really couldn’t be as bad as he thought. And, well, even if he was, then it was just going to be up to Alain to drag him out of whatever neurotic shell he’d made for himself.
Really. He’d had a spectacular New Year’s Eve. He just had to make sure that the coming year lived up to what he’d been promised.
Alain sat on the small park bench beside his father. The cold winter sun was in his eyes, and Alain lifted a hand to shield his eyes. Save for a young couple introducing their toddler to his first snow down the hill, Alain and his father were alone in the park.
They were also early. Sigurd and his father weren’t due to arrive for a few more minutes — and from what little Alain remembered of Sigurd’s father, he knew they wouldn’t be late.
“Aren’t you glad you came with me?” his father boomed, patting him on the shoulder. “And to think you wanted to wait until the start of the school year to see your little friend again! They’ve been away too long; it will be good to have Adalbert and his family back…”
Alain put his head between his knees and yawned. He’d lost a bit of his nerve since the New Year. He didn’t really want to see Sigurd this early — he’d only come with his father so he knew what to expect and his first day back at school wouldn’t be such a shock — especially if Sigurd was as bad as he’d feared–
Alain winced at his father’s bellow — his mother had been right, he really was part bear.
A hand jostled his shoulder.
“Alain, wake up! Oh, that silly boy, he sleeps all the time these days. They’re here! Sigurd and his father are here!”
He forced a smile to his face and looked up — and the smile fell from his face as the bottom dropped out from his stomach. Standing before him, beside Adalbert who he recognised all too well, was a tall, slender young man with shoulder-length silver hair and pale green eyes. He saw the recognition in Ymir’s — in Sigurd’s face, and shock as well, almost as much as he knew must be apparent on his own face.
He could still see some of the silver make-up crusted in Sigurd’s eyelashes.
“Well,” his father asked, “aren’t you boys going to say hello?”
Alain couldn’t speak. His mouth was dry and his tongue felt like a dead weight within it.
Sigurd broke the silence first. “Hullo.”
Alain managed a smile at that. “Hullo,” he replied, and reached out to take Sigurd’s mittened hands in his own.
Adalbert’s voice interrupted them. “Yves, I saw a little coffee-cart on our way over. Come, let’s get something to warm us up and leave the boys to get reacquainted.”
Alain watched them walk away and waited until they were out of earshot before he spoke. “Did you know?” he asked hesitantly.
Sigurd was still pale from the shock. “No. of course not. Did you?”
“No,” Alain replied with a shake of his hear. “I wouldn’t’ve recognised you anyway. You didn’t have silver hair back when I knew you.”
Sigurd began to stroke the back of Alain’s hand. “If I had known it was you, I would not… I would not have.”
Alain looked away. Sigurd continued. “The Alain I remembered… I did not like very much. And, I suspect, the feeling was very mutual.”
“You were dismissive and rude and did not suffer my presence gladly — and you took great joy in not hiding that fact.” Alain winced. Not for a moment had he thought that Sigurd wouldn’t be happy to see him. “And I,” Sigurd continued, with a knowing smile, “was an arrogant, anti-social know-it-all. I was insufferable and proud of it because I believed I didn’t need any sort of human companionship.” He sighed. “Seven year, Alain. Quite a lot changes in that time.”
Alain kept his gaze fixed on the snowy ground. “I…” He couldn’t remember ever feeling so ashamed. “Sigurd, I… I’m sorry. I was a real bastard when we were younger. I wouldn’t blame you if you never wanted to see me again. I can talk to my father, see if he’ll talk to someone at the school–”
Sigurd’s hand cupped his face, the rough, felted wool brushed his skin, and Sigurd turned Alain’s head so their eyes met. Sigurd’s eyes were full of warmth and he was smiling, blinking away tears. “The Alain I remembered, I did not like very much. But the Alain I see now, here before me, I would like to get to know much better.”
Alain laughed, and let the tears flow. “Yeah,” he said, leaning in to kiss Sigurd, “yeah, me too.”