Love and Light

“…ecent?”

“Crescent?”

Crescent’s ears perked up, starting slightly when his name broke through the reverie he’d been lost in. He’d been staring out the great windows in Seibel Abolan’s quarters, momentarily lost in the field of stars that lay in the void just beyond.

“I’m sorry,” he said, turning toward his host with a sheepish face. He felt his cheeks heat, though thankfully the color was obscured by his fur. “Sometimes I lose myself a bit, and I must say you have a fabulous view.”

Seibel handed him the cup of tea he’d been preparing, giving him a smile that told him without words that all was well. It was reassuring. When he thought about it, he realized it said something that he was comfortable enough with this man for him to have drifted off in the first place.

He took the cup with a soft thanks and watched as the grey-skinned man poured one for himself. He could see the appeal in a man like this; he was certainly attractive, despite what some would have called detractions in his bionics and the broken horn. Each movement Seibel made was smooth and deliberate, and he found it somewhat mesmerizing to watch.

He’d invited Seibel with them to the market, but this was the first time he’d really gotten to observe him without distraction, having followed Domerin’s suggestion to get to know him better. He’d been rather surprised when the man had invited him over for tea.

“I understand” Seibel said, his calm smile not faltering. “It doesn’t matter how old I get, the stars always fill me with wonder. My people say they’re the lanterns of the Divines, hung when the universe was new to light our way to the heavens.”

“That’s a beautiful sentiment,” Crescent said, a smile touching his lips. It was rather poetic, another surprise from this man. “Do you believe it?”

Seibel seemed so taciturn at times; he could picture him being the religious type. He lifted the steaming cup to take in the scent, appreciating that the gentle notes didn’t overwhelm his sense of smell.

“I did, when I was young, but not so much anymore.” The man’s voice was soft, tinged with a sadness Crescent hadn’t expected.

“Why not?”

A somewhat sad smile came to the man’s lips, and for a moment he was reminded of Domerin in his more melancholy moments.

“It’s a bit different when you’re flying past one of those lanterns in a spaceship, though it’s surprisingly still easy to believe they were made by the Divines. But, I turned from the Word because my people have used it as an excuse far too often to justify war. Our high priests send men and women out into horror and death from the safety of their temples, never knowing it themselves.”

“That’s awful!” Crescent shook his head, disbelief on his face. Domerin had always made sure he was in the trenches with his people; it was a core of who he was. What sort of cowards hid in a temple while their people died?

“It is. We’ve been involved in this conflict almost since the beginning. Countless lives have been lost chasing divine right. I used to buy into all that bullshit, do you believe that?”

The question caught him off guard, but the slight upward play at the corners of Seibel’s lips put him at ease.

“It’s easy to believe what everyone else around you does.”

“That it is. I signed up to fight as soon as I was old enough, and was off planet mired in mud before a year was out. I was good at it too, much like Domerin is. But war isn’t glorious and I saw no divinity in it. I fought for a very long time before it eventually chewed me up and spit me out like it does with everyone it touches, and I was left missing half my face. That’s how I met Domerin.”

Crescent stared at him a few long moments. Seibel was blunt, that was for sure, but he could appreciate that. “I’m sorry you had to go through all that. I’ve been quickly learning what war does to people too. Even when they’re not directly in it’s path, like Domerin. It’s hard to imagine fighting for so long, like you and he have. For my people life is hard, fast, and short. We had territory scuffles but I couldn’t even conceive of a war like this. It wasn’t until I met Domerin that I even knew anyone could live as long as his people do. Sometimes I forget he’s got centuries behind him and he’s seen things I can barely contemplate. I’ve always thought I must have looked like a baby to him when we first met.”

He looked down a moment, but when he met Seibel’s gaze again the man had that same calm smile on his lips.

“Many species like ours look down on shorter-lived races, and treat them like children, but Domerin would never have seen you that way. When you live as long as we do it’s easy to forget what it’s like to be young. The years to begin to blur together and you struggle to find meaning. But that is not how Domerin sees the world. He cannot, after what he’s been through, though I tend to think he would still be searching even if he’d never had his accident.”

Crescent couldn’t help but offer the other man a smile. At first glance Seibel looked like such a tight laced person, but he really wasn’t. He could see why he and Domerin got on so well.

“I feel the same way, actually. I used to worry a lot about what people thought of me. I didn’t even know what a toaster was when I was taken from my planet, let alone how to get along in the wider galaxy. But Domerin’s confidence in me helped me get past that; he was far more patient with me than I think most would have been. I owe a lot to him, and I’ll never forget that.”

Seibel’s smile edged up more toward a grin.

“From what he tells me, he owes a lot to you too. The Kattar must be more stubborn than all the other species in the universe to break through to that man.”

Unlike at dinner, Seibel’s comments and humor were more understated today, but there was a glint in his eye that suggested joking and Crescent took it for what it was.

“We are known for being recklessly determined sometimes,” he said, giving a hearty laugh over the rim of his cup. He hesitated a moment, then went on, his furry brows knitting slightly. “You… don’t mind what I am?”

Seibel gave him a quizzical look. “Whyever should I? I don’t care that you’re new to the wider galaxy, or that you have fur. You’re clearly a man of intelligence and Domerin speaks highly of you. I need no further assurances. Besides, I consider that you came to see me in your natural form to be a compliment. I imagine you keep that secret very close, outside of the Dragons, and it’s clear you trust Domerin’s word about me. It tells me a lot about you, that you don’t feel the need to hide yourself in front of me.”

The man’s words brought another small bout of heat to his cheeks, but he smiled in the wake of it.

“I do keep my secret close to the chest, but I know Domerin would never say I could change in front of you if he didn’t trust you. He’s been more supportive of what I am, and of my people, than I could ever have asked.”

“I hope you know I also extend the same support. If your people ever need a haven they are more than welcome here. I would be happy to host them. There are jobs aplenty and this is as safe a place as any to become acclimated to living among others.”

A great sense of warmth grew in Crescent’s chest as the man said that and for a moment he didn’t know what to say. He knew Domerin and Seibel shared many of the same values, but such an offer was something he’d never expected. The man had gained his respect, that was for sure.

“T-thank you so much!” He managed around a lump of emotion in his throat. “I’m frankly overwhelmed. Having seen your station I fully believe it would be a good place for the Kattar to learn. I’ll have to mention it to Domerin.”

“Please do. I think he’ll be open to the idea.”

“I think he will be too.” Crescent went a bit quiet then, still a bit overwhelmed. He took a long sip from his cup and used it to gather himself, looking over at Seibel as the man sipped from his own.

“You haven’t hidden yourself from me either, you know, and I appreciate that.” He went on when Seibel gave him a quizzical look.

“During the tour, during dinner, and at the market, I could tell you were being yourself. You weren’t trying to put on some show for me, or try to impress me, and most importantly you didn’t try to test me, to see if I was worthy of Domerin. You trusted him about me, like I trust him about you. I just wanted to thank you for that.”

Seibel seemed to get his meaning, a soft smile touching his lips that warmed his eyes and expression. “You don’t have to thank me. I was lucky, I got to know Domerin before he had up all the walls that he does now, but I know how high and thick they are. All joking about stubbornness aside, I know you must really care for him if you were willing to court him as you did. He deserves to be loved that way, by someone who genuinely cares about his well-being. If he thinks you worthy of his love, then I trust that you are.”

Crescent looked down a moment, taking that as great praise coming from someone like Seibel. He was so very glad Domerin had such a good friend in his life.

“I do. Really care about him, I mean. I know he’s been through a lot of things I can never really understand or fully relate to but I love him no matter what. The things he went through are a part of his life and I would never try to deny part of who he is. But, I have to say, I’m really glad he has someone like you in his life. Someone who understands in a way I can’t. He- told me the two of you got each other through some really rough times, and I’ll be forever grateful for that, as I’m sure he will be too.”

“He was there for me when I needed him too,” Seibel said, looking across the space at him, something slightly hard to read in his gaze. “But, to be honest… I don’t know that I could have ever given him what you can. Even what you and Robin did for him after he lost his bionics. I wish I’d been there, but I don’t know if I could have kept him afloat to see the other side.”

Seibel trailed off, but Crescent got the feeling he had more to say, and so waited patiently until he went on.

“Domerin and I… we both walked through hell and came out the other side. That changes a person. In our case we were both broken in different ways, and I still do not consider myself to be whole. Sometimes something is taken from you, and you never get it back. I was already on the battlefield while Domerin was still young, while he lost a loved one long before I did. We understand each other’s pain in a way that doesn’t need to be spoken with words, but I do not know that Domerin and I can heal each other. Two broken halves can come together and create something, but there are still always going to be leaks. We both understood that too.”

Seibel’s words were spoken so calmly, but they held such weight, threatening to bear down on him. But he’d learned from Domerin that you had to roll with it, even if you couldn’t carry it fully by yourself.

“I never thought I could simply swoop in and fix all of Domerin’s problems,” Crescent said softly. “I wasn’t even trying to fix him. I just wanted to be with him and help make him happy in whatever way I could. If that meant just sitting with him when he was hurting then that was what I’d do. Over time, things started to get better. They aren’t perfect and there are plenty of bad days. There will always be cracks and imperfections, but that’s just part of life. If I can use what I have to help stem the leaks and close those cracks, I will see it done. I happily give Domerin all my love and I consider myself a lucky man that he gives me his in return.”

He worried for a moment he’d said too much, offended his host, but the ghost of a smile touched Seibel’s lips, and it grew after a few moments.

“You know, I can see what Domerin sees in you. You’re like the lanterns that hang in the vast darkness of space. There are followers of the Word who eschew war and those who use the stars as excuses to sate their own agendas. They say the great lanterns were given to us by the Divines to show us the way to devotion, great deeds, and, mostly importantly of all, to love. That was to be the Word we spread. Perhaps you are Domerin’s lantern, here to lead him out of the darkness toward a brighter day. I’d like to believe that, anyway.”

Once again Seibel managed to leave him speechless. He hadn’t been sure what to think when Domerin had first introduced them and when he’d revealed that they’d been lovers. But he could tell Seibel was a good man. He would know it blindfolded and he could understand why Domerin felt such a kinship to him. He thought he understood now why he said Seibel was like another part of him.

His love cared very deeply for this man and he knew now he could never sever what the two of them shared. If Domerin wanted him to help share his joy with Seibel, he would do it. He felt comfortable welcoming him into their relationship, to try and help the ache both men seemed to feel so keenly to go away, even if only for a time.

He didn’t know much about Seibel’s beliefs or if what he said was true, but he could be their lantern, if they needed him to be. Love was something he’d found with Domerin, and he had more than enough to go around.

“So would I, my friend,” he said, giving Seibel a genuine smile. “So would I.”

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Rude Awakening

Crescent had retired to his quarters not long after the two masters had left the gathering. Usually he looked forward to night-time, but this day had left him tired and more than a little confused. Travel was new enough but the obvious tension between Domerin and Master Abolan had been rubbing unpleasently against him all night, and he found he tossed in bed, instead of falling into his usual easy sleep.

Ire for the guild master was not new, but perhaps it had been the naked way their host had called him out that troubled him so. Either way, he couldn’t let himself dwell on it. They were in for a full day tomorrow and he would be in no shape for anything if he didn’t get some sleep.

He didn’t know how long he was out for before he started awake, every danger instinct inside of him flaring to life. His eyes went wide, straining against the gloom of the room for any speck of light. His hand shot down, quick as a snake striking, closing instantly around the blade he’d tucked between the mattress and bed frame.

Someone was here, and for an assassin that meant a quick reaction, or a quick death.

He swung as he caught motion out of the corner of his eye, though his blade met nothing but empty air. His blood was pumping now, breath quick, eyes darting back and forth as he searched for the intruder. It took everything inside of him not to let the feline erupt from below his skin.

He drew in a few breaths, trying to calm himself. It wouldn’t help if he lashed out wildly, and so he stilled, feeling out whoever had intruded. He could almost feel eyes upon him, though he couldn’t yet pinpoint where they were coming from.

He crouched, ready to spring, when there was a soft click.

Light flooded the room, momentary blinding him in the sudden brightness, as the overhead light came on.

He blinked, on the defensive, but no attack came.

When he could finally see again his eyes widened when he realized who was standing across from him, and for a moment he stared, dumbfounded.

“Master Abolan?”

He was confused and shaken, nearly vibrating from the lingering adrenaline. He was very keenly aware that if the master assassin had wanted him dead he wouldn’t have woken up at all. That bothered him, more than he wanted to admit. But if attack wasn’t on his mind why hadn’t he roused him with the traditional signaling touch?

“Crescent, isn’t it?” The man asked, arching a brow, sounding as if he were reading the mail rather than standing in his room in the middle of the night.

He shifted in bed, drawing the covers a bit closer around him. He was the furthest from shy but for once was thankful he hadn’t slept naked. The question didn’t fool him for an instant. This man was well aware of who he was. He willed himself to breathe and returned the knife to it’s place, taking a moment to compose himself before speaking.

“That’s right, master. Is there something I can do for you?”

“Yes, there is. I must speak with you. Now.”

It wasn’t a request, and he didn’t dare argue, not after seeing how unforgiving the man had been that day.

He would move to get up, but the other man held up a hand, and he paused.

“Right where you are is fine.” He would take a seat in a plush chair that rested near the bed, watching him with that single eye of his. It was impossible to tell what he might be thinking, and he sat very still, as if still expecting an attack at any moment.

When it came, it was not in the shape he expected.

“You’re good, young man. I was only in the room a few minutes before you sensed I was there. Fast too.”

But not fast enough. The unspoken words hung in the air between them. He wasn’t sure what to say, but the older man went on.

“But, you were not raised in the guild.”

“How-”

“You’re much too old to be such a recent graduate.”

That was true, but he got the feeling there was more to it than that. Why would Master Abolan be here otherwise?

“Yes, quite good.” The man went on, as if he were talking to him. “It’s not easy for those raised outside of the guild to make it through the training, let alone to excel. But then again, the former master always did have a very good eye for people. I don’t think he would have made you the offer he did unless he was sure you were up to the challenge.”

Crescent quickly clamped his jaw, and set his face to its most neutral, not letting anything through. He didn’t know what the master was on about, but there was only one person left who knew about that deal, and she wouldn’t have talked.

“Master, I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about. Is it possible you have the wrong room?” He tried his best to sound innocent, confused, hoping not to offend.

But Seibel didn’t seem put off, instead a knowing smile touching his lips.

“I understand your hesitancy, but lying will do you no good here. I know you made a deal with the former master, where he offered to buy your contract if you promised to help Master Lorcasf. I knew you’d taken the deal, but lost track of you after that. I must admit surprise that you made it through your training at all, let alone so quickly.”

Crescent bit his tongue. He didn’t want to speak of this but the the other man had details he shouldn’t, unless perhaps the former master had told him about it. One of the masters had whispered that the old man hated Domerin because he’d been appointed heir instead, and stolen his chance to be the guild leader. But if that were true, why would the old master have told him in the first place?

He supposed it didn’t matter right now. Seibel was looking at him expectantly, and he didn’t want to get to the point where the man started demanding.

“I didn’t ask for any special favors, if that’s what you’re suggesting. I worked and fought just as everyone else did.”

“I’m sure you fought very hard, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t benefit from the desires of the old master either.”

“If I did it was indirectly. With all due respect, I know guild law as well as you, master, and I swore loyalty to it when I joined.”

“As do we all,” the man returned, his tone sharp, holding a slight warning edge. “But that stops no one from also looking after themselves.”

Crescent bristled under the not so subtle accusation. He again willed himself to breathe, and shifted back to a tactic he’d used many a time back in his old life

“I’m afraid I’m a bit lost, Master Abolan. May I ask what it is you’re getting at?”

He infused it with as much innocent curiosity as he could. Unlike the nobles and johns back at the brothel, the man across from him clearly wasn’t taken in by the act, but if he wanted to accuse more he was going to have to come right out and say it. He was gambling, but didn’t think the man wanted to go that far.

A tense few seconds passed in silence, each of them looking at each other. Crescent refused to look away, refused to cow or crack.

Finally, after what seemed like a small eternity, Seibel smiled.

“Nothing at all, young man; merely pointing out facts. It’s good to know you’re so dedicated to the laws. We don’t have enough selfless assassins like you.” Though, by his tone, Crescent didn’t get the feeling the other man much believed him.

“As you say, Master Abolan.”

The older man regarded him silently for a few moments more, though it was impossible to gauge his thoughts.

Finally the man smiled again, but it didn’t reassure him, instead making him clutch the covers a bit more tightly. He was sure he’d seen the feline smile like that, just before pouncing, only this time he was the prey. It was not a comfortable place to be, not when the man after him was so high ranking.

“Well, this has been a most illuminating discussion, but I’m sure you’re eager to get some rest. You’ve a long day ahead.” He shifted, moving to get up.

“Are you going to tell Master Lorcasf?”

Seibel stopped at the sudden question. The way his grey eye bored into him made him wish he hadn’t spoken. He couldn’t charm or sweet talk this one, and that made things all the harder.

“Now why would I do that, Crescent? I’ve no reason to tell him, do I?” The man arched a brow, but a chill went down Crescent’s spine. Another word hung in the air, unspoken but ready to drag him down.

Yet. He had no reason to tell him yet.

For the first time in a long while, true fear bloomed in his chest. He was sure everything would be over if Domerin found out the truth. The man would never forgive him for that and, worse, it would break him. No matter how strong he acted, or how much he tried to avoid it, Domerin was, in some ways, more fragile than he would admit.

Master Abolan hated Domerin, and he would not allow him, or anyone, to use their relationship to hurt him. It was only knowing the old man would mop the floor with him that kept him in place when all his instincts told him to attack.

“No, Master Abolan,” he said, trying to keep his voice level, “there’s nothing he need know.”

“Very good. I’ll try my best to see that he doesn’t find out. I look forward to the rest of your visit, Crescent. It should prove to be… enlightening.”

7 Deadly Sins – Lust

Kevin moaned, as a pair of large, calloused hands moved over his body, fingers sliding through his fur. They touched with a skill borne of familiarity, and he responded in kind, running his sharp claws with care over taut, tanned skin. They left soft red lines in their wake, but that only drew out a pleased sound from his partner. The man above him hovered close, pinning him deliciously to the bed with his bulk. His skin radiated heat like a furnace, and he welcomed it, wanting it to consume him even as the heat in his blood did the same from the inside.

There were few who could truly match him here. His desire was voracious, and he made sure to give just as much as he took. Most fizzled out too soon, but Martin Amman was not one of them.

Kevin knew what he was. His species were impulsive at the worst times, landing them into all sorts of trouble they needed to get themselves out of. Luckily, most of the time, they had the wits to do so. But on a new world, interacting with other species, that didn’t always work. You couldn’t use your quick wits to mend a fractured relationship or make up for hurting someone you loved.

No, he was quickly learning that sort of thing took exactly the opposite. Introspection wasn’t something he was known for but he’d done perhaps more of it in the past few months than he ever had in the rest of his life. Little had he known that impulsiveness could take many forms.

He hadn’t been with anyone since Domerin had broken up with him and he’d foolishly decided that he should try to be more like Sesha. Though he’d been sincere in devoting himself to Domerin, his mind had been screaming with need after little more than a week. He didn’t honestly know how other people did it. Desire was something in his blood he could not deny; a base lust that coursed through the very DNA of his species.

His people were wanderers, but he’d found someone he wanted to come home to, someone he would have been willing to fight his lust for. He considered himself lucky Domerin didn’t ask that of him, giving him the freedom to seek out other lovers to sate himself. He hadn’t even needed to think before choosing Martin as the first to return to. The other man had been thrilled when he’d approached him about resuming their association, but first he’d forced him to sit down, so they could get some things straight before he’d even consider sleeping with him again. He’d been more relieved than he’d realized when Martin had agreed to his new terms. At least he knew the other man wasn’t going to bother Domerin any longer.

And so he’d finally let free the lighting that coursed through his veins, reveling as Martin took him to the edges of madness and over, into the abyss. He’d held this in so long he’d been sure the fire would boil his blood away.

As the heat cooled they both came to rest, and Martin gathered him up in his arms with a gentleness that would have surprised anyone who knew his strength. He laid his head against the man’s chest, the familiar double heartbeat thrumming in his ears.

For the moment he felt content here, warm, and sated. Even Martin was quiet for what was probably a record time for him. Eventually he shifted, and chuckled softly.

“You haven’t moved in about twenty minutes. I’ll bet even Domerin can’t wear you out like that.”

Kevin growled and pulled back sharply, forcing Martin’s arm to loosen enough so he could lift himself up. He shot the other man a hard look.

“I warned you about letting go of this thing with Domerin. Don’t make me regret my decision.”

Martin’s blue eyes widened, and for a moment he might have been a deer in the headlights.

“I was just kidding,  I promise!” The man tried to lightly stroke his arm, but he remained tense.

Martin’s brows furrowed and he moved to sit up, forcing Kevin to shift as well. He tucked his legs under him, and his look morphed to concern.

“Look, I’m sorry. It was a bad joke. I really have no interest in competing with Domerin anymore, okay? I saw what he did for all of us. I sent him my thoughts as hard as anyone else. He deserved it, and as far as I’m concerned, well… he’s a good guy. Peace?”

Kevin gave him a somewhat skeptical look, but finally nodded. Martin wasn’t the sort for subterfuge,  truthful to a fault, if poor in taste. The man might give him what he craved, but he had made it clear he’d cut him off in a second if he showed a hint of that former rivalry.

“Still mad at me?” Martin gently brushed his fingers down his arm in a conciliatory gesture.

Kevin shivered, body still sensitive from earlier, but he only shook his head.

Martin frowned and reached out. It was only moments before the man’s arms slid around his furred form and were drawing him into his lap. He fit perfectly, given their size difference, and Martin held him close against his muscled chest.

The man’s unique scent, mixed with that of their recent joining, filled his nose. He felt the spark of heat inside him already, needy and demanding, and he drew in a soft breath. It was so tempting just to give in, to not think anymore. It would have been easy. It always had been.

Martin knew him well enough to read that sound, and the way he pressed back against him, but instead of sliding his hands through his fur, he just gave him a gentle squeeze.

“What’s wrong, Kevin? Surely the sex wasn’t that bad.”

The question startled him out of his reverie, and he half turned to see Martin’s lips quirked up in a teasing grin. He couldn’t help but laugh softly, though before he could reply, the man went on, his voice far gentler.

“You don’t seem like yourself today.”

That surprised him. When had Martin become so observant?

“Sorry,” he admitted, an apologetic smile touching his lips, “there’s just a lot on my mind right now, and it’s been awhile since I- well, since I did something like this. Fed the fire this way. I kept thinking I could stay away from it, the need I mean, but I realized that’s just not possible.”

“Was that what you were doing? Why would you ever want to do that?” Martin asked, a single brow raised.

“I guess I thought it would be a distraction from… building a relationship. Most people in committed relationships don’t exactly sleep around. At least, not to the degree I do. But I can’t deny something that’s so integral a part of me. I think I would have lost myself eventually if I’d kept trying.” As much as he’d been the one to champion an open relationship at the beginning, these thoughts had plagued him, at least until Domerin had assured him that he was fine with his wandering.

“That’s still no reason to deny yourself. You think it’s a sin or something?”

“Oh come on, you know me better than that.” He said, gently bumping Martin’s stomach with his arm. “I just- things are different now. I want something more, and I was willing to give my up wandering to have it.”

Martin made a thoughtful sound that rumbled deep in his chest, and then he gave a little shrug.

“Seems to me any relationship that’s worth it wouldn’t expect you to deny a part of yourself like that. If it does it’s probably not good for you. It’s just pleasure. There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as you’re not hurting anybody.”

Kevin stared at the other man for a few long moments, amused. Leave it to Martin to reduce months of anxiety down into a few sentences. He might have come off as simple to a lot of people, but he was anything but stupid.

“He didn’t ask you to do that, did he? Domerin, I mean.”

“No,” Kevin said, giving a little smile, thinking Domerin wouldn’t have minded him sharing this one little detail. He’d been fine with the wandering, it was the other things that needed changing, so he could treat the man right.

“Good. I don’t see what the problem is then. Build your relationship with him, and I’ll be here the rest of the time. At least you know you’ll never go wanting.”

Martin’s hands began to move once more, sliding suggestively up and down his furred stomach. This time Kevin didn’t resist when he felt the familiar embers of desire start to glow.

“I think Domerin would be surprised to hear you say that,” he said, drawing in a pleased breath.

Martin’s chest shook softly against his back as he gave a little laugh. “I won’t tell him if you won’t. But for the moment, my dear, I believe we have a desire to feed.” The man’s large hand gently cupped his cheek, turning his head to the side and slightly up, so he could catch his lips in a passionate kiss.

Kevin didn’t say more, letting it carry him away once more.

Read what my writing partner, Megan Cutler, did with this prompt. Read The Sweetness of Eden: A Tale of Lust, over on her site.

 

Crescent -Mother’s Wisdom

“I will lie to you.”

The occasional streetlamp shone like stars in the night, fighting valiantly against the weather. Rain pelted the houses and the ground, as if the sky were trying to punish the earth for some indiscretion. It was a chilly rain too, encouraging anyone who didn’t have urgent business to stay safe and warm inside.

A fat splash broke the flow of rain as a foot landed squarely in a puddle. The figure it belonged to just managed to keep from stumbling, wincing at a lance of pain that ran up his leg. He rounded a corner, into the comforting embrace of a shadowed alleyway, and pressed himself up against the slimy brick.

Chest heaving, he pressed his eyes closed for a few moments and tried to still as much as he could. He strained his ears past the rain, listening for sounds of pursuit. No more sinister barking split the air, though after a score of breaths the sound of a guard whistle caused him to instinctively shuffle deeper into the alley. It didn’t take long to pinpoint that the sound was moving away from him. He didn’t dare relax, staying where he was, even as the chilly water soaked him to the skin, causing him to shiver. He’d left his oil-slicked coat behind.

His mother wasn’t going to be happy about that.

What should have been a simple thieving job had somehow gone horribly wrong. He’d only just managed to avoid being caught and had been chased through the streets by the lord’s angry dogs and the guard. How they’d gotten there so quickly he couldn’t say. He didn’t understand how it could have happened. The intel had been good, he’d been careful, and he’d done more complex jobs than this. Part of him didn’t want to go home, but his mother’s disappointment ended winning over the prospect of sleeping out on the street in wet clothes.

After ten minutes he was sure the way was clear and he hobbled cautiously back to the dingy set of rooms he shared with his mother. He hesitated at the door, fearing what she would say when he informed her of what had happened. Steeling himself, he entered, but surprisingly found the house dark and empty aside from the embers of a fire in the hearth. The reprieve didn’t exactly relax him and he first went to build the fire, knowing he’d need that heat later, before drawing himself a warm bath. He undressed with numb fingers as his mind ran in circles, trying to figure out what he was going to tell his mother when she returned. He could lie, but she would ferret out the truth sooner or later.

He slipped into the bath when it was ready, giving a sigh as the water started to warm him, chasing the damp chill from his bones. His hair was covered in dirty slime from the alley and he took care to wash it. The act was soothing, but as he washed the last of the suds from his blonde hair he ran back over the night in his mind, from the moment he’d left home, the journey through the streets, to climbing over the wall, and scaling the side of the house. That was when everything had gone wrong, and the trap had sprung.

The dogs had seen him and come running, and their barking had roused those inside. He’d barely managed to avoid getting knocked from the second story when a guard had flung open the shutters. On such a rainy night the dogs should have been kenneled, and why had the guards been in the house to begin with. He traced back over it all again, trying to figure out if he’d tipped anyone off on his way to the mark, but nothing came to mind. It was infuriating.

He’d lost himself in thought, and a slight motion in the mirror that hung over the sink caught his eye, pulling him back into the moment. His mother was there, reflected in the mirror. She was standing in the doorway, looking poised and perfect, her own blonde hair falling in waves around her face. Her eyes were fixed on him, gaze pinning him like an insect to a board.

He had no idea how long she’d been standing there.

His heart lept into his throat for a moment until he got a hold of himself and turned to her, doing his best to meet her gaze.

“Welcome back, Mother.”

“What happened?”

He winced. No matter what mask he wore, she could always read him like an open book. For a moment he considered lying, but thought better of it.

“I failed. The dogs weren’t kenneled, and there was a guard at the house. I was seen before I even got inside. I had to break off and run.”

When she said nothing he swallowed and went on.

“They chased me, I barely got away. I-I had to leave my coat behind. I imagine the house will be on alert for some time.” That was, perhaps, the worst of it. A failed attempt was one thing, getting spotted was quite another.

“I’m sorry, Mother. I studied all the information, cased the house, I was careful. I don’t know what could have gone wrong.”

He went silent, readying himself for her judgement.

His mother moved into the room, without making a sound, gracefully kneeling next to the tub. Her painted nails clicked against the stained porcelain as she ran her fingers across it.

“It went wrong because I gave you false information.”

His eyes went wide, and he stared at her, the revelation cresting over him. Part of him, deep down, wasn’t surprised. This was the sort of thing she would do, but he could have gotten caught, or killed.

“Why did you lie to me!?” He blurted out, shrinking after he realized how forceful it had sounded.

His mother didn’t even bat an eyelash, her tone cool.

“Why do you think, child? It was another lesson for you. Perhaps the most important lesson I could ever teach you.”

“A lesson? I don’t-”

“Hush now.”

He obeyed.

She silently regarded him, before leaning in over the water, running her perfect nails through his wet hair. They gently scratched over the curve of his skull, until they lightly gripped at the back of his neck.

“Listen to me closely. I will lie to you. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last. Mr. Beechum will lie when he comes for the rent. Mrs. Fisher will lie, to give you less food for the same amount of money. The entire world is full of liars. It’s about time you started being aware of that. You need to be ready for any eventuality at every moment, including that the person you think you can trust might have lied to you. Everyone is out for themselves. The only person you can trust is yourself.”

Her words penetrated his brain, even as her hand gently squeezed the back of his neck.

“Do you understand me, child?”

“I- I think so. But how can you go around every day like that?”

“How long did it take you to start checking every meal after the first time I slipped birthwort into your supper?”

“Three meals.”

“Indeed, though it should have been one. Now it’s a habit, isn’t it? This is no different. It just takes practice. And you will need that practice.”

“Yes Mother, I’ll remember.”

“That’s a good boy.” She smiled, seeming pleased, and patted his cheek with her hand before she drew away. “Don’t linger now, you have work to come up with a plan to get into that house. We do not leave jobs unfinished.”

He nodded his understanding, even if he wanted to sigh, and she left him alone to finish bathing.

After she’d gone he let her words run through his mind over and over. She hadn’t elaborated how, but he knew without having to ask that tonight wasn’t going to be the last time he came up against a situation that was different than the one he expected.

She had rocked his world, but he had to thank her. She was watching over him, training him, making sure he never ended up in the hands of the guards, or rotting behind bars.

But the fact remained that he knew he couldn’t ever fully trust her again.

Crescent & Rose – Diplomacy

I was the first

Sun shone in through the large windows of the palace, giving it a bright and airy quality. The open gardens were still full of visitors, but inside was insulated from all that. Overall, it was far less crowded than he was used to, outside of what he assumed were the usual people going about their business. He certainly felt a bit odd being here while the sun was still shining.

Two pairs of footsteps echoed down one of the corridors, moving briskly. Crescent was following his escort, one of the many guards, through parts of the palace he’d never before been. He’d visited plenty of times, of course, but always during social events where there wasn’t much time to wander around. He was used to the palace at night, full of people and sound. During the day it was strangely quiet in places.

Even more than that, though, was the fact that the Queen herself had called for him, saying only she wished to speak with him about some business. He’d hardly been his usual composed self for a few moments after the message had arrived, not able to fathom what she could want with someone like him.

He’d spoken with the Queen before; he’d met her all the way back when she’d been a princess, but it was only ever short interactions at social functions, when he was often the only one bold enough to break the ice and ask her for her first dance. He’d been even more flabbergasted when the guard had told him they were going to the royal rooms.

He couldn’t help but wonder what the nobles would think, if they knew he was meeting the Queen in her personal quarters. Suppressing a grin he also couldn’t help but wonder if she enjoyed gently provoking them and their endless gossip.

The guard showed him into the Queen’s rooms, where she was waiting, and he gave a graceful bow. She was dressed regally, as always, but her clothing was far simpler than the stuff she sported at balls and state functions. It only made sense, but he couldn’t help but smile to see her like that. She was a beautiful woman, he didn’t mind admitting it.

“It’s wonderful to see you again, Crescent.”

“I can very happily say the same, Your Majesty. It feels like it’s been far too long since I last saw you.”

“Since last years Winter’s Ball, I think. It’s rather a shame, it’s always a joy to dance with you. You haven’t been spending as much time in the capital of late, have you?”

“Not quiet, no.” He didn’t wonder how she knew that, when someone like him should have hardly been on her radar, but he kept it to himself. “There have been quite a few opportunities for me elsewhere, recently.”

“I see,” she said, something in her eyes sparkling. “And here I thought it was because Domerin Lorcasf was living out of the city now.”

“Your Majesty?” He blinked at her, taken by surprise. There weren’t many people who could catch him up like that, but the Queen had always proven his equal when it came to quick wits.

The Queen laughed softly, though it was not a mocking sound. “I tease. I know you’re friends, and that I often see you with him during parties, even when you’re escorting someone else.”

“Well, you do have me there.” He admitted. “I enjoy parties well enough, but Domerin finds a way to make them special. My clients never seem to mind me visiting with friends.” He wondered at her words, though, having been thrown for a bit of a loop. Despite her insisting she’d been teasing he couldn’t quite help but think he’d seen something more in her eyes.

There had indeed been lucrative work outside the city lately, but for quite a long time he’d never felt the need to look outside when there was plenty here for him. He’d been feeling that itch for quite some time, feeling like the capital was lacking something. With her words he seemed to realize that maybe one of those things was Domerin.

“I dare say they do not, with such a charming companion. But, I do hope to see you at another event soon, Crescent. Who else will make the entire room jealous when he’s the first to ask me to dance?”

Crescent managed a rather dazzling smile to that, more at ease by the familiar topic.

“I just like to think you prefer starting out the night without having your toes trod on.” He’d never felt remorse for his boldness. Why start now? “I’ll see what I can do, Majesty. Can’t let the nobles get too lazy, now can I?” He couldn’t help but think of Domerin then, and all the long nights they’d spent having fun while everyone else took themselves far too seriously.

“That’s very thoughtful of you,” she shot back with a laugh.

She must have sensed his slight distraction, and shifted topic. She swept her hand in front of her and led him across the room to a sunny sitting area, with plush couches. She took a seat on one, and he sat to face her.

“Help yourself,” she said, indicating a table in the center covered in a spread of tea, cold drinks, and some light refreshments.

Thanking her, he poured himself a cup of tea and prepared one for her as well.

Once they were both settled she looked to him.

“I can imagine you’re wondering why I called you here.”

“I’ll admit my curiosity. I can’t imagine it was just to tease me about dancing.”

Most would not have dared to speak to her like that, but the edges of the Queen’s lips curled upward, indicating mirth.

“Would that were the truth, but no. I called you here because I’d like to hire you for a job.”

His brows shot up, not bothering to hide his surprise.

“You’d like to hire me?”

Again a hint of mirth crossed her face, but she focused on the business for now.

“It wouldn’t be like your usual jobs. Not quite, anyway.” She sobered, and continued. “There’s a visiting diplomat, who’s going to be staying in the capital for some time. I have reason to believe, however, that he’s also here for less than honest means. Our relationship with Ematria, his homeland, are of the utmost important, so if he has some other motives, it would help us greatly to know what they are. As you are not of the court or the nobility, you are an unknown to him, which makes you perfect for what I have in mind.”

“You want me to seduce him?” He couldn’t help but arch a brow, mind jumping to that since it seemed the most obvious.

“Not as such. I do want you to befriend him, gain his trust, be his guide through the social circles here in the capital. And, of course, find out what his plans are. Think of yourself as a sort of… cultural ambassador, if you will, with a twist that uniquely suits your skills. You won’t be required to do anything you’re uncomfortable with.”

Crescent was thoughtful. He’d never done anything like that before, and it sounded important. He couldn’t deny that it intrigued him, a challenge that was right up his alley.

“And you would be all right with me doing this? I’m not really anyone important.”

The Queen smiled at him, and he almost instantly felt put at ease by it.

“I trust you, Crescent. Domerin speaks well of you, and if he trusts you then I know I can too. To a wise and honest ruler, trust and loyalty are more valuable than gold or jewels. Take time to think over it, if you need to, but I will need an answer within the week.”

Crescent took a few moments, but shook his head.

“I don’t need that long, Majesty. I’ll take the job. It does sound like something that will suit my skills.”

“That’s wonderful,” she said, and her smile was genuine, and lovely to see. “I will have all the information you need sent to you. The less you are seen here, the better. If you do well, I can present you with evidence, and there could be more work for you in the future.”

Crescent nodded, understanding. The thought had an attractiveness to it, and it was certainly something new. He couldn’t believe he was going to do work for the Queen herself. Did Domerin feel this giddy when serving her?

A rather mischievous thought crossed through his mind, and he looked back at her, a grin curling his lips.

“So, was I the first person you thought of for this job?”

The queen smiled knowingly and, he thought, just a little bit playful.

“Sorry to disappoint you Crescent, but I’m afraid not. Rest assured, though, you weren’t on the bottom of my list either.”

At her words he couldn’t quite help but laugh, caught again by her quick wit.

“No? I’ll have to try harder next time, then.”

The Queen gave a laugh of her own.

“I hope you do, Crescent. The capital is far less lively without you here. I’d like it if you stayed.”

Crescent saw that sparkle in her eyes again as she went back to her tea, getting the feeling there was again more to her words, but if she knew something more she certainly wasn’t telling. The Queen was as good as a cat at keeping her own council, when she wanted to be.

Flash Fiction – A Sharp Cut

A sharp cut

Red eyes slid critically across his latest mark, held tight and still by the bonds his own delicate hands had placed. A thrill touched him as he caressed the taut middle with a gentle hand.

He was almost finished with this one.

Screams echoed down the concrete walls from some further room, but he paid them little mind. They were a background chorus to his masterpiece.

His tools lay next to him, arrayed in a perfect line, gleaming in the light.

He took up the sharpest of them, running his fingers over the metal, savoring the work to come.

He leaned over his immobile target, eyes noting each place where his tools had already left their lasting stamp.

It was time.

His hand was rock steady as he laid the sharp metal against the stretched surface, and pushed with slow but inexorable force. It pliantly parted for him, and the metal sunk below the surface, dragging a splash of crimson in its wake.

He repeated the motion again and again. Each time the surface quivered, unable to flee, giving him a thrill he found nowhere else.

He lost all sense of time as he pierced and pulled. He was exacting, not caring how much punishment he laid upon the surface. He worked until he was satisfied, his target a beautiful splash of crimson and red, like an abstract painting.

“Now, one sharp cut,” He whispered, repeating what she’d taught him that first time. It was like a mantra, a ritual. “To finish everything off.”

The scissors made short work of the last thread and he held up the fabric, still taut in its wooden hoop. The design was one of his own. He’d seen it in his mind, one night, in a dream.

He was sure Cazella would love it.

 


 

Light from the hallway seeped under the door, illuminating a swath of thick carpet, decorated with a pattern of roses. In the shadows, near the window, a foot ghosted silently across the woven petals.

Mahogany, tobacco, rose hips, and a lingering hint of wine filled the night visitor’s sensitive nose. There was something else, underneath the richness, that only someone like him would be able to catch. A trace of sweat, urine, and fear, long since faded, ran like a gentle, but insistent, undercurrent. A small bloom rose each time his padded feet pressed the petaled carpet.

Someone had been terrified in this room. Someone had suffered.

That was why he was here.

Green eyes shifted to a gold-plated clock on the mantel that ticked softly toward midnight. He knew he was safe. He’d spent several days studying the owner’s schedule. No one had seen him and no one was coming.

That didn’t mean he wouldn’t still be cautious.

He hovered next to the huge bed like a phantom, garbed in shadow, peering down at the sleeping figure. The woman looked tiny among the mass of down pillows, swaddled like a child in thick sheets.

White hair curled around her head, catching the hall light and giving her a halo, face relaxed, untroubled. She was even dressed in a white nightgown, the picture of piety.

But he had not been sent here to kill an innocent. He didn’t need the scent of fear to tell him that.

He drew his razor-sharp knife, it too catching the light, glinting like the fang of some hungry animal. He gripped it tightly, taking cold comfort from its firmness.

It’s easy, came the whisper in his mind, unbidden. He pushed it away.

He didn’t want it to be easy, ever. This might make him an assassin, but he didn’t want to be a killer who enjoyed the act. This was the edge, the final divide between old life and new. All these years of hard work and denial had been building to this moment.

He would remember every detail, from the scent of her soap, to the rustle of the curtains, all of his senses hyper aware.

He lifted the knife, hesitating no longer, and his hand moved in one decisive, sharp cut. He may as well have been slicing through air.

Her eyes flew open, but he’d already taken her ability to scream.

Blood welled from the cut across her neck, perfectly made so she suffered as little as possible.

He didn’t look away as her nightgown and the tips of her hair were stained red, as she tried to gasp for air, turning wide, pleading eyes on him, while knowing it was already too late.

He didn’t look away as the life bled out of her, and his nose filled with the tang of iron.

It had not been easy, but it had been right.

Still, his emotions danced within him, rioting for his attention.

He focused on the work, finishing the ritual. Two feathers. One he laid on her chest, pinned under her arm so it wouldn’t float away. The other was dipped in her blood, and bagged, to be taken back to the guild and tucked away in a binder somewhere, one among a multitude.

Lastly, he dipped his fingers in her rapidly cooling blood, and marked his own forehead with it, as testament, and remembrance.

He crossed the carpet of roses, taking eagerly to the roofs, sucking in lungfuls of the clear night air.

It was finished, finally, his old life severed from his new with one sharp cut.

Domerin & Crescent – Deployment

“You don’t need to be honest with me.”

Crescent turned over in his sleep, instinctively nuzzling closer to the warmth in the bed next to him. Hazily, his mind told him something was slightly off and pulled him to wakefulness. His eyes shifted immediately to the clock, where the display read 1:45 am. It wasn’t the time that was off, but the fact that Domerin was no longer under his arm.

The other man was, perhaps, one of the very few people who could move around without waking him, but unlike some nights he hadn’t gone far. Domerin was still in bed, but sitting up with his back straight, and his hands resting in his lap. He was close enough Crescent could still feel his warmth, but he looked in a world of his own.

Some light filtered in through the windows as he shifted to look at the man’s face. Even in the low light he could see the tenseness in Domerin’s jaw, but more telling was the fact that the other man didn’t stir when he pulled himself half-up beside him.

“Can’t sleep?”

Domerin didn’t reply right away, staring across the space at the far wall, lost in thought.

Brows furrowing a bit, Crescent reached out a hand to run it across his lover’s bare leg. “Domerin. Are you all right?”

The other man seemed to come very quickly back to himself then, looking over at Crescent with a flash of surprise in his dark eyes.

“I’m sorry. Did I wake you?”

“Of course not, darling. But are you all right? Can’t sleep?”

Domerin’s momentary silence told him there was something. The other man didn’t need to sleep as much, but usually he laid in bed by his side or went to do work.

Despite the silence he didn’t press, letting Domerin speak when he chose to.

“I’m being sent out on assignment in a week. We were briefed just today.”

Was that all that was bothering the other man? Assignments had always been part of Domerin’s job.

“I’ll miss you while you’re away. Where are they sending you?”

“It’s classified. I can’t tell you any of the details.”

“Well, that’s all right. You don’t need to be honest with me, Domerin. You never did when it comes to work.” Crescent kept his tone light, not wanting the other man to think he was mad at him.

But, unlike usual, the other man’s mood didn’t lighten. Domerin turned to face him and there was something dark and pensive in his blue eyes.

His humor vanished, replaced with concern for his lover.

“Domerin? What’s wrong? This is hardly the first time you’ve gone on assignment since I’ve known you.”

“It’s different,” he said, shaking his head. “We’ve only been together, properly together for, what, a few months? I don’t know how long I’m going to be gone, or if I’ll even be able to check in with you. It’s going to be a dangerous one.”

Domerin hesitated, unable to say more than that, and for a moment he looked wretched.

“What if I don’t come back?”

The man’s words struck him. It was true that this time was different. They weren’t just casually sleeping together anymore. After far too long, they were properly dating, a proper couple. He’d never thought he’d be happy in a relationship like this, but with Domerin it all felt right.

The other man had waited so long for this, and now he had to go away, not knowing if he’d be coming back. No wonder it was troubling him.

Crescent shifted, moving to sit next to the other man. He slipped an arm around his middle.

“You can’t let that get to you, Domerin. I won’t lie to you, it’s going to be a lot harder seeing you go than it ever has been, just as I can tell it’s going to be a lot on you to go. I don’t know what I’d do if you didn’t come back, but I’m with you knowing that’s a possiblity. I know the risks involved. It doesn’t change how much I love you.”

Domerin leaned a bit into his touch, and he gently rubbed a hand across the man’s dusky skin.

“That’s good to know. I guess, after Kail, part of me still worries, even if you’re nothing like him. It was such a production every time I had to go away. He always made such a big deal out of it.”

“You wont ever have to worry about that with me. You have a duty, and the last thing you need is more stress and worry on top of everything else. I understand how important your job is.”

“Thank you for that, Crescent. It does help. And I hope I didn’t make you think I thought of you like Kail.”

“Of course not, darling.” He assured, lightly nuzzling Domerin’s arm.

The man smiled, briefly, but Crescent got the feeling there was still something else troubling him. He waited, not pressing him to speak.

After a time, those blue eyes were turned upon him again. He met them as they searched his face and he tried to project all his love through his eyes.

Lifting his hand, Domerin brushed calloused fingers gently down Crescent’s cheek.

“I have never resented what my duty asks of me. I would never turn my back on my responsibilities. I do neither now, but… I can’t help but want more time with you. Part of me wishes I wasn’t going.”

There was a tinge of guilt in the man’s voice that Crescent had never quite heard before.

“I’ve always known each mission could be my last, but every part of me wants to come back to you.”

Crescent reached up to gently brush his fingers across Domerin’s cheek in return.

“There’s nothing selfish about that. Who wants to leave their loved ones behind? I doubt even the queen would fault you for feeling that way. You’re hardly the only solider to feel guilty about having to leave and do their duty.”

“No, I suppose not.”

“I know you, Domerin Lorcasf. No matter what, you’ll do the job you are sent to do, and you’ll do it to be best of your ability. I want you to come back to me too, but you shouldn’t feel guilty for how you feel.”

“I hear you,” Domerin said, a bit more of a smile finally touching his lips. “I won’t forget. Besides, it’ll be nice to come back home to someone who isn’t going to spend the first week I’m back fussing all over me.”

Crescent couldn’t help but chuckle.

“I’ll fuss, but in a very different way. A man has to welcome his lover home properly.”

He leaned in, slipping his arms around Domerin. The other man responded and gathered him up into his arms. For a time they just sat together, enjoying the quiet and the warmth.

Eventually he leaned his head up, to press a light kiss to Domerin’s jawline.

“And, at the very least, we have an entire week to make all sorts of good memories for you to take with you.”

“I see no reason to wait.” Domerin said.

Crescent could see the hint of a smile on his lips as the other man drew him back down onto the bed.