They were both downstairs in the common room at breakfast, as promised. Reliable mercenaries. What was the world coming to? Zie wasn't certain what he'd been thinking accepting their offer, either.
He hadn't had any real contact with anyone—barring business transactions and theft—for so long. The tall, graceful one had called him lovely. The compact, beautifully muscled one had stared and stammered like a youngster on his first assignation. The attention, while initially alarming, had warmed abandoned places inside. A bit of comfort while he recovered? Maybe it was an indulgence, but he could afford it. He had time. A little. Even if nothing happened in the bedroom, being admired, touched, perhaps held—these things would shore up his reserves, keep his mind from sliding so quickly into the dark.
This is fine. A good thing. The first in a long while.
The half selak—Zie could see it now in the not-quite human ear shape, the faint opalescent sheen on dark skin when they turned in the light—was laughing with the innkeeper while their companion rolled his eyes. They both seemed quite familiar with her. Old friends, maybe. No. The mostly human one, Davitts, was a relation. They shared the same long nose and the same river clay hue to their skin.
He'd presumed Essenin and Davitts were lovers, and this morning confirmed it. The little touches between them, the way Essenin kissed Davitts' forehead to smooth away his frown. Deliciously tender. Zie allowed himself a moment to wonder whether they would prefer their liaisons with him together or separately. Either way would suit him.
That entire thought process amazed him. He hadn't… Well. He hadn't had the space in his head to think about it for some time. A good meal, a good bed, and safety finally within his grasp had improved his outlook enormously.
Essenin turned and spotted Zie making his careful way down the steps. "There you are!"
Before Zie could respond, Essenin had bounded up the remaining stairs, offered their arm to support him, and assisted him into a chair near the warmth of the kitchen.
"Auntie Lana, should I—?" Davitts hooked a thumb toward the doorway.
"Thank you, Davs, yes. Go fetch breakfast for all of us." She gave him a fond smile. Ah. Nephew. Perhaps favorite nephew. Her smile turned to envelop Zie. "How are you feeling this morning? You looked three steps from death last night."
From somewhere in his memories, Zie dredged up a charming smile. He hoped it was charming instead of ghastly. "I apologize for causing concern, madam. And yes, I feel much more alive today."
"Good. We'll rewrap your ankle before my young bravos drag you down to the docks."
Essenin claimed the chair on Zie's left. "Could we have the cart, Lana? So Zie won't need to walk."
She gave them an odd look. "You may. But return it the way you found it this time."
The smile dropped from Essenin's face. "That wasn't my fault."
"Debatable," Davitts muttered as he returned from the kitchen balancing a platter of bread and cut fruit on one arm, and an earthenware pot on the other.
The pot contained a grain porridge, well sweetened and spiced, that caused Zie's stomach to growl in hollow outrage, while the fruit was perfectly ripe, scarlet oarpods with some sear berries sprinkled about.
The bread was slathered with—oh wonders of earth—butter, something Zie hadn't tasted in several months.
His breakfast company remained soft-spoken, mainly engaged in eating. He couldn't complain about that. Small talk had become a foreign concept and he certainly didn't want to discuss anything important to him. These warm, wholesome people should be kept away from his problems. Probably away from him as well, but he'd botched that entirely.
The cart ended up being a small trap, only large enough for two small people or one Zie-sized person, pulled by an elderly town gossta no taller than Zie's shoulder and as blue as his coat. She fussed with her wings and pecked at Essenin while they got her in harness, but settled into contented honk mutters once all the buckling and adjusting were complete.
In what seemed an out of character moment, Essenin stood back, hands twisted together, while Davitts settled Zie onto the padded seat of the cart. Once accomplished, Davitts turned a pointed look on his lover and an even more pointed, "Well?"
Essenin cleared their throat. "I behaved badly last evening. I put my hands on you when you said no and didn't listen when you said stop. I'm truly, terribly sorry."
The polite fiction of it's fine, it's of no matter didn't feel right in the face of such earnest self-recrimination. "You won't do it again?"
"I won't." Hopeful and earnest. Difficult to resist.
"Then I accept your apology." Zie reached out to pat their arm. "Your intentions weren't toward harm. I forgive you."
A second sun rose in Essenin's smile and Zie didn't miss the fond and heated gaze Davitts settled on him. How much of the apology had been Essenin’s idea originally? Though perhaps he hadn’t needed much of a shove. They did fit well together. So well. Blossoming thoughts of seduction had to be set aside, though, when Davitts whistled to the gossta and jogged out of the courtyard. The cart jerked into motion and Zie had to concentrate on keeping his seat over the cobbled streets as the old cart bird hurried after the mercenary pair.
Not mercenaries. Guards. The thought was wryly amused, though more of Zie's attention focused on the two figures jogging in front of the cart and their wonderfully muscular backsides. He was so thoroughly distracted, he didn't notice that the streets had opened up until they had entered the harbor. Ships. So many ships. A forest of masts. Large and small, sleek and ponderous. Wonder turned to overwhelmed anxiety. How was he to find an appropriate one in such a dizzying crowd of vessels?
Angel writes (mostly) Science Fiction and Fantasy centered around queer heroes. Currently living part time in the hectic sprawl of northern Delaware and full time inside her head, she has one husband, one son, two cats, a love of all things beautiful and a terrible addiction to the consumption of both knowledge and chocolate.