Davitts pulled Essenin by the arm so they walked behind the cart on the way back. “What in blazing, thunderous weather were you thinking?”
“I didn’t say yes.” Essenin didn’t look at all contrite. They looked surprised that he was angry.
“The one thing you promised me about working together, Ess. The one thing.”
Ess dropped his voice to a stricken whisper, “I didn’t say yes.”
“You didn’t say it, but you...the way you…” Davitts ran down, his anger draining. He couldn’t really tell Ess he’d missed the hope in Zie’s eyes when they didn’t say no. It wasn’t something he could prove and it wasn’t even his business. “Just consult next time.”
“I’ll just let you speak for me, is that it?” Ess narrowed their eyes, braids clicking like an accusation as they swung to face Davitts.
“Like you did for me?”
Davitts might have huffed. Possibly. It was an old argument about Ess being impulsive and Davitts being too cautious, but he also knew he was more concerned than angry.
Something he couldn’t see yet was worrying at the back of his mind, something that tasted like danger and change.
Being a real seer would’ve been nice sometimes. He knew that the gift drove some humans mad, but he could’ve inherited something better from his taur ancestry than vague, ominous feelings.
Ess still frowned, but their shoulders slumped. “Right. Sorry. Consult first.”
“Would you want to…?”
“I’m not sure yet.” The frown smoothed, though puzzlement clouded those beautiful dark eyes. “Keeping our paths open for now seems best.”
“Fair. Not like it takes us long to pack for any job.”
By the time they’d gotten Bluey unharnessed and fed, and the cart put away—in the same condition as they’d found it that morning, thank you very much—Zie had vanished.
Aunt Lana nodded to the stairs from where she was setting a log on the fire. “He hobbled up to his room.” She straightened and stretched her back. “Why don’t you boys take lunch up?”
“Excellent suggestion!” Ess bounded to the kitchen before Davitts could open his mouth to agree, Aunt Lana watching them with that too-placid expression that meant she was trying not to laugh.
Davitts shot her a mock glare and followed Ess to make up a tray of the wonderfully rich smelling mushroom soup Aunt Lana had simmering over the fire and some of the new baked bread. He took the tray, Ess snagged a water pitcher and cups, and they made their way up to the second floor, one of them at a dignified pace. That person wasn’t Ess, their kilt flying and showing enticing glimpses of strong thighs as they bounded up the steps.
The room to the right overlooking the stableyard was one of the better ones—bigger bed, windows protected from cold winds—and this was where Aunt Lana had installed Zie. She really had felt bad for him, though it didn’t hurt that this was a slow season and the inn was nearly empty.
Zie sat cross-legged in a nest of blankets coming out his black hair. It shimmered, more iridescent with each stroke of the carved antler comb. Beautiful. Davitts blinked and forced himself to stop staring.
“Um, lunch. We brought...lunch,” he managed to force out through a closing throat.
“Kind of you.” Zie put down the comb, his voice dry as salt as he went on, “Though even the smell of that wonderful soup can’t cover the scent of why you really came upstairs.”
“I should’ve realized you can scent interest.” Ess flipped their braids over their shoulder with a cascading clatter of beads as he settled on the edge of the mattress. “I want to be clear, it’s just interest. If you’re not also interested right now, please say.”
Zie gave him a sideways glance, but he was smiling. “Lunch first, I think. Before it gets cold. Then we’ll see how active all of our other interests might be.”
“All...you’d want me to stay?” Davitts’ voice squeaked and he was certain his face would burst into flames.
“Yes.” Zie’s brows drew together, concern in his eyes. “I didn’t make that clear before? Both of you. As a set.”
Yes, he’d implied it, but Davitts hadn’t been certain. Most people tended to be interested in Ess, not that Ess had more than an occasional fling and never without both of them discussing it first. They had no secrets, but it was still unusual for them to share the same fling.
“I find you both…” Zie stared at his hands. He’d taken his gloves off and was flexing and retracting his claws. “Achingly attractive.”
Nothing coherent or clever was going to come out of his mouth, so Davitts said nothing and handed out food instead while Ess leaned in to stage whisper to Zie, “That’s how Davs flirts. Giving you food. Bringing you blankets. Stuff like that.”
Though Zie offered a smile in response, he scooted away from them to the far end of the bed as soon as he had his lunch, curled over it while he ate as if he feared someone would steal his food. It was a telling response, one that made Davitts heart ache. What little he knew about the sylvas could fill a teacup, but he did know they lived in close-knit clans. How long had Zie been alone?
Ess gave him space and didn’t rush through their own food. Good. They were being patient and weren’t pushing. Yet.
Finally, Zie set his bowl and cup aside on the bedside table, scrupulously picking the last remaining crumbs off his black wool shirt one by one. “Please reiterate to your aunt that her food is wonderful. I’ve told her so, but it bears repeating.”
“I’ll be sure to tell her.” Davitts couldn’t help a smile as he said it. Aunt Lana took great pride in her cooking. Her own children, her siblings’ children, all said she should have help, but she refused. Not in the kitchen. She didn’t trust anyone else to do things right.
Suddenly and not subtly, Zie’s body language shifted. He stretched, arms behind his head, shirt riding up enough to hint at the dark trail of hair on his stomach. The sweep of his lashes nearly covered his eyes as he let his gaze sweep over First Davitts, then Ess. “Are we still...interested?”
Ess looked over and Davitts gave a short nod since he couldn’t remember how words worked just then. With a bright grin, Ess crawled up the bed and sprawled on their side next to Zie. “Oh, yes. So very much interested.”
They make such a gorgeous picture together. And as soon as I figure out how my legs work, I’ll join them.
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.