#2567

It’s late and you’ve had too much to drink. Daren is a silhouette in the darkness where he stands in front of the tall living room windows, his lean form limned in starlight. The alcohol should ease the tension between you, loosen your tongue at least, yet the minutes stretch on and your muddled mind produces nothing of value. Instead it’s Daren who uncharacteristically breaks the silence first.

“What are we doing?” He turns from the window to face you but you can’t read his expression in the darkness, nor does his low voice betray the meaning behind the question. You fall back on humor to diffuse the tension, your old stand-by, instead of risking a guess. “Right now?” you reply from the couch. “I was just having a nightcap. Well, three. Or four.”

“You know what I mean,” His unseen gaze weighs on you in the darkness, demanding honesty. You two have danced around this topic for months now, never quite touching on it, for your part out of fear of chasing him away. Yet here he is now, in your home, and you can avoid it no longer. “We’re just…” You want to be honest, to be brave, but what if he doesn’t feel the same? You can’t be the one to say it first. “Well, what do you think we’re doing?”

“I don’t know,” There is a hesitation in Daren’s voice you’ve never heard before, an uncertainty that draws out the silence before he continues, “But I’m not myself when I’m with you.” Your heart lurches, starts beating wildly in your chest, your temples, so loudly you’re sure he can hear it from across the room. You have to wet your lips before you manage to respond, and even then your words are strained, breathless. “Then who are you?”

“Someone else,” His figure shifts in the dark. That feeling of weight lifts; he’s no longer looking at you. Maybe he can’t. Your heartbeat is such a cacophony, and Daren’s confession so soft, that you almost miss it completely when he adds, “Someone I could have been, perhaps. In another life.”

“Would it be so bad to be that man with me?” The words tumble out before you can stop them, all pretense abandoned. You have never been good at masking your longing anyway. Daren must know it, too, or at least recognize that desperate hunger in your voice, because he takes a few steps forward and parries your question with one of his own: “What is it you want from me?”

You imagine the slide of silk sheets across hot, sweat-slicked bodies grappling in the dark. Fingers that grip hard enough to leave bruises. A euphoria you can never quite reproduce no matter what combination of drugs and alcohol you try. The possibility that after, when dawn’s just beginning to lighten the sky, the person laying beside you might not leave. But you don’t say any of this. Daren doesn’t want you like that, he couldn’t possibly, and to speak of it might shatter this strange, fragile connection you’ve formed. You can’t risk it. So you smile, though it’s not your best, and reply honestly, “I don’t want anything from you. At least not anything you don’t want to offer freely.”

“And what is it,” Daren takes another step forward, “you hope I’ll offer you freely?” He’s close enough now that you can make out his expression; focused, piercing, as sharp and merciless as that blade he wields with such skill. Only instead of going for the throat, as he favors in paid fights, he seems determined to cut straight to your heart tonight. As usual, his aim is impeccable. “I don’t let myself hope,” you tell the man for whom you have fallen so hard so fast. “I’m not that much of a masochist.”

His hands have wielded deadly blades. His hands have cut throats. His hands are dangerous, quick, cruel, and yet his hands are so gentle when he closes the distance between you, kneels over you on the couch, and draws your mouth up to his. Gentle hands and a brutal kiss that sings through your veins, unlocking every last door you’ve managed to stuff your desire behind. By the time Daren breaks the kiss you’re breathless and desperate for more. “How tragic,” he murmurs as he pulls away, his hands sliding back to tangle in your hair. You could swear there’s a ghost of a smile on his mouth. “Everyone should have a little hope.”

#2474

Sometimes it really is this simple: a pile of tangled blankets on the floor, his arm laid across your chest, pale morning light filtering through the half closed curtains. See how gently the dawn limns his strong hands and washes over a brow smoothed by restful sleep. Even you who love to ruin good things are loath to break this fleeting peace and so you lay still, your only movement the slow gliding of your fingers through his sable hair. There will be time later to dwell on the past, to dread the future, to define yourselves by mistakes instead of the good intentions with which they were made. In this finite fragment of your infinite existence you are simply two men, together and in love, and it is enough. May it last.

#2468

you rise from the earth like some radiant Lord Vishnu, your sable locks and sun-kissed skin dusted in a rainbow of flower pollen like vibrant Holi powder, but those who watch your ascent in awe don’t know you’ve covered yourself in this floral beauty to hide the bloodstains beneath, nor what godly corpse may lay hidden in the blooms at your feet

#2438

In one of the lesser stone halls, far from anything of significance, there is a wooden door. If you step within (it is forbidden, but not impossible when the guards are on their rounds) you’ll find a small room lined with warm, richly carved wood. On a side table sits a leather-bound book, its pages filled with cramped text and beautiful illustrations. You won’t have time to fully read the tale preserved in these pages but your eyes will be drawn to the art and the captivating woman who stares back at you. Her proud features are faintly aquatic, the angles of her face sharp and predatory like a deep sea creature’s, but her luminous eyes hold only a fathomless sorrow. Merrowyn, the text calls her. She is queen and goddess both to her people.

You won’t have much time before the guards catch you, so hurry through the next door. In this larger chamber you’ll find something that seems both museum and mausoleum. It is an exhibit of sorts, at any rate, though one not meant for your eyes. Here beneath glass lay the only remaining artifacts of the civilization that once ruled these lands. Paintings, pottery, fragments of scrolls; someone has even sculpted life-sized statues to capture the image of these extinct people forever. They are blue-skinned and amphibious like their goddess, some with gleaming iridescent scales or ridges of fins, little barnacles dotting their elders like liver spots. It’s clear they were a peaceful people; they dressed in flowing cloth, wove seashells and gems into their long locks, and none pictured seems to bear a weapon. From a speaker somewhere overhead their only remaining song plays, a mournful dirge moaned by a chorus of haunting voices in a language long dead. You can’t possibly know the words and yet they will make you want to weep anyway.

Having seen this, will you understand? Will you comprehend the bones on which your kingdom was built and the destiny they’ve kept from you all these years? You must because the guards will be coming, they will find you here in this forbidden place, your mind full of this forbidden knowledge, and you had better have a plan. Merrowyn’s blood runs in your veins, after all, and you are her people’s last hope.