Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I finished my ghost rent boy story, though not without much moaning and gnashing of teeth. The poor ghost, a rent boy who died on the job Halloween night, 1987, has a thing for the guy he lives with... who happens to have gotten stuck with him by merit of owning the teddy bear to which our ghost is tethered... and who has consequently been roped into being Robbie's reluctant "procurer" for the last few years. But what would a nice guy like Josh want with a dead prostitute like Robbie?

Obviously there is much editing to be done, but the official blurb and links will be posted soon with a release date. In the meantime, here's my shiny new cover:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Fire and Lightning

Fire and Lightning has official artwork! Look at how gorgeous it is:

The official blurb reads:

Drys is the hamadryad of Zeus' sacred oak tree, tied to the grove by her tree and by her responsibilities to speak for Zeus to the temple supplicants. She knows nothing about the world outside until the beautiful Bennu bird flies into her life and teaches Drys not only about the world, but also of things that Zeus has expressly forbidden ...


Release date: November 28.
Posted on Goodreads here.


I will write more another time about the ridiculous amounts of research I probably didn't need to do for this story but did anyway, about how drastically different it turned out than my initial imaginings, and why I have come to love it more than perhaps anything else I've ever written. But for now, I'm just going to stare at the pretty artwork and grin like an idiot.



Sunday, August 19, 2012

Origins

I have decided to create an author blog where I can wax narcissistic about my work. It's a chance for me to put up all the links to my official things, yammer on about my upcoming projects, and maybe sort out a few of my favorite free reads from the jumbled mass of them available on my livejournal (magistra17sum). This will also provide a place for me to say a few things about the inspiration for my stories and maybe show off a few of the bits I particularly like.

Since Dreamer is my newest release, the longest thing I've ever written that didn't totally suck, and the only thing I've submitted for publication not in response to a specific submission call, I'm going to ramble on about that one first. :)

I write really well in response to prompts. I write really poorly when I have to devise everything myself. I hadn't written anything in ages that I liked when, thanks to a circuitous route that involved lots of clicking on other people's links, I suddenly stumbled upon the 100wordwars community on livejournal just over a year ago. The premise of the community is simple: pick a prompt (usually three or four words, sometimes a picture) and write exactly one hundred words in response. It was perfect for me. When I look at a set of words, they sort of bring themselves together in my head with very little effort. My only real task was in choosing which one hundred words were most important. When I got to prompt #9 ("oil, unseen, touch"), I immediately thought of a dream and wrote:

The images in his mind shifted and shimmered like oil on water, swirling with every turn of his eyes.  Unseen fingers ghosted over the side of his neck, the inside of his elbow, the arch of one foot.  Suddenly his vision went dark as though his eyes had involuntarily closed and were now locked shut without a key.  Warm breath touched the shell of his ear, stirred the hair at the back of his neck.  Goosebumps shivered down the length of his spine.  He arched back against solid warmth.  A chuckle rippled through the darkness.  “Goodnight, lovely dreamer.  Welcome back.”

My friends in the community immediately commented with curious inquiries, mainly along the lines of "What next? Who is it? What's happening?" So I wrote prompt #10 ("laughter, bubbles, slipping"):

He was racing naked across an endless Slip ‘n Slide, his laughter mixing with the chuckles of the man chasing him.  Bubbles squelched under his slipping feet, lifted into the air by the quickness of his pace, bursting wet and sticky against his damp skin.  The fragrance of sandalwood hung heavy in the air, almost cloying despite the openness of the grassy field and the gentle breeze playing across it.  He ached to stop running, turn, and finally see his lover’s face, but his legs would not stop.  A tear washed soap from an eye; he could not tire here. 

And then prompt #11 ("horror, dark, soft") followed in the same sitting: 
  
Falling asleep had become a mixture of horror and relief.  He could not decide if he wanted to stay awake forever or sleep endlessly, never to regain consciousness.  All night long, every night, Morpheus held him teetering on the brink of something vast and terrifyingly beautiful, like a fierce samurai softly caressing his katana.  He was trapped in a world of shifting beauty and delight, yet never his to control, never his to choose.  He did not know if Morpheus would ever let him tumble over the edge, nor if falling would lead him to endless light or fathomless dark.

The second source of inspiration came from a quote at the end of a chapter in JL Merrow's Pricks and Pragmatism. The main character has just given a copy of the movie A Bout de Souffle, and he mentions the line, "It's sad to fall asleep. It separates people. Even when you're sleeping together, you're all alone." I read it, pondered it, and wondered to myself, "Well, what if that weren't true?"  

Suddenly I had a story. I wrote something like 35 more hundred word prompts and then strung them together one night when I got bored; I decided I might as well write the whole thing out. So I did. And then, somewhat to my surprise, I liked it where it went. I liked who Jonah turned out to be. I even liked inventing a dreamworld, which was a real shock--I don't normally like fantasy much, so it was certainly not anything I'd imagined myself writing. Then I had a ton of fun playing around with dreams. 

Personally, I have incredibly boring dreams (much like Jonah at the beginning of the book) in which absolutely nothing out of the ordinary occurs: I make dinner, I grocery shop, I eat, I take showers, go to work. That's pretty much it. In her introductory philosophy classes, sister often uses me as a counterexample to the argument in Descartes' Fourth Meditation that if the Meditator were just dreaming, he would know it because dreams are unlike real life. Mine are like carbon copies of one another. My husband, on the other hand, dreams as though he's on hallucinogenic drugs. For instance, Jonah's best friend Mike opens the book by describing a dream to Jonah in which a giant Rob Lowe starts jump roping with the road Mike's driving along. That one was actually one of my husband's real dreams. When he describes them to me, I often just sit blinking at him, wondering why he dreams of such wildly bizarre things while I lie two feet away dreaming of making oatmeal. For me, imagining a dream without the usual spatial-temporal-physical boundaries was fascinating. 

The other fun part for me was imagining how someone who has only ever seen the world through dreams might imagine it to be. What things might he misinterpret? What things might he have difficulty understanding? There were so many things I didn't even get to address because they didn't fall within the scope of the story, but it was a great mental exercise. I'm sure I got things wrong, probably missed a few things as well, but I thoroughly enjoyed the process.

It was also one of those rare pieces of writing where I got to the end and had no more I wanted to write. I didn't want to write any spin-offs, I didn't want to write any drabbles about the characters in the future... I was content to let them be, sailing off to their HEA on their own, unobserved. To paraphrase Robert Penn Warren, I know they are beautiful forever, and live in a beautiful house, far away. I'm glad they called my name once.


Official blurb: 

Jonah considers himself the most boring person in existence. Even his dreams are boring; the most exciting dream he's ever had involved folding laundry. But then, in the middle of a dream about eating cereal, everything changes. Faint memories of an unseen visitor, impressions that vanish upon waking, become dreams that leave Jonah exhausted, afraid, and determined to figure out who is turning his boring dreams into a terrifying game of cat and mouse...

Available from Less Than Three Press.
Print coming soon.

Two post-Learning to See snippets



A FAMILY VISIT
“Erion, stop it!” Brennin protested half-heartedly, batting away his hands before they could start undoing any buttons.  “My family is coming for dinner in an hour.”
“And we could be coming in ten minutes, Beauty,” Erion coaxed, ignoring Brennin’s attempts to push him away.  “We’ll be done well before they get here.”  His mouth dropped to the side of Brennin’s neck as his hands fought to find some bare skin.
Brennin groaned, bracing his hands to push against Erion’s chest but putting no real force behind them.  “Ten minutes, but then you’ll want to cuddle because you never let me out of bed right after, and then we’ll need to bathe, and you know you can’t get out of the tub in less than half an hour, and then you’ll spend an inordinate amount of time picking out your clothes and tying your cravat or some such nonsense, not to mention deciding what to do with your hair, and when they do finally arrive, we’ll both be damp and barely dressed and nobody will be wondering why.”
Erion pouted.  “So what?  I think they realize we are sleeping together.”  His pout grew a little sulky as he added, “And I am not as bad as all that.”
Brennin leveled a look of utter disbelief at him.  “For a man who spent two hundred years stuck in the form of a hideous beast, you are still remarkably vain about your appearance.  Do you think Alamon is still alive?  Perhaps he could recast that curse, and this time set it to go off when you finally learn that it is all right to look normal instead of impossibly gorgeous all the time.”
Erion scowled.  “I know you liked me better as a beast, but I rather enjoy being able to kiss you,” he replied tartly.  “And the sex isn’t bad either.”  Still, he stopped trying to get into Brennin’s clothes and stepped away, smoothing down the front of his own shirt.  Brennin sighed, recognizing the haughty airs signaling Erion’s attempt to hide that he was hurt.
“I did not like you better as a beast.  We have been over this, we have had the big fight, we have had the momentous reconciliation.  Can we please let it go now?”  Erion sniffed, arms folded across his chest, but Brennin saw the mask of pride on his face ease slightly.  “I just don’t understand why you care so much.  I could spend now until next Christmas getting ready and still not look half as good as you did when you rolled out of bed this morning.  Why do you need to worry about whether your hair looks better braided or undone, or whether you look better in green or blue?  Either way, you are so beautiful you practically hurt my eyes.”
Erion scuffed his shoe against the marble flooring.  “I always want to look my best for you.  And this is your family coming for dinner,” he mumbled.  “They are the only people in the world who matter to you, and since you are the only person in the world who matters to me, I want them to think that I’m…”  He trailed off with a shrug. 
Brennin’s chest tightened with understanding.  “You don’t need to worry about winning their approval, Er.  You already have all of it you could ever hope for.  Even if you did not, it would not matter because I love you and I want you and I don’t care what they think.”  He reached up with his good hand to lightly touch his prince’s cheek and smiled slightly.  “You know I just wish you would leave me something imperfect to look at so I can feel better about myself.  It’s the sort of petty thing we average-looking commoners do to raise our self-esteems.”
Erion lifted his lovely green eyes and returned the smile with a small twist of his own mouth.  “I know I was cursed for a long time and so it seems like I had plenty of opportunity to learn my lesson, but there was no one around to teach me to value the correct things until you appeared.  Two centuries of living almost entirely alone were not enough to erase the seventeen years of indoctrination that appearances are all that matter, nor did they root out the old habit of thinking my face the best thing I have to offer anyone.”
“And it is certainly a lovely face,” Brennin agreed, kissing him lightly, “but hardly your best or only worthwhile trait.  Besides, you are not allowed to seduce your way into my family’s good graces, you know.  I am not going to share you, so you had better find another way to win them over.”
Erion stepped back into Brennin’s embrace.  “Orin and I seemed to get on decently the last time.  We can always bond over seeing how red we can make you if all else fails.”
Brennin’s eyes narrowed.  “Would you also like to see how long I can go without touching you?  I assure it can be quite a long time, as I have had plenty of practice going without.”
“Not nearly as much as I have,” Erion replied with a lifted brow.  Brennin rolled his eyes, eliciting a fond smile from Erion.  “You know I don’t mean any harm, Bren.  Don’t get into a snit.  It’s just cute to see how easily embarrassed you are.” 
Brennin half-heartedly protested the press of lips against his for a moment before melting into the kiss.  “What about a compromise?” he suggested when they parted.  “If you promise not to change your outfit once you’ve dressed and to braid your hair once and then leave it alone, you can have fifteen minutes with me in the bath.”
“Under those conditions, you could surely give me thirty.”
“Twenty.”  Brennin grinned.
“Done,” Erion proclaimed, and he proceeded to take the grin off his lover’s face, along with all of his clothes.  Fortunately, they made it back on before the invisible servants opened the front door an hour later.

Barely.


THE ONLY ONE

“That feels so good, Beauty.”  Erion groaned and swore under his breath as his lover’s teeth scraped over the sensitive spot at the base of his neck.  “How do you know where all the places that make my toes curl are?  I thought I was your first.”
“Oh, you are.  I just pay close attention during our numerous… study sessions,” Brennin grinned, mouth moving to Erion’s chest.  “And I take extensive notes.”
“I think you must.  None of my other lovers ever made me feel half as good as you always do.”
Brennin looked up from where he was running his tongue around Erion’s nipple, taking time to bite down just the way Erion liked it before he said, “Please do not remind me about all of your other lovers, especially not while we’re having sex.”
“Not even when I am telling you how much better you are?”
“No, not even then.”
Erion lowered his voice to his most seductive purr.  “You don’t want me to tell you that you are the best I have ever had?  That no one else has ever made me come as hard, as fast, and as often as you do, or has made me enjoy the foreplay one-tenth as much as you do?  That no one else has even made me want him back in my bed a second time, but you make me want to keep you in it forever and keep everyone else out?”
“No, not really,” Brennin replied flatly.  “If you have to tell me I am the best because you cannot tell me I am the only, then I would rather not hear about it.  I have never dreamed of being the best in bed, just of having someone who wanted me.”  He turned his attention back to the bare chest before him, though with markedly less enthusiasm.
Erion tugged gently on his hair until he turned his face up again.  “You are the only one I have ever loved, Bren.  You know that, right?”
Some of the tension in his body eased.  “Yes,” he quietly admitted, “I know.  It helps.”
Erion kissed him softly.  “You are also the only one I have ever undressed.”  When Brennin’s eyes snapped back to his in surprise, he gave a wry smile and said in his haughtiest tone, “The crown prince does not do a servant’s job such as dressing or undressing someone.  He does not stoop to performing menial tasks for those beneath his station.  He does not even undress himself if he can help it.  It is a service he allows his lover or his servant to perform.”
“I am so glad I did not know you as a prince.”  Brennin shook his head.  “I think I might have killed you.”
Erion chuckled.  “I would have deserved it.”  He kissed Brennin again, this time with more heat.  “Speaking of undressing, do you mind if I finish the task you started?” 
Brennin smiled and shook his head, leaning in to press his lips to Erion’s once more.  This time it was Erion who sought out all of the places he knew would make the body in his arms shudder and shiver.  His favorite moments were the times Brennin’s control slipped enough to let a small noise of enjoyment escape.  As he sank to his knees, he let his eyes travel up to his Beauty’s scarred face.  He knew others were revolted by the sight of it, but he could no longer imagine why.  Eyes closed, jaw clenched with pleasure, biting his lips to keep a moan from escaping, Brennin was beautiful.
“Did you know,” Erion began, surprised by how husky his voice came out, “that you are also the only man I have ever allowed to come in my mouth?”  He nuzzled the hot cock before him, letting his tongue come out to flick across the tip.
Brennin’s dark eyes snapped open.  “Really?”  Erion read the fierce possessive pleasure beneath the surprise, and it made him ache to be claimed even further. 
“Another thing I was taught a crown prince should not demean himself to do,” he murmured.  Hesitantly, he continued, “There’s another first I’ve been meaning to try with you, if you’re amenable to it.” 
“Oh?” Brennin replied with impressive composure.  Erion would have been panting, begging, thrusting into the willing mouth inches away from his cock if their positions had been reversed.  Brennin just stood, a little more rigidly than normal, breathing a little more studiously measured.  Erion wrapped his lips around him and sucked once, hard.  Brennin swallowed.  “What’s that?”
Erion pushed himself to his feet so he could lean in and murmur in Brennin’s ear, “No one ever tops the crown prince.  But you could.”
He felt the surprise ripple up Brennin’s spine.  “Really?  You actually want me to…?”
He nodded.  “If you want.”  But he already knew the answer from the widening of his lover’s eyes, the hand that tightened around his hip and then carefully relaxed, the exceptional blankness of his face.  When Brennin remained silent, Erion ran his tongue around the shell of his ear and added, “No one’s ever taken me that way before, but I want you to.  Be my first, Beauty.”
Brennin let out a ragged breath.  Erion suppressed his smile of victory, waiting for him to accept the invitation.  “I don’t think I have the strength or balance, Er.”  He nodded to his withered limbs.  “Not that I don’t want to, but I am not sure I can.  They will not hold me up for long or with any level of coordination.”
“Hmm.”  Erion sucked Brennin’s earlobe into his mouth while he rethought his plans slightly.  He nibbled lightly on Brennin’s jaw as he suggested, “Just lay back and let me take care of things, then.”
“Okay.” 
The absolute trust in those brown eyes was always Erion’s undoing.  He bent his head to give a fierce kiss, walking Brennin backwards to the bed as he finished removing his own pants, pushing him down and helping him wriggle to the middle of the mattress, laughing a little as they got themselves into a tangle of limbs and sheets.  At last Brennin was splayed out across the bed, waiting for him.  Erion took a moment to appreciate the view, leaning in to press his mouth to a few favorite spots before reaching for the oil beside the bed. 
Once it was in his hands, he wasn’t quite sure what to do next.  “Umm, do you want to?”  He held out the vial a little.  “Or do you want me to?” 
Brennin’s breath puffed out in a laugh.  “It is kind of nice not to be the one who doesn’t have a clue what to do,” he confessed, grinning. 
Feeling his ears burn slightly, Erion groused, “I know exactly what to do from your side.  And in theory what to do from this end of things.  It is just that theory and practice are a little different.  And I do not know what you want.”
Brennin ran his good hand up Erion’s thigh.  “I want you to enjoy this.”  He grabbed the bottle from Erion’s hand.  “And I want to be the one to touch you.  Though maybe next time I’ll watch instead.”
Erion’s face broke into a smile.  “Whatever you want, Beauty.” 
“Come up a bit, then.  I can’t reach.”  He fumbled with the stopper for a moment, his scarred hand having difficulty grasping the bottle firmly.  Erion gently took it back and tipped a little onto Brennin’s fingers.  “Thanks.”  Brennin’s cheeks were a little red at the embarrassment of needing help, so Erion dipped down and kissed him. 
“The pleasure will be all mine.”  He winked. 
Brennin’s eyebrow lifted.  “Hardly all yours, I should think.”  Then a finger was sliding down and in, and Erion couldn’t quite hold back his gasp of surprise.  Brennin’s chest rose and fell rapidly between his knees.  “Definitely not all yours.  Gods and goddesses, you are hot.”
Erion tried not to jerk as Brennin swirled his finger experimentally.  He did have to take a deep breath when the finger slid in further, biting his lip.  He hadn’t known quite what to expect, but this was somewhat different than anything he had imagined.
“You have never looked sexier,” Brennin rasped. 
It was that hot gaze on his face, the huskiness in the voice, that prompted Erion to say, “Another?”
“As you wish, Highness.”  Brennin slid in a second finger and Erion’s mouth fell slightly open in a pant. 
They continued until Erion decided he’d had enough preparation and enough foreplay, and he hastily dumped some oil onto his own fingers.  He pulled himself off Brennin’s fingers, slid back, and slicked up the waiting cock.  Then he lined himself up, took a deep breath, and lowered himself.
“Oh!” he gasped. 
“Yeah,” Brennin panted, cursing a bit.  “Gods, that feels good.  You all right?”
Erion nodded, having to close his eyes against the unfamiliar sensations for a moment.  “Ready?”
“Damn,” Brennin gasped when it was all over, a very little while later.  “And I thought you looked good pounding me into the bed.”
Erion grinned.  “My performance was acceptable, then?”
Brennin rolled his eyes.  “No.  I will require a repeat performance before dinner.  Just as soon as I can pull my wits together.”
“Before dinner?” Erion let his head fall back to the pillow.  “You do realize I am not seventeen anymore, don’t you?”
Brennin laughed.  “Sorry, old man.  How could I forget?”  He turned his head for a kiss, sliding his good arm around Erion's waist, pulling him close, and closing his eyes.   

Perfect Planning Extras



ANOTHER PLAN GONE AWRY
Sam had thought that his plan to ask Tristan on a date was the only one doomed to fail forever.  He was discovering, however, that it was in fact any plan at all involving Tristan that would crash and burn.  Since Tristan had a way of working his way into each and every plan Sam made these days, right before it inevitably derailed, Sam was starting to put a lot less effort into devising the perfect plan for each day.
Not that he was complaining, exactly.  The alternatives were rarely unpleasant, and Sam could admit that sometimes they turned out even better than his original ideas.  Take that night Sam had planned to take Tristan out for dinner and a movie—right up until Tristan had showed up with a take-out bag in his hand.  They’d spent the night on the couch instead.  Sam couldn’t really complain about sharing good food with his boyfriend in the privacy of his own home, where he could also indulge himself in all the talking and touching he wanted.  Which had been rather a lot, now that he thought about it.
Sometimes things went wrong because of factors out of their control.  A romantic dinner had a damper put on it by discovering that they were going to be waited on by one of Sam’s students.  An attempt to see a movie before it left the theater had been ruined by a suddenly adjusted deadline that kept Tristan at work until after the last showing had begun.  Then there had been Sam’s bout of the flu, Tristan’s strep throat, the blizzard…
But he and Tristan were going to go out tonight, come hell or high water.  They were going to celebrate Sam’s birthday with dinner at a nice restaurant, and nothing or nobody was going to ruin his plan.  Tristan had already confirmed he would be on time.  Dinner reservations had been made to allow them time for the movie and travel to and from the theater first, and he’d checked that none of his students would be working at the restaurant.  And if any of them somehow showed up, he would just ignore them.  Make out right in front of them, if he wanted to.  This plan was going to work. 
He checked his appearance in the mirror one last time, straightening his tie and flicking a tiny piece of lint from his shoulder.  Then he strode into the office to finish entering grades while he waited for Tristan to arrive. 
When the doorbell rang, he called, “Come on in!  I’m just putting in the last couple of assignments.”
“All right,” Tristan’s voice replied, followed by the sound of his footsteps drawing closer.  He was in the room by the time he said, “Happy birthday.”  A cold pair of lips landed on the back of Sam’s neck, accompanied by a hand squeezing his shoulder briefly. 
“Thanks,” Sam replied, typing in the last grade and clicking save.  “The movie starts in twenty minutes at the Quad North, so we should…” 
Every word he had meant to say after that melted out of his brain as he turned around and caught sight of Tristan.  His dark hair had been freshly trimmed.  His russet shirt brought out the warm, rosy hue of his skin, and his suit jacket fit him perfectly.  And it was Tristan Hoffman standing in his officethere just for him.  There because he wanted Sam as badly as Sam wanted him.  It was just like that day Sam had first glimpsed Tristan’s math assignment and been too instantly love-struck to speak—his mouth dried up, and his plan completely disappeared from his mind.  He just gaped dumbly for a moment.
“What?” Tristan asked uncomfortably, flushing slightly. "Does my haircut look weird or something?"
Sam could only gather enough coherence to stammer, “You—you look…”  And then he gave up on trying to speak and just grabbed, catching a handful of tie and yanking hard enough that Tristan let out an oof! as their lips collided.  Sam kissed hard and deep, wanting to devour him because he just looked so damn good, and he was Tristan Hoffman, and Sam had been dreaming about this for years. 
Tristan’s response was surprised but pleased, and when Sam pulled back to wrangle that gorgeous shirt off of him, Tristan was helping even while he asked, “Aren’t we supposed to be going now so we don’t miss the movie?”
“There’s got to be another showing later,” Sam replied distractedly, focused on undoing Tristan’s belt buckle.  There was a hazy sort of plan forming somewhere in his mind that involved shoving Tristan up against the office wall; most of his concentration was absorbed in enacting it. He had forgotten the other plan entirely.
“Oh,” Tristan breathed as his back hit the wall and Sam dropped to his knees.  “Oh, Sam.”  The fingers of one hand clutched convulsively in Sam’s hair.  Sam had been growing it out since he had discovered how much Tristan enjoyed having enough to run his fingers through and since he had subsequently discovered how much he enjoyed having Tristan’s hands twined in it.  He couldn’t bring himself to let it get shaggy, exactly, but as long as he kept it neatly trimmed, he kind of liked the extra length.
Not bothering with taking his time, Sam immediately put all of his attention into rendering Tristan an incoherent mess.  He was rewarded with a few needy whimpers, then a gasp followed by Tristan’s open palm loudly smacking into the wall twice, and then Tristan was coming hot in his mouth. 
Sam pushed himself back to his feet, feeling a little smug when he found Tristan’s eyes closed, head resting on the wall, still breathing hard.  He cracked an eye open just long enough to see Sam looking at him.  “Sorry,” he panted.  “I’m going to need a minute.” 
Sam chuckled, leaning in to kiss him languorously.  “Take all the time you want.”  He smiled against Tristan’s mouth, content to savor the effect he’d finally had upon the person on whom he had always most wanted to have that sort of effect.  “Do you know how many of my teenage fantasies I just fulfilled?” he remarked.  “How many times in college I imagined doing that to you?  How many desperate plans I concocted to follow you into the locker room after laps and just slam you up against a wall?”
Tristan opened his gorgeous brown eyes and grinned.  “Actually, I probably do.  Want me to return the favor?  I promise, I’d be fulfilling more than a few of my own favorite plots.”
Their lips met again, sliding against each other almost lazily.  “Later,” Sam decided.  “After we get back tonight, we’re going to spend a very long time getting into bed and an even longer time in it.”  He pulled back regretfully.  “But right now, I probably need to pull out my ironing board.  I’m all wrinkled.”
Despite Sam’s words, Tristan looped his arms around Sam’s waist and pulled him close for a minute.  “I bet your plan for the night’s all off-kilter now, isn’t it?” 
Sam nodded, remembering his earlier resolution to stick to the plan that he’d forgotten at the sight of Tristan in his office.  “You do seem to have that effect on them,” he sighed, dropping his head to Tristan’s shoulder.  “I was so determined to follow this one to the letter.”
Tristan laughed quietly, cheek coming to rest on Sam’s hair.  “And they say we don’t know how to be spontaneous.” 
Sam snickered, thinking of the look any of his ex-boyfriends would have given him if they’d found out he’d voluntarily blown off one of his own plans in favor of blowing Tristan. 
After few minutes, Tristan dropped his arms with a sigh.  “All right.  I should probably use your ironing board too once you get it set up.  I’m sure my clothes are a complete mess now, whatever you did with them.”
Sam’s eyes flicked sheepishly to the shirt lying on the floor next to the door and the jacket hanging from the knob.  When Tristan followed his gaze, he started to laugh.  “Only you, Sam.  But it figures that you would be able to fold them neatly, even with your eyes closed while sucking my brains out.”  He pressed a kiss to Sam’s cheek before reaching for his shirt and giving it a quick shake to make sure it was still in wearable condition.  “So when’s dinner?”
“We’ve still got a while,” Sam replied.  “We’re supposed to be at the movie right now.” 
Tristan’s eyes roved over Sam briefly, his plotting look slipping firmly in place.  “You’re going to need to take those clothes off to iron them, right?  Might as well take them off now and then leave them off until it’s time to go.  So they don’t get wrinkled again, I mean.”  He flashed Sam a naughty grin.  “And it would be a shame for me to ruin the careful job you did keeping my clothes neat.  I might as well not put them back on quite yet either.”
Sam yielded to Tristan’s impeccable logic, shaking his head as he reached up to loosen his tie.  He had a feeling his plans for dinner were about to go the way of his movie plans, but his plans never had worked out where Tristan was involved. Fortunately.


WAITING FOR SAM

Tristan fiddled with his phone, checking the clock for the third time in five minutes, wondering whether he should call Sam.  He was nearly fifteen minutes late.  Sam was never behind schedule, and he never forgot anything in his plan for the day. 
Just as he was deciding that a text would be okay and less clingy than a phone call, the door to the café swung open, and in blew Sam along with a vast quantity of snow.  Tristan stifled the smile that threatened to take over his face as he watched Sam comb his fingers through his hair to rearrange the slightly windblown locks into their usual impeccable order.  Tristan raised a hand to get his attention, still feeling a little lurch in his stomach when Sam met his eyes and headed for his table.
“Sorry I’m late,” Sam sighed, draping his coat and scarf over the back of the chair opposite Tristan before sliding into the chair just to his left.  “I hate the DMV.  They’re so abominably inefficient.”
Ah.  That made sense.  It took a vast, immovable force to get in the way of Sam’s execution of a plan; the DMV definitely qualified as vast and immovable.  “What were you there for?” he asked, passing Sam the latte he’d already ordered for him. 
“Renewing my license,” Sam replied, too intently focused on brushing ineffectively at the little flecks of wetness that speckled his shirt cuffs to notice the drink steaming before him.  Tristan grinned.  Sam was just adorable when he was being fussy.  Tristan could have watched him straighten and smooth himself out all day.
Sam caught him staring and frowned.  “What?”
“You’re so cute when you’re all persnickety.”  He leaned over, kissing Sam lightly to take any insult out of the words, adding, “I love it.”
Sam’s shoulders relaxed for the first time since sitting down, and Tristan congratulated himself.  “What’s this?” Sam asked, eyes falling to the cup Tristan had pushed over.
“Caramel Marvel, extra shot.”  When Sam’s eyes widened in surprise, Tristan shrugged.  “It’s what you always get on Mondays.  When I beat you here, I figured I had better order for you so you wouldn’t have to wait.  I know you don’t have long, and I didn’t want you to get behind schedule.  You hate that.”
Sam just stared at him for a long moment.  Then a familiar look came into his eyes, making Tristan sigh indulgently.  “What are you planning now, Sam?”
The smirk that twisted his lips was far sexier than Tristan thought fair for a public setting.  “Just revising my plans for the evening.”  When Tristan’s eyebrows shot up, he laughed.  “You’ll like the revisions, I promise.” 
“Is that so?”  Tristan had been rather fond of their plans for the evening the way they had been, actually.  Making dinner together and snuggling on the couch while Sam graded papers and Tristan devised plots to distract him still sounded awfully nice to him.
Then Sam leaned in to murmur in his ear, “I had to add the part where I reward you adequately for being the best, most perfect, most understanding boyfriend in the world.  But if you want, we can plot that out together after dinner.”
“Oh.”  His voice came out rather faint, and he knew he must be bright red given the heat that had suddenly flooded his face. 
Sam grinned, looking satisfied with himself, and sat back in his chair.  He let out a sigh as he took a sip of his latte.  “Thank you so much.  You have no idea how awesome you are.”
An awkward smile fought its way to Tristan’s mouth as he shrugged.  “Not really,” he deflected.  “I’m kind of boring.”
Sam shook his head emphatically, reaching over to slide the fingers of one hand in between Tristan’s.  They were hot on one side from his coffee and still icy on the other from the snow.  “I can’t think of a single boring thing about you.”
Scoffing, Tristan suggested, “I can think of several.  How about the routine I follow? I do the exact same thing every day.”
“Just shows you’re smart enough to make a good plan and stick with it when it works.”  Sam’s lips curled up slightly in one corner.
Tristan almost laughed at that.  Of course Sam would like that about him.  “Well, what about the way I look?  I’m pretty boring and unexceptional: brown hair, brown eyes, boring work clothes…”
Sam’s eyebrows lifted skeptically.  “Gorgeous, shampoo commercial brown hair.  Eyes like fresh coffee, and just as hot.  Neat clothing in good repair that makes you look like a respectable gentleman and doesn’t do anything to hide the breadth of your shoulders while keeping anybody but me from seeing just how gorgeous they are underneath.”  His eyes swept over Tristan approvingly in a way no one else’s ever had, making Tristan’s breath catch a little.  Sam's dimples were showing when he met Tristan’s gaze again and added, “Not to mention that your ties give me more plans than I know what to do with.”
More plans than Sam could handle?  Brain suddenly failing, Tristan murmured inanely, “Do they?”
“Mmm hmm.”  Sam’s fingers wound around the end of the tie Tristan was presently wearing and tugged just hard enough to bring Tristan a little closer.  “Sadly, none of them are café appropriate.”  He let go with a little sigh. 
Tristan had to clear his throat before he could get out a response.  “Maybe you can explain some of them to me tonight after dinner.”
“If I can wait that long.”  Sam took another long sip from his coffee cup, eyes laughing at the expression on Tristan’s face.  He glanced at his watch, scowled, and leaned over to kiss Tristan on the cheek.  “I’ve got to get back to school.  I’ll see you tonight.”
“Let me walk you out,” Tristan offered, gathering his own coat from the back of his chair and sliding into it.  “I should get back to work too.” 
He looped his scarf around his neck, but he didn’t try too hard to arrange it properly since he knew Sam would prefer to do it himself.  And sure enough, as soon as Sam’s outerwear was donned to his satisfaction, he reached for Tristan’s scarf, fussing for a minute until it lay perfectly.  Judging by the sheepish expression in his eyes, Tristan thought Sam hadn’t really meant to do it but couldn’t quite help himself.  Tristan chuckled under his breath; even if Sam hadn’t meant to straighten him up, Tristan had still known he was going to.
As they stood on the snowy sidewalk outside the café, Sam asked, “What time do you think you’ll be over tonight?”
Tristan did a little mental calculation, tried to sort out what things were absolutely essential and which he could skip to make it to Sam’s apartment sooner, and decided, “6:30, I think.  Will that give you enough time to finish the things you need to?”
“I might not be done with dinner, but that’s all right.”  There was a sweet eagerness in his expression that compelled Tristan to lean over and kiss him despite the embarrassment of being on the edge of a public street where everyone outside and everyone inside the café could see.
“I like watching you cook.”  And it was true; Tristan absolutely loved watching Sam be fussy and anal while he planned every action he made, and cooking always brought out those tendencies to the nth degree.  He was a master of mise en place, everything set out in its place before he turned on a single burner, every vegetable diced to identical proportions, his spices in alphabetical containers across the back of the counter waiting to be used at their appointed moment.  One of these days, Tristan was going to completely ruin one of Sam’s dinner plans by lifting him up on the counter, pushing everything out of the way in a giant mess, and having his wicked way with his completely adorable boyfriend. 
“I’ll see you then,” Sam said, interrupting Tristan’s plot to ruin his own dinner before he could finish forming it.  Then he flashed a wicked grin and reminded him, “After I thank you for this coffee properly, we’ll talk about my plans for your tie.”

The Piper Calls



It was the music he could never forget.  The music first drew him, held him, bound him.
Cole was four years old the first time he heard it.  His smiling mother had sent him out to the field to call his father for dinner; half an hour later, she’d gone to investigate their absence and found her little boy sitting beside his father’s prone body, twisting together a crown of blood-red poppies.  His father, thirty-one and stronger than the oxen he used to plow, was dead.  There were no apparent causes.  All Cole remembered afterward was a hauntingly sweet, sorrowful music twisting through the air, mixing with the scent of the poppies that didn’t grow anywhere near his family’s farm, and a pair of dark, lonely eyes.  He could not even tell his mother where he’d gotten the flowers.
The second time he heard it, he was sitting on the back porch with his mother and stepfather, sipping lemonade and listening to the sound of his younger siblings playing while his parents argued playfully about what to name the baby on the way.  As the music drifted across the waving wheat and stalks of corn, he lifted his head to catch the source.  No one else showed any sign of noticing the music, but Cole could not ignore its plaintive qualities.  It was somehow reminiscent of the lullabies his mother used to sing to him, containing all their sweetness and love, yet also like the sound of his best friend saying goodbye before moving to the village across the river.  It made his heart ache so sharply and beautifully that he could not think of anything else, did not want to think of anything else.  But he saw nothing, only a distant flash of memory showing yearning eyes in a face he could not remember and had never known.  Though he had felt while listening as though he could have sung every turn of phrase, predicted the fall of each minor cadence, once the music faded again, he could not remember enough of it to sing even two notes together.
For the next four years, Cole heard nothing out of the ordinary.  He and his siblings grew up a bit, though the baby whose name his parents had been arguing about had never really needed a name, dying only moments after her birth.  He never spoke to anyone about the music.  Sometimes he dreamed of the haunted eyes, dreams in which he longed to make the sorrow melt into peaceful joy but could not determine how to do it.  Upon waking, he would lie quietly in his bed and think of his father and the smell of poppies until the last wisps of the dream melted from his mind and he could no longer remember either the exact shape or the shade of brown those eyes had been.  Then one of his brothers would stir, and the smell of breakfast would seep into the room, and the sights and scents of morning would drive away any lingering remembrance.
It was the night of his seventeenth birthday that he next heard the music lilting mournfully across the fields.  He’d been savoring a moment alone under the willow tree in the front yard while his siblings got ready for bed and his parents cleaned up the remnants of the small party they’d thrown him.  The few friends he had invited had gone home an hour ago while it was still light.  In the peaceful dark, Cole rested his back against the bark, still warm from the heat of the day.  For a moment, he let himself imagine it was the heat of another body seeping through his shirt, but he cut the thought off quickly.  None of the village lads were interested in a quiet giant like him, too intimidated by the increasing breadth of his chest and shoulders and too bored by his propensity for long periods of silence.  The lasses were little better, though Cole had just as little interest in them.  He was sure his parents would arrange a match for him when it was time, and he would marry as he was bid because there was nothing better for him elsewhere.
The sound of a solitary wood flute playing a song he could swear he’d heard a million times before crept into his consciousness.  Cole sat up straighter, knowing there would be nothing to see but unable not to look just once more, eyes raking the darkness for any unfamiliar shadow. 
“ Why do you sit here alone on the night you become a man?”
Cole jerked at the sound of a husky voice that curled softly around him like smoke in the darkness.  Though he knew that he should not recognize the man to whom such a voice belonged, the sound tugged at a memory somewhere deep inside him, somewhere mixed with the scent of poppies, the sound of forsaken hope, the sense of loss.  “Who goes there?”
A figure emerged from the shadows, the stars and the faint glow from the windows of the house the only light by which Cole could see his tall, thin frame and the darkness of his hair and eyes. Eyes he recognized from his dreams.  Eyes he recognized from the day his father died.  Cole sucked in a breath.  “You,” he murmured.
He flushed slightly when the stranger’s eyebrows lifted.  “You remember me?”  Cole nodded, unable to speak.  Something in the lonely face eased, and with it something inside Cole eased as well.  “I did not think you would.  You have not seen me since you were a very young child, and I was rather surprised that you saw me even then.  Most do not.”
“You gave me the poppies,” Cole breathed with a sudden vivid flash of remembrance.  “And”—he cut himself off, cold as he recalled what had happened next.
The sadness returned to the stranger’s face.  “Yes.  Then I took your father.” 
They were silent a moment, and Cole listened wistfully to the music, wishing hopelessly that it would not fade away and leave him without a memory this time. 
The stranger spoke again after a moment in his quiet way.  “I am not sorry I took your father, because it was his fate and because that is my role.  I am sorry that I took him from you, however.”
Cole blinked, surprised by the sentiment.  “I hardly remember my father, so I do not miss him, and my stepfather is a good man.  I have not lacked for anything.”
“No,” the stranger murmured, something in his eyes dimming.  “I suppose you have not.”  He sighed so softly Cole almost thought it was the wind through the branches of the willow, but the leaves did not stir around him.  “Enjoy your birthday.  It does not seem as though it will be your last.”  He turned to go, and Cole lunged to his feet, not wanting the man to disappear again just yet.
“Wait!”  His hand closed around the thin arm, cool under his fingers.  The look of surprise on the stranger’s barely visible face made something in Cole’s heart beat faster.  The dark eyes looked almost… what?  Pleased?  Sweet?  Hopeful?  “I don’t even know your name.”
“It is not time for you to know it.”
“Please,” Cole begged, unsure why it mattered so much that he have a name to go with the face.  “I have been dreaming of you since I was four years old, and I don’t know why.  I don’t understand why you were there that day, or why you took my father, or why you were so kind to me.  I don’t know why you didn’t take me as well.  I don’t know why you’re here now.”  He stopped abruptly, realizing how hard he was gripping the stranger’s arm and releasing him before he left bruises.
“I do not entirely understand it myself,” the stranger answered, “but I have always been drawn to you.  I did not even intend to speak to you tonight, just to come and look for a moment.  I did not expect you to be alone.”
“I am often alone,” Cole admitted. 
“Are you lonely?” The yearning in that voice of smoke wended its way deep into Cole’s heart, mixing with the soft music still drifting through the air.  Cole had never thought about whether he was lonely or not, but he knew instantly that the man to whom he was speaking was.  Desperately lonely.
“Is the music yours?” he asked instead of answering.
A nearly imperceptible smile curved the thin lips.  “You can hear it?”
Cole nodded.  “No one else ever has.”
The stranger’s mouth opened as though he wanted to say something, but he hesitated.  When he spoke, Cole had the impression that the words were not what he had originally intended to say.  “The music aids me in my job.  Few people ever hear it more than once.”
“That is a shame,” Cole said honestly.  “It is lovely, like remembering everything good that has been lost or left in the past all at once.  I always wish I could remember it after it’s over.”
Those dark eyes watched him pensively for a long moment.  “Will you come with me?” he asked suddenly, almost impulsively. 
“All right.”  Cole was taken aback by the sudden nervousness in the face before him.  “Where?”
The stranger looked away.  “To my home.”
The music grew louder.  Cole felt it spreading through his limbs.  He was humming along with it as he followed the stranger through the darkness.
~~~
The darkness seemed to grow deeper somehow, the stars absorbed into the velvety blackness of the sky, the shadows enfolding any stray beams of light, until Cole knew where to walk only by the soft sound of footsteps in front of him and by the haunting melody that seemed to lead him closer to itself.  The footsteps stopped, and Cole felt his hand grasped by a smaller, thinner, colder hand.  The voice like smoke murmured, “We are at the door.  Do not be afraid of what lies within.  You are my guest, and none but I can touch you.”
Before Cole could ask why he might be afraid, the stranger placed their joined hands on what seemed to be solid rock.  Cole felt the cool roughness beneath his fingertips for only a moment; then it gave way with a low rasp, and he was being led into what appeared to be a large city contained within a mountainous cavern.  The light was pale, like the light just before dawn or just after sunset.  He could find no sun or moon.  Everywhere he looked, people moved about, yet the city was utterly silent.  Buildings sprawled across the stone floor but sent up no sounds of life. On the far side of the city, a beautiful field scarlet with poppies called to Cole with the sound of that sweet music.  He started to walk towards it, but the stranger pulled him gently in another direction. 
“My home lies this way.”
When at last the stranger stopped before a doorway, Cole hesitated.  The house was the largest in the city, placed at the very center, decorated beyond anything he had ever seen before.  His life on the farm had not prepared him for this sort of finery, and he was afraid that he would not know how to behave in such a place.  The stranger pushed him gently forward, the hand on his back reassuring. 
“If you have need of anything, speak up.  My servants will attend you.”  Even as the stranger offered their services, two pale, nearly translucent figures silently glided up to them with bowls of steaming water.  Cole stood still as one of them gently washed his large feet with her tiny, pale hands.  She looked up at him only briefly as she finished and gave him a small smile.  Cole returned it before he realized that she had only gray mist where her eyes ought to have been and lost his smile in shock. 
The stranger led him deeper into the house.  He paused in a large dining room.  “Are you hungry?”
“No, thank you.  My family fed me well for my birthday.”  Cole patted his stomach self-consciously.  The stranger’s eyes traveled over him in a way that made Cole flush, but neither of them said anything more.
 At last they came to a balcony overlooking a large gray lake.  People were lying on its shores, relaxing or asleep.  Cole would have thought them sunbathing had there been any sun.  “My people,” said the stranger, gesturing to them.  “They are grateful for the peace I can provide, and I am happy to please them.  They love me in their own way, and I love them after a fashion. Yet they are always silent, always distant, always too filled with awe and gratitude to truly love me.  But you,” he said, turning to him with a hunger burning in his eyes for something Cole could not name but wordlessly understood, “you do not see me that way, do you?”  Mutely, Cole shook his head.  “Are you afraid of me, Cole?”
A shiver passed down his spine, and he nearly said yes.  But he looked again into that familiar yet unknown face, young as the day he first saw it though it should have aged by nearly two decades, and read nothing fearful in the thin lines and pale skin, the dark waves of hair thick on his forehead or the burning black eyes.  He saw only a man who wanted what he himself wanted, and so he stated with quiet earnestness, “I am not afraid.”
The man’s fingers lifted to Cole’s face, pushing back the flaxen hair, trailing over the sun-tanned cheek, one cool thumb brushing the corner of his lips.  Cole’s breath quickened.  He knew what such a motion implied.  He recognized the reaction it evoked in his own body.  Yet never had he been sought out for such attention before.  He did not move, waiting to see what the stranger’s next action would be. 
“You are a man now, Cole.”  The voice alone sent blood rushing hot through his body in unfamiliar ways.
“Yes.”
He stepped closer.  “May I kiss you?  I have been waiting what feels a very long time.”
In answer, Cole dipped his head until his nose bumped against the stranger’s.  The man closed his eyes and let out a soft sigh, a small smile curling his lips.  “Thank you,” he murmured.  Then he tilted his head up to meet Cole’s mouth with his own.
After the first gentle brush of lips, Cole’s arms closed around the thin body and brought the man closer.  The stranger’s hand slipped around to the back of Cole’s head, pressing their lips together more firmly as he deepened the kiss.  Cole exhaled through his nose, intoxicated by the taste of cinnamon and mint in the man’s mouth, the fragrance of myrrh rising from his clothes. Outside, the music grew stronger, more sweet than bitter, though Cole hardly noticed.  He was distracted by the hand sliding over his chest, smoothing down the arch of his spine, settling in the curve of his back to pull him closer, then sliding further downward to places no other man had touched. 
The kiss broke as the other man pulled Cole’s shirt over his head.  “You have grown so strong,” he said, running his hands over the expanse of Cole’s chest.  “I never dreamed you would grow up to be like this.  And you are so very warm.”  He leaned in to kiss him again until Cole felt it necessary to return the favor and tug off the soft black shirt the stranger wore.  The press of skin to skin, cool to burning, seemed to heighten their fervor, and soon Cole’s gentle hands were roaming as freely as the stranger’s, touching and exploring the skin so white it seemed never to have been kissed by the sun.  When his trousers were loosened and dropped to the floor, Cole simply stepped out of them with a grunt and reached for the fastenings of the other man’s.  He shuddered to feel a hand not his own ghost over his cock, instinctually reaching down to grasp them both in his own hand. 
The stranger moaned softly, bucking his hips and clenching Cole’s broad shoulders in his hands.  They rocked together a few minutes more until the man gasped and came in Cole’s hand.  He froze for a moment, then wiped up a finger of the sticky mess and held it up to Cole’s lips.  Without thinking, Cole leaned forward and sucked the finger into his mouth.  The other man made an appreciative noise before withdrawing his finger and dropping to his knees.  Cole let out a cry as the stranger’s cold mouth engulfed him and came almost immediately. 
“Come to my bed, Cole,” the stranger commanded.  Cole did not think he could have resisted if he had tried, not with the music heightening his emotions and calling to his heart, nor with the weakness of recent pleasure still melting his bones to water, nor in the face of the promise that shone in eyes that had plagued his dreams as long as he could remember.  As though in a trance, Cole followed the man through a doorway into a magnificent bedroom.  Taking Cole’s hand in both of his, the stranger turned to him with his eyebrows raised in unspoken invitation, then fell backwards onto the bed, pulling Cole willingly along.
When the strange, pale light of the city began to grow dimmer, Cole at last sighed, “I suppose I should go home.  My family will soon be wondering where I am, and I do not want them to worry.”
The stranger looked at him silently, and for a moment, Cole saw a flicker of the old loneliness return to his eyes.  He had not noticed until that moment how completely it had disappeared.  “I shall walk you home.”
The return journey was quiet, the distance between them increasing as they walked.  By the time he saw the old willow tree appearing over the crest of the last hill, Cole could almost have forgotten that he and the man beside him had ever done more than walk side by side.
The stranger came to a halt at the top of the hill.  Dawn was breaking rosy and warm across the sky.  “I shall leave you here.”  In the light of day, the huskiness of his voice seemed even more vaporous. 
Cole studied him for a moment, trying to burn the image into his mind so that he could not forget this time.  “Will I ever see you again?”
The stranger’s voice was surprisingly gentle and warm as he replied.  “Yes.  You tasted my seed six times, so you belong to my world now as much as you belong to this one.  But I shall not take you from it yet.”  Cole nodded as though he understood, gaze dropping to his feet so that those penetrating eyes would not read in his face the emotions Cole had not yet identified.  The stranger’s fingers gently pushed his chin up until their eyes met.  “When you hear my music, you will know I am nearby.  It happens more often than you think.  If you wish to see me, you need only call me.”
“What name shall I call?”
The stranger smiled fully, and Cole was surprised by how beautiful his sober face became.  “For now, you may call me Corwin.”
“Corwin,” Cole repeated.
Corwin leaned forward to brush his lips tenderly across Cole’s.  “I will hear you, no matter how softly you speak my name.  Though I will not be able to stay with you any more than you are now able to stay with me, there will be time for moments like these.  And when you come at last to live with me, there will be no more need to part.  Then shall I tell you my truest name.”