When Geralt, Eskel, and Lambert had a bender, they had a proper bender. Eskel slid groggily back into consciousness on Monday morning lying half off the couch, his neck in a very uncomfortable position on the cold floor. His legs stuck up in the air, and from his odd angle he could see that he had a sock on one foot and a shoe with no sock on the other, but he didn’t know whose shoe it was. It didn’t even look like one of Geralt’s or Lambert’s. He stared at it for a minute, then attempted to right himself by swinging his legs off the couch with a loud thump. When he sat up, everything spun, then settled into a swaying semblance of normalcy. His head ached. A moan from behind him alerted him to his surroundings.
Lambert was still fast asleep, face pressed into the carpet and butt in the air. Eskel stifled a laugh and groaned as his head throbbed. Lambert snorted in his sleep and gentle snoring issued from underneath the lumpy couch cushions in the corner of the room. Eskel stood, gingerly testing his legs until he was sure they would support him, then limped through the litter of beer cans to investigate. Somehow, over the course of their night, Geralt had managed to wedge himself into the crack behind the cushions, with half his body still visible. Grinning, Eskel left the living room and wandered into the kitchen. After a thorough search of the cupboards yielded very little of interest, Eskel deduced that Geralt only had whole coffee beans, without a grinder or even a coffee maker. Mumbling angrily, Eskel found his socks and shoes, grabbed his coat and a pair of Geralt’s sunglasses, and left the apartment.
The light outside struck his eyes, and he nearly yelped. Even through the sunglasses it felt like someone was stabbing needle-like daggers into his head. The walk to the nearest café took him only ten minutes or so, yet it felt like hours. When he finally pushed the door open and stepped inside, he sighed with relief.
Eskel was sipping his coffee in hungover bliss when he heard the café door open and close. He kept his eyes half closed and unfocused until someone sat down across from him at his table. A very large someone. He looked up, and his heart nearly stopped.
“Mind if I sit here?” The light streaming through the windows shone off his shaved scalp and illuminated the man’s eyes, making them glow their eerie yellow-green. Eskel swallowed nervously.
“Go ahead.” Letho’s mouth twitched and he took a drink from his own steaming cup. Eskel studied him, hoping Geralt’s sunglasses hid his eyes well enough. He, Geralt, and Lambert all had various scars on their faces from childhood injuries, but this man’s visage was more scarred than any he’d seen before. Reaching up, he absently touched the place where his own mark bit into his lip.
“Nice sunglasses,” Letho drawled. Eskel suddenly realized that Letho looked much more comfortable in this kind of setting than he ever had in the bar. His eyes had a wicked sort of twinkle in them as he surveyed Eskel over his coffee.
“You don’t wanna see what they’re hiding,” Eskel said, taking another drink. “And they help with the light.” Letho nodded and picked up a pastry that Eskel hadn’t seen him set down. Eskel watched as the man took a big bite, remembering he’d also purchased a scone. He eyed it, taking a sip of his coffee.
“So why are you here?” Eskel asked, trying not to sound rude.
“Best coffee in the area. Why are you here?”
“It’s the closest place to Geralt’s apartment that has coffee,” Eskel admitted. “We got really drunk last night and I woke up with a terrible hangover. I just wanted some caffeine, but Geralt doesn’t have coffee in his kitchen, cause he’s an asshole.” Letho chuckled, and for a moment, he looked much less menacing. Eskel felt himself smile in response. This man might not be quite the monster he looked to be.
“It was pretty crazy,” Eskel said, waving his hands to illustrate the scene as they walked, “I woke up with a sock on one foot and a shoe with no sock on the other. I have no idea how it happened.” Letho was laughing in earnest now, his broad frame shaking with mirth. They turned a corner as Letho regained his composure, and Eskel continued. “When I got up, I saw Lambert lying face down in the carpet with his ass in the air. If my head hadn’t been killing me, I would’ve died laughing.”
When they reached Geralt’s apartment complex, Eskel stopped and looked up into Letho’s face. He opened his mouth to say goodbye and his breath caught in his throat. The late morning sun caught Letho’s eyes, once again making them glow. Eskel thought that for a moment he saw the color intensify and slit pupils sharpen, then he blinked, and the illusion was gone. Instead he saw a strange look on the man’s scarred face, one that made his stomach flip. He gulped, then said, “Thanks for the chat.” Letho nodded, a smile crooking the corner of his mouth.
“Any time,” the big man replied. “See you.” Eskel nodded and walked into the apartment building, trying not to look like he was making a hasty retreat. Letho watched him disappear, then turned and walked back toward the café, whistling cheerfully. He’d enjoyed talking to the other man. Something about Eskel intrigued him. Watching the guarded, almost frightened look leave Eskel’s face as he relaxed had been unnervingly satisfying, and he couldn’t quite figure out why. He tugged thoughtfully on the hoop in his ear as he walked, wondering when he’d find an excuse to talk to the shy bartender again.
For some reason, the sound of the door opening drew Eskel’s gaze. It was a busy enough night, with a constant buzz of conversation humming throughout the room, yet he had clearly heard the jingle of the bell above the door over the noise. A tall, dignified-looking man held the door open for his companion, who stepped inside with a gust of wind that smelled oddly like salty ocean air. Eskel stared. He’d seen this couple at the bar before, but it had been months since they’d been there, and he had forgotten how impressive they looked together.
The first man was pale, with reddish brown hair pulled back from a high forehead and piercing, icy-blue eyes. He looked down his long nose as he surveyed the room, thin lips pressed together, shuddering as he pulled his light jacket more tightly around his thin frame. The man’s companion skipped up to the bar and smiled dazzlingly into Eskel’s face. Eskel met his dancing, blue-grey eyes and gulped, momentarily stunned.
This man was beautiful. The sleek, russet hair curling gently around his lean shoulders reminded Eskel of water cascading over rocks, or maybe of fire curling around logs. His lean, angular face was framed by twin braids, each sparkling with tiny copper rings. He somehow managed to look sturdy and whimsical at the same time. Eskel’s eyes traveled from the man’s strong, arched eyebrows to the beauty mark underneath his left eye. The faintest suggestion of a reddish beard touched his jawline and framed his full, pink mouth. Something about the graceful way he held himself made Eskel think of a bird, poised for flight.
“I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” Eskel said, having realized that the man was speaking. White teeth flashed.
“Of course,” the man said. “May I have a Suede Imperial Porter please?” He spoke softly, his voice husky, smooth, and almost mesmerizing. Blinking, Eskel nodded and wobbled off to fetch the beer. By the time he returned, the first man had reached the bar, and was speaking quietly into his companion’s ear. Eskel handed the dazzling man his drink, not even surprised when he received a tiny static-like shock from the man’s fingers.
“Put our drinks on my tab, if you please,” the first man said, turning his haughty gaze toward Eskel. “Morvran Voorhis.” Eskel raised his eyebrows but nodded anyway. He recognized the name from past bar visits and from word of mouth. This man was well-known and exceedingly wealthy. He lived in the country with his husband, who was also talked about quite a lot, yet no one could ever properly describe him. Eskel now knew why. The dazzling man turned to him and grinned mischievously.
“My husband will have a Sex on the Beach, please. It’s his favorite,” he said, casting a sly look at his partner. A faint blush crept up Morvran’s cheeks. He leaned down to murmur something that sounded like, “Don’t be crude in public,” in his husband’s ear before striding off to find seats at a private table.
“I’m Rhoen Voorhis, by the way,” the man said with another stunning smile. “Oh, don’t worry about him, he’s always like that.” Eskel shrugged dazedly and went to mix the cocktail. When Eskel turned around, drink in hand, Geralt had sidled up and was talking quietly to Rhoen, who was grinning in a conspiratorial way. Something about that mischievous expression made Eskel a bit nervous. He handed the cocktail to Rhoen, who shot another blazing smile across the bar at him and practically skipped away to where Morvran was sitting, a slight scowl on his sharp features. Eskel saw the lines in the man’s face soften as Rhoen gave him his drink and dropped onto the seat next to him, taking his hand.
Minutes later, Rhoen had returned. He leaned on the bar in a graceful way, trying to catch Geralt’s eye. Geralt noticed, and wandered over, obviously trying to be inconspicuous. He handed Rhoen a cup of what looked like nuts and slid away, grinning wolfishly. Rhoen saw Eskel’s confused expression and beckoned with his finger. He placed the finger against his mouth and opened his coat. Eskel looked, curious in spite of himself, and found himself staring into a pair of black, button eyes. The parrot in Rhoen’s inner pocket cheeped softly. Eskel straightened as Rhoen offered his bird an almond, battling with professional disapproval and the grin that fought to appear. The grin won.
“Don’t let Vesemir see that,” he said, chuckling. Rhoen laughed, a light, musical sound that startled Eskel.
“Don’t worry,” he said, “Bogue is very well-trained.” As if at a cue, the bird let out a trill that was nearly identical to the sound of a phone ringing. Rhoen gasped dramatically and turned. “I’m sorry, my bird is ringing. I have to take this,” he said, voice thick with amusement. He winked a bright blue eye and disappeared into the crowd. Eskel stood for a moment, feeling baffled and dazed. He could’ve sworn the man’s eyes had been a stormy blue-grey when he’d first looked. After a moment’s thought, he shook his head and grinned. He wouldn’t be forgetting this encounter any time soon.