“Why are you wearing a scarf? It’s spring, you can’t possibly be that cold.” Eskel tugged on one end of the offending garment, and Geralt smacked his hand away. They were opening the bar yet again, and Eskel was interrogating Geralt about his poor fashion choices.
“Well if you really must know…” Geralt said, unwinding the scarf. Eskel gaped. The man’s neck was covered in hickeys, some of which looked more like sharp-toothed bite marks.
“Oh man,” Eskel hissed, rubbing his own neck. “That looks… painful?”
“Painfully wonderful,” Geralt said with a grin, wrapping the scarf back around his neck. “I asked for it, anyway.”
“You just say that because you haven’t gotten any ass for a long-ass time,” Geralt retorted, flipping the end of the scarf over his shoulder. Eskel flushed and threw a dish towel at him. He ducked.
“You think I haven’t noticed how much you and Letho have been hanging out?” Geralt asked, backing out of arm’s reach.
“What do you mean by that?” Eskel snapped, recalling his most recent dream and blushing harder. Geralt twirled a towel around his finger, an evil smile on his face.
“Well…” he drawled, investigating his fingernails, “I’ve also noticed the way you look at him sometimes.” Eskel’s ears felt like they were on fire. “And,” Geralt continued, “I’ve seen the way he looks at you.”
“You’re too much,” Eskel muttered, dropping onto a bar stool and hiding his face in his hands. Geralt crept over, and when Eskel didn’t punch him, he grasped Eskel’s shoulders, loosening the tight muscles with deft fingers.
“I’m just being honest,” Geralt told him, absently massaging the back of his neck. “I know these things. And I’ve seen Lambert eye a really expensive bottle of whiskey the same way Letho looks at you when he thinks no one is watching.” Eskel groaned with embarrassment and turned around, looking up into Geralt’s concerned face.
“What am I supposed to do?” he asked, pleading in his voice. “I, uh, I can’t describe it but…”
“Just ask him out,” Geralt said, shrugging unhelpfully.
“I can’t do that! I’d be mortified!”
“Why, though?” Eskel waved his hands in a nondescript way, unable to explain properly.
“I suppose he is a bit intimidating,” Geralt said. “But he’s obviously into you, so I dunno why you’re embarrassed about the whole situation.”
“Did I tell you about the dream I had a week ago?” Eskel asked, feeling his blush return in full force.
“Umm… no?” Geralt dropped down next to Eskel and propped his chin in his hands. “We still have ten minutes until we open. Tell me everything.”
Still red from talking to Geralt, Eskel focused on organizing bottles behind the counter rather than show his face to the first patrons of the night. His blush faded after a while, so he began to take orders and chat with the bar-goers. A particularly complex cocktail order kept him busy for several minutes with his back turned to the door, so he didn’t see who entered when he heard the door swing open. The smell of ocean brine tickled his nostrils and he turned in surprise.
Rhoen Voorhis leaned on the counter, grinning and waving cheekily. His pale gray eyes sparkled as he beckoned to Eskel.
“May I please have—”
“A Suede Imperial Porter? I remember,” Eskel said, returning Rhoen’s smile. Rhoen gasped in delight.
“Yes! I’m surprised you do remember!” Eskel laughed and went to fetch the beer. When he returned, Morvran had joined his husband at the bar, looking put-out.
“Your best scotch on the rocks, please,” he said, eyeing an empty table in the corner of the room. “Put it on my tab.” Eskel nodded and brought him his drink. He accepted the glass and disappeared in the direction of the empty table, leaving Rhoen sitting happily at the bar, sipping his beer.
“Hard day at work?” Eskel asked him, gesturing to the corner where Morvran sat. Rhoen shook his head.
“He’s just sulking,” Rhoen replied. “The restaurant where we ate dinner was out of fancy sparkling water.” Eskel wasn’t sure if he was allowed to laugh at that or not. As he considered his options, two women sat down next to Rhoen, greeting him and clapping him on the shoulder. Turning to take their orders, Eskel stopped.
The women were an impressive pair. One was tall, with a curvy, athletic build, the other was a few inches shorter, slightly stocky, yet muscular, with curves that drew admiring looks from everyone she passed. The taller of the two wore a black, skintight dress. Silver earrings sparkled in her earlobes, and a pendant on a silver chain glittered around her neck. Her scarlet hair was cut in a medium bob, bangs falling into dark eyes. The light made her creamy skin glow. Her full, rosy lips curled into a smile as she talked to her companion, showing very white teeth. She looked casual yet classy, exuding quiet confidence.
The other, slightly shorter woman wore a red plaid button-down and simple black jeans, yet still managed to look as good as her companion. Her mane of wild, fiery red-orange locks was pulled back to show a fine-boned face with curved brows, heavily-lined blue eyes, and pale, extremely freckled skin. Her lips were painted nearly the same red as her hair. Small copper rings marched up the curve of one of her ears, a ruby drop hung from the other. Dark, ashen-blue tattoos showed on her fingers, hands, and forearms, and disappeared beneath her rolled-up sleeves. She matched the confidence of her partner, adding her own boldness to the graceful way they moved.
Eskel cleared his throat, and the two women turned in unison, blue and dark eyes widening in unison.
“Eskel? Is that you? It’s been forever!” the woman in the black dress exclaimed.
“Lily? How are you? Is that… Thora?” The woman with the fiery mane grinned. Eskel laughed as Rhoen looked from him to the women and back. “Wow guys, it really has been forever. What have you been up to?” Thora waved a casual hand.
“Oh, I just dropped out of my PhD program, met this lovely lady,” she slung her arm around Lily’s waist, pulling her close, “traveled a bit, and now we’ve settled here for a while. I’ve also been helping Lily teach.”
“I’ve been teaching martial arts with Thora, mostly. Enough about us, though. How are you?” Lily asked. Eskel glanced over towards the door and briefly caught Letho’s eye before looking away again.
“I’m doing pretty well, actually,” he said with an embarrassed grin. “Life has been wild, of course, but great. I’ve been fencing a lot.”
“If our college days were any indication, you’re probably still drinking a lot, too,” Thora teased. Eskel chuckled with good humor.
“Yeah, you’re right. But you’re probably still as good as shotgunning five beers in a row as you ever were.”
“True, true.” Thora nodded as Rhoen gaped at her. “I can still shotgun a beer. Lily though…” she paused, smiling at the other woman. “Lily beat my record easily, and then kept going. She’s a real demon.” Lily laughed and cuffed the back of Thora’s head.
“You guys haven’t changed,” Eskel said, shaking his head. “But you’re making me forget that I’m supposed to be working. What would you like to drink?”
Letho watched as Eskel chatted comfortably with the two redheaded women who’d sat at the bar. The easy, almost flirtatious smile Eskel directed at one of the women just then made Letho feel almost jealous. He frowned, looking away. Getting jealous wouldn’t accomplish anything. Plus, it wasn’t any of his business if Eskel wanted to flirt with people.
“You look troubled, my friend,” a smooth voice said. Letho turned to see Regis standing beside him, surveying the crowded room. The man looked impeccable as always, dressed in a pale lavender button-down shirt and dark grey pants, large amethyst drops hanging from his earlobes. Regis straightened his high collar, the gold rings on his fingers glittering as he moved. He glanced up at Letho, a twinkle in his dark eyes. “Anything you’d like to get off your chest?” Letho scowled down at him.
“Nope,” he said with a grunt. After a moment, he turned back to watch the room again. “How did your trip go?”
“Well enough,” Regis said, checking his vaguely pointed nails. “The incidents have been put to rest. Things should calm down soon.”
“Did you go through the whole… ‘presents’ routine?”
Regis lifted his lip in an elegant sneer, showing a single sharp tooth.
“I didn’t need to go that far, and it’s really an overused method. I also quite like horses, I don’t see the need to use them like that.” He lifted something silver out of his pocket, handing it to Letho for examination.
“Antique pocket watch,” Letho murmured, turning it over in his fingers. “Pure silver, wrought design… definitely worth a decent amount.” Regis smirked, taking back the offered trinket.
“Ah, but I don’t need to sell it,” he said, pocketing the watch. “Plus, I still like to keep my trophies after I’ve taken them.” A shiver ran over Letho’s skin. Ignoring the feeling, he turned, looking back at the bar. Eskel was laughing at something one of the women had said. The sight caused butterflies in Letho’s stomach. He looked away, heat creeping up his cheeks.
“Take the man out to dinner or something,” Regis said, smiling toothily up at him. “I can tell you’re dying to make a move on him.”
“I basically have,” Letho grunted. “I’ve done everything except actually kiss him, and he’s never really seemed to react. He does blush a lot though.” He grinned.
“Well, I don’t know if I’m entirely qualified to offer advice on the matter…” Regis spotted Geralt behind the bar and waved. “But, I do have several more years of experience under my belt… ask him out.” The man disappeared into the crowd. Letho scowled after him, then focused on the room again. He wasn’t being paid to deal with his romance problems on the clock.