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The Reality of Dreams: a Witcher Modern AU

Chapter Text

Prologue.

 

             His shadow was stark against the moonlit ground. The shape of it startled him; two long, hilt-shaped shadows protruded from his right shoulder. Reaching up in a smooth, practiced motion, he drew one of the swords to inspect it. The silver blade sparkled in the moonlight, its hilt simple in design and wrapped in leather. It felt right in his hand. He made a few passes with it, then paused to investigate his surroundings.

             It was suddenly very cold. His lungs burned, his breath a silvery cloud in the still air. Despite the lack of wind, the grass rustled softly. When he looked up, the sky was completely black and empty, except for the waxing moon. The lack of stars disturbed him.

             A strange sound made him turn, his grip tightening on the hilt of the sword. The palm of his free hand moved almost of its own accord until it was parallel to the ground, a tingling surge bursting from his skin. Glowing purple signs appeared in the grass in a large circle around his feet as a hideous, spectral figure moved into the strange moonlight. The otherworldly shadow revealed itself to be a skeletal, corpse-like woman in a tattered, pale green dress. Her gray hair was stringy and tangled, floating around her gaunt, eyeless face. As he watched, the creature opened her desiccated jaw and let out an unearthly, grating shriek that sent chills down his spine. His body shifted before he could control it, and he sank into a guarded stance.

             “Come on, you old hag,” he heard himself say. The creature screeched with rage and threw herself at him. He saw a flash of rotted teeth and sunken, dried eye sockets…

 

             Eskel sat bolt upright in bed, gasping for air. Clammy sweat covered his skin. Taking a deep breath, he rubbed his face then dared a glance at his bedside clock. It was only 4:37 in the morning. He ran cold fingers through his hair and flopped back onto his mattress, reaching for his phone.

             I had that dream again, he typed, then sent the message. A minute later, the phone vibrated.

             Again? Y can't u dream of something better, like puppies or some shit? the response read. Eskel grinned tiredly and typed his answer.

             I dunno dude, I’m not great at controlling my dreams. Didn’t you tell me to let you know if I had that dream again? It took another minute or so for a response to light up his screen.

             …Yeah, I did. What of it?

             Eskel sighed.

             Stop being a prick, Geralt. I’m going back to bed. Night. He plugged his phone in again and rolled over, ignoring the clock. As he closed his eyes the image of the skeletal woman appeared in his vision as if it were burned into the backs of his eyelids.

             He’d had the same dream for months, but every time he faced a different monster. Sometimes the monsters looked more like humans. Once or twice the creature had worn one of his friends’ faces, but their eyes had glowed a sinister yellow. After a month of having the dream he had broken down and told his closest friend. Although he’d expected mockery, Geralt had listened to his story in sober silence, then told him to send a text whenever he had the same dream.

             Trying to empty his mind, Eskel rolled over again and soon fell back into darkness.


Chapter Text

Chapter 1.

 

             “When was the last time you were at practice?” Eskel said into his phone, getting out of his car. The early fall air was just barely chilly, but the sun felt warm on his skin.

             “I’ve been busy,” the voice on the other end of the line responded. “I’ve had to work a second job to pay off my new ride.”

             “Fuck, Lambert,” Eskel said, rubbing a hand over his face. “It’s been like two weeks. Shouldn’t you be practicing for the fencing competition?”

             “… Shit, I’d forgotten about that. I probably should be.”

             “Damn right, asshole. Come to practice next week at least, will you?”

             “Sure, fine. See you at work then,” Lambert grumbled.

             “Yeah, bye,” Eskel hung up and tucked his phone into his pocket.

             “Have I ever told you how damn sexy that car is? What model is it again?” a smug voice asked. He turned to see Geralt standing on the sidewalk a few feet away. The man’s prematurely white hair shone in the afternoon sun, and the skin around his golden-brown eyes wrinkled as he grinned at Eskel, clearly pleased to see him.

             “She’s a 1968 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500KR. You’ve asked me that like five times. And paws off, butterfingers,” Eskel replied with a matching grin. “I know you crashed your last car just a few weeks ago. You’ve been driving a rental since then.” Geralt snickered unashamedly and waited for Eskel to reach him before turning to walk down the sidewalk.

             “Can you believe Lambert skipped fencing practice again?” Geralt said, moving aside for a woman to walk past them.

             “Yeah, I called him about it. He said he’s working a second job to pay off his new motorcycle,” Eskel replied. Geralt snorted.

             “Well, he better make it next week, or he’ll be royally fucked for the competition.”

             “Speaking of royally fucked…” Eskel said, smirking. “Have you finally gone on a date with that silver fox, Ezekial Remas, yet?” Geralt scowled, a slight flush creeping over his sharp cheekbones.

             “I have not, as a matter of fact. Stop bringing it up, will you?”

             “I absolutely will not,” Eskel told him. “The wealthy, good-looking owner of the fine establishment we work at has been showing interest in you and all you’ll do is flirt?” He tutted and shook his head. “You’re wasting a perfectly good opportunity.”

             “I’m not wasting anything,” Geralt said with his nose in the air. “I’m still not over my break with Yen.” Eskel raised his eyebrows.

             “You’re an idiot. Plus, Ezekial is too good for you anyway.”

             “His name is Emiel Regis,” Geralt corrected, then blushed again.

             “I knew it,” Eskel laughed. “You totally have a thing for him. Just admit it.” He stopped in front of the bar door.

             “I will do no such thing,” Geralt retorted.

Eskel peered up at the bar’s sign as it creaked, swinging gently in the wind. A wolf’s head glared back at him with teeth bared, its newly painted silver and white lines glowing in the afternoon sun. The wolf’s golden eyes seemed to stare straight into Eskel’s as he looked.

             “What do you think of the bar’s new name?” Eskel asked. Geralt glanced up.

             “The White Wolf? I like it,” he replied, grinning. “It’s great.”

             Eskel shook his head with a wry smile and reached for the door handle. Before he could grab the metal, however, the door swung inward. The bar was relatively dark inside, so Eskel couldn’t quite see who was holding the door open. He stepped across the threshold, meaning to politely thank the person, but when he turned the words stuck in his throat. His heart seemed to skip a beat.

             The man who had pulled the heavy door open as if it were paper was extremely large. He seemed to loom over Eskel, despite being only a few inches taller. A tight T-shirt emphasized shoulders that were so broad and arms so muscular he looked like he’d have to walk sideways through the doorway, or he’d get stuck.

             When he glanced into the man’s face, he met a pair of deep-set eyes that glittered from beneath a heavy brow. A forked scar ran over the man’s forehead and onto the side of his shaved scalp. Another scar marked his chin; another cut into his upper lip. His nose was wide and blunt, his mouth broad, thin-lipped and turned down at the corners. Thick stubble darkened the lower half of his cheeks. Eskel gawped wordlessly for a moment, then nodded stiffly to the man and shuffled past him, heading toward the staff room. He heard Geralt give a cheery, “Thanks!” and a moment later the door swung shut. Geralt found Eskel hanging up his coat on the coat rack.

             “Looks like they found a new man since Fergus retired,” he said. Eskel grunted, stepping out of Geralt’s way so he could hang up his own jacket. “Scary fucker, am I right?” Geralt grinned. Eskel shrugged.

             “Yeah. Hopefully, that means we’ll have less trouble on the rowdy nights.”

             “Hopefully,” Geralt agreed, rolling up his sleeves. “Where’s Lambert?”

             “Here,” Lambert puffed, pushing the door to the staff room open. Geralt and Eskel turned in unison, both of them crossing their arms.

             “Someone’s late,” Eskel said to Geralt.

             “That’s the third time this week,” Geralt replied. “What should we do?”

             “Hold him by his ankles until he turns purple like we used to do when we were kids?” Eskel asked thoughtfully.

             “I’ll take the right leg if you get the left,” Geralt murmured.

Lambert scowled.

             “Oh, fuck off you two,” he snapped. “I’m not actually late.”

             “Yes, you are,” Eskel said, checking his watch. “By fifty-three seconds.”

             Lambert swore and moved to hang up his coat.

             “Will you three stop that,” a grumpy, scratchy voice said. An older man pushed the door open and frowned at them all. Despite his silvered hair and lined face, his eyes were youthful and they sparkled dangerously as he surveyed the three men before him. “Remember that Vosuk’s last day was yesterday, so you won’t have any extra help. Shouldn’t you be starting to prep? Opening time always sneaks up on you.”

             “Sorry, Vesemir,” Geralt mumbled. Eskel shrugged again and walked out past the old manager. He was right, prep always took longer than expected.

 


 

 

             Friday nights were always busy. Eskel barely had a free minute to think between taking orders and making cocktails. When there was finally a lull in the crowd, he took a moment to breathe, leaning against the back counter. Geralt sidled up to him, shaking a mixer.

             “The Friday night rush always gives me a headache,” Geralt murmured underneath the noise from the bar patrons. “Take another look at our new security man though.” He moved to pour the drink into a glass, and Eskel craned his neck to look over the heads of the people.

             It wasn’t hard to spot the man. He was easily taller than most people in the room, standing by the door with his thick arms crossed. A gold hoop Eskel hadn’t noticed before glinted in the dim bar lights as the man surveyed the room. The other, much shorter security guard, Zoltan, had been working there as long as Eskel could remember. He was a stout, red-headed man, with arms like a smith. His eyes met Eskel’s and he raised his eyebrows as if to say, can you believe this guy? Eskel chuckled. The shorter man made his way over to the bar.

             “How’s the evening going over here?” the bouncer asked.

             “Pretty normal, as Friday nights go,” Eskel replied. “How’s the new guy?” Zoltan let out a snort so loud it startled a nearby patron.

             “Quiet as a mouse, but frankly... he’s terrifying,” Zoltan muttered, casting a glance in the man’s direction. “Hasn’t said a word since I met him, other than ‘hello’. I don’t even know the fellow’s name. If looks could kill…” Zoltan paused and looked around again. “Well, we’d probably both be dead.” Eskel looked up and met the new man’s gaze, and his stomach jumped as if he’d missed a step while walking down stairs. He still couldn’t tell what color the man’s eyes were, but they glittered in a dangerous way that made Eskel uncomfortable. After a moment, the man looked away.

             “I should get back to my post,” Zoltan sighed, slapping a hand on the bar. Eskel pushed himself up.

             “And I should get back to work.”

 


 

             A few minutes before closing time and the bar was mostly empty, with the exception of only a few of the more well-known patrons who lingered, chatting to Vesemir. Eskel was busy wiping the counter when the door swung inward. He looked up, frowning, and saw two men walk inside.

             The first was a lean, well-dressed man. His silver-gray hair was swept back from a high forehead and receding hairline and stuck out at the sides. The dim light cast shadows over his large, faintly hooked nose and high cheekbones. He held himself with the grace of a dancer as he walked up to the bar.

             Following behind him with obvious reluctance was a slightly taller man, with dark hair and pale, unhealthy-looking skin. A long, black coat flapped around his legs as he walked, the movement reminding Eskel of a comically large bat. The man’s expression managed to look sulky and nervous at the same time as he trailed behind his companion. The lingering patrons took one look at the two men and left, calling hasty farewells to Vesemir over their shoulders. Noting the flight of the patrons, the taller man walked over to speak to Vesemir.

             “Drinks are on me tonight, my friends,” the first man said, flinging his arms wide. Zoltan cheered from the doorway, a grin splitting his weathered face.

             “You heard him,” Lambert said, pulling several large glasses off a shelf without hesitation.

             “I suppose we can’t argue with the owner of the establishment,” Eskel murmured to Geralt, who grinned. “I want to try that new stout. You?”

             “That sounds good,” Geralt replied, then sidled over to where the bar owner was leaning on the counter. Shaking his head, Eskel grabbed two of the glasses out of Lambert’s clutches and filled them with the dark beer. He took a sip from his glass and followed Geralt.

             Eskel stopped beside his friend just as the bar owner took Geralt’s hand and bent to brush a kiss to his fingertips. The owner straightened, winked at Eskel, and turned away to talk to his gloomy companion. As he moved, Eskel saw his unusually high collar shift, baring dark lines tattooed on the side of his neck. The lines looked like the shape of an animal’s ear. Eskel handed Geralt his beer and continued to stare at the silver-haired owner.

             “This is the first time I’ve really seen him up close,” Eskel murmured. Geralt watched the man too, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Eskel looked closer, noticing thick, gold hoops in the owner’s ears. When he lifted his arm to pat his friend’s shoulder, Eskel spotted small, dark tattoos on the back of his hand and across his knuckles and fingers.

             The silver-haired man turned back to the counter and smiled at Eskel.

             “I haven’t properly introduced myself to you yet, have I?” he said, his voice smooth and warm. He offered an elegant, tattooed hand across the bar. “My name is Emiel Regis Rohellec Terzieff-Godefroy, but I usually just go by Regis.” Eskel took the outstretched hand and met the man’s dark, slightly bloodshot eyes.

             “Eskel Geitur. Just call me Eskel though. Nice to meet you.”

             “My pleasure.” For a lean man, Regis’ grip was much stronger than he expected. Eskel shook firmly and let go, then turned to look for Lambert.

             “Lambert,” he called, “Stop chugging that beer and come meet the man who pays you.” Lambert spluttered into his glass, but he put the drink down and slouched over.

             “I’m Lambert Dupek-Connard.” He shook Regis’ hand, looking uncomfortable.

             “Regis. Charmed,” Regis replied, flashing a smile of unusually sharp-looking teeth. Lambert nodded and went back to his drink.

             “Excuse him,” Geralt said, shooting a dirty look after Lambert. “He has an incurable disease.”

             “Yeah, it’s called asshole-itis,” Eskel muttered. Geralt choked in his beer and Regis grinned.

             “I’m glad you have fun here,” he said. “I should drop by more often. I do enjoy the atmosphere, and they say red wine is good for you.” Regis shot a grin at his friend, who scowled. As Geralt turned to reply, Zoltan appeared behind the counter.

             “Someone needs to get that one a drink,” he grumbled to Eskel, jerking his head toward the huge man by the door. “Maybe he’ll finally string a few words together.”

             “How are we supposed to know what he likes if he doesn’t talk?” Eskel asked, idly turning his glass on the counter.

              “I told ye, I wasnae able t’ get an answer out o’ him all night,” Zoltan said, his accent thickening in his irritation. “Feel free t’ go ask him yerself.”

             “Calm down, man, we’ll just have to take a chance,” Eskel said, grabbing two more glasses and filling them with dark beer. “Take one of these to him and drink the other yourself before you faint.” Zoltan’s face twitched for a moment, then he took a glass in each hand and went back to his post by the door. Eskel watched him hand one of the glasses to the bigger man. Zoltan gestured toward the bar and dove into his pint without any further explanation. The big man swiveled his head to look in the direction that Zoltan had indicated and Eskel met his shadowed gaze, a chill running over his skin. Mastering the urge to shiver, he raised his own pint a little and nodded. The man seemed to accept that as the only explanation he was going to get and nodded in return. He drank.

 


 

 

             A little while later, Regis pushed himself away from the bar.

             “Look at the time!” he exclaimed, glancing at his watch. “We all have places to be! I’m so sorry that we distracted you fine people. Thank you for your hard work!”

             “Closing time everyone,” Vesemir said, breaking off his conversation with Regis’ dark-haired companion. “Let’s get moving.” Eskel paused to watch Regis take Geralt’s hand once more.

             “I’ll visit again soon,” he heard the man say, his voice hushed. “Consider my offer, will you?” Geralt turned pink as Regis brushed a lingering kiss over his fingers.

             “I’ll think about it,” he replied, smiling. “I have a very tight schedule.” Regis shook his head in dejected way.

             “Well, let me know,” he said, and turned to Eskel. “It was nice to meet you.” Eskel nodded and waved. Regis turned and moved toward the door, calling to his friend, who joined him as he paused at the exit. He seemed to be speaking to the new security man. The big man’s lips moved in response and Zoltan, standing next to them, suddenly looked furious. After a moment, Regis shook the man’s hand and exited the bar with a final wave. When Eskel was sure that he was gone, he smacked the back of Geralt’s head.

             “Don’t be a dick,” he said, grinning. Geralt rubbed the spot.

             “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he replied blithely.

             “You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

             “I do not.”

             “Go on a proper date with the poor man,” Eskel told him, gathering the empty glasses. Geralt looked down at the hand that Regis had touched.

             “Should I?” he mused, twirling a lock of his white hair around one of his fingers.

             “Yes,” Eskel replied, moving him out of the way. “Just go, and stop being a chicken about it, will you?”

             Someone cleared their throat. Eskel swiveled around to see the new security guard standing by the counter, empty glass in one huge hand. He held it out to Eskel, who stepped forward and took it.

             “Thanks,” he said, scratching the back of his neck. Eskel raised his eyebrows.

             “No problem.” The man shifted uncomfortably as Eskel stared at him, the gold ring in his earlobe swinging with his movement. After a pause, Eskel opened his mouth again.

             “What’s your name?” he heard himself ask. The huge man met his gaze, and Eskel saw that his shadowed eyes were an unusual yellow-green color.

             “Letho. Thanks again for the drink,” the man rumbled, his voice deep and gravelly. Eskel swallowed and nodded.

             “You’re welcome,” he said, then someone yelled his name.

             “Eskel! Are you gonna stand around all night or are you gonna come help me with this?” Lambert’s voice was issuing from somewhere in the kitchen, sounding strained. Eskel spun with an exasperated noise and jogged to where Lambert was struggling with a heavy box. By the time Eskel returned to the bar, the big man had disappeared.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 2.

 

             The air froze in his lungs. Drawing in a deep breath, he felt the chill invading his body from the inside out. The darkness pressed on his eyes until they adjusted. He stood in the center of an open field surrounded by skeletal trees. The moon shone from an otherwise empty black sky. His shadow stretched from his feet, elongated and wavering strangely as he watched. The shape, with its two sword hilts protruding over his shoulder, had almost grown familiar to him. He reached up to draw one of the blades as he always did, only to find that the smooth, hard hilt had become supple and scaly under his touch. He cried out and dropped the snake, recoiling as it slithered away from his feet. The creature disappeared into the grass, headed toward the forest. He tracked its path with his gaze, feeling his heart beginning to pound. Its movement vanished at the same time as something else emerged from the woods.

             His breath caught in his throat. The figure moved toward him, and the closer it drew, the louder his heartbeat became. He opened his mouth to speak, but the words refused to come out.

             Moonlight reflected off a shaved crown and sparkled over an earlobe. Two long hilts cast twin shadows that matched his own. Venomous, yellow-green eyes with vertical slit pupils blazed from the darkness, sending chills down his spine.

             Suddenly the figure lunged forward, drawing its blade as it moved. Icy pain pierced his chest, and he gasped as the blade left his back. The figure’s broad body pressed against his own as numbness began to spread from the cold in his chest. A gust of hot breath tickled his neck, and the last thing he saw before the numbness swamped him was a sparkle of gold.

 

             Eskel bolted upright in bed, gasping for breath and clutching the place where the dream blade had run him through. For a moment he thought he had bled all over his sheets, then he realized that the dampness was sweat. His blankets rustled as he threw them aside and lurched to his feet, coughing until his lungs burned. He stumbled into the bathroom and splashed water onto his face, cursing quietly as the cold hit his skin.

             When he looked up into the mirror, his own face looked strange. For a moment, he thought that his eyes looked different, almost cat-like, then he blinked, and the image vanished. Instead, he saw his normal, warm brown eyes looking back at him. His skin was too pale, and his hair stuck up at odd angles. He couldn’t stop rubbing the place where he had felt the dream blade pierce his skin. The spot was still cold.

             Falling into his bed, he picked up his phone and punched in his passcode with trembling fingers.

             Geralt, it happened again, but worse this time, he typed, and sent the message. His phone lit up a minute later.

             How so?

             It’s a long story, I don’t wanna write it out, but I’ll tell you tomorrow.

             “Tell me now,” Geralt said, his voice rough with sleep. Eskel sighed, then began to talk. When he finished, the other end of the line was silent for a long moment.

             “Thanks for telling me,” Geralt said, sounding much more awake.

             “Any time,” Eskel said, wondering again why Geralt always wanted to hear about the dreams. “See you tomorrow at practice,” he said.

             “Yeah, and if Lambert doesn’t show we’re going to his place afterwards to string him up by his ankles. G’night.” Eskel hung up and flopped back, staring up at the ceiling. It was going to be a long night.

 

 

             Geralt dropped his phone on the table beside him and stared into space, stroking the plush fabric of his bathrobe. Eskel’s text had woken him from a gentle doze. He marked his spot in the thick book of philosophy he had been reading and set it aside, still thinking hard.

             Dreams similar to those Eskel described had plagued him off and on ever since he was a teenager. A strange feeling told him those dreams had begun for Eskel around the same time, even if he couldn’t really remember them. He wasn’t sure if Lambert also had dreams like theirs, since they’d never talked about it. When he looked down, for a moment the red fabric of his robe looked like blood.

             Shaking his head, Geralt got to his feet, groaning as his stiff joints protested the movement. Slipping his phone into his pocket, he made his way into his apartment’s tiny kitchenette. As usual, he had to jab at the button on his grimy kettle five or six times before it would stay down. He sighed, then turned from the stove, pulling his phone out again and dialing a number. The other line picked up after only two rings.

             “Hey, I’ve decided. I’ll go.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 3.

 

             “Beaten again, Lambert,” Eskel said, tucking his foil under his arm and removing his headgear. “That’s what you get for not showing up more regularly.”

             “Asshole,” Lambert wheezed. “That last jab was way harder than necessary.”

             “I think it was very necessary.” Geralt had overheard and sauntered over. “With the competition coming up, we need to practice as much as possible.” Lambert swore again and went to change out of his gear. Eskel clapped Geralt on the shoulder, grinning.

             “Was that as satisfying as it looked?” Geralt asked, returning Eskel’s grin.

             “You bet it was,” Eskel replied. “He’s not terrible, but he’s definitely been slacking.” They shared an understanding look, then made their way toward the locker rooms.

             “Alright lads,” Geralt said when they all were ready to leave, “tonight is bound to be the usual shitshow, but since we’re off tomorrow and Monday, what say you to dinner and drinks somewhere?”

             “I’m always up for drinks,” Lambert said, slinging his bag over his shoulder, seeming to have recovered from the beating Eskel had given him.

             Eskel nodded his agreement, “It’s been a while since we’ve had a proper bender,” he said distractedly. He shuddered, suddenly remembering his dream from the night before and was trying his best not to recall it too clearly.

             “Yeah, considering we work together we never get to hang out much anymore.” Lambert replied.

             Geralt chortled. “Probably for good reason,” he said, slinging his own bag over his shoulder. “Come on, I want to drop off my stuff before we have to open.”

 


 

 

             Saturday night was rowdy as always. When Eskel wasn’t making drinks and talking to patrons, he was staring into the distance, trying desperately to forget the dream he’d had. His attempts were failing; he couldn’t get rid of the cold feeling between his ribs.

             The new security guard, ‘Letho,’ Eskel reminded himself, walked across the bar toward an argument that seemed like it was possibly going to evolve into a fistfight. Eskel watched the man absentmindedly until he moved past a light, and was suddenly silhouetted against the illumination, a dark figure with flashing eyes and a sparkle of gold in his earlobe. Eskel dropped the glass he was holding. He was lucky that it was one of the thicker glasses they had, so it merely bounced on the floor instead of shattering, and he ducked quickly to retrieve it.

             “You alright?” Geralt asked, wandering over. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

             “I’m fine,” Eskel muttered, willing the blood to return to his face.

             “If you say so.” Geralt sounded skeptical, but Eskel was not about to explain anything in such a public place.

 

             “Yeah, I’ll stay to close up,” Eskel heard himself say. Vesemir gave him an odd look.

             “Alright. Don’t stay too late,” he said, casting an eye toward Regis, who had appeared several minutes earlier. The older man grinned at him, his sharp teeth catching the light.

             “I’ll stay too,” Geralt told the man. Vesemir’s eyes narrowed, the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes deepening.

             “Don’t be a nuisance to Eskel then,” he said, shrugging a coat over his bony shoulders. Geralt scoffed as Vesemir left, moving past the two doormen. Eskel’s gaze lingered on the larger of the two for a moment before he turned back to the bar.

             “Might as well start cleaning up,” he muttered to Geralt, who nodded.

             “Just stay away from the candles,” Geralt replied. “Remember the last time you tried to snuff one out and you somehow managed to singe your eyebrows instead?”

             “Yeah, when I blew on the damn thing it exploded instead of going out. I still don’t know what happened.” He eyed one of the small candles on a nearby table with distrust. Geralt chuckled and patted his friend’s shoulder, before moving to scoop up some dirty glasses from the bar.

             When Eskel moved past the place where Regis sat, he noticed that the collar of the man’s shirt had come unbuttoned, and the lines on the sides of his neck were visible. He could see the top half of two animal heads tattooed into the skin below the man’s jaw. One seemed to be a bat, the other appeared to be a wolf, and the teeth of both animals were bared in similar snarls. He considered for a moment, then decided not to ask.

             Eskel had paused in his wiping of the counter as he stared. After a moment, Regis turned his head and caught Eskel’s eye. He grinned, reaching up to touch the side of his neck that showed the bat, then tugged his collar into place. Eskel flushed slightly and continued his work, refusing to look up again until the counter was clean.

             Geralt sighed and stretched, feeling the pleasurable tingle of Regis’ gaze on the back of his neck.

             “Anything else left to do?” He asked Eskel, who looked distractedly around.

             “Just the recycling,” he replied, a small frown creasing his forehead. “I think I can get that fine. You can go.”

Geralt grinned at him.

             “Thanks man, I owe you one,” he said, dashing into the back to get his coat. When he reappeared, Regis got to his feet.

             “I know a lovely coffee place that’s open twenty-four hours a day,” he said conversationally, offering his arm to Geralt with a bow. The two moved toward the door, and Eskel heard Geralt reply, “You seem to know all the best places that are open all night. Do you ever sleep?” Regis threw his head back to laugh, and his reply was lost in the sound of the door closing.

             “I don’t even know why I’m still here,” Zoltan said, walking past Eskel. “I’m going home.”

             “Night,” Eskel said absently, bending to pick up a rag he had dropped. When he straightened, the new security guard was standing on the other side of the bar. Eskel jumped. ‘Does he ever make noise?’ he wondered to himself.

             “I’ll get the door,” the big man said, his voice low and gravelly, gesturing at the numerous bins of recycling. Eskel stared at him for a moment, then nodded.

             “Letho, right?” he asked, carrying a bin of bottles toward the back door.

             “Yep. And you’re Eskel,” Letho replied, holding the door wide so the bin could pass through. A shiver ran down Eskel’s spine at the sound of his name spoken by such a deep voice. Shaking his head, he ignored the feeling.

             It took only a few minutes for Eskel to finish taking the recycling out with Letho’s assistance. He dusted his hands off and turned to look Letho up and down. The man stared back at him, yellow-green eyes level as the corner of his long mouth twitched.

             “Thanks for your help,” Eskel said. “I just need to lock up.” Letho nodded and led the way out of the bar, standing by as Eskel locked the front door.

             When Eskel turned to leave, he nearly collided with Letho’s broad chest. He took a few hasty steps back and looked up, suddenly and unpleasantly reminded of his nightmare. It was past midnight, and the sidewalk was lit only by the occasional street lamp.

             “Do you, uh, live around here?” Eskel asked awkwardly. Letho nodded.

             “Yeah. Got an apartment on the west side,” he said, shrugging his broad shoulders. “Why?”

             “That’s a forty-minute walk.” Eskel heard his treacherous mouth say. “I can give you a ride if you want.”

Letho blinked.

             “Yeah, sure.” Eskel walked to his car, uncomfortably aware of Letho walking close behind him. When he reached the sleek vehicle, he heard Letho hum in apparent approval.

             “Classy,” the big man murmured, walking over and carefully inspecting the front of the car.

             “She is, isn’t she,” Eskel replied as he slid into the driver’s seat. He fumbled with the key for a moment before pushing it into the ignition, and the engine rumbled into life.

 

             “Take a left here,” Letho said. Eskel turned, and they lapsed back into silence. He  couldn’t think of anything to say to break the strange tension in the air.

             “Up here, on the right.” Eskel could nearly feel the deep rumble of the man’s voice. His fingers tightened on the steering wheel as he slowed and pulled into the parking lot next to a large apartment building.

             “Thanks for the ride,” Letho said, getting out of the car. “I appreciate it.”

             “No problem,” Eskel replied, still unsure as to why he had offered the man a ride in the first place. “‘Night.”

             Letho grunted and shut the car door carefully, then walked into the building. Eskel watched him go. He couldn’t shake the strange feeling that had crept over his skin as soon as the man had gotten into the seat beside him. Frowning, he pulled out of the lot and began the drive back to his own apartment.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 4.

 

             He opened his eyes to sunlight. Confused, he rubbed his face and looked around. The air was chilly, but in a crisp, clear way that made him think of snow-capped mountains and evergreen trees. To his left, a small stream burbled next to the road, crystalline water sparkling as it flowed along its rocky bed. Past the stream was a forest, its trees tall with broad, wide spreading branches. He stared into the woods, inhaling the scents brought to him on the breeze. Surprised by the smell of horses, he looked down and realized that he was sitting in a saddle, a graceful black neck with a black mane in front of him. He reached out to stroke the silky hair, and the animal whickered softly. When he looked to his right, he was shocked to see someone riding beside him. The man sat comfortably on a gray mare, his gaze directed down the road. As Eskel stared in shock, the man turned to look at him, yellow, slit-pupiled eyes eerie in a familiar, scarred face. A long mouth twisted into a wry grin.

             “Fancy meeting you here.”

 

             A resounding and painful thud woke Eskel from his dream. Opening his eyes with a groan, he found himself lying on the carpet next to his bed.

             “Damnit, not again,” he grunted, and pushed himself up, rubbing his eyes. Remembering the face from his dream, he stared blindly into his palms, thinking hard. Why had that man looked so damn familiar? He couldn’t remember. Eskel shook his head, unnerved, and crawled back into bed, trying to clear his mind. It was still early in the morning, and he didn’t have to go to fencing practice or to work. If he was lucky, he would sleep until noon.

 

             Geralt woke with a start from a dream about a young woman with ashen hair and bright green eyes. She had been laughing and throwing snowballs at his face, and he had jolted awake just before one had actually hit him. He sat up in his seat, groaning as his stiff neck complained. The book he had been reading was lying face down on the floor, its pages bent and folded. The squishy recliner creaked as he leaned down to pick it up.

             “The Anatomy, Physiology, and Behavioral Patterns of Horses,” he muttered to himself. “I need to stop reading stuff like this.”

             A loud beeping noise made him jump. Swearing, he turned the alarm off and pushed himself out of the chair, then made his way to the bathroom.

             Several minutes later, he stepped out of the shower, wrapping a towel around his waist. A knock at the door surprised him. He looked up at the clock on the wall, eyebrows raised.

             “He’s a bit early,” he muttered.

             When he opened the door, the first thing that caught his eye was the pair of blood-red gems dangling from Regis’ earlobes. Something about it unnerved him. Other than those adornments, the man was dressed simply in a white button-down shirt and black jeans. A dark gray coat hung over his arm. Regis cleared his throat and smiled a little hesitantly, looking slightly embarrassed.

             “I know it’s early,” he began, tugging at the high collar of his shirt, “but I was already awake and figured you might be as well. In my haste to see you, I just… found myself here,” he said, looking Geralt up and down. “Oh, pardon me,” Regis said, turning pink. “Would it be more convenient if I came by later?”

Geralt shook his head and grinned, opening the door a bit wider.

             “I’m already up, you might as well come in if you don’t mind waiting.”

             “Of course, thank you.” Regis paused at the door frame, cheeks still slightly flushed, then squeezed past Geralt into the room.

              So this is...nice,” the man commented, looking oddly out of place next to the counter as Geralt pushed shut the door shut behind him.

             “Uh, thanks,” Geralt said, dismay creeping into his voice as he noticed his growing collection of mugs on the coffee table. “Feel free to make a cup of tea and grab a seat,” he said, gesturing vaguely to his kitchen. “Tea is in the top right-hand cabinet, kettle is on the stove, and sugar is on the counter. I’ll be ready as soon as I get some clothes on.”

             Emerging from his bedroom ten minutes later, clean and dressed, he found Regis sipping a cup of tea and bending over the newspaper on the counter. He was surprised to see worry creasing the man’s high forehead.

             “Something caught your attention there?” he asked, rolling up his sleeves and taking a jacket off its hook. Regis looked up, the worried expression melting off his face.

             “No, it’s nothing,” Regis said. “You look very dashing by the way.” Geralt grinned at him, feeling heat rise into his cheeks.

             “Thanks. Where are we going anyway? It isn’t even seven yet. Nowhere will be open at this hour.”

             “Ah, you’d be surprised,” Regis said, opening the door for Geralt. “I know several quaint establishments that are open quite early.” he said with a chuckle, obviously amused by his own remark. “You’ll see.”

 

             The café was indeed quaint, with tiny clusters of colored lamps hanging from the ceiling and small, fragile-looking chairs arranged around every spindly table. The walls were painted a delicate shade of pink and hung with photographs of children and flowers. The café was largely empty, with only a few people here and there. Geralt raised his eyebrows at Regis, who smiled and leaned closer to answer Geralt’s silent question.

             “The woman who owns this place is an acquaintance of mine,” he murmured, his breath ruffling the hair next the Geralt ear. “Just wait until you taste the food and the drinks. It makes witnessing the décor worth it, I promise.” They stepped up to the counter, and the woman behind it turned at the sound of their feet. Geralt felt a shiver he had resisted earlier return in full force, sending goosebumps racing down his arms.

             The woman was stately and carefully beautiful, with pale skin and startlingly red hair that she had braided and twisted back into an immaculate bun. Her face was oval-shaped, with razor sharp cheekbones and a small mouth. Her brown eyes narrowed at Geralt but warmed when they lit on Regis.

             “It’s been a little while, Regis. How are you?” she asked, her velvety voice sending more shivers down Geralt’s spine.

             “Very well thank you,” Regis replied warmly. “I hope you’re doing well yourself.” The woman smiled, her eyes crinkling at the corners, betraying age that the rest of her face did not show.

             “I am. What will it be this morning?” His companion hummed thoughtfully for a moment, before placing an order for ‘the usual,’ whatever that was. Prompted by Regis, his dark eyes twinkling fondly, Geralt requested the breakfast special and a blood-orange mimosa. Regis seemed to approve of his choices.

             “Pick a table,” Regis told Geralt as the woman handed his card back, “I’ll be right over.”

             Geralt lowered himself gingerly onto one of the spindly chairs, surprised that it didn’t crack under his weight. When he looked up, he thought he saw at least one of the other customers turn hurriedly back to their breakfast. Frowning, Geralt watched as Regis talked to the woman behind the counter. The worried crease had reappeared on his forehead. A minute later, Regis walked over and dropped into the chair across from Geralt. He fired a charming, sharp-toothed smile over the tabletop and Geralt felt his stomach flip.

             “I’m sorry again that I showed up so early. I hope I wasn’t an inconvenience.”

             “No worries.” Geralt returned the smile. A hand crossed his vision.

             “Blood-orange mimosa, Bloody Mary. You food will be out shortly.” Geralt took a sip of his drink, then paused.

             “Bloody Mary?” he asked, eyeing the thick, crimson liquid. Regis chuckled and took a long drink.

             “They’re one of my favorites. Enough about me though,” he said, leaning forward, his eyes sparkling. “This is the first time I’ve really been able to speak with you outside of work. Tell me about yourself.”

 

             Where r we going tonight? -G

             Somewhere with good drinks -L

             Somewhere that isn’t the place we work all week -E

             Stop complaining Eskel -L

             Shut up Lambert -E

             Yeah shut up Lambert …but neither of u answered my question, where r we going? -G

             The Kingfisher? -L

             Too expensive. If we’re sticking to bird-themed places, what about the Scarlet Cardinal? -E

             We could always just bring drinks to my place -G

             You do have the nicest place, you fancy bastard -E

             Sounds good to me, I’ll buy some packs of beer -L

             I have a couple bottles of wine kicking around -G

             Sweet. I’ll swing by around 8 with chips -E

             Same, l8r h8rs -L

             Oh fuck off -G

             Yeah Lambert fuck off -E

Chapter Text

Chapter 5.

 

             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.


Chapter Text

Chapter 6.

 

             When Rhoen and Morvran finally pulled into their driveway, Morvran was already quite tired and ready to be in his warm, comfortable bed. He’d barely turned the car off and stepped out of the driver’s seat, however, when Rhoen appeared out of thin air and grabbed his hand.

             “C’mon, you always walk so slow,” he said, and towed Morvran inside. Morvran barely had time to close and lock the front door before Rhoen pulled him up the stairs, nearly hopping with excited energy. A minute later, a bemused Morvran found himself tossed onto the bed by his lean yet surprisingly strong husband.

             “Babe, what—” Morvran managed, then Rhoen was on top of him, straddling his hips. Reaching up, Rhoen moved to pull his shirt over his head. A rumpled ball of feathers crawled out of his sleeve before he could do more than grab his hem, and flapped away, yelling loudly.

             “Sorry Bogue,” Rhoen called, throwing his shirt onto the floor. “I’ll make it up to you later.”

             “Strawberries!” the parrot screeched before settling onto her perch in disgruntled silence. Rhoen turned his attention back to his husband. Morvran still looked bemused, but a flush had crept over his cheekbones and his hands had found Rhoen’s thighs. Rhoen bent down to run both hands through Morvran’s rumpled hair, his skin sparkling faintly in the darkness.

             “Gods, it’s not fair for you to be so sexy,” Rhoen moaned, gripping handfuls of Morvran’s mane. “I’ve been waiting to jump you all evening.” Morvran blushed a deeper shade of pink.

             “I, uh, I mean, same to you?” he mumbled awkwardly. Rhoen threw his head back and laughed, then leaned over to nibble the side of Morvran’s neck.

             “Deliciously awkward as always, darling,” he murmured, sitting up. “I’m glad you’re mine. Now, are you gonna show me what those hands are capable of, or do I need to… persuade you?”

             “A little persuasion never hurts,” Morvran teased, pulling Rhoen down to kiss him thoroughly. “I’m very sleepy.” Rhoen pulled back and grinned, suddenly wolfish.

             “Mmm… well, I guess that answers my question. Prepare yourself,” he purred, running his fingers down Morvran’s chest. “I don’t think either of us will be sleeping much tonight.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 7.

 

             Letho hung back again to help Eskel finish cleanup after everyone else had left. Eskel took his time snuffing the candles, trying not to embarrass himself by accidentally blowing anything up, and somehow he succeeded without any mishaps. Letho held the door while he dumped the recycling into its proper bins and waited outside the bar while Eskel locked the front door. When the door was locked, Eskel turned to look up at the big man, feeling the familiar jump in his stomach.

             “Thanks for your help,” he said.

Letho nodded, with something like a sparkle in his eyes.

             “No problem,” he said, tossing the keys up and down in his hand. “Hey, if you’d like a ride back to your place, I have my bike today. It’ll be a bit precarious with two of us, but I’ve done it before.” He pointed to a beautiful black motorcycle parked next to the curb. A strange, snake-like symbol was painted on the side.

             “Gorgeous,” Eskel breathed, walking over to inspect the bike. “You just leave it out here?”

             “I got the keys.” A shadow crossed his face. “No one would dare steal this bike.” He paused, seeing the suspicious expression on Eskel’s face, then grinned crookedly. “Cause it’s in full view of the bar, of course.” He bent and dug a helmet out of the side bag, then tossed it to Eskel.

             “Wear this.”

Eskel frowned.

             “I haven’t even said I wanted the ride,” he said, trying to look annoyed.

Letho chuckled infuriatingly, swinging his leg over the seat. “Your beauty of a mustang ain’t parked in its usual spot. Figured you got a ride here with someone earlier, and everyone is already gone for the night.”

Eskel struggled briefly with dismay, then laughed, putting on the helmet. “Sure, as if I’d turn down a chance to ride a bike like this.” He swung his leg over the back of the seat and perched behind the other man. Letho looked over his shoulder, his yellow-green eyes shining in the lamp light, and he grinned.

             “You’ll fly off if you sit like that. Hold tight if you wanna stay on.” Blushing furiously, Eskel realized what the other man meant. He let himself slip down the curve of the seat until his body bumped against Letho’s, his front pressed against the curve of Letho’s back. Wincing slightly with embarrassment and nerves, he reached out and wrapped his arms around Letho’s thick waist. He felt Letho’s quiet chuckle rumble through his body as the big man turned the key in the ignition.

             “Hold on tight. Promise I won’t break,” Letho said, laughing, and revved the bike into life. Eskel shivered, hoping the other man couldn’t feel the movement, and held on.

             Streetlights sped past, blurring yellow. Eskel chanced a look up at the sky and saw that it was unusually clear, with tiny stars visible in the blackness. Letho’s body was warm against his front and blocked most of the wind that whistled by. Eskel breathed deeply, ignoring the chill of the air while they sped down the badly lit streets toward Eskel’s apartment.

             “How do you even know where I live?” Eskel asked when they’d stopped at a red light. Letho shifted.

             “Asked your white-haired friend,” he said, sounding a little embarrassed. “Figured someone’d need to get you back to your apartment when he leaves early.” Eskel blushed and opened his mouth to reply, but the sound was lost in the wind as the light turned green and Letho sped forward.

             When they finally pulled into the parking lot outside Eskel’s apartment building he nearly fell off the motorcycle. He had almost dozed off during the last few minutes of the ride, comfortably warm against Letho’s back and shielded against the wind. He stumbled when he tried to get off the motorcycle, and Letho caught his arm.

             “Sorry, didn’t mean to grab you so hard. Always forget the seat is uncomfortable when you ain’t used to it,” Letho murmured, releasing Eskel’s arm.

             “It’s fine,” Eskel gasped, massaging the place on his bicep where Letho had gripped him. He straightened, looking up into Letho’s face once more.

             “Thanks for the ride. See you at the bar,” he said.

Letho looked down at him, his deep-set eyes shadowed, expression unreadable.

             “Yeah, ‘night.”

Eskel felt Letho’s gaze on the back of his neck all the way inside the building.

 

             He opened his eyes onto darkness once again. Something was different this time, though. He was warm, lying on firm mattress covered in linen sheets. The scent of straw, sweat, and something musky filtered into his nose, stirring something in his memory. A solitary candle still burned on the bedside table. He made to get up and blow it out, but something restrained him. When he brought his hands up, he felt warm skin and thick, rippling muscle. The arms around his midriff tightened, pulling him closer. A warm body pressed against his back. Lips touched the nape of his neck.

             “Go back to sleep, love,” a deep voice murmured. Although sure he was still dreaming, the voice rang clear as a bell in his mind. He rolled over into the embrace, reaching his arms around the man’s neck. In the darkness, he could see a shaved crown and a glint of gold.

             “Forgive me for asking,” he said, finding his dream voice to be crystal clear, “but who are you?” Teeth flashed in a grin.

             “Was just about to ask you the same question,” came the reply. He turned his face up to the stranger’s kiss. When they surfaced for breath, he sighed and tried to get a better look at the man, but it was too dark to see well.

             “Wait, what did you call me?” he asked. He saw the man’s brow wrinkle.

             “Love,” he replied softly. “Don’t think I know you, but I know…” The man leaned down and pressed a soft kiss in the hollow at the base of his throat. “That I…”

 

             Eskel woke to light streaming through the curtains into his bedroom. He sat up, stretching, then stared at the foot of his bed. His dream was filtering back into his mind, and suddenly his cheeks felt hot. The stranger’s face was blurred in his mind, and he couldn’t quite remember… He rubbed his nose and climbed out of bed, feeling the softness of the cotton as he recalled rough linen sheets. He could almost feel the stranger’s arms still wrapped around his waist as he sat on the edge of his bed, contemplating his slippered feet.

             “Should I tell Geralt about this?” he mumbled.

             “Tell me about what?” a voice asked. Eskel jumped out of bed, grabbing the practice foil next to his bed and leveling it at the man standing in his bedroom doorway. Geralt put his hands up. “Sorry, I let myself in. I wanted some company.”

             “Don’t scare me like that,” Eskel snapped. “And stop picking the lock on my door, someone is gonna see you.”

             “You know I’m an adrenaline junkie,” Geralt replied, lowering his hands, “I can’t help it. Do you have coffee?”

             “Yeah, I do, cause I’m not an asshole.”

             Geralt chuckled heartily and wandered into the kitchen to look for coffee while Eskel got dressed.

             “So, what weren’t you gonna tell me?” Geralt asked when Eskel finally emerged from his bedroom.

             “I had another dream last night, but this one was even weirder than last time…”

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 8.

 

             “What do you mean, you don’t understand?” Eskel snapped. “I’ve said the same thing five times now. I’m. Stuck. In. Letho’s. Apartment. Because. Of. The. Blizzard.”

             “I’m just messing with you, I understand what you said. I’m just kinda confused about how you got there.”

Eskel paused, then sighed into his phone.

             “Well, it happened like this…”

 

 

             Eskel stood at the bar window, staring out into the street. Snow was beginning to fall outside, coating the cars and streetlamps in a thin layer of white. Vesemir had decided to close the bar early so everyone would have plenty of time to get home safely. Eskel rubbed the back of his neck, thinking hard.

             “Got a ride with Geralt again, didn’t you?” Letho walked up beside him, eyes fixed on the falling snow. When Eskel looked up at him, his gaze slid over to meet Eskel’s, yellow-green eyes twinkling in the light from outside.

             “Yeah, I’m trying to save gas. I always forget that he usually leaves before I do.”

Letho chuckled, the warm sound making Eskel shiver.

             “I can give you a ride home,” he said, returning his gaze to the view of the street. “Do you wanna stop by my place for some drinks before I take you back?”

             Eskel shrugged, a fizz of nerves making his skin tingle.

             “Sure, why not. The snow isn’t supposed to get too bad until tomorrow. It should be fine.”

             Helmet on, Eskel slid onto the motorcycle behind Letho, accustomed to the routine by now. It had been a few months since Letho had begun work at The White Wolf. He seemed to have taken a liking to Eskel, and had taken him back to his apartment several times when he had gotten rides with Geralt and the other man had left early. However, this was the first time he’d asked Eskel to visit his apartment. Unsure of how he felt about it, Eskel wrapped his arms around Letho’s waist and held on.

 

 

             “So wait, you two have been hanging out? Wow, he still scares me a bit.”

             “Yeah, haven’t I mentioned that?” Eskel shifted uncomfortably, aware that he was standing in a hallway where people could hear him if they tried. He quieted his voice and continued.

             “He’s actually surprisingly easy to spend time with. I mean, we haven’t hung out a lot, but like… Anyway, basically we got back to his place and had some drinks, and by the time I realized it was getting really late, this freak blizzard had blown in.”

             Geralt was silent for a few seconds, then he began to snicker, then laugh. Eskel scowled.

             “Sounds like you’re in a bit of a pickle,” Geralt gasped when he’d caught his breath. “I know you’re scowling, I can hear it over the line. You’ll be okay, I’m glad I checked in on you.”

             Eskel shook his head, a rueful smile tugging at his lips.

             “You always know how to reassure me,” he sighed. “I’ll let you know if I need to talk again. Later.”        Geralt chuckled and hung up without saying goodbye. Eskel checked his phone battery, seeing that it was on 73%, and tucked the device into his pocket, then wandered back toward Letho’s apartment. When he opened the door, Letho craned around from his seat on the couch to see who it was.

             “You good?” he asked, his words barely slurred despite the copious amounts of alcohol he had consumed.

             Eskel nodded.

             “Grab another drink from the fridge if you want,” Letho said with a grin, and turned back around.

Eskel pulled a beer out of the small refrigerator before dropping onto the couch next to Letho, careful not to sit too close. The big man had changed clothes while Eskel was on the phone. He was wearing a loose cotton T-shirt and comfortable pajama pants. Eskel nearly snorted with amusement at the ensemble, having only ever seen Letho in his working attire.

             “Aaaand… shit, it got me.” Letho’s fingers scrambled frantically over the controller in his scarred hands, his eyes glued to the TV screen in front of them. He paused the game and grinned at Eskel. “Lemme open that for you,” he said, gesturing to the beer.

             Eskel shrugged and handed it over. Using a thick silver ring that Eskel hadn’t noticed before, Letho covered the top of the bottle with his hand, effortlessly popped the cap off the beer, and handed it back to Eskel.

             “Thanks. What are you playing anyway?” Eskel asked, watching as Letho’s character beheaded a monster.

             “Well, you’re basically a monster hunter that people hire to kill stuff for them. It’s set in a kinda medieval world—” He was cut off as the door to what Eskel had thought was a closet swung open, smacking into the wall behind it. Letho sighed with exasperation.

             “Dammit, Iorveth, I told you to stop doing that. We’re gonna have to pay for all the dents you put in the wall.”

             The man standing in the closet was tall and lithe, with light, faintly tanned skin. As he stepped out of the shadows, Eskel saw that his right eye was covered in a medical eyepatch, while his left was a dark, forest green and narrowed with suspicion. His cheekbones were high and sharp, giving his face a slightly gaunt look. Pieces of dark brown hair stuck out from beneath the red bandana he wore. His clothes were simple, a green, long-sleeve shirt and jeans, and his feet were bare. He moved with stealthy grace, not making a sound as he padded over to the fridge.

             “I’ll paint over them at some point,” the man drawled, his voice smooth and slightly accented. “Don’t worry.” He took a bottle out of the fridge and took a swig from it, sighing. When he turned back toward his closet, Eskel saw that his ears were subtly pointed.

             “With the wind howling like that, the power is probably going to go out,” the man commented, before abruptly returning to the closet, the door snapping shut behind him.

             “Sorry, forgot to warn you about him. That’s Iorveth. He can get a bit cranky when people he doesn’t know come over. Actually,” Letho said, pausing to think, “he’s cranky most of the time.”

             Eskel snorted into his beer.

             “Do you think he was right about the power?” Eskel asked.

             Letho shrugged. A moment later, as if on cue, all the lights flicked off. Letho swore into the darkness.

             “I should’ve saved,” he grumbled. “That’s a whole quest I have to redo.”

             “Well, I can’t see a thing,” Eskel said, digging for his cellphone. A huge hand grabbed his leg and he jumped.

             “Whoops,” Letho’s voice said from very close by. “Hope that was your leg and not something else.”        Eskel snorted again, thankful that the darkness hid the color rising into his face. The sound of creaking door hinges caught Eskel’s attention.

             “I told you so,” a voice said.

             “Shut it, Iorveth. Can’t find my phone,” Letho growled, patting the couch around him. Eskel shot nervously to his feet, finally retrieving his phone from its pocket.

             “I could have been sitting on it,” he said. Attempting to turn around in the pitch darkness and pull up his cell phone flashlight at the same time, he took a step back and tripped over the low coffee table. Falling backwards, he landed on the carpeted floor with a loud thump.

             “You alright?” Letho asked, sounding worried. Eskel heard him stand up and move around the table.

             “Wait no, you’ll trip—” Eskel managed, then Letho did trip, landing on his hands and knees. He then proceeded to topple forward, flopping on top of the other man, somehow managing to catch himself before he squashed Eskel completely. The air whooshed out of Eskel’s lungs.

             “Everything... spinning,” the huge man mumbled, trying to get up. Eskel feebly tried to push him off.

             “Gods, you’re heavy,” he wheezed. Letho laughed, the sound reverberating through his body, and pushed himself up onto his knees.

             “Where are you?”

             “I’m right here— ouch!”

             “Sorry, didn’t mean— stop moving!”

             “I wasn’t moving!”

             Eskel finally managed to turn his phone flashlight on, using the light to orient himself. He got up, and with some effort, managed to haul Letho to his feet.

             “Wow, I didn’t realize how late it was,” Eskel said, checking his phone.

             “I’ll crash on the couch, you can have the bed,” Letho muttered sleepily.

Eskel shone his light onto the couch, then looked at Letho. His shoulders looked wider than the width of the couch seat.

             “Nah, I’ll take the couch. It’s your bed, you sleep in it.”

Letho grinned, his eyes flashing in the weak light.

             “Alright, you’ve convinced me. ‘Night,” he said, and stumbled into his bedroom, leaving the door wide open.

             Eskel turned off his flashlight and lay down in the couch. He stared up into the darkness, trying to empty his mind, but he couldn’t stop thinking about how Letho’s body had felt on top of him, squeezing the breath from his lungs. He sighed, rolling over to find a more comfortable position for his lanky body, and nearly fell off the edge of the cushions in surprise as Letho suddenly reappeared. Eskel could barely see in the darkness, but the man’s hulking outline was unmistakable.

             “Forgot to give you a blanket and a pillow,” he murmured, handing over the items. Eskel accepted gratefully.

             “Thanks,” he said, tugging the blanket over himself.

             “No worries,” Letho replied, and Eskel could almost hear him grinning as he turned. “It’s probably gonna get chilly cause the power is out. If you get too cold you can always jump in with me.” Chuckling, he returned to his room, leaving Eskel flustered and confused.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9.

 

             Blood sprayed across his face, acrid blood that smelled dreadful and alien. His sword cut through the monster’s chest, slicing it neatly in two, and its corpse hit the ground with a dull thud. Screeching filled his ears. His body moved nearly on its own, his feet pivoting with practiced ease. He swung, the impact jarring his arm as his blade sliced through another monster.

             “How many is that?” he said, panting, looking around to see where the next one would come from. Something near his sternum hummed, and he looked down in surprise. A heavy medallion shaped like a wolf’s head hung around his neck, it’s eyes glowing red as it vibrated. He grabbed it and jumped back when the humming intensified, just as yet another monster burst from the ground right where he’d been standing. He put it down with one swift stroke of his sword, and the medallion stilled. “I guess that’s it then?” he muttered, wiping his forehead with a grimy hand.

             “I missed all the action?” a voice asked from nearby. He turned to see a man he knew, one with golden, cat-like eyes and white hair tied back in a ponytail. The newcomer walked out from a clump of trees, surveying the carnage around him.

             “A nest?”

             “Yep.”

             “Did you destroy it?”

             “Uh, not yet, I was busy fighting them all off.”

The white-haired man chuckled and produced a small bomb. He lobbed it into the monsters’ den and backed up.

             “Heads up!”

The world exploded.

             Suddenly, he stood in a crowded marketplace, a tight knot of… something… under his sternum. Fear? Excitement? He craned his head, trying to look over the heads of the crowd to find the one he was looking for. No one stood out to him, and, dejected, he decided to give up. Turning , he immediately collided with something warm and solid. Staggering backwards, he nearly fell, but the stranger grabbed his arm and pulled him upright. Slowly, his eyes traveled up a broad, leather-clad chest, over a thick jaw and a blunt nose, to meet yellow-green, slit-pupiled eyes.

             “Looking for someone?”

 

             Someone was shaking Eskel awake. He lashed out, ready to defend himself, only to remember where he was. He flopped back and looked up into familiar deep-set eyes, feeling his stomach jump.

             “You alright?” Letho grunted, clearly still half asleep. “You were talkin’ while you slept. Sounded upset.”

Eskel blinked.

             “What did I say?” he asked before he could stop himself.

 Letho straightened and looked down at Eskel, his face unreadable.

             “Something about being followed. Someone bothering you?” He suddenly looked menacing, his eyes narrowed to slits. “Do I need to…” he paused, seemingly thinking of the proper phrase. “…Get rid of someone for you?”

Eskel sat up and ran a hand over his face.

             “No,” he said with a wry chuckle, “please.” He looked up into Letho’s face, meeting his level gaze. “Seriously, don’t worry about it.”

Letho blinked again, the sleepy look returning.

             “Well, if you say so,” he drawled, obviously unconvinced. “Power should come back later today, if electric companies ‘round here are worth anything, but the snow is too deep to go anywhere now. You’ll have to stick around.”

Eskel shrugged, feeling a sense of foreboding creep over him. Stuck in an apartment with this odd man and his bizarre roommate for who knows how long? He wasn’t sure how to feel about the situation.

             “Coffee?” Eskel asked, rubbing his eyes.

Letho wandered into the kitchen, pulling drawers open left and right.

             “There’s cold brew somewhere, I think… Iorveth! Cold brew?”

The closet door opened a crack.

             “Top cabinet on the left,” a voice said, and the door snapped shut again.

             “Classic,” Letho muttered, opening the mentioned drawer and removing the coffee. Eskel wrapped the blanket around him and watched as Letho poured ground coffee and cold water into a French press coffee maker. The big man stood, contemplating the rig.

             Eskel suddenly noticed that Letho was shirtless, wearing only loose pajama pants and a frown. His muscles bulged almost absurdly, flexing and rippling with every movement as he poked at the beeping coffee maker, obviously unimpressed with the contraption. Eskel gulped. A large serpent coiled into a strange, twining design was tattooed onto the skin of Letho’s back. The dark lines contrasted sharply against the man’s pale skin and seemed to almost move as Eskel stared. Thin, white scars cut into the design in several places, looking suspiciously like marks left by knives. A round mark near his hip looked like a bullet scar. A chill ran down Eskel’s arms and over his spine at the sight. He’d never seen anyone with that many scars before, and the tattoo was… well, strange was only the first word Eskel could think of.

             “Coffee is ready,” Letho said, turning around.

Eskel saw more thin scars on his torso and arms. Some even looked almost like claw marks from some sort of animal. A fine dusting of hair covered Letho’s broad chest and a trail of hair disappeared beneath the waistband of his pajama pants. Eskel felt heat rising in his cheeks. He jumped to his feet, averting his eyes from Letho’s bare skin, and pulled the blanket even tighter around himself.

             “Cream and sugar?” Letho asked, pulling a mug out of one of the cabinets and opening the fridge.

             “Sure,” Eskel replied, moving over to sit at the counter.

             “Keep the fridge shut,” a voice said.

He jumped, and swiveled around to look up at Iorveth, who had appeared out of nowhere.

 “With the power out, it won’t stay cold. I’m gonna go get snow from outside.”

 Eskel looked down as he left, noticing that Iorveth’s feet were still bare. He glanced at Letho, who raised an eyebrow and pushed the mug of coffee over to Eskel.

             “Don’t even question it anymore,” Letho said, shrugging. He straightened, pulled a box of matches out of a drawer, and moved to light a candle that Eskel hadn’t seen before. Eskel felt a jolt of nerves and a weird tingle.

             “Wait—” he managed before Letho struck the match. The match flared, the flame much larger than usual and a bright blue in color. Startled, he nearly dropped it. As quickly as it had lit, the match went out. Letho stared at the burnt wood in his fingers, eyebrows raised.

             “…You see that?” he asked.

Eskel shrugged, trying to look calm.

             “I mean, yeah,” he said. “Maybe the match was messed up?”

             “Dunno.”

Letho went to light another match. Eskel scooted back. He struck the second match and it lit relatively normally, but when he moved to light the candle, the flame leapt from the match to the candle wick from several inches away, leaving the match blackened and twisted. Both of the men stared at the flickering candle, then at the burnt wood.

             “That… has… never happened before,” Letho said slowly.

Eskel avoided his gaze and took another sip of coffee. Letho shot him a suspicious look, then turned to pick up his own mug.

             “Oh well, just gonna pretend I didn’t see all that.”

 

             Letho sipped from his cup, watching Eskel from the corner of his eye. His companion had finished his coffee already and was staring at the countertop, seemingly lost in thought. Under the pretense of shifting in his seat, Letho turned a little to get a better look at the other man.

             Eskel’s face intrigued him. It wasn’t a jaw-droppingly handsome visage, but something about the thoughtful golden-brown eyes and full, firm mouth drew him in. The scar running down Eskel’s right cheek and over his lips and chin just furthered his curiosity. He was staring in earnest now, and Eskel must have felt his gaze. The man turned, his expression strangely open and vulnerable for a brief moment before it closed again.

             “What’s up?” Eskel asked, half smiling.

Letho tugged on his earlobe, trying to settle the butterflies in his stomach.

             “Just wondering if you wanted more coffee. Or food?” he asked, his treacherous voice just barely unsteady. Eskel stared at him.

             “Sure, to both,” he said finally, a small crease forming between his eyebrows. “If the power’s out though, wouldn’t all your food be off?”

Letho stood, noticing Eskel’s eyes tracing the lines of his bare chest. He hid a grin with a cough and walked to the fridge.

             “There’s gotta be something here we can rustle up.”

 

             Eskel shivered. He pulled the blanket around himself, wishing that he was better dressed. He was still only wearing his bartending clothes: a pair of black jeans and a thin, black button-down shirt. His jacket was probably hanging up on a hook near the door, but he didn’t want to get up to retrieve it. The power had come on minutes before, though for some reason the heat was refusing to work, and he was freezing.

             The couch creaked as Letho sat down next to him. The big man had finally put on a sweater after hours of being shirtless in the cold apartment, and the soft, olive green garment enhanced the color of his eyes.

             “Where’s the damn remote— ah, found it.” Grinning, Letho pressed a button and the TV clicked on. “Any requests?” he asked.

Eskel shook his head, eyeing the screen. Letho hummed, flipping through channels until he found something that caught his attention. He dropped the remote onto the coffee table and sat back, yawning and stretching. Eskel didn’t even realize what had happened until Letho’s arm settled on the couch behind him. He flushed and focused on the TV, watching a man dressed in an immaculate suit shoot another man in the forehead at point blank range.

             “These types of shows are always inaccurate,” Letho grunted.

             “And you’re an expert on…” Eskel paused and peered at the screen. “The Italian mafia?”

             “Course not,” Letho said, chuckling. “I’ve just heard stories.”

Remembering the snake tattoo on Letho’s back, Eskel raised his eyebrows but didn’t say anything. Letho shifted, and his arm slipped off the back of the couch to settle around Eskel’s shoulders. Eskel shivered again, this time not entirely from cold. He knew that his face was turning redder by the second. Heat emanated from Letho’s body, seeping through the blanket and into his skin, and his shivers subsided. He yawned. Almost unconsciously, he leaned into the warmth, his eyes feeling suddenly heavy. Eskel dozed.

Chapter Text

 

Chapter 10.

 

             He stood in a city square. Pungent smoke and the scent of blood filled his nose. He coughed, trying to clear the taste of the air from his mouth. A flurry of movement caught his eye. Two creatures smashed into each other with a ferocity that he could barely follow, ripping at each other with claws that were as long as his forearm. One of them struck the other so hard that it flew across the square, colliding with a brick wall. The monster let out a guttural snarl and shot to its feet, then turned into a red mist that flew over the buildings and disappeared.

He took a step, curiosity pulling him forward as instinctive fear tried to hold him back. The remaining creature turned. In the darkness it was hard for him to see, but aside from its claws, the creature had a human-like shape. Fire behind him flared, and the creature was suddenly illuminated. He stepped back, fear freezing solid in his chest. The monster looked too familiar to him, but it’s face was contorted, nearly bat-like. It shuddered, and its claws began to retract. Its face smoothed, became more human. Black, bloodshot eyes met his. He took a step back, and tripped.

 

             Eskel’s eyes shot open. Disoriented, he looked around. He was curled up against a gently snoring Letho on the couch, the big man’s arm wrapped around his shoulders. He wasn’t cold anymore, instead he was comfortably cozy, despite the embarrassment he felt at being tucked up against the other man. The TV was still on, now playing a cheesy movie about vampires. Eskel shuddered. He enjoyed the warmth for another moment, then carefully extricated himself from Letho’s arm and stood. He pulled his phone from his pocket, pleased to discover it wasn’t dead, and dialed a number. It picked up almost immediately.

             “Yeah what?” Geralt said, sounding irritable. “I was napping.”

             “Well, so was I, and it happened again,” Eskel snapped softly, heading for the apartment door. “I keep having these dreams every time I close my eyes.” He shut the door behind him, trying to be quiet. “And you won’t believe who it was about this time.”

 

             Letho stared up at the ceiling. He’d woken when Eskel stood up and caused the couch to bounce. Unnoticed, he’d watched the other man dial a number into his phone and put it up to his ear, a look of intense concentration on his face.

             “Well, so was I, and it happened again,” Eskel had said after a pause. “I keep having these dreams every time I close my eyes.” The door had closed with a gentle click.

             Letho inhaled deeply, trying to untangle the knot of feelings that had settled in the pit of his stomach. He couldn’t place what was making him feel so unsettled. The way Eskel fit against the curve of his body tickled something in the deepest reaches of his memory. He rubbed his eyes and yawned. He’d have to think about the whole thing sometime soon. For now, he wanted something hot to eat.

 

             When Eskel returned to the apartment, his phone was nearly dead, and he had a lot on his mind. He wandered inside and closed the door behind him. A tantalizing smell met his nose and he sniffed, entranced.

             “What is that?” he asked, his mouth watering.

             “Food,” Letho replied, smiling cheekily.

             “Yeah, no shit.” Eskel shook his head, trying not to grin in response. “Do you have a phone charger I could borrow?”

 

             Eskel bit into the grilled cheese with a moan as Letho watched on. .

             “What’s in here? Tomato? Is that… bacon?” Eskel took another bite as Letho started on his own sandwich.

             “Suppose I should’ve asked if you eat meat,” Letho mumbled, mouth full.

             “Oh, I definitely do,” Eskel said with enthusiasm, stuffing his mouth with more sandwich. Across the table, Letho tried to stifle a laugh and failed, choking instead. Eskel snorted as the big man pounded his fist on the counter, still coughing. Once he’d regained his breath, Letho looked up and met Eskel’s eyes.

             “The roads should be clear by tomorrow morning, with the plows working properly. In the meantime, you’re perfectly welcome to crash here again tonight.”

             “Thanks, I really appreciate it.” Eskel rubbed the back of his neck, feeling a little awkward. “Funny how I ended up here for this blizzard though.”

             Letho surveyed Eskel, his expression open.

             “Yeah, it is. Kinda nice, actually.” The corners of Letho’s mouth crooked up. “Iorveth isn’t the best of company. Plus, you’re interesting.”

Eskel felt heat rising in his face for what felt like the millionth time.

             “I, uh, thanks?” he said. He took another bite of his grilled cheese to combat the awkwardness in the air. Letho chuckled quietly.

             “No problem.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 11.

 

             A knocking sound woke Eskel from a deep, surprisingly dreamless sleep. He got up, stumbled to the door, and pulled it open. For a moment, he thought he was actually dreaming.

             Regis stood in the doorway, looking immaculate in a wine-colored button-down shirt and black jeans. Onyx drops hung from his earlobes, winking in the light from the hallway. He smiled, showing his surprisingly sharp teeth, and waved by way of a greeting. Several heavy, ornate, golden rings glittered on his fingers.

             “Geralt asked me to pick you up and bring you home. He said you’d be here,” he said.

 Eskel looked into the man’s black, slightly bloodshot eyes, unnervingly familiar and shuddered. Composing himself, he smiled weakly.

             “Oh, sure, hold on.” He turned to retrieve his things, jumping when he found Letho standing behind him.

             “Do you ever make noise?” he asked, moving around Letho to find his things.

             “Regis, you know you’re always welcome here,” he heard Letho say. “Business going well?”

             “Always is, now that I’m away from… family affairs.”

When Eskel turned, his belongings in hand, he saw Letho and Regis clasp hands. Letho turned, and something in his face lightened.

             “Stay warm,” he said, clapping Eskel on the shoulder. “Feel free to come stay over whenever. I enjoyed your company.” A smile lit his yellow-green eyes. “I’ll see you at work.”

Eskel nodded, smiling in return.

             “Thanks. See you.”

 

 

             “I dropped him off. He’s perfectly alright, and all in one piece,” Regis said, rubbing the end of his long nose.

Geralt smiled at him, and stepped out of the way.

             “Thanks Regis. Come in.” The man nodded and moved inside, hanging his coat up on a hook. “Would you like a drink?” Geralt asked, pulling a bottle of red wine and glasses out of a cabinet.

             “Yes, please,” Regis said with a sharp-toothed smile. “Ooh, that is a lovely wine, it happens to be one of my favorites.”

Geralt opened the bottle with a bartender’s ease and poured the deep red liquid into the glasses.

             “It’s one of my favorites as well, actually,” he told the other man, leaving the bottle open to air.

He leaned on the counter and picked up a glass, pushing the other towards Regis’ hand and taking the opportunity to catch a better look at the tattoos on the man’s fingers. Regis scooped up the glass and toasted Geralt, who mimicked the gesture, then drank. When Geralt set his glass down, Regis was observing him carefully.

             “I hope I’m not taking advantage of your hospitality,” the man said softly, swirling his wine in an absent fashion as he watched Geralt’s face.

Geralt frowned.

             “Of course not, Regis, don’t be so stiff. Hell, I let myself into Eskel’s place sometimes just cause I’m lonely.” He laughed at Regis’ surprised expression. “I learned to pick locks from a childhood friend, actually,” he said, a brief shadow crossing his face as he took another drink.

             “What I’m saying,” he continued, “is that I’m used to treating hospitality rather loosely. If I like you, you’re free to come and go as you please, within reason.” His teeth flashed in a grin. “If I didn’t want you here, I wouldn’t let you through the doorway in the first place.”

Regis laughed and waved his hand.

             “Please, if I felt unwelcome, I wouldn’t be able to come in anyway. I’m very careful about that kind of thing.” He tugged nervously at the high collar of his shirt. “I just… don’t want to be a nuisance.”

             Geralt let out a loud snort and reached across the counter to snag one of Regis’ hands. He ran a gentle fingertip over the lines that showed under the skin there, tracing the designs with deliberate slowness.

             “You’re the opposite of a nuisance, Regis,” he confessed, not meeting the other man’s eyes. “I actually quite like having you around.”

Regis covered his mouth with his free hand, a pink flush spreading over his prominent cheekbones.

             “I’m… extremely flattered,” he murmured, voice muffled by his fingers. “I didn’t think… well, I assumed you were just humoring me.”

             “I was a little bemused in the beginning,” Geralt admitted, “but now…”

He sighed, reluctantly letting go of Regis’ fingers. “I do really like you,” he said. “It’s just that I recently got out of a rather rough, long-term relationship, and I’m not really looking to get tied down any time soon.”

             “Metaphorically, or literally?” Regis asked, his eyes sparkling with laughter. It was Geralt’s turn to blush.

             “Metaphorically,” he replied, trying to sound nonchalant.

Regis smiled, and reached out to grasp Geralt’s hand.

             “The last thing I want is to make you uncomfortable, to push too hard,” he said, his face open and honest. Geralt returned Regis’ smile, and the man bent to press a soft kiss into his palm. “Please, make sure to tell me if I go too far," Regis murmured against the sensitive skin. Geralt squirmed, trying to suppress a giggle as Regis moved to kiss the inside of his wrist.

             “I’d be more than happy to take this slowly,” Regis said, his voice soft. “I can woo you with flowers and the occasional ballad, if you’d like.”

Geralt snorted.

             “I like simple, classic flowers,” he replied with a grin. “Nothing too fancy.”

             “I’ll make a note of that.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 12.

 

             With the roads finally clear after the blizzard, Eskel’s work schedule returned to normal. It felt good to get back to being occupied, since he wasn’t really used to sitting still for so long. Fencing practice resumed as well. Lambert actually began to attend regularly, still sore about doing less than well in their last fencing competition. Eskel could still beat him without much work, but he was improving steadily. Eskel could win against Geralt too, although that took much more skill and concentration, and Geralt didn’t like to be beaten. 

             Yet another competition approached as spring drew closer, and practice became more and more important in their day to day lives. Geralt took to muttering lists of practice tips and tricks under his breath, and Lambert developed the equally irritating habit of grabbing anything remotely shaped like a foil and challenging Eskel to duel. Lambert continued his antics until Vesemir witnessed one such incident and decided that he could use some of his energy to clean up and close the bar.

             Eskel himself felt the nerves. He sometimes found himself shifting his feet into the proper guard position as he stood behind the bar taking orders. Loud beeping noises caused him to jump much more than usual. Once he caught himself staring into his bathroom mirror, wondering where his headgear was. With all his focus on the competition, he hadn’t been thinking about Letho much. In occasional moments of quiet, he would pause and watch the man, remembering the blizzard and all that had happened when he’d stayed over at Letho’s apartment. Once or twice, Letho caught him staring. The corners of the man’s mouth had twitched, and he’d nodded to Eskel, then turned back to his post by the door. Although Eskel had little time to hang out or drink much, he still managed to end up at the bar after Geralt had left at least once a week. He was really beginning to enjoy the wind-blown minutes he spent on the back of Letho’s bike, clinging to the big man as they hurtled down the badly lit streets. Something about the quiet company relaxed him, even as the wind froze his skin.

             The day of the competition arrived. Eskel was driving to the place where the competition was to be held when his phone rang. He picked it up, answering with a distracted noise.

             “Hmm?” 

             “Today’s your fencing competition, right?” Letho’s voice was thick with sleep, rough and gravelly over the line. The sound sent a shiver racing over Eskel’s skin, causing goosebumps to spread down his arms. He took a deep breath.

             “Yeah, it’s today.” There was a pause on the other end of the line.

             “Good luck,” Letho said finally, yawning loud enough for Eskel to hear. “Tell Geralt the same, from me.”

            Eskel grinned in spite of himself. 

             “Will do, thanks.”

             “Alright, bye.”

             “Later.” Eskel hung up the phone and focused on the road again, a small smile playing around his mouth. He was actually looking forward to the competition.

 

             That evening found Eskel driving out of the city toward his favorite roadside diner. He patted the dashboard of his car as he drove, humming along to the radio with absent good humor. The competition had gone well, with Lambert, Geralt, and him all winning their matches, and he was in an extremely good mood. After all the chaos of the afternoon, he wanted nothing more than to just spend some quiet time alone. 

            Well, not entirely alone. 

             When he pulled into the diner’s parking lot, he spotted a familiar motorcycle. He covered a smile and parked, then made his way into the small building, bending a bit so he didn’t knock his head on the doorframe.

             “Why, it’s Eskel!” the woman behind the counter exclaimed. Eskel grinned, taking a seat at the bar.

             “Hey, Tam, still working here part time? How’s business?” 

             “Business is pretty decent, as usual. We have the typical rough crowd in every now and again. You should see the man who came in just a little while ago,” the woman said, eyes widening. “He’s the biggest guy I’ve ever seen, and scary looking, to boot!” 

            Eskel couldn’t help it. He let out an ungainly snort of laughter.

             “Where did he sit?” he asked, taking a menu from the woman. 

             “Over there,” she replied, pointing to the left. “Be careful though, he looks mean.” 

            Eskel headed in the direction she indicated, still chuckling. When he rounded the corner, he saw the back of a shaved head in the farthest corner and, grinning, sauntered over and casually slid into the booth across from the other man. 

             “Fancy meeting you here,” he said with an innocent smile. 

            Letho blinked, then a slow smile spread across his mouth. He leaned forward, his eyes sparkling.

             “Yeah, fancy that,” he said, voice low and rumbling. “It’s not like I called and asked if you knew about this diner or anything.” 

            Eskel shook his head in a show of false disapproval.

             “And I told you that of course I know about this place, it has some of the best diner food in this area. And I’m not just saying that because the waitress is right behind you.”

             “Hey,” the woman said, pulling a notepad and a pen out of her pocket. “What can I get for you folks?”

 

             “Forgot to ask you how the competition went,” Letho murmured, looking upwards. 

            Eskel followed his gaze as they leaned against the front of Eskel’s car, watching the sky. The early spring air was just barely chilly, but it was warm enough to be comfortable. The stars were brighter outside of the city, twinkling in the darkness. 

             Eskel loved looking at the stars. They made him feel minuscule and expansive at the same time. Whenever he looked up into the clear night sky, a wistful and strange feeling grew underneath his sternum, threatening to consume him or possibly even make him feel whole again.

             “Hmm?” he mumbled, still watching the sky. Letho turned to look at him.

             “How’d it go?” 

            Eskel thought for a moment before he realized what the other man was asking. He grinned.

             “Yeah actually, it went great. We all won our matches, though Lambert’s was a close call.” 

            Letho chuckled, causing the car to shake, and Eskel laughed with him, enjoying the sensation of their combined mirth.

             “Glad it went well,” Letho said, still watching Eskel. “You guys were starting to worry me.”

             “Don’t worry, things should go back to normal soon enough. The next competition isn’t for a few months.” 

            Letho shifted, his fingers brushing against Eskel’s. A tingle shot up Eskel’s arm from the place where their skin touched.

             “That’s good,” Letho muttered, turning back to the sky. “Any more tension in the bar and someone probably would’ve snapped.” 

            Eskel shrugged, glancing at the other man.

             The pale light from the moon and stars glittered off Letho’s earring, sparking something in Eskel’s memory. The man looked thoughtful as he stared upwards, eyes glittering. The moonlight gilded his cheekbones and heavy brow, illuminating his blunt nose and broad lower lip. Eskel blushed and looked away, feeling the heat in his face travel unbidden into his chest and stomach.

             “On clear nights like this, I wanna get a sleeping bag and lay out in a field somewhere, just to watch the stars all night,” Letho murmured.

             “I was just thinking a similar thing,” Eskel replied. “I haven’t been camping since Vesemir took the three of us when we were kids.”

             “You grew up with those two?” Letho asked, looking over at him curiously. 

            Eskel shrugged again.

             “Basically.” He rubbed a hand tiredly over his face and sighed. “You want the whole story?”

             Letho shrugged. 

             “If you wanna tell it,” he replied. 

            Eskel took a deep breath.

            “Vesemir adopted us when we were all pretty young. Geralt and I came first. We got to our first home at about the same time, and we’ve stuck together since.” he said, a note of bitterness creeping into his voice. 

              “No one wanted to keep us for long in the beginning. We always got into trouble, and most of the time we made the trouble ourselves. After being moved around several times, Vesemir found us, then he and his wife took us in. A year or two later, Lambert joined us.” Eskel paused, trying to figure out how to properly phrase his thoughts. “Lambert had been in the system longer than Geralt and me, and he’d been in some rough homes. He’s still incredibly bitter about it, understandably. We haven’t talked about it much, but Geralt and I think he probably had some terrible experiences in homes before he got to us. We teased him mercilessly, of course,” Eskel continued. “We didn’t know any better. He was so easy to mess with.”

             “Anyway, Vesemir most definitely saved us from the system. After the first couple months of our antics, he got tired of cleaning up broken glass and found some good ways for us to channel our energy into something more productive. He started teaching us fencing, and when we got older and he couldn’t teach us anymore, he found us a good coach to replace him. When we moved out, he helped us find our current bartending gig.” Eskel took a deep breath, vaguely wondering why he’d just spilled most of his past to this man. “Well, the short answer is yeah, we grew up together,” he finished hastily.

            After a moment of silence, he turned and met Letho’s startled eyes. “Sorry, that got deep pretty quick.” 

            Letho shook his head, lone earring swinging with the movement.

             “Don’t apologize, I didn’t mean to bring up any bad memories. Thanks for telling me though,” he rumbled. 

            Eskel sighed again, looking down into his hands. For a moment, he saw thick calluses on his palms and scars on his fingers, then he blinked.

             “It’s been a while since I thought about it,” he said, feeling a bit embarrassed.

             “Sorry,” Letho mumbled again. He sounded genuinely apologetic. “A rough childhood isn’t fun to recall.”

            Eskel glanced over at him, watching a shadow flit across his face. Then the man looked up and met Eskel’s gaze again.

            Eskel’s stomach jumped. Their faces were very close together, too close. He could see dark green flecks in Letho’s eyes that he’d never noticed before. There was a sort of rough poetry to the man’s blunt, intimidating features that caught him and pulled him in. The memory of a dream suddenly rose in his mind, reminding him of the feeling of being wrapped in a strangers thick arms in a dark room smelling strongly of hay, the stranger’s lips on his. He inhaled sharply and drew back as if he’d been slapped. Letho pulled back too, looking surprised.

             “You okay?” he asked. 

            Eskel’s fingers trembled as he rubbed the back of his neck.

             “I think something bit me,” he lied, not meeting Letho’s gaze. 

            The big man looked at him oddly for a moment, then stood up.

             “Well, maybe that’s a sign to head home,” he said, stretching luxuriously. “I could use a full night of uninterrupted sleep.” 

             “Me too,” Eskel said with a yawn. “You wouldn’t believe the dreams I’ve been having lately.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 13.

 

             Letho crawled under his blanket and rolled over, thinking hard as he stared at the wall. The wide-eyed, almost frightened look on Eskel’s face had burned into his mind, showing clearly every time he blinked. Grumbling, he shifted again and closed his eyes.

 

             He stood in a field of dirt, watching a man fend off monsters with a flashing silver sword. Sunlight shone into his face from the brilliantly blue, cloudless sky as he looked on, and he shielded his eyes from the glare. The man he watched dove and struck, and a creature dropped each time his blade swung. Fire and blasting force issued from the man’s fingertips in turns, felling monsters left and right. When all the creatures were dead, and the nest destroyed, the man walked over to him, sweating and triumphant.

             “Thanks for the help,” the man teased, his words ringing clearly in the strangely muffled place.

             “You obviously didn’t need it,” he responded, baffled by the warmth that bloomed in his chest at the sight of the stranger. The man’s amber, cat-like eyes twinkled, even as his mouth turned down at one corner, pulled by a scar that marred the side of his face.

             “Well, no, I didn’t,” the stranger said with a grin, wiping and sheathing his sword. When he’d done that, the man looked up into his face, a puzzled look in his eyes. “Is something wrong?” he asked. 

             “Where are we?” The words reverberated, sending a shiver through the fabric of the place. The man grinned cheerfully.

             “You don’t remember? We’re here on vacation, in the majestic land of—” 

 

             Letho sat up in bed, completely disoriented. When he’d remembered where he was, and who he was, he collapsed back down again.

             “That was really, really weird,” he muttered, pulling his covers up over his head to block out the morning light. Never got the name of that place. Can’t believe I woke up before he said what it was, he thought. All I can remember is the smell of… grapes? After a moment of befuddled contemplation, he rolled over and drifted back to sleep.

 


 

 

             Geralt pushed open the rusted door that lead to the roof and stepped out into the dying sunlight. Someone else was already out there, silhouetted against the pink and orange streaked sky. Crows flapped around the man’s head and hopped about on the ground at his feet, eating the pieces of bread that he was dropping for them. Geralt swallowed, awestruck by the picture before him.

             “Regis?” The man turned.

             “Oh, Geralt, it’s you,” Regis said, holding his hand out to yet another crow. “Don’t walk too quickly, or you’ll startle them.” Geralt took a tentative step forward, moving as slowly as he could. One or two of the crows turned to look at him with beady black eyes.

             “When you said, ‘meet me up on the roof,’ I wasn’t really expecting this,” Geralt admitted, gingerly sitting down on a chair near Regis. The man turned to smile at him.

             “I’ve been feeding these crows for years,” he said, stroking a finger over one crow’s back. The bird cawed and nibbled the finger affectionately. “They always know when I’m here. One time they brought a parrot with them!” He chuckled, and raised his arms. “That’s it for today, my friends, I’ll be back again soon.” Half of the crows took flight while the other half stayed to peck the ground where Regis had been standing. Regis walked over to Geralt, took his hand, and kissed his fingers.

             “Here, I have something for you,” Regis said, bending to pick up something that Geralt hadn’t noticed when he sat down. When the man straightened, he was holding a box and a single red rose wrapped in clear florist’s paper. He bowed gracefully and handed the rose to Geralt first, then the box. 

             “These are for you. The box is a surprise though, don’t open it until you get home.” Geralt blushed and sniffed the flower, basking in its sweet scent. He looked up at Regis, his eyes shining.

             “I like this kind of courtship a lot,” he murmured, smelling the rose again. “How did you know I liked roses?”

             “Just a guess,” Regis said softly, reaching out to toy with a lock of Geralt’s hair. He moved to cup Geralt’s cheek with a gentle hand, a soft look in his dark eyes. “Has anyone ever told you that the light from the setting sun sinks into your hair and makes it glow like flame?” Regis asked. Geralt blushed a deeper red.

             “No,” he muttered, flustered by the touch and the closeness of the other man. Regis smiled and bent slightly, his eyes intent on Geralt’s.

             “May I?” he murmured, moving closer. 

Geralt nodded, hardly breathing, and Regis leaned forward to press his lips softly to Geralt’s. Geralt gasped, then hummed into the kiss, reaching up to pull Regis closer. Unlike the explosive and fast-burning passion he’d felt from kissing people before, Regis’ lips warmed him from the top of his head to the tips of his fingers and toes. Regis felt like home. A sense of peace and rightness washed over Geralt, and he stood, pulling the thinner man into his arms to deepen the kiss. Regis’ surprisingly strong arms wrapped around his waist and Geralt sighed with contentment. After several blissful seconds he remembered himself and drew back, his face burning. Regis’ cheeks were pink, his eyes bright.

             “Well, if that’s the reception that one rose gets me,” Regis said, rather breathlessly, “I think I’ll bring a bouquet next time.” Geralt laughed and released him, stepping back. 

             “Sorry, I got a little carried away,” he said, embarrassment creeping into his voice. “I know I said I wasn’t really ready…” Regis took his hands, his face sincere.

             “We can go at your pace,” Regis said, still flushed. “I’ll follow your lead.”

             “My lead, huh,” Geralt murmured, gripping Regis’ fingers. “How about I lead you back to my place where we can get a drink?” Regis laughed, teeth flashing in the light. 

             “That sounds perfect.”

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 15.

 

             A loud ringing sound brought Eskel out of a deep sleep. He groped around blearily, finally grabbing his phone from where it had fallen on the floor.

             “What?” he said thickly.

             “Where are you right now?” Geralt’s voice asked over the line. “There’s something I need you to see.” 

             “I’m at Letho’s place,” Eskel said, feeling more awake by the minute. Geralt sounded unusually serious. “Do you want to come get me?” A beat of silence answered his question, then Geralt spoke.

             “Yeah, I do. I’ll be over soon.” He hung up. Eskel stared at his phone for a moment, disturbed by the urgency in Geralt’s voice. The phone’s clock read 8:46am. Moaning with dismay, Eskel fell back onto the couch. 

             A little while later someone knocked on the door. Geralt stood outside, looking flustered and sleep-deprived, his white hair pulled into a messy ponytail. He was paler than usual, his golden-brown eyes standing out against the whiteness of his skin.

             “Ready to go?” he asked softly.

             “Everything alright?” A rumbling voice issued from behind Eskel. Geralt jumped, and looked even more anxious. Eskel turned to see Letho standing in his bedroom doorway, blinking sleepily in the morning light.

             “Yeah,” Eskel replied. “I’m just heading out, don’t wake up on my account.” Letho grinned.

             “Don’t worry, I won’t. See you.” He turned and retreated into his bedroom. Geralt grabbed Eskel and towed him out, barely letting him close the apartment door.

             “Why are you in such a hurry?” Eskel asked, starting to worry as his friend pulled him outside. Geralt shook his head, pushed Eskel into his tiny, beat-up car, and got into the driver’s seat. Wordlessly, he pulled out of the parking lot and drove in the direction of Eskel’s apartment. 

 

             “Are you finally gonna tell me what’s going on?” Eskel asked. They had finally arrived in Eskel’s living room, and Eskel was beginning to get annoyed. Geralt tossed a page of crumpled, yellowing newspaper at him and walked into the kitchen, digging the makings for coffee out of a drawer. Eskel looked down at the page and saw that an article had been circled. The photo at the top of the article showed a black and white photo of a crime scene, with blood splattered on the ground behind an old building. Next to that photo was a grainy mugshot that he only glanced at. He began to read.

 

Murder Behind Local Pub

             In the early hours of Saturday, August 19th, 20XX, witnesses reported seeing two suspicious men behind the pub on Palace Street. When authorities arrived, they discovered a bloody scene. Local man, Demavend Brenin, 56, was found lying on the ground, seemingly stabbed to death. The other man found at the scene confessed to the crime and was promptly detained. Witness testimony later brought the nature of the crime to light, and the man was released shortly afterwards, as his crime was ruled to have been committed in self-defense.

 

             Eskel put the paper down and looked up at Geralt.

             “This story is from twelve years ago. Where did you find this paper?” he asked. Geralt met his eyes.

             “It was stuffed in a vase Regis gave me. Anyway, take a better look at the photo at the top.” Ice crept down Eskel’s neck. He looked again, focusing more closely on the grainy, black and white mugshot.

             The man in the photo had a rough buzz cut. Thick stubble covered the lower half of his face. His eyes were hidden in shadow beneath a heavy brow, but the blunt nose and broad, thin-lipped mouth were too familiar. Dark blood flowed from a fresh-looking cut in the man’s eyebrow, painting the side of his face, and a gold hoop glittered in his right earlobe. Eskel looked even closer, and could just barely see a forked scar on the man’s forehead.

             Eskel set the paper down, cold settling in his chest. He stared at the counter, not seeing, his ears roaring. 

             “…Eskel? Eskel?” Geralt’s voice filtered through his numbness. He looked up, meeting the other man’s sober gaze. “Are you gonna be alright?” Geralt asked, worry crinkling the corners of his eyes. Eskel tried to swallow, his mouth suddenly dry.

             “I need some time to think,” he muttered, putting his head in his hands. Geralt nodded, still looking concerned. 

             “Coffee will be ready in a minute,” he said softly. “I’ll stick around in case you need to run your thoughts by someone.” The sounds of Geralt moving around blurred in his head with the rest of his thoughts, swirling in chaos. Murder, even in self-defense? He wasn’t sure how to handle the news. A phone rang.

             “Sorry, I have to take this,” Geralt said, walking to the front door. “Regis?” Eskel heard him say. “Actually, good timing. There’s something I need to ask you about…” The door closed. Eskel let his head slide to rest on the counter. The hard surface steadied him a little, and he let the darkness swallow him. 

             He woke to the smell of coffee. When he raised his head, he saw a steaming cup sitting in front of him. The handle was warm when he gripped it, sending a shock of reality up his arm. The hot liquid burned his tongue a little bit he drank it anyway. After he emptied the cup, he turned around and saw Geralt snoozing on his couch. Sighing heavily, Eskel went into his bedroom and fell into his bed, feeling drained. He’d sleep on the news, and figure out how he felt when he woke up.

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 16.

 

             The next few days passed in a murky blur. Eskel moved around his apartment like a ghost, eating very little and sleeping as much as he could. His dreams were frustratingly meaningless and fragmented. Geralt called to ask if he was alright at least twice a day. After reassuring Geralt, Eskel called Vesemir to say the he was sick and not going to come into work. He called in sick the next day as well. Fencing practice was forgotten altogether. 

             On the morning after his second day skipping both practice and work, he woke to the scent of coffee and bacon. The aromas revived him a bit, and he got out of bed, stumbling towards the kitchen. He found Geralt standing at the stove, wearing an apron and holding a greasy spatula.

             “I knew bacon would get you out of bed,” Geralt told him, grinning mischievously. “Coffee is in the pot there, food will be done in a minute.” Eskel blinked at him for a minute, then got a mug for the coffee.

             “Did you let yourself in again?” Eskel asked sleepily. “Remember I told you to stop that.” 

             “Oh phooey,” Geralt retorted, flipping an egg with haphazard grace. “You need someone to revive you.” Eskel frowned, sipping from his mug.

             “I didn’t die, I’ve just been thinking.” 

             Geralt flipped another egg and gave him a curious look.

             “Figure anything out?” he asked, taking the pan off the stove and setting it on a hot pad. 

             “Sort of,” Eskel said absently, watching Geralt split the eggs and bacon between two plates. “It’s gonna take some time for me to sort out my brain.” Geralt nodded in an understanding way and pushed Eskel’s plate toward him.

             “Eat,” Geralt commanded. Eskel ate. When they finished their food, Geralt washed the dishes while Eskel drank more coffee.

             “Well, what now?” Eskel asked, tipping his mug up to get the last drops of liquid before setting it down and looking at Geralt. Geralt dropped onto the couch.

             “Now, I’m gonna take a nap, and you’re gonna take a shower. You stink.”

             “Asshole.”

             “I’m right, though,” Geralt said, eyeing Eskel’s greasy hair. Eskel sighed in defeat and headed toward the bathroom.

 

             “Bowling?” Eskel asked, eyebrows raised. “Really?” 

             “Yep, and if you’re not quick enough I’m setting your name as World’s Biggest Loser, so hurry up.” Eskel shook his head in disbelief. He would humor Geralt, this once.

             By their second game, Eskel was feeling a lot better than he had in a while. Geralt had been cracking jokes the entire time, making Eskel laugh until he couldn’t breathe. The ordered a pizza after they finally tied their last game.

             “Better?” Geralt asked through a mouthful of cheese.

             “Yeah, actually. Quite a bit.” 

             “That’s good,” Geralt mumbled, taking another bite, “I was beginning to think I’d permanently fucked you up.” Eskel finished his fourth slice and went for another.

             “Nah, I’ll be fine,” he said. “I… I might ask him about it. Or not.” 

             “It’s always good to get both sides of the story,” Geralt said with a nod. “I’ll take you back to your place after this, so you can get your car.”

             “Thanks,” Eskel replied, checking the time on his phone. “We should head out soon if we’re gonna get to work on time.”

 

             Eskel avoided Letho for a while, driving to work by himself and letting Geralt clean up the bar after closing time. The big man left him alone, but sometimes Eskel felt eyes on the back of his neck when he was turned away from the door. He began to feel a bit lonely. Sometimes he caught himself watching Letho almost wistfully when there was a lull in the bustle. Most nights ended with him sitting in his kitchen with a beer, contemplating the bare wall. His dreams were still unhelpful, showing fragments of blood and slit-pupiled eyes, but nothing conclusive. 

             He started to miss the quiet minutes he’d spent with the other man, on the back of his motorcycle, or in the bar after closing. It hadn’t occurred to him how much time he’d been spending with Letho over the past few months until he found himself staring at his phone one evening, almost wishing the man would call. Without warning, his phone buzzed, and he jumped.

             You ok? the message read. Eskel rubbed the tip of his nose in irritation and typed out a message.

             I’m fine.

             If you insist… I’ll be here if you wanna talk.

             Thanks, Geralt. I appreciate it.

             He put the phone down on the counter and dropped his head into his hands.

             “What should I do?” he asked himself, rubbing his eyes. His phone buzzed again. Not paying attention, he scooped it up and answered.

             “Who is it?” he asked, his eyes still closed.

             “It’s me,” a rough, gravelly voice answered. Eskel froze.

             “What’s up?” His voice was steady, but his stomach had twisted into a knot. There was a pause before Letho answered.

             “Can I talk to you? In person?” Letho asked hesitantly, sounding unsure. The plea in his voice softened Eskel’s resolve. Eskel thought of all the times he’d been alone with the man, of all the kindness Letho had shown him. He sighed.

             “Sure.” He thought for a moment. “Wanna meet up at the bar on Velen Street? I can be there in ten minutes.”

             “See you there,” Letho said, and hung up.

             Roughly ten minutes later, Eskel walked into the bar. He looked around, but Letho was nowhere in sight, so he ordered a drink at the bar and sat down at a small table to wait. A few minutes later someone dropped into the chair across from him. He glanced up and met a pair of sober, yellow-green eyes.

             “Hey,” Letho murmured. Worry dug deep lines around his thin mouth and created wrinkles at the corners of his bloodshot eyes. He looked rumpled and unsure of what to say as Eskel stared at him.

             “Hi,” Eskel finally said, feeling as awkward as Letho looked. Letho shifted, his face tense, and opened his mouth.

             “Look, you found something out about me, didn’t you?” No answer. “I, uh, also talked to Regis, who said you knew.” He rubbed the side of his neck. “Listen, I don’t want to try to justify what happened, but I wanna explain better. If that’s alright with you,” he said, meeting Eskel’s eyes for the first time since he’d sat down.

             “Yeah, okay,” Eskel said, taking a sip from his drink, still not taking his eyes off Letho’s. 

             Letho paused for a moment, then began.

             “Happened twelve or so years ago. You shoulda seen the crowd in the bar that night.” He took a drink from his beer, his eyes distant. “I’d been there with my mates a while and I needed to step outside for some fresh air. I smoked then, so I went outside to have a cigarette, and wandered around behind the bar,” the corners of his mouth twitched, “so no one would try to bum one off me.” 

             “When I got around the corner, I saw something moving behind the dumpsters, so I went to investigate.” Letho stopped, his eyes glittering dangerously. His expression caused chills to race over Eskel’s skin and he shivered, pulling his sweater tighter around himself. Letho rubbed a hand over his eyes. 

             “It was… bad. Found a man behind the dumpster… taking advantage… of a girl. She couldn’t have been more than fourteen,” Letho said, his voice quiet, his knuckles turning white as he gripped his beer glass. “Got pretty fuckin’ angry, and told the bastard to get off her. He didn’t appreciate that, and he was drunk as shit, so he decided he was gonna try to stab me. Fucker was fast, faster than I expected, and when he came at me, my instincts kicked in.” Letho looked down at his hands, his expression hard. “I punched him in the face, probably hard enough for the bone splinters from his nose to get to his brain, and he was just unlucky enough to somehow drop onto his own knife.” Pausing, Letho clenched and unclenched his fists, staring into his scarred palms. Eskel felt cold.

             “Didn’t even check to see if the guy was all the way dead,” Letho continued. “Went to see if the girl was alright. She was in shock. He’d cut her up a little bit, probably when she struggled, and she was still bleeding. Couldn’t even speak, but she was crying hard. I could tell she was terrified of me, most people are, but she clung to my arm and sobbed until she could finally talk. By that point someone had called the cops. Gave her my jacket and when they finally showed up, they took charge of the girl and arrested me.” Letho took another drink. “The girl told the officers what happened, but she was still a bit hysterical and too young, so they didn’t really believe her. Luckily for me, two other people had managed to see the whole thing, and testified in my favor.” 

             His eyes were strangely empty when he met Eskel’s gaze again. “Sorry you had to find out like this.” 

             Eskel shook his head and downed the rest of his drink.

             “I’m… I understand,” he said. “It’s a lot to take in.” He pushed his empty glass away. “Fuck, I could use another drink.” 

             Letho beckoned a waiter over and ordered two more beers. They sat in silence until the beers arrived.

             “I should’ve asked straight up,” Eskel said after taking a long drink. Letho watched him, eyes level.

             “Not many people would have the balls to ask at all, or even be willing to meet up with me and listen to my explanation,” he said quietly. “Thanks.”

             “Thanks for explaining,” Eskel replied, the tension in his body dissipating. “I appreciate it.”

             “Hope you’re not too scared of me now,” Letho said, leaning back in his seat, a wry grin twisting his mouth. “It’s been nice to be around someone who doesn’t treat me like a monster cause I’m not the prettiest person out there.” Eskel tried to keep a straight face and failed.

             “Well, I’m not the prettiest person either,” he said, touching the scar that ran down his face. “All the normal patrons know me, but new people at the bar give me some strange looks.” Sighing, he ran a hand through his hair. “And I promise I just need some time to get over the surprise. It’s been fun to hang out with someone I haven’t known since I was a kid, and I’d hate to lose that.” 

             Letho sighed too, looking relieved. 

             “Good to hear,” he said with a weak grin. “I was getting worried.” 

             The waiter brought their bill. Letho insisted on paying for Eskel’s drinks, left a few bills on the table, then they both walked outside. They stopped next to Eskel’s car and Letho turned to look down into Eskel’s face.

             “Thanks again for listening,” the big man murmured. “It means… a lot.” Letho paused, then reached out a tentative hand. He hesitated, waiting for a rebuke, then when none came, he touched the cruel scar on Eskel’s cheek with careful gentleness that made Eskel’s skin tingle. The heat of the man’s fingertip felt like a spark of electricity. A moment later Letho drew back, the same gentleness in his eyes.

             “See you at work.” 

             “‘Night,” Eskel said quietly as Letho turned and walked away.

             He got into his car, completely overwhelmed. Too much had happened in one night, and he needed to sleep. Geralt could wait another day to find out what had happened.

Chapter Text

Chapter 17.

 

             It took a few weeks for Eskel to be comfortable enough with Letho to end up at his apartment again.

             “Found a new beer yesterday,” Letho said, pulling two bottles from his fridge. “Think you’ll like it.” He popped the caps of the bottles off and handed one to Eskel. Eskel took a careful sip, then sighed with contentment.

             “This is really good,” Eskel approved, taking another drink. Letho grinned and opened a cupboard, pulling out a box. 

             “Wanna watch a movie?” Letho asked, tugging something out of the box and waving it at Eskel. It was microwave popcorn.

             “I haven’t had popcorn in weeks,” Eskel exclaimed, nearly falling off his stool with excitement.

             “Movie it is then.”

             Several minutes later, Eskel found himself on the couch with Letho, a bowl of popcorn between them, and a movie playing on the TV. Eskel tried to focus on the plot of the movie, but instead was deeply distracted. It had been a while since he’d been so close to Letho, and he had forgotten how warm the other man was. The room was a little chilly, despite it being mid-spring outside, but Letho was shirtless again, seeming to prefer being that way. His skin radiated heat. Resisting the urge to scoot closer to the warmth, Eskel glanced sideways.

             The light from the TV gilded Letho’s profile in the near darkness. His eyes gleamed as he watched the screen, intent on the movie. He reached absently for the popcorn. Finding the bowl empty, he grumbled and got up to put it in the sink. When he returned, he dropped onto the couch, almost launching a yelping Eskel into the air. Chuckling, Letho leaned back, draping his arm over the back of the couch behind the other man. Eskel blushed. The alcohol was going to his head, making him giddy. Feeling bolder than usual, Eskel bumped Letho’s arm, causing it to slip down around his shoulders, but when Letho looked at him in surprise, he pretended that he hadn’t done anything. The arm around his shoulders tightened slightly, pulling him closer. 

             Eskel tried to focus on the movie again and failed. The only thing he could think about was the way he fit against Letho’s bare side, the man’s warmth seeping into him. He was reminded of the last time they sat like this, months earlier. Months had passed since then, but somehow he felt the same way, with a different kind of warmth settling in his chest, soft and glowing. He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them he saw beams of dusty sunlight and smelled hay and musk. The image faded when he blinked again. Unnerved, he rubbed his eyes.

             “You alright?” Letho murmured, his breath ruffling the hair near Eskel’s ear. Eskel shivered as a thrill swept over his skin. 

             “Yeah, I’m okay. Just tired,” he replied, watching the TV screen again and hoping his face wasn’t glowing red.

             “Do you mind if I finish the movie?” the big man asked, his voice rumbling deep in his chest. Eskel shook his head, leaned back on Letho’s arm, and closed his eyes. 

             Letho continued to watch the movie as Eskel fell asleep beside him. He listened to the change in Eskel’s breathing as it slowed and deepened, letting the rhythm calm his racing heart. Eskel’s presence had affected him ever since he first met the man, holding the door open on the first day of the job. Something had just clicked then, as if Eskel made sense to him. Eskel’s stunned, golden-brown eyes had startled him for some reason, even as the scar running over the man’s cheek fascinated him. Letho thought of the mark and how it cut down Eskel’s face and into his lips… Feeling heat rising up his neck, Letho tried to think of something, anything, else. Those lips were distractingly close and looked tantalizingly soft. Letho groaned quietly and dropped his head back onto the couch. He was a wreck, he knew that already. How had he gotten himself into this mess? Someone like him wasn’t deserving of a person as sweet as Eskel. He didn’t even know if Eskel could also feel the electric attraction he felt between them, or if the man was just friendly and innocent.

             Eskel shifted, turning so the side of his face pressed against Letho’s chest. He muttered in his sleep, his fingers digging into the fabric over Letho’s thigh. Letho suppressed another groan. Unable to resist the urge, he leaned down to press a soft kiss to the top of Eskel’s head.

             “You’re a damn menace, you know that?” he whispered, gently extricating himself from Eskel’s clutches. He didn’t quite trust himself to remain there with the sleeping man, so he turned the TV off and retreated to his room. Grabbing a pillow and a blanket, he went back to where Eskel slept. After managing to successfully wriggle the pillow under the man’s head, he covered Eskel with the blanket and retreated once again, closing the door behind him. 

 

Eskel dreamed.

             He blinked, and dusty beams of sunlight met his eyes. The walls of the room were made of rough wood, with a few splinters sticking out of the cracks between the boards. The floor was made of the same wood, but sanded until it was almost smooth. Watching the grain of the planks swirl, he was surprised when a wave of pleasure coursed through him. He gripped the bed covers and looked around, unsure of the source of the feeling.

             Thick-fingered hands grasped his hips. New sensations flooded him as the rest of the room cleared. He was naked, straddling the lap of the stranger he almost recognized, the man’s fingers digging into his flesh. The new sensations sharpened, and he gasped, clutching at the bedsheets.

             “You like that, huh,” the stranger drawled, grinning crookedly. He nodded, and gasped again as the man thrust upwards. He bent forward, and the man craned to meet his lips, hungry and passionate. The stranger took his lip gently between his teeth, nibbling as they rocked together. His sweat mixed with the other man’s, slicking their skin and dampening the sheets beneath them. The stranger sat up, still inside him, and pulled him close, wrapping thick arms around his waist. He put his own arms around the stranger’s neck, meeting the man’s lips with his own. When they broke away, the stranger grinned, slit-pupiled eyes dark with lust.

             “Be good and cum for me,” the man growled, leaning forward to nip the sensitive skin of his chest. Ecstasy spiked, and he moaned, nails biting into the stranger’s shoulders, riding the wave that built inside him. The other man thrust roughly upwards, and he came, his moans muffled by the stranger’s mouth. The afterglow spread through his body in the wake of his climax as he pulled back to look into the stranger’s face. The man’s shadowed eyes sparkled, their strangeness offset by the emotions glowing in their depths. He leaned forward, taking in the man’s features, when—

 

             “Hey, man, you okay?” Eskel opened his eyes, and looked up into the face he’d been staring into just moments before. Letho leaned over him, wearing only boxer shorts and a deep frown. “You sounded like you were, uh, being, uh, tortured or something.” Eskel turned red almost instantly, thanking the gods that his briefs still felt dry.

             “I’m… fine. It was just a dream.” He rubbed his face, completely mortified. Letho must have heard him moaning in his sleep.

             “Well, now I’m up, might as well make coffee,” Letho joked. Eskel glanced at him as he turned and saw that a pink flush had crept up Letho’s neck, and when his eyes flicked down, he saw a large bulge outlined in the man’s boxers. Feeling as if his face was on fire, Eskel pulled the blanket over his head, curled into a ball, and wished he could disappear. 

             The aroma of coffee helped dissipate Eskel’s embarrassment. Deciding to brave the waters, he got off the couch and wandered toward the kitchen. Letho had found some pants, to Eskel’s relief, and was sitting at his counter with a cup of coffee, reading the newspaper. When Eskel walked in, he looked up, nodded, and continued to scan the paper.

             “Anything interesting?” Eskel asked, pouring himself a mug of coffee. Letho looked up at him, a strange expression on his face. The skin around his eyes tightened and the corners of his mouth turned grimly down as he pushed the paper over to Eskel. “Serial Murderer or Gang Violence?” Eskel read. He scanned the column, gripping his mug with cold fingers.

             “This is happening in the city twenty miles north of us,” Eskel said, staring at the article.

             “Probably worried that the incidents are gonna spread,” Letho muttered, fiddling distractedly with a spoon he’d picked up off the counter. “It’s pretty fucked up.” 

             Eskel pushed the paper back, taking a drink from his mug to clear the bad taste that the article had left in his mouth. Suddenly the closet door opened and Iorveth tumbled out. The lean man jumped to his feet and strolled over as if nothing had happened.

             “I’ll make breakfast,” he said, moving a surprised Eskel out of his path. Eskel stared at him. Iorveth looked as if he’d slept outside in a pile of leaves. Eskel wasn’t sure that he hadn’t. His hair stuck up at odd angles, with pieces of leaves and twigs poking out from between the brown locks. His single green eye peered around the kitchen.

             “Where is the salt?” he asked. Eskel shrugged and Letho gestured to the left-hand cabinet above the sink. Iorveth began to gather ingredients and pans and organize them on the counter. Eskel sat to watch and Letho fled the scene, mumbling about making a phone call.

 

             Letho closed the bedroom door behind him, feeling empty. Dialing a number, he waited for the other end to pick up.

             “Yes?” a smooth voice answered.

             “You read the newspaper lately?” Letho asked without preamble. “Seems like someone’s trying to drag one of us out of retirement.” 

             “It does appear that way,” Regis replied, sounding grim. “Orianna and I have been keeping track of the incidents, and they seem to be following a definite pattern.” He sighed into the phone. “I retired for a reason, and you only got out because I managed to pull some strings. If someone is trying to bring us back, that means that they need… reprimanding. I’m sorry, I’ll have to go deal with the situation.” 

             “I’m sorry too,” Letho said quietly, scratching the back of his neck. “Anything you need me to do?” 

             Regis was quiet for a minute, then he sighed again.

             “No, I think I’ll be able to deal with it, and I’ll bring Dettlaff just in case. Just keep your eyes peeled.”

             “Ugh, use a different expression will you? I haven’t forgotten that one time.”

             “Sorry,” Regis said with a cruel chuckle, “I didn’t mean it that way. If you see anything suspicious, call me. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

             “Yeah, you drive like a bat out of hell when you’re in a hurry,” Letho joked. Regis let out an uncharacteristic snort of laughter.

             “I shouldn’t be gone for too long. I’ll let you know when I’m coming back.”

             “Thanks, Regis. Happy hunting,” Letho said, and hung up the phone. He stared down into his hands, then shuddered and returned to the kitchen, where Iorveth was busy making crepes. Eskel still sat at the counter, watching the process with apparent fascination. Letho wandered over to stand next to Eskel, draping a casual arm around his shoulders. The man promptly turned pink.

             “You planning on feeding an army, Iorv?” Letho asked. Iorveth turned and slung a crepe at his face, but he caught it effortlessly and stuffed it into his mouth. 

             “That’s good!” Letho mumbled through his mouthful. “Why don’t you cook more often?” Iorveth glared at him, managing to look dignified even with flour on his nose.

             “Don’t be a dick,” he said loftily, turning back to the counter where he was cutting fruit. Letho grinned and moved over to the fridge, pulling out several jars of jam and syrup. He nearly dropped one trying to set them out on the counter, so Eskel got up to help.

             “Stop, stop you’ll break something,” Eskel muttered, wrestling a few of the jars from Letho’s grip. He made the mistake of looking up into Letho’s laughing gaze and blushed, nearly dropping the jars himself.

             When everything was ready, they all sat down and dug in. Eskel bit into his crepe and faint moan escaped him. Cursing his easy blushes as Letho turned to look at him, he shrugged. 

             “It’s delicious,” he mumbled, indicating his plate. “It’s also the healthiest thing I’ve eaten in a while.”

             “Iorveth only eats healthy food,” he said. “I prefer simple shit that’s easy to make and still tastes good. Of course, I can make fancy stuff if I really want to, but it takes so much effort.” Iorveth rolled his eyes and took more strawberries. 

             “You’re gonna die early,” he muttered. Letho shot a glare at him. 

             “Knew that already, just surprised I haven’t died yet,” Letho replied, grinning crookedly. Eskel snorted and almost choked on a blueberry. Iorveth managed to disappear while he was coughing and spluttering, with Letho patting his back.

             “He does that,” Letho said as an explanation, and stood. “If one of us cooks for both of us, the other cleans up. Makes things simpler.” 

             Eskel’s eyes slid over the curve of Letho’s bare back as the man began to wash dishes. The ghosts of hands gripped his waist as he remembered his dream from the night before, and he shuddered, feeling the shadows of caressing fingers running over his skin. The scene had felt so real, so vivid, as if it was really a memory and not a dream. 

             The glowing warmth grew in his chest as he watched Letho work. He tried to remember the last time he felt like that towards anyone. Nothing came to mind. He rubbed his chin, feeling rough stubble under his fingers; he’d forgotten to shave the day before. Frowning slightly, he pulled out his phone to check his reflection. Busy wondering whether he could pull off the rugged look or not, he didn’t see Letho finish the dishes and go into his bedroom. When he looked up again, Letho was fully clothed and leaning on the counter, watching him.

             “Are you ready to go?” the big man asked, twirling a key on his finger. Eskel stared at him for a moment, a bit confused, then he frowned.

             “Are you trying to get rid of me?” 

Letho raised his eyebrows.

             “If I wanted to get rid of you, I’d just dump you outside and lock the door,” he said, smiling in a mocking way. “I was just asking if you wanted me to take you back to your place.”

             “As if you could pick me up and drop me outside,” Eskel scoffed before he remembered who he was talking to. He looked up hastily, ready to take back his statement, but Letho was too quick for him. The big man scooped him up, tossed him over his shoulder like a sack of flour, and carried him out the door, dropping him on the carpeted hallway floor with a gentle thump.

             “Believe me now?” Letho asked. Eskel sat up, rubbing the back of his head.

             “Yeah, I do. Does this mean you really are trying to get rid of me?” he asked, trying his best to sound pathetic. Letho stared down at him, face unreadable, then he bent and hauled Eskel to his feet.

             “Do you think I’d invite you over so much if I didn’t enjoy being around you?” Eskel shrugged.

             “Dunno,” he replied. “I can imagine you might get tired of me waking you up in the morning.” An odd look crossed Letho’s face.

             “Maybe. You’re less annoying than my alarm clock, at least.”

             “Well, that’s a relief,” Eskel scoffed, dusting off his backside. “I’ll just let myself out.” Letho followed him down the hallway toward the exit, his soft chuckling barely audible over the sound of their footsteps.

 


 

 

             Geralt paced up and down in his apartment, muttering to himself. His robe rustled as he moved, the luxuriously soft red fabric not improving his mood as it usually did. Regis had been gone for a week, with very little explanation of why he’d gone in the first place, and Geralt was beginning to get worried. He turned to walk another lap around his kitchen when someone knocked on his door. In his haste to answer, he managed to knock a stool over and trip. Scrambling to his feet again, he pulled the door open.

             “Where have you been?” Geralt cried, grasping Regis’ shoulders and shaking him. “One text, six days ago, disappeared…” Geralt ran out of breath, and Regis took the opportunity to cover his mouth with a tattooed hand.

             “Geralt, darling, please, I’ve had a long day,” Regis said, sounding exhausted. “May I come in?”

             “Of course,” Geralt mumbled into Regis’ palm. He grabbed the other man around the waist and pulled him inside, shutting the door behind them with a snap. A moment later his mouth was on Regis’, his arms wrapped around the other man. Humming, Regis reached up to twine his fingers in Geralt’s white mane, surrendering to the affection. 

             When they broke apart, Geralt gripped Regis’ shoulders, looking him over. The circles under the man’s eyes seemed to have darkened while he was away, the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes were deeper and more pronounced. Geralt smoothed the creases with his thumbs, looking into the man’s sparkling, slightly bloodshot eyes.

             “Where were you?” Geralt whispered. Regis reached up to cup Geralt’s cheek, tenderness in every line of his face.

             “I had to go on an unexpected business trip. I’m sorry, I should’ve warned you properly, but I was very distracted by the work and didn’t think about it. Will you forgive me?” Pleading had filled the man’s eyes. Geralt melted.

             “I’ll forgive you, but on one condition. You have to stay here tonight and keep me company,” he said, taking Regis’ chin in his hand and gently turning his face upwards. He took the man’s soft lips with his, then deepened the kiss, letting his tongue slide against Regis’. 

             “C’mon, let’s find a better place for this,” Geralt murmured against the other man’s mouth. “My bed is very comfortable.” He took Regis’ hand and led him towards his bedroom, saying, “Oh, and I like neck kisses, that’s very important.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 18.

             “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.”

             “Gross.” 

             “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.

Chapter Text

Chapter 19.

              “Sounds great, I’ve been bored as hell all day. 6:30? Cool, see you there.” Eskel hung up, feeling a bit nervous. Geralt had been egging him on for days, trying to get him to say something to Letho, and Letho had just called asking if he wanted to get dinner and then see a movie. If it wasn’t the perfect opportunity, he didn’t know what was. Whether he’d actually do something or not… he wasn’t sure. 

             When he pulled into the restaurant parking lot, he spotted Letho’s motorcycle. Feeling inordinately nervous, he got out of his car and went into the restaurant, looking around for Letho. The big man was fairly easy to find. As usual, he was almost a head taller than almost everyone in the place, and most people gave him a wide berth. Grinning, Eskel walked over and sat down.

             “Sorry I’m late,” he said, picking up the drinks menu. “I was unshowered and on the couch in my underwear when you called.” Letho laughed loudly, causing several people to cast startled looks in their direction.

             “Don’t worry about it, only been here a few minutes,” Letho replied. “Your real crime is looking too good.” Eskel gaped at him for a moment, then grinned.

             “How many drinks have you had already?” he asked, scanning down the menu. “That lager looks like something you’d drink.” 

             “Just water so far,”

             “Well, thanks then.” 

 

             The movie theater was dark except for the flickering light from the big screen. Eskel was intent on the movie, an action-packed thriller, when a large, callused hand slipped into his. He looked up. Letho was still watching the screen, but a small smile tugged at his mouth. Warmth bloomed in Eskel’s chest, and he gripped Letho’s hand, returning his attention to the movie.

             When the lights finally came on again, they stood, stretching and talking about the movie. The theater emptied, and Eskel and Letho joined the crowd as it flowed out the front door. The air outside was warm. Pale light from the crescent moon shining in the night sky illuminated the parking lot. The two men stopped by Eskel’s car and turned to face each other.

             “Tonight was fun,” Eskel said, smiling up at Letho. “Thanks for getting me out of my apartment.”

             “My pleasure,” Letho replied. He reached out, crooking a finger under Eskel’s chin and gently lifting his face upwards. “And just for the record,” he murmured, leaning in to press a stubbly kiss to Eskel’s cheek, “this was a date. Goodnight, Eskel.” He walked away. Eskel later thought that if anyone had been watching, they would’ve seen jets of steam come out of his ears.

 

             Eskel couldn’t get Letho out of his head. Several days had passed since he and Letho had gone to the movie, and he’d barely seen the other man. They had talked briefly a few times, during opening or after closing the bar, but only to say hello or goodnight. Letho had said that the movie was a date, but was he being serious? It had definitely seemed that way. However, he hadn’t mentioned anything to Eskel since that evening. Frustrated by the lack of contact and increasingly frequent and emotionally-charged dreams, Eskel finally decided to do something about the situation. He just needed the right opportunity.

 

             The opportunity came just a few days later. Eskel was doing the final cleanup sweep of the bar while Letho and Regis talked quietly by the door. Nervous and a little giddy, Eskel forgot to be careful while snuffing a candle. He leaned over to blow it out and the flame shot up, nearly burning his nose. It spat sparks into the air, turned blue, and then died. Letho and Regis turned to stare at Eskel, both clearly surprised.

             “Sorry,” Eskel said, grinning sheepishly. “Don’t mind me.” Letho and Regis shared a look and then continued to chat while Eskel went to retrieve his things. When he reappeared, Letho was holding the door open and Regis was halfway outside. Regis paused, watching as Eskel approached.

             “Hey Eskel,” Letho said, turning to him with a smile. “I don’t suppose you’d wanna come over and—”

             “Actually,” Eskel interrupted, “Do you wanna come over to my place instead? I’ve imposed on your hospitality so many times, I figure you could return the favor.” 

             Regis cast a knowing look in Letho’s direction, then grinned.

             “That’s perfect, he got a ride here with me today, so he was going to need a way back anyway,” Regis said. “Goodnight.” He vanished into the darkness. Letho stared after him for a moment, the corners of his mouth twitching.

             “I can always take you home,” Eskel muttered, turning pink. 

             “Nah, I’d love to see your place. If you have ingredients, I’d be down to cook something.”

             “Sounds great, I’m not big on cooking myself, but I can help. My car is just down the street, c’mon.”

 

             Eskel sat on a stool and watched Letho move around the kitchen, directing him towards the ingredients he needed for an omelet. Letho asked for onion, garlic, salt, and various other things before he started to cook. After a little while, a delicious aroma began to fill the room.

             “Gods, the way you have this all organized is fucking confusing,” Letho grumbled, opening cabinets at random. “Where are your forks?” 

             “Top drawer to the right of the stove,” Eskel said, hiding a smile. “Are you sure you don’t want my help?” Letho waved a hand distractedly.

             “No, I’ll just trip over you. Hold on, plates?” 

             “Right cabinet above the sink.” 

             Letho grabbed plates, then flipped the spatula in his hand and used it to expertly cut the omelet in half. He tipped the halves onto two plates and pushed one toward Eskel.

             “I found the pepper on my own,” Letho said, handing it over. “Dig in.” 

             Eskel took a tentative bite, and nearly melted. He didn’t know that the meager contents of his fridge could make anything so delicious.

             “Are you magic or something?” he asked Letho, cutting another bite. “I only had eggs, mushrooms, and cheese in that fridge. How is this so good?” Letho laughed.

             “Not magic, no, just really enjoy cooking.”

             “Sounds like magic to me,” Eskel muttered, mouth full again. A minute later, he jumped to his feet.

             “I totally forgot to offer you a drink,” he said, going to the fridge. “Beer?”

             “Please,” Letho answered, polishing off his own half of the omelet. Eskel grabbed beers and returned to his seat.

             “Will you do the honors?” Letho used his ring to open the bottles, handing one back to Eskel and drinking from his own. They sat for a while, sipping their beers in silence. 

             “Sorry I don’t have much to do here,” Eskel said, putting his bottle down with a thump. “I usually just watch TV on my computer or read.”

             “Could always watch another movie,” Letho suggested. “I can think of a few you might like.” Eskel grinned, getting up to toss his bottle in the recycling.

             “Yeah? Surprise me then.”

             “I just might. Where’s your computer? I’ll look one up.” 

             Eskel’s couch was slightly smaller, but much more comfortable than the one in Letho’s apartment. Eskel sat down, wondering where Letho was going to sleep, and Letho sat beside him, the computer in his lap.

             “Alright, hold on… there.” He pressed play and the movie began, then he placed the computer on the coffee table in front of them and leaned back. Eskel scooted over so he could see better, and Letho slipped an arm around his shoulders. Feeling warm all over, Eskel settled in to watch the movie. His hand slid absently onto Letho’s thigh, fingers moving until they rested on the inside of the man’s leg. The grip on his shoulder tightened, and he looked up into Letho’s smoldering gaze.

             “Dangerous territory,” Letho murmured, the corners of his mouth curving upwards, “better be careful.” Eskel blushed, but he didn’t move.

             “I’m tired of being careful,” he said, turning back to the movie. Letho sucked in a breath, then let it out as a laugh.

             “Said it before, and I’ll say it again,” Letho said, reaching over to grip Eskel’s chin and gently turn the man’s face back toward him, “you’re a damn menace.” Letho looked into Eskel’s eyes, then leaned down to press a soft kiss to his lips. The breath hitched in Eskel’s chest. Heat flooded his veins, then settled into a steady, fizzing warmth. The other man’s mouth was warm and gentle on his, lips parted slightly. After a moment, Letho pulled back, spots of color in his cheeks.

             “Sorry, I should’ve asked. I’m not great with words,” he muttered, looking down. “I, uh, I just… really like you, and it’s been driving me completely nuts for like, months now.” 

             Eskel rubbed his face with a shaking hand.

             “Why didn’t you say anything?” he asked, voice trembling. Letho gave a nervous laugh and removed his arm from Eskel’s shoulders to clasp his hands in his lap.

             “I thought I was being obvious,” he said, looking up to meet Eskel’s gaze and knitting his fingers together. “I thought… well, I guess I thought you didn’t realize… or you were just friendly…” Eskel leaned forward and kissed him with firm purpose, and he shut up.

             “I’m dumb as a brick,” Eskel whispered as Letho shifted to pull him close again. “You’ve been driving me crazy for months now too, I was just too chicken to say or do anything about it.”

             “Since when?” Letho wanted to know, nuzzling the top of Eskel’s head. Trying to focus, Eskel thought back.

             “Probably since that blizzard when I stayed at your place, maybe even before. Honestly, I’ve been oddly drawn to you since that first time you scared the shit out of me, on the day you started work.” Letho jerked back to stare at him.

             “That’s… weird,” the big man said, eyes thoughtful. “You stood out to me then too. I’ve felt… well, drawn to you is a good way to put it. Very attracted to you is another good one.” He cupped Eskel’s scarred cheek as Eskel turned crimson. “Very.” His lips found Eskel’s again. 

             A while later, a loud sound from the all-but-forgotten movie made them both jump. They took a moment to really look at each other, flushed cheeks and sheepish grins mirrored on both their faces.

             “All those times you offered me your bed… when you told me I could jump in with you…! I thought you were just teasing me!” Eskel said, blushing more. 

             “I was teasing,” Letho replied with a grin, his teeth flashing in the light from the computer screen. “But I was definitely at least partially serious.”

             “Well, I dunno where you’re sleeping tonight,” Eskel said, pretending to think hard. “The couch is definitely too small for you to sleep on, cause it’s too small for me.”

             “I can think of a place I could sleep,” Letho answered him, a wicked twinkle in his eyes.

             “Oh yeah? Where’s that?”

             “Guess.”

             “On the floor?”

             “Mmm… possibly, but no, I was thinking of somewhere else.”

             “I can’t think of anywhere,” Eskel finally said, a teasing note in his voice. Instead of answering, Letho leaned forward and exited out of the movie, then stood and scooped Eskel up in his arms.

             “Come on,” he murmured, kissing Eskel again, “it’s late as fuck, and I’m tired. If you don’t want me to sleep in your bed, speak now, or forever hold your peace.” Eskel merely chuckled and pointed to his bedroom door. Letho nearly dropped him while trying to grab the door handle, and they both ended up collapsed on the bed, laughing until they couldn’t breathe.

             “Mind if I take off my pants?” Letho asked when he’d caught his breath. Eskel shrugged.

             “Not at all, I usually sleep in my underwear anyway.” Letho looked at him and stood, cocking an eyebrow.

             “You trying to seduce me?” he drawled, pulling his shirt over his head. Eskel watched his muscles ripple and bit his lip, feeling heat rising in his face.

             “Um, maybe?” Eskel said distractedly as Letho undid his belt and stepped out of his pants. “God, I can’t think when you aren’t wearing clothes.” Letho laughed at that, dropping down on the bed.

             “I do remember catching you ogling me the first time you saw me without a shirt,” he teased, watching Eskel remove his own shirt and pants.

             “I wasn’t ogling,” Eskel protested, climbing into the bed. “I was merely observing.” Letho snorted.

             “Sure you were.” He paused, suddenly losing his teasing air and becoming much more uncertain.

              Eskel looked at Letho questioningly, then reached out and pulled the other man toward him, wrapping an arm around Letho’s waist.

             “It’s been forever since I slept in a bed with someone and I’ve really missed it,” Eskel mumbled into Letho’s chest. The big man hesitated, then engulfed Eskel in a tight hug.

             “This is gonna sound weird,” he murmured, his breath ruffling the hair on the top of Eskel’s head, “but this feels… right. Like you fit in my arms… as if we’ve done this before.” Eskel sighed and craned his neck to kiss the man who held him, feeling a glowing warmth fill his chest.

             “I agree. It does feel right. We should do it more often.” 

             Letho chuckled, and Eskel felt the sound reverberate through the other man’s body, deep and rich and warm.

             “We should.” Letho pressed a soft kiss to Eskel’s forehead, just above the place where the scar cut into his eyebrow. “Goodnight, Eskel. Sweet dreams.”

             “Goodnight.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 20.

             He opened his eyes onto a starry sky. A gentle, sweet-smelling breeze rustled the grass around him. Shifting into a more comfortable position, he remembered that he wasn’t alone in the bedroll.

             “You awake?” someone whispered in his ear. He turned to meet the slit-pupiled, yellow-green eyes of the stranger, who he realized was no longer a stranger.

             “Yeah. Look at that,” he said, pointing upwards. “It’s so beautiful.”

             “It’s more beautiful ‘cause you’re here,” the other man replied, nuzzling the side of his neck. 

             “Cheesy,” he replied, but he was smiling anyway. He rolled over and wrapped his arms around the other man’s neck, kissing him tenderly. Suddenly, everything sharpened around them. New scents flooded his oddly sensitive nose, sharp and foreign. Sounds filtered into his ears. Eskel sat up, looking around with vague confusion. He blinked, eyes adjusting strangely in the darkness until he could see almost as well as he could during the day. When he glanced down, he saw vicious scars covering his chest and arms. Eyebrows raised, he turned his hands over, finding scars on every finger. He reached up to touch his face and found more scars on his cheek, ones that ran from his forehead to his chin. Blinking hard, he looked around again.

             “Sweetheart, are you alright?” the man next to him sat up, reaching over to stroke the side of Eskel’s face. Eskel saw his eyes widen, narrow, then widen. He closed his eyes, then opened them again, frowning a little.

             “Look at this,” Eskel said, pointing at his bare chest. Letho’s gaze traveled down the lines of his torso, his frown turning quickly into a grin.

             “Very nice,” he drawled. Eskel blushed and grimaced.

             “No, I meant the scars. I look like I’ve been mauled… hundreds of times! By monsters, or something.” He turned and reached out to touch Letho’s cheeks, right below his eyes. “And your eyes are kinda scary.” Letho chuckled.

             “So are yours. You have vertical pupils, like a cat.” He flopped down on the bedroll and pulled Eskel down beside him.

             “Weird dreamscape, right?” he asked, drawing Eskel against his side. “I feel like I’ve been here before.”

             “Yeah, me too. I think… I have memories of this place… and most of them suck.” Letho grinned, leaning over to kiss the top of Eskel’s head. 

             “Remember when I found you bleeding out in the Kaer Morhen courtyard?” Letho asked, staring up into the sky. Eskel thought for a moment, scars on his ribs and shoulder tingling.

             “Yeah, actually I do. Weird.” 

             “You thought I was trying to poison you later. Oh… shit.” Letho took a deep breath, then let it out. “I’ve done some terrible shit here… and I don’t think I regret it.” Eskel looked at him and almost laughed.

             “I remember that too,” he said. “But… wow, we’ve known each other for a long time, and…” He reddened, memories returning quickly. After a moment, he rolled over to cup Letho’s weathered, scarred face in his hands. Letho smiled slowly, moving to grasp Eskel’s hips and pull him closer.

             “Remember the time we destroyed that tavern room? Ripped curtains, broken bed frame, everything?” Letho purred, leaning down to kiss Eskel thoroughly.

             “I do,” Eskel replied, feeling overly warm and a little melted around the edges. He sighed surrendered himself to Letho’s affections. They surfaced several minutes later, breathing hard, staring at each other almost in awe.

             “Do you think we’ll remember this when we wake up?” Eskel asked curiously, running his hands over Letho’s scarred chest. Letho shrugged and pulled him close, kissing the top of his head again.

             “Dunno,” Letho murmured, “Don’t really care at the moment. I have you here with me, it’s a beautiful night…” They looked up into the sky. Stars twinkled in the darkness, each nearly as bright as the visible sliver of moon. “This is everything I could ever want.”

             Eskel sighed, warmth filling him until he brimmed with its glow. Letho was beside him, slipping into a light doze, a muscled arm still draped around his waist. He didn’t think either of them would remember very much of this the next morning, but while they were here, he was content.

 

             Eskel woke, very warm and a little confused. Stars winked in front of his eyes until he blinked them away. He was wrapped in a pair of very large arms, pressed against a broad, powerfully muscled body. Remembering where he was and who he was with, he promptly turned scarlet. 

             “Letho, are you awake?” he whispered. The big man grumbled, cracked an eye, then shut it again and shook his head. Eskel grinned and buried his face in Letho’s chest.

             “Me neither.”