Sometimes, Aubade seems like a clockwork town, when I walk through the streets and see the little ways it’s been refined — how all the buildings face the arc of the sun just so, such that they never get too hot or too dark, the ground lighting on the streets at night, the water carried uphill that is both art and infrastructure. It was made by an engineer, after all, even though you are also an artisan, even though you are also an artist —
I’ve always loved that about you. Someone who knows you with less intimacy than I might think that the chaos of your workspace was the sign of a surprisingly disorganized mind, but I know it to be just the opposite. Your focus, concentrated and refined like a perfect drop of ice wine, causes all other things to fall to the wayside. You pay honor to the spark of inspiration.
"You looked divine," Samothes murmurs, shutting the door behind them. Samot flops down onto his chaise lounge right away, propping his cane against the nearby side table. He does it with a melodramatic flourish, but his whole body aches from dancing, and he already knows that he’ll probably have to spend most of tomorrow in bed.
Downstairs, the New Year's party continues without them, both of them having been reassured that everything would be perfectly fine if they had to leave early.
"Divine, you say? Would you pay worship to me?" Samot asks. He smiles, bats his eyelashes at Samothes.
"Then come here." Samot points at the floor in front of the couch. Samothes obliges without question, kneels before him. He helps Samot gather up the voluminous fabric of his outfit so that he can sit more comfortably.
The dress Samot wears is long-sleeved, high-collared and falls past his ankles, which would be an unusually conservative outfit if not for the material being mostly sheer, putting much of his body on display — the hollow of his collarbone, the curve of his thigh, the muscle of his chest. An underlying bodysuit and delicately embroidered flowers sewn directly into the fabric keep him strategically modest. It’s designed to show off the organic flowers that grow from Samot’s chest, that insuppressible bouquet of Spring that grows out from his dryad heart.
He can see his reflection in the mirror on the other side of the room, and permits himself to be vain enough to think that the dress, unquestionably a masterpiece, suits him perfectly. It's the work of a master in leisure, of someone who has devoted a lifetime to crafting things with their hands. It’s something that only Samothes could make.
Samot notices Samothes examining the fabric, examining how he looks in it, and smiles. “The dress is a masterpiece.” The fabric rustles as he assumes a more comfortable position on the couch. Downstairs, Samot knew how to navigate the dance floor with otherworldly grace, but here he lets himself relax in Samothes’ presence. “You really outdid yourself, my love.”
“I’m glad you like it,” Samothes says. Samot extends his legs so that his feet poke out from under the fabric. Samothes takes one in hand and kisses the bone of Samot’s ankle before he helps him unbuckle his shoes and slip them off, setting them underneath the chaise. “Do your feet hurt?”
He starts to massage them before receiving an answer. Samot lets out a contented sigh at the touch.
“A little. You’re so good to me, my love.” Samot cocks his head and smiles, fond. “I find it truly wonderful that you’ve become such an excellent tailor in the time we were apart. It’s not what I would have expected.”
“Well… It’s rewarding,” Samothes replies. "If I can interpret their taste correctly, then I’ve made a fine gift — something that helps a person express themselves."
"You never used to care about things like that.”
Samothes inclines his head. "There's a lot of things I never used to care about."
“It always felt strange to me, how little attention you paid to how people reacted to what you made. But then again… you used to make me all sorts of beautiful things.”
“I cared what you thought. Not that it stopped you from being a merciless critic.”
Samot grins. “It was cute when you got flustered.”
Samothes laughs. “I strayed out of my comfort zone, and what did I get for it?”
“Oh, please. You liked it.”
“I did. Because it was so… you.”
Samot feels his face flush, and he knows Samothes must be able to tell because he looks up and grins with satisfaction. “Thank you, my love,” Samot says, voice softening. “For making it possible for me to be vain again.”
He can imagine a retort to that — could anyone stop you from being vain? — but Samothes simply kisses his other ankle before resting his head on Samot’s knees. “I’m glad. I’ll pour as much love into you as you need so that you can feel like yourself again.”
Samot feels as he often does with Samothes, these days. Like his heart might be full to bursting with light.
Samot, my love,
First of all, I’m sorry I read your letter before you were finished writing it, but you’d fallen asleep right on top of it and I couldn’t help myself. I’d ask what the point is of letters when we sleep right beside each other every night, but I already know what you’ll tell me. You’ve always loved the different ways a person can express themselves through words, the ways they can be configured differently on a page versus in a conversation.
I’ll take your praise and fold it up and keep it for myself, I think. Seeing myself through your eyes is more flattering than I deserve, and when I’m having a hard time coming up with new ideas I think I’ll take it out and read it.
I’ve noted the ice wine metaphor. I’m putting it on my to-do list.
Samot is sitting on the balcony, one of Samothes’ notebooks open on his lap. His hair, hardly brushed, tumbles in messy golden waves over his shoulder, and Samothes watches the way the sun catches around him like a halo.
Samothes is sitting next to him, fixing a wristwatch. A dozen ways to improve the mechanism flit idly through his mind. He’s waiting for his husband’s critique, but the sound of Samot’s pen on the paper reminds him of something.
“You know — I never told you this story, but you remember… the first book you ever gave me, where you bound all my messy notes together and wrote a poem to go with each?”
Samot looks up, surprised. “Yes… yes. It’s been a very long time since I’ve written poetry. I wonder how clumsy they would seem to me now.”
“I remember them being beautiful.”
Samot lets out a tiny, fond scoff, and smiles. “Well, of course you would say that. Tell me the story?”
“Right. There was one time… In Marielda, when I meant to retrieve it from a group of thieves who had stolen it from an auction. I’m ashamed to have let it end up in the hands of an auctioneer in the first place, but I was… in a bad place, at the time.” Samot makes a small noise of acknowledgement in response, sympathetic and apologetic all at once. “Anyway, there was one young man who — looked a little like you. Well… now that I see you in front of me every day, I’m sure he didn’t look much like you at all, but he had yellow hair, and — was dressed a little bit the way you would dress…”
“I thought the way he tried to talk me out of ruining their heist was charming, so I let him take the book.”
“You idiot.” Samot’s voice is so much that of a man in love that it makes Samothes’ chest tight.
“I couldn’t help it. I would... see you everywhere, and it was never you.”
“Oh, Samothes… I know. I know because I would do the same thing,” Samot murmurs. He reaches over the notebook, cups Samothes’ face with his hand and simply looks at him for a moment. Samothes wonders what he must see — an old, foolish man? A kinder, wiser man? “I saw you all the time in other men — whether I was simply passing them on the street or taking them to my bed. And yet, looking at you now… I know no one has ever truly compared.”
Samothes brings his hand up to place over Samot’s hand, and turns his face to kiss Samot’s palm. He mouths his words against Samot’s skin. “Samot… I'm sorry. I was a fool to ever allow us to be apart."
“Men as old as us have to be fools sometimes.” Samot pulls his hands away again and folds them on his lap. “Samothes… my love… I’ve been thinking — I don’t want to say that we’ll never push each other away again, or never make mistakes. I can’t know that for certain. I only want us to try not to make mistakes that the other can’t forgive. I know that… that I...”
Samothes shakes his head and places his hand over Samot’s. “I know how hard it is to forgive yourself, too.”
Samot sighs, pulling his hand away so that he can rest his head on Samothes’ shoulder instead. “I’m sorry. I always wind up dragging the conversation back here. I wonder — where that book of poems is now.”
“First, don’t apologize. I do the same thing all the time. As for the book… I don’t know.” Samothes looks down at the notebook Samot is still holding. “Maybe you can recreate it.”
Samot looks at the notebook too, and laughs. “Your inventions have only become more brilliant. Not only more brilliant, but more… warm. More caring. I’m not sure my poetry has kept up.”
Samothes realizes he must look disappointed, because Samot glances up at him and continues, “But I can try.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean… I mean, don’t force yourself.”
“I won’t. Leave your notebook where I can find it, and I’ll think about it. Maybe inspiration will strike.” Samot flips through it again, pausing on the drawings. He runs a finger down the stitching that holds the pages together. “A grape press? I like the sound of that.”
Samothes grins. “I thought you might.”
“However… I was under the impression there aren’t any grapes in Aubade. You realize this was an immense blow to my psyche when I first found out.”
“Well…” Samothes laughs, feeling his face grow hot.
Samot continues, “Oh grape press / a fruit press by any other name / could not bring me that godly nectar / which I do so sorely desire.”
Samothes remains silent for a moment, realizing that if they go any further with this topic he might end up revealing too much. “You’re right. I liked the old poems better.”
Thankfully, Samot laughs, bright as the peal of a bell, and he lets Samothes turn the conversation to other things.
I saw the note to yourself about the ice wine before I found your note to me, and realized that you must have taken my letter. I like looking at your wall of notes, trying to tease out a plan from all the layers of paper. I like to think that I understand you well enough to get the gist of it.
When we were sitting on the balcony the other day, I remember I looked at you, and you seemed startled. Do you want to know what I was thinking? I was thinking about when I saw you for the first time at our father’s home — I was hiding in the trees, and you stepped out onto the porch and looked up into the sky. It was sunset, and the profile of your face was all illuminated in gold. I remember the set of your jaw, the planes of your cheekbones — how serious you were, how I was intimidated and fascinated all at once. Now, when I look at you, I see the smile lines around your eyes and lips, the strands of silver in your hair… I think that softness suits you. I think joy suits you. Even now you catch the sunlight and it suits you more beautifully still.
On particularly indulgent mornings, they might stay in bed together until the afternoon, simply basking in each other’s warmth. Samot is still wrapped up in the dreamy haze of half-sleep when he feels Samothes’ lips against his neck — he laughs, rolls onto his back and puts his arms around Samothes’ shoulders, cranes his neck into the touch.
“Amorous today?” he murmurs.
“Only if you are.”
Samot pulls Samothes’ head back and kisses him in response — slow, and lingering with teeth on his lips. He flicks his eyes up to meet Samothes’ and grins.
“Let’s make the most of our morning,” he replies, voice low.
Samothes smiles and trails kisses down his jaw, his neck, the dip between his collarbones — Samot laughs at how his beard tickles, gasps at the way Samothes seeks out his weak points with his mouth. It’s a strange and wonderful thing, how well they know each other’s bodies. Samothes pauses over the Spring that grows from Samot’s chest, his hand over the flowers.
“You’re blooming,” Samothes says.
Samot laughs, face flushing. “Am I?”
“It’s only right,” Samot replies, voice soft. “I walk in the sun every day.”
It’s Samothes’ turn to blush. He wraps his arms around Samot and buries his face in the flowers — soft petals tickle his nose, and he is flooded with the aroma of sweet nectar.
“Samothes,” Samot gasps, as he feels Samothes’ teeth and lips along the flowers. The amount of sensation he has in the Spring growing from him varies, but he finds that he can always feel it when Samothes touches him. “Oh—”
Samothes licks into one of the flowers, tastes the sweet nectar there — his lips find a ripe berry and he picks it with his lips, eliciting a gasp from Samot. Sweet and acidic flavors burst in his mouth as he bites down into it, filling his senses with the taste of Samot — because this too is part of how Samot tastes.
“I love you,” he murmurs, and brings Samot back in for a kiss so that he can taste his own fruit in Samothes’ mouth. Samot sighs against him, fingers digging into the front of Samothes’ tunic — what a wonder it is to be so close, to let his husband eat from his body, which bears fruit in times of splendid happiness.
Samot, dear heart,
You give me such sweet praise that I hardly even know how to respond. I made you a dress but when I read your letter I wanted to build you a palace of gold, to show you the depth of how much I love you. In a different time and place I might even have gone through with it, but here in Aubade I’ll have to make do with less grand gestures. I’ve learned my lessons: I know now that often it’s better just to use your words.
I put your letter in the pocket of my smith’s apron alongside the first, and I keep just touching the paper whenever my hands are free and clean. It smells like you too — floral. If I wanted to be dramatic I might say that I want to cast aside all my responsibilities and only think about you, only take care of you, and only dedicate myself to you. I know you wouldn’t want that, of course. But I want you to understand how I feel.
Samothes looks up from writing, his stationary awkwardly cradled on his lap. Through the raised flap of his tent he can see a light rain falling on Aubade, as scheduled — something to water the fields and break up the monotony of endless perfect, sunny days. He has to admit that the sound of it tapping on the roof of the tent is pleasant to listen to.
Even after all this time, Samothes still feels hard pressed to enjoy things like sleeping on the ground and getting dirt on his knees for their own sake. Outside, a massive white wolf with Spring growing from underneath his skin splashes in the puddles and barks excitedly.
"Having fun?" Samothes calls.
Samot usually won't speak the human tongue when he assumes the form of a wolf, but he turns towards Samothes and gives him a lupine grin, showing off a mouthful of gleaming pointed teeth. He trots over to the tent and sticks his head through the opening, grabs the fabric of Samothes' shirt gently in his teeth and tugs.
"You want me to come outside?"
The wolf wags his tail.
"I don't know… I don't like getting my clothes wet."
The wolf glares at him and then pushes his way into the tent, knocking the stationery from Samothes' hands. "Noooo," Samothes says half-heartedly as Samot pointedly uses his muddy paws and wet fur to get his clothes dirty. He can't help laughing when Samot starts insistently licking his face. "Nooo, Samot…"
"Honestly, Samothes!" In an instant the wolf's form changes, collapses down into the form of a beautiful man, still just as damp from the rain, hair dripping, and naked as the day he was born. "After all this time and you still don't know how to have fun."
"I have fun," Samothes protests, holding Samot on his lap and tickling him with his beard. Samot yelps and laughs.
"Oh yeah? What do you do for fun?"
"I... enjoy a good game of chess."
"What — you also like chess!"
Samot laughs, scrambles out of Samothes' arms and back into the rain. "I know! Come on, let's go down to the river, I want to catch some fish!"
Samothes sighs and gets to his feet, grabbing his fishing rod as he leaves the tent. He immediately feels annoyed at the cold feeling of rain soaking into his clothes, but maybe it isn't so bad to get wet sometimes. He already knows Samot will try to push him into the river at least once anyway, and the rain isn't scheduled to clear up for another two hours, and…
The white wolf bounds into the air again, crashing noisily through the brush and down to the water. That's his husband, who can move through a crowd with the skill of a practiced socialite and can move through the woods with the animal joy of a wolf. He's always embodied contradictory natures like that — Samothes adores him, that wild and unpredictable boy who’s always challenged him to keep an open mind.
"Samot, wait up!" he calls, and runs down the hill to catch up with him.
Hours later, the clouds have parted to make way for yet another beautiful, sunny afternoon. Samot, still in the form of a wolf, dozes off on a sunny patch of the riverbank while Samothes barbecues their bountiful catch of fish over an open fire for an impromptu crowd of Aubadites who had also come down to the river to swim.
"Samothes, did you catch all of these yourself?" one of them asks, as Samothes hands her a whole fish on a skewer.
"Only a few. Samot did most of the catching."
Samothes jerks his chin at the wolf napping nearby and she gasps in realization.
"He's better at catching them with his wolf mouth than he is with a fishing rod."
"I'm sorry I didn't notice you there, Samot!"
Samot wags his tail once in response. He'll join them once he's recovered his energy a bit, Samothes knows. Although someone will have to go back to the tent and retrieve his clothes.
Oh, I know how dedicated you are. I can feel it in your hands, see it in your eyes, hear it in your voice. You have nothing to prove to me that you do not already prove with your body and your words, day in and day out. You fill me with love that nearly burns me with its heat, so undeserving am I, and yet I feel that I would wither like a flower without the sun were it ever taken away.
You astound me. The concept of “us” astounds me. I believed once that we, and all living people, were infinite in their ability to change and grow and forgive. Then, after I suffered for a long time, I ceased to believe, and thought the younger me was foolish. Now once again I realize that he was right all along.
The piece of Samol’s old house that fell into Aubade still stands on the beach, not far from where it washed up in the first place. Samothes has restored it, removed most of the books and artifacts that were inside either to the library for study or to his and Samot’s collection of personal effects, and what’s left is open to the people of Aubade as what is effectively a museum. Samot goes in, sometimes, when he’s in a certain mood. Runs his hand along the polished surface of the dining room table, where so many happy meals and bitter arguments both took place.
Today, Samothes is with him. Samot still can’t look at the portrait on the wall without weeping, the faces of his father and son looking back at him. It’s Samol in his rocking chair, with Samot and Samothes and Maelgwyn standing around him — Maelgwyn is still just a little boy in the portrait. There’s no evidence but memory that he was ever an adult.
Samot was the one who painted it — he remembers painting it — but the Samot who made that painting might as well be a ghost to him. As he examines the pattern of the wood on the table, he hears a stifled noise and looks up in surprise to see that Samothes is gazing at the portrait and openly, if quietly weeping. He pulls a handkerchief out of his pocket and dabs at his face with it.
“You’re crying,” Samot says, softly.
“Yes. I miss them so much.”
“So do I.” He takes Samothes’ hand and squeezes. It’s a little disorienting — he remembers, that even at his emotional worst that Samothes would rarely ever allow himself to be witnessed crying, even by Samot.
Samothes sighs and takes Samot into his arms, buries his face in Samot’s hair. “I’m so glad I have you, at least. You remind me that the past was real.”
“Is that a good thing?”
“Yes. I need to… I need to remember that I was born. That I loved someone. That I had a family…”
They sit down at the table, still holding hands. Samot’s mind flashes back to a thousand different memories where they sat down in these same chairs, and held hands in the same way, and looked at each other — when the conversation was easy — or looked down at their cups and let their tea get cold, when the conversation was hard. Samot looks at Samothes now and knows he must be thinking the same thing.
“It seems that when your love is… very, very old… the way ours is very old… everything you do seems to bear the weight of history,” Samot says, trying to make it sound like a casual observation.
Samothes lets out a small laugh. “Yes.”
They burn incense and leave fruit on the little altar Samot set up beneath the portrait, a tribute to the dead. Sometimes, when he closes his eyes, Samot can still hear the sound of Samol’s guitar.
They leave the house together, hand in hand, and walk down the beach in contemplative silence. It’s a warm day — it’s always warm — and the breeze coming in off the sea tousels their hair. Samothes made all this from memory, trying to recreate a fragment of the world he suddenly left behind. The thought of his husband, alone in the void with only his enemies and those he had wronged, building himself an ocean, a volcano, a castle, a town out of nothing… It fills Samot with a particular sense of pity. He grips Samothes’ hand tighter.
Samothes squeezes his hand in return. “I have a surprise for you,” he says, lightly. His eyes are still red from crying, but he smiles genially.
“We’ll have to walk up to the fields, but I think you’ll like it.” His expression takes on an eager shine, and Samot realizes he must have been planning this for a while.
“A surprise… You look excited. I wonder what it could be.”
“It’s amazing I’ve managed to keep it a secret until now, honestly.”
Samot laughs and kisses him on the cheek. They go slowly, enjoying the scenery. Aubade is beautiful, albeit in a somewhat manicured way, filled with blooming trees and ponds, statues and houses that bear the artistic mark of the people who live there. Samot has ideas for plans to introduce a wild area to Aubade — perhaps a new island, where the flora could grow unsupervised, and animals could roam, and there would be wolves...
“It’s a good idea,” Samothes says. “I’m sure everyone would have their own ideas if you wanted to introduce it at forums…”
“Well… I’m not ready for that just yet,” Samot replies, feeling a little abashed. In Aubade, Samothes doesn’t perform divine works without the mass approval of the citizens. That system makes Samot feel secure, but also self-conscious. He hasn’t performed a single divine act since he died, and the memory of his last divine act — his attempt to replace all of Hieron with star-stuff — fills him with immediate shame.
Samothes nods sympathetically. “Well, when you are…”
“Someday,” Samot agrees.
“Oh — here it is!”
Samothes opens a gate along the path near one of the farm buildings, and leads Samot down a side path that winds past several orchards of fruit trees, until they get to a secluded space that resembles a private garden. There’s a swing hanging from one of the trees there, and a chair that looks perfect for reading, and a plot with rows of trellises that look perfect for…
"For growing grapes?” Samot gasps.
Samothes grins. “That’s right.”
“Oh, Samothes, it’s beautiful…”
Samothes stands behind him and wraps his arms around Samot's shoulders. “You probably have your own ideas, but I was thinking I could add a building here to use as a winery… We can develop the infrastructure together, since you know a lot more about what winemaking was like than I do — and maybe we find some people in Aubade who might have experience…”
“I would love that. I’ve really missed wine since I got here. It’ll take a long time to re-engineer all the subtle tastes and strains… oh, maybe we can experiment with ah — indoor weather, or soil composition…”
“We have all the time in the world.”
“I thought Aubade didn’t have grapes?”
Samothes makes a sheepish noise. “It doesn’t. You probably suspected, but I was… holding out hope that you would come here someday and remake them with me. It just took… a little while. For everything to settle so I could set it up.”
“Sweet man,” Samot murmurs, turning his head to kiss him on the lips. “Do we have the approval of the citizens?”
“They’ve wanted grapes for a while. I’ve been selfish in this regard, admittedly.”
“Well, let’s give the people what they want, then.” Samot grins and breaks away from Samothes to kneel in the dirt in the middle of the plot, and he gestures for Samothes to join him. Samothes rolls up his pants and kneels beside him, watching Samot sift the soil with his fingers, muttering to himself as he looks for the perfect spot.
“Patch of dirt… Here we go. I can feel it here.” With his other hand, he reaches out to Samothes. Samothes takes his hand, and they put their palms on the ground together.
Samot feels Samothes’ divine magic through his skin — the warmth of late spring, the glow of molten gold, the ringing of a hammer, the physicality of shaping clay with your bare hands, the pride of building something new. He reaches down deep inside himself, summons the memory of what it means to be divine. He remembers the moment Samol filled him up like an empty vessel, pouring him full of magic — the sound of rustling leaves, the feeling of cool, wet dirt, the love of the living earth that he hardly deserved, then as now — and his own magic, which he refined throughout the whole of his life like a precious ore — celestial and dark, wild and yet restrained, patient yet heedless, the scholar’s focus and curiosity, the reveler’s joy—
Samot thinks about fruit, and he thinks about wine, and something strange happens. He coughs and spits a grape up into his hand.
“Wow,” Samothes says.
“Is this from the Spring?” Samot asks, not really to anyone at all. But, not knowing what else to do, he offers it to Samothes.
Samothes looks at it for a moment before he takes it and pops it into his mouth. A moment later he spits out the seeds. It’s no stranger than anything else they’ve ever done.
They plant them, together, channeling their magic into the seeds and into the dirt that surrounds them now. Samot gasps with joy when the seedling pushes out of the ground before their very eyes, growing through their intertwined fingers and up the trellis. Spindly grape blossoms emerge and form into plump fruit in an instant.
Samot laughs and claps his hands, scrambles to his feet so that he can pull a grape off the vine and put it in his mouth. The flavor is just right — sweet with a tinge of acidity that will be refined beautifully in a dry wine.
“In a few months we could easily make this into — bad wine, probably, but wine nonetheless,” Samot says approvingly. Samothes laughs and gets to his feet as well. He puts a hand around Samot’s waist and pulls him close.
“It’s bad wine we made together,” he says, voice low and affectionate.
“Thank you, Samothes. This is a wonderful gift.”
“Since I can’t make you a palace of gold.”
“I like the grapes better.” Samot grins, hooks a finger in Samothes’ shirt collar and pulls him down into a kiss. “I love you.”
“I love you. I love you,” Samothes murmurs. In the dimming light of sunset they hold hands in the garden and watch the grapevines grow to fill the trellises.
Samot doesn’t know what the future will hold. He knows that he’ll never have everything that he wants. But feeling Samothes’ warmth beside him, he thinks that this is enough.