There wasn't anything happening in the town that night. It was as boring and deserted for the nighttime as it could be. Excluding the very few people at the inn, of course. There was always someone at the inn, even if they were the people maintaining it and the shadier regulars who did not go home.
The winged one was not a regular. None of the Avians were, except the young adult ones sneaking in to look at the courtesans and sometimes, rarely, paying for a night. Avians considered themselves better than that. They worked, they hunted, they protected the Law and generally had no time for anything this low.
Still, they were not forbidden from drinking or gambling, or sex.
The Avian present that night was just drinking and even that was going slow and he couldn't possibly be actually drunk, nursing one glass for an hour or so.
Magnus thought he was interesting. Beautiful, of course, as all Avians were, but this one happened to particularly appeal to Magnus's senses – and curiosity.
Anyone could see that the man was tired and most people knew why- the Avians had hunted down a dangerous man this afternoon and although the townsfolk usually avoided talking about them in positive ways, they were very much grateful for having the problem solved. They had been plagued by a series of murders and arson, and they'd struggled to defend themselves.
The Avian's wings were dirty. They were large to fit his body, pitch-black at the top and slightly lightening to dark gray at the tips. The lighter color on them was from dust and dirt, and they were speckled with dried blood. Magnus was pretty sure that was blood.
The Avian sat at the bar, the one glass in front of him, his head in his hands. He rested his elbows on the bar counter as he leaned forward.
No one disturbed him and Magnus watched him.
Magnus was sitting in the corner by the fireplace and before the Avian appeared, he'd been wondering what to do with the rest of his night, since he wasn't going to have any clients. At first, he wasn't going to do anything about the rare patron but the more time passed, the more curious Magnus became and the man made a sadder sight.
Finally, Magnus rose from the chair by the fireplace and walked over, his steps light, and approached the Avian.
He had to speak to get his attention because without it the man didn't change his position.
"There are more comfortable places in this inn to pass the night, you know. Especially for someone who looks like they could use something softer than the hard bar to rest on."
At that, the man straightened just enough to look at Magnus. It was only a glance before he turned away again.
"I don't have an interest in what you're offering. Nor the money for it."
"I'm not asking for money, I wanted to offer you a bath."
The Avian looked at him again.
"Do I smell?"
"No, you don't. You are tired and dirty, and this is an inn where you can solve both those problems."
"Like I said, I don't want to buy any service."
"It will be free of charge because of what you are. Look, I know Avians are paid but let us show a little gratitude on our own. At least today, after what you've done."
The man gave Magnus a long look. At least it wasn't a cold look nor was it disapproving of what Magnus was.
The Avian had bright eyes. He was more beautiful up close, with his face framed by dark brows and hair.
"I don't take anything for free," he said.
Magnus wanted to roll his eyes.
"I'll use the really good soap, then, and you'll pay me for that, another day. Room, water and my hands are free of charge."
The man shifted on the bar chair and froze briefly. Dirt that had been wet before was no longer that and it became gritty between the feathers, Magnus guessed. He didn't have wings but he had the imagination to know how that'd feel, especially if one wanted to fly all the way home like that. Reading the Avian's body, Magnus knew the moment he won and the other man decided to agree.
"Follow me upstairs, tired boy."
The Avian was not Magnus's 'client' but Magnus gave him the best treatment. That included the sway in his hips as he went up the stairs, leading the way. He didn't overdo it because he was too experienced not to know that it would have only served to discourage the over-serious Avian.
He already knew he's got his whole attention, anyway.
It was up the stairs and the corridor to the right.
Magnus opened the door to his room wide and let the guest step inside first. He closed and locked it behind them. It was a relatively large room and although Magnus would have liked a bigger one, he knew he was already lucky with what he got.
His bed was to the left of the door, half-covered with a canopy of deep blue, light fabric. Magnus liked having many pillows on it. Then there was the wall with the window, where his desk and vanity stood. Magnus had windchimes and little decorative circles made of colored glass which filtered the sunlight falling into the room. They were gifts from his regulars back in the big city and Magnus brought them here when he'd moved. Now, long after sunset, they reflected the flames of his fireplace.
To the right, there was a nook with a wooden bathtub and then, nearest to the door on the right side, there was a wardrobe.
Under Magnus's bed, there were suitcases in which he kept his many books but that wasn't visible to the Avian from where they stood.
"You can look," Magnus said and smirked. "You can even touch."
Light from the fireplace wasn't enough so Magnus lit two of his lamps- one by the bed and the other over the bathtub.
The avian stood awkwardly in the middle of the room while Magnus opened a valve on one of the two pipes coming out of the wall and after a little while warm water began falling into the tub from the cistern in the attic.
"That is fancy," the Avian noted.
"Here, it is indeed. In the city, that's normal."
"Not for everyone, though."
"No," Magnus agreed. "Here, we need this luxury to keep clients happy. Imagine you had to wait for the serving ones to carry hot water up from the kitchen."
"I imagine that might be a drawback. Especially if they pay by the hour."
"Well, it's more complicated and more fair than hourly pay."
"Like fancy soap payment?"
"Like fancy soap payment," Magnus grinned.
Water kept filling the tub while he gathered the things he'd need to take care of his guest. He paused for a while over his soap collection, to consider the best choice for wings. He didn't have Avian items because Avians weren't his clients but Magnus wanted to do his best as always and not accidentally damage any feathers.
He did pick one bar for the skin and hair, and another one for the wings and put them on the little table next to the tub. He gathered a fresh sponge and towels, and a jug to pour the water later to rinse the soap off.
Magnus fiddled with his rings as he thought. A little oil for the water but not much. Less was more with the Avian who stood there with his hands behind his back, his eyes gliding over the furniture and returning to Magnus before straying to the window and back to Magnus.
It was flattering.
Magnus took all his rings off and put them aside on a silver plate he kept for that purpose before dipping his hand in the water to check it. Then, he turned to his guest and walked up to him.
The Avian's eyes tried to read him, read his face while Magnus looked back at him. Then, his eyes strayed lower, to the first line of short necklaces on Magnus's neck and lower, to the pendants which were the only thing to cover his skin there. The deep blue tunic Magnus wore, one of his favorites, was open almost to his navel and it closed before it reached his black silky pants.
"Would you like me to help you undress?" Magnus asked and the man's eyes snapped back up to his face.
"No, uh, no. That's not necessary," he replied, already moving to begin taking his shirt off.
"May I at least watch? It's only curiosity, you see, how are your Avian clothes made."
"Oh. It's nothing strange, I think. Just buttons," the Avian said, continuing.
He had to reach back to undo said buttons and Magnus circled him to see, so that he may one day be of help to someone. Seeing Avians walk around town in their shirts was different than seeing the garment actually undone.
The shirt was off on one side and the man was twisting to get the other end off when he hissed. It was involuntary and he winced not because of whatever made him hiss, but because he hadn't wanted to show it. Of course, Magnus did not leave it ignored and he was there in a second, his hand closed over the Avian's to stop it from moving.
"Let me help," Magnus said but did not intend to wait to be allowed. He pushed the hand back to stop the Avian from trying to do it himself. It was so much better for Magnus to pull the shirt off where he could see all of it and he could also see the deeply bruised place that caused the pain. The shirt fell in a heap and Magnus left it there.
Next, he reached for the belt. It was leather, made of interwoven strips and made to be useful: hold up swords and daggers strapped to it, and possibly vials with medicine or poison.
"Where's your sword, pretty boy?"
"Another from my unit took it after the battle. We don't go into town with large weapons," he said matter-of-factly. It was the unwritten rule or courtesy maintained by the Avians. Of course, they still carried daggers or if they didn't, a smack from a wing was painful enough. Magnus knew they didn't carry large weapons because he's never seen them in town.
He couldn't undo the belt standing behind the Avian, so Magnus moved around him but when his hands reached out to the belt, the man finally realized what was going on and stepped back.
Magnus's brows rose. "Are you getting in the tub in your pants?"
"No," he replied firmly and then fell quiet, which amused Magnus.
"Turn around," he said and Magnus chuckled.
"Alright, pretty boy."
Magnus stood and admired his own canopy, listening for the sign that the man got in the water already. When the light splash came, Magnus turned around and walked over there.
With the wings, the avian had to sit down the other way in the tub, so that he was facing the wall and his wings had room around the tub.
Magnus tapped his lips with his finger, thinking. Then, he pulled out some of the older towels and rags to put on the floor under the wings to soak up the water later.
He was pleased to see the Avian lean back as much as he can and tilt his back head lightly. This was what Magnus intended, among other things, to have the man stop brooding at the bar and relax a little.
"How's the water?"
"Good. Enjoy it while I have to leave you for a minute, I'll be right back."
Magnus unlocked the door to walk down the corridor to another room and knocked. It was quite late but the girl liked reading as much as Magnus did and he was almost certain she wasn't sleeping yet. Indeed, she came to the door and she looked at him with a question in her eyes. She was a daughter of the man who looked after the stables which stood right next to the inn and they lived in the staff wing just like Magnus did.
"I'll give you my ruby earrings if you do something for me right now. I need these washed," he said, presenting her the Avian's clothes that he gathered from the floor.
"When you do that, just put them on my door-handle on a hanger, I'll dry them by the fireplace. And I need a bit of food. Nothing fancy, just bread and ham, and cheese."
She leaned on her doorframe, tilting her head.
"Is that all? You can ask me something else in exchange for those earrings."
Magnus chuckled. "Yes, that is all, but it's important to me. Make sure to wash those well."
"You've got a guest," she smirked.
"Yes, a special guest, who's waiting for me. Thank you," he said and left her with the clothes.
When he returned to the room, he walked over to the tub and since he'd already prepared what he needed, he could get to work. The Avian was comfortable, lying back. His wings were like large shadows on each side of him in the slightly dim room.
"I'm going to touch your right wing so please don't knock me down with it," Magnus said.
Knowing this was going to take a long time, Magnus made himself comfortable sitting down on a little stool. He picked up a sponge, dunked it in the tub and began cleaning the wing from the top. It was cleaner there and became dustier in the lower parts, especially the tips.
At first, he didn't talk. He wanted the Avian to relax properly and if he needed it, quiet his mind. Magnus was no medium to know what he was thinking, but it didn't take a medium to see the way he'd sat alone, drinking. That behavior wasn't caused just by a long battle.
"You need to tell me when I do something wrong, pretty boy. I'm being careful but I don't have feathers of my own to know how they feel."
"It's fine. Don't pull at them or twist them and that's all."
"What if they're already twisted?"
"I'll have them fixed when I get back."
"I'm right here, already touching all of them," Magnus pointed out. "I can groom them."
There was silence, but then the Avian replied: "You have to make them lie flat in the pattern of others around them… sometimes they can't be fixed and have to be removed but those I can usually feel because they hurt."
"Alright. I'll do my best."
Magnus kept working on cleaning but he watched for crooked feathers. There weren't any near the top arch of the wing and most were short and soft, the fluff shrinking when it got wet. Magnus scrubbed the darker spots with a bit of soap and spend the most time getting the sand and dirt out of the long flight feathers without pushing it deeper between them. He straightened the crooked ones as he went and thought the Avian might tell him to stop but he relaxed when Magnus didn't hurt the wing and let him work.
It took a good while before he was ready to rinse the wing off. It was large, fitting its owner, and Magnus didn't rush. He enjoyed looking at the pitch-black feathers made shinier by the water.
In the meantime, the Avian scrubbed himself down with the other sponge lying nearby.
"Why are you so nice?" he asked Magnus at some point.
"You mean, why I said this is for free?"
"You needed it. I wanted to do something for you. Everyone knows what you and your friends were doing today. No matter how one might complain about your kind, everyone's relieved that it's over… that you killed the killer. I already told you downstairs, I wanted to add something to the payment."
Magnus stood up from the stool to grab a towel to press the water down out of the wing.
"I've seen you before, from my window. Walking in the street."
"You were kind to the little girl who tripped and fell. I know her. Now, I'm not saying I trust you because you were nice to a kid once. I'm only saying I think you might be a good man."
"We don't think of ourselves like that," the Avian said. "We do what's needed to be done and we stop the law from being broken."
Magnus moved the things he needed to the left side of the tub. Before he wet the wing, he allowed himself to touch it while it was dry to feel the soft parts under his fingertips. It was nice.
Magnus was pretty sure a shiver ran through the Avian when he was touching the middle of the wing, but the man said nothing, so Magnus moved on with the washing.
"Besides," he said, "I'm not desperate for money. I know you thought about it."
One feather stood out to him so Magnus put away the sponge and gently fixed the problem before continuing.
"I can afford to have guests instead of clients, you know. If the inn burned down or maybe I fell sick, I would not starve right away."
"Good. That's good," the Avian said neutrally.
"I think this town is lucky," Magnus added. "It has the same issues as everywhere else but it has fewer problems."
The Avian tilted his head.
"I think I know what you mean by that."
It truly wasn't bad. They had a medic who could be talked into helping for free sometimes, they had families willing to look out for each other. The courtesans weren't hurt or afraid of losing everything in one day, as Magnus had said. And on top of that, Avians lived nearby. No one attacked towns when Avians were there. Except for deranged killers and particularly vicious criminals.
As for Magnus himself, well, he had more talent than the others to take care of himself and make friends as well as money. Look at him, having talked an Avian into letting him give him a bath. The others wouldn't have managed that.
Magnus wouldn't have minded doing this more often. Grooming wings, that is. To him, it was a soothing work, repetitive and calm. Quiet. Magnus liked to talk but he also appreciated silences and this was one of those times when silence fit better than talking.
He knew the Avian was finally resting, unlike when he'd sat at the bar. Knowing this was what made Magnus better than the other courtesans.
The man even let his head rest on the edge of the tub, his eyes closed.
Magnus stole glances at the thick lashes and pale cheeks. Full lips.
"Are you with your family here?" Magnus asked.
"Yes, with my siblings. We chose to stay on a more permanent basis.
"It is better to know one's community to help rather than keep moving between strangers."
"We thought so."
"You can ask me questions if you want. I doubt you'll offend me."
The Avian turned his head to see Magnus at least from the corner of his eye.
"I don't need a fair exchange for your questions. You can just ask and at worst I won't answer."
Magnus sighed theatrically.
"Maybe I want to get to know you, which comes with wanting you to get to know me."
"Why anything? Why do people seek companionship and friends?"
"I'm sure you already have friends more interesting than I could be."
"Not prettier, though," Magnus answered easily and kept talking before the man could react. "My dear, warrior Avian, friends are supposed more than just interesting fun."
"Maybe but you're only curious about me. That's all."
"Aren't you curious about me?"
The Avian sat up straighter to be able to look at Magnus properly, forcing Magnus to move back when the wing he was sitting by pushed at him.
"Why are you so…"
Magnus grinned. "If you hate it, I promise to rinse you off quickly and let you go on your way without another word from my lips."
The Avian stared at him, then shook his head. Giving up, he slid back down into the water.
Magnus held the left wing and moved it to the position that was comfortable for him.
"My name is Alexander," the Avian offered.
"And I am Magnus."
"Why do you stay here?" Alexander asked. "You're from the city and with your looks – and your tongue – you must be able to do well for yourself there."
Magnus nodded even though the Avian could not see that.
"A good question. I did do well for myself and I do miss the comforts that haven't reached this place yet. Unfortunately, in a city, there are more rich people who… they became too convinced money buys you everything."
He paused but didn't stop washing the wing. Then, he continued talking.
"Here, there are people with money who work hard for it. They work, they earn, they feel free to go and spend an evening buying the best wine and the best courtesan because it's the end of the week. That's fair, in my opinion."
"I guess," Alexander said.
"The difference is that men and women here are paying for a night with me. They're buying their pleasure and fun, and conversation. All those things are what I'm offering. In the city, men and women think they can buy people. They expect to buy souls because they shake a money bag."
While his hands were on Alexander, Magnus could tell he tensed up a little.
"I suppose we know how that feels, in a way, as Avians. Some people do think they can buy us for their own goals."
"I thought you might be sympathetic," Magnus said softly.
"I like it here," he continued. "There's a number of annoying townsfolk but the good ones make up for it."
"What do you do when you're not cleaning strangers for free?"
"Well, the truth is I do my share of chores because I was raised to do them and because it makes the cost of living here lower. I do all that in the morning. Then, I read or I go out."
"Do you have books delivered with the post and press?"
"Sometimes. I had a lot I brought with me when I came here and I haven't finished all of them yet."
Magnus wondered if Alexander was ignoring the fact that Magnus had finished washing the left wing and was petting it instead, or if he hadn't noticed yet. Magnus took full advantage of it, whatever the reason.
"Would you like me to wash your hair?" Magnus asked, noticing that after the Avian washed his skin, he didn't touch the hair.
"I was going to leave it dry, but… maybe I should get that done, too."
"You'll feel better when you're completely clean," Magnus said and moved to work. He liked those black locks. As he expected, they curled when wet. When he got the Avian to hum while he massaged his scalp, he smiled to himself. He used his favorite soap and scented oil for hair and spent more time than needed to rub it in because he could see how the Avian melted under his touch.
Magnus thought to himself he should try this on the wings the next time he had the opportunity. He'd been very careful the first time because he would have hated to cross a line or accidentally cause pain, but if there was a second time… he'd try something else. With hair, he had no hesitation. He knew what was good and what wasn't.
The water couldn't be as nice as it'd been after such a long time Magnus spent on the wings, even if it wasn't lukewarm yet.
"Come on up," he said when he was done rinsing the soap off. "I've got towels ready."
Not thinking about what he was doing, content and relaxed, the Avian forgot about his naked body and the way he'd told Magnus to turn around before… and he stood, first giving Magnus the sight of his backside and then he turned to the towels…
Magnus bit his lip. Dark chest hair that he's already seen went down to the treasure trail… and down to the nest of black hair…
Magnus liked what he saw. He'd hoped, based on the other characteristics…
He truly liked what he saw. Heat spread through his body, even his face, which usually was a sign of his real want.
Alexander snatched one of the nearest towels to cover himself.
Magnus considered his next step carefully. Then, he threw caution away.
"If you step out of the tub and come closer to kiss me, I won't be able to look down at the same time," Magnus said.
"What do you want?" the Avian blurted out and although he was genuinely confused, Magnus could see how his eyes darkened.
"You have to know everything, don't you? Let me spell it out for you then. You're attractive and I want to spend a night with you. Maybe because I've never bedded an Avian."
"I promise you I didn't lure you here for indecent reasons. The bath was the reason… still, a man could hope… What do you think about me?" Magnus asked.
Alexander looked at his face. Then at his pendants. He did not look lower like he had earlier.
"I think you're beautiful. I think I'd like to see you with less of the-" he made a gesture under his own eye.
Well, it was true that Magnus made the black lines around his eyes thicker today. Sometimes he went heavy with make-up, sometimes he was more moderate. He hardly could have predicted meeting Alexander tonight so he couldn't have planned his make-up ahead of time. That's something to consider for the future…
"I can always wash it off, you know."
"No. No, why, that's not what I meant-"
"Easy, Alexander, I know what you meant."
The Avian sighed.
"Why do you have to be so confusing?"
"Why do you have to ask so many questions? Just say you don't want to kiss me."
There was silence.
Magnus thought Alexander would say something but no, still with his feet in the tub, he pulled Magnus closer by the edge of his tunic and Magnus went easily, tilting his face up. His eyes closed on their own when their lips met. It was a peck, first, and Magnus already considered that a success.
It didn't stop there. As if encouraged by taking the first step, the Avian pressed his lips against Magnus's more insistently. It became an open kiss, with Magnus's tongue darting out to tease.
When the Avian put his hand on the back of his neck to hold him, Magnus put his hands on his bare chest.
He was warm, probably warmer than non-Avians were. Magnus liked the firmness of the muscles and how the hair felt under his hands.
"Shall we even out the odds?" Magnus gestured between his dressed self and the bare, still mostly wet body in front of him.
The Avian's eyes were still wide after the kiss. He nodded. Then, he stepped out of the tub onto the towels and shook his wings out.
Magnus was reminded of a black shaggy dog one of his friends owned for years. Of course, he did not say that out loud. Actually, there were fewer droplets falling than he'd expected and on closer inspection, when Magnus stepped closer to reach out to touch one of the wings, it was already drying.
"Hmm. I suppose you need them to dry fast so you're not weighed down."
"What? Oh. Yes, our feathers don't hold water in."
"That's great," Magnus says. "I don't appreciate having damp bedding, no matter how pretty the boy is."
Magnus noticed the Avian hesitating anew. He didn't want him second-guessing himself when he clearly was interested in what Magnus wanted them to do. What were the reasons, Magnus wasn't sure, but he knew there could be many.
"I think," the Avian began, "that you're expecting too much of me."
Magnus's eyes softened.
"I promise you, all I want is your attention and participation. I want your hands on me," he said, closing the distance between them to take Alexander's hand and put it on his hardening cock while he still wore pants.
"That's all your doing," he said.
The Avian licked his lips, his eyes darted to the side.
"Alright…" he said, though Magnus wasn't sure what exactly was going through his head.
"Help me out," Magnus said, pulling the edges of his tunic out of his pants. Alexander took the hint and pushed the garment off of Magnus's shoulders. It dropped down to stop at his feet. Next, Magnus stepped out of the pants, under which there wasn't anything else but his bare skin.
The Avian licked his lips again.
"Don't worry," Magnus said, taking him by the hand and walking backwards to the bed. "I'll prepare myself so you won't have to worry about hurting me."
The Avian's face went red at that because by some miracle it hasn't been red before.
When the backs of Magnus's legs touched the bed, he let go of Alexander's hand and crawled backwards so his back rested on the pillows. He was almost fully hard by now, eager and excited. He spread his thighs to show the Avian that.
He was still standing by the bed and wasn't joining Magnus on it, but oh, his attention was wholly focused on Magnus.
When Magnus got himself some of the oil from the bedside table and began to do what he said he'd do, he noticed the way the Avian's wings reacted- they quivered. It was the slightest movement, but they were a part of the Avian and they betrayed his reactions.
Magnus didn't touch his cock, he pushed his fingers inside himself the way he liked to do to be efficient. He wanted to give the Avian a show but not for long. He wasn't in a mood to tease because what he actually wanted was to get the man inside him.
Finally, Alexander unfroze and he put his knee on the bed, moving forwards on all fours until he was over Magnus and was able to kiss him again.
Happy with the development, Magnus kissed back eagerly and moaned into it when he touched himself in a particularly good spot. A shiver ran through him when Alexander's fingers touched his sensitive inner thigh. He wasn't looking, he was still kissing Magnus, but his fingers traveled over his skin from thigh to his entrance. Magnus pulled his fingers out and drew a sharp breath when the Avian's fingers very gently replaced his. They were hesitant, so careful.
It was always better to be touched by a lover than have to do it himself, no matter that he knew better what to do. And a sweet, careful lover was especially delicious.
Magnus spread his thighs further to make room for Alexander to fit between them.
"Come on," he said, his roughened by arousal. "I need you, Alexander. Right now."
Blindly, he found the bottle of oil with his arm and pushed it into the Avian's hands. He got the message and slicked up his cock properly before finding the position to enter Magnus.
"Move slowly but steady."
The Avian drew in a long and shaky breath.
Magnus bit his lip when he moved deeper. Yes, that was exactly what he wanted. Sweet, sweet pressure and a promise of a proper lay – though that was maybe too crude a word for what Magnus felt about Alexander.
Magnus didn't tell him when he could stop going slow, he enjoyed the sensation to the fullest as it went on.
Then, when he bottomed out and began to pull back, Magnus moved to hook one of his legs over Alexander's hips. His hands went to Alexander's back and his fingernails dug lightly into his skin.
From there, the pace slowly changed the surer of himself the Avian became. He was hardly confident, but he saw he was doing the right things by reading Magnus's face and listening to the sounds he made.
He made plenty of sounds himself and it was music to Magnus's ears. He may not be experienced but he wasn't doing anything wrong at all and that was enough for Magnus because what he got was a good, thick cock in him which did exactly what it was supposed to.
It was nice, as well, that Magnus was getting kissed a lot instead of being used as just a hole. He appreciated that in lovers.
He'd never been fucked by someone with wings before. They were like a black canopy over him, creating a sense of… safety, a shadowy cocoon.
Alexander learned fast, even though he was clearly overwhelmed with sensations himself. He followed the hints of Magnus's noises and when his breaths hitched. More and more often, he got him to repeat those noises. Magnus's nails dug deeper and he left light scratch-marks on the back of his lover.
And then, Alexander's hips stuttered and he came inside Magnus.
Magnus didn't mind. He didn't move while his lover needed a while to gather his senses back, even though he was aching for his own release by then.
Finally, Alexander moved and began kissing his throat. Magnus bared it for him and when he arched lightly on the bed, the felt the softening cock still inside him.
He groaned and Alexander took the hint. He pushed himself up and back, slipping out of Magnus, and for a second, he knelt and sat back on his heels. He was flushed and lovely, his lips red from the kisses.
Magnus could almost hear him thinking even with the haze of pleasure that undoubtedly filled his head.
And then, he lowered himself so he could touch Magnus's cock with his lips. That was a great idea, Magnus thought when hot lips kissed him and then a tongue licked him. Yes, at that moment, Magnus had a lot of appreciation for inexperienced enthusiasm and willingness to please.
He came when Alexander used his hands to help himself when he didn't want to take him whole in his mouth and squeezed at the base of his length. He came over his lover's hands and was left boneless, content and spend, sinking heavier into his pillows.
The Avian moved, his weight shifting on the bed until he laid down on his side next to Magnus.
"Thank you," he said.
Magnus turned his head to look at him. "What for?"
"This," he reached over to touch Magnus's belly and traced circles on his skin with his fingertips.
"I don't… do this kind of thing," he said.
Magnus was tempted to tease him about it but he refrained. It wouldn't have been too kind to the shy man.
"It helped even more than the bath," the Avian added.
"Well, sex is great for relieving the pressure on you, even for a moment. It's good for forgetting, too."
"But just for a moment…"
Alexander laid his head down on his bent arm. His other hand was still touching Magnus. His wingtip was returning some modesty to him, covering his lower body from sight.
"I'm glad I could have helped," Magnus said. "It's what I meant to do since the moment I saw you, sitting there looking so sad."
"I wasn't sad," the Avian protested.
"You made a sad sight, then. You're making a much, much better sight now, pretty boy."
"Stay there," Magnus said, pushing himself up to sit and then put his feet on the floor. He grabbed one of the damp towels to wipe himself down and then went to the door to quickly take the clothes hanger waiting for him as he'd asked. Back of a chair served as a drying rack. Next, he took the plate and brought it to the bed.
"I'm sure you haven't eaten for hours by now," Magnus said. "I had my evening meal before, so this is for you."
Alexander pushed himself up to rest on his elbow and took the offered food without pretending he wasn't hungry.
Magnus let the water out of the tub into the pipes below it and then put out the fire in the lamp above it. He left the fireplace alone because it was set to burn out in the night.
With that done, he returned to bed and laid down as before, facing Alexander and watched him eat.
Alexander was careful not to get crumbs over the bedding and when he was finished, he picked up the plate and twisted around to set it on the other bedside table.
They lay together, looking at each other but not feeling a need to speak.
Magnus pulled a blanket over them, which proved to be a sudden problem of how to cover them both and the wings. Alexander put it over his legs and middle, and the rest of him stayed uncovered. He had his right wing over himself and his left behind him, hanging off the edge of the bed.
For the first time in his life, Magnus slept blanketed by a wing. It didn't start like that but he did at some point in the night become pressed to the Avian, his back to the Avian's front.
He woke to the weight of it on his side, the feathers so soft from being freshly washed. They touched his skin in a most comforting way.
"I thought you'd be gone in the morning," Alexander spoke from behind him.
"I thought the same of you," Magnus smiled to himself. "It's early, still. I don't usually get up for another hour."
"I don't like waking up early, either," Alexander admitted. "But I have to go."
"I know. I won't try to ask you to stay for breakfast."
The Avian pushed himself up to sit and Magnus rolled over. Alexander looked down at Magnus and Magnus enjoyed looking back at him in the light of day.
"Today, we'll be discussing yesterday's mission and there will be planning for the next week…" Alexander said. "I'll be back tomorrow."
Magnus blinked. "You don't have to-"
"I'll be back tomorrow," the Avian repeated.
He gave a stunned Magnus a kiss on the lips and then slipped out of the bed to get his clothes and get dressed to leave. He glanced back and said: "Have a good day, Magnus," and he was gone.
"Tomorrow, then," Magnus whispered to the empty room.
So it turns out I got more ideas for this verse right away. This is meeting two and three between the Avian and the courtesan. More wing grooming, more sex, more talk.
The Avian came back the next day. Magnus was and wasn't surprised at the same time. That is, he had believed the words when the man had said them because all of him was free of deception and Magnus did not sense a lie. However, even if the man planned to come back, it didn't mean life wouldn't get in the way. Maybe his people would stop him from having the time to come into town, maybe another monster, maybe anything else.
He showed up in the evening, before the Sun completely disappeared behind the horizon. He was alone, dressed slightly differently than the last time, not appearing tired in any way. Magnus was sat in the inn near the harp with a fellow courtesan. The instrument had been a gift to her from a patron and she was the only person in the town (probably in the whole area) who could play it. Magnus definitely couldn't. He sat talking with her while she played something just for the two of them until he noticed a new person enter the inn and realized it was his Avian.
He was up in a second because today wasn't like the other night. Magnus was not the only 'host' up and ready to take clients and he did not want Alexander getting snatched before he could get to him, even if it was unlikely that'd happen. After all, the Avian did not have any history of paying courtesans and he was returning because of Magnus.
Alec's eyes were only for Magnus. He was glad the man was easy to find and he didn't need to hover in the inn's main room awkwardly waiting for him. Magnus was right there in the main room, and he saw Alec, as well.
Alec took the time looking at him differently than he had that first night. Now, he had the distance between them to really look at him.
Two days ago, Magnus had appeared like a disturbance, talking to Alec when he hadn't asked for it and then he'd convinced him to do as he suggested, given Alec and his wings a bath… and then…
It still felt like a dream to him. He still didn't know what had made him do what he did – that is, he'd slept with a man, a courtesan at that, and it didn't matter that Alec hadn't asked for it nor paid him. I just wasn't anything he'd ever done or was supposed to do.
He had told the courtesan he'd be back and Alec only broke his word when he'd been injured or the person he'd promised to turned out not to be worthy of any promises.
Today, he was back with money for the 'really good soap' Magnus had let him use. And, of course, Alec thought it appropriate to actually pay for the service even though he hadn't wanted it at first. For someone who supposedly hadn't done that before, Magnus had taken very good care of his wings and when Alec had come back home, his feathers had been shining in the Sun when it graciously came out from behind the clouds.
Of course, his absence had been noticed but after the battle his people assumed he'd needed the time to cool down and get his head straight again. They'd all been affected, more or less, by the killer's bloody streak. That, and the fact he'd conjured 'demons' to fight the Avians in his name.
Only people who'd lost their souls were able to do something as vile – to make barely corporeal creatures, constructs, rise and fight for them, to do their bidding.
No Avians were seriously injured but that was the only good thing about the situation.
Alec wondered if that was what Magnus had sensed on him. Courtesans must have been good at reading people, no?
Magnus was kind, helpful, skilled… with his hands. And beautiful. And, most importantly, Alec did not think he was fake.
And so, Alec came back because he wanted to see him again. He could have paid him in any other indirect way just to be honest but it wasn't just that.
Magnus was smiling, coming close to stand in front of him.
"Welcome back," he said.
"I've got the-" Alec began, reaching to his side but Magnus reached out to touch his arm and stopped him.
"Have you eaten yet, pretty boy?" he asked.
"Good. Buy us dinner, won't you?"
Alec glanced around the inn. He supposed he could have his dinner here.
"Um. Yes, all right. What can we get here?"
Smiling still, Magnus listed the food he knew was available that day and then pointed out which he personally would recommend, both for himself and guessing the Avian's possible preferences. He had a feeling the man would not make a fuss about anything but he still wanted him to be pleased. That was Magnus's job, after all.
They sat together at the table to the side which was usually chosen rarely. Patrons liked the other spots, nearer the bar or nearer the harp and other musical instruments.
Both of them began speaking at the same time and both fell quiet at the same time, intending to let the other speak. Magnus convinced Alexander to go first, so he did.
"I only meant to ask how your day was," he asked.
"Oh, it was quite calm. I earned some money. Now you're here so it's even better."
"So I take it you don't actually like calm?"
"I suppose I don't. I like excitement, I like events. It's not only because a boring day means no guests and no patrons, therefore no money. As we've talked the other day, I moved here on purpose but I am a child of the city."
"And you think I'm interesting enough to hold your attention?"
Magnus looked straight at him, tilting his head a little.
"I do, of course. And to get ahead of you, please don't ask me why. We've already established you're full of questions."
From there, they continued talking. Alec didn't understand how something as simple as recounting his day with his Avian brothers and sisters could seem so interesting to Magnus that he happily sat and ate the dinner they were eventually served, and listen to Alec.
Magnus had a very pleasant voice and when he spoke, Alec didn't think any topic could possibly be boring. Everything about Magnus was pleasant.
Alec had to remind himself to eat as well as listen to and look at his companion because too many times his hand hovered holding a fork over the table, frozen while he gazed at Magnus's face.
"I like this dish," Magnus was saying. "I used to have it in the city. It was a little different, a little better, of course, but there isn't anything wrong with this one so I have it sometimes for old times' sake."
He continued talking about food he'd eaten and strange drinks he'd tried or been gifted in bottles, and Alec listened to all of it.
And then, it was over. Dinner was finished and Alec finally paid for the bath, and he did not have any clever ideas to hang around without being obvious.
Magnus was glancing at him.
"What are you going to do today, my dear Avian?"
"Patrol the west road out of town," Alec answered. "For signs of basilisks."
Magnus frowned at that and Alec realized his mistake.
"It's fine," he rushed to say. "They're not a threat to the city but we're always making sure anyway-"
Magnus brought his fingertip to Alec's lip.
"I know. It's your job to make sure there is no threat. And it's the townsfolk's job to be oblivious to it."
"I wasn't meant to mention it," Alec admitted, his voice low.
"I guessed. Well, the cat is out of the bag but since it's only me, I do promise the cat won't talk."
Alec, amused by the wording, felt a little more relieved. He hoped Magnus truly wouldn't mention any basilisks to anyone.
"And knowing you're out there," Magnus added, "is reassuring me."
"Good. It should. That is, I take my duties seriously."
Magnus was watching him, never looking away while Alec glanced between him and the table, and his hands, and the barman he could see across the room. The Avian wasn't sure what to do with all that attention from someone like Magnus.
He knew, of course, that it was part of what Magnus was. But. It did not feel anything but genuine. Magnus was so exceptional, it made Alec feel like he also was… more.
"I'm glad I could have kept you company before work," Magnus said. "I'd say think of me while you're gone but… we both know that wouldn't be wise for the town's sake." He winked. "Do come back whenever you're done, my Avian. Let's have a meal again. Or a bath. Or the other thing we've done."
"Sleep?" Alec asked, amusing Magnus.
"Of course, darling. Sleeping was nice, especially with a feather blanket."
Magnus had a good business day. Several patrons, no strange requests. The last one took the longest time and it was dark outside when Magnus came down from his floor to sit in the main room by the fire. Before he got there, however, he spotted a man by the bar and a sense of this event having had already happened hit him.
His Avian was at the bar counter, sitting bowed forward, staring at the wood or at his hands. He wasn't drinking anything this time.
Magnus made his way to him immediately.
"Alexander, to what do we owe the pleasure of your presence tonight?"
The man straightened up the second Magnus started speaking and turned to look at him. Magnus saw the bruising on his face.
It wasn't… tragic. It was just a bruise and it was nearer to the hairline, not near his eye. Magnus didn't like seeing it but he knew it didn't need immediate attention. It was already too late to do anything about the slight swelling, anyway. It should have been treated with cold from the start, not when the Avian reached Magnus.
And his wings… they were worse than they'd been the first time. Not muddy and sandy, thankfully, as far as Magnus could tell anyway, but they were obviously ruffled, feathers not lying flat and sleek. It was as if someone had been trying to grab them by the fistful and tugged them.
Magnus took the sight in.
"Alexander," he began, "are you not supposed to have your people groom your wings whenever you need it?"
"I wanted you to do it."
Magnus was equally touched and exasperated by that short sentence.
"I cleaned them. Once. I fixed one or two feathers. This," he gestured at the wings, "is a disaster."
Then, he spoke softer: "How long have you been sitting down there?"
"I waited for you," came the non-answer.
Magnus couldn't feel bad for making his money, having other clients. Alexander hadn't said he'd be by so Magnus couldn't possibly have planned for him.
"Fine, my dear Avian. I will see what I can do about this. My best, naturally, but will my best be enough?"
"I'm sure it will," the Avian answered earnestly and Magnus couldn't even pretend it was just words anyone would say.
He did not speak any more, he simply led the Avian upstairs to his room.
Once inside, Magnus lit all his lamps in order to see what he was dealing with better. He directed Alexander to sit on a stool in the middle of the room with his wings spread out at his sides.
Happy to confirm no mud, sand or twigs, Magnus wasn't that happy about the bloody spots. They didn't seem to be the Avian's blood, at least not most of them, and they were quickly washed off with a sponge without the need to get the whole wings wet.
With that out of the way, Magnus had to consider how to go about fixing all the ruffled feathers. He could sit behind the Avian and begin like that, where he could see everything properly.
He pulled another stool to where he needed it and sat down.
"I liked your wings how I left them the last time, pretty boy. They were shiny. Now, I'm just disappointed."
Alec hummed thoughtfully and then shifted to take something out from the pouch at his belt. Twisting backwards, he offered Magnus a jewel. Magnus gazed down at it, surprised.
"I came prepared to pay, this time," the Avian said and put the jewel in Magnus's hand.
It was the deepest red, the shade darker in the back of it. It was framed with silver, old silver. It was beautiful and undoubtedly more expensive than the appearance of it suggested. Magnus was no jeweler but he was quite capable of recognizing the value of such things.
He wanted to ask whether it was something the Avians had received as payment or maybe something Alexander had actually owned. He didn't ask because it did not matter. The Avian gifted it to Magnus and that mattered.
"It's beautiful. I suppose I can brave grooming your wings in exchange for this."
"Good. I wasn't sure you'd take it."
"As payment? To be honest, coin is always more practical but I do accept more personal payment. Especially from you."
"You don't have to keep it, you may sell it-"
"Hush, pretty boy. This is mine now."
Magnus set the jewel aside and returned to sit behind the Avian. He began his work from the top of the right wing, as he'd done the previous time. He noticed how the wing twitched when he touched it but then calmed when he didn't move his hands away.
It was tedious. Magnus was very careful to do it right, hating the thought of hurting the wings more than they already were. Many of the feathers were twisted, raised or lying the wrong way on each other.
As he went on, Magnus talked a little, as usual. His guest wasn't answering much but Magnus knew he was being listened to. He didn't try to fill the silence at all cost, there was no need for that between them. He only wanted to talk because he felt it was welcome.
"Did basilisks do this?" he asked, remembering the issue.
"Basilisks happened a week ago," the Avian pointed out as if Magnus was being particularly illogical.
"Well, excuse me for assuming wrongly. You are my source of information and you haven't been by at all since that time," Magnus replied.
The Avian huffed, but then said: "This didn't happen around here. We had a disagreement with a few of our own."
When he was halfway down the right wing, Magnus couldn't ignore anymore the way the Avian sat. That is, he was bowed forward more and more and the left wing was pretty much hanging limp at the side while he held up the right one for Magnus to groom.
Simply put, he was tired and showing it clearly. Magnus couldn't force him to sit still, even though he assumed the Avian would do it if he made him.
Magnus stood up and went to his wardrobe. Quickly, he dropped the clothes he's been wearing and pulled on a light tunic that reached the middle of his thighs. It wasn't a garment he ever wore outside of his room or the room he invited his clients to. It was too sheer, too indulgent to be shown to anyone. Silvery thread lined the endings of the fabric. It was made to compliment the body, not hide it. Magnus's guest might not even notice, in his current state but… he might just appreciate it properly in the morning.
"Come here, pretty boy," Magnus said, pointing to the bed. "Lie down on your front, take a pillow under your head if you want. Take the left side so I can continue with the wing spread out."
The Avian did so, first pausing to take his shirt off. His fingers were somewhat clumsy undoing it, but he still did it rather quickly. Then, he covered the bed with his body. Magnus hummed thoughtfully, wondering how to handle this in the future. His bed was definitely a nice piece of furniture, larger than he needed it for himself and larger than a small-town inn ever saw, but it still wasn't meant to serve tall Avians.
Magnus climbed on top on the right side and sat so that the lower edge of the wing was touching his knees and he could lean forward and reach the place he'd stopped his grooming at.
He resumed his work.
Apparently, the change of position made the Avian a little more awake because he talked for a bit without any prompting from Magnus. Eventually, however, even that stopped and Magnus knew by the signs of his breathing that he was losing the fight with sleep.
It was fine. No matter how much Magnus may have wanted to get something more for himself from Alexander's visit, the point was to give him what he asked Magnus for.
The longer he worked, the easier it became to follow the muscle memory he was gaining. Magnus supposed that was one way to become good at something - just have to do a lot of it in one sitting.
He had to pull a few feathers out, which had to be his decision because he didn't want to bother the sleeping Avian with questions. He put the feathers aside so that they wouldn't get pushed off the bed to the floor.
Eventually, the left wing became the problem – how to go about it when it didn't have as much room on the left side?
Magnus looked down at the sleeping man. He appeared to be completely relaxed, no tension in any of his limbs. Magnus really wanted to run his hand through his soft hair.
Slowly standing up from the bed, Magnus went around it and grabbed himself two pillows to sit on them on the floor, from where he could reach out to the left wing. Half of it was hanging off the bed like a dark curtain, tips of the feathers touching the wood of the floor.
Magnus chuckled to himself quietly. It was the first time he was supposed to be unnoticeable and silent in his work, instead of flashy and taking up all of his client's attention.
He did not enjoy pulling out feathers. Some were loose, yes, and they only needed a little tug to come completely free but others were different. Magnus found two long feathers which were broken in half and yet sat firmly in the flesh of the wing. He had to pull those with force and bit his lip as he did it. Tips were bloody when he held them. It was good that the Avian wasn't awake to feel it. In fact, Magnus was surprised he didn't wake, but maybe he was more used to little pains like this than Magnus thought.
Despite all that, grooming was definitely going faster once he knew he wasn't messing anything up with his non-Avian hands. In fact, by the time he was done, Magnus decided that although it was late and he was tired, he still had the time to use the oil he'd tested a little the last time and applied it to both wings. He quite liked how it deepened the color of the feathers without making them heavy or unpleasantly sticky.
He'd have to remember to make an order for more of this and for proper Avian soap and oils the next time he got his packages from the city.
And when he was content with what he's done for that night, he blew out the candles and lamps, and returned to the bed on the right side, where he could pull up the right wing and crawl under it to sleep.
In the morning, he woke to sunlight filling the room. He was toasty warm and, apparently, had barely moved in his sleep through the night because he was pretty much still in the same position he'd deemed the most comfortable when he'd laid down.
His guest was still there.
Magnus rolled over to be able to see him and as he thought, he found the Avian awake. His cheek wore the signs of being smushed against a pillow crease for a long time and it made the warrior seem incredibly soft. He still had that bruise near his hairline but it was very faint. Magnus was absolutely certain his own skin could not heal so fast.
"Did you have the chance yet to admire my handiwork?" Magnus asked.
"I can't feel anything hurting so I assumed it's fine."
"'Fine' is no good for me. I know what I said last night, about not being qualified for this but that does not mean I accept 'fine'."
Corners of the Avian's lips quirked up and he pushed himself up on his elbow. Doing so, he had to lift his wing off of Magnus, who immediately felt the loss of warmth.
"All right then, let's see what you've done."
He pulled at the edge of the wing to be able to look at it in front of himself and gazed down at it from top to bottom. He ran his fingers down the smooth surface, pausing over the place where Magnus had removed two neighbor feathers because he couldn't have done anything to save them.
"And?" Magnus asked. He was lying on his side, his head propped up on his hand as he was watching his guest.
"You're right. It's not only fine, it's decent," Alexander replied.
"You truly are a cruel race, aren't you," Magnus groaned. "I've done all this for you and I didn't even have you talk with me. I like a conversation, you know."
"I didn't mean to fall asleep," the Avian began and Magnus shushed him.
"I know. I won't hold it against you."
With his free arm, he reached out to brush his fingertips down the wing. He wanted to put his hands on the Avian in general but for now, this had to do.
Their eyes met when Alexander looked up at him. Magnus didn't take his hand away from the wing and petted it and eventually, the hazel eyes flicked down to follow his movement.
"Can it be a slow morning?" Magnus asked and Alexander met his eyes again.
"I need to go to the…"
"You remember the way?"
He got out of the bed and stood up to stretch his arms above his head and then shook his wings out. Magnus watched.
Next, the Avian grabbed his shirt and just pulled it on without securing it, and then left the room.
When Alec left the toilet, he saw a girl in the corridor, carrying a stack of linen. She noticed him, obviously, but only glanced at him to see if he might want to say something. She wasn't the one serving guests directly.
"Can I pay you to get some breakfast?" Alec asked.
She looked him up and down but her expression wasn't betraying anything. Alec remembered he left the room with no shirt on.
"Are you Magnus's?" she asked.
"I… suppose I am?" Alec wasn't quite sure what that meant. Magnus's guest? For sure. Did it have another meaning when it came to this inn and the courtesans? Alec didn't know.
"I'd say money would buy you anything you want but… that's not actually true," she said lightly. "Breakfast, though, certainly. In a minute," she added, since she was still heading to her destination with those linens.
Alec nodded and passed by her, returning to Magnus's room.
He found the man as he'd left him, lounging on the bed on his side, except now with more pillows to hold up his head comfortably instead of his arm.
"Did no one try to steal you?" Magnus asked.
"Why would anyone…?" Alec began.
"Oh, I would have tried for those eyes alone," Magnus replied, smiling. "And knowing what I know…" he pointedly gazed down Alec's body. "It's worth the effort."
"I'm not paying you for sex," Alec blurted out.
"But you're thinking of having it with me?" Magnus replied quickly. He was not at all offended at the statement. "I know you like me. You coming back is more than enough of a proof."
"Why are you interested? You're beautiful and experienced. Even considering the- um- even considering you're a courtesan, I'm sure you could use your effort on someone better."
Magnus sat up on the bed and fixed his tunic before it slipped off of his shoulder.
"Thank you, Alexander. I'll have you know you're beautiful yourself. I'm fond of beautiful things so I'm drawn to you, simple as that. You may think that's superficial and it is, but it's only what starts my interest. You see, I'm rather good at finding things in people to like or to be more interested in. That's what makes me good at what I do. I want to keep you from running off to your day right away, because I'm interested."
Alec stood in the same spot, looking down at Magnus. He was listening without cutting in so Magnus continued.
"I've already learned you appreciate clarity so I'm speaking plainly. I want to get to know you better so that we can be something like acquaintances."
Alec thought about that. Naturally, the concept of meeting new people wasn't foreign to him. Avians kept to themselves, yes, because they had many differences from the non-winged people, but they were not a completely separate species.
"Are you lonely?" Alec asked.
"Am I lonely? Depends on what day you ask. Sometimes, maybe I am. Other times, I don't feel that at all." After a pause, Magnus asked back: "Are you?"
"I don't know."
Magnus smiled softly.
"We're not children, I'm not asking us to be 'friends'. If you want to, all you have to do is come by sometimes, see me. The thing I don't accept is being ignored in public because of what I am, when someone doesn't have problems talking with me when they want to fuck me."
Alec blinked. "I wouldn't do that."
"I think so. Well, I hope so. And that wasn't meant to imply you would do that. I like knowing where I stand." Magnus said. "As for your other worry - last time, I quite liked your cock and I quite like you. That's enough for me. The rest, I will teach you. If you're willing."
Alec flushed red but he didn't look away from Magnus's face.
"Why do you want to waste your time?"
"Now you're being purposely obtuse," Magnus rolled his eyes. "Fun time is never a waste of time. I know you Avians might be a little unfamiliar with the concept…"
"We know what fun is," Alec interrupted. "And I am having fun. With you."
Magnus smiled brightly.
"I'm glad to hear that. I wouldn't have liked pushing you when you didn't want any of this."
"If I didn't want it, I would fly away."
To that, Magnus laughed. "That you could do, indeed."
He shifted on the bed, backing up until his back could touch the pillows. He laid down, looking up at the Avian. "So we've established we're on the same page, pretty boy. Drop your pants and come here."
Magnus took note of how Alexander's eyes tracked down his body covered with the sheer material.
And then, he undid his belt and dropped the pants as Magnus asked, giving Magnus the glorious sight of his whole bare body.
He climbed on top of the bed and covered Magnus, who expected a kiss. It didn't happen right away, however. Alexander gazed down at him first and for someone who repeats he doesn't know much about these things, he was incredibly adept at making Magnus's blood rush with smallest gestures.
And then, he did lean down for that kiss, which Magnus enthusiastically returned.
Wings created a canopy over them and Magnus thought he'd never get bored of the sight.
They were, indeed, on the same page – their bodies reacted to each other rather fast. Magnus didn't make room for his partner between his thighs as he'd done last time; he put his hand on Alexander's chest instead.
"I wondered if you'd like me to be on top this time. You wouldn't have to overthink what you're doing. But I don't know about your wings…"
"I can lie on my back," Alexander confirmed.
"Great. Help me out of this," Magnus said, indicating the tunic. "Unless you want it to stay on…?"
The Avian thought about it.
"Jewelry is enough," he answered.
Alexander retreated a little to allow Magnus to sit up again and then helped pull the garment off. The next kiss was his initiative, as well, and for a little while, all they did was kiss. Magnus loved the way the warm, large hands cupped his face, held it like it was precious. They parted and Magus watched Alexander lick his lips.
"Lie down," Magnus pushed lightly at his chest and the gesture was solely for his sake, so he could touch those muscles again.
He prepared himself quickly because he planned to take his time in the next part. The Avian was on his back, waiting, watching him. Dark wings lay on either side of him, half-folded to take less space and so that they would stay on the bed.
Magnus took a moment to appreciate the sight once again, now with that very nice cock hard for him.
Alexander sucked in a breath when Magnus lined himself up and began carefully sinking down. Yes, Magnus agreed with that reaction.
He went slowly, there was no rush. The Avian put his hands on his thighs and squeezed them in an almost subconscious movement when all of his cock was inside his partner.
Magnus paused there. Yes, he did want to get more immediately but he knew patience usually paid more.
He bowed to get one more kiss in the meantime and it was much more heated by then. When he began to move his hips, the fingers on his thighs dug into his skin.
Magnus kept up a nice, slow pace. It was how he liked to feel the fresh stretch inside him and it was also how he liked to make sure his lovers remembered him. He didn't mean to tease, only to make his partner feel it.
Alexander let him, took what Magnus was giving. He stopped gripping the same place with his hands and instead touched more of Magnus's body, running his hands up his sides and back down. Magnus liked that. He moved faster, chasing the sparks of pleasure until they could build into a deeper sensation, lasting longer, sending waves up his body.
Magnus breathed in deeply.
He could hear the first sounds of pleasure from his lover and he was already planning how to make them sound louder.
A knock sounded on the door.
Surprised, Magnus stilled, but only for a moment.
"Did you ask for something?" he asked, at the same time resuming his movements.
His Avian looked completely startled by the knock as if someone might barge right in and see them. Magnus, however, knew the sound. His little friend from the room down the corridor was just letting them know something but Magnus did not know what it was this time.
"Oh. Uh, yes. Breakfast," Alexander answered.
"Perfect," Magnus grinned. "Then it'll wait for us until I'm done with you."
Quite fast, he made his partner forget all about the distraction and finally heard those sweet moans. It was only the two of them again, feeling each other, moving together.
Magnus leaned forward to put his hand on the mattress. He had to find a free spot between Alexander's body and the wing but he did it, and he gave himself more leverage. Slow wasn't the right choice anymore, they were too far gone for that. Magnus did not have to ask his lover to know it was true. He heard it, saw it in his face and felt it in the hands on his body.
"I need your help, darling," Magnus said. "If we want to come together."
Alexander understood and moved his right hand down to where Magnus wanted him.
"Yes," Magnus breathed out. "Not too fast, though. Don't rush."
Alexander did his best to match him in pace to make sure it was right. Magnus couldn't get enough of him. His scent, his heat, his beautiful, flushed face and those brows drawn together when he was lost in intense pleasure. Magnus already loved that the Avian's blood ran hot. He'd always liked warm hands touching him. Not hot and sweaty, but reassuringly warm. Alexander was like that and by their third meeting Magnus had figured out it was an Avian thing, definitely a little different from non-winged people.
Magnus also liked that he didn't keep his eyes closed. He did close them sometimes, which let Magnus know what he especially liked, but he always opened them again to look at Magnus. He also liked how those hazel eyes darkened during sex.
"I'm close," Magnus told him, his voice breathy. "Work with me," he added, even though Alexander was in fact quite good at feeling the pace by then.
It all built up inside Magnus and under the hot hand on his length and to his surprise, he reached his climax first. His fingers gripped the sheets and gasped, letting out a long moan next. It felt so good to let go.
He'd expected his lover to be first, actually, which was why he'd asked him to stroke him, but apparently Magnus's body was more into it than he'd thought. It was good, as well. The Avian came right after him, especially when he could hear the sound Magnus made…
Magnus thought he might have bruises in the places the Avian's fingers dug into his hip and thigh, but he did not mind at all. He fell forward, quite spent, his thighs aching from the activity. His lover's firm chest made for a perfect pillow for him. He was pleased with himself when he felt the breaths his Avian was taking in the aftermath of their lovemaking.
Wings came up around them, cocooning Magnus in the hold of Alexander, who wrapped his arms around Magnus's middle.
He could really get used to that.
They did not talk, there was no need for that. They simply rested.
Eventually, they did have to move. They would not magically get clean and not sticky, and no matter what comfort the body he was lying on provided, Magnus did not enjoy the cooling of his own body as his blood slowed and his sweat dried.
Alexander's fingertips traced patterns on his back.
And in that moment, Magnus thought that he didn't know when he'd see him again. They'd wash and eat together, and then Alexander would be gone back to his Avian world, as the last time, and Magnus would be alone again with his courtesan work.
Magnus touched the soft inner part of the right wing. Feathers were pretty much just fluff in the section nearest to the body. Farther away, they became firmer and longer, until they were flight feathers at the edges.
"I could just pet these all day," Magnus said, his fingertips mussing up the fluff. "Free of charge."
The Avian chuckled. "We can arrange a day like that."
"Can we?" Magnus asked. "I mean to say, would you want that?"
"Maybe. If I'm in the mood."
"Well, you know where to find me. All right, let's get up and wash it off, and see what you've got for breakfast."
A while later, they ended up sitting cross-legged on the bed, the tray between them. Magnus didn't really eat in the bed, hating the crumbs in his bedsheets, but he'd make an exception for his guest.
They talked a little more, too, and this time there were no blurted Avian secrets but Alexander did talk a little more about his days in general.
Magnus was very curious to know more about them but he knew just asking a list of questions would make the Avian uncomfortable. It was better to ask one thing once in a while and let the man talk on his own whenever he felt like it.
He remembered the handful of feathers he'd put away last night and moved to retrieve it and give it back to the Avian. Magnus had washed them of blood and tied them together with a piece of red string to make sure not to lose them.
"Oh," Alexander said. "If you want, you can keep those. If not, burn them."
"Don't burning feathers and hair smell awful?"
"Not ours," the Avian answered a little cryptically.
"All right, then. I'm keeping these but if you see me wearing a feather earring, don't complain."
Finally, Alexander retrieved his shirt and pants, and Magnus helped him fasten the shirt. And then, he sent him off with a kiss, not knowing when he'd see him again.
The season was getting better but it was still not warm enough to leave the inn with just a single layer on, especially if one planned to stay outside in the afternoon and evening. It was sunny more often, though, which was good.
Magnus dressed appropriately: a dove grey shirt which had little buttons all the way up to the high collar and on top of that, a jade velvet jacket. The jacket was the decoration so Magnus toned down the jewelry. Little silver pieces that worked with the shirt and the jacket were sufficient. It was too bad he couldn't somehow fit Alexander's ruby in there but it was better this way; if he could match it with anything, he'd wear it every time and that would take away the unique character of it.
Speaking of Alexander's gifts, Magnus had found a use for his discarded feathers in the following weeks after the visit. He already owned a black brooch that'd been gifted to him by a friend, a fellow city courtesan. The brooch was layered: the pin was attached to a velvet ribbon and on top of the folded ribbon sat a stone. Magnus figured out a way to sew the feathers to the ribbon, so they stuck out from under it and the stone. If he were a woman, he probably would have liked a feather headpiece but he was not a woman, did not have the hair for it and besides, the truth was he did not like wearing anything but a winter hat on top of his head. He much preferred to take care of the hair itself, style it and then decorate other parts of himself.
He wore the brooch twice in the time since he'd made it. He probably would have been hesitant about doing it if the inn was getting Avian crowd (besides Alexander and those few and far between young ones seeking new experiences) because wearing Avian feathers while not being mated to one wasn't done lightly. Especially not when the one wearing them was a courtesan.
Of course, if Alexander wanted to, he could claim Magnus so to speak. In the city, it was actually done often with the prettiest or most charismatic of courtesans. Magnus himself had been considered a favorite more than twice.
He was in a smaller town now, however, with different people around and especially 'different' Avians.
As for his Avian, he seemed to be trying to establish a pattern to his visits, which was nice. He was starting to make time for Magnus twice a week – one visit in passing, just enough time for a meal together or to ask how Magnus is doing. In return, Magnus asked about the Avian hunts and the events outside of the town that like the basilisks were unknown to most people.
Alexander did trust him enough by then to talk about it. Never in detail, because he was not the kind of person to like talking at length anyway, but he let Magnus know about the threats dealt with and neutralized.
Magnus also learned a lot more about the Avian group. For example, he learned about their homes and as he learned that, he knew it was one of the reasons for why it was easier to be separate as species; Avians built everything with wings in mind, particularly doors and beds. Showers, as well. It would have been great to see all those things in person, Magnus had thought as he listened to Alexander describe them.
Of course, Alexander never spoke of his settlement in detail and it was fine. Magnus understood that the Avian had friends and family whose safety he was responsible for whenever he spent time with humans like Magnus. Actually, he probably was the only human Alexander spent longer than a minute with while he was in town.
There were other places for Avians to do business with, the man they called the mayor, the blacksmith, the local big-name merchant. There were a few more people who were important due to their professions and needed by humans and Avians alike, but none of them could say they ate dinners with Avian representatives, except maybe the mayor.
None of them could say they slept under an Avian wing.
Today, most of those important people, as well as other townsfolk, were going to gather together for an event, which was also a cause for the jade jacket.
There was going to be a concert. Magnus had heard of the singer before, back in the city, and he'd been looking forward to hearing her and the musicians that'd be playing for her, but he was not as excited about it as his harp-playing courtesan friend.
In fact, he was only so early to the event because of her, because she'd wanted to choose a seat first. Magnus went as a company but he knew he wasn't going to enjoy the wait time itself while everyone else gathered.
Courtesans and maids, and other people who should keep themselves less visible were to be seated at the back. It was like that everywhere, in this town and in the city.
The upside was that in this case, they did not pay to attend. The mayor and the merchants, and the few other wealthiest people paid for such events. If it'd been in a closed building, then it would have been ticketed but with it happening in the open space between the orchard and the temple, everyone could have heard it even without a seat. And so, to make the event an elegant affair, respectful of the performers, everyone who could afford to leave their duties was invited to sit down and listen properly.
Just as Magnus's friend had wanted, there was almost no one there yet and they could claim their chairs in the back. There were only a few people checking the raised dais and making sure everything that was needed for the performance was there and ready. Some others were still making small changes to how the rows of chairs were lined up.
Magnus wondered if all those things were the town's property. Probably not. Some of them had probably been brought over from one of their neighbor towns. Not that this town couldn't afford to keep a stash of foldable wooden chairs for such occasions but it was simply still a rather young town and had acquired more people only in recent years. Weddings were the largest gatherings Magnus could think of that'd need numerous seats and weddings never included the whole town.
In fact, as Magnus eyed the area, he thought that there were more seats than he believed there were people to sit on them. Well, it made sense that someone from their neighbor towns would want to come over for the concert if the singer and the group hadn't planned a visit to play there on their way.
Five minutes into the wait, when Magnus was looking around in search of anything interesting to occupy him, he did find it. In fact, it exceeded all his expectations for entertainment.
It was the first time he saw an Avian fly. Well, that wasn't strictly true – he'd seen flying Avians in the city but only from afar, when they'd already been high above. This one was flying closer and lower. His figure became larger and eventually, Magnus could even hear the sound the wings made while they moved.
It was Alexander. His feet touched the ground and he came to a stop after two or three steps, still carried by momentum. Once he stopped, his wings folded behind his back.
He'd seen Magnus and was looking right at him, and he directed his next steps to where Magnus sat.
"Good morning," he said addressing both courtesans, who replied in kind.
Magnus could feel his friend's eyes on him but she didn't say anything. She'd seen Magnus with Alexander that in the inn, so she was surprised neither by the Avian approaching them nor by Magnus standing up to leave the line of chairs. They walked aside to talk.
"I was going home," Alexander said, "but I saw the stage and I thought I'd seen you. I was correct."
"Eagle sight," Magnus teased.
"I was supposed to return and come here together with my people but… I think I might as well save my wings. Do I look presentable enough to stay for the event?" Alexander spread his arms as if really expecting Magnus to look at his clothes.
Magnus blinked. First, he answered the question.
"I believe you do. The windswept look is very fetching in my opinion."
The Avian's hair had grown somewhat longer in the past two weeks and it was now curling at the tips. Magnus thought he looked perfect. It was a shame he couldn't reach out and smooth down the feathers fluffed up from the flight… it wouldn't be proper for him to do that in public.
Then, he addressed the rest of what Alexander had said.
"You're going to attend the concert?"
"Yes. We do like music, you know. Some of us can even play. And we did pay part of the musican's fee so of course, we're coming."
"Oh," Magnus said. So those were the extra chairs. "That's good. That you're coming to listen."
Then, he chuckled at his own tied tongue.
"I'm sorry, you really surprised me by literally appearing out of thin air to the concert."
"Hmm. If you had a balcony, I could be appearing out of thin air there instead of waiting for you in the bar room."
"Oh. Wouldn't that be romantic? You know how to make my heart beat faster," Magnus pressed his hand to his chest.
Alexander only shook his head.
They talked about nothing in particular for a while, simply enjoying the small-talk regarding the concert. Eventually, it came to the matter of sitting now that Alexander was there and apparently interested in keeping Magnus as a company.
Now that he knew Avians were attending, Magnus also knew that the front rows were for them – they were placed lower than the others and now it made sense with Avian wings obstructing the view more than a human body did. There was a natural dip in the land and the dais with the front rows were sitting in it.
When Alexander seemed to be decided to just have Magnus follow him, the courtesan had to stop him. First, he said it wasn't a good idea and when the Avian questioned why, Magnus replied.
"Alexander, no one expects a whore to sit up front."
"Why would you say that?"
"Don't worry," Magnus patted his arm. "I don't think about myself like that. I only meant to illustrate the issue here."
Magnus had said it intentionally but after the fact, he wondered if maybe the word was too strong for the Avian after all because he was giving him an odd look.
"All right," Alexander said slowly. "Then we need to balance things out."
Magnus wondered what he meant.
"I'll take 'my' chair from the front and you take yours," Alexander continued. 'We'll sit in the middle, and to the side so me and my wings aren't in the way of anyone's eyes."
"I have a good hearing; I won't lose out on not sitting an inch from the stage."
"Alexander, wait, there's more to it, I'd feel terrible moving to the middle if my company has to stay in the back. She'd wanted to be here first to choose a better spot…"
The Avian paused, glancing towards the woman and back at Magnus.
"I'll figure something out," he said simply and Magnus trusted him immediately.
More people were gathering, finally, and the two of them no longer could feel like they were talking in private. They did as Alexander said, moved their chairs in a whole new place but did not sit down yet, preferring to stand.
Magnus wondered if the Avian could feel the gazes on them. There was nothing strange or wrong in talking to a courtesan but when the courtesan was the only person you talked to… well, people wondered about that.
And, of course, there was the fact that Alexander was the first and still the sole Avian present for the event and there were no others the townsfolk could look at.
They did show, though, soon enough. Avians appeared in groups of three or four, flying together and landing together to take seats in little groups.
Alexander watched them arrive, as well, and Magnus was certain he was waiting to see particular Avians that were closest to him.
And there were two. A man and a woman, one blond, one dark-haired like Alexander. Magnus paid attention to the woman first. She wore a shirt with the most wonderful puffy sleeves and on top of it, she had an embroidered corset. Avians really liked their dark colors, Magnus thought. Not that they didn't make everything look good, but it was a shame. Still, Magnus held out hope to someday convince Alexander to wear some color. The woman's rich red embroidery on that corset helped that hope.
Alexander met with the pair while Magnus stayed a little behind. He would not follow until invited.
From the way they interacted with each other, Magnus drew a conclusion that they were a family. He did not try to hear what they talked about because he assumed it had to do with the place Alexander had been flying back from.
He wondered if Alexander was going to change his mind and go sit with them in the front. But no, that didn't happen. Instead, Alexander turned to him and the two other Avians looked at him as well. Magnus never had any issue with gazes but with Avians involved, he was not entirely comfortable.
Alexander introduced them.
"My sister, Isabelle," he said. "And my brother, Jace. And this… is Magnus."
"Magnus, the mysterious wing-carer," the blond said.
Magnus looked at Alexander but then turned his head back to the woman because she spoke next.
"Magnus, the only bearable human in town?"
Now, they were all looking at Alexander, who opened his mouth to answer, then closed it.
"Is that what you've been saying about me?" Magnus asked.
"No. These are their words," Alexander said, looking at his siblings.
"It's all in the context," Isabelle said.
"We aren't making things up," Jace added.
"Tell me, Alexander, am I the only bearable human in town?" Magnus asked with a straight face, though he wanted to smile.
"No," the Avian answered.
"Am I not bearable or not the only one?" Magnus pressed and it was becoming harder to keep that straight face.
"I'm not comparing you to other humans."
Now, Magnus had to know more.
"What am I, then?"
The Avian blinked.
"You are yourself."
Magnus thought he was going to leave it at that but then he elaborated.
"Everyone stands on their own and I don't need others around to be able to judge someone."
Magnus still held back a smile. He wanted to push. He wanted to hear Alexander say that he kept coming back because he liked Magnus. But that'd have been childish of him, when he already heard the truth between the words and knew the truth from the repeated visits themselves. Most importantly, Magnus did not want to do anything that Alexander wouldn't appreciate in other Avians' presence.
Hopefully, Magnus was going to have the time and the opportunity to learn more about them, particularly Alexander's family, to know what he could and couldn't do around them. For now, he knew it was better not to be pushy.
"Well, that is insightful," he said instead. "I can't say I disagree at all. Although, I do disagree with the statement that I am the only bearable human-"
"I said, those are their words. Let them explain it."
His sister chuckled.
"Don't worry, if we didn't like this place, we wouldn't have stayed around," she said.
"This is a good moment for me to thank you for that," Magnus said. "I'd already thanked Alexander but it doesn't hurt to say it again. I admit, I did gain more appreciation for your kind, beyond knowing that you're hunting criminals and monsters. I do sleep better knowing you're out there keeping basilisks away."
"Oh," the blond crossed his arms on his chest. "Do tell, what else has he been telling you?"
"I promise, nothing else. And I didn't ask."
Magnus lied easily. He did not ask about monsters for the simple reason that he didn't want to know but it came out when he asked Alexander for "how his day was". As for 'telling nothing else', that was a lie. Magnus had asked questions - as many as he'd thought appropriate so that Alexander wouldn't call him out on too much curiosity.
The way the blond had asked wasn't sharp. In fact, Magnus read amusement in him, a the cost of his brother, not Magnus.
There was a small crowd of people by then, coming to the concert but stopping in little groups to talk, just the same way as Magnus was standing with the Avians. There was still time left but it was polite to be early.
Magnus did not care for his seat anymore at all, so long as Alexander still wanted to be near him.
"If I may ask," Magnus said to the two Avians, "try to have Alexander take fewer duties so he can come to town to hold up good relations between us townsfolk and your people."
He said that glancing at Alexander, with a smirk on his lips.
"Hmm, it's true we've been occupied," Isabelle said. "It isn't his fault this time, that he works too much."
Magnus noticed the way Alexander's wings bristled, just slightly.
"I work the same as everyone else. As much as is needed."
"And not much is needed currently at all. We're done with the building and we're done with the… other thing," she finished cryptically. "You're back from the meeting, too, so you might as well have the whole day free."
The wings relaxed. Magnus couldn't look away from them.
"I wasn't going to go home and work," he announced.
"Oh?" Magnus and Jace made the same sound.
"I was going to stay in town after the concert," Alexander continued.
Warmth filled Magnus's belly when he heard that. Surely, there was only one reason why he'd stay and not do anything official?
"All right," Isabelle said. "I believe you. Don't drink too much."
"I'm teasing. Have fun either way."
"Have you seen the gallery yet, Alexander?" Magnus asked because he remembered it and didn't want to forget. "It's at the new wing of the school."
"Well then, I suggest you do, if you need something to fill your time in a good way. It's actually quite something to look at."
"I'll consider it."
Alexander looked away from Magnus and made a thoughtful sound. Magnus looked away, too, around them, and saw that the crowd was now growing much faster, with people wanting to be on time.
"We should sit," Alexander said. "Isabelle, will you do something for me?"
"What is it?"
Alexander looked over his shoulder to the back rows. Magnus's friend was still where she'd chosen to sit. His siblings followed his gaze.
"Will you please take Magnus's friend to sit in my place with you?"
Alexander pointed to the nearby chairs, the ones standing out of the row, where they'd placed them.
"I'll be here with Magnus."
"Why aren't you sitting up front with him?"
"Because," Alexander said, cutting off any following questions. "Take the lady's chair and move it into my space. Please."
"All right," Isabelle agreed, giving Alexander a look. "Let's go, we don't want to squeeze through the already seated row, which it will be in a minute."
Isabelle flapped her wings to propel herself in the air and shortened her path to the back by flying right over the several people between them and Magnus's friend.
Magnus watched her go with fascination. He was still getting used to being so close to Avians, and it was going to take a long time before he got used to seeing them fly. Her wings were very similar to Alexander's but matching her own size more. The difference was also that she had warm hues hidden in her feathers, like reds and browns.
The other Avian, Jace, had pale feathers mixed in with the usual Avian dark shades. Magnus didn't believe he'd ever seen a similar pattern on any of the city Avians but he didn't have enough knowledge to say if it was unique among them or not. Something to remember to ask Alexander about later.
Jace remained for a moment longer after Isabelle left. He eyed Magnus again.
"Why didn't either of you just sit up front? What's with the chair chess?"
"Because we're not high up enough in the society," Magnus said. This was, once again, a bit of a minefield. He did not have any issues himself with saying who he was but Alexander was right there and Magnus had no idea whether him introducing Magnus to his siblings also meant that he was fine with them actually knowing the truth.
They hadn't mentioned it, after all. They'd called him the wing-carer, so that was what Alexander had told them. Well, it was possible they were simply tactful and talked to Magnus with neutral respect. Something in Magnus made him doubt it, though. He wasn't sure he believed they'd have been so all right with their brother being so close to a courtesan if they knew.
Jace eyed him but didn't say anything more.
"I'll see you at home later," he said to Alexander and left them alone.
"Shall we sit before someone becomes nervous about your size in the middle rows?"
"Yes, let's do that," Alexander replied and reached for one chair to move it aside so that Magnus could step around it to sit down.
Musicians were already setting up but there was still a little time before the singer came out.
Magnus could tell there were still gazes on him. If he'd stayed in the back rows, he'd have been the one people-watching with his fellow courtesans and maids. He'd abandoned all reasons to stay in his place to follow Alexander to sit near him instead.
He could see Alexander's family doing as he'd asked – his friend was seated between the blond and the brunette, and the latter seemed to be occupying her with conversation, which pleased Magnus very much.
As for himself, he was stealing glances at his tall companion.
Magnus wanted to talk more but the questions that interested him shouldn't be heard by other townspeople and it was impossible to do without whispering, and Magnus didn't want to whisper. He didn't know what it was about Alexander that made him want to talk so much. Not just talk – listen to what the Avian had to say.
So while he currently didn't feel comfortable talking, what Magnus wanted to do was to enjoy the music and then take Alexander back to his room, where they'd be alone as always. Even the inn's main room would have been better for conversation.
During the concert, Magnus did make several hushed comments about the music, which Alexander replied to. They both enjoyed it, as they both had expected to, and Magnus didn't even pay any mind to the gazes on him anymore.
When it was all finished and proper applause was given to the singer and her musicians, the mayor and some other people went to talk with them, and the rest of the crowd either began leaving to get home and have dinner, and others formed little groups again to talk.
Magnus looked up at the sky and frowned. He hadn't even noticed when the clouds began gathering over their heads.
And then, without warning, droplets began falling down, one at first, then another, and then three at once.
He made a sound of dismay, which surprised the Avian.
"It wasn't supposed to rain today!" Magnus complained. "No one thought it'd rain," he pointed out and it was true, no one had come prepared to shield themselves from rain. Only some of the older ladies had parasols according to the old fashion.
"It's only going to be a little," Alexander said, unsure of how to react to Magnus's reaction to the rain. "Not a storm."
"Obviously, those aren't heavy clouds. But this is velvet, it's going to be ruined with even a little rain," Magnus pointed to his jacked.
"Let's go there," Alexander pointed out the temple building, which was the nearest to the spot the stage and audience had been set up.
"No. It's private worship hours. I'm not barging into a temple, not even for this jacket."
"Well then, there is only one thing," Alexander said and wrapped his arm around Magnus to pull him close and then raised his wing over Magnus's head.
"Is this an agreeable solution?"
"I- yes?" Magnus said, a little stunned.
"Good, let's walk back."
Magnus would have protested against such use of a wing, had he not seen himself how fast they dry after a bath.
Alexander didn't let go of him all the way back to the inn, even though the light rain stopped when they reached the center of the town. Magnus could not remember the last time someone made him feel like this – make all of Magnus's world narrow to just himself and the other person while everything else around them stopped to matter.
Alexander delivered him wholly dry to the inn, which they entered both grinning at each other.
"What shall we eat today?"
"Oh. You're so decided already."
"I'm always decided, darling," Magnus said, walking ahead to the table they'd used before. 'Their' table.
Alexander made the order for them and paid for it, as he always did. Magnus took off the jacket and carefully draped it over the back of his chair, knowing he'd be too warm soon if he kept it on inside the inn.
"So, where have you traveled to?" he asked when Alexander sat down.
"That's a long way, even for an Avian," Magnus said thoughtfully.
"Yes. I had to leave after dawn to get here on time."
"Oh, so it was a few-days' trip?"
The Avian nodded. "I saw a few tribes that were along the way."
"Hmm. You never mentioned being a diplomat besides being a hunter."
The Avian huffed. "I'm not really- well, I suppose there isn't a better term for it…"
"Do you like it?"
"It's my job."
Magnus did not roll his eyes.
"Of course, everything you do for your people is your job but if you had to only hunt or only meet with other Avians?"
"I like both."
"That's good. I mean it."
They got the duck soup and it was as good as Magnus expected it to be. It was new on the menu and he'd have to buy it more often for himself even when he didn't dine with Alexander.
"What would you like to do if you weren't a courtesan?" the Avian asked him.
"This is what I know best and I'm not complaining," Magnus replied without even thinking about it.
"I know that. But there must be something else that you'd consider doing."
Magnus hesitated and Alexander pushed on.
"You know so much, you've read all those books you're keeping in your room. I won't believe you if you say there isn't anything you'd like to try doing."
Magnus fiddled with his cutlery.
"You aren't wrong. I would need learning and training for most of the things I'm curious about. I suppose hairdressing might be a reasonable alternative because I know how to do it but it has almost exactly the same good and bad sides as what I'm currently doing. I already have a recognizable name in what I do and none in hairdressing, so there is no point in changing that…"
"Hmm. I understand."
They both decided they wanted a dessert when the serving girl came to collect their plates. (She was the one who gave Magnus a very meaningful look whenever he was with Alexander).
There was a lull in their conversation after that. Alexander didn't ask any more questions and Magnus was afraid of asking why he brought this up at all. It could have been curiosity, of course, simply wanting to know Magnus better. Magnus had asked his share of questions. And yet… It wasn't as simple when it came to Magnus and what he did for a living and he knew it was only to be expected the Avian would start questioning it.
Maybe he didn't mean anything by it but it was too good to be true.
When Alexander had gone after spending the afternoon with him, Magnus was found by his friend, who was still visibly happy after the concert and although Magnus was in a mood to stay by himself, he did want to hear what she had to say about sitting in the Avian row with Alexander's family. He was glad to hear that Isabelle was as charming as Magnus had perceived her to be when he met her.
Magnus also got the confirmation that there was gossip alive about him and Alexander. That is, he didn't need to hear that they're talking about them because that was a given, but now he knew that gossip was a little more involved than he'd thought.
Magnus was used to that in a city, where there was always gossip about who met with whom the most often and it was generally harmless. Magnus himself had never minded it and had, in fact, been participating in the talking. Here, though, it was a smaller town and Magnus actually cared about the man visiting him.
It truly became a routine. Whenever the Avian showed in the inn in an afternoon, the others knew Magnus would not be available until the next day. Even if Alexander left early sometimes, Magnus didn't take anyone after him anyway.
Alexander was paying for everything they ate and drank together, he paid for the baths and grooming (and Magnus made sure to point out that he'd received the special Avian supplies from the city) and on two occasions he presented Magnus with earrings after he'd already given the usual payment. When he had four pieces, Magnus dedicated a separate box to gifts from Alexander and kept his feather jewelry in there as well.
Alexander hadn't said anything about Magnus's creations so far, even when the brooch – the biggest piece - lay on the vanity in a clear view.
Magnus was careful to burn all the discarded feathers which he didn't think were in good enough condition to use and he kept the others that he hadn't used yet under lock and key. He didn't even expect anyone to come trying to steal from him but he would have hated to disappoint Alexander.
No one even knew what Magnus's room looked like and what he kept there, except the maid, and Magnus wasn't really sure if Alexander even realized that.
"I am a good teacher," Magnus said with a breathy voice while his Avian lover kissed the side of his neck while sitting behind him on the bed. Every touch was very welcome, sending shivers through his whole body.
"You're tense. Here," Alexander said, putting his hands on Magnus's shoulders and pressing down.
Magnus winced. "So I am. A bad night's fault. It set the mood for the whole day."
Alexander kissed his shoulder next to the spot he pressed his fingers to.
"You know you can tell me things, yes?"
"I know you're sweet."
"Yes, I know you think that about me but do you know I will listen to you?"
"Of course, you always listen to me. In fact, I always talk more than you do when we're together."
"I'll take that as a no."
Magnus was glad that Alexander was behind him and could not see his face. He knew too well he couldn't fool him or sweet-talk him into believing whatever Magnus said, like he could do it with others. It was true Magnus was in a mood that day but he truly didn't think Alexander would notice while he hid it.
The full truth was that Magnus had had a couple of not very good days. It hadn't been anything in particular, just a 'mood' and a few mediocre days… He didn't have the clients he liked the most, the sex was routine and he wasn't really into it. Not that he forced himself, no. Magnus was too experienced and too professional to take a client on a bad day. It was better to miss out on pay on one day than to have his good opinion suffer for a mediocre performance.
And Magnus hated mediocre days. He preferred to be bored out of his mind than not be bored but not be at his best at the same time.
Besides that, he hadn't slept well for some reason.
Thankfully, Alexander didn't move away from him. He kept his hands on Magnus and resumed massaging him gently while Magnus stayed put, unmoving.
There was nothing he could do to get out of this, the Avian was just as stubborn as he was.
Magnus gasped when Alexander bit into the sensitive skin between his neck and shoulder. That was going to leave a mark… not that Magnus minded.
Alexander didn't let up after that. He kissed the place he just left the love-bite in and then he pushed Magnus down so that he lay on his belly on the bed. Magnus barely had the time to realize he was flipped with such ease and held down with one clear purpose-
"Wait-" he gasped and it took a second or two for Alexander to realize he spoke. He did stop, then, and Magnus pushed himself up slightly so he could turn.
"Wait, I want to see you," Magnus added the explanation to his request. He got what he wanted: the view of his Avian lover looking down at him, his eyes dark with intent, his wings slightly ruffled.
Magnus bit his lip or else he would let out a wholly undignified sound of want. Magnus was all about letting his lovers know just how interested he was in them but right then he felt embarrassed by his own reaction. Anyway, it seemed that Alexander did not need any encouragement, coherent one or otherwise. It seemed he knew perfectly well what he wanted and what he was going to do.
Gods, it'd been a while since Magnus had someone who made him feel this way: like he was the goal, not the means to an end or a sweet companion. It'd been a while since Magnus felt as though someone possessed all of him and not just his body. Alexander was always lovely in bed but he'd never done this - just followed a plan of his own.
Alexander was not soft and exploring today. In fact, he was rather rough. His fingers closed on Magnus's wrists and pressed them down on the bed and although Magnus was already intimately familiar with the weight difference between men and Avians, the extra pressure was especially thrilling now.
He gave the reins over completely to Alexander, biting his lip to keep the more desperate sounds in. Not that Magnus ever held back from letting his lovers know when they were doing something well, but… he was a little too lost in this. A little too delighted with the way Alexander held him down and fucked him like he's never done before. Oh, it wasn't really a surprise, to Magnus. He knew the Avian had it in him but just never felt the need or will to let it out.
It was a delight, either way. It was rough and destined to end fast, and Magnus loved it because his senses were overloaded with the weight on him and the hard cock inside him, and his foolish thoughts from before were properly gone.
He cried out when he came and so did Alexander a moment later and they were both left a mess, panting just as hard as if they'd participated in a royal tourney.
Alexander rolled off of him, thoughtfully, though he still managed to hit Magnus with one wing as he did so. They really needed a larger bed.
Magnus sighed loudly and it felt good to that, too.
"You are a bag of surprises, my dear Avian," he purred.
Alexander didn't say anything to that and they rested in silence for a while until it was time to clean up.
"Stay," Alexander said when Magnus moved and sat up first. So Magnus stayed.
The Avian got a bowl of warmed water from the tap and some washcloths and brought them back to bed. Magnus wanted to protest at first but his bedding needed changing anyway, so the stray droplets wouldn't hurt much.
"What is this?" he asked. "My birthday?"
"I'd offered to do this before," Alexander said matter-of-factly. Magnus rolled his eyes.
"Yes, and I declined because you were my guest. But I don't mean just this. I mean all of… your performance today."
"Was it adequate?"
"It was more than adequate and you're being annoying right now. You know I liked it."
"I didn't hurt you? I-"
"No, I trust you and I would have told you," Magnus interrupted him firmly. "It was perfect. But what brought it on?"
Alexander fidgeted with the washcloth before dipping it again and bringing it back to Magnus's still heated skin.
"It seemed to me you'd like a… proper release because something's on your mind but I also wanted us to be done quickly so we can leave."
"What?" Magnus asked, rather inelegantly.
"I want to take you somewhere."
Magnus did not want to go anywhere. He wanted to stay in bed after changing the linens to a new, fresh set and to enjoy Alexander's warmth beside him. But. He did not want to decline. The Avian was offering something to him and Magnus feared that if he declined, Alexander might not want to offer again, feeling rejected. There was a chance he'd simply 'insist' instead and still take Magnus out but Magnus did not want to risk saying no the first time.
So they dressed: Alexander in his usual practical outfit and Magnus in his 'outdoor' clothes and a jacket and once they were done, including Magnus's fixing of his hair and eyeliner, they went downstairs and left the inn. It was still relatively early in the day because Alexander had come to visit early, pleasantly surprising Magnus. Weather was good, a little windy but the sun made up for the cooler wind with gentle warmth.
"How much does the stable take for one horse for half a day?" Alexander asked him and the question left Magnus confused.
"You'll take a horse and I'll fly slower to lead you."
Magnus stopped abruptly and turned to face the other man.
"No? Absolutely not. I'm not going near any of those beasts, not even for you, Alexander."
The Avian blinked, surprised.
"How do you travel, then?"
Magnus stared at him, incredulous and then answered as if he were talking to a child. Not a very bright child.
"In a carriage, like a civilized person. Courtesans in general only ride horses if they want to do it for their favored clients. In private. Otherwise, any self-respecting courtesan will ride in a nice carriage."
"Am I not your favored client?" Alexander tilted his head curiously.
"You are my favorite. But you are not a client nor a favored client."
"Hmm," Alexander answered and Magnus immediately didn't like that hum.
He was right, too, because Alexander came up to him, crouched slightly and made Magnus lose his balance, picking him up in a carry usual for after-wedding celebrations, making Magnus the bride.
And then, they were up.
Magnus didn't know how the Avian could possibly do it so fast, flap his wings to get them both off of the ground and raise in the air, scaring the soul out of Magnus.
Now, Magnus was a smart man. He knew better than to try and twist out of the Avian's hold while above the ground, no matter how much his whole being screamed at him to do just that.
He stayed put, his fingers clutching Alexander's dark shirt so hard they became pale with the strain.
He did not look down.
Alexander was flying with purpose, focused on getting to their destination. He held Magnus firmly and once the panic slowly died down inside the courtesan, he was able to at least somewhat appreciate the feel of the muscles pressed against him. He did not open his eyes because although he was very close to Alexander and could admire him like that, he knew he'd also see the sky all around them. He focused on the firm hold Alexander had on him, the feel of the hard chest and the strain that went through the Avian's whole body with the continuous movement of his massive wings.
Concentrating on all of those things, Magnus managed to keep his panic in check until the moment that Alexander's feet touched the ground again and he slowly changed his hold on Magnus so that he could stand, as well.
Magnus caught his balance, took a steadying breath and then punched the Avian in the shoulder.
"That's not what I meant when I said I trust you with my body, Alexander!"
The Avian's eyes widened in surprise but Magnus wasn't looking at him anymore, taking a few stomping steps to the right.
"I wouldn't have dropped you," he protested but Magnus wasn't hearing it. He stayed turned away.
"It's not about what you would have done, it's about me, what I would have done: that is, fell."
"I'm sorry, I didn't know it was an issue… most people are envious of flying?"
"Yes, well, I'm a ground human. I'm perfectly happy leaving flying to you and the birds and I rather prefer admiring Avians from afar than wanting to be one."
He could hear Alexander taking a few steps closer to him, his feet making the soil and stones crunch as he stepped on them.
"If you were one, you'd have your own wings. You'd trust yourself and them."
Magnus turned back to him and put up one hand.
"Please, none of your logic today. I have no energy to hear it and my heart is still pounding. Just tell me what we're doing here."
Alexander gazed at him for a moment longer, then nodded.
"All right. This way."
'This way' was actually pretty close, which made sense considering they'd flown right to where the Avian wanted them to be. They were standing on a flat top of some solitary rock outcrop. The type of rock was familiar to Magnus, as they were strewn around these parts, especially near the creek. Or rather, the creek snaked through those rocks. The one they stood on was rather large and raised, and there was a miniature lake below them – a natural pond, more like – nested at the base of the rock, created by the water flow over a long time.
Magnus wondered if frogs lived there. He was quite certain, however, that Alexander hasn't brought him here for frogs.
"Here," Alexander stopped them near the right-side edge of the rock. "We should make ourselves less noticeable," he said, crouching down so Magnus followed suit.
Looking down, he could see some birds walking on the stones at the very edge of the water. Some were standing in the water but not swimming. They did remind him of ducks with their shape but they were all gray and had different beaks than ducks. Even though they were in a rather boring color, their feathers were smooth like silk, which made them almost elegant.
Magnus gazed down at them, wondering why he was brought here. If he were here with anyone but his Avian, he'd already be asking for an explanation, impatient. But Alexander was looking down, too, as if waiting for something.
"They only fly to move to another safe home and in search for better feeding places," Alexander said. "Most of the time, they walk or glide for short distances. They may not look like it but they're clumsy."
Magnus agreed that they didn't look like it, though he was no expert on birds.
"Hmm. And do your people watch over them? Is that why you brought me here to show them?"
"Not really, no. We aren't responsible for the wildlife… watching over human problems is enough work for us."
Magnus smiled, hearing the teasing tone in his Avian's voice.
"All right," Magnus said. "so you just like them? Why am I here?"
"You'll see, hopefully in a moment. And if we aren't lucky, I'll explain it myself."
"Fine, but I need a more comfortable position," Magnus said, looking around himself as if he could find a softer surface to sit on.
Then, he remembered he could scare the birds with movement but Alexander seemed to read his mind because he said: "They aren't very observant about things that are high up. They don't have bird enemies and wild cats don't live in these areas. Because of that, they don't care about looking up. This is the best place to watch them from."
They watched. Magnus wasn't very happy about the sitting conditions but he wasn't going to complain needlessly. Soon enough, he was distracted from it anyway, when something started happening.
One of the birds, which up until then had seemed to be dozing off by the water's edge stood up and stretched one leg. Then, it flapped its wings as if to wake up properly.
Another gray bird was nearby and it came closer, taking an interest in the first one. It raised its wings and Magnus saw that the undersides of them were actually quite colorful, so much unlike the rest of the bird.
And then, the bird began dancing.
Magnus turned to Alexander.
"Did you bring me here to watch matin-?"
"Hush," Alexander replied.
Together, they watched the birds. Admittedly, Magnus was interested in watching. Once he'd seen the colorful feathers hidden from view, he thought they were beautiful and he did realize he was lucky to even see them at all. Being a city boy, he hadn't witnessed much wildlife in general. Mostly horses, dogs and cats, pigeons, some other birds that lived in human cities, never something like this.
At some point, his thoughts turned to Alexander and the other Avians. Did they have… mating rituals, mating behaviors? Magnus didn't know but it was a curious thought.
And why had Alexander brought him here? Only to distract him with birds dancing?
Since the lady bird didn't walk away, the male put even more effort into his performance, now including a rather awkward sound, between a caw and a gurgle. Magnus held back a laugh. He wasn't going to laugh when it was clearly working out well enough for the bird, no matter how unfortunate it sounded to humans.
Alexander glanced at him, a smile on his face, so Magnus asked him if he was planning on singing to him as well.
"No. I can't sing. And I don't have a voice for it," he said, looking back at the birds below while saying the last part.
Magnus chuckled. "You have a lovely voice, you know. I bet you can sing."
"Well, I'm not interested in doing it either way. Nor dancing."
"Oh, that is just a shame. I would like to meet with you at a ball or at least a private soiree."
"It's a poor idea to put Avians in a dancing crowd," Alexander replied. 'There are worse things that can happen than stepped-on feet."
"A face full of feathers?"
"That, too, but I'm more worried about someone being knocked down completely."
"Do you have Avian dances at all?"
"If you're asking about styles of dance, no. Do we participate in balls? Yes, sometimes. Especially those of us who live in capital cities. There is more room in the villas for us to twirl there," Alexander finished with a smirk.
Magnus looked down at the birds again. The male was still showing off his wings, one and the other in turns. Magnus also spotted another one farther off to the right, trying to woo another lady bird. The strange cawing noise multiplied.
"Well, that's all the variety they have," Alexander said after a while. "It's going to continue like this so we can go now."
Magnus nodded and Alexander began backing away from the rock's edge carefully.
They stood up when they were farther away and Magnus looked to Alexander, wondering what's next. When he began walking, Magnus followed.
They came upon a pillar of a sort, standing in the company of two young trees, with a stone circle laid around the base. The pillar was a one piece of stone, carved with curious marks.
Magnus came closer to take a better look.
"What's this? A shrine?"
Alexander stopped next to him and gazed at the pillar. It was only a little taller than the Avian.
"No. We don't have shrines. Nor temples."
"But it's yours? Avian, I mean."
"Yes. The runes carved on it are our writing. These pillars are places to stop at, reflect on ourselves, our daily actions, duty, our current emotions."
"You meditate at them?"
"That sounds nice. Do you come here?"
"Yes. Lately a little more often. There has been a lot happening in our community."
Magnus looked at him before replying.
"And you've been visiting me more often."
"Yes, well, you've done your best to convince me you're the best company around and have the best comforts in the whole town, no?" Alexander smirked.
"Yes, that's exactly the truth," Magnus said happily. Inside, he felt warm. "I'm woefully unqualified to help with Avian business but I am glad I can do something," he added.
They walked away from the pillar and the rock formation, both looking ahead at the meadows and then fields spreading around them.
Magnus wondered, as they walked in comfortable silence, if Alexander wanted to take him to another destination but it didn't seem like it, because he directed them back towards the town.
Magnus didn't comment on that fact because he was afraid of the Avian scooping him up again if he even hinted that they were going to be walking for quite a bit of time to return.
Besides, this was nice. They've never been away from the town before. Magnus's room was perfectly private but they were still inside a building at the center of the town. Here, there was no one else to be seen around them.
As they walked, both of them made observations about nature in turns. Magnus pointed out a blue dragonfly, Alexander spotted a hawk hovering above the fields, waiting for prey.
"There was a man in the city," Magnus began, "who would come to the Swan House – it was my first fancy House - every few weeks and talk with us, young courtesans. He was a man with many stories to tell and he had friends at the printing house in the city. He was also friends with writers. He would bring us a new book every time to gift to us. We loved that, especially considering I and many others were young and easy to impress. That's not to take away from his talent for speaking, and I'd probably learned something from that.
Where I'm going with this is that he'd brought us a book by a cartographer who'd traveled the North sea. We'd read it together and I still get shivers at the memory. Who'd willingly go to icy lands just to discover more ice? The book described the rare animals, too. Such as black-and-white birds that barely walked without tripping and could never fly, but they swam better than the fish. They hunted fish."
Alexander was glancing at him, smiling. "Is this your repayment in bird stories for today's trip?"
"Yes, if you take me to observe the stars, next, I can guarantee you I'll have a story about the sky."
"Do you want me to take you to observe stars?"
When they reached the town, Magnus wasn't thinking about his achy feet; he was thinking it was a shame they had to part so that Alexander could return to his tasks at home.
At the door to the inn, Alexander pulled him close by his waist and kissed him goodbye, and left.
Magnus went inside with heat in his cheeks, as though he was returning to his family home after meeting with his suitor.
The innkeeper didn't mean to cower but he absolutely did cower before the blond, bright-winged Avian who wasn't taking his stormy eyes off of his person, and the innkeeper wasn't even the one who'd done something wrong!
"Tell me again," the Avian said, "how this could have happened."
The innkeeper swallowed and said the same tale that he'd told the other Avian, the scarier one who'd been a constant patron of the inn lately. That other Avian had already left, angry beyond description.
What'd happened was this: the innkeeper had been woken by some very strange noise and also a strange feeling in his gut… Then someone had shouted "fire!" and at that, he'd shot out of the bed and ran to find the fire to save his home and his business. One of the girls had already been there, doing her best to snuff out the fire that had indeed started in one of the storage rooms behind the kitchen. Together they managed to control it and with more people joining them, they smothered the fire entirely.
It hadn't been an accident, the innkeeper knew that. There had been no sources of fire that could have tipped over there or been foolishly used there. And he knew that even the youngest kitchen helpers knew better than to use candles irresponsibly.
Along with the others, they'd checked other rooms and then the first floor for more signs of danger and found none… except the wide-open doors to Magnus's room and no Magnus around.
"And you're claiming this was just theft," the Avian said, repeating the innkeeper's words but also making them sound like a question. "A theft of one person. All of the others who'd run to the fire said they didn't lose anything and even in Magnus's room there's plenty of jewelry left."
The innkeeper huffed.
"Well, what else could it be. There are no important papers here, no business secrets, not even couriers sleeping here last night."
The Avian glowered at him.
"And you didn't think it was more suspicious than "theft" that they'd taken one man instead of jewelry and maybe more of the girls?"
Cowering even more, the innkeeper defended himself. "I don't know! I'm not the one who has anything to do with it. I was stolen from and could have lost the whole building in the fire, including all of us inside it."
The Avian glowered one last time and then turned without a single word more and then took to the air.
Watching him to make sure he was really going away, the innkeeper waited a moment before he released a sigh. This has been so stressful! He did hope they'd find the missing courtesan, especially because Magnus had been great for the business and it'd have been a shame to lose him.
Alec has never covered so much area flying so fast before. He and Isabelle had split up, with him taking the direction that he assumed was more likely to be correct. Jace was meant to join them, too, so as Avians they'd be able to search fast and wide all around the town.
If only it had rained recently, it would have been so much easier, but no, the ground was hard and the grass was springy so it didn't bear the marks from feet, hooves or wheels for long and Alec had no clues so far where to search. He only had his gut to trust in. There had only been some tracks back in town because there had been water spilled on the street, but that had only given them some idea as to how many thieves there had been, nothing more. They also knew around what time the incident had taken place so that'd given them the idea of how far anyone could have run away.
Alec had to trust Magnus was still safe, wherever he was. Unharmed, at least, if not safe.
He wished his wings would carry him faster. Thinking of Magnus, he spared no effort flying.
Magnus had not seen it coming. That it could have happened at all was not a complete surprise, no. That it'd happened now, here in this town he'd found for himself, had been a complete surprise.
What happened had been this: true to his own stories, Magnus had been a successful courtesan in the big city. He'd had many rich regulars and he had been a favorite of a lesser noble once or twice. But it wasn't one of those nobles who had tracked him and found him here. It was a man he remembered vaguely because he hadn't cared to remember him – an owner of a factory, one of those modern creations that used automats to create some parts of items instead of people making them. Magnus remembered he'd been interested in hearing about it, except the man himself had been decidedly too stuck up and proud of himself.
It had to be said Magnus believed people should be proud of themselves when it was warranted but some people took it too far. And so, Magnus had never tried to keep that man's attention just to get his money.
He had no idea that the man had been much more interested in him. Magnus had left the city not long after having him as a client so there had never been enough time for the man to get a hint…
That was why it was a complete surprise that he'd shown up now… to apparently take Magnus back.
They were traveling on horseback, four men plus Magnus. They'd left at night, almost right before dawn, and it was light grey on the sky now, becoming lighter with every minute. They stopped at a thicket lost among the grass fields, long past the edge of the fields around the town that Magnus knew.
Magnus had fought, obviously. His room had been damaged because of it and he'd come out of the fight with an injured wrist and, ironically, an injured ankle when he'd fallen badly. He'd been so proud of his own balance and grace and he'd ended up spraining his ankle like that…
So he hadn't tried throwing himself off the horse yet. He had no wish to be trampled by the following horses and he had no wish to be hit for trying to escape. It there came an opportunity to run, it would be in the city or wherever they were going to, not sooner.
At the thicket, Magnus sat under one young tree and drank the water he was given. Sun was rising to his right. His wrist and his ankle throbbed but he consoled himself with the knowledge they weren't broken.
He was mostly ignored while the other men talked among themselves, discussing the next step, or so Magnus assumed.
He did feel useless and frustrated, not being able to take off and just run. He hated appearing docile when he wasn't being paid for it.
Left with his own thoughts, Magnus wasn't sure what to do with them. He already knew his plan: wait. Fear wasn't really the main emotion inside him at that moment. Frustration, more like. Pain in his sprained limbs, boredom, the beginnings of hunger because he never had breakfast…
Yes, frustration was the main emotion. He'd gotten away from the foolish issues of the big, rich city to make less money but be safer in a town and they still followed him here.
He didn't see the Avian approaching. He was still under the tree, looking down at a bug travelling through the grass when the others' voices rose and he looked up.
Alexander was very close by then and the sound his wings made while flying reached Magnus's ears.
The Avian hovered over the temporary camp, his eyes taking in all the people present in it. He looked at Magnus, too. And then he drew the bow. It was a black-and-silver, sleek weapon and the arrows for it were not in a quiver strapped at the back, but was strapped instead to the hip and thigh, obviously because of the wings in the way.
Hovering as a big bird was hard enough, doing it while aiming must have been a real feat, Magnus thought to himself.
He wasn't sure what Alexander was planning to do. Kill them? It didn't seem like a good idea. It seemed too… final even for something as bad as stealing people. Then again, Avians weren't known for being soft.
They had rarely talked about violence in general, he and Alexander. Almost never. Alexander had told him of monsters he'd met and had mentioned fights with human bandit bands but he never talked about it in detail and Magnus hadn't wanted him to.
Magnus had no idea what his Avian was like in a fight.
Meanwhile, the others were hesitating. They had no ranged weapons and attacking an Avian just like that was not the right idea anyway, even when there was only one present.
Magnus stayed put, not wanting to trigger anything by drawing attention to himself or possibly walking into danger foolishly.
"What are you doing?" the Avian asked finally and Magnus almost wanted to laugh because it was so like him.
"We're travelling," the rich man answered. "What are you doing, brandishing a weapon without provocation? Why are you questioning us at all?"
Alexander eyed him for a moment, then turned his gaze to Magnus.
"Magnus, are you going to visit your friends?" he asked, even though he knew the answer.
"No. I wasn't planning to," Magnus answered, raising his voice a little to be heard properly.
"Shall I escort you back to town?" Alexander asked, his voice still level and neutral.
"Yes, please," Magnus made a move to stand, slowly, carefully, both because of his ankle and because he still didn't want to cause anything. He didn't want Alexander to notice that anything was wrong with him yet. He felt too aware of everything – the danger, the men outnumbering him and Alexander, the weapon in Alexander's hands… everything felt too much at once.
"He isn't going anywhere," the protest came predictably. One of the men moved towards Magnus on cue but had to stop when one arrow hit the ground in front of his left foot, its tip buried firmly in the soil. It was a thick, solid arrow.
"I have more arrows than I need to dispose of all of you," the Avian growled in warning. He did pull out another one to nock it as he spoke. "Try to see if I'm telling the truth."
Magnus tensed. Of course, he wasn't going to back down now that Alexander was here, but the thought of real violence made his heart race.
"What gives you the right to talk to us like that?" the oblivious leader cried out. "You Avians insert yourselves in business that has nothing to do with you."
Alexander seemed disgusted with the fact that he had to discuss this at all. Or maybe Magnus only imagined that on his face because he felt disgusted himself.
"This town – this area – is our business and so are people within it," the Avian said firmly.
"Then you'll have one less whore to worry about. We're only taking him back where he belongs."
The Avian drew the second arrow so swiftly, they didn't have the time to guess where exactly it was going to hit and even Magnus flinched. The horses tied nearby also flinched and neighed.
The sole threat of a non-reachable enemy was affecting these men even though no blood has been drawn yet and they thought twice about doing anything too rash. Too bad their leader was too hard-headed, or maybe had gone too far (or thought he'd gone too far) to back down now. He ordered one of them to grab Magnus, shouting that the Avian was bluffing, that the Avian was alone there and that he wouldn't do anything to harm them.
Since the henchman had to cross some distance to follow the order, it gave both Magnus and Alexander enough time to react.
Magnus tried to back away, ignoring his painful ankle, and at the same time tried to look around for anything he could use as a makeshift hitting weapon to defend himself.
He didn't have to do anything, however, not with his Avian being right there. Alexander swooped in between Magnus and the other man, who immediately stopped if only because the massive shadow of the wings passing over him was unnerving in itself… and because the Avian still held his bow and had another arrow ready to be let loose.
The Avian was not bluffing.
"This is your last chance to walk away without harm," Alexander warned, indeed for the last time.
Magnus was looking at his back now, the wings spread to half their width while the Avian stood on the ground. He couldn't see the faces of the other men from this angle but he knew where they stood and whether and when they moved.
Another arrow was left loose and Magnus cringed when this time there was an outraged and pained shout. Well, at least that was the sound of someone who was probably going to keep on living. Magnus didn't look to make sure. He focused on standing straight behind Alexander and keeping his weight on his good foot.
There was some more cursing that quieted when Alexander prepared for another shot. He also had a long blade on him, strapped in a black sheath, so that must have helped with intimidation as well.
"Are you going to walk away?" he asked and after a long moment, a very begrudging 'yes' could be heard, which took the weight off of Magnus even though they weren't safe and alone yet.
"You're only walking from this alive because Magnus is watching," the Avian said coldly. "You can be grateful to him for that."
Magnus remained in the same spot, half-hidden by Avian wings. He much preferred being there and not drawing attention to himself even though he was the 'cause' of it all. He wished they could go already, just leave.
Alexander had more to say.
"The next time you're fool enough to try and steal a person, check their belongings for Avian tokens because his room had more than enough of them. Other tribes won't treat you as leniently as I have."
Magnus wasn't sure what the others were doing because he only cared about the fact that Alexander finally turned to him and his wings were still the shield between Magnus and the world.
"Are you all right?" Alexander asked and Magnus nodded.
He didn't protest this time when he was picked up. As he was lifted in the air, he pressed his face to Alexander's chest and held onto the fabric of his shirt with his good hand.
Magnus didn't see it when Alexander's brother met them in the air at some point and flew alongside them back home.
Home meant the Avian settlement, not the heart of the town and the inn. Magnus didn't see it because he still preferred to keep his eyes closed and breathed Alexander's comforting scent. Even his wrist and ankle hurt less when he was close to him like this. It didn't matter this time that he was up in the air, high, carried by wings.
He almost regretted it when Alexander's feet hit the ground and they came to a stop.
Alexander carefully let Magnus put his own feet down and the courtesan stood beside the Avian, still mindful of the injury. They looked at each other and even though Magnus knew out of the corner of his eye that the surroundings were unfamiliar, he didn't want to look away from Alexander's face. It was quite an intense face at that moment, concerned, eyes focused on Magnus.
His hands cradled Magnus's face.
"Thank you," the human said softly. "For finding me so quickly."
"I started as soon as I've heard of what happened," Alexander replied. "But that was already late. You've been gone for many hours."
"Yes, but those were only hours of travel. Nothing happened to me."
"Something did happen before that. At your room," saying that, the Avian reached out to take him by the arm, above the wrist and Magnus winced even before the fingers touched his skin. He didn't mean to wince and he cursed himself for that because Alexander's eyes narrowed.
"I did defend myself, of course," Magnus said, looking down. "Not that I achieved much with that."
"Come inside," Alexander put his arm around Magnus's middle to support him up while walking.
It was then that Magnus noticed Alexander's brother was there, to the side, looking at them.
"You've been looking for me as well?" Magnus guessed. "Thank you."
Jace nodded. It seemed he wanted to speak to one of them but Alexander spoke first.
"Get us the medic. Magnus needs to be looked at."
Jace looked him up and down, which reminded Magnus that he'd left his bed and his room in less than favorable conditions and clothes. Thankfully, he had more than just nightclothes on him because his kidnappers had allowed him to take a coat for the early morning's chill but besides clothes, his hair must have been a mess and his face was bare. He also only had one ring on him, the one that he never took off from his finger.
Magnus pulled the coat tighter around him and Alexander reacted to it, hugging him closer.
Jace moved, then, throwing a quick "I'm on it," and left to get the medic Alexander asked for.
Magnus caught the view of the outside area, the Avian buildings, but Alexander was already steering him inside the house they were standing in front of.
It was all made of dark wood that Magnus was sure had been brought in from somewhere else because the trees that grew around here were brighter in color. The house, it seemed, consisted of one main space where the bed was placed off to the side with a decorative wooden screen shielding it from view. There was a wardrobe, there were some low, wide chests and a higher chest of drawers, all made out of dark wood polished to a shine. There was a mirror on the wall above one of the chests.
Then, there stood some chairs beside a table too small to be considered a dining table but larger than a side-table.
In each corner of the house, there was a glass lamp standing on a high, metal stand made of three legs.
That was all Magnus caught during one turn of his head while he was herded towards the bed, where Alexander intended to make him lie down as if Magnus was about to faint.
The bed was soft. In fact, it felt nice enough to make Magnus lie down of his own accord, without Alexander insisting that he do that. The sheets and covers were too dark for Magnus's taste but it was all very... Alexander. Despite the cloudy coloring, the fabric was rich, of good quality, and lightly patterned. Magnus wanted to sink into it.
At that moment, everything over, in peace and quiet, and safety, Magnus was more in touch with his own body. The past stress, the uncertainty, the throbbing in his two limbs and also hunger all began weighing on him all at once.
Alexander crouched downed beside the bed and touched his face. Magnus leaned into his hand.
"I'm so glad I found you so soon," Alexander said softly. "I hope you knew I'd find you anywhere, no matter how long it took."
"Well, of course you couldn't afford to lose the single likeable human in the whole town," Magnus teased.
"No, I couldn't," Alexander smiled at him.
A loud knock sounded at the door, announcing someone's arrival. Since the door has been left open, an Avian woman stepped in and stopped, waiting for a proper invitation. Alexander stood up, turning to her.
"Edith," he welcomed, "I've brought you a patient."
Magnus was surprised that she arrived so soon but then he remembered – Avians flew. He was surrounded by them now.
"What is wrong?" she asked, coming closer.
Her wings were in light gray shades, sleek and narrower than Alexander's, her brown hair was tied up in braids and drawn back in a practical bun, with no hairs getting in her eyes.
Magnus pushed himself back up to sit but Alexander's hand on his chest stopped him.
"Tell her exactly what's wrong," he said.
"It's nothing," Magnus began on instinct but he realized there was no point in hiding anything. "My wrist," he said touching it, "it's sprained. As is my ankle. I know they're not broken."
"All right," she said lightly, "then it will be easy to fix. I will bring a salve and wrap them for you. What else? Anything bruised?"
Magnus was sure he did have some bruises on him if only from being grabbed and held but those were easily ignored, so he said he was fine. Even though he did feel Alexander's gaze on him all the time, he didn't waver.
The Avian, Edith, left for the numbing salve for swelling and left them alone for a moment once more.
"Are you certain you're fine?" Alexander asked so Magnus put his hand on his.
"Yes. I am hungry, though. I could use some food and a drink. I'd say something stronger, too, but it's too early in the day…"
"Yes, of course, you should have said," Alexander said quickly. "I'll have someone get on that right away."
He did leave right away as if it was of utmost importance to get Magnus that food.
Left alone, Magnus had the time to breathe, look around better.
The entrance doors to the house were wide to accommodate Avians without making them conscious of their 'width'. Everything about the house was… spacious, to use a single word for it. Most curiously, it seemed the house was indeed one room only, with a side chamber that Magnus couldn't see inside of from the bed.
Decorations were sparse but there were some woven wall hangings. Overall, the wood itself was a decoration for how rich it appeared to be.
"Magnus!" Isabelle's voice sounded from the door. She walked in confidently, unlike the medic had. "How are you? I've just seen my brother out there so I thought I'd check on you myself."
"Hello, Isabelle. Thank you, I am rather well all things considered."
Magnus pushed himself up properly, feeling more awkward lying down while Isabelle was there.
"Good," she said. "I'm sure Alec has everything handled but I wanted to let you know that you can ask for anything while you're here. Any of us."
"Oh. Thank you. I don't need anything but thank you."
"As I said, I'm sure my brother will take care of everything," she said and winked at him, "but I do want you to know you're our guest here. Especially after what happened."
Magnus just nodded this time, so that he wouldn't be thanking too much.
"I've never seen an Avian community," he said instead. "Not even a single house, and I can't help but notice it is rather odd."
"Right. Do you mean the room? Baths are a separate building. It's more practical to build one proper place for us and our wings rather than clog our homes with large tubs and other appliances."
"That does make sense. What of the kitchen?"
"It's common, as well. Considering that many of us are gone for long hours at a time, hunting or on diplomatic flights, it's better to have someone responsible for food for them as well."
"And it's efficient?"
"Yes. Well tested," she smiled.
It was nice, he thought. Surely it kept the community close together. And it wasn't like Magnus didn't understand the concept, considering how courtesans had helped out each other and the maids as well.
Any further conversation was paused because the medic came back to take care of Magnus's injuries. He had to let her touch and poke him to make sure the sprain was just a sprain but then when the salve finally got to do its work, he was grateful for it. She also wrapped him up to make sure he didn't accidentally make things worse. Then, she left, because there honestly wasn't anything else that he needed from her.
Isabelle left as well because while Magnus was being tended to, Alexander came back with food and drink.
He put the plates down on the bed and held onto the jug to put it on the nearest flat surface. He also got himself one of the chairs to put it near the bed so he could sit in it.
Then, he got a cup from somewhere inside the house to pour in it from the jug. Magnus eyed the food first with great interest but he didn't eat yet, choosing to observe his Avian while he moved around.
Only when he sat down, did Magnus begin eating. He was halfway through the plate when the question came.
"Who was it?" Alexander's voice was careful.
Magnus sighed dramatically.
"A scorned lover," he quipped first but then elaborated. "Someone I had wanted to avoid and honestly never expected to see again. I suppose I had more charm than I'd thought."
"Hmm. I do hope he got the message but that hope isn't too strong."
"Well, there wasn't much more you could have done without inviting trouble. I'm not a mayor's daughter to justify bloodshed, I'm just a whore."
"If I had to, I would have killed for you. I can deal with the consequences."
Magnus blinked, then stared at Alexander.
"Thank you but I'd prefer it if you never have to do that, for both our sakes. Unless it's absolutely necessary…"
"You've called me too logical once," Alexander smiled. "So you shouldn't worry about me doing anything inadvisable."
"Are you, though? Logical about me?" Magnus's tongue ran ahead, not waiting for his head to stop it.
Alexander met his gaze.
"I'd like to think so. Why I feel what I feel… it all isn't without a reason."
"Tell me one of them, then."
"Only one?" Alexander smirked. "You're artistic."
Magnus huffed. "Yes, I am."
"So you see, I will list more reasons and you will agree with all of them, proving it's logical."
"You are being an annoyance to an invalid."
"The invalid needs to ask better questions, then. What do you want, Magnus?"
"Tell me you care about me."
"I care about you and you know it. What you may not know is that I'd have searched for you everywhere and for however long it took to get you back. If I had to, I'd have killed anyone threatening you or stopping me from getting to you."
"And what about your people?"
"They would have helped me."
"Does the thought bother you?"
"No. Not at all. It's comforting. You have my permission to be my rescue," Magnus smiled. "In fact, you haven't yet received your thank-you kiss."
Alexander tilted his head, as if thoughtfully.
"I knew something was missing."
They both leaned towards each other and met halfway for the kiss.
To Magnus, it was wonderful. He was safe, he was fed, he was with his favorite, beautiful Avian and was kissing him on top of it.
"You have been at the inn, yes? Everyone else is fine?" Magnus asked some minutes later.
Alexander nodded. "Your room was left a mess and there has apparently been a fire to distract everyone but nothing truly bad happened."
"Oh, good. I'd have hated to indirectly cause someone else to be hurt. Especially someone I know well."
"You don't have to worry about that."
Alexander took the emptied plate away so that crumbs wouldn't accidentally be tipped over onto the bed.
Magnus looked down at his bandaged wrist.
"Speaking of the inn, how am I going to get back?"
There was a moment of silence from the Avian. An oddly long moment. And then, he said, "I don't want you to go back."
"I mean, of course not today," Magnus amended. "I would like to let the sprain heal. I'll be happy to stay the night at the very least."
Alexander was oddly still before speaking.
"I don't want you to move back to the inn. I want you to stay here. To live here."
"Oh," Magnus couldn't do anything more than breathe in and stare at him for a few seconds. "Oh… you've never… said."
"Because I've been waiting for the good time to speak… and I needed the time to decide."
Magnus's head and heart both had trouble catching up to what was happening.
The Avian stared down at his own hands.
"But if you've known that you maybe want me to be… yours, why didn't you at least ask me to be loyal to you?" Magnus asked.
Alexander looked up to meet his eyes.
"I- well, I didn't want to insult you by asking you to give up your way of living, even if I paid you for the time… In fact, I thought it would have been even worse if I offered to pay for your time while I was sitting here making up my mind… As if you were a good I was putting a reservation on. "
Magnus reached out to touch Alexander's hand and laced their fingers together.
"That was incredibly considerate of you, Alexander. And yes, now that I know it, I do appreciate it. You did the right thing, although I do wish I'd know that you… well, that you felt that way about me."
"I love you, Magnus. I want you to stay."
Magnus squeezed Alexander's hand. He never wanted to let him go.
"I want to stay but there is a lot to discuss."
"Yes, I know. Your belongings, for one."
"Yes, for one. Not necessarily today, though. Today, I want to do nothing but rest, enjoy your company and hear about your home."
"Then we're in agreement," Alexander said and leaned in for another kiss, which Magnus happily gave.
They both ate a proper, warm dinner after Magnus had taken a nap in Alexander's bed. Actually, the nap had been an hours-long sleep that helped Magnus get rid of the stress and the tension in him. When he'd woken, Alexander had been there to immediately ask if he needed anything.
Magnus had also been delighted when Alexander showed him some of the clothes that had been brought for Magnus from his room by one of the other Avians in the meantime.
In the evening, Alexander was telling him about his family some more, particularly about his home community and his parents.
"They were the leaders in my home community," Alexander was speaking about his parents. "They had been for almost as long as I can remember."
"You must have been raised with a lot of knowledge."
"Yes. And it proved useful at one point. There was a long dispute with another, close community. My parents and the other leaders would never see eye to eye and I decided to use that moment to separate from my home. Not because I didn't support what my parents thought, but because I'd been wanting a fresh start for a while by then. My siblings followed me, as did some of the other younger Avians. Some from the opposite side, as well. That's why we're all more or less in a similar age," he added.
"Oh," Magnus said, thinking about it. To be completely honest, he hadn't thought much about it back at the concert because he'd been paying attention only to Alexander.
And then, he realized…
"Wait. You are the local Avian leader?"
Magnus didn't speak for a moment, just took that in. Every time Alexander had passed by the inn returning from another town, he hadn't been running errands… he'd been doing his own diplomatic duty.
"But… a few weeks back, there had been the town meeting with the mayor. A blond woman had spoken for the Avians."
"Yes. That was Lydia. We usually lead in pairs. That makes it clear that our decisions are thought out and not easily disputed because two people are harder to corrupt than one."
"That does sound fair. So, these are platonic pairs?"
Alexander smirked. "My parents were mated," he reminded. "But yes, myself and Lydia are not attached. She has a mate of her own."
Magnus rolled his eyes. "Don't look at me like that. It was a fair question."
Alexander continued to look at him like that.
"Are you jealous now? You haven't been before."
"Before, I had no right to you, the same as you to me. If you want me to be yours, you'll have my complete loyalty but I will require the same from you."
"You know I've never had anyone before you. Nor after."
"In bed, yes. What about your heart?"
Alexander paused for a longer while to think of his answer.
"Avians are like the gray birds. We mate for life. If there's a suitable partner for our hearts, we stick to them unless they've already been spoken for."
Magnus bit his lip. Why did it all have to feel like… too much? Being with Alexander always seemed to fill him to the brim - with curiosity, desire, comfort, safety, love...
"And you're certain you want to mate with a non-Avian?" he asked.
"It doesn't matter, fate made sure we met. In fact, you were the one who insisted on us meeting."
Magnus smiled at the memory.
"I'll always cherish the day I'd forced a rude Avian into the bath."
"I wasn't rude," Alexander said in mock offense.
"Fine, you weren't. Let's say I warmed up the cold Avian, then."
Alexander was the one to roll his eyes this time but he didn't continue the teasing conversation. Instead, he pulled Magnus close by holding onto the blanket Magnus had wrapped himself in and kissed him.
Magnus didn't protest that change of topic.