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A Friendly Shoulder

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At some point in the last half hour, the party had dissipated abruptly. Józsiás had gone to his nuptial bed, laughing fairy bride on his arm. That was how things worked for Józsiás, who seemed born to be the hero of a play and helped the plot along with a canny mind and charming smile. Might as well resent the wind for blowing. And Villikó always did well with the kind of woman who found an earnest look over a pair of spectacles and a hapless scholarly demeanor charming. Boricz didn’t mind being left out much, even if apparently, half of Fairyland was having some kind of orgy in the woods, judging by the fading shouts of laughter and joyful cries drifting up to the palace.

Which left Boricz more or less alone with a half-finished bottle of fairy wine—strong stuff, that tasted less like grapes and more like dreams than anything he’d ever drunk—watching the stragglers wobble out, kissing and laughing, in twos and threes and sometimes more, beautiful fairies in their gossamer robes clustering around the blushing men of Józsiás’ band. The few of Bakszén’s retinue who had lingered after his scene at the wedding party had long vanished, and good riddance to them.

Well, it wouldn’t be the first time he’d ended a party alone. He uncorked the bottle.

"Willing to share?" someone asked, dropping to sit next to him with a huffed breath and a faint scent of sulfur.

It was the funny awkward little devil—because honestly, anyone who believed Bakszén’s story about them being human princes captured by Mamuk was stupid enough to deserve whatever Bakszén had planned—who had carried in the flag. He’d been dancing at the party earlier, but not like the rest, blundering in and grabbing people up like toys will-they-or-nay, but alone in the corner. He wasn’t a very good dancer, but he’d also been the only one to congratulate Józsiás and Jázmina, with apparent sincerity. Durmonyás, that was his name.

"I thought you’d follow your boss like the rest of them," Boricz said, offering Durmonyás the wine. There was no reason not to be polite, after all.

Durmonyás made a face somewhere between disgust and nervousness and took a drink. “Bakszén’s in a proper mood. I swear, this happens every time. It’s like the thing with the Pumpk—I mean, the Báblonians. A few years ago Bakszén was the amb—visiting, and he was mad about the king’s third cousin, who I don’t think ever even spoke to him, but little things like that never stop Bakszén from deciding that this time it’s his One True Love and they’re gonna set the stars on fire, blah blah blah. Anyway, he kidnapped the guy and there was almost a diplomatic incident, except—well, that’s a long story. Anyway, Bakszén went off with that fairy with the—” He outlined a curvaceous figure in the air and then made a sour face that instantly conjured up the redhead who was always following Jázmina around and frowning at everyone else. “Peas in a pod, those two,” he concluded glumly, and took another drink. “Maybe in the morning he’ll only yell at me quietly.”

The poor devil didn’t sound very optimistic. At least Józsiás was only insufferably smug on occasion, Boricz thought, and really, he did listen to his friends most of the time. “That’s rough,” Boricz said, because sympathy was free.

Their fingers brushed when Boricz took the wine back. Durmonyás’ skin felt almost fever-hot to the touch, pleasant in the cool air blowing in from the open windows. Another count against his humanity, if the horns and tail weren’t enough. But he didn’t seem like a bad sort, really, for a devil.

They drank on in companionable silence for a while, the wine sweet and heady, as the night outside grew quieter. Somehow they ended up leaning shoulder to shoulder against the wall, so it wasn’t so far to pass the bottle, and anyway, Durmonyás was warm, and his shoulder was very comfortable, even if sometimes his hair tickled against Boricz’s cheek.

In the near-empty bottle, the dregs of the wine seemed to shimmer with starlight, and the corners of Boricz’s vision shimmered, too, like if he turned fast enough, he might see wonders. Durmonyás’ shirt was very soft, he thought, rubbing his fingertips against it. Some kind of velvet.

"What are you doing?" Durmonyás asked, his voice a little slurred.

"Your shirt. Soft," Boricz said, swiping his cheek against Durmonyás’ shoulder again. Durmonyás’ eyes widened, his cheeks turning a little pink under his tattoos. He was kind of cute, really. Much more his type than the snobby redhead, or Villikó’s chattering blondes. "You know, it’s traditional, at a wedding. The fairies told me."

"What’s traditional?" Durmonyás tried to take the bottle from him, but Boricz didn’t let go, overbalancing to sprawl across Durmonyás’ lap. Yeah, the blushing was definitely cute.

Boricz waved an arm vaguely in the vicinity of the window, ignoring the dizziness. He wasn’t planning on going anywhere, after all, not when this was perfectly comfortable. “Sex. Well, I get the impression it’s traditional for all the celebrations here. Very enlightened, Fairyland. Very friendly to foreigners.”

Pink deepened to red, and Durmonyás avoided his eyes. “I wouldn’t know about any of that,” he muttered, finally prying the bottle out of Boricz’s hand. It was empty, and he gave it a sad look before setting it aside. “If they’re so friendly, why are you here?

"Maybe I’m friendly to foreigners, too.”

It was not the best first kiss Boricz had ever had. Durmonyás went rigid and gave a funny little squawk when Boricz grabbed his collar and hauled him down into a tangle on the floor; their noses bumped and he obviously had no idea what to do with his tongue, or his teeth for that matter. But his lips were soft and his skin was hot and Boricz didn’t mind a little nibbling, not when it was accompanied by such charming enthusiasm.

The second kiss was better, and the third—

So maybe the party wasn’t entirely over.