“Right,” Emma says briskly, and crosses the hotel room to the paper bags on the side table. She pulls out an interesting variety of grocery items and sundries, and carries some of them into the bathroom, opening packaging and dumping wrappings into the trash. “Right,” she says again, in that accent that makes Drin’s knees melt, and she marches back to the bed and holds out to Dance a kitchen peeler and a small thumb of fresh ginger root. He takes them, sniffing deeply of the knobbly brown skin of the ginger root, and lets out a huge sigh. He sits down on the edge of the bed with one knee bent, and begins, meditatively, to peel away the skin and eat the peelings slowly, eyes closed. When he’s eaten all of the fibrous skin, then he starts biting down on the raw root in big chunks, breathing hard and gulping it down, throwing his head back for each swallow.
Nobody even comments when Drin crosses from the bathroom with two glasses full of water, and sets them on the chest of drawers next to the bed, close to Dance.
Dance just opens his eyes and looks up at Drin, and suddenly there’s tears running down his face.
Drin kneels then, bringing his head down to Dance’s eye level, and he rests one hand lightly on Dance’s knee. “Does that help?” he asks.
Dance nods, wiping at his eyes, but he’s still crying.
Drin gives him the first glass of water, watches him drink it, and takes the kitchen peeler out of his hand before he drops it. Then Drin hands him a tissue from the wad he brought in from the bathroom too. He had a feeling they were going to need the tissues. Drin says softly, “There’s more ginger root, Emma bought a couple of pounds of it. Give it a little while, let’s see how you feel in an hour or so, and maybe try some more then. You haven’t been eating much, and that stuff is pretty fibrous.” He strokes Dance’s arm.
Emma murmurs, “You want to try the lidocaine cream? I got some baby oil to dilute it with, too, in case it’s just too strong by itself. I figured if the oil would help keep his skin from stinging in the open air so badly, then some lidocaine might help keep him more comfortable. Like a sunburn or a rash, you know.”
“Bless you, woman, you’re brilliant,” Drin says.
Dance looks at the tube in her hand apprehensively. “It smells … strong.”
She nods. “It probably is. How about I mix a little of it in some oil, and try that first? We can always ramp it up if you want. But I figure the oil by itself might hurt at first too.”
She marches back in the bathroom, and returns swirling a glass with oil and cream in it, using a plastic spoon to stir it further. She holds the glass out toward him. In her other hand, she has a wad of tissues next to a wad of moist baby wipes, poised ready. “You want to try it on a small patch yourself first?”
He gives another jerky nod, and dips his fingers in the oil, and sniffs at it. “That’s better.”
“Still too strong? More oil?”
He makes a face. “I don’t know. Let me try this.” He reaches along the bed, face tense, and dips his fingers ever so lightly on something that makes a very visible dent in the bedding. Instantly he lifts his fingers away, face flinching, and clenches both hands into knots.
Emma leans close, holding the wipes and tissues poised ready, watching his face.
Drin watches them both, glancing down at the little gleam of oil draining slowly down… something.
He sees Emma’s eyes go wide. Dance’s are equally huge, staring at the spot of oil.
“Does it hurt?” Emma asks.
Dance looks up at Emma, and then at Drin, and then away again, shaking his head. He tips his head down, clenching his jaw. “No, it feels…good,” and he draws in a deep shaky breath, and unclenches his hands, and touches his oily fingers to the same spot, just as gingerly. They can see his face flinch a little.
Emma holds out the glass of oil mixture to him urgently.
He dips his fingers in again, and suddenly flattens his whole palm on the glitter and flash revealed by the oil. He draws in a sharp gasp of air, nostrils flaring, and then he’s leaning forward into Drin’s support, gasping. “Oh, oh god, it’s better,” he groans.
Drin cradles Dance’s head against his shoulder. He looks up at Emma and nods. “Can she spread it on for you?”
“Oh God, please,” Dance groans, and then it’s as if he can’t stop making noises. He twitches and writhes in Drin’s support, his arms tight around Drin’s ribs, hanging on as if he’s outright screaming with relief, when it’s mostly puffs of air and low soft sounds muffled against Drin’s chest. Drin’s shirt is going damp, but he can’t tell whether this is from Dance crying or from grabbing Drin’s shirt in his mouth and gritting his teeth into it, or both.
Emma moves swiftly, economically, spreading the oil in broad smooth sweeps of her palms along the upper surfaces of Dance’s body. She says, “I knew it was hurting, but this–”
“It’s almost worse when it stops hurting,” Drin says grimly.
Emma nods, and swipes back a stray lock of hair out of her eyes impatiently with the back of one hand. She comes back to them, hands Drin the glass of oil mixture, and holds both her hands out to have Drin tip more of the mixture across her palms.
“Right,” Emma says, “I’m doing your bottom now, okay?”
Dance nods into Drin’s chest. He’s already leaning forward far enough to arch his back.
Emma smooths her palms in a sweep down either side of Dance’s spine onto what ought to be empty space. It isn’t empty now. A sharp bend of brown skin flares outward from the base of his pelvis, a twist of meat that has dorsal ridges and huge bulges of muscle. The oil reveals long swells bulging on either side of a shallow trough dimpled with a tiny dark line of toothlike shapes. The skin is covered in tiny flecks of bronze. The scale edges are lighter than the skin on Dance’s back, and the keels are faintly darker. The root of it has little regular freckles of darker skin in faint, scattered bands.
Dance gasps, going rigid, and Emma says, “I can stop, just say the word.”
“More,” Dance grunts, “please.”
Drin pours more oil into her hands. She reaches along the sides of Dance’s extraordinary body, slides her hands under it where just a little stretch lifts free of the bed. Dance gives a tight little gasp and leans harder into Drin’s support as she slicks the oil up the underside, heading for the root of the organ, sliding her fingers along the broad wings that push his buttock muscles aside and upward into slightly high bulges than they used to be. It wasn’t exactly the world’s flattest butt to start with.
“Right,” she murmurs to him, “is that stinging?”
Dance shakes his head into Drin’s head. His skull feels just as hard as ever. Drin strokes his shoulder blades gently, feeling the muscles move over the bones, straining and twitching every time Emma lifts her hands and brings them down on his skin.
“More?” Emma asks.
Dance nods, and Drin feels tears soaking through the damp shirt.
“Well,” Emma says then, hands busy underneath Dance, “can you feel that?”
“That’s where I think it ties into your pelvic bones,” Emma says. She frowns. “Okay, I don’t know what this is, but I think –”
Dance jerks, and gives a little whimper.
“Sorry,” she murmurs, and holds still. “Take a breath, let it relax open again, and I’ll put some more oil on it for you.”
Dance gives a little moan.
Emma leans closer into his side, and kisses his shoulder, and tells him, “It’s okay, I’m not going to move my hand, I’m not going to hurt you. Just relax, like you’re going to pee, and it’ll probably — yeah, like that. That’s good. Easy, easy, I’m just going to stroke some more down here where the tendons pull the opening shut. Gently, that’s it.”
Dane is breathing in short, hard, rapid breaths.
“Easy now, okay, we’re fine,” Emma murmurs, stroking him, and they can all hear Dance’s breathing gradually slow down. “Okay, Dance, this is a guess on my part, but I think you have something like a cloaca structure there. It closes down to cover all the excretory openings and protect them. I’m going to move my hand away now, all right?”
Dance nods, his back making tight little jerks as she slides her hand along the wings and around onto the long curve and up again, sliding across the upper surfaces, lifting her hands away at last.
Emma sighs and holds out her hands, and Drin pours out the last of the glassful into her palms. She says, “It feels really dry. You know how when your skin gets dry, it just soaks up lotion and catches so you have to put on more? It’s almost dry again when I do a second pass. I don’t want to use up all the lidocaine on just one side. We’ve got to turn him over, too,” she says then.
Dance hears that, because he gives a sharp little cry and instantly bites down on it, gasping.
Drin tells her, “Just use the oil by itself on the second pass, then, to make sure it’s all soaked in and coated.”
She nods, goes away in quick hard steps to the bathroom. She returns carrying the tube of cream and the bottle of baby oil in her greasy hands. She pours them into the glass as Drin holds the glass for her, and she uses the spoon to stir it again. Then she nods for him to set it aside, and he drizzles plain baby oil into her palms.
She goes over the upper surfaces of Dance’s body a second time with the plain oil, concentrating on the movement of her hand across the bronze-speckled banded loops flung along the bed. Little glints of purple and gold and blue glitter among the darker areas of striping.
Drin can see her straining to reach all of the curves of him and still keep her touch light, even, steadily moving. Her arms are starting to tremble with tiredness. She doesn’t dare press hard. Drin can hear her panting with the effort of leaning across the bed from all three sides without putting out a knee or a hand that might move the bed under Dance.
“How come we can see it now?” she says then.
“The oil must be changing the optical properties of the slide coat,” Drin says then. “That’s the chameleon layer that throws up the light which you ought to see if he wasn’t in the way there. This kind of slide coat is a type that’s known to be very solid and reliable under difficult conditions, tough as –well, it’s rather old-fashioned. The oil wouldn’t affect a modern type.” Drin strokes his hand up and down Dance’s shoulders. “Okay?”
Dance nods. “Better,” he mumbles.
Drin thinks he’s crying again. He’s sparred with Dance, he’s seen how Dance reacts to cuts and bruises and sprains. “Okay,” he says. “Okay.”
Dance lifts his head a little, opens his mouth and lets go of Drin’s shirt. “Can you– help me turn over,” he says tightly, as if it’s hard to breath very deeply. “I’m afraid to– afraid to move much.”
“We can do that,” Drin says. “You trust us to pick up your tail and turn it over?”
He’s said the word. Somebody needed to face saying it. And it can’t be unsaid.
Dance lowers his head into Drin’s chest. After a moment, he says, muffled, “Yeah. I do.”
“Okay, can we just turn it over from the tip end upward, gradually? Let me hold you up here like this, until you know you want us to help you lie down on your back?”
Drin picks up the glass of the oil mixture, and pours some into Emma’s palms. She’s starting to look very tired. But before he can say anything, she says, “I’ll finish. We might need to run out and get some more cream and have you rub it in for Dance when this wears off. It’s helping, right?”
“Oh yeah,” Dance groans as she lifts the blunt-ended tip in her hands, rubbing oil along the underside. “Oh yeah.”
As she moves further up, sliding her hands across nothingness and revealing tiny blue and white glints in a paler tan surface, she has to exert herself more to lift and turn heavier, sagging loops of it. There’s oil all over the sheets. Midway along the length of it, the curve of it in her grip gives a sluggish jerk and twists in her hands, slippery, and Dance gives a grunt of pain. Emma holds still, hands open, supporting it but not grabbing it. She says, “No, baby, it’s okay, don’t try to help, just relax. Let it loosen up for me. Let me do it, then I know what I’m doing.”
“I’m clumsy,” Dance says then, and muscles shift in the upper reaches of the organ, and it gives another sluggish flop across the sheets. “I can’t help it.”
She turns the heavy loop, breathing hard, and lays it down. Drin pours more oil into her hands. “Okay,” she pants, and strokes down the pale regular rows of tan. Dance lifts his head up, mouth open, and Drin sees that his eyes are red and he’s still crying. Drin holds him steady, watching the small twitches and tremors in the muscles of his face.
“Hang on, baby,” Emma tells Dance. “Just hang on, I’m almost done with your belly scutes. Hang on. It’s getting pretty stiff to roll it, baby.”
“I need to lay back, the joints are getting .. pretty … achy,” Dance says then, turning his head to look at Drin.
Drin nods, and looks at the astonishing brown lengths glinting across the bed. “How about you put your other knee there, and then start to fall back with your head over that way. I’ll catch your back and let you down as slowly as I can, let you get used to it.”
“Good,” Dance says, and waits while Drin struggles up from his knees, and gets turned around in position to support his shoulders. “Yeah, that works. That’s good.”
Drin lets him slowly down, and hears him sigh. Emma pours out plain oil into her hands, slathering on that second batch along the paler underside, until she’s run out of oil and they can all see the flaking, raw bits where shreds of skin are beginning to peel away from the wider scutes on the stretch just between his knees.
He looks at that. Dance sighs, looking at it too, and then lays back and shifts his knees apart wider, making it easier for them to look at him. Drin reaches out and touches Dance, resting his hand flat on Dance’s thigh.
“You aren’t surprised,” Emma says.
“Well, the tissue is growing so fast. I just didn’t know if the armor scales would require it to peel as it grows, or if it’s more like the kind of piecemeal shedding you get with regular skin,” Drin says. He doesn’t touch the peeling skin, or the glinting new scales revealed beneath it. That will probably be even more sensitive than the rest of him.
Drin’s eyes track upward. Emma’s quite right. Dance’s genitals look the same shape as ever, but he’s lost nearly all of his pubic hair, and everything is cradled within an open pouch of two relaxed rolls of tendon that glint with little bronze flecks. Everything is inside the pouch, including the darker tissue of his anus.
Someone who doesn’t know their anatomy would think it looks quite remarkably like a woman. Somebody who knows better can’t help but stare at it. Drin can feel cold chills going down his spine.
Dance reaches down with his hand to the flaccid penis, and lifts it, holding it out of the way so Drin can see everything better. He turns his head away, and fresh tears run down his cheek.
It’s Emma who breaks the silence. She says quietly, “How come it didn’t hurt you to touch things when Drin was having intercourse with you?”
Dance shakes his head. “I don’t know. That felt really…” he draws in a deep breath, “…really good. Massaging you really calmed it down. Things were hurting in my back and pelvis and belly before I started massaging you. God, that felt good.”
Drin says gently, “I’d make love to you however you like, if it’d help.” But he knows, looking at the relaxed genitals, that Dance’s heat is over, and he may be unable to respond now.
Dance turns his head aside, eyes shut, crying. He knows it too.
Drin looks at the structures closely, not touching, and then rests his hand briefly on Dance’s wrist. “Thank you,” Drin says softly, and Dance lets go of his penis. The hand falls along his side, fingers open, as if he’s tired beyond endurance.
Drin looks along the rest of him, and then he lifts his gaze and looks into Dance’s eyes.
“Is that feeling any better?” Drin asks.
A fresh well of tears glitters in Dance’s eyes. He nods.
“You want to try some of the other herbs and then some of the sashimi?”
Dance draws in a deep breath, nodding.
“Okay. It’d probably be wise to wait awhile, try one experiment at a time, but I just want to get those jangling nerves to calm down a little bit, and you’ve never had problems eating any of these other things.” He looks up, and Emma is right there with the basil unwrapped and washed in her hands.
She hands a couple of stems to Dance, who bends his head over it and simply breaths in and out across it for some minutes. Then he lifts his head and nods at her, and eats it, just as it is, like lettuce. He eats all of it. He eats the fresh sage leaves and the entire woody stems of the rosemary and peels the leeks apart and eats them as if he’s been starving.
When she cautiously opens up the wrapper holding the sashimi, Dance is as relieved as they are that he can nod that it smells all right. He tries a cautious nibble on the edge of the tuna, and five minutes later he’s wolfed down an expensive lot of fish. A little hoarsely, he asks, “Where did you find sashimi?”
Emma smiles. “I am a librarian,” she says gently.
Title: Somebody Has the World’s Worst Sunburn
Writer’s Notes: I owe a huge debt of gratitude for suggestions on things to do which will help them make Dance more comfortable.
This chunk is also a followup on events in my first “cornered” piece of fic.