The percussionist with the tats rips loose with profanity in the conductor’s office.  Diane Rosey’s voice scales up louder and louder.  “You just try, Mister, you just try it, and I’ll rip your fuckin’ head off!”

“Oh shit,” Amelia mutters.

Dance rubs more rosin gently on his fingertips, and brings them up to his nose, sniffing it.  Then he puts the knob back in its box, and put the box in his violin case, and closes the case.  He sets it on the chair next to her, gives her a warning look, and turns aside.  He walks away from Amelia, satisfied when she stays put. They were both expecting this, ever since Young took a call from Bud Innes, and started shouting then.

“Is there a problem?” he says.

“No problem, Miz Foul Mouth here was just leaving, now she’s vented her opinion.”  Richard Young is certainly looking smug, with the creak of his office chair leaning back.  Strange pose, really–he never comes in his office, never looks at papers in here, except when he’s hassling somebody.  It can’t be called disciplining them.
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“I think you owe her an apology first,” Dance says.

“For what?”  The chair bangs down in place again.

Dance begins quietly quoting what Young had been saying earlier.  Foul accusations indeed.

“You’re making it all up!” Young snaps.

“Oh no.  But I have very good hearing, you may ask anyone, including the percussion section at the back,” Dance says.  Dance shifts his gaze to the girl with the tats.  She’s backed out of the office with her teeth bared, making choked and hissing noises in her throat, sounding more like a wild animal than a person.  “Rosey, forgive my eavesdropping, it was accidental.  Are you all right?”

He sways back slightly out of the way when she leaps past him and runs away down the hall toward the restroom.

“I’ll check on her in a minute,” Amalia says just outside.

“Thank you,” Dance says, making no effort to keep his voice down.  It does not hurt for Young to know that his actions are public–although Young knew onlookers like Dance and Amalia were right there.  They were gathering their things together before he called the girl into his office.

Young is out of his chair then, and walking out of the office, poking Dance in the chest.  The smug look on Young’s face is a bad, bad temptation to smack it off him.  Besides, now he’s got a reaction from all of them, he’s going to keep poking at somebody.  He’ll go after Rosey if she shows her face.  Best make it somebody who’s indifferent to it.  It’s not temper but cold deliberate tactics that prompt what he says to Young.  “You said earlier tonight I lack imagination.  Obviously it takes that, to make things up.”

He gets a hard thump in the chest that pushes him backward.  He lets it, he steps back.  Rewarded, Young gives him another shove.  Dance makes no attempt to avoid it, to prevent him, to stand up to it; he backs up under the pushes.  Young actually grabs Dance’s loose shirt front, pushes him all the way back into a wall, and his other hand comes up and he starts thumping Dance in the chest with his knuckled fist, reciting an absurd litany of petty misunderstandings, mishearings, and forgotten things which Dance told him were resolved.  Young can’t remember any of the information Dance gave him two hours ago, which is sad.  He starts sounding blurry, repetitious, almost drunken.  Young’s fist makes silly meaty thumping noises.  Dance gives way as much as he can.  The force is nothing much compared to guarding on a good hard kick while sparring in the dojo.  Dance looks up at him awhile, puzzling at the strained, operatic expression he sees there, but the stare just seems to make Young feel threatened, and he pushes Dance harder into the wall.  The wallboard gives a weird squeaking noise, and part of it actually crumples under Dance’s weight.

Amalia comes up and snaps her cello bow’s hair hard across Young’s wrist.  “Oh sorry— I tripped.”

While Young is yelling, and recoiling in pain, Dance is twisting away out of his grip, getting more room.  When Young reaches out to grab Amalia’s bow, Dance’s hand is in the way.  His palm gently deflects Young’s wrist no matter which way he jabs it out at Amalia.  Dance actually turns his head away from Young, meets her gaze and jerks his chin in a warning to get back out of reach.  Young is starting to thrash around with both hands, striking with his fists, and Dance keeps on deflecting him, carefully controlling the touch so Young can’t get carried away in his own momentum so hard that he falls down and hurts himself.  It requires a dampening effort when Young is swinging so hard.  He throws big wobbly roundhouse fists that might as well be flashing lights.  Dance’s hands make gentle smacking noises as he redirects the blows.

Amalia starts laughing, watching this absurd display.  Dance really wishes she wouldn’t:  Mockery just makes a violent person even crazier.  Then the girl with the tats has returned, mouth open in shock, with her black goth makeup run all down her face, and then Robert has come running up from somewhere else, and other people.  And the tall figure– Drin.  Such a relief.  Drin can really get over distance in a hurry with those long legs.

“That’s enough,” Drin says.

Dance flings up both hands, stepping wide, and that’s when Young goes deep.  Young lunges with his right fist aimed at Dance’s neck.

He doesn’t get there.

Drin is behind Dance, leaning in.  Dance sways slightly aside, making plenty of room. Drin’s long arm has blocked Young’s strike so hard that it throws Young off-balance, tottering backwards and to the left, his weaker side.  Then Drin’s hand snaps forward, pushes the man’s chest with a slight tap, and down he goes.  Elegant, simple, and effective, if you don’t care whether they bash their head on the floor.

Dance looks down. “I was trying not to do that.”

“Yeah, I know, but enough’s enough,” Drin says.  He pats Dance’s shoulder, and looks down at Young.  “You want me to call the cops now, or do we get a nice plain letter of resignation instead?”

Young snarls, rocking on his bottom, and holding his head, and clutching his arm.  It looks like he bruised his wrist.

“Sit there a minute, in case your head got banged.  Also, if you try to assault any of these people when you get up, Dance and I will be forced to take measures.”

It’s one of the spookiest voices Dance has ever heard.

Drin puts away the combat face.   Look twice, it’s gone, wiped away.  The face is calm, if you don’t catch how tightly his pupils remain contracted.  He turns his head just a fraction.  “Robert, would you please call a taxi, so Maestro Young can go to his doctor to get that wrist checked on?  I daresay he doesn’t want the expense of an ambulance on his personal bill.  They were running upwards of 1600 dollars, last I checked.”

“You assaulted me!  You tried to kill me!”

Drin says, “No, I stopped you from trying to kill my husband with a punch to his throat, and here are six–seven–eight–oh, sorry, Rosey, nine– witnesses to what happened.  Remember that when you’re talking to your medical provider.”

Young snarls and gets his feet under him.  He’s not waiting, as he was told to do.  Young gets up on his feet, still snarling, fists up.  Dance touches Drin’s arm lightly, they both pivot aside like a door swinging away at the crucial moment.  Blindly, Young charges past them and down the hallway.  He gives a roar of fury when he figures out what happened.  But he just keeps going, as if he’s going to attack the front doors.

It’s slapstick enough without any help, but Robert makes it into total buffoonery.  Surprising that Robert can move that fast, but he does.  Robert is gliding right along with Young, nodding, already talking on his cell phone without even breathing hard.  Robert opens the doors ahead of Young’s bull-like charge, all solicitous attention, which is hilarious.  Young doesn’t even have to slow down.  Robert trots down the front steps with him, solicitously holding Young’s elbow as if they’re waltzing, instead of running full-tilt downstairs at Young’s best speed.  And he won’t be able to peel Robert off.  Oh, Robert will want to capture every last word of what Young has to say, so it can be repeated to Bud Innes, his Papi, and patron; and then it goes to anybody who gets Bud’s consent to know about it.  Oh, Robert knows where the real gold is.

A couple of the bigger viola and bass guys are trotting out the doors after them, following the pair to help Robert keep an eye on things.  His homeys, as he calls them.  They look pretty silly, trotting, and they don’t care.  They know perfectly well that Amalia will detail somebody to round up their gear and see it safely home, she’s reliable like that.

It seems very quiet when the doors shut after Young and his new entourage.  Amalia mutters something about Robert having brass for balls.  Dance is pretty sure he’s the only one who heard it, but she meant it that way.  He just nods, and she nods back.

Drin makes a face, shifts his shoulders as if he’s taking on a different kind of load.  He looks around at the folks who stayed.  He sighs.  “Well, excitement’s over, and now we get to do paperwork, folks.”  He waits through the collective groan.  “Speaking as your friendly volunteer auditor who will have to recuse himself from all this fun, I know we’ll probably need witness statements.  If you would please write down notes on this incident and sign those, I’m sure the Board would like to add it to the Metro’s files.  Just state what you saw.  I’m going to report my part of it to the board tonight, as the Metro has adopted a zero-tolerance policy on violence in the work place, and we’ll want to get all of that paperwork together in two days maximum.  I’m so sorry to give you more work to do, but I know they’ll need that much.  Thank you.”

Everybody nods, seriously.

The percussionist with the tats comes up to Dance, reaches out and touches his forearm.  “Are you all right, man?”

Dance nods.  “Oh, I’m fine.  I’m sorry it went that far.  I’m sorry you were subjected to–” Dance pauses, aware of the slightest headshake from Drin.  No biasing their witnesses.  Dance reaches out and lightly touches the back of her hand.  “Rosey, are you all right?”

“Hell, I’m fine, that blowhard couldn’t direct a clown parade,” she shrugs, looking away, and there’s a glitter of tears across her eyes.  “Thanks, man.  I was so close to losing it–”

Dance says to her, “We really need you here, Rosey.  Please don’t give up on us yet.”

She gulps, looking at him.  “Ah shit man, don’t be saying nice stuff, I’ll just go all to pieces.”  She reaches out and pummels him gently on the shoulder with both fists as if he’s one of her bongos.  In perfect rhythm, too.  Other people are staring at them in surprise.  She’s not much taller than he is, for all the noise she projects.  Not a wise thing to do.  After Young was just pounding on Dance, this will sound exactly the same in some report.

But it isn’t, not at all.  He pats her flying arms, making syncopated pattering noises on her motion.  “At least it will be in nice firm waltz timing, yes?”

Rosey starts to laugh, and flings up her hands as if she’s just done a fanfare.  Three of Amalia’s cellists applaud, and Rosey bows, and waves at Dance, who also bows a degree, ironic.

Amalia walks back to her purse, sets down her bow with a glare at it for the strain she gave it when she whacked Young on the arm.  Then she sniffs, and pulls out tissues.  “Here, Rosey, c’mere gal, let’s just get some of that kohl running on your nose.  Leave the rest, you’ll look just right to go clubbing tonight, right?”

The percussionist starts to laugh, and hiccups instead.  She wipes at her face, spreading black smears wider.  “Shit, do you beat up conductors with that damn bow every night?”

“Nope, just once a week, now I’m gettin’ old,” Amalia says briskly.  She lifts her cell phone out of her purse and marches over to the damaged wallboard.  She turns on the phone’s camera and starts taking pictures of the cracked Dance-sized denting.  Drin gives a grimace and joins her, doing the same thing.

Dance says then, quietly, “Everybody here, be sure and get your reports done by tomorrow noon.  I’ll ask Brian collect it for the person in charge by tomorrow afternoon.  Don’t give it to anybody like Amalia or Drin or me, since we’re involved.  Clear?  Everybody got that?”


“Brian? ” Rosey says.  “Brian?  Why give ’em to Brian?”

Dance pauses, surprised.  As second violinist, Brian will have to take on all of Dance’s responsibilities if Dance is removed from his post.  It is logical to give him this task from the start.

“A pointed little hint,” Amalia says.  She’s watching Drin take low-angled pictures of the wall damage.

“So what are they going to do about Brian starting fights–” Rosey says to Amalia.

“Oh, you know how Dance heads it off.  Gets Brian outside and calmed down before it goes official.  One of us is gonna haveta do that if Dance goes on leave because of this,” Amalia says.  “But that’s gonna haveta change too, Brian is gonna haveta get his head together.  God, you hear a upright guy like Drin start using words like ‘zero-tolerance policy,’ you know he’s got a cold mad on, and things are gonna get broken.  C’mon, folks, get your stuff and let’s clear out of here.  Wallie, you got the bass?  Who’s got the violas for Frank and Ben?  Right.  Oh yeah, Rosey, trust me, there’s gonna be hell to pay.”

Dance feels the stares.  He’s suddenly, hotly, embarrassed.

Drin gathers Dance in with one arm and holds him.

“I’m fine,” Dance says, as if he’s spoken.  It does feel so much better, leaning into him.

Drin rumbles in his chest for a bit. Eventually words emerge.  “Damn, but you’re good.”

“Thank you,” Dance says.

“Good thing.  If it was me came first on that scene–” Drin shakes his head.

“Yes,” Dance murmurs, and closes his eyes.  “Our Emma will be livid.”

“Oh yeah,” Drin says, and there’s a wince in his whole body which makes Dance smile into the big man’s shirt.  “You know what she’ll say?”

Dance hums his inquiry into Drin’s shirt.  He takes in a deep breath of that soothing Drin scent, and lets it out again.

“She’ll ask why you let him do it.  You’ve stopped him cold every other time he’s started off the rails.  My God, hitting you!”

Dance sighs.  “Tired.  Just… tired of putting up with it, I guess.”

Drin grips his shoulders, pushes him back enough to look at him.  “Right.  How about you catch a nap on the way home?”

Dance leans back into him again, and yawns.  “Liking that.”

“I bet.”  He takes a step, another, and Dance continues to lean, walking backward without getting in his way, smoothly.

Amalia says, “That is the damndest-looking thing.”

“Oh, he’s way ahead of me.  I’m way too predictable for Dance,” Drin says.  As he walks toward her, he turns in a slow circle.  Dance doesn’t even shift his arms on Drin’s body as they drift toward the chair where she’s standing over Dance’s violin case, and her own instrument.  Dance moves along as easily as if they’re dancing, with the exception that he yawns.

Amalia says, “I’ll send along my pictures in the morning.  I’ll call Brian, let him know too.  Here’s your case.”

“Would you like some help carrying yours?  Would you like a ride back to your car?” Drin asks politely, turning again to keep an eye on the dispersing crowd.

“Love to,” says Amalia, who’s been parking in a transit lot and riding across town to save money.

Drin picks up her case, Dance peels away from Drin and picks up his own case, Dance beckons Rosey to come with them, and they start walking.

“So how come you didn’t provoke this about a year ago?” Amalia demands of Dance.

Another yawn.  When he surfaces from that, Dance says, “Because a year ago Bud Innes had come to two concerts a month.  Now Bud has a couple of good candidates lined up for guest conductor.”

“Pending Board approval,” Drin says.

Amalia snorts.  “We’ll be lucky if they wait past the first guy long enough to give the other guest conductors a chance to perform.  Have I mentioned your timing is–” a distracted flo

“So I’m a hasty boy, ask Drin,” Dance says, with a shrug.

Drin does the expected double-take.

“Yes, well, I’m not going there,” Amalia says, waving it off.  She looks at Rosey.  “You think I’m rude, you just wait till you hear Dance getting honest.”

“You mean, like, if he’s drunk?” Rosey ventures.

Drin snorts.

Amalia laughs.  “He doesn’t need to.”

“Well, if people ask these things–” Dance says, and yawns again.

Drin turns to Rosey.  “Where are we dropping you?”

Rosey blinks up at him.  “Will you get in trouble for taking my side or something?”

“We’re already involved, and it’s rather our duty to check you’re okay after that bullshit, and make sure that you get home safely.”

She looks at Dance, who has drifted peacefully into the curve of Drin’s other arm.  Then she looks up at Drin.  “Train station, please,” she says, and straightens her back, squares out her shoulders, and tugs up her backpack straps.

“She’s over in our Miss Amalia’s neighborhood, we could drop her directly tonight,” Dance says.  Then he opens his eyes wider, looking at her.  “And no stopping to pick a fight in a redneck bar, yes?  It’s not fair on them.”

Rosey opens her mouth, outraged.  “Well, it’s not like I asked for it last time, you know!  I just wanted a beer–”

Dance looks at her skeptically.

“I just–”  she rakes her hand through her hair.  “It just gets to me, ya know?”

Dance lifts a minatory finger.  “If you want a real fight, come to our dojo on Thursday instead, we give you a proper workout.  Our Miss Rosey is small, like us.  People our size must learn how to manage great big stupid drunk guys who are not the proper gallant, like our Drin.”

Rosey looks surprised, as well she should.

Amalia starts to chuckle.  “Now, Dance, you gotta promise not to lecture her on ergonomics the whole way, right?  Get it off your chest now, and then that’s it.”

Dance sighs.  “I promise.  Okay.  Letting our Miss Amalia say all this, explaining it in the much better English.”

“I already gave her my Ergonomics 102 lecture this afternoon.”

“Well then,” Dance says, pleased.

“Gallant, I kind of like that word,” Drin says.

“It’s a good word,” Rosey assures him.

“It is meaning galoot, but bigger,” Dance says, perfectly straight of face.

Drin casts a reproachful look at Amalia.

“I did not tell him that!” Amalia protests over Rosey’s laughter.

“Yeah, it sounds like a Miss Emma Special, to me,” Drin says, and gives Dance a push between the shoulder blades towards the doors.  “Brat.”


Getting in a shower, or taking a swim first thing at the hotel, seemed like a reasonable plan back when Dance didn’t know where they were going for their first night.  That was another of Drin’s secret gifts.  It turns out their first night requires four hours’ drive up scenic coastline, with Drin hugging him and pointing out landmarks in the declining sunset light.  It’s absurdly luxurious, even in sweated formal shirts and very sticky, wet pants.

Drin hits the intercom again, chats with the driver, retrieves sparkling water from the limo’s bar.  There they find gift bags from Shura, fragile lemon meringues and almond cookies and dried fruit and powdery rich truffles in fancy upscale wrappers.  They feed each other crumbly bits, gobbling it up like children ruining their dinner.  Drin pulls out a tiny pocket camera and snaps pictures of Dance smeared with cocoa, laughing, and after he loses the tickle fight, he allows Dance to return the favor.

By the end, the coastline is all invisible in the dark, outlined only in lights shining on the water, while the road switchbacks over invisible drops.

Drin sits sideways with his arms around Dance, breathing drowsily, but not asleep; he kisses Dance now and then, grinning.  It always prompts Dance to start idly humming again.  He doesn’t even realize he’s doing it, sometimes, until it makes Drin chuckle.

Drin’s choice of accommodations is not a hotel.  It’s a cottage at the base of rugged, twisty cliff roads.  The driver opens the limo door for them under the powerful driveway light, grins at their sleepy expressions, and unloads their luggage inside the house while they struggle back into their shoes, stuff straggling ties into pockets.  Once they’ve hoisted themselves out of the limo, the driver salutes Drin with a touch to his cap visor, hands Dance several rings of keys, shakes hands with them both, and drives away.

Clicking the first fob gives no beep noises; it opens the sliding garage door, revealing a red sportscar waiting inside, under the lights.

“Bud’s idea.  Close it up again, we gotta check out this place.  I asked Shura to find somebody to stock up the kitchen so we’ve got stuff to eat right away.  We won’t have to go shopping, or even cook, if you don’t want to.”  Then he pauses, ceremonially, on the winding front sidewalk.  The front door lock clicks open audibly.  “Okay, you got the door, you still wanna– okay.  Is this trick gonna hurt your back?”

“It’s fine now,” Dance says, bending his knees, holding out his hand, and lifting one foot.

Drin lifts his own opposite foot, wraps that leg around Dance’s waist, grips Dance’s shoulders in both hands, and allows Dance’s leg to slide around his hip.  Dance grips the big man’s upper arms.  They rock in place, and the balance settles.

During rehearsal practices, they had joked about each of them trying to lift the other one over the threshold.  Kibitzing by the ladies resulted in trying out this stunt.  Falling over on the lawn in many varieties of potato-sack-race silliness made all of them laugh a lot.

“Okay,” Dance says, grinning.  “You?”

“Solid as rock,” Drin says, sounding surprised.  He frees one hand, pulls his tiny camera from a pocket, and takes a downward picture of them.   “Pictures, or it didn’t happen,” he says, grinning.  Then he tucks it away, chuckling, and he takes a firm grip on Dance’s shoulders.

He lifts and swings Dance around, Dance gets his one allowed foot on the ground, and then they’ve taken a joint step forward on the pathway.  Odd, how the biomechanics depend on the tightness of the grip with the arms, how the pull of lifting muscle has to come from tension higher in the body.  Thankfully, it’s no great effort to swing Drin’s balance around on the pivot of one support leg.  “Your turn!”

“Step up here,” Drin says.

“Got it,” Dance says, and he’s laughing.  “You cheated, you got the threshold!”

“Gotta time these things,” Drin says solemnly, lifting Dance around.

Dance’s shoe gains the dark slatelike tile inside.  “Got it.”  He lifts Drin around–it’s getting easier as they get used to the motions–and stretches up to give him a kiss.  Drin is laughing then, lifting him around, and they’ve got enough room to close the door.  A little push of Dance’s lifted foot closes the door with a click behind them.  Then they’re each standing on their own two feet, arms still holding on tight.

There’s a pause, a check in Drin’s muscles.  His hand flips the deadbolt shut.

“Yes, I know, you did not go look through the whole house first to see it is safe,” Dance says, smiling slowly.

“No, but I had… house plans,” Drin growls at him, bends swiftly, loops one arm around Dance’s knees, and hoists him up bodily over one shoulder with a shout.  “Now, this is more like it!”   Ten quick steps and he’s dropped Dance into a broad soft surface, yanked off the shoes, ripped open his shirt, unzipped him, and yanked off pants and shorts alike, and crawled up between his bare knees.

He’s chuckling as he blows the world’s biggest, wettest raspberry right onto Dance’s belly.

“Arrrgh,” Dance gasps, sock feet flailing.

“I am so going to–” Drin says, flinging himself down onto Dance, blowing tickly raspberries everywhere he can reach.  When he sits up again, his hand pulls out the camera.  He snaps pictures of Dance.

“Yeah?  Promise?” Dance gasps, and rolls them both over.  “These clothes go–now–”

Drin’s socks, shoes, pants, cummerbund, the camera, it all goes flying.  The shirt gets yanked down Drin’s arms, pinning him a bit.  Dance gasps, fighting with the man’s cufflinks, while Drin lays there grinning up at him, trapped between Dance’s bare thighs.  Then the big man twists, bringing Dance down onto his side, wrapping Dance’s hands in the shirt while his own hands magically slide free.  He rolls Dance flat on his back, puts one hand on Dance’s cock and the other slids down, grips hard on butt muscle.

“Oh, oh–” Dance gasps.

Drin whispers into his ear,”Oh, yeah, that’s a promise, you oughta just open wide now–”

“You just let me get my mouth on you–” Dance gasps, jerking, but Drin’s hand keeps pulling on his stiff cock.

“Oh no, I’d never last if I let you suck me,” Drin says.  He lets go of Dance’s cock, pulls up Dance’s hands, shoves something into his fingers.  A packet of lube, another of a condom.  “Fuck me, sweetheart.”

“You had those in your pocket!”

“Of course.”  He grins down at Dance, his skin flushed.  “There’s plenty more, too. Fuck me, sweetheart.  You need it bad right now.”  He slides his freckled knees around Dance’s thighs, crooning at Dance’s cock jutting up in front of him, teasing it with his fingertips.  “You want it, you do.  Get your fingers in me, I want to feel it inside me.”

Dance groans, tearing open the lube, getting it slathered on and into the hot, moist hole poised so close.  Drin tears open the other packet, rolls the condom onto Dance’s cock, gripping him at the base.  He’s straddling Dance, knees sliding up around Dance’s hips.

“Oh, yeah, hello.  C’mon, yell for me.  Give it to me.  Fuck me.”  Drin rocks forward, and then his weight is all along Dance’s body, and he’s got his mouth wide open on Dance’s, and they’re kissing, the man’s mustache bristling against Dance’s nose.

“Oh,” Dance says, arching up.  “Oh. Oh now.  Now.”

Drin gives fast little grunts at the helpless reflex lunges of Dance’s hips surging up, and he’s pushing back hard onto him.  But the angle isn’t right for Drin.  Drin is doing it out of knowledge, out of love, liking it, but he won’t come properly.  He’s trying to make it last.  Dance isn’t hitting the right place inside to make him really orgasm hard, and both of them know it.  Deliberate, damn the man.

Dance growls.  He’s not settling for a one-off when it would be so much better together.

Dance braces his belly muscles against the weight of Drin’s hips, pushes up with his arms, gets his head and chest up, gets them both sitting up, hugging each other.  Drin is kissing him frantically, trying to distract, but Dance gets them shifted.  Gets the angle he knows they need, even if it finishes them off much faster.

“Oh God yes, yes, there,” Drin gasps.  Then he is pushing himself down onto Dance’ cock, fucking himself onto Dance, crying out each time Dance is hitting that sweet spot, his whole body tightening around Dance, his butt muscles wringing hard against Dance’s cock, and in moments they’re both locked in place, not even breathing.

“Oh,” Drin moans.  “Oh.  Oh.”

“Yes,” Dance says softly, leaning into his husband, holding him up.  He’s suddenly feeling the whole massive weight of Drin’s body resting firmly on his own pelvis, pushing his ass deeply into the mattress, which ought to hurt like hell, after so much standing today.  But it doesn’t.  Something in his upper back crackles like a worn part, something else unknots, his shoulders ease all over, and something down in his tailbone gives a soft, satisfied clunk! as perceptible as a switch being pulled.  He sighs, relaxing, rests his head on Drin’s shoulder, feels Drin stroke his back.

“What was that? That bone noise?” Drin whispers into his hair.

“No idea, but it is feeling good.”

“We can do that some more.”  Drin hugs him tighter.  “Hell, we could do that a lot more.”

“If I didn’t tear up your ass,” Dance says, worried suddenly.

“Oh, it’s happy,” Drin says, laughing with little puffs of breath into Dance’s skin.

“How about later?”

“Well, aren’t I supposed to be walking funny for two weeks after we get back?”

Dance chuckles.  “Hey, supposed to be me, yes, my silly raw ass hanging out of my apron?”

Drin sighs.  “Hate to disappoint you, sweetheart, but stupid porn is not that great.  Yeah, Robert tattled all over about that old guy being offensive to you.  Hell, I wouldn’t mind sharing sexy pictures with you.  I’d love to make some with you.  I mean, more than the snaps I took just now.  I’d love to get you all wound up on a fantasy.  That’d be fun.”

“What kind of fantasies do you want?” Dance asks, licking the sweat on Drin’s hot shoulder.  God, he tastes good.  All day in a suit, being patient, enduring things, and finally, at last, reeking of sex.  Dance could lick that off him all day.

“Fucking on the beach, right outside there,” Drin murmurs.  Then he sighs.  “Cold, though.”

Dance smiles.  “Get you standing up against a boulder, pulling your jeans down, sucking you down until you come.”

“I’m pretty sure there’s plenty of boulders out there, too.”  Drin lifts his weight onto his knees, drawing himself up, and Dance grabs onto the condom, waiting as his penis is released.  He slides the latex off his cock, lets Drin take it away in a tissue.  The big man gets off the bed, tosses the trash out with a thump in the bathroom nearby.  Water runs in a sink, the toilet flushes.  Then Drin stands in the doorway, scrubbing at his eyebrows and yawning.  He puts his big hands up on the door jam and stretches, naked.  He’s been taken, and Dance hasn’t even got started on what he wanted to do.  Every patch of hair on the poor guy’s freckled body is rumpled, twirled, crinkled, wet, or rubbed backward.

b/w picture man's nude muscular back
man’s back, source unknown

“Are you tired?” Dance asks, getting up.

“No, just very, very relaxed,” Drin drawls, blinking at him.  Then he smiles.  “What are you thinking, you wicked boy?”

Dance chuckles.  He wants to cherish all the coppery fur on the man, massage it in all kinds of crazy directions, lick his armpits, rub himself off between those furry thighs.  Absurd, really.  His penis is bobbing, still hard, as he walks.  “Get oil on my hands, rub it all over you, massage you all limp, lick it off.  Bend you over the kitchen table, fuck you a lot.”  He gets his hands on Drin, slides his sticky cock against the man, marking him.  He grabs handfuls of the man’s lean butt muscles.  He leans up into the man’s ribs.  In return, those big hands cup his ass, slide up and span his waist.  Such big hands.  He murmurs into the furry chest, “Get you in the shower, beg you to take me standing up– Oh, my– this tub is big enough to fuck sitting down together–”

“It is,” Drin agrees, looking pleased.  “C’mon, let’s shower off first, then get a good hot soaking.  This thing is a whirlpool tub, you know.”

The tub is massive.  The molded recliner shape at one side is big enough to accommodate Drin, far too big for Dance.  He’ll have to float in Drin’s lap, held in Drin’s arms.  Feel Drin’s cock brushing at his butt.  “Big enough to have good sex in the water.”

“Oh hell yeah.  Get bubble bath all up your sweet little ass, right?”

Dance nods.  “Better than sand.”

Drin laughs.  “Want to just soak awhile together?”

“It won’t end up just soaking,” Dance warns him, bending and turn on the taps, fiddling to get the temperature right.  Big fingers brush his bare ass.

“Oh?” Drin gives him an innocent look.

“You know me better than that,” Dance says, hands sliding onto Drin’s hips.

“Do I?”

Dance sighs, accepting the big sweaty arm resting on his shoulders.  “Oh yes, you big horny dog, you know how much I want you.”

“It’s good thing I brought along toys to keep you busy then,” Drin says fondly, with one hand gripping Dance’s entire butt.  The other one is pulling a familiar toiletries bag out of a bathroom cabinet.  It’s a bit outrageous that the driver unpacked that much for them.  “What?  Why are you rolling your eyes at me?  Isn’t this supposed to be about getting your little man run so hard you can think straight again?”

Dance sighs elaborately.  “Hopeless, this thinking straight,” he says sternly, waiting for the roar of laughter.  “I can think queer all you like, you know?”

Drin bends down to hug him, smiling.  “Okay, okay, you’re absolutely correct.  Where’s the soap?  All right, soap it up, horn dog.  I know I asked for them to get steaks and some good fish into the fridge, so at least there’s plenty of meat to keep you happy.”

Dance growls,”This is the meat I wanna eat,” and he’s kissing down the big man’s chest before Drin laughs, squirming about it feeling ticklish.  Dance fumbles at the taps, turns the flow of water to stream out of the showerhead.  They step into the warm water and settle to soaping each other at length, and then massaging shampoo into each other’s hair, and rinsing it.  By the time Drin wants to fill the tub full and soak himself in the heat, Dance is feeling quite content to settle back in his lap and pull the long arms around him and close his eyes, boneless, almost asleep.

That is, until the big hands start wandering over his skin, learning him all over again, exploring his neck and shoulders and skull and nipples and thighs and ass, moving off the hot zones and hushing him when he starts getting too excited too fast.

The water sloshes a lot when he starts rocking in Drin’s grip on his cock, and Drin chuckles and holds his hips dead still until the sloshing eases down.

“You have to lay still and let it happen,” Drin whispers, kissing his neck, his ear, licking his cheek.  “Lay really still, I’m doing you right, you’re gonna come so hard you scream.”  And then the long arms have moved, doing something to one side, and then they’re under him, and Drin has locked a cock ring on him, captured his balls in a firm hand grip, and a slick, easy pressure is sliding into his ass.  Dance feels the man chuckle as he gives a little mewling sound, his back arches up, and his eyes open very wide.  Drin has deployed the toys already.

“How’s that?  I do love me some waterproof lube.  There’s the first knot on the dildo.  Take it, take it in so easy, yeah, there you are.  Now just relax, I’m stroking you.  Feels good?  Can you take a little touch under your cockhead, down along the vein, yeah?  Good?  Harder?  Tell me.  You like that?  Good.  It’s not too much?  Just let it happen, sweetheart.  Okay, there’s the second knot going in.  I’m pushing it forward, talk to me, tell me when it hits that sweet spot for you–”

Dance gasps, arches, and everything happens at once.  Drin tugs open the cock ring, pulls down on his balls, and pushes inward with the dildo.  Then he pulls it out of Dance in one long drag.  Dance gives a whistle through the tightness in his throat, bucks wildly in midair, flails at the wall, and comes so hard that it feels like everything is letting go.  He makes a high, clenched sound that only small dogs should be able to hear.  Strange spaces in his head are orgasming too.  Stuff comes spurting out from his sinuses, emptying somewhere behind his molars.

And then he’s limp, hanging in Drin’s grip, the man is laughing in delight, and it is completely dark.  The lights have gone out. There is no buzz of power in the place.  All is dark and quiet.

“Now that’s what I call an orgasm!  Sweetheart, you blew out the lights!”

“Did not!”  Dance’s ribs are going like bellows, grabbing for air.  He hangs there in the warm water, feeling the other man’s ribs jerk with laughter under him.  “Um,” Dance says, tilting his head up, heaving for air.  “But we… have to agree, that was… that was…”

“You’re brainless,” Drin says, delighted.  Then he puts his hand on Dance’s mouth, slides his thumb into Dance’s lips.  “Wow.  Tingly.  You came at this end too.”

“Oh yeah.”  Hot fluid sloshes in his mouth under Drin’s touch, runs down his chin, hotter than the bathwater, not as thick as semen but like it in taste.

The thumb spreads it down his chin.

He turns over, straddles Drin, rubs his balls against Drin’s cock, kisses him at leisure, licking at his face, lapping fluid along the man’s forehead and nose and cheeks.  Then he’s kissing Drin again, and the man is rubbing his tongue into Dance’s mouth.  He might be the queen of safe sex whenever he’s meeting Dance’s needs, but crazily, he doesn’t seem to mind getting painted with this odd musky stuff drooling from Dance’s mouth.

“Crazy stoner,” Dance murmurs, and licks it onto the man’s hand.

A week  ago, Dance asked Emma for help looking at his mouth to find out why.  Of course Drin walked in on the middle of it when Emma was poking around his hard palate with dental tools, a magnifier, and a light.   He knew he had plenty of odd bulges at the front of his lower jaw, under his tongue–he always had those.  She had a name for those:  tori.

But nothing showed on his upper palate, where the fluid has been pouring out between his molars.  No shadows, swellings, divots, holes, slits, or puckers.  She even took pictures to check on that with the zoom from a graphics program.

Drin runs his ring finger between Dance’s lips, rubs that fingertip along the roof of Dance’s mouth.

“Oaaah,” Dance says, leaning into it.  It feels really good when the fingerpad touches those places where fluid is still draining out.

“You like that?  Right there, huh?”

“Oh ehh,” Dance makes an affirmative noise, moving his head to rub harder on those spots.  They’re a little tender, the same way his dick feels raw when he’s been masturbating a lot.  Which he has been doing, lately.  Embarrassing, after how much he’s been demanding all kinds of sexual attentions from Drin.

“It’s tingling really strong this time,” Drin says.

“Ah uh?” Dance asks, pausing.

“Hell no, it feels great, don’t worry.  Em looked up more dental stuff about those lumps under your tongue.  She says tori are perfectly normal stress growths in people’s jaw bones, not a problem unless they get in the way, push up the teeth.”  The fingertip brushes at the rounded shapes inside either corner of Dance’s lower jaw, below the gums.

“Uh aa,” Dance says, and the finger withdraws obediently.  A little thickly, he says, “Yes, but the cum thing can’t be tori.  Bone can’t blob out cum like my dick.  And the cum from my dick– my semen– it doesn’t tingle like that.”

There’s silence.  Not even breathing, from the big man under him in the water.

“Right?” Dance demands.

“Um.  Sweetheart, you don’t feel it from the mouth-cum.  You don’t feel any tingling from your dick-cum either, so if it’s the same thing–”

“There is no tube running from my balls up to my mouth!”

Drin is chuckling.  “Hey, not arguing.  We got your basic test case in hand.  Push up these hips for me, let’s get your dick out of the water.”  Drin shifts under him.  The other big hand pulls hard on Dance’s cock, gathers up a final ooze of semen from his slit, and that crazy man slathers it up behind his ears, as if he’s dabbing on perfume.  “Hmm mmm de dum- um, Dance?”

“What?”  Dance clutches at his shoulders in the dark.

“Umm, this isn’t definitive, you understand–” the man’s breathing has speeded up.


“It tingles.  A lot.”

Dance grabs harder.  “Are you all right?  Is it hurting–”

“Hell no, it feels great.  Jeezus fuckin’ hallelujah, I keep telling you, it’s wonderful.”

Dance groans, and leans into the man’s chest, feels long arms come up around him.

“Sweetheart, I just want to tell you. I may have been a bit of a stoner in the Army, but I didn’t marry you just for your truly amazing cum.”

Dance can’t help it, he starts to laugh.  He smacks Drin’s chest with both hands.  “We didn’t know about it when you asked me to get married!”

“Shoulda asked you sooner, huh.”  He sounds amused.

“You think that’s what set it off?”

“Or some damn thing.  Hey, maybe it’s all that new kimchee, huh?”  Drin has been joking that it’s all that chili-heavy food Dance has been craving lately.  They haven’t found any better explanation.

“Okay, yes, I admit it, wanting your insatiable dick and your truly superior ass did have something to do with it,” Drin adds, which gets him another smack.

“Oh no, I know why you asked, really,” Dance says sternly, and smacks him again.

“Oh?  Yeah, what’s that?”

“Because I cook.”

Drin dissolves into roars of laughter.  Really, it’s out of all proportion to the joke, but Dance lets him take that exit out of serious conversation… this time.

Drin appears to be taking it all completely for granted–as in, of course Dance has this fabulous mouth thing he does, it’s nice.  He’s not worried even when Dance licks it onto his dry cock and his balls until his skin buzzes, making him orgasm two or three times in a row, getting hard over and over again.  He laughs at questions.  “Hey, what’s not to love?”

Well, Emma warned him about that, too, maddening woman.  While she had Dance’s mouth full of dental tools, she reminded him that it wouldn’t be easy to pin down the big man for this conversation.  She said Drin always displayed a truly alarming ability to deny, compartmentalize, retcon history, confabulate, and outright lie about things.

Dance told her dryly, “Hey, Army vet,” which just got him smacked on the arm.  Hard.  Then she’d stomped off, yelling he wasn’t any better, which hurt his feelings.

Just one of those days where he’d wondered if trying to get married was the worst decision he’d ever made in his life.

“Crazy stoner dude,” Dance mutters, and resumes licking his husband’s face.  He thinks about lapping all over other parts of the man that he hasn’t had the leisure to work on.  Like all those scars on his legs, and his bad arm.  He did that one night last week, as a painkiller, and it worked better than any of Drin’s usual pain pills.  “I want to lick you all over and see if it makes your toes tingle too and–”  He licks sticky fluid along Drin’s thumb, licks it up onto the web of his hand, in his palm, along the back of his fingers, sucks the fingers in two at a time, bites down on them, gnaws at them gently.  Then he licks mouth-cum upward around the slick burn scars on the man’s forearms.  More of it keeps leaking out into his mouth as he works.

“Tingles.  Jeezus fuck, that feels–so good–”  Drin arches up gently under him, and comes, as easy as that, cock trembling against the inside of Dance’s thigh, rubbing against his balls.

“I am such a lazy husband, I lick you to make you come,” Dance says.

Drin’s ribs tighten into a chuckle.  His other hand comes up, strokes Dance’s back.  He says, “But then suddenly in the middle of it you’ll get starving hungry and can’t even wait.  You’d eat raw steak if I let you!  And if it’s daylight, then you’ll want to go run on the beach.”

Dance turns on the tap, cups up water, rinses his mouth clean.  “Oh yeah.”

“You want to make my toes tingle?  Really?”  Drin splashes both hands, rinses sticky drying cum off his face.

“Yes please.  Lots.”

“Okay.  Maybe later?  It’s a deal.  How about, we get out of the water and figure out getting some food into us when the power is still out?  There’s supposed to be a big fireplace in the living room, and a barbecue kettle in a closet off the deck.”

“Right,” Dance says, climbing out.  He grasps a towel, helps steer Drin out onto the bath mat.

“I’m blind as a bat,” Drin says, while Dance helps him dry off.

“Oh, no worries.  I can see a little.  The curtains are open in the bigger room.  It’s not too dark, I can find things.  And you know how to cook on real fires, too.  Here’s the suitcase, some clean pants, yes–underpants here–” he gets them both into old soft jeans in the dark, gets Drin safely parked in a chair by the big cold fireplace in the main room.

“There oughta be some flashlights.”

“Yes, I will find them, probably in the kitchen.  Where do you think the breakers are?”  Dance keeps talking as he moves.  “The kitchen is brighter, there is some moonlight, it’s bright outside there.  I’m going to save opening the fridge, so the food stays cold.”

Drin says, “There might be a circuit breaker panel behind one of the doors, or in a closet.”

Dance rummages behind kitchen doors for awhile, and returns, pressing things into Drin’s hands.  “I have matches, I have a flashlight that is rather dim, I have some tinder, here.  Okay, let me go look for breaker panels while you work on the fire.”

After awhile, Drin has a fire going in the log grate in the fireplace, and Dance has felt his way round the kitchen and the living room.  He hasn’t found the breakers.  “Do you think maybe they were silly and they put the panel somewhere outside in the weather?”

“Possibly.  We can try the garage in the morning.  Do you suppose they plan this, so newlyweds have adventures?”

“Well, these newlyweds are not panicky sorts who need adventures to tell stories about.  We are just going to pretend we planned barbecue cooking as we put our steaks on these pokers and get them blackened a bit.  We just growl over our dinner and feel very happy to be here inside, in the dry and the warm,” Dance says firmly.  He’s in the kitchen when he says the most ridiculous part.  “So long as we don’t dribble meat juice all over the big fur rug there.  Because of course you must ravish me all naked on that fake fur, I insist.  Maybe later, when we’re not so full of meat.”

“Well, you’ve got our priorities sorted out,” Drin says, smiling in the firelight.  He always likes the word raaavish when Dance says it that way, careful and exaggerated and silly.

“Besides, there are plates and napkins and silverware and champagne and even glasses to drink it from,” Dance says, returning with his hands full, and eventually dragging over the living room table to hold things.  He guides Drin’s hand onto the skewers and the oven mitts and pads to hold them.  He returns to the kitchen while Drin is still laughing.

The fire is going quite well by the time he returns with another load.  “They have stocked up kitchen tools and food very well for Western tastes,” he reports happily.

Drin just looks up at him, chuckling, in the early uncertain light of their new fire.

“I am cutting up steaks for you to go spearing onto those skewers–” Dance drags over another chair.

“Like filet mignon is just some blob to chop up for shish kebab?”

“If you do not want it raw, yes.  And sooner.  The very best meat goes into very thin slices for Korean barbecue–” Dance starts sorting and chopping his materials, putting things into bowls.  “Right, there’s pearl onions, there’s green pepper, there’s potato slices very thin, there I am putting the meat.  A pinch of  black pepper on it, some salt, simple.  If you are hungry we can cook a second batch.  This is excellent lean meat.”

Drin starts threading pieces onto the skewers while Dance chops.

Dance says, “Emma would love this.”

“Oh, yeah– that Aussie love for chowing down kebab after closing hour.  Pretty funny, we end up eating her favorite stuff on our wedding night.”

“Except it is not lamb, and not greasy enough!”  which makes Drin laugh.  He and Emma are always visiting Emma’s favorite döner kebab meat and chips place, waiting for Dance to get done with night rehearsals.  Those two say it gives them time to unwind and chat.  Dance teases it is about really about eating enough grease.

Drin is still giggling to himself, which means it’ll show up in some story later on.  The laughter is still in his voice when he says, “The potatoes take the longest, I’m putting that end in the hottest part of the fire.  It smells good already.”

“It does.  Very good planning,” Dance says.

“Oh to hell with planning for awhile!  Hell, I asked Em at one point, why is everything about getting married something to do with serving more food?”

“Let me guess–she swatted you, and she said any big ceremony, getting bored, it is like Army life, small moments of terror with lots of waiting.”  Dance shrugs, holds out open hands toward the fire.  “So, waiting around, bored people think about the next time they get fed.  Bad as slobbering dogs begging at dinner, is that how she was saying?”

“Yeah.  But that doesn’t explain why I’m wanting to take you out to dinner and feed you fabulous stuff all the time.  As much as I want to make love to you.  Or find things you like, or getting distracted at work, just looking at pictures of you when I’m supposed to–”

“–or wanting to lick you all over,” Dance says solemnly.  Dance looks at the man’s moist lips, gleaming in that reddish beard.  “Especially the furry bits.”

“Yeah, I’m kinda fond of your furry bits too,” Drin says, his eyes crinkling up.

“But really, it is not just anybody’s fur, anywhere.  I am not fond of anyone else’s furry bits,” Dance says, wrinkling his nose.

Drin slaps his knee noisily and starts to laugh.  “Goddamn, Dance, you– you just–”

“Well, Emma tells me I am very rude,” Dance says, slicing up more potatoes and scooping them into a bowl.  “Then she hits me.  I think she likes any excuse to swat her boys, you know.  Very hard, on the butt, if she can.”

“She does!”

“I never spank her back, but I think she might like that.”

Drin blinks at him, surprised.

“I only tickle, careful, so I don’t hurt her.  But you could spank her, if she likes it.  I mean, if you want to do small happy things for her.  That makes me happy too.  I don’t think I say it very well, but–”

“Oh, sweetheart,” Drin says, resting one hand on Dance’s knee.  “I know you want Em to be happy too.  So do I.  It’s just that… I guess you’d call it pride… gets in the way sometimes.  What she thinks is right or proper or something.”

“Yes, I know.  I don’t care what is proper.  I want to make you happy, and I want to make Em happy too, however she will let me.  Like cooking.  I like cooking things for you to try.  As you say, to watch you.  It pleases me to give you something you like.”

“Yeah, that’s it exactly.”  Drin puts aside another filled skewer in a bowl.

For awhile they sit quietly working in the dim light.  “If the power is off tomorrow, I can make soup on this fire, I found a cast-iron pot.”

Drin smiles at him.  “You’re not even phased by this.”

“We have food, we have water, we have fire, we have spices and pots and pans–”

Drin starts to whoop with laughter again.  Dance mistrustfully packed a bag full of groceries and condiments that he figured would be hard to find.  The limo driver had put it away in the kitchen for them.

Dance gets up, taking away his chopping board and knife.  “–we have soap, we have tools, we have the awesome Drin who cooks on open flames and barbecues all the time, we are all good.”

He diverts for some moments into the dark bedroom, finds the bathroom, washes his hands, grabs the toiletries case, brings it out with him.  By then the food is sizzling gently, skewers propped at careful angles across the grating that holds the logs.  Drin is sitting cross-legged on the fake fur spread in front of the hearth.  Dance gives him hand wipes from the toiletry kit, since they both had handled raw meat.

Drin says, “C’mere, sweetheart,” and Dance settles sideways with his knees over Drin’s thigh, one shoulder resting against Drin’s bare chest.  Drin sighs, kisses his forehead, and hugs him.  “Perfect.”

wineglass on wood floor in front of fire in a fireplace
wineglass by the fire, source unknown

“Fairytale,” Dance says, looking into the flames.  He leans his head back against Drin’s chest, and feels suddenly, profoundly grateful.

“You want me to ravish you right out here on this rug, huh?”  Drin’s hand strokes his chest.

Dance smiles slowly.  “Oh yes, I do.  I know, this is not a terribly new fantasy, and this is very fake fur, but–”

“We’ll manage,” Drin says, amused.  His hand drifts down, strokes up the fabric over Dance’s thigh.  “Yeah, I was right, I thought I saw your little man was ready to come out to play again.”

Dance squirms.  “Now you’re teasing–”

“Oh, am I?  Doesn’t feel like teasing to me.  Lay down, get the pants off.  You’re going to lay there all naked and hard and gorgeous, while I deal with the food.  And then I’m going to feed you scrumptious hot bits of food and kiss you sometimes, and you’re going to like it.”

“Can I kiss you sometimes too?” Dance struggles to get his cock disentangled from the shorts, which makes his husband laugh at him.

“Of course.  But only after I get you fed and and get some champagne in you.  Now, there you go, a toast–to the most gorgeous husband on earth.  No, I meant you, not me, but that’s okay.  Just lay back and let me look at you.”

Dance drinks some of his champagne and shifts on one hip, finding a more comfortable position.  The fake fur is a bit lumpy, to be honest.

Drin smiles at him, teeth gleaming in that rumpled beard.  Dance starts to sit up, but Drin pushes him back down, putting Dance entirely prone on the rug, and looks down at him a long time.  He strokes Dance’s hair back from his eyes, cups his face, strokes a finger along his jawline, onto his lower lip.

Then he turns suddenly back to the fire, lifts a skewer handle with a kitchen mitt, pokes the potato with a fork, and pronounces himself satisfied.  “I’ll let it sit across the bowl a moment, it’s still hot.”  In rapid succession he pulls off the other skewers.  “Right, now let’s see if this one cooled off enough.  Nope, gotta wait.  So you can get out the lube and the condoms and put them handy.  Do you think regular missionary penetration, me on top of you fucking your queer guts out, my dick stuck up as far as it will go in your nice ass, is gonna make you really, really happy tonight?”

Dance stares at him, a little perplexed at the harsh tone.  “Yes.  I like having you on top of me.  I like you banging me in my good place inside me, it makes me feel good.  All warm and covered and held tight and filled up.  I like feeling full of great big man cock.”

Drin exhales noisily.  “Oh.  Like you’re all hugged, safe, or something?”

Dance moves one knee, making it more obvious that parts of him are in terrific agreement with all of this idea.  “Like I can just trust it to happen to me.  When I–” he takes a deep, hard breath, “–when I started to fuck you, that made me feel different.  Like I must do things carefully, make it right for you.  Make it feel really good for you, not hurting things when I get so tight and I start to come.  I must stay in myself and be careful, I must feel it all happening.  That feels so good too.”

Drin tilts his head.  “I’m still having trouble believing you really want it up the ass.”

Dance smiles wryly.  “Do you want me to not give it to you?  Should I stop doing that?”

“God no, it feels terrific, if God forbid my dick fell off and I never got to do anything else I’d want you to keep fucking me.  Just fucking me, just like that.”

“Then where is the problem?”

“I don’t want to hurt you, sweetheart, being selfish, banging you too hard on this very first night, getting carried away.”

“Oh.  Well, you can just lay on me and rub me, and that will feel good too, it will give me that warm held-tight feeling, I like that too.”

“What else do you like?”

It isn’t the first time he’s asked that.  It isn’t even the fortieth time.  But he goes on asking.

Dance really likes how he keeps asking.  He says so, and lays back, smiling, with his fingers laced together under his head.  “I like you feeding me shish kebab burnt off the fire when I’m naked and I can rub my cock on your jeans and you are asking me sexy questions, reminding me how much I like you taking me.”

Drin starts to chuckle, and to pull bits off the skewer into a clean bowl.  “What else?”

“I like you hugging me behind me, when I wake up, and you rub your dick onto my balls, and you’re so hard you come right away.  Then you’re all relaxed and I’m all hot and wanting to walk this little man and you can do anything to me, it is making me come.”

Asian man standing, nude back, source unknown
standing nude twisting, source unknown

Drin chuckles.  “Not such a little man there.”  Drin settles on the rug beside him, runs a fire-hot hand up along his ribs, and with his other hand holds a lump of meat in front of Dance’s waiting mouth.  Slowly, lasciviously, he lowers it into Dance’s open lips, and tucks it in with a fingertip.  Dance bites down into the steak bit, gets the flavor of it across his tongue.  He swallows, and moans.  “Oh, this is good.”

“Piece of green pepper now, it’s got a bit of char on it.  Don’t be greedy, take your time on it.”

Dance starts to sit up, but Drin puts his free hand down on Dance’s chest, keeps him still with a touch.  “No, this skewer is all yours, and I’m feeding it all to you first.  Don’t worry, you get to feed me the next skewer.”

“Will you take off your pants for me?”

“Oh yeah.  You like seeing me take off my pants?”

“Yes,” Dance says, around a lump of onion, and he lips the fingers that give it to him.

“Cheeky boy,” Drin says, with a smack of the palm on Dance’s chest.

Dance doesn’t try to sit up. Instead, he lifts his foot, slides his ankle up onto Drin’s shoulder, and rolls his other knee wide onto the rug.  The offer is perfectly plain.

Drin shifts his free hand onto Dance’s tensed thigh, grips it, and lifts it aside, so Dance’s knees are sprawled wide on either side of his husband.  Drin leans down into him, resting those worn soft jeans across Dance’s belly, putting his forearm down across Dance’s chest, and then with his other hand, he delicately pops a bit of pearl onion into Dance’s mouth, and lays a big finger squarely across his lips.  Dance squirms, swallows, licks the finger.

“I think you don’t feel very hungry now,” Drin says, with the firelight catching those amused tiger-yellow eyes.  He takes the finger away, and feeds him another bite of steak, watching him.  “Too many cookies in the car, huh?”

“Can I feed you too?” Dance asks.

“Oh, and let you rub on me like a cat in heat?”

“Mmm,” Dance agrees, squirming some more.  “I am in heat.  Please let me rub on you.”

“You’re amazing.  But I’m going to do everything you want.  Everything.”

Dance feels himself panting.  “Oh please.”

Drin gives him a wide smile, and wiggles against him ever-so-slightly.  “Eventually.”

“Aaaaarghh,” Dance moans.

“All right, all right, let me get out of these things.  Didn’t want to cook naked, with the way that wood snaps out sparks, but I don’t mind getting naked now for my beautiful husband to feed me bits of steak and see how turned-on he’s got me already.”

Drin stands up, slides off the pants and shorts in one elegant motion, steps out of them, cock jutting upwards.  He kneels between Dance’s legs, puts out one hand, lowers his upper body over Dance.  He twists his hips almost sideways, his cock does not touch Dance’s hips, and Dance wiggles, frustrated.  But no, Drin presses his torso down on top of Dance, resting that forearm across his chest again.  Then Drin pins down one of Dance’s wrists to the rug, tickling the palm of his hand with his thumb.  “Uh-uh, one hand.  Here’s the bowl, can you reach it?”

“Yes, but I can’t tell which kind I am giving you–”

“I’ll tell you.  God, you have such beautiful muscles.  Yeah, that’s an onion. Caramelized.  Oh God, that’s so good.  Give me the next one. Jeez, that’s ridiculously good– oh man.  Steak.  Oh that is good.”

Dance smiles.  Brushes his thumb over the man’s lips.  “You keep saying that.  I think you like it.”

The man swallows, licks off his lips, and lowers his head to breath across Dance’s mouth a moment.  “If you aren’t the world’s best cook, then I don’t know who is,” and he kisses Dance, filling his mouth with tongue.  He leans up in a moment, saying, “Okay, I’m heavy, I know.  Get some air.  Breathe, here.”

Dance rocks his hips a bit, smiling, and Drin says, “You keep that up and dinner’s gonna get cold.”

Dance laughs, arching in place, and relaxes again.  He picks up another unseen bit from the bowl, lifts it to Drin’s mouth, feels the man’s lips wrap around his fingers.  Dance asks,“Got it?  Do you think we can eat our way through eight skewers without losing our minds and–”

“–and fucking like rabbits?” Drin says, grinning back.  Dance suspects he really likes the feel of Dance squirming under him, the feel of cock rubbing against the tender skin at his hip joint.  Dance is desperately trying to shift his cock over next to Drin’s, to get more friction from the maddeningly harsh curly pubic hair rubbing against his own, but Drin is not letting his hips angle right, refusing to make it easier for Dance.  “I doubt it, but we can try.  Give me another.”

Drin has to pull himself away to empty the other skewers into the bowl, and Dance thinks he will get a chance to mesh their hips together.  But Drin lays down on him in the same way as before, not allowing Dance’s wiggling to take advantage.  Keeping Dance pinned under him, Drin feeds him a skewers’ worth, and then Dance feeds the big man another skewer’s worth, slowly, one-handed.

By then Drin is kissing him a lot all over his face and down his neck, grazing his way down Dance’s chest and kissing his nipples until he shakes in place, rubbing at the little peaks with greasy fingers.  Normally, at home, their earlier intercourse would have satisfied them both for hours, possibly for days.  Tonight Drin clearly wants more.  Dance feels the heartbeat pounding in his own cock.  It’s drooling, ready to go.

“Okay, sweetheart, are you up hard?  Yeah, I am too.  I’m putting on a condom.  Give me that lube, let me see you.  Here, get your feet up on my shoulders, that’s it.  Spread your legs wider, pull up those balls for me.  I’m warming it up for you, don’t get impatient.  No, don’t stroke yourself, you’ll get me going too fast.  Here it is, rubbing it on, nice and thick.  How tight are you, after I loosened you up earlier?  Okay.”

Dance gasps.  The lube is still cool, but it’s not brutally cold, either.

“Slide those legs up higher on my shoulders.  Is it okay on your back?  Good?  All right, if you wanna brace your arms out, that’s good.  Now relax, sweetheart, I’m gonna take you.”  And then Drin’s hips are twisting round, he’s up on his knees, his chest is leaning across Dance, and his cock is stretching Dance wide, a sliding rush of pressure and heat.  He stops moving, buried balls-deep inside Dance, his hips sealed tight all across Dance’s ass.  Dance’s balls and cock are pushed tight against the man’s powerful gut muscles.  The big man gasps,  “God, you’re so– hot inside–”

Dance gives a whimper of need, rocking, and Drin pulls out a little, shifts his hips downward toward the floor, and that strange little pulse of muscle twitches his cock to pointing upward inside Dance.  Then he’s sliding it into Dance, pushing upward, banging hard into that infuriatingly sweet spot that Dance cannot resist, ever.

Dance gives a high noise, and then Drin is sliding away.  That makes Dance give a different noise, panting for breath.  Then he’s giving the high noise again–Drin is pushing into him until Dance is rolled halfway up up onto his shoulders, his knees hooked over the man’s broad shoulders, and he begs for it.  It’s hard to breath, rolled up almost onto his shoulders in that position.  Usually it doesn’t matter, two strokes of Drin’s hips banging into him will finish him in this position, even when he wants to last.  Tonight, he is lasting.

Drin snorts, and the man’s hips start moving, smacking at his ass, the cock sliding in and out of him fast enough to make Dance’s sounds turn to gasps.

“Yeah, give it to me, sweetheart, yell it out, tell me what you like.  There?  Right there?”

And Dance is yelling.  He doesn’t even know what he’s yelling.  He just feels a big hand slide bruisingly between their bodies, grope at his balls and close tight on his cock, cupping the head of it in the same rhythm of the force smashing into that sweet spot and making those silly noises come mewling out of him.  “Yeah, right there, give it to me, come for me, sweetheart, I want you to come so hard.  Come for me, don’t worry.  Just come for me.”

Dance comes so hard, he curls up so tight, that his shoulders lift right off the rug.  He pushes his arms straight up from his hands, locks his elbows, slams his mouth open wide, put his mouth onto Drin’s shoulder near the neck, grips his front teeth around the bulging edge of muscle, and bites him.

Something clicks inside his head, somewhere deep behind his nose, between his back molars.  Something that’s been tensed for hours in his head finally relaxes, and he comes, and comes and comes.  His front teeth are holding Drin in place while thick pale ropes of drool slide past his lips, draining down Drin’s skin.

Drin is shaking in place, hips twitching while he groans, and his cock shudders inside Dance.

Then there’s a tug of something coming free in Dance’s mouth, and Dance opens his jaws, and then somehow Drin is lowering him back onto the rug, where he is panting too hard to move.

Drin is leaning on his hands above Dance, panting heavily.  “Goddamn, Dance.  I don’t… jeez, I’ve never felt anything as good as this.  Are you all right?”

“I bit you,” Dance says, a little slurred with the fluid still oozing out on his tongue.

“Oh, you’re sweet, giving me that mouth cum thing, I got you going really hard.”

“Drin, I put holes in you–”

“Really?  Huh, didn’t feel that part.  Just the cum tingling me.  Feels… wonderful.  God, Dance, it’s wonderful.”  Drin lowers himself, panting, and kisses Dance on the mouth, licking into that sticky fluid, coaxing him to kiss back.  “C’mon, give me a taste of that wedding surprise cum.”  When he’s kissed Dance silly, he shifts one hand, grabbing onto the condom and drawing his cock slowly out of Dance.  That sensation makes Dance shudder in place, groaning, and a final load of semen-tasting goo comes drooling from the back of his mouth.  Drin rolls onto his side on the rug, pulling Dance over with him..

“I bit you,” Dance says, worried.  He can’t see much but bruise marks from his front teeth in the uncertain light.  That’s not at all the safe sex he promised to Drin.

“I love it.  Okay, if you say you cut some skin, I believe you.  Can’t feel it right now.  I know, I know, if you did, it’s not being careful at all.  But damn, you can do that any time, sweetheart.  Aches and pains all gone, I feel great, like I could fuck you all over again.”

“You want to?”

“Sure.  Do you?”

“Yeah, but.. more food maybe.. rest.. don’t want to hurt you.  Not biting you!  Wanting to try… kissing you… somewhere else.  Toes,” Dance says dazedly.  “Maybe give you a hangover?”

“Stop worrying, it’s been fine every time you licked that cum on me before.  I feel great.”

Dance leans over, takes a deep breath of the man’s sweat and he starts licking his way down Drin’s body.  He pulls the condom off Drin, sets it aside on the table, and shifts away from the man’s cock in spite of how much he wants to taste it in his mouth, trying to honor their agreement to keep himself safe.

The taste of sweat tells him how far he’s pushed Drin tonight.  The man’s body is honestly tired, under the artificial stimulus of whatever his mouth-cum does to the man.  Working his way up from licking the man’s feet–and yes, Drin reports it tingles there too–he takes his time, kneeling over Drin and licking thick layers of it upward on both shins, along all those scars, lapping it on over his knees, up his thighs.  He feels Drin shiver when he starts to lick the man’s right hip joint, as if it’s too much finally.

“Tingles,” Drin murmurs.

“Okay, enough pushing ourselves, I should just stop it, get over my silly self and let you rest.  Get you over to bed, and let me put the food away for tomorrow–”

Drin smiles up at him.  “Now you want to take care of me?”

“But I always want to,” Dance says, and gets up to put things away.  He looks down at the monumental figure sprawled out on the rug in complete relaxation.

He’s so big.  The man’s feet stick out well beyond the rug, wiggling his long toes comically in front of the fire.  “Do you want more to drink?  Some water?”

“Dance,” the man says, and a warm hand comes up and rests on his ankle, slides up the calf of his leg.  “Yes, water would be great.  God, you’re so beautiful.”

Dance pats the hand touching him, pulls it up enough to kiss the knuckles.  “So are you.”

“It’s the dim lighting, really improves a scruffy old guy’s looks, don’t you think?”

Dance says, “Oh, no, I think I will like your looks even better in good bright morning, all this big naked man with his big cock fucking me silly.  Maybe I will get on the rug on my knees, waggling at you like a cat and yowl at you a lot to fuck me.  Or you bend me over the end of the bed and fuck me.  I don’t know if it is the right height, but the bed is much softer.  I will check in the morning if there are enough sheets for changing to sleep nice and clean.”

Drin gives a huff of laughter, pats his calf.  “Don’t worry.  There’s a washer and drier somewhere.”

“Oh good,” Dance says.  He steps free, gathers up the food and the trash from the table, starts putting things away in the fridge, rinsing the dishes.  There’s a dishwasher that he can use when they have power, in the morning.  He hears movement in the other room, metal scraping sounds, while he washes his hands.  He twists back and forth, using wet paper towels to wipe his crotch and his ass in the dim light.  He returns with damp paper towels and a glass of water for Drin.

He half-expected Drin to be asleep on the rug, but he isn’t; his husband is sitting up, looking at the fire.  In spite of being naked near the burning logs, he’s been tending it, using a little shovel in the rack of fireplace tools, and closing the little mesh spark-arresting curtain.

“Oh, thanks,” Drin says, and wipes himself clean without embarrassment.  “We can leave the fire to die down now.  Steer me to the bathroom, sweetheart, and then I’ll sort out how to brush my teeth in the dark.”

Dance retrieves the toiletries bag, sharing with Drin the wry thought that it is doomed to follow them all around the cottage.  Drin just laughs.

“Okay, here’s toothpaste, here’s your brush, here’s mine,” Dance says, rummaging in the dim firelight.  Then he takes Drin’s hand, and leads him back to the bathroom, helping where he can with the unseen routine.  Drin kids around, patting at him when he doesn’t really need to.

“Okay, I’ve got the size of the bathroom down, at least,” Drin says, and takes his hand.  “Take me to bed, sweetheart.”

“I thought you’d never ask.  Is it the right height?”

“Well, I don’t know yet.  How about you bend over the bed, get down on it there, and let me check on this.”

They fumble around in the dark, skin on skin, laughing, and determine that the bed is rather low for Drin to stand up behind Dance’s butt, but perfect for Dance to line up on Drin’s.  Drin astonishes him by making the renewed offer, but Dance just pats him on the butt and hugs him.

They curl up under the sheets and figure out they aren’t going to need the blankets for quite awhile in spite of the current lack of heat.  There are plenty of pillows, and they fit elbows and mesh feet together just as they do at home.  Normally Drin would have a bedside light on, reading, with one hand stroking Dance’s head or shoulder as Dance went to sleep, but with the power out they just sigh and turn together and breathe in the quiet.

nude man on bed, source unknown
nude man on bed, source unknown

Dance ruffles the man’s chest hair with a deep sigh.  “You smell so good to me.”

Drin chuckles.  “Hah, knowing you, that probably means I should’ve got another shower.”

“No, I like your smell like this.”

“What can you hear?” Drin murmurs, half of it a vibration in his chest.

“Heartbeat,” Dance says.  “Nice.”

“What else?”

“The ocean,” he says, idly stroking down Drin’s chest.  “There’s rocks, I think.  That splash when a big wave hits rocks.  Wind is getting stronger.  I don’t hear any birds, but I think there will be gulls, at least.”

Drin smiles.  “I brought a guidebook, if you want to go look tomorrow.”

“And we have boots, I know,” Dance says, kidding him.  “Are there hiking trails?”

“There are.  And sea kayaks.  There’s a rental place with guides.”  He chuckles when he feels the twitch of interest in Dance’s muscles.  “Yeah, I thought you’d like that a lot.  Have to get an orientation first, so we reserved a whole day for that, a little later on.  After you’ve had a chance to run around on this beach, look at things up close, get a feel for the place.”

We means that Emma and Drin worked it out together, as they have for most of the three weeks ahead.  Dance submitted general ideas for Emma’s organizational mojo to work on, within the limitation that it’d been a secret from him about just where they were going.

Three weeks is a long time away from the Metro.  The sea air is going to be wetter here than at home, he will have to keep retuning, allowing his two practice violins to adjust to the humidity before he makes any heavy physical demands.

In the days running up to the wedding, he was afraid he would either want to bury himself completely in his music for days on end and bore poor Drin out of his mind, or else he’d cast it aside completely like a bad, bad schoolboy in favor of running wild and never practicing at all.  Emma just told him not to worry, Drin would just spank him if he was too bad.  He will, too, Dance knows that.

Drin chuckles again.  “Amalia said you’d need a good five hours of practice every other day to work on that new stuff you wanted to learn, and to drag you away from it if you went longer.  She said you don’t get any benefit from longer hours, the way other folks might.  So we scheduled in regular blocks of time where you can do that, or walk on the beach, or just sleep.  She said you could use some rest too.”

Dance thumps his chest, with a noise like a melon.  “You, reading my mind again.”

“No mind-reading about it.  I just asked her what I needed to do, that’s all.”

“No, right now,” Dance says, and thumps him again.  Then he’s playing percussion on Drin’s chest with his fingers, sitting up and leaning over him, drumming on him, while Drin laughs soundlessly.  Then he finally drags Dance over onto him and smacks him on the butt, and hugs him.

“Goddamn, musicians.  Settle down, sweetheart, I didn’t mean to get you all riled up and excited all over again.  You need to rest too.”

“You must tell me if I am tiring you out,” Dance says, stroking the man’s beard.  He feels the smile under his fingers.

“I will.”

“This is a vacation, I must not be wiping you out,” Dance says, worried.

The smile widens.  “Sweetheart, it’s a honeymoon.  If it’s gonna make you happy, I’m doing it, I don’t damn well care if I get tired.  And yeah, I’ll try and use common sense so I don’t get myself injured, that’d be a waste.  But let me tell you, I feel great.  A lot better than I figured I would, tell you the truth.”  He puts up a hand, touches the ring on Dance’s finger, then the dragon pendant on the necklace that Dance wears all the time, even showering.  Both of them are Drin’s gifts to him.  Dance wraps his hand around the man’s fingers, so their rings brush together, and then Drin’s hand is stroking down his back and shoulders, and he relaxes.  “Shhh, don’t worry about me, sweetheart.  I’ve got you.  Go to sleep.”

“Kayaks,” Dance murmurs happily, and then he’s asleep.

Reception Conversations

“Well now, congratulations.  Quite a celebration here,” says an older man in a stiff black suit and dark tie.  He looks funereal, gaunt.

“Yes, thank you,” Dance says, looking up sharply.  A cloud of odor hangs around the man, pungent as a cigar-smoker.  Sugary, metallic, stale machine oil.  Dance wants to back away, gagging, appalled at how excessively his nose has been reacting to odors all day.  Instead, Dance chokes down the impulse and holds out his hand, grips the man’s damp, cold fingers.  He’s careful.  The man smells ill.

b/w picture of man's hand extended
man’s hand, source unknown

“Nice, for queers.  No big drag queen show.  Don’t care who’s pitching or catching, if you get my drift.  Big guy musta picked up lots of porn pictures of Asian boys in aprons, huh?”

Dance keeps his smile muscles locked, lips stretched.  “Thank you.  We could never do proper justice to a drag wedding ceremony, so it never crossed our minds.  Did you have a chance to try the appetizers?”

“Well, I found the fizzy first thing.  Pretty mild stuff, y’know.  My name’s Turner.”

“We are so glad you could come.  Are you a friend of Drin’s?”

A snort.  “In a manner of speaking.  I know his boss, one of the Board members, Bud Innes.  Lost track where Bud’s got to.”

“I think he’s organizing the wine-tasting,” Emma says, popping up at his elbow.

“Well, hello, pretty lady, would you like to help me score some wines?”

“I’d be delighted to,” Emma says, with a glance over her shoulder at Dance, who is hastily wiping his dampened hand on his pants, worrying that his fingers feel strange, all stinging and tingly, and hoping that nobody else notices.  Then she’s steering the man away.

The next person in line is giving Dance a highly offended look.  Dance finds his pocket square, wipes his disgusting fingers as dry as he can.

“Did he really mean that?” says Rose, the percussionist with the tats, holding out a hand in fashionably ripped black lace gloves.

“I assume he did,” Dance says, and bows while air-kissing over her hand.  She smells of patchouli over lousy pot, cheap weed tainted by some oil-based pesticide.  The same odor hangs on other musicians too.  Compared to the pampered weed that Robert smokes to calm his nerves, with Bud’s blessing, this stuff smells like rotten hay.  Not the time to say so, however.  The pesticide odor pokes his dizziness, makes it worse.  Hastily he lets go of her gloved hand.

She’s got a new tat on her upper arm, a reddened pattern of drumsticks.  He compliments her on that, so she shows it off to everybody around them, apparently delighted with the wincing sidelong looks from those older people she’d call ‘muggles’.  He demurs over discussing proper tattoos to memorialize his wedding.  Not the time for that conversation, either.

“You have a great long life with your sweetie,” Rose says fiercely, and then she’s grabbed him in a hug. She gives him a kiss on either cheek and a pat on the back.

“Thank you, this is no small blessing to give,” Dance says warmly.

“Hey, we can all use all the blessings we get,” Rose says.

actress smiling, possibly photo from a screening of Inglorious Bastards
b/w picture, source unknown

The next guest is a petite woman wearing bubblegum pink and black, with skull jewelry and black bows everywhere.  He’s never seen her before, but she starts talking as if resuming an earlier conversation.  “Well, I played fairy godmother and wished Drin prosperity, and he just laughed.  I guess beyond a certain point that much money just gets to be more of pain than a pleasure, but really, you guys could use some plain old good luck too.  So hey, best of luck to you!”  She bounces into a curtsey, flouncing out her ruffled black skirts until it shows the striped stockings beneath.  The girly gesture is so unexpected that she starts to giggle at his expression.  He thanks her, she nods, and then she moves off, humming.

“She said it right,” says the next woman in line.  Amalia’s sister rustles around in a crisp, noisy blue fabric.  She smells of perfume and the chocolate from the appetizer tables.  “I always like a garden wedding, anyway.  You guys look great.  Best wishes for a peaceful life together.”  If she’s referring to her own divorce, it’s certainly not the time or place to ask about that.  So many rules.  It worries Dance that he might mix things up, the way he bumbled around on things when he first came to the Metro.  Dance receives a hug from her that drags him nearly off-balance, but he manages to blink away the increasing dizziness.

He breathes a sigh of relief when Robert is next in the line.  Robert doesn’t hug.  Robert stays out of Dance’s reach if he can.  He is wearing a piratical frock coat, a poet’s shirt with soft collar, a wide belt hung with coins and gears and cogs and watch parts, big floppy buccaneer boots, and a red scarf at his neck.  He’s a one-man source of the kind of atmosphere they totally failed to provide.  He wanted them to do it all up righteously steampunk, and he is still striving to provide proper drama.

Muted slubbed silks and perfect tailoring and a nondenominational service run exactly on time by a former Army chaplain wearing a rainbow stole, this is all far too fuddy-duddy old-school for him.

But then, Robert didn’t see the real show.  He arrived too late.

The chaplain roared up on a Harley right in front of the waiting couple, escorted by a pack of  vets on bikes dismounting at the back of the park, all kinds of burly senior leathermen come to bless Drin’s wedding.  The chaplain parked the bike, clapped his gloves together and held up his hands to quiet folks, who were whistling and whooping while applauding.

During the ceremony, the rest of the bikers loomed at the back with longhorn beers in hand.  When the vows were spoken and the recessional music began, the leathermen lined up along the aisle, making an arch of the bottles for the new couple.  Then the leathermen swaggered through the reception line, rumbled their good wishes at the newlyweds, gathered up the club flags and their bikes and their chaplain, and departed in a roar of exhaust.

This surprise presence was in response to Drin’s support for their club’s veterans, and also for an incident where he kept order among some ‘poorly disciplined pups.’  Truth be told, he kept younger leather club members from wrecking Kane’s bar a few months ago.

The barman told that story at their rehearsal dinner.  Kane stood up and thanked Drin for saving his bar from getting trashed.  He framed it as a dire warning to Dance.  Kane told them all that he wanted Dance to know what he is really in for, marrying a guy who can stop a bar brawl.  With a look.  A brawl with sailors, in a Navy town.

He reported that Drin walked up to the drunk Naval desk-jockey who started it, just clotheslined the guy, tipped him right over on the floor.  Then Drin just stood there, looking at everyone.  Stopped everything cold.

It must have been a helluva look.

When things got quiet, then Drin barked the leather pups into cleaning up the bar.  Who needs a swagger stick when you have a mouth like that?

Kane said the big man stood over them, giving them that horrible, old-time, personally-detailed, intimate Army sergeant hell about scrubbing down every last dirty corner, and he drove them at it until their leather daddies showed up to take charge of them.  Kane said his bar got those corners scrubbed cleaner than it’s been in years.  Kane reported the senior guys spanked the ever-lovin’ snot out of those poorly-disciplined pups, too.

So every month since, the pups come back to clean his bar to the same exacting standards, as just another part of their on-going discipline.  Sometimes Drin drops in to make sure of it.  Punishment, or pleasure?  After seeing them today, at his wedding ceremony, Dance is perfectly sure, both.

Drin mumbled into his dinner plate about losing his temper, and everybody laughed a lot.

Dance had to stand up and reply that he was very sad to miss it.

Kane said that was a damn good thing, which made all the musicians laugh.  Oh, they knew.  For the others, Kane explained Dance might not be a huge guy, but he’d have taken everybody apart for threatening his Drin–  more laughter.

Kane was just getting warmed up.  He told some really embarrassing stories about Dance’s history as an informal bouncer– a warning to Drin what he was in for.

Some of those made Drin’s eyes pop open in outrage, and everybody laughed in delighted suspense as Kane built it up.  “So, what you got to say for yourself, Mister Dance?”

Into the microphone thrust in his face, Dance admitted sadly that he only bent that shotgun into that steering wheel because he’d leaned on it too hard.  He didn’t intend to.  Too showy.  Not boring enough to get the brawlers to just go away and sober up.

People laughed at that, too.

Kane closed by saying he really wasn’t joking that, between the two of them, Dance and Drin had saved his stupid thankless goddamn business.  That got general applause.

Dance is still sad that he didn’t see his husband in action, making pups clean things up.

Emma, as mistress of ceremonies, commented that nobody could be expected to follow a show like that, but they were welcome to try, and made them all laugh again.

Now, Robert’s name is called, and he turns from the reception line.  While Robert is chatting to one of the passing guests, a breeze swirls around them.  Dance takes a pleased breath.  His nose twitches at a gust of scents from the wedding’s bar, a gust of orange juice, pineapple and coconut.  Kane is moving around inside an open door nearby, setting up bottles and running the blender at the bar, chatting happily with his customers.  He’s gossipping about morning TV talk shows, showing off his technique pouring fruit syrup for the row of Metro ladies perched in front of him. They’re all wearing fluffy straw hats and sherbet-colored summer dresses and impractical shoes.  Most of them would never guess Kane’s bar turns into a leatherman dungeon on alternate Fridays.

Robert follows his glance.  “Oh, wonderful, Joscelyn’s ancient gang of maenads will get smashed and start baying for blood.”  He sighs that put-upon performer’s sigh that he’ll go over there and throw himself on the altar of duty, if he has to.  They both know he’ll love wallowing in the clouds of attention from the Metro ladies, as he always does.  The guest swats him on the arm to behave, nods to Dance, and departs, leaving them to talk.

“Hey, ya big bully,” Robert says.

“Hey brat,” Dance says solemnly.

“You really did it!”

They both grin.

Dance taps fists and goes patiently through the finger-snapping routine Robert has initiated in the past few weeks.

Robert leans in closer.  The pot scent on him is like a punch in the gut, but it’s familiar.  “So, you guys couldn’t even talk the leather dudes into sticking around a little longer, just for me?”

No point in reminding steampunk diva Robert that it’s his own fault he only got to admire the burly biker honor guard as they left.  That made Robert’s face fall in dismay.

Dance shakes his head.  “No, sorry.  The chaplain had two other ceremonies with members of his congregation, so he had to run like the wind to add ours.”

Dance had liked talking to the man.  The chaplain had been happy to counsel all concerned, sternly, in the weeks prior to the ceremonies.  Emma said she’d been thinking hard about points brought up in her conversations with him.  She said he was good at drawing things out of a person, and Drin agreed, looking very sober about it all.  Dance was mystified by this;  it hadn’t been a burden to answer his questions.  The man had laughed at his answers, and clearly enjoyed teasing him, and he gave Dance a big hug every time they finished another session of questions.  Drin said that was because he was being especially cute.

Robert says, “Hey, Bud told me to pass on an invitation, he says you guys can always come over to our place if you ever want to run away from home.”

Dance smiles wider.  “That is a very generous offer.  Please thank him for me.”

Robert gives a nod toward the wine-tasting tent.  “If that weird old guy Turner knows Bud, it’s from a long time ago, before we got together.  You bet I’d remember him.”

“Yes, he did make himself stand out to the memory, goodness knows why,” Dance agrees.  Then he smiles at Robert.  “By the way, if I ever get offended at Drin about rude pictures, it would only be for not sharing them.”

Robert laughs, and makes a sour face.  “TMI, dude, I don’t wanna know!”

Emma reappears at Robert’s elbow.

“Hey, you’ve lost the memorable Mister Turner,” Robert says.

“Yeah, suddenly he decided to visit the men’s room and then he was gone out the back way.  Bud said the guy wasn’t a freeloader, but he didn’t look happy.  Left me wondering if the guy used to be a business partner or a creditor or something.”

“I’ll talk to Bud,” Robert says, ominously.  Bud must be resigned to Robert’s curiosity since he’s started using Robert’s help at parties.  He might call Robert the Elephant’s Child sometimes, but he has been teaching the boy discretion.  Robert stil blathers, but it’s a wall built to deflect questions about those events, as if the littlest things might betray too much about Bud’s interests.

Emma nods.  “Mister Turner talked a good game but he skipped the drinks and ran off.  Speaking of drinking, do you need some more water, Dance?”

He waves it off.  “I’m good, thank you.”

“Right, I’m off to check on Amalia.  She was fussing about the jazz quartet taking a break.”  And she’s gone, apricot silk fluttering in her wake.  She probably won’t sit down for hours, meaning she’ll be in pain tonight.

Drin joked about that at the rehearsal dinner, when he gave her a gift certificate for a massage and spa.  Amalia got a matching certificate, so the two women can relax and talk after today’s event.  Dance hopes they will be very happy hashing over the details and gossipping about what people told them.

Ms. Edna Lewis, Southern cooking expert, chef  and cookbook writerDance turns to a slow-moving elderly black lady.  She has a grip as soft as a ghost.  He finds himself laughing with her on jokes about Emma and Amalia beating up on slow musicians, like they’re a couple of cane-wielding grannies on a tear.  She pats his hand, saying, “Oh, call me Susan, sweetie, we’ll be talking again one of these days, probably at some Metro event, but nothing like as nice as this wedding of yours.  Hey, sweet boy, you be good, now!” and then her attendant is there, unfolding her wheelchair.

He’s still chuckling when he greets the next Metro patron in the reception line.  The restauranteur, Shura Khorachevnik, introduces his friends with Russian, Armenian, and Polish names, all of them solemn, enormous men in dark expensive suits.  They say they are businessmen, but they stare at people rather than talking.  They stare down at Dance the most.  They don’t blink looking  at Dance, either.  They are very polite, and soft-spoken, and they go off to put some serious cash into the donation bins for the Metro’s charities.  Dance promises happily he will listen to all the new music Shura gifted him, along with the new music player.

When he looks up, he sees the line is slowly dwindling in front of his husband.  His husband.  Drin has his tuxedo jacket unbuttoned, one hand resting on his hip, bending forward and listening, with a grin.  His face looks sunburnt.  The pale shadow of goggles hangs in those freckles around his eyes.  Trimmed and groomed into a well-cut suit, there’s still that craggy Victorian wildness to him.  He’s speaking Spanish to one of the Metro’s staff ladies, and then he solemnly bends to shake hands with her little boy, who giggles.

Drin looks like he belongs on a sailing ship, or climbing mountains, or studying Iraqui architecture or strange primates in a jungle somewhere.  He’s beautiful.

Dance takes a shallow breath.

It’s surprising, the rush of pressure squeezing in his chest, the swoop of emptiness in his belly, as if he’s pushed himself out of an airplane and he’s just pulled on the release cord on the parasail, the way he did just two days before.

source unknown
source unknown

As Robert had said:  Trust Emma to arrange a stag weekend where everybody had to fall out of a plane!  Or else, after the daring parachutists returned to the main party, the noncombatants had to provide very amusing fake stories about why they couldn’t do it, couldn’t get there in time, or couldn’t find the airport at all.  Amalia’s story had been voted “Most Inventive Invective,” which has left her in a pleasant mood ever since.  Robert had achieved “Best Excuses.”

There’s a camera flash.  Dance blinks, refocuses, and catches a delighted grin on the face of the camera-wielding person in front of him.

The woman chuckles.  “Well, clearly this relationship has a lot going for it.”  She thinks it’s adorable.  He’s being cute again.  People have been teasing him about that.  There will be endless pictures of him making cow-eyes at his husband.

Dance can feel the heat coming up all the way from his belly, pounding in his ears.  He’s blushing all over when the lady takes another picture of him, and finally pockets her camera and pats his arm.  Their new Metro Librarian has only been three weeks on the job, and she’s become a firm personal favorite with Dance.  But he also dreads what she’s capable of.  She smells of old books and paper dust, as Emma does after work.  Like Emma, she’ll be able to retrieve those pictures at any excuse, embarrassing him for years to come.

She shakes his hand, saying, “Best wishes for a long, happy marriage, my dear.”  She’s still chuckling as she gives way to the next person.

The next person is their favorite violist on maternity leave, Miss Twillzer, who is wearing her empty infant-carrier.  When he asks, she gestures distractedly at a circle of women on benches nearby in the shade.  They are holding quite a healthy crop of babies and squirmy toddlers.  The whole area smells of baby powder, zinc ointment, and bagged diapers.

Miss Twillzer herself looks good, clearly tired but much more relaxed.  She smells completely different than she used to.  She’s gained muscle bulk, she has freckles on her pale skin now.

“Yes, of course you must go take care of her.  I am glad to say, you do look so good,” he says, waving her off.

The last person in line is a staff lady from the Metro office, who’s grinning like a Halloween pumpkin.  She says nothing at all, just holds out her arms and gives Dance a big, hard hug.  Lavender-scented, one of his favorites–she wore the scent he’s told her he likes best on her.  He thanks her, holding her hands a moment, feeling that odd new pressure on his finger, from his wedding ring.  They both look down at it, up again, and just smile at each other.

When he looks around, the last of the other patrons are shaking hands with Drin; then the patrons all head off toward the bar, and Drin is just standing there alone, grinning at him.

Dance’s husband.

Dance looks up at the big man, feeling bruised, breathless, and completely out of his limited supply of social blather.  “You–” he chokes, waving his hands.

“What, have I got champagne all down my front?” Drin says, teasing.

Dance rests his ringed right hand on the shirt front in question.  “There,” he says solemnly.  “And there, and there–and there–” and then he’s completely unable to stop himself from tickling Drin.

Drin roars out a laugh, wraps both arms around him, and hugs him too tight for tickling.  Then he folds himself over, leaning in close to Dance’s head, and he murmurs, “I could just eat you up with a spoon.  And I’m going to, tonight, dammit.”

Dance hears himself humming something distractedly–he can’t stop that, either–and he leans into the bigger man, hugging him back until he can feel ribs creaking, but Drin doesn’t complain at all.  He lets the grip ease until he isn’t hurting the man, and he says, “Drin, I am so– so full, the words go away and I just lose it– Drin, you are very beautiful.”

Drin chuckles again, surprised, as if he’s not used to such compliments.  “Thank you.”

“And I want you so much right now it makes me crazy.”

“Even after all this extremely public fuss?”

“Even in the middle of people saying incredible outrageous things to us, very much I love you and I think I cannot be so lucky ever, yes,” Dance says.

“I think you’ve got the right words just fine,” Drin murmurs, leaning in and kissing Dance first on one closed eyelid, then on the other.  Slowly Dance opens his eyes, looking up into the frowning, tiger-yellow eyes of his husband.  Who tells him, “I think I need practice saying this, Dance.   It’s hard for me.  I can say, I want you.  I can say, I admire you so much, all that music in you.  I can say, I want to wake up and look at you every morning.  I’m totally soppy about you and I keep thinking of things I want to do with you, and do to you.  I want to buy suits for you, and give you cool things and show you wonderful places and– and–”

Dance touches a finger on the bridge of the man’s nose, tracing up onto the bushy browline.  “I know this from you every day.  Words are so much easier than to do all these things for me.  For both Emma and me.  All the time.”

“I love you, Dance.”

“Not so easy to say at all, but worth it, yes.  I love you to bits, my husband.  When do we get to run away?”

“After drinks and dinner,” Drin says, with a sigh.  “And cutting the cake.”

“Oh, there must be cutting of cake.  Tradition.  Have you decided on the protocol of the cake going neatly in the mouth, or all over the face, or what?”

“Oh, I was going to go with an impulse decision.  Even if you insist on smooshing it on me right back, and then licking every crumb off my face.”

“With no hands.”

“Like I could stop you,” Drin says, smiling.

“It’s our secret,” Dance says, which makes Drin crack up.  It has been a running gag through the whole event, from the very first days of preparation.

At a noise, he looks up, and sees Emma laughing, her shoulders shaking as she hugs herself.  She says, “They sent me out to break up the clinch.  I think they were afraid you guys would run off right now, and they wouldn’t even get fed.”

“If the speeches take too long, I don’t promise anything,” Drin growls, hugging Dance again, and then gathering in Emma and hugging her too, while they’re both laughing.  “Thank God we already did most of the pictures, I’d expire if we had to go through that too.  All right, all right, in we go, I’ll behave.”

The exchange of cake, it transpires, does not become a messy smoosh on the face at all.  It becomes a rather silly braggart’s display of just how much cake that each man’s mouth can accommodate, which makes the guests laugh.  Emma cracks jokes that Dance has a very big mouth.  Bud Innes replies that he doesn’t have to prove it quite that well, and Drin just bestows such a smug look on the company that everybody bursts out laughing harder.

So does the throwing of the bouquet–both men solemnly take off their green carnation boutonnieres, pin them together with a lot of big fake green flowers, and toss the thing over their shoulders, together.  It goes entirely past the ladies jockeying for it.  Behind them, of course Robert catches the green blob reflexively, the fastest hand in the lot.  He looks outraged at his own speed, but people cheer, making him blush happily at being the center of attention.

Then there’s the silly neon-green garter–Dance makes a slapstick display of getting the garter off of Emma, revealing to observers that he himself was wearing it as a sock garter all along–and that Drin was wearing another like it.  He pulls them both onto his wrist, and then twists it around Drin’s wrist too, acting like he’s going to drag Drin off to the restrooms, which makes the big man roar with laughter.  They play keep-away, and eventually Dance tosses away the garter-knot at the men standing around Bud.  It’s Bud, of course, who comes out grinning with it in hand, to claim Robert officially as the bouquet-catcher for their dance later.  Robert clearly doesn’t mind a bit when Bud hugs his stuffings in public very hard.

After that, they hold a contest for best soap-bubble-blower and best bubblegum blower.  Bud and Emma emcee various silly guessing games, and people start queuing for several pinatas hung up in the courtyard.  Drin bashes down the first pinata with a well-timed thwack of a foam pool-noodle–he claims Dance isn’t trying, but honestly, together Drin and a blindfold and a floppy bit of foam, playing at literally slapstick comedy, make it impossible to stop laughing.  As Dance is caught in repeated camera flashes, he’s giggling too hard at Drin’s gangly long-limbed antics to even put his own blindfold back on.

They’ve tried to provide other points of interest for the day.  There’s the usual tables for their guestbook, scrapbook donations, a thumb-print tree for folks to sign, and a table for gifts, where Amalia presides. There’s a picture-taking booth, a nerf-ball batting cage, some pinball machines and old video arcade games brought over by one of Drin’s coworkers, a raffle for performances by various Metro groups, a penny wishing-well, a prosperity tree that donates for Metro charities.  After the pinatas are demolished, Emma drafts teenagers to unfold a ping-pong table in the courtyard.

Drin and Dance go around the tables talking to people, shaking hands with new guests they missed before, standing in pictures that people want of them together.  Dance feels his spine start to ache from standing that long, but dismisses it.  He is too busy to notice exactly when Shura’s caterers get the food tables set up and start serving beverages.  People start settling in place.

At last Bud, as the best man, and Emma as the best woman, stand up together to call for order.  They do a marvelously rehearsed vaudevillian patter together, complete with silly Spike Jones noises banged out by the jazz quartet.  More funny speeches carry into dinner, involving as many musical in-jokes as Robert and Amalia and Shura could come up with.

When dinner seconds have been finished and plates cleared, people start clapping rhythmically, and the quartet shifts instruments.

Drin stands up from the table, bows to Dance, takes his hand, and leads him out on the floor in front of the jazz quartet.  There’s a moment of stillness, poise.

Everyone knows this is a special part of their wedding.  Instead of being a favorite tune, this one is new to everyone.  Their first dance will be a waltz to music they’ve never heard before.  The tempo is all Dance knows.

It’s a gift composed for them by the jazz quartet.  This was Amalia’s idea, buoyed by Shura’s offer to pay the quartet for rehearsal time if they tested it out in his various public venues.

Dance settles one hand on his husband’s shoulder, the other on his waist, and finds himself taking lead as the music starts, shifting direction as easily as if they were dancing in the kitchen at home.

Shura’s support gave the quartet working time to develop the piece, to practice it.  Since various musicians at the Metro have heard bits of it, the great Metro teases knew better what to expect from it than the new couple.  Robert has been collecting all the gossip, too.

As the second and third bars slide like honey from the saxophone, Dance knows it is important.  More, it is brilliant. This is not just a piece of sentimental wedding cake ruffles, it’s not like the schmaltzy two-minute pop chartm ,,  favorites that get featured in karaoke bars for years to come.  This makes his insides tighten, his eyes prickle, that spooky thrill runs down his spine, twingeing down in his tailbone.  Dance relaxes, trusting the music.  This is good.  He moves cautiously at first, conscious of both his own aching spine and his husband’s bigger, slower mass, and finds himself grateful for all the kitchen dancing they’ve done, just enjoying themselves.  The tempo is solid under the complicated exchanges between the bass and the piano, making it easy to stay with it.

The clarinet slides into a jazz theme with an slinky, arch quality that leaves no doubt who it portrays, and then the piano does complicated arpeggios, climbing a backbone of lightning key-changes like a mathematical exercise, reference to all that arcane genius in Drin’s auditor’s brain.

Dance starts to smile.

hands playing piano, source unknown
hands playing, source unknown

As it goes on building, teasing back and forth, finally expanding into achingly soulful flights on the sax, Drin starts smiling too.  They alternate lead without even thinking about it, a little squeeze of the hand for guidance from whichever one can see better where they’re going.

The themes work together so beautifully that, as it slows toward the end, it makes Dance sigh and lean his head happily against Drin’s chest.  His eyes tear up because he is feeling so happy.

Drin leans down and kisses the top of Dance’s head.

There is very loud applause when the quartet wraps it up with a tortuous set of bars thundering up and down the width of that piano keyboard.

“By God that’s beautiful!  I want the rest of it, that’s just the overture.  It’s a goddamn ballet waiting to happen!”  Bud bellows out, clapping.

“Yes, of course.  The sketch for beginnings, yes?  Entirely appropriate for such an occasion,” Shura says, showing big square teeth in a grin, and he picks up his champagne flute and clinks it in a toast with Bud.

Bud’s videographer grins, capturing that, and turns his camera back to the newlyweds.

“You two are conspiring already?” Drin exclaims.  Then he bends down and gives the pianist a kiss on the cheek, making her laugh, and he shakes hands with the clarinet, the sax, and the bass.  Dance bows to them, deeply, and he wipes his eyes, and then he too solemnly shakes hands with them.

Instantly, the quartet strikes up a very pompous John Phillip Sousa waltz.  That sets off both applause and laughter.   The quartet gathers up half the party onto the dance floor when they start doing swing dances, some jitterbug, a medley of classic Louis Armstrong, some big band-era slow dances.  More of the guests move onto the floor when they start doing Argentinian salsas and tango, one of the quartet’s specialties.

The newlyweds each dance with Emma and with Amalia, and after Bud has claimed his dance with Robert, Dance too accepts a turn around the floor with Bud, who gives an excellent lead.  Dance reclaims his husband to do the slower jazz pieces, skipping the faster tangos, as much due to fatigue as to being overstuffed on Shura’s excellent food.  Between the friends of Bud and Shura, there’s plenty of dancers who’d like more floor space anyway.

“You okay?” Drin asks eventually, touching Dance’s lower back.

Dance murmurs that maybe he stood up too long.  The sharp ache in his lower back runs deep into his tailbone.  A bit alarming, professionally, but not a huge surprise.  It’s been a long few weeks.

Some of the guests are getting tired too.  The older fragile guests, the people with babies,  and the folks with other obligations start departing even though it’s only mid-afternoon.  Occasionally new faces show up, signing the guest-book and marching over to shake hands with Bud or Shura.  There’s a lot of back-slapping at the corner where the two businessmen are holding court together.  Emma is flitting everywhere, carrying things, an apricot blur who only slows down when she’s talking to older folks.

Everybody else lingers, the music is good, the snacks and drinks are holding out well, knots of people are talking among the scattered chairs, other people are on the floor dancing, the games seem to be holding the attention of the teenagers.

Eventually, when Emma slips over to tell Dance that the limo has arrived, his first impulse is to feel relief rather excitement. That’s probably traditional too, but he feels that it’s hardly the appropriate way to start the more intimate part of their marriage.

red-haired woman smiling
actress Christina Hendricks

When he says so, fumbling for words, it makes Drin and Emma laugh.  She gets them out the door just as sunset colors the walls in salmon and pink tints.  She snaps a quick picture of them in that gilded light, and takes more snaps as they slide into the open car door.  At last Drin gives her a final wave, and the driver closes the door.

“Ugh!” Drin says in the limo, first thing, and kicks off his shoes.

Dance can’t help it, he starts to laugh.  He pulls off his own tie, and then Drin’s, rumpling the man’s already messy hair, but he’s still laughing.

“What?  First time today I get you in private–well, relative privacy–and you start laughing at me?” Drin says, making a ridiculous face.  “Gimme those feets, I know those fancy shoes were giving you grief all day.  C’mon pretty boy, shift your ass, I’m gonna rub your feet while it’s still easy to reach you.  Oh ho, you still have socks!   So you did cut down those deadly sharp toenails, didn’t you?”

That just makes Dance laugh harder, and flop over on the long seat.  He offers to reply in kind.  But once Drin is done with the feet, the big man shakes his head, not wanting to move.  He just slouches there, stroking Dance’s legs.  He teases Dance about idly humming, but Dance feels the same vibration murmuring in the big man’s body.  It’s the waltz that the quartet composed for them.  Drin looks out the windows and sighs, and pats Dance’s shins, as if he can’t quite believe it’s real.

The ride is smooth enough that neither of them worry about the driver on the other side of the opaque glass, reputedly part-owner of the company, and one of Shura’s buddies.  The only distraction is when he clicks on the intercom, murmurs an inquiry about a rest stop, and responds to Drin’s request for the classical radio station.  It plays some nice things, too, recordings Dance has never heard.

When the radio dj says he’s playing a request, and says the names of the donors involved, Dance kisses his husband.  “You big silly,” he says, hugging him, and Drin gets out his pocket square and wipes Dance’s face and says gruffly that he didn’t mean to make Dance cry.

Eventually Dance curls up on his side, his head in Drin’s lap, feeling the big hands stroking along his neck and shoulder.  He sighs contentedly.  Even the the ache in his tailbone quiets, at last.  He stops worrying that he won’t be able to walk far tomorrow, or to perform any conjugal duties tonight.  He had plans for that.

“Christ, and now you’re gonna fall asleep on me,” Drin says, making that face again.

“Oh, you might have to wake me up,” Dance murmurs, looking up under his brows, and feeling Drin’s hand unbuttoning the tuxedo shirt at his neck.  “It might take awhile.”

“Oh, I don’t think it’ll take long at all–” and the other hand is sliding into his clothes and finding ways to make him very happy.  He’s not going to make it out of the limo without making a mess in his pants.  He figures it’s simply traditional to return the favor.

Long Day

“Dog, stop it–” Emma says, flinging things down on the chairs and sofa, controlling the dog one-handed until Drin calls the furry tornado away.

bag with logo I Like Big Books, source unknown
cloth bag with message, source unknown

While he occupies the beast’s attention, she eases her arm out of the straps of a heavy cloth shopping bag–it is full of books–and pauses for a moment, grimacing while she tests her fingers for remaining function.  “Do you ever have days where everything is just too much– days when even your tits hurt?”

Dance finishes drying his hands on a dish towel and considers her solemnly.  His eyes are amused.  “No, but sometimes mine are made sore, yes, by somebody having way too much fun making me act silly–”

Emma gives him a Look, and he giggles.

Drin arches up both brows innocently, patting the dog.  “Are we going into TMI?  Is Too Much Information going to happen now?”  He pushes away his newspaper and sits up, looking attentive.  The dog, seated at his feet, ears perking up, has the same expression.

“You are too silly!” Dance says.

Emma smacks Dance on the shoulder.  “God, you want TMI, I’ll give you TMI.   I’m too wiped out to play in your league on the snark tonight.  Give me a pinky-push and I’ll fall over.”  Emma bends down to the limits of her aching back, and completely fails to reach the ankle straps on her shoes.  Those embarrassing noises that come out of her are, officially, groans.

Dance pats a straight chair that is not empty, speaking sternly to the cat occupying it, who tries to ignore him.  He bumps the cat gently, ruffles her fur until she is annoyed enough to jump down and depart in a huff.  “Em, sit down, let me take off the shoes, have your tea.  I will finish this dish and put it in the oven and we eat it all up and then you should have a back rub.”

She flops into the chair like a rag doll, groaning.  “God, whatever I did to deserve you, let me figure out what it was and do it some more.”

Dance smiles, slowly and marvelously.  “Oh, I think I will not mind eating this lovely food Drin bought us, and rubbing the tight muscley shoulders on this beautiful Emma woman.”

“I’m glad you didn’t put it the other way round,” Drin says dryly.

“So am I!” Emma says, laughing.  “You make it sound like it’s all the same to you!”

“It is all the same thing, eating up all the yummy things, mmm mmm mm.”  Dance waggles his hips provocatively.  He ignores their outraged laughter and pivots back into the kitchen, where he makes clanging noises, humming.

“Sometimes I kind of worry.  I mean, when you have any bite-able bits, you kind of wonder about Dance–” Drin looks perfect straight-faced saying this.

Emma stares at him, shocked, and starts to laugh again.

“Eat all the things!” Dance says in the kitchen, with growling, ravening noises.  “Start with this.  Here’s your tea.”  He puts a steaming mug on the table by her hand.

She looks down at it, surprised.

“Now, say thank you to Drin for buying us our new electric kettle that is always on and keeps water hot for you all night.”

“He did?  When?”

“With groceries today.”

Emma looks up at Drin.

“Don’t cry,” Drin says comfortably.

“Why the bloody hell not?  Because it’ll make my makeup run?”

“No, it’ll stuff up your nose so you can’t smell Dance’s spicing in the food.  Missing that would be a shame,” Drin says, and crosses one leg elegantly over the other, adjusting the drape of his jeans.  That means he’s embarrassed to be called out on the gift.  He has been threatening to get one of those big electric hot pots to support her tea habit.  Her everlastingly eternally necessary damn tea.

She looks down at the mug of tea.  “Dammit,” she says, and chugs the lot.  “God, I needed that.”

“Good,” Drin says, and smiles at her.  It’s a tiny, slow, pleased smile and yet somehow it looks just like one of Dance’s big delighted window-pane grins.  She’s not sure how.  Not sure she even cares to analyze how he pulled that off.

“Better?” he says.


“Well then, have some more,” Drin says, chuckling, and then he bends to the dog and talks nonsense, hands buried in her ruff, while his face is getting licked.  “Yes, she can have lots and lots of tea and bounce all over the ceiling all night, yes she can.  Oooh, yes, very silly.”

“Do you want some more?  You can have more,” Dance asks.

“Yeah, that’d be nice, thanks love,” Emma agrees, surrendering the empty mug.

He looks down, turning, and chirps agreeable noises at the cat, who talks back at him in short scolding noises. The determined little beast starts stropping its sides against Emma’s legs.  Then it jumps up.  When she feels the cat’s weight land on her knees, instead of yelping in pain she endures it, steadying the beast in place, urging it into a better position, and starts scrubbing her fingertips through the soft, soft fur.  Its purring tickles against her hands.  Emma sighs.  She can feel the fibers in her neck and spine easing with twanging sensations, like loosened strings.

Kimchee stew in a steel pot
Kimchee jjigge, or Kimchee stew, photo by Korean Kitchen

Dance returns with the steaming mug, and in his other hand, tissues for her.  He leans down and kisses her forehead.  “You can cry all you want.  I did not tell Drin yet, but this stew will blast out your sinuses and make you taste everything whether you like it or not, I promise.  If you want hot hot food, I give it to you.”

“God, Dance,” she says shakily, and wraps an arm around his hips, and leans into him a moment.  He ruffles her hair lightly.

“You’re okay,” he says.  “You’re home, everything else can go to hell.”

She laughs, grips him tighter a moment, and releases him.  It’s a quote from their mutual best buddy Amalia, old reminder of all the other impossible situations they’ve survived before, and will go on enduring.  Muddling through.  “I’ve been craving– how did you know?”

“Oh, I hear this woman Emma talking, all week.  All that rain.  I know, with so much rain, Em will be craving hot TexMex chili and hot Chinese ginger chicken and hot Indian curries,” Dance says, gives a silly hand flip, and sashays back into the kitchen.

Her stomach rumbles very loudly, and both of the men laugh at her.  They always seem to find her blunt comments charming instead of gross and disgusting, which still surprises her.

“Drin wants hot food too, you know.  He can joke all about it, but he does.  So do I.”  Dance starts whistling over the noise of opening cans.

“It smells terrific, just coming into the house,” Emma says.

“It does,” Drin agrees.

“And I could smell it at all!” Emma adds.

“Good,” Dance says.  A spatula spangs and clatters against the sides of his wok, and gusts of chili and ginger and onion fill the room.  Instead of annoying her nose, it does the opposite.  She can feel her lungs relaxing more open by the moment.  The tea is starting to work its magic on her sore throat, too.

“I needed this,” Emma says, inhaling steam from her mug.  Then she puts her face into a tissue instead, and starts honking into it.  Not exactly gracious living.

“You should stay in bed tomorrow,” Dance says.

“Yeah, of course I should.  But guess what–”

“You can’t go to a gala with enough tissues up your sleeve,” Dance says.

He’s right, of course.  Dammit.  Her shoulders sag.

“More tea?” Drin says.

She looks at him narrowly.

“Herb tea now,” Dance says firmly, and takes her mug again.  “Finding you things that are good for the sad nose.”

“Now I’m suspicious, all this nice attention tonight.  Most days, if you were playing computer games I could be sick to the gills and you guys would never notice me hacking up a lung.  I could be lying on my deathbed practically!  So you’re up to something, the both of you.  I’m wondering what you guys want from me, when my brain is mush and my judgement is impaired,” Emma says.

“Says that massive brain who’s using big words like, ‘Oh, my judgement is impaired,’” Dance mimics her voice, echoing in the kitchen.

“That doesn’t mean anything.  I use those words all the time,” Emma says, annoyed.

“This is true, she says them in her sleep even,” Dance tells the other man, yelling it out as if he’s proud of it.

“If I had a brain worth the word tonight, I’d be using much bigger words to explain that now you’re trying to dodge the question and distract me,” Emma says.  She frowns.  “Words like evasive and–”

“Yes, those words,” Dance says, and a gush of water noises drowns the conversation for a moment.

Drin is looking up at the ceiling, smiling a little, and he shakes his head.  “Told you it wouldn’t work,” he says.

“Worth a try,” Dance says.

“Whaaaat?” Emma demands, scrubbing at her forehead.  She inhales more steam, and honks noisily into a fresh tissue, and stares at Drin with her mouth open so she can breathe at all.

He gets up, stretches hugely, yawns, and wanders over.  “You look terrible, poor baby,” he says, and pats her shoulder.  “Like you should be tucked up in bed.”

She gives a snort that is even more piglike than usual, with the junk clogging her sinuses, and makes him laugh.

In the Park with Dance

“So,” Amalia says, looking immensely pleased with herself.  She shifts in her chair, looking at Drin.  “When are you taking Dance out to dinner?”

Drin starts to chuckle.  “You know his schedule right off the top, Ms. Yenta?”

“Pretty much.  I think he’s got a Monday free next week, but of course those are lousy for decent restaurants being open in this damn town.  I swear, they roll up the pavement at dark.  No noisy tourist traps for Dance, right?  He doesn’t like loud bangs and surprise noises and yelling.”  She smacks her palm on her purple muumuu in punctuation.

“Neither do I when I’m trying to eat decent food, so that works out.  Any other advice?”

“He doesn’t drink.  Dunno why, maybe he knows better.  Offer him freebies and he turns it down.”

“That’s it?”

“Well, yeah.  He’ll eat anything that isn’t nailed down, and put up with the most godawful muzak, my God.  Most places, I don’t think you need to worry about his irrational hatred for boring 19th Century ooom-pa-pa pieces–”

“That’s your bias thing, not mine,” Dance says, coming up at her elbow and pouring more soda from a liter bottle into her cup of ice chips.

She clutches her purple-flowered bosom.  “Don’t give me a heart attack, sneaking up on me.  So what was all that muttering last week about those stupid Barber of Seville excerpts, huh?  Was that my imagination?”

“Yes, of course it was,” Dance says in precise mimic of her voice, without even blinking, and walks off.

Drin stares after him.

“Hooo boy, Drin, I think you got some surprises coming,” Amalia says, breaking the silence.

“I guess so,” Drin says, settling back in his chair.  He looks at her with satisfaction.  “I could be having with that, yeah.”

“Oh, one more thing.  Sometimes he forgets, he licks off the plates.  He does quite a number on a soup bowl.”  Amalia looks as if it’s perfectly normal to say it.

Drin stares at her.

“Boy’s gone hungry,” she says, fanning herself with her folded newspaper.  “Just can’t throw enough food at him.  Metabolism like a kid, burns it all off.  Won’t cheat on mooching unfair extras, but he’ll clean up every scrap.  Says he’s better now, he doesn’t stash food in his pockets any more.  I’m more used to those buffet towers from the older folks from South Korea, not the younger ones.  But I guess you might see it with any North Koreans who got out.  I hear they’ve been starving.”

“You think Dance’s family is North Korean?”

She shrugs.  “He says not.  But their manners sound like it, not Southern style at all.  From everything I heard from him, they’re pretending they live in the Forties or Fifties.  Bad as some of our helmet-headed Junior League sorts who started off as trailer trash.  Ask us to play for free, wear mail order party clothes once and send ‘em back the next day, spend all their money on a fancy car and live on booze and pasta.  Pretend they’re not crazier than a bedbug in a frying pan.  Smile, and lick all the pans clean when they think you won’t see it.”

Drin frowns.  “Well, those folks think the same way about us crazy ivory tower privileged–”

Amalia snorts.  “You mean the thin white prince club?”

“Sorry, neither.  Those guys are further right-wing than the churches or the politicians.  And you forgot to add crazy.  Crazy thin white prince.”

Amalia slants a glance at him under her hat.  “That’s a lot scarier coming from you.”

He smiles.  “Yeah.”

“Shades of Howard Hughes and other eccentric millionaires.”

“Oh, I only let the hair and the beard get real wild when I’ve been sailing for a long time.”

“Now, there’s an image that sticks with a gal.  Vikings, man.”  Amalia fans herself for a thoughtful moment.

“Ha.  Don’t let any of those hairy North Atlantic sea-apes fool you about the romance of the Outer Banks and that crap.  It’s all wet clothes that smell like rotting kelp, fish breath and chilblains and stiff joints and sunburn and not enough sleep.”

“Which is why an old Mainer guy would say you’re not a real sailor.”

He laughs.  “That’s right.  Man, that first day on shore, you get your dry laundry, a haircut, a soft bed, and a big old steak?  Heaven.  Just like coming back from camping.  Any long trip, I guess.”

She waves the cup of ice chips in agreement.  “Back when I was a kid, before I started going to music camp, my uncle used to rent this huge beach house every summer.  Running hot and cold relatives, packs of kids, screaming babies, plastic toys, piles of boiled food.  Sand everywhere.  Of course, music camp, band camp, those are a whole other kind of crazy.  Get Dance to tell you some of his stories.  I thought mine were silly enough.”

“Why do I have a bad feeling about that?”

She laughs, and whacks him with the newspaper.  They both pause when Dance trots by with cases of soda on the handcart, braid flying gently.  He’s whistling something complicated and Mozartian this time.

Drin starts to shift his grip on the chair to get up.

“Stop,” Amalia says, barring the way with her newspaper.  “You’ve done plenty, take a load off.  We’ll need your help later, talking to folks who show up in an hour or so.  I’d die of heat prostration trotting round like that, but not him.  Let him run it off.  He’ll fade later.  Trust me.  Whistling like that?  He’s happy as a clam in a tomato cocktail.”

He blinks at her, struggling with the image.  “At least there’s no shortage of food.”

She snorts.  “Yet.  Give it time.”

Drin settles back with a sigh, watching the concertmaster.  Amalia is watching Dance too.  He doesn’t even have to say anything.

“Tell me you don’t love all that hair, huh?” Amalia adjusts her straw hat.

“Well, I do.  But he keeps talking about cutting it,” Drin says.

“That’s new.  He never used to let anybody touch him except me, and hell, do I look like a hairdresser?”

Drin looks at her, lounging in her orange flipflops, and her straw hat with floppy sunflowers, and purple muumuu.  “No.  Jersey on vacation in Florida, maybe.  Definitely a member of the Red Hat Ladies.”

“Thank you, Mister Reality.”  She points her newspaper at him in agreeable satisfaction.

“Well, I hope so,” Drin says, bemused.  That reference worked beautifully; but it usually does.  Goodness knows he’s signed enough birthday cards  at work about wearing purple.  Just mention it and their eyes light up.  Amazing.  It really doesn’t take that much, picking up this stuff–just paying attention to things happening.  He never understands why the younger guys miss all this stuff.  But then, apparently they don’t regard their work environment as a challenging social engagement in a virtually foreign language.  Somewhere he picked up the impression that it is, and that he’d better pay attention to all the odd nuances, years before he ever went into combat.  He’s just not sure where he learned it.

“Well, gotta hit the little boys’ room.  Should I pick up a plate of food for you, before it’s all gone?  Any preferences?”

She reached out and pats his arm.  “No, thanks, I’ll just rest right now, chat to people.  But yeah, you could grab Dance in a little while, make him take a little break.  End of the day, he will run himself ragged, trying to make up lost time at work.”

Drin looks at her.  “Like you do too, huh?”

She gives a broad wave of her hand.  “Takes one to know one.”

Drin chuckles, gets up, stretches, and yawns.  When he goes strolling around putting food on two plates, he’s not surprised to find Dance popping up at his elbow.

“I locked the handtruck in the van.  Keys,” Dance says, holding them up.

“Shirt pocket,” Drin says, since both hands are occupied with floppy plates.

“Okay,” Dance says, stepping close between outstretched arms.  He drops them carefully into the pocket on Drin’s Hawaiian shirt.  “Is that food for Amalia?  Shall we take it to her?”

“Nope, got hers done up already, it’s for you,” Drin says, presenting an overflowing paper plate.  They’ve already run through all the nice donated plastic plates.  “Need any more  condiments?  Oh good.  We got a date with a checkerboard table, if somebody hasn’t nabbed it already.”

“Taken, yes.  But there is another one,” Dance says, pointing.

“That’s got better shade anyway, good.”

“Also, we have collected acorns and caps.  Checkers are good.  No arguing about whether a chess piece is a rook or bishop or the Queen when everybody got confused.”

Drin finds himself grinning.  “I take it you’ve had to keep some bored musicians out of trouble.”

“Like Amalia told you to keep myself out of trouble?” Dance says, getting his plate safely onto the table.

Drin laughs.  “And Bud, too.”

Dance waves his hands in defeat, and sits down.  “We wondered maybe so.”

The benches are far too low for Drin.  He puts on a silly expression as he perches on his bench.  He’s delighted to see Dance’s face split into a wide grin.

Drin says solemnly,  “Now, let’s see about taste-testing this galbi of yours.  Here’s the chicken, here’s the spicy pork, here’s the– oooh I knew this was gonna be good, but daaayum, this is–”  He forks up another bite, making appreciative noises.

“Okay?” Dance says, pausing while he is emptying his pants pockets of acorns and empty caps.

“Okay, I am kidnapping you for dinner officially, and I might not give you back.  This–” he points at the really hot stuff, “–would have cured my flu last month in about three bites.  That is radioactive.  That is exactly what I wanted all this week, too.”

“Very good,” Dance says, and he starts taking tiny, careful, controlled bites of food, pausing between arranging rows of bare acorns in front of Drin.  Then he starts placing the caps in front of himself.  “There’s plenty in our galbi pans now, if you want more food,” he says.

Drin frowns.  Something bugs him about seeing those empty acorn caps in front of the concertmaster.  He puts an acorn back in its cap, and places that on the concrete checkerboard in front of Dance.  Then another.  And another.  He reaches down onto the scraggly grass and retrieves three more to finish the board’s layout.

Dance just watches him, head cocked a little to one side.

“There, that’s better,” Drin says.

“So you do with the Metro too, filling up empty acorn caps,” Dance says.

Drin huffs out a noisy sigh.  “I hope so.”  He palms acorns in either fist.  “Pick a hand.”

Dance smiles.  “This one,” he says, and he touches Drin’s knuckles.

Drin opens the hand.  The acorn is bare.  “You did that on purpose.”

The smile widens.  “We always remember which acorn is the bishop,” he says mildly.

“So you’re a mean hand at a poker game too, huh?”

“Oh, you mean card-counting?  We have not practiced it, we are not smooth.”

“Oh, what you mean by practice, huh?”  Drin shakes his head, moves an acorn on the board, and keeps taking small bites of the different types of galbi.  “Mmm hmmm mmm.”

“You must stop making these happy cow sounds,” Dance says after several moves.

“Oh?”  Drin smiles at him, and licks his lips of extra sauce.

The musician’s eyes are following the gesture.  Then he gives himself a shake, and frowns.  “Miss Amalia will think very naughty things.  Then she will say them, you know.  Yes, too distracting.  We begin to wonder if you play tricks on your brothers during games.  Tap the board until it falls, surprise body noises, jumping, whistling, yelling–”

“Here I thought you didn’t have any brothers!”

“Oh, our cousins make all the belch and fart and armpit noises.”

Drin can’t help it, he starts to laugh.  Then he can’t stop.

Dance arches up an eyebrow.  “What, am I too rude?  No?  Oh good.  Am I allowed to make happy happy moos when I eat new food at a restaurant and I like it very much?”

“I’d be honored if you would!” Drin says.

“And no whistlings or yells or ketchup squirting noises, I promise,” Dance says, and tilts his head and gives a shy little smile.  “See, now I have reached the end row, I get a double cap.  We–I– am marking it with two caps, very silly.”

“Sonuvabitch!” Drin says, astonished.  “I should have seen that–”

“Happy food distracted you,” Dance says, looking pleased.

Drin nods.  “It’s damn good food.  Let’s see if I can stop you this way…”

“Oh, you want to make us work now,” Dance says, steepling his hands and resting his chin on his fingertips.

Two games later, Drin says wryly, “Remind me never to play for money with you.”

Dance looks up, smiling.  “If you wish, of course I will remind you, but it is just practice. There is always a Metro game when we are waiting on something, and there is always the gambling pride, you know, that gets people in trouble.”

Drin sighs and rakes aside the acorns to set up the next game.  He’s got nowhere else to be now, and he fully intends to be waiting around until dark anyway.  He will be making sure that Amalia and Dance and all the neglected stuff that needs hauling afterward makes it safely out of the park.  He’s much rather be here, listening to Dance whistle and conjugate rude verbs, than at home sitting alone on his comfortable chair staring at his investment algorithms.  Dance is a much more interesting subject of attention.  The investment programs will be waiting tomorrow.

Pushing acorns around, Drin asks, “Say, what do you know about computer programs to compose twelve-tone music?”

“Only book knowledge.  But we could find out.  In what way could we help?”

“It might be just a silly idea, but there’s guys trying to map stock market trends onto regular music notation, trying to predict things.  They’re getting pretty mediocre results, but possibly they’re not using the right kind of notation, or the right type of compositions, and I’d like to try some twelve-tone mapping instead–”

Dance tilts his head slightly to one side.  “How careful should we be on who we ask, and how we ask persons for help on the right information, on which computer programs?”

Drin stares at him.  “Careful?”

“Perhaps you do not want the gossips to share your stock market ideas too early?”

Drin blinks at the man.  An odd little flare of delight warms him.  “Damn, you’re fast.”

“Are we wrong to ask?  Is it less like testing a light bulb shape and more art form like–oh–” Dance frowns, apparently grappling for words.  “More like playing the same score of Mozart between different performers?”

“Yes, it’s how you apply it.  More like the different performers,” Drin assures him.

Dance’s shoulders relax.  He nods.  “How did twelve-tone music theory come up?”

“Oh, Engerman was raving about experimental music.  I guess his favorite flautist is working on some performances up at the college.”

“Oh yes, we would start by asking her about who to consult, if that is all right with you?  She may mention these questions to Engerman if we are careless or weird.  We are not always asking things in ways that people expect.”

Drin smiles at him slowly.  “But that’s one of the things I like about you.”

The musician flinches back a degree, hand flailing, and then he’s bending away to retrieve fallen acorns.  “Sorry,” he says, coming up with a handful of them, looking flushed and awkward.  Stiffly he resets them, scanning the board carefully.  “There.”

“It’s all right,” Drin says.  “You’ve already won this game.”

“No, if you moved this piece–”

Drin just smiles wryly.  “But I wouldn’t be able to get away on the next move.”

Dance frowns at the board.  “Oh, yes.  That would be awkward.  Perhaps here?”

“You never give up.”

Dance looks up, still frowning.  “Musician, yes?”

Drin starts to laugh, and can’t stop for a long time.






Father’s Day

Drin wipes his forehead and says, “Do you think we ought to start hauling burger boxes again–”

“I think you need three minutes more rest,” Dance says sternly, frowning up at him.

Drin is absurdly delighted by this.  “Yes, Mom.”

“Right,” Dance says, and his gaze goes past Drin.  He turns, scans all the Metro food prep in the park.  It’s early to shut down the grills, they’re expecting a lot more patrons with tickets.  Finally he relaxes, settles more firmly, and looks at Drin.  He says, “The Romantic violinist and composer Pablo de Sarasate wrote a piece called the Navarra, after a province in Spain.  Is that where your last name comes from too?”

“Yeah,” Drin says.  He wonders if this will turn into one of Dance’s solemn jokes.

“Your first name Don, is it a title?  Just a name, Don?  Or no, it is the long name Donald?”

Drin sighs.  There’s a reason he uses the nickname.  Just trying to explain the middle parts of it, the Ridcully Innocencio bit, is even more difficult.  “Yeah, just Don.  It’s meant to be Don from the title.  But we never were traditional nobility over there.  Not since the thirteenth century, I think.”

“Then your parents wanted you to live like a ranking noble from the Spanish province?”

“Well, in my dad’s dreams, maybe.”

“And do you?”

Drin snorts.  “I should hope not, if you look at some of the history more closely.”

“Father’s dreams might not want good research chops on real history.”

Drin sputters into laughter.  “Yeah, he sure didn’t appreciate it when I brought up the details, how’d you guess?  He was kinda stiff, formal, you know– big on saving face.  Gotta have that dignity in public.  But he was gone all the time, traveling, career military.  Fond of order in his house, making sure the rules got enforced, when he was home.  ‘Course, I might too if I had as many kids as he did, and all of them noisy clumsy impudent long-haired snots like me.”  He squints as if he can’t see under imaginary long bangs, cranes his head out at a giraffe angle.

The corners of Dance’s eyes go crinkling upward.  “How wonderful, this image of tall furry youth.”

“Oh, I was a sad case.  Way too much roaring and fur.  Embarrassing how predictable it all was.  All simple action-reaction, not terribly inventive.  The aunts and uncles fuss at me, and they get my parents riled up, and then the more that my parents make threats about my weird music, my weird hair and habits and weird friends, and weirder food, then I act up worse.  That was before rainbow flags and pride marches, or I’d have been doing that too.  I guess I pissed off everybody back then.  I mean, the maids were turning me in for all that stuff nobody wants their mother to find under the bed, you know?”

Dance’s mouth rounds into a wincing oh! of sympathy.

Drin jerks his gaze away hastily.  “I mean, the more they fussed about the hair, the longer I let my beard go, the more they threatened to shave my head–”

“Cutting such ginger hair, that is tragic,” Dance says, one hand coming at him.  “May we?”

“Of course,” Drin says, surprised.

Dance’s hand stirs curls near one of Drin’s ears.  Drin just keeps breathing quietly, not moving, same as tolerating a wild animal sniffing at him.  Just… don’t… startle the man.

“How far was our Mister Drin’s very red hair growing?” Dance asks, drawing back.

“Oh, about here,” Drin says, marking the air above Dance’s bicep. Not touching him.  Don’t spook him, let him come to you… That length was far shorter than Dance’s own braided tail of hair.  “Curly, knotted, complete rat’s nest.  Annoying as hell in the heat.”

Dance’s eyes smile.  “As my hair does, too.  Amalia yells at me, she says not cutting it is just my flapping my ego, yes?  But salons, yuck.  We– I am– disliking the yanks, the cutters all sloppy, careless, too busy gossiping about dramalama queens who can’t sing, who can’t act.”

Drin finds himself laughing.  “Hey, you want help, I’ll find you somebody who pays attention.”  At Dance’s skeptical look, he holds up his open palms, chuckling.  “Promise!”

“Okay,” Dance says, just like that.  One finger touches Drin’s forearm lightly.  “So, tell please, what happened with your parents making the threats?”

“Oh, I got shipped off to military school.  First thing, they buzzcut our sorry scalps. Silly uniforms, fancied they were doing things very boot-camp style, make their cadets run everywhere.  But lots of the teachers were really vets, totally cool, nothing fazed them.  Total change from school in the burbs, all that idiot raving about their damn pathetic sports teams.  These professors, their whole deal was saying, hey, the world’s a big place, not everybody’s gonna like you, or live the way you do, or eat what you do.  My first classes I got to argue about gunnery physics and the history of Rommel’s campaigns, and I was debating about authoritarian politics–tons of people to talk to on new ideas, totally new kinds of music.  At home, no way was I ever going to hear African club swing or experimental twelve-tone stuff.”

Dance nods.  “Wanting things besides the strict few pieces edited for home, yes.”

“Edited, yeah.  Good word for it.”  He swipes sweat off his forehead.  “It’s kinda strange.  I’ve been thinking about it lately.  My stuffy old dad was right about a whole sad load of stuff.  I’d still totally hate to admit that to him, after the way we fought.  Hell, I’d love to sit down for a consult with him now on lots of things, even if he’d still drive me batshit insane, the grouchy old coot.”

The concertmaster’s eyes are smiling again.  “You are not turning into your father, surely?”

Drin shakes his head.  “I hope not!  But I’m seeing in my job the same sort of crap he was seeing in his job.  To a kid, society looks like solid brick walls.  Kick it all to hell, scream up a fit, sit on your ass out there in the rain waving signs, nothing.  Nothing, no difference, right?  But no, my dad swore our entire civilization was a very weak shell, the whole social contract deal was a complete farce, it’d all collapse if you blew at it too hard.  I didn’t believe him.  Hell, he even made me lay out maps of trucking routes, arguing with me how to plan emergencies if we had an earthquake along major urban faults, or if an attack destroyed the pump stations for the aquaduct north of Los Angeles.  But, you know, the old grouch was right.  Turns out it’s made of really thin stuff.  He saw all the cracks coming apart inside, all the idiots ignoring the really horrible things the monsters get away with.  I mean, not just our domestic crooks and liars.  Bosnia, Syria, Somalia, you name it.  He was desperately running all the time, plugging holes.  Took me years to figure out why.  It was about his devotion to an idea, yeah?  It wasn’t about protecting the damn fools in power who kept screwing things up.  That was just how he had to finagle, how he got it done.”

“A life of service, not just military duty,” Dance says.

“Oh yeah.  Thankless job, who wants to waste your whole life at it?  But he did.  The rules, that’s all he had.  It was all falling apart on him.  Anything, any challenge might topple this tottering fragile old corrupt regime he was sworn to uphold, so he had to keep plugging the holes on their goddamned secrets.”

Dance says, in bitter quote, “Stop asking where all the money is going.”

“Yeah, that’s always such a good sign!  Then it turns into that other one:   Stop asking where the money went.  And they gotta stop people getting too curious.  Just don’t.  Not worth getting killed for.  Yeah, he warned me to stop poking my big honking nose in where nobody wanted it.  Pushy kid, stop risking your luck, stop asking all those damn nosy questions.”

The musician nods.  “But you still ask, yes?  Now.  You ask.  You ask why.”

Drin frowns, struggling with it.  “Yeah.  Back then, things were so fragile that anything might set off a scandal.  Any shakeup was too much.  Youth protests, uppity grammas shouting about desaparecidos, professors publishing reports on people taken away to prison, the unions on strike, any little thing might end up in anarchy.  My uptight old man, he knew how fragile organizations are.  He saw incompetent leadership, and how things go bad really damn quick.  Hell, ask nosy questions, you won’t like what you find out, so don’t do that.  But me?  Hey, asking questions is my job.  You know that’s what I do for a living, right?”

“We are just beginning to, at the Metro,” Dance says, in that dry tone of his.

Drin smiles.

The musician asks, “What would your father be saying about this job you have now?”

Drin snorts in amusement.  “He’d get in a few digs about me doing the opposite of what he told me.  Oh, and about him being right all along.  Then he’d stomp my sorry butt playing chess.  Him and his chess.  Damn, but he was a competitive old fart underneath it all.”

“But do you like it, the game?  Do you like it now, playing chess?” Dance asks mildly.

Drin catches his breath, looks at the solemn face.  “You’re dangerous.”

Dance smiles.

“I like that in a man,” Drin says, admiring him.

“Thank you, but we have this strange idea that you maybe like it in a woman too?”

Drin starts to laugh.  “Oh hell yeah.  Gets me in trouble, too.  You?”

Dance just flaps his hands, waving it off.  “Emma for roommate, that is enough trouble for me.”

Drin laughs harder.  “Do you like chess?”

Dance shrugs.  “Sometimes.  But no time for it, until we are overworked in the brain.  We do all our other chores before sitting down to play chess.  So tired.  Maybe too much brain lost to even play checkers.”

“Oh, hey, checkers.  You saw there’s a board built in that concrete table?  We can use the oak litter, play acorns and caps, how’s that?”

“Because you are having mercy today on my tired brain?”

“No, on mine,” Drin says, grinning at him.

“Oh, we might like playing checkers too much, and I want more, but cannot get it.”   Dance makes a sad face at him.

Hell, it’s an outright invitation.  Drin pulls himself together.  “So hey, you can call me up tomorrow night.  Gimme a chess opening move.  Say, you’re making dinner, you call me on breaks when you’re doing stuff, cook between moves, right?  Cook things while you’re thinking about your next move.  Call it back and forth.”

“Yes, we see.  Phone chess.”  That accent drops to a dark, chesty tone.

Oh, unfair.

Drin drinks some more water, hastily. Talk about something else, anything.  Quick.  Cooking.  Cooking questions.  “Yeah, and tell me about what else you’re cooking, yeah?  Man, I do want to try your galbi, both kinds.  Didn’t have that when I’ve been to Korean restaurants.  It was always grilling these amazingly thin strips of stuff.  Grilling it there at the table, something like Mongolian barbecue.”

Dance props his elbows on his knees, leaning forward.  “Do you like trying new foods?  How does Amalia say it– ethnic cuisine.”

“Oh hell yes.  Love it.  How about you?”

“Eating things in good places, yes, very.  Last year for premier, Mr. Bud Innes took patrons and many musicians to a big boozing Mexican party place.  Good food, but more about the booze.  Lots of margaritas and drunk musicians to push into taxis.  Very… popular.”  Dry tone of voice.

“Whoooh boy.  Not for me, thanks.  Not these days.”

Dance’s eyes slant upward into a very feline smile. “Then for winter season, our patrons went to the teppan restaurant up by the county courthouse.  We–I– was helping organize.  Very crowded.  Good sauces, nice soups.”

Drin wipes sweat off his hairline, nods.  None of those places are on his short list.  A noisy tourist dive will not do.  He’s got to be careful on a first date with somebody as skittish about surprise noises as his concertmaster.  He has a few ideas in mind.

Looking over at the muscles in the man’s forearms, he really wants to feed the man bits of exquisite sashimi with chopsticks, and crack jokes, and watch him laugh.  Instead of letting those parts of his brain get too happy, he holds out the water bottle.  “Speaking of drinking…”

Dance swigs down half of it, and sighs.  “You are right, we both are needing to cool down.”

Drin clicks his fingers, and points at him.  “Hey, how about a foodie swap?  You teach me about your cooking, and I take you out to good places, show you stuff I know about.  Afghan kebabs, palau and qorma, and of course there’s sushi, sashimi, Ethiopian tef –I could just work my way down the alphabet, you know–”

Dance stares up at him.  The man’s pupils dial wide open, black as gun bores in the glare of light.  “Yes, please, I like learning new foods very much.  Yes.”

“Good.”  Drin reaches out and pats the concertmaster on the back, gently.  The man’s shirt is damp to the touch.  Well, no surprise if he’s sweaty, he’s been trotting all day like a dog herding sheep.  Drin is dripping with sweat too.

Dance waves one hand.  “Sashimi, I have not tried.  No leftovers at Metro parties, you see, with some musicians going more hungry than we are.”

That jerks his attention back to the man’s face.  “Good grief!  Never?  Okay, that settles it, right?  Sashimi for dinner.  Let me know what evening you’re free, I’ll get reservations at a decent place.”

“We must consult our schedule notebook.”  The concertmaster startles him by resting a hot leathery palm on his forearm.  “I will consult evenings for making you a galbi dinner too. And if you like that dish, I can make jjigae next, that is a stew–”

“That sounds even better,” Drin agrees, not moving, in fear the man might flee.

“Thank you, we will enjoy it.” Dance grips his arm firmly, oddly like a handshake, and releases it.  Then he twists his head around like an owl, looking away into the park, as if somebody’s yelling in the distance has got his attention, although Drin can’t hear it.  Then he gazes over at the parking lot.

“Young is yelling about more burgers?” Drin asks, guessing.

A grimace proves him right.

Drin nods over toward the rental van with supplies.  “I figure we can drag out those last four boxes of burgers on the handcart, check on the need for wieners and make that run if we need to, and then load up another batch of soda and water.”

“Getting you more cold water too,” Dance says, looking at him.

“Wee-eell, did they ever get the park restrooms unlocked?”

“Oh yes,” Dance says, shoving the water bottle at him.  “In this heat, you are too big, you must not be playing camel!”

Drin makes silly camel faces at him, wiggling his mustache.

Dance is up on his feet again, and he’s shaking his head as he tilts the handcart into motion.  He looks sternly at Drin.  “We– I am– hauling both ourselves over to the restroom, just to make sure you are not doing the camel thing with the not-drinking-water trick.”

“Really,” Drin says, slouching onto his feet, and looking down at the musician’s solemn face.  If it’s an invitation to anything, he can’t tell it.  And the place is far too busy for playing any  risky games in the men’s room.

“Really,” Dance says.  He smiles, and taps the hand cart.  “Hop on.”

Drin is in a silly mood, he steps on.  He finds himself whizzing along the sidewalk as Dance jogs to the restroom.  Drin says, “Lemme guess– you’re feeling a little bit of– hydrostatic need– water pressure– yourself.”

“Oh, you mean, we so need to run here in the boy’s room before we are actually losing it–” and he’s thumped the cart to a stop.  He vanishes inside the cement block breezeway.

Drin leans on the cart handle, waiting.  He’s not going to leave their precious handcart unattended.  There are antic stories about the Metro’s cart showing up in suggestive places, covered in rude in-joke messages.

Two of the Metro’s younger patrons stop by, chat with him about the schedule for volleyball matches.  They brag about their weekly handball games; the real athletes are already busy playing pickup games on the courts nearby.  Bud Innes’ buddies are more interested in showing off their midriffs than in getting sweaty, but Drin doesn’t mind feeding them some of the ego-boost they’re looking for, poor insecure kids.

He really can’t help smiling a lot wider when he glances around and sees Dance is standing there, waiting politely.  He introduces them to Dance, handshakes all around.  Bud’s entourage skitters off almost instantly.  Odd.  Dance tilts his head, watching them go.

“Did you crunch their widdle fists too hard?” Drin asks.

Dance coughs into his cupped hand.  “They were speaking on athletics, perhaps we are assuming they had more hand strength–”  He looks up at Drin under his brows like a scolded puppy.  “–and also I am not wanting to share your company.”

Drin starts to laugh.  “It’s a big orchestra, I’m not gonna be able to hog you all to myself today, either, the way I’d like to–”  He sees another batch of younger musicians on the way, and grimaces.  He offers Dance the handcart grip.  Time to head off before he can get entangled again.

When he comes out, wiping his wet hands on his jeans, he finds Dance is alone, leaning one ankle up on the cart handle, stretching out his hamstrings.  The borrowed slacks are two sizes too big, sliding off his skinny little waist.  His back displays a redneck tan, brown as caramel above a crescent of paler brown skin where his sweat pants normally hang.  The borrowed pants are caught up on a butt that clearly got stolen from some hockey player.  Apparently it makes equally outsized demands to be stretched out.

“Well, Fred Astaire used a cane, Gene Kelly used an umbrella,” Drin says, gripping the handcart and bracing it against Dance’s ankle.  The man’s shoes are cheap loafers with worn soles; the socks are unseasonal black nylon.  He resists the temptation to just pick up the man’s ankle off the hand cart.  “Can you really– why yes, I guess you can.”

“Thank you,” Dance says, comically pulling up the loose pants and shaking down his shirt tail.  He makes flappy arm gestures, grinning.  “We are feeling very guilty about missing three days of practice in the dojo.”

“Well, a break probably isn’t a bad thing, but it can’t be good for you standing around getting stiff all weekend, either,” Drin says.

Dance indicates the handcart.  “Would you be pleased to ride to the van?”

“I would.  Is this also in aid of your stretching–”

“No, my running,” Dance says, jogging with Drin’s weight rolling ahead of him.

“Aahh,” Drin says, bumping as Dance shifts his grip to the other hand, and the cart’s motion changes.  They bump down a driveway into the parking lot.

“There’s just something wrong about a guy who smiles while he’s running,” Amalia says as they go whizzing past her open car door.

“That was not a smile, that was my terrible grimace of agony at thinking we are unloading your garbage scow car,” Dance throws back over his shoulder, not even out of breath.

“Yeah, you great kidder, just see who picks you up tonight with all the leftover stage crap somebody else was supposed to load up.”

“That would not be Robert, you wise lady, because you know better,” Dance flings back, and there’s grumbled curses from her direction.

I’ll give ‘em a cute lil quartet at the park– wasn’t my idea in the first place–” Amalia growls into her car.

“What’s so funny?” Dance asks Drin, pacing along as if it’s perfectly easy to push Drin.

“You two are,” Drin says, flinging his arms wide like a kid on a swing, feeling the breeze tickle damp palms.  “We should rent out rides on those scooter things–you know, those Segway carts that the zoo uses.”

“We did not know you visit the zoo,” Dance says.

“Well, I do now, since you guys arranged for big concerts there all summer.”

“Oh yes, that was Emma’s idea, wrangling things for two years on the Metro and the zoo working together.  She is very good at it.  We did not know you came.”

“Oh, I didn’t bug you, everybody was too busy.  Damn good concerts, too.”

“Thank you.  The lions roaring at the climax of the Brandenberg Concerto added something, don’t you agree?”

“It sure did!”  Drin finds himself laughing, unlocking the doors of the jumbled van.

“What’s so funny?” Amalia demands, pausing by their supply van, grunting as she puts down bags and boxes.

Dance frowns at the interior of the van.  “Elephants playing tag in here.”

Amalia snorts.  “So yeah, you bums, step on it, huh?  The Great Maestro is bitching about his burger supply already.  Acting like he can go through a whole box in five minutes.  Or maybe he just thinks you two are making out in the restroom all afternoon, the way he was talking.”

“That’ll be the day.  Have you seen the plumbing leaks in there?”  Drin makes a face.

“Well, there’s green scum trying to build a space program in the ladies’ room,” Amalia says, and hands him cloth shopping bags of staggering weight.  She’s much stronger than people realize, with those misleading plump cellist’s hands.

Somehow he’s not a bit surprised, when he straightens up from stowing the bags in the van’s locking storage, to find her smiling at their backsides in a distinctly predatory manner.

“What?” Drin asks her, distracted.

Dance beside him is still bent in half like a pretzel.

“Now that’s a fine view, a very fine view,” Amalia says, and when Drin rolls his eyes, she chuckles and dusts her hands off and walks away.

Dance mutters something that isn’t English.  The concertmaster is too busy wrestling a broken box to care that his shirt tail and his pants are parting company again.  “What?  Oh, yes.  You’re just lucky she didn’t crack her bow to thwack you a good one on the nice Drin behind.”

“Or on the nice Dance one,” he says, eyeing the posterior in question.

Dance points at him sternly.  “More water.  You are getting all red and silly.”

“So are you!”

“Water,” Dance says sternly.

“Don’t tell me–your dad was the total ruler of the house, wasn’t he?”

Dance’s mouth quirks.  “Those are just the rules in a Korean home.  He was– some call them a salaryman.  Work long hours, no union rules, no stopping.  Busy busy go away, I am working at home, do not disturb.  He spoke only Gyeongsang dialect, very stern, not Seoul dialect like my aunts.  He didn’t speak so well in Seoul dialect, but he never admits it.  And also, to my mother, to my aunts, to my grandmothers–” a grim look, “–stop asking where the money went.”

“Ahhh,” Drin says.  He picks up two cases of water.  “That past tense, went, that’s the killer.”

“Yes.”  Dance waves one hand in exasperation.  “Auuugh, the English, all irregular verbs.”  Then he places a final box at the top of the cart’s load of boxes.  He pops the handcart into movement, and starts reciting irregular verbs.  He strolls along conjugating them like some pompous Shakespearean actor, but he puts them in such a rude order that Drin starts to laugh.  “No, oh no, Drin, fuck is not irregular verb, so we cannot put it in this list.  But it is so flexible, use it for everything in a sentence.  Fuck, fucks, fucking, fucked, to fuck, to be fucked, to have fucked over, to go fucking around, to have been fucked royally, to– to stop saying rude verbs where nice children might be hearing me, too.”

“You did that on purpose.  I’m onto you now, you can’t fool me!”

Dance gives him an innocent look.  “The hard part is when to shut up, guessing how far away people might hear the rude words.  We are not practicing our– my– rude list like other words.  Some of them are old– yes, archaic.  To roger, to get rogered, to be rogering, to have rogered–” He stops when he gets a choked laugh from Drin.  Then he says innocently, “They sound so silly, they make Amalia laugh.  Which is good, making people laugh.”

“And now I’ve joined Amalia in the list of people trusted with your archaic rude words?”

“Oh, not saying these words if you do not want–”

Drin laughs some more.  “Oh, conjugate as much rudeness for me as you please, sirrah!  But yeah, save it for later, you’re right.”

They unload boxes here and there, cut open cases, load more bottles of water and soda into coolers of melting ice, and swing around the park in a wide loop.

“So, Miss Amalia, do you need more dogs for the grill?”

By then, she is sitting in a folding chair, fanning herself, and slugging down something with ice chips clattering in it.  She waves at Robert, who’s been joined at the grill by his patron, Bud Innes, and there are handshakes all round.  Somehow Drin and Robert get maneuvered into sitting down with Amalia, while Dance wheels around offloading the cart and Bud takes a turn serving from the grill, cracking jokes with everybody in line.

“More dogs coming,” Dance promises, popping up at Drin’s elbow with a chilled soda can and a bottle of water.

Drin blinks in surprise at the offer.  Somewhere the concertmaster overheard Drin giving his choice of fizzy drinks, and remembered it.  Wordlessly Drin digs out the van keys for him, and Dance trots off into the heat with the squealing handcart.  Apparently he trots everywhere at these events.

Amalia opens her mouth, looking after him.

Robert says crossly, “Don’t say anything about his ass, okay?”

They look at him, surprised.

“Well, who’s Captain Grumpy Underpants?”  Amalia says.

Robert sighs, wiping his red, sweaty face.  “Just don’t!”

“Here, you look like you need this,” Drin says, and puts the water bottle in Robert’s hand.

He does need it; the cellist gulps it down carelessly, until Bud warns him to slow down.  Then their beloved Robert the Nasal New Joisy Byotch really gets going.  “All anybody ever says to me, swear to God–  Robert, why don’t you practice like him?  Robert, why don’t you get into some kind of aerobics and you’d have an ass like that?  You’re looking so plump, why don’t you join a gym?  Never mind that one visit costs more than I get paid in a month–”

“Robert, my boy, your ass is just fine the way it is,” Bud says calmly, adjusting the hot dogs to his satisfaction.  “I told you I am all for getting skilled advice on what kind of workouts you need to support your playing.  Straining the wrong things is stupid, I’ve said it before.  I know you’re not picking up any of that fat-phobic crap from Dance or Amalia here, and they’re the only ones with an opinion worth  damn, far as I’m concerned.  Any other silly bitch can go take a long dive off a big building.”

Amalia looks at Drin, who lifts his eyebrows.  Oh, he knows this voice, all right.  Managers where Drin works dive for cover when they hear it.

“But Papi–” Robert begins, in a pathetic whine.

Bud waves it off fiercely, glaring.  “I don’t give a shit what anybody else thinks you should be doing.  So I hate you repeating other people’s put-downs, tearing yourself down.  It’s not good for you.  I don’t like it.  Stop.”

Robert stares up at his patron with his mouth open, completely silenced.  It’s amazing.

“Well, there you have it,” Amalia says, and nods to Drin.

He’s having trouble keeping a straight face.

“Robert, you have nothing to apologize for technically, at the stage you’re at,” Bud goes on.  He points the hot dog fork at Robert, narrowing his eyes.  “I believe you merely suffer from a lack of inspiration, some shortage of motivation.  Hell, you need some more joy in your work, you need to like what you’re doing a lot more.  So we will be finding all of those things for you.  I’ve talked to Dance and Amalia about it.”

Robert stares up with his mouth open a little, as if God has spoken.  It makes him look a bit addled.  Then he blinks.  Tears are spilling over.  He scrubs hastily at his eyes with his knuckles, smearing grill soot on his face.  “Oh, Paaaaapi–”

“Drink some more water, it’s hot,” Amalia says gruffly, and grabs paper napkins.  “And wipe the schmutz off, silly boy.”

Drin finds himself smiling.  When Bud says he’s ‘finding something for you’, it always means ‘there’s gonna be a whole helluva lot more work for you.’

A glance at Amalia’s grin says, oh yeah, she knows that.  That’s one of her really evil grins.

Robert is going to find it out the hard way.

When he looks up, Bud gives him a wink, and then a director’s tilt of the head.  Sure enough, when he looks around, he finds Dance on his way back, pushing the loaded cart as if it weighs nothing, and whistling a Bach cantata.

“Take good care of him,” Bud says flatly, looking at Drin with a stare that’s known and feared at work.

“Yes, Dad,” Drin says, and smiles.  “I promise.”

Bud snorts.  “I ain’t your dad, and I ain’t done giving the damn silly Board folks shit about what all papers went missing in that stupid burst pipe suspiciously soon right after you started doing the books, and I ain’t got half these folks in line loaded up and fed yet–”

Robert comes up and wraps both arms around Bud and kisses his ear.  “Thank you, Papi–”

“–and I ain’t gonna get dogs off the grill if I’m busy getting a big proper hug.  You get that batch off that grill, right this minute, and you’ll get a proper hug.”

Which takes a bit of maneuvering, but they manage.  The people in the line clap and whistle in approval, which prompts Robert to bow, with a flourish.

Fiddles at the Metro

“Need another carton, you think?” Drin asks, opening the top box of hamburgers.

“In ten minutes,” the grillmaster commands, flinging up one hand in grand dismissal, as if he’s conducting the finale on a Wagner piece.  It pleases Maestro Richard Young to turn brusquely away to a woman in line.  He skips the student volunteers in front of him, who wobble in dismay about presenting their plastic plates.

Young’s target is a new patron who’s looking pouty; she overspent on clothes for such a casual event, as if she’s feeling under-appreciated.  She ignored mere musicians greeting her, and sniffed at attentive first chairs in disdain.  Odd, how much she enjoys Young’s flirting, but he does have that heavy-handed charm of older Prussian conductors.  It’s amazing that Young doesn’t just drop the spatula on the grill and walk away with her, carrying the plate for her.  Young murmurs something to the lady about how much she improves his Father’s Day.  There’s an eyebrow wiggle that’s meant to be roguish.

Ah-one-two-three, flourish, that nasty auditor in the back of Drin’s mind starts counting.

Is there a problem?… No,  just she’s just slow… Yes, there it comes.

She giggles behind one hand.

Young bows her off graciously, and skips the students a few more times as he goes back to working the grill.  They huddle, looking embarrassed, while he plucks out all the patrons in line.  But Young’s unpleasantly right about priorities–they aren’t very patient.  He flatters all the ladies exactly as he did the first one.  It’s a formula that works for him.

Drin hasn’t engaged with any of them, wary of all that raw hunger for attention.  Maestro Young certainly won’t hesitate.  He’s good at dragging certain sorts of patrons into the Metro’s insatiable maw for funding.  They’ve come on the promise of things that nobody can guarantee them, chattering brightly, making the best of it.

Drin can’t help but worry about the student volunteers instead.  They aren’t going to get handholding from anybody today.

Soft touch, he scolds himself.

“No worries, sweetheart, isn’t the weather just lovely!”  The Library coordinator is greeting everyone in that killer Aussie accent, getting them to laugh.  She throws an approving look at the huddle of volunteers and waves at others in the line, who brighten up.

Drin relaxes.

The Aussie takes off her hat, revealing untidy red curls.  She pats people’s arms, and gets the volunteers to laugh.  Then she works her way up the line, ending up with a cluster of older women, reaching out to them, and she’s cracking jokes.  She halfway kneels to speak to one of their grandchildren, rumpling her cheap flowered dress in delightful ways.  However, the fluttery dress camouflages her true nature.  The summery mood is a nice respite, but Drin’s riotous imagination insists on decking her out in muddy BDUs, a gunbelt and a clipboard, yelling from a beatup truck that’s armed with a machine gun.  She’d look just as fabulous, but a lot less friendly.

Or maybe he’s just seen too many family snapshots of women like her.  His brain keeps slotting her into uniform next to the fluffy great-grandmother who spent the Great War driving ambulances.  Or the grandmother fabricating parts during the second World War, face weary under a welding helmet, tired from wrestling cranky chunks of aircraft and wrangling entire crews of equally cranky women fabricators.

The red-haired siren glances up, looks squarely at him across a dozen yards, and gives him a little smile.  Oh, she knows who he is, all right.  Your turn is coming, buddy.

He finds himself smiling back.  Give it your best shot, sweetheart.

Silly of him, but he can’t help it.

Then he looks at the students, and back to her, and oh yes, she’s got the message.  She heads up the line for them.  She’ll catch him too, if he lingers.

Oh well, time for honest work, stop admiring the view.  Drin wipes sweat off his forehead, grins at everyone waiting nearby for burgers, and heads back to the parking lot.  The empty hand truck squeals all the way.

“Are you needing box help?” Dance asks, swinging into step from tree shadows.

“Warn a guy!”  Drin exclaims, jumpy.  Of course Drin exaggerates, to make him laugh.

The man has a terrible habit of pouncing at him, delighted as a kitten that he can surprise anybody–and the concertmaster was totally invisible in the heavy shade under the park’s trees.

When Drin has been really surprised, he’s swatted the musician away with a bang like a gunshot echoing in the Metro building, a reflex he can’t control.  It’s just luck so far that he’s never hurt Dance.  The man rolls easily with such back-handed blows, flipping off inconvenient walls as if he’s in the dojo.  He always bounces up gracefully, and praises Drin’s reflex speed.  He just giggles at Drin’s horrified apologies, and both of them walk away embarrassed.

But Dance is clearly happy about the whole thing, so it’s a game.  Drin suspects he ought to introduce the concertmaster to better games.

The musician smiles, holding up a bottle of water that beads moisture.

“Oh God yes, please,” Drin says, and gulps a blessedly cold mouthful.

“Here, please sit, there is a bench.”

He’s blinded in the dim light under the trees.  He holds out his hand, waving.  The musician’s calloused fingertips touch his wrist.  They feel hot as an oven, guiding him.  “Our Mister Drin must cool off, resting in the shade.”

“Jeez, you should talk,” Drin says, wiping his face again.  He pats the bench slats next to him in demand.  He earned that much from Dance last night, helping the concertmaster haul endless thirty-pound boxes of meat up to a large facility kitchen.  While stacking things, he started humming sea chanties at Dance as a joke, but it took off.  The Metro cooking folks sang all kinds of silly songs.  There was yodelling.  No burden to haul pots and crack jokes and sing, while the hardcore Metro volunteers got things cleaned up.

The Aussie gal had been there too, ferrying people and things around in her ugly old stationwagon, a blur of motion.

He asks, “So did you sleep at all last night?”

Dance perches on the edge of the bench, lets his hands dangle between his knees.  He shakes his head.  “This gala– our main summer event–” a wave at the seating area, full of chairs and people chatting and the smoke wandering from the grills, ”–this is not forgiving our regular work for next week.”

“I snuck a bite of that medium hot pork galbi of yours,” Drin says, gazing out at the crowded wiener line, where Robert and Amalia dish up baked beans and silly patter along with the grilled dogs and the crumbly veggie patties that Young disdains to grill.  Robert makes  faces, acting out as Amalia does different voices in some story.  Performers!

Dance tips down his chin, as if he’s hiding it, but there’s a tiny quirk to his mouth.

Drin says sternly, “You’re just lucky I didn’t gobble the whole pan.  I’m behaving myself, you know.”

Dance just starts to smile, wider and wider.

“But I don’t promise to be good about the chicken.  I mean, if there’s any left in the pan by then.”

Dance starts to chuckle.  “We will make galbi for our Mister Drin on another day, please, it is our privilege.  But our spicing for you– should it be that much hotness in spice, or more?”

Drin frowns.  “Don’t know, until I try your really hot pan.  Is it gonna kill me daaaaaaid, or just make me wish I was dead?”

That gets a belly-laugh that roars across the park at startling volume.  Then Dance claps a hand over his mouth, stifling it, but his eyes are still laughing.

Drin squints at the Concertmaster, distracted.  Happy day, the man is wearing short sleeves.  Good God, the forearm muscles.

Drin blinks.  Anatomy is completely distracting.  Also, he’s not used to seeing Dance in such bright colors.  “When did you sign up for the marching band?”

The man’s laugh breaks out again–damn, he’s got a singer’s lungs on him–and Dance admits he borrowed the eye-punch turquoise pants and acid yellow embroidered guayabera from the guys in the horn section of the Metro.

The horn section have been screaming since they arrived.  Those guys are all yelling in some village dialect out of Luzon.  There’s wizened old Pilipino guys running a noisy bucket line of supplies from the parking lot to the really ancient guys running the deep fat fryer.  The whole crew of reprobates showed up in matching tropical pareus and shirts with their foreheads painted in their soccer team colors.  Sports announcer howls in Spanish erupt from a massive old TV set up from a car battery.  They chant for their home team, waving for everyone in line to join in.

The fry crew is vital for this event.  Nobody ever worries about their safety around the huge vat of hot oil because they used to be stewards in the US Navy, then they went sailing out on cruise liners, moonlighting in swing bands on shipboard.  They can play anything by ear, even if most of them don’t sightread quite so well, and they all struggle to pass Young’s annoying chair auditions.

Of course Drin heard the gossip.  The most reliable story had it that, at last week’s section auditions, Young started pounding on his music stand in rage.  “The horns can’t read music!  They can play Dixieland all night but they can’t read!”

Drin blinks at the chrome-yellow shirt next to him.  In context, the borrowed clothes become a blunt political statement.  “I heard Young accused you of helping the horns cheat.”

Dance shifts his chin sharply forward, curls his upper lip until his teeth show, and he clicks his jaws together like a horse biting somebody.  There are a lot of teeth in there.  Snap-snap.  “Briefly,” Dance says, giving a soft huffing noise of laughter somewhere down in his chest.  “We changed his mind.”

“Oh?” Drin says, fascinated.  The biting gesture does not look at all Korean to him, which is odd, because all he knows about basic Korean manners is what he’s observed from the concertmaster himself.  Scattered memories of military bars in Seoul aren’t helpful.

More chesty laughter.  “Maestro Young got a reminding that no one else has test sheets of his new compositions.”

“Wait, he was picking audition music from his own compositions?”

“Indeed yes.  He lacked time to choose ordinary pieces they don’t know by heart, he is looking for their problems with sight reading.  Robert says Bud Innes will add this… irregularity… to the Board agenda next week.”

Drin scrubs at his forehead.  “Well, there goes the board meeting.”  He cuts another look over at the Concertmaster.  “Out with it.”

“Oh, he agreed they all make the same mistakes.  He agreed those are errors which no string player would be making.  Yes, indeed, they all learned to read orchestral scores from one old guy aboard their first cruise ship.  We tell him we can guide Young to that person’s house in town, to hear exactly what he does to poor innocent music students.”  Dance makes a face.  “We warned him he will not enjoy it.  We warn him the teacher is a very grumpy man who throws shoes and large canned goods at people.”

Drin starts to laugh.  “You’re kidding!”

“Oh no.  Last time, it was big pineapple cans in the street.  Boom!  Boom!  These guys–” he gestures at the fry cooks, in obvious frustration, “–they cannot be putting in time on music classes.  Every year, the Board says we first chairs can tutor them free.  Oh, yes, get on that right away.  But they have no time.  Session work in LA pays them better than our Metro.  They are still playing better than anybody else the Metro hires on a union card.”

Drin scrubs at his forehead again.  Money again, the root of so many Metro ills.  “Robert bragged that Young hasn’t caught up to the real cheating going on.”

Dance tilts his chin up.  “Do you want to ask when Robert is trash-talking?  Do you really, our kind lovely Mister Drin, as our volunteer auditor who must fix things?”

Drin doesn’t meet that gaze.  He knows better.  He sighs. “Oh hell and little greased pigs.  No, but okay, tell me anyway.”

“We have a bigger– how do you say– tricking.  A finagle by the saxes.  This trick is so good it fooled all conductors before Young.  This a hotseat swap.  Three session sax players are sitting one Metro chair. They have one guy who passes all these sight-reading auditions, but he’s too busy in LA to be here for performances.  So they swap just like hotbunk aboard ship.  They are all one guy on our paperwork. They sign one social security number, they take turns getting paychecks.”

Drin closes his mouth.  “Okaaay.  I can see how that’d be hard to catch, they all travel in such a mob with hangers-on and relatives.  Can you point out which guys?”

“They’re in LA today–”

“–doing studio gigs?  Right.  Of course they are.”

Dance nods.  “Two of them also swap clarinet with a fourth guy, so it’s much harder to remember those changes by Maestro Young. We are making sure they keep up.” Dance gives a little embarrassed cough, admitting to it.  He nods toward the fryer crew. “That fourth guy, our first clarinet, he is there on the end, cutting turkey.”

Drin sighs.  Of course that guy is their best clarinetist.

“All the horns, sure, they know about it.  But perhaps people won’t say so if you ask them.  We would–” he waggles his eyebrows, “–well, we would have to tell them to speak to you.  The bassoons and the French horns are serving at the pans.  See, they serve our dwaeji galbi and dak galbi pans on the end.”

Drin stares at the Concertmaster, who clearly has all this firmly under control.

“How many other finagles–fiddles–messes–am I missing?” Drin demanded.

Dance lowers his head, coughs into his cupped hand, gives a little wave.  “Eee, more or less, it is all in how we count.”

Not reassuring.

Blandly, Dance says, “Can we ask your help on clearing up the taxes and the employment paperwork to make this first little finagle into proper shared positions, all correct under the union contract?”

And dammitall, he says it so innocently, as if fraudulent income tax reporting is just a minor issue among all the Metro’s other problems.  But there was the glint of something under that solemn expression.  Resignation, amusement, a sort of pride, just as it looks when Robert’s bragging about his stunts.  Look, they’ve got away with it, until Drin came along and asked.  Nobody noticed it before, look how clever Drin is, here he is now, asking the right person.  The man is teasing him a little.

Drin gives him a stern look.  “It can get fixed, of course.  But it might go beyond my level of union contract expertise.”

Dance frowns as if he’s coming up with his next question, but their conversation is interrupted by a distant boom, and some odd whooshing noises.

Flatly, Drin says, “Who’s setting off the fireworks?”

Dance looks away in that direction, frowning.  He says, “You know, the really big nutjobs are the trombones.”

The Concertmaster is clearly waiting for him to ask, but he’s not going to.  Not.

Who let the trombones take charge of the fireworks? is not a question he wants answered.


It feels silly, mundane, to stagger off the kitchen table, wipe themselves off, and pull up their pants.  Of course Drin cracks jokes and waddles around the kitchen with his ass bare and pants around his knees, pulling them wide and making quacking cartoon noises.  Dance has to tickle him to make him stop it, and they laugh until they both hurt.

While Dance fries up eggs and bacon, blasting the kitchen with the odor of smoked ham, Drin butters toast and spoons out hot oatmeal.  It’s startling how hungry they both are.  After washing dishes, they take their coffee cups out onto the deck and admire the view.

From that landing, stairs run down in zigzags to the dune sand fifteen feet below the cantilevered joists of the house.

Drin was right about needing their jackets.  The sky is a wintry clear blue, the wind whips their hair around and chills their hands.  Further out, wild spray is flinging off the breakers at the headland, perhaps a quarter mile away.  The roar of waves smashing on rock seems much louder outside of the house, even this far up off the beach.

Dance is glad to stand huddled in the shelter of Drin’s body with the big man’s arms folded around him, holding his mug next to Dance’s.  With his other hand, Drin points out the birds dotted along the sea stacks just off the beach.  They aren’t flying much.

“The black ones are cormorants,” Drin says.

“Yes, I know those birds.  There are Korean islands with lots of fishing.  The really old men fishermen with small boats, they keep the birds with a leash, to dive after fish.  They keep the collar tight, so the bird can’t swallow the whole fish, only bits cut by the fisherman, when he lets the bird eat.  I always thought it is a hard way to live, grabbing fish from little birds.  Not like hooking tuna as heavy as yourself.”

“Well, those might be getting rare these days, too.”  The big man leans closer over Dance’s shoulder, sips at his coffee.

“At the far end of that stack, where it is sheltered, those are pelicans, right?” Dance says.

“Looks like.  Your eyes are better than mine.”

“Did you go out fishing?”

“Yeah.  I had this gypsy phase.  All twitchy, just after I got the medical discharge from the Army–no use at office jobs,  couldn’t sit still doing numbers, like I do now.  Bummed around, drank too much, finally ended up in that motorcycle wreck, back in the damn hospital again.  Finally got healthy enough to work after that.  And, by God, did I work my ass off.   Ran some farm combines, pulled lobster pots, drove trucks.  Got a veteran to sponsor me to the longshoreman’s union, worked for awhile restacking sacks of rice by hand in port–you can pack them tighter that way.  God, talk about building muscles.  Shipped out of there, did some time on container ships out of Guam.  For an ordinary hand, lots of mopping and cleaning brass and chipping paint all day.  Grubby as hell.  But peaceful, gotta give it that.  Lots of time to read, study.  I did so many practice tests, going for my accounting certificates.  Finally calmed down enough to figure out which state of the union probably worked better for me, decided where I wanted to take the exams.  Did a road trip to check out places.  Came down here to buy a car, decided to stay.  Not exactly romantic, huh?”

Dance pulls the man’s arms closer.  “I think it is.”

“It’s sure a lot more fun than shooting nightmare shit in Afghanistan.”

Dance leans his head into the man’s upper arm.  “I agree.”  He sees a bee flying hard, hovering briefly inside the shelter of a shrub near the railing, in spite of the wind, and he starts to smile.


Dance points with his mug.  “I am waiting for the other bees to show up to sniff you.”

“In this wind?”  Drin snorts.  “Besides, they always know me–they’re showing up to check you out, make sure you’re okay.”

“Oh, I see,” Dance says.

“I bet there’s a parent colony in the shrubs by the street in front, too, not just back here.”

Dance feels the tug of impulse shift Drin’s body, and he smiles.  “Shall we put the mugs away and go look?”

Can’t Get There Fast Enough

One of the men shifted, noisily, and Peach jerked around, ears twitching, and bared her fangs.

“Hoh shit,” muttered one of the men further away, and Peach hissed at him, ears flattened, ready to launch off Keisha’s arm at any of them.

Her truncated tail kept flicking from side to side in her sweats, jerking at the fabric. Keisha scruffed the frantic muscles of her neck. “Breath, Peach. Deep breath. Good. Again.”

Tee Pom asks, “Your gal there okay?”

Keisha blinked hard. “Yeah,” she said, “You driving? You let her sniff you, she might calm down.”

“I’d be pleased to,” Tee Pom said gravely, moving around to where the night breeze blew downwind from him, and then he held out both his hands, palm up, as if he met nervous bagheeras every day of the week.

Peach craned her neck forward, eyes wide. She gave a distressed little whine, digging her claws into Keisha’s arm.

“Mama, easy there. He ain’t gonna rush you. Just take your time,” Keisha murmured into the ears. “Talk to me, baby. Tell me what he smells like.”

Tears welled up in Peach’s eyes. “Seung,” she said, more of a half-strangled mew than a clear name. “Blood. Smell of… sick. Two Seung.”

“Two of Seung, huh?” Keisha said.

“Seung hurt!” Peach said, struggling to get it out.

“Yeah, he was, but he’s gonna get better now,” Tee Pom agreed, looking carefully away from Peach’s wild eyes.

“Easy, mama, I hear you,” Keisha said, stroking her neck and the base of her ears.

“I’d like to get you to the clinic so you can see he’s okay now. We took him to Doctor Alexander to get help,” Tee Pom repeated.

“Thank God,” Keisha sighed into Peach’s neck fur. Then she asked softly, “Can you smell that too? Doctor smell?”

“Stinky wash cut.”

“You’re a big help talking, telling me things. I just love you to bits,” Keisha said, hugging her.

Peach looked up at Keisha nervously. “Not bad doctor?”

Keisha drew in a deep breath.

Tee Pom said quietly, “Man, there’s a gal who’s had a tough life.”

“Yeah, she has,” Keisha agreed, stroking Peach’s forearms and neck. “Good girl. Good.”

“Not bad?” Peach demanded, digging in her nails.

“I swear he’s a good doctor,” Tee Pom said solemnly, putting his hand over his chest.

“Good doctor?” she whispered, kneading her nails at Keisha anxiously.

Tee Pom murmured, “Easy now, easy, sweet gal. Seung will be fine. Alexander’s the best doctor he could ever get, I swear. Your friend Seung is gonna want to see you.”

“How bad is he hurt?” Keisha wanted to know.

“You know that thing in his back? Doctor Alexander has to take it out, tout de suite.” Tee Pom said grimly.

“Oh,” Keisha grunted, as if she got hit in the gut.

“Oh yeah. Your guy say he’s not going under without you. Tomorrow, probably. Don’t worry, the doctor takes his medicine seriously. We gotta get you ladies movin’, okay?”

Peach nudged her. Keisha loosened her frozen grip on the girl’s shoulders. Keisha blinked down at her, gave her a kiss on the forehead. “Okay, now? You okay with going to see Seung?”

Peach smelled the wind coming past Tee Pom. “Okay,” Peach growled. “Okay.”

“He smell okay to you?” Keisha asked again, feeling how her legs were shaking, and how Peach was wobbly too.

“Okay,” Peach said, and buried her face in Keisha’s shoulder, and shivered.

“Girl’s getting shocky?” Tee Pom asked.

“Yeah,” Keisha said, feeling a bit shocky herself. Peach, getting fierce like that!

“Truck’s over this way, ma’am.” He gestured, and the other guys moved back, leaving plenty of room.

Keisha took a couple of steps toward the truck. “ID,” she said, a croak with her throat so hoarse.

“Of course,” Tee Pom said, and pulled out his wallet. He turned one of the lights, held his badge into the light. “Some folks don’t believe it when I say the lawman’s gotta be adaptable, workin’ this parish.”

Keisha guided Peach into sitting down first on the truck seat, and then leaned over her, leaning on Peach. When Peach stopped shaking and shivering so much, she urged Peach to get up again, and Keisha slid onto the seat so she’d be holding Peach.

Tee Pom held out another bottle of water. “Want me to open it?”

Keisha nodded, accepted it, urged Peach to drink some more. Then she got them both tucked up into the cab, blankets pulled in, and Tee Pom shut the door. Keisha felt Peach start crying. She just stroked the soft fur, up and down, feeling hair sticking all over her crusted wet hands. Peach was stress-shedding just like a housecat. “It’s okay, mama, it’s gonna be okay. You just cry all you want, it’s okay.”

“Seung hurt bad?” Peach whimpered into her shoulder.

“I don’t know yet, but I’ll find out, mama. I am gonna find out.”

Into their open window, Tee Pom said, “We think he oughta be okay, but the Doctor still gotta figure things out on him.  We all were hoping you could help on that.”

Keisha said flatly, “Maybe you should tell your buddy Fozzie he has a problem with his guy Mike.  Wolfy boy with pointy Doberman ears. Mike turned Fozzie’s truck over to those… things.  The guys who locked us in the shed.”

“Yeah?  We will do that,” Tee Pom said.  Then he nodded and walked away around the truck, talking to the other guys. “Yeah, you heard right. Mike going bad, that’s the worst kinda news. You got Fozzie’s number? You peel off ahead and get you some cell coverage, you call him right away. Whatever those bugs wanted with that truck, or with these two women, or with that other naga boy, we wanna know it.”

Mutters.  Somebody growled, “Oh God, Fozz is gonna blow sky high.”

Tee Pom said, “Sure is.  I want Fozz workin’ his end first. Best chance is Fozz hunting Mike down, oh, you bet–and he’s gonna ask that boy what the hell that was about. You might remind him that we might have some different questions to ask Mike too, I don’t want nobody disappearing into some bayou. Now, what I want is Mike nice and clean and pretty in a cell, ready to load up for conspiracy to commit kidnapping and battery, but we’ll be lucky if that ever happens.  Still, that’s what I want, if anybody was askin’.  Plus, we need pictures of those two ladies right away down the clinic, get some shots of Keisha’s poor hands. Yeah, you know it. Hope she didn’t break any knuckles.”

Tee Pom opened the driver’s side door, watching the flinches of Peach’s ears as he climbed in, as he buckled up and got the ignition going.  He acted like he knew just how fast a nervous bagheera can lash out.

Keisha whispered, “I didn’t know till we tried to run away, but those guys, we saw they got these weird white crab arms… and things. Seung… called ’em bug troops.”

Tee Pom put the truck in gear.  “Thank you for the warning, Ma’am, that’s a mighty big help.”

Kiesha nodded. She tucked her nose into Peach’s fur, drawing in the dusty-flower smell. Dark trees flashed by, and they just couldn’t go fast enough. All she wanted was to get hold of her boy again.

Power Box Drain

“Ask him are they alive or dead,” Tee Pom says.

“Alive, he says.” Dance can hear the change in his doppelganger’s voice. “They were alive when he left them.” The cracked and urgent voice goes on. “He says he hopes they are still alive.”

“Don’t want any more murder charges on his ass?”

“No charges yet,” Tee Pom warns Michel’s boys.  “All right, who’s with me? Good. I’ll be in my truck, you lead.” Dust boils up as trucks roll out. Hyphen can only duck his head and cough.

“They will go? Please tell me…”

“Yes, they are going. Do you know,” Dance says, “who I am?”

The wrapped figure twists painfully to face him. “Yob tvoyu mat.” Hyphen grunts. “Yes, I know who you are, you bastard. I see pictures.”

“Can you be calm?” Dance watches his twin take a deep breath. There’s something setting his teeth on edge, like a sound that makes his teeth hurt. Even as Hyphen slows down, the… sound, very high, nearly inaudible, gets shriller and more painful. Dance takes a few steps to the side. Then a few more, and as he comes around the struggling figure, the sound sharpens.  When the man turns, all the noises shift with him. It’s the other naga’s power box, Dance realises, and the whole world lurches with the sudden twist of fear.

Dance gives a little showman’s flourish with the tail, and extends his hands to the crowd. “Would you mind moving back, please? For your safety, please. There could be an accident.”

“What’s up?” Emma asks him while people are distracted, jostling. They’ve cleared maybe three more feet of space. It’s a joke. He can’t get enough room to turn around in a fight, let alone keep them safe, or use his canopy.  He’s going to need it.

“I’m going to drain his power down before he blows us all up,” Dance says, as patiently as he can.

“Blows– right. How much more space?”

“Miles! We must get people away.” Dance frowns. It’s hard to think of the words. “Ahh, you must not hear it. I am having teeth on edge from a high frequency sensation you might call… a creepy-sounding whine. It makes things… resonate. While… my system can insist on stabilizing this… field effect… he is generating… and not knowing it… ” he makes a face. It’s hard to remember the right words. “Better to reduce his power overload. Trying to kill him will destabilize it… badly. I must drain his… power box… which will give him better overload limits.”

Drin’s hand lands on his shoulders. “I’m sure you’re right. Look how the lights react whenever Hyphen moves.”

It’s true. Dance barely noticed that side-effect, blinded in the sea of power gradients swamping the open space, making him nauseated.

“Did you get Preacher?” Drin’s voice, steady as a rock.

Emma nods. “On his way. May take him an hour or so. Can you wait till then?”

“I think we don’t have an hour.”  Hyphen’s screaming tirade– the women, the wharf, as if no one had heard or believed him– are running on and on, a nightmare litany that makes Dance feel helpless and wobbly.

“The truck went to get them,” he tells Hyphen, loudly, in Korean. “Stop, you must calm down. You are going to hurt yourself.”

Hyphen barks laughter at that. “I’m already hurt. My world is… is hurt.” His face screws up, like a puzzled child. “World,” he says again.

There’s a pop, and shrieks, as one of the light bulbs on the outside of the building blows out.

“Get back,” Dance says to the crowd. Tremors are running through his legs. He keeps the tail rolled up tightly, to keep all the shaking from becoming visible to everybody. “Move back.”

Michel, and Emma and Drin, and Grace move through the crowd, guiding people away. Not that a mere hundred feet will be safe, but the illusion is soothing.

“Give me a sightline to the power cables,” he calls out, and people have begun to listen once more, they start moving right and left across the field until there’s a broad corridor opened straight before him and his… his brother.

Drin trots back. “What do you need from us, Dance?”

Dance grips his hands together, pushes them against his clenched gut muscles, to stop them shaking. Deep breaths. The power whine is drilling his skull in half. “Maybe water, something for him to drink, later on we get into it. He’s in pain, can’t stop overload, can’t get away from the unstable fields–”

“Get a pitcher of ice water,” Drin says to somebody. “Anything else?”

Dance tries to think. “Move away– drive away the truck?” he says doubtfully, and hears Drin’s field-voice booming, giving the orders.

Hyphen totters, Dance shoots out one hand in warning, but with the sickeningly high field gradients squeezed between them, he doesn’t dare touch.  “No– no, don’t let him fall– down–he needs to be on the ground–”

Michel’s gator-wrestling boys are suddenly right there to catch Hyphen, to move in with blessedly electrically neutral human hands, to lay him down at Dance’s gestures.

“Don’t touch his back. Good, let him sit. Move the truck please–” at last the truck roars into life and moves away.

Dance pulls off his shirt, lurching a bit. “Forty foot canopy pop out. Please more room for that side, and that one. More, please. Thank you.” He leans forward, touching his hands to the damp ground. Things unroll. Readjusted blood pressure goes booming through his whole body as the flap of glittery skin around his neck billows outward in an explosion of rainbows and stiffening struts.

“Emma? Do you have anything to help me… anything you can remember?”

“If you give me a minute.” Emma’s face is pinched with worry. He’s seen her when this… strange memory trick starts playing, and he watches her tic and grimace and frown as if from a long way off.  His own heartbeat is so loud, the blood is rushing in his ears.  She says, “Right, this might be– a little difficult–”

Under Emma’s directions, he shifts how he’s leaning down, feels how adjustments in the struts are shunting blood. His parasail makes a double set of cells, hollow at the back, closed at the front, standing upright in its laser-cannon curl over his shoulders. He pushes it up gently until the top of it rises clear of his head.

“Can you stand up straight?” Emma asks. Her hands rub over the canopy skin, testing the tension of it so gently, so delicately.

The closed front surface snugs down behind his head, and the back of it keeps rising, tilting, curling inward at the tips, tipped upward until it has become a big hollow shell towering over his head. It threatens to overbalance him, and his tail tip comes up and twitches here and there at the struts, pushing in places, adjusting things. Then his tail settles down into a wide coil, and Dance bends his knees, settling his weight down into the support of his tail, bracing up against a wind that none of the others can feel.

“Get back please,” he says.

The man restrained by the duct tape is looking up at Dance, Dance’s own eyes staring back at himself.

Dance starts to hum gently, echoing in that shell.

There is a scream, in Hyphen’s hoarse and ragged voice.

Dance feels like screaming too. But that won’t do. One of them has to be sober, sane, fully awake, one of them has to control their combined fields, keep calm about this whole thing. One of them has to figure it out. Dance starts fumbling among the wavering, uncertain fields, looking for power sinks that won’t arc or leak or backfire.

Dance feels, more than sees, people talking and scrambling around him.  Emma says something, sharply.  Someone darts around the side of the building. Dance can feel the change when the the breakers bang off the building. The music inside goes silent. The only lights left are from the generator–until it gets shut down too, and then the lightbulbs on the little stands go out. It’s calmer, by a very little bit.

In the darkness, Dance tilts back his head, and finds a path threading through the lightning and iron-filing storm. The little lights go back on. The music inside the building goes back on, the lights inside shine out again. After a moment or two, lights in a half dozen of the nearest dark buildings down the street go back on, and Dance is leaning back, clenching his jaw, lips peeling back as that high continuous sound streams past his ears, aimed by the shell that is part of him.

Hyphen is screaming out as loud as he can, mouth gaping open. The screaming, the ragged, breathless cries keep coming from the man writhing in the duct tape.

“Ya see my watch?” Lafayette’s voice says. “Plumb crazy!”

After a few more moments, the lights in all the parked vehicles down the street turn themselves on.

“Shit,” Emma and Michel say in unity– very quietly, but Dance hears them.

Dance manages not to fire off vehicle ignitions when he’s pouring juice through the headlights; it’s hard, but he does. None of the engines turn over. No engines. No heaters. No fans. Nothing that moves. Just lights. More lights go on down along the houseboats. He’s pushing it into the nearest powerlines, pushing all that energy almost faster than the lines can absorb it.

“Careful, careful man, you don’t want to overload those transformers here, they ain’t built for really high level stuff,” ‘Toine says to Dance, as if Dance can hear him past everything else he’s doing.

It hurts to take the attention to do it, but Dance nods. Yes, he heard ‘Toine. He will try to be careful.

The man in the duct tape is rolling about like a worm, screaming and struggling, apparently trying to get closer to Dance. Maybe he doesn’t have any choice about it, either.

To calm him, Dance’s tail lifts, stirs, and he shuffles forward nearer to Hyphen– and steps into a place where everything is still. Hyphen is quiet, gasping with the aftermath.  The overwhelming grating frequencies are gone.  He can hear only a few simpler harmonies, all well within the pain threshold.

Dance is not moving, his body grows heavier, set in stone, he’s not going anywhere. He doesn’t dare move any more, with all those confusing magnetic fields going at once.

“You want him yanked back off you, Dance?”

Dance’s hand comes up, flattens, makes the ‘no’ gesture they’ve used on raids.


The canopy tightens in closer around Dance’s head, and Dance draws in a deep breath, and the lights and the music in the building die out. But not the vehicle lights, not the house lights, and not the lights in the little stands nearby.
Reach farther, Dance says, just lips moving, unable to tell if he is speaking it into the air at all. He pulls on the fields from the other naga. You can help me do this. Save your life. Save your women. Help me reach further.

The power plant is in a complicated jury-rigged web of power lines, only three-quarters of them actually on the owners’ maps. It glows in the distance among the lines, some distance over the horizon.

Push it there, Dance whispers. They need it. They can use it, they can spread it for us. It’s been so hot today. They’re on power conservation, nearly brownout, warnings. Give it to them. All those air-conditioners and tvs and radios and fridges and stoves and–

Take it, Hyphen yells at him.

It’s like having a massive hand grip him all over his body, and squeeze. Too much for his skin. He’s overflowing.

There, put it there! Dance shrieks.

Streams mingle together and they both are vomiting power into the lines, the glow in the distance brightens unexpectedly, relays are issuing warnings and some failure points light up red bulbs. Speakers and klaxons are pulsing, dials running backwards.

You could power the whole grid for the Southeast with this sonuvabitch, says one of the nearby telephone lines, but Dance can’t tell who’s reporting or who is listening.