Dance Unpinned

“But did you have that little zero-g closet right away?” Emma asks.

Dance blinks at her, spreads his hands. “I don’t know. I only know when it starts squirming and wanting to stay out loose all the time.”

She frowns at him, and then at the tip of the new thing. It is touching her hand lightly, pushing against her fingers, as if they confuse it. “That has a pretty rough surface. Is it rubbing your legs raw if you tuck it up–”

“Yes, and scraping other things.” Dance sighs.

She looks at it. “Well, wrapping it in an adult diaper and then covering everything with another one might work for a while, if you wear bulky long shirts or jackets. But I don’t– since we don’t know how big it will get–or how long it will keep growing–”

We need someone who does know, and I’m useless at it,
Drin thinks, but he doesn’t say it. He knows better than to ask if the poor man wants to go to a doctor. The shedding skin was warning enough that somebody’s expensive secrets are about to blow sky high, and very likely they’re going to be unhappy about it. He hadn’t expected to have Preacher Slick rebalance his brain like a car with new tires. He never expected the nasty surprise chunks of unpleasant knowledge that have been bobbing up ever since, provoked by equally surprising events.

Drin looks at his lovers. They need a place to hide now, a lot sooner than he’d realized.

“How are we going to tell this to the guy you want to talk to?” Dance says, adjusting things in his pants.

“Dance, just like you told me.”

Dance gives a little wobbly wave of his hands, looking away. bee on bike seat 211839930_oJQjRwU5_c

“Dance, a human fetus at four and a half months has a tail like a reptile. At earlier stages it has gills. Changing the genetics isn’t even needed to find a way to make some tissues revert into earlier forms. Just proteomics, directing which parts of a genome will be turned on or not. If you have reasonable control over an immune system that might object, then you can also add genetic engineering for new parts entirely that no fetus ever saw. And you might keep the science in it a big fat secret until you’d made all your fancy high-budget military projects.”

Dance looks up. “A super soldier or something? But I don’t…” he makes that gesture again. “I’m just a musician. I just… play music.”

Drin looks at the hands that also get callused from workouts in the dojo, not just from hammering strings eight hours a day. “Thank God!” Drin says. Then he holds up one hand, and he pats Dance. “You’re not Hyphen, and you’re never going to be. I swear. Okay?”

“Okay,” Dance says.

“I might be able to find out more.” Emma frowns. “That’s what we need, more information. I’d like to see how fast it’s growing out, too, see how your general health is holding up. We’ll need to keep some records on it for that.”

Dance looks over at Drin, making a sour face. “She will want to take many pictures. Many.”

Emma can’t stifle a laugh. “Will you be okay with that, love?”

Dance nods. “Perhaps it will be difficult putting up with the tape measures, but I will be all right.”

Emma snorts. “No, you’ll bitch the whole time, but promise me you’ll do your best. We don’t know who or how it might help.” Then she looks at Drin oddly. “You seem very calm about this very… strange…”

“Yeah, I’m kind of wondering about that myself. I know I’ve seen things like that before. It’s cruel that I don’t remember enough to explain it to you, Dance. But I know you’re still who you always were, so that’s not… that’s not what matters about you, to me.”

Dance’s eyes go very wide, and shiny, and then he’s kissing Drin very hard. Drin kisses him back just as much.

Eventually Drin ends up flat on his back with his knees wrapped around Dance’s waist, and he feels that strange organ rubbing ecstatically down his inner thighs. He knows the scales are sanding away at his skin and hair, and maybe he’s going to have red marks later, and he doesn’t care. It feels wonderful.

nude athletic man holding python
holding the serpent

Emma is watching Dance and his precarious backbone, holding the length of the tail gently in case Dance might need the support, and sometimes the tip is twining around her hands happily too, as if it’s wallowing in kissing her.

Drin is sprawled out on his back because it worked out faster that way, with Dance’s renewed need, and Drin’s intense desire to feel Dance as intimately as possible without pressing his weight down on the uncertain base of Dance’s spine. He needs Dance, needs to feel Dance moving with him. He knows Dance needs to be buried in his scent, he knows that Dance will be calmed by it. He knows touching Emma too is going to calm Dance.

Drin just doesn’t know how he has come by that knowledge.


rewritten excerpt from a larger chunk on googledocs by the same name


“Come join us, Em,” Drin calls out, and Emma walks through the hotel suite towards the bath. There’s a wild gust of night-time wind sweeping through; Dance had opened every window in this corner room, heedless of the air-conditioning.

The whole long afternoon, he’d been fine. He sorted out transit around town, shading his eyes with one hand and bitching good-naturedly about missing his sunglasses. He showed off his categorical knowledge of local bus routes, taking them on a wild zigzag for hours, until Emma moaned “My dawgs, my dawgs is barkin’, boys!” Imitating the pithy wisdom of one of her coworkers in a broad Mississippi drawl that made Drin laugh.

It got weird when they started to lose the daylight.

They’d walked into the first hotel Drin thought of trying. Dance got halfway down the lobby, pivoted, and walked right without even looking to see if they’d followed him.


“Smells wrong,” he said, jittering, and started walking again. “There’s a stop on the next block, the hike is not too far, Emma. Okay? Drin?”

Dance left the third place when he heard the desk clerk’s voice.

This place, he’d managed to tolerate the lobby area, and to hold out steadying hands when a little kid barreled across the lobby towards him.  Neither Drin nor Emma have asked him what memories have come back that makes him dodge away from his own reflection in the panels of reflective copper in the lobby. He was tense walking along the corridors, not quite panicking. He went up the stairs rather than facing the elevators. But he got inside the room.

And Drin has got him into the shower.

Emma peels off her sweaty shirt and skirt, and steps in.

Dance pushes her under the water, and lets her stand, face tilted up letting the heat relax her, Dance’s hands carefully massaging knots out of her back.

The enclosure is smaller than she’d like, but she’s not going to leave it. She needs the closeness and intimacy, the touch of her two men.

Plus it gives her a chance to assess damages. Drin has a bruise blossoming under the hot water, all along his right side from hip to armpit, a bloody scrape on the shin on the same side. Dance has– nothing, for all his panicky actions, although he’s moving stiffly, and working his arms in their sockets. Whatever happened– and despite both men explaining the day’s events, she wasn’t sure they were completely accurate– Dance had come through mostly unscathed.

Then she and Drin bundle Dance into the place of pride for his share. She lathers up her hands and palms the big muscles of his back, fingertips dipping into the deep crevices between muscle groups. More meat on those shoulder blades, down the slopes of his butt, than he ever used to have, good. He’s humming, pushing back into her, urging her hands to come around to find his prick, with Drin just about to step into the exchange with a wicked grin, and then–

Dance is clutching the wall, rigid in place, mouth open wide in agony.

–and he’s falling, lax under the water, and the scream he’s just uttered is ringing in Emma’s ears.

“Oh god, Dance,” fumbling down, she and Drin together, almost knocking heads.

“What–” Drin gets his hands under their musician’s armpits. As he’s swinging that considerable weight up, Emma can see a garnet stain spreading over Dance’s back.

It’s under his skin. It’s horrible.

Drin sinks down onto the toilet, Dance in a fainting kneel between his long legs. Emma skids a little on the wet tiles, leaning in to get a better look at the hematoma. It has an origin point in his spine, between his shoulderblades. An angry triangle has bloomed at the dimple where every fiber of those heavy traps is tied down together, a handspan below the nape of Dance’s neck.

“We have to–”

Dance stirs. Coughs. “Oh, hurts,” he says, turning his head into Drin’s chest.

“I should bloody well think so!” Emma says. “What on earth, Dance, why didn’t you tell us you were hurt, you damn fool–”

“Em, stop.” He turns, wincing, towards her. There’s a flicker in his eye when he blinks up at her. “I was not hurting.”

She kneels down next to the two men, leaning in on Drin’s thigh. She puts her hand up to Dance’s face, brushes back his hair and holds the eyelid open gently, looking closely at his eye. Then both eyes, looking at the pupil size. Futile, without a proper penlight to check for concussion. And that damn whitish movement in the inner corner –something too fast to really see, be understood.

“No, worries not, this now all right now,” Dance says, scrambling words alarmingly.

Emma holds herself very still, waiting for him to finish, and he just smiles sweetly, and kisses her cheek.

“There’s a hospital about four blocks from here, and it’s on our insurance list,” she says, standing up. “If I bring his clothes in here, can we get them on him? ”

“No,” Drin’s voice checks her. The note in it brings her right back to the terror of the noon, and she wheels back to glare at her partner, his graying hair and pale freckled skin, sitting on a hotel toilet with a man, who may be bleeding out internally, half in his lap.  Odd accent–oh, yes, now it’s the cool ghostly voice of the man he used to be, the one who evaporates at any demand.  That voice says to her, “No hospital, Em.”

Her rage is so great, she feels she could choke. She grasps Drin’s right ear and says, harshly, “Later is now.”

“It’s his pin.”

“His what?”

“That bouncing he got must have broken it loose. Come, take a look.”

His finger delicately indicates a lump the size of a pencil eraser pushing up under the bloody skin at one corner of the triangle. She locates another lump, and a third.  Frantically she blinks back diagrams blooming open, an entire vast new archive of data flapping with alarm flags.

“Oh, damn,” Drin says, “The damn thing fractured.”

“Those pieces could travel a long way before they work out of his body,” Emma says, and there are echoes of knowledge in her head. Boxes of dead things. “Dance?”

“Emma?” Dance says and giggles. And then moans; “Fuck, my back is spasming!”

“Not surprised, sweetheart,” Drin murmurs, and kisses his head.

“He’s probably getting chilled,” Emma says. She grabs towels. Hell, it’s something to do. “Drin, I want to hear some logic on this one.”

Drin just shakes his head; “Don’t have any,” he replies obliquely. “Let’s get you onto the bed, okay? Can you–” Can you walk, can you feel your legs, she wants to scream– “Can you let us help you up?”

“You carry me.” The tough, reserved, dignified violinist pouts like a baby. And then grins, a sly little smile. A nudge of his hip against Drin.

Emma forces a grin onto her face in return. She lifts Dance’s shins while Drin stands. It takes more effort than she can believe, getting the three of them to the big bed, but the exhaustion must be ignored a little longer. She throws the towels down over the hotel bedspread and Dance makes a floppy face-first landing on top. “Niiice…” he says to the pillows and wiggles his ass.

“Stop it darling, Em and I want to play doctor, and you have to be the patient.”

“Take my temperchur!” Another wriggle of his hips. Emma throws an exasperated look at Drin, who looks as somber as she feels. “Can I kiss Nurse?”

“That’s me, sweetheart,” Drin says, sitting down next to him. “Em’s the doctor today. She’s going to take your pulse first.” A glint of shining metal in his hand; he turns it palm up and shows Emma the sleek little stiletto while she’s counting pulses against her watch.

Dance’s other hand starts to slide under his hip. He doesn’t get very far, trying to move his arm. “Ow.”

“Dance, listen to me.” Drin sounds like he’s a long way off, like his voice is being transmitted through humming wires. “We have to cut into your back. We don’t have any way to numb it, but I don’t think it wil hurt too badly anyway– we are only cutting the skin. But we have to do it quickly. Can you be still for us? Be still, sweetheart. Be… still…”

And Dance does lay still, Drin’s big hands on his shoulders. Emma takes the knife, slicks it with alcohol hand cleaner from a hotel packet, wipes the bruised skin with two more packets, and locates the largest of the fragments, just over his spine.

Schematic drawings obscure her eyesight untill she shakes them away, leaving her with the name of what was secreted in her lover’s spinal cord. Quickly, efficiently, she presses the tip of the blade into the blackened skin and a bead of red wells up, turning into a rivulet as she lengthens her incision, and a gush as the object pops free with a clever little twist of her blade tip. Drin has a towel ready for the bleeding, and presses down on the cut. She drops the hard dull gray pin head into his other hand.

Emma cuts her lover two more times.

Drin hands her the fragments,which she carries into the bathroom. She rinses the knife. She does not wash the grit that she cut out of Dance. She looks briefly at the fragments in the stronger light – they fit together into a ring. She thinks the smooth outside texture is misleading. There is a pitting to the inside surface of the ring, tiny filterlike holes nearly too small to see. She puts them in a plastic wrapper from one of the hotel cups, and puts that in the little hotel fridge.

She washes her hands and returns to the bed. Dance does not move when she touches him.

“You were very good and you can move now,” Emma says, and kisses his ear. Schematics are still bubbling up over her eyesight, and she wants to cry.

“Being good,” Dance sighs.

“You did,” Drin says, stroking the side of Dance’s face.

“Can be turning over now?”

With towels packed hard under his bleeding back, and his head propped on a pillow, Dance looks remote, spooky.

Emma shivers. There’s white frost somewhere.

“No temperature taking…You don’t play doctor right.” A scowl. “Ow. Mean doctor.”

“But you can kiss Nurse,” Emma says, and her voice sounds very, very far away. “While I check your pulse again.”

Drin throws her another sober look, and stretches out beside Dance, leaning in to kiss Dance all over his face with soft brushes of his lips. Dance smiles back, allowing his eyelids to be kissed.

Endorphins, gotta love ’em, Emma thinks bitterly, getting her watch out again. After a few moments, holding Dance’s warm wrist, she releases him with a sigh, laying down the relaxed arm. She pulls a pad of paper from the hotel drawer. With Drin on concussion watch over Dance, Emma scribes half-understood notes, like automatic writing.

Reply from Atsidi

Japanese 4 gig thumb drives
Japanese 4 gig thumb drives
message relayed to Susan:

They’re pried out of the burrow. You can pick them up any time.
Don’t you love it? So Biblical, Adam and Eve messing with the Serpent.


Susan: Hush, this is no bible story. Baby cut his first tooth already. that lock didn’t hold up nohow, just like I said it wouldn’t.

attn: Bennie

Tell Woo to put down his knitting and report to L79.


Channel 4
Suspicious Relay (sr)
Ivan, c/o Teslamomma:


Put in the broadest possible terms, my money is on the snake.


Auren Han
Public Relations
Atsidi, LLC


from an lj comment posted in reponse to “Be Here Now” section called, “I’ve Got Chemistry.”

Unwanted Company

skeptical look, actor Alexander Skarsgard seated in shirt and tee

He’s fine at home. Comfortable, warm, easy as falling into a hammock. He doesn’t need other people besides his lovers. Both his lovers. So, a large hammock.

He does not need this.

Drin stares at the co-worker who’s planted himself, uninvited, across the lunch table from his beautiful musician, and Drin is furious at losing his precious lunch time with Dance, at the little sidewalk cafe, during a rehearsal break. On other days, he manages to sit down with Emma, who gets so rowdy that she makes him laugh until his belly hurts.

But work gossip spews across the table like garbage on a tide; Nathan is revving up for a good long visit.

Drin has never thought of himself of himself as a loner. He didn’t even think about it back when he had nobody else. Now he does have obligations, other places to be. He’s left behind the old crowd as if they were a roaring clown college, and the old crew noticed, as careful as he’s been not to flag it around. It shows anyway, a dark honest corner of Drin’s mind remarks.

“So is he a good lay?” one of the women had asked Drin twenty minutes ago, leering after Dance’s departing back. The tailored silk flatters a violinist’s shoulders nicely.

He paid for that. He is the musician’s patron, after all

A lot of people at work have been acting oddly. Making rude loud jokes, laughing like drunks. She had giggled, with hand gestures. For the last month, Nathan’s stories have been offensive enough that they should have gotten him fired. Hell, he’d always assumed there were some rules about all this. He’s a complete novice compared to Emma, who is pretty enough that she has to set firm boundaries all the time, and doesn’t even think about how hard she sets them.

Drin’s shoulders twitch. He has no patience for wasting the limited time he gets to spend with Dance or Emma. Time with people he really likes, hearing them laugh, or give that little cry of pleasure or delight. He wants to do ordinary things with them. Wash dishes, do the laundry, and once in a while give them fantastic camping trips and visits to amazing museums and toys that will make things easier for them.

He feels Dance’s sidelong glance. Do you want to leave? says the look.

No! his whole body protests. What’s more, Nathan will track him down here forever, unless Drin can chase him away. So, he introduces the man to Dance, who knows how to be civilized and remote and very slightly odd. People go away sooner.

Not this time. Nathan sticks, yammering things that shouldn’t be said in public with a sort of giddy sloppiness that Drin has seen from him before, but never quite so badly. Why am I surrounded by whackjobs and aliens? All I want to do is go home and hug the only sane guy I know.

He glances up at the sane guy, who cocks one brow sardonically, and excuses himself to use the restroom. Leaving Drin with the whackjob, of course.

Tachina fly on window
Tachina Fly on Window

Nathan opens his mouth into a noisy sucking gesture, and laughs. “So, tiger, gonna catch that skinny li’l boy doing some hustler in the men’s room one of these days, aren’t ya? I hear you guys are all into the whole blow job thing, oh yeah, I used to know this cheerleader who could suck the chrome off a truck–”

Drin used to feel pity for this guy.

Now, he holds up one hand, and says, “Let’s just say Dance has his talents, but he’s all about the violin, if you really want to know. Sorry, gotta get him back to rehearsals now.”

Nathan has just started to say the next offensive thing, unaware that Dance has come back by then, silently, able to hear every word. Nathan says, “I dunno how a great big guy like you could bother hanging out with some scrawny AIDS-spreading little–”

–scholar of serious rock and roll who could kick your butt into next week, but won’t bother with the likes of you. He glances up at his partner, seeing an amused little smile. He always forgets Dance is used to gossip, and the people who do it.

Nathan is just starting to open his big mouth again when something red explodes his neck. It hinges apart and his head falls–

Dance says sharply, “What’s that smell?” And Drin is up on his feet, arm out, blocking Dance’s view of the wreck that is tottering horribly in front of Drin. He reaches toward Dance, who is reaching towards him. He sees movement in the corner of his eye.

There’s a car driving up on the sidewalk, into the little block of tables. Straight at them, like a movie.

A shadow blots out his view, there’s a crunch and something thumps into him, a solid impact all down his back and his side, and then he’s rolling, with his arms full of Dance, in the one clear line through the tangle of furniture. His feet are kicking away the light plastic chairs in bright high arcs, each shape an outline frozen in his mind like multiple camera shutters snapping.

Then he’s on his back, with Dance gripped tight, and Dance’s knees get purchase under them both, and he simply hugs Drin like a football and lifts him by the ribs, hoists him up bodily, and carries him in ten driving steps past the end of the restaurant. Drin can’t breathe, the grip is so tight. Chips of brick spang and spatter past them, sting his cheek. Dance jerks aside, head twisting, and he shifts in mid-motion to a new direction, hauling Drin up like a bundle over his shoulder. Five long steps and they’re behind a brick divider. Dance hurls him down there into the planter bed, banging one hand down on Drin’s chest to keep him flattened there, while Dance kneels, head low, to look back around the divider, checking where they came from.

Okay, Drin tells himself, waiting for air to come back into him, along with those wheezing noises. Okay, it’s not textbook. But it worked, were alive.

Dance twists around, hair swinging in an arc, and he’s up on his feet, offering his hand to Drin without even looking at him. “Let’s go.” Drin gets jerked up to his feet, and Dance is moving before Drin is quite ready, heading back into the mess, weaving right through people screaming.

Their table has folded like a wet tissue. The car has dead people in it, necks at odd angles. Nathan is half-hidden under the rear of the car. The front end of the car has a round box-shaped hollow in it. There’s a cracked green lamp post just in front of it which is equally bent in the other direction, man-height. More people are starting to scream, at last. They’ve fallen in heaps on the ground, heads covered tightly in their arms, like people who’ve been through bombings before.

Dance weaves through them with his eyes staring wide, not blinking, lips moving. He’s humming to himself.

old industrial phone rotary dial
No Numbers for This One

“Pass here,” he says, crossing the street and slamming aside a heavy glass door. He says, “Call nine-one-one,” to the slack-jawed, white-faced clerk, and he shoves the desk phone into her hand as he passes. Then he’s dragging Drin out the back door, and turning up an alley. Dance jinks and zigzags at each intersection, hair flying as he looks around. It’s a good mile before he’s walking swiftly on the main sidewalk, not making it look like an effort. “We need to get Emma,” he says.

That’s when Drin sees the long rips in Dance’s silk jacket, the crushed buttons, the fragments of old green paint on the middle of his back.


Author’s note: More collaboration, and definitely much the better for it!

me=Nagasvoice, and GreenJudy, Kiyakotari, Stella_Omega and numaari

After Hours

Rain is coming.  The humidity sends the odor of sage gusting into the crowded club, drafting off the ravines above the big parking lot. Chaparral oils mix with skunk and tar.  Perfumes and smokes cling on the sweaty clothes of patrons returning from the patio.  Drin feels like his brain is all twitching dog-nose.  He holds his breath sometimes.

Audio signals are turned up high too.  Customers are playing Beer Pong.  Speakers shake the walls with a retro mix of piano and sax and drums.

“Yo’ mama talking trash…let me tell you what we’re gonna do… we gonna have some fun, c’mon, let the good times roll…”

While the band is on break, the bartender has no time to chat.  He’s a machine chopping ripe melon, coconut, citrus peel, tomatoes, chilis.  Wait staff hand out big daiquiris by the trayful; the smell of fruit is sticky sweet, acid, almost brassy.  Too much on an empty stomach.

Drin sips at a chunky tumbler, retreating into the warm brown-sugar complexities of Tennessee whiskey.  It’s dimly lit by the side door.  Useless to sit waiting like some spoiled prince, expecting homage.  But his pride kicks at sending a business card backstage.

There’s no sound. Just the smell of the man, a familiar dusty, piney odor.

He turns.

Dance was looking tired when he left the Metro’s doors four nights ago.  Now, he’s as sweaty as a bluesman, with dark hollows around his eyes.  In that setting, the irises glow, they’re so pale.

“So sad, no yelling boo at our Mister Drin, who is too quick for us.”  Dance gives a big sigh, sticking out his lower lip like a kid.  Looking for the laugh.

So Drin gives it to him, but he isn’t fooled.  Those pale eyes don’t blink.

“Was it a good trip?” Dance asks.

Drin offers his hand.  “Oh yeah, the trip was okay, but I’m damn glad to be back.”

“We are too.  So glad our Mister Drin came tonight, we were not expecting—”

The handshake Dance gives him is dry, hot, all callouses.  Up close, Dance’s smell is downright medicinal, even odder than usual.  Greek retsina, mushrooms, vetiver.  Bay laurel thrown on a campfire.  Mixed pleasure, that–the last few fishing trips had too many noisy guys from work, not enough quiet to sleep, not enough river time.  Burning rabbit smells just like it did in the dry pines of Afghanistan.

“Did I miss your first set?”

“Yes, but just in time for our second, and we will have another.”  Trickles of water run off Dance’s brows, down his neck.

“Something to drink?” Drin asks, rising from his seat.

The man hesitates, nods.  He surveys the crowd while he rolls his shoulders in his black jacket.  Then he stretches his arms, knots and unknots his hands.  He arches backward, stretching his spine in the dim light, and his long hair hangs low, nearly knee-level.  When he pulls up again, he tightens and loosens his abs like a dancer.  The belly ripples look weird on a guy in a dress shirt.

Takes him back in time, that does.  Drin sees clumsy tourists, skinny limbo dancers, somebody laughing over music, dreadlocked hair whipping around.  A boat rocks under him while he is puking profound drunkenness into thorny brush.  Tin drums keep panging away rhythms in memory.

Chen Kun from fashion shoot with actress Zhou-Xun

He waits it out, feeling the sudden ache from a couple scars on his shins.  Damn flashbacks.  But at least he hasn’t picked up any new blanks since the hospital, after his motorcycle wreck.  Plus, zero desire to get wasted again.

Dance has his jaw muscles clenched like a boxer.  Drin follows him, watchful.  The crowd clears away, eyeing Dance.  A little pool of space opens around them both.  Yeah, something happened tonight.

Dance thanks the bartender for a tumbler of water.  He mops his jaw with a cheap bandanna, slides it down his throat into the collar of his shirt, looking up at Drin without blinking, and Drin begins to feel a smile stretch his jaw–

But there’s a stir at the main door.  Somebody drops a tray.

Drin glances down, surprised.  Dance the martial artist has pivoted close, right at Drin’s elbow, poised with one arm up.  The man has his knees bent, the bandanna is wrapped around his knuckles on the back fist.

Drin hopes devoutly that he didn’t miss some cue.

The bartender has his head up too, searching over the crowd.  After a hung moment, he flicks a sheepish gaze at Dance.  Dance straightens again, nods back.  “It can get rowdy.  We should be alert for assault on our Mister Drin, who has money, and looks like it.”

“I do?” Drin says, untangling one hand from his loose shirt tail.

“It is no good, our getting distracted.”

“Well, I had my hand on my wallet.  How about you?”

That quirked smile.  “Our Mister Drin has been drinking in some rough joints?”

“Yeah.  Some bad enough where I’d keep both my hands up, ready to use, and to hell with the wallet.  Don’t worry about me.  But thanks, I appreciate it–” he’s interrupted, there’s some loud woman shoving between them, staggering, and a crowd is following her.

Dance twists, hands up, and the musician’s back smacks solidly into Drin, slams them both into the bar with a thump.  Dance shoves off again with sheer bunched force.  The muscles make quite an impression on Drin’s body. Not quite the sort of contact Drin had anticipated, getting bruised by the man’s ass.

His own fault, that’s what he gets for losing track of the general surroundings.

Dance diverts the leader away from Drin.  The woman’s hand is groping after Dance, flailing as if she’s about to fall down. Her flapping papers make the musician flinch, and then her car keys go flying, but Dance snatches them from the air and returns them to her.  More gusting laughter.  “Goodness, don’t you half smell of sawmill.  Takes me right back, my daddy was a sawyer all his life– hey Rose, come meet my favorite fiddler!”

She’s everybody’s loud, laughing buddy on a mission to introduce her friends right behind her.

All that effort gets a flicker of cool performer’s decision:  No.  Not for you.

Engerman was right about Dance, about his peculiar anti-charisma.  But it’s a choice– Drin can see it happen.  Dance goes stiff as a cat in a bathtub. Nobody’s ever been quick enough to see him do it.

The ladies react to it.  Only one of them shakes his hand, and briefly at that.  The nearest lady refuses to get any closer, her face closed down in the multicolored bar light.  The others draw back, restless.  Now they want to meet somebody who’s a lot more cuddly and warm, somebody who knows how to flirt.  Somebody who doesn’t… smell like that.

Ask them what that is, and the other women couldn’t tell you. Maybe something silent.

Drin thinks, something that doesn’t blink.

The crowd of women shift away to the bassist a few seats farther down the bar, who is much more laid-back and unruffled than Dance, and obviously doesn’t mind being engulfed in extravagantly bosomy hugs.  It’s quite a parade.

Drin finds himself halfway humming the words of another old pop song, “Money for nothin’, and your chicks for free…” which certainly dates his pop references.

“Yeah, that’s all his own hair, that faggot’s a millionaire,” Dance’s voice murmurs the next verse, startling him.  Jesus, sliding right up at his elbow, no warning.  Blink in this crowd, and you’ve lost him.

Drin chuckles, feeling a flush starting up his hairline.

The musician glances up at Drin, murmurs an apology.  Fresh lines of sweat run down the muscles jumping in his jaw.  Dance looks away, shrugs heavily in his jacket, which was never made for moving like that.

“It’s hot in here.  I could hold your jacket, if you like,” Drin offers, hand up.

Dance is a blur, out of reach, pure reflexes.  Then he flushes dark.

Drin rests his hands flat on the bar:  No grabbing, okay?

The musician looks at that, and then up at Drin.  The man’s irises go warm and dark.  He gives a grimace, pulls out a black elastic loop.  “Some night we go looking for great big scissors,” Dance growls, shooting a look around the bar while he twists up his hair.

“Oh, that’d be a shame,” Drin says.

Dance’s gaze jerks back to him.  Nervy, poised just out of reach.

“We should consult folks like Amalia, get somebody good to cut it right for you,” Drin advises.

Dance’s irises pale out again to a gold color.  Oh, he hates that idea.

Well, it is a threat.  Last time, Amalia scolded Dance and trimmed split ends off into an office trash can, right in front of Drin.  He let her do it, too, astonishing them all.  Like a cross teddybear, she thumped him.  “And don’t you go weird and stubborn on me, either!”

There, in the back-bar mirror, is Dance’s blank face, sticking out his jaw like a pack mule.

Drin doesn’t dare smile.  He just shrugs.  “But you gotta ask her yourself.  I’m not gonna tattle on you.  Not my job, tattling to Amalia.”

Dance shakes his head.  Then he looks up at Drin’s image in the mirror, and there’s a crinkle lifting the corners of the man’s eyes.  The wry smile is almost too quick to catch.  His irises are brown again when he ducks his head.

He’s pretty good at hiding that color change trick, I wonder why? Drin thinks.  Maybe Dance knows that nobody really wants to see it.

The music on the speakers softens, allowing easier conversation.  A woman’s voice growls a rich baritone over horns.  “I never met a man anything like you in the universe… you must be from heaven…”

“Nice.”  Drin nods at the speakers.

dark brown upright piano
Bon Temps

The musician cocks his head, listening.  “We are hearing the blues and jazz vocalist, Annie Sampson.  Our bartender likes her.  We just say he has the picky ear.  He gives printouts to music reps.  They argue.  He has no soda-pop divas, he will tell you.”

“Will Annie Sampson be the next big thing?”

A shrug.  “The lady teaches.”  The musician gives that wry, one-sided smile again as he looks Drin over, rumpled hair to loafers.  His gaze skips around so fast it is impossible to tell what he thinks of the casual Hawaiian shirt, Drin’s faded old jeans.  Then the speakers get loud again.

At the first chords, Drin starts to grin.  He nods his head, tilts his body stiffly back and forth.  ZZ Top.  When he glances over, the bartender is grinning right back at them, and he’s tilting the same way, dancing and still chopping away at pineapple.

“…black shades, white gloves, lookin’ sharp and lookin’ for love…  They come runnin’ just as fast as they can, coz every girl crazy ’bout a sharp-dressed man…”

Dance shakes his head at the bartender, who just grins.  There’s a quirk to Dance’s mouth, looking up at Drin, but the line of his shoulders has relaxed.

A little trust, Drin thinks, pleased out of all proportion.  Another time, Drin might have dared a touch.  But no, the bartender is watching them closely enough as it is.  Give the guy space in public, he’s a performer, and he needs the money.  Those mutable eyes, too, that brings up alarm bells–but they’ve gone dark, smiling, nothing odd to see here.

“Some of the ladies here told me they liked the bit where you and the vocalist in red had a duet,” Drin says, rather than ask how many times Dance has stepped into somebody else’s fight here, the same way he does at the Metro.  Or if he’d fended off some kind of violence tonight.

Dance nods.  “Very kind.”  He takes two slow steps closer, giving Drin plenty of time to respond.  Apparently he wants something, in spite of muley looks.

He puts his hands flat next to Drin’s hands, stretching out his fingers, comparing his right to Drin’s left.  His fingers are longer than Drin’s are. His palm spreads wider.  The knuckles are scarred pale, the callouses on his fingertips are cracked, the nails ragged, as if he hasn’t had time to take care of anything.

That reinforces the stubbornness burning in the man’s tired face.  He’s not going away until he talks to Drin about whatever it is.  That’s irrationally flattering, too.  What’s odd is how close he is, how still he stands.

It’d be so easy to rest his hand on Dance’s, but no.  Not tonight.  Not with Dance as jumpy as this, in an insecure location.  Instead, Drin finds his glass, sips the last of his drink.  “Constancia was her name?”

“Yes, I can get you her card if you like–”

Drin shakes his head.  “No, no, it’s not like that, but thank you.  I’m sure it was really from the way you supported her singing.  The way you always do.”

Dance’s hands pull back, clench together, muscles bunch between the tendons.  “Thank you.”

Drin watches the hands relax a little bit. He says, “So when do I get to have some of that legendary chilihead hot barbecue chicken?”

The hands spread open on the bar, fingers relaxing.  “Oh, so people are telling our Mister Drin some stories, yes?”

“Threats, more like!”

“We give you a hint,” Dance says.  A little finger taps his nose.  “The pork is hotter.  We are making those pans first, so it goes marinating longer.  We call it galbi in Korean, I am using the sauce for dak galbi, that is chicken in hot marinade.”

“Galbi, is that how you say it?  Well, I don’t qualify for chilihead, but I gotta check out both of those.  Is that fundraiser next month?”

“In two weeks,” Dance says.

“If you tell me when you want to get the stuff, I’ll tag along and pay for it, help you move it into storage.  Maybe get that prosciutto you like.  Okay by you?”

Dance nods.  The hands go into a knot, huddled.  Perhaps they are consulting each other.

Just for a moment Drin’s skeptical working brain is drowned out by all the bits crowing, yes yes! But his dour auditor half surfaces long enough to say, Oh come now.  Something is up.  You know there’s something else.  Besides the eyes.  The hands.  The resiny odor.  What is it?

The happy bits fight back.  Yeah, maybe this is a guy with things to hide.  But it’s not like he gets a lot of time away from the Metro.  What possible mischief could he get up to?

Drin’s stomach growls.  Okay, maybe some of that dry, brushy smell is from the man’s cooking.  It makes Drin curious about what he’s using for soap.  Meeting those intelligent eyes, it’s too easy to see those hands sliding soap bubbles all over sleek skin… Drin can only strive to keep that out of his face.

Hastily, Drin asks, “You have a butcher you like?  Good cold storage?”

Dance nods, not looking at him.  The fingernails tap jittery rhythms on the bar.

Offer Dance money and hellfire, look at him scowl.  The guy is syncopating to the canned music differently on each hand while he’s thinking.  Men, generally, are forthright about what they want.  This guy is shy, buttoned back.

“Money can’t buy me love–” Drin hums the old Beatles words over music with the same time signature, drumming his index fingers on the bar.  “Caaan’t buy me luuurve–”

There’s the smile coming, coaxed out as Drin goes on.

closeup Hyun Bin
closeup face of actor Hyun Bin

“Money can’t buy me luuuuve–” Drin does drumrolls with his forefingers, clicking his tongue on his teeth, and finishes by chiming the water glass.

Dance is laughing.  “Our Mister Drin is so bad!”

“Oh, I am.  Blame it on my mispent youth.  We had to put the drum kit out in the garage, drove the neighbors crazy.”  He wipes off his forehead on his sleeve.  It’s hot in here.  “Okay, what’s bugging you about the whole deal?”

Dance taps the bar twice with a thick, rough thumbnail.  “Cooking nine kilos– yes, twenty pounds of meat last year, and we ran out.  Also, no big gear for cooking enough.”

Drin nods.  “Need twice that much just from the membership roster.  Caterer would cost more, I checked on that.  Find yourself good cooking gear, make me a list.  I’ll ask somebody on the Metro Board to check my donation papers.  Can’t ask Bud Innes, he’s in my direct chain of supervision at work, and that’s a conflict of interest.”

Dance nods gravely.  “You will have to explain it to them first.”

“Oh,  hell. Ever since Jenners left, nobody on the Board has any background–”

The man’s smile widens.  “We were hearing from a small bird that our newest member, Evans, has tax background.  Federal law enforcement.  Nobody said that in public, but he says very little, yes?”

“Wow.  That’s some bird.  Was it Robert who said that?”

“Ahh, Robert.  Well, these days he says what Bud Innes wishes will be heard,” Dance says, with those unflinching dark eyes.  “Our little bird says look for questioning from our new Mister Evans at the budget meeting next week about lost papers.  Maybe making Maestro Young yell at them.  At us, too.”  He shrugs.

This, Drin thinks, is what makes successful concertmasters.  That sliding angle of riposte that diverts you onto something more important than the original question.  Here it comes. “Lost papers? What do you mean, lost?”

“Yesterday evening after performance, big fourth floor mess.”

Drin stares into the direct warning.  The hair is standing up on his neck. “Oh, crap, don’t gimme that look.  What happened?”

“Broken water pipe at the top of the building.  Fans are now running to dry the office.  After we are speaking with Metro’s insurance company, we call our nice office ladies.  They are upset about their computers and puppy pictures.”

The pictures? On the walls? Some leak!”  Drin rakes his hand through his hair, trying to think.  “We can get duplicate billing records from the invoicing companies. I was just making audit file copies, those files got put away safe, that’s some help.  What about the storage boxes, the music scores, are those okay?”

“Only a few damages.  Pipe is off at other end, above.”

He catches the man’s solemn expression.  “Oh, dammit, what else?”

“Drill marks, somebody cutting the pipe.  We hear the plumber reporting this for stupid unskilled vandalism.”

“And you have an idea who did it,” Drin says grimly.  No wonder the guy looks tired.


“Let me guess.  If you say the name, everybody will think you’re making it up.  Trying to get somebody in trouble.”

Dance tips his chin up, closes his eyes.  “Well, we are smelling this, but we think nobody will believe, especially if this nose is saying so.”  He taps it.

Drin snaps, “I believe you.  I completely believe you have a nose that tells you things like that.  Tonight, it makes perfect sense.  Wish I’d got back sooner.  Dammit, nobody called me about that.”

Dance spreads his hands wide.  “Because we know our Mister Drin is away on his trip with many meetings.  Apologizing deeply–”

Drin peers at him.  “Are you okay?”

Dance nods.  “We are good.  What did they call you about? These persons called you about something else?”  Dance has a truly grim tone there, the man’s shoulders are bracing up for more bad news.

Drin rattles melting cubes in his glass.  “Mid-week, Young demanded I fly back the same day. I should talk the Board into confirming that big hall for his fancy downtown concert.”

“After their management sued us for defaulting last season?” Whoever said Dance has no grasp of politics just wasn’t following the volleys fast enough.

“Him and his handshake deals. He didn’t remember the lawsuit.”  Drin shrugs.  “Hey, sorry, didn’t he get the rescheduling note? No quorum.”

Dance nods. “Too many Board members or their proxies are sick.  So many are in their eighties, half are in the hospital.”

Drin sighs. “Well, they can get a few things done.” They both know how long it takes to get a written review of contracts by the Metro’s volunteer attorneys.

Dance nods.  “Thanking you. Sadly, the nice drunk lady used all our time.  We must be going.  Also, we very much like leaving our jacket safe with you, Mister Drin.”  He puts one finger down, ever so gently, on the back of Drin’s wrist.

Drin can’t stop the smile.

But the man is gone, retreating.  A shrug of his body and he’s flinging over his cheap jacket, not even checking if Drin has caught it.  Distracting, but Drin can’t miss the outline of the prick standing hard against the man’s thigh.  Before he can drag his eyes off that, Dance turns away and he is vanishing into the gloom.  Running away.

Drin blinks at the backstage door.  Tells himself not to be silly.  Hard-ons happen, set off by all kinds of things, even the threat of fighting.  The flare of amusement warms his belly more than the whiskey did.

He looks at the jacket.  It’s damp inside.  That makes his dick throb.  Forget dignity, he’s no better than the rest of the groupies.  He perches on a bar stool and drapes the musician’s damp jacket open across his knee to let it dry out. Talk about physicality in performance–it’s made of cheap stain-resistant plastic fiber, grinding away in months of performances.  The lining is coming apart.  A big shred of it comes away in his hand.  Most musicians would refuse to take it off and show it to him, afraid to reveal poverty.  He knows Dance will crack a joke about it.

Kind of touching, sad and funny, like discovering that the beautiful actress is wearing pink flipflops under her fancy gown.  It makes him want to drag Dance to a decent tailor, and spend indecent amounts of money on him.  Which is ridiculous.

Expect nothing, he told himself sternly when he first got in the car tonight.  Dance didn’t ask him to come.  It was Engerman who told him the quintet would be here tonight.

Now he’s holding a wet jacket, smiling like a fool.  He strokes the lining into place, finding spots of sticky sap, red clay stains.  Yeah, the kind of marks you get from fighting, rolling around in the brush, ducking guns, something.  Which makes his inner auditor just keep getting more wound up.  It wants to find out more about those eyes, and the odd hands–do the kind of digging that can get unpleasant. His nose doesn’t care, or his balls. He sniffs a shred of lining, puts the scrap in his own shirt pocket.

If he was courting an opera diva, would he get silly over a ratty corset?  Well, yeah.  Who wouldn’t want to see what’s under Dance’s suit?  Get his mouth onto all that warm skin, feel those muscles tighten.  He wants to give pleasure, he wants to see extravagant things happen.  Get that line of tension in the guy’s jawline to relax.

Dangerous impulse, he knows.  Simpler to push Dance into a restroom wall, make things clear.  Stop talking. Hell, if it was nothing but a weekend romp, he’d be happy to give the man anything he asks for.  But that won’t happen.  Dance might warn him, might ask for help in answering Evans.  But this?  No, thank you, and Dance will coolly extract himself.

Damn shame, too.  He’s been wanting a calendar shot of Dance licking cream off those long fingers, with that laughing expression in his eyes.  Get those shoulders into a clingy shirt that catches light on every last contour.  Show how those eyes shift color when he’s provoked.

After all, what better way to hide things than right out in plain sight?  And isn’t it nice to learn that Dance has a helluva method for breaking bad news?

Vandalism, hell.

The torn piece of lining might as well be burning a hole through his pocket.  His dick is certainly trying to.

He orders another drink during the next set, while the dutiful auditor inside is tallying up more questions. Incredible that the Metro has never checked on any of their full-time employees or their tutors for the music outreach school programs.  Never checked on criminal convictions. How could they fail to fulfill one of the most basic requirements for insurance?

Watching Dance play perfectly ordinary pop music is not reassuring the Doubting Thomas inside,  the part of him who keeps revising the research lists. Hell, after a routine due-diligence employment workup on the man, now he suspects he hasn’t even begun.

It’s all tossed to confetti bits when the band shifts positions.

singer actor Chen Kun holding mike
At the mike

Dance rests the violin on one knee, and picks up the microphone, and sings.  Something by the Pogues, nostalgic lyrics with plangent accompaniment from a penny whistle and the pianist;
“And so we walked when day was dawning
The small birds sang, the leaves were falling
Where we once watched the rowboats landing
By the broad majestic Shannon.”

Of course he doesn’t have an Irish accent, but he articulates crisply, his meter is just fine.  He manages to sing tenor descants without going nasal, as if it’s no strain at all, there’s lung capacity to spare, it’s perfectly easy to hit his fast notes.  Not the kind of whooping gospel pyrotechnics reportedly committed by their earlier alto soloist in a red dress.  No, not a diva.  Just the kind of voice you’d hear purring from the next pillow, maybe, if you were a very lucky man.

“…take my hand and dry your tears babe…”

Drin can feel the tingling down to his toes when Dance lifts his chin and looks around the room, nodding to the applause, flashing that white grin when his eyes meet Drin’s.

Then he’s handing the microphone to the pianist, who sings the next one, and passes it to the saxophone.  Each musician sings something different, playing off one another’s lyrics like conversational jazz, until the crowd gets restless.

They pick up their instruments to play “Stormy Weather.” Dance’s violin goes cool and regretful, that remote voice in the fog, fading to smoke.  Farewell in a film noir, perhaps.  Time to take their bows.

bass and sax player in smoky spotlight
“…you went away, the blues walked in and met me…”

The sight of the musicians walking away makes Drin’s chest squeeze, old aches pull sharply all across his old burn scars.  Vandalism, hellfire.  He should have gone to last night’s performance, he knew it at the time.  Catch an earlier flight back.  Something.  They needed him there, picking up the pieces, helping Dance lock it up, get some damn proof what was going on.  He can’t stand the idea that he wasn’t in place.  He’s never been able to abide that feeling.

The Mayor Takes a Walk

It’s impossible to just go for a nice lunchtime walk with Drin to a restaurant. He’s too tall, he just looks too authoritative. On his way out the door, people who know him at the Metro run up and chatter at him as he walks. But knowing him doesn’t matter, either. Out on the street, total strangers come up and talk to him.

Drin opens the side door, squints down the street. “Okay, sweetheart, stay with me here. We got the tourist crowds going here, all this nice weather.”

It’s nothing like the anonymity Dance is used to, trotting about with papers in his arms, just another small man in old sweatshirts and ragged tennis shoes. Poor ethnic people are never noticed, never acknowledged, in tourist areas downtown. Now, he’s getting stares just for being Drin’s companion. Get used to it, he tells himself.

In a four-block walk, five people try to stop Drin and speak to him. Nobody begs him for money, which is unusual for the area. Two ask directions. One asks about the parking meters, another about how late the city permitting office is open. The last one asks if he can figure out her income for her on her tax documents. He is happy to answer these questions from total strangers. But he doesn’t slow his leisurely long-legged stride, either, he just keeps walking. If they want to talk to him, they trot with him for a moment.

“Courthouse is about three blocks east. The records section charges a fee these days, though.”
“You have to pay for parking at that kiosk down at this end.”
“I think they close early these days, you could ask at any of the other city offices, or call them. Yeah, try that 411 call feature on your phone.”
“No, but you could get help from volunteer tax preparers who work with seniors at tax season workshops. Try calling AARP and getting a local number to call. Some of the local senior daycare facilities have workshops for the families, too.”

Dance watches, bemused. The way people come up at Drin in waves, and magically part for him to go through, seems just like Poseidon going for a stroll, or Moses parting the Red Sea, or something. Dance feels like a dolphin riding on his bow-wave. A slightly nervous one, given how oddly some of the people act when they approach Drin. They keep startling him.

man's furry bottom jeans down
ginger distractions

Part of it is that he’s distracted. Dance tries to focus on them, but his gaze keeps drifting back to Drin. He has a hard time watching anything besides that lazy walk, the maddening planes in those soft, faded high-pockets jeans, and how the belt rides on Drin’s hips. The way the zipper tab glints in the light. That’s the problem with having a good memory. Dance tells the impatient little man in his own pants to shut up.

Drin gives a crooked smile at Dance, with a nod after the tax lady. “First time Bud Innes saw that stuff, he started calling me Mister Mayor.”

“How do they know our Drin has all these answers?”

“Same way you did? I guess I just got a bossy face. Hell, do I have auditor stamped on my ass?”

Dance peers at him, squinting in the bright light. He blurts, “Our Drin has a very fine ass.”

Drin’s eyes come round in surprise, and then he chuckles. “Well, now we know what you had in mind for lunch!”

Dance can feel his neck burning, his whole head heating in furious embarrassment. He tries again. “Not looking bossy to us– to me. Not knowing about auditor markings, but our Drin looks like a– like this big wonderful hot-looking bear rolling through these streets.”

“If you start calling me Daddy right in front of the Metro, I’ll have to spank you on the spot.”

“Promise?” Dance grins.

“Believe me, I’ve got much better ways of marking you in front of everybody as my sweetie.”

“Yes?” Dance asks, worried and delighted and apprehensive all at once. He doesn’t want to spoil it by acting the wrong way, if Drin surprises him with something.

Drin just gives that slow killer grin, and winks at him. The one that Emma calls his bush-rider grin.

Dance is delighted when Drin stops at a tiny hole-in-the-wall place. It’s a favorite cheap lunch place for Metro people, too, and Dance introduces Drin to those who look interested. Drin waves at folks, reaches out those long arms and shakes hands with those he doesn’t know yet. For awhile they’re talking to lots of people, shifting about here and there. Gradually many of the musicians drift out, obligated for a practice by the winds, one which Dance was told he didn’t have to attend. He may rejoin it later on, to keep an eye on things.

When he and Drin finally get to eat, they end up sitting outside under umbrellas just so they can hear themselves talk. The tiny chairs creak under Drin’s weight. They eat bowl after bowl of pho soup and untidy noodles.

Vietnamese noodle soup
Needs More Cilantro and Garlic

Dance still knows he’s being watched. He feels constrained, gesturing while he’s trying to describe graphics for the next order of program guides to go out. “Yes, I think– Drin, what is it?”

“I’m distracted,” Drin says, looking up over the rim of his noodle bowl.

Dance hesitates. Would it be rude to ask, or should he–

“Here, you have a spot,” Drin murmurs, and leans in with a napkin, and gravely dabs the spot from Dance’s third-best rehearsal sweatshirt, sliding those freckled fingers up inside Dance’s collar and frowning at his work until he’s sure he’s got it clean. Then he slides his fingers up Dance’s neck to cup the back of his head, and he gives Dance a kiss on the cheek. And chuckles.

Dance looks up into the man’s eyes. “Bastard,” he says, with his train of thought a derailed wreck, and his whole being focused on the heat throbbing all over him.

Drin gusts another breath of warm air into his neck and kisses him again, and sits back, looking very satisfied. “Distracting?”


“Well, I’m done with work, even if you have to work on a Saturday. Is this where we decide if I’m going to disrupt your afternoon practices, or be a really good patron?”

Dance gives a tight little whining noise, breathing in tight short bursts. It is astonishing how much he wants the man he’s looking at. “Neither. I put things in a locker in the top floor green room.”

Drin’s pupils zoom out to huge black disks. “You’re sure we can–”

“I have a key.”

“You want to lock me in with you?”

Dance looks down, taking more short breaths. “Oh yes. Yes, I do. But not now. Not lunchtime, the office people notice, they laugh so much, telling stories. First break. Also, then our tummies must be less stuffed, yes?”

“So I can sit watching and torture you properly the whoooole time, and you have to behave.” He rubs one hand leisurely up and down his shirt, and he sighs like a man who’s eaten too much, which only emphasizes things. The upper slope of his chest, the arch of his ribs, the points of his nipples– all kinds of things.

Dance sighs. “I’ll be lucky if I make it to the restroom here before I–” he gives a helpless little wave of his hand.

Drin laughs again. “Talk to me about the membership mailers, maybe that’ll cool down your problem.” He gives Dance another wicked look. “Of course it won’t help me a bit, I love hearing you talk about stuff. Anything.”

“Drin, you are very naughty!”

“Oh, I am,” he agrees, and slurps up another noodle sloooowly, in a lascivious manner.

Dance groans. It’s going to be a long, horrible afternoon, especially if he has to waddle out hastily at every break. Walking back is the first challenge. He tries to think about what he has to deal with next, in practice, and that helps, but every time he looks at Drin, his penis stiffens all over again. Dance says crossly, “You keep giving me a hard-on.”

“Turn about is fair play,” Drin says, and leans back perilously in the chair, stretching his legs, planting his feet wide apart, and his jeans– Oh, indeed, looking at that doesn’t help a bit.

Flight Dreams

“You might not want to do that,” Emma says.

Drin looks at her, and then at the skateboard in his fist. “What? This? What’s wrong with giving Dance a decent board?”

She gives a long, slow smile, and turns back to her desk. “You remember I said he’s absolutely fearless?”

“And I believe you.”

She shakes her head, writing notes in her phone log. “Just take him to a skatepark and see what happens. Come to think, I wonder what he’ll do with bungee jumping? Or skydiving?”

Drin sits down on his own chair, and continues to stare at her.

When she’s finished writing her notes, she turns to him, reaches out, takes his hands gently, and says, “I know, those are expensive hobbies, so I don’t encourage you to–”

“You’re serious,” Drin says.

“Oh yes. Have you seen him use the high dive?”

person mid-leap off high dive b/w photo

“About gave me a heart attack the first time,” Drin says reminiscently.

“Me too,” Emma agrees, eyes crinkling as she smiles up into his face. “I think I’ve told you a few stories about it already, but really, that first summer, I took off three weeks from work, first time ever, and I went driving Dance around to cheap old amusement parks. We spent that whole time going to visit roller coasters. Every one I could afford to drive to. I ate so much cotton candy and hot dogs, you wouldn’t believe. He likes to try to stand up, on the older ones, and hold out his arms. Gave the attendants heart attacks!”

Drin makes a face. “Given his reflexes, he’s probably fine doing that, but– and you didn’t even try to stop him, did you, you wicked thing, you? My God, woman, you’re such a rowdy, I had no idea.”

“That, lovey, is why I’m warning you about the skateboard. You might have to set some rules, just to avoid giving you that heart attack all over again. But I think you get what he needs much better than I do. Dance is like a little kid on stuff like this. He wants to fly.” She lifts both hands wide, fingers spread.

“So we should get him flying lessons,” Drin says. He knows he sounds a little impatient.

“No, not in a machine. Ask him. He’ll tell you that’s not good enough.”

partly draped young man with long hair
But what kind of wings

At Shura’s diner, reunited after the weekend apart, Drin has a sunburnt, wind-blown look to him, and Dance is languid, relaxed. Of course he’s been very well-loved indeed, given Drin’s undivided attention for several days in a row, and it shows in the way he touches Drin, but the calm is new. By now, they all know that lovemaking like that usually energizes Dance, gives him ideas, makes him want to fix things and dig up his garden and whistle while he’s cooking. He gets so excited about things that it’s very cute.

“What was the big secret adventure present?” she asks.

Drin has got freckled by sun deeply enough that his teeth look white against his skin. “Hang gliding lessons.”

She clasps her hands together, gives a little shout of laughter. “Perfect!”

Dance gives her a sidelong glance, smiling, and leans into Drin beside him, and sighs. “It was very good. Our husband is so sneaky.”

parasails at Torry Pines gliderport
parasailors at Torrey Pines gliderport

Sooper Sekrit Car (not) Conquest Plan

“Excuse me, but I insist on lunch,” Drin says.

Dance blinks up from the ragged tape-covered mess on the music rack in front of him, and looks around at Amalia, who’s lost her frown and is grinning like a Halloween pumpkin.

“You promised,” Drin says.

Somebody titters, and there’s a rude sliding squeal from somebody’s strings which they will probably claim was accidental. Right. Dance glances away distractedly at the members of his section, who are nudging each other shamelessly. He looks around in a rather hunted fashion, and returns his gaze to Drin. Something about looking up at Drin makes him twitch a bit. Hastily, he says, “So we– yes, I did. It was a very considerable favor, and… I owe… you. Is Mister Drin thinking of a place it is better to go?”

“Oh, I’ve been thinking of a couple places,” Drin says, and enjoys rolling around the syllables as he says one of them. Who needs to know that his reservation for that lunch is in another week entirely?

“Oh, that place is wonderful,” Robert squeaks, and then he has both hands cupped over his mouth, but his eyes are sparkling, the little brute. “Papi just loves it there–”

“Shura’s newest place, he just bought it and fixed it all up as a diner,” Amalia says, sliding her eyes over at Dance, and apparently enjoying the flush of embarrassment on Dance’s face.

The reason is fairly apparent to any observant gaze: he’s got a hard-on that is completely escaping those loose old boxers, and it’s not being slowed down by his usual baggy sweatpants, either. Carefully, he bends down and wipes down his violin and places it with the bow in the case, and some subtle motions of the elbows reveal he’s not just fussing with closing the case.

“It takes awhile to appreciate the borscht, they make a production out of service there,” Amalia tells him gravely. “We’ll work out the rest of this section here, now we’ve got the general idea, don’t worry. We’ll see you whenever. How about tomorrow morning?”

“Thank you, Miss Amalia,” Dance says, and when he does straighten up, the closed case is being held as a fig leaf. It doesn’t hide anything in the slightest, which is delightful.

“Enjoy your lunch,” Amalia says, smiling broadly.

“We certainly will,” Drin says, and just to be perfectly obnoxious about it, he smiles down at Dance and waves a hand to indicate his willingness to follow the Concertmaster through the building. He doesn’t bother to hide how he’s appreciating the man’s rear view.

Walking up the long aisle among the chairs, there’s plenty of time to overhear the responses to all this, too. People are laughing behind them, but it’s in a good way.

“Lucky bitch,” Robert’s voice says enviously.

“What, the afternoon delight or twenty dollar burgers?”

“Thirty,” says Amalia. “Plus drinks extra.”

“Well, I guess we write off Dance and his booty for the rest of the day.”

Robert says, “Thank God! It isn’t the guy’s steel-clad booty that worries me–”

“Stop on the TMI, it’s just gross,” says a high Brooklyn accent. “Robert, I do not want to think about you looking at booty.”

“Specially not that one.”

“I got one word for you, sweetie: kimchee. Live on cabbage, you too can have a buff karate-choppin’ butt too. ‘Nuff said.”

“You forgot the chilis.”

“I’m trying to. Somebody switched the labels on the barbecue pans last time, I about died.”

“Can you say fire in the hole?”

“Class, dignity, dressy clothes, lots and lotsa money–” Somebody starts thrumming out Pomp and Circumstance on a bass. “Naww, skip all that. What we all wanna know is, does the big guy have a dick made of asbestos?”

“And balls of stainless steel, lovies. He works for Bud Innes,” Amalia says absently. “Trust me on this.”

“–it’s that nasty pointy needly brain that–” Robert hasn’t stopped talking.

“Oh, we still got Amalia to keep us totally scared out of our tiny minds,” says a very fake Valley girl accent that is, like, totally unimpressed.

“Why thank you, somebody please remind Robert, would you?” Amalia purrs.

“Anybody else got a hot date buying their–oh, excuse me, lunch?” Robert says.

A deep voice says, “Oh and you can talk, you big-ass ho!”

“He ain’t a ho, he talks about sex alla time for free,” says another man’s voice.

Robert sputters.

“Oh, stop. Since you made up with your Papi, it only took you two days to tell us everything,” says a woman.

The deep voice advises, “Robert, honey, just shut up and play. You got nothing to complain about.”

“Well, ‘cept the size of his own butt,” says the woman, wickedly. There’s laughter.

Robert begins to explain how there’s plenty to complain of, mostly with the drills that his expensive new tutor is demanding.

“Spoiled bitch, we all gonna haul off and smack you if you go on,” another one of the women says calmly.

“Now behave,” Amalia says, and there’s a loud slap of a bow hitting skin. Amalia can thwack her own hand with a report like a gun, without ever harming her very valuable bow.

Drin has learned that some groups of Metro musicians are very dignified, very quiet. A soft discussion of where to notate a change is about as controversial as they ever get. Not Amalia’s bunch, who are nearly as shrill as the girl flautists pulling each other’s hair over faithless boyfriends. Disputes over their girlfriends apparently end in black eyes dealt out behind the Flame Club two blocks down. There’s been a bit too much of that, lately.

In a month, Bannerjee’s hot new buzzcut blonde percussionist with the tats has already decimated the wind sections and moved on to the strings, to judge by the bruised sulking. Tats girl is also blunt about the lack of spark in her own section, snarking about the tired middle-aged guys whose wrists hurt all the time. It’s clear why she hasn’t stayed long elsewhere.

girl with bleached hair
punk percussionist

Dance says he wants to figure out how to get her to be more patient, because she’s very good, but she’s also hammering her body so hard she may get crippling arthritis before she’s thirty. Dance is sudden death on correct ergonomic form, and Amalia enforces it.

As they’re coming down the building’s side steps together, Drin murmurs,“Everything?”

Dance rolls his eyes. “Amalia tells us, ‘Viewing Robert’s disclosures as an educational experience may be helpful.'”

Drin laughs. “Maybe as an example of how to get Bud Innes to crack down on you like ten tons of very pissed-off flying bricks.”

Dance says, “Oh, very good example of that, yes. Mister Robert was not realizing he had so much personal importance to his Papi’s ego, he says this big caring which he never got before is finally good enough reason for weepy makings up and big promises.”

“Were there spankings involved?” Drin asks.

A passing fellow pedestrian stares up at him in surprise, clutches her purse tighter, and wanders off looking slightly addled.

Dance puts on his extra solemn face. His eyes are laughing, though. He tells Drin, “Indeed so. Mister Robert reforms his badness with much progress, and Mister Bud is placated, and it is all very gratifying.”

Drin knows, by now, he is not just imagining the dry tone of voice there. “Bud wasn’t much fun at work either.”

“We are very sorry for that,” Dance says. He gives Drin a sidelong glance, and a little smile. “We are guessing the stainless steel balls were needed?”

Drin snorts. “Some days, oh yeah, you better believe it.”

“As for the–em, comments– Amalia learned our two sections get this way when they have been watching too many ensemble cop shows. They load up on snark. They are great fans, as maybe you heard.”

Drin laughs. Dance is apparently reading his mind.

Dance says, “So we will see if Mister Robert starts practicing with better habits, as Mister Bud requires of him.” Another sidelong smile. “Or bricks will be flying.”

“Hope springs eternal,” Drin replies, just as dryly, and gets the wide grin from Dance that he was angling for.

“Oh, right now, we are hoping for a ride in our Drin’s wonderfully sexy car with awesome speakers,” Dance murmurs, with a wicked glint in his eyes. He walks surprisingly fast for a guy with a woody banging around freely like that, even though he’s trying to keep it under the cover of the violin case. And he talks with amazing intelligence for a guy who’s that preoccupied, too.

“Oh yes?” Drin grins right back at him. “You like my car?”

“Oh, we like many things, including dreaming what we–what I can be doing to you in your car,” Dance says demurely. He’s been working hard to remember to use all those rude personal pronouns, so direct, very American.

“Really?” Drin chuckles. “Now that’s very strange, because here I was having all these wild ideas about what I wanted to do to you in my car, too.”

“This may require practice,” Dance says, with the solemn face.

“It certainly might,” Drin says. “But not today.”

Dance nods. “Yes, I thought we were not going to Mr. Korachevsky’s diner today.”

“Yeah? How’d you guess that?”

“Because you got that bush-rider grin, as our Emma says.” His eyes are crinkled, smiling up at Drin. He’s so cute that Drin just has to stop and grab him and hug him and give him a kiss on the cheek, which makes him laugh and redden, and wriggle away, as if taking one more unbearable touch will set him off right there in the street. Which he probably will, given how hard his prick feels against Drin’s. Maddening.

Selling Romance

Emma makes a disgusted noise. “Well, so much for Bud’s expensive photographer! Look at what our webmistress did with it!”

Drin stares at her aged computer screen, turns his head sidwise like an owl, and makes her laugh. “I saw those pictures. The original shots were wonderful.”

To his puzzled look, Emma says, “I know, I know–you’re going to say, ‘How did she do that to them?'”

“It’s a gift,” Drin says solemnly.

“She ought to love the originals, they were all very pretty pretty, ribbons and organza and all.”

“Not your choice of style?”

Emma squints. “Not for Robert. I always thought he was the rumpled pillows type.”

Drin laughs, surprised by the bluntness.

She waves a pen at the screen. “Okay, let’s imagine the real Romantics here. The Wild Bunch. Keats and Byron and that lot, stormy fights and fucking like bunnies and all. Knock it off with the pretty bowdlerized drippy Pre-Rafaelite simpering over Robert’s curls. Oh hell no. Let’s do some shoots with him looking debauched and liking it, let’s do some goddamn powerful Caravaggio with that pretty cock-teasing face. That’s Robert’s truth. That’s what Robert’s patrons are looking for. Aside from Bud, they’re not into longevity. Get that big fluffy poet’s shirt unbuttoned for crying out loud, he’s got a string player’s chest! Put the puppy in the window, man.”

“But don’t let him talk.”

Emma laughs.

Memory persists in resurrecting the penetrating whine of Robert’s voice. He’d much rather listen to Emma’s laugh. Or stare at Dance’s smile. Drin’s brain irritably erases Robert in the poet’s shirt, and puts Dance there instead. Much better contrast. Far more dangerous, too, when you catch the arousal glinting under those lowered eyelids. The image makes him want to go find a camera and yank back the bedcovers on Dance’s nap. Eventually he manages to form words. “Not the only one who’d look great like that. Contrast.”

She grins at him. “Oh, yeah. Use textures, too, but something better than all those corny mud-splattered wedding shots in the park.”

He can imagine the younger members dressed in half-nothing, and some of them would look pretty damn good that way. And so pan-ethnic, too, the Anglo-Saxon pale peppered with golden-brown and deep ebony and everything in between. “Yes. Dead leaves and satin. Lace fallen in the woods. Fairy candles and park lamposts and old trees. Bare skin and instruments and bark.”

Emma groans, and gives that gurgling laugh. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful?”

Thinking it out, he says, “Do some other styles too. Get the playboy jazz guys with the basses all decked out in sharp suits, against neon lights, looking like the limo is waiting. Trip out on patterns and drumsticks flying with that sweet little mustachioed percussion player who loves batik prints. And that great big solemn guy among his xylophones, with all his huge collection of African thumb pianos, get a shot of how he loves showing them off.”

She nods, paws through paper, taps a catalog. “Hell, you could do classy shots in black and white, elegantly, and end up with the kind of graphics that go into these high-end things they put out for fund-raising. Have you seen how boring the Metro’s schedules are? It’s such a good idea, and the other day I went to email to send it off to… Who? fuck, absolutely no one in the steering committee has that kind of vision!”

“Fixing that is on my to-do list,” he says. He can’t help it. Looking at her determined expression, he starts to chuckle.

Emma flings her hand out toward the bedrooms. “You know how pretty Dance is!”

Drin just smiles.

Another wave. “Christ, has anybody ever taken a decent picture of him?”

Drin looks at the soft lamplight on the curves of the librarian’s passionate face. God, she’s fabulous in her own right. “He’s always moving.”

She nods. “Get those cheekbones lit properly. Have him wear–”

Have him naked– have him right on that chair– just take him, right there– It’s been a couple of weeks and he’s still thinking up new ways to get that soft cry out of Dance: Oh! He wrestles back his rioting imagination. He interrupts firmly. “Have Dance wear dark clothes with a hint of gold. I can see him wearing a good slubbed silk jacket. If I can talk him into letting my tailor work on him.”

Her eyes catch a sudden pale marine light. Reminds him of glitter on waves. “–oh yes, I’ll have a chat about that one– shots of him playing with the quartet–”

He can see them all, Dance playing in what they call jokingly the Genghis Khan quartet, with the scowling Polish cellist, the sad lantern-jawed Russian bassist, and the violist, a sheet-pale Armenian girl with Slavic eyes who’s stacked like an emperor’s concubine. He nods. “In a different series, have them all dressed in brocades, in ethnic costume–”

“In the Library atrium, against the marbles. All that cold blue light for the winter events. Get those contrasts going. Perfect. I bet their violist knows where to find great costumes, she’s a real fashionista.” Emma paws out a notepad and scribbles madly, consulting her calendar and nodding. She jabs out a finger at the air. “Oh yeah, we should talk to Bud about figuring out how best to retire some of the non-visual fogeys on the steering committee to jobs better suited to their real talents in admin–because they do have some serious and valuable capabilities there–but that’s a longer project.”

“Adding it to the to-do list.” Drin smiles. “Now, about getting some decent, interesting rehearsal and summer performance shots.”

“Get some of the other smaller groups in their best outfits, too,” Emma adds more notes to her pad.”–and ask Bud’s photographer to get outdoor shots of the Metro’s musicians for promo graphics and the website. ”

“Add that to our to-do list too.”

“Our list? You’re sure? You know what a terrible nag I am, right?”

He nods at her solemnly. She can probably see he’s trying not to laugh. He says, “Get all the women into some outdoor photography with pretty leaf shadows, gauzy stuff like Midsummer Night’s Dream gone wacky.”

She waves her hand in agreement. “Oh yes. And before we get them all muddy, put the flute-and-harp ladies with a really big floral arrangement behind them, self-referential irony.”

Emma the much-feared coordinator will leap on that with her teeth bared, joyfully wrangling it into play.

Drin can feel his lips twitching. “I have it on very good authority that you eat florists for snacks, and terrify delivery men.”

“They aren’t crunchy if you take the bones out!” and she gives him that laugh of hers. “Put the ladies posed in front of a huge billowy charity ball display, warm colors… get some better lights, yes, use pale peach walls… they begged us to show off the porcelain room in the museum wing more often… get everyone laced up into period clothes, show off all of that formidable pink and brown frontage cinched up on show. Make sure the charity credits are big and unmissable. Shameless promotion, that’s the ticket.”

His brain insists on putting Emma’s own frontage right in the middle of the picture, supported in truly outrageous eighteenth-century fashion. Just because he has his beautiful musician now does not silence the monkey-brain. Oh, it’s always commenting on Emma’s particular beauties. It can be distracting. “Antique fans,” he manages to say weakly, at last. “Gloves. Little silk bags. Frilly things.”

“Absolutely! Plus, we can catch great garter belt shots for your infamous Metro underwear calendar. Get Robert to make a nice leg too. Have you noticed he looks his best when he’s bowing and scraping, the insufferable brat? Now, what are we doing with Dance for the underpants calendar? Sports netting on those abs, or microscopic Lycra trunks and a wet towel, or bending over in baggy shorts that fall down off his butt– Ummm, Drin, luv? Would you mind swabbing off my keyboard? You’re drooling.”
He’s becoming absurdly fond of making that sound come out of her, too.

Nocturne appassionato

man's hands unbuttoning white dress shirt

Dance is unbuttoning Drin’s jacket, then his own. Much as Drin likes watching those deft hands at work, he stills Dance’s fingers and sets his own to the buttons of Dance’s shirt, learning that it’s silk. It’s cheap silk, but it’s new. He knows Dance spent more than he could afford, making that extra effort. Drin works the shell disks free on Dance’s shirt while his own buttons are being undone with pickpocket speed; a warm hand slides under Drin’s shirt and pushes up, before Drin has finished his own task.

“Mmm,” Dance breathes it out. He has a small, secretive smile, his fingers carding through the hair on Drin’s chest as he waits.When Drin has got the musician’s shirt undone, Dance tugs Drin’s soft shirt up and off his arms. Dance pulls the older man’s shirt free, and puts his nose in it, and sniffs it, smiling, before he shakes it out and sets it aside in a neat flat pile on an old, battered dresser.

Drin watches this, and then slides the younger man’s sleeves down arms that play violin for eight hours a day, and dig in his garden in his free time. There’s the heavy shoulders like a cape, and the flat smooth planes of chest muscles, and the gorgeous tight belly. “Wow, he says involuntarily.

Dance lifts his wrists outward, offering himself for a moment. “Not so skinny now,” he says, smiling up at Drin. Then he rests his hands up on Drin’s shoulders, slides his palms lightly down Drin’s arms, pausing to take his hands. “So big,” he murmurs, looking up again. Then he’s kneeling, moving so fast Drin’s reaching hand just brushes his hair. Damn, he’s fast.

Fingers touch Drin’s belt, open the expensive buckle with a slight fumbling of unfamiliarity, and then Dance’s hands rest on his waistband. The man is watching Drin… appear. He is breathing fast, and he leans in close and takes a deep inhaling breath, almost a gasp, at Drin’s belly. “Your smell, this is wonderful.”

“Yours too,” Drin replies. He’s always liked watching Dance after performances, seeing the body loosen in the stiff suits, with that trickle of sweat, get a whiff of the herby smell of him.  Yes, something Drin has noticed, even obsessed about, but it’s so strong now with the added musk of semen. Not what Drin expected.  Not ordinary gym-sock guy sweat, not the scent of rosin from his instrument, not the food they ate, and not one of the cheap colognes that other Metro musicians indulge in. It makes Drin want to pull him close and howl at the moon. The whole room smells of him now, something like fresh-cut redwood, leaf mold, acorn mast. It feels odd, liberating, to let Dance watch him take a deep sniff of that crumpled silk shirt. The scent lingering in the shirt has a sharp resinous bite, earthy as pine knots burning.

Dance looks up. “Is smell important for you too?”

“Very,” Drin agrees, because if it’s important to Dance then it’s become important to him. He reaches down and touches the top of the brown shoulder, and suddenly his arms are full of a muscled body, and he closes his grip on it. He walks them both to the bed, feeling his trousers fall away as he goes. He kicks them off while their bodies are already falling to the mattress, Dance’s soft laugh whooshing out of him at the impact. Drin lifts and twists himself so that he can flip Dance’s fly open without giving up much contact. Age and skill do have some uses.

But he has to kneel up to tug the pants away from the most beautiful pair of legs he’s ever seen. Dance laughs a little again, breathlessly, shifts his feet and kicks off his shoes and reveals feet just like his hands, feet that work hard, feet with the calluses of somebody who fights barefoot in a dojo, just as he talked about. But Drin doesn’t get those boxers yanked down those legs before Dance is pulling him over. The musician’s rough hands slide around him and the harsh touch sets him off. Drin sprawls out hungrily all over the smaller man, breathing in deep harsh gasps.

Dance is lying under him and his very skin seems to be gulping in the solid weight of Drin’s body just as greedily. His hands slide around Drin’s shoulders, up his chest, around his ribs. When he reaches a hand up, Drin has to forestall him. It’s Drin’s turn, first, to explore, and he puts his hand over Dance’s wrist, pushing it to the mattress. Then he feels his way along the man’s body, listening to the man’s sounds, the little wordless cries. He lowers his head to nuzzle in to one of those great strong thighs, breathing gently across the black straight hair dusted scantily across the outer blades of Dance’s muscles, taking in the scent of him. It’s just Dance, that piney odor. Then he opens his mouth and drops a dry, soft kiss on the femoral artery pulsing in Dance’s skin. The muscles harden, and he feels the man’s diaphragm rise in a harsh cry. “Oh!” Dance gasps, and his back arches upward.

Drin feels sweat prickle on his own forehead, run down his spine.

He moves down to the knee, admiring how it’s picked up some working scars, some dings from that same dojo, and brushes his palm lightly down the calf muscle as he kisses the inner curve of Dance’s leg. The calf muscle strains tight, clearly trying to behave itself for him, and he smiles up the amazing length of man laid out on top of the bed, gasping softly. “Hush, it’s all right,” he murmurs, into the long smooth strap of muscle tensed over the man’s shin bone. Some of that exertion clearly goes into a swimming pool and mileage on the pavement, he’s not just bulking up knots in the weight room or the dojo.

Drin puts one knee between the other man’s legs, just the one knee, without either straddling Dance’s body or pushing his legs apart too far, because he doesn’t want it to feel threatening. He puts his palms flat on the outside of Dance’s thighs, and he strokes his hands lightly down the man’s legs, stroking gently with the fur, however minimal, and not against it.

The beautiful torso tightens up and the ribs arch up and the belly closes down into diamond-shaped panes, and the hips tilt sharply upward.

Drin pauses for some deep breaths. Oh, the smell of him! He’s not going to last two minutes once he gets that man’s cock out of those boxers.

All– all of this. All wrapped up, hidden away, unseen until now, and all because he, Drin, noticed the promise, and wanted to find out what that sparkle meant.

Rather than get hasty about things, he shifts his knee away from Dance’s legs–he thinks, wryly, at least he knows not to overdo a new training prompt–and he sits down on the edge of the bed next to Dance. “Are you ticklish now?”

Dance shakes his head, flinging hair along the bed, and reaches out.

Drin grips the flailing hand, presses it lightly to the bed, strokes fingertips up the man’s forearm. “Easy,” he murmurs, and watches the arm muscles. “That’s good. Let me touch you awhile, give you time to relax.” He twists around and brushes his hand along Dance’s skin lightly, letting Dance get used to being touched. Dance is not used to it. The sounds he make would show that. It’s true, he’s not ticklish. But the jerks of his skin, the jumping untrusting muscles, the startle reactions, are intense.

As much as Drin can spread the stimulus out he does, letting his hand stay flat and firm and trustworthy, but still Dance is gasping and twitching. Drin can imagine from those sounds just how strange it feels to Dance, how starved for touch he must be. He’s careful at first, as too much contact has irritated past lovers. Not this man. He doesn’t know why Dance would keep his distance from other people for so long, and then suddenly decide that Drin is his person, in exactly the same way as some complete stranger of a stray cat he finds sitting on the doorstep, yowling that they’re home, it’s time for food now, and by the way, they want petting. A lot of petting.

Drin feels his hands settling into a pattern of touching Dance, reassuring, admiring, learning him. It’s trance-like, brushing his fingertips over all that beautiful skin. With his hands he looks at Dance’s chest, at his belly, at the arms, at the powerfully muscled neck, and then, with the lightest touch of his fingertips, his face, along under Dance’s neck into his hair, and gently onto his temples, and his forehead. Dance blinks and looks up at him, lips open and bright red with arousal, his eyes almost all pupil. Drin smiles at him, at the wild impatience throttled down and still thrumming through the man’s body. He leans down and then, at last, kisses Dance the way he’s wanted to kiss Dance all night.

Dance doesn’t know how to kiss.

While Dance is totally occupied with diving in and learning the shape of Drin’s lips and his tongue and most of his teeth, Drin starts working on teaching him the difference between fucking the back of Drin’s tonsils with a tongue that could probably reach halfway down Drin’s throat, and instead trying a nice calm minuet with the other person’s tongue tip. Or a brisk forceful bit of tango. Dance is a quick study. He gets the tango right away.

He’s just never done it before.

By the time Drin has finished kissing him, deciding that he needs to breath for a few minutes, he’s already had Dance flopping and pushing and shoving at him like a landed fish, they’ve rolled over three times across the bed, and the other man’s boxer shorts, which are pushing into Drin’s thigh, are soaked through, and not from Drin. Drin has his own damp problems.

“Now that,” Drin says, flat on his back by now, looking up, and breathing hard, “is what a kiss is supposed to be like.”

Dance is up on his elbows, staring down into Drin’s eyes, and he’s not breathing quite as hard, but the intensity is all there. “Kissing you,” he says.

Drin is breathing too hard to smile that wide. He lets his hands come up and rest on those amazing cheekbones. “Messy,” he agrees solemnly.

Dance leans down into him, bringing Drin’s hands with him, and Dance kisses Drin on the mouth. He figures out the minuet, too. Then Dance does with his mouth what Drin did to him with his hands. He kisses Drin’s face, and along his cheeks, closing his eyes and licking the skin, tasting him in the most extraordinary way, and then he kisses his way down Drin’s beard, down along his neck–with every assistance from Drin to get at whatever he wants to look at or lick or touch–and then he shifts down onto Drin’s chest. He spends time there, making sure Drin knows he likes it there. Drin is groaning, hips jerking, by the time Dance has left Drin’s nipples behind, they’re so sensitized and even sore. He licks his way down Drin, not caring if he looks absurd doing it, breathing in Drin’s skin, almost biting his way down the fur on Drin’s belly. When he reaches Drin’s shorts, he’s panting.

Drin reaches down and cups Dance’s chin. “Breathe now,” he says, tugging very gently, and Dance lifts his head away and follows the suggestion to come back up the bed, and lie down on his side next to Drin. “Easy,” Drin says to him, with his face about five inches away from the huge aroused pupils.

Dance puts up his hand, rests it on Drin’s jaw, strokes the stiff hair of his beard as if the texture fascinates him, looking at it. Then he looks at Drin’s chest, stroking the different tracts of hair into their normal order and direction, petting Drin’s body with his fingertips. It calms him, he’s not so wildly overstimulated. Drin lies on his side, facing Dance, and rests his arm across Dance’s waist, and he doesn’t get that wild jumpy reaction any more. He strokes Dance’s back a little, gently, and when he slides his hand under the band of the boxer shorts, Dance just sighs a little, eyes drooping half shut.

As Drin’s hand moves along under the shorts, stroking the hot, sweaty hip–and it’s a wonderful hip, indeed a Christmas gift of a pelvic crest–Dance rolls slightly away onto his back, making it easier to get to his belly, offering himself. He makes almost no sound at all when Drin’s touch finally makes him arch up, mouth open, and he gives the expiring sigh of another orgasm, one that’s been delayed long enough that it must actually hurt a little. His hand stutters along Drin’s belly, not even getting inside Drin’s shorts, and that’s more than enough to finish off the older man with a gasp that feels like it’s rattling his back molars.

“Ahhh hah aah hah,” Drin breathes noisily, unable to be any more quiet, and then he feels Dance’s hands on him, petting his chest and his neck anxiously.

Drin captures one of the hands, hugs it to him in reassurance. Once he can breathe again, he kisses the palm, deliberately and carefully, with purpose. He turns it over and kisses the back of the hand, across the knuckles, along the backs of Dance’s fingers, and then his fingertips.

This appears to be too much for Dance. He shifts his weight and throws himself across Drin, nudging his nose into Drin’s shoulder, flinging his arm tight around Drin’s waist and one leg wide across Drin’s legs, the powerful calf muscle pressing hard into Drin’s shins.

“It’s all right,” Drin says, lifting an arm that aches already, and stroking his fingers through the younger man’s hair, combing it back from his face. “It’s going to be good, Dance. I promise you.”

Dance gives a little groan. Our Drin is kissing only, kissing, how does our Drin do this– and I come three times,” he says into Drin’s chest.

“Three times? Is that all?” Drin says, hearing the bleary amusement in his own voice. “Gotta work on that. You’re overdue, young man. You got orgasms to make up for. Years of ’em, judging by the look of you. And I’m going to enjoy wringing some decent yelling showstopping whoppers out of you, by God. I am going to love that. If I live through it.”

Dance gives a little puff of laughter into Drin’s chest. “Us either.”

light and shadows cast by lamp
light and shadows

“Two years before that flower bloomed for you, huh?” Drin says then.

Dance sighs. “Well, three if we count how long it took to try rooting cuttings of it, too,” he says.

“Do you think you can give me a few days–I mean, spare time, not messing with your rehearsals–to see if you like me?”

Dance gives another puff of laughter. “Drin,” he says, and for the first time he sounds tired, losing bits of his hard-won English, as if it’s been a long stressful day for him too, “Our Drin, we are so liking you now. We– I know our roomate will like–Drin–like you– like you a lot. Please stay for cooking breakfast, so happy if our Drin is staying tonight. Being so happy if our Drin is to stay. Making our Drin comfortable, yes trying hard. A few days, wow, that’s not just– not just–not me liking you. That will be–me– making all happy kinds of assumptions.”

“Will you help me pick out dish towels?” Drin says then, smiling.

“No,” Dance says, and that smile is rising in his eyes,”we have towels, we give you plenty! We– I mean I will–yes, I will pick out belts with our Drin so– so I don’t take so long to unzip the Drin pants for kissing. I will like doing that.”

Drin laughs then.