“I grow tired of Dagmar Havad’s demands,” Khalaf Terada announced as he entered the living room of his brother’s home. He stretched his tall frame languidly onto a nearby couch. He stared intently at his older sibling, willing him to provide sympathy.
Rasmus had been trying to quietly read but his brother now required his attention. He marked his place in his book and put it on the coffee table next to his armchair. The subject Khalaf had raised was too important to put off for later discussion.
“Regardless of how ‘tired’ you are, you must do as Dagmar orders,” Rasmus firmly reminded Khalaf.
“Yes, ossti; I know. He’s paying us quite well. But—”
“And you must think of our clan.”
“That’s easy for you.” The handsome, young Nitelge sighed, his green eyes showing his frustration. “You don’t have to do what I do.”
“I gave you the option of being Viktor’s ‘lady love’ or collecting information from Armando. In the end, we both decided that you were best suited to stay close to Armando’s assistant.”
“If I’d known how much I’d have to entertain Viktor, I would have chosen differently. His sexual appetite is stunning. And, it’s hard enough for me to stay in a female form, let alone surviving his libido.”
“Would you like to switch roles?” Rasmus asked, laughing.
“No,” Khalaf said quickly. “I know you have to deal with Dagmar more often than I do. I don’t really envy you. And, Viktor is not so bad.”
“Well then, focus on morphing into a beautiful human. With that pretty face of yours, you don’t have too much work to do. By the way, well done on winning the shape-shifting section at the last Gathering.”
“Was there any doubt I would?” Khalaf asked.
He morphed, becoming the doppelganger of his brother. Rasmus threw a cushion at his head, which he easily dodged as he laughed. Then he became serious. “Ras, I wish our clan didn’t have so much infighting. If things were better, you and I wouldn’t have to work this hard to raise its status.”
“One of the reasons I want us to be employed by Dagmar is to increase our influence in the clan. Perhaps with better leadership, we can manage to have greater goals besides picking fights. I sense that the rest of the younger generation of Teradas wants to change the direction of our group. With the money we earn from the Havads, we can be at the forefront.”
“Are you sure we’ll succeed, Ras?”
“Would I lie to you, akkti?”
“No, I just had to ask because…” Khalaf bit his lower lip, uncertain of his next words.
“Be straightforward with me Khal,” Rasmus encouraged.
“It’s just that, the more you’ve found out about Armando, the more you’ve become fixated on him.”
“Really? What makes you think that?”
“Well, at the Nakra Hein, everyone heard your words to Izdahl. You know how easily everything is broadcast, even the verbal sparring between the competitors. Why would you goad Izdahl openly, especially in an Amasi stronghold? It seems so reckless. We have much to accomplish. If we do something wrong, Dagmar’s influence with the Amasi’s can only go so far. Our clan has little to no clout with them.”
“Perhaps you are right,” Rasmus admitted. “I should have been more mindful. Winning a competition wasn’t worth upsetting our plans. I will be more prudent in the future.”
“Thank you for listening to your akkti, who is not as experienced as you are.”
“We have to listen to each other. Come, let’s not continue speaking of such heavy matters. We should go to the Crimson Garden.”
“Really? That’s such an expensive restaurant.”
“We can afford some nice things now, Khalaf. It’s alright to enjoy the benefits of our labor.”
“Armando’s still in the shower,” Viktor explained. “He should be out soon.”
“There’s no rush,” Izdahl replied. “I came a bit early. I’ll just wait for him in his study.”
It was the evening of the grand opening for the Science and Technology Center at Preva University. Armando and Izdahl had agreed to go together. Armando had been the one to suggest it and a thrill had run through Izdahl. He often found himself calculating the many hours they had been spending in each other’s presence. Several Nitelge and humans had commented on the frequency of seeing them in the same location; at the movies, out at a restaurant. Izdahl was pleased, realizing that others were viewing them as a couple. Attending yet another event together would further solidify that, especially with this occasion being such a prominent part of Armando’s achievements.
“I have to pick up my lady. She’ll be accompanying me to the opening,” Viktor told Izdahl. “I’ll see you and Armando there. Oh, if you want, you could help him finish clean up.”
“You mind your own business,” Izdahl responded, chuckling. Viktor grinned and left to go to his companion.
A few moments later, Izdahl did make his way up the stairs to Armando’s bedroom suite. The architect was indeed in the shower.
Izdahl paced back and forth, wondering if he should be bold enough to enter Armando’s bathroom. He could see Armando’s body through the steamed glass shower door. Izdahl groaned in frustration. He was caught between need and a feeling of absurdity.
Why do I have to be so unsure? he wondered, I’ve already seen one of his most private parts. I might as well make the most of this.
He called out to let Armando know he was nearby.
“Is that really you, Izdahl?” Armando asked.
“Were you expecting someone else?”
The architect laughed and switched off the water. He exited the shower, not giving a second thought to his bare form. Izdahl sucked in his breath. Then he shook his head clear, resolving to keep his hands to himself. This was too much too soon.
“Should I leave?” he questioned. “You need to get dressed.”
“Well, you’ve just seen me naked,” Armando said, candidly. “It’s kind of late to become shy, isn’t it?”
Izdahl laughed anxiously, admitting the truth of the situation. Still, he found the architect’s forwardness a bit disconcerting. Ever since Armando had gone to Izdahl’s home for dinner—and dinner had turned into Armando being the main course—the architect had been clear about what he wanted. Yet, worried about how things would go, Izdahl had countered Armando’s advances by suggesting public places for outings. Izdahl made sure they parted ways afterwards, wanting to stay out of each other’s homes.
When Armando had asked Izdahl to pick him up for the grand opening, the intense expression in his eyes suggested that he expected special attention after the special event. Izdahl had sensed that Armando wouldn’t be as willing to have Izdahl stall his plans. Izdahl had agreed, knowing that the night might end with them in bed but part of him remained apprehensive.
“Did you hear me?” Armando asked, bringing Izdahl out of his revelry.
“Excuse me. What?”
“Will you dry me off?” Armando was offering a thick, blue towel to him.
“You can’t do this for yourself?” Izdahl murmured.
“Sure; it’s just more entertaining to make you struggle with your desires,”
After hearing those words, Izdahl wanted to make Armando ache. He took the towel and slowly began drying off the architect’s body. When the moisture was gone, Armando directed Izdahl’s hand to the juncture of his thighs. Wordlessly, Izdahl did his bidding, staring intently into his eyes. With only a series of firm strokes, Izdahl soon had Armando groaning. When he knew Armando was close to coming, he stopped.
“Why?” Armando demanded.
“Hmmm…I want to make you struggle with your desires.”
On the brink of a release, Armando hurried to the bathroom. He slammed the door, breathing hard. He tried to decrease his need to orgasm and, failing, he reached down, stroking himself to completion. Izdahl laughed softly, his senses picking up everything that was happening behind the closed door.
Armando took a quick cold shower, willing his body to put aside its persistent ache. He wanted more but there was no time for that and certainly not in the way he craved. When he left the bathroom again, Izdahl was grinning lewdly at him.
“And we’re at this juncture again,” Izdahl stated. “Want me to dry you off?”
“No. You don’t play nicely with others.”
“To the contrary, I do,” Izdahl said. “Let me dress you.” He assisted Armando with each portion of his tuxedo.
“I appreciate you taking Viktor’s place,” Armando told him, knowing his words were filled with provocation. “I can be a bit absentminded; he usually double-checks.”
“Just how thorough is he?” Izdahl asked, as he zipped up Armando’s pants.
Armando didn’t answer. He only gave Izdahl a secretive smile, which earned him a look of warning.
“On to other topics,” Izdahl said. “Shall we leave?”
“Yes. Hmmm, I’m beginning to feel a little nervous now. This is our largest project. If it’s well-received, the business could really be set.”
“I’m sure the opening will be splendid.” Izdahl said, adjusting Armando’s bowtie, “Do you have your speech?”
“Yes. Let’s go.”
On the way to the destination, Izdahl could feel and hear Armando’s excitement about the night ahead. He listened to Armando the entire time, glad to be sharing this moment with him. When they arrived, he was getting ready to exit the vehicle when the architect stopped him.
“In case you were wondering, Viktor hasn’t done anything more intimate than help me dress.”
Izdahl wasn’t ready to admit it out loud but he was relieved. Armando grinned, having read his expression, despite his attempt to avoid showing it.
The Grand Opening of Preva University’s Science and Technology Center was well under way. Erol Amasi’s replica of the capital city, now complete with Armando and Jonas’ achievement, had been unveiled. The elder Amasi had spoken for a short while, congratulating the two young architects, expressing that he was quite pleased with the course architecture was taking. With that, he had introduced Armando and Jonas.
Armando and Jonas had given a joint speech, detailing their personal journeys to this day. It was accompanied by much laughter, as they mentioned the friendly arguments they‘d had. Then, each of them had taken the time to thank those who’d supported them. A meaningful glance had passed between Izdahl and Armando, when the architect expressed his appreciation for those who had influenced him.
Armando and Jonas, who had already gracefully done the gauntlet with the reporters, were now feeling thankful to have a chance to mingle with everyone else. Armando was working his way through the guests, when one in particular requested his attention.
“Mr. Medina, I wanted to congratulate you on this project. It is magnificent.”
“Do you remember me? I spoke with you briefly.”
“Yes, you would be Mr. Terada.”
“Yes. I hope that my visit to your business was not disconcerting. It was certainly not my intention.” Rasmus smiled charmingly at the architect.
“Of course. I understand…I only…” Armando’s words trailed off when he realized Izdahl was now beside him.
“Hello, Mr. Terada,” Izdahl said, staring pointedly at Rasmus.
“I hope you are well,” Rasmus returned.
Armando noted the stilted tones of the two Nitelge, which raised many questions in his mind.
“Mr. Terada, may I speak to you off to the side, just for a few minutes,” Armando said quickly. He motioned to an area that was somewhat secluded.
The request surprised both Rasmus and Izdahl. Armando walked off with Rasmus following him. Knowing that Izdahl was now highly agitated, the architect glanced behind him to give Izdahl what he hoped would be a reassuring look. Angered, Izdahl turned sharply on his heels and went in the opposite direction.
“It appears that Mr. Amasi does not particularly care for me,” Rasmus said, prepared to exploit the fracture. Every little rift helped his plans.
“What kind of history do you two have?”
“Well, there is some tension between the clans, naturally. Then specifically, in regard to him and I, we have some rivalry.”
Rasmus explained the Nakra Hein battle, omitting that he had goaded Izdahl about Armando.
“Hmm, if that’s the case, it seems petty to hold a grudge,” the architect commented.
“Well, Izdahl can be quite unreasonable. He was about to maim me, even though he had already destroyed the capsules…I would be careful with him if I were you.”
“That’s a strong warning.”
“And that’s necessary. He’s an Amasi. They are used to getting their way.”
“Thank you for speaking with me.”
“Likewise…I hope you enjoy the rest of your evening.”
Rasmus watched the architect leave and melt back into the crowd. Then, he caught Izdahl staring at him, his eyes issuing a threat. Rasmus had no intention of heeding it. He might not get to be with Armando but he didn’t have to make it easy for Izdahl to stay with him.
When the function was finished, Armando was happy about most of the events of that night. Still, he was a bit tense. Izdahl had driven him home and the atmosphere was strained. They were now standing in his living room and Izdahl’s annoyance came to the surface.
“I’d like you to stay away from Rasmus,” he stated forcefully.
“I know there’s something developing between us. However, I wasn’t aware that you could tell me what to do.”
“This is no time to be stubborn. There are things taking place that even I do not understand. So, I know you will not.”
“And why exactly would I be unable to grasp these ‘things’, Izdahl?” the architect demanded.
“They involve some of the finer points of Nitelge culture, Armando,” Izdahl explained. “Please listen to me. Rasmus is not to be trusted. As a Terada, he has certain traits that—”
“Isn’t it possible that he’s different than the other Teradas, however they supposedly are?” Armando interrupted. He stared at Izdahl, incredulous over the prejudice he’d heard. He admonished him over what he felt was hypocrisy. “When I didn’t like Nitelge, I was told by many not to be closed-minded. At least I had an understandable reason for my dislike. Regardless, I had to learn to not stereotype Nitelge.”
“It’s not as simple are you’re making it sound.”
“Of course it is. Why is it alright for you to harbor prejudices but I have to go through major mental shifts to accommodate you into my life?”
“Accommodate me?” Izdahl repeated, his voice rising. “Is that what you’re doing, as if I’m some house guest who’s staying too long?”
“Izdahl, I don’t want to argue with you.”
“Then just listen.”
“Why? You’re being unreasonable. You’re expecting me to act in a specific way, based upon information that you have, which you will not tell me. You want me to accept whatever you say. When I spoke with Rasmus he stated that, besides the clan animosity, there’s also a personal dislike between the two of you. He mentioned the Nakra Hein. How do I know you’re being objective about all of this?”
“I cannot be objective when it comes to your safety, Armando,” Izdahl told him ardently. “I apologize if you feel that I am being overbearing. I’ll revisit how I view this issue. However, you should know that Rasmus was the one who injured you in the woods. He confirmed it. In fact, he used it to goad me during the tournament. That’s why I was more aggressive than usual. Yes, I was firmly on the road to maiming him, but in the end, I pulled back.”
“Why didn’t you tell me any of this earlier?” Armando was stunned. He took a few steps back from Izdahl, angered by the news.
“That’s not an answer! What you did is insulting.”
“That truly was not my intention.”
“Then you—” Armando stopped himself from going further, pausing to calm himself. “Izdahl, we can talk later.”
“Why should we put this off? Let’s finish the discussion now.”
“We can’t. I’m tired.” Armando’s tone was curt. “Choose another time.”
“I’m unable to think of one right now. I’ll have to let you know.”
“You do that. Now go home.”
Dmitri Petrov stared at his best friend, an amused smile on his face. The cellist had received a visit in his home from an agitated Izdahl. What had begun as a relaxing chat had become a tirade, once Dmitri asked how things were going with Armando.
Izdahl had not changed, even in all the years they had known each other. He was still fascinated by Armando. Even while Izdahl had explained how upset he was with the architect, Dmitri could tell that behind his words of anger was a keen sense of caring.
“I have never known anyone so stubborn!” Izdahl shouted, momentarily finished with his tirade.
“This is a case of be careful what you wish for, if I’ve ever seen one.” Dmitri chuckled and calmly took a sip of his wine, as his brown eyes shone with amusement.
“What?” Izdahl snapped.
“Nothing. I really admire your patience. I could never be in limbo the way you have for so many years. I lack that kind of fortitude—or desire to torture myself, if you want to put it bluntly.”
“Well, I’m making progress,” Izdahl stated stiffly, his offended tone carrying to Dmitri. “Armando acknowledged that we do have something between us.”
“But he doesn’t listen to your concerns about his safety.”
“Because he wants answers to many questions. I don’t mind any of that. It’s just that he might get injured in the process.”
“True…” Dmitri pondered Izdahl’s situation for a bit. Then, he asked the pressing question that was on his mind. “Have you slept with him yet?”
“No.” Izdahl cast his eyes downwards. “Shit!”
Dmitri burst out laughing. Izdahl scowled at him, looking wounded.
“Remarkable. If he gets you this worked up without…” Dmitri couldn’t finished the sentence, more laughter overtaking him.
“Shut up, Dmitri!” Izdahl stood, ready to leave. His friend reached out a hand to stop his fuming.
“Why don’t we change the subject?” Dmitri offered.
“A concert. The last time you played with our national orchestra, it was so well-received. My conductor was wondering if you would play a piece with the orchestra again. She’s thinking of several things, including a double cello concerto for you and me.”
“I bet none of that is true. She could have contacted me directly. You’re just making things up, trying to seduce me, aren’t you?”
They both laughed, remembering that in their college days, Dmitri had actually seduced Izdahl. Afterwards, they’d agreed to just stay friends, their curiosity satisfied.
“Alright,” Izdahl said, sitting back down. “Working on a few pieces might help me get rid of my frustration with Armando. I sense that this won’t be the first time we’ll argue. Even when we’re back on speaking terms, his persistence with certain matters will continue to be an issue for us…Anyway, is there a theme you have for the concert?”
“Bring me some pieces you’d be interested in playing,” Dmitri said. “We’ll select several, discuss them and shape a theme.”
“Good, I’m looking forward to this.”
“As much as you’re ‘looking forward’ to being around Armando again?”
“Nothing could possibly match that desire right now,” Izdahl said, laughing.