The sound of two slaps reverberated in Balvan’s office. Rasmus and Khalaf stared at the floor, their right cheeks aching from their mother’s strike, their hearts hurting even more. It was the first time she had ever hit them. Her small hand still stinging from the blows she had delivered to her sons, Listia squeezed her eyes shut in sadness.
“Listia…” Balvan breathed out. He was aware of how much it had pained her to do such a thing. It fueled his anger against his sons even more.
For the past hour, Rasmus and Khalaf had gone into detail about the tasks they were doing for Dagmar. Each description only served to further alarm their parents.
“I understand that, as the Terada clan, we are mercenaries,” Listia began, “However, we do have our code. I am severely disappointed that your lust for more power is taking you down this path. You cannot just hurt everyone for personal gain. That is not how we raised you!” Her voice rose on her last words.
“Dagmar offered us things that we—” Rasmus tried to defend himself and Khalaf.
“I do not care!” Listia waved a hand dismissively. Khalaf winced, expecting another strike. Seeing her son’s reaction, she sat next to him and gently rubbed his cheek.
“We are your family,” Balvan said, “We provide very well for you with whatever means we have. Did it ever cross your minds that the price you’d pay would be too much? The Havads can be quite dangerous and no one more so than their Kelcho! While you were busy being under Dagmar’s thumb, some disturbing news reached our ears. It’s possible that someone from his clan is blaming the Teradas for the death of Armando Medina’s parents.”
“What?” Rasmus exclaimed.
“It’s true,” Listia confirmed, “The main reason we called you home was to find out exactly what you were doing…I know we lend our services but this has gone too far. I did not think another Kelcho would turn my own sons into tools.”
“We need to figure out how we’re going to handle all of this,” Balvan told them, “I can only imagine what you’ve set into motion.”
“Do you think I can run my business from our bed?”
Armando was on his stomach, his body still heated from Izdahl’s fervent loving.
“What do you mean?” Izdahl asked, chuckling.
“I’m not sure I can ever move again, nor do I really want to.”
Izdahl’s hands were lazily trailing across Armando’s skin. The architect smiled and gasped when Izdahl hit a sensitive spot. The back of his thighs, just under his buttocks, was an erogenous zone. He’d been unaware of that, until Izdahl had come to know his body.
Motioning for Armando to turn over on his back, Izdahl replaced his busy hands with a busier tongue. Raising the level of anticipation, he did everything but go for his main goal. He repeatedly licked the juncture of Armando’s thighs, tasting the salty sweat that had gathered there. He watched his lover’s hardening cock rise higher and higher, demanding to be put into his mouth. Then, when Armando begged him in a strained voice, he gave him full pleasure with his mouth.
A hiss of air escaped the architect as he reveled in the sublime, blissful journey Izdahl was crafting for him. His throat worked as he called Izdahl’s name, running his fingers through his lover’s hair. And then, it was all too much, too much to hold on to, too much to feel. Thick strands pumped out of him, pulsing all the way deep into Izdahl’s throat. Izdahl closed his eyes, savoring the flavor of his lover.
“What about you?” Armando asked, when Izdahl moved up to lay next to him.
“I’m well satiated. I just wanted to make sure you were completely drained.”
Izdahl studied Armando’s features for a few long moments, then commented.
“You appear to be…different. More responsive. More demanding. I wish I knew what brought on this change—which I like very much.”
“What do you mean?”
Izdahl explained. Lately, Armando had wanted to have sex more frequently. And, sometimes, he bit, which was highly unusual for him. Then again, Izdahl realized that he had changed too. The emblem had heightened his senses. The pleasure he felt from every flick of Armando’s tongue, from every plunge he took into the architect’s body was sharper, longer lasting.
“That can’t be so bad, can it?” Armando asked.
“No. I’m just one to take note of many things, especially when you’re at the center.”
“Well, take note of this…”
Armando’s hands were soon firmly massaging Izdahl crotch, hardening him for another round of fulfillment. Izdahl groaned and relished the attention for a few moments; then he told Armando to stop.
“Before you distract me, I need to talk to you,” Izdahl explained, sitting up. “I don’t want to put these things off any longer.”
Armando sat up and faced him, mirroring his position.
“The first thing is about the possibility of someone targeting us.”
“Someone wants to hurt us?”
Izdahl provided Armando with a clear explanation of what he had learned.
“I don’t want you to panic,” he stated. “I just want you to be vigilant.”
“How ‘vigilant’ can I be against spells?”
The exasperation and concern on Armando’s face pulled at Izdahl. He rubbed his lover’s arms to sooth him.
“I was dreading your reaction,” Izdahl told him. “I really don’t like worrying you.”
“How could I not worry? Sometimes, the things you Nitelge are capable of doing…”
“Armando!” Izdahl gave him a look of warning.
“I’m sorry,” Armando murmured.
“Mother will be finding out more for us,” Izdahl said, “I’ll let you know whatever she tells me…And Armando, since Rasmus is part of this, I want you to stay away from him. I don’t want your curiosity getting the better of you.” The last few words were sharp.
“What if he approaches me? I’m not going to run into your arms.” Armando chuckled at the image.
“I’m glad you think this is funny.”
“I’m sorry. I am taking this seriously.”
“Good. I do trust your judgment.”
“Really?” Armando asked, with an eyebrow raised, “Is that why you take so long to tell me things?”
Izdahl studied the patterns on the comforter, as if they would reveal a response good enough to satisfy Armando.
“It’s not like that,” Izdahl told him. “It’s necessary to make sure I have the proper information, especially if it might alarm you.”
Armando appraised Izdahl with a critical eye.
“I suppose that will be acceptable, for now.”
“You’re so damn obnoxious.”
Armando gave him a rude smile, the verbal equivalent being “So. What can you do about it?” In response, Izdahl tackled him and they became a tangle of muscular arms and legs. He nuzzled Armando’s neck, nipping at the architect’s flesh. When a groan came from Armando, Izdahl forced himself to stop. He wanted all of the major confessions out of the way.
“Wait, love. Before you make me lose all reason, there’s more.”
“What?” Armando asked, unable to focus. He only wanted Izdahl inside him. He pulled his lover back to him when Izdahl tried to sit up again.
“No,” Izdahl told him, laughing, “We have to be serious now.”
“Then it wasn’t a good idea to talk in bed.”
“Well, hindsight…but let’s finish.”
“Yes, let’s finish.” Armando grabbed him again.
“You know that’s not what I mean.”
“Okay,” Armando grumbled. “I’m ready to listen but after that, you’re taking me deep in your throat again.”
Izdahl groaned at the image and became even harder. Armando grinned.
“Let’s focus, shall we?” Izdahl requested.
“Are you talking to me or yourself?”
“Love!” Izdahl begged.
“Yes, of course. Please go ahead.”
“Armando, you know how this planet stays protected, right?” Izdahl waited for Armando to admit that he understood. “Well, I have a fragment and it was activated a while ago.”
“Several months…It’s a Core Guardian fragment and—”
“You should have told me earlier.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“This isn’t going to become a habit of yours, right?”
“It better not. Now, isn’t that kind of fragment one of the most difficult to have?”
“Yes but I can manage it.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because I…Just listen. I really need to explain a few things…I was speaking with GG and there’s a complication. As a Core Guardian, it’s possible that I’m in tune with more than one Core Receptor. And I have to know which individual has the strongest resonance with me. I have two potential partners. I might have to be with each of them…sexually…in the Main Resonance Chamber before I am sure who my right partner is. The center of the fragment activates and is iridescent when the right Receptor for me is found. This process can be difficult for many, especially those already in relationships.”
“So this means you might have to sleep with someone else?” Armando asked quietly. His eyes were already clouded with the pain from what that would mean.
“Yes…But that’s quite rare. GG is having the results checked again to see if I have to do that ceremony.”
“When will you find out?”
“She does not have an exact date but she said she’ll clear things up as soon as possible.”
“Isn’t there another way to find your partner, your Shield partner?”
“No. This test is considered acceptable because we are usually the most open during sex and—”
“Even so, humans don’t see sex the same way as Nitelge. You all are more casual about it.”
“Not necessarily but we put our feelings aside when there are more important things than—”
“Than whether your human partners like it because I just bet Nitelge lovers can easily—”
“I never said it was easy for anyone but it still must be done.”
Izdahl observed the distance that Armando had put between them, the architect had slid over two feet away from him. He reached out for the architect and pulled him closer. He ran his hand repeatedly over the cuff he’d given Armando.
“You know that this would strictly be done as a duty, right?” he asked beseechingly.
“Are you saying you wouldn’t get any pleasure out of it? None? At all?”
“Armando please. Physically, I would but…you must understand. It would never be the full experience that I have with you. And we don’t even know if it will be necessary for me to sleep with anyone. Let’s not become preoccupied about this. I just wanted to speak with you about it, before you found out from someone else.”
“I appreciate knowing,” Armando murmured. “But I can’t pretend I don’t care.”
“I want you to care but not to the point of punishing me…”
Izdahl took Armando’s face in his hands and kissed him. At first, there was reluctance, dulling the usual charge that accompanied the meeting of their tongues. Eventually, Izdahl coaxed the response out of the architect that he wanted, an urgency to be closer.
“You know that I’m yours,” he told Armando, when their mouths parted. “I don’t want to be with anyone else.”
“But we’re not completely sure about all the effects fragments have. What if you sleep with someone and—”
“Do you really think anyone else could match what I have with you? Even when you’re at your most unbearable, I can’t get enough of you.”
Izdahl rested his forehead against Armando’s. The two sat there for long moments, images of their life together coming to their minds. Armando couldn’t help chuckling.
“I can’t believe you were a bird spying on me.”
“I can’t believe you made me resort to that. I should have reconsidered.”
Armando gave him a jab to the stomach for that quip. Then he grew serious.
“Will you tell me as soon as you find out from Xersa?”
“Yes. And remember, this angst of yours could be for nothing.”
“True…You know, when I was a boy, I took the test like all the other children. For some reason, I had to do it twice.”
“Hmmm, that’s quite unusual.”
“And I wasn’t ever told the results!”
“I should ask GG about that too.”
“Do that…In the meantime…” Armando looked at the clock. “We have to get up. Your concert is in a few hours.”
“How could I forget? Dmitri has called here four times today already.”
Izdahl was half-expecting the phone to ring yet again. While he understood Dmitri’s earnestness, it had made it quite a challenge to spend most of the day in bed with Armando.
“Are you as nervous as he is?” Armando teased.
“It’s his first time conducting an entire concert,” Izdahl explained, getting out of the bed and stretching, “We’ve prepared for this evening for such a long time. I really want to do my part to make this a success.”
“I’ve heard you rehearse by yourself, as well as with the orchestra. You better not shame me.” Armando punctured this order with a sharp slap on Izdahl’s well-toned buttocks. “Be perfect or else.”
“Of course,” Izdahl responded, laughing.
“By the way, I look forward to returning home and removing all of your clothes.”
“Then I’ll push the orchestra to an unreasonable tempo. We’ll do the concert in half as much time.”
“Dmitri would never forgive you.”
“True. I suppose I’ll have to restrain myself. Please do not make this difficult for me.”
“I give you no promises…” Armando murmured.
“Isn’t it amazing?” Felicia asked, as she settled into her seat next to Armando, “It wasn’t too long ago that we were here and saw Izdahl perform.”
“I remember we argued on the way home,” Armando reminisced, “I can’t believe how closed-minded I was. I’m glad I changed.”
“We’re all glad you did,” Kiana said, laughing.
“Yes, your bigotry was so unbecoming,” Syrik added.
“I knew you would come to your senses,” Felicia assured him.
“Darling, it’s good to know you’re still arrogant as ever,” Jonas teased her.
“Well she does have reason to gloat,” Armando admitted, “I’m glad I’m with Izdahl.”
As if knowing he was the topic of conversation, Izdahl looked up at the theater box where his lover was seated. A slow smile spread across Armando’s face. He was tempted to do something that would destroy Izdahl’s composure but he maintained himself. Any chance to change his mind was taken away when the lights dimmed and the orchestra began to tune.
Listening to the Preva Symphony Orchestra, with Izdahl as the featured soloist, Armando was taken back to the first time he’d seen him play. It had been several years ago. Armando had been unprepared to be among the Nitelge in such close proximity, unprepared to go home and dream about a particular one…
He smiled at the intense focus that was on Izdahl’s face. He was aware that this concerto’s first movement was incredibly difficult for his lover. A Kelcho of the Nieri clan had composed the piece. She had died three hundred years ago, leaving behind an impressive body of work. It had meant so much to Izdahl to review her repertoire and include it in a concert program that he believed best showcased his skills. The pleasure of doing so had come with a price.
Armando had been there for several sessions when Izdahl had almost thrown his cello. He’d been present on more than one occasion when the passionate Nitelge and Dmitri had argued fiercely about the phrasing, while the orchestra was amused by the exchange. But, as he knew his lover was capable of doing, he ultimately played effortlessly, the hours of disciplined practice having been worthwhile.
The response to the performance was overwhelming and it was quite some time before Armando was able to catch Izdahl’s eye. Many humans and Nitelge wanted to congratulate the featured artist. Armando signaled to him to enjoy himself, knowing how long he’d worked to perfect the pieces.
Even as Armando talked with Kiana, Syrik, Jonas and Felicia, he was aware of the throng of admirers who made a tight circle around Izdahl. Feeling closed-off from his lover, he sighed and tried to distract himself. However, the conversation could not hold his interest and he stepped away from the conversation to get more champagne. The smooth voice of Dagmar caught his attention.
“Mr. Medina, it’s such a pleasure to see you again.”
“Hello Mr. Havad, it’s been a while since we spoke.”
The two began to discuss the prospects of working together.
Izdahl was being congratulated by his parents when he spotted Armando with Dagmar. As soon as he could respectfully get away, he went over to the two.
“Izdahl,” Dagmar greeted him cheerfully, “I know we have our different views but I have always enjoyed your music. That performance…just spectacular, my boy.”
“I appreciate that, Kelcho Havad.”
A sardonic smile spread across Dagmar’s face.
“You don’t like me much, do you?”
“I wasn’t aware we had popularity contests.”
“As always, you have a clever remark.” Dagmar turned to Armando. “I apologize for the tension. I hope it’s not a source of annoyance for you. I can only imagine what he says about me in private.”
“Perhaps we discuss other things in private,” Izdahl stated pointedly.
“Well, if I had Armando, discussing someone else would be the last thing I’d be doing.”
Dagmar saw a flash of annoyance travel across Izdahl’s face. The Kelcho was determined to compound it and chuckled lightly. He patted Izdahl on his face.
Izdahl swallowed the comment that wanted to burst from his throat. Instead of lashing out, he moved a small distance away. He knew if he went too far, he’d have to answer to his parents, his grandfather, his great-grandmother…and most of all Armando. He knew his lover disliked scenes, especially in public.
Dagmar looked questioningly at Izdahl, knowing the difficultly he was having in being civil. When Izdahl didn’t say anything, the Kelcho turned his interest back to the architect.
“Armando,” Dagmar exclaimed, “I hope you’ll agree to the project. I admit I’m eager to see what you can do. And, I have a confession. Frankly, I feel that I quite deserve to have one of your company’s buildings in a territory of mine.”
“Sir Havad, you flatter Jonas and me.” Armando stuttered his way through a response, the rigid exchange between Dagmar and Izdahl leaving him bewildered.
“Not at all,” Dagmar continued, as if he didn’t notice that Armando was now uncomfortable, “Erol continuously touts your talent. I merely want to make sure I benefit from what you can do. Call me greedy, call me eager…call me when you’re ready to accept the job.”
Armando laughed, feeling more awkward.
“Jonas and I will take your offer under serious consideration,” he promised. He did his best to ignore Izdahl’s eyes, which were drilling into him.
“Good to hear.” Dagmar nodded and quickly slid his eyes over to Izdahl. “Walk with me, Izdahl.”
Izdahl gently removed the hand that Armando had laid on his arm and followed. When he and the Kelcho were a good distance away and in a relatively secluded corner, Dagmar turned to squarely face him. As if he was giving friendly guidance, he rested a hand on Izdahl’s shoulder.
“You really should reign in your emotions. It’s clear how deeply you feel for Armando. Someone could use that against both of you.”
“And just who would make that life-threatening mistake?” Izdahl asked, shrugging his shoulder out of Dagmar’s grasp.
A flicker of intense dislike traveled across Dagmar’s face. Normally, he was quite adept at hiding his emotions. However the young Nitelge’s arrogance never failed to infuriate him. He knew the main reason was because Izdahl looked so much like Jaxon, who had taken away his beloved Hadil. Here was Jaxon’s spawn daring to speak to him so irreverently.
“Perhaps you have forgotten that you are addressing a Kelcho.”
“How unrefined of me,” Izdahl stated, bowing mockingly, “The least I can do is respect your position as leader of the second strongest clan.”
With that acidic comment finding its mark, Izdahl gracefully walked off. He was faced with more concert-goers wanting his attention and requests for several orchestral photos. It was quite some time before he was able to return to Armando, who wanted to ask him about the exchange.
“Not here and not tonight,” Izdahl said curtly.
Armando ended the journey of the mouthful of soup. It had been on its way to Izdahl’s mouth. The searching expression that had been in Izdahl’s eyes had finally gotten to the architect.
“What is it? Why do you keep looking at me like that?” Armando asked, putting the bowl of soup on the bedside table.
He’d fully intended to pamper Izdahl. His lover had been ill for the past few days. He’d taken time off from work to focus on Izdahl. However, his good intentions had warred with his frustrations, and, until now, they had been winning.
It was not like Izdahl to keep silent about what was on his mind. Yet, he’d merely stared at Armando, letting him carry the conversation. Eventually, his penetrating gaze and his lack of responses had gotten to Armando. He knew Izdahl hadn’t really been listening to anything he’d said.
“I’m just trying to figure out what’s different about you,” Izdahl told him.
“There’s nothing ‘different’ about me.”
“Are you bored with our relationship?”
“Why would you ask something like that?”
“You’re not answering my question!”
The forcefulness of the remark surprised both of them.
Armando bit his lip, trying not to release his annoyance. While Armando would normally be frank with him, Izdahl was most likely only being difficult because he was not well. Izdahl’s present condition was due to carrying a Shield fragment. The holder would sometimes become sickly while his or her body fully adjusted. With Izdahl being a Core Guardian, the process could be especially taxing. Still, Armando was unwilling to allow him to be unreasonable.
They were quiet for a few moments. Then Izdahl continued.
“Love, I’m not sure what is causing it but you’re changing. You’re more sexual and your mannerisms don’t just stay in our bedroom. For the past few months, you’ve been garnering a lot of attention, more than usual. The concert was just a breaking point for me. Even with Dagmar, of all beings, you were incredibly open. I gave you my cuff with my seal, Armando. That should mean something to you.”
“I wasn’t aware that who I could speak to was limited by this cuff.” Armando cursed and rose to leave. “Look, can we put this conversation on hold? I don’t like what I’m hearing and our discussion is going to get heated. I refuse to argue with you, especially when you’re ill.”
Izdahl reached out to grasp the edge of Armando’s shirt, tugging gently at it.
“Sorry,” he murmured, “I didn’t state my concerns properly.”
“What do you think I did wrong?” Armando asked.
Izdahl saw the earnest need to understand in Armando’s eyes. His usually brilliant hazel eyes were clouded. Izdahl felt guilty.
“It’s nothing in particular. Lately, I’ve just noticed that you’ve become quite free with your affections.”
“You make it sound like I’m sleeping with others!”
“The cuff is meant to show that you are with me. If others have the perception that you’re not happy—”
“I’m not doing anything to give that perception, Izdahl! I can’t help it if others are attracted to me. And I’m not trying to sound like a smug ass about it…What do you want to me to do? Stay out of public?”
“I don’t have to put up with how you’re acting.”
Armando stood and left, slamming the bedroom door on his way out.
Izdahl looked ruefully at the soup that was now cold. He was still hungry but he knew he wouldn’t enjoy the taste. He wanted Armando to feed it to him.
He sighed and burrowed under his blanket, covering his head and muttering about his circumstances. He was drifting off to sleep when the door to his bedroom opened. He sat up quickly and smiled when he saw that Armando had returned.
“I didn’t get far,” Armando admitted, a sheepish grin on his face, “I don’t like it when we’re upset with each other.”
Armando picked up the bowl of soup. Izdahl heated it, again mesmerizing Armando with his skill at wielding the elements. When the liquid was at the perfect temperature, Armando began to nurture him again.
“Maybe you are right,” the architect mused. “Perhaps I’ve changed in some way. I trust your judgment, even if I can’t detect what you say is happening.”
“Not all of this makes sense to me right now but it will soon. Thank you for not abandoning me, love.”
“Well, I couldn’t just leave you. You looked so damn pathetic,” Armando teased.
Izdahl smiled. The soup tasted even better.