“I have summoned you to speak with me this afternoon about a topic that is quite difficult for you,” Hadil began.
Izdahl was sitting across from her in her living room. While he enjoyed conversing with his mother, the subject she wanted to cover was one he was reluctant to discuss.
“I am tired,” he told her. “Can’t we talk about this on another day?”
She stirred some sugar into a cup of tea and then pushed the liquid towards him.
“Please drink this and relax…Now, I’ve tried to put off the matter as long as I could.”
“I know and I appreciate that,” Izdahl responded earnestly. “It’s just that I don’t know what to tell you. I didn’t expect Armando to be so closed off to me.”
“He has already made great strides,” Hadil reminded him.
“I want more. What I desire isn’t too much to ask. We’ve been together for almost five years now.”
“Izdahl, it was because of a traumatic event that Armando became closed off to his abilities. It might take another one for him to be open.”
“I don’t want him to feel that kind of pain again. To reach that level, it would have to be the loss of Kiana or Nyrese.”
“Or you.” Hadil said.
“Yes, I have considered that too,” Izdahl admitted, as he flinched. “But I don’t want that to happen, not because I fear death but because I don’t want my love to be alone.…”
“Have you been treating him in the manner your words indicate?” Hadil asked.
“Mother, I’m not sure what you mean.”
“Xersa mentioned that he has been more distracted than usual at his training..”
“You two discuss us?”
“Of course,” Hadil said, laughing softly. “I’m your mother and she’s your great-grandmother.”
“Perfect, just perfect.”
“Come now.” Hadil patted Izdahl’s hand, soothing her son. “Don’t pout; though it’s quite adorable. Let’s think of some ways to handle this situation. We have to get you and Armando to the next step.”
Armando looked at his bedside clock, then back at Izdahl who had entered their bedroom. The architect, who had been reviewing the news of the day, put aside his reading tablet, eager to have his partner slide into bed with him.
Izdahl began to slowly undress and Armando watched him, smiling. He was thinking about how he’d reach out for his lover tonight. Of the two, Izdahl had the stronger libido. However, he hadn’t made his usual attempts to have sex in almost two weeks. Armando realized that he seldom initiated and decided to do so that tonight. He propped himself up on several pillows, folding his arms behind his head and admiring Izdahl’s tall, muscular frame.
“You’re looking quite handsome,” the architect said in a teasing voice, by way of warming up his partner. Izdahl didn’t respond. Instead, he gave Armando a cold, withering stare that stripped the desire from the architect. Armando was further surprised when Izdahl not only headed to the bathroom, he also closed the bathroom door, almost slamming it.
While he showered, Izdahl thought about the reason he was angry. He was replaying the previous week’s conversation with the Head Technician from the Resonance Center.
Ask yourself why the one you love is not responding to you in the way that he should…
He’d been doing just that. Repeatedly. He couldn’t help himself and the inability to ignore the question only served to agitate him. Even when he was at work, he found his thoughts straying to that subject. It had occupied hours of his time, weighing him down. He was, once again, trying to measure the strength of his relationship with Armando. Doubts about the depths of his lover’s feelings had surfaced again. Izdahl wasn’t sure how to broach the subject. He didn’t trust himself to maintain his temper; just a few minutes ago, he’d been taken aback by how dismissive he had been.
While Izdahl showered, Armando wondered about his lover’s mood. For the past few days, he’d been quite somber. The architect had given Izdahl his space, knowing that periodically he wrestled with different matters, even if he didn’t always share what was on his mind. He believed Izdahl had hit another particularly moody patch and chose to downplay his gruffness.
After finishing his shower, Izdahl dressed for bed, knowing that Armando’s eyes were on him. When he walked to the bed, Armando pulled aside the covers, welcoming him with a small hopeful smile. Izdahl settled next to the architect; his body language was stiff.
“Izdahl, it isn’t like you to act this way,” Armando murmured, noting how tense he was.
“Just how am I acting?”
“Something is bothering you.” Armando paused, trying to choose his words carefully. Then he pressed ahead. “Shouldn’t you tell me why you’re upset?”
“And why would you care?”
Izdahl’s words caused Armando to wince. The architect shook his head, wondering how his lover could ask that question.
“Because everything about you matters to me,” Armando replied quietly. He reached for Izdahl, who moved away from him. Armando was stunned and he voiced his frustration. “Sometimes you’ve said I don’t initiate enough. Now, when I do, you’re rejecting me? How does that make sense?”
“Because you happen to want me now, I’m obligated to respond?” Izdahl demanded. “Is that how it works?”
“That’s not what I meant. If you’re going to twist my words, maybe you should go to sleep.”
“Good. I can get back to my original plan.”
Izdahl shut off the light. His coldness became even more apparent when he turned his back to Armando.
“We haven’t had sex in a while and I really want you,” Armando said, his voice almost plaintive.
Izdahl didn’t respond.
“Love, did you hear me?”
Izdahl remained quiet.
“It was my understanding that you’d return and be focused,” Xersa said pointedly. “Where is your mind today?”
She had hoped Armando would make some progress with his review of the tome. Instead, the architect’s mind had wandered for much of the half-hour he’d spent in the chamber during the current session.
“I’m sorry,” Armando told her quietly. “This is the last place I want to be right now.”
“Because you don’t think this is worthwhile?”
“No, it’s not that. Izdahl is angry with me. He won’t say why. He’s been incredibly distant. I’ve never seen him like that.”
Izdahl had spent more time than usual in the study, playing his cello. When he wasn’t doing that, he’d been out riding Koraiy or staying late at the office. Armando had tried to find out what was bothering him but had not been successful.
“Well, it’s quite simple,” Xersa stated. “You don’t love him as much as he loves you.”
“What?” Armando looked at her, his expression wavering between shock and anger. “Why would you say something like that?”
“I notice you didn’t deny it.”
“That would only dignify it,” Armando bit out.
“Work out your issues with Izdahl on your time. You’re on my time right now…Start reading.”
Xersa closed her eyes, reminding herself that Armando wasn’t a youngster she could punish.
“Armando, I want you to be reasonable. You have a duty and—”
“Don’t use that as leverage against me! Besides, there’s nothing to read.” Armando opened the book and placed his hand over a series of pages. There was no response, not even the muted blue glow he’d been able to manage over the past two weeks as his technique had improved. “These pages are blank. If they’re reacting based upon what I’m feeling, then I’m empty inside. Please let me go home. This session isn’t going to be productive for either one of us.”
Xersa rested her hand gently on Armando’s shoulder. He looked at her and sighed.
“You are still holding back from Izdahl in some ways,” she offered in the way of help. “At this point in your relationship, there are some things that he would really like to hear.”
“I want you to figure that out because until you do, he’s going to continue to hurt. He’s going to keep doubting what the two of you have together.”
Armando looked expectantly at Izdahl. The two had taken a break from riding. In an attempt to lift his lover’s spirits, Armando had suggested they take Johan and Koraiy for a vigorous ride. The architect had challenged Izdahl to a race but his lover had refused. Armando was still wondering what could be wrong, as the pair sauntered through one of the Amasi properties. Izdahl had barely spoken a few complete sentences during the past twenty minutes, despite Armando’s repeated attempts to engage him in a conversation. Finally, Armando reached out for Koraiy’s reins, stopping the steed.
“Izdahl, please get down,” Armando said, dismounting from his horse. “We should discuss why you’re angry. We’ve been together too long for you to hold back on me.”
“I could say the same things to you,” Izdahl replied, the heat in his voice surprising Armando.
Izdahl dismounted from Koraiy, who promptly goaded Johan into racing with him. Knowing that their steeds would return when whistled for, Armando and Izdahl focused on each other.
“Izdahl, why are you being this way?”
Izdahl paced back and forth; then he began to explain what the Resonance Center technician had said. When he finished recounting the technician’s determination, he looked at Armando reproachfully.
“And that’s the reason you’ve been moping?” Armando asked, incredulous. “That tech barely knows anything about us!”
“He knows all he needs to know!”
“Well, I don’t always fall in line with everyone’s expectations, not even yours,” Armando reminded him. “And I don’t think you should be punishing me for something I’m not sure I even understand. I didn’t ask for these circumstances.”
“None of us get a choice about it but we rise to the occasion. You have a duty as a carrier of a fragment and you have a duty to me. Be responsible and stop closing yourself off.”
“I’m in a different position!” Armando reminded him. “I’m still trying to get a grasp on concepts you’ve taken for granted.”
“Why does that have to mean that you shut me out? I could be helping you and we could be getting closer because of that.” Izdahl cursed. “It’s just like we were in the beginning. That’s insulting. I would have thought you cared about me more at this point.”
“I’m not quite sure what you mean.”
“Actually, it’s not completely unexpected that you’re not responding to me as you should. There’s always some kind of struggle with you to take things to the next level. We’re hardly ever moving at the same pace…Armando, I’m becoming tired of your indifference.”
“But I’m not indifferent to you,” Armando responded fervently. “Just because I don’t express myself like you do doesn’t mean…” His words trailed off when he realized Izdahl was no longer even looking at him. “Izdahl, I don’t know what you want from me.”
“I want you to stop keeping me at a distance. It’s disappointing and insulting. All of the fragment carriers have connected properly with their partners, except us. You’re refusing to accept something that’s vital to Nitelge culture, even to other humans and especially to me, Armando. You’re not acting as if you want to be with me for the long-term.”
“I don’t know how you can see things that way,” Armando confessed. “Given my experiences, I’ve been incredibly open with you. I admit I’ve been difficult sometimes—”
“Difficult sometimes? You put it quite lightly.” Izdahl’s voice rose.
“Love, I don’t want us shouting at each other in the middle of a field.”
“This is Amasi property. I can raise my voice, as loud as I want!” Izdahl bellowed, exercising that right. His eyes darkened, the change driven by his emotions.
The strength of Izdahl’s anger made Armando recoil. He flinched and grabbed his left arm, as pain shot from his wrist up to his shoulder. He took a few steps back from Izdahl.
“What’s wrong?” Izdahl asked, immediately changing his demeanor. “Why are you backing away from me?”
“I…Dominic was yelling like that during our worse fight. For a second there, I flashed back to when he broke my arm.”
“I’m sorry,” Izdahl murmured. “I wasn’t trying to make you feel threatened.”
“I know.” Armando sighed. “I understand why you’re angry.”
“No, you don’t fully understand. I need to do some thinking.” Izdahl walked a short distance away from Armando, struggling with the force of his emotions. “I want to be by myself. Go home. I’m still an option in your life, instead of a priority. And now with Dominic back in the picture—”
“Dominic isn’t a part of this,” Armando insisted. “I’m with you, not him.”
“Something is keeping you from bonding with me like I expect. I don’t know what it is. I’m trying to find the most logical—”
“That was you using logic these past two weeks? Being moody? Resisting my touch? That was logical?” Armando stared at Izdahl, unbelieving. “I’m really trying to understand your train of thought but—”
“I’m embarrassed being with you, especially given my position in the family, in my father’s company and as a Core Guardian!” Izdahl shouted. A flood of words escaped him, as he was no longer willing to hold back the tide of frustration he felt. “It’s painful to know that you don’t care about me as I’ve cared about you for so long. That’s what I get, naturally. I should have moved on years ago. To think of the opportunities I passed up being with others who—”
“I get your damn point!” Armando snapped. “You can be so impossible! You take me from zero to furious in a matter of seconds. I guess I’ll leave you alone. I wouldn’t want to embarrass you, especially on Amasi property.”
He whistled for Johan, turning his back to Izdahl. While he waited for his horse to return, he tried to make sense of what Izdahl had said. The abrupt change in their relationship was surprising. He’d known something had been bothering Izdahl but learning the details of his feelings had left him aching inside. There were few things that were worse than being blindsided.
Johan arrived, followed by Koraiy. The pair looked eager to run off again, prancing impatiently just out of the reach of their owners’ hands. Frustrated, Armando called Johan to him sharply. The horse obeyed, standing still. He gave the architect a reproachful glance.
“I am sorry, Johan,” Armando murmured. “It appears I can’t please anyone right now.”
As Izdahl watched Armando leave, the pangs in his chest grew. He knew the things he’d said had caused pain but he’d felt it was all necessary. He couldn’t pretend that their relationship wasn’t static. This was just the first step in seeing if they had what was necessary to stay together.