Izdahl met Armando at the door to their home.
“How are you?” Izdahl asked.
He did a quick scan of Armando’s face and body, searching for signs of harm.
“I’m all right but I need to unwind.” Armando gave Izdahl a reassuring kiss.
He walked to the kitchen and Izdahl followed him. Izdahl sat at the kitchen island, still studying Armando. Armando glanced at him.
“Izdahl, I’m fine. Honestly.” Armando took out the bottle of wine they’d opened the previous night. “Want a glass too?”
Izdahl nodded at the offer.
“Did Dagmar try anything?” he asked.
“He was surprisingly reasonable. Though, he said there could have been a formal interrogation.”
“It sounds like he did you a favor, but I don’t trust him.” Izdahl took the glass of wine from Armando. He sipped the dark red liquid, as he mused. “Maybe you should go to the Kelcho Council anyway. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone, but Dagmar might not expect it.”
“Would Xersa be comfortable with that?” Armando’s brow furrowed. “Wouldn’t she have recommended it already?”
“I see your point.” Izdahl blew out a sigh. “Dagmar seems to be pulling many strings but GG knows how to maneuver too. I don’t want you getting crushed between two Kelchos. They’ve had a longstanding feud and—”
Izdahl stopped speaking, when he noticed Armando’s hand shaking. The wine in Armando’s glass trembled violently. Armando rested the glass on the kitchen island.
Izdahl walked to the other side of the kitchen island and reached for Armando. He wrapped his arms around his lover, holding him tightly.
“I’m sorry,” Armando said. “I don’t mean to worry you.”
“I know. It’s been a tough week.”
The previous day Armando had gone to his parents’ grave site. Visiting them brought back memories of how he’d lost them. Dealing with Dagmar only added stress. Izdahl knew he was still processing that night’s interactions with the Kelcho.
Izdahl took Armando’s face in his hands and gave him a gentle kiss. He rested his forehead against Armando’s. He took a few deep breaths and Armando breathed in time with him. When they stepped apart, Armando smiled.
“Thank you, Iz. I feel better.”
“Good. Let’s get out of here,” Izdahl said. “I have plans for us.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just follow me.” Izdahl gave Armando an encouraging grin.
He led Armando to the front door. Before heading out the house, Izdahl went to the hallway closet. He grabbed two suitcases he’d packed for himself and Armando. They went to Izdahl’s car, with him still avoiding Armando’s questions about his plans.
Once they settled in the car, Izdahl started their journey. He drove north, taking them toward one of the most pastoral Amasi territories. He didn’t press Armando for conversation. Instead, he let his partner drift into sleep. Armando rested for the first two hours of the trip. When he stirred, Izdahl glanced at him.
“Any of this look familiar?” Izdahl asked.
Armando watched the passing scenery, taking in the lush green trees and the large lake.
“It’s a little familiar,” he said, his voice still muted by sleep. “I think I know where you’re taking me.”
“You can’t be sure, until we’re there,” Izdahl teased. “There’s just another hour to go. We could have taken a flight but this is more peaceful.”
Armando rolled down the window. He breathed deeply, taking in the crisp and comforting night air. Then, he rolled the window back up, when a chill rippled through the car.
He looked back at Izdahl. “This is fantastic. We haven’t gotten away from the city, in a while.”
“I thought we could stay a few days,” Izdahl said.
“Iz, I have to go back to work and…”
“I already arranged everything. Jonas has the office under control.”
Izdahl smiled, when Armando didn’t protest further.
A short while later, Izdahl and Armando reached a small inn that had seven rooms, along with three cabins that were close to a lake. The property was almost 400 hundred years old. The Larsens, a Norwegian family, owned and operated the inn. Like many humans of Scandinavian descent, they’d settled in one of the northern Amasi territories. Even in summer, this location was at least 20 degrees cooler than the other Amasi areas.
The previous month, Izdahl had asked Jonas for ideas of where to take Armando. Jonas had suggested the location. As children, Jonas and Armando had often gone to the inn. Since Jonas’ mother was Norwegian, the Ramseys had kept her culture alive for Jonas, his sister and their friends, by bringing them to the lakeside establishment.
Spending time at the inn had been especially happy times for Armando. When he’d finally agreed to socialize after his parents’ death, his first outing had been to the old inn. Even now, as he stepped into its reception area, a rush of memories came back to him.
Izdahl checked in with the receptionist, as Armando glanced around, trying to see what remained the same. The walls were still decorated with a mix of art from Norse mythology.
While Izdahl signed the guestbook, Maya, the receptionist sent a text to Kjersti Larsen.
“Kjersti and Rolf have been expecting you,” Maya said. “They’re on their way to meet you.”
Armando’s eyes lit up with happiness, when Kjersti and Rolf came to the reception area.
“I’ve missed you!” Kjersti said.
Her arms were already out for an embrace. She hugged Armando tightly and then gently patted his cheek. Her motherly affection made him grin.
“I’ve missed you too.”
“Did I change much?” Kjersti asked. “It’s been at least five years since you were last here.” She tucked a few strands of her silver-gray hair behind her ears.
Rolf laughed and shook his head. “Stop fishing for compliments.”
“You’re both as good-looking as I remember,” Armando said. He motioned to Izdahl. “This is my partner, Izdahl Amasi.”
Kjersti chuckled. “Oh, we know.” Her green eyes filled with mischief. “He called many times, even today.”
“I’m sorry, if I’ve been a pest,” Izdahl replied. “I hope we didn’t inconvenience you, arriving this late.”
“It wasn’t a problem at all,” Rolf said. He patted Armando on his back and shook Izdahl’s hand.
“Are you hungry, even for a light meal?” Kjersti asked. “The chef’s finished for the night but I wanted to cook for you anyway. It all works out.”
“Kjære, they might be tired,” Rolf said, using the Norwegian word for dear.
“You know how I have to feed everyone,” Kjersti replied. “Besides, our other guests might want a nibble.”
“We’ll have something small but please don’t trouble yourself,” Armando told her.
“Good. After you eat, you can get settled in your cabin.”
“Can we do anything to help with the food?” Armando asked.
Kjersti gave him a scolding look.
He held up his hands in playful defense. “All right. We’ll stay out of the way. I just remember you putting Jonas and me to work.”
“That was to pay off destroying some of my flowers.”
“We were playing and fell into the flowerbeds,” Armando explained to Izdahl.
“Well, I don’t expect the same trouble from you two,” Kjersti said. “Now, give Maya your car keys. She’ll arrange for your luggage to get to your cabin.”
After Izdahl handed over the keys, he and Armando followed Rolf and Kjersti into living room. The Larsens introduced them to the other guests. Then, Rolf and Kjersti went to the kitchen to prepare a quick meal.
Armando smiled, as more nostalgia gripped him. He looked around the large living room with comfortable couches and chairs. He saw photographs of various guests, as well as scenery from around the inn. Armando went towards one wall. He spotted a picture of him and Jonas from their teenage years. Their skin showed a healthy tan, after spending hours at the nearby lake.
“Good memories?” Izdahl asked.
“Definitely. I’ll tell you about them sometime.”
“Whenever you want, love.” Izdahl took Armando’s hand and led him over to one of the empty couches.
While they waited for the food, they chatted with the other guests. One of the guests recognized Izdahl from television interviews. The conversation soon turned to excitement about the upcoming Gathering and the Elite Nakra Hein. Chatting continued through the light meal that included bread, cheese, thinly sliced meat and smoked salmon.
It wasn’t until early morning, when Izdahl and Armando headed to their cabin. Their bags were already in the comfortable and tastefully decorated rustic abode. Armando flopped back onto the bed. He sighed as a thick, handmade, multicolored quilt cushioned him.
“I’ve never stayed in this one,” Armando said.
Izdahl started undressing and Armando smiled.
“Come here.” Armando reached for his lover.
“Not now. You aren’t as aware as I’d like you to be. I have plans, Mr. Medina. And I need you to be fully awake.”
Armando laughed. “Should I be worried?”
Izdahl paused in unbuttoning his pants. “A little. There’s a reason I chose the most secluded cabin.”
“Then, don’t be shy…”
Izdahl gave his lover a pointed look. “Stop trying to be difficult. I told you why we’re waiting.”
“Maybe I don’t want to wait. We can do more later but at least take the edge off.”
Armando stood up and went over to Izdahl, removing his shirt as he walked. He pulled Izdahl closer and nipped at his mouth, teasing a response from his lover. Izdahl kissed him back, as he unzipped Armando’s pants and let them fall to the floor. Izdahl slid his hands inside Armando’s underwear and gripped his ass. At the same time, he bit Armando’s left ear. He smiled, when Armando gasped.
Izdahl knelt in front of Armando and looked up at him through half-closed eyes. He pulled down Armando’s underwear and Armando stepped away from his clothing. Izdahl brushed his finger against a spot on Armando’s left hip.
“You have a new mole,” Izdahl said.
“Anything else you see?” Armando asked. His breath caught, when Izdahl licked just the tip of his cock.
“Shall we begin, my love?” Izdahl asked.
He cupped Armando’s balls, feeling the warmth and weight of them. Izdahl teased his lover, massaging him slowly. He tasted the silken head of Armando’s cock and slid the tip into his mouth. He teased precum from his lover, as he licked the slit of Armando’s cock. Then, he took his time, working his way down Armando’s shaft.
Armando rested his hands on Izdahl’s head, closing his eyes. When Izdahl beckoned him to do so, Armando pushed into Izdahl’s mouth at a slow, tantalizing pace. He gradually increased his speed, becoming lost in the sensations. A long, hoarse groan escaped him, when he reached his peak.
Hearing the cue that Armando was going to release, Izdahl took him deep into his mouth again. Armando’s cock pulsed several times and he moaned. Izdahl swallowed, letting Armando’s thick fluids coat his throat.
“What about you?” Armando asked.
Izdahl stood. “I’m all right.”
“But don’t you want to go further?” Armando asked. He wiped away the drop of his essence shimmering at the edge of Izdahl’s mouth.
“No, that’s enough for now,” Izdahl said.
“Should I be insulted?”
“Not at all. To be honest, I’m kind of tired.”
“Something you’re not telling me?” Armando asked.
“No, ‘Mando. Seriously.”
“All right. Let’s get some rest.”
They finished undressing and getting ready for bed. Armando crawled onto the large bed and spread his arms and legs. He laughed, when Izdahl playfully frowned at him.
“You can’t take the entire bed.” Izdahl slapped Armando’s thigh. “Move over.”
Armando slid to one side. “Come here, baby.”
Izdahl chuckled, as he fell into Armando’s arms.
Armando and Izdahl lay under the comfortably cool sheets. They looked up at the stars through the cabin’s circular skylight.
“I can’t get to sleep right now,” Armando said. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
Izdahl propped himself up on one elbow. “What is it, love?”
“Remember I told you I could see souls?”
“Yes, months after you gained the ability.”
“I’m sorry.” Armando avoided Izdahl’s eyes for a few moments. “We’re not going to argue about that again, are we?”
Izdahl flicked one of Armando’s nipples. “We didn’t really argue, when you first mentioned it.”
“Very well. Continue.”
“When I was at Dagmar’s tonight, I think I saw a soul. It wasn’t in the shape of an animal. Too small to be a child.”
“What was it doing?”
“It paced and tried to escape some kind of barrier.”
“Did Dagmar know you saw it?”
“I hope I wasn’t obvious about noticing. That soul felt strangely familiar. Every time I glanced in its direction, my heart started to hurt. It was a sharp, piercing pain.”
Even as he explained what he’d seen, Armando absentmindedly rubbed his chest. Izdahl clasped his lover’s hand, stopping the nervous motion that had left a reddened mark.
“Did you say anything to Dagmar?” Izdahl asked.
“No. I didn’t think it was wise.”
“I’m glad you kept calm. We’ll talk to Xersa, Sunja and my mother. Mother has experience with souls. Maybe she can show you how to manage that power. Ever since you told me what you could do, I’ve wanted you to see her. I just never could find the right way to ask. You can be so stubborn, when I need you to get help.”
“I know. I’ll do better.”
“Good. For now, let’s get some rest.”