Darion was heading out to his car to go to Jarrick’s home, when the phone rang. Tolrek answered and was tempted to hang up after Jarrick identified himself. The rebel reluctantly let Darion know that the call was for him.
“I’d forgotten how far away you were from the capital,” Jarrick told the negotiator. “And since I’m the one who wanted this conversation, I’ll come to your place, providing that you don’t mind.”
“I don’t,” Darion replied, even as Tolrek’s eyes drilled into him. “I’ll see you soon.”
After ending the call, Darion explained to Tolrek about the change in situation and asked for his understanding.
“I think it’s best if I’m not in the house while he’s here,” Tolrek stated. “I’ll spend some time outside. Naj and I will walk around the grounds.”
“Go a little farther; the beach looks great at night too. I’ll call you when Jarrick leaves.”
“Maybe I’ll sleep outside, like a good pet,” Tolrek grumbled. “Got any treats?”
“You know what, I’ll just leave now. I need some time to clear my head. Enjoy your damn talk.”
Even while he waited for Jarrick, Darion wondered if he had made a wise decision. A few minutes into the conversation with his ex-lover, he was regretting the choice he had made.
Jarrick was standing across from him in the living room, eyeing him accusingly. The negotiator sighed heavily. He’d known that, eventually, Jarrick would release his frustration.
“It is difficult to see you with him,” Jarrick bit out. “Both of you piss me off.”
“I understand. That’s why I’m trying to reduce the tension.”
“Well, it’s not going to be easy.”
“I didn’t think it would. Please, Jarri, I—”
“Only my lover gets to use that nickname.”
“And when’s the last time someone called you that?”
“None of your business, Darion. Just remember that you no longer have the privilege. You should have never had it in the first place.”
“You don’t really mean that,” Darion said, quietly. “It’s your fury speaking.”
“Call it whatever you want.”
“There are many things we should discuss. However, you’re quite angry.”
“And why wouldn’t I be? You left for seven years!”
“Jarrick, I wanted you to go with me!” Darion shouted, his patience fading. “I begged you!”
Darion had pleaded with Jarrick to go to Vaironia with him. There had been many conversations, lasting late into the night. They had spoken about the possibilities in another country, on another planet. Darion’s enthusiasm for a change had always been greater than his ex-lover’s. Jarrick had pointed out that Darion’s mother was Vaironian and so he was already quite comfortable with the culture.
In the end, Jarrick had stayed in Tildar. They had both repeatedly proven themselves in their chosen fields. Yet, their success was not enough to satisfy them. When they were each alone, they thought of the love they’d had. The two had tried to bridge the distance but their conversations had become infrequent, until they had stopped talking all together. Occasionally, Darion wondered if he should contact Jarrick. And then, he was given the assignment of negotiating with Tolrek.
News of Darion’s most challenging case, and the progress he was making with it, had come to Jarrick. He began to sense that Tolrek had drawn Darion’s attention in more than one way. That was confirmed when Tolrek had become Darion’s Pet.
The Tildari had tried to console himself with the thought that those who had Pets didn’t necessarily become serious about them. It happened but it was rare, relationships such as those often being void of much substance. And yet, the longer Tolrek remained with Darion, the more Jarrick became concerned. Now, whenever he saw the interaction between Darion and Tolrek, he couldn’t run from the thought that “Pet” was merely a term of convenience for the two. Jarrick was faced with his regret but tried to hide it, repeatedly asserting that leaving Tildar would not have been beneficial.
“And what would I have done on Vaironia?” Jarrick demanded. “I would have been under restrictions, as you are when you’re there. I’d have to agree not to use my full power because of their irrational fears that—”
“You could have come if you wanted to be with me!” Darion cut him off. “You made your decision and I made mine. Now I have someone who would be with me under any circumstances.”
“You sound so serious about him but he’s irrelevant, compared to Tildari. Vaironians are so—”
Darion closed the distance between him and Jarrick, reminding the Tildari of the differences in their height, in their strength. He could understand Jarrick’s frustration. He was, however, unwilling to let his angry ex-lover insult his family.
“Darion, I meant no offense. I know your mother’s Vaironian. I only—”
“The meaning of your words is clear. It’s best that you forget what we had and what we could have been.”
“You would speak to me in such a cold tone,” Jarrick stated, bristling. “You were the one who left things unfinished. And now I just bring it up—”
“But you did not just bring it up, as you claim. You started out with a backhanded swipe at my choice in a mate.”
“Your mate, is he?”
“Yes and you are to treat him accordingly.”
Darion sighed and pulled Jarrick to him, undone by the pain that suddenly appeared in the eyes of his first love.
“This isn’t how I wanted things,” he murmured, holding Jarrick tightly.
“D, you shouldn’t have returned,” Jarrick said, his voice breaking. “It’s unbearable.”
Darion put some distance between them, placing both of his hands firmly on Jarrick’s shoulders. He looked him directly in his eyes.
“I never set out to hurt you. Please don’t think badly of me.”
“Why did Jarrick want to talk to you?”
It was the first thing Tolrek said to Darion, upon returning to the house. He’d found Darion in the study, sitting in an armchair and calmly sipping a glass of wine. The expression on the negotiator’s face was so despondent that Najrina had immediately gone to him, trying to lighten his mood. He’d stroked her fur absentmindedly.
“No reason,” Darion replied.
Again, he thought of portions of his conversation with Jarrick; the sadness in his ex-lover’s eyes had stayed with him. He was trying to arrange his thoughts in a manner that made sense. He hadn’t expected to feel this level of confusion.
Tolrek leaned against the door of the study, watching Darion even more intently. Unable to withstand the scrutiny, the negotiator avoided the rebel’s eyes.
“Are you going to sleep with him?” Tolrek asked, pointedly.
“You said we left Vaironia to get away from the dangers. Maybe we’ve encountered different threats here.”
“With Jarrick?” Darion sounded doubtful about the validity of Tolrek’s suggestion. Yet, a small part of him also realized it wasn’t completely dubious; his confusion grew.
“D, were you his top or his bottom?”
“Tolrek…” Darion wanted to retreat from the conversation; the negotiator felt reluctant to examine the reasons for his uncertainty.
“Don’t you think you should be candid with me?” Tolrek asked. “You’ve brought me into a situation where someone seriously dislikes me. I have enough concerns on Vaironia. Just because I’m not always vocal when something bothers me doesn’t mean I’m unaffected. It’s difficult enough being classified as your Pet, Darion. Now answer the damn question. Who was the ‘top’?”
“Something like that is insignificant.”
“Then, would you be my ‘bottom’?”
“No.” The response was immediate.
“So much for reciprocity,” Tolrek said, laughing.
“If there’s going to be a hierarchy, I’ll establish it.”
“We’ll have to revisit that subject. Right now, there’s one main question I want answered. Does Jarrick feel that you abandoned him, since you went to Vaironia?”
“I didn’t abandon anyone!” Darion shouted. “We discussed the issue—repeatedly—and he wouldn’t leave Tildar. I saw some excellent opportunities and I took chances.”
“That means you two still have unfinished business.”
“Yes; seeing me again has reopened up feelings for him.”
“And for you?”
“Stop asking me that. I’m with you now. That’s all that’s important.”
Tolrek bit down on his jaw, frustration now beginning to overtake him.
“Darion, I deserve a better answer.”
“Some feelings have stirred in me,” Darion admitted. “They’re not enough for
me to act upon because I want to be with you.”
“Your words are hardly reassuring. They sound empty.”
Tolrek left Darion in the study where the negotiator stayed for several more
hours, brooding late into the night.
“On your thigh or on your ass? You choose.”
“Why can’t it be elsewhere?” Darion asked Jarrick.
“Because those are two of my favorite places on you.”
Darion laughed at the answer.
He’d been practicing combat with Jarrick in a 10-foot-by-10-foot square, which was located in one section of the villa’s courtyard. The two had engaged in many battles in the square. During their childhood, they had spent numerous hours playing in the courtyard. When they were old enough to use weapons, they had received lessons in the same area. And, as had happened at times, Jarrick had won several rounds of fighting.
Since Jarrick had been able to land a blow three times in one session, Darion had to pay a penalty. He would receive a strike with a crop on one of two areas, with Jarrick giving the options.
“On my thigh,” Darion told him. “Don’t be too vicious. I know how you are when we play this game.”
“You haven’t forgotten all of those times?” Jarrick asked. There was a note of hopeful happiness in his voice.
“No,” Darion murmured.
As children, the two had played “Strikes,” a simple competition where opponents dueled with wooden swords for three minutes at a time. One competitor had to defend, while the other attacked. If the attacker could land three strikes within that period, he/she could choose the penalty.
In their boyhood, the penalty had been to buy each other candy or some other small, innocent act. However, as the two grew into men and became lovers, they exacted sexually charged rewards. Jarrick, in particular, had become partial to playing the game in the nude and then using a riding crop to claim his prize. While he and Darion no longer played the game exactly as they had, this present session was more than enough to please both of them.
Jarrick’s choice of punishing implement had remained the same but his hand had become much stronger.
“Damn it, Jarri!” Darion shouted. As he rubbed his stinging left thigh, he eagerly planned his revenge.
His ex-lover chuckled, not at all minding that Darion, though clearly annoyed, had used his nickname.
“It’s your turn to seek your revenge,” Jarrick said. “I would hope that you can manage, though being away on Vaironia might have made you useless.”
“Is that right? Well, I’ll show you.”
“Wait. Before we start again, I wanted to say that I’m sorry about the way I acted.”
“You mean the last time we spoke?”
“I know this is difficult for you. So, if you happen to become angry with me again, I’ll give you the leeway you need. I have only one favor to ask of you Jarrick.”
“What is that?”
“Please don’t fight with Tolrek.”
“I’ll do my best to avoid him, Darion, but you must know that he can be infuriating.”
“Yes,” Darion admitted, laughing softly. “Even so…”
“I understand and you’ll have to help me vent.”
“Sure but don’t think that means you’ll always win,” Darion said. He raised his sword and pointed it dramatically at Jarrick. “Prepare yourself, miscreant.”
Jarrick laughed and adopted a defensive stanch. It didn’t prevent him from easily being bested by Darion. He soon found his sword flying out of his hand. Adding to the defeat, Darion tripped him as he scrambled to get his weapon.
Jarrick stumbled and Darion grinned, taking the opportunity to pin him.
“Even after all of these years, you keep on winning,” Jarrick said.
“You know that you enjoy it,” Darion murmured.
He marveled at how easily he fell back into the teasing, intimate tone with Jarrick. Then again, it wasn’t surprising. They’d had fulfilling years together. Despite their differing opinions about remaining on Tildar, the chemistry was still there.
Realizing that Jarrick was searching his face, seeking to understand more of what was going on in his mind, Darion turned away.
“It’s a little unbecoming of us to be lying in the dirt like this,” he joked.
“Would you prefer elsewhere?” Jarrick quipped.
“Hmm, now you are behaving dangerously.”
“I do apologize.”
Darion got up off Jarrick, the heat of his ex-lover still resonating on his body.
“Let’s have a few more rounds,” Darion said, as he reached out his hand to help Jarrick stand.
After another half hour of sparring, the two sat on a bench, breathing heavily.
“It’s almost like when we were going through the Academy,” Darion said.
“We would fight continuously on the training field.” Jarrick shared his flask of water with Darion, who drank deeply.
“And then we would have sex.”
“On the training field?” Jarrick teased. “I don’t remember that.”
“No, in my room or your room!” Darion playfully flicked some water at him. “It took forever for us to finally sleep together. I remember, afterwards, that I asked you why.”
“And I said it was because we knew we’d drive each other crazy, eventually.”
“Maybe you were right.”
Jarrick let out a long sigh. “But what we had was great, Darion.”
“Yes, it was. But I’m happy with Tolrek now.”
“Is that why you’re here with me, so early in the morning?” Jarrick countered. “You’re sweaty, wearing nothing but thin, linen pants, with your cock already hard…Or didn’t you notice any of that?”
“I‘m conflicted. Don’t take advantage.”
“I can’t make you do anything you don’t want. That’s always been the case.”
Tolrek reached out for Darion, as was his habit upon awakening. The negotiator was not by him. He opened his eyes, feeling Darion’s side of the bed. The negotiator had been gone for a while, as there was no warmth from that part of the sheets.
“Have you seen D?” Tolrek asked his pet, half-expecting an answer. Naj merely yawned and shifted her position at the foot of the bed, preparing to continue with her slumber.
Tolrek looked at the clock. It was 7:30 in the morning. He wondered if he should return to sleep but then opted to get out of bed. He considered that, at times, he might be acting too leisurely.
He made his way to the kitchen, as he felt thirsty. The desire to quench his thirst was soon forgotten. He watched Darion and Jarrick converse, seeing them laugh with each other. It looked like nothing could intrude upon their private world.
Various scenarios of what he wanted to do rippled through his head. He could ultimately rush out to where Darion and Jarrick were. However, he didn’t want to give Jarrick that satisfaction.
Najrina bumped hard against his leg, bringing him out of the haze of anger.
“What is it?” he asked, his voice a bit sharp. His pet looked at him reproachfully and walked away, snapping her tail against his bare leg.
“Sorry,” he said, chuckling. “You must be hungry.”
He decided to tend to her needs and later address what he had seen.
“What is it?” Darion asked. “What’s wrong?”
Tolrek had been relaxing in the bath. Darion had approached him, wanting a repeat of their first time in the bath hall. The rebel had quickly left the pool, brushing past the negotiator, stifling Darion’s attempt to have sex.
“Why would anything be wrong?” Tolrek replied nonchalantly.
“You’ve been avoiding my touch,” Darion said, watching the rebel dry off his enticing body. “I don’t know how to reach you, Tolrek.”
The two usually had sex several times a week, sometimes twice a day. However, during the past few days, Tolrek had been quite distant.
“I saw you with Jarrick,” the rebel admitted.
He threw aside the towel and faced Darion, the annoyance he’d been keeping inside slowly making its way to the surface.
“Why didn’t you come out to the courtyard?” Darion asked.
“I would have been interrupting something quite private.”
“It wasn’t how you think. We did reminisce but we have an understanding.”
“So you say.” Tolrek moved further away from Darion, who’d one again reached out for him. “Maybe you should screw Jarrick just one last time; get it out of your system. Then again, that might backfire…” Tolrek shook his head, feeling foolish for discussing the topic. He disliked how, lately, his usual confidence disappeared so easily when dealing with Darion. “Who am I kidding? You’ll do whatever the fuck you want.”
“Listen to what I’m actually saying,” Darion pleaded. “I feel like you’re blaming me for something that hasn’t happened.”
“But it could! I see how he looks at you. I see how you look at him. I know where this will naturally lead.”
“You believe I’ll go back to him; you think I’d easily cast you aside. You’re getting caught up in the status of being a Pet.”
“That’s how I’ve been labeled for almost two years. If I’m not your Pet, then just take off this collar.”
“I can’t do that. It’s for your protec—”
“Bullshit! It’s for your protection. If you end up sleeping with Jarrick, you can say it’s your right and you’re not in a relationship with anyone—that all you have is a Pet. As long as this collar is on me, as long as I’m Pet A-21, you can keep both Jarrick and I uncertain. It’s one thing to lie to yourself and another to lie to me.”
Tolrek turned and walked away, leaving Darion alone and naked in the bath hall.