Tezza Lavat’s Tech Emporium was Darion and Jarrick’s destination. Darion was impressed with the size of the establishment, which he hadn’t seen in years. It was the main store of a franchise that had begun spreading across the empire.
One had to have at least an hour available before entering the emporium, so intriguing were the items the business offered. Some of the products would even go a respectful distance up to a customer and introduce themselves. Many individuals had walked out with a charming, electronic friend.
Knowing Darion’s acute interest in technology, Jarrick teased, “Will you even have enough money left for lunch?”
“Of course. I’m not that ba—”
Darion didn’t finish his sentence, as he became distracted by holographic displays providing information on the merchandise. While he was deciding what to purchase, someone he knew quite well was heading towards him and Jarrick.
“I do not want you here.”
The tall, beautiful Tildari known as Tezza Lavat was aiming her intense gaze at Darion. Instead of being intimidated, Darion walked closer to her, giving her a seductive stare.
“Did you not hear me, Darion Navarr?” she demanded.
The volume of her voice and the name she mentioned caused numerous patrons to look in her direction. Some stared, curious about what was happening.
“Are you sure you want me to leave, my darling?” Darion questioned. He reached out to pull the one long braid that extended down to the tops of Tezza’s black boot-clad feet. She slapped his hand away.
“Yes, I’m sure, you ass,” she said, narrowing her brown eyes. “Do I need to put you in a headlock—like during our younger days?”
“I let you put me in a headlock. As I remember, you developed earlier than most girls.” Darion’s eyes strayed downwards. “And, from what I can see, those generous breasts of yours are still mesmerizing.”
“Oh, just shut up!” Tezza told him, laughing. It was an inviting, lush sound that never failed to charm those who heard it.
Darion breathed in her familiar light, flowery fragrance, when she hugged him tightly.
“It’s good to see you again, Tezz,” he murmured.
Jarrick rolled his eyes. It wasn’t the first time he’d watched them engage in this drama. Whenever they’d gone long periods without seeing each other, the two friends acted in the same fashion. Tezza would be “indignant” and Darion would play along, drawing her out of her “anger” in a salacious fashion.
“I’m sorry, Jarrick,” Tezza told him. “We keep subjecting you to our little show.”
“Don’t apologize to him,” Darion said. “He’s just jealous.”
“Should we make him more jealous?” Tezza asked in a smoky tone.
“What did you have in mind?” Darion queried.
“Actually, not a damn thing now,” Tezza replied, frowning at him. “I just remembered I am genuinely upset. You didn’t visit me earlier.”
“Hey, it’s unfair to say that to me,” the negotiator responded, looking wounded. “For the first week I was here, you weren’t even in the country.”
“True, I just returned from Mekria three days ago. Even so, I still have a reason to be angry with you. You shouldn’t have stayed away from Tildar for so many years.”
“I’m sorry. Others have scolded me about it.”
“You don’t understand the importance of keeping connected,” Tezza gently chided. “Video calls and emails can only do so much. You’re lucky I still care about you.”
“You visited me twice since I left,” Darion reminded her.
“That’s not the point! You should have been making an effort to see us.”
“Exactly! I tried to tell him how rude he’d been,” Jarrick added. “But you know how he is.”
“Yes, arrogant as ever,” Tezza stated. “But you’ve apparently forgiven him. What happened to all the ranting you did when he wasn’t here? It seems that the mere sight of him has you forgetting any outrage.”
“Be quiet, Tezz,” Jarrick grumbled. “Or, at least, discuss something else.”
“You’ve been talking about me, have you?” Darion asked, giving his ex a haughty smile.
“Stop looking to have Jarrick stroke your ego,” Tezza said. “Now…why didn’t you bring ‘him’?”
Tezza noted that Jarrick flinched. She knew that he hadn’t completely stopped having feelings for Darion. She wondered if Darion was juggling Jarrick and Tolrek—and how they felt about being juggled.
Darion saw a glint of naughtiness come into Tezza’s eyes. He slowly shook his head, hoping she would keep her perfect, full lips shut about the matter. He didn’t want her to create mischief, as she was more than capable of doing.
“Forget what you’re thinking and give me what I ordered,” Darion commanded.
“Very well, Mr. Navarr but I will pry later…Follow me.”
“I think I’ll stay here and pick out a few things,” Jarrick said.
“You do that—and don’t be cheap,” Tezza told him, making him laugh.
Leaving Jarrick to peruse the store, Tezza led Darion to her work area, going up five floors in an elevator. They passed through the security system, confirming their identities with the alphanumeric code they’d established earlier, their fingerprints, and full-body scans.
“Hello Tezza,” the system computer, Aria, greeted her creator.
“Welcome again, Darion Navarr,” the computer said. She stated in a matter-of-fact manner, “You have not been to this facility for 7.25 years. However, the awkwardness of your youth is also gone. You are more handsome than ever.”
“Why, thank you,” Darion replied, chuckling. He looked at Tezza, who grinned at him. “I see you gave Aria some upgrades. Nice choice of compliments.”
Like Darion’s Fei, Aria was highly advanced, having many of the mannerisms of a living entity. Tezza and Reya had collaborated on numerous occasions, exchanging ideas on how to engineer the most life-like systems.
While granting them access by opening metal doors, Aria asked, “Tezza, shall I have a bot bring two cold ulmi drinks? No ice for you, as usual, Darion?”
As they walked the short distance to the office, they both agreed to have the drink, a sweet beverage from the red ulmi fruit. It was one of the favorites of both Darion and Tezza.
The office where Tezza took Darion consisted of two spaces. One room, with a large oval table and numerous chairs, was for meeting with the most important clients. This area was where Tezza unveiled the high-end products they’d ordered.
The other larger location was where Tezza’s team planned the products, whether they were for mass production or specially commissioned. This second place of work where she led Darion could only be entered by those she trusted. Darion had been back to that area often but he always enjoyed looking around it. It was a privilege to go there, as it contained the spectacular results of many sessions of innovative thinking. There were various boards with drawings on them of technological concepts. Tezza and her team of seven core designers would send them to the nearby factory she owned, which would make them into reality.
“I love these,” Tezza said, placing the requested products on her wooden desk, proudly displaying them. “I know you’ll be pleased.”
Before leaving Vaironia, Darion had spoken with Reya about another security system for Tolrek. Reya had contacted Tezza, knowing that she excelled at making and acquiring exceptional technological items.
One of the products Tezza presented looked like a mere wristwatch. However, it was equipped with a camera that could view and analyze images up to 15 feet away. Everyone who came within that range of Tolrek would be scanned. The information would go to an accompanying device that she also now gave to Darion.
“Thank you,” Darion said, after she showed him how to work the objects. “I appreciate you putting these at the top of your list.”
“Not a problem. You know that I expect ‘unique payment,’ as I mentioned on the phone.”
“My body’s not for sale,” Darion replied, laughing.
“You flatter yourself,” she teasingly chided. “I want to meet Tolrek.”
“I’ll bring him by the next time I come to the capital. I promise. He’s not in the best mood right now.”
“And how did that happen?” Tezza asked, one delicate eyebrow raised.
“T, not now…” Darion murmured.
He and Tolrek had grown quite distant over the past two weeks. Unable to resolve their differences, they were now sleeping in separate rooms. Darion was unsure of how to bridge the distance and Tolrek gave no indication that he wanted to break the silence. He spent his time learning about Tildar, at least as much as he could, while remaining within the boundaries Darion had set.
The enjoyment Tolrek had been looking forward to having with Darion hadn’t come to fruition. Over the course of the time they’d been there, he’d occupied himself as best as he could, including going down to the private beach and walking on the sand or swimming.
On another day, he was yet again staring out over the water, wondering why Darion was so easily drifting away from him. He wasn’t permitted to brood long, as Najrina forced him out of his melancholy thoughts. She’d been romping and occasionally swimming in the waves, her mood decidedly different than Tolrek’s. Satisfied with the amount of early evening fun, she’d left the ocean, shaking and purposefully getting him wet.
“Come on, girl,” he said, laughing. “Behave.”
She nuzzled him and started heading back into the house. He followed her, knowing that Darion would return soon.
A short while later, the negotiator arrived home, feeling wary as he did lately. The security in and around the house was top of the line. Still, part of him felt that Tolrek could find a way to escape, if he wanted. The security devices in Tolrek’s blood should have been enough to reassure Darion. However, seeing Tolrek was what ultimately made him calm again.
“How was your day?” he asked, quietly.
“Fine,” Tolrek replied, his tone also subdued.
“Are you hungry?”
They could have more interesting conversations but this wouldn’t be one of those times. Darion hoped that over dinner, the news he had would cause Tolrek to be more open.
“Ashrom contacted me today,” he explained, while the two were eating. “He’s invited you to visit him.”
“You don’t sound happy about that,” Tolrek noted.
Darion, at first, hadn’t wanted to let Tolrek go. However, he realized it would be an affront to Ashrom and would create a larger rift between him and the rebel.
“It’s just that I never know what to expect from you,” he admitted. “And things are already strained.”
“Between you and Ashrom or between us?”
“Are you going to let me visit him?”
Before going to the capital to complete several tasks, Darion had taken Tolrek to Ashrom’s home. When he’d dropped him off, he’d felt lonely when the rebel had left the car. Tolrek hadn’t looked back. He also hadn’t responded when Darion had said goodbye.
Tolrek had been looking forward to the time he’d spend at Ashrom’s place. It was a welcomed change from being alone in the villa and having to find ways to occupy his time. There was only so much television watching, exercising, reading, and writing that he could do.
Ashrom was now giving him a tour of his property, showing Tolrek his two shikari, massive birds that he had personally raised. Ashrom used his fingers to send out a whistle, which rippled through the pleasant summer day, bringing the birds circling over them. They landed at Ashrom’s feet and eagerly but carefully took the treats he offered.
“Like the hettira, these represent the deepest spirit of the Tildari,” Ashrom explained, “Powerful. Intelligent. Incredibly patient.”
“They’re quite impressive,” Tolrek admitted. He watched as one of the three-foot tall shikari meticulously began to groom the green, blue and black feathers of the other.
“Thank you. I’ve raised this brother and sister pair from their birth. I was out hiking one day and encountered them. Their nest had been destroyed and their mother was killed—I’m not sure by what…These birds are astute and full of pride. They use their skills well. There’s nothing worse than misusing one’s abilities.”
“Do you think that’s what Darion is doing?” Tolrek gaze went directly to Ashrom.
“That’s quite a heavy question to ask, particularly since we haven’t spoken, since I first met you.”
“At the time, you displayed disdain for his choice. That removes the necessity for any preliminaries.”
Ashrom chuckled. “Then I will speak plainly. My brother’s actions in regard to you were shameful. I was so angry with him that we didn’t speak to each other for almost two years.”
“I think he’s benefiting from a dishonorable act on the part of the Vaironian government. With him being at the center of negotiating the deal, I was extremely upset. I believed it reflected badly upon our family. Many other Tildaris were upset about what happened.”
“Darion was assigned the case. He’s one of the best negotiators Vaironia has.”
“Darion asked for the case,” Ashrom replied. “There are other ways for him to use his talents.”
“Well, I can’t say I’m completely sorry about how things have turned out.”
“You are quite forgiving, Tolrek,” Ashrom noted.
“Maybe. I also know that the tides in Vaironia can be surprising.”
“What do you mean?”
“One wave can sweep me into this position, another can sweep me out.”
“That sounds passive. I wasn’t under the impression that you just ‘let’ things happen to you.”
“I don’t.” Tolrek said, as he fed the bird some treats. “However, I know how to exert energy at the right time. If a wave takes you where you want to be…”
“So you wanted to be with Darion?”
“Not at first. It took a while for me to admit it to myself. You know, I’m still wondering, in the end, who really won the negotiations…” Tolrek gave Ashrom a sly smile, making the official laugh.
“I sense that you have a greater aim. Just don’t hurt my brother in the process.”
“He means too much to me to do that,” Tolrek assured Ashrom. “And, that’s really what you wanted to know, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Ashrom admitted. “Even when Darion and I are at odds, I’m concerned for him.”
“I don’t have any siblings; I don’t have that kind of connection. The closest I’ve come to that sense of caring is in protecting the people I led. They would have kept on fighting; the sacrifice would have been too great.”
“For what it’s worth, I respect your decisions under such difficult circumstances.”
“Thank you. Besides, there are other ways to reach my ultimate goals.”
“And what are these ‘ultimate goals’ of yours?”
“Not even your brother could get those answers…”
“I see,” Ashrom replied, smiling.
“I should go,” Darion said. Despite this comment, he remained comfortably situated on a couch in Jarrick’s living room.
“It’s late,” Jarrick said, intently watching Darion from a nearby chair. “You could just let Tolrek know you’re staying here for the night. He’s well protected at the villa and he’s a big boy. He can occupy himself.”
“True, plus…” Darion stopped, deciding not to release the next words.
He actually wasn’t sure that Tolrek would care. He decided to find out. He gave the house computer the number to dial. Tolrek’s face soon appeared on the large multi-functional console across from the couch. Darion informed him that he would be at Jarrick’s place and waited for Tolrek’s reaction. Now standing behind Darion, Jarrick waved spitefully at the stoic rebel.
Tolrek merely nodded and ended the call. Darion stared at the console, the screen now blank. The indifference in the rebel’s eyes ground into him.
“He didn’t seem to be bothered,” Jarrick noted, further weaving dejection around Darion’s heart. “Hmmm, I wonder what he really does when you’re not at home.”
“He goes to the beach, he continues to build the models of the Krezka units…” Darion replied.
“How charming. You brought him all this way to work on his tan and make toys.”
“It’s not like that,” Darion responded weakly.
“I don’t know why you waste your time.” Jarrick began to massage Darion’s shoulders. “Couldn’t you do better for yourself, be with someone who actually misses you when you’re away?”
“I don’t like this side of you; don’t try to magnify doubts.”
“I can’t magnify what isn’t there.” A smug smile crossed Jarrick’s face.
“Maybe I’ll go home,” Darion said, moving out of Jarrick’s reach.
“Of course, if you feel the need to run to him. However, I was under the impression that he was the Pet.”
“Jarrick…” There was a warning in Darion’s tone.
“Relax. Can’t I have a bit of fun?”
“Not at my expense.” Darion reclined again on the couch.
“Are you really staying?”
“Yes. Make me dinner. And then, we’ll see what develops.”
“Are you offering something?”
“My company is more than enough,” Darion stated, chuckling.
Jarrick sighed. He decided not to push for more at this time. Just having Darion stay the night would suffice for now.
Early the next morning, Jarrick awoke, remembering that Darion was in a nearby room. He couldn’t resist and quickly made his way to the negotiator. Darion was relaxing, his handsome face serene. However, it wasn’t his face that Jarrick focused on for long. Darion was lying on his stomach and his perfectly rounded buttocks were exposed, as he’d kicked off the sheets during the night. A few rays from the sun were shining on his body, highlighting his physique, and caressing the muscles that could easily move with grace and purpose. Jarrick took a deep breath, the appeal too much. He moved steadily towards his prize, anticipating the pleasure he’d feel upon getting his reward. He slid in beside Darion, his naked body eager for the warmth of his ex-lover.
“What are you doing?” Darion asked, his question clouded by sleep.
“Just getting a taste of old times.” Jarrick slowly trailed his hands across Darion’s back. “I’ve always liked your markings.”
When one hand ventured to do more exploring, the negotiator wrapped his arms around Jarrick. Instead of the embrace being followed by much more, Jarrick suddenly found himself pressed under Darion, who was frowning at him.
“I do care for you, Jarrick, but we’ll never return to being lovers,” Darion began. “And, if you had been the one to move on, I would never try to ruin your relationship. We can’t take this any further.”
Jarrick cursed, hearing the resolve in Darion’s voice. There was no longer a trace of the doubt from previous conversations.
“What happened?” Jarrick asked. “We were growing closer…”
“It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep can do.”
With that, Darion moved away from him. He began to dress.
“You won’t even stay for breakfast?” Jarrick murmured.
Jarrick stood to face him and began helping him to button his shirt. Darion tenderly stroked his jaw and pressed his forehead against his ex-lover’s. Jarrick released a shuddering breath and put his hands against Darion’s chest.
“Have you been waiting all these years for me?” Darion asked. He sighed when Jarrick flinched.
“I’ve tried with others but it never worked,” Jarrick admitted.
“Then keep trying.” Darion gave him a teasing smile. “You are a great partner—for someone who wants to remain on Tildar.”
Jarrick laughed and lightly cuffed him on his head.
“You should go, Darion.” Jarrick told him. “Please.”
“I will and again, I’m sorry.”
Darion arrived at the villa and called out for Tolrek. When he didn’t answer, Darion accessed a nearby console to find out exactly where he was on the property.
The locator program showed that Tolrek was at the beach. Darion at first thought that he’d join Tolrek but decided to wait. He wanted to think about what he would say. As he collected his thoughts, he made himself breakfast. When he believed he was ready, he went to find Tolrek.
Though Tolrek heard Darion’s presence, he didn’t acknowledge him. Instead, the rebel was drawing a detailed design of his battle unit.
“I was wondering if you’d like to go to the capital tomorrow,” Darion began. “I have someone I want you to meet. Her name is Tezza Lavat. She’s excellent with technology, like Reya—and about as obnoxious. Anyway, I think you’d enjoy going to her place, the Tech Emporium…”
Darion stopped talking. Tolrek still hadn’t bothered to look at him. The rebel just continued to draw his battle unit. Finally, Darion returned to the house.
Later that night, Darion left his bedroom and went to the one Tolrek now occupied. Tolrek didn’t recognize his presence and instead remained resting on his side, his back to the negotiator. Darion, though feeling slightly disheartened, began speaking quietly, looking at the floor.
“Tolrek, you have every right to be angry. But I ask you to please understand how hard this is for me. Jarrick and I have such a long history. I didn’t think that returning here would stir up feelings; that was incredibly naïve of me. Regardless, you mean so much to me. I know I haven’t shown that to you lately. Things quickly got out of hand. I’m sorry that I stumbled, while I figured out all of this.”
Darion sighed, glad to get those things out, even if Tolrek hadn’t said anything. But he hoped that the rebel had at least listened.
Early the next morning, Darion went to Tolrek again. This time, Tolrek let him enter the bed.
“I’m sorry, Tol,” Darion murmured. He rested his face against Tolrek’s neck, taking in his rich, familiar scent. “I’ve been stupid.”
“Yes, you have.”
“I did not sleep with Jarrick,” Darion said, looking him in his eyes. “I haven’t been a complete idiot. I need you to believe that.”
“I do. And, I’m going to forgive your foolishness. Lucky for you, I usually don’t hold a grudge.”
“Yes. When you make a huge mistake, I’ll definitely let you know.”
“That’s hardly reassuring,” Darion muttered.
“Don’t be petulant,” Tolrek replied, chuckling. “Now, since you no doubt feel remorseful, you must atone.”
Darion grinned salaciously, imagining the pleasure from making amends.
“Wait a minute; don’t assume sex will cover it. I meant that you can let me go to the Neilou Bazaar.”
“Absolutely not,” Darion responded quickly. “That’s too much exposure for you.”
“We’ll see,” Tolrek said, pulling Darion into his arms. “I have ways of convincing you.”