Darion was watching Tolrek sleep. The rebel’s brow was calm, unmarred by any concerns. Some of the negotiator’s happiest moments involved seeing the rebel rest. It was hard for Darion to believe that Tolrek could have such a peaceful expression with so turbulent a soul.
Sometimes Darion wondered how they’d managed to cobble together a relationship with all the forces surrounding them, with all the forces inside them. But there would soon be changes. The things Darion was learning about Tolrek made him certain of it. Those who wanted Tolrek were closing in, gaining more of a foothold. Beilon could only do so much to keep away the ones on Vaironia. Now, there was pressure from other areas. Coming to Tildar had only stalled the progress of some factions and given others time to regroup. However, Darion had used that time too. On the days when he’d left Tolrek, he’d gathered information, collecting strands of news to better understand the obstacles. He had some difficult realities to face but, for the moment, he could pretend that things were stable.
He reached out to move a strand of hair off Tolrek’s face. The rebel suddenly reacted and straddled him.
“Two unbearable days have passed already!” Tolrek shouted at the negotiator. “Give me the fucking antidote!”
Tolrek had his hands around Darion’s throat but there was no real aggression behind his action. The negotiator simply pitched the rebel off him. Darion used more strength than he’d anticipated. Tolrek tumbled off the bed, almost hitting his head against a nightstand, and Darion only laughed.
“I told you, I didn’t poison you,” he said. “The effects of the juice will only last for another day anyway, if I calculated correctly.”
“What do you mean by ‘if’?” Tolrek jumped on him again, now intending to leave a bruise or two. Darion easily turned over and pressed Tolrek under him.
“I’ll inject a concentrated mixture directly into your veins,” Darion threatened. “Is that what you want?”
“No, you evil bastard.”
“I love you too.” Darion nuzzled the rebel’s ear mischievously. “Though you didn’t come, you rested quite well. Apparently, falling asleep with my cock inside you is enough pleasure.”
Tolrek let out a sigh, admitting defeat, at least until he could devise better tactics. The lack of orgasms was scrambling his ability to strategize.
The playful mood disappeared when Darion suddenly noticed where his right hand was and he quickly pulled it away. He’d been touching the scar on Tolrek’s left forearm. Images of Tolrek injuring himself when he’d learned about the video flooded Darion’s mind.
“What?” Tolrek asked.
“I wish you’d healed like I told you.” A tone of regret filled Darion’s voice.
To prevent scarring, a person had to use a QikMed within a day after being injured. Tolrek had been stubborn, holding out for several days before allowing himself to be properly treated. The jagged result of his refusal was now evident.
“I want you to always remember,” Tolrek told Darion. “Some things you can’t make disappear, D.”
Darion rolled off him and stared up at the ceiling, now feeling melancholy. He didn’t know why but it was particularly bothersome to see the scar today. Perhaps he felt that way because he was anticipating the challenges ahead. Tolrek’s scar reminded him of a particularly trying period when the rebel had ignored his existence.
Tolrek propped himself up on an elbow and stroked Darion’s face. The rebel was certain there was much the negotiator was keeping to himself. Over the past few days, even with Darion’s efforts to be lighthearted, Tolrek could sense the heavy undertone to his actions. Curious, the rebel started to dig again for the answers.
“If I confess something, will you do the same?” Tolrek asked.
“What do you mean?” Darion looked warily at him. It was becoming more difficult not to tell what he knew, when faced with his lover’s penetrating gaze.
“I’ve known about you for such a long time. When I was at the Academy, you were often the topic of conversation. So many people wanted to get close to you and I was no different. Sometimes, I saw you on television. You were usually with Beilon Warel. And I wondered if he was…more than a mentor to you.”
Darion stared at Tolrek, wondering if he was serious. When Tolrek assured him that he was, the negotiator shook his head and laughed.
“Do you think I fucked my way up the chain of command?”
“No.” Tolrek continued. “But I was jealous. Your relationship was unclear.”
“Only in your mind.”
Annoyance crossed Darion’s face. He’d had to deal with various individuals trying to undermine his authority, believing that he’d been given special favors.
Some people assumed that he’d reached his station in life because his parents had political connections. Others, disliking him for being part Tildari and part Vaironian, tried to minimize his influence as much as possible. However, Beilon, seeing Darion’s potential, had offered unwavering support. There had been many times Darion had gone to him. In Beilon’s home or office, the two had spoken late into the night about the future Darion saw for Vaironia.
The negotiator believed that the country should have a larger role on the world stage. It could also make strong ties with nations on other planets. Beilon had assured him that any impact Darion could have would only occur after he had repeatedly proven himself. And so he’d listened. He’d continuously volunteered for projects that could have ended his career, had things gone awry. And, other than quickly and infrequently visiting the Vaironian coast, he’d hardly ever enjoyed a retreat.
The trip to Tildar was the first one resembling a real vacation he’d had in over five years. In truth, it wasn’t even a vacation. It was a combination of keeping Tolrek off Vaironian and privately procuring some of Tildar’s most advanced weapons.
Attaining success hadn’t been easy for Darion but he’d prevailed. His accomplishments had earned him some supporters but he’d also become surrounded by crafty enemies. Every step of the way, he’d had to be mindful of his actions. Given that reality, he didn’t want to hear anyone imply that his path had been smooth. It was especially annoying coming from his lover, who’d also proven to be Darion’s greatest challenge.
“D, I’m sure you’ve earned what you have,” Tolrek soothed him with a gentle kiss. “Please, just listen. For years, I would think about you. Even when I began the rebellion, I was wondering if the government would ultimately send you to negotiate with me. It’s not that I started the conflict to be near you. There would have been simpler ways to get your attention. However, once I set things in motion, I broke the other negotiators to have you come to me.”
Darion’s interest was further piqued. He thought of the first time he’d sat across from Tolrek. It had been difficult to read the rebel’s expression. He’d been eager to get past that cool exterior. There had been no indication that Tolrek felt any stress about his situation. The intelligent resolve on the rebel’s face had made Darion hunger to hinder Tolrek in as many ways as possible. To now hear the inner workings of Tolrek at that time was proving to be incredibly satisfying.
“Really?” Darion looked at Tolrek expectantly. “Go on…”
“I use to fantasize about you, especially at night. I imagined the things we’d—”
“Wait.” Darion forced himself to restrain his ego, not wanting Tolrek’s words to cause him to forget the larger picture. “Why are you telling me all of this? It’s not that I don’t want to hear it but are you up to something, again?”
“You know I don’t talk much about my life before coming to live with you. Consider it my way of making amends for the fight.”
“Oh, it’s going to take much more than that,” Darion assured him. He disengaged himself from Tolrek, pulling away from the rebel’s warmth. He now stood looking down at the rebel, his arms crossed. “You were brawling in public; assaulting a Tildari official. Your actions reflected negatively on me and—”
“I get it! I really do and—”
“It’s your turn to listen! None of that really means anything when I…when I think about what could have happened to you. I was so worried, Tol. I know what damage Jarrick can do and that’s when he’s not serious. Have you even thought about how out-of-control you were?”
Tolrek stood and faced Darion.
“Don’t you realize I thought you’d been hurt?” Tolrek asked, beseechingly. “Being angry at the person who injured you was a natural reaction.”
“What you showed was not merely anger!”
“Alright, it was rage.” Tolrek admitted, shrugging nonchalantly. “So.”
“What do you mean by ‘so’?” Darion exploded. “Don’t you wonder about how much you hurt Jarrick? You know how skilled he is.”
“And I’m skilled too.”
“That isn’t all, Tolrek. I found out that—”
Darion clenched his fists, restraining himself. He wanted to tell Tolrek what he knew. But, he couldn’t find the right words. And, he thought that saying it all aloud might make it too real for him. He closed his eyes, wishing away the waves of doubt and confusion that were washing over him.
Tolrek watched the negotiator’s struggle, trying to determine how much more he should press. He decided to leave the issue alone for the moment. Ultimately, he preferred for Darion to tell him of his own accord. He would wait a while longer before he demanded a full explanation. For the time being, he took Darion’s face in his hands and kissed him. Darion sighed, glad for the chance to put his concerns aside. Temporarily quieting the negotiator’s angst, Tolrek made love with him, ignoring the fact that most of the pleasure would go to Darion.
Darion had made five attempts at seeing Jarrick. The Tildari official had refused to meet with him, partly out of anger but also partly out of shame. The previous day, Jarrick had finally agreed to speak to Darion. The two had decided to have a discussion at Tezza’s emporium, their mutual friend’s office serving as a neutral territory. Tezza had worked to get the two together, repeatedly mentioning the need to resolve their issue. She could see they still mattered to each other, even if they could no longer be lovers.
Now, on the day for the discussion, face-to-face with Jarrick, Darion had only managed to fiddle with his drink and stare at his ex-lover. Jarrick was growing impatient, his eyes frequently darting towards the door, as his brow furrowed.
“You’re the one who kept asking me to speak with you,” Jarrick told Darion. “Talk or I’ll leave.”
“Actually, I don’t even know what to say,” Darion murmured.
On the drive to Tezza’s place, Darion had planned the things he would say. He’d sounded convincing and honest in the car, as he spoke his thoughts aloud. Now, none of them were coming out, as he viewed the wounded expression in Jarrick’s eyes.
“You really should have just stayed out of this country,” Jarrick told him.
“I didn’t come back here to hurt you. You know that. Besides, you can’t act as if you aren’t partially responsible for what happened.”
“Yes. I do admit that things escalated to an unacceptable level.”
Darion was silent again, the main question he wanted to ask pressing on his mind.
“Come on Darion, don’t waste my damn time,” Jarrick grumbled. “Obviously you have more you want to discuss. Just get to it.”
“Give me a moment. You like to rush things; you push at the wrong times.”
“Is that why you ran off to Vaironia? You couldn’t handle what I wanted?”
“I’m tired of explaining why I left. You know the reasons as well as I do. Besides, our relationship wasn’t going anywhere. We were basically finished.”
“The hell we were!” Jarrick shouted, getting up out of his seat. He planted his hands on the table and leaned forward, commanding Darion’s attention. “The moment you cast your eyes towards your mother’s homeland, you were determined to throw away what we had. You didn’t want to stay on Tildar because you were in Ashrom’s shadow. You’ve never been able to be better than him. That has always eaten at you. Admit it, Darion!”
Jarrick’s words hit at Darion’s core. The negotiator took a deep breath, his anger quickly threatening to overflow. He’d been pulled into another circular argument with Jarrick. He needed to put a stop to it and get to his main reason for wanting to speak to his ex-lover.
“Were you fighting Tolrek at your full capacity?” Darion asked, abruptly changing topics.
Jarrick sat down again and studied him for a few moments, unsure about what path Darion was trying to take.
“No,” Jarrick finally answered. “I was only using 90% but I felt like I needed more power towards the end. I tried to do that but your fuck-toy was too deep in berserk mode. I couldn’t respond effectively.”
Darion elected to ignore the verbal jab at Tolrek and stayed on task.
“That’s quite a bit of power, even for Tolrek.”
“True.” For the first time, Jarrick voiced the question that had been on his mind ever since the fight. “Are you sure he’s Vaironian?”
“Yes,” Darion responded quickly. “What else could he possibly be?”
Narrowing his eyes, Jarrick appraised the expression on his ex-lover’s face.
“D, you suspect something, don’t you?”
“I…Just please don’t fight with him again.”
“Why won’t you tell me? Don’t you think I deserve to know? It’s quite a blow to my pride.”
“Oh come on now; you’re exaggerating,” Darion remarked, looking at Jarrick sardonically. He knew him well enough to understand when he was being dramatic.
“How can you just brush my comment aside like that? Even now, you’re disrespecting me. You have him working for Tezza, earning money, giving him all of these liberties.”
“Right now, the Emporium is one of the safest places for him.”
The cameras in Tezza’s business had no blind spots. The level of effort she and her staff expended to offer the multitude of services and items were well-protected. Her record for being supremely attentive to security was the centerpiece of why Darion was comfortable letting Tolrek work at the Emporium. It served as a much-needed outlet for Tolrek and as a second haven for him away for their home on Tildar.
Jarrick wanted to erase the look of assurance on Darion’s face. He wished that Darion only cared about Tolrek because the rebel was property of the Vaironian government. Instead, the concern was clearly not driven by professional duty.
“He’s won’t be so safe when I reach out and snap his neck.”
“You, Hazin, will never touch him again.”
Darion’s words were the calmest he had spoken during the entire conversation. And yet, Jarrick heard the force, especially since Darion had used his middle name. When they had been a couple, Darion had let his strongest displeasure with Jarrick be known in this manner.
In Tildari culture, lovers often spoke each other’s middle names during intense moments of pleasure. It had been the same between Darion and Jarrick. It was times like those that Jarrick now thought of and the memories drove into his heart. Darion had known that would happen. He had not forgotten that Jarrick’s strongest releases occurred when his middle name was called with loving fervor.
Jarrick swallowed his pain, momentarily undone by Darion’s callous action. Darion looked at him with one eyebrow raised, daring him to issue a challenge. When Jarrick did not make a comment, Darion continued.
“The esteem of you and Tolrek has risen. We both know how our culture values fighting prowess.”
“Regardless, I was badly beaten that day,” Jarrick reminded Darion. “I think you owe me an explanation about Tolrek.”
“I don’t know everything about Tolrek,” Darion told him.
“Then why are you sharing a bed with him?” Jarrick demanded.
“Because he matters to me! I’ve never felt this way about anyone else.”
Jarrick laughed in disgust, wondering why he had agreed to have this conversation. It was only serving to exacerbate his pain.
“You’re such a fool,” Jarrick said. “I had to spend an entire day in the most advanced QikMed our military has.”
Darion had heard the various stories about his recovery. However, those rumors had not been confirmed until a few moments ago.
“The internal damage he inflicted was much worse than what he did externally,” Jarrick continued. The volume of his voice rose as the images of his fight with Tolrek replayed in his head. “Someone who wasn’t Tildari would likely have died from what I sustained. Do you understand what that means?”
Darion did comprehend the depth of what Jarrick had said. He was just not at liberty to share the information. He couldn’t even tell Tolrek about his origins.
“If your ‘love’ is as great as you say it is, imagine when it becomes hatred,” Jarrick said. “Imagine when Tolrek turns on you.”
“He would not do that.”
“You’d better hope you’re right.”
“When we return to Vaironia, I want to take you to the coast,” Darion said, “I have another home in Yalna and I want to be there with you.”
The two were having a quiet dinner, many things unsaid between them. Darion was eager to get back to the moments of ease they’d had. He was expecting agreement from Tolrek. When the expression on the rebel’s face turned to one of annoyance, it surprised him.
“You’re such a dreamer,” Tolrek said. He wiped his mouth and pushed away his food. “You had to bring me here just to protect me. I doubt everything is resolved. And yet, here you are making plans for some kind of ‘romantic’ future.”
“Why won’t you tell me everything you know? Who else is after me? It’s already clear that it’s not only Meric. He has never liked me.”
“Calm down, Tolrek. We don’t need to speak of him. I can see that you’re already getting agitated.”
“I’m that way because you keep hiding things from me. Who are you talking to when you’re away from me? What is Tezza doing for you?”
“You’re so curious tonight,” Darion tried to tease. The lighthearted tone he took failed to have its desired effect. Tolrek’s eyes were piercing him and he knew that the rebel would not leave the topic alone. Even if Tolrek put it aside for a day or two, it was sure to surface again.
“Tolrek…” Darion sighed. “You’ll get answers in good time. Just please do not try to do anything on your own.”
“Oh come on! You won’t even tell me where you go during the day.”
“I’m shopping for Reya’s souvenir. You were there when she asked me to bring her back something from Tildar. Remember?”
The look of disgust on Tolrek’s face made Darion laugh.
“Come on now, don’t you think you’d enjoy going to my villa?” Darion asked, trying to coax a positive reaction from Tolrek. “Even a little?”
“No one pisses me off like you can,” Tolrek ground out. His eyes had gone a shade darker, which Darion knew was a clear indicator that he was becoming angry. “I hate how quickly I lose control around you. But you’re beginning to lose my trust. Soon, I will shut down on you.”
It hurt Darion to hear that and he grew serious. He was caught between caring for his lover and following a mandate from Beilon.
“Tol, I need your trust,” the negotiator began slowly. “I’m managing many different interests. Publically, I know what is to be my top priority. Privately, you’re most important to me.”
The words were not enough for Tolrek. He left Darion at the table and returned to his room.