lazy

Postponing the Inevitable

Me: I don't want to write.
Also Me: Hmph. If you're not gonna write, don't just sit there webbrowsing aimlessly. Go do some of those chores you've been avoiding with the excuse that you're writing.
Me: ...
Me: Okay.
*starts a load of laundry*
*cleans the litterboxes*
*sweeps the cat area*
*unloads half the dishwasher*
*gets distracted from unloading the rest of the dishes by cleaning off the kitchen table*
*cleans out the refrigerator*
*cleans the toilet*
Also Me: ... Well. The forces of procrastination are strong in this one.
Me: I still don't want to write.
Also Me: There's more chores left to do, you know.
Me: *opens file to do some writing*
Me 2012

April Showers

Weather.gov: It's raining.
Me: *checks weather outside*
Weather: lol only if you call this two-drops-per-minute thing "rain".
Me: *takes bike to work instead of umbrella*
*halfway to work*
Weather: oh hey weren't we supposed to be raining? *POURS*
Me: *gets to work* *drip drip drip*
Weather.gov: Should've listened to me.
Weather: lol
studious

March in Review

Health/Fitness
It's getting warmer! Daylight Savings is back so it's light again when I get out of work! I biked after work every day in the last week of March. So that's nice.

On the other hand, I've been snacking more in the evenings and at work, so no net change.

Writing
Welp, this was kind of a disaster.

I finished on scene in Birthright, and most of a second scene, and then decided that I should do some research before I continued on. Some serious research.

Thus far, I've read a bunch of Wikipedia articles, one scholarly article, and one and a half books. I have learned a bunch of things! The books have been very interesting. I am an insanely slow reader when it comes to scholarly texts. I still don't feel like I know nearly enough. And I hate not making any measurable progress.

I also wrote almost 12,000 words of Flight Rising fanfic, filling in the bios of dragons in my Flight Rising lair. Much of it was romantic. I decided it was time to admit that I really just want to write another romance where I don't have to worry about my characters being clever or coming up with a brilliant, A-HA resolution that ties the whole book together.

So on Wednesday, March 30, I opened a new file, with the idea of "I will throw a bunch of random ideas into this and see what sticks". And then completely failed to add new random ideas and instead kept building off of the one I started with. By April 2, I had about 4,000 words of notes and plot outline for a new book. A fantasy in a new setting with new characters and a new romance and what was supposed to be a side plot to give the characters something to do while they fell in love, and turned into a main plot that requires the characters to be clever and a brilliant, A-HA resolution. WHAT ARE YOU DOING MUSE STAHP. >.<

So: I wrote a lot of stuff, most of which wasn't for anything I can sell.

The Business of Writing
I don't think I did anything on the business end this month. It seems weird to go through these cycles where everything I do is business-stuff and then cycles where nothing is.

Oh wait! I did my taxes. Which included all the extra paperwork from having a writing business. So that was related. I actually bought tax software for the first time ever. I may not bother with that next year, as I don't think my taxes were as complicated as I feared they'd be.

Art/Other
I've been experimenting with digital doodling in full color, so instead of making quick b&w sketches, I do quick paintings. I haven't decided if I like them or not yet. Kind of? Anyway, I did about seven of these this month, and a couple of regular sketches, and three little marker pieces..

Socializing
I actually got out twice this month! Once for a gem & mineral show, the second time for a Delain/Sonata Arctica/Nightwish concert. Corwyn & Kat took me to both. I had fun!

Happiness
Mediocre, I guess? I was frustrated by my lack of progress on 'important projects' in March, but I had a good time talking to people in FR and writing FR fanfic, so it wasn't all bad.

Goals for coming month
Do some more research.

Declare victory on research at the end of April whether I feel like I've accomplished anything or not.




I wrote most of this post on the evening of Friday, April 2, and figured I'd add a few things and post it on Monday. That did not happen, because the previously-mentioned New Story ATE MY BRAIN. O_O I continued to work on notes and the story outline through the weekend. The new project, The Moon Etherium, has the solidest outline I've ever created. When I finished the outline, I wondered if I'd lose interest now: "I know everything that's going to happen. I don't really need to write it." But I was still keen to begin, and I started writing it last Tuesday. 10 days ago. The draft is now over 27,500 words. I would like to be writing it RIGHT NOW, but I am forcing myself to finish this LJ post and put it up instead.

For the last ten days, I have been pretty sure that, at any moment, the New Book Energy for The Moon Etherium would wear off and I would stop wanting to write it all the time and crash down to a reasonable pace of maybe 500 words per day.

I did slow down a bit yesterday! I think I only wrote 2200 words.

...

WHAT.

Anyway. I'm just gonna ride this inspiration for however long it lasts. I am both very tired (Muse keeps waking me up in the middle of the night to jabber at me about The Moon Etherium) and very happy (YAY NEW STORY SO EXCITE).

So if you're wondering why I've hardly posted this month: that's why. MUST WRITE MOAR.
tired

This Is Your Brain on Book. Any Questions?

Muse: GOOD MORNING!
Me: Unngh.
Muse: Did you know you could be writing The Moon Etherium RIGHT NOW?
Me: Muse ... Muse, it's 4AM.
Muse: I know! Time to get up and WRITE!
Me: You woke me up at 4AM.
Muse: You're welcome!
Me: Do you know when I went to sleep?
Muse: Umm ... Midnight?
Me: Do you know how much sleep human beings need per day?
Muse: Umm ... four hours?
Me: WRONG ANSWER.
Muse: Whatever. Don't you want to be writing now? Here, have some ideas for the next scene! You already started it! It'll be fun!
Me: NO I WANT TO BE ASLEEP.
Muse: Don't be silly! Book won't write itself, you know.
Me: Are you sure? Because it's doing a pretty good job so far. C'mon, let me sleep. I wrote 3100 words yesterday.
Muse: But it's Saturday!
Me: I KNOW. That means I could SLEEP LATE. IF YOU WOULD LET ME.
Muse: Don't you want to know how many words you can write on a day when you don't have to go to work?
Me: I don't know but I'm going to assume it's a lot less than yesterday. Especially on four hours of sleep.
Muse: Oh, c'mon, enough about sleep. Sleep is boring. You don't have anywhere to be, you can sleep any old time in the next two days. You could be writing nooooooooow!
Me: I'm just going to lie here in the dark until you shut up.
Muse: Howabout a LiveJournal post? I have a great idea for a post!
Me: Please shut up.
Muse: [spends next hour yammering about writing]
Me: I hate you so much. [gets out of bed]
Muse: \o/
Me: Just because I'm out of bed doesn't mean I'm going to write more of The Moon Etherium, you know. I could waste the whole day playing Flight Rising or something.
Muse: o/~Whatever you say, honey. o/~
Me: So much hate.
Muse: You don't mean that.
Me: ... no. But I really do need more sleep.
Muse: You're adorable. Have some MOAR IDEAS.
Me: -_-
Me 2012

After A Rational Arrangement: What's Next?

A Rational Arrangement is done, but you can still read more about Justin, Wisteria, Nikola, Anthser and others in Further Arrangements! Now on sale for $2.99 in honor of the serial wrapping up. I don't plan to serialize Further Arrangements, so if you'd like to read it, go get the e-book!

A Rational Arrangement is also on sale for $2.99! Re-read your favorite bits in convenient e-book form!

What next?

While I expect to re-visit Paradise at some point in the future, I'm not currently working on any stories in the setting. Instead, I'm writing a couple of fantasy & romance novels in different settings, with working titles of Birthright and The Moon Etherium. These are very different books, but both have strong action/adventure stories alongside the romance. I am not a fast writer, alas, but I'm hoping to publish at least one book in 2017.

Links






Me 2012

Weddings (141/141)

RA Header 141

They set the wedding for three months later, at Fireholt. Nikola and Justin were inclined to perform the ceremonies the night of the engagement, but Wisteria counseled for an engagement period. She was particularly concerned that Justin reflect on the decision. “You’ve never truly considered this possibility before, I think, and it does mean you will never have a legal wife all to yourself. Our marriage will be secret, but nonetheless legally binding. It’s a large step along a difficult and ill-lit road.”

“The two of you are the only family I have ever wanted. I never desired a ‘normal’ family and long ago resigned myself to bachelorhood,” Justin noted, but he allowed Wisteria’s prudence to persuade him. At times he did still reel at the vastness of it, at the realization of a future he had never dared dream of.

They invested some time discussing the wedding beforehand, though the preparations were still orders of magnitude simpler than for Nikola’s wedding to Wisteria.

“No need to plan for guests,” Justin remarked. It was well after midnight, late in the Ascension season, and the three of them were snuggled together among the maroon velvet blankets of his broad bed.

“Actually…” Nikola looked at the two of them.

“What, did you want to invite your parents?” Justin teased.

“I didn’t want to invite them to my first wedding,” Nikola retorted.

“That’s not true,” Wisteria said.

“Perhaps not entirely true. But there is someone we could invite, if we want guests. A few someones.”

Justin gazed at him askance. “Have you checked your mind for signs of possession lately, Nikola? Perhaps you should.”

Nikola stuck his tongue out. “I was thinking of Anthser. Fela Southing knows, too. Not about the wedding itself, but you know they won’t be shocked by it. They’d be pleased.”

“It would be nice to have witnesses,” Wisteria said. “Didn’t Anthser say there’s another greatcat who knew already? One of your parents’ greatcats?”

“Jill. It might look a touch odd if we invited her out, but Anthser could without exciting comment.”

Justin pushed himself upright amongst the plump pillows of his bed. “You can’t be serious about this.”

“Why not?” Nikola rolled onto his side, propped up on one elbow to look over his wife at Justin.

“Because the more who know, the more danger we’ll be in of being detected?”

“But they already know,” Wisteria said.

“Making them part of it will reduce the chance they’ll expose us,” her husband added. “If we leave them to draw their own conclusions, they may end up accidentally betraying something they don’t realize they need to keep secret. Frankly, I’m amazed Anthser never did so. Perhaps greatcats have better instincts for this sort of thing than I’ve given them credit for. But I still think it would be safer to tell them upfront what we’re doing and why they can’t talk about it.”

Justin sighed, looking between his lovers. It went against his instincts. But so does marriage itself. Yet this is what I want. And a wedding should be witnessed. “If you’re certain…”

“I am,” Nikola answered, while Wisteria snuggled close to Justin and kissed him.

He closed his eyes. “Very well. No need to resort to seduction to convince me.”

Wisteria ran her tongue over the curve of his ear. “What if I want to resort to seduction to seduce you?”

Chuckling, Justin pulled her into his arms and scooted closer to press her into Nikola’s body. “Then by all means, do.”

§


Before the Ascension season ended, Wisteria had rearranged their lives in other ways as well. She felt the three of them spent too much time apart, and one by one produced unexceptionable reasons for them to be in the same parts of Newlant at the same time more often. The high demand for Nikola’s Blessing during Ascension was clearly because Gracehaven needed a mind-healer in residence, so she arranged to rent a house there for a month during spring and fall that he might be more accessible, and they agreed Justin would invite them to stay a week or two now and again to keep demand manageable. Justin took a stake in the Vasilvers’ mining operation in Fireholt, giving him a business reason to visit there more often. Wisteria even spoke of spending part of the summer in Comfrey Viscountcy: “It’s a good half-day’s travel from Gracehaven by greatcat: I suspect the demand for a mind-healer would justify a month there.” When everything was added up, they’d spend no more than a few weeks apart at any given period, and perhaps six or seven months combined each year would be spent living in close proximity.

§


As on every Sunday, Fireholt was empty of staff for the day, but Nikola had ordered an elaborate dinner of storable foods be left for their dinner. Jill was visiting from Anverlee, nominally as Anthser’s guest.   

The greatcats set up decorations in the petitioner’s hall. They rolled a white carpet runner down the center of the hall, hung Ascension curtains of gold and purple over the windows, and white and gold streamers from the new gaslit chandeliers. It was festive and cheerful, if not exactly like a wedding.

Justin could not order wedding clothes without raising eyebrows, but he wore an elegant white suit with gold and indigo jewelry. Nikola and Wisteria had snuck their own wedding clothes out of storage. Nikola left the long cape off for now, as he took the officiant’s place at the front of the hall. Jill, Anthser, and Southing were gathered to one side, whiskers spread with pleasure as they watched Justin and Wisteria enter from opposite ends of the hall.

It shouldn’t make this much of a difference, Nikola thought, unable to restrain his smile as his lovers met before him at the center of the hall and knelt to one another. We’ll still be in danger of discovery. Many would regard these weddings as even more abominable than the previous nature of our relationship, where at least we laid no claim to legitimacy or divine blessing for our actions. Could the Savior ever approve such a thing?

But the divine presence in his mind offered no hint of sorrow; nothing but warm pure love washed through Nikola as he presided over the marriage of his beloved. Is this why I could never cure myself of this passion? Because there is no madness at its root to destroy?

But even if human society would revile this union, the act of marriage mattered to Nikola, more than he had realized even when they proposed. After years of no promises, no words of love, nothing but the ever-present now: this was something entirely other. A vow that they would remain together, steadfast, no matter what happened. A pledge that there was more between them than temporary forbidden pleasure. A promise that their love was mutual, their commitment unshakeable. As the walls rang with Wisteria’s recitation of the vows, as Justin smiled uncontrollably at her, Nikola found himself blinking back tears of joy. Justin was half-right. This cannot possibly be happening.

Yet it is.

After Nikola pronounced them united and they kissed, the new Lady Comfrey officiated while Nikola married Justin. They’d not had time to rehearse the performance: Justin and Nikola both stumbled over their vows at different points, and laughed at their mistakes, and smiled at the adaptations they’d made to the traditional vows since both of them were men. It was ersatz and strange and as wonderful as their shared relationship. When Wisteria touched their joined hands to seal the marriage, Nik felt the Savior’s presence in it, just as he had at his wedding to Wisteria.

After Nikola and Justin exchanged a not-at-all-chaste kiss to the roaring approval of three greatcats, Wisteria donned her cape again and took Justin’s left arm. Nikola took his right, and they processed from the hall as solemnly as if an audience of thousands had been watching. Three greatcats could not match the level of noise at Nikola’s first wedding, although at this proximity it almost seemed they did.   

“Is it very wrong of me, my husbands,” Wisteria said, “that I spent my first wedding wishing we could skip the formalities and the audience and elope, and now I find myself regretful that I cannot proclaim my love to the world at the second?”

Nikola chuckled. “I was thinking the same thing. I wish all Paradise could know.” They paused outside the main entrance to the petitioner’s hall to wait for their guests to join them.

Justin squeezed their arms close. “We know. That’s all that matters.”

And it was.




Don't want to wait until the next post to read more? Buy A Rational Arrangement now: Amazon ~ Kobo ~ Nook ~ iBooks ~ Print

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Me 2012

Proposal, Part Three (140/141)

RA Header 140

Justin was delighted when the Strikers arrived at his manor for the Ascension season. “I see you have worked another miracle in inducing Striker to accept my hospitality,” he told Wisteria when he kissed her hand in greeting.

Her face was as unmoved as always when she answered, “Indeed, my lord. What could be more inexplicable than spending a holiday with one’s dearest friend?” No one who looked upon her would ever suspect her of having a lustful thought for any man, much less of the full extent of her tastes, Justin reflected as Nikola took his wife’s arm and the viscount led the two inside. An entourage of a dozen servants and employees accompanied them. Part of Justin was jealous of Wisteria still, not merely for marrying Nikola, but for accomplishing what Nikola had never allowed Justin to do: giving him wealth to match his station.

They had arrived in time for supper; Justin had arranged no guests or entertainments for the first night back in Gracehaven, assuming they’d be tired from the journey. The three spent a few hours after supper deep in conversation in Justin’s cozy parlor, but the couple did retire early, around ten o’clock. But when Nikola shook his hand good night, the blond lord murmured, “We’ll call after the servants are abed.” The implication sent a thrill of desire humming through Justin’s veins.

Justin resisted the temptation to hurry to his own chambers to await them. He dealt with a few odds and ends in his study instead, as was typical of him, and then retired. He left the door unlatched after his valet departed, and settled on the sitting room’s chaise in dressing gown and slippers with a book while he waited for his lovers. The long time apart had in no way diminished his ardor. He knew he ought to do something to break this addiction, to better brace himself for the inevitable ending, but Justin did not know what. Withdrawing from them while they were still willing was madness itself. He needed to make the most of this while he could.

The door opened quietly, without a knock. Justin rose from the chaise, but pleasurable anticipation shifted to apprehension as Wisteria and Nikola entered. Both were attired as if for a formal event: Nikola in a suit of Anverlee blue with silver embroidered lapels and cuffs and a lace jabot, Wisteria in a dress and short jacket of the same colors. Justin fought back the sense that something must be wrong and smiled to them. “My lord, my lady. I feel quite underdressed for the occasion; I did not know we were going out.”

Nikola looked to his wife; he was nervous, which did nothing to settle Justin’s own mind. Wisteria was calm as always. “We do not intend to, my lord.” She moved to him and took his left hand. “I apologize for the lack of warning. Nikola and I thought we ought to do this properly.” She turned back to her husband and asked him, “Perhaps we should let him have the chance to dress?”

“Perhaps you ought to tell me what occasion I am dressing for?” Justin kept his voice light. Surely this is not how they would end this affair with me. Surely they did not accept my hospitality only to tell me they no longer wished to share my bed.

Nikola was shaking his head. “No, we should just ask.”

“Ask what?” Justin said impatiently.

The Haventure man strode to his side and took Justin’s left hand, standing beside his wife. Nikola’s gloved fingers trembled with nervousness. They glanced to each other, and then together sank, Nikola dropping to one knee and Wisteria in a deep curtsey. “Lord Comfrey,” Wisteria began. “We wish to ask you to do us the very great honor of becoming our husband.”

“Will you marry us, Justin?” Nikola lifted his head to meet Justin’s gaze, expression as serious as his wife’s, eyes beseeching.

Justin stared at the two, blinking in mute shock. Then he yanked his hands from theirs and stumbled back a pace. “This joke is in extremely poor taste,” he snapped.

“We’re not jesting.” Nikola rose, took a step towards Justin, and stopped as Justin backed away again.

“You’re already married! You can’t do it again and you certainly can’t to a man,” Justin snarled, voice low but harsh.

“Er,” Nikola said. “Actually.” He looked to Wisteria for support.

“I believe we can.” Wisteria got to her feet

What? Have you both gone mad?”

“No, Nikola would know if we had. I’ve been researching the law involved,” Wisteria said. “The practice of polygamy, defined as one man marrying more than one woman, was criminalized in Newlant in the third century. The standard marital contract further includes clauses specifying that both marital partners are currently unwed, and that neither will marry another. But there is no actual law preventing a woman from marrying multiple men. There’s a law prohibiting sexual congress between men, but there isn’t one prohibiting a marriage between two men. Nikola and I have made some seemingly-innocuous modifications to our marital contract which happen to have the effect of removing the clause which prohibited both adultery and multiple marriage. So there is no legal reason you cannot marry either or both of us.”

Justin stared between the two; even Wisteria’s calm manner could not soothe the combination of insult, outrage, and suppressed longing that seethed within him. “And which of us would be the husband in this ludicrous arrangement? Do you imagine Nikola could be my lord and master, or I his?”

Nikola’s lips twitched in a hint of a smile. “We have gotten this far without one or the other of us turning into a woman, Justin. I daresay we could sustain that trend.”

“I don’t see why you cannot be husband to each other,” Wisteria added. “You have both already shown yourself willing and able to protect the other.”

His sense of insult leeched away, leaving him weak in its absence. Forgetting his manners, Justin sunk onto the chaise; he no longer felt equal to standing. “But a marriage is confined to one man and one woman. Everyone knows that.”

“Indeed. It is a fact so obvious to every person in Newlant that the law has never seen the need to define it as such.” Wisteria perched on the edge of the chaise, not quite close enough to touch. “Since the Sanctity of Marriage Act was repealed in the fourth century (to remove the requirement that one’s family approve a marriage) there is no actual law that defines the term ‘marriage’. It is, instead, defined by each marriage contract for the specific parties entering it. The law that makes sexual congress between men illegal would likely still make it a crime between you and Nikola even if you were wed, alas. Although there’s some legal wrangling even there. There’s a fifth-century act that criminalized weddings and sexual congress between races. Because the authors could not criminalize existing marriage without violating the constitutional prohibition against ex post facto laws, the law included specifications that intercourse between already-married persons was legal. Well, the miscegenation portions of that act were eventually repealed, but the whole act never was so that clause legalizing relations between married persons remains in effect. One could argue it would apply to the two of you, if you accept Nikola’s proposal. I do not have great confidence in the effectiveness of such a maneuver, however.”

“We’re not saying we should publicize the marriages, Justin, if you accept.” Nikola sat on the other side of Justin, putting a hand on his knee. “We’d be pariahs even if we won the legal fight, I know. Society would revile us.”

“But it doesn’t need to be public,” Wisteria said. “Nikola can officiate the marriage between you and I, and that would make me technically Lady Comfrey so I could officiate for you and he. Or Nikola could designate me to perform it, if say you wished to accept him and not me.”

Justin looked between them, lost. He turned at last to Nikola. “Why?” he asked, plaintive, unable to articulate beyond that.

Nikola folded Justin’s golden-brown hands between his white-gloved ones. “Because I love you. Because I have always loved you. I want to share the rest of my life with you. I love Wisteria as well, but there is no choosing between you; it’s like asking which do I need, food or drink? I cannot live without both.”

Wisteria slipped her arms about Justin’s waist and snuggled against his back. “I feel the same, Justin. But you know that. I always wished to wed both of you.”

Nikola’s hands tightened about Justin’s. “If this is not what you want, my love, say so and nothing need change between us.”

“We’ll understand. If you want your own normal family someday. A wife you need not keep secret.” Wisteria had her cheek against Justin’s broad shoulder. “Or if you only want to marry one of us, for that matter.”

He closed dark eyes against longing. “You know I have never been faithful, not even to you.”

His blond lover chuckled, drawing near enough to kiss the side of Justin’s throat, above the lapel of his dressing gown. “You do not think we care about a thing like that, do you?”

“You might have lain with a hundred others, and I would not mind as long as I might be the hundred-first,” Wisteria said, echoing his own words of nearly a year past. “If you wish to consider the question longer, you may of course. There is no need to answer tonight.”

Justin squeezed his eyes shut against the tears that threatened to overflow. “Yes,” he managed, seizing Nikola in a hug so tight the slighter man squeaked, but Nikola held him in return just as fiercely. Justin laughed, tears flowing down his cheeks, and twisted to the side to embrace Wisteria as well, pulling them both hard against him as he leaned back against the wall. “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. We are all three mad, and perhaps that is the Savior’s blessing on us because I hope never to be sane. I never want to be anywhere without you. I love you both.” He breathed out, feeling a part of his soul unclench from its tightly-guarded knot, feeling a freedom he had never known before. “I love you both,” he repeated, and then he could say no more as his elated lovers kissed him.




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Me 2012

Possibilities (139/141)

RA Header 139

After two and a half weeks at Fireholt, Justin took his leave. Wisteria and Nikola tried to persuade him to stay longer still, but he’d already extended his stay by ten days. Assembly would resume in a few days and he had business in Gracehaven he needed to attend to. And he’d be headed back to Fireholt again soon enough, for the house party.   

Which would not be nearly the pleasure that being their sole houseguest had been. There would be fewer opportunities for unsettling conversations as well. Justin was not sure if that was good or bad. He felt as if he were growing far too comfortable with his lovers, their company dangerously addictive. However it might feel in the moment, everything about this situation was precarious by nature. Nikola or Wisteria might lose interest in him, or grow jealous, or break it off for any number of reasons. He had to remain on guard against that day. It will come, sooner or later. I need to handle it better than I did Nikola leaving me the last time. They are wedded to one another and that commitment is inviolate, but I can never be more than an optional addition to their happiness. I am no true part of it, no matter how much they may welcome me now.

Gracehaven was relatively empty during the summer, but by the fall it was back to being the center of life in Newlant. Still, returning home to it felt like going into exile. He was glad to get back to his various business dealings, and he had bills in Assembly he needed to champion – such as one to increase the legal protections the Blessed had against men like Brogan, and to make the punishments for such crimes harsher in the hopes of deterring them. But he missed Nikola and Wisteria more than ever.

He was delighted to go back to Fireholt for the house party, and quite amazed to find Wisteria had put a connecting door between the suite they gave him and Nikola’s room. The pretext for it had been that when her first (and still unconceived) child was born, it would be the baby’s room because she did not like the situation of the nursery. But since the house was full for the party, of course they had to put some guest in there…

It was wonderfully convenient.

By that time, Wisteria had preliminary results from her commissioned experiments on greatcat scent perception. Her official motive for the study was to quantify greatcat tracking abilities in the event of another abduction. Some of her findings were alarming, such as that a greatcat could detect and even discern between different levels of stress in a man’s scent. The researcher had tested for such moods as calm, angry, anxious, and afraid, but Anthser had privately confirmed that ‘aroused’ was also discernible. Both research and Anthser indicated that a greatcat’s ability to distinguish subtleties in a scent diminished quickly at range. “You’d want to keep a few feet away and avoiding riding a greatcat if you did not want one to note where you’d been,” Wisteria phrased it. “But riding in a greatcat-drawn carriage or passing one on a street would be unlikely to betray anything.”

Perhaps most constructively from Justin’s perspective, the study had determined several different perfumes and colognes that were strong enough to overpower any human scent to the point that not even a greatcat could detect it. If he couldn’t smell it himself, at least he could cover it up so no greatcat could either.

Justin enjoyed the house party a great deal: it kept them busy enough that they didn’t have time for long unconventional conversations, but not so busy that they could not indulge in late-night carnal activity. Still, it too had to come to an end. His hosts persuaded Justin to stay a week after the last guest had left, but after that he went back to Gracehaven.

Well, it will be Ascension in two months; I’ll see them then. However much I get to, with all the other family commitments involved in the season.

§


“Would you like to stay at Comfrey Manor when we go to Gracehaven for the season?” Wisteria asked Nikola one morning in mid-autumn. She was at her desk in her office, attending to her correspondence, while he had stopped in to see her after finishing early with the day’s petitioners. Nikola had eschewed the room’s other seats to perch on the edge of her desk instead, where he was near enough to touch her.   

Nikola gave her a lopsided smile as he ran his stockinged foot along her calf. “I wish we could. But I’ve never been able to manage it, with my parents having a mansion in town, and now we’ve your parents’ hospitality to consider as well.”

“I thought that could be our reason, actually.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, we wouldn’t want to offend my parents by showing a preference for yours, or yours by showing a preference for mine, correct? If we stay with Justin, that’s neutral ground. And it’s relatively convenient to both Vasilver Manor and Anverlee’s Gracehaven residence.”

Nikola considered this. “It is, isn’t it? Do you suppose our relations might accept that?”

“I’m sure my parents will.”

“I don’t know…I always get mobbed with petitioners when I’m in Gracehaven. Last year was particularly bad, and if your reasoning about my reputation holds true, this year will be worse.” Nikola drummed his fingers against the side of her desk. “I hate to put that kind of strain on Comfrey’s household.”

“I cannot imagine he will be less gracious about it than your father is,” Wisteria said, prompting a chuckle from her husband. “Truly, I can brief Justin on the requirements. His house is not so large as your parents’, but it does have a petitioner’s hall. Your staff is more than twice what you had last year and I intend to hire more just for the season, given your caseload last year. I am not saying it isn’t an imposition, but it will be no matter whom we stay with, and you said you did not wish to take lodgings for the season. Justin invited us already, so he does not think the imposition unreasonable.”

Nikola smiled then. “Did he? When?”

“In today’s letter.” She smoothed the pages. “Though he doesn’t expect us to accept: ‘I am sure you will be staying with relations who have a greater claim upon you than a mere friend such as myself may ever have, but I will extend the invitation anyway: the two of you (and any stray madgirls Striker may stumble across along the way) are welcome to stay the season with me. I should not wish to deprive Striker of the annual privilege of declining merely because he is wed now.’” She passed the letter to her husband.

“That sounds like him.” Nikola’s smile grew as he read the letter himself.

“Does it ever bother you when he says things like that?” Wisteria asked. “The ‘greater claim than I may ever have’ part.”

“Oh, he doesn’t mean anything by it. It’s just his sense of humor.”   

“Is it? It feels more as if he means it, but is saying it in a humorous way to take the sting from it. As if being the first to laugh over it will rob it of its power to wound.”

Nikola let the hand holding the letter fall. “…perhaps it is.”

“And I don’t think it works because it still hurts me. I suppose it would not be discreet to write that he has a claim far greater than blood. Unless I attributed it to his heroism, and I very much doubt that would give him any pleasure.”

Her husband smiled again. “No, I do not think so. Besides, he has a point. That is – I wish it were not true, Wisteria, but we are not kin to him. And cannot become so. If humor helps to cope with that unfortunate truth…well, perhaps we all might need it.”

Wisteria gazed at the books filling one glass-windowed case. “Not all countries have the same marriage laws Newlant does.”

Nikola gave a startled laugh. “What, do they let a woman have two husbands in Southern Vandu?”

“No…not in Southern Vandu. But in some countries – Bijoli for one – I know a man may have more than one wife. Perhaps there’s one where a woman may wed twice. Or a man marry a man.”

The corners of Nikola’s blue eyes wrinkled with his smile. “Wisteria, even I think that a man marrying a man is absurd.”

She turned to face him directly. “Do you, my lord?”

“Of course it…is.” Nikola dropped his eyes after a moment.

“And you would not marry Justin if it were permissible?”

“Justin would never agree to something so ridiculous.”

“But would you?”

“Why are you asking me this, Wisteria? It’s not legal, and no, I do not want to give up Fireholt and Anverlee and my family and yours in search of some remote barbarian tribe that might approve such a thing. My sense of familial duty may be weak but it is not nonexistent!” Nikola stood, mouth set in a thin line, hands clenched at his sides.

Wisteria rose as well, touching his hands. “I did not mean to upset you, my lord. But you know I always wished I could marry you both. Life is compromise, but I cannot help wondering if this is truly the most satisfactory one we can manage. If you disapprove of such notions, however, of course I will not pursue any other possibilities.”

The tall man uncurled his fingers to take Wisteria’s. A few moments passed in silence, then he bent to embrace her, exhaling as he kissed her forehead. “My love,” he whispered. “I should like nothing better than to unite my life with Justin as I have with you. My mind tells me ‘but this can never be’, yet my mind has said that about too many things that you have proven possible for me to trust it. If there is a way, lead and I will follow.”

Comforted, she snuggled in, tucking her head beneath his chin. “I do not know if there is or not. But I will look.”




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Me 2012

Your Part in This Script (138/141)

RA Header 138

It was the second week of Justin’s stay: Nikola and Wisteria had conspired to persuade him to lengthen his trip beyond the original plan of a single week. Justin was outside, once again exercising before his hosts arose. As he jogged along a wide trail through the hills behind the manor, Fel Fireholt loped up to him from behind, then slowed to fall into stride beside him. “Mind if I join you, Lord Comfrey?”

Justin shrugged. “As you like. Pacing me won’t be much of a workout for you, I daresay.”

“That’s fine. I’m a lot lazier than you anyway.”

They traveled together in silence for half a mile, Justin breathing hard as he ran up the gentle slope of the winding trail, and Fel Fireholt doing little more than a walk to keep up. Justin did not know how to treat Fel Fireholt any more. The greatcat wasn’t Nikola’s employee now, but he still watched out for Nikola as if he had been, and the two often rode together. Nikola treated Fel Fireholt as an equal, a feat which made Justin uneasy and which he could not match. It was wrong somehow, a violation of the social order. Yet the black greatcat had saved his own life, as well as Nikola’s and Wisteria’s. Decency demanded Justin treat him civilly at the minimum.

At length, the greatcat interrupted the silence. “So. Do they know what you’re doing?”

Perplexed, Justin asked, “‘They’?”

“Lord Nik and his wife. Do they each know you’re screwing the other?”

Justin nearly ran into a tree. “What?” He stumbled to a halt as he glared at Fel Fireholt, a dangerous wrath building inside him. “I beg your pardon?” He couldn’t call out a greatcat: it would be suicidal even if it weren’t illegal.

The dark greatcat dropped back a pace, broad shoulders hunching. “Look, I know you humans are weird about mating, and I’ve kept out of this for six years, but…I can’t pretend I haven’t noticed any more. I don’t care what any of you do with each other, really. Ain’t my fur. But if you’re gonna rip Lord Nik’s heart out again and stomp on it, I…kinda…need to know.” He faltered, ducking his head with an incongruously abashed look.

Justin stared at him. Six years? Has he known all this time? He fought to master his anger (how dare this upstart commoner threaten me and my lovers) and form a cautious reply. “Are you implying that both Mrs. Striker and Lord Nikola are carrying on an affair with me? Have you any idea, Fel Fireholt, how serious an accusation you are making?”

“Uhhh. No.” Fel Fireholt canted his dark ears to the side. “Not really. Whaddaya mean?”

“What in Paradise makes you believe such a preposterous tale?”   

The greatcat sighed. “It’s your scent. It’s on both of them. And theirs on you. I mean, Lord Nik always smelled too clean after visiting you but I probably wouldn’t ever have realized why except that he didn’t wash his hair before he went home. And human hair catches and holds scents too. Sorry.”

Justin turned a slow circle, verifying that they were alone on the trail as he gathered his thoughts. You can’t duel a greatcat, he reminded himself. “Are you aware, fel, that accusing Mrs. Striker of infidelity with me would force Lord Nikola to duel me for her honor? Or that your reprehensible accusation of sexual congress between Lord Nikola and myself could result in us being stripped of title and property, and sent into exile?”

Fel Fireholt sat back on his haunches. “Seriously? That’s messed up.”

“This is an insult of the highest order, fel. I must demand that you retract your words.”

“No it’s not. I mean, you don’t really believe that, do you? I’m not insulting you. Er. I didn’t mean to insult you, anyway. I guess implying that you’d do it behind their backs is kind of…bad. So you aren’t, then?” The greatcat pricked his ears, hopeful.

Justin took a deep breath. “I don’t think you understand your part in this script.”

Fel Fireholt shook his head vehemently.

“You are supposed to apologize for having made such a vile statement and withdraw it before I am forced to take action.”

One feline ear dropped. “How d’you withdraw words? I don’t see what’s so vile about it anyway. And what sort of action?”

“Action to ensure you will not spread such an abhorrent rumor.”

“I…uhhh…what?”

“I haven’t figured it out yet. I’d duel you if you were a man, but I’ve never had this problem with a greatcat before. Look, just say you withdraw the remark and that you’re not going to repeat it to anyone. It’s much simpler that way.”

“‘I withdraw the remark and am not going to repeat it to anyone’,” Anthser parrotted, bemusement evident even on feline features.

“Very well.” Justin turned and started away.

The greatcat climbed to his feet and followed hastily. “But I still don’t understand what’s going on.”

Justin chose his next words with care. “I am not engaged in any activities with either Lord Nikola or Mrs. Striker of which the other is unaware.”

Fel Fireholt brightened immediately. “Great! That is such a relief.”

As they walked in silence, Justin glanced sidelong at the greatcat. The feline had visibly relaxed, strides easy now. Shadows from the leaves and branches of the trees around them played over black fur, interspersed with dappled sunlight. After a brief struggle with discretion, Justin asked, “You’ve known for six years?”

“’Bout that, yeah.”

“Who have you told?”

“No one.” The greatcat’s ears flattened. “It’s no one else’s business. And I know you humans are…really weird about it.”

“Do all the greatcats just…know, then?” Unsettling thought.

“Naw. You’d have to almost shove your face in Lord Nik’s hair after…er…the things I’m not repeating again…to notice. Callie might’ve noticed it with Wisteria when we were out riding, but she hasn’t realized that humans barely touch each other or why it’d be unusual. Jill knows about you two, cause she and Lord Nik have always been close. I’d be surprised if anyone else does.” The greatcat swished his tail once. “You know we’d never do anything that could hurt Lord Nik, right?”

Six years. I do now. Justin nodded, mind struggling to encompass all the ramifications. “It truly is of no consequence to you, is it?”

“Nah. Never understood why it was so important to all of you. It’s only natural.”

Justin gave a dry bark of laughter. “Believe me, there is nothing natural about it.”

“Yes it is. I mean, yeah, reproduction is kind of the point, but the function is pleasure and there’s nothing abnormal about doing things that feel good. You three obviously love each other, why wouldn’t you do things together that make you happy? And if it were crazy, Lord Nik would cure it.”

“Even a Blessed cannot treat all dysfunctions.”

“Still. One of the other mind-healers would’ve noticed. The Savior doesn’t cure it because it’s not a disease,” Fel Fireholt said with conviction.

The viscount fell silent, uncomfortable with the line of discussion and regretting that he’d resurrected the topic. One could not expect a greatcat to understand the subtleties and refinements of a human culture many centuries in the making. The greatcat race was still in its infancy by comparison. It wasn’t in their blood the way it was with him. His rank rendered Justin immune to the consequences of his behavior so long as he remained discreet and kept it deniable. That wasn’t the same as making it right.

And yet Nikola and Wisteria and even Fel Fireholt believe otherwise, don’t they? It was a pleasant daydream, to imagine for a moment an entire world who accepted him as he was, without any need for habitual lies and everyday deceptions.

A dangerous daydream, that could tempt a man into carelessness and ruin. Better not to get in the habit of thinking in such a way. “Why did you come to me instead of asking Lord Nikola?”

The black greatcat ducked his head. “Couldn’t give anything away to you. I mean, I can’t ask Lord Nik ‘Hey, did you know that your wife and your friend are—’” he stopped at Justin’s look “—well, you know, without telling him if he didn’t know.”

Justin raised an eyebrow. “And you would not tell him if he didn’t know?”

“…I dunno. If you’d said they didn’t know, I was going to try to talk you into telling them.”

“Were you.”

Fel Fireholt winced, flattening an ear. “Yeah, none of my business, I know, but there’s a point where you can’t just do nothing.”

“And as things stand, can you do nothing?”

“Sure. You all know what’s going on. Fine, it might still be a disaster later on, but it’s not like there’s an obvious disaster that’s easy to avoid.”   

Everything about this is an obvious disaster. “You greatcats have a peculiar way of viewing the world.”

“Hah. Take a step back sometime and consider how you humans think about it.”

§


Later, when he was alone with them in the Fireholt library, Justin told his lovers about the conversation. Justin would have preferred not to, but at a minimum they needed to know that they had all been overlooking a way they could be detected.

Nikola was flabbergasted. “Anthser knows? He’s known for years?” He sank into one of the library’s cozy reading chairs. “I can’t believe he never said anything to me.”

“It wasn’t his place.” Still isn’t.

“Yes, but I didn’t think he’d know that.”

Wisteria wanted to experiment to determine the exact limits of greatcat senses. “I suppose a double-blind test would be difficult to arrange, but we could check to see if he can distinguish between a person who has been with another recently and one who has not. How long does the scent persist as detectable – is it a matter of minutes? Hours? Days? We’ve been assuming that an ordinary bath eliminates the odor, but does it? We ought to find out.”

“You cannot run tests to see under what conditions greatcats can tell with whom you – or anyone else! – last had intercourse.” Justin was appalled. “There are no circumstances under which that is an acceptable line of questioning.”

“Truly? But it’s for science. How else would one find out?”

“One is not supposed to find out. That’s the entire point.”

Nikola chuckled. “Perhaps you could frame it differently, Wisteria. Test it with less indiscreet scents.”

“Oh, and on different materials, like a handkerchief or a ceramic tile or a letter or a lock of hair. And whether or not perfumes or other artificial scents would be sufficient to mask it from a greatcat.” Wisteria produced a little notebook from her reticule and jotted it down. “I wager there’s far more variance to it than we imagine. Perhaps I could commission an inventor to make a study of the topic.”

Justin covered his eyes with one hand. “Wisteria, please do not make it look as if you’re trying to figure out how to hide your dalliances, all right?”

Still grinning, Nikola said, “I’ll help her come up with some innocuous excuse, my lord. Fear not.”




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Me 2012

Trust Given (137/141)

RA Header 137

“So what happened after this kiss?” Wisteria asked after a moment’s pause.

“Oh, I was devastated,” Nikola said, easily. “I thought Justin had noticed my infatuation and was intentionally mocking me over it.”

Justin pinched the bridge of his nose. “I had not the smallest notion. I was trying to think of some way to keep you from believing I’d intended to molest you.”

“In fairness, you did accomplish that.”

“In the most horrific way possible. I spent the whole ceremony trying to think of some way to ask Dremmond to replace you—”

“I always wondered that you did not!”

“—but I could think of no way without implying that you were at fault and risking that you’d be punished. For my indiscretion.” Justin looked back to Wisteria. “So when I found him waiting for me when I got back, I apologized for my behavior and told him to take a holiday. I’d care for myself and not tell a soul. Then the next night—” Justin paused again. “Why did you come back the next night? Because I had a whole host of theories and I believe now that every one of them must have been wrong.”

“I was hideously confused at first – I was not even sure what you were apologizing for – but after considerable thought, I concluded it was for desiring me. Which was what I wanted you to do, so I worked up the nerve to approach you again.”

Wisteria shifted between them, nuzzling the top of Justin’s head before glancing at Nikola. “Have you two managed to know each other seven years without ever discussing your first meeting? How is that even possible?”

Nikola laughed. “I don’t know. It never came up. There’s…a great deal we never talked about,” he said, wistfully.

“One doesn’t talk about such things,” Justin said. Even to his own ears it sounded prim and fatuous.

“I hope that doesn’t mean you will refuse to tell me the rest,” Wisteria said.

“Of course we’ll tell you,” Nikola said.

Justin cleared his throat and raised his head from Wisteria’s shoulder to continue. “I found him the next night in my room, out of uniform and all dressed up – terribly fine for a servant, I thought. When I asked him what he wanted, he said—”

“‘You’.” Nikola leaned in to kiss Justin again; Wisteria watched them with rapt attention.

“I thought you terrified then, too,” Justin murmured against Nikola’s mouth.

“I was. That I was wrong, that you were uninterested, that you’d laugh or worse.”

Justin closed his eyes, hugging Wisteria to him with an arm about her shoulders and his other arm holding Nikola to them both. “I am a very great fool. And that, madame, is how we became lovers.”

“But then you hardly knew one another at all when you began? Did Nikola tell you that night he was Lord Striker’s son?”

Nikola shook his head ruefully, while Justin laughed and answered, “No. No, we did not know one another at all, and I daresay Nikola was too busy to consider correcting his little oversight with his title.”

“It wasn’t an oversight! East Hansleigh Boys’ Academy had a ‘culture of service’, which meant we weren’t to use our titles on campus and we got drafted for menial labor during big events like Ambrellan. That’s why I was in a position to volunteer. It was that or set up tables.”

“Oh my,” Wisteria said. “When did you find out, then?”

Justin covered his eyes. “Five months later? At an Ascension-season party. When his father introduced him. I about died of mortification, learning that what I had thought was an affair with a valet of about my own age had actually been with an underage peer.”

“It truly took five months to emerge?”

“We were not in contact after those first few days Justin spent at the academy,” Nikola said. “I was too intimidated to write Lord Comfrey, and he – well, he could not start a personal correspondence with a man he thought a servant.” Justin was thankful that Nikola omitted the one disastrous gift Justin had sent while in ignorance. Nikola stroked Justin’s cheek. “But it all worked out well in the end.”

Justin managed a smile, turning his head to kiss the pale hand. “That it did. After that formal introduction we became friends.” He remembered what a miracle even that much had seemed, at the time. How much he had missed Nikola in those intervening months, how he had thought Nikola uninterested in continuing the relationship. To think that he had always admired me, and I never knew until now. We never spoke of it.

Perhaps we should have. Perhaps I ought to say something now, about those feelings. But even like this, it felt impossible to match his lovers’ frankness. Men in his world did not share their emotions, and Nikola might be the exception to every rule but that did not mean Justin could be, too.

“Did you think of one another, in that intervening time?” Wisteria asked. “I cannot imagine having a lover without attachment. What is it like?”

“Not as good as one with,” Nikola answered. “Not bad, mind, I still enjoy the act. But it’s less intimate and intense, at least for me.” He hesitated, then added, “I don’t think I could ever be described as unattached to Justin, though. I missed you, you know. And felt like a complete fool for it, under the circumstances, with no acquaintance to speak of between us. I imagine you scarcely gave me another thought until we met again.”

Justin looked at Nikola’s slight self-deprecating smile. I never told him. I never tell him anything, and then I wonder why he does not understand. “No, not above a half-dozen times,” Justin said, softly. “Each day.”

Nikola blinked, smile turning to wonder. “Truly?”

“Truly. I thought it perhaps as well you were not around, because I was so obsessed with you I was sure to give it away in my behavior.”   

“You were always so collected, your manner so easy and casual. Even when we were alone. I never thought you greatly affected,” Nikola said in a voice just as low.

“I’ve been pretending so long that sometimes I think I have forgotten how to stop.” Justin paused, struggling for his next words. I love you. I’ve always loved you. Until I met Wisteria, you were my whole world. How can I know these things are true and yet find them impossible to say aloud? “I have always been attached to you, Nikola.” That was such a profound understatement it felt like an untruth. “Those five months, when I did not know who you were and thought you indifferent to me, I still longed for you. I would imagine returning to East Hansleigh, just to see if you’d changed your mind, if there was anything I could offer to induce you to leave Dremmond’s service for mine. I could not, you know. I could not face harassing you so, not when I felt you had made your wishes clear. But how I wished I might.”

Nikola touched Justin’s hand, where it rested on Wisteria’s stomach. “I…I never thought you could be anything less than confident.”

“One more pretense, my friend.” My love, Justin thought, and could not say it. “My life is full of them. I do not know how the two of you manage to be so honest.” That was dangerously sincere; he ought to leaven it with a joke, but his mind refused to produce one. “Or why you would take up with someone as unaccustomed to truth as myself.”

“It is no virtue in me,” Wisteria said, her arm tightening about Justin’s shoulders. “I’m jealous of you, do you know, my lord? You know just when to be false in order to please the society you are in, and just how far to take it, to ensure no one ever notices it. If I could imitate your manners, I would in a heartbeat.”

“You wrong yourself.” Nikola’s voice was harsh with emotion. “You have played the part others demanded of you, and only deceived those who had no right to the truth. Those who’d condemn you for what they had no business questioning you upon at all.”

“No.” Justin shook his head, straightening to sit upright. “You said it yourself – even with you, with the two of you whom I ought to trust, for whom I care more than anything in the world, I have still clung to my masks. Like an armor I don’t know how to set aside. Let me set it aside for this moment, and tell you: I love you.” He met Nikola’s eyes, tan fingers trembling under pale ones, then looked to Wisteria. “I love you.”

“Oh Justin.” Wisteria caressed his cheek, and she did not smile but Nikola was smiling wide enough for both of them, blinking quickly. She sat up to kiss Justin, with all the warmth and passion her expression never showed. “You are safe with us. We would never betray you.”

“Never,” Nikola promised, kissing his cheek. “I love you too.” They enfolded him fast in their embrace, holding him tightly enough that Justin could almost believe in that safety.




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