Who Gave Us Delight
The magician's soul, fettered by silver, fled only to the outer reaches before eternity and grew rich there, feeding.
At night, the woman left the stage and the cult audience applauding a ghost and walked to the shabby dressing-room cluttered with the tawdry remnants of his life. In front of his mirror, his paints before her just as he had left them that night he was beaten to death by those who once had loved him, she stared, first at her own face, then at the silver bowl which held more than air, and less than substance.
A soul cannot be bound by time and space....
"I love you, Zax," she said aloud.
She spoke to him thus every night; and every night she heard nothing. Yet he was there; she felt him all around, the power of him awesome, but leashed.
The door opened behind her.
"Show went off well tonight," Bob said, stripping off his bright shirt, polished teak skin flashing. "You were good."
"I know a little of his craft," she answered him. "A few tricks to make them gasp. But his art--his art was all his own."
Fools, all of them who came to see, and mourn as she kept his memory alive from night to night with his tricks; even they could not miss the difference, were even pleased by it, it confirmed their suspicions that he had been more than human. They had killed him; now they were being punished, because he was no longer theirs to love.
And she, who carried the greatest grief of all, also had the greatest guilt.
"No!" he had cried, and for a moment their hate-urged surging had halted, tottering under his power and their own long-held love; but then her own voice reaching them, slyly, malevolently stirring anarchy like quicksilver poison--
And then it had become unspeakable.
Zax, more ruthless than she, would understand why she had done it, because she could not bear to see him go to another. It was she who could not forgive herself.
Zax, with his muddleheaded desperate need for automatons whose response to him he could counterfeit, spurning her warm, living love, had never found what he was searching for with such hunger. He would have another chance.
Because she was going to pay for her treachery, all he demanded and more.
Now Bob was spinning a golden ball along his arm, behind his back, catching it. "You know what they've got up at the Centre?"
"I'm not interested in the Centre."
It was not the small things but the great that kept coming back to her: the lean hard warmth of him silent and urgent in the night, enchanting her without need of magic save his own sexual mystery; his beauty, his eyes. Sometimes wakeful, she would stare at the ceiling and see them there, compelling lightless depths above triangles magenta and yellow, staring at her, mesmerising, summoning her.
I know. Not long now. I know, what to do.
Unaware of any silent promises made to the priceless simmering bound by a silver bowl, Bob was still talking, expecting perhaps that since Zax's death she had inherited along with his magic boxes his fascination with Numbers, "-- kind of a genetic throwback. Kind of like--a negative. Only not quite. Bruce finds him interesting. The other Numbers are frightened of him. He's not like them. Zax would--"
The name crisply ejected, echoed between them and fell drifting, wistful with bleak mourning.
She spoke softly, cradling the words to herself as she watched her own face in the mirror, and the black one behind.
"I'm going to bring him back."
He grabbed her shoulders from behind, fingers cruelly tight to punish her for promising what could not be done. Then, drawn like daylight through an opened drape, his gaze flew to the bowl on the dressing table, carelessly placed between an old rag and a jar of yellow paint, still with the brush sticking out of the top.
"You've got him there?" He answered himself as the certainty coalesced: "Yeah, I've sensed him. Felt him there. Thought I must be imagining it. Crackin' up, you know?" He gave a little, nervous laugh. "But bring him back.... You don't have the power to do that."
Even in the disbelief that emanated from him, it was still a question that she heard.
"He has." And she picked up the bowl, held it aloft on steepled fingers; above their uplifted gaze, ageless and unchanged it seemed to pulse with new light, new life.
Smiling, she held her own death in her hands.
The infinity that was not yet eternity was peopled more thickly at night. Shades that slept stalked unaware, and thought they dreamed.
The magician's soul prowled among these shadows released from the living taking all they knew and passing it back, unharmed. He grew strong, stronger; wise in the ways of nature and its physical laws, how to bend them to his own will. Soon....
Still so very alone, this unfrail spirit. Dark, it loomed menacing and moved on, leaving the sleeper in another dimension to shudder, half-waking, and draw the covers further over warm lax skin.
Until it found the one it sought. As dark as himself, as alone, as lost, he took it and made it his own and gave his own in return. And the essence of it stayed with him when it returned.
Now.... Now he was ready.
The blue shades that were there and yet not there swirled.
"You were created. You exist. It does seem illogical to try to deny that existence."
"I don't bloody deny it. I just don't enjoy it." The man paced around scowling, amid shifting blue all around, confusing, yet somehow secure. "What the hell's it all about, anyway? You know I don't fit in here. You created me for your own amusement--"
"Your difference was not detected in time. You know that."
"And if it had been," said the dark one bitterly, "you'd have destroyed it faster than it takes to blink, right?"
"There really is no point in talking in hypotheses. I don't think you know what you want, do you?"
"Probably not." He rubbed his eyes wearily with one hand. Blue eyes. Classic face. There the similarities ended.
"If you have any specific worries then it may help you to express them."
And as he walked the prismic laser paths to solitude, he wondered how he could explain his dreams to a mechanical mind which would not understand the compelling mystery of the wide- eyed sorcerer who waited for him at night with enchantment to offer; which, though bodiless, would never have a chance of comprehending how sweet the glide of skin, lying beneath a ruling tumblehaired fantasy that seemed more real than life.
She spoke to him before the mirror.
This once, he answered.
It was time.
The stage a colourful tzigane of music, dancing, a joyous celebration. The audience was alive, electric with emotion; they knew. Perhaps they felt him near, hanging ominous all around them.
Ina, ablaze with life, her eyes glowing with foreknowledge of triumph, strode to the centre of the stage, her red and gold cloak dropping in rich folds to the floor. They roared, and cheered for her; and when she gestured silence, all noise ceased.
"Tonight," she began, holding them with careful inflection, "tonight, my friends, you and I will perform the greatest trick the world has ever seen--for two thousand years."
Dramatic as tragedy the words drove home. There was not even a murmur. They waited, entranced. But when the musician at his keyboard struck sudden life into his instrument, then, they roared.
It was HIS music.
Vibrant, exciting, it resonated through the theatre, tremulous with hope, expectancy, thrilling them all, waiting for him to flash out of the darkness. Brightly-coloured bodies swayed together, hypnotic.
They called his name once, twice, a thousand times as Ina set the silver chalice steadily before her and summoned him back to claim his soul.
"Zax. Zax. Zax."
Fire from heaven like a thunderclap, and he was there.
Far-off, at the Centre, M4375 sat bolt upright and opened his eyes.
All there was was the sterile bare walls of his cell.
Now he was truly alone.
Lithe as a willow, his personality blazing forth, all his vitality flaunted like a cape, Zax leapt over the empty red-gold cloak crumpled on the floor, strode to the edge of the stage naked and spread wide his arms.
When the noise brought forth the black-helmeted police raiding, he made them vanish and became truly a god to those who loved him.
"M4375 is not responding."
"He really is finding it impossible to integrate. Certainly the experiment has not been a success. Should we let him go?"
"I rather think we will find he has taken that decision already."
"What data do you base that on?"
"He had dreams...."
"Dreams? You're talking in riddles. How do you mean, he HAD dreams? You mean he has them no longer? What's the relevance of that?"
"The magician, Zax, is said to have returned to the theatre."
"Zax? That's impossible. They kicked him to death. Good thing too, if you ask me. Very undesirable influence. He roused the Names-- too much." When they turned all that emotion back on him--
"If M4375 shows a desire to visit the theatre, I should advise you to let him go."
Moving as if the angels of the apocalypse were on his heels, Zax strode into the dressing room and pulled on a pair of trousers. He looked no different: slight, muscled and silken-skinned apart from the downing of hair veering down his chest; he was a whirl of activity as he turned around the room.
Bob followed him in, shut the door. "Zax. I can't believe this." His eyes devoured him, hungry. He half-expected insanity.
"You'd better, since it's true," said Zax shortly. He opened a cupboard, saw effigies, disembodied female heads, eyes that blinked open to reveal glassy stares.
With one arm, he swept them all explosively to the floor.
Bob followed all this, bewildered, tense, a little frightened; but most of all, wonderfully exhilarated. Something miraculous had happened, but the best was still to come. Zax was here, whole and safe, sparking with life and something more.
He had to ask. "What about Ina?"
Zax didn't turn from his scrutiny of the littered floor.
"Can we get her back? The way--"
- --she did for you--
Zax whirled to stare at him, and now Bob saw that there was, after all, a difference. His eyes. Always compelling, now Bob felt they would hypnotise you, drown you, if you stared into them too long.
"Of course not," he said brutally, concisely. "Do you have her soul? Of course you don't." He swung back to stare in the mirror. "It was an exchange. Her life for mine restored."
"Then she died for you."
"She knew what she was doing."
"Did she?" Bob asked, daring. "Like Veronica did?"
Zax turned his moody gaze on the pile of broken dummies, shattered plastic, blank stares from lifeless eyeballs. Then he looked again in the mirror.
And behind him, the pile ignited in a huge pyre, flames shooting to the ceiling in a sheet of yellow: Wax puddled into formlessness but Bob felt no heat, only a chill that struck through him as he realised the truth.
The old life was over; the new one begun.
Zax stared into the mirror, seeing anew his own unchanged face; and behind him the flames ceased as suddenly as they had begun, snuffed out, leaving only a handful of dust which soon drifted away on the air.
One more thing to do.
The theatre. A sordid backstreet building set in the squalor of the Names' dwellings. Outside, a worn poster proclaiming the bill of entertainment, long outdated. Zax had no need of advertisement: he was immortal. Inside, vivid with life, excitement, colour. Oh yes, the Names knew how to have a good night out. Presenting his offering M4375 went through the door and created a silence that nevertheless passed as a ripple; he was made way for then forgotten. For Zax was theirs, he belonged to them, the crescendo of their frenzied love had brought him back from the dead. No Number could ever challenge that and win.
M4375 leaned out over the balcony, his solemn intense face a contrast to the laughing ones around, animated with anticipation: yet for all that, take away the bleak white jumpsuit and he could be one of them. It was not so at the Centre.
The music began, wild, cheerful; and then the dancers.
One of them was known to M4375: a lithe black man he had once come across discussing religion with Bruce, thereby making the surprising discovery that Names need not be the simpleminded ne'er-do-wells most Numbers assumed them to be. He didn't care overmuch for the style of music, but the vigour, the cheerful bouncy rhythm of it was undeniably attractive as were the gay blithe dancers cavorting onstage. It was a joyous spectacle, two concepts alien to the denizens of the Centre; and it swept this one along with it-- although he was still unsure as to why he had come.
Then, the magician.
Into the dark silence, mercurial silver erupted with a flash and there was the magician out of nothing, bowing to the cheers. His head, adorned with long flowing locks, came up. A weird figure with bright painted symbols accentuating the strange beauty of his face, one arm sheathed in flowing silk, the other bare from the bangled wrist to the shoulder, he stared up straight up, full into the wide darkened eyes of M4375 who now knew why he was here, and more than that, why he had been born.
Then the eerie music, rife with a hint of danger, ran loose; and the magician sang hissingly, his eyes darting like spears around the auditorium hushed with fear and delight.
"My name is Zax...."
Zax, thought M4375 dizzyingly, Zax.
Red streamers whirled from the magician's long fine hands; they turned into ribbons of silver moonlight which spread thin on the air and vanished.
Fire flew from the magician's fingertips as he, with a flourish, turned lead into glowing gold which melted like butter and stopped at his command.
Sultry-eyed, aloof, he presented himself for their approval of his heroism; they roared it back at him.
A white dove sprang from a carved box the size of a die and spread wings to fly, its call haunting; when he plucked it from the air and showed it to them he held only a square of fine white silk, shimmering as it caught the light.
Head tossed back, in arrogant stance with one hand on his hip, he made a dramatic gesture at the air: thunder clapped, and a silver zip of lightning streaked above him and poured itself into a multicoloured rainbow which arched the auditorium.
It was beautiful.
Thus with such dazzling illusion he seduced adulation and awe from them, that and the sheer force of his own charisma, in just the way he turned and called forth explosions from the floor with one commanding, pointing finger.
"Zax's theatre of glamour and magic will take all your blues away--"
He stood on the edge of the stage, bare arms raised high and outspread, accepting their standing acclamation, their love: over the dramatic pose of arrogant grandeur his eyes were wide and steady, incurious as they stared out at nothing, encompassing a vision of eternity.
Dizzy, on legs that shook, M4375 moved through crowds that parted like waves for him down the narrow dark corridor, to the door marked out with the single word Zax flanked by two stars.
He could feel the magnetism pulling him this way. His palms were sweating, his heart knocking staccato in his ears as he passed across the threshold, the door opening for him as he raised one hand to it.
Thus he entered the small cluttered room that held his own infinity. Unseen, the bolt slid across behind him, and at last they were together.
The magician Zax was sitting at a dressing- table, smooth bared back turned his way: his skin translucent, honey poured over a glass skeleton. The long wig straggled over a stand: his own hair was revealed to be a riot of chestnut curls that first made M4375 wince at the disorder of it, then smile at its incongruous appeal. Carelessly, Zax held a cigarette from which a thin white trail of smoke drifted: he was staring with off-handed concentration into the mirror, scrubbing paint from his face. Even in the unreal mirror image it could be seen that his cheeks had gone faintly pink from the abrasion of rough cloth.
"You took your time. I've been waitin' for you."
Twin eyes lifted to meet his in the mirror; the magician sucked thoughtfully on his cigarette, and blew smoke-rings upward. He seemed smaller than he had done on stage, extended there by his arts, and the magnitude of his strong will reaching out: here he seemed infinitely less frightening.
Some of M4375's racing tension, his sense of unreality, began to ease. He unclenched his fingers, slowly; moved up behind the magician, staring down at the dusky-curled head. Beyond it, in the mirror, he could see some of his own reflection, his white bodysuit fresh and antiseptic in the crowded shabby room.
"I don't understand any of this," he said abruptly. "Who the hell are you?"
The magician slapped the cloth briskly around his shoulders, reaching out to stub his cigarette in a saucer. "You know my name." His voice was as deep, but rougher than the hallowed tones he had used onstage to summon the occult mysteries of the Orient.
M4375 sighed. "Life doesn't get any bloody easier.... I thought it was bad enough, not bad for chrissake, I mean confusin', when I was havin' the dreams."
"So you remember the dreams?"
The magician turned in his chair, head tipped back to study him. He was every bit as beautiful as M4375 remembered, seeing him now for the first time outside a fantasy; his loins crowded with sudden sweetness. The magician saw it and smiled, a smile as flawed and as appealing as his soul.
"Then you do know who I am."
M4375 rubbed an irritated hand through his jet- black short-cropped hair. "Of course--I think. How the fuckin' hell did you do all that just now? On stage?"
The sorcerer smiled again, a little crooked though his teeth were very white; he tilted his head to one side.
"Magic?" he suggested.
"Oh yeah," said M4375 bitterly, "magic. I see. Well, if you're so bloody powerful, send a little my way, will you? I could do with it."
And yet, he half-believed it, even before the magician snapped his fingers, an electric pistol-crack pointing gun-wise at him and a tingle shot through M4375, alerting every nerve to stimulus close to extreme pleasure, or pain.
"That's just suggestion," M4375 said, flatly, over the echoes of enchantment.
The magician raised an eyebrow in polite disbelief; then his expression changed to beguilement. "If you're THAT suggestible," Zax murmured, promise dark and gleaming behind his lowered lashes, "then when I touch you--" his hand halted in the air.
A shiver not of magical origin shot through M4375; again, that strange sweet feeling in his groin. "Oh, sceptical one," said the magician mockingly and held out his hand, open-palmed. His fingers fell shut; then he seized M4375 by the elbow.
A jewel dropped into his hand and lay there, glistening. M4375 stared at the fragile diamante drop, and then hurled it overarm across the room. It hit the porcelain washstand and bounced off, arcing to the floor where it lay forgotten.
"I don't want jewels, for christ's sake."
"What do you want?" Zax asked softly.
The taller man stood, unconsciously lithe and powerful in the white jumpsuit, sleeves rolled up to reveal dark-downed forearms, muscles bunching, blue veins standing out on tender white skin as he clenched his fists very tightly. His good-looking face was screwed up with puzzlement. Eyes a summer storm at midnight--
Zax dwelt his queer green gaze there, hungry, yearning.
"I don't know," said M4375 abruptly, turning away. "And don't do that, I don't want to be hypnotised into anything, thanks all the same."
Unseen, the magician's face twisted as the barb, consciously cruel, struck home. Lithe and quick, he bounced to his feet, the sunburst medallion on his bare chest swaying, then coming to rest.
"I wouldn't do that to you," he said low, staring at the defiantly hunched back. When it refused to turn he said: "I love you. You know that."
And shut his eyes, bowed head drooping, suddenly braced for defeat. Very afraid.
After a frozen silence M4375 swung around, surveying the absurd creature before him, bare brown nipples bravely flaunting erotic charm beside the silver vee of the chain; the line of dark hair disappearing to the dipped navel; black trousers skin-tight, feet in ridiculous slippers, one yellow, one blue, planted apart--
"Yeah: yeah, I do know that," he said more gently and took a step forward, then stopped. "But my head's spinning with all this," he made an expressive gesture with his hand. "I just need time to think about it."
The magician's head jerked up. "How much time?" His voice sank to a whisper as he stared past M4375, ageless in his anguish: "I've been alone for all eternity: must you make me wait any longer?" His hand reached out, sketched a caress; but M4375 evaded it because he knew, he knew for sure that if Zax once touched him, he'd be lost.
"I could make you," Zax said steadily. "Force you into thrall and into my bed more easily than fashion a jewel from the air. Oh yes: now I have you here, it's very tempting." He stared into twin pinpoints of frozen blue, willing understanding from him. More than anything, Zax needed understanding. "But I wouldn't do that. I want you to come to me. But if you choose not to, then you're free to walk away. I'll beg you not to, of course, but that's human enough."
Nervous, he reached into the air without looking, plucked forth a lighted cigarette. M4375 stared down at the long-fingered hand that had fallen back from so nearly touching him with such grace; a beautiful hand, that of a craftsman or an artist, one used to working delicately, precisely, with intricate things.
Like joining fine wires to animate an automaton.
Without warning, the sudden mental image slotted into place. Here, in this room--
He stared at the magician with amazement, disgust, pity--and fascination.
"You've done that? Used those--THINGS, sexually?"
The magician's head stayed up, though his face was suddenly leeched of all colour.
"Why, for godsake?" M4375 paced around, unwilling to find such evidence of Zax's weird kinkiness arousing--yet, there was something--
"I needed to." No defiance, now.
"And what was it like?"
The question took Zax by surprise: but then, he and this one were well-matched for just that very unconventionality.
"It was like however I wanted it to be," he said slowly.
"Oh, sounds great, why don't I try it too?"
The grim irony filtered through; Zax hardly heard it, struggling to bare his soul to the one so desperately important to him.
"Yeah--just how I wanted it to be.... She'd shiver when I touched her, and beg me to do it: she'd tell me I made her feel good, better than anyone else ever had--" He gave a small, wry smile, acknowledging his own and all males' pathetic need for such things. Then the smile abruptly died out. "But, even so--everything was missing.... Everything. Tenderness. Understanding. Love. But it was all I had."
He had had Ina. But she, not his equal in anything, had never come close.
M4375 was drowning; fighting it but weakening. "And that's what you want, is it? Tenderness. Love." Oh how he had meant to be mocking, but Zax's sharp-eyed honesty, those high-planed cheeks flaming with colour, had destroyed him; he was lost, after all, and without a single touch. "All you had...."
He took the step forward, and Zax was there.
The sweet feeling of him held close was so familiar, well-remembered from his dreaming; and yet it was shocking, electrifying. Plunged into arousal, every nerve alight and tingling, he tore free from the warm bare arms encircling him, breathing ragged.
"It's death, to touch a Number."
He didn't know which of them had spoken, nor if they had voiced it aloud. Zax did not smile at him, stayed where he was. The black trousers kept him a mystery, but M4375 was miserably aware of his own arousal, pushing hot and urgent at the transparent fabric of his clinging suit. Awkward, he looked away.
Zax, using no art, none of the powers at his command, said simply, "Then we must give you a name." He stuffed long fingers into his curls, lifting the hair in an absent gesture which revealed the fine-haired hollow of his armpit.
M4375 did not move.
"I know your name," said the magician, with a confident surety that owed nothing to prescience and everything to a needy devotion so deep he would die for it with no hope of rebirth.
He told M4375 his name.
Never heard before, it nevertheless felt familiar. It settled into the fabric of his memory as if it had always been known to him.
He nodded, accepting it.
"You belong with me," Zax said.
He accepted that, too.
The long-fingered, beautiful hands touched him then, sliding away clothes to draw subtle glory on sensitive skin.
He stood naked, shivering.
"Are you cold?" Zax asked him softly.
He made the startling admission, meeting the lucid woodland eyes half-ruefully. "No-one's ever touched me before."
The magician kicked away his trousers and stood, flamboyantly naked before him. "Even if they had, it wouldn't have been like this." And then, the feel of him close, skin against soft skin, belly pressed to belly, caused sensations to surge through the dark man's sensitised nerves, dragging forth an involuntary sigh:
"Yeah, I know, that's good. Gonna be better still..." promised the sorcerer.
Suddenly urgent, he tried to thrust himself between Zax's muscular thighs; Zax gripped him there comfortingly. He shut his eyes as Zax's enticing, wilful mouth touched the tender skin of his throat.
"No magic," he managed.
"No magic," Zax confirmed, "only this." And his lips touched a nipple, delicate tongue-tip flicking over it, arousing shivers in the other man.
Arms still circling him he sank to his knees, cupping the rounded curves of flesh behind. He opened his mouth.
The shocking pleasure of the warm tongue folding round all his aching need was too much.
"Oh please, yes, please do that...."
His hands kneading bare shoulders suddenly gripped: his eyes were wide with astonishment, as his unseen seed pulsed from him strongly, that such beautiful cascading sensations could exist.
Too soon it was over. When he came back to himself, he was in Zax's arms lying on a rug, Zax's fingers stroking gently through his hair.
"Oh yeah, you liked that, didn't you," the magician said softly, and then suddenly buried his lips in the silky hair. "Been needing someone to feel that way about me so long..." he whispered, gripping him in hands that bruised, his eyes squeezed shut.
When he lay peaceful again, the dark man stared curiously into his green-eyed sorcerer's imperfect face. "What did it taste like?" he asked, half-shy, half needing to know.
"Beautiful," Zax said, and kissed him deeply, salty tongue searching out all the secret places of his mouth and making him drink, warm and sweet.
Stung into arousal, his body lifted again. With lips made slightly tender, he kissed the corner of Zax's mouth and pulled a little away, looking down at himself.
"Is it supposed to happen again so fast?"
"I dunno," Zax said lazily, tightening his hold. "It always does to me." He drew a fingertip down the line of his lover's nose, stopping at the beautiful mouth, twisted now into an expression of great tenderness, the deep blue of his eyes above lit with sweet temper. "Means I turn you on," he added, liking to hear it said aloud. "Excite you."
The mouth stretched into a smile. "You'd turn on an ice-berg, you would. You should sit out there among your audience...." He lifted the medallion from the furred chest, held it warm from Zax's skin for a moment, then lifted it over his head, carefully disentangling the chain when it caught in a mass of curls. "Fancy you like hell, they do. Men, women and inbetweens."
"That's the idea," Zax agreed with no visible smugness. He lifted his head, watched his new- christened lover trail his hand down Zax's chest. "Oh yeah," the magician whispered, struck with new urgency, his erection rising hard and taut over his belly. "Touch me..." he said, unashamed to plead.
"Where?" said the dark one, with a glint of love-inspired teasing. "These?" He rubbed small brown nipples between a gentle finger and thumb.
"Yeah," Zax breathed, eyelashes falling shut, "oh yeah...." And, fists clenched like a baby's up beside his shoulders, he was coming, face turning to one side, milky spurts shooting up his belly, the first landing on his own taut throat, then falling shorter, shorter.
The other man stared fascinated, bewildered that so simple a touch could produce such intense response. The truth when it occurred to him nearly brought him to tears. "Oh you did need it bad, didn't you fella?" he murmured, moved beyond anything he had ever felt that such a proud, arrogant man who could dazzle with his powers should be such a small, needful, hurting entity inside. "Didn't anyone ever love you before?"
Zax, still panting from the force of his coming, seized him by the upper arms, dragged him down to rub their skin together, pressing him desperately close. "I love you," he said fiercely. "I love you."
Power surged through him when he summoned it: he turned his head, the lights blinked out.
"And I love you, Zax," his lover whispered into a curved, intricate ear tasting the unfamiliar name. "Forever." So vulnerable, stripped of his vestments, his magic quiescent; pared down to the lonely whispers in the dark.
"You won't go back?"
"Of course I won't bloody well go back. They couldn't tear me away if they tried, mate." Lovingly, he wrapped himself more tightly around his naked, soft-haired enchanter.
"And will they try?"
He frowned. It all seemed a dream, that other cold loveless life, viewed from this small cluttered room where love flourished like a warm, living thing.
"Nah--Bruce more or less said I should get out. Just didn't have anywhere to go, before." He shifted. Even cushioned by Zax, the floor was uncomfortable. "Do you have a bed? Or, don't tell me, magicians sleep on a plank studded with nails, right?" He grinned against Zax's sweat-and-tear damp cheek. He smelt sweet, of something faintly exotic; spice in a scented tea-chest, or summer herbs dried in the sun.
"I'll carry you there," promised the magician, yawning.
"That WOULD be magic," he said, pretending awe, his hand finding and encircling one narrow wrist beneath the silver bangle.
When, later, Zax pierced him to the heart with a sure thrust, heaven and hell became one: it made them both weep with the pleasure of it.
Entwined body and soul, the magician and his acolyte slept.
-- THE END --