((And we come to the end of the already-written chapters. We haven't actually written anything new in a very long time, but hopefully... someday... there will be more.))


The moon lit the inside of the bathhouse with a soft white light, illuminating Azazel where he leaned, fully clothed, against a wall. He'd been reading, but had put his book aside sometime earlier and now rested with his eyes closed.

Faint laughter sounded on the other side of the door, heralding Lorelei and Uaithne's entrance. Uaithne, his hair tangled and his robe falling open, slid the door shut behind them and suppressed his grin as he started towards the showers. Upon spotting Azazel, he stopped, and a different smile appeared on his face. "Hey Az."

Az blinked open his eyes and glanced over with a smile. "Hey guys." Lorelei said, "Yo." He left his robe on a hook and reached for a shower, but paused as he got a good look at Azazel. "Are you... wearing short sleeves? Oh lord, the sky is falling!" Lorelei grabbed Azazel's wrist and waved his arm about. "Do you see this?"

Uaithne paused, his fingers stuck in his belt knot. Surprise registered briefly on his face, and then his smile again became the amused grin. "I see it, but I almost don't believe it." He finished untying his robe but kept it on as approached Azazel for a closer look. "What've you been hiding under those long sleeves you always wear?"

Azazel blushed and pulled his arm back from Lorelei, who cackled and briefly rinsed himself off before jumping into the water. Azazel shrugged in response to Uaithne and lifted his arm slightly, where black scales glinted along the back of his forearm. "It's no big deal. I just like long sleeves." Lorelei surfaced and hooked his elbows on the floor of the bathhouse. "Then why do I always have to struggle to get you out of your shirts, hmm?" Azazel blushed again and gave Lorelei a shove into the pool. "Shush, it's not like that."

Uaithne stared at Azazel's arms, his brown eyes gilded blue by the moonlight. Then he blinked, smiling as he looked at Azazel's face. "They're so pretty. Why do you hide them--" Lorelei's words suddenly registered with him, and he whipped his head towards the siren. "Why are you getting Az out of his shirts?" he wondered, sounding slightly amused.

Lorelei laughed as Azazel put his face in his hands and shook his head. "So we can have hot steamy sex, of course. Snakes like steam, don't you know?" Azazel splashed water at Lorelei. "He's lying. He was just trying to get me more comfortable with wearing less clothing, because he thinks everyone should just go around nude all the time."

Uaithne laughed as he finally slipped out of his own robe and hung it on the wall. "You are always very...covered," he said to Azazel. He rinsed off under the shower, washing the dry sweat off his skin and combing the knots from his hair.

Azazel averted his eyes and picked at his nails. "I like to be warm." Lorelei leered and said, "I'll warm you up." When Azazel splashed at him again, Lorelei laughed and swam out under the open sky.

"Mhm." Uaithne didn't sound convinced. He shut off the water and slid into the pool, taking up Lorelei's former position with his elbows propping him up. "Well, I think you could show off a little more skin. Be proud of your heritage!"

Azazel folded his arms, smiling. "It still feels weird to wear short sleeves. I'll have to get used to it."

Uaithne nodded. His hair stuck to his skin, tangling in the sharp, spiraling designs across his shoulders and back. "Maybe someday you'll even join us in the springs," he said. "And I mean, in the actual water, not just lurking around the edge."

Azazel laughed. "We'll see. Maybe I could get one of those full-body wetsuits."

"Or, you know," Uaithne kicked his legs in the water behind him, "you could be naked like the rest of us." He folded his arms over the stones and pressed his cheek to his arms, smiling sideways at Azazel. "It feels good."

Azazel blushed. "Yes, well. Maybe I don't want to be like the rest of you!" He lifted his chin mock-defiantly. "Maybe I like being the weirdo wearing too much clothing."

Uaithne sat up straight again, laughing. "Okay, you have a point." He raked his fingers through his hair. "After all, I don't know how much I'd like you if you were just like the rest of us," he said, his smile teasing.

Azazel laughed too. "I guess I had better not change, then. Wouldn't want you to leave me for someone even weirder. Who knows what you might find next."

"Oh, they'd have to be pretty weird. Maybe with bat wings for ears." Uaithne nodded.

Azazel laughed again. "Do you think they could fly with them? Maybe they have multiple pairs of little bat wings."

"Probably. Well, maybe not, since I don't think this establishment would allow anyone the ability to fly. But who knows." Uaithne shrugged, though he continued to smile. "I think shiny black scales are...better."

Azazel blushed and rubbed self-consciously at his arms. "Thank you. I bet wings would be fun though, even if you couldn't fly with them."

Uaithne nodded. "I think so too. Maybe not in place of ears, but somewhere..." He laid his head back down, and his eyes wandered until they lighted on Azazel's book. "So, what were you reading?"

"This?" Azazel picked up the book and showed Uaithne the cover, on which was an illustration of two men embracing. "Akinyi has been letting me borrow his manga. Some of them are pretty good, though they don't often have as much complexity as I would like."

Uaithne leaned over the edge to get a better look, water drops rolling down the side of his face. The cover made him smile. "What's a manga?"

"They're sort of like graphic novels, from Japan. Aki doesn't have too many translated into English, so I'm almost out."

Uaithne's smile widened. "It's a gay comic book?"

Azazel nodded, smiling. "Yeah. Cool, huh? There's a whole genre of gay manga. Most of it's written by women, so there's a big emphasis on emotions, but I was surprised by how explicit some of them are."

Uaithne dragged himself further out of the water, suddenly very interested in the manga. "That sounds...really cool. Akinyi lends them to you?" He made to reach for the manga, but then remembered his hands were wet and recoiled, settling instead for just looking.

"Yeah." Azazel opened the book and showed Uaithne a few pages. "I'm sure he'd lend some to you too. They're fun to read."

Uaithne grinned at the illustrations, which were innocent enough. "I think I'll have to ask him. Any recommendations?"

"Well, you should look through them and see which art styles you like, unless you don't care about the art. I like Miyamoto Kano's work a lot, because the art is pretty and she deals with darker subject matter, like prostitution and mental illness."

"Prostitution?" Goosebumps had risen along Uaithne's bare arms, and sank back into the warm water. "You know, you think we'd be sick of prostitution and sex and all that, but we still like things like...explicit comic books." He laughed.

Azazel laughed as well. "Not all of us do. And in a way it's nice to read about people having vaguely similar experiences to us, though their situations really are not like ours."

"Yeah." Uaithne scratched his nails on the stone. "I guess that's how it goes with half the stuff people read."

"Maybe." Azazel nodded. "Though some people prefer to read the light, happy stuff. Personally I just like darker, more psychological and intense stories."

Uaithne smiled. "I don't have much of a preference. I liked those books you lent me, Tithe and them. I think it depends on what mood I'm in, though I don't really read much..." He shrugged.

Azazel nodded. "Yes. I like to read, so... It's more satisfying to read a complex book that takes you places, emotionally."

"Escapism, in a way?"

Azazel raised his eyebrows. "I don't really see it that way, no."

Uaithne put his chin in his hand. "Mmm. I used to read a lot, when I first got here. I still wasn't selective, but I think I used it as a means of escape."

Azazel nodded, putting the manga aside and stretching his legs out in front of himself. "It can certainly be used that way. I hear that makes real life even more depressing though."

Uaithne laughed. "Yeah, I think it does. My reading frenzy only lasted for a year or two. Then I calmed down and settled into my new life. Now, when I read, it's just for pleasure. Like you do."

Azazel smiled. "Well, I'm glad you settled in. Otherwise our conversations would be a lot shorter. We'd get together to read books, in the same area but quietly. Or maybe we'd be obnoxious readers, making comments as we go."

Uaithne nodded. "I think we'd be quiet readers. And our conversations would be sadly short." He sank deeper into the water, resting his head on his arms. "But, it's funny, how we've, well, we've known each other for a while now, and we've talked so much, but we still find new things to talk about." He smiled slightly. "We still learn new things about each other."

Azazel smiled. "Yeah. Well, there's lots to talk about. We still haven't discussed our opinions on snails or stem cell research. Important things, you know."

Uaithne leaned up again, laughing. "And I still haven't seen you without a shirt." His smile was slightly teasing. "Important things, you know."