Because there isn't nearly enough fantasy in real life to suit me, so I feel obliged to make some up.
During the Sorcerie Wars:
"Would you promise me something?" Felix whispered, his breathing labored.
Bastien looked at him from where they were crouched behind a small outcropping of rock. Felix's eyes were glassy and full of pain, his normally pale skin flushed to a sickly pallid pink. One blood-splattered, tattooed hand was pressed against his side, where crimson seeped and pooled from the jagged wound an enemy mage had inflicted.
When he looked like that, Bastien thought he would have promised Felix anything. The part of him that was still a Harlequin rebelled against that, though, too strong to resist, and he just took Felix's hand. That wasn't an answer, but he would let Felix think it was.
The misdirection worked. A smile of relief spread across Felix's pain-weary features, and he gripped Bastien's hand with feverish strength. "Please, promise that you won't leave me. Promise that you'll never leave me, Bastien."
The Harlequin's breath caught painfully in his throat.
My eighty-seventh alias.
Just a temporary persona, quickly and easily discarded.
But he managed to smile at Felix anyway, and squeezed the younger man's fingers gently. "Do I look like I'm going anywhere, Felix?"
It was in no way an answer, and if Felix hadn't been delirious with fever and blood loss, Bastien would never have gotten away with it. But, as muddled as he was, Felix just smiled and closed his eyes, unaware of either the soldiers approaching or the liar in front of him, whose heart was breaking even more at the sight of that small, peaceful smile. "Thank you, Bastien."
Bastien closed his own eyes, fighting off both the guilt that swamped him and the pain that rose like a drowning wave. Don't think about it, he told himself, that small, callous voice that sounded unsettlingly old and unforgivably jaded. He's just another character; your name is just another alias. It means nothing. He means nothing. Just record what's happening. You'll be leaving soon anyway. No attachments, no bonds. You are a Harlequin, the clan head's successor. A spy, a thief, a recorder of events disguised as one of them. Not their friend. Not their comrade.
Not his lover, no matter what you seem to think.
So now, let go.
Bastien let go of that pale, unmoving hand and let it fall to the bloody ground. Slowly, deliberately, he stood, turned away, and picked up his mage's staff, walking towards the advancing soldiers with only one thought in his mind.
This is how it has to be. No matter how you feel, this is it. You could have just as easily been on the other side.
Focus, Harlequin. That's all you are, and all you will ever be.
Bastien raised the staff, invoked the rune of flame, and burned away every stray thought that was not for his mission.
It was what had to be done.
Ten years later:
"Another cup of coffee, Mr. Gapon?"
Harlequin looked up at her, sweeping the long auburn hair out of his face with an absent shake of his head, and nodded. "Thank you, Amelia."
The older woman smiled indulgently and patted his hand as she refilled his cup. "Don't read so much, Mr. Gapon. Not those propaganda rags. Nothing in there but what the government wants us to hear, and little to no truth in a word of it."
The Harlequin managed a small smile. "Well. It's a good story, at least. And it's good to know all of the sides to an argument."
She clucked her tongue at him. "Enough of that, boy. That's what a fancy education gets you, too many thoughts in one head. Only two sides, aren't there? Us and the enemy. No need to invent more, I say."
Harlequin looked past her for a moment, out at the crowded streets and the people making their way past the riverside café. His mind turned back to a person he had once known, a beautiful young man who worked tirelessly to save those everyone else called their enemy. He remembered sapphire eyes, haunted by the knowledge that something was slowly eating away at his mind and body, that he was changing into an enemy himself. A tired face with too many lines for one so young. The bloody, agonizing tears he had cried, when he had failed to save a foe.
"But what if the enemy is your ally, and you never knew it?" he asked out loud, his voice soft and musing. "What if what everyone told you was wrong?"
Then Harlequin realized what he had said, and snapped out of the near-trance he had fallen into, shaking his head. "Sorry, I don't know what I'm saying. You're probably right. I've been reading too much."
Looking mollified, Amelia nodded. "Well, take your time, Mr. Gapon. I've got to go get the lunch ready. Tabitha, the innkeeper's daughter, was by earlier to tell me that they've got new guests today. Her mother always sends there here for meals, the old dear. I want to pop something special into the oven." With one last pat to his hand, she bustled back into the café.
Harlequin sighed, taking a long sip of coffee. Visitors were strange here, in a town with only a few thousand people. He wondered absently where they were going, or if they knew anything about what was happening in the capital. As Harlequin, he should probably go see for himself, but winter had already set in, and this southern town was warm and peaceful. He couldn't bring himself to leave just yet.
Before he could help it, his memory drifted again, back to a past that hadn't faded at all since it had happened.
Felix smiles at him across the sparing area, looking fey and dangerous in his long black cloak, the fur-trimmed hood framing a face too lovely to be anything but androgynous.
They watch the sunset from the roof of the train, silent and side by side in the settling darkness.
Felix leans up and kisses him gently, a chaste press of lips that leaves them both wanting far, far more.
Blood on the battlefield and the fierce kisses that followed, reaffirming that the other was alive and whole.
Felix's wide, uncomprehending blue eyes when his lover turns away from him, dismissing what they have as a mere diversion, as play. Meaningless.
The door closing softly, as he walks away for the last time.
Harlequin sighed again and opened his eyes. The coffee was cold. He set it aside and stood, leaving his paper for whoever came next, and made his way down towards the river. A path ran along the edge of the water, and he headed for it, making his way through the market-day crowd that filled the streets.
But then, out of the corner of his eye, he caught a flash of black and silvery-gold, and spun.
A little girl shrieked with laughter as a man swung her up into his arms, the white-blond woman beside him laughing merrily as she moved her picnic basket out of danger of the girl's kicking feet. Her black shawl slipped slightly, and she absently pulled it back over her shoulders.
Harlequin stared at them for a long minute, unable to move his gaze. What had he been expecting? A mage's embroidered coat and a fringe of silver-and-gold hair just barely visible beneath the hood? A ghost from ten years ago, come back to haunt him?
With a shake of his head, he made to turn back to the river, but froze again when a soft voice murmured, "Bastien."
"No," he whispered back, drawing a few looks, but he ignored them. "No. That's not me anymore. It's just a memory. He's not here. He thinks I'm dead. He can't be here."
The small voice of his Harlequin side was silent, probably pitying him for needing such blatant comfort after hearing voices that he had obviously created himself. Harlequin ignored that and continued down to the water's edge, leaning against the wooden railing that separated the path from the river. A cold wind was blowing, and he shivered slightly, glad of his thick coat and scarf.
"Still haunting me, Felix?" he whispered into the wind. "Haven't you had your fun already? I still haven't written about it, even after a decade, and I haven't read the old man's account, either. I can't. Isn't that good enough revenge, when I never even promised you anything? For God's sake, I don't even know if you survived."
He remembered the final battle, but not its outcome. The old Harlequin, the clan head and his father, had hidden him away, under the guise of death, and then joined him later. They had both left the Moon-Lady's Hand, cutting their ties with the white sorcerers and moving on to the next crisis of humanity.
But, as much as he tried to reject it, some part of Harlequin still remained Bastien. It was a piece bound by sapphire eyes in starlight, pale skin and shimmering hair spread across moon-dappled sheets, and the nearly inaudible I love you Felix had whispered long after he thought Bastien had fallen asleep. Those were bonds that even Harlequin—the cold, indifferent traitor and observer—couldn't break.
How many days? he wondered absently. How many days have I thought about him? Every day, or just some of them? Has he ever really been out of my thoughts?
Harlequin dropped his head down onto his crossed arms. He laughed bitterly. "Damn it! Just thinking about him makes me hallucinate. How am I supposed to—?"
He jerked his head up, heart pounding. That voice was undeniably real. Slowly, deliberately—just as he had once walked away from the only person who had ever mattered—he turned around, staring at the slender figure on the other side of the path.
He's changed, was Harlequin's first, inane thought. He shook it off. Of course he has. It's been ten years. But this…
The thought faded in the face of what that bony, endearingly awkward, and somewhat childlike young man had become. Felix had grown taller—though not too much, he noted with amusement—and was even lovelier than Harlequin remembered. The angles of youth had become finer, more exotic. His hair was still the silver of polished pewter, the gold of well-aged treasure, but now long, falling in a loose braid to the middle of his back. It glittered in the sun, stark against the mercurial blue of his eyes and the black of his fitted, knee-length coat. The runic circle and pentacle of the Lady's Hand was stitched on the breast in red and white thread. Harlequin's eyes traveled downward, without his permission. The coat hid a lot, but Felix still had the same long, slim legs, encased in black pants and calf-high boots. His gaze lifted again, tracing over the faint grey tattoos that marked Felix as a sorcerer—the number of them declaring him one of the highest-ranked mages of their time.
Felix was also staring at him. Harlequin mentally catalogued the changes he would see: shoulder-length hair, brushed back from his face and no longer held by a tattered scarf; larger hoops in his ears, gold instead of silver, bearing a single green bead; simple clothes, with a thigh-length black coat and dark grey pants, and a scarf in concession to the weather. Eyes that were far older. No easy smile like the one Bastien had worn so effortlessly, and so misleadingly. He wondered what Felix would make of the changes. Too many? Not enough? Ten years had passed. How many changes should he have gone through, cut off from the only one he wanted to see?
And then the eerie stillness was broken in a rush of motion. Felix hurled himself forward, crossing the distance between them in a few swift, running steps, and threw himself into Harlequin's chest, wrapping his arms around the taller man and burying his face in Harlequin's shoulder.
"Bastien! It really is you!" His voice was still the same, sweet and gentle with a core of solid steel. It broke slightly in the middle, but he went on regardless. "Everyone thought you were dead! I'm so glad that you're alive, Bastien, so glad."
Harlequin stared down at the top of the pale, bowed head. He couldn't bring himself to push Felix away, but he couldn't return the embrace, either. His arms stayed limply at his side as he said in shock, finally finding his voice, "Felix? But…how did you—?"
"Find you?" Felix finished, raising his head. His eyes were suspiciously bright, but there was a flicker of mischief in their depths, as well. "Or how did I know you were alive?"
Unable to speak, Harlequin just nodded. He wanted to know both. Either would do to start.
Felix smiled, that sweet, gentle smile that could still make his heart turn over, and dropped his forehead against Harlequin's chest. "You're an idiot, Bastien. Of course you weren't dead. Hattie's an empath, and she was touching all of us—she would have felt it if you had been killed. You just disappeared, so we knew something had happened. And when Harlequin withdrew from the Lady's Hand and surrendered his staff…that was answer enough. Kristof told everyone you had died in the attack, but some of us knew the truth."
Against his will, Harlequin's hands closed around Felix's slim shoulders, not holding him closer, but not pushing him back, either. After a few moments of searching for words, he managed, "I'm Harlequin now. Not Bastien. Bastien really is dead."
Felix shook his head, the smile still there. "No. You'll always be Bastien to me, no matter what." He rose onto his tiptoes and brushed his lips against Harlequin's. It was just as soft and chaste as their very fist kiss, and that somehow made it all the more special. Then he rested his head on Harlequin's shoulder again, and continued. "The Hand was almost dissolved after the last battle, there were so few of us left. Marie, Vasili, Midian, Blanche, Orlando…so many died."
His voice broke again, and he looked away for a moment. Then he shook himself, sending some of that long, glittering hair sliding over his face. "But Cornelius and a few of the others refused to step down. Hope and Silas, actually, were some of the strongest supporters. We got the Hand reestablished in a new headquarters, and started an independent peacekeeping force. We've helped, I think. And when we had enough connections established, I started to spread the word that I was looking for a man with red-brown hair and green eyes. A few weeks ago, someone sent word that they had seen you in the neighboring town, so I came to look for you myself."
Harlequin was still for a few moments, processing what Felix had told him. It was incredible, really. To take the crumbling skeleton of an organization that had existed for millennia and, within ten years, completely change it—that was a task he would never have thought manageable. But the mages had done it. Doubtless, they were still soldiers, but now they kept the peace instead of continuing their former mercenary tradition. For those whose greatest talents lay in fighting, it was the best change possible.
Felix was watching him again, sapphire-sky eyes sad and concerned. Gently, he raised one slim hand and traced the outline of Harlequin's cheek. "Did I really mean that little to you?" he whispered. "Was I really nothing but a diversion?" He clenched his hands in Harlequin's coat, bowing his head over them. Strands of loose hair swung forward to veil his face. "Was I really nothing but a distraction to you, Bastien?"
Harlequin—Bastien—felt his heart breaking, slowly but surely, little bits of frost flaking off and falling away. The fortress of ice he had built to keep everything away from him, to be able to watch and observe and never react, was melting from Felix's mere presence. Like the tears that ran from Felix's eyes in silence, it was dissolving and flowing away. Closing his eyes tightly, Harlequin let out a slow breath and lifted his arms. One hand slid around Felix's waist and pulled him closer, the other rising to cup the back of Felix's head and press it against his shoulder. Harlequin leaned down and pressed a kiss to Felix's hair.
"Why couldn't I forget you?" he asked helplessly, tightening his grip. "This feeling is always inside of me, no matter what. It's not just from the past. It's not over."
"You're an idiot, Bastien." Felix raised his head and met his gaze, the slightest hint of pout on his features. "Of course it's not over. I'm here, aren't I?" He kissed him again, this time with lips and tongue and teeth, and this time Harlequin responded desperately, with everything he had shut away for so many years. Felix tasted like the world after a rainstorm, fresh and clean and full to bursting with pure life.
When they finally separated, for want of air and no other reason, Harlequin chuckled and rested his forehead against Felix's. "It was futile, wasn't it?" he asked, and when Felix flinched, he soothed him, stroking his bright hair with one hand. "For so many years I held myself apart, but you were always there, like a thorn in my heart that I couldn't remove." Harlequin shook his head, planting a kiss on the tip of that delicate nose. "I can't give you up, Felix."
Joy spread over Felix's face, and he wrapped his arms around Harlequin in return, pulling him into a tight hold. They stood there for a few moments, reveling in the simple pleasure of being close, and then Felix raised his head and murmured in Harlequin's ear, "Come back to my room with me. I've missed you for too long, Bastien."
Harlequin wondered if it was possible for his brain to simultaneously melt and accelerate to impossible speeds. His heart sped up, and he found himself nodding mutely. Felix smiled and laced their fingers together, drawing away and pulling him up the path towards the town. Harlequin ignored the uncertain looks they received, more intent on the slim figure in front of him. He barely noticed as they entered the hotel and ascended the stairs, only to be shocked out of his daze by a derisive, "Humph."
Startled, he looked up and refocused on his surroundings. Creon leaned against the doorway of one of the rooms, arms folded, scowling. He turned that scowl on Felix. "So you found him, Phoenix. Congratulations."
He sounded like congratulations were the furthest thing from his mind.
Felix pulled up short, looking awkward. "I'm…I'm sorry, Creon, but…"
Creon snorted, then pushed off the doorframe and straightened, stalking past them. As he passed, though, he paused next to Harlequin, and—too low for Felix to hear—growled out, "The minute you drop your guard, bastard, or the second you hurt him, I'm taking him for myself. You're lucky I'm even warning you."
Tossing his long coat over one shoulder, he stalked down the hallway, calling back, "I'm leaving, Phoenix, since you don't need me anymore. Don't take too long before you head back, or I'll have to come find you."
Harlequin blinked after the dark-haired sorcerer as he disappeared down the stairs. "Did he just…?"
Felix flushed, fidgeting slightly. "Um…Creon only came with me so I didn't do anything stupid, and to remind me of our…bargain. I…kind of agreed that I'd give him a chance if I couldn't find you within a month."
"A chance?" Harlequin's brain felt numb. Then the neurons reconnected, and he blinked. "You mean at you? He wants to—" He trailed off, spluttering slightly.
Felix's cheeks turned even darker red. "We…um…one night, about four years ago. I was really depressed, and Creon said some things that…Well, that was the only time, but since then Creon's been, um, insistent that I…give him an opportunity to, um…take your place."
Feeling a burst of possessiveness that made him want to growl like a caveman and beat his chest, Harlequin wrapped an arm around Felix's waist and pulled him close. "I hope you made it abundantly clear that he's never going to have another chance?"
"Of course." Felix smiled up at him, hands rising to wind in Harlequin's hair and pull his head down for a kiss. He spoke against the elder's lips, still smiling. "You're the one I love, Bastien. No matter what you call yourself, or where you go, I'll always love you."
Creon stormed into the main hall of the inn, slammed down the money to cover the room, and jerked his head at the waiting Eric. "Come on. They won't be following for another few days, but some of us actually have duties to take care of."
Eric fell into step beside him, looking solemn and slightly wistful. "You knew Felix was going to find him. It's all he's wanted for ten years now. Give up, Creon. His heart has already left you."
"Give up? Like you have?" Creon glared at the blond man. "I don't think so. The second Felix's unhappy, I'm slaughtering the interfering bastard and taking his place. And don't try to say you'd do anything else, either."
Eric smiled like a hungry snake. "Yes. I dare say that, between the two of us, we can contrive to make Armageddon look like a flesh would, should the new Harlequin decide to hurt our beloved Master Sorcerer."
Creon snarled, his hand clenching around his mage's staff. "Forget Armageddon. I'll just fucking murder him."
Eric sighed and opened the door before Creon could kick it down. "And to think I once considered you the smart one. You have the all subtlety of a big wooden club."
Before, their times together had always been rushed, by either circumstance or their own driving need. After being apart for an entire decade, Felix would have thought that their need would be more driving than all the other times put together.
But it wasn't.
Slowly, carefully, they removed clothing, folding it and laying it aside. Jackets, shirts, boots, pants, and everything else was taken off with incredible care and neatly laid aside with only the most furtive brushings of skin. Only when they were completely bare did they finally come together, hands stroking over limbs and soothing across skin. Bastien—because he would always be Bastien to Felix, no matter what he called himself—gently undid the ribbon on Felix's braid, carding his fingers through the long hair and settling it over his bare shoulders.
"Beautiful," he whispered, bringing a lock up to his lips and kissing it.
Felix shivered, feeling as though Bastien had kissed something much more intimate than hair, and closed his eyes.
Bastien chuckled, a thick rasp full of want, and finally pulled Felix into his arms, pressing their bodies flush against each other, hands running over every part of him that was within reach. Bastien's breath was hot in his ear as he murmured, "Don't look at me like that, Felix. You already look good enough to eat. Now you're just tempting me more. If you're not careful, I might just keep you in that bed for the next week or so."
Felix shivered again, trying to fight down the need that was overwhelming him. It wasn't sexual, not really. He wanted Bastien's skin on his, Bastien's mouth on his, Bastien's voice filling his mind and wiping away the bitter loneliness of the past ten years. Lifting his hands, he trailed one up the Harlequin's back, the other dipping lower to find the proof that Bastien wanted him just as much.
"Creon will come looking for me, if you do," he managed to get out, feeling the searing heat between his fingers. "I have to be back at Headquarters by—ah!"
Bastien's wicked fingers had found a place that hadn't been touched in years—not since his single night with Creon, when he had begun to believe Bastien truly dead and lost to him forever. Felix arched into the touch, pushing back at the same time. It hurt a little, since the finger was dry, but it was worth it. This was Bastien. After so many, many years of hopelessly chasing phantoms, Bastien was finally here.
"Bed," Bastien said firmly, but his voice was rough. He all but tossed Felix onto the mattress, then slid over him, kissing at every reachable bit of skin. Felix gasped, twining his fingers in Bastien's autumn-bright hair as fiery kisses trailed down his body.
But somehow, despite all the time they had been apart, there was no hurrying between them. Every motion felt languid, as though they had all the time in the world. Slowly, gradually, they explored each other, finding scars both new and old, relearning sensitive spots, kissing whatever they could find. Bastien yelped when Felix kissed the inside of his right elbow, and Felix moaned when Bastien nipped at his collarbone, and they both laughed when lips found their ribcages. Then lips moved lower, hands caressing, and the laughter turned breathless.
They ended with Felix on top, straddling Bastien's hips. He bent forward, bracing his hands on Bastien's shoulders, and kissed him gently. His long hair swung forward, a glittering curtain around their faces as he smiled down at the man beneath him—really a man now, not a boy with too many responsibilities. Being Harlequin suited Bastien, as though it were a skin that he had been born to wear.
"Felix?" Bastien looked up at him questioningly.
Felix just shook his head and leaned over the edge of the bed, fishing for his pack. A moment later, he came up with a small bottle of oil. When one of Bastien's brows rose slightly, Felix ducked his head, feeling heat creep up his cheeks. "I use it sometimes, when I'm…um."
Thankfully, Bastien didn't press the matter. He just chuckled and let Felix coat him with the oil. "I'm glad, then. Will you be all right? If it's been so long—ah!"
Felix groaned as he sank down, and threw his head back at the feeling of heat and tightness and intimate invasion. Distantly, a part of his brain took note that even Bastien couldn't keep talking at a time like this, and tucked that thought away for later use. He rolled his hips, shifting just enough for friction, and watched as Bastien's face changed with the motion. His hands came up to Felix's hips, rocking them together, and they settled in a slow, languid rhythm that didn't leave enough breath in their lungs for anything more than gasps and short, panting moans.
"Bastien," Felix whispered after an endless time that seemed far too short, his hands clenching on the Harlequin's shoulders. "I'm—!
Bastien pulled him down and kissed him fiercely, even as the heat between them reached a peak. Felix cried out into the kiss as he came, but Bastien kept his mouth there, even as his own body jerked and the heat of his release filled Felix. They kissed even as they came down off the high, bodies separating, gasping for breath between each press of lips, each flick of tongue. When they finally parted, Felix dropped, boneless, to Bastien's chest, too sated to even move.
Bastien chuckled breathlessly and wrapped his arms around the smaller man. "I love you, Felix."
Felix closed his eyes, even as warmth filled him like sunlight. "That's the first time you've said it, you know," he murmured into Bastien's collarbone.
The Harlequin just shook his head. "Can you ever forgive—?"
Felix stopped him with a kiss. "Yes. Always. Just don't leave me again, and I'll always forgive you, for anything."
"Yes, Bastien, even for the library incident."
Bastien laughed and kissed him back. "If ten years was all it took to get you to forgive everything, maybe I should vanish more often. I thought that you were never going to let that go."
Opening one eye, Felix raised an eyebrow. "I said I forgave you, not that I was letting it go. And if you ever disappear on my again, I will never, ever forgive you, Bastien."
"Then it's a good thing I'm not going anywhere, isn't it?" Bastien tightened his arms, holding the smaller man closer, until their hearts settled into a single rhythm. "I'm yours, Felix, for as long as you can stand me."
Felix closed his eyes again, appeased. "Good. Because I want you forever." He yawned, unable to help himself, and snuggled against the Harlequin's chest. "I love you, Bastien," he whispered, even as he drifted towards sleep.
Harlequin lay there for a long time afterwards, holding the slender body close to him.
My eighty-seventh alias.
But somehow, it's the sweetest sound I've ever heard.
For anyone interested, Creon and Eric's story continues in The Chimaera's Kiss. Because unrequited love is no fun for anyone. (And when I stared to write, Eric got chatty. Like, really chatty. +7000 words kinds of chatty.