It was a lovely evening when the young man appeared in Ragnor Bella. Mr. Dart could recognize that much, even if he wasn’t feeling very pleasant about it.
It was a lovely evening. It was just that it had passed midsummer and was coming on towards fall, and the Honourable Rag had been home for ages, and Mr. Dart himself had been home even longer, and Jemis had stopped writing altogether and then Mrs. Buchance had told him that she hadn’t heard from Jemis either–
The Honourable Rag had suggested that it should have been a relief when Mrs. Buchance had stopped them, for Mr. Dart to know that Jemis hadn’t just cut him off. Mr. Dart was worried.
The lane out again from Dart Hall was shady, and in the evening light it was dim. Mr. Dart could feel himself relaxing as he walked away.
Mr. Dart heard the stranger before he saw him. The other man was talking as he walked, a low murmur all Mr. Dart could make out, though the man’s hands were animated.
He was long and walked with an easy ground-covering stride that bobbed him up and down. Everything about him suggested affability, from his easy smile to the flop of blond hair on his forehead. He lifted a hand when he saw Mr. Dart and broke off what he was saying, so that Mr. Dart only just caught a strange word, “Jarlsmoot,” and something about stone men going north.
Mr. Dart deliberately looked away from the stranger’s bare forearms and bowed, with his best hand flourishes. “Good evening. I am Mr. Dart. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr…” He glanced back at the man, whose smile had intensified somehow.
“Hello. My name is Ylfing. I’m a Chant.” Mr. Dart had surely imagined the way the stranger’s eyes flicked up and down his body.
“A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Ylfing. Can I help you find your way anywhere?”
Mr. Ylfing looked at him – perhaps the bow had been a little much – and then shrugged. “I was thinking it might be time to find a place to stop for the night. Do you know if anyone in the area might be willing to lend me an empty stall in exchange for a story or two?”
Mr. Dart frowned. “Here, don’t be absurd. My brother will put you up for the night. He has the space.” He turned back up the lane and waited for Mr. Ylfing to follow him. (He wasn’t going to think about why he felt so strongly that a wanderer should have hospitality heaped upon him without having to bargain for it. The fact that this Mr. Ylfing was built like Jemis didn’t help.)
Mr. Ylfing was still standing in the road where it met the lane.
Mr. Dart waited.
“I’m not– if you were going somewhere, I don’t need you to stop what you were doing on my account. I’m a Chant,” the perplexing man repeated, “which means I tell stories in exchange for everything. I’m not always a very good one, so I can also help with farm chores or what–” He broke off as Mr. Dart bowed at him again.
“Rest assured, we won’t be putting ourselves out, Mr. Ylfing. My brother has room enough to put up several Chants at once, and I wasn’t really going anywhere. Just out picking mushrooms.” The two-tailed fox would be out there somewhere waiting, but Mr. Ylfing was… Mr. Ylfing was reminding Mr. Dart too much of some people. Mr. Dart wasn’t going to leave him out here. Although… “He’s in a relationship with another man. If that bothers you, I can help you find a different house.”
Just because Mr. Ylfing might have given him a onceover didn’t mean that Mr. Ylfing would take an open relationship between two men in his stride. The Charese hadn’t all restrained themselves from looking, but they certainly had been implacable towards anyone associated with–
Mr. Dart dropped his gaze.
Mr. Ylfing sounded nonplussed. “So am I. I mean, not currently, but… I like men. I’m not going to judge a host for feeling the same.” There was a pause. “And you?”
It was obvious, speaking to him, that he couldn’t have been Jemis. He had a slight accent – just enough to round the words in unexpected places – and he was lighter haired. Broader shouldered. They looked nothing alike.
It was just that something about Mr. Ylfing felt like Jemis. He felt comfortable.
Mr. Dart found himself admitting what he hadn’t admitted to anyone yet. Not out loud. “I don’t think it matters for me.”
Mr. Ylfing just nodded, like it wasn’t – like it was normal – and continued. “What sort of mushrooms were you planning to pick?”
It was getting dark enough Mr. Dart wasn’t sure Mr. Ylfing could see the smile on his face as he admitted, “It’s a euphemism for making mischief in these parts.”
Mr. Ylfing’s hesitation was visible even in the half-light. “What counts as making mischief around here?” His body had gone tight, and he had drawn himself up straighter. He looked miserable. Mr. Dart felt a surge of anger at whoever had done something that hurt Ylfing and called it mischief.
“Some go carousing, or playing Poacher – that’s the local card game. Our- my friend’s father was the best at it.” He could hear his grief over Jemis’s absence in his voice. “I like to go walking in the woods. Sometimes I find someone to–” He paused, torn between assuring Mr. Ylfing that he wasn’t planning anything that would hurt anyone and his habitual silence. His brother couldn’t know how trapped Mr. Dart felt. He would feel badly, and there was nothing he could do about it anyway.
Mr. Ylfing seemed to understand without making Mr. Dart say it, for he had relaxed. “I’m sorry about your friend’s father. It’s clear how much you care about him.”
Mr. Dart blinked. Cleared his throat. “That was ages ago.” Jemis had been devastated. What if suicides did run in his family though? That last letter had– Mr. Dart shook his head and turned away. “Come in, and we’ll find you somewhere to stay for the night.”
Mr. Ylfing hesitated, and then fell in beside him.
Mr. Dart led Chant Ylfing – Sir Hamish had managed to find out that it was a sort of title – upstairs and nodded at the door to a room. “You can stay there tonight.” He hesitated.
Chant Ylfing had spent the dinner alternating between making conversation (mostly with Mr. Dart’s brother and with Sir Hamish) and complimenting Mr. Dart himself. Mr. Dart was caught somewhere between charmed and on edge as a result. (After dinner he had told a tale about a pirate, and in return Mr. Dart’s brother had sung Aurora and “That Party”. Chant Ylfing had watched Mr. Dart the whole time.)
Chant Ylfing glanced at him from under his eyelashes. “I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable, Mr. Dart. You don’t have to flirt back to be polite.”
Mr. Dart blinked. He supposed he had turned most of those compliments back onto the giver… Then his thoughts caught up with the words.
“You were flirting? I– That is, I’m very flattered, but I am responsible for getting an heir eventually.” Mr. Dart hated everything.
Chant Ylfing smiled at him. “Are you saving yourself for that day?” and then when Mr. Dart shook his head, said, “I will be leaving in a few days, you know. I’m not looking for something long-term.”
Mr. Dart hesitated, and then kissed Chant Ylfing in answer.
Chant Ylfing kissed wholeheartedly. Mr. Dart could feel his focus narrow in on Mr. Dart’s reactions.
Mr. Dart took advantage of Chant Ylfing pulling back for a breath and gasped “Room.”
Chant Ylfing moaned against his mouth, but allowed Mr. Dart to steer them through the door into the room Chant Ylfing was to stay in.
Mr. Dart’s experience with assignations had been limited thus far to trysts in abandoned churches and underbrush with a fay creature of indeterminate gender who did not bother with clothing when they weren’t in the shape of a fox any more than they did when they were. The fact that Chant Ylfing’s clothes were also strange to him, almost a short version of a Dominus’s robe over undershirt and trousers than a gentleman’s layers, further complicated the matter.
Mr. Dart tried to concentrate on that, though it was difficult with Ylfing’s mouth hot on his neck.
“Chant– Ah!– Chant Ylfing. Do you want–”
Chant Ylfing removed his mouth from Mr. Dart’s skin. It took willpower not to lean after it. “My name is Ylfing. Please.”
“Ylfing. I’ll get my clothes if you’ll deal with yours?” Mr. Dart paused, hands already unbuttoning waistcoat and vest without thinking about it and added, reluctant, “If you want to call me Perry…”
Ylfing frowned at him as he shucked his clothing. “Do you want me to call you Perry?”
Mr. Dart should have been able to say yes.
Ylfing looked almost relieved. “I don’t mind calling you Mr. Dart. It’s refined, like you.” Mr. Dart blinked at him, looking for the hidden sneer, but Ylfing was wide-eyed and apparently sincere.
Mr. Dart shed his final layer and allowed Ylfing to pull him close rather than find a response.
Mr. Dart’s focus narrowed in on Ylfing’s bare foot brushing the side of his own, Ylfing’s leg against his inner thigh, Ylfing’s cock against his hip and his belly against Mr. Dart’s own cock and his chest brushing Mr. Dart’s. Ylfing’s mouth was on his collarbone again, and Mr. Dart tipped his head forward to mouth at Ylfing’s ear and gasped, “The Lady, Ylfing, your mouth.”
He could feel Ylfing smile against his skin.
Mr. Dart lifted trembling hands to Ylfing’s back and side – long warm expanses of skin against his palms – and Ylfing groaned.
“Your hands. So good.” Ylfing slipped one of his own hands between them to brush Mr. Dart’s cock, and Mr. Dart shuddered. He brought one hand to the front of Ylfing to return the favor.
Ylfing’s voice was rougher when he spoke again. “How do you want this to go? What do you want to get out of it?”
Mr. Dart hesitated.
“Tell me.” Ylfing began pressing open-mouthed kissed to Mr. Dart’s neck between words. “Let me” – Pause. Kiss. – “take care of you for a change.” Pause. Kiss. “You’re so good” – a pair of kisses, one on Mr. Dart’s inner arm, the other on his palm – “at taking care of everyone.” Tender kisses to each finger pad. “It’s so clear to see.” A nip to Mr. Dart’s wrist. “Let me take care of you.”
Mr. Dart swallowed. “What about you?”
Ylfing looked into his eyes. “I don’t think you’re in any danger of falling in love with me.”
Mr. Dart smiled crookedly. “Not in any permanent way.” He paused. “Sorry.”
Ylfing shook his head. “Don’t be. That’s what I want out of this. Good sex. Maybe the chance to enjoy those beautiful arms.” He groped one with the hand that wasn’t still lazily stroking Mr. Dart. “What do you want?”
Mr. Dart opened his mouth to say something – anything – and the truth accidentally fell out. “I want to stop thinking.” He winced and looked at Ylfing and prepared to lie however he needed to in order to sleep with this man.
Ylfing was smiling at him. “I can do that.”
The next moment Mr. Dart was tipping backwards onto the bed and Ylfing was crawling over him, still kissing him.
Mr. Dart’s sometime foxy lover didn’t do much kissing. Of course, when sleeping with the fey, half the excitement was the danger of it. It didn’t matter that they didn’t do much aside from getting each other off. The important bit was that it wasn’t acceptable.
Ylfing was entirely different.
Mr. Dart gasped at the hot mouth on his nipple and rocked his hips up into Ylfing, grinding against him.
Ylfing was watching him.
Mr. Dart rocked his hips up again and Ylfing gripped his hips and held them down. Whatever he saw must have been encouraging, because the next thing he knew, Ylfing bit him. Mr. Dart had just enough thought left to silently beg the walls to keep the sound in as he shouted, and then his thoughts deserted him as he writhed under Ylfing until he came with a shout.
When Mr. Dart found his way back to himself, Ylfing was lying propped on one elbow and stroking his cock with one hand while he watched Mr. Dart. He looked close.
Mr. Dart reached out and touched Ylfing’s forearm. Ylfing paused, trembling, and waited.
Mr. Dart considered. “May I?”
Ylfing was babbling before Mr. Dart’s hand had replaced his own, about how good and strong Mr. Dart was, how beautiful his hands were, and his forearms, and his kindness– and he came on the quilt between them, and Mr. Dart sat up and leaned down beside the bed and found his shirt where he had dropped it and mopped up. (It was either that or persuading the quilt that it didn’t want to stain, and Mr. Dart wasn’t sure that wouldn’t be noticed.)
Ylfing watched him. “Will you stay, or do you want to sleep in your own bed? Or did we end up in your room? If so, do you want me to leave?”
Mr. Dart smiled past the way his throat caught at the idea of doing this in his room with anyone (or anyone who wasn’t–) and shook his head. “Your room. I can stay if it won’t bother you.”
He roused himself enough to slide under the covers and then hesitated. “Ylfing, may I…” Mr. Dart hadn’t done a lot of post-coital cuddling, but Roald Ragnor talked about it like it was at least as important as the first bit. “Can I hold you?”
Ylfing paused, and then slid towards Mr. Dart with alacrity. “Please.”
Mr. Dart turned on his side and spent a few minutes arranging himself. There was a moment of too much contact between his cock and Ylfing’s backside, and then not enough contact anywhere – cuddling did imply some contact – and then Mr. Dart’s arm draped over Ylfing too far down his side… but eventually they were lying, Mr. Dart’s chest to Ylfing’s bare back, his face in Ylfing’s neck, and his arm hanging down Ylfing’s chest, lazily tracing symbols on his chest. Under other circumstances they could have been the symbols from one of Jemis’s beloved puzzle poems, but Ylfing deserved better than that, so they were nonsense instead.
Mr. Dart hated that the Honourable Rag was right. Yfling was warm against him as he drifted off to sleep.
Mr. Dart walked Ylfing out the following morning.
Ylfing shone in the early morning light, and he turned the full focus of that light on Mr. Dart as they paused at the end of the lane. “Thank you for everything, Mr. Dart.” He blushed.
Mr. Dart grinned and bowed elaborately. “The pleasure was all mine.”
Ylfing lifted his chin. “No, I mean it. Thank you. I don’t like to feel like I’m leaving broken hearts or… or leaving a mess behind.”
Ylfing looked terribly earnest, so Mr. Dart didn’t make the joke, but nodded and smiled and told him, “No mess here. Not from you.” He wasn’t sure that he could admit to anything more, so he bowed again instead and offered, “Thank you.”
Ylfing smiled slowly, offered a bow of his own, (distinctly not Alinorel in origin and Mr. Dart wondered again which of the Nine Worlds the other man was from) and turned towards the sun. Mr. Dart watched him walk away and then turned away. It was harvest season and a good brother would help with that.