A raspy, stifling breath drew itself dryly across his nose and throat. It hurt, the parched quality of the cool air. Eyelids with a thick fringe of blond lashes moved restlessly, and a delicate furrow formed between his brows. Discomfort was pulling the deep slumberer out of his blessed sleep with gently intrusive fingers.
Something heavy was weighing down on the sleeper—something infinitely mysterious and curious. He couldn’t figure it out in his half-conscious state, but he just knew it. He was floating between his dreams and reality—the impossible and the unattainable. For an inane moment, his subconscious realized that he should be worried about something—or was it that he should be worried about someone? Either way, he should be concerned, despite the fact that he had no idea what he should be troubled over.
A small grunt came from the lips, and his fingers twitched lightly on the sheets. Water, he thought, as his eyes parted, and he stared at the ceiling above him, disgruntled. His vision blurred until he blinked slowly. Wisps of his dream flickered before his eyes, but they dissipated rapidly.
Tiredly, he turned his head to the side, hoping there might be a carafe of water on the bedside table. There was no such luck. He sighed at his fate. He tried to swallow, and then to lick his lips, but it was to no avail. Nothing was left to moisten his mouth. Amusedly, he thought about the possibility of the dream making him feel like this. At least, he thought it was a dream, though it felt more like a premonition or pure, raw emotion.
He turned his thoughts away and lay still for a second. If it had been any other feeling but the pain he felt in the back of his throat with each silent breath, he would have been able to turn over and fall asleep once more. Yet there was a nagging feeling, as if his dreams were clumping up on his lashes and pulling him into wakefulness.
Water, he thought again, and there was a dulled roaring inside his head. He felt as if he could breathe pearls of a translucent, glimmering quality if he opened his mouth and sighed. The sensation was thick and foreboding, a strange match for the breathless weightlessness he felt.
He sat up slowly and wavered, blood rushing from his head to his body. Dots formed before his eyes, and he shook his head to dispel them. He would have to embark on a journey to the kitchen to relieve himself of the strange aftertaste in his mouth from the dream.
A quick wrinkle around his lips and nose was the only indication of the discomfort he felt when his bare feet glimpsed the cold mirror of the floor. Toes curled and uncurled against the unyielding surface. He swung his feet from side to side until he knocked over his boots, and he picked them up. Without lacing them, he jammed his feet in them and stood.
The curtains were drawn over the tall windows of his room, but he had no trouble seeing, his eyes already adjusted to the shadowy realm of the night. He tottered slightly, running his fingers across the cool, smooth walls once he was near enough to them to maintain balance. Once, he stumbled, but he yawned and righted himself. The burnished metal of the doorknob collapsed under the pressure of his hand, and he was in the hallway.
If he thought the room was quiet, he was sorely mistaken. The solidity of silence enveloped what seemed like the entire mansion, save the subtle ticking of a grandfather clock somewhere downstairs. Every breath he took echoed in his chest. The pure nothingness of the night was oppressive, and it reminded him a bit of the dream he was having. It fell away before he could begin to decipher it. He reached out and tried to grasp for it again, but no, he really could not recall more, except for the oppressive fluidity of the dark. He continued walking.
Uncovered windows—some leading out to balconies—flooded the otherwise dark hallways. Large rectangles of molten silver moonlight illuminated the glowing floor. Like a fairytale, the boy smiled. Like fairytales I’ve read about. The blurry edges of the sharp moon sliced deftly into the wood, unwaveringly static and unchanging.
He went onward, the heels of his boots clicking singularly across the light and shadow. Like a metronome, the steps went on, until they suddenly wavered and stilled. One of the rectangles was distorted by the silhouette of a person, it seemed. He wondered who it could be, being so late into the night already. Curiosity took hold of him, and he went on silently, staring intently at the stationary shadow and the balcony which he was sure held the answer to the mystery. He swallowed, despite the fact that there was nothing in his mouth.
The boy blinked warily and slowly approached the broken shadow. As he neared it, the overwhelming thirst he felt started to subside slightly, as if assuaged by the anticipation of realizing the enigmatic problem. One of the doors wasn’t properly closed, and the crack let in slivers of winter chill into the mansion. He pressed his left hand against the shut glass and looked wonderingly at the sight before him. At the moment, he was not sure whether or not he was still dreaming—the scene was so strangely surreal.
Languid smoke was whirling up from the figure’s fingertips, nose, and mouth. The gentle wisps turned the blue-black sky white for a split second before going grey, and then invisible. Curls of wavy hair were pulled back tautly with a string of ribbon fluttering gently in the air. It was feebly trying to imitate the ethereal trails of smoke around it with little success.
I could breathe pearls if I opened my mouth and sighed, the thought came suddenly. He didn’t understand it, but only brushed it aside. His throat stopped hurting.
The man outside was sitting down on a chair with one of his elbows leaning heavily on the small table next to him. For a second, he was fooled into thinking that the man was relaxed, but when he looked closer, he saw that he was wrong. Dark brows were finely pinched, his nervous fingers danced dangerously with his cigarette, and there was an acute stiffness in his neck and shoulders. His face was tilted in such a way that the boy was just able to perceive the faraway, cloudy look of the disgruntled individual.
He’s worried, he realized and angled his right hand against the open door. The hinges gave a high whine, dispelling any hope of his to make a discreet exit. The response was instantaneous: at that very second, the man started and turned around, his face flooding with surprise. Instinctively, he drew the cigarette from his mouth and dropped it on the floor.
“Oz…?” he asked, while grinding the butt with his heel. Smoke trickled from the corners of his mouth when he spoke and mingled briefly in his hair. He stood and stepped toward the doors. “What are you doing up so late?”
A pale smile flittered to the blonde’s lips. “I could ask you the same, Gil,” he said teasingly. “I wanted to get a drink of water when I saw you.” The second he said it, he realized he was no longer as insanely thirsty as he was when he awoke. It was a curious thing, for the sensation to go so quickly, but he hadn’t time to dawdle. He knew Gilbert would usher him back to his room if he lingered at the entryway for too long.
He pushed on the door harder and let himself out. Carefully, he closed it behind him. When he turned around, a slight chill hit him, and he shuddered. His sleeping clothes weren’t thin, but neither were they designed to brave open-aired nights.
A concerned look passed Gilbert’s face. “You’ll get cold out here.” He began to remove his coat and made his way toward his young master. Fluidly, he threw the garment around the boy’s shoulders and pulled it tightly to his body. Along with a swish of pure air, the lingering scent of burnt tobacco reached Oz’s nostrils. The length of the coat reached mid-thigh, making it more of a cloak than a coat. Oz’s face angled up toward his, and he smiled again. His hands brushed up against Gilbert’s as he clasped the fabric closely.
The servant averted his gaze and straightened out. “You should go back to bed,” he said, off to the side.
“You don’t want me here?” Oz queried with a hurt expression and reproachful voice. His head was tilted down, and a pout quirked his lips.
Startled by the accusation, Gilbert only managed to stammer, “No! That’s not it! I—” before the wily boy burst out into a tinkling laughter. With the dregs of a tittering giggle, Oz walked past him and leaned on the handrail of the balcony. “I’m just kidding with you, Gil,” he teased, looking at him out of the corners of his eyes and smiling wryly. “You should learn to match your words with your intentions more. Giving me your coat and then sending me away doesn’t make any sense.”
Open mouthed surprise donned Gilbert’s face as the verity of Oz’s statement hit him. He did not even realize his subconscious intentions until then. A breeze ruffled clumps of Oz’s disheveled hair, and he did the same with his fingers with an embarrassed look. He admitted defeat and went next to Oz, bracing himself against the only barrier between him and a potentially fatal fall to the floor below.
A few moments of calm silence filtered between them before Oz broke it.
“It’s pretty tonight,” the boy said quietly, staring at the sky.
“Hm?” Gilbert turned to see what Oz was looking at so intently. The huge moon, full and glowing, was reflected in his lucid eyes, no longer hindered by drowsiness. His lips were slightly parted, a look of gentle wonder and appreciation making his face soft and flush.
“The moon,” he replied, lifting an open hand as if to touch the surface of the bright, heavenly sphere. “It’s pretty tonight.” He curled his fingers around the elusive pendant. His hand dropped.
The man made a small noise in the back of his throat and smiled indulgently at him. “It is,” he agreed, staring wistfully at the night sky. His eyes shut gently, and he sighed through his nose. He left his hands clasped tightly in front of him, daring to dangle them over the edge of the balcony.
He could not see it, but Oz had turned his attention away from the sky and onto his profile. Quietly, he examined his servant’s face. Even while seemingly enjoying the cold night’s air, Gilbert’s lips were tightly stretched, and the crease between his eyebrows was still not gone. Though they were hidden beneath his gloves, Oz was sure that Gilbert’s knuckles and fingers were white from clenching together so hard. The boy reached out carefully and touched his arm, shocking the older male to open his eyes and look at him.
Without letting him speak, Oz voiced his concern gently. “You’re worried about something. What’s wrong?”
I don’t understand Gil’s feelings at all….
Oz’s breath hitched as he remembered his own words. His fingers tightened slightly on the coarse fabric of Gilbert’s shirt.
The man smiled softly and tilted his head endearingly. “It’s nothing, Oz.”
He pouted childishly. “Liar,” he said immediately. “You’re horrible at lying.”
Gilbert’s eyes widened marginally at the accusation, though he could not refute it.
Oz withdrew his hand and crossed his arms over his chest. “You’re not still worried about your answer, are you? The answer you couldn’t give me yet?”
Surprise filled the servant’s face when Oz said that. It was alarming how accurate he could be when he wished it. Gilbert smiled awkwardly, hoping his master would drop the topic. Fortune did not smile kindly upon him that night.
“I knew it!” the boy proclaimed, lifting his right hand and pointing up confidently. He shifted his weight to one side and started to waggle his finger mock-angrily at his servant. “I can’t believe you’re still all worked up over that, Gil! After all, I already told you it was okay, didn’t I?”
He opened his mouth to argue the point, but realized what Oz was trying to do and stopped. Gilbert laughed lightly and ruffled the blonde’s hair affectionately. “Thank you,” he said, dropping his hand to his master’s shoulder, touching his cheek and ear with his gloved fingers. Instinctively, Oz wanted to lean into the intimate touch, but jerked away when he realized how alarmingly cold Gilbert’s hand was. He grabbed it between his warmer, but also smaller, palms and pressed it firmly against his cheek and neck.
“You’re freezing, Gil,” he pressed his lips into his palm and breathed. His eyelashes fanned out over his cheeks as he shuddered at the cold touch. “You shouldn’t have given me your coat if you can’t stand the cold yourself.”
Wonder swept across the man’s face; he was not sure as to whether he should retract his hand or not. “But then,” he started, “you would be cold instead.”
His pure green eyes fluttered open, and Oz looked up at Gilbert. “Stupid,” he said with a small snort. The boy squeezed the chilled hand once before letting it drop and tugging him in the direction of the only chair on the balcony. “Sit.”
Gilbert stumbled along with the boy but balked at the demand. “But Oz, shouldn’t you—?”
“I don’t want to talk to you when you’re standing up,” he cut him off promptly, yanking on his hand again. “You’re too tall.”
“I really shouldn’t—”
Oz gave him a look. Despite how ridiculous he looked in a far-too-large coat, he still managed to look adequately threatening.
Exasperated at his tyrant of a master, Gilbert closed his mouth and resigned to his fate. He wriggled his hand out of the blonde’s grasp and sat gingerly on the chair, finding it incredibly awkward to be staring up at Oz. Since it was usually the superiors who sat before the servants, to have Oz stand in front of him felt entirely wrong. Especially when he was getting so close—
“Oz!” the servant yelled out abruptly, attempting to stand up again, only to be pushed back into the chair and stepped on by Oz’s boots. The boy was trying to climb him for a tree, it seemed. “What are you doing!”
Indignant as Gilbert was, Oz didn’t seem to care at all. With one hand on his shoulder and the other on his knee, the blonde was able to force the man into an awkward sitting position. When he placed a knee against Gilbert’s thigh, the man really did squawk aloud, trying his best to stop whatever strange advances his master was trying to put on him.
The blonde looked pointedly at the completely flustered and disheveled man, thereby effectively shutting him up. “You’re cold. So!” he replied simply, twisting his body so that he was finally sitting on Gilbert’s lap and nicely curled up. He snuggled against the layered cravat of his servant’s shirt and got comfortable.
The poor man tilted his head as far away from Oz as possible and sat completely frozen at the suddenness of it all. His arms were stuck out awkwardly and his legs were locked in order to minimize all forms of contact with Oz, which was truly a difficult task for him, seeing that the boy was completely flush with his body. “Oz, you’d best—” he stammered clumsily, feeling much hotter than he was before, though not necessarily for the best of reasons. His neck, ears, and face were completely red.
“It’s warmer like this,” Oz murmured against Gilbert’s pulse, worsening his blushing. His eyes were half-lidded, as if he were being lulled to sleep again by the warmth. “But,” he said, gaze becoming slightly clearer, “you going into rigor mortis really makes it difficult to be comfortable.”
He tried again for the umpteenth time, “But—!”
“Gilbert,” the blonde said in an angry voice most commonly used by sleepy and grumpy individuals, “I’m cold.”
Seeing that he literally had no way out of the situation, Gilbert surrendered and awkwardly wrapped his arms around Oz to keep the boy from having to support himself. Oz sighed and melted into the embrace, tugging his servant’s coat a bit closer to himself. Reluctantly, the man turned his head back down, startled that he was practically able to rest his chin on his master’s head.
Gilbert was sure Oz could feel how fast his heart was beating, even though his ear was pressed on the other side of his chest. It was just that loud. He had no idea what came over his master, but he really hoped no one would see them out there in such a position. Though it was endearing (Gilbert admitted that he had once held Oz up in such a manner once before), he still felt incredibly uneasy. But the boy seemed to like the arrangements so much that he couldn’t bear to refuse him then.
The blonde blinked slowly, not quite wanting to succumb to sleep yet. It was nice, sitting like that. Making Gilbert so flustered was just an added bonus. He reached up and started to twirl his finger around one strand of the ribbon keeping Gilbert’s hair back. The blue silk slipped smoothly around his fingers, twisting and bending to his will. Adequately amused by the action, he yanked on it, eliciting a small noise from Gilbert, and a firm hand stopped him.
“Don’t,” he implored, a tint of desperation dyeing his voice. He tried to pry Oz’s fingers off the defenseless ribbon but failed.
The boy held on stubbornly, interest piqued. “Why? What’s wrong?”
Through the thin material of his gloves, Gilbert could feel how warm and small Oz’s hand was under his. “Don’t. I just—” He slid his eyes to the side and blushed again.
“It’s not like you don’t like your hair, is it?” Oz asked, sleepiness slurring his words slightly.
For the second time in the night, Gilbert was found at a loss of words. He knew his master was intuitive, but now it was bordering ridiculous. It wasn’t as if he was so transparent that Oz could just guess, was it? He hoped not.
The boy giggled into his cravat. “That’s it then, right?” Adroitly, he slipped his hand from Gilbert’s and took the ribbon off. Curly strands of hair fell loose around the man’s indignant face.
He dropped the ribbon over Gilbert’s shoulder so he couldn’t reach it and threaded his right hand into the mop which Alice so “affectionately” called “seaweed.” Oz began to play with it.
Though he tried vainly to crane his neck so that Oz’s hold would slacken, it was to no avail. “Please, Oz, stop that…!”
“What’s wrong with it?” Oz asked, tilting his head closer to Gilbert’s neck. He might have just been imagining, but it felt like Oz’s lips were almost touching his neck.
Hoping that answering his master would be the fastest method to get him to settle down, the man gulped and mumbled an answer. “It’s just—I don’t…. Straighter….”
The giggles coming from Oz didn’t serve to make Gilbert feel any better. “Gil’s so silly. You don’t like your hair and just want it to be straighter?”
“Yes—well, it’s…” he said haltingly, a bit embarrassed at having to actually admit it out loud.
“I like it,” the boy said bluntly.
“I like your hair,” he clarified in the same monotone voice.
Dumbfounded, Gilbert couldn’t help but gape at the boy. His widened ones stared back into sleep-imbued eyes. Oz’s face was flushed, and his lips were parted slightly in drowsiness. Gilbert was startled by this sight and swallowed nervously.
“It’s okay. Don’t worry. I’ll accept you no matter what you’re like. And I like you just the way you are.” He smiled serenely, an action which made Gilbert’s heart flutter.
Suddenly, the blonde lifted himself up slightly, hand still tangled in his servant’s, and pressed their lips together chastely. As Oz’s eyes slid shut, Gilbert’s widened exponentially. Their position made it nigh impossible for him to back away, and his neck had suddenly stiffened in complete shock, rendering him incapable of turning his face away.
The kiss went as quickly as it came, but it didn’t matter to Gilbert: he had already turned five shades of red and broken out in a cold sweat. He tried to push Oz away slightly, but seemed to have lost control of his limbs. “O-Oz! You can’t just—”
Oz took the chance to readjust himself so he was straddling Gilbert and angled their mouths together once more, this time becoming even bolder—perhaps acting upon the headiness he was feeling due to grogginess. He pushed both his hands into Gilbert’s dark hair and leaned closer.
The second Gilbert felt Oz’s tongue in his mouth, he nearly passed out. His body instinctively reacted, seized the boy in front of him and held him there. Rather than becoming concerned, Oz actually had the audacity to continue, though their kiss was a rather awkward one, since neither of them were very “experienced.” The fact was worsened due to Gilbert’s complete lack of a response. He had gone too far to even think straight, much less react.
When Oz finally pulled away, Gilbert sucked in a deep breath of air, as if he had been drowning and barely broke the surface of the water. The blonde merely looked at him calmly—albeit a bit sleepily—and smiled in a dazed, silly sort of a way. He appeared unaffected by the strong grip Gilbert had on him by the shoulders. The man looked half-crazed with his furious flush and mussed-up hair.
With his chest heaving, Gilbert licked his lips and panted, “W-What did you just do? I-I—” He stopped, stuttered incoherently, and tried again, this time using another garbled mantra. “You—You just—”
Blond eyebrows furrowed together in tired confusion. “Kissed you,” Oz supplied in an unsurprised voice. “I just kissed you. Twice.”
His mouth fell open at the calm way Oz was merely accepting the fact. He even said, “Twice,” as if that were perfectly normal. As if it were perfectly ordinary for masters to go kissing their servants who were nine years their senior, in all technicality. Gilbert’s brain short-circuited again. He thought he really would faint at that rate.
“You taste terrible, Gil. Just like ash,” Oz informed him, blinking slowly and untangling his hands from his hair. He felt his own lips with his fingers and pouted. “You should stop smoking. I don’t want to get used to the taste of it.”
“… What?” It was Gilbert’s turn to blink, though his was rapid. He wasn’t sure if perhaps he too was tired and hearing things, but if that wasn’t the case, then he supposed that his master meant to imply…?
“Mmn,” Oz nodded, as if pleased with himself. The boy pressed his palms on his servant’s cheeks and squished them. “I’m tired. I want to sleep.” He leaned forward for a third time, brushed his lips chastely against Gilbert’s, and then fell to the side, his arms hanging around the man’s neck.
There were a few minutes after that during which neither of them moved, Oz because he was sleeping, and Gilbert because he was suffering posttraumatic stress disorder.
A million thoughts ran through his mind, each more dire than the last. What started off as a simple night’s worth of smoking and deep contemplation had ended in a way he never dreamt of. The number of lines Oz had just crossed with him was innumerable. Everything seemed so surreal and absurd. The night went still.
It was another few moments before Gilbert recollected himself and wrapped his arms around the slumbering boy. Though he had no idea how to accept the events, he just knew he felt incredibly warm and safe with his master in his arms. He pressed his face against the back of Oz’s head and smiled lightly.
Oz woke up the next morning in his own bed with Gilbert’s coat clutched in his hands and the lingering taste of something curiously familiar and sweet—like chocolate—in his mouth.
He smiled, licked his lips, and buried his face into the coat.