Julian slips in through the backdoor, as usual. He’s got keys, and Asra gave them to him willingly, but that doesn’t change the fact that he doesn’t want him in through the front door, ever. He never did, actually. Julian only dared to ask for an explanation once, and as always Asra merely smiled and kissed his questions away. He said, “There will come a time you won’t be able to stop me from talking simply kissing me, my dear”. Asra just smiled again, as his hand slithered down Julian’s chest and between his legs. “Let’s see how long the bliss lasts, then.”
That was always the problem, with Asra. He only did things as long as they were pleasant. When it started to hurt, even if it was a good kind of pain, he shied away. He disappeared.
Julian’s watched him disappear for a while, now. He wonders when the last trace of his presence will fade out, at this point. When he’ll see the last of his cotton candy hair and honey-colored skin.
He stops thinking about this – he can’t, his brain stops working, blood rushing quickly through his body, its hungry rumble thundering in his ears, numbing out his consciousness, when he turns the light on and he sees Asra lying down on the bed. He barely opens his eyes, mesmerizing purple slits underneath the soft wave of his fluffy white fringe, and turns to look at him, curling a corner of his lips into his usual enigmatic smile, the one that always makes Julian feel like he’s being mocked.
“Ilya,” Asra speaks softly, his name flowing on his tongue, tumbling out his lips like it never did on any other mouth, spoken by any other voice, “You came.”
“Of course I came,” Julian wishes he could tone down the affection sparkles tinging his voice with longing. He wishes he could better control himself in the presence of this person. “And I asked you so many times not to call me like that anymore, Asra. Please.”
Asra chuckles, pulling himself sitting up on the bed, his back against the pillows. “It’s your name.”
“I’m not using it anymore. I’m a different person, now.”
Asra smiles again, tilting his head to the side. “You look the same to me.”
“It doesn’t matter what I look like,” Julian looks away, as always concealing embarrassment by avoiding eye-contact. Looking into your eyes is the only way an enemy has to detect surrender inside you. And Julian would wonder about when did Asra became an enemy he should hide from, but he knows the answer already: it started when he started noticing the tiny chips in his heart, meaning Asra was slowly biting at it, taking out little pieces with every bite, swallowing them, absorbing them inside himself, stealing them from him. Some other people would have called it the price for love. Julian, instead, had to make sure he was left with enough heart to keep it beating for him. “It matters what I feel.”
“On that I agree,” Asra moves on his knees, and slips one of his shirt’s buttons open. Only now Julian notices that he’s still dressed up – shirt and pants, he’s only missing shoes – which is quite puzzling, considering he was lying asleep on the bed up to a mere five minutes ago. But it’s a passing thought, because Asra’s chest peeks out from his open shirt, and Julian’s mouth goes dry, and his thoughts dissipates like a bothersome fog once again. “So what is it you feel, Ilya?”
Desire, he thinks, on top of it all, desire.
He climbs on the bed, facing Asra silently. Asra didn’t bother to undress, so he won’t either. Not unless Asra wants him to, of course.
In a second, he’s kissing him. In a minute, his lips are already traveling down his neck, the tip of his nose slipping underneath the collar of Asra’s shirt, searching for his warmth, his smell to revel into. “You don’t care about what I feel, witch,” he mutters under his breath, scraping the muscled roundness of Asra’s shoulder with his teeth, “You don’t care about me.”
“You’re so very wrong,” Asra answers, his hand moving up, resting on Julian’s nape and then fingering his scalp through the messy locks of his brown hair. Julian hears the words, but he also feels the smile sustaining them. And Asra’s smiles can never be trusted. So neither his words can.
Now, if he had any self-respect, he would stop kissing him. He would leave. Yes, he would tidy up his priorities and he would get away from him, from his lies, from his empty charming smiles, and he would leave. Take the door and leave, no explanations given, no apologies needed. Just disappear. Find a way never to see him again, find a way to resist his charm, the alluring power of magic guiding him to his backdoor day after day after day.
But what is self-respect, what is pride, what is self-preservation if compared to Asra? Everything pales up beside him. Nothing means anything anymore. There’s only him, and those eyes of his, and that smooth, tanned skin of his. There’s only his soft hair, and the perfect firmness of his chest and abs, the elasticity with which he moves, those graceful movements, the way he sometimes seems to slither through the sheets on the bed like a snake. There’s only the way his voice seems to chant incantations even during sex, the way it rises and rises, melodious and hypnotic, and the way it melts when his whole body tenses and then releases that tension altogether, seconds before and seconds after his climax.
Julian can only let himself being taken away by that voice, his appearance, his strength, his serpentine elegance. He can only push and insist on coming inside him, hoping his seed can plant something inside of his body, perhaps a desire to stay. He can only wrap his arms around his shoulders, around his fit frame, so much smaller, if compared to his own, and yet filled with strength.
By the time they’re done, Julian has made sure to strip all his clothes off him, as well as Asra decided he wouldn’t undress him, instead. Covered neck to toes with his usual black garments, Julian stares at Asra’s nakedness and sees the truth behind this difference, its real meaning. Asra walks through his life taking no bites out of it. The little chips he saw on his own heart, those weren’t caused by Asra biting into it. That was wishful thinking. Julian was chipping his own heart by himself, bit by bit, throwing pieces of it at Asra, hoping he might swallow one for a twist of fate, and some of those bits Asra actually swallowed, but it was never his choice. This is the person that Asra is. He will let himself be devoured by another, but he will never be the one doing the devouring.
Well, at least not with him.
He falls on his knees, first, and then on his back, covering his face with his forearm. He doesn’t want to look at him. He can only listen to the rustling sound of the sheets as Asra turns on his side, looking at him. He can feel his eyes on himself – they’re magnetic and heavy. The overwhelming pleasure he was just feeling while thrusting inside of him is already gone, and he’s forced to ask himself if it was ever worth it. Any of this. Of this ridiculous story. Of the ridiculous way he fell in love with an impossible person whose heart is locked in a cage, inaccessible, forever.
“Ilya…” Asra raises a hand and strokes his cheek, and then his hair, affectionately. Even his body lies. It’s heart-wrenching. “Why do you have to be so sad about this?” he asks, as if he could read his mind – and perhaps he can. “I’ve always been honest with you. I gave you nothing but honesty. I was never the person you could’ve grown old with.”
“I didn’t even want that, Asra,” he answers, freeing himself of his hand and turning to look at him. There’s tears of sadness and rage in his eyes, and he doesn’t care that he’s showing weakness in front of him. He doesn’t even care if Asra’s going to think that he’s only showing fragility because he wants to pity-blackmail him into staying. Even if not consciously, perhaps that is exactly what he’s trying to do. “I never asked for a wedding and a white fence. All I wanted was your love.”
Asra’s smile dies on his face, his eyes filling with sadness. “I love you my own way,” he answers, “I’m sorry if that’s not enough for you.”
“It wouldn’t be enough for anybody, Asra. To be loved the way you love, is to be hanged by the neck with a noose loose enough to let you wheeze just enough air not to suffocate. It is not love. It is torture.”
Asra stops stroking his hair. He’s hurt, Julian can see it easily. The worst part of him revels in it. In knowing he was able to cut deep enough that even his liar’s face couldn’t conceal it. Then his heart gets broken by the thought, and he looks down, ashamed of himself.
“I’m sorry,” Asra says. And then he adds what Julian had hoped he would never had to hear from him. “If that’s the case, I think it’s better we don’t see each other again.”
Julian feels rage pool inside himself, and he lets it erupt with a screaming roar. “Don’t you dare say that!” he yells, sitting up suddenly, “Don’t you dare making me feel like it’s my fault if you want to leave me!” Then he lowers his voice, and his eyes, too, as they fill with tears again. This time he doesn’t want to let Asra see them. They’re a private thing. All his own to punish himself with. “You said you’ve always given me nothing but honesty. So be honest, for God’s sake.”
Asra remains quiet for a little time. Then another rustling, and Julian feels him wrap his arms around him, speaking soothingly. “You’re right,” he says, “I’m sorry. This is not your fault. It’s mine. I can’t handle you, Ilya. You need a lot of attention. You need someone caring, considerate. I’m none of those things. I float my life away. I’ve got nothing keeping me with my feet on the ground. Even when I’m here, I’m never completely here. My mind is always somewhere else, because that’s how I am, that’s how I like myself to be, and I won’t change for you.”
But he didn’t say he won’t change for anybody else, Julian thinks. But he doesn’t say that. He’s scared Asra might confirm it, and he doesn’t want to hear it.
“This is why it’s better if we stop seeing each other,” Asra goes on, “I’m not good for you, and you’re not good for me, and I just know if we don’t give up now I will end up hating you for trying to keep me from leaving when I please.” He looks up, meeting Julian’s eyes with his own. “I don’t want to hate you, Ilya. I love you too much to bear that thought.”
Julian starts crying again. This time, to stop Asra from seeing his tears, he hides his face in the crook of his neck, clutching his arms around him for comfort, keeping him close just as much as he can.
“We never had a chance to work, did we?” he asks, sniffling pathetically.
“I’m afraid not,” Asra answers, kissing him on his forehead, “But Ilya— I want to show you something, before you leave.”
Julian looks up at him, and then just nods, letting Asra guide him by the hand off the bed and through a little opening that seems freshly cut into the wooden wall of his bedroom and only covered by a curtain. Inside the small room by the other side of the curtain only lies a small cradle. Faust is there, knotted up at the foot of the cradle itself, but when she sees Asra coming through she slides on the floor towards him in graceful silver waves, and then climbs up his body, spreading herself around his shoulders and neck.
“Hi, Faust,” Asra says sweetly, scratching her chin, “Is everything alright? Did you make good guard?”
Faust answers with a quiet hiss, and Asra chuckles, kissing her on her nose.
“Good girl,” he says. Then he turns towards Julian. “Come.”
He leads him to the cradle, and shows him the baby child dreaming inside it. His skin is pale like the face of the moon, and he’s got long, curled eyelashes casting fascinating shadows on his chubby cheeks, under a tangle of black hair.
“What’s this?” Julian asks breathlessly, in utter disbelief at the sight.
“He’s a child,” Asra answers in a soft chuckle.
“I can see that,” Julian says in a low, irritated growl, “I meant where is it coming from?”
Asra shrugs, looking away. “I found him,” he simply explain, “His name’s Cody.”
By the way he dismisses Julian’s question, he understands he doesn’t want to answer, and he knows better than to press Asra for any kind of answer.
“Why did you take him in?” he asks instead.
Asra shrugs again. “I felt something inside him. Something of mine. I think we’re supposed to be together, I don’t know how yet.” He reaches inside the cradle, barely touching the baby’s closed fist. The look in his eyes changes and Julian reads it frighteningly easily. That’s the most human look he’s ever seen in Asra’s eyes. Suddenly he’s not his usually detached self anymore. His heart’s not locked up and out of sight. It’s all there. On the tip of the finger he uses to poke Cody’s dimpled hand.
“You’re gonna keep him,” Julian says, matter-of-factly, looking at him with wide, shocked eyes.
“Yes,” Asra nods, “I am.” And then he swallows, and he bites his inner cheek, and Julian knows the end is coming. “I won’t have time for anything else beside him, from now on. Please, understand.”
Julian closes his hands in fists, and those fists start to shake in anger and pain. “You let me come here,” he whispers, “You let me in this house, you let me inside of you, and all the while you already knew. All the while he was already here, and you knew you would’ve broken up with me, and you kissed me and had sex with me as if that didn’t matter at all.”
Asra turns to look at him. “He is a baby, Ilya,” he says, “He needs me.”
“And you need him.”
Asra looks back down to the baby. “I do,” he admits, “It’s complicated.”
Julian shakes his head, turning away. “It really is not,” he says flatly, “You made your choice, Asra. It is yours to deal with. On one thing you were right, though,” he turns to look at him one last time. His eyes are dry, now. There’s no room inside him for sadness anymore. Only rage. Only disappointment. “You’re not good for me,” he finally says.
He leaves without a second thought. Wraps himself in his coat. Put his mask back on. Strides back towards the Countess’ palace.
He picks up the chipped pieces of his heart, the ones Asra didn’t swallow, the ones the left on the floor to rot. He patches them back together. Then tries to ignore the scars, hoping once he gets used to them he won’t even see them anymore.