The heavy tome gave a notable thunk as it was splayed open, lithe fingers scanning and paging through its contents with a hint of indifference. After Liso had determined what sections were of importance and what were, in his mind, insignificant and repetitive, he said, “Read chapters thirty through thirty-three. Then the marked passage in thirty-five. Same with thirty-six and thirty-eight.” He waited a beat, and when his instructions went without reply, he said, “Raigar?”
The man’s eyes were trained on the walls and ceiling of the room, completely unaware he was being addressed. His head swiveled slowly, following the silver inlay pattern etched into the cobalt blue; each loop or arc traced with his eyes. Offhandedly, he commented, “It’s kind of garish, isn’t it? That the House of the Cobalt Run is not just blue, but all blue. The ceiling, the walls, the floors.” He reached up and tugged at Liso’s sleeve. “Even the damn clothing.”
Liso’s mouth thinned to a grim line. “Raigar,” he said, “we aren’t here to observe the aesthetic appeal of my father’s home.”
Raigar blinked. “The what?”
Liso sighed. “You don’t have to tell me how annoying all of the blue is. I grew up here.” He jabbed a finger down into the tome on the table. “Now do you mind? We’re here for your lessons.”
Hinting at a possible line of conversation, Raigar queried, “You grew up here?”
Liso’s mouth grew thinner, but he decided to entertain the man. “Yes. It wasn’t for long; I was sent away to my aunt’s after father, ehrm, grew tired of me. He didn’t approve of my interest in magic, but I was allowed to learn. My aunt started me on lessons the day after I arrived. Speaking of lessons”—Liso quirked his chin to the tome—“what about yours? Are you going to start reading, or not?”
Raigar harrumphed. “I don’t want to.”
“I know all of this is horrifically boring, but you don’t really have a choice in the matter. Nor do I, if I want you to remain.” Liso’s tone dropped a doleful octave. “Father would surely throw you out if you don’t meet his standards. So, please, Raigar—just read. Read what you can. I won’t push you today, but—”
Liso started when he felt a firm grip about his wrist. He flexed his wrist experimentally, as if testing the hold, and Raigar’s fingers tightened; not painfully so, but to emphasize his presence. To ground Liso, remind him that he was there, would always be there, and wouldn’t leave. Even if forced.
“Y’know, no matter what I do, your father would never approve,” Raigar said.
“Yes, I am well aware of that,” Liso returned, a small shudder passing through him. He knew the extent of his father’s hatred, and keeping Raigar in their home was as annoying to the man as a zit on his nose. To Ferros, anyone not a Ti’schendi within the House of the Cobalt Run intruded on divine land. “However, you must be decent.”
Raigar frowned. “I am decent.”
“You know what I mean,” Liso said. “You must read properly, eat properly, dress properly. Well, his definition of proper, and that is, of course, the epitome of perfection. I can’t teach you to be perfect, but I can make you pass. Earn his indifferent approval, at least.”
Raigar relented with a sigh. “I guess I understand, but your standards feel like the epitome of perfection as well.”
This drew a small smile on Liso’s face. “My apologies,” he said, using his free hand to pat the top of Raigar’s. “I do get a little… uppity… at times, but it’s all in your best interests, Raigar. It always has been—all of this has been for you.”
Liso’s eyes warmed at this admittance, and Raigar stirred at the tenderness. He drew a step closer, his hold on the elf’s wrist released as he thumbed his cheekbone. “What did I say about being sweet?” Raigar said, tone pressing but undeniably taken.
Liso’s smile smoothed wider on his face. “I am simply stating the truth,” he said. “Now, your lessons…?”
Raigar huffed. “Not in the mood.” He closed the distance between himself and Liso with another step. “I’m… distracted.”
“Then, my apologies again. For serving as a distraction.” Liso backpedaled and turned away, biting his lip to suppress the laugh that dared escape him from Raigar’s audible grumble.
“You’re leaving?” Raigar asked.
“No, no, I’ll still be here. Over there.” Liso indicated a comfy chaise across the room that was, unsurprisingly, in a shade of cobalt blue. He strode over to it and plopped down. “If you have any questions, feel free to ask.”
Raigar hummed and pulled up a chair to the table, flipping back and forth between a single page in the tome. “Don’t tell me you’re just going to stare at me while sitting over there.”
“Pretty much,” Liso said, before a sudden mewl piqued his interest. “Or not.”
The mewl happened again, followed by the distinct jingle of a bell. A white cat padded into the room from the slightly ajar door, making her way over to Liso. She leapt up right into his lap and settled herself there comfortably. Liso chuckled gently.
“Oh, Thula,” Liso said, running a hand through her snow-white fur. “Starved of affection, are you?”
Raigar glanced to the feline, but nothing more. His concentration was fully on the words in the tome; slowly and carefully sounding out those of which he did not know. Despite being unsure of most of the pronunciations, he refused to ask Liso; his pride stepping in to block the way. Yet, his attention began to wane with every little hum or chuckle the elf made; Raigar’s mind venturing to fantasy despite every voice within him warning him not to. Flashes of similar chuckles, soft smiles, and the flesh of a hip were almost enough to insist something to Liso, if only to fill the void of how utterly dull his lesson was.
He glanced surreptitiously from the corner of his eye at the elf, if only not to prompt an inquiry from him. Liso had lain out fully on the chaise, one leg hanging lazily off the side. Thula moved up from his lap to his chest, purring softly as she bumped her forehead against his. The sonorous chuckle Liso gave made Raigar’s heart hitch, and he glanced away to save face in the presence of mounting emotion.
“How far along are you?” Liso asked after what felt like an eternity.
“Not very far,” Raigar replied.
Liso quirked a suggestive brow. “Still distracted, Raigar?”
“Yea. Can’t concentrate.”
The man didn’t want to admit it, but the words left his mouth before his mind could protest. “Jealous of a cat.”
The response was so unwarranted, Liso couldn’t help the deep laugh it urged from him. Thula, taken aback, hopped off Liso and searched another place to make herself comfortable. Though slightly pleased to drive the feline away, Raigar frowned deeply.
“By the Divine Mother, my apologies,” Liso said as he suppressed his chortles to no avail. “You’re jealous of Thula? Of a cat? Why?”
“Because.” Raigar shifted his eyes back to the tome. “It gets to be close to you.”
Liso’s chuckle once more was more insulting than pleasing. “You’ll have your chance,” he replied. “After you finish your lesson, of course.”