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First time apart

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The upper floors of the Hotel are filled with the steady sound of eager footsteps and anxious hooves. The Master of the Hotel in the front, and his beloved Asterion right behind, make their way down the steps that flow from the Master’s quarters to the front hall.

The scent of worry and excitement fills the air around them as each carries a piece of luggage.

“Do you... have to go?” Says the horned man.

“Asterion,” the other stops and turns to face his lover, “we’ve been over this. It’s not even gonna be that long.” When words did not soothe the bull, a helping hand reached for his muzzle. “You will be fine.”

Following, a bigger palm meets the back of that hand and, with a smile, grabs it tight. He doesn’t want to let go. But eventually he does. So, both resume their walk down the stairs.

It doesn’t take long for them to arrive at the front desk. There, an entourage of guests and staff await the couple. Behind them, a banner with the words “Safe Travels” in the Master’s mother tongue is displayed.

“Surprise!” Shouts the sea of people in unison.

Laughter leaves the man’s mouth as he notices many refreshments in tables set around the main lobby. Everything’s mildly decorated. A small surprise party has been set to celebrate his departure.

Amazed, he didn’t even notice heavy hands drop on each of his shoulders. Looking up, the Master sees a smiling Asterion.

“You knew about this, huh?” Says the man.

Asterion snickers. “Of course.”

Attention is returned to the guests and staff. The Master is quick to mingle with the people who set up the event.

The celebration lasts a handful of hours, seriously delaying the departure, but the man doesn’t really mind it. 

Alas, it has to end at some point. And when it does, Bull and Master alone are beside the car that will take the man away from the Hotel.

They both fit the baggage in the car's trunk while they talk.

“So,” says the Master, “how does the return work, again?”

“Whenever you’re ready, just reflect on the Hotel and the deed and you should be brought back here.”

“Got it,” he shuts down the trunk door. “Although, I think I’ll have something else in mind on the way back.”

“And what’s that, pray tell?”

The Master grabs his bull by the hips with one hand and brings faces close with the other. “You know it’s you.”

Then, their mouths touch and a passionate kiss forms. The minotaur’s tongue is powerful and needy, the Master’s is welcoming and leading; their dance is sloppy and amorous.

It ends bittersweetly. They are fully aware this will be the last one for a while. But the look in each other’s eyes saves the moment from being melancholic.

The minotaur sighs through his smile. “Do you really have to go?”

“This again? You know the answer.”

“I do. But I-”

“What’s the matter, then?”

The bull sighs and moos before calling the man’s name. “I’m afraid. Afraid of losing you too.”

“Too?” The man takes seconds to ponder. “Oh... Like Jean-Marie.”

Asterion’s expression turns sour and he can’t stop storms from forming in his mind. He looks away as he emits his only answer: a hum of confirmation.

“Look, I will not lie to you. It’s a scary world out there. Sometimes it feels like it’s getting scarier by the minute. But...” He takes his hand and interlocks fingers with his lover. “You’ll have to believe me when I say I’ll be fine. Alright?”

Still in a daze, the minotaur only nods to respond.

“I won’t be just fooling around, you know? I just have to tie some knots back home. Make sure my family and friends don’t think I’m dead and such.”

“I know. I know.” He held tighter.

“I’ll be back before you know it, Asterion. Believe me.”

After a moo, the bull of Minos can finally return his gaze to his lover. “I do.”

On his tiptoes, the Master gives another kiss on the side of the bovine muzzle.

And after that, they part for good. Asterion watches as the horizon devours his lover’s car.

Immediately, the bull’s brain dips into darkness. But duty called louder. He has a hotel to tend to. 

A week passes, and the mythical hotel constantly draws more guests with each day. Asterion and the staff might seem too busy to miss their companion, but, in their minds, the absence is palpable.

Most men, used to the current state of the world, can put any worry to rest; not the Minotaur.

He could be told time and time again how everything is fine, and how the Master would be okay, but nothing seemed to quell his heart.

Every night, the sleepless bull would leave his room and roam around the endless edifice. Sometimes, he would bring his faithful instrument along and play songs unbothered in the garden or outside the front entrance.

One night, however, he isn’t alone.

Another, also a bull, wanders the halls wakefully. He doesn’t know why he cannot sleep, or why he just doesn’t stay in his room, but goes about as if he does.

At one point, Oscar’s ears catch a sad tune. Promptly, he understands the situation, however a strange feeling prevents him from letting his fellow minotaur alone.

He opens the door outside, which strangely does not interrupt the bull of Minos. Asterion keeps playing through the sound of hooves approaching him. Not any melody in specific, just a sad improvisation.

Close enough to the minotaur, and frankly a bit bothered with not being noticed, Oscar clears his throat.

“Good evening, Mr. Asterion,” he says in a faulty voice.

Those words break the musical trance. Asterion stops the song and pays heed to his guest.

“Ah, good evening yourself, Oscar. Although, just ‘Asterion’ is just fine.”

“Ack, sorry. It’s just that knowing everything, it feels weird not to call you mister.”

Yes, Asterion’s true identity and origin were laid bare to the youth at the minotaur’s request. Asterion saw unbearable confusion in the lad’s eyes and thought it would only be fair revealing the truth about him.

An awkward silence falls on the minotaurs, both lost on what to say. So, one of them splutters the first thing that comes to mind.

“Can’t sleep either, can ya?” Says Oscar.

The older minotaur snickers. “Is it obvious?”

“Naw, just a feeling.”

Another, brief silence takes over, but this time, Asterion is the one to break it.

“Can I bother you with something, Oscar?”

“Shoot.”

“I can’t sleep because I'm worried. Worried about him.”

“Figures. I’d be worried too.”

The young man takes a seat on the porch.

“Look, the world hasn’t been kind to me. I know and saw some shit back in the Hinterlands. But not even I think what’s out there is so bad you should be worrying.” Asterion doesn’t respond, so the youth keeps going. “On the other hand... until recently, I hadn’t cared about anyone so deeply as to worry like you do.”

“Really?”

“Aye... It is a strange feeling, isn’t it?” He sighs and snickers. “Tiring too.”

Asterion looks towards the stars. Oscar follows suit.

“Sometimes,” continues the youth, “Pedro seems so far away... Even though he’s close. I can’t imagine how it is for you.”

“Heh. Tiring was the right word, Oscar.”

“I bet you’ve already heard ‘don’t worry about it’ enough times, so I won’t try that. But, have you tried contacting him?”

The older man shakes his head and turns to the young bull. “Pardon?”

“Yeah. You have a tablet, the Hotel has the internet, so why not?”

Somehow, the option had escaped Asterion. He reads and searches up a lot on that device, but he failed to consider its most basic functions. He had not even touched the thing since the Master was gone.

He releases a hearty laugh. “Haha! No, Oscar! This old man had not considered it!”

Asterion stands up with a dumb smile on his face. Lyre in hand, bids goodnight to the young bull and skips to the upper floors.

He delves into the Master’s quarters alone and uninvited, something unthinkable in the centuries he had lived in the Hotel. There, he retrieves the piece of technology so long unattended it grew dust-ridden.

As he picks it up, the screen beams to life as a picture of the Hotel’s staff, with Asterion and his business partner in the center, adorns the “locked” screen.

He touches the screen haphazardly and finds a sea of notifications. “Missed call” they say. The old bull doesn’t quite get it, but taps immediately after seeing his lover's name.

A new screen takes hold, the Master’s big, smiling photo and the word “Calling…”

Asterion’s heart beats out of his chest. Any second, his lover, so far away, will be within reach.

The large screen shifts yet again. And there he is.

Miles away, probably in his hometown, looking straight at the camera of his device.

His expression shifts from worry to a gentle smile upon seeing for the first time in a week the flabbergasted smile of his moo.

“Hello, Little Star.”