Saeed looked over to his robe, draped some time ago over the back of a chair in his workroom. In moments like this, a little dignity could be a precious thing.

But he abandoned the notion after only a moment’s thought. Dignity was all very well, but he was sodden with his lover’s seed. Even if the robe managed to obscure all of it, which was unlikely given how much of the stuff had landed on his neck and chin, the smell of sex permeated each breath he took and couldn’t fail to fill the whole room.

Besides, if he put the robe on without first taking a bath, it would need such a thorough laundering that there might not be much fabric left, afterwards.

So be it; the sabrecat would trust to the dignity of his own person and demeanour, and dare anyone else to comment on his state.

Putting his back to the doorway, he fixed his gaze on the one who might. A stripling of a cat, black-furred and dusty, clad only in short trousers – short enough for Saeed’s gaze to follow the ridge along one leg to a glimpse of ebony flesh. Just how long had the cat been watching, peering through the shutters, before he’d lost his perch on the narrow sill and fallen through? And what had he been doing there?

That seemed to be the most pertinent question, didn’t it?

In due time. First he needed to take firm control of the situation.

Trying to ignore Davarim chuckling beside him, he crossed his arms. It didn’t cover much of the mess, but at least it didn’t push it forward like clasping his hands behind him might. “Well, boy,” he growled, “did you have any idea whose yard you were trespassing on?”

The youth swallowed. Saeed’s magic kept him from moving his legs beyond keeping his balance, and he hadn’t – yet – had the nerve to try crawling off, instead rising up to his knees. “You’re… the wizard who makes those charms and cures…” Maybe it was his skinny, slightly-underfed build that made him look so young, because his voice was a settled and quite pleasant baritone; tense, but not otherwise breaking at all. He didn’t meet Saeed’s gaze, indeed his eyes were cast so low it was hard to be sure what he was looking at at all, but Saeed thought he was trying to steal glances at Davarim.

“Correct,” Saeed purred. So even without his robes, his identity was clearly established. Good. “And do you know what happened to the last five thieves who attempted to take from this place?”

The youth’s head snapped up, his green eyes bright, wide, and fearful. “I didn’t…!” The protest died on his tongue, and his head sank again.

“You didn’t take anything yet,” Saeed granted. “Neither has anyone who tried before. Do you expect me to believe you wouldn’t have done so if you’d had the chance?” When there was no reply for a few moments, Saeed took that for admission enough. He went on, “So, I will ask once more: Do you know what happened to the last five who tried to enter these premises without my permission?” This time, the intruder bobbed his head.

So he’d known that the last time a thief had taken Saeed for an easy mark, that thief had languished in full-body paralysis for an hour or more, in plain sight of anyone glancing into the yard, until the guard had come to haul him off to the dungeons. “And what in all the worlds made you think you might escape that fate?” The audacity was astounding.

“I thought…” The boy swallowed. “I thought, if you were here, maybe the traps wouldn’t…”

Again he trailed off; this time, Davarim filled the silence with laughter. “He’s got you there, Saeed,” the unicorn observed.

The sabrecat groaned. “Davarim,” he said in a soft aside, “words cannot properly express how fond of you I’ve become. But such input is not helpful at this time.”

Davarim shrugged. “I speak only the truth.”

“Yes,” Saeed sighed, “and some truths are evident enough that they need no belabouring.” He turned his attention back to the trembling cat. “So. You’ve got something between your ears but air. What in twenty hells did you hope to take from this house that might have been worth such a risk?”

Another gulp. “I wanted to be… stronger, or quicker, or…”

An enhancement of some sorts. Saeed’s brows lifted; he glided a finger along one of his fangs, thinking. Not just gold or something similarly precious, that he could’ve gained from an easier mark. Not even one of the special treasures Saeed had accumulated. In spite of himself, Saeed was slightly impressed. Plainly the youth had erred, but maybe his judgement hadn’t been that far off after all. “And you thought you would know such a thing if you saw it?”

“I thought… I thought if I could see you work, I might learn… something of what’s what. Or even how to make something…”

Saeed was still digesting that when Davarim said, “You’ve some cool nerve, little one. Going for the fastest way to improve your life, hmm? What’s your name?”

Saeed managed not to scowl at him. Barely. “Davarim…”

“You’ve made your point, Saeed,” the unicorn soothed. “He knows he’s in trouble. Learning a bit about him won’t hurt.” Kneeling beside the boy, he prompted, “Your name?”

The cat looked up at Davarim, wide-eyed still, and licked his lips. “K-Kashmir.”

And well he might stare. Davarim was, of course, just as naked as Saeed, but he’d escaped the splatter of his own seed; his white pelt gleamed, spotless, in the sun coming through the window, and the disarray in his mane, far from looking untidy, just made him seem that much more fetching.

“Kashmir, is it?” Davarim touched the boy’s shoulder, rubbing a tuft of fur between thumb and forefinger. “Your fur must have been very soft, at some point. So what are you trying to do with your life, Kashmir? If you’d taken something and got away, what would you have done with it?”

“I… I don’t know,” Kashmir said, his voice suddenly much smaller. “I just wanted a warm home… and food…”

“There, now, that’s not unreasonable. You might get those things yet, hmm?”

“Davarim!” Saeed hissed. “You can’t be thinking of rewarding a thief!”

The unicorn looked up at him. “He’s a street urchin, Saeed,” the man sighed. “Not a career thief.” Evidently he was willing to be diverted from that line of thought, however; when he turned back to Kashmir, he asked, “Do you know what it is you saw us doing, Kashmir, before you slipped?”

The youth bit his lip, a flush showing through the thin fur inside his ears. “I… I’d say you were making a baby, but…”

“You do know people don’t only do that for the sake of children, right?” When Kashmir hesitated, the unicorn went on, “What about you? Have you enjoyed a few girls, cuddling close to keep warm somewhere?”

Good heavens, when had a unicorn from centuries ago become this gutter-boy’s guardian? But Saeed couldn’t quite bring himself to interrupt; he let Davarim continue.

Kashmir shook his head, ears furling back. “I… the girls under the bridge always went for guys like Kobe…”

At that name, Saeed blinked. Around that age… “Kobe the juggler? The weasel?”

Kashmir nodded, and Davarim turned to Saeed. “You know him?”

“Not personally,” the sabrecat demurred. “I’ve seen him in the market, playing for a few coins. I’d no idea he slept under a bridge.”

“Kobe… brings money for us,” Kashmir mumbled. “Gets us food. ‘s why they all like him.”

“And you wanted to be like him, did you?” Davarim prompted. “Help your friends?”

A nod.

Saeed made a mental note to give the weasel a few coins next time he saw him performing. A few of his compatriots might well be making rounds through the crowds, getting a fair bit more money through less legitimate means… but if he could reward the upstanding side of things, perhaps that wouldn’t be so horrible. He couldn’t feed all the city’s poor by himself, but that bit of charity wouldn’t break him.

“Still,” Davarim was saying, “you’re a well-put-together young man. You’ve got a good face, a nice voice… Don’t you think one of those girls would’ve been willing, if you’d asked?”

“I…” The youth blinked. Apparently he’d not thought of that… and apparently that didn’t distress him all that much. Saeed laid a mental bet.

“Is there someone in particular you’ve had your eye on, someone you think is out of your reach?” A mute nod. “What sort of someone?”

Kashmir swallowed, staring down at the stone beneath him. After some moments, he mumbled, “Kobe…”

And score.

“So…” Davarim squeezed the boy’s shoulder. “You haven’t bedded a girl yet, have you? Or a boy?”

Suddenly, Saeed was as good as certain that he knew where the unicorn was going with this. “A moment, Davarim,” he cut in, touching the man’s shoulder. Frowning – at least partly in curiosity, Saeed thought, and hoped it wasn’t wishful thinking – Davarim rose and followed him across the room.

“Davarim,” he hissed, “I already said I’m not sure I could keep you safe. And you’re a grown man, and I like to think we’ve enough of a connection for you to stay within my influence at least until we know more. To inflict that on a boy…”

The unicorn’s mouth quirked. “And here I thought you’d be glad for a potential source that didn’t need you to work magic every time,” he murmured.

Saeed looked aside, rubbing a fang. Did the unicorn truly think he was that harsh, that… mercenary? The thought stung. “I’ve no love for someone who steals into my home and tries to learn my secrets. But the accounts I’ve read – I know I haven’t lived through them,” whereas Davarim’s friends and kin had all suffered those horrible things by the unicorn’s notion of “now,” “but I don’t want to chance delivering someone to that fate!”

“I want my people to live again, Saeed,” Davarim sighed. “If not now… when?”

Protests of research he could do, moods he could try to gauge, died on Saeed’s tongue. He bowed his head, acquiescing.

“Besides,” the unicorn concluded, “in the end it’ll be his choice.”

Well. Put thus… maybe the boy could redeem himself that way, if he was willing to take the risk. Though that only counted if he knew the risk.

This time, when Davarim knelt by the boy, Saeed sat on his heels beside the taller man. “Kashmir.” The boy blinked up at him, suddenly fearful; careful to keep his tone mild, he asked, “What do you know of unicorns?”

Kashmir glanced over at Davarim, who smiled softly and nodded, as though to say, Yes, like me. The cat swallowed. “They say… they say they could heal any sickness. But all the old kings were greedy, and didn’t want them helping their rivals, so they… hunted them all down…” His voice was full of confusion; a living, breathing unicorn before him didn’t fit well with the things he knew.

Still, at least rumour seemed to paint them in a sympathetic light. “Davarim is from that time,” Saeed explained. “He’s only here now because of magic. In a few more hours, he’ll go back to his time, until I can bring him here again.”

“Oh.” The boy digested that for a few moments; then, “He always goes back?”

“Maybe I can change that,” the wizard sighed. “I don’t know yet. But you’re right. They could heal people, and more. Those charms I make, that nobody else can? They get their power from bits of Davarim’s fur, or trimmings from his hooves.” Best not to mention the blood right now; that Davarim bled himself by choice to spread that healing gift might be a bit much to take in so suddenly.

“Is… is that why you had that bottle…?”

Saeed flushed. “Watching that long, were you? But yes, I suppose there’s no harm in admitting it.” It wasn’t as though anyone else had a unicorn handy to get any samples from – fur, horn, blood, seed, or otherwise.

“See, Kashmir,” Davarim cut in, “I wasn’t born with this.” He touched the spiral horn sprouting from his brow. “No unicorn was. In fact, until I was about your age, I was much like Saeed here – teeth and all. I was made one.”

“Made?” Kashmir repeated in a whisper.

Davarim nodded. “And in the same way, anyone who takes me as their first lover, becomes like me in turn.”

“Like you? But you’re…” The youth trailed off.

Gently, Davarim prompted, “Yes?”

Small-voiced, Kashmir finished, “You’re beautiful…”

“Here, now, it wouldn’t take much work to make you beautiful.” Davarim smiled. “Wash off that dust, tidy up your fur, get some square meals in you… you’d be a sight to see.” While Kashmir was blinking at that revelation, he rephrased himself: “But anyone whose first lover is a unicorn becomes a unicorn in turn. It’s that simple.”

Kashmir rocked back, eyes going even wider. In his astonishment, he forgot to be quite so afraid. “Is that why you were taking… uh…”

“No, no, no,” Saeed insisted.

“It wouldn’t work,” was Davarim’s gentler contribution. “It’s not the seed that does it – it’s a touch of souls. My seed can enhance fertility in men and women and beasts, help crops grow better – a number of things; that’s why Saeed was collecting some. But it won’t make a unicorn without me.”

“Oh.” Kashmir mulled that over. Gradually, comprehension started to dawn.

“The problem is,” Saeed cut in, “there’s still greedy people in the world. Maybe not as many, or not as powerful – but there are still people who would want all that power for themselves. I can try to keep them from accomplishing it, if they try – but wizard or no, I’m only one man.”

He took a breath. He was pretty sure he knew where Davarim was going with this; now it was time to seal it. “So your offer is this, Kashmir. You take Davarim as your lover. If what you’ve said is true and accurate, if this works…”

Davarim gripped the sabrecat’s shoulder. “Saeed…”

Oh, all right. “Fine,” he sighed. “For taking that chance, whether or not it’s successful, I will… forgive your intrusion, and not mention it to the guard. So that you need never steal again, I will give you space under my roof to sleep, and food to eat, in exchange for assistance with my endeavours. If the change works, some loose tufts of fur or strands of mane will make up for the extra care I’ll need to take in being your steward. Other than that, it’d be simple tasks. Maybe a bit of cleaning and the like.”

Kashmir’s eyes strayed toward the workroom door. Saeed could just guess that they were gravitating toward the mess he and Davarim had left on the rug. “Any conspicuous messes that I make, I will continue to tidy up myself,” he added. At a look from Davarim, he went on, “And you’ll be paid a servant’s allowance as well as your room and board. What you do with it will be your own affair.”

That last bit seemed to tip the scale. Kashmir swallowed and sat up straight. “I’ll do it,” he breathed.

“Are you sure?” Davarim pressed. “Once done, there’ll be no turning back – and it might turn out to be dangerous.”

“It’ll help people, though…”

The boy’s remark wasn’t exactly a question, but Saeed nodded. “Certainly.”

“And I can help my friends.” He took another breath. “I want to try.”

“I knew you had a good heart,” said Davarim, smiling. “Now, I think we could all use a bath, hmm?”

Well, two of them could, anyway; Davarim could have combed his mane, dressed, and gone straight to a ducal reception. Saeed rose, somewhat belatedly dismissing the spell that bound Kashmir in place. “Downstairs, then. Go on ahead, both of you; I’ll be along after I set the wards.”

This home had been built in Whitecliff’s heyday; it had a well, fed by aqueducts that ran under the city from a great cistern. There’d be no need to seek a public fountain, or even fetch water. The cellar was home to a great pool made of stone tile, once heated by fires in the sub-basement; now that task, like the pumping of water to fill the pool in the first place, was handled by Saeed’s enchantments. He didn’t bother to keep it filled and heated, finding it more expedient to dunk himself in the river now and then, but he’d made those improvements for the times when he wanted a bit of extravagance; now it served him well.

Kashmir was hesitant, unsure of what to do with such luxury, but he was biddable, and very plainly appreciative of Davarim’s interest in him. He slipped out of his trousers with only a moment of shyness, slid into the gently-steaming water, and twisted against the unicorn’s hands as Davarim kneaded water into the cat’s pelt. What had been an unremarkable dusty black turned out to be something more complex, a very deep brown marked with black rosettes in the room’s clear blue-white light – a jaguar; Saeed castigated himself briefly for not seeing the shape of the youth’s ears and jaw, but the boy was so much lighter than the breed’s usual heavyset build, it had been an easy mistake to make.

Saeed, for his part, spent the time getting the mess out of his own fur, and then settled in to observe. Admittedly, the way the youth moved under Davarim’s touch was not unappealing, and if the unicorn wanted to involve Saeed in this, Saeed would not complain; but what he most looked forward to was the transformation that might be forthcoming. If he could observe that firsthand, if he could come to know how it changed a body… perhaps he could do some more localized, more controlled changes with his own power.

Matters certainly seemed to be heading in that direction, right there in the pool. Saeed excused himself to hurry up the stairs, returning with the flask of oil he’d left on the nightstand, to find the two of them standing together in the water – hip-deep for the unicorn, up to the jaguar’s lowest ribs. Davarim was holding Kashmir’s shoulders, murmuring over his ears, while the youth’s fingers explored him, coaxing the unicorn’s flesh to rise to attention.

He took to a lover’s art well, that young man; even from some distance away, Saeed could see the eagerness in that touch, could hear the heaviness of the jaguar’s breaths mingling with his larger partner’s. And his own ebony piece was quite rigid against Davarim’s gleaming white thigh.

After some moments thus, they shifted apart, and Davarim led his charge over to the pool’s edge, smiling up at Saeed. “Would you be willing to give us both a taste of you, dear one?” the unicorn asked.

Saeed felt his ears heat a bit. “I’d hoped to observe the process,” he admitted. “But I suppose I can do that from up close, so long as my presence wouldn’t… spoil events.”

“No, indeed,” Davarim promised. “Some initiates at the temple had a more familiar person with them, sharing in their first lovemaking. It was enough then.”

“Just be careful, then,” Saeed laughed, rubbing around the base of Davarim’s horn. “If he suddenly has one of these to worry about…” But he stayed close, and when Davarim laid the youth onto his back, Saeed knelt by his shoulders.

The unicorn’s mouth brushed against the jaguar’s muzzle. “You only have one first time quite like this,” he murmured, taking the flask from Saeed and spreading some oil over his shaft. “I’ll treasure yours, if you want to give it.”

“I do.” Kashmir swallowed. “P-please… take me.”

Davarim’s fingers brushed over the dark fuzz on the youth’s plump pouch, then curled under it. “If this doesn’t work for you,” he said, “don’t just suffer through it. Tell me, and we can do something else that’ll work at least as well.”

Kashmir just stared up at him, panting. Then the unicorn set the crown of his manhood in place, and the youth arched up, moaning out loud and trembling, his eyes sliding shut. When the unicorn paused, though, the jaguar clutched at his sides and pulled him closer.

The youth was a flexible little thing; his legs wrapped around Davarim’s waist, ankles crossing, as though he did it every day. The whimpers he muffled against the unicorn’s shoulder were needy, almost wanton; and not once, not from the first inch to the moment Davarim’s balls were against him, did Kashmir let him slow down.

“Good gods,” Davarim gasped, rocking atop the smaller male, “I’d forgotten how good this can feel.”

Saeed couldn’t help but chuckle, rubbing behind his lover’s ears. “In over your head, dear one?”

Davarim grinned up at him. “I think I just might be.” He shifted his weight onto one arm, reaching up to give Saeed’s half-hard shaft a fondle with the other hand. “Get this down here, hm? Give the man something to rest his head on while you’re at it.”

Chuckling, Saeed let himself be drawn in, and obligingly slid a hand under Kashmir’s head to ease it up onto his thigh. Certainly, having two comely men breathing hot and fast over his manhood wasn’t unpleasant – no, quite a pleasure indeed. “I see your marks have faded,” he said to Davarim; the unicorn’s balls had been pure white again, with no trace of the designs Saeed had dyed onto them. Faster than he’d thought they might, but then, they’d given good value while they’d been there…

“Just as well,” the unicorn panted, pausing to give a firm lick over the crown of Saeed’s manhood. “Mmn. Don’t need another such mess here…”

“Maybe another time?” was Kashmir’s playful contribution; he grinned up past Davarim’s shoulder, kneading at the unicorn’s chest, and nuzzled under Saeed’s pouch.

Dear gods, were they creating an insatiable beast here?

However much that might be the case in time, in this particular moment the jaguar wasn’t due to last long. The progress of his pleasure was quite apparent; all too soon he was gasping for breath, writhing under his larger lover, his whimpers building to a fever pitch. As they reached their peak, Davarim gently nudged Saeed back and slid his hand behind Kashmir’s head, pulling the young man into a fierce kiss that he was only too happy to return.

And then, as Kashmir bucked upwards in ecstasy, there was a bright, dazzling flare in Saeed’s arcane sight – not a physical light, but just as blinding; for a moment, all he could see was the raw power being unleashed next to him.

Then his body’s sight again fixed on the pair, and he gazed on in wonder as Kashmir’s face reshaped itself, lengthening, ears shifting, the back of his neck sprouting a mane. His rosettes melted away into a field of seamless black, and the fur on his brow parted before a growing taper of spiralling onyx.

Just as the youth’s pleasure started to fade, the transformation was complete; and it was in that moment that Davarim shuddered, driving deep into his younger lover, head tossing and giving voice to a deep groan.

With both of them panting in the wake of their shared pleasure, it was Saeed who first spoke, as he felt along Kashmir’s reshaped jaw. “This is… not quite what I was expecting.” The shape was right, all of it; the horn was there. But black?

“Nothing wrong with it,” Davarim gasped. A few more panting moments, and he lifted his head, stroking Kashmir’s cheek, the youth crooning and nuzzling into the touch. “Nothing’s amiss, Saeed. It’s not common, but not unknown.”

“Does it mean anything in particular?” the cat asked. If there was something he ought to be wary of…

“I… hmm.” Davarim cocked his head. “Come to think of it… all our sorcerers had black pelts. Every single one.” He cast a grin upward. “Perhaps you’ve won yourself an apprentice, wizard?”

At this, Kashmir’s eyes – still the same brilliant green – snapped into focus.

“An apprentice?” Saeed couldn’t help but chuckle, ruffling between the youth’s ears. “You’ve certainly caused quite a stir, haven’t you, peering through that window?”

Davarim laughed; Saeed joined in. After a moment, even perplexed Kashmir was joining in their mirth.

Sometimes, the jokes played by the Fates were actually kind. Maybe Saeed had needed a reminder of that.