The door closed behind him, again with a curiously muted sound – but this time, it was reversed; instead of keeping sound within the room from leaving it, the barrier blocked sound from outside, leaving those within in peaceful isolation, while those beyond remained able to hear, should some sound of genuine distress emerge.

It was, he knew, a standard setup for a convalescent’s quarters; Tavi had expressed regret that her expertise did not extend to giving him true privacy for a time. But it was still enough to make his potential tasks here somewhat embarrassing – especially knowing that his guards would be right outside the door. The healer had spoken sternly to them, making it as clear as she could that anything that happened here would be for Dren’s benefit and was to be kept in confidence – but the skeptical looks they’d given him all the same nearly made him quail.

But no. He had to try – had to give Dren whatever peace of mind he could, in whatever form it took. Dren was broken at his order; it was only right that he made an effort to mend him.

The light here was dim, the mage-lamp shaded by thick, smoky glass. The suite itself was well-appointed and spacious – far from the huge and ostentatious quarters Jisarr had been housed in, but at least as comfortable, all the more so for not being so excessive.

Dren was curled up in the cushion-strewn, padded hollow in one corner that served as a bed, shivering; but as the door shut, his head lifted, his nose sampling the air.

Swallowing around the lump in his throat, Jisarr moved closer. “Dren?” he murmured.

Blue-furred ears lifted, canting toward him; soon the head they were attached to followed, and Dren stared up at him, gold eyes shining, wide in the dim light. One of his hands lifted, fingers spread, reaching forward.

Jisarr hurried to close the gap between them, touching his fingertips to the other man’s. “Blood and stone, Dren,” he whispered. “I am so sorry. I should have come to see you, should have… should have done something…

There was no understanding in those eyes – not that Dren was senseless, no; but he seemed unable to grasp anything beyond Jisarr’s general hereness. His fingers slid past Jisarr’s, trailing along his wrist and arm; about halfway along, they lifted away, instead reaching past to brush against his cheek.

Jisarr sighed, leaning into the touch in spite of himself. How long had it been since Dren had known a friendly touch? Had Jisarr himself been the last, two years gone?

If Jisarr had shown enough backbone to demand a visit, how might things have gone?

Seeing Dren so unkempt was… distressing, in a vague and undefinable way. He started to tell the younger man to hold still for a moment, only to have a long-gone memory intrude itself – of the time when Jisarr had said he’d see him again soon. Well, sure enough, he had; and then… He shivered. “I won’t be out of your sight,” he promised.

Dren sat back, half-lying on his side, propped up on one arm to watch him. He swallowed, making himself rise and do a quick scan of the room. His search was not difficult; it was the work of under half a minute to find a brush.

Turning, he found that Dren was watching him – and the sight gave him pause.

It wasn’t just that Dren was watching – though the intensity of focus in that gaze would have made him self-conscious even at the best of times, wondering where he ought to put his feet or how he should hold his tail. But Dren was also lying on his side, propped up by one arm, the other draping over his waist. The line of it drew Jisarr’s eyes downward, inward; Dren’s fingertips hovered no more than two inches from the bare flesh of his rampant arousal, close enough that the green glow of the markings on his skin glinted on his claws.

From across the room, it was easy to ignore the state of his fur, or the unhealthy thinness his confinement had given him. From that distance, with not much of the already-dim light reaching him, it was very easy indeed to regard him as a vision of beauty, light gleaming on his fur and in his eyes, outshone by the vivid design on his skin.

It was in much the same pose that he’d waited for Jisarr two years ago, actually.

And that thought brought enough guilt to snap Jisarr out of his stasis. Pushing his tongue up against his teeth in a one-sided half-bite, he plodded back across the room. Damn it all, he was supposed to be here for Dren’s benefit, not for his own lust; he’d got the man in quite enough trouble that way as it was.

Actually tending to Dren was a mixed experience. On the one hand, he was quite co-operative, shifting about and leaning against the strokes of the brush, not complaining beyond a soft, stifled grunt even when tangled clumps of fur got tugged on, holding still for them to be teased apart and brushed away; he appreciated the grooming for what it was, it seemed, and he did want to be neat. He wasn’t entirely without conscious thought.

On the other hand, the smell of his stubborn arousal stayed strong in Jisarr’s nose throughout, and he arched into the longer strokes of the brush in ways that were uninhibited and sensual, even crooning softly. Coupled with a bit of a shiver whenever he rubbed against the sheets, and it was so intensely erotic an experience that only its necessity kept Jisarr working.

It was even harder to work on the man’s front. Time and again his gaze strayed, his own blood quickening, and time and again he forced himself back to the task at hand with a mental curse. By the Deep Ones, he was not going to take advantage of the five-times-damned enchantments. Dren’s lust wasn’t natural, it was compelled – to take pleasure from him would be no better than rape.

Dren, however, didn’t care about such things; perhaps he didn’t quite know, not deep down, or perhaps the sensations he was subject to were just too intense to ignore. Whatever the case, even as Jisarr pushed the brush along Dren’s legs, the other male twisted in a bit closer, fingers running along the cloth that wrapped about him, tugging on it, working toward the clasp that held the lower wraps together.

He did not respond with great dignity, at first; he let out a squeak, flinching away from the touch. He caught himself, reminded himself what he’d promised to do, but the harm was already done; Dren flinched in turn, curling up tight, ears flattening.

And why not? The last time he and Jisarr had been in private, it had been as lovers. He’d tried to renew that pleasantness, and Jisarr had pulled away from him… hells, of all the messages he’d wanted to send, that he might possibly find the man repulsive was not one of them.

“Dren…” Jisarr sighed, trailing off. Denials tasted foul on his tongue; the bitter truth was that he hadn’t wanted Dren to touch him thus, and he despaired of explaining why. But by the Deeps, it wouldn’t kill him to give the younger man some show of intimacy. He deserved that much, and more.

He deserved a proper lover, but failing that, Jisarr could at least give him something a bit less… clinical… than just stroking him for the sake of release while he himself didn’t get into it at all. Even if he abstained from deeper pleasures, he owed Dren better than that.

Besides, the muted yet not entirely suppressed playful part of him figured – it’d be a shame to get his fur a mess after it had just been groomed.

“After the last two years, I don’t now why it is you still look on me so fondly,” he sighed. “It’s guilt that makes me nervous, Dren, nothing more. If not for that I’d be only too happy to be your lover.” He pushed his snout against the younger man’s neck. “But at least we can be comfortable together, mmm? Come…” He gestured across the room. “The bath’s big enough for two.”

Sad eyes looked back at him, momentarily indecisive; but it didn’t take any more coaxing, no distracting attention to his needy body, for Dren to flick his ears forward in silent affirmative and start to uncurl. Jisarr rose, settling an arm around Dren’s shoulders – it felt so good, so right, that he needed to force back another pang of guilt.

It was for Dren’s sake, not his own, that he was doing it. He could address his own needs on his own time.

The bath was a tiled cavity in the floor, with a small channel leading out of one end and a statue on the other, a statue of a robed Crandil holding up an ewer. The statue was the source of the water; a valve to control the flow, and a brass slider set with a brilliant opal to control the heat. The drain was twofold: one set in the bottom of the basin, currently closed, and the channel near the top. Both of them bore enchantments that would destroy filth and loose fur that the water carried away, before sending the water back to whatever basin served as the source. Of all the household enchantments that Jisarr was familiar with, it was probably the most comon thing that could still be called a luxury.

At any rate, Dren was familiar with it, and started drawing water as Jisarr undid clasps and unwound wraps. Desire warred with anxiety; so it was that only the barest minimum of arousal showed on him when Dren’s gaze turned upward. He swallowed, nervousness redoubling Would Dren think that meant he found him unattractive after all…?

Apparently not; he reached up to take Jisarr’s hand, pushed his snout against the palm of it in mute fondness, and then slid into the rising, steaming water.

The ease with which he did so made it something of a shock when Jisarr tested it with his toes and found it to be quite hot; not painful, but warm enough to be testing his tolerance. Well, after his time in what had been his own prison, he could probably use it too, even if not to the extent Dren did after two years of cursory-at-best grooming.

Still, he could do that, too, on his own time. For now, even as the water rose in the basin around them, he put his hands to work, kneading the water into Dren’s pelt. This, though, he let himself enjoy; Dren deserved, ten times over, someone who would enjoy him. So he let his hands linger sometimes, let himself feel the slender frame under that pelt – too slender, yes; but once Dren had a chance to fill in properly he’d be even more of a delight. He pushed his snout against the side of Dren’s neck, drawing in the pleasing scent of wet fur, and he did not falter when Dren rose, moaning, into his touch, nor when the other man’s arousal pressed against his belly.

When the water reached their necks and started trickling out of the upper drain, he reached up to the valve, turning it nearly shut, leaving a gentler stream of water to keep the bath warm and clear; then he put both hands back to work, sweeping along Dren’s sides.

Yes, Dren’s need was forced; but his pleasure under Jisarr’s fingers seemed honest enough. The way he stroked Jisarr’s muzzle and arms was not the touch of someone who wanted it over and done, but that of someone who craved more, who desired a proper lovemaking. It would be easy, so easy, to get lost in that need…

His own body, despite the good company and good sensations, was reluctant to respond, held in check by his doubts and fears, and that was probably all that kept him from pursuing something deeper. But he let his sighs and groans slip free unimpeded, he pushed into the contact, he let Dren know how enjoyable Dren was; and when his hands finally started to move in and down, Dren, whimpering, pushed up for the attention, his manhood jutting above the rippling water.

Finally, Jisarr let himself touch it – first a light nudge against the jadeite bead and the gold band that held it; he knew its purpose, knew it was something less pleasant than mere decoration, but it did look good on him, truly. He traced the patterns on the skin, bright in the gloom – the crown of his head, a bright oval just under it, a band that went three-quarters around before abruptly going downward.

They hadn’t had enough time together for Jisarr to become acquainted with his marks; the chance to do so was something he always had enjoyed about his time with Crandil men. Each one had his own design, each one unique; in his experience, the skin that glowed was no more sensitive than that which did not, but the act of tracing it was an intimacy he found pleasing, from either end. The design on Dren’s pouch, he knew, was artificial, another element of the unkind enchantments laid upon him – but they matched the character of the natural design on his bare skin, and Dren enjoyed the touch there, too; enjoyed it all so much that he was panting, whimpering, already quivering on the edge of release.

Jisarr slid down, coiling up toward the farther end of the basin, with Dren’s legs to either side of him, just under his shoulders. He looked up along that sleek body – so much more visibly slender, with the fur plastered down, where he was arched out of the water; when he slid a hand up to Dren’s chest, coaxing him to relax, and he sank down again, that same fur, floating all around him, obscured that slimness entirely. His eyes were wide, bright, needy, his tongue dabbing at his lips in anticipation.

Well, he’d been waiting long enough – too long by far – for some positive attention.

Jisarr’s fingers curled around the other man’s shaft, keeping it steady as he dipped his head down. The scent of the other male’s need, mixed with that of damp fur, was heady; the taste of him, intoxicating. He slid his muzzle down, took Dren’s heat into it, fingers gliding along his shaft, stroking –

He’d got in place not a moment too soon. That hot, thick flesh throbbed against his tongue from the first touch, and the sound of Dren’s panting in his ears made clear he was near his release; but Jisarr wasn’t quite expecting it to strike before he was halfway down, musky, sticky warmth cascading over his tongue. He did not falter, though – he lapped at the other male, sometimes at his flesh, sometimes nudging the ring with his tongue; he let some of Dren’s seed gather in his mouth, and then he swallowed it right down.

His climax went on and on – if five of Jisarr’s tallied up to be so copious, he’d count himself lucky. And through it all Dren clutched at him, holding him in place, silencing any notion he might have had that the length of it was unpleasant.

Finally, Dren’s torrent ebbed, his grip slackened, his maleness flagged; Jisarr let it slip from his muzzle and licked his lips, swallowing, leaving not a drop to spare. He stretched out alongside the younger male again, stroking his chin, his chest, his arms, murmuring what assurances he could muster without them feeling foul in his mouth; and for the first time since he’d arrived, Dren truly, completely relaxed.

Jisarr nuzzled at the base of an ear. “Whatever the cause of it, you truly are splendid, Dren,” he sighed, and squeezed his eyes shut. Yes, it would be easy – too easy by far – to make of himself a lover, to just ignore the time between… no. “…I should go; I don’t think they want me untended for too long. Will you be well?”

Dren flicked his ears in assent, turning to nuzzle at Jisarr’s jaw in turn – a fond gesture, but one of farewell. As Jisarr started to rise and climb out of the basin, Dren stayed mostly where he was, only reaching up to bring more water to fill the space left by Jisarr’s body. Well, if he wanted to soak, that was fine, that was good; Jisarr squeezed as much of the water out of his fur as he could, before he dressed anew. One last scratch behind Dren’s ears, and he let himself out.

The guards gave him odd looks. He couldn’t fathom their expressions, but he knew they’d heard what had gone on, knew they could smell sex on him; they didn’t seem to approve, which was about as he expected.

He sighed, leaning for a moment against the closed door. He’d had his little idyll; it was time to face reality. “All right,” he said softly. “I suppose I’m done here for now.”

Gently – surprisingly so – but firmly, they took hold of his shoulders. It was time to go.