He woke up three minutes before the alarm was supposed to go off, slammed his hand on the smooth button without opening his eyes, cursed silently at himself for not canceling this damn concert (even though he had a perfect, scot-free opportunity to do so), sighed, and sat up on the bed, one of his eyes still closed.
Gemini slowly shifted next to him, his face buried in the pillow, and Stratos opened his other eye and almost started running his hand down the smooth, pale hip, half-covered by the blanket, when he glanced at the clock and cursed silently once again – it was 7:30 in the morning, and Leon would be here in half an hour or maybe even sooner.
“Son of a bitch,” he thought gloomily and got off the bed, thinking of taking a cold shower this morning, since he didn’t have time for anything else.
He muttered half-hearted obscenities the whole time he spent in the shower, and when he came out of the bathroom ten minutes later, he saw that the bed was empty. Then he heard some sound that clearly came from downstairs, and a few seconds later, he smelled strong aroma of coffee. He sighed and smiled to himself, heading towards the closet, mentally scanning the scores that he was taking with him – thankfully, he packed them a couple of nights ago.
Everything seemed to be in order in his mental files, and when he finished getting dressed, it was 7:50.
“Idiot,” he grumbled at himself while walking down the stairs. “Idiot... Moron...!”
He called himself a few more unkind names, and finally stopped grumbling when he came into the kitchen.
“I didn’t have time to make any breakfast,” Gemini said quickly, his intonation apologetic.
Stratos shook his head and took a mug full of coffee out of the slender hands.
“Mmm...” he said and half-closed his eyes when coffee flowed down his throat in a glorious run. “Mmm... Don’t worry about that... I can’t eat anything this early in the morning anyway...” He opened his eyes. “Never could,” he nodded seriously and glanced at the clock. “Bloody hell,” he sighed bitterly when he saw it was five minutes to eight. “Bloody...”
A loud, short, impatient shriek of the doorbell interrupted him, and he sighed again and walked towards the front door without putting down his coffee mug. He opened the door and took a small step aside.
“Good morning, sunshine,” Leon said and walked inside. “Ready to go?”
“Almost,” Stratos nodded, demonstrating his coffee mug. “Finishing this first.”
“All right,” Leon sighed and followed him into the kitchen after closing the door.
He felt his jaw lock unpleasantly tighter the minute he saw the hateful golden shine of hair. He did his best to ignore it and sat down, concentrating solely on Stratos and his mug.
“Want some coffee?” Stratos asked him when he caught his glance.
“Sure,” Leon nodded without getting up. He shot a quick glance at sitting by now Gemini. “No sugar, plenty of cream,” he said shortly, and Gemini blinked at that.
Stratos snorted and put his hand onto the rigid, thin shoulder next to him, making sure the blond kelari stayed put.
“He is not your maid,” the musician said with another snort. “Get off your ass and get it yourself! You know where the mugs are, and the creamer is in the fridge.”
Leon looked at him silently for a few seconds, and then smiled without baring his teeth and stood up.
“Right,” was all he said while he was reaching for a mug and looking for creamer in the large fridge.
He leaned onto the tall counter when his drink was ready, and started sipping it slowly without looking away from Stratos’ face.
“Mmm,” Stratos said when he was almost done with his coffee. “Slight change of plans...”
“Oh...?” Leon raised one eyebrow, and his expression suddenly became wary. He shot a very quick, dark glance at silent Gemini, and Stratos rolled his eyes when he caught it.
“I want to take my car instead of yours,” he said with irritation. “I’ll drive; you can leave your car here. You’ll pick it up when we come back.”
“Oh...” Leon said again, and his shoulders slightly relaxed. “That’s fine, I suppose,” he shrugged and drank more coffee. “You packed the scores?”
“Uh huh,” Stratos nodded while finishing his drink. “On top of the liquor cabinet,” he nodded towards the living room, and Leon sighed and nodded.
“All right,” he said in a somewhat mild manner and put his mug into the sink.
He went into the living room, and a minute later, there was his incredulous:
“What the shit happened here...?”
“Oh...” Stratos put his mug on the table and stood up. He completely forgot about the living room. He walked towards it. “An accident...”
Leon stood next to the fallen on its side chair, and his expression was dumbfounded. He shifted his gaze towards Stratos.
“An accident...?” he repeated in a low voice, and Stratos sighed.
“Yes,” he nodded. “Help me to tip it over, would you...?”
Yes, the chair was definitely heavy, he thought when they returned it into its original position. He headed towards the coffee table, noting that Leon followed him.
“What kind of an accident?” Leon asked after they put the table back where it belonged. “Had an elephant charge through here?”
Stratos snorted at that.
“No...” He paused. “Just... Just an accident,” he finally shrugged, and his eyes darted towards the kitchen for a second or so.
Leon immediately noticed that, and his eyes narrowed.
“What the hell were you doing to him?” he asked in a low voice, and Stratos blinked at that. “I mean, I know that you are a good lay, but...” He looked at the chair. “How hard did he come to be able to do something like this?” He ignored Stratos’ rolled eyes and pressed lips, thought of something, and frowned.
“What?” Stratos sighed when he noticed that frown.
Leon slowly shifted his gaze towards him.
“You still thinking about Unlocking him?” he asked in a low voice.
“If that’s what he wants, then yes,” Stratos said seriously without looking away.
Leon looked at him silently for a few seconds.
“Stratos, this is insane,” he finally said in a quiet tone of voice. “Obsessing about it is one thing, but actually doing it? It’s insane,” he nodded. “Especially, knowing how much you love fucking him into oblivion every goddamn time...”
“Drop it,” Stratos interrupted him in the same quiet manner.
“...every time you make him come...” Leon was not the one to give up easily.
“I said drop it,” Stratos raised his voice just a little, and Leon closed his mouth. Here it was again – the same dark, dangerous steel that sent a couple of unpleasant cold spikes down Leon’s spine. Stratos had never been able to do that before, to wake up someone’s fear with mere words... Hell, he wouldn’t even argue with anybody – confrontation was worse than torture for him. However, here it was again – the same dark, dangerous steel.
“Loreya, you goddamn idiot...!” Leon thought and briefly closed his eyes. He sighed when he opened them and looked at his friend.
“Do whatever you want,” he said calmly. “If you end up buried under debris of your own house, I’ll just say ‘Told you so’...”
“Let’s go,” Stratos said without a smile.
He turned around and walked away without looking back. Leon looked at the chair again.
“Loreya, you miserable cretin...” he muttered very softly. “Why the hell would you...”
He stopped talking, took a deep breath, and left the living room without finishing the phrase. He paused by the liquor cabinet and grabbed a dark, slim case with scores that was sitting on top of it. When he made it to the front door, he realized that it was still closed, and that Stratos wasn’t anywhere near it. He frowned and went back into the kitchen. When he came there, he stopped, gritted his teeth, and rolled his eyes. Of course, Stratos was sucking that goddamn kelari’s mouth, he should’ve known...
“Give me your car keys,” he said shortly, and gritted his teeth again when Stratos handed him the keys without detaching himself from Gemini’s face. “Hurry up,” he said in the same short manner and turned away.
He marched through the front door and headed towards Stratos’ car that was sitting on the driveway. A sudden, scolding-hot wave of pure hatred made him stop and slightly sway on his feet. He hissed something under his breath, unlocked the door of the car, and threw the case he was still holding in his hand into the back seat, not really caring if it would fall on the floor.
He walked towards his own car, popped open the trunk, and pulled out a medium-sized bag – he always traveled lightly; this bag was the only one he would ever need. He threw his bag into the back seat of Stratos’ car as well, and then sighed when he saw the case with the scores slide backwards and almost falling behind the seat. He muttered something to no one in particular, reached for the case, and pulled it out. Without thinking too much, he shoved it into his bag and zipped it up in one jerky, angry motion. When he emerged from the car and shut the door, there was Stratos, his expression grave. Leon rolled his eyes again.
“You are leaving for a week,” he said sharply. “Not for a decade...!”
Stratos gave him a look that was clearly saying several unkind things at once, and grabbed the keys out of his hand. He went towards the driver’s door, yanked it open, and threw his own bag into the back seat as well.
“Move it,” he said darkly and got inside, starting the engine almost immediately.
Leon sighed and slid into the passenger’s seat. As soon as he shut the door, the car leapt forward, taking off so quickly that Leon almost bumped his head on the window when Stratos took a sudden, nowhere-near-slow right turn.
“Goddammit...” he muttered, and then looked at his friend, and wisely decided to shut up for a while.
Stratos couldn’t sleep. It was simple as that – he couldn’t sleep. They arrived to Brookland around 1:30 in the afternoon, stopping only once on the way to refill the tank and grab some coffee. By that time, Stratos was in a semi-decent mood, and his blue eyes stopped shooting daggers at Leon who seemed to be on his best behavior right then.
After checking into the hotel and inspecting their rooms – every time they had to travel somewhere, Leon would always book two rooms, knowing that before the performance, Stratos needed isolation – they had a quick lunch, and after that, Stratos headed straight for the concert hall, determined not to waste any time.
He stayed in that hall until eight in the evening, playing almost non-stop, and not letting the thoughts of him not seeing Gemini for the entire goddamn week to sneak up on him again. He had no idea he would miss him this much. Of course, he knew he would probably miss him somewhat, but nowhere near this much. Every time he would try taking a break from playing, his mind would inevitably throw several mercilessly-bright golden images at him, making him grit his teeth and abandon the idea of a break, forcing him to start playing again.
Finally, at eight in the evening, he realized that he simply couldn’t play anymore – he was utterly exhausted. He closed the lid of the tired instrument and stood up, marveling at his stiff back and aching shoulders. He walked back to the hotel that wasn’t too far from the hall, and there was Leon, sitting outside on one of the large benches, his posture relaxed, a cigarette stuck between his teeth.
“I thought you quit,” Stratos grimaced when he walked closer.
“I did,” Leon agreed with him seriously. “For a while...”
Stratos sighed and shoved his hands into his pockets.
“Let’s go eat something,” he said a minute later. “I am starving... And tired as hell,” he added a few seconds later after Leon flicked his cigarette away, making it bounce on the asphalt and burst into merry red sparks. “I will probably sleep until noon tomorrow,” he nodded when they started walking.
He wasn’t exaggerating – he really was tired as hell, and he really did feel like he would be able to sleep until noon. He was absolutely positive that he would be out the minute his head touched the pillow that night, and couldn’t believe it when he stayed wide-awake for several hours in a row.
“What the hell...” he muttered around two in the morning after he couldn’t get even close to dozing off, no matter how hard he would count illusionary sheep (he got to two-thousand-fifty-two, and lost count).
He tossed and turned for another hour, desperately hoping for desired sleep, and tried changing the subject of the counting, figuring that sheep became completely useless.
“One dancing little elephant... Two dancing little elephants...” he started silently saying in the most monotonous manner, hoping for the droning to finally push him into sweet oblivion. “...Three dancing little elephants...”
...“...Seven-hundred-fifty-four dancing little elephants...” He droned an hour later. “Seven-hundred-fifty-five dancing little elephants... Seven-hundred-fifty... Goddammit!” He hissed suddenly and sat up on the bed. “Son of a bitch...”
He looked at the clock, cursed again (with more imagination this time) when he saw it was 4:30 in the morning, and got up, irritably slamming his hand on top of the bedside lamp, making it to flood the room with sudden brightness of light. He got dressed, and then thought about something for a few minutes. Finally, he shrugged, grabbed his jacket and his room key, and walked out into the foyer, shutting the door behind him.
He knocked rather loudly on the door of the room next to his, not feeling too guilty about waking up Leon at this ungodly hour – he knew that his friend would go back to sleep the minute he came back to bed. Leon could fall asleep anytime and anywhere in a matter of minutes, making Stratos jealous every time he thought about it – he could never fall asleep so quickly, not even if he was tired.
He knocked on the door again when there was no answer, and finally, he heard shuffling on the other side. A minute later, the door opened, revealing a shirtless Leon, whose expression didn’t promise anything good. He blinked when he saw Stratos.
“What the hell are you doing?” he muttered darkly. “It’s not even five in the morning... And unless you woke me up for some mind-blowing sex...”
“I need the hall key,” Stratos interrupted him impatiently, and Leon blinked again and stepped aside, letting the musician in.
“By the mirror,” he yawned, nodding to his left. “Why the hell do you need the hall key?” he asked in a more normal voice a minute later when Stratos found the key.
“I can’t sleep,” Stratos sighed. “Gonna go play... Beats counting elephants,” he added darkly, and Leon frowned at that.
“You mean, you were awake this entire time?” he asked.
“Uh huh,” Stratos nodded gloomily and put the key into his pocket.
“Pharmacy is open,” Leon started saying. “I am sure they have some sleep-aids...”
“I hate that shit,” Stratos interrupted him with a grimace. “Makes me drowsy as hell for the entire following day...” He sighed. “I’ll just play for a bit, no big... I am sure, I’ll be fine tomorrow... Go back to sleep,” he nodded, heading towards the door.
“Call me if you need me,” Leon yawned again, and Stratos nodded at that before walking out of the room.
Some extra practice time was definitely a good thing, he thought while walking towards the dark building of the grand hall. Plus, he was positive that tomorrow night, he would be out like a light, and that would feel exquisite.
...He went to bed at ten in the evening on Tuesday. At two in the morning, he was sitting in front of the instrument again, letting his murderous rage to pour into the music that was bursting from underneath his fingers, and hating sheep and dancing little elephants with burning passion.
“Okay,” Leon said at noon on Wednesday after Stratos butchered another passage. “Okay, stop...!” He said louder when the musician tried making another attempt at the stubborn run. “Stratos, seriously, stop...! You are only making it worse...”
Stratos stopped playing, slammed the lid of the instrument shut, and dropped his head into his hands in dark despair. He hasn’t slept even for a minute ever since they arrived to Brookland. He looked awful, he felt even worse, and he couldn’t play anything without making fifty mistakes in a row, it seemed. Even slow parts didn’t come out right – they would be sloppy, dull, and incredibly choppy.
“Go to bed,” Leon commanded, and Stratos lowered his hands and looked at him. “Go to bed,” Leon repeated with a nod. “Take a hot shower, drink some tea, unplug your phone, close all the curtains, and go to bed. It’s the only thing that would help you right now... And if you still can’t sleep, I am going to force-feed you those sleeping pills...! Believe me,” he raised his voice when Stratos tried saying something. “Drowsy will be much better than...” He paused. “This,” he finished with another nod, pointedly looking at Stratos. “Anything will be much better than this,” he added a second later. “Come on,” he sighed and grabbed his jacket. “Let’s get you to the hotel, and for the love of God, go to sleep...!”
Stratos let out a heavy sigh and stood up, following Leon without arguing – his friend was right, he knew that. They came back to the hotel just a little before one in the afternoon, and Leon took away the key to the grand hall.
“Do not go there until you get at least a few hours of sleep,” he said warningly. “Turn off your phone... Go,” he all but shoved Stratos into the room. “Sleep,” he said before shutting the door.
Stratos sighed and shuffled into the kitchen, quickly making himself a cup of hot tea. After doing that, he went into the bathroom and took a quick, hot shower, hoping it would relax him enough for him to be able to finally fall asleep. He had no idea what was happening to him – he had never suffered from insomnia.
After drinking his tea, fifteen minutes later, he unplugged the phone in his room and closed all the curtains. Then he slid into bed, pulling the blankets over him and closed his eyes, too tired to count or even think. He lay still for about half an hour, trying not to let that same dark despair to flood him, when all of a sudden, he realized what he needed. He realized that with startling clarity, opened his eyes, and sat up on the bed.
He sat still without moving a muscle for several minutes, blindly staring at the wall, and seeing nothing but shiny hair and golden eyes. That’s why he couldn’t sleep? All this time, he couldn’t doze off even for an hour because Gemini wasn’t right next to him? It was unbelievable and incredibly simple at the same time. He sat still for a few more minutes, and then blinked and got out of bed without trying to analyze anything. He got dressed in a hurry, grabbed his keys and his phone, and briefly thought of calling Leon. He decided against that almost immediately, and left the room without making too much noise.
...Fifteen minutes later, he was on his way back home.