Okay, okay, I know I've said it before, but this time I can actually back it up (kinda...?) -- I don't have anything until December 2, so now I really won't have any excuse for disappearing again! The next update is coming tomorrow -- pinkie promise!
- XIX -
When they finally got back to the hotel, it was 12:30 in the morning, and Stratos realized to his own amusement that he managed to get back in four hours and fifteen minutes. He silently congratulated himself yet again for not getting pulled over even once, and then they walked into the front doors of the hotel without unlocking their fingers.
They headed towards the stairs – Stratos was not going to wait for the slow elevator right now – and then suddenly, there was polite but firm cough behind their backs. They came to an unwilling stop and turned around.
“Yes...?” Stratos said very impatiently when he met the firm stare of the man by the front desk. The man seemed to be determined.
“Master Gregorio,” the man said with quiet dignity. “Will your...” he let out another polite cough and his eyes darted towards Gemini just for a second. “...will your... guest... be leaving here shortly?”
Stratos let out a slightly annoyed sigh.
“No,” he said in the same quiet manner. “My... guest... is leaving at the same time as I am. He will be staying with me.”
The man’s expression grew a tad darker.
“Master Gregorio...” he started saying again. “I am afraid, there might be a problem with that... This, quite frankly, is...”
“Against the rules,” Stratos nodded. “Don’t worry,” he lowered his voice. “I will compensate you for all the...” He paused for a second. “...inconvenience,” he finally finished, and the man by the counter didn’t even blink.
“I hope you enjoy your stay,” the man said in a professional good-host manner that immediately replaced his quiet dignified reproach. “Would you like your breakfast delivered in the morning?”
“Good night, master Gregorio...” the man said, and as soon as they turned towards the stairs again, his expression changed.
He stared at Gemini and he looked almost hungry with curiosity. He watched them walk upstairs, shook his head, and muttered:
“I guess the rumors were true after all... He is with a kelari...! Holy hell...”
They made it to the room in less than five minutes, and Gemini looked around with curiosity when Stratos turned on the lights.
“This is a big room,” he said. Then he shifted his gaze and his eyes slightly widened. “It even has a separate kitchen?” he asked incredulously, and Stratos sighed.
“Uh huh,” he nodded and kicked off his shoes, noting that Gemini did the same, completely automatically, it seemed. “I’ll give you a tour in the morning,” he said in a low voice and turned off the lights.
He grabbed Gemini’s hand again and led him towards the bed, maneuvering in the dark quite easily.
“Sleep...” he muttered a minute later while hurriedly undoing the buttons on Gemini’s shirt. “Wonderful sleep...” He let out a quick, irritated sigh when he missed several buttons in the dark, unable to see them, tugged the shirt out of Gemini’s pants, and pulled it over the blond kelari’s head. “Sleep...” he said again, realizing that he was also being stripped in simultaneous hurry, except it seemed that Gemini’s fingers were much more successful in the dark.
“Sleep...” Gemini agreed with him in a low voice.
They collapsed on the bed after their clothes were nothing but just some material on the floor, and quickly slid under the blanket. Stratos pulled Gemini as close to himself as he possibly could, locking both arms around him, and buried his face in the sweet-smelling hair.
“Sleep...?” he asked in a muffled voice. “Or do you want...”
“Sleep,” Gemini interrupted him in a quick murmur. He sighed, wrapped his arm around Stratos’ waist, and threw his leg over the other man’s hips. “Sleep...”
Stratos let out a sigh of his own, deeply inhaling the calming scent of silky hair, and closed his eyes.
“No more elephants or sheep,” he thought with satisfaction, feeling almost ecstatic when he felt himself finally sliding into desired oblivion.
He lay still for a minute or two, enjoying Gemini’s breath on his skin, listening to his steady heartbeat, and realized that the blond kelari was already asleep. He took another deep sigh, and right before he fell out of the reality completely, he had another thought shoot through his mind. That thought made him open his eyes again.
“I love him...” he thought and stared into darkness without blinking. “I love him...”
The thought didn’t scare him as he was afraid it would; it made him feel almost deliriously happy instead. He smiled and closed his eyes, never taking his face away from the silky hair.
“I love you...” he whispered very quietly, and decided to pay the last tribute to dancing little elephants for some reason. “One dancing little ele...” was as far as he managed to get before the reality turned itself off completely.
When he woke up, he felt reborn. He lay still without opening his eyes for several minutes, marveling at how exquisite he felt right now. Finally, he smiled and opened his eyes. Gemini lay next to him, still asleep, his face buried in the pillow, his arm wrapped around Stratos’ waist.
Stratos placed a very light, careful kiss on the pale shoulder and slowly peeled the arm off him. He got out of the bed as noiselessly as he could possibly manage, found his pants on the floor, and pulled his phone out of one of the pockets.
“I am up,” he quickly texted Leon and made sure the phone was in the silent mode.
He picked up the rest of his clothes from the floor and tiptoed into the bathroom, briefly glancing at the clock. It was 12:30 in the afternoon. He took a very quick shower and was about to brush his teeth when his phone flashed at him with impatient light. He picked it up.
“And...?” he read on the screen. “I am by the door and it is very much locked.”
“Right,” Stratos muttered and put his phone onto the counter.
He pulled on his pants and left the bathroom, heading towards the front door. He opened it a minute later, and Leon, who was clearly about to make several sarcastic remarks, stared at him without blinking instead.
“What?” Stratos frowned at his expression.
“Holy hell...” Leon muttered, still without blinking. “You look ten years younger...!”
“I feel ten years younger,” Stratos let out a quick, quiet laughter and stepped aside, letting his friend in. “Let me brush my teeth really quickly...”
“Please, do,” Leon muttered, his blinking abilities slowly returning to him.
Stratos quickly went back to the bathroom, and Leon shut the door and walked into the bedroom. Then he froze in his tracks.
“Are you kidding me?” he thought incredulously when he saw a sleeping figure on the bed. The figure lay on its side with its back towards the stunned man. “Are you kidding me?” he thought again. “That’s why he had troubles sleeping? He simply needed to get laid? Bloody hell, Stratos...” he closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. “All you had to do was hint, not even ask...! And instead...” he opened his eyes. “...instead, you went out and found some cheap floozy to bang...”
He looked at the figure again, and suddenly, frowned.
“Wait a minute...” he thought warily. “Since when does he let anyone, let alone some cheap floozy, to stay in his bed after he is done with them...? His style was always ‘fuck-‘em-and-toss-‘em’... Also, this floozy here...”
He took a slow step forward and narrowed his eyes, studying the sleeping figure more closely. That hair, that pale skin, those bony shoulders...
“This is not just some cheap floozy...” he thought in astonishment. “This is...”
The figure on the bed let out a small sigh and rolled onto its other side without waking up, facing Leon now, whose blinking abilities disappeared once again. He stared at the sleeping apparition on the bed for another minute or so, feeling as if he was seeing things for some strange reason. Then the bathroom door opened and Stratos walked out, fully dressed and looking like the definition of fresh happiness. Leon slowly turned his head to look at him.
“Are you...” he started saying, and forgot how to blink again when Stratos’ hand flew up in a quick, warning gesture, and then there was an urgent:
Leon stared at him, completely mute, and when Stratos walked to the bed and slowly moved one of the long strands of hair off the sleeping face and tucked it behind the small ear, he felt like he was about to explode. Literally.
Stratos finally turned away from the bed and looked at Leon, giving him a quick nod and mouthing a silent:
Leon locked his teeth even tighter together and followed the musician out of the room.
“Are you goddamn kidding me?” he said very slowly through his clenched teeth when they were in the foyer.
Stratos blinked at that somewhat guiltily.
“Did you just shush me?” Leon’s eyes narrowed into two very dangerous, dark slits.
Stratos cleared his throat.
“Sorry about that,” he said quickly. “I didn’t want to wake him up,” he nodded. “He hasn’t slept for as long as me, so...”
“What in the bloody hell is he doing here?” Leon’s explosion moved a tad closer to the surface. “And even better question, how...? How the shit did he get here?!”
“I drove back home for him yesterday,” Stratos said in the same quick manner, and Leon briefly closed his eyes, trying his best to keep the explosion inside.
“You drove back home for him yesterday,” he repeated very calmly a minute later. He opened his eyes. “May I question your decision...?”
“Okay,” Stratos raised both of his hands in a ‘wait-a-second’ gesture. “Before you detonate in my face...” He drew a quick breath. “I went back for him because I couldn’t sleep...”
“Oh,” Leon interrupted him in a slightly less calm tone of voice. “You couldn’t sleep, so you went for a nice, refreshing, eleven-and-a-half-hour drive...! Yes, that makes perfect sense,” he nodded, and Stratos could almost see steam bursting out of his ears.
“No,” he interrupted his friend, somewhat afraid that a detonation was inevitable now. He was partially right – Leon’s grip on keeping control was decreasing dangerously fast. “Actually, it was more of an eight-and-a-half-hour drive...” He muttered and shook his head when he saw Leon’s face smoothly change colors and become much paler. “That’s not why I did it...! After you left yesterday, I finally realized why I couldn’t sleep...” He continued talking in the same quick manner without letting Leon to utter a single word, afraid that the minute the other man opened his mouth, the inevitable would happen. “Leon, I couldn’t sleep because he wasn’t next to me!”
He took a risk and drew a quick breath, hoping it wouldn’t be enough time for Leon to explode. He was right – it seemed that his friend was mute again.
“Now,” he started talking quickly once again. “If you want to keep your promise and ditch me until next October or even until the end of the year, making me deal with everything by myself, fine...!” he nodded without looking away from Leon’s still very narrow eyes. “Fine...!” he repeated. “You warned me, I had it coming, it’s fine!” he nodded again. “But if I didn’t go back for him, there would be nothing to deal with after this Saturday! It would be my last, amazingly horrible performance, and you know it...!” he nodded yet again, feeling a very small shadow of relief when he saw that Leon’s face wasn’t as deathly pale as it was a minute ago. Of course, it might’ve been just the dim lighting in the foyer... “And force-feeding me sleeping pills wouldn’t have done anything good either,” he added a second later.
They were both silent for almost a full minute. Finally, Leon took a very deep breath.
“Well,” he said quite forcefully, as if it was very difficult for him to say what he was about to say. “Well... You did look like shit...”
Stratos hemmed at that.
“...and you sounded even worse,” Leon continued in the same unwilling manner, his teeth still clenched.
“Are you going to ditch me then?” Stratos asked carefully when there was silence again.
Leon gave him a very dark look.
“You have no idea how tempted I am...” he muttered. “But no...” he let out another sigh. “I won’t ditch you,” he finished gloomily, and Stratos’ back relaxed just a little. Suddenly, Leon raised his head, his eyes narrow again. “If I remember correctly...” he started saying very slowly. “...for your entire life, you were completely and utterly incapable of sleeping if there was anyone in your room, let alone your bed...!”
“Still am,” Stratos nodded, and Leon frowned.
“Okay,” he said in a lower voice. “I am getting very mixed signals here...”
“It’s just...” He paused. “It’s just... Ugh...” He straightened up. “It’s different with Gemini,” he said quietly without looking away. “He is the only one...”
“The only one...” Leon repeated those words as if he was trying to translate them into a language that was familiar to him.
“Yes,” Stratos nodded, his voice as quiet as a minute ago. “He is the only one I was able to sleep with... Literally sleep with... Well...” he sighed and shrugged. “Now it seems like he is the only one I can’t sleep without, so...” He sighed again.
Leon watched him silently for the next few seconds, his expression amused and curious, as if Stratos was some strange museum exhibit. Finally, he sighed and started walking towards the stairs. Stratos followed him.
“I am not going to ditch you,” Leon said, his intonation strangely indifferent. “It’s not your fault that you can get attached to someone so easily... You were born that way... You managed to get so dependent on him that you can’t spend one single week away from him...”
“It’s not dependence” Stratos said, and Leon half-turned his head without stopping and let out a loud snort. “It’s not dependence,” Stratos said again. “Last night, right before I fell asleep, I realized something...”
Leon shot him a silent question above his shoulder when he stopped talking.
“I realized that I lo...” Stratos started saying, and Leon came to a sudden, abrupt stop.
“Don’t!” he said in unexpectedly loud voice, and Stratos blinked at that. “Don’t say it!” Leon said a bit quieter. “Don’t say it!” he repeated warningly when Stratos frowned, clearly about to say something.
“Don’t say it!” His voice was louder again. “Because if you say it, I will ditch you!” He nodded firmly without looking away, and Stratos closed his mouth.
“Okay,” he said softly a minute later. “Okay, I won’t say it...”
“Good,” Leon turned away from him and started walking again. “Let’s go see if you sound as good as you look... By the way...” He half-turned his head again. “How many speeding tickets did you manage to get last night?”
“None,” Stratos said seriously, and nodded when Leon’s expression became disbelieving. “Seriously, none!”
“Impressive,” Leon muttered, and neither one of them uttered another word until they got to the grand hall.
It was almost three in the afternoon when Leon frowned at something Stratos just played (to his greatest – even though bitter – relief, Stratos did sound as good as he looked, if not better). He waved his hand in the air, getting the musician’s attention.
“Play it again,” he said when the music came to a brief pause.
“Play what?” Stratos blinked, and Leon rolled his eyes.
“Whatever you just played,” he said impatiently. “The last ten measures or so...”
Stratos frowned at that, but didn’t argue and obediently played the requested portion of the piece.
“There!” Leon said loudly and hopped on stage. “Right there!” He poked the side of the grand piano as if blaming it for something.
“What...?” Stratos frowned again. “This...?”
He replayed the last three measures, and right when he was about to stop, Leon poked the side of the instrument again.
“Right there!” he nodded, and Stratos looked at him with a very confused expression.
“What about it?” he asked, and Leon looked at him with mild disbelief.
“You didn’t hear it?” he asked in a low voice.
“Hear what?” Stratos realized that now it was his turn to become impatient.
“Play it again,” he said. “Slower.”
Stratos rolled his eyes but did as told, stopping as soon as he saw Leon getting ready for yet another poke.
“Stop poking the piano,” he said and lowered his hands. “What about it...? And no...” he rolled his eyes at Leon’s expression. “I did not hear it!”
“Oh, for the love of God...” Leon sighed. “You are playing a completely wrong rhythm there!”
“No, I am not!” Stratos snorted, and was about to say something else when Leon interrupted him.
“I am not a professional musician,” he said firmly. “But I am not a complete musical idiot either... I know enough about music, and I have listened to you play this piece God knows how many times. You are messing up in those measures!”
“I am not!” Stratos repeated stubbornly, and let out a short, impatient sigh. “Fine!” He stood up. “Give me the score...!”
“The score...?” Leon frowned. “I don’t have your scores!”
“Yes, you do,” Stratos nodded with more patience than he thought he had. “I saw you take the case to the car on Monday morning right before we left...”
“Well,” Leon shrugged. “I guess I put it in your bag...”
“You did not,” Stratos was impressed with himself – he had no idea he could possess this much patience. “I went through my bag several times; I had to get some stuff out. The case wasn’t there.”
“Then it’s probably still in your car...”
“It is not,” Stratos nodded immediately, feeling the patience diminishing ever so slightly. “I spent eight and a half hours in my car last night; I would’ve noticed the case.”
Leon looked at him without saying anything else for several seconds, his eyes narrowed, his lips pressed very tightly. Finally, Stratos sighed and rolled his eyes.
“Give me your key,” he said sharply. “I am going to go look...”
Leon said something Stratos couldn’t decipher, and before the musician had a chance to clarify what it was, Leon straightened up and shoved his hands into his pockets.
“Just practice,” he said gloomily. “God knows you can use all the time you can get now... Be back in half an hour or so...”
Yes, Stratos expected that much.
“Get some coffee on the way back,” he said before returning to the piano bench, and Leon looked at him above his shoulder.
He didn’t say anything, but he didn’t have to – it was very obvious what he was thinking. Stratos shrugged and sat down.
“After you find the scores,” he nodded lightly, and grinned when Leon stormed off the stage and slammed the door on his way out.