Tuaneni sprawled on the bed with a languid expression, reaching out and stretching his fingers to grab the hand of the man that had just gotten up only to finally be short by a hair’s breadth. He sighed and then just rolled around, propping his upper body up on his elbows and resting his chin on his hands. "You don’t want to stay any longer?"
Liail glanced back at him and gave a smile, picking up his robe, and getting dressed. "Piune is waiting."
Tuaneni lowered one hand and stroked the fur beside him, his gaze becoming complicated. "That’s what you always say. Why do you even stay with her if you’re not into women?"
Liail stopped with the belt in his hand and didn’t answer for a moment.
Tuaneni looked at his broad back and got up with a sigh, walking over and helping him fasten the belt, his fingertips lingering on the robe that couldn’t quite hide the warmth of his body. "What? You don’t like me saying that?"
Liail also sighed. "You’ve gotten it wrong. It’s not that I don’t like women."
"Then what? You like both? But you like me more than Piune, don’t you?" He tiptoed and kissed Liail’s shoulder, his lips remaining against the skin for just a moment before he pulled back and looked up again, his gaze brushing the side of Liail’s jaw.
"I don’t like men."
"Am I not a man then? You’re running over here every second day."
Liail glanced over his shoulder and his lips tightened into a thin line. Yes, there was no way to deny it. Tuaneni was a man no doubt and even though he had always been able to resist when any man caught his fancy previously, he was unable to extricate himself this time.
He also didn’t know what it was. Just one look, one glimpse of that beautiful smile, of those sparkling eyes, seeing how he moved, almost danced with the weapon in hand, he had inevitably fallen.
Unfortunately, things weren’t that easy. He was already married and people expected him to be married. If he left Piune, even if he made sure that she would have a good life, people wouldn’t look at that favorably. His position might be lost or even if he could keep it, he would lose his chance to retire. And then … How would he provide for Tuaneni?
He shook his head and turned around, taking his lover into his arms and gazing into those sharp, dark eyes that had captivated him. He just couldn’t get enough of him. Yes, anyone else, he could resist so he would not admit that he felt for men the same way he felt for a woman. But he could admit that his feelings for Tuaneni were special. "I only like you. Isn’t that enough?"
Tuaneni pressed a hand against his chest, pushing him back, and leaving his arms. "It’s been two years. Two years and all I have is still just a clandestine love affair. How can you still say that you love me?"
Liail furrowed his brows. "Then what do you want me to do? Push her out onto the streets? Sent her back to her family? Lose everything I have? Would you be satisfied then? But how will I provide for you?" He reached out again, wanting to pull his lover back but Tuaneni danced out of his reach, his movements just as nimble as when they had first seen each other.
He laughed. "What are you even saying? Provide for me? I’m not a woman! Whoever said that you’d have to provide for me? If anything, I could also provide for you! Who cares about your position? I want a man that is my man. Only my man. Is that really asking too much?"
Liail froze. He looked at Tuaneni and his gaze grew complicated. Yes, indeed. Why was he thinking that he needed to provide for this man? Obviously, Tuaneni could earn a living for himself. Hadn’t he done so all this time? After all, he had never given him money.
In fact, he hadn’t even thought about it. If he did, he felt as if their relationship would change. And most likely, Tuaneni would have felt offended if he even so much as insinuated that he would like to give him money. Who knew if they would still be together if he had tried doing so?
So, yes, what he had brought up as a concern wasn’t one at all. It was only his own misconception that had made him bring this up.
Liail sat down at the edge of the bed again and stared at the ground. Maybe he had gotten it all wrong. Maybe all this was just him hiding behind excuses. Just like he had always said that he didn’t like men even though he couldn’t help but look at them and fantasize when he was alone. He didn’t want to face the truth. Neither with either of them nor with Tuaneni.
And it had never been a problem. At the very least, it hadn’t been for him. Marrying Piune, having a family with her … It was what people expected of him and what he was prepared to do. He had never thought about leading a different kind of life.
Getting together with somebody he loved instead of somebody he was alright with, sharing his bed for pleasure instead of as a chore that needed to be accomplished to sire children, growing old together with a person that could make him smile by just giving him a glance … He had never thought about it before. And now, the one who had to pay for that was Tuaneni. Because he had married, because he didn’t want to give up the life with his family and his position in the city, they could only be a pair of lovers that met secretly for a few hours every other night.
It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t to Tuaneni who could have another sort of life. Even though Tuaneni had always given in for the past two years, he was a proud man. How long would he be able to accept something like this? Judging from what he said today and the insinuations he had made in this past, it wouldn’t be for long anymore.
Liail looked up and reached out. Normally, Tuaneni had always come to him but now, he only leaned against the wall and crossed his arms in front of his chest. "You don’t even want to come over here? If I don’t say yes today, will you leave me?"
Tuaneni smiled. It was tinged with sadness but there was a decisive light in his eyes. "You had two years, Liail. If two years aren’t enough for you to decide on me, then five won’t be enough either. How long do you want me to wait? There is a whole world out there for me, many other men who would waver less. I like you, Liail. But I’m not willing to stay with you at all costs. Can you really fault me?"
Liail nodded and lowered his hand again. This time, it was he who stroked the fur that was still warm from their bodies. He didn’t want to give up on Tuaneni. It was just … He had already gotten used to this life. Giving it up wasn’t that easy.
He closed his eyes and sighed. Yes, they couldn’t go on like this. He also knew that. He might not have realized before but seeing how Tuaneni was today, he had finally occurred to him: He couldn’t have both.
Either he continued with his old life and lost Tuaneni forever or he chose to be with his lover but had to give up on his own life. It was his decision to make for Tuaneni had already made his own. He would leave if he wasn’t willing to commit to him completely.
Liail tried to imagine the type of life he’d have depending on his decision. His old life hadn’t been bad. While it hadn’t been exciting or passionate, it had still been alright. On the other hand, his time with Tuaneni … He held back a sigh. If he only considered his feelings, then the choice was clear as day: Naturally, he would choose Tuaneni.
But if he considered everything else … Could he really give up on that? To be honest, he didn’t know. But even if he could, it would be hard and he didn’t know if he wouldn’t resent Tuaneni for it sometime down the road. In that case, wouldn’t their relationship sour? He didn’t want that either.
He sighed, feeling deeply just why he had never even tried to think about this matter: He was afraid. Afraid of losing something and afraid of losing even more later on. He feared to make the wrong decision and regret it later in his life. And somehow, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he would regret regardless of how he chose.
Both decisions seemed to be wrong and he would have much rather liked to be able to just get the best of both worlds and keep Tuaneni as his lover at the side while continuing with his previous life. He would even be willing to make things official with him as long as he did not have to divorce Piune and shatter all pretenses of their harmonious life.
But even though he had such a fleeting thought, he knew that it would never work out. Tuaneni was too proud to ever accept that kind of deal. He’d rather slit his own throat than to submit to something like this and play the second fiddle in a relationship. He was willing to engage in a love affair but only for as long as he himself wanted to do so.
No, he had to decide. Whatever the outcome was, he could not get around this.
"Five days. Give me five more days." He opened his eyes and looked at his lover. "These five days, I will see neither you nor Piune. I’ll go somewhere where I’m alone and think it through."
Tuaneni did not look happy with what he said, making Liail anxious.
"You also wouldn’t want me to rashly promise you something I can’t keep afterward. So let me have five days to make sure that I’m clear on what this means for me and for both of us. Can you do that?"
Tuaneni pushed off the wall and walked over, leaning down and hugging Liail’s neck. "I have given you two years. Giving you another five days …" He seemed a bit thoughtful as if he was really reconsidering whether it was worth it or not.
In the end, he sighed though. Anyway, he did like Liail. If he didn’t, he never would have accepted this arrangement in the first place. Five more days wouldn’t change anything, would they? He might as well wait for that long to give his lover peace of mind that he had made the right decision. Otherwise, who knew if it wouldn’t come and bite them back later on?
Resolving himself, Tuaneni even gave a faint smile. "I guess I can do that. Anyway, let me know your decision as soon as you come back so I can either pack my things and leave or we can think about how to go forward. You know where to find me." He closed his eyes and their lips met in a sweet kiss.
Liail sighed at the kiss and then got up to hug him, feeling the warm body that he had embraced not long ago. Thinking that this might be the last time, he couldn’t help but tighten his grasp on Tuaneni.
He didn’t want to lose him. Even if he didn’t take these five days, he already knew that. The only question was if he would be strong enough to give up on everything else for this. He would have to see about that.
"I’ll be back soon." He kissed Tuaneni’s cheek and stepped away, taking a last look at his lover before he left the hut and stepped out into the dark of the night. He straightened up and then went toward his marital home. First of all, he had to tell Piune that he would leave and not be returning for the next five days. And then … then, he would have to find a place to stay and make his decision.
Back in the hut, Tuaneni sank down onto the bed, pulled the soft fur over himself, and looked up at the ceiling. Five days … He could probably wait that long. The only question was whether Liail would choose him or choose his family afterward. Either he could finally have the whole heart and body of the man he loved or if he would have to continue his travels alone once more.
Unfortunately, there was nothing he could do. Giving him these two years … maybe it would have been enough. Maybe it wasn’t enough. He didn’t know. Now, he could only wait.