“I have a job for us,” Asamir said.
Sinjin pressed his cheek to the cheap wood of the door frame, hard enough to hurt his cheekbone and grind a ridge into his flesh. “Is it anything like the last one? Because I like my skin attached to the rest of me. And I like getting paid. And I like the world not overrun by the torture gods of Ghuu-Zcryck.”
That was a mistake. The only wise answer when Asamir came knocking was a definitive ‘no,’ a slammed door, and a speedy relocation to the other side of Tanivar. But Sinjin always opted for snark over wisdom--one of the many reasons the grove-keepers had tossed him out of Kialle quicker than a rotten acorn. Elves were supposed to be wise. Not snarky.
“We stopped the ritual. No torture gods. And we won’t have to kill our employer this time. We’ll get paid. Promise.” Asamir’s grin flashed like a khopesh
in the night, slicing Sinjin from gut to groin. His balls pricked. Fuck.
“No.” Sinjin tried to close the door, but too late. The toe of Asamir’s boot wedged it open. His fingers wrapped around the edge, a shade darker than the wood. No gloves. The thief hated wearing gloves. And...well...Sinjin could hardly slam the door on Asamir’s livelihood.
“I don’t recall last time being that bad.”
“Oh don’t you? I recall spending the night tied up for the Ghuu-Zcryckians’ amusement while you explored their temple. I remember you having far too much fun with that candle.”
“Red wax and leather straps are a good look for you.” Asamir tilted his head against the door. A single dark curl bobbed down, tangling with his lashes. He blinked. Slowly. Sinjin’s balls pulsed again.
“Out. Now. The answer’s no.” Sinjin placed a hand in the center of Asamir’s chest and shoved.
Sinjin stopped shoving.
“You don’t like slavers much, as I recall.”
“Fuck you.” But Sinjin stood aside and let the thief in.
Asamir moved like a dancer on the prowl, too graceful for human. Sinjin had heard him claim a half-dozen parentages--Eshu, Genius, Peri. None quite explained why Asamir moved like smoke and smiled like he had a secret.
He was dressed for business in black, and blues so dark they might as well be black. His dark skin was a warm contrast to the night-blue silks. He stood a head shorter than Sinjin, but he was nearly as slender and twice as dangerous.
And damnably slow about getting to the point. Asamir touched a bit of scrimshaw, stained yellow with tea-brown striations where it had cracked, that Sinjin had come across in Kruusk. He picked up a reed flute from Pelos and played a few sweet notes, twirled the cracker-top Sinjin had gotten during the New Spring celebrations in XieXie.
“If you’re done pawing my things?” Sinjin said. There wasn’t much to paw. He packed light, carrying only memories and the odd souvenir. It made for easier escapes.
“Never. You’ve been around. When did you get to Bianco di Mar?”
“The job,” Sinjin said, snatching a blue-sheen chunk of rock from Asamir and tucking it back into its velvet pouch. “Details, or leave.”
Asamir folded his arms and leaned against the small table that doubled for dining and desk duty. It was too low for either, but Sinjin had stayed in worse boardinghouses. At least the bed frame here was long enough for him. “You’ve heard of Duke Roland?”
“Decadent. Some might even say debauched?” Some, but not Sinjin. He was hardly in a place to fling about such accusations. “Hosts a lot of parties with very exclusive guest lists?”
“And sometimes one of those guests goes missing. Never anybody of real import. Impoverished sons, spinster daughters. Nobody who’d be much missed.”
“And you think slavery? Doesn’t ‘quiet assassination of enemies’ make more sense?”
“Since when does a duke need to do anything but ignore someone like that to make them go away? Besides, I prefer slavery to the other options.”
Sinjin considered for a moment and found that, on the whole, he did as well. “Answer’s still no. Even if we could discover what he’s doing, why he’s doing it--if he’s doing it--how do we stop him? Bring evidence to the guard? As if he hasn’t bought them off. Kill him? And be hunted for assassinating one of the queen’s dukes. No thanks.”
“I have a plan.”
If Asamir was being coy, it was because Sinjin wouldn’t like the plan.
“The answer’s no.” Sinjin opened the door.
Asamir pushed it shut. “I’ll owe you a favor. Anything.”
Sinjin stopped tugging on the latch. “Anything?”
Licking his lips, Asamir nodded. He shifted his weight the longer Sinjin spent studying him in silence. “Anything.”
Sinjin touched the other man’s forearm, just above where his black-on-black embroidered cuff pulled up to reveal a bony wrist and black-wire hairs. The old manacle scars were almost faded, just a too-smooth patch of skin, bare of hair and slightly paler than the rest of him.
Asamir might claim a dozen different lineages to those curious enough to pry, but Sinjin knew the truth. After all, the djinni had called him master. Once.
Asamir must have been desperate to make such an offer, knowing what Sinjin would ask, what Sinjin had asked before and been denied. Whoever had hired the former djinni must have offered all the gold in the queen’s treasury. Or something better. “Your word?”
Asamir snatched his hand away. He clutched his wrist to his chest, rubbing it. “My word,” he said. His eyes glittered, dark and unreadable. His smile was sheathed.
Sinjin nodded, even as he regretted making Asamir cringe away. It was safer this way, when Asamir remembered that they weren’t friends. “I’ll help. What’s the plan?”
* * * *
“What exactly is the purpose of this?” Sinjin grumbled when Asamir returned that afternoon with the costume that was to be his part of their ruse. “And why do I have to wear the dress? You’re shorter than me.”
“And not nearly so striking. We don’t have an invitation, so we need to give the door guards another reason to let us in. With the reputation elves have, everyone at the party is going to be clamoring for a piece of you.”
“Giving you time to look about.” Amazing, how many of Asamir’s plans boiled down to the same scheme. Sinjin lifted the gown. The blue samite flowed like water down to the floor, silver weft threads catching the waning afternoon sunlight that streamed through the dusty boardinghouse window. Rivulets of darker ribbons trickled from the bone-stiffened bodice. It was the sort of dress that was held up by flimsy lacing and a strong prayer.
And blue. Always fucking blue. Like elves didn’t enjoy a pop of strong crimson or saffron. At least it wasn’t green.
Sinjin peeled off his shirt and trews and lifted the dress over his head. “This is starting to feel more and more like the Ghuuz affair,” he muttered into the thick satin.
“Nonsense. Way more yardage in this costume. Here, you’ve got the bodice turned backward.” Asamir loosened the laces to free Sinjin’s head when the dress caught on his ears. He tugged the bodice around rightways.
Sinjin wiggled his shoulders under the little cap sleeves--the only things keeping the dress from sliding right to the floor, since he didn’t have hips to stop it. He glowered down at the neckline gaping away from his pale, hairless, and completely flat chest. “Nobody is going to believe for half a second that I’m a woman, no matter how you dress me.”
“That’s what this is for.” Asamir emptied a small pouch into his palm. A jewel of liquid silver rolled and flashed in the cupped hollow. “The Tear of Afrita. Renders the wearer holy unto her. Here.”
He flipped up Sinjin’s skirts, found his waist, and traced a ticklish line down from there. Sinjin’s gut clenched and his cock twitched. Asamir’s fingers stopped at Sinjin's navel, pressing the gem into the hollow. It was colder and harder than Sinjin expected.
“There. Should do it.”
“Should do... What the hell?” Pricks of heat and chill bit their way up Sinjin’s legs, his spine, to the crown of his head. He swayed with vertigo, but Asamir was there to catch and steady him. His hands were still tangled up in Sinjin’s skirts.
“I--” Sinjin’s voice cracked. He cleared his throat. “What did you do?”
“Afrita’s a Samiran goddess. Matron Deity of young women. But not everyone who comes to her temple starts as a woman. So, the gem. Shall we see if everything’s in place?” Asamir untangled a hand and lifted it to the edge of Sinjin’s bodice, nicely filled now with softly rounded breasts.
His other hand resumed its journey downward from Sinjin’s navel.
Sinjin jerked and swayed again when Asamir’s long fingers dug through his pubic hair and found a nub that hadn’t been there when he’d gotten dressed.
“Yes, it’s also good for that.”