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Thieves - Secret Santa for Maru-chan (A for Androgynous)


PetalsAndThorns

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Happy Holidays, Maru-chan! I have done my best to provide some androgenous sass and snark. I hope you will find it enjoyable!

I have, in fact, gone fully androgynous with this fic! Because of that, I realized I needed a gender neutral pronoun to work with. I've never seen that done here before, so I'm really hoping it doesn't absolutely kill the flow of the story! >< I know that there are a number of invented ways of being gender neutral. I used a system based off of "they", just altered so that you can tell the difference between the plural "they" and the singular "zhe". So:

They = zhe

Their = zher

Them = zhem

And with that out of the way, I hope you are having a wonderful holiday season : )

Thieves

The scent of cigarette smoke wafted from the ashtray set at the edge of the table. A warm, sweet scent, tobacco mixed with something else.

“Your luck from our first round certainly seems to have deserted you swiftly, Master Adair,” Sammia commented as she lay her cards on the table before her. Her opponent blinked down at them, and scowled.

Her opponent was a slim youth, perhaps a year or so from her own age, though in which direction she’d be hard pressed to tell. Black hair fell smoothly down over zher left cheek, while the bangs on the right side were tucked back behind zher ear, giving zhem a pleasantly asymmetrical look. One half soft flowing bangs, the other slicked back dapper gentleman. Zher face was sharp, with pronounced cheekbones under pale skin, highlighting the blue in zher eyes.

Zhe stared down at the cards and sighed, running hand though zher bangs. Still zhe forced out a smile that almost looked genuine.

“I do believe it is your victory again, my lady.” Adair laid down zher own cards, and leaned back in zher chair, giving zher nose a small rub as zhe frowned at the table in front of zhem. Sammia could see from the faint pink tint that rubbing that spot was something of a habit for her opponent.

“Will you leave it there tonight? Or do you wish to accumulate a debt that you can pass on in place of the inheritance you’ve surely lost at this point.”

Adair laughed. “With a challenge like that, who could turn away! One more round, I say! Lady luck likes to tease, but in the end, she always delivers. My shuffle, if I remember correctly?”

Adair took the cards in hand and began shuffling them with adorable ineptitude. So far in their playing Adair had only ever attempted to shuffle them with a simple overhand shuffle, and zhe hadn’t been a particularly steady hand at that. But now, as the drink seemed to be loosening zher judgment, Adair was daring the riffle.

Adair sniffed, rubbed at zher nose, and carried on shuffling. Zhe separated the deck, tapped the two halves against the table so that they sat nicely lined up in zher fingers. Adair’s thumbs were just pressing the two stacks into taught-ly strung arches when zhe came to an abrupt halt. Sammia heard zhem take a shuddering breath and her eyes flick up instantly to zher face.

She caught just a glance of fluttering blue eyes and flared nostrils before Adair pitched forward.

Hiiiihhhhttccchhhhh!” A lock of hair tumbled from behind Adair’s ear, and the cards snapped from zher fingers, exploding from zher hands and splaying out all across the table.

“Oh! Bloody he—,” Adair clamped a hand over zher mouth and stifled another couple of sneezes almost silently. But Sammia could watch as zher shoulders jerked, and chest expanded beneath zher black, trim vest and white cotton shirt. She only just bit back a giggle.

“Goodness. Bless you, my dear Master Adair. I do hope our Rikari weather hasn’t gotten the best of you.”

Adair drew up, fishing for a kerchief in zher pocket. “Certainly not, my lady. Certainly not. I believe that is a role reserved expressly for yourself, and the art of shuffling. Bloody damn, this is a fine mess.”

Adair dabbed at zher nose quickly before turning zher attention to gathering the cards back into a deck. Sammia helped zhem.

“Expressly reserved for me, is it?” she asked, as she handed Adair back the cards that she had collected. “My dear novice,” her crimson-lipped smile framed in golden candle-light could almost have seemed ominous. “I haven’t even begun to get the best of you.”

-------------------------------------

The Crimson Crystal was a group of rare treasure traders who had made a name for themselves through-out Rikari. By paying just enough to the local authorities to make it not worth their time to intervene, they had nicely protected themselves against any retribution from the law at least. Unfortunately for them, there was no collective entity of thieves to bribe.

Lorian and Javon, thieves of the highest order as they liked to call themselves, had come to Rikari seven months ago under the false names of Blythe Adair and Linne Foster. And the pair of them had eyes only for the vaults of the Crimson Crystal. It had taken three months of sifting through false front after false front, but finally, finally on the eighth day of the ninth month they had narrowed down the leader of the organization.

-------------------------------------

The thief calling zhemself Adair and Sammia’s seventh round commenced with a score of 5:2 in Sammia’s favor. Their game progressed much as the others had. Sammia had a good hand to start with, and it only grew stronger. But what had started as a bit of an off-handed irritation seemed to be becoming a consistent problem for her opponent.

Haahhhh---tttshhhh!!” Adair buried zher nose in the cuff of their sleeve for what must have been at least the fifth time that evening.

“You’re bleeding, my dear,” Sammia commented.

Adair’s looked up at her, blinking as zher eyes when wide and zhe almost dropped their cards.

“I- what? Where?”

Sammia couldn’t stop herself from laughing.

“Your cards, Master Adair. Your cards. When your opponent can see your cards, it’s called bleeding.”

“Oh,” Adair turned a bright shade of pink and belatedly tilted zher cards away.

“How long did you say you’d been playing?” Sammia asked kindly.

“F-five years…” Adair stammered out.

“You’re not a very good liar, Master Adair,” she commented. Zhe turned even pinker.

“That… or perhaps I just thought that a lady as talented as yourself would have no interest in playing against someone as piss poor as myselfffhhh—Haaahhhhttttsshhhhhhh!tttsshhhh!tsssshhhh!tccch!

“Bless you!” Sammia explaimed for the sixth time. “What on earth has your system so very upset?” she asked. Adair shook zher head.

“I couldn’t say,” zhe said, kneading zher nose. “Perhaps its all the smoke. Or something from the cleaning, or—Hahhhttssshhh!” Adair pitched into yet another fit. This time when they straightened up they maintained a rather dazed expression. Sammia cooed in sympathy.

“Come on, let’s get you some fresh air,” she said, offering her arm.

-------------------------------------

Sammia Amaria, leader of the Crimson Crystal, was a well-connected woman with a neigh spotless reputation. They had spent four months searching for any chink in her armor, a single fragment of bone that might hint at a skeleton in her closet that they could use against her.

When the answer came, it had come in a rather unexpected location.

-------------------------------------

Hiiaahhh—hiiiitthhhchhhhhh! Hiiihh—ttchhhhhhuuu!HAAHH—ahhhh—TTIHHsshhuuuuu!” Lorian stumbled back, clamping a hand over zher mouth.

“Fuhh-cking! Don’t spray that in here!” zhe snapped.

“Well we need to make sure it works, don’t we?” Javon replied with a grin.

“It works! It bloody well works. I promise. Now just- don’t!” Lorian stumbled back another few steps as Javon nonchalantly spritzed the crystal clear bottle of pink liquid into the air between them. The edge of the bed caught Lorian by the knees and stopped zhem from retreating further. The scent of mingled roses, lilac, and lily bloomed and settled out between them.

Fuuuhh-fuck-- Iiihhh---hiiiaaahh---Ahhhh---tttisshhhhhhiiuuu! Hahhhh—ttkkkssshhhh! Ahhhh-haaahhh-tiissshhhu!

Javon grinned.

“This stuff works a treat on you, don’t it?”

“Well spotted oh scholar wise! What other whiiss—shit---Isshhhhhh!Issshhhh!Ihhhhh—ISHHHHUU!

Javon smirked.

“Ay. That the best you can do? You’re gonna be seducing a lady here mate. Put a bit of feeling inta it,” Javon joked.

“I still have trouble believing this will actually work,” Lorian said, rubbing at zher irritated nose. “We have nothing but the fact that this is just too strange to make up to support the fact that he wasn’t just lying to us.”

“Well, if we’re wrong, then we’re just sending you into the deepest levels of the enemy base in a compromised position. I can see absolutely no way this could go wrong. After all, what is dignity to a thief.”

“Just don’t spritz that much when you’re actually putting it on me,” Lorian said. “I’d like to still be mobile by the time you set me on the street.”

Javon snickered. “I’ll do my best,” he said in a sweet, innocent voice. Lorian glared with a distinct lack of trust. “But why stop with you?” Javon said with a smile. “By my accounts, Sammia passes through the market place at four every evening on her way to gambling. If we’re extra lucky, I might be able to get a spritz or two on her on her way over.”

“Lucky. Yeah,” Lorian grumbled.

“Now,” Javon raised the bottle once more with a grin. “Try it again. And this time I want to see some seduction.”

Javon released another small spritz from a few feet away. Lorain’s nose twitched again. This time zhe drew zher hand slowly up the center-line of zher chest, starting from zher waist.

Ahhhhh…” A single finger trailed along the line of buttons while Lorian’s breath hitched, zher eyes fluttering.

…huhhh—oooohhhhh…” As zher finger reached his chest zhe inserted a little fake moan.

“…Hhhaaaahhh…” The fingers ran up zher neck, before reaching zher mouth. With a final fluttering gasp Lorian pitched forward.

Haahhh----TIhhhshhhhhh!Ahhh-haahhh—ttsssshhhhfff!shhhhhuuuunnffff!Hah-TTIHHshhhuuuu!” Lorian straightened up and flipped zher hair back in place. Eyes closed, Lorian ran a hand through zher hair, then flicked zher head sharply to look at Javon again. Blue eyes opened as zhe gave Javon an inviting smile.

“Why, excuse me,” Lorian said in something between a pur and a breathless gasp.

Javon burst into laughter. He stumbled backward clutching at his side with his free hand and fumbling to keep hold of the vial of perfume in his other.

“Careful!” Lorian snapped, breaking character instantly. “If you break that bottle in here I swear to the Gods I will burn this place down with you in it!”

Javon was too busy doubling over with laughter to listen.

“Yeh-Yes!” he gasped through a stitch in his side. “Oh my various Gods yes! Do it like that! Do it exactly like that!”

-------------------------------------

“You really do look most awful,” Sammia commented, steadying Adair by the arm. Adair blinked up at her. Two hours in the parlor rubbing at zher nose had left it tinted nicely pink, and tears had begun to brew in zher eyes, catching the light. Sammia’s face melted in on itself.

“Oh my goodness. You poor dear. Surely you’ve caught something terrible!” she exclaimed, cupping Adair’s cheeks and pushing a stray lock of black hair into place. Adair flushed.

“My lady, you are far too kind,” zhe said. “To one who has interrupted your night with such terribly disgraceful behavior.”

Sammia pressed a finger to Adair’s lips.

“You, my dear, are far too considerate.”

Adair smiled shyly.

“I can only hope to be, m—mhhyyy…” Adair’s eyelashes fluttered again. Zhe drew a trembling hand to zher nose, chest heaving. “Hahhh---ooohhhh-huuhhh Luhh-Lord—nuuhh-not ahhh—ahhhgain…

“Sshhhh,” Sammia consoled him. “Do not trouble yourself on my account.”

Ahhhh… Haaa—aaaahhhh—tttihhhhssshhhhnnnnffff! Ahhhh—ttttshhhhhnnnnfff! Ahhh-haaahh-haaa—TISHHHshhhiuuuu!” Adair made something of a show of letting the final sneeze get away from zhem. But even without zhem playing it up, it sent zher spine trembling and zher head spinning slightly. “Ooohhhhh…” On an impulse Adair let out a soft moan. Adair didn’t usually moan after sneezing, but hell, at this point, zhe wasn’t sure zhe wouldn’t have anyway. The mingled relief of having the last set of sneezes released mixed with the impending press of all those still waiting in the wings could elicit a groan from the best of them, Adair told zhemself.

Zhe wondered for a moment if the groan might not have been a touch too much, but when zhe looked up at Sammia zhe caught her biting her lip, and noted that the color was rising in her cheeks as well.

It’s working. Holy shit, this insane farce of a plan is really working.

“P-please excuse me, my lady.” Adair wondered what level of shy was best for this woman. She seemed to be lapping what Adair had been giving so far. “I really am so sorry. I s-suuhhh-swear I’m nuhhh-not usually l-like thuhhh-this…Haahhh—tttsshhhhhunnnnffff!Tttiisshhhhhuuuuhnnnff! TTSSHHHUUuu—nnff-!” The final sneeze burst through Adair’s attempt to stifle it and left Adair’s head spinning. Adair’s legs went very suddenly weak and zhe stumbled forward. Sammia caught zhem in one swift movement and the next moment Adair found zhemself tucked up in the soft fur of Sammia’s coat. The scent of perfume wafted from her collar, tickling at Adair’s nose. But it smelled different from here. Adair thought zhe could catch a whiff of Sammia’s own, chosen perfume beneath the one zhe and Javon had planted. Minty and cool, with a touch of pine.

Zhe didn’t have long to contemplate it as another sneeze made its desire to enter the world known. Adair tried to draw zher hands up to zher face to catch it, but when zhe tried zhe found that they wouldn’t move. Adair could hear zher heart hammering in zher chest. Zher mind wheeled as zhe tried to figure out what was happening. Heat was spreading through zher chest and cheeks, and the world was spinning around zhem. Adair had the terrible feeling that only Sammia’s frame was keeping zhem from collapsing.

I-nuuheedd-neeehhdto…” Adair’s voice came out not only breathy but slurred.

What the hell is happening? Can flower fever do this? If you keep pressing it? Does it make you faint? Have I been forgetting to breathe?! What?!

Unable to raise zher hands, or speak to explain zhemself, Adair found himself stifling a short string of sneezes into Sammia’s collar. With the strength fading from zher limbs, the sneezes came out softer, but without any energy to resist, they took control of Adair’s entire body. The motion rolled from zher lungs to zher shoulders.

Ihhhh---tsshhhhh!tssssshhhhh!tsshhhhh!tssssshhhhnnnfff!” They came out a bit squeakier than normal.

Adair felt Sammia’s lips by zher ear. Her breath ghosted against zher skin as she whispered to zhem.

“May all the Gods bless you, Lorian.”

Lorian had only enough time to feel zher stomach plummet before black closed in around zhem.

-------------------------------------

“Are you awake?”

Lorian groaned and shifted only to feel the cut of ropes against zher arms, wrists, and legs. Beneath him the wood of the chair zhe seemed to be bound to cut into zher legs. Lorian groaned again for good measure.

“You’re awake.”

“Can I not be?” Lorian asked, zher voice coming out rough and husky. “If I ask really nicely, can I not be?”

Zhe heard a soft chuckle.

“Well, be on your best behavior and I might just see what I can do.”

With a great effort Lorian forced zhemself to look up. The muscles all along zher neck and down zher spine complained at this. Lorian elected to ignore them.

Mistress Sammia sat in a very nice, high backed chair. Brown skirts touched with patterns of red at the hem fanned out around her crossed legs. A deep brown corset cinched tightly around her slim waist, patterned with fiery orange embroidery. Long brown hair tumbled over her shoulders in large, loose curls. Lorian remembered how in the yellow candlelight of the parlor it had shone with tints of orange. Now, with nothing but the moonlight through the open window it looked darker.

It took Lorian moment to piece together what was happening. Before zhe’d fully processed it instinct took over and the practiced disguise fell back into place.

“My lady Sammia,” Lorian said in utter bewilderment. “What on earth is the meaning of this?”

Sammia tilted her head and smiled, an expression somewhere between pity and amusement.

“Oh, my dear, I think we can dispense with the acts now, Master Lorian.”

“I’m sorry?” Lorian said. The lingering stupor from whatever drug she’d used helped the act along. “My lady, what are you talking about? Who is Lorian?”

“What an interesting question! I’ve spent the past few months trying to answer that question myself! Spy, thief, con-artist, pickpocket, one of the most famed thieves of the underworld. I came up with a long list of accomplishments when I searched for Lorian’s record. But since then I’ve come up with a far more succinct answer.”

“What is that?” Lorian asked. Sammia’s smile widened.

“Lorian is the person who is about to have a terrible night.”

Lorian’s heart was quickly sinking, but zhe kept up with the ruse.

“I’m sorry, my lady. But I still don’t understand, what does this have to do with me?”

“You’ve missed your check in with your accomplice,” Sammia replied. “He’ll be running the streets searching for you at this point. Very unprofessional that. Any team should always have at least three members. One on duty, one to back the first one up, and one to keep an eye on the stash while the other two are away. Anything could happen to your stash while the two of you are missing. But don’t worry. I’ve sent an accomplice of my own to pay a visit to your lodgings. They’ll keep a careful watch on your possessions while the two of you are away. For only a small tax at that.”

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

“My lady, I really don’t-!” Lorian pushed to keep the ruse up. Before zhe could finish Sammia had swept to her feet.

“I’m going to make this clear for you,” she said. “Sammia Amaria is a ruse. The Crimson Crystal has a leader like a brothel has a live in priest. I was hired by them for two express purposes. One, is to hit you and your partner hard enough that you never bother the Crimson Crystal again. The second, is to warn you that the second time they have to hire someone to deal with the two of you, it will be an assassin.”

Lorian let out a long breath and collapsed forward. If Lorian could have, zhe would have thunked zher head against something.

“I must say,” Sammia continued. “You are very lucky that I’m not an assassin.”

A hand caught Lorian by the chin and Lorian’s head was tilted to look up into Sammia’s pale face. She reached out and pressed two fingers against the divot where zher collarbones met.

Very lucky indeed.”

Lorian swallowed, feeing zher heart pounding. Suddenly zhe felt a prickle at the back of zher nose. And then Lorian realized that the perfume must be sprayed somewhere on Sammia’s wrists. Appearently, Javon’s plan to get some of the perfume on their target had been successful. Lorian set aside a special backhand for Javon and his brilliant ideas later.

Of all the times to do this, Lorian thought to zhemself as zhe felt zher nose begin to twitch. Of literally all the times to do this, can you not figure out that right now rose and lilac essence are not my biggest problems!

Lorian watched Sammia’s eyes widen slightly and the smile across her face became suddenly devious. Along with the ruse of being a sweet noble lady had gone all of the pity she’d been ladling on Lorian so liberally earlier that very evening.

“Ah,” she breathed. “But I am very curious how you found out about that.” She tilted her arm so that her wrist brushed against zher cheek. Lorian all but winced, scrunching zher nose and breathing through zher mouth. Still the tickle wafted and prickled in zher nose.

“If you tell me, I’ll move my wrist away,” she purred, casually brushing her fingers across Lorian’s cheek, with her palm just by zher nose. Lorian bit zher tongue and held zher breath. Sammia giggled.

“I may even return your kerchief to you,” she said, trailing her finger down the bridge of Lorian’s soft, curved nose. Lorian bit down harder on zher tongue as zher nose began to twitch all the harder. The image of Sammia went out of focus before Lorian’s eyes as zhe lungs drew in a shuddering breath.

“…Huuuhhh…

“The fact that you think that you can outlast me is hilarious,” she commented, spreading her index and middle fingers out to lightly circle Lorian’s nostrils, dipping beneath zher nose and then tracing them both back up the center to end at the tip of zher nose.

“…Huuuuuuhhh…

“You see, I am quite enjoying myself.” Sammia drew back abruptly, leaving Lorian poised mid-sneeze. Lorian blinked, wondering what had made her give up her torment. Then zhe realized that the retreat had been a tactical one. Another breath shuddered through Lorian.

…hhhhahhhh---huuuhhhh…” Lorian sat, nose quivering, eyebrows arched, face blinking as it tried to draw into focus, only to be pulled back again as another hitched false start came on.

Ahhhhh---hahhhhh…huuuuuhhhh…haaaahhhh…hhh-hhhhuuuhhh…oohhhhhh…” Lorian let out a genuine groan now. Lorian had never before felt something like this prickling so intensely in zher nose before, like the lingering after feeling of a sharp spice. All the while Sammia’s face swam in and out of focus in front of him, a wolfish grin on her features. Lorian had no idea that a body could keep lingering on a false start this long or how long it took zhem to break.

“F-fine. I—Aihhhh Ihhh’ll… teehhhlll… huuuhh… t-tehll you…” Lorian managed. “J-juuhhhsst… leehht… me—haaahhh…

Sammia shook her head, smiling.

“No,” she said. “You can tell me like that. If I find your answer plausible, I’ll give you release.”

Lorian groaned and kicked against the rope binding zher legs. But zhe didn’t have any chips to bargain with.

“We c-caaahhhlll- called on… oohhnnn…” Florian scrunched zher nose hopefully, but nothing came. “…a brothel you viihhhh-visited… They saaiihhhh-said, didn’t want to-tooohhh—to tell c-client ssss-seehhhhhhh… ­secrets…” Florian sniffed wetly. “A bribe loosened their tooohhhhh-tongues.”

“I see,” said Sammia. “What brothel was this?”

“The Puh-Purple Petals.”

“I shall have to have a word with the management there I see. What exactly did they tell you?”

“We talked to one of the buuuhhhhh- boys there… He mentioned your p-particular ihhhhhhhhh—hhiihhh—interests…” Lorian smiled slightly despite zhemself. “We hhhh—hhardly believed it ourselves.”

“And what was this dashing lad’s name?”

Lorian swallowed. “W-won’t say… His s-safety… haaahhhh-uhhh… not worth it.”

Sammia raised an eyebrow, and then burst out laughing.

“Oh my gods! I’m not going to hurt anyone over this! I find it hilarious! If I’d thought that making my singular interests known would result in dashing young beauties like yourself coming to put on such elaborate shows for me, I would have done it years ago!”

Lorian blinked in surprise.

“But you’ve been most agreeable,” Sammia said. She reached into her skirts and suddenly there was a knife in her hand. Lorian gasped and choked. But she turned away from zhem, going to the bed a few paces away. She cut a very thin slit in the pillow casing, and then returned to Lorian’s chair, a feather in her hand. She’d clearly chosen one of the longer ones, tapering to a soft tip. She knelt down before Lorian and drew the feather over the bridge of zher nose. Lorian’s nostrils flared. She drew it in the same pattern that her fingers had traced before. Down the bridge, and out over zher fanning nostril, and then she slid it gently inside. It took her a moment of gentle teasing and twirling her weapon to find the right spot, but when she did Lorian’s entire face twitched.

“There?” she asked, twirling the feather in her fingers tickling the same spot again.

Uh-huh-hhhhhhh…” Lorian managed. The feather worked differently from the perfume. Lorian’s face contorted, and only zher left eye began to water for some stupid reason. Zhe blinked and a tear rolled down zher cheek. “Hhhaahhhh-TTttCCHhhhIIUuuuu!” Sammia withdrew just before Lorian pitched forward, buried zher face in zher shoulder. The chair Lorian was ties to thunked against the floor as their body hitched and jerked.

Haahhh—TTSSSHHHUUuuuuu!Ihhhhhh---TTSSHHHIIUUuuuuuuu! Haahh—aahhh—haaaaAAaaHHH—TTIIhhhhSSHHUUuu!Ahp-tTSSHHUuuu!TTShhuuu!Haahhhhh—TTTSSHhhuuuu!

By the time Lorian was able to straighten up, Sammia was across the room.

“If you’ll excuse me,” she said. “I have a rendezvous with my associate. I’ve rented out this room for the evening. No one will come looking. But I am sure that eventually your partner’s search will bring him here. Still. I must thank you for the wonderful performance you have given me tonight. It is more than I could ever have asked for. I must come up with some way to repay you.” Sammia tilted her head thoughtfully. “You don’t have any peculiar, intimate interests of your own, do you?”

“Funny you should ask,” Lorian replied. “I do have this strange reverse bondage fixation. I absolutely love it when a gorgeous woman unties me from things. Chairs are a particular fascination of mine.”

Sammia’s smile broadened, the devilish tilt of her sharp eyes deepening. “Well then!” she exclaimed as she pushed the window open, the cool breeze flourishing her hair and skirts in the air around her. “As soon as I am off duty with the Crimson Crystal, I shall have to hunt you down and tie you up again. So that you might enjoy the pleasure of being unbound once more.”

She was about to step out with window when she stopped.

“Ah! But I made you another promise, didn’t I?” she said. She pulled something from her pocket and drew back up to Lorian. “Your kerchief, as promised,” she said. Before Lorian could do anything Sammia had pressed the kerchief between Lorian’s teeth and was tying the makeshift gag around the back of zher head. Then she stood and stepped back to the window.

“If your partner has not found you by first light, I’ll be sure to point him this way.”

With a grin she launched herself forward, over her foot and leapt out into the vast empty space just outside of the tavern window. Lorian heard the swoosh of her skirts as she swung herself up on top of the roof, and then her pattering footsteps faded into the night.

-------------------------------------

The door clicked.

“Holy hell on a stick.”

Javon closed the distance between himself and Lorian in a few long strides, and immediately tugged the gag from Lorian’s mouth. Lorian coughed roughly. Javon patted zhem strongly on the back.

“I’m gonna go out on a limb and say our information was faulty,” Javon said.

“I’m going to lose a few limbs if you don’t start untying me,” Lorian coughed back.

Javon pulled his dagger from his belt and quickly cut through the ropes at Lorian’s wrists and feet. Lorian flopped back and groaned, massaging the life back into zher extremities.

“What happened?” asked Javon.

“Later,” Lorian rasped. “How long has it been since you were last at our lodgings?”

“Two hours at the very least, probably three. Why?”

-------------------------------------

The rooms that Lorian and Javon had rented lay bare. Their clothes were gone. All of their possessions were gone. All the drawers empty. The sheets stripped from the beds.

“Well fuck me with a mason’s hammer,” Javon sighed at the sight.

“Can’t. They took that too.”

It was with much trepidation that Lorian pushed their bed frame aside, revealing the crooked wooden floor panels beneath. Sammia’s associate had, in fact, taken the hammer, so Lorian was left scrambling with zher nails to pry the floorboards up. Javon offered his dagger and with that Lorian finally managed the task. The board came up. Lorian peered into the secret compartment beneath. Lorian moaned at the sight and flopped to the side, zher shoulder thunking against the wall.

“That good?” asked Javon. He came over and stared down into what had once been their secret compartment, holding all of their accumulated wealth of jewelry, treasures, and coin. The light of his candle fell on nothing more than empty space and another layer of wooden floor panels. Everything gone. All but a single square of white, sitting bright and cheerfully in the completely empty surrounding space.

Javon knelt down to reach into the hidden panel and drew out what turned out to be a thin envelope. He looked it over, and then offered it out to Lorian. Lorian took it. The envelope was patterned with pastel flowers. The writing was an angular, curvy print.

Dearest Liorian

Lorian slipped the envelope carefully open. The letter inside was a small card, patterned in the same flowers as the envelope.

“What’s it say?” asked Javon.

“ ‘May we meet again, when the pale sun rises, and the white hawk cries. Where the moon shall meet her love, and the sun meets his doom. There shall the last petal fall.

I will be thinking of you when you read this.’ ” Lorian read.

“What in the blazes does that mean?”

When Lorian didn’t reply, Javon looked up to see zhem fluttering zher hand in front of zher face.

Huuhh--- uuhhhh---h-hhhhuuuuuhhhhh…

“Wait a minute!” Javon exclaimed. His fingers snapped to his temple, as his eyes widened in realization. “I can hear you! I can hear you telepathically!”

Hhhhuhhh----I--hhhuhhhhhhhh---hh-hhaaaaAAAHHhhh—

“What’s that?” Javon put on a vague approximation of Lorian’s higher voice. “ ‘I haven’t got the foggiest idea, but it’s soaked in perfume’ you say?!”

Lorian’s fanning hand was growing more and more rapid. Zhe tried to throw the card like a bomb that was about to go off, but it just fluttered serenely toward zher feet. Zhe took a few trembling steps backward, breath still hitching as zhe went.

Hiiuuuhhhh---aaaahhhhh----hhhhhiiiieEEEHHHH—IHHHHPPPTTTSHHHhhhh!” Lorian exploded forward. Zhe buried zher face in zher hands, stifling sneeze after sneeze as zher shoulders jerked and trembled. “Ihhhhh—pttshhhhhh!tttuuushhhhhhhhhh!Aahhhh—haaa---tttiiiisshhhhhhhhh!

“What’s that?” Javon continued in the same, clairvoyant tone. “ ‘Now I’ve touched the envelope and the perfume’s all over my hands?’ you say? Good lord! How cruel! How cunning!”

Waa—whaa—wwhaaaa---Ihhhtssssshhhhhh! Hahhhh—tttssshhhhhhh—HIAaaahhh—tttishhhhhhhuuuUUuu!-water!

“You know, if she starts playing tricks like this on a regular basis, we’re going to need to learn to communicate through all your sneezing.”

Haaahhh---whaaa---hhuuuuhh—whaater—yuhh- you prick!

“Try sneezing in morse code!”

Haaahhh---ttsshhhhh!tshhhhh! Haaahhh—ahhhtssshhhhhhhhnnnfff!

“You scoundrel! My mother was a saint!”

Huhhh---Ttttiihhsshhhhhhhhnnnnnnfff!TTssshhhhhhhhhnnnnnfffff!Haahh-ahhh-ttisshhhhuuuuuuu!

“And my father was a pastor! I’ll wash out that mouth of yours with soap!”

Haaaahhh---tiishhh!tsshhhh!tshhhh!Ihhh---hiiihhhtttssshhhhhuuuuuu!

“Blasphemy!”

Lorian managed to get a grip on zhemself just enough to catch Javon behind the leg and swipe him to the floor. Lorian shouldn’t have been able to get away with that in zher state, but Javon was too busy laughing to be on the alert.

Lorian fell on top of him, and the two wrestled, rolling each other over the floor as they pushed, and shoved, and yanked at each other. Punctuated regularly by Lorian breaking out into a small fit of sneezes, at which Javon would gasp in horror and utter more, and more ridiculous responses.

Sneezing.

“The King is in danger? But my good sir! We have a Queen!”

Sneezing.

“Why, but there aren’t even any rabbits in the mountains!”

Sneezing.

“Timmy’s trapped in the well? But then who’s downstairs!”

Almost half an hour passed before the two of them crumpled to the floor of their stripped rooms, breathing heavily and staring at the ceiling.

“What are we going to do?” Javon asked.

“I thingh-,” Lorian groaned at the congestion in zher voice, pulled a kerchief from zher pocket and remedied the problem. “I think, this calls for revenge.”

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Wow, this is really intriguing and original!! I love Lorian -- i agree i have not yet seen an agendered character in a sneeze fic, and I really dig this representation! Totally captivating!!

Edited by meepsy
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Very original, and thank you for this well-thought-out gift, my dear PetalsAndThorns! I would never have thought you'd take my directions so literally ^_^

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SneezingCosmos

I, too, like the idea of androgynous sneeze fiction because then no one will be deterred by an (f) or (m) stamp on the material; everyone will give it an equal chance :) I, for one, enjoyed reading it not for its agenderality, but for its impeccable writing and writing style. I loved all the care that was taken into describing and spelling out each sneeze so that readers could be given a detailed visual of every fit by either character.

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