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'Does the moon look bigger to you tonight?'

The Book of Ataniel

Crush On You

“Asinus?” Khyrisse pushed tentatively through the double doors. The Paris scion was leaning on the balcony in the muggy evening, smoking his cigar. “Are--are you all right?”

“Me? Yeah. Yeah, sure.” He spared her a glance over his shoulder. “Nature called, if you know what I’m sayin’. Not a damn bathroom in the place, either. You just missed me takin’ a whizz off the balcony. Should have seen the frat boys down there run for the hills.” Khyrisse giggled despite herself. “Where’d Jack and Tor go?”

“They went to see if they could find the door,” Khyrisse said. “I--thought maybe I’d better follow you. You looked kind of--” She moved her hand, trying to find the right words. This was not the sorceress’ forte. “Upset.”

“Nah,” said Asinus, waving his cigar dismissively. “Everything’s fine. I just wanted out of there before you kids started goin’ at it, that’s all. Not like I’d mind another chance to see you naked or anything, chickie, but after thirty years as a damn donkey, I think I’m entitled to a hang-up or two in the bestiality department.”

“We weren’t going to have sex,” Khyrisse said, scrunching up her nose a little. Asinus’ human facial expressions were more complex than the donkey ones, though, and so his usual tactic of sheer crudity didn’t distract her from them as long. “Asinus... I’m sorry.”

“Ah, hell,” he growled. “Ain’t nobody’s fault.”

He didn’t elaborate, which wasn’t making this any easier. Khyrisse had known, of course, that the donkey had a thing for her--she wasn’t that unperceptive--but she’d believed, or chosen to believe, that it was a thing like Vas’: playful, idle, largely irrelevant. Khyrisse hadn’t fielded a serious unrequited since Schneider, which meant, of course, that she’d never fielded one maturely at all. Oh, help. “I’m sorry,” she said again, trying to think of something, anything else to say. “I didn’t know... You never said anything.”

“What was there to say?” Asinus leaned over the balcony, not looking back at her. “Like we don’t have enough angst-boys in this party. You need me makin’ a scene because I can’t get into your jeans? It ain’t nothin’ Nasty Price and a stiff shot of bourbon can’t fix.” He put his cigar out on the metal railing with a scowl. “You’re not buying this any more than I am, are you?”

“Uh,” Khyrisse said.

“Goddamn Hotel. Might as well throw up a ‘He’s lying’ caption under everything I say.” Asinus sighed resignedly and sat up on top of the balcony railing. “All right, all right, let’s have the flarkin’ Talk. Someday, somehow, Alphred is going to pay for this, I promise you that.”

Khyrisse blinked. “Alphred?”

“Now who’s changing the flarkin’ subject?”

“I--I’m sorry--”

“Look, chickie,” Asinus said. “I think I’ve been handling myself pretty damned gracefully, all things considered, and you and George of the Jungle are about to flay what’s left of my ego from here to Starcross, so how about you do just two goddamn things for me: stop apologizing, and don’t start crying. All right?”

“All... right,” Khyrisse said. “We--we don’t have to talk about anything, Asinus. We can just pretend this never happened. You’d be really surprised how okay I’d be with that.”

“Thanks a flarkin’ hell of a lot,” Asinus muttered.

“Well, what do you want from me?” Khyrisse said plaintively. “You’re hurt if I notice, you’re hurt if I don’t notice, you’re hurt if I pretend not to notice... I suck at this kind of thing, Asinus. I really, really suck.”

“Hey, I never tell a pretty woman not to suck.” He cleared his throat as Khyrisse colored. “Sorry, reflex. Look, I’ll be fine again tomorrow, chickie-babe. I just had myself going that this was Arturian’s damn fault, that if I wasn’t a flarkin’ farm animal maybe I might have had a sporting chance at being the one to walk away with you. And I didn’t need to be standing here lookin’ as good as I’ve ever looked in my life through yet another post you don’t even notice I’m part of till half-way through it, pig-kissing or no pig-kissing. All right? That’s all it is. The cat’s out of the bag, and somewhere around here there’s a flarkin’ fairy dressed up as Alphred who thinks this is all flarkin’ hilarious. Well I’m not laughin’.”

“I’m--” Khyrisse stopped herself before she could say ‘sorry.’ What does he want to hear, anyway? Damn it, I don’t understand men... Would he feel better if she convinced him she might have fallen for him if he wasn’t a donkey, or worse? Better if she told him it could have gone the other way if things had worked out differently, or worse? What if she told him she was already in love with Ebreth when she met him, that it was just that the time was wrong? Would any of these things help? Were any of them true? I swear, I don’t even remember anymore... Khyrisse shivered. He was waiting for her to finish her sentence. She had to say something, so she gave up and said what she would have wanted to hear. “You’re one of my closest friends in the world, Asinus,” she said. “I trust you with things I--don’t trust many people with. More than that I don’t, don’t have any control over... sometimes things just happen. I felt like that about me and Max... for the longest time, I’d wonder if things could have been different between us, if I hadn’t turned into a thri-kreen, if he hadn’t been mind-controlled into killing me... None of this was our fault, but it’s just the way our life went. Please don’t drive yourself crazy thinking about things like that. I--I have no idea whether anything could have worked out differently between us, I honestly don’t. But I know that I care about you... and I’ll still care about you tomorrow. That’s all there possibly could be to say about it at this point in time, Asinus, isn’t it?”

Asinus made a long, thin sigh. “Yeah, I guess so,” he said sourly. “It’s not your fault, chippie. You’re right, there’s nothing you could say that wouldn’t make me feel like shit right now, up to and including ‘Let’s fuck.’ Not that I’d say no or anything.” Khyrisse didn’t even smile. She’d tried that with Schneider, more or less, and if there was a more disastrous way to react to a dear friend who was secretly in love with you than having sex with him in some alternate timespace she didn’t want to know. “But anyway, that’s what I had to tell you to get the hell out of here, and now I’ve told you. So if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to go either get drunk or kill something now.” He started down the fire escape. “Alone.”

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