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Nov 22, 2019 5:47 AM
democracy at work
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He hums, takes another considering sip.

“...this is quite good — Parthos, Sicani...?”

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"Oh, Sicani, I believe. I'd have to ask the slave to be sure."

A success. Perhaps (please the gods) a good omen.

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“My compliments to him for the selection, then.”

Sip.

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"I'll be sure to pass them along."

Politics. It's important to discuss politics until at least the third cup. He has opinions about the candidates, and wants to hear Valentine's.

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Valentine has many opinions, some deeply unflattering for the candidate in question, though his phrasing is always painfully polite. He’s not fond of this one’s hawkishness, though of course he looks more favorably than Deina would on his domestic policy — that one has a lovely vision but no sense of how one might execute it — the other is brilliant but doesn’t have the social acumen to make it into office, as far as Valentine can tell, and separately his positions on suffrage and divorce are hideous.

He is very fond of the wine.

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After the first cup is finished, and the second cup is poured, the conversation is lighter: the success of a public works project on which they'd collaborated, the abominable behavior of young people at concerts, the prospect of a new shipment of dyes on a shuttle from Marina.

Three cups isn't enough to inebriate, but it's enough to give the social license which goes along with it. So it's some way into the third cup that Deina asks, lightly:

"So, your boy -- he's the beloved for you? No girls, no other boys?"

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He laughs, leans a little further back into the couch.

"It's not as rigid as all that, in theory."

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"In theory?"

He swirls the wine in his cup, as if his mind is half on playing with it.

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"I have very particular taste."

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"My friend, this is a cosmopolitan city. How particular can a man be, that there's no one to suit his taste?"

(Even for Deina, there's someone. If only the one.)

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Valentine's slave snorts – the first sound that's come out of him in the entire meeting, the first real indication of his presence.

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"–I'll remind you that you're the one who left the last one in tears."

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"In tears," he repeats, flatly.

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"–on my account, I assure you," he adds, quickly.

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Well that's even worse.

"...impressive."

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He laughs.

"Hardly. Making grown men cry is not as difficult as grown men would like to make out."

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(He would like a demonstration, please.)

Laughing, he says "fair enough!" and lets the subject drop; shows them a pleasant rest of the evening.

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The change in Valentine's manner for the rest of the night is so subtle it might well be his imagination.

He thanks him for his hospitality and his company (and the wine) at the end of the night, leaves with Cato following close behind.

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Well.

Deina has some studying to do.

He waits two weeks, for plausible deniability, and then steps down from his position in the Senate, citing urgent family matters requiring him in Sicani; kisses his sister on the cheek, books passage on a shuttlecraft (to Sicani; he'd rather not make it a transparent lie), and sets out on his journey.

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He receives a message from a private account the next day, wishing him and his family well.

There is a particular line that stands out –

I have always known you to be an honorable man, and aspire to the same. We have not always agreed on matters of state, but I believe the Senate will be poorer for your absence.

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The return message isn't from Deina, but from his sister. That much isn't terribly unusual, really; the unusual part is that she doesn't just sign his name to it.

It's shorter than Valentine's -- shorter, also, than what Deina would have written -- and less carefully worded than either.

I'll pass it along. He'll be happy to hear it.

He's well.

-- Zahara

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He sends back a thank you, and no more.

Out of the same respect that Deina showed to him, he does not enquire any further.

 

The new archons are selected – Valentine's name never seriously enters the running, this time, which is to be expected. He carries on some of Deina's better-laid plans in his absence.

Astinas invades Kotro, against his protests, and a month later he pierces a new boy's ears against the same doorpost that caught the needle for him before he owned the great house behind it.

Life goes on.

 

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He's a year about it: traveling the galaxy, studying.

Sex is like anything else. It's a skill; it can be learned. He seeks out acknowledged masters of the art on every planetoid and station where they dwell. Whorehouses, monasteries, gymnasia -- and not just learning to fuck, either, practicing everything which could be remotely useful in the context.

A pearl-diver on a remote moon teaches him to hold his breath for eight minutes, submerged in icy water. A crash course at a very exclusive athletic school improves his strength, stamina, flexibility. A wrangler teaches him to do stunning things with a whip (and how to lasso blue beasts with three heads, not that he asked for that lesson).

He has sex with men, women, neither, both, alone and in combination, in an increasingly implausible array of configurations. He fucks and he is fucked and he does not enjoy it, not even a little bit, but it's all in the service of a greater good.

Deina announces his return to Astinas by sending Valentine another invitation to drinks and conversation. He has some catching up on the political landscape to do, after all.

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Valentine arrives, of course, precisely on time.

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He is ushered in, once again, by the house-slave.

Deina is waiting for him, reclining and smiling as though it's been a week since they last met.

"Valentine! How have you been?"

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