Drinker Tailor Doctor Spy
by Whitney Reynolds
Lucian staggered out of the taxi nearly sideways, struggling like an off-balance giraffe to stay on his feet as the car started to pull away from him. The door wasn’t even closed. He pulled his jacket over his head in some futile effort to keep dry in the downpour.
“There are laws, you know!” he yelled as the cab sped up the street, becoming increasingly difficult to see past the sheeting rain. “I have your license number!” He had part of it, at least. He was certain it ended with an H and started with a 6. “Bloody hell,” Lucian muttered to himself and got out of the middle of the street to seek some sort of shelter.
He had told the taxi driver to take him uptown, and it was Lucian’s own fool fault for being occupied by his phone and not noticing that he had gone much too far uptown until the car was crossing over a bridge. What started with a polite request of just where on earth the driver thought he was going turned rapidly into a shouting match in which Lucian made promises that not only would he not pay, but he would have the driver’s license number. And that was how he ended up on a street in the Bronx in the rain with absolutely no idea where he was and not even the dream of another taxi in sight.
Lucian looked for an awning or at least a bit of scaffolding to shelter under so he could use his phone without fear of destroying it. He had to alert his date that he was going to be running very late, and also figure out where in the hell he was and how he was going to get anywhere at all. Most of the businesses around seemed to be closed and very little of the signage was in English, but one shop did have enough of an overhang for him to duck under and escape being quite so drenched.
Lucian hunched facing in towards the shop window, which was dim and dark grey and impossible to see inside, to keep the rain off his front. He retrieved his phone from his pocket and tried to wipe his fingers on any dry part of his shirt he could find so he could operate it at all. He called Melinda’s number, but she didn’t pick up. Voice mail already; this night was going just fantastically.
“Melinda, hi, it’s Lucian,” he said, getting the screen of his phone wet as he held it to his ear. “I am currently… well, I am currently not where I need to be at all. It will be a very funny story when I get there. Please hold tight, message me when you get this, I’ll be on my way soon.” He hung up and stared at the screen of his phone. A map, at least. A map would be a start.
He was waiting for his phone to decide if it knew where he was and if it could tell him where that was when the door of the shop opened, causing him to jump half a foot to the left and nearly drop his phone. “Oh, sorry, you startled me. I’m sorry, I was just getting out of…” Lucian trailed off as the person who opened the door came fully into his site.
Well, “person” might not have been the word. No, yes, no, of course it was the word. Anything else would be terribly rude and impolitic. It was very much a person who had opened the door, but it was also very much not a human. He’d never even seen a thunaen in the flesh before. Well, “flesh” might not have been the word. Chitin? Scales? Some of it was certainly flesh; he’d read medical texts quite thoroughly and was very aware of thunaen anatomy, and he was also staring, gaping like a fish.
The thunaen tilted his head up, craning out his long neck to peer showily up at the erupting sky. Lucian’s mouth hung open as he saw the way the light hit the thick ridge of wide black scales down the side of the thunaen’s neck, making them shimmer iridescent like a beetle’s-back. The thunaen looked back at him. “My, it seems to be raining,” he said. Yes, ‘he’ was correct, Lucian was sure. He was very well-versed on thunaen sexual dimorphism and the indicators of the male of the species: the larger, brighter-colored crest of thick bony protrusions sweeping from the brow to the back of the head; the broad shoulders and extremely narrow waist; the little hexagonal clustering of scales just at the base of a soft, pale grey throat. The thunaen looked at him and blinked slowly, his soft inner eyelids slipping sideways over his eyes. They were the color of smoke, those eyes. “You are aware of that, yes?”
“Oh,” Lucian said, and snapped his jaw closed. “Yes, I… I’m a bit lost.”
“I never would have guessed,” the thunaen said, and held the door to the shop open. “Come inside and dry off. You’ll catch your death of cold, or at least that’s what they tell me.”
Lucian hurried in, squeezing in past the thunaen’s broad chest as he slipped through the doorway. “I’m terribly sorry,” he said, falling on the easiest and most automatic English instinct when coming into someone’s home, place of business, or personal space. “I didn’t even realize you were open.” He looked around as he dripped onto the carpeting. There were mannequins and dress forms all over the small space, many of them humanoid-shaped but a few larger, like rocliar, or with some extra limbs, like naharians. “Are you a tailor?”
“I suppose I did have the sign off outside, as I wasn’t open,” the thunaen said. He plucked a business card from the table near the door with a delicate, graceful gesture of his three extremely long, sharp-tipped fingers, and handed it to Lucian. “But yes, I am a tailor.
Gaale’s Custom Design and Alterations was what the card said, and Lucian held it neatly with both hands, dampening the edges just from contact. “And you’re Gaale?”
“Gaale,” the thunaen corrected, saying the name with a resonating purr that it was anatomically impossible for Lucian to replicate. He shook his head and smiled, or at least made an expression involving his thin lips that Lucian felt safe interpreting as a smile. “Yes, I’m Gaale. I am a tailor, and this is my shop, and you are currently the extremely wet human who is standing in it, and I cannot imagine how you came to be here and can even less imagine what your name might be.”
“I got into an argument with a cab driver,” he said, ducking his head in a way he hoped seemed charming. “This is not where I intended to go tonight.”
Gaale tilted his head and gave Lucian a very long, appraising look. “No, you’re dressed quite well, though you’d be better suited by a shirt with a slimmer cut. And the shoulders of your jacket are far too broad for your frame.” He smiled again—definitely a smile, even though the teeth he showed were sharp. “But I’ll leave you to consult my services on your own time, Mr….?”
“Doctor,” Lucian said quickly. “Doctor Lucian Jilani, hello, pardon.” He held out his hand and Gaale and quirked an eyebrow—well, more of a ridge of thick scale above his eye—before reaching out to take his hand. Gaale’s fingers brushed well past Lucian’s wrist as he gripped his palm, and he shivered.
“Well, doctor, there is a car service nearby that I can call for you to get you far less lost,” Gaale said. “And until then… well. Regardless of the quality of the cut of your current outfit, it can’t be appropriate for wherever it is you’re going in its current sodden state. I certainly have some things in your size that you could wear on your… date?”
“Oh!” Lucian said. “Oh, yes, it… yes, thank you. Yes, my date.” Melinda had not called or texted him back, but perhaps she was caught somewhere by the storm, too. “Oh, no, you don’t have to do anything. I mean, the car, yes, the car would be very kind, thank you, but…”
Gaale held up his hand to halt Lucian’s further objections. “I’ll hear no more of it,” he said. “It is my duty as a tailor to make sure that anyone who has entered my shop leaves in possession of the finest and most flattering clothing that they can have.” His voice pitched a little lower, sly and even thicker with that inhuman purr that made the hair on the back of Lucian’s neck stand on end. “Even if you did not enter my shop during business hours.”
“I’m really sorry about that,” Lucian said. “But I’m very grateful you were… working late?”
Gaale turned to step back deeper into the shop. “Something like that,” he said, as he went to a rack of clothing and started poking through. “Paperwork and the like. Surely you know how that is, doctor.”
“Yes, yes, I do. Always up to my neck in it,” he said. He swallowed just to make some noise in his ears to fill the silence as Gaale deliberated through his collection of shirts and jackets. “Are there many thunaens in this part of town?” Gaale cast a glance back over his shoulder. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, I just…”
Gaale came back towards him, holding two shirts. “No worry at all, doctor,” he said, and held one of the shirts up to Lucian’s chest. “I’m asked it often enough. And the answer is no, there are not. There are not particularly many of us anywhere. You did not stumble into a heretofore unknown Little Thunae, as lovely as that would be.” He looked up to Lucian’s face, locking into him with his haze-shaded eyes. “You would do well to wear some more color, doctor. I think you’d look very striking in some subtle jewel tones.” He turned away again, taking both shirts with him.
“I, ah… I admit I don’t give a lot of thought to fashion,” Lucian said. “My work keeps me very busy.”
Gaale brought up another shirt, this one a dark burgundy. “And I suppose it must get messy,” he said. “Presuming you are a medical doctor.” He gave an approving nod to the shirt and looked pointedly at Lucian until he took hold if its hanger.
“Yes, yes, I am,” Lucian said. “Though it’s not as messy as you might think. I’m a private physician for the Ronkoret Corporation.”
“Oh, my,” Gaale said. “You are lost indeed, aren’t you, doctor.”
Lucian let out a nervous laugh. “Well, it keeps the bills paid, I can say that.” Gaale came to him with a slate-grey jacket, gave another nod after holding it against the shirt, and then took both items back. “Before I got this job, I spent three years providing medical care to rural communities in Mongolia. And two years as part of a research project in the Amazon before that. Treating coughs and colds to keep a workforce happy isn’t as exciting, but… it’s good to relax for a while.”
“Goodness, so adventurous,” Gaale said, and pulled a tape measure from his coat. “And at such a young age. I presume.” He suddenly reached down to pull the tape around Lucian’s waist. Lucian went rigid as Gaale bent down to check the numbers. “Pardon. I can usually do this by sight, but you really are wearing clothing far too large for your frame.” He dropped down to one knee in front of Lucian. “Put thought into any off-world work, doctor?” he said, and then measured Lucian’s inseam.
When Lucian could manage to speak in something other than a squeak, he said “Yes! Yes, of course, I have, I would like to…” Gaale stood up and Lucian let out a long shaky breath as he turned away. “Xenobiological studies are a bit of a hobby of mine. It’d be nice to get some practical use for my knowledge.”
“Isn’t it always?” Gaale said, and then put three hangers into Lucian’s hands. “Put these on.” The moment’s pause before he spoke again gave Lucian a moment of certitude he wanted him to change right there, in the middle of the shop. “My fitting room is behind you.”
“Ah, yes. Thank you,” he said, and went to put on the new suit. It was nothing he would have ever selected for himself, but the fit was remarkable, even just off the rack. While he was putting his wet clothes onto Gaale’s hangers, he received a text from Melinda, saying she’d been delayed by the rain as well, but couldn’t wait to see him. He gave himself a good look in the mirror. Perhaps more colors would be a good addition to his wardrobe.
He came out of the dressing room and Gaale clasped his hands together in a look of pleased satisfaction. “Ah, that is much better.”
“It really is excellent, thank you so much,” he said. “How much do I owe you?”
Gaale shook his head. “What you owe me is that you come back here and let me dress you properly,” he said. “It’s already stabbing me in the heart that I’m going to let you walk out of here without proper alterations to that suit, so you’ll have to come back for that. And for the one you’ve left dampening my fitting room. And whatever else you have in your closet that I can simply tell needs my attention.” Gaale smirked and tilted his head down. “And of course you’ll have to tell me what your date thought of this,” he said, gesturing with one long finger over the length of Lucian’s body.
“That’s… you’re really too kind.” He pulled one of his business cards from his wallet and gave it to Gaale. “I’m really lucky that driver threw me out in front of your shop.”
“Aren’t you, indeed?” Gaale said, and tucked Lucian’s card away into his jacket pocket. Car headlights suddenly filled the store window, and Lucian heard a brief car horn beep. “I called the car service while you were changing.” He walked to a canister by the doorway and pulled a long black umbrella from it. “Please stay dry for the rest of this evening, Doctor Jilani. I look forward to seeing you again.” He showed his teeth in another grin. “Although perhaps take the subway next time.”
“I, I will,” Lucian said, and started to walk out to the car, but paused. “Oh, should I… I had a tie, do you think I should put it on with this?”
Gaale shook his head and came in close to Lucian. “Absolutely not,” he said. “In fact…” He reached out with the sharp points of his first finger and thumb and deftly undid the top button of Lucian’s shirt. “You have a lovely throat, doctor,” he said, gesturing in a little circular shape in the now-opened collar of his shirt, close enough to make Lucian shiver but not quite touching him. “You should expose it.”
“I…” Lucian said, and his throat, regardless of its loveliness, bobbed as he swallowed hard. “I will. Thank you.”
“Have an excellent evening, Doctor Jilani,” Gaale said, and opened the door for Lucian.
Lucian was simply not present for his dinner with Melinda, who was lovely as always and highly complimented his suit. She spoke, he provided some sort of suitable responses, they ate, and they mutually agreed to use the weather as an excuse to go home separately. Lucian undressed carefully and hung his new clothes up with far greater care than he usually did, then settled into bed with his tablet to read a bit before bed.
To read a bit, before wandering to other, less literary, more nude sources of nighttime entertainment. He followed his usual trajectory: human women, then human men, then human men and saaleri women, then baqq men, and then the never-changing frustration at the existence of apparently only two clips of pornography featuring thunaens in the entire world.
Well, it would have to do. Xenobiology was something of a hobby of his.
Lucian came back to Gaale’s shop a few days later, in the daytime. It turned out the shop's neighborhood was a straight shot up from the subway that ran closest to the Ronkoret building and he was there faster than he’d managed in either direction via car. In dry daylight he found that the neighborhood was fairly evenly split between humans and saaleri, bright and friendly and living side-by-side. As he came to Gaale’s shop, a human woman wearing saaleri-style dress held the door for him, smiling at him even though he couldn’t meet her eyes behind the veil covering them.
“Ah, doctor!” Gaale said as Lucian came in. He’d brought back the suit, of course. “I was not expecting to see you so soon, and certainly not at this hour of the day.”
“I thought it’d be rude to come back after hours again,” Lucian said. “I had no appointments for the rest of the afternoon, so I thought I’d come up.” He had had appointments this afternoon, actually. Elijah Ronkoret himself was due for his regular appointment to have Lucian shoot him full of vitamins and shudder at him about what the stresses of his life required, but he had cancelled it early in the day; the paranoia and whims of the obscenely rich were something Lucian thought he might never fully adapt to.
“I keep rather unusual hours,” Gaale said. He was stitching a torn seam in the arm of a shirt. Lucian watched with fascination at the way he held the needle between his long fingers, working it back and forth through the fabric with careful, delicate grace. “And I make my home above the shop.” He stopped his sewing and looked up at Lucian. “So, you should feel free to come visit me any time.”
“Oh, thank… thank you,” Lucian said. “I’ve brought back the suit,” Lucian said, as though the garment bag in his arms could be anything else.
“And how did your date like it?” Gaale said.
“My date?” Lucian said. He hadn’t spoken to Melinda since their dinner. “Oh, she liked it quite a bit. She agreed with you about the color.” Well, she had agreed; Lucian hadn’t told her about his unexpected visit to the tailor’s.
Gaale put down his sewing and rose from his chair, coming to take the bag from Lucian’s arms. “Glad to hear it. I’ll be very happy to make alterations to it for you now, as well as your other,” he said. “But I must regretfully inform you I simply can’t take your measurements right now, as I haven’t had lunch and I’m just famished.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Lucian said. “Really, sorry, I should have let you know I was coming. I, I can just come back later. It’s okay, really, I’m sor—” Gaale held up his finger, which effectively silenced Lucian’s stammering.
“Or, dear doctor, you could come and have lunch with me,” he said. “Lovely little saaleri place just a few blocks away. They have these dumplings that are just exquisite. Like little clouds in your mouth. Mm.” Gaale closed his eyes and had a little blissful smile on his face for a moment. “Well, would you like to join me?”
“I’d love to,” Lucian said, without a moment’s deliberation. “I mean… well, I’ve never had saaleri food.”
“A man of such an adventurous past, and yet! Yet, still so much to experience.” Gaale put his hand on Lucian’s back and pushed him towards the door. “If you don’t enjoy it… well, I’ll think of some way to repay you.”
Lucian did enjoy it, and the dumplings were indeed akin to little clouds, but he remained fairly distracted from his meal watching Gaale’s hands as he ate and spoke, and learning the subtleties of expression that could be found on his face. The fact that Lucian had devoted so much of his life to learning human anatomy was precisely why he was so fascinated by aliens. He was simply bored with five-fingered hands and sets of two lungs and soft brown and pink flesh. He wanted to get his hands on the scales on the back of Gaale’s forearms, or on the split purple lips that were all he could see of their saaleri waiter beneath his veil. Out of scientific and medical interest, of course. …and other forms of interest as well, perhaps, maybe, slightly.
“Doctor, if you don’t want your last, there, I’d be happy to take the burden off of you,” Gaale said as he pointed to the last dumpling on Lucian’s plate. “I understand humans do find them quite filling, but I know it breaks Mrs. Unaie’s heart when she sees one go uneaten.”
“Oh, yes, please,” Lucian said. Gaale had been speaking the whole time about the neighborhood and the restaurant, filling him in on gossip on nearly every patron. “How long have you been here?”
“Hmm,” Gaale said and plucked the dumpling from Lucian’s plate to pop it in his mouth. He took his time chewing, enough for Lucian to realize his question was probably mortifyingly rude. The war with the thunaens had been long before Lucian had even been born, but it was enough to keep their immigration to Earth very sparse. “A while, let’s say. I can’t remember exactly how long. Never have gotten a handle on your manner of keeping time.” His dark tongue came from his mouth to lick the tip of his finger where the last dumpling had leaked a bit of its sour-sweet innards. “And you, doctor? I’m perhaps not the greatest expert at the accents of Earth, but I sense you aren’t from ‘around here.’” He made the air quotes very deliberately with his two longest fingers.
Lucian laughed. “You have got me there,” he said. “But they do say something, don’t they? About how almost no one from New York is actually from New York.”
“Less so each day,” Gaale said. “So, the Amazon, then? Mongolia?”
Lucian smiled and shook his head. “London.”
“Ah, London,” Gaale said, and leaned back in his chair. “And what has brought you here?”
“Well… the same sort of things that bring everyone here, I suppose,” Lucian said. “Work. The excitement of the city. The…” Lucian swallowed. “…diversity.”
Gaale gave a slow glance around the room and brought his teacup to his mouth. “Indeed,” he said. “The largest concentrated non-human population on Earth, or so I hear.”
“It’s what I hear as well,” Lucian said, and felt grateful for both how his skin didn’t show a blush easily, and for how Gaale might not even have enough familiarity with human involuntary biological expressions to notice it.
“Do you get many alien patients at Ronkoret, doctor?” Gaale said.
“No,” Lucian said. “I mean, yes, we do have non-human employees, but most of them are in the lower tiers of the company.” He blinked a few times. “Not that the lower tiers don’t get medical benefits, it’s just that I work…” He laughed a little. “My offices are on a rather high floor, let’s say.”
“Oh, my,” Gaale said. “One of the ones without windows?”
Lucian shook his head. “Those are a still a few more up from me.” He had been called up to those offices a few times at very odd hours; Elijah Ronkoret occasionally demanded house calls, the details of which Lucian preferred not to think of in the light of day while having such a pleasant time. He sighed and leaned back in his chair, picking up his napkin to fiddle with it. “It’s a very comfortable job, that’s what I’ll say. I get paid a lot of money to take care of people who make the amount of money I make look like pennies. And I get to live in the Ronkoret building.” He laughed. “It’s sort of the opposite frontier, you know? Just as al— as unusual.”
“Doesn’t sound like you plan to be a lifetime employee of Ronkoret,” Gaale said. “Unless, of course, you signed some contract promising that you will be.”
“Two years into a five-year one, actually,” Lucian said. “Enough time to gather a very large nest egg. Although I’ll be thirty-five by the time it’s up. Who knows what I’ll want to do then.”
“To the stars, perhaps.”
“Perhaps!” Lucian said. “Although, if I may confess…” Gaale leaned in a little, looking eager and delighted to learn a secret. “I’m afraid of flying. I have to dope myself to the gills just to survive a cross-country flight. I don’t think I’d manage very well going to space.”
Gaale laughed, a polite purr. “I dare say the average space vessel is far more comfortable than an airplane.”
Lucian shook his head. “I’d have no doubt about it,” he said. “We can go to the furthest reaches of the galaxy and I still end up nauseated, terrified, and breathing other people’s ventings for several hours just to go visit my mother.”
“Should you ever decide to escape this atmosphere, doctor, I can give you many excellent recommendations,” Gaale said.
“You’ve done much traveling?” Lucian asked.
“I’ve been here and there,” Gaale said. “You’re not the only one who is settling down for a while.” He suddenly sat up from his languid position in his chair and reached over to pat Lucian on the back of his hand. “Now, I insist you let me pay the bill. If for no other reason than that Mrs. Unaie will undercharge me and overcharge you.”
“You’re really being too kind to me,” Lucian said as Gaale rose from their table.
“There is such a thing as too much cruelty in this world and in this galaxy, dear doctor,” Gaale said, “but there is never such a thing as too much kindness.”
Gaale paid the bill and they returned to his shop. Lucian was soon down to his underclothes, Gaale measuring every inch of him, his hands gaining the kind of familiarity with his body that Lucian usually reserved for either his own doctor or a lover. “You know, this is hardly fair,” Lucian said as had his arms out at ninety degree angles. “You’ve gotten me stuffed with dumplings and then decide to take my measurements.”
“It is entirely part of my planning, Doctor Jilani,” Gaale said. “I presume you’ll be wearing all these clothes out to fine restaurants on what I assume are your many dates. This way I’ll know exactly how to give them the perfect cut that also has just enough give so you aren’t going to pop a button by the sixth course.” He put his hand flat on Lucian’s stomach. “You are not the only one who has had to learn a few things about alien anatomy in his line of work, don’t you know? Humans are much softer and more… expandable than thunaens. Saaleri as well, though they prefer more voluminous clothing, as you surely know.” He drew his hand away from Lucian and smiled at him. Lucian started breathing again. “It’s made for a very entertaining challenge.”
“I… suppose it would,” Lucian said. At least he had not yet asked him if he dressed to the right or left. His current answer was dangerously close to not being either of those directions at all.
Gaale suddenly tossed his tape measure over Lucian’s shoulders and then drew it taut around his neck. He leaned in close to him to see the measurement as he held it like a leash. “Now, I know you are going to do something so foolish as to attempt to pay me for services rendered after this,” he said, the vibration of his voice so near Lucian’s throat making every single hair on his body rise. “I refuse, of course. But only a monetary payment.” He zipped the tape back into his hand and straightened up. “However, I must tell you that I have a great fondness for architecture and design, and I have always deeply desired to get a very good look at the Ronkoret building.” The sharp corner of his mouth turned upwards. “And I don’t think it would surprise you to say that I am not exactly welcome as an unaccompanied tourist.”
“I… I can help you with that,” Lucian said. “I can give you the tour. Well, as much of a tour as I can, with the access that I have, but… it really is very beautiful inside.”
“As many things are,” Gaale said as he took one of Lucian’s hands in his own to measure his wrist.
“There’s an excellent restaurant on the sixteenth floor, as well,” Lucian said, his mouth going at full speed without much instruction from his brain. “We could have dinner, and I can show you around.”
“Ah, how wonderful of you, doctor!” Gaale said. “After hours, of course. When everyone’s business has concluded and we won’t cause much of a stir.”
“Of course,” Lucian said. “No one will give you any trouble if you’re with me.”
“That is very kind of you,” Gaale said, putting a hand on his chest to give a slight bow. “It is unfortunate that even so long after the conflict people still hold some prejudices, but I understand their reasoning. The best I can hope is that seeing me on the arm of such a well-respected physician will benefit not just my own personal interests, but those of my kind looking for wider acceptance.
“Ah,” Lucian said. “I hope so, too.”
“It’s a date, then,” Gaale said, and grabbed Lucian by the shoulders to turn him towards the fitting room. “Now, put some clothes on and let me get you marked up.”
It made Lucian feel disgusted at himself and society, but when he made the reservation at Endymion, the best of the excellent restaurants in the Ronkoret building, he warned the host that his companion was a thunaen. He was entirely polite and gave no indication of any dismay, but stated he would inform the staff and the chef. He knew some of the higher-ups in Ronkoret brought alien dates to Endymion all the time, young saaleri girls who showed their eyes, or a sturdy baqq boy, or calling for an especially large chair for a rocliar of whichever of their three sexes. Gaale would likely to be the first thunaen served there, though, and Lucian both braced himself and felt a little proud.
He met Gaale at the mouth of the subway close to Ronkoret, and found him standing just near it, out of the path of foot traffic, oblivious to anyone who might slow down or speed up as they passed him staring. He just had his head tilted upwards, looking at the building. “My, my,” he said, still looking only upwards as Lucian approached. “It is quite something, isn’t it?”
Lucian stood beside him and looked up. He didn’t take much time to appreciate it, honestly. “It’s the tallest again this year. In the world, I mean,” he said. “Of course, the minute that was announced Dubai started building more floors and spires on their tallest, and the minute that gets called they’ll start building more layers here… So on and so forth until it all collapses.”
“Well, that will certainly be spectacular, too,” Gaale said, and Lucian had to laugh. He held out his arm. “Lead me into danger, doctor?”
Lucian held his breath for a moment and then took Gaale’s arm. “My pleasure.”
Of course, while Gaale received a few looks as they passed through the building lobby, ambling slowly so that Gaale could take in the impressive murals that covered the walls, the restaurant was nothing but gracious. Out of their own best interests, of course; it took certain extra service to get away with the prices they charged. Lucian and Gaale were seated at a table that was private, but not deliberately stuffed away.
“Very cozy,” Gaale said in a soft purr as he picked up the menu. “I daresay clandestine.”
“It’s one of the things it’s known for,” Lucian said as he looked at the wine list, and was gripped with with shame and horror that he had simply no idea what effect alcohol had on thunaen biology.
“I can see why it would be an excellent place to take a date,” Gaale said, without looking up. The corner of his mouth twitched, though. “Or do business that can’t be conducted in a board room.”
Lucian opened his mouth, gawping for a moment. Was this…? He snapped his mouth shut and focused on the other half of Gaale’s statement. “Yes, I’ve no doubt plenty of that goes on here. A lot of the Ronkoret executives dine here frequently, sometimes perhaps with people they wouldn’t care to be seen too publically with.” His eyes widened. “Not… not that I mean to suggest that you’re someone I wouldn’t want to be seen with…”
“I wouldn’t dare think of it, doctor,” Gaale said, and put his menu down. “You are not an executive, for one thing. And I’m hardly… oh, what must it be that goes? The wining and dining of politically unpopular foreign allies? Unsavory business connections? Or maybe just someone’s mistress getting the treatment she deserves?”
Lucian smiled. “All three, really.”
Gaale’s eyes lit up and his smile was full of wicked delight. “Oh, all in the same person, perhaps?”
That startled a laugh out of Lucian. Why, yes, Elijah Ronkoret did have an appointment tomorrow. “I think if I told you that I’d be violating a number of medical privacy acts.”
“A shame,” Gaale said, sighing. “Even though you could get away with it here, from what you’ve said.”
The waiter arrived then and took their orders; Gaale seemed to have as much comfort here as he did in the little saaleri hole in the wall. He ordered the wine; that was a relief. When the waiter had gone, Lucian smiled and leaned in across the table. “I’m getting a feeling that gossip might be a hobby of yours.”
“Me?” Gaale said, putting a faux-offended hand to his chest. “Doctor, I might have to be offended. I’m not interested in gossip…” He grinned, sharp and toothy. “I’m just someone who enjoys information.”
“As I said, gossip,” Lucian said.
“I can’t help it if my line of work is one that finds people inclined to talk about themselves,” Gaale said. “Oh, Mr. Ramirez, such a handsome suit, is this for a wedding? Oh, your daughter’s, you say? Oh, her third, you say?” Lucian couldn’t help but laugh. “I hear it’s the same with hairdressers, manicurists, all matter of the more personally intimate crafts. You’re in a vulnerable state when you’re in my care: stripped down, facing the cruel honesty of the measuring tape, putting your trust in me to make you look your best. The clothing we wear can be a dishonesty, a form of armor; for me to create something that suits you I have to know what you want to hide and what you want to show the world.” He leaned in himself and reached out, tracing a little circle in the open collar of Lucian’s shirt again. “I’m glad you’ve taken my advice, by the way. You look very good.”
“I…” Lucian’s face grew hot, but he didn’t lean away. “Thank you.” Gaale smiled at him and leaned back in his chair again, leaving Lucian to take a very large gulp from his water glass, aware the whole time of grey eyes watching his throat work as he swallowed. “Where, ah… where did you pick up the trade?”
“Well, I didn’t want to be a hairdresser or a manicurist,” Gaale said, and Lucian was laughing again. “I had a skill, so I made a career of it, that’s all.”
“And is that what you did, ah… at home?” Lucian said, then cringed a little as he saw Gaale’s expression go very flat.
“It was one of a number of things I did,” he said, “but that was a very long time ago.” His smile returned. “Besides, this is my home now.” He glanced around the restaurant. “Well, not this, but a fellow can dream.”
“I, I have been getting a number of compliments on my wardrobe lately,” Lucian said. “If you’re interested in some new clients I could give them your name… and, well, to be perfectly honest they’d be much happier having you come to them here than going to you.”
“Why, doctor, that would be very kind of you,” Gaale said. “I hope you don’t think I’m just using you to further myself professionally.”
“No, no, of course not,” Lucian said.
“Especially not when there are far more interesting things I could be using you for,” Gaale said, and just then the sommelier arrived with the wine, leaving Lucian time to attempt to get his pulse under some form of control as Gaale sniffed and swirled and talked about terroir. When they were alone again with filled wine glasses, Gaale lifted his. “A toast, doctor?”
Lucian lifted his own. “A toast,” he said. “To… ah…”
“Interesting things?” Gaale said.
Lucian drew in a deep breath and nodded. “To interesting things,” he said, and brought his glass against Gaale’s.
There was another bottle of wine somewhere between that first toast and dessert, and then glasses of scotch, and Lucian felt very important and impressive when he lead Gaale to the private elevator that took him up to the floor where he lived. He had started babbling somewhere in the second course and hadn’t managed to properly stop at any point, but Gaale was nothing but an excellent listener.
“Ronkoret takes security very seriously, of course,” he said as he stood in front of the door to his apartment. “Do I have keys? No, I don’t have keys. I have one key,” he said, and placed his fingertips against the reader next to the doorknob. There was a soft glow of light from it and then the click of his door unlocking. “Remarkable, isn’t it? Everything’s biometrically coded. I want to use any of my devices, just…” He held his fingers out, pointed at Gaale’s chest, about half an inch from making contact. “Beep.”
“Remarkable, indeed,” Gaale said, and leaned forward enough so that Lucian’s fingers connected with his body.
Lucian looked at his hand, and then at Gaale’s throat, at the little patch of dark and shiny scale there, right where on his own body he had started showing a little skin on Gaale’s insistence. It had to be smooth to the touch. He drew his hand back and looked up at Gaale, frowning slightly. “A bit discriminatory, I suppose. Only designed for human hands.”
Gaale shrugged. “Alas,” he said. “It means I’ll only be able to go where you invite me.” He nodded his head towards the unlocked door. “Speaking of, might we go inside? There was something of a view you said you wanted me to see.”
“Yes!” Lucian said, and opened the door. Perhaps later he would think that the wine clouded his judgment, but for now all he could do would be to be thankful it’d given him bravery, removed his inhibitions. And been fantastically paired with their meal; Gaale had many talents. “The view.”
The lights turned on automatically as he stepped inside, set to the comfortable soft setting he’d chosen for when he came home at this hour. Thunaen eyes were better suited to dim lighting, he recalled from his studies; he hoped Gaale would be comfortable here. “You have a lovely home, doctor,” came Gaale’s dark voice from behind him as he followed him into the main of his apartment.
“It’s one of the benefits of being a kept man,” Lucian said.
“A kept man?” Gaale said, tone amused. “My, doctor, such things you’re revealing to me now.”
Lucian laughed. “Yes, I am the dutiful mistress of the Ronkoret Corporation, kept fed and housed and preened for assurance that my services are always immediately available and my loyalty is assured.” When they were in the living room, Lucian turned to smile at Gaale. “But it has its benefits,” he said, and touched the panel on the wall that made the shades withdraw, revealing floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out over Manhattan, showing a perfect view over Central Park. “As I said: the view.”
“I can see why you would lie down with them,” Gaale said, standing just behind him. “I hope they don’t ask too much of you.”
“No, not too much,” Lucian said, and sighed. “If I ever start to despair for my place in the world I just think of all the time I spent in a yurt. I’ll take a little time up in the sky before I go back there.”
“I knew that taste for adventure remained in you yet, doctor,” Gaale said. “A true desire for exploration.”
Lucian opened his mouth to respond, but then couldn’t speak as he felt Gaale’s knuckles brush down against the back of his neck. He took in a shivery gasp and kept himself steady on his feet, despite the strong urge he felt to collapse against the window. Gaale moved in close behind him, enough that he could feel the radiant heat of his body, and brought his hand around to the front of Lucian’s neck. He traced a small spiral on that bit of exposed skin just beneath the hollow of Lucian’s throat. “I hope I haven’t misread your interest in… what was it? Xenobiological studies?”
Lucian brought his hand up to cover Gaale’s, guiding his long fingers to cover his throat entirely. “No,” he said. “No, you’ve read me perfectly well.” He let out a shaky breath as he felt Gaale’s mouth brush the edge of his ear, lips parted enough for him to feel the scrape of teeth. “They’ve been very theoretical studies, though, you should know. No practical applications.”
Gaale grasped him by the shoulder and turned him around. He placed the sharp tip of his finger under Lucian’s chin to tilt it up. “I would be honored to give you the opportunity for some hands-on experience, if you’d like, Doctor Jilani.”
Lucian took hold of Gaale’s hand, threading their fingers together in the strange configuration that they could find. “I would like that,” he said, and leaned forward to place a kiss at the base of Gaale’s throat, feeling those smooth and strange scales beneath his lips. He only got a second of a taste, a brief brush of the tip of his tongue before Gaale was kissing him properly, pushing him back up against the window. The view went both ways.
Lucian woke up with an empty space in the bed beside him, and his arm asleep from dangling over the edge. He sat up with a faint groan; his head had a mild throb to it from the wine the night before, but the rest of the pains in his body were of a much more enjoyable sort. Muscles that hadn’t been properly used in a while ached, the little bites and scratches that marked his skin stung slightly, and there was the matter of the very unique chafing he’d managed to develop on his thighs. All in all, pains very happily gained.
“Gaale?” he called out, voice thick with sleep and bleary. He couldn’t hear any sound from the rest of the apartment, but stood up and put on a pair of pajama pants to explore, regardless.
Gaale was nowhere to be found, but there was a note on his dining room table. Lucian, it began, and he had to smile at that. So this was what it took to get him called something other than ‘doctor.’ Terribly sorry to be so rude as to slip out in the night, but I thought it would be the most prudent action. Just think of how the neighbors would talk if they saw me leaving in morning light. I took the liberty of taking a few items of clothing from your closet to be altered, though; consider them hostages to assure you come see me again. —Gaale.
Lucian read it over a few times more, enjoying the delicate lines of Gaale’s handwriting. He must have been sleeping deeply, as he hadn’t heard Gaale wake at all, let alone wander around his apartment enough to raid his closet and find his stationary. It would have been lovely to wake next to him, have a leisurely breakfast, and scandalize the neighbors, but Lucian could understand his reluctance. It would have to wait for next time. Lucian needed to work today, anyway.
He wore his collar buttoned all the way up to conceal the red marks that dotted the skin over his collarbones. The first two of his appointments cancelled on him—something he was subject to very often. When providing a service to the wealthy and privileged, you learned very quickly that you operated at their whims, and lacked much in the way of recourse if they decided you weren’t a priority.
He managed to see a few patients and was soon wrapping up paperwork at the end of the day. “Hiroshi?” he called from his office to his assistant. “Could you send me Elijah’s file?” Lucian flipped through files on his tablet, frowning at the screen. “This damn thing’s gone completely sideways on me and I can’t find it.” He got no response, and after a minute said, “Hiroshi?”
He got up out of his office and went to Hiroshi’s desk to find him hunched over his own tablet with his fingers resting lightly over his mouth, his eyes wide with shock. “What’s going on?” Lucian said. That was not an expression you wanted to see while someone was clearly reading the news.
Hiroshi looked up to him. “Elijah Ronkoret is resigning,” he said.
“What?” Lucian said. “That doesn’t make any sense.” Elijah was one of the few left in the corporation actually still bearing the Ronkoret name; he was a very important man who got paid an astronomical sum of money to do things and make decisions that Lucian would never, ever know or understand. The only thing he did know and understand was the man’s medical history. “Did he say why?”
“He’s apparently leaving to start some off-world venture?” Hiroshi said. “The details are all very vague.” He poked around his screen at what was clearly the press release. “Something about a change of heart, some realizations in his personal life… and now he’s going to space.”
“That’s…” Lucian looked down at the tablet in his hand, and the complete lack of Elijah Ronkoret’s complete medical history on it. “That’s certainly interesting.”
Elijah Ronkoret was a very rich man who had no one in particular to answer to, so that meant he could entertain several unique hobbies. The one that Lucian, as his physician, was most discouraging of was his drug habit. If you had even an ounce of medical training, you’d see all over Elijah’s charts that he was clearly addicted to what the naharians called ‘red moon.’ It made him intense and paranoid and in Lucian’s office biweekly to demand injections of vitamins that he was insistent kept him healthy and clean. Lucian told him again and again that the best way for him to be healthy and clean was to actually be healthy and clean, but who was he but a trained and licensed medical professional to tell a powerful man what he should do? He could tell no one and do nothing but put another syringe full of B12 into his rump.
Off-world venture, was it? Maybe Mr. Ronkoret was finally following his passion to a red moon of his own. Lucian had a terrible feeling it wasn’t as simple as that. He returned to his office and closed the door. He sat down and took a very deep breath. Ronkoret had long since decided that things such as medical records were far too sensitive to be locked down with just passwords. Getting to his patients’ files required a biometric scan, just like the front door to his apartment.
The system kept logs of every time he accessed his account, and when Lucian saw that those logs told him that he had apparently signed in at 2:24AM last night, he felt the phantom memory of how he’d awoken this morning, hand dangling from the bed, numb and tingling.
“Doctor!” Gaale said as Lucian came into the shop the next morning. “How delightful to see you. I’m afraid I’ve been busy with other clients, so I haven’t finished those alterations I promised, but I do hope you’ve come on more than just business…” He came close to Lucian, hand outstretched to take hold of his hip, but Lucian stopped him.
“What did you do?” Lucian said, voice quiet and tense.
“Beg pardon?” Gaale said. “I’m afraid I do many things, doctor, so you’ll need to be more specific.”
“Elijah Ronkoret,” Lucian said, and locked into Gaale’s smokey eyes until he broke it first, turning away with a sigh.
“Interesting news, isn’t that?” Gaale said. “Very unexpected. So sudden that one might think some facts had come to light that he didn’t want the public to know about.”
“So you did,” Lucian said. “That’s the use you had for me? Stealing his medical records?”
“It was one use, doctor,” Gaale said. “You ended up being very entertaining for more than just the information you had access to.”
Lucian shook his head. “Did you drug me?”
Gaale snorted, looking deeply offended. “Absolutely not!” he said. “The only drug you were under the influence of was Pinot Noir. I just happen to be fortunate that you are both very talkative and a deep sleeper.”
Lucian put a hand to his brow. “Why all of this? Elijah was a drug addict and a prat, but… don’t you realize what consequences this could have for me if anyone finds out that I was… was… the security breach.”
“Elijah Ronkoret has been involved in the trafficking of naharian sex slaves for several years,” Gaale said as he sat on the edge of his desk, neatly crossing his legs. “Boys. Barely more than children. The drugs were just one of the benefits from that little side business. The information I provided to my employers was just part of one very heavy and intricate blackmail package designed to neatly remove him from the picture. Which seems to have worked very nicely and very quickly.” Gaale brushed his fingers against his thumb and looked completely unmoved by any of Lucian’s worry. “Revealing that you were the source of the leak would only serve to reveal that there was a leak at all. You should be completely safe, doctor.”
Lucian looked at his feet, at the swirls of pattern on the rug. He hadn’t known what Elijah had been involved in; he didn’t know anything about what the men and women he treated daily were actually doing. He swallowed hard. “Was this all a setup?”
Gaale sighed and nodded. “It was, in fact. The cab driver is one of my associates, and Melinda… well, I don’t suppose you’ve heard from her since your date, have you?”
Lucian blinked. He hadn’t, at all. He hadn’t even thought of her. “All so you could… seduce me?”
“Ah, you see, that was the interesting twist,” Gaale said, holding a finger up in the air. “My intent had simply been to befriend you, as all of my intelligence indicated you were a very kind-hearted man with an interest in other cultures and, as you say, a hobby in xenobiology.” Gaale smirked a little. “None of it indicated the more interesting facets of your hobby.” He stood up again and came close to Lucian. “Once I realized, well, seducing you became just too appealing an idea to resist.” He reached up to rest his fingers on the side of Lucian’s throat, and he couldn’t help but shiver. “I’m sorry I had to mislead you, but my interest in you does go beyond just my business. If I were truly just using you to gain information, I wouldn’t have taken your clothing to assure I’d see you again.”
Lucian closed his eyes and breathed slowly for a while. “But you aren’t a tailor.”
“No, doctor, I am very much a tailor,” Gaale said. “I am just many other things as well. I have a number of skills and very many connections.” He put his thumb under Lucian’s chin to tip his head up and make him look at him. “For instance, it’s well within my means to find a way to get you out of that Ronkoret contract. If you felt tired of vaccinating the men whose only vision of places like this is a tiny dot in the distance viewed from the top of their tower.”
Lucian’s breath shivered. The view he had was beautiful, but only, perhaps, because the details of what was below become blurred from so high up. “I might,” he said, softly, and felt himself leaning in to Gaale.
“You could go right back to your yurts,” Gaale said, and then brushed his fingers across Lucian’s cheek. “Of course, I also have heard that the clinic a few blocks from here is looking for a new doctor.”
“Is that so?” Lucian said as he looked up.
“It’s what the local gossip tells me,” Gaale said. “Why don’t you come have lunch with me again, doctor, and we can discuss it.”
“Lucian,” he said.
“I want you to call me Lucian,” he said. “I have not given you any medical treatment, so unless you wish for me to start referring to you as ‘tailor,’ I insist you call me by my given name.”
Gaale blinked at him a few times, looking both pleased and surprised. “You could be calling me something else than ‘tailor,’” he said.
“I could,” Lucian said. “I could be calling you a number of things. That’s something else we’ll have to discuss.”
“Very well, then,” Gaale said, and placed his other hand at Lucian’s waist. “Would you have lunch with me, Lucian?”
“I would,” Lucian said, and held his head up as he walked through the streets of the Bronx on the arm of a tailor, a liar, and possibly a friend.