Thursday, March 23, 2023

12 - Caomhnóir



It had taken Thom two weeks to make a decision about the budding relationship between him and Keegan. For the first week he refused to see or have anything to do with Keegan, telling him he needed the space to work out his feelings. Reluctantly, Keegan had agreed, using the time to go off on an assignment so that he couldn’t break his promise to stay away.


The second week the two men had spent time together, just talking. Keegan answered questions and at the same time found out a bit more about Thom in exchange.


The third week—


* * * *


Thom smiled, remembering, as he continued to watch Keegan pack in preparation for his newest assignment.


Keegan cocked an eyebrow. “First you’re all worried, now you’re smiling? Got a heavy date while I’m gone?”


After popping Keegan a hard one on the ass, Thom told him what he’d been remembering.


Keegan smiled in turn. “That was a hard fought battle, but worth it, though there were a few times there when I was dead sure you were going to walk away. Especially when I explained what All Hallows Eve meant in terms of my coming and going.”


“That was a hard one to deal with, knowing that you’d vanish for a year or even more if you were ordered to.”


“I always come back though, to you,” Keegan said quietly.


“I know, and after six years I’m getting used to it. I just wish—” He sighed, changing the subject. “Dinner out and then—” he pointed to the bed.


“How about dinner in bed? We order something fantastic and you get to be the platter.”


“Why me?” Thom asked with a very fake pout. “Maybe I want you to be the platter.”


“We’ll trade off.” Keegan marched across the room to stand as close to Thom as possible without actually touching him. “You’re dinner, I’m dessert.”


Thom backed away a step, grinning. “Nope, visa versa.”


“Don’t argue with me. I’m older and wiser. We do it my way.”


Putting his hands on Keegan’s chest, Thom propelled him backwards to the bed. Keegan reached back, feeling for his bag, sweeping it onto the floor, and then tumbled onto the bed, pulling Thom down on top of him.


“Dessert,” Keegan muttered, tangling his hands in Thom’s hair.


“Nope. Appetizer. Now.”


Those were the last real words spoken for a long time, and food played not part at all in the evening.



Tuesday, March 21, 2023

11 - Caomhnóir


Keegan nodded. “All of us are dead. We died while committing one of the seven deadly sins, the Biblical ones which are close to but not exactly like what are taught by the various religions. After we die we go to the vale of dead sinners. There, depending on what we were like when we lived, we’re sent to face one of the Rialóir Deiridh, the final or supreme leaders of each order.”


“God or Satan?”


“No.” Keegan smiled slightly. “That’s, I guess you could say ‘religion specific’. This is beyond that. The sins may be Biblical, and why that is I can’t tell you because I don’t know, but this is more than Biblical. This is Universal in the true sense of the word. Anyway, back to what I’m trying, not too well, to explain. I was given the choice of spending an eternity of suffering for what I had done, or becoming a Caomhnóir. Since dead is dead, I decided to make the best of it.”


Thom cocked an eyebrow at that. “So you haven’t been brought back to—to what? Real life? You certainly seem quite alive and quite human, well other than that mind reading thing, and those weapons you were carrying. By the way I keep forgetting to ask why you just left them behind after you came to my rescue. And then there’s that, too. Why did you even bother saving me? I’ve got to be a really small fish in the pond compared to what you usually do. And how old are you?” He took a deep breath, and laughed. “I’m rather rattling on, aren’t I?”


Keegan smiled. “You are, but that’s understandable. To answer your questions, first off it would be hard for me to do my job in a non-corporal form. So, to all intents and purposes I am almost as human as I was when I died.”


“With a few extras tossed in I’d presume or you’d be pretty useless.”


“A few, yes. I’m hard to dispose of since, being dead, you can’t really kill me.”


“Seriously? So you’re immortal?”


“I should amend that. Humans and other mortal beings can’t kill me. Another Caomhnóir could. So could any Scriostóir, if I got stupid and let them close enough to try. And any of the ceannasaí, the commanders, can destroy us as well. A sort of fail-safe in case we rebel, or go off the deep end.”


Thom grew very pensive as he took all that in. For a long few moments he remained silent, as did Keegan. Finally Thom said with great seriousness, “Then, in essence, you are a slave to the, what did you call him, your supreme leader.”


Keegan smiled tightly. “I prefer to think that I am one of his foot-soldiers, but yes, I suppose that in essence I am. I have been, for the last nine centuries.”


“Holy hell, nine—” Thom’s look turned to one of shock, tempered by a small amount of amusement. “So if this thing between us is real and works I’ll be dating a much older man.”


“In terms of time on earth, yes, although—.”


“I get the picture. You don’t age, I do, so there will come a time when I look like the old one even though I won’t be.” Thom shook his head slowly. “That’s going to be hard to cope with, but I will if you can.”


“It sounds as if you’re at least considering loving me.”


“Oh, there’s nothing to consider. I do love you. But there is still a lot I have to know and get used to before I let it happen. And that made absolutely no sense at all.”


“The words didn’t,” Keegan agreed with a smile, “but the intent did.”


“Before you answer the rest of my questions, there’s something I need to know. You’re in service to this leader, whether you call it being a foot-soldier or a slave, and right now I fail to see the difference between the two. Is there any way to break whatever contract you have with him and gain your freedom?”


Keegan sighed deeply. “None that I am aware of, short of a final death, which is something I’ve contemplated over the past centuries. In the end however, I value what life I have, and my usefulness in this world, too much to force the issue.” His took Thom’s hand in his, holding it tightly. “And now, more than ever before, I have a reason to keep on existing. Or,” he met Thom’s gaze, “I think I do.”


“If I’m that reason, then I suppose so.”


“That was kind of a betwixt and between answer, Thom.”


“Because I’m still feeling that way. This isn’t something to rush into you know. Even if you were human. Oh hell, sorry, that I shouldn’t have said.”


“Why not? It’s the truth.” Dropping his gaze, and Thom’s hand, Keegan said, “Take all the time you need to decide.”




Sunday, March 19, 2023

10 - Caomhnóir


They negotiated their way in to Thom’s bed after much dancing around the subject, mostly in fun at the start, but turning much more serious and sexually charged as the evening wore on and midnight came and went. Thom wasn’t quite certain why he’d agreed but he had, and never from that moment on had he regretted it.


For two weeks they spent every night together, each of them unable to get enough of what the other offered. Then, at the beginning of the third week, Keegan closed the door to Thom’s apartment behind them, kissed his lover heartily, and told him seconds later that they needed to talk.


He’s going to tell me it’s over Thom thought morosely as he sat down in one corner of the sofa, waiting for the axe to drop.


“No, Thom, it’s far from over,” Keegan said, taking a seat at the other end of the sofa.


“What are you doing, reading my mind?”


“I could say your thought was written on your face, which it was actually, but that wouldn’t be the entire truth.”


Thom’s eyes widened. “You’re trying to suggest you really did read my mind?”


“Yes,” Keegan replied with total sincerity. “It’s one of the things that I can do now.”


“Okay, this is fast turning to weird beyond belief. Do you mind telling me exactly what sort of game you think you’re playing here?”


After taking a very deep breath, Keegan said. “To begin with, I wouldn’t be doing this if I hadn’t fallen deeply in love with you. Don’t,” he held up a hand to silence Thom, “Don’t say anything please until I’ve finished. I think you feel the same way towards me, but you’re afraid to admit it even to yourself because love doesn’t just hit out of the blue. It takes time and getting to know someone and learning to care for them and about them before you can love them.”


Thom nodded slowly. That was exactly how he felt. You don’t just fall in love in a matter of a couple of weeks, especially with someone you know nothing about. However, as much as he’d fought the idea, he had.


Keegan smiled, remaining where he was seated but reaching out to place one hand on Thom’s knee. “I have things I need to tell you about me, things you’re going to find hard or impossible to accept. All I can say is that they are true.”


“I’m listening,” Thom replied quietly, covering Keegan’s hand with his own.


Choosing his words carefully, Keegan said, “I belong to a very special and unique breed of—I suppose you could call us humans although we’re not quite that any more. I am a Caomhnóir. That’s Gaelic for Guardian. There is an opposing order, the Scriostóir, which means Destroyer. Damn, this is hard.”


“Just say it, Keegan.”





Friday, March 17, 2023

9 - Caomhnóir


After the night of the attack, Thom figured he’d never see Keegan again. The man had walked him home as promised and then turned and walked away with a brief “Goodbye” flung over his shoulder.


It wasn’t until he was getting ready for bed that the whole thing finally sank in. He’d been saved by someone who, except for his modern clothes, could have been a warrior from some ancient time. And, Thom thought, puzzled, just where the hell had Keegan stashed his weapons once the fight was over. He certainly wasn’t carrying them during the walk to Thom’s apartment building.


“Very, very weird,” he murmured as he finished washing up and picked up his toothbrush. “En guarde,” he said, striking a fencer’s pose, the toothbrush his sword, before laughing softly. “That’s about my speed,” he said to his image in the mirror.


The next few days passed as normal, the only reminder of that night the slowly fading bruise on his side. Then one evening, as he left his job at the restaurant and began walking home, Keegan appeared at his side. “Care for some company?” he asked.


Thom looked at him in surprise. “I—Sure, why not.” They walked in silence for a few minutes before Thom said, “I never expected to see you again.”


“Same here,” Keegan replied. “But for some reason I can’t seem to get you out of my head.”


Stopping abruptly, Thom turned to stare at him. “That sounded decidedly like a come-on line from a bad television show.”


Keegan shrugged. “Be that as it may, it’s the truth.”


With a small smile, Thom replied, “I’ve been thinking of you too. It’s not often I get rescued by a man armed with ancient weapons.”


“I would hope that has never happened to you before. I don’t like the idea of you putting yourself in such situations that you would need to be.”


It was Thom’s turn to shrug. “I’m gay, which seems to rile some people’s feathers.”


“Isn’t that supposed to be ‘ruffle’ feathers?” Keegan asked with a chuckle.


“Either/or. It still happens. Something I’d have thought you wouldn’t be aware of.”


“Meaning you think I’m straight.”


“Well, yeah.”


Keegan smiled. “I’m not. Therefore we have at least one thing in common.”


“Other than you saving my life?”


“There is that, so I think you owe me a reward.” Keegan’s face was serious but his eyes twinkled, something Thom picked up on immediately.


“I can do that. Would a drink at the local club work?”


“To start with, yes. From there, well, we’ll negotiate.”




Wednesday, March 15, 2023

(8) Caomhnóir

“How soon?” Thom asked, the usual fear for the safety of his lover underlying the two words.


“In the morning,” Keegan replied as he made one more check to be certain he had everything that he would need.


As soon as he’d arrived home to find Keegan packing, Thom’s mind had pictured every possible scenario of what could go wrong, as it always did. He just prayed that Keegan would be dealing with a mere human, not a Scriostóir. Keegan soon disabused him of that idea since, from the moment that the two men had realized there was more between them than just friendship Keegan had been completely open with Thom.


* * * * *


They had first met late one night in a dark back alley of the city. Thom instantly knew how stupid he’d been to use it as a shortcut, but he’d done it before with no problems. That night was different. As he hurried down the alley three men had stepped into view from shadowed doorways, surrounding him, jeering and taunting as they closed in, bats or iron bars in their hands. He’d tried to run but they made escape impossible as they herded him towards the alley wall.


He’d cowered there, arms over his head to protect it, waiting for the first blow to fall. When it came, a glancing blow to his side, he’d cried out in pain.


Then a voice he would come to know in all its permutations said, “Cowards. Three on one? I think not.”


“Shit!” one of Thom’s attackers growled.


Thom peered out from under his arms, expecting to see a policeman. Instead there was a man of about twenty five, dressed in casual clothing, carrying a sword in one hand, a flail in the other. The man immediately put the latter weapon to use, wrapping it around the bat one of Thom’s attackers held, yanking it from his hand. Then the sword flashed down, severing the tendons in the attacker’s wrist.


The second attacker began circling the man, his iron pipe held defensively as he looked for an opening even as his face registered disbelief. The third man opted for the wiser choice and fled down the alley.


“Do you really want to take me on?” Thom’s rescuer scathingly asked the man holding the pipe. When the attacker held his ground, the flail was swung again. This time though it bit through flesh, the sound of cracking bone coming seconds before the shout of anguish from the attacker.


“Remove yourselves, now,” Thom’s rescuer ordered, uncaring that both his victims were bleeding and moaning in pain. “If I ever see you again, I shall not be so lenient.”


The two men fled, not looking back.


“Now, for you, let me see how badly you are hurt.”


“I’ll live,” Thom told him. “I owe you my life. I don’t know how to thank you, sir.”


“It’s Keegan, not sir,” the man said as he beckoned Thom away from the wall. “And I do intend to make certain that you’re all right. So lift up your shirt.”


Thom did, at the same time telling Keegan his name.


“Well, Thom,” Keegan said after gently probing the bruised area on Thom’s side, “you’re correct, you will live and nothing was broken, although I for one would get checked out to make certain no ribs were fractured.”


Taking a deep breath, Thom then shook his head. “No fracture. Been there, done that, it doesn’t hurt to breathe.”


“Been attacked before have you?” Keegan asked, frowning.


“No. Just a bad fall off my bike when I was younger.”


Keegan nodded, not taking his eyes off of Thom. After a long moment he said, “I’ll walk you home, or to your car, or wherever you were headed before so foolishly coming down this alley.”


For a few seconds Thom debated and then said, “Home.”