Free Fiction: Storm Protocol

Copyright by Vesna Kurilić, 2019.

The moment the stormwatch sounded the alarm for the second time in as many days, Luca knew he was fucked.

Since the seas around Lassoua never lacked in storms in the long decade since he’d taken over the lighthouse, it wasn’t about him needing more experience. He always kept the food cellars stocked to the brim, too, so it wasn’t like he’d die of hunger while keeping watch over the lighthouse and its work.

The problem was that the alarm had a subtly deeper pitch to it than usual – a pitch that no keeper had ever managed to avoid in their lifetime – which made its message deadly serious. The last time Luca had heard that pitch, he’d huddled in a city storm cellar downhill, only to emerge hours later into a world washed over with purple and gray, and his father dead from manning the too heavy lighthouse machinery through the thunderstorm.

Sometimes, keepers just didn’t make it. And the batteries Luca’s father had helped power in that one single night had kept the whole island in power for two whole years afterwards while Luca was still getting the hang of it. Darker wintery months included, when solar from the rooftops just didn’t cut it for many Lassouan inhabitants.

Thus, if it was Luca’s turn to go during this storm, so be it. A son of a keeper and a long gone sea drifter, there would be no blood kin waiting for him to come down to the city after the storm had passed.

Had he been honest with himself, something he had no habit or need of being, he would admit that there had been somebody – more than one somebodies – who would be more than happy to see him return unharmed from his service. But the bridges connecting him to the only two people on the whole island of Lassoua who might have cared for him were as good as buried in the deepest cracks in the sea floor, considering the last time he’d seen them, a bare day and a half ago.

 

Mara, who was the ducal princess Mara di Rena to most islanders, but not, by her own wish, to Luca, had been leaning against her favourite sofa, stifling her yawns, minutes before it all went to shit.

The princess’ crimson hair was the only cover over her lean, long limbed, moonlight-pale body as she was smiling across the room to where Luca was trying – and failing – to locate the various articles of clothing he had lost to her cavernous quarters during the past, long hours of the night.

“You do realize no one will be able to see you sneak past if you tip toe soft enough, don’t you?” Mara wondered aloud, her throaty voice deeper and even more amused than what she sounded like earlier, while Luca’s shorter form was, too, hidden underneath her locks. Sometimes, on the verge of falling asleep or falling over into oblivion, he used to watch the way her lighter skin contrasted his darker body, and how her fingers glistened while combing through his thick black hair, never tiring, never ceasing to amaze him in their tenderness. Nobody would have believed him that the ducal princess could show tenderness, and often, but it’s not like he’d ever wanted to share those precious moments with anybody.

“But if somebody does see me…” He shrugged. There – his city boots, softer than his work ones, were tossed under the other sofa bed, and the gleam of white nearby, visible in the dim candlestick light, could only be his shirt – yes! Now, if he could only find his trousers, he might well be under his way. Alas, they were, more often than not, the first piece to go. Her ladyship was very fond of multiples in all things, and thus wasn’t one to waste their precious time together, not since the first time she’d invited him into her chambers following a chance encounter in the palace’s courtyard.

“Come on, Luca,” Rena sighed, the amusement in her voice rising. “I all but own this island. Do you honestly believe, after all these years, that a glimpse of your bare, rather shapely behind could really inconvenience any one member of the court?”

“I don’t care much to find out,” Luca answered and shortly followed his words with a faint ‘ha!’ as his eyes finally spotted the seaforsaken pants.

“You’ve heard the alarm, hadn’t you, though?” Rena’s voice sounded deeper and softer at the same time, making her concern obvious. When Luca turned to her, clumsily dragging the coarse dark fabric over his hips as he did so, her bright eyes were distant. Still, she didn’t waver.

“I’ve heard it,” he muttered. Left boot, right; left laces, right ones. A moment’s breath held hard enough to slip the shirt over his entangled, salt-dry locks, and a moment more to gather his most prized possession from the princess’ bedside table. Keyes to the lighthouse: the sole piece of his belongings he never once managed to misplace, not even in the deepest, darkest pits of passion, when he went beyond all words or reason.

“What are you going to do?” she asked softly.

Looking at her as he clasped the keys to his belt was a mistake, but he never could resist the temptation. Often they would go weeks without seeing each other – sometimes even a month or more since it required deliberate planning from both their sides to manage a night of abandon – but when they did meet, every single second counted. The bats of Mara’s eyelashes – almost as slow as the rise and fall of her alabaster chest – held his gaze for a while.

“I’m going to do my job”, Luca said simply.

She gave him a curt nod. “Would you really mind it all that much if I sent some help up there? At least until the storm is through?”

Luca hoped his face betrayed none of the chest crushing fear her words elicited. “There is no one trained to assist me on the whole of Lassoua”, he said carefully. “They would be more of a hindrance, than help.”

“What about that tiny little apprentice of yours?”

He shook his head so hard it sent his hair right into his eyes. “She’s not ready yet,” he said and pushed his locks back, hoping she won’t see through the lie that had easily left his lips. I’m not willing to risk her life would’ve sounded too… grim.

Mara shrugged and let her long, lithe legs fall over the side of the sofa. “You’re quite good at giving instructions,” she said casually and rose to her feet as she always did. Goodbyes were important in her family, she’d told him once, and he’d never tried sneaking out of her bed again.

Luca indulged his idiotic body’s urges in one, last, good look at the princess. “If you say so,” he said, unwilling to revisit an old argument they’d had about his quality of life (Mara’s words) and its utter low levels (also her words) due to his inability to talk to strangers.

Tonight was not a night for rows, and they both felt it.

She crossed the heated stone floor only to plant a kiss into his shoulder, the one still peeking from the collar of his badly adjusted shirt. Her grey eyes were as impenetrable as the storm steel studs which lined both her earlobes and circled her ankles. “Please, please take care, Luca.”

“I will,” he said, and swallowed hard when she smiled.

“See you on the other side of the storm,” she said and forcefully pushed her chamber’s doors outwards into the stillness of the palace hallway.

 

Or, into what used to be a calm hallway, but what was suddenly filled with groans of pain and a rather annoyed looking courtmember whom, Luca swiftly realized with a sinking feeling, was not a random stranger he would’ve expected to see.

“Luca.” The tall gentleman’s tone was more welcoming than the exasperation hidden in its depths would’ve suggested. At least to those who were familiar with his voice.

“Nazzo!” the princess said from behind Luca’s shrinking back. Just walk away, just walk away, just start walking and you’ll be home in no time… “What are you doing up so late?” From the sound of it, Mara was leaning against her door, hiding her nudity behind the heavy wooden pane.

“Your ladyship.” Anir di Nazzo’s sunkissed head bobbed in sincere respect, his almost pearl white hair moving not a fraction of an inch with the gesture like a lesser gent’s would.

He always wore it bound, even in the middle of the night – and this time, Luca sew that the cord holding it together at the nape of his elegant neck was the piece of fishermen’s cord which used to hang from a certain set of lighthouse keyes just until a few weeks ago.

“I was having trouble sleeping, you see,” Anir continued, his gaze stuck on Luca’s burning face. It could be argued that a man of his colouring would not suffer his cheeks to betray him so easily, but such was his luck, and his distant, drifter mother’s lineage. “I thought I’d have a stroll to the palace gardens,” Anir continued. “Little did I know the path to them would become… obstructed.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll be out of your hair in no time,” Mara said cheerfully.

Anir didn’t seem so sure of it, judging by the look he passed over Luca – and the curious state his clothing was in – and the princess herself, with her ladyship’s notable lack of clothing of any kind.

It was those damned eyes’ fault, he thought to himself, cautiously glancing from one tall, handsome member of the nobility he happened to be fucking, to the other tall, handsome member of the nobility he spent his night with. Their eyes had those same stupid hue, a familiar sight across several noble families – a glint of silver in the grey – which made his knees go weak even on a good day.

Which this day was not. Just for the record.

“What are you doing here?” Anir’s soft spoken manner seldom failed him.

Unlike Luca’s words.

“Have the two of you met?” Mara audibly tried to make sense of the strangeness of the midnight encounter. Luca idly wondered whether she was able to sense the tension which was quickly sucking air out of the dimly lit corridor.

“If you’ll excuse me, I have to go,” he said and made his way between Anir and the wall. The way was very, very narrow, but he walked as fast as he could before actually resorting to running – a bad idea, since somebody was always up among the palace guards, even though they rarely, if ever, ventured as far into the inner chambers as Luca did. In no time he pushed open the fire escape door which lead straight onto the path winding up around the island’s steepest hill, ending at the foot of the lighthouse itself.

Nobody called after him, and nobody came in his footsteps.

It was better this way. After all, in a few days’ time, he would be dead anyway. 

This way – when there were finally no chances left that his two lovers could remain unaware of their almost similar roles in Luca’s humble life – at least they could compare notes and, if the sea willed it, remember him fondly

After they stop taking turns spitting on his white stone grave.

 

Getting the machinery ready for the intake which would, if he dropped his guard for a second too long, break their capacities, forced Luca’s mind to focus on the task in front of him, not the people he had left behind. The power gathered by the lighthouse during heavy storms was crucial in maintaining Lassoua’s grid, as well as her independence from other duchies in the archipelago. Even so, the once-in-a-generation storms were that last little bit of grit which pushed Luca’s home island over into serious seafaring territory.

As an outer island, and one whose forebuilders had had the foresight to equip with one of the best rainwater gathering systems among the neighbouring seas, Lassoua was more often than not an enticing target for rogue seamen and other islanders alike. The ‘ring of fire’, long-distance cannons hidden in the sharpest and most remote rocks and cliffs all around the city, helpfully kept most of them at bay. Alas, the power drain from the cannons was considerable, and the lighthouse keeper’s duties played no small part in keeping it bearable.

At least, that was what the defense commander, none other than Anir di Nazzo, used to say, most often while Luca was blowing him. The steady stream of soft, truthful praise about his capabilities and the importance of his work was what got Luca going on even the longest of days, when he was able to do little but touch, be touched, give, and receive.

Luckily, both of his lovers were able to discern pretty early on that his loss of words didn’t mean he wasn’t interested in listening to them, or in taking part in what came after the talk was through, when there were no mouths free to utter words, only moans and sighs echoing through the air.

 

Nearing the end of his preparations, including listing very specific instructions to the ducal family as to how to approach the finalization of his rather young, but hardworking apprentice’s training once he was gone, Luca found his mind wandering once more.

Because, in all these months – nearing a year or so, actually, since he’d first started seeing both of them, about the same time, and with almost no effort from his part whatsoever, aside from enthusiastic agreement and appreciation of his good luck – he’d never dared think of his lovers in terms of comparison, neither positive nor negative. Mara and Anir were just… Anir and Mara. Two different, separate people – two gorgeous, breathtaking people – who helped Luca cut through the solitude of being the sole caretaker of the Lassoua lighthouse. They were, in their own different ways, almost a means to an end. A way to remind himself, even through all the noise and the duty and the strain of the lighthouse, that he was, after all, human first, lighthouse keeper second.

And now the who of them knew all about it. Because there was no way for them to miss what was happening – what had been happening – a few minutes before that fatal meeting in the middle of the night.

Luca tried and failed to stop imagining how the rest of his lovers’ chance meetup could’ve gone after he made his cowardly exit. What could’ve they said to each other? What could they think when forced to accept the fact that they had been fooling around with the exact same man, unknowingly to them, at the exact same time?

It wasn’t that he’d made any kind of promises to any of them – nor they him, because that was not the way affairs were done in upper islander society – but it would’ve probably been polite to inform all involved parties of the state of, well, affairs. Luca had managed to avoid it altogether and succeeded in keeping his encounters with the two nobles as secret and as far apart in between as possible, in all the long, sweet months while he’d lived a dream he would’ve never hoped of having.

Because, with all the courage and strength he must have possessed to fulfil the role of the lighthouse keeper, there was one thing Luca was unable to face, even in theory – having to choose between his lovers.

 

After he pressed pause on the storm countdown sequence at the main access centre, he made himself a triple shot of imported coffee, the kind he had maybe twice a year, and brought it outside to the highest terrace at the highest level of the lighthouse, built towards the open seas facing south of the island.

The sky had already begun to darken, sucking light into itself while Luca sat in his grand-grandfather’s rocking chair and slowly sipped his bitter drink. By the time he felt the first rumble in the distance, the all-island alarm had already started, patiently advising – in a rather shrieking manner which always made the city babes cry out in unison – that all islanders stay indoor, climb deeper down into the ancestral storm cellars built into solid rock underneath the oldest houses, that they stay away from all electrical appliances and, above all, stay put.

It was only a matter of minutes now until it was Luca’s turn to descend into the bowels of the lighthouse and start following his own, keeper’s storm protocol. His hands knew the levers’ positions in the dark, needing no input from the rational part of his brain. He’d already brought the backup batteries close to life, which left them lying empty, but not dead the way they’d stayed for the past decade.

There was talk, when Luca was just a kid, that the lighthouse should be switched to automatic, at least for the greatest of storms. He remembered his father arguing strongly in favor of keeping it manual. The automated systems cannot predict the storms the way the keeper can, his father had once said over comms to the old duchess, Mara di Rena’s mother. He rarely went down into the city. Unlike Luca. The automatic can fail in a way no keeper can, Luca remembered his father’s words to this day, and overflow the grid with too much power for the island to hold. What would you do then? What could any of the islanders do, but surrender to the open sea raiders and the ever colonizing islanders from afar? Give up on their ancestral homes and the luxuries they could afford due to centuries upon centuries of hardworking Lassouans before them?

When Luca took over the lighthouse, after his father had been found dead next to the main access point showing full battery power in the lighthouse, he’d wondered whether the man had been wrong after all.

It took him a while to realize that nothing could be farther from the truth, a notion solidified even further by reports about the towns at the westernmost part of the nearby, gigantic Eglyesha island being cut off after her automated lighthouses proved unable to handle the subtlest variations in storm charges, which fried their power grid.

As long as Lassoua stood, there would be a keeper in the lighthouse. As long as there was a keeper, Lassoua will stand.

 

When the lightning spikes started hitting the distant horizon in a pattern too bright and too fast for Luca’s human eyes to stand, he quickly rose to his feet and brought the chair and his empty coffee cup inside. He lowered the chair into its hold, strapped it down tight, and put the cup into the small sink.

He’d walked almost all the way to the trapdoor in the floor when he thought of his apprentice coming back, after everything was done, and finding the unwashed cup in the sink. What would she think of Luca? Was it worth it to risk the teenager’s conviction so early in her career, if she knew she was to inherit the post from a man who couldn’t even spare a second to do the dishes after himself?

While he was washing the sad cup, his eyes kept glancing up and out across the sea, where the swirling and the blinding, coloured light in the sky was ungently counting down the storm’s approach to Lassoua. Apparently, more than several generations ago, the storms used to be almost black and white in their boring, ancient form. Luca believed it almost as much as the legend of Eglyesha once being a peninsula and all the islands once belonging to a united, peaceful nation – that is to say, not an ounce.

The cup almost shattered in his hands when he caught movement on the edge of his field of vision, all the way down in the winding trail connecting the lighthouse to the city. His trembling fingers caught the cup and softly set it down in its place.

There were indeed two tall figures walking uphill through the early rainfall, huddled underneath heavy fishermen’s raincoats. Even though they were too far away for him to see them clearly in the overcast stormlight, he knew both their gaits, as well as the way they held their shoulders – one regal, one military.

 

He lifted the trapdoor and ran down the staircase through the lighthouse. When he rushed out to meet them, hoping, with all his heart, that he would be back in time to meet the first solid hit to the island, he was instantly soaked through.

“Go back!” he yelled on top of his lungs. “It’s not safe!”

Both figures kept approaching, as good as ignoring him. They were already close enough for Luca to see the determination in those stupid, similar grey eyes, visible even through the growing downpour.

“It’s not safe!” he yelled again, loud enough to make the shorter, redhead figure wince, but not loud enough to stop her march on towards him. “You need to leave. Now,” Luca blurted out when they reached him, looking at both of them with pleading eyes.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Mara spat out first, her ducal voice sending shivers through Luca’s body, shivers strong enough to match the thundering bursts of explosions rolling high above them.

“We’re here to help,” Anir joined in, his voice quieter, but his tone none the less determined.

“You’re going to get hurt,” Luca said, bewildered. “You have no idea what you’re messing with!”

“How about this?” Mara chimed in, her regal posture so solid it seemed to Luca that even the storm itself would cower beneath her. “You tell us what to do, and you won’t get dead.”

The crack cackle of the storm did nothing to cover the thumping of Luca’s heart. “You have to go,” he tried again, his voice breaking. “I can’t stand to see you hurt.” He met both their eyes, almost on level, before they exchanged a hard glance between themselves. Luca’s breath caught in his lungs.

“We will not let you kill yourself,” Anir spoke this time. “Especially not over something so stupid as not accepting help when offered.”

Having said that, the tall soldier passed by Luca and solemnly walked uphill towards the lighthouse door. The princess followed in his steps, leaving Luca alone, wet through to his bones, staring disbelievingly after his lovers as they disappeared into the building.

 

He’d already missed the first burst of lightning – the sweet, sweet virigin burst – before he finally saw the literal light and gave in.

Mara’s arms were longer, and Anir’s grip harder than what Luca was born with and trained for. After a few initial hiccups due to the sudden role reversion, Luca was barking orders at them as if he’d been doing it all his life. As if they were no more than two apprentices. Grown up, rational apprentices, highly skilled human beings who only needed to be told once, which was most definitely not Luca’s usual experience with trainees.

Since they had to keep communicating, neither Luca nor his uninvited guests could wear protective headgear, but he made sure they switched as much of their clothing as they possibly could into regular keeper’s rubbery equipment, most notable for the soft, thick soles and high quality, regularly inspected gloves.

The three of them had already reached unforeseen, barely believable levels of unison by the time the first barrage of multiple hits had struck down directly into the welcoming embrace of the lighthouse core, completely bypassing the three vulnerable, organic beings dispersed through the machinery. The work itself was not as hard as it was repetitive, but Luca was nonetheless more than grateful for the way both of the nobles took to it with high speed and low whining. 

Actually, after a while, the only whining to be heard came from the machinery itself, which had started to reach past normal levels of power intake and was slowly building up enough to engage the reserve batteries. If they got turned up before their time, quite a bit of power would be lost. If, and Luca hoped this particular option stayed in the ‘if’ territory, the reserve batteries were switched on, and the storm passed without the extra charge Luca was both dreading and hoping for, the batteries could sustain serious damage, causing a cascading loss of power throughout the lighthouse mainframe – at best.

The setup wasn’t perfect, but Luca was perfectly familiar with it. It had to be enough. With the extra two pairs of hands…

After all, it wasn’t like he could travel back through time to talk to the forebuilders themselves and curse their names and their children and their children’s children just because they had built a flawed system he was now stuck with.

A few minutes of relative calm close to the storm’s turning point gave Luca the opportunity to gather the three of them in the same place, close to the main access point, barely a foot away from the place where his father had died.

“There isn’t much time left,” he said through the rumble and the howling and the omnipresent splatter of rain dancing right outside of the quiet place where they stood, inside the lighthouse’s thick walls. “The storm will break soon, and we’ll know whether to put the rest of the batteries to work, or to shut them down.”

“How will we know?” Anir’s brow was worried, but his voice stayed calm.

“I’ll know,” Luca said and shrugged in a burst of desperation because that was really the gist of it – he’ll know. “There is no other way.”

“How the hell could anyone believe that one person alone could manage this all by themselves?” Mara shook her head.

“One person can do it,” Luca answered, confused.

“But not live to tell the tale,” she remarked.

Luca bit through his lip hard enough to taste copper. “If we die today…”

“We won’t,” the soldier’s voice spoke.

If we do, though,” Luca could little let this particular point go, “I’d just like you to know that… I’m sorry.”

Both of them watched him in silence for a moment or two.

“Whatever for?” Mara was the one to ask.

Luca desperately looked straight into his princess’ eyes. “For being untrue,” he said. “For reaching too far. For wanting… wanting more.” He tore his gaze away and turned it towards Anir.

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting more,” Anir said, his quiet voice audible even through the wreckage around them, a commander’s voice.

“Not every role is cut out for only one person to fulfill,” Mara added and smiled one of her more demure smiles. Even so, there was nothing whatsoever demure in the way her eyes shone with that same smile.

Luca nodded, not really into it. “I shouldn’t have bed both of you at the same time,” he forced himself to say. “I shouldn’t have kept the truth of it from either of you, afterwards. I have brought,” he took a deep breath of salted, almost sparkling air, “disgrace on myself, and on… on everything.”

“You see,” Mara spoke, the smile still there in her eyes, “that’s where you’re, well, wrong.”

Luca blinked.

“I’ll understand if we can’t all see eye to eye,” Anir chimed in, “but her ladyship and I have come to the agreement that, had you withhold your affection from either one of us, you would have done us both a great disservice.”

The corners of Luca’s eyes stung, and not just from the electrical tension building in the air. “What I’ve done,” he tried. He lost his voice, and tried again. “I’ve broken the island’s custom,” he whispered.

“And, in doing so, you’ve brought great joy to both of us.” Anir’s hand was as sure as his voice when his fingers found Luca’s and weaved through them.

The strange sensation at the back of Luca’s neck turned out to be Mara’s hand, and the way she held onto him underlined Anir’s words with even a deeper strength. “There is nothing to be sorry for,” she said kindly. “Apart from this whole sorry affair of you trying to leave us to manage the rest of our lives alone on this silly little island.”

Luca opened his mouth, and swiftly closed it. The tingling feeling spreading throughout his body was, after all, not the result of his lovers’ touch, but of something far, far more dangerous. “It’s time,” he said, and tore from both of them in one swift movement. After a moment’s hesitation, they quickly followed after, placing him back in charge.

With the storm upon them, all that remained was for Luca to keep himself, as well as both of the people he cared for the most in the whole sea, alive through hell.

 

The rain was the last to leave the island after the storm drew further away from their shore, leaving only howling winds in its wake.

Shedding the rubber layers proved harder than putting them on had been. Luca’s hands were still tingling from exertion, his arms heavier than they’d ever been. His knees were a bit wobbly from going up and down the stairs and the numerous ladders throughout the lighthouse, and his chest constricted from too much ozone and not enough rest.

He’d left the terrace door open when he went through, ignoring the shrill warning signs the reserve batteries gave now that they were full almost over the brink of their capacity, and as good as collapsed down at the wet, bitter cold stone floor at the terrace ledge. It will be a few hours still until the fence was free to be touched barehanded, but there was nothing in the whole wide sea to stop him from looking his fill.

Seen from afar, the tail end of the storm was more blue than black, and the colors of the clouds merged into one big purple-brown swirl. The sea, deep below, was still foaming with waves which will keep even the most seasoned of the sea wolves safe ashore for a few days hence. It was still too early to get in contact with the city of Lassua, to count the island’s losses. There will be time for Luca to enroll in the first steps of bringing everything back to normal, the way it always had been right after a storm hit, the way it always will be. Because, no matter the islandwide preparation, no matter the alarms’ reach, the storm always took its toll – and the sea, too, would not be denied what it was due.

Washed in yellow and grey, the island on the other side of Luca’s lookout seemed peaceful, albeit a little worse for wear. The cypress line hiding the main two burial grounds on the island, a constant horizon companion to Luca’s long stormwatch days, was missing a few trees. The long lines of olive trees weren’t looking as prim as usual, he reckoned, making him grateful for the few bottles of oil he always kept in the lighthouse’s cellar, a habit he’d inherited from his father.

If only his father had been here. If only someone had tried showing his father that it could, after all, be done. If only someone had loved his father enough – apart from the boy Luca was, back in the age, when he was not allowed to stay in the lighthouse during the biggest storms – to show him that some sacrifices needed not be given, not even to the storm.

Heavy footsteps at his back made him turn his wet face away from the sea and face his judgement.

But, in the end, there was none to be had.

Soon he was wrapped in a crushing embrace by two pairs of arms, two warm human bodies, two people who had made him live through what should’ve, by all accounts, been his end. And a sweet end it would have been, to repose beyond the cypress line, in a white tomb with its dome painted in gold where only the lighthouse keepers lay.

He closed his eyes and lifted his trembling hands towards his lovers. His fingers crumbled the burnt edges of Anir’s pale hair and found the soldiers fast heartbeat beneath the solid facade of his marble skin. With his other arm, Luca managed to curl his hand far enough to reach Mara’s lips, which were cold, as if she’d been drowning until a few seconds ago.

“Are you alright?” Luca whispered, counting Anir’s heartbeats, forcing his own to slow back down, to relax, to accept the fact that he would not, in fact, be joining the ranks of the dead on this day.

“I feel like I’ll never be warm again,” Mara whispered back, eliciting a small laugh from Anir of all people.

“I’m sure we can think of something to help you with that,” the kneeling soldier said.

Luca’s breath stopped. “How about… how about you?” he somehow managed and tapped Anir’s skin where he could.

“I will probably be alright once we pull back from this demonic ledge,” Anir said dryly.

It was Mara’s turn for a chuckle. “Behold,” she said, her shoulders shaking, “the great commander of the Lassouan army and his fear of heights! I always did wonder why you’d skipped the company of the illustrious ladies and gents in the air force training and went straight into command line.”

“If you tell anyone,” Anir’s voice turned deceptively soft, “I will make sure to have all the brushes and the combs on all the island hidden away from under your nose. And then we’ll see how long you’ll keep your face, your ducal ladyship.”

Luca got gently pushed away from the centre of the hug and used the momentum to take a long, good look at both of the people on his terrace in the luminescent post-storm light.

“I would be more than happy to see you try, my good lord commander,” Mara said to Anir, her grey eyes looking straight into the other man’s matching ones. A corner of her lips curled up in the familiar way which sent shivers of warmth all the way down through Luca’s sore body.

“Are you… are you flirting?” he stammered.

Two pairs of silvery grey eyes blinked back at him.

“We… we  were,” Mara said, sounding taken aback herself.

“You’re not allowed to dump me for each other,” Luca hissed, too startled to control himself.

His lovers exchanged another glance which excluded him.

“I feel you might have mistaken the point,” Anir said slowly.

“Oh,” Luca said. “Oh.”

Even the solid soldier smiled at that.

“Come on,” the princess said, swiftly turning businesslike as she pried her arms away and rose to her feet. “There’s a bathtub in my chambers that just might fit three if we play it close. And since the power levels are currently as high as they an get… we just might have enough hot water for all sorts of nefarious deeds.”

“We’ll never be able to sneak in your rooms unseen,” Luca tried protesting of rote, fighting through somersaults in his gut which Mara’s words brought on. “Not all of us.”

“They better see us,” she said fervently. “It’s high time this island’s keepers got the limelight they deserve.”

Anir’s nod of agreement made his unbound hair, disheveled from the past few hours of heavy lifting in the lighthouse as if he were a mere commoner, roll across his shoulders.  He stood up, too.

As if on cue, two graceful, solid arms got offered down towards where Luca was still sitting in the rainwater puddle. His insides fluttered.

“Come, Luca,” the soldier said. “Let us see this storm out in style.”

Both he and the princess stood patiently, tall and unyielding, waiting for him to make up his mind. No matter which way he chose – avoidance or acceptance, denial or honesty – Luca knew, with the certainty of a man sitting on top of years upon years of pure electricity buried deep within the island’s rock, that they would not think lesser of him. They would not force him, either way, to be with them, or without them.

They would not, ultimately, make him choose.

Luca took one last, final look towards the sealine behind his back. There was a promise of moonlight on the easternmost horizon, but you could never be sure what the days after the storm would bring. From his experience, it could break either way – into pure darkness, or seas lit from above, turned to such a blinding silver blaze that even the keeper himself would have to shield his eyes.

Luca slowly turned his back to the sea and towards the spot where the two of them stood waiting. Then he took a deep breath, straightened his spine, and grasped both their hands at the same time to let his lovers lift him to his feet and onwards into the future.

 

 

Copyright by Vesna Kurilić, 2019. All rights reserved. Image credits here.