Follow the Leader
Eclipse had grown accustomed to his role: more teacher than obedient servant, and oftentimes more babysitter than teacher. His concern when the disparate halves of Raenef were reunited was primarily for Raenef himself, but there was more than a hint of worry that Eclipse might have to renegotiate an entirely new relationship with his master, when the one they had suited him very well.
As it turned out, his worries were largely foundless. Raenef still lacked the flair for artistic destruction that the best demon lords possessed. Though Eclipse could do little to change such a basic personality flaw--and, he admitted, wouldn't want to change it even if he could--he did have the ability to improve Raenef's deportment in other respects.
"Are you sure I need to know this?" Raenef asked.
"Yes," Eclipse said, wondering why his young master was being so recalcitrant. Usually Raenef deferred to Eclipse with an almost unseemly eagerness, especially when the subject in question was as innocuous as this one.
"But what if I step on you or kick you in the shin accidentally? I really don't think this is a good idea."
Eclipse hid a smile and wondered if there was any tactful way to express the fact that--a recent growth spurt or two notwithstanding--there was very little chance that Raenef could seriously injure him by misstepping during his dancing lesson. In the end, he just said, "It's something that every proper demon lord must know," and let Raenef's sense of duty do the rest.
Raenef approached him with obvious reluctance. "What do I do?"
Eclipse raised his right arm to the side. "Take my hand with your left hand." Raenef did, and Eclipse adjusted the angle of his arm. "Your other hand goes at my waist. Because you're my superior, you lead while dancing with me. If you were to dance with someone of higher rank than you, then he would lead. The exception to this rule is if you were to dance with a woman. In that case, gender supercedes rank, and the man always leads."
"Okay," Raenef said, with the tight look of concentration that Eclipse had thought gone for good after Raenef had lost the artificial block on his magical abilities. His arm slipped around Eclipse's waist, and Eclipse rested his left hand on Raenef's shoulder. "Now what?"
"Now you follow my lead."
"But I thought that I was supposed to be leading."
"You will," Eclipse promised. "Now, the pattern to follow is step-step-step, step-step-step, like so."
Raenef shuffled hesitantly along, and though there was little of grace in the movement, at least he didn't trip over anyone's feet.
"Just like that," Eclipse said, on the theory that a bit of self-confidence at this point would benefit Raenef more than anything.
Raenef smiled, the nervousness dropping from his face, and the arm around Eclipse's waist became firmer. They danced together to the music Eclipse had conjured. And then Raenef let out a small sigh, and there was a warm pressure against Eclipse's shoulder--Raenef was leaning against him, his eyes closed.
Eclipse froze. "What," he hissed, "do you think you're doing?"
Raenef's eyes fluttered open, and he smiled up at Eclipse. "Dancing. Isn't this how you're supposed to do it?"
Something of Eclipse's shock must have registered at last, because Raenef pulled away, blushing faintly. "There were these books in the library... Some of them had pictures. I'm sorry; I didn't know."
Eclipse shook his head. "It's all right. Just...keep dancing the way I showed you." And if the books to which Raenef had referred were the torrid romance novels that Krayon kept trying to give Erutis, then Eclipse truly was going to kill him.
Eclipse followed the echo of voices down the long hallway to the kitchen. Raenef was too old to be sent to bed like a child, but a gentle reminder that it was after midnight wouldn't hurt. He stood in the shadow of the doorway out of a combination of deference and caution, learned through hundreds of years of being servant to some of the most powerful demon lords in existence.
The sight that greeted him was just as he'd expected: Raenef was seated at the table, chattering away to Chris, who was tipping batter into muffin tins with a careful hand. Still, there was something in the tableau that held Eclipse still and silent. Raenef's hair was down, gleaming brightly in the glow of the kitchen fire, and Chris stifled more than one yawn with the hand clutching his wooden spoon. Even his glare when his eyes settled on Raenef seemed to be softer.
The last bit of batter spooned out, Chris put the muffin tray into the oven and began to drop spoons and measuring cups into the mixing bowl.
"Oh, wait. Please," Raenef said, reaching out a hand for the bowl before Chris could take it to the sink.
Chris shrugged and handed the bowl over. "This recipe has a lot of baking soda. The batter probably won't taste that good," he warned.
"I like that little bit of bite," Raenef said. He swirled one long finger delicately through the batter clinging to the inside of the bowl and then stuck it into his mouth, sucking slowly. "Mmm."
Chris's eyes widened, and he stared at Raenef with a stunned expression on his face. Eclipse quietly retreated and left the two of them to their midnight snack.
"Yes, Master Raenef?"
Raenef rolled his eyes at the honorific, but he only said, "Is it inappropriate for a demon lord to learn swordplay?"
"Not at all. The only danger is that you might rely too much upon your sword and forget that your greatest weapon is your magic, but I don't think that that would be problematic for you. Generally it's those who devote themselves to swordplay too early, or who neglect their magical training, who fall into that particular trap."
"Oh, good," Raenef said.
"I take it that you want to learn how to use a sword?" Eclipse asked. He'd been taught the use of the blade by his second master. Though not a devotee of the art, he was certainly skilled enough to instruct Raenef.
Raenef nodded. "Erutis said she would teach me, but I wanted to ask first to be certain that it was allowed."
"It is," Eclipse said, and reopened his book, tracing along the page until he found his spot.
"Thank you!" Raenef said, already halfway to the door.
Eclipse read another six and a half pages, and then he pushed his chair back and went over to the window. Raenef held a practice sword in one hand. Erutis was correcting his grip; Raenef said something to her--they were too far away to be overheard, though Eclipse could see his mouth move--and Erutis released his wrist.
A sudden gust of wind whipped Erutis's hair into her face, and Raenef laughed. Then he sheathed his practice sword and pulled a hairband from his own hair and handed it to her. He resumed his stance while Erutis struggled with her hair. She nodded at him in approval, and Raenef grinned back. Even though he told himself that it was pointless to watch a beginning fencing lesson, Eclipse found himself standing by the window watching the two of them until they had finished.
The knock on his door was so quiet that Eclipse almost didn't hear it. "Come in," he called.
There was a long silence. For a minute, he thought that he'd imagined the sound, but then the door opened and Raenef entered. "Hi."
"Master Raenef. Did you need something?" Eclipse began to rise from his bed, but Raenef gestured for him to remain where he was.
"It's all right. I just wanted to talk a bit, if that's okay."
"Of course." Eclipse settled himself stiffly against the headboard and watched with a growing unease as Raenef approached. If his master were to crawl into bed with him...
But Raenef didn't disturb the covers, just perched on one side of the large bed and turned to face Eclipse with a sheepish smile. "I already tried warm milk and counting backwards from a thousand and reading a boring book, and I still couldn't sleep, so I thought I'd come here."
"I see," Eclipse said. "What was the book?"
"Um...some geneology. Human, not demon."
Eclipse privately acknowledged that it was a good choice, though it didn't seem to have helped Raenef. And then a gentle hand stroked his hair, and Eclipse turned sharply to look at his master.
"Mmm?" Raenef asked. He rubbed his fingers carefully together; Eclipse shivered at the soft pull of it.
"Perhaps you ought to try to go to bed again. I'm sure that I can find you a book in the library even more boring than that geneology."
Raenef looked up at him, some hidden hurt in his eyes. "I didn't mean to disturb you."
"Yes, I know you didn't. But it's very late, and--"
"Do you not like it, then?"
Eclipse shook his head, confused. "Not like what?"
Raenef's cheeks flamed bright red. "Me."
"It's a pleasure to serve you," Eclipse said--and actually meant it--but Raenef put his hand over Eclipse's mouth and said:
"No, not that way." At which point he removed his hand and kissed Eclipse full on the lips.
"Oh," Eclipse said when they finally separated. He'd imagined Raenef as a flirt and an innocent and everything in between, but he'd never imagined that Raenef might actually mean the glances he gave to Eclipse from underneath his eyelashes. "Yes, I like you that way, too."
He'd never had such an admission be met with the incredulous joy that flooded across Raenef's face, but he thought that he might grow accustomed to that, as well. In time.