Rune Lake, New Berengaria, Jaze's House
It took some time, but Tier eventually recovered from his initial shock. Tier approached Toma nervously, already leaving behind a trail of flop sweat. He approached Toma, extending his shaky paw.
Tier: N...n...nice to meet you.
Toma accepted Tier's sweaty paw and shook gently. Tier gave a big, toothy grin that would have been frightening under normal circumstances. Now, he just looked silly. Jaze's feeling of regret was in full swing now. He had thought that seeing his father, with his large, intimidating stature, reduced to a nervous wreck would be amusing. Instead, it made him feel terrible. He liked his father and this, like most other schemes he ever thought up, turned out to be a bad idea.
Elektra: Why don't you two have a seat at the table. We'll bring the food in.
Jaze and Toma took their places at the table and, in short order, Elektra and Tier returned with several bowls of food. One small bowl had meat in it, while the rest were piled high with various veggies.
Elektra: Toma, what would you like to drink?
Before Toma had a chance to answer, Jaze spoke up.
Jaze: Something without caffeine.
Toma: Apple juice?
Elektra: Oh, we have some of that!
Tier was already headed to the kitchen before Elektra finished her sentence.
Tier: I'll get it!
Elektra: Get me a glass of wine and a root beer for Jaze while you're at it.
Elektra pulled out a chair directly across from Jaze and Toma and sat down.
Elektra: He can be so high-strung sometimes. Anyway, so you're Toma? I'm glad to finally meet you. This is the first time Jaze has brought home a boy and he talks about you a lot. He didn't mention that you were... were... I'm sorry, what are you called?
Toma: I'm tokki.
Elektra: Oh, that's right. Forgive my memory. It isn't what it used to be. Not that it was ever much to begin with. Anyway, there's no need to be worried here. We're quite used to interspecies relationships.
Elektra giggled as Tier returned with the drinks and sat at the table with them. Dinner turned out to be a generally pleasant, though sometimes awkward affair. Jaze's dad ate mostly in silence. Jaze's mom, on the other hand, wasn't shy about her interest in asking Toma questions. In this respect, she was rather a lot like Kradik, though this time the victim was Toma. Jaze, in his nervousness, developed a habit of answering most of the questions posed to Toma.
Night fell and dinner was done. After retiring the used dishes to the kitchen, Elektra pulled her chair up next to Toma started tying ribbons around Toma's ears. Toma didn't seem to mind in the slightest and, in very short order, he looked silly enough that Tier, sitting next to Jaze, started to relax a little.
Elektra: So, Toma, tell me about your hometown.
Jaze's mother cut him off before he even got to the second word.
Elektra: Now, sweetie, let Toma have a chance. I hardly know what his voice sounds like.
Jaze silenced right away, his ears slinking down the side of his head. Elektra continued tying ribbons on Toma's ears.
Toma: I'm from the capital, Valefor. It's much bigger than Carpathia City. There's lots to do. It has lots of clubs and shops and huge parks. I don't go out much though.
Elektra: Oh, that's a shame. Why not?
Toma: It's my eyes. I'm the only tokki alive with this color. Nobody ever seems interested in me. Just my eyes.
Toma's voice trailed off at the end of the last sentence, as though recalling the memory made him feel sad.
Elektra: Oh my, I'm sorry to bring that up.
Toma: It's okay. I feel better here. At first, I was really pissed at my father for bringing me here. He thought it would be good for me. I thought people would just gawk at my ears instead of my eyes. What would be the difference in that?
Elektra immediately stopped tying ribbons on Toma's ears and pulled her hands away.
Elektra: Oh my, I'll stop if you want!
Toma: You can keep going if you want. What I was going to say is that tokki are ridiculously trendy compared to Carpathians. There, all the tokki do is talk about them. "Look at his eyes!" "Can I have a picture?" Then they'd show me off to their friends, like I'm some sort of prize. I didn't realize how bad it was until I came here. Here, people gawked at first, but then they got used to it and tried to get to know me, like you're doing right now.
Toma gazed over at Jaze and smiled.
Toma: Jaze has been especially kind to me.
Elektra leaned in and wrapped her arms around Toma and gave him a squeeze.
Elektra: Well, that's their loss, sweetie. Still, I must say, that was a very long way to go just to give my son a compliment!
Jaze giggled a little as Elektra smiled continued tying ribbons on Toma's ears. Tier, who had been listening raptly until now, put his arm around Jaze's shoulder and leaned in close to his ear.
Tier: He's a keeper, son.
Jaze: Yeah, he is.
They continued conversing while Elektra tied even more ribbons on Toma's ears. Toma freely answered any question given to him. They were especially interested when Toma said that Tokkastria's population was only 20% female and that women typically had around ten babies at a time. Even more surprising, they thought, was that despite the low percentage of women, Tokkastria was a matriarchy, ruled by women with a queen as the head of government.
After a long night, it was finally time for Jaze and Toma to leave.
Jaze: I'll be staying at Toma's dad's place tonight, if that's alright with you guys.
Elektra: That's fine. You need to take anything with you?
Jaze: Nah, they already have everything.
Toma: Thanks for dinner. It was very good.
Jaze's mom beamed with delight.
Elektra: Why thank you!
Tier: Pleasure meeting you.
The walk to Kradik's house wasn't far. Jaze had said that he was staying with Toma at his father's place. This was mostly true. What he didn't mention was that it was the nearby townhouse that he rarely occupied, the same place Jaze took Toma after the attack many weeks ago.
And there, they'd be alone.
Jaze followed Toma up the stairs and into the condo. Nothing had changed since they'd been there last time. The carpet was still fresh and springy and little Tokkastrian ornaments decorated the walls and tables. There wasn't a speck of dust on anything, so at least there was a regular cleaning service.
Toma continued on into the condo, headed for the kitchen.
Toma: I'll get something to drink. What do you want?
Jaze didn't know what it was that made him act at that moment, but in one impulsive second, he decided that now was the time to act and act boldly. Perhaps it was a culmination of having mulled over it for so long and nerves. Whatever it was, he grabbed Toma by the back of his hoodie and pulled him close. Toma turned in surprise as he suddenly found himself a half inch from Jaze's nose.
And Jaze lunged at Toma, kissing him with vigor.
Two hours later...
The bedroom floor was littered with clothes of all kinds. A hoodie was draped carelessly over the corner of the bed. Two pairs of underwear lie in a crumpled heap on the floor. A black t-shirt was dangling precariously over the desk chair.
Toma was laying on his back with his hands behind his head, looking thoughtful. Jaze was cuddled up next to him with his arm around his chest.
Toma: I was thinking...
Toma: This is a very different place than what I'm used to. Tokki are more affectionate in general, but I've never met anyone as attentive to one person as you.
Jaze wasn't quite sure what Toma meant by that, but it certainly sounded like a compliment. He clutched Toma tighter.
Jaze: What do you mean?
Toma: I told you what tokki relationships are like, right?
Jaze: That tokki don't get married or have partners for life? Adell and Kaoru told me at first, but yes, you told me too.
Toma: That doesn't bother you?
Jaze: Honestly, yes, it does. I know I'll have to come to terms with that eventually, but I at least want to enjoy what time we have.
Toma: I think I'm starting to understand the appeal of having a partner for life. That scares me a little.
For a time, there was silence. Jaze had to hear what Toma just said over and over again in his mind before he could quite comprehend it. Once he was sure he didn't mishear, he propped himself up on his elbows and looked Toma in the eyes.
Jaze: That sounds like good news to me, but why would that scare you?
Toma: There's a small percentage of tokki who do have partners for life. They're called "mono," and they're looked down on. Dad is going to freak if that's what I am.
There was silence for a time, while Jaze thought. He tried to think of something he could say or do that would help Toma in this situation, but he was still learning about the tokki culture and couldn't come up with anything.
Jaze: I'm sorry. I don't know what to say.
Toma reached up and scratched behind Jaze's ear.
Toma: Don't worry. I'll just have to deal with that if the time comes.
Jaze: If that happens, you won't be alone. I'll be with you.
Toma: Thanks. But, there's one more thing.
Toma: I know how things are here. I've seen enough stories about subjects about boyfriends cheating and whatever. I realize that sex, for most Carpathians, is a kind of exclusive arrangement. Tokki aren't like that. Even the mono ones.
Jaze: What do you mean?
Toma: For example, if you meet a good friend, you might give him a hug, right?
Jaze: Well, yeah, that sounds about right.
Toma said nothing. He only grimaced slightly and tilted his head.
Jaze: You mean... Instead of hugging, you... Seriously?
Toma: And everyone else who might be interested. Sex is just sex to us. There's no real meaning to it. Not like here. Are you okay with that?
Jaze: I don't know. I've never really thought about something like that.
Toma looked at him disbelievingly.
Jaze: Okay, okay, I've thought about it, but not quite like that.
Toma: So, would you be okay with that?
Jaze didn't really want to think about all this. Not now. He hesitated before answering.
Jaze: I guess we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it.
With a strengthening desire to change the subject, Jaze jumped out of the bed and opened his bag. He took out his phone and walked to the stereo sitting on Toma's desk. To his relief, it was a Carpathian stereo, so it was compatible with his phone.
Jaze: Have you listened to any of our music yet? Adell gave me some songs from an old Finnish band called Nightwish.
Jaze plugged his phone into the stereo and started tapping the controls.
Thinking Toma wanted to continue the previous conversation, Jaze kept tinkering with the buttons.
Jaze: You know, it's funny. I'm the one who likes metal music and it's Kaoru who likes the girly, pop idols.
Jaze: What sort of music do you like? We haven't really listened to anything together yet.
Unable to ignore Toma's entreaties any longer, Jaze turned and braced himself for another bombshell.
Toma smiled and pointed at Jaze's midsection.
Toma: Looks like you're ready to go again.
Jaze looked down. Indeed he was ready to go again.
Jaze: I get to be on top this time!
With that, Jaze left the stereo behind and lunged back into the bed.
All city images from SimCity 4.