Oleander eyed the buffet spread before him as he loosened his bowtie. As far as he could see, fruit was the only solid food offering—platters of balled honeydew and slices of overripe strawberries were arranged more like centerpieces than nourishment. The rest of the table was covered in pre-filled cups, made of thick plastic like the sort he’d seen at gallery openings. Most were filled with thinned simple syrup, either flavored or colored with dye, all garnished with a wisp of silk or cotton speared on a toothpick. Oleander settled on a shot glass filled with something bittersweet and viscous—sipping syrup, as his father called it.
He nursed his drink as he circled the perversely ornate ballroom, lined with slate gray columns and a towering ceiling above. No clocks, of course, but he checked his watch again. Twenty minutes down, perhaps another thirty to go. Once he’d dutifully cemented his appearance he could slip out and carry on with his evening. He ended up leaning against an empty stretch of wall, visible to anyone who’d be looking for him
Mostly himself, if he was being honest—he was a touch vain, but the ballroom’s ceiling was mirrored, and once he noticed the reflection above, it was impossible not to stare up every few minutes. The perspective was overwhelming—so many vibrant colors and patterns between outfits and wings, the attendees blending together in a pulsing palette.
And then there was him, standing on the outskirts of the crowd, his gut hook wings marbled from forest green to pink to violet. He’d worn a charcoal suit, matching bowtie, and a white shirt; he’d even gotten his shoes shined. Though it was far from his most flamboyant outfit, he’d learned it was better to blend in at his father’s fundraising events.
As he stared into the mirror above, he noticed someone had moved closer, standing only a few feet away. Oleander squinted, his antennae twitching as he made out the figure—a larger moth, almost a head taller than him. The stranger’s wings were curvy, round-tipped, and red with pearly, diamond-shaped markings that matched his tieless white suit.
Oleander flicked his tongue into his cup, sucking up the last bit of syrup, before he turned his head and faced the stranger—who was, unfortunately, already staring at him.
“Um, hi,” the other moth said, his yellow antennae perking up as he smiled.
Oleander glared, not really caring if this stranger turned out to be some rich donor’s son that he was supposed to schmooze. “Do I know you?”
“I don’t think so.” The moth took a step forward and held out his hand. “I’m Atlas.”
Oleander said nothing, didn’t even look at the offered hand as he restrained himself from raising his drink to his lips. Nervous habit.
Atlas lowered his hand, but not his smile. “You need another?” he asked, pointing at Oleander’s empty glass.
“Sure,” Oleander said, folding his arms as he pressed his back against the wall. “Why not?”
As soon as Atlas’ back turned, Oleander followed him with his eyes. Despite his height and his clunky dress shoes—rounded wingtips didn’t suit him—Atlas weaved through the crowd like a trained dancer. Every so often he’d stop and greet someone, and each time Oleander rolled his eyes, wondering if he’d ever get the second drink that he hadn’t really wanted in the first place.
Eventually Atlas returned, carrying a drink for each of them. “Hope this is okay,” he said, holding out a cup of lime green sugar water. “They said they’d sent someone to refill the dark stuff, and I didn’t think you’d want to wait.”
“And what if I did want to wait?” Oleander asked tersely.
Atlas didn’t crumble under the icy inflection; if anything his smile widened, still holding the cup out. “I can go back, then. It’s no problem.”
Oleander huffed, plucking the offered cup from Atlas’ hand, careful to keep their fingers from touching. “It’s fine,” he said. And really, it was—he didn’t have much of a preference either way. He was miffed that this moth was still talking to him, hadn’t turned away in disgust at his prickliness. Most did. “So whose kid are you?” he asked before dipping his tongue into the citrusy syrup.
“Oh, um.” Atlas stood a little taller, perhaps even puffed out his chest. “I’m in the ballet, actually.”
“Called it,” Oleander mumbled, glancing away as someone’s suit caught his eye—a jewel-tone teal and a matching bowtie that should have clashed with their blood red wings but somehow, it worked. He made a note of the color combination, something to try out next time he was in his studio. “Aren’t you a little tall to be a dancer?”
Atlas shrugged as he leaned against the same wall, leaving a polite distance between them. “I make it work.”
Oleander watched the slither of Atlas’ tongue as he sipped his electric blue drink, then looked away before his attention was noticed.
“I get that question a lot,” Atlas continued, leaving Oleander to wonder if he’d subconsciously done something to prompt him. He looked over just as Atlas tossed his head toward the ballroom’s entrance. “Three times alone since I walked through those doors.”
“Apologies for my lack of originality,” Oleander said, not sorry in the least.
“I didn’t say that,” Atlas said, the corner of his mouth turning down. “At least, I don’t think I said that. I definitely didn’t mean to imply—”
“Why are you talking to me?” Oleander interrupted.
“Um. You looked lonely?”
“Voluntary solitude. There’s a difference.”
“Okay.” Atlas blinked. “I mean, you did need another drink.”
Oleander squeezed the thick plastic glass and took a step toward Atlas, then another, until he stood nearly beneath his chin. “You presume to know what I need?” he asked softly.
Atlas visibly flinched, his eyes darting back and forth from Oleander to the crowd. “Um. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“Didn’t mean to what?” Oleander blinked rapidly. “Bother me? Intrude on my space? Bore the fuck out of me with your inane small talk?”
“No,” Atlas said, his face breaking into a deeper frown as he stepped back. He gave Oleander a final once-over before he turned a shoulder. “Please excuse me.”
Oleander waited until the taller moth disappeared into the crowd before he sought out the nearest waste bin and chucked his drink. He swiped his hand over each sleeve as if they’d collected dust during his forced conversation, then stalked toward the entryway. If his father decided to comment on his sudden absence, he’d spin some story about an upset stomach or a donor he needed to charm elsewhere.
He’d hardly made it across the foyer before someone called after him—not his name, of course, but when he turned around the tall dancer was hurrying after him.
“You’re leaving?” Atlas asked, not out of breath in the slightest.
“You can’t,” Atlas said, shaking his head. “I haven’t had a chance to catch you in a better mood.”
“This is the best my ‘mood’ gets,” Oleander said, impatiently waving his hands. “Go on, then. Get whatever it is off your chest.”
Atlas chuckled, thumbing his scalp between his fluffy yellow antennae. “I just, uh. Want to see you again, is all.”
Oleander shut his eyes, letting out a sharp exhale before he opened them again. “Why?”
“I know who you are,” Atlas blurted. “I mean, I’ve heard about you. And your father, I know he’s a big donor to the dance company, and I’ve—well, I’ve seen your paintings.”
“You’ve seen my paintings.”
“Yeah! They’re really great.”
“You’ve seen my paintings,” Oleander repeated flatly, “and you think they’re ‘really great’.”
“Look, I’m not an art critic or anything, I don’t know what words I’m supposed to use, I just—I know what I like when I see it.” Atlas smiled kindly. “Kinda why I approached you in the first place.”
Oleander had received plenty of compliments on his art, sure. He’d done the art school thing and his critiques had always leaned toward favorable. Those who ran in his circles—alumni, gallery owners, his father’s contacts in the art world—hardly had a negative thing to say, to the point where Oleander sometimes wondered if he wasn’t just making the art he thought they all wanted to see.
But Atlas wasn’t a part of those circles. Atlas likely had his own, as Oleander understood the dance community to be relatively tight-knit and overly familial. Atlas would’ve had to be extremely skilled to be a part of the dance company. He’d probably shook hands with Oleander’s father at some point, and he didn’t know why that realization made him feel so odd.
“Fuck it,” Oleander whispered, striding past Atlas with a rustle of wings. He’d retraced his steps toward the ballroom before he realized he wasn’t being followed. “Well?” he said, folding his arms as he turned around. “Are you coming?”
“I suppose a few more minutes won’t kill me,” Oleander said.
Atlas’ steps toward him were hesitant until they were almost forehead-to-chin again. “We could go somewhere quiet,” he mumbled.
Oleander’s antennae twitched. Now there was an idea. He smiled for the first time all evening and extended one arm to the side. “Lead the way.”
Oleander followed Atlas down a side corridor, realizing the taller moth seemed quite familiar with the premises as he opened several doors, peeking inside before he moved on. It was around a corner that he opened another door, made a pleased noise, and waved Oleander inside.
It was clearly someone’s office, though it appeared barely used. The desk was clear and the bookshelves were more decorative than functional, loaded with as many trinkets and framed photographs as books. Oleander decided not to look at the photos too closely, in case it was someone he’d encounter later.
He heard the door latch click shut, felt Atlas move closer before he whirled around. Atlas froze, and Oleander seized the opportunity to close the distance. He wondered what Atlas thought of his advance, if he was expecting a kiss, or a slap, or anything different than what Oleander was about to do.
Quick as a whip, he grabbed one of Atlas’ antennae, firmly squeezing the base. He watched Atlas grimace, then bite his lip as if the sting of pain had immediately faded into something pleasant. He didn’t protest, didn’t pull away, didn’t knock Oleander’s hand aside.
“Like that, do you?”
“Try that again,” Oleander said, lightly tugging the antenna in his hand. “With less atrocious manners this time.”
Atlas’ cheeks turned a darker shade of red. “I-I liked it, sir.”
Oleander released him, nodding slowly. “Better.” He dropped his eyes casually, eyeing what was absolutely a growing erection along Atlas’ leg. “Well?” he said, his eyes snapping back up. “Are you going to show me your cock or not?”
Atlas’ eyes popped wide. “Um. Is that—what you want me to do?”
Oleander scowled, tilting his head. “Well, you did lock the door.”
Atlas blinked, in that stupefied way that Oleander was begrudgingly starting to enjoy. “I mean—we could just talk. I was thinking of inviting you out to dinner, actually.”
“What makes you think I’d want to spend an evening dancing around the fact that we’re going to fuck?”
Atlas’ throat bobbed, his brows hitched as if he hadn’t even considered that. “Fair point.”
“Of course it is,” Oleander said briskly. He took a sweeping step back and nodded at the floor. “On your knees, then.”
There was no hesitation on Atlas’ part, and once he settled on the carpeted rug, he reached for the zipper of his pants.
“Wait,” Oleander said suddenly. “Not yet.” He stepped forward, taking in the taller moth kneeling before him. Atlas looked good on his knees, Oleander decided, with his suit fabric molded to his toned, sinewy legs, and up close the ruddy pattern on Atlas’ wings was actually quite intricate. Beautiful, even; a challenge to recreate on canvas.
Oleander wasn’t a fool. He was well aware the moth in front of him was exquisitely built and yes, attractive by his own finicky standards. But he kept thinking about how Atlas had seen his paintings, that Atlas liked his paintings, and Oleander decided he rather enjoyed that fact as it rippled through his mind.
He pressed his lips together and tilted his dress shoe up, aiming it at Atlas’ crotch.
“You like that I’m mean, don’t you?”
The question seemed to spark a momentary debate in Atlas’ eyes as they darted between Oleander’s face and his oil-slick shoe. Then he looked down, huffed, and shook his head. “Yeah. For some reason, I do.” He raised his head. “Sir.”
Oleander nudged the hard point of his shoe between Atlas’ legs. Atlas inhaled, palms flat on his thighs, as Oleander slowly rocked forward on his foot.
“And you like calling me that?”
“And you like this?” Oleander pointed at his shoe. “Like it when I hurt you?”
Atlas smiled, his eyes twinkling with mirth. “You can try.”
Oh, that sudden spark of arrogance was delightful. Oleander shifted his weight into his upturned shoe, pulling a grunt from Atlas’ throat, his cocky expression disrupted, his fingers curling against his thighs.
“Hands behind your back,” Oleander murmured.
Atlas righted his posture as he obeyed, his lips parting as his wings and antennae twitched. After a sudden rustle of fabric, something long and grey and tufted with small white hairs snaked around Atlas’ waist.
“Oh?” Oleander breathed as another coremata slithered alongside the first. “Worked you up, have I?”
Atlas cleared his throat. “Just a bit, sir.”
One of the coremata ventured upward, but Oleander slapped it aside before it had the chance to brush his thigh. “You’ll keep those to yourself.”
“Yes, sir,” Atlas mumbled.
Oleander turned up his watch. “You have two minutes to get yourself off.” He could see Atlas’ jaw drop out of the corner of his eye, but he didn’t look up, instead watching the second-hand until it pointed north. “Begin.”
The reaction was immediate—the two coremata coiled around Oleander’s extended leg, holding it in place as Atlas rolled his hips. Oleander decided he’d allow it, because Atlas’ arms remained folded behind his back without reminder, and he rather liked seeing the dancer’s muscles straining against his pants as he worked to get himself off. He was fascinated, too, by the way Atlas adjusted himself, showing off his flexibility as he contorted and stretched in an effort to efficiently hump Oleander’s shoe.
With fourteen seconds left, Atlas’ final moan rumbled in Oleander’s ears. His shoulders slumped as he leaned forward, his hips twitching more than thrusting. Once he stilled, Oleander carefully tilted his shoe aside, confirming a wet spot had bloomed on the crotch of Atlas’ crisp, white suit pants. He clicked his tongue.
Atlas glanced down at his crotch, his cheeks darker by the time he said, “It was worth it, sir.”
Oleander tried to keep his face neutral against the feeling bubbling up in his stomach. Was this excitement? Glee? Was he actually overjoyed that he’d met someone who might be compatible with his typically off-putting proclivities?
Many of his callers had looked like Atlas—similar builds, overconfident, looking for a twink they could manhandle in bed. They’d all dropped interest as soon as they realized Oleander was not the sort who’d fawn and worship and melt in their arms simply because they wielded a large cock.
And not a single one had ever mentioned his paintings, and quite frankly none of them had shown much of an interest in who he was, outside how much of his father’s money he had access to and what he looked like naked.
As Atlas’ coremata unwound, Oleander bent down to straighten the cuffs of his pants before he took a rigid stance. “Dinner, then,” he said firmly, his mind rolling back to their earlier conversation.
Atlas’s antennae perked up. “What? Really?”
Oleander forced a sigh in an effort not to smile. “Don’t make me repeat myself,” he said, hands curling into loose fists as he watched Atlas’ coremata retract. He noted the beads of sweat dappling his forehead, quietly elated by the fact that he was still kneeling. It made Oleander wonder what he looked like on stage, how he maybe wanted to see how Atlas’ large body moved when he danced.
“When is your next recital?” he asked.
“Next month,” Atlas said. “Why?”
“Well, you’ve already seen my art. Suppose I should see yours.”
“I mean, you don’t have to—” Atlas cut himself off when Oleander narrowed his eyes. “Okay, yeah. I’d be happy to get you tickets.”
The earnest yet adorably naïve offer made Oleander laugh. “That won’t be necessary. You remember who my father is, don’t you?”
“Right,” Atlas said weakly, but his eyes were hopeful when he added, “So, dinner?”
“Yes,” Oleander murmured airily. “Dinner.” “Okay.” Atlas nodded, and Oleander secretly enjoyed the grin that broke across his face. “Dinner.”