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The Pearl

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“Honestly,” Iris Brosca says, putting a box onto the kitchen counter, “I’ve heard it’s a lot harder to find hook-ups when you’re no longer in university. You should just get yourself one of those Fleshlights, or whatever. Or, hey,” she clicks her fingers at him, “maybe a dildo! Whatever floats your boat, Theirin!”

Alistair winces. “Judging by the context, I really don’t think I want to know what Fleshlights are.”

Iris nods empathetically, squints, and sighs.

“Okay, so picture a sort of hard tube, yeah? Except inside of it–”

Alistair thanks the Maker and Andraste both for sending the moving guy into his new flat at this very moment, causing Iris to stop mid-sentence.

“Alright, everything’s there,” he says. “Just gotta sign this, and we’re done!”

Alistair picks up the pen being handed to him and signs his name where he’s asked to. Thankfully, Iris has moved on to other topics by the time the moving guy has left, and they finish bringing his boxes inside while chatting about what he’ll do with his life, now that he’s done with college and is living in Denerim.

She sticks around for a while, but once they’ve finished eating their takeaway pizza on their knees and it becomes obvious she can’t really help him unpack, she kisses his cheek and leaves him to it.

There are far too many boxes to take care of in one evening. Alistair half-heartedly takes out what he’ll need to sleep, as well as a few kitchen items, before giving up for the night.

There, sitting on his sofa among unpacked boxes, he gets curious. He fishes his laptop from his bag, opens his browser, and types the word Iris had mentioned earlier.

“Oh, my.”

Alistair doesn’t think he’s a prude. Really! But come on, this feels a little… He can’t find the word. Obscene?

In any case, he closes the tab and rubs at his heated cheeks.

“I don’t need a sex toy,” he mumbles. “I’m doing perfectly fine.”

It’s not that he doesn’t masturbate. He does, although he’d never admit that out loud. But there’s something strange about adding toys into the mix. It feels a lot dirtier than it already is. Thinking about them sends an unpleasant tingle down his spine.

Or at least he thinks it’s an unpleasant tingle.

He looks at the clock on his oven. It’s midnight.

By three in the morning, there’s fourteen new tabs open, each with an educational video pertaining to some sex toy or another, and Alistair is so engrossed in them he doesn’t even realise how late it is.

Nor that his laptop’s volume is a bit loud, for the time of night.


 

It’s the sunlight that wakes Alistair up, far earlier than he’d have wished for. He’d have to get better curtains. He makes a quick list of things he urgently needs to buy while eating a cereal bar Iris has left for him, digs up clean underwear from a box, and puts on yesterday’s clothes before heading out. Stepping into the entrance hall with his eyes half-closed as a meagre shield against the light, he almost walks into someone.

“Hey there,” a voice says.

Alistair looks up with a polite smile. The man he’d almost walked into is shorter than him. His blond hair is long, and the top of it is tied into a bun at the back of his skull. He smiles at Alistair in an expression that seems so natural it looks as though it’s just part of his features. There are tattoos on his cheek, lines that trace his cheek delicately and move when he raises his eyebrows.

“You must be the new tenant,” he says, and puts out his hand. “Zevran Arainai.”

He sounds Antivan. Alistair takes the hand. It feels warm in his, and he is very aware of his movements being sluggish when he shakes it. Is he making a bad first impression?

He clears his throat.

“Alistair. Alistair Theirin. Sorry, it’s been a bit of a long night,” he says as a justification. “What with the moving in and all.”

“Ah, yes.” Zevran doesn’t seem surprised. “You’ll quickly know many things about this building, I am certain.” His smile seems to turn a little wicked. “The first one I myself learnt is that the walls here are very thin.”

“I’m sorry?”

“You’ve done a bit of research, yesterday, have you not? I promise you however, there are a great deal more fascinating items one can purchase. Here.”

The man hands Alistair a business card he’s pulled from Maker knows where. It’s made from thick black paper, with purple lettering reading ‘The Pearl – adult store’.

“Oh,” Alistair says, eloquently. His shock is so great that he doesn’t even blush.

“You should come by, yes?” Zevran says enthusiastically. “I’m sure we can find something for you.” He taps his shoulder, but his touch is gone so quickly Alistair wonders whether he’s dreamt it.

“I– I don’t think I–”

But the man waves, hums in a way that doesn’t allow for a response, and then he’s gone out the door in a heartbeat.

Well done, Alistair. Just perfect.