The campfire died down to a few low-burning embers as Arla and Sir Michael drifted off to sleep. Virgil lay on his back, arms folded behind his head as he stared up at the sky. Once his character fell asleep, he knew, he would automatically blink out; no one wanted to waste time being asleep within the game. Katy and Stan were already back in their real bodies, in their real lives, going about their day while Arla and Sir Michael slept. As if -- he thought suddenly -- as if their real lives were simply the characters' dreams.
"Can't sleep?" asked a soft voice.
Virgil looked up to see Kiren sitting beside him, golden eyes catching the moonlight. For a moment, his gaze lingered on Kiren's lips, and warmth rose into his cheeks. Then he looked away, fidgeting. "No," he murmured.
Virgil looked up through the forest canopy at the long, shimmering constellation known as the Dragon. Unlike the constellations of Earth, it really looked like its name. The stars glittered like diamond dust on black velvet, forming a serpentine shape with a fountain of smaller stars spewing from its open mouth like flame. "Sometimes," he said, "I find myself thinking of this world as if it were real. Do you think that's crazy?"
"Not at all," said Kiren. "For all practical purposes, it is real."
Virgil sat up. "What do you mean?"
"Well... let's say I were to do this." He cupped Virgil's chin in one palm, leaned forward, and kissed him.
Virgil's breath caught in his throat, and his lips tensed -- then slowly softened, yielding to that gentle pressure.
When they separated, Kiren was smiling. Virgil stared at him, breathless, his lips tingling. He touched them, dazed. His tongue crept out to wet his lower lip, tasting a hint of something sweet and fresh, something that could only be Kiren.
"Now," Kiren said, "you could argue that I didn't really kiss you, that our bodies are miles apart and that it's just an illusion created by electronic impulses traveling into our brains. But we both felt it. So, if it was real for both of us, does it matter if it didn't physically happen?"
"I guess not." Virgil ran his tongue over his lips again, then leaned forward and slipped one hand around the back of Kiren's neck. The skin was soft and warm, like living velvet. He closed his eyes as Kiren's mouth touched his again. The tip of a tongue teased his lips, parted them, and slid into his mouth. Virgil's heart thumped, and an electric thrill raced down his spine as Kiren's tongue rubbed against his.
Warm, slender arms surrounded him and pulled him closer, then pushed him gently down to the bedroll.