Being trapped in a lamp for twenty years at a time wasn't as unpleasant as it sounded. Damn lonely but not unpleasant. Luke, like all genies, was able to make his prison a palace, and as long as he kept busy, each time of confinement went swiftly. He'd been alive for over ten centuries; what was a score of years?
This stint was almost done. He went to the covered clock that hung on the other side of the room, walking easily with the almost imperceptible rocking of the lamp under his feet. His last mistress, after getting what she most wanted, had tossed his prison over the side of a boat, and he'd been forced to go with it.
He brushed the clock's velvet curtain aside so he could study the face. The hands read April 2004, and he nodded. Almost twenty years had passed. His lamp would be picked up soon. Goddess, God, or fate always made it so.
Luke grabbed his wrists and stretched upward, wincing at the satisfying series of pops that walked up his back. "About time." He shot a glance at his bookshelves. "This time, I'll bring back more books." He leaned backward and rolled into a handstand. Facing away from the clock now, he headed for his closet. Its doors slid back, disclosing outfits that reflected the many centuries of his existence. His first-meeting wear would never be current, but that didn't matter; peacock behavior was for mortals.
He laughed. "Says the man who keeps almost everything he wears in any century." He curled down into a crouch, then stood, shedding both boxers and T-shirt with two fluid movements. "Maybe a traditional genie turban..." Brushing clothes this way and that on the closet's bar, he didn't at first feel the summoning tingle that started at the roots of his hair. "Or a business suit?"
The tingling spread down to his neck and then out to both hands. Luke scrabbled for his boxers. "Wait! I'm not ready!"
"Use your magic, stupid," spoke up Benji's voice. His maker was long gone, but his voice seemed to always come at the best and worst times.
He laughed again and started to think himself into a pair of swimming trunks, but the summoning tingle encompassed his whole body. Naked, his own powers frozen for the moment of transport, he was sucked out of the lamp.
Well, he was definitely going to make an impression. He grinned inside himself like a fully risen sun. Best case scenario, his new master would be blind, and thus his nudity wouldn't matter.
Transport complete, the tingling feeling receded. Hovering above the water like a leaf in an updraft, Luke gazed down at the man who treaded water below him. His new master's eyes were hidden by what Luke assumed was a newfangled version of the scuba mask his last mistress had worn on occasion. Dark brown hair like bittersweet chocolate made little plastered curls on his forehead and neck, and his face was lightly tanned.
"Put some clothes on!" Benji all but screamed, and Luke snapped his fingers. Swimming trunks appeared. He sank into the water, cradling the lamp under one arm to keep it from floating away. In the same breath, he buried his magic within himself, rather like covering a neon pink and spiky-bad haircut with a hat. Any other magical beings within a hundred meters of him would know where and what he was, but those farther away would have no idea he was here unless they were seeking his magic-signature specifically. Partial anonymity would help him focus on only his master.
His magic safely hidden away, he smiled at said master. "Hello, Master. My name is Luke." That hadn't been his name when Benji had made him a genie; he'd adopted the new name some hundred fifty years ago. He swam forward a few strokes, surreptitiously checking out their surroundings. A mostly empty beach was visible in the middle distance. Though he couldn't be sure, he thought he might still be in the Gulf of Mexico, where his mistress had dropped him. The water was ocean-buoyant with salt, and calm. He hadn't been summoned to save his master from drowning.
His master pushed up the mask, revealing blue eyes just a shade lighter than the water around them. He laughed, a deep, rough purr. "Whichever of my coworkers hired you, tell them you had me going for a minute, especially with the mirrors or whatever you used to appear naked in midair, but I'm not interested in any one-night stands." He pulled the mask back down. "Oh, and tell them--whoever they are--that they don't know my taste in men at all." He struck out for shore.
That was the first frustrating part: convincing his new master that he was in possession of a genie. The second would come when Luke had to explain the rules. Well, soonest begun and all that.
Luke did another check of the beach. There were people there, but none of them seemed to be staring in their direction. They were alone out here in the water. He vanished, reappearing in midair before his master's eyes. "Can you explain this?" He rolled over on his back, tipping his head back so he could look at the man in the water. "What's your name, Master?" Not that it mattered. Masters and mistresses usually didn't want you to use their name; it was just something to ask so the silence wouldn't rush in. He hated silences. They were annoying.
"I'm Mark," his master said. "Of SearchLight."
Luke didn't recognize that name, but it was apparently significant to his master.
"I don't know how you're doing this," Mark said, "but there's surely a trick of science involved." He swam under Luke, who resisted the urge to roll over and keep him in view.
Mark passed his hands under Luke, not quite touching him.
He could feel the heat of those hands, and he wanted to move just enough to make the contact, however brief, skin to skin. Mark's voice--steady like a professor's but rough as if he used it as a weapon--called to all Luke had denied himself for far too long. This new master looked nothing like Jesse, but that somehow made Luke's desire okay.
"Okay," Mark said, "this is sophisticated." He sounded intrigued. "What kind of technology...?"
Luke turned over. "You're a man of science?" Why couldn't he run into someone who believed in anything and everything? No, that would be too easy.
"More or less." Mark's eyes shone like a mirage. Yes, he was intrigued. "Is this some new science?" His eyes flicked to Luke's swim trunks. "You're not hiding some kind of..." He shook his head, muttering, "Nothing's that small, and this isn't Star Trek."
Not understanding the reference any more than he knew the meaning of SearchLight, Luke ignored it. If he had to know, he'd find out. "I promise, I'm not using any sort of scientific find to stay suspended up here." He made his trunks disappear for a moment, waited until Mark's jaw had dropped far enough and his cheeks had colored before poofing the trunks back into place. "See?" His gaze flicked down to the water, and he wondered if Mark was sporting an erection or if that was just the play of light on water.
"Yeah... I see." Mark started for the beach again, tugging once, harshly, at his swim trunks. "Will you answer a question?" His voice was unsteady, but when he glanced over his shoulder, that gleam was still in his eyes.
Fighting the need to swim under Mark, maybe even touch him, Luke said, "Sure." He sank back into the water and swam beside Mark. "You're a little confused, right? Let me try to help. I'm a genie, and you rubbed my lamp." He paused. Twenty years was too long to go without a tease or two. "Feel free to rub other things."
Mark loosed a short, unamused laugh and faced him. He treaded water confidently, like it was his element. "No." He frowned. "Genie? Well, since dragons exist, why not?"
"You've seen dragons?" He prayed there were no dragons in the area.
The man quirked a tight smile. "Several."
"You believe in them." Luke's excitement was like a flood; he worked hard to suppress it. His master believed. This was so much easier than convincing his last mistress.
"Of course I believe. But why was your lamp--if it really is yours--near this particular coast? Where's your master? Wait." He nodded to himself. "You called me master. That means your last one ran out of wishes?"
Luke handed the lamp over. He watched Mark examine it. "I was dumped here after my last mistress found her happiness."
"So, I get three wishes?" Mark shook his head; his face was set. "Unless you can help me catch a murderer, I don't need anything. Do you want me to wish you free now?" He shook his head and muttered something else Luke didn't understand: "Disney Classics. Blue fuck."
Luke frowned. "You can't just give up your wishes. Don't you have someone or something you want? If one of your friends is setting you up with one-night stands, you must not have anyone. Isn't there someone you want to fill your bed?"
Mark was laughing again, a little humor garnishing the bitter sound. "No. But maybe I do have one wish: I wish you'd--"
Luke held up his hands. "Wait. Before you make it, I should tell you the rules."
"There are rules?" Then, probably to himself, "Of course there are." He nodded at Luke. "Fine. Let's talk on land." He struck out for the beach, moving like a thing born for water.
Amused by his own erection, Luke followed him in.
He lingered by the water to stay out of the way as Mark approached a tall man with brown-red hair and a fierce gaze. "Sir, there's nothing out there." Mark scooped up clothing from the beach and quickly covered himself as if he were shy. "If there was anything, the tide took it. With your permission, I'll come back tonight and see if our target's nocturnal."
The man--his master's boss?--started walking away, gesturing for Mark to follow. A woman joined them. She dusted off her hands on her shorts. "Nothing on the beach, either," she said.
"We might still be dealing with a rogue merman," the man with Mark said. "Everybody call it a day." He looked to Mark. "Come back after nightfall."
"I'll let you know if I find anything."
The boss took a step closer and said something that made Mark's shoulders tense. "Try, Mark," the man said louder as he stepped back. "Exhausting yourself isn't going to help."
The woman who had reported an all clear on the beach was looking at Luke, so he flexed a muscle, grinning at her. She laughed.
He caught up to his master as Mark yanked a shirt over his head and even a pair of shorts over his swim trunks, which were practically still dripping. "Nice girl."
Mark scowled. "If you're done flaunting what you think you have, let's go."
No wonder you don't have anyone if that's how you talk. Luke straightened to his full height (he towered over Mark by a whole quarter inch) and said, "Of course, Master."
"And quit saying that in public. I'm not into S and M, and I don't need Re--anyone thinking that's what I like."
Luke made a great show of looking around. Then he stepped close to Mark and purred, "I think we're alone, dahling." Shit, he smells good.
Mark tensed. "And keep your distance." His voice dropped. "If I'm your master, do you have to do what I say?"
Luke sighed. Open-minded as the man had seemed at first, flirtation was obviously outside his comfort level. "Sort of. That has to do with those rules we have to discuss."
Mark's scowl deepened.
Luke said, "You're pissed at me. I didn't realize you're in the closet." He hid a grin, loving how he picked up all the slang within minutes of arriving in a new time. It was definitely one Benji-given gift that he didn't think he could have done without. Leave comedic customs confusion to I Dream of Jeannie.
Mark whirled and shoved him back a step. (This probably wasn't the right time to comment on his master's sexy-as-hell strength.) "I'm not. I just don't need you coming on to me." His voice dropped again. "If you really are a genie, and you've been trapped in that lamp for centuries, you probably want to get laid. I understand that; I respect it, but I'm not interested."
"I've only been in there for twenty years." He tried to pass it off as a joke, but he retreated two steps, hands raised. "I didn't mean to come on like a horny bastard. I was just flirting. Joking."
Mark gazed at him for a moment, and his eyes said he wasn't going to forgive. But then he looked down at his sneakers. "Yeah, well, I'm not in the mood, okay?"
Maybe he was just trying to do his job. Hadn't he mentioned a murder? "Yeah." Luke nodded beyond Mark. "Shall we?" He picked up the pace and walked beside Mark, not too close. "When did you see your first dragon?"
Mark's lips quirked. "Change of topic? All right, I'll bite. I was sixteen. It was after one of my cousins. I'm just glad I saved her." He looked away, then back. "It's hard not to believe in something like that when it rockets out of the water right in front of you." He let out a bark of laughter. "And yet people have been fooling themselves and forgetting on purpose as long as Homo sapiens have had an imagination." He glanced at Luke and shifted so there was another half foot between them.
Had his master been assaulted, or just harassed too often by guys with nothing but fuck on their minds? "Were you out in the water looking for others today?"
"Not dragons specifically, no. But there have been too many near drownings and all-out deaths even for this season." He pointed. "There's my car. I'm going to take you back to my place, partially to verify what you are, partially for research, and partially so I can listen to these rules without having to drive at the same time. All right?"
Luke shrugged, suddenly tired. This business relationship was going to be as boring and taxing as the one with his former mistress. "It's not as if I have a choice, Mawster. I do what you tell me. For the most part."
Mark smiled. It was a jaded twist of his lips. "Quit pretending to be docile. And stop calling me master." The smile fell away, and he took on a decidedly hungry look. But Luke thought it was more the craving of knowledge than money. "This has more to it than three wishes, doesn't it?"
"Yes. There are genies of the three-wishes type; I'm just not one of them." But he couldn't be serious no matter how it might ease things between them. "You have almost endless wishes with me." He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
Mark took half a step back, his body language all about caution and "don't touch me."
Luke tried to look apologetic. "Sorry, but I'm pretty much at your disposal, and a lot more people than you'd think want the sex that can go with that statement."
Mark turned away. "A ten-thousand-year-old slut. Why me?"
Luke grimaced at his back, then followed in his master's wake. Sometimes, when you got saddled with an asshole for a master, the best you could do was keep your mouth shut.