Life In The Besieged City (74.3)

This scene contains serious and not so serious discussions of transgender issues as well as mildly vulgar humor, including sexual humor, and sexual content.

24th of the Hazel’s Frost 2030 DCE

Ayvarta, Solstice — Ulyanova Medical Research Center

Leander rocked in his chair, staring at the paintings on the wall. He saw the odd nurse walking through the hallway outside the door to the Special Treatments office. No additional patients joined him since Naya entered the office. He felt the eerie seclusion of Special Treatments more pointedly than before. Why were they all the way out here?

He started to run over in his head what he would say to the doctor. They had exchanged a few letters on his long way to Solstice, and she seemed so full of advice and kindness. He had struggled to respond to her, mostly because the one question that he had and wanted her to answer felt like it was a combination of silly and impossible. It was always so emotional too, reading her letters. They were full of hope that he didn’t know he should have. The few times he wrote back, his letters were brief expressions of gratitude.

Dr. Kappel had said it would be a few minutes, but it took nearly twenty before the door to the office opened again. Leander stood up and watched, dumbfounded, as the girl he met just a short while ago, Naya Oueddai, walked out in tears, hugging a large cotton-stuffed bear toy and thanking the doctor profusely. She patted Leander on the shoulder as she went and wished him good luck. He reached out, but she was gone quickly.

Leander blinked, and stared with confusion between the amused Dr. Kappel at the door and the emotionally overcome Naya walking out the door. He was briefly speechless.

“Don’t mind her.” Dr. Kappel said. “Come on in! Have a bear! It’s very therapeutic.”

Briefly hesitant, Leander walked past Dr. Kappel at the door and took a seat in the big chair in her office. She handed him a freshly-unwrapped bear to hug and sat down in a much smaller chair. She had a clipboard and she scribbled something on it. Leander was several centimeters shorter than the doctor standing, but on the chair, he was raised up higher than her and had to bow his head a little in order to make eye contact with her.

“It’s so nice to finally meet you, Leander. We’re few of a kind, you and I!”

She reached out a hand and delicately shook with Leander. She was like a film star, like someone you would read about on the papers. Leander had a limited exposure to such things as he grew up traveling with his caravan, but he knew there were city folks who had glamorous lives and made themselves very beautiful for pictures. To Leander the simple eyeshadow and lipstick on Dr. Kappel, and the smooth shininess of her red hair, made her look incredibly elegant and stylish. Her sharp facial features were striking.

“Thank you doctor.” Leander said. “I’m glad we finally met too.”

“Tell me, do I look like you envisioned? Am I as you hoped?”

She winked one eye a little, smiling wryly.

Leander smiled back awkwardly. His own Ayvartan was not too great — the zigan people had their own language, so the communist-constructed Ayvartan Standard Language was his second tongue. Despite this, he knew that Dr. Kappel’s accent was thick and that her pronunciations made speaking to her just a little bit more difficult than with others.

Dr. Kappel nodded in silent understanding of his difficulties.

“How did you like my art? I painted all those landscapes.” She gestured outside.

“They’re nice. Are they places from around here?” He asked just to make conversation, but he felt immediately silly. Solstice was located in the middle of a desert. There were no beautiful white mountains and vast green forests here, just sand and the Qural river.

“They’re from my imagination.” Dr. Kappel said. “When I’m at peace in my mind, I see myself in vast forest or a high mountain. I’ve wanted to paint the desert too. Cities are so busy; I would love to see the vast, ruddy sands with my own eyes. But it’s too dangerous outside the city, they say, so civilian professionals need special permissions to go.”

“They don’t let you leave?” Leander said, in shock.

“I can understand why; once the war is over, I can go dehydrate all I want, don’t worry.”

She reached out and laid her hand on Leander’s own, reassuring him.

“Do you feel ready to talk Leander?”

Leander nodded silently. Dr. Kappel nodded back.

“We’ve already spoken in letters, and I have all the information that Panchali Agrawal forward to me about your case; I know a lot about your condition and you yourself now know a lot more. As a doctor, I want to do all I can to help you look and feel like the man you know you are. There’s a lot we can do, but first I’d like to understand what you want. I want you to know that I am working for you. I will not do anything you do not want. Our goal is for you to be able to live your life looking and feeling like your ideal self.”

Leander nodded. In truth, it was a difficult question, because he was already grappling with what a man was and what a man did with himself. He had heard many different answers from others, even when they didn’t know they were being asked the question; and made many different answers for himself. There were the good men he knew, like Bonde; the brutal, evil men of Nocht too. Leander just knew he didn’t feel well being brought up on dresses, being made a bride, being looked at for his breasts and his hair and his hips as if those things were all he was. He didn’t want to see them on himself and he didn’t want others to see those things either. He liked other girls just fine; he liked Dr. Kappel for example! But he did not want to see himself as one. He wanted to be a boy.

“Dr. Kappel, is it okay for me to say I want to be a boy?”

Dr. Kappel nodded. “Of course it is.”

“But, what even is a man or a boy? What’s a girl or a woman?” Leander asked. “If I can say that I am, is that okay? Do I have to be changed by medicines first? It’s confusing.”

Dr. Kappel blinked. “That’s a very profound question. I could answer it many ways: I could say well, there’s chromosomes and physical developments and we call one set feminine and one set masculine; or I could say, there’s certain social roles people fit into in traditional societies; but all those things are just inventions, you know? Those are things that we constructed that are only truthful because they are enforced as truth.”

“I don’t think I understand.” Leander said. His mind was spinning trying to both understand the message and also make basic sense of the words out of her tongue.

“I apologize; I was born in a part of Nocht known for thick tongues, and my command of Ayvartan isn’t helping with all these big words.” Dr. Kappel said. She squeezed Leander’s hand in her own and looked in his eyes. “Leander, what I mean to say is, that a man is what you feel you want to be. You can accept what others say a Man is, or you can make your own Man who lives in a way you can be proud of. What I want us to discuss is how you can feel better about yourself, how you can live happily. Not how a Man lives happily, but how you, Leander, can live happily as a Man. Do you understand now?”

“I think I do.” Leander said. He was preoccupied a lot with how others would see him. He still was, to a certain extent. But perhaps it didn’t actually matter what people expected Men to be like; after all, was it not a virtue of the caravan for men to make themselves respectable men? Through hard work and determination, you were supposed to convince the elders you were ready to become a Man who could carry his own weight.

Until Leander came along, nobody made “avoid having breasts” a part of that rite.

“So then, it is fine for me to say that I am a Man.”

“Absolutely. As a woman who says that she is a woman, I think you are perfectly alright.”

Leander nodded. “Thank you doctor.”

Dr. Kappel brightened up.

“So Leander, when you view yourself in the mirror, how would you want to be seen? If someone were to paint you — say, me, if I ever took on portraits — what is your ideal?”

Leander blinked. He had hardly thought of it before. There was only one glaring thing that stuck out in his mind that prevented him from being seen as he would like to be.

“I would like not to have breasts. Wearing the binder is hard, and I feel exposed even with it. People who touched me or looked too closely might see my breasts. I worry all the time about it. They’re sensitive and they prevent me from lying down flat, too.”

Dr. Kappel clapped her hands together. “Perhaps you could transfer them to me.”

Leander blinked and stared at her with concern.

“Nevermind, it was a joke.” Dr. Kappel laughed awkwardly. “Yes, we can certainly accomplish that. Recovery can be sensitive, but I have experience with the surgery. I’ve surgically removed many breasts before, and not just for boys like you! Women athletes and soldiers with large breasts have asked me for reduction or removal too in the past.”


“Well, you could’ve taken theirs then?” Leander asked, still thinking about her joke.

“No! I don’t want them! It was a joke! I’m happy with mine!” Dr. Kappel said hastily.

Leander looked down at her and thought, hers weren’t even as big as his.

He did not say anything however, judging the whole thing to be in bad taste.

“Why did you bring it up?”

Dr. Kappel sighed. “I was trying to show you that it is a normal thing anyone can do.”


“Have you ever performed surgery on yourself?” Leander casually asked.

“No! I did not become like this with surgery. I used chemical medicine.” Dr. Kappel said.

Leander laughed a little. Was he starting to fluster her with his silly questions?

She narrowed her eyes at him. But then she smiled again and cleared her throat.

“So! Would you like to, say, grow a beard? Or body hair? I have been making great strides in the development of hormone products for transgender boys.” Dr. Kappel said.

A beard? Leander liked his current unshaven smoothness. His uncle had a beard but he had never particularly aspired to the same himself. “Not really.” He finally answered.

“See, we’re making progress.” Dr. Kappel wrote on her clipboard. She then looked over it, with the pen still on paper, and resumed speaking. “Would you like more musculature? You’re particularly skinny and young, and physically active, so you’ve developed in a wiry and angular way, but as you get older, fat may start collecting in your hips more. It can lead to self image problems — we could tackle that in the future, but if you want to be a big tough lad shaped like a barrel in a year, I could potentially make that happen.”

None of that sounded particularly appealing to Leander. “I don’t really want to be bigger. I guess it would help carry my rifle. But maybe someday I’ll just have a smaller rifle.”

“We can always come back to that later if you change your mind. Remember, it’s never too late. How do you feel about your voice? Would you like a deeper voice?”

Leander recalled some of the men he heard speak. He had never been particularly enamored with his own voice, nor really anyone else’s. However, it sounded interesting, to be able to change his voice. Could he really be made to sound more like a man?

“I might. Can you do that?”

“Hormones might be able to do that for you.” Dr. Kappel said. “I can refer you to a voice therapist I’ve been working with too. I can’t guarantee dramatic results, but we can try.”

Leander smiled. I a strange way it almost felt like he was ordering from a menu.

“Doctor, is all of this really okay? If all these things happen to me, people will notice.”

“It is really okay.” Dr. Kappel said. “We still don’t have a charter for transgender rights in the Solstice constitution or anything like that; but the government readily agreed that its anti-discrimination laws apply to our kind, and Ayvarta is more accepting than Nocht was in my experience. Ulyanova passed laws protecting homosexuals, for example.”


“Boys who like boys, girls who like girls.” Dr. Kappel said.


“And I guess people like me, who like both.”

Leander blinked. Yet another thing he had not given a lot of thought to.

She started to write again on her clipboard.

He then remembered the important question he had been meaning to ask the doctor.

He hugged his bear tight to his chest and swallowed.

“Doctor, do you think if I told someone special about who I am, that this person would hate that I’m like this? In order to be with someone, I would have to tell them, right?”

Dr. Kappel looked up from her clipboard. She put it down and smiled reassuringly, and held Leander’s hands in her own once again. “Well, without knowing the person, I can’t really say. It’s tricky, but I think if they love you they will not mind. And if they become distant because you’re a more interesting boy than they bargained for, that is their loss.”

Though it was not the answer he really wanted to hear, Leander liked the way that she that put it. She, Dr. Kappel, was a girl; and he was a boy, because he wanted to be and could. And he was a very interesting boy for it. Maybe this really was okay after all.

“At any rate, I think we’re done with the formalities.” Dr. Kappel said. She put down her clipboard, having filled out many fields and checked many boxes. “Like I said, you can always request treatment for other things as they come up. I just wanted to check your pulse right now so we could get to work quickly.” She put the clipboard on a tabletop. “We can schedule you for some tests and see when you can come in for surgery.”

“Thank you doctor.” Leander said. “I’m still feeling a bit confused, but I’m happy.”

“I’m glad. That’s all I wanted. Now that we have talked medicine for long enough, I’d love to just talk to you, one transgender person to another.” Dr. Kappel said. “I’d love to hear all about your life so far. I’d be so grateful. I’ll tell you about how I found myself, too.”

Leander felt a little embarrassed to be given so much attention, but also delighted.

“I’d be happy to.” He said. “But, doctor, I’m curious. Are there other boys like me here?”

“In Solstice? There’s a few. I could arrange for you to meet if you want.” She said.

Leander grinned at her. “Thank you. Are any of them as handsome as me?”

“Ah, well, you’ll have to decide for yourself. I think all transgender people are beautiful.”

“That makes sense.” Leander said, laughing a little. He started to tear up.

Solstice was just an old city trapped between walls and rivers in the middle of a massive lifeless wasteland of sand. And yet, it felt like a holy land for Leander now. A place where he and his people lived now. Where they could be true to themselves. It was liberating.

For a moment, he thought about how he would tell Elena everything. It was a nice image.

He was sure that, in Solstice, he could tell her, and she would understand and love him.

25th of the Hazel’s Frost 2030 DCE

Ayvarta, Solstice — North Solstice, Kuwba District

“Not a pakora to be found! Not one in the whole city!”

Gulab shouted in despair in front of the civil canteen, where a dour food service worker stared down at her and also at the empty slot in the buffet-style serving tables that was marked “pakora.” In truth, there was almost no food left and that was always the case at so late an hour. All the fresh vegetables and most of the bread was gone. Everyone was guaranteed two meals (it used to be three) but that was contingent on picking them up at a reasonable hour — past midnight, there was no reasonable way to guarantee fresh food.

Of course, Gulab and Charvi had been indisposed during the day, acting as wedding shooters for the Premier and her bride, a great honor and a personal favor for General Nakar; and though they ate their fill at the wedding, they were soon hungry again.

Well, Gulab was hungry.

Charvi was merely at her side supporting her in her time of need.

“We should’ve returned to base.” Charvi said dispassionately.

“No! We don’t get to travel around the city at our leisure just any old day you know?”

“You could’ve gotten fed at the base.”

“There’s no guarantee of that! And certainly they wouldn’t have pakoras!”

“They don’t have pakoras here either.”

“It was a possibility! A possibility!”

“I could put your names down for pakoras, when we next get any.”

Behind the two of them was the poor woman subjected to their nonsense at the counter, in her state-issued apron and hat. She looked gloomy, but was still trying to help them. Gulab found this admirable, and knew that it was not her fault that the world was in ruins and decaying quickly and that inhuman deprivation had befallen all of them.

That is to say, for this one time, the canteen was out of pakoras. Gulab understood it all.

“No, we won’t be here. Sorry to bother you. We’ll be going.” Gulab said, sighing.

“Here’s a cup of dal for the road. You make a cute couple.”

She handed the each a lukewarm cup of thick yellow lentil soup over the counter.

She tried to smile at them. They tried to smile back.

“Thank you. You are also, cute.” Charvi said, trying to be nice.

At once, the food service woman averted her gaze.

Gulab took Charvi by the arm and led her back to the street. They were dressed as they usually were while city-slickin’. Charvi had on a sundress and wore a hat over her slightly curled silvery hair. Gulab wore a vest, shirt and slacks. She had a small trilby hat, and her ponytail, freshly braided, was growing ever longer. Gulab wondered what she might look like with hair as short as Charvi’s, but it made her anxious to get it all cut.

Still, she loved the look on Charvi. She loved Charvi; she stared at Charvi as they walked, taking in the glistening of sweat on her brown skin as the moonlight shone on her. Her face looked so beautiful and calm and soft despite the unsmiling, neutral expression she wore all of the time. Since they arrived at Solstice they had decided to date officially: they went out together as much they could. Already they spent a lot of time together at their work, but they wanted to try to cohabitate, to go on romantic dates, to kiss.

To love each other.

Gulab felt an irrepressible love for Charvi, a passion, an ardor.

And yet, she still felt, keenly, that there was one final barrier between them.

Walking hand in hand down the streets in Kuwba was just another typical romantic outing for them. When that woman at the canteen remarked upon them, however, Gulab had started to wonder again. Did people see them as two women, or what– and was Charvi fine with Gulab as a woman, or what– it was a difficult question. Would Gulab have been okay with any answer? She had Charvi, she cared about her so much.

However, she could not help but worry about her own self.

Her nontraditional womanhood. And she was not just thinking about the suits and slacks.

“Charvi, do you like boys or girls?” Gulab asked.

She instantly regretted it — what a stupid thing to say suddenly!

Charvi’s expression did not change one bit as she replied. “I like you, Gulab. You make me happy.” She was constructing sentences how she used to, using specific statements she had been taught by a speech trainer. It was her fallback when she was confused.

Her voice was completely devoid of emotion. That was just how she was, though lately she had a few moments of greater lucidity where she almost took on a heightened tone.

She was probably trying to reassure her, but she was also still dodging the question.

“Do you think of me as your boyfriend or your girlfriend, Charvi?”

Charvi glanced at her sidelong and blinked. She stared at her, deadly silent, for minutes.

Gulab was used to this. Charvi just needed a minute to pore over things every so often.

Especially when she was being ambushed like that.

“You can dress however you want and I’d like it, Gulab. I like you.” She then said.

What took her so long to think of that answer? Was she just messing with Gulab now?

She was not utterly devoid of emotions. She could be mischievous.

“Charvi, theoretically, if I married you, would I be the bride or the groom to you.”

As soon as the words left her lips Gulab nearly choked at what a catastrophe this all was.

Charvi raised her hands up and clapped them sharply to indicate her distress.

This was a mannerism that Gulab came to respect and understand keenly.

“Sorry.” Gulab said. “I’m being a fool.”

“It’s okay. I want to help, but I’m confused. Is something wrong?” Charvi said.

It was dark out, so dark even most of the streetlights had gone out to preserve power. Nobody was around. There were laws which held some businesses to round-the-clock operation, particularly state enterprises, but Kuwba was a small district that had grown around the hotel and there was barely anyone around. There was also nothing much to do. There were a few bars, and a theater, but it was the time of the dead, and any normal and sane person would have just gone home and slept and tried to have fun much later.

Gulab felt mortified, but at least nobody was around to listen but them.

“Ah it’s nothing. I just have weddings on the mind.” Gulab said.

“Weddings make me feel peace and contentment.” Charvi said dispassionately.

“You know, the Premier wore a suit, but she was still thought of as a bride.” Gulab said.

“I thought of the Premier as our boss.” Charvi said.

Gulab blinked. Sometimes Charvi was so forward, blunt and slightly unimaginative that it was a little disarming to hear. “That’s fair. She is kind of like that. You’re right.”

“Your concern for gender roles strikes me as sudden and confusing.” Charvi said.

“I mean when you put it that way, I sound like a lunatic, yes.”

Charvi stared at her again. Gulab sighed deeply.

“Gulab, if you wanted to, I would marry you. But we should be steady for a year first.”

Gulab looked at her with surprise. “Ah, heck with that, we should get married right now.”

“It’s a bit soon–”

“We should go have our own honeymoon then!” Gulab joked. “Wedding be damned!”

“Our honeymoon?”

“Yep! Back in the mountain, the bride and groom would get a tent all to themselves far outside town, and they could do whatever they wanted, and be as loud as they wanted to! They would have an entire night and day to themselves up in the mountain pines.”

“That sounds nice.”

“Sure is! I can’t imagine how many kids got made on that spot.”

Gulab started to giggle to herself at the thought.

She suddenly felt Charvi’s grip around her wrist tighten a little.

Quivering slightly, Charvi replied in the most unexpected fashion to those bawdy jokes.

“Yes. Let’s have a honeymoon.” She said. “Just the two of us. Somewhere nice.”


“I’m serious.”


“I think, honeymoons are silly but I think the things that are done in honeymoons are good. That’s what I’m saying. Gulab, I want to have sex, before we try marrying.”


Charvi clapped her hands once. She was likely feeling quite awkward saying that.

Gulab’s mind was still several steps behind the conversation.

“I’ve thought– I’ve thought of exploring a physical relationship with you.” Charvi said.

“Uh.” Gulab blinked. Not in a million years could she have conceived of such a result.

Not that she thought of Charvi as sexless, and she was obviously a rather dirty-brained person herself, as she believed most people off the mountains rightfully were. And yet–

“What do you say, Gulab? I understand this is sudden. If you don’t want to–”

Charvi looked directly into her eyes, turning slightly red. Her touch was warmer.

Gulab was speechless.

Obviously, the idea appealed to her!

She found Charvi very attractive and she had to admit to herself that over the past few weeks, when they were off duty and started technically ‘dating’, that she had more than once thought about her girlfriend Charvi Chadgura in that sort of way. Stroking her silvery hair, feeling her dark, warm skin brush her own as she pulled down the straps of her dress, exploring the contours of her. Necking her, touching her where she was soft–

From one impulsive thing to another, Gulab’s mind began to desert its previous logic.

No longer concerned with philosophies, she was consumed by action.

This was her chance! She would have her beloved Charvi all night!

Before she could even plot out any of the logistics of the situation, Gulab said–

“I’ve been waiting for this day to come. I’m actually an expert at this sort of thing.”

Her voice was grandiose, and she twirled her hat and held the brim dramatically.

That boast, like all her boasts and tall tales, just escaped her mouth naturally.

She did not even think about what it implied.

Charvi was staring at her with a curious expression, fascinated with her.

Gulab pulled on her own collar and averted her eyes.

“I mean, I’ve not, I’ve not really, just– it’s like when you memorize chess strategy.”

“I see.” Charvi said. “I will entrust myself to you. I’ll be your chess piece.”

“Oof.” Gulab suddenly felt that wasn’t the best language to employ, by anyone involved.

Charvi looked around. “But we need a private place. We can’t do it at the barracks.”

“Of course not. We’ll go to the public lodgings. Anyone can get a room overnight.”

She was talking faster than she was thinking at that point.

But they still went along with it. Hand in hand, they walked to the nearest Civil Lodge.

They spoke briefly to the man in the front of the desk, got a room on the ground floor, and locked it behind themselves. They had a bed, a little bathroom off to the side, and it was all theirs for exactly 10 hours, for a very minimal, perfunctory fee. It was good enough to sleep in. It was good enough to sleep with Charvi in. Gulab loved socialism.

“It looks cozy.” Charvi said.

“It sure does.” Gulab said.

She was starting to stall verbally, her brain beginning to transition from the impulse and ecstasy to the mechanical logic necessary to actually do what she had set out to do.

And that required her to once again be very nervous about something she had forgotten.

As Gulab started to hesitate, Charvi slowly walked over to the bed and laid herself down.

“Gulab, it’s very soft here. Like me. I am very soft too.”

Gulab stared at her, narrowing her eyes.


“Perhaps we can be soft together.”

“Is this more speech training stuff? Did someone teach you to say this?”

“I am trying to be provocative and sexful.” Charvi replied.

Gulab shook her head slightly.

“Well, it’s uh. It’s extremely hot, but, I need to clean up first! One moment!”

She then ran to the bathroom and locked herself in.

It was a sparse bathroom. There was not much in there to distract oneself with.

There was also not a window to jump out of.

Looking in the mirror, Gulab assessed herself reasonably.

All of her insecurities started to bubble up inside her head.

Her head, which was hot as a tea kettle, boiling her own brains.

Did she look like a woman? Yes, she thought she did. A slightly bony, brusque woman but she had a pretty face. As good as any other girl from the mountain did, she thought.

Did she feel like a woman? Well, that was up in the air, that changed with the seasons.

Did she want to be a woman? Of course, that had been a driving force in her life.

Would Charvi see her as a woman if she took her clothes off and bedded her?

Gulab ran away from the mirror and back into the other room, half in a nervous panic.

“Gulab, please treat me gently.”

Charvi was still in bed, curling herself up as if it would make her look more attractive.

“Please don’t go fetal on me.” Gulab said. “Please sit up normally.”

Charvi laid up against the pillows. She tried to put on a smile. It was hard for her.

She was starting to overcome her K.V.W. conditioning that had dulled her emotions, once upon a time. However, she was still a generally dour person with no practice in smiling.

Inside her head, Gulab’s brain steeped in boiling water enough and began to steam.

“Oh, to hell with it!”

Gulab crept toward the bed and lunged atop, and she loomed over Charvi.

Staring down at her lover, she felt every part of herself both tense up and waver.

Gulab dipped down and kissed Charvi.

It was a brief kiss, but it was fierce and lustful.

Seizing each other’s lips, pulling slowly apart, nipping their tongues just a bit.

Gulab locked eyes with Charvi, who was breathing rapidly.

She loved Charvi. She just had to go out and say it. To say what she had meant to.

She just had to disclose how she was and explain how she felt. That was all.

“Charvi, I’m not just any ordinary girl.” Gulab said.

“I know. You’re a powerful succubus, come to take me.” Charvi said.

She was not making this any easier!

“What. No. I mean. Yes. Maybe? What are you talking about?”

“You’re not the only one who has been practicing her chess.” Charvi said.

“What? What does that mean? You’ve been practicing what exactly?”

Was this relationship suddenly even more complicated than Gulab thought?

Charvi clapped in mild distress. “I read some books on good lines to set the mood.”

Thank the spirits, it was still as simple and silly as usual. “Burn them.” Gulab said.

“No, darling; you are my fire.” Charvi said. It wasn’t even a logical response!

Gulab grit her teeth, still looming sensually over Charvi in bed.

“Charvi, I’m trying to come clean that something about me different from most girls, in this situation, that maybe, you should know about, since we’re both here, as girls–”

Charvi blinked and seemed to stop trying to roleplay at that point. “Gulab, what is–”

At that point the last remaining slivers of tact left Gulab’s body.

She was about to burst like a dam of anxiety and depression if she did not just say it.

“Ah!” Gulab screamed in frustration. “I keep trying to say this sensitively, but I don’t have a sensitive bone in my body! I’m a loud ignorant mountain bumpkin, and Charvi, I have a dick! That’s what I wanted to say, okay? I just, I don’t want you to think of me like a–”

Charvi blinked and cut in. “I was afraid you were going to say you were a traitor.”

Gulab shut her eyes hard and felt a knot in her brain, trying to unwind that sentence.

“Why the heck would I say that? What would that have to do with us sleeping together?”

“Well, I don’t know. What does this have to do with that either?” Charvi asked.

“Do you–” Gulab pulled herself up a little. She had never even considered that maybe Charvi did not know how to have sex. “Did your parents have the talk with you?”

Charvi covered her mouth to stifle laughter and averted her gaze, cheeks bright red.

“I never thought about your body that way.” Charvi said. “I don’t really think about people’s bodies. Do you identify as a Hijra? I’ve heard Arjun stories about that before.”

“I don’t identify as anything.” Gulab said, sighing. She was almost breathless and her heart was beating so fast, but at least the fact that this turned into slapstick meant Charvi did not feel disgusted toward her, probably. “I just, I dunno. I was always so close to the women I grew up with, and I always felt so great around them. I hated being thought of and treated as a man, and made to be like the men around me. I wasn’t like them, and I didn’t end up looking or being like they were. They were so selfish, and they just wanted everything to be their trophy. When I couldn’t be exactly like them, when I showed even a hint of interest in my longer hair and my colored clothes and even things like having a doll or wanting to knit or something — they hated me and humiliated me for it. All of them were so closed off, so thoughtless. I hated it. Even when they tried to use the strength they were so proud of, they failed to protect anyone. I swore all that off!”

It was a conversation made all the more awkward because Gulab was still looming over Charvi in a bed in a public lodging that they had gotten for the intention of having sex. Charvi, however, was silent, with a very slight smile, and seemed to invite Gulab to keep talking. Her lack of clapping meant a lot to Gulab. She was comfortable listening.

Despite this, it was a monumentally hard conversation to have. Gulab’s mouth felt heavy as she continued to speak. “It’s hard to explain, but I felt– Well, when I came to the communists from the Mountain, they just asked me for my gender, like any old thing, and they just took my answer. Like it didn’t matter. And that’s when I felt like I could be a girl. I could wear my hair long, dress however I want, talk how I want, and I could be myself without pressure; that’s when I realized I never felt like I was a boy anyway.”

“You don’t look or feel like anything to me, but just Gulab. Whom I love.” Charvi said.

“Thanks, I guess.” Gulab said.

She felt mortified about the whole thing.

“Sorry that I just. Shouted in your face about my dick, Charvi.”

“You know Gulab, I’ve grown to love you because of that.” Charvi said.

“Because I have a dick?” Gulab said in shock. “How did you–?”

“No. I mean. Yes. I mean. I mean.”

Charvi began to clap her hands rapidly in succession. Gulab blinked.

“I mean because you are honest and straightforward.” Charvi then said, awkwardly.

“I see.” Gulab said, red as a tomato with embarrassment.

“But I also accept and love. Everything else too.” Charvi also looked embarrassed.

“Well. I am relieved then.”

“Here. I’ll prove it.”

Charvi pulled herself up a little up over the pillows, enough to lift her face up to Gulab’s. She surprised Gulab with a kiss on the lips, taking her waist around her arms. It wasn’t a hungry, lustful kiss like Gulab imagined she would have tonight. It was sweet, bashful.

They stared deep into each other’s eyes. When they separated, Charvi laid back down on the bed, once again safely relaxed under Gulab’s looming body, and she continued.

“Everyone else always treated me like I was weird or broken, because I annoyed them with my mannerisms or because my mind was odd. You never judged me for that, and you believed in me and respected me enough to treat me in the straightforward and honest fashion you treat others. You say you aren’t sensitive, but Gulab, that was the most sensitive anyone has treated me. I never thought anyone would love or desire me.”

Gulab made an awkward face, trying to contain how self-conscious she felt.

“Thanks.” Charvi said. “Thank you Gulab. I love you. I love and accept and desire you.”

“I love you too Charvi.” Gulab said. “Thank you for– accepting this ridiculous shit.”

Charvi put on a very big, very forced smile and half-shut eyes.

It was a genuinely strange, almost creepy expression.

“Oh Gulab~” She was trying to do something with her voice that was not working at all, because she barely manifested a tone to begin with. “I want to have sex with you.”

“Spirits defend.” Gulab said, averting her gaze with shame.

“Isn’t that what I’m supposed to say. I’m supposed to be lascivious.”

“I want to do this, I really do, but I just want you to act naturally.”

Charvi sensually put a finger on Gulab’s face but nearly stuck it in Gulab’s mouth.

“I’ll bury you. Under my body.”

“But I’m on top right now!”

“I’ll bury you upside down.”

“Let’s just go!”

Gulab suddenly rushed down on Charvi and kissed her, pushing her down on the bed.

Charvi tried to reciprocate Gulab aggressively, perhaps to reassure her with enthusiasm.

Their lips locked together; and their foreheads struck dead on and they both fell aside.

Both of them broke out in laughter, and despite everything the urge remained felt and the fire in them burned all the brighter. There were no words, no more jokes, no hesitation. Eyes locked together, Charvi reached over to Gulab and began to pick apart the buttons on her vest and shirt. Gulab pulled the straps of Charvi’s sundress off her shoulders and began to pull the bodice down from over her breasts and to her waist.

They kissed, touched, wounded themselves together, and they loved every centimeter of skin on each other, neither ashamed to be exposed to the other, neither ashamed of where their hands went, what their lips kissed, and what flesh was entered where. Wordlessly in love, breathlessly in lust, enjoying every moment as was natural.

That night, the official honeymoon was not the only one celebrated.

For 10 hours, Gulab and Charvi had their own.

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