Excerpt: Texture Like Sun

Liang opened his eyes and looked around. He was floating among pale pink and purple clouds. It was very interesting, and he spent some time drifting. He was thinking idly about wanting to paint out the mix of colors, maybe add in some blues for tone, when someone popped into existence right next to him.

His first thought was that he wanted to paint this man. He was bare-chested, with smooth brown skin covered with gold markings, a well-sculpted face with handsome features, and beautiful musculature. He suited the pinks and purples of the world they were floating in, and his sheer blue pants added the new touches of color that Liang had been wanting to add himself.

“Hello,” the man said, looking at him and smiling.

“Hello,” Liang said back. And then, because he had never been very good with words and was even less so now, what with being so out of practice: “You’re very beautiful.”

“Thank you,” the man said, floating closer to Liang. “You’re not so bad yourself.” He reached out a hand and trailed it across Liang’s chest—his bare chest. And that was very odd. Liang was a great believer in wearing clothes. He watched, a little detached and slightly concerned, as the man skirted his hand lower and leaned in. “I’m Xerxes,” he whispered in Liang’s ear. “Will you keep me company tonight?”

Liang frowned. Tonight? Why would he be keeping Xerxes company tonight? And how? As far as he knew, he’d gone to bed. And where was his own shirt? Liang never slept without a shirt on, except in excruciating heat.

“Oh!” he said, figuring it out. “I’m dreaming!” He turned to Xerxes, excited. “I’m dreaming, aren’t I? I’ve never been aware of my dreams before.”

Xerxes frowned. He didn’t seem very pleased with Liang realizing that he was a dream, but all right, that was to be expected. Liang probably wouldn’t be too happy if he was suddenly told that he was just a figment of someone else’s imagination. But he wasn’t going to dwell on that when he could be playing with his dream.

“Just a moment,” he told Xerxes. “I’ve heard that once you know you’re dreaming you can do whatever you want with it.” Xerxes started to smile again.

“Oh, yes,” Xerxes said. He was very close now. “We can do anything you’d like.” He reached out to touch Liang’s bare shoulder, and Liang brightened.

“Good thinking,” he said. Alright, how was this supposed to work? He concentrated hard, and then all of a sudden, he was wearing his most comfortable sweater—the one he’d had to throw away a few months ago after it had finally gotten damaged beyond repair. “Look!” he said to Xerxes, excited, as he twisted around to admire his dream-sweater. It was perfect, just like his old one. It even felt right. “I did it!”

“You… gave yourself clothes.” Xerxes said. He was frowning now, but more with confusion than anything else. “Why would you do that?”

“Because it’s the best sweater in the world,” Liang told him. “Or it was. If I wasn’t a painter, I’d work in textiles just so I could make myself a dozen sweaters like this one.” Xerxes didn’t look convinced. “Here,” Liang said, concentrating on giving Xerxes a sweater too. Gold, to match his markings. In the next instant, Xerxes was wearing a sweater as well. Liang beamed at him. Lucid dreaming was wonderful.

Xerxes was staring down at himself. “You gave me clothes?”

Liang blinked. “Is that alright? I mean, it’s my dream, isn’t it? Did you want it blue instead, like your pants?” The sweater turned blue. Xerxes didn’t look any less upset.

“Never mind,” he said, sounding exasperated. “I pick up on males and I’ve never been wrong, but you’re clearly—” he frowned and tugged at the hem of his sweater. “I’ll just find someone else.” And then he was gone.

Liang wanted to ask him what he’d meant. He tried to bring Xerxes back, but for some reason he couldn’t. He concentrated harder on it, and then felt it all start slipping away. “No, no wait, I just wanted to—”

The next minute, he was awake, blinking into the early morning.

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