Nie had just finished setting up his table in the North Solarium when his client, Grand Duke Abuin Nehma, threw open the interior door.
“Good evening, your grace,” Nie said, putting a hand on his chest and bowing from the waist.
Abuin grunted - his usual response. He was glaring at a stack of papers in his hand, his furry tail twitching in irritation.
Nie rose - technically, he should have waited for permission, but the duke seemed more annoyed when he did. He stood next to the massage table, patiently waiting.
Abuin growled, pacing as he continued to read for a few minutes - finally tossing the stack onto the desk in the room. Without a word or glance in Nie’s direction, he stripped out of his clothing - tossing it all on a nearby lounge chaise. Naked save for his small clothes, the Grand Duke brushed past the human masseur to lie on the table, closing his eyes immediately.
He was Nie’s favorite client for this exact reason.
Nie had been the Grand Duke’s personal masseur for a little over a year now - it was a standing weekly appointment set up by Abuin’s valet through Nie’s Guild. Abuin had gone through several other masseurs before settling on Nie - though the human couldn’t say what had made him stand out to the savbahn noble.
In Rabahn, the population was mainly savbahn - a nine-foot-tall bipedal people with horns similar to the markhor, faces that were a blend of human and canid with long canid ears, four arms ending in four-fingered paw-like hands, digitigrade feet, and furry tails. They had coarse fur covering a good deal of their bodies - the entirety of their legs, their backs, chest and shoulders, and the back of their arms and hands, in addition to hair that grew up behind their heads.
As a human, Nie tended to stand out - among commoners, he was simply a bit of a novelty. Among the Rabahni nobility, however, he was considered something of an eyesore.
So that Grand Duke Abuin had chosen him - who had only been sent in as a last, desperate attempt to please the man before they took their business elsewhere - over his savbahn colleagues was a mystery to everyone.
Abuin had curly, strawberry roan colored fur and hair - the latter of which was tied down in a loose bun in the typical fashion of Rabahni men. His slit-pupil eyes were amber-colored, and his skin was a warm tan with pale spots that extended onto his fur.
Nie focused on his work, working out the knots and tension in the duke’s muscles with practiced ease. At the Guildhouse, musicians would be playing in a main room - clever piping projecting the sound into all the private massage rooms. In the solarium, the only sound was the natural spring running in the corner of the room. Nie preferred it this way - it let him focus better on Abuin’s breathing.
The Grand Duke was a quiet man on the table - slight changes in his breathing pattern were the only things Nie had to go on to ensure he was hitting the right blend of tension and pressure.
A few places needed to be avoided when massaging savbahn - the base of the tail and the horns being the most important, as those areas were reserved for spouses. Nie was trained by savbahn, so he avoided those areas out of habit.
Which was a large part of why he was confused to find himself pinned to his own massage table, Abuin growling over him.
Nie took several moments to even realize the change in position - Abuin had been incredibly fast. The human remained still - that was always best when a savbahn was overcome with some instinctual reaction. He was sure it would only be a moment before Abuin mastered himself and withdrew.
After several tense moments, Nie ventured, “Your grace? I-”
Abuin growled, grip on Nie’s shoulders and arms tensing.
Nie fell silent. He could only see the duke’s chest, which shuddered as the man tried to take deep, calming breaths.
I’m sure I didn’t touch anywhere I wasn’t supposed to, the human man thought, keeping his own breathing calm. It had been too long that he’d worked for the Grand Duke for him to have made a mistake careless enough to prompt… whatever this reaction was.
After several more minutes, Abuin pulled his hands away - resting them against the table next to the human’s body. After a few more deep breaths, he huffed, “Go.”
Nie moved slowly - careful not to touch the duke as he slid off the side of the table. It was always best to move slowly when a savbahn was in this state. He didn’t bother to gather his supplies - the table was stored in the duke’s estate, and he was sure the supplies he brought with him would be sent to the Guild later.
The human only paused to bow at the outer door - for discretion, he always entered and left through the back garden.
Abuin huffed in response - eyes trained on the floor just in front of the table.
Nie closed the door to the solarium softly and judged it safe enough to jog to the North Gate.
“Early night?” the soldier at the gate frowned, breath forming clouds around his mouth.
“Mm,” Nie hummed in agreement, rubbing his arms as goose pimples sprung up under the thin fabric of his masseur robe, “I seem to have unintentionally caused offense.”
“Put his grace in a state?” the soldier grumbled, then huffed, “First for you, isn’t it?”
“I suppose it was bound to happen eventually,” Nie replied.
The soldier huffed again - the duke had a bit of a reputation for losing his temper. After a moment of hesitation, the soldier shrugged off his cloak, “Here - not like you have fur for the weather.”
“Thank you,” Nie inclined his head, wrapping the warm fabric around himself in relief.
“Don’t worry about it,” the man replied, unlocking the small door to let the human leave the estate.
Nie nodded again, stepping out and onto the path. It was a small footpath that would take him around the outside of the mountain estate, barely wide enough for one adult savbahn - so reasonably comfortable for an adult human. Like most Rabahni, Nie went mostly without shoes, so the soles of his feet were usually tough enough for the path marked by small wooden logs. This did not do much against the snow that had been falling sedately all day, however.
With nothing else for it, Nie walked the path as quickly as he could without slipping and hurting himself. By the time he’d reached the base of the path, he was glad he only needed to return home for the night - and that the usual unremarkable coach was waiting for him.
“What happened?” Shasol, Abuin’s valet, demanded as he opened the door to the coach. He had straight black hair and fur and wore the red and white of Abuin’s coat of arms. His eyes were a dark brown, and his ears were flat in irritation.
“I don’t know,” Nie replied, quickly stepping inside and blinking in surprise at the gear and clothing he’d left behind.
Shasol sighed, rubbing his temples, “And things were going so well… his grace, Grand Duke Abuin sends his apologies and will no longer be needing your services. He’s considering it a breach of contract on our end; I just wanted to know what caused him to jump to such an extreme.”
Nie hummed and nodded, sighing as he pulled his thick cloth foot wrappings on. He was pretty sure he’d avoided frostbite, but a warm soak at home wouldn’t be remiss. If the duke was considering it his breach of contract, that meant he wasn’t holding Nie responsible for what had happened. Whatever it was that had happened.
“The Guild or Wahnera Estate?” Shasol sighed again.
“The estate, please,” Nie replied, pulling on his over pants and coat. He folded the cloak, setting it on the seat next to him, “This was from the gate guard.”
Shasol waved vaguely, glaring at the curtained windows of the coach.
Nie was, technically, a Rabahni noble himself - the patriarch of the Wahnera family had adopted him as a child after the unfortunate deaths of his daughter, son-in-law, and grandson. He was fairly certain that Grand Duke Abuin had no clue about his noble status, though - Abuin’s father had been an ambassador at the time, and Abuin stayed with him. As a result, they had never run into each other in the noble social circles Nie had long been excluded from. Especially considering Abuin was a high noble, and the Wahnera family was at the bottom of the lower nobility.
The pair sat in silence, which Nie preferred. Shasol was one of the few savbahn nobles who seemed pleased that Nie was another noble - he seemed to think it gave their arrangement an air of legitimacy.
Shasol had contacted the Guild because Abuin had more trouble controlling his instincts than most savbahn - he believed the duke needed the stress relief to help keep his bestial behavior under control. And by all accounts, it appeared to work - at least, Nie assumed it did, with how long he’d been retained.
“I’m going to try and talk him out of it,” Shasol said as the carriage came to a halt, “But I doubt he’ll listen to me, so you’ll probably have a free space for a new regular.”
Nie hummed and nodded, gathering his supplies and exiting the coach without another word. It was inappropriate since Shasol was higher ranking - but if Nie didn’t treat him in accordance with their respective ranks, it drew less suspicion.
Which was why Shasol didn’t remark on it as he pulled the door closed behind the human, the coach leaving immediately.
“Back early, young master?” the guard at the entrance asked.
Nie nodded and headed inside without another word. The title had once been used only mockingly, but the Wahnera staff only used it in earnest these days. While inheritance of the family name would go to his adoptive younger sister, Gahne, Nie was still a fully-fledged member of their small house.
By the time Nie had gotten settled in his room, soaking his feet in a tub of warm water, Gahne burst through the door.
“What happened?” she gasped, rushing across the room. She was nineteen this year, ten years younger than Nie, but had been taller than him since she was twelve. She had russet wavy fur and long hair left free in the way most Rabahni women wore it - along with the new trend among all genders of Gahne’s age to dye the ends of their hair bright colors. Gahne had chosen the green of their house, and Nie helped her maintain the color as it grew out. She liked that it matched her eyes.
“Nothing,” Nie replied.
Gahne huffed, flopping onto the couch across from him, “Nie.”
“My client got into a state and asked me to leave early, that’s all,” the human replied.
“I wish you would tell us who this mystery client is,” his sister huffed again, “It makes me worry - knowing you’re out in some mystery place with some… mystery person who makes you leave in the middle of winter!”
“It’s not like they planned it,” Nie replied, shaking his head, “I promise, it’s all above board - the client just needs privacy.”
Gahne huffed again, “If you say so…”
“Besides,” Nie added, “They won’t be needing my services anymore, so no more mystery client.”
“What!?” Gahne demanded, “They got in a state, so they fired you!?”
“Stop yelling, child!”
“Yes, grandfather,” Gahne sighed, long canid ears flicking in irritation.
“Good evening, grandfather,” Nie said, looking over as the man entered the room.
Bahr Wahnera grumbled as he walked into the room, leaning heavily on his cane, “What’s this about your mystery client dismissing you?”
Bahr, like his granddaughter, had wavy russet hair and fur, though his was heavily streaked with gray. His eyes, however, were dark brown, and his hair much shorter and braided.
There were only two times Rabahni cut their hair - when they went into battle, for practicality, or when they entered a traditional Rabahni mourning period. Bahr had cut his hair for the latter reason.
“They got into a state, so they decided to break their contract with the Guild,” Nie replied.
“See?” Bahr waved a hand out, “You were getting offended before you even knew the story. That means the client didn’t find Nie at fault - probably did it for his safety, if they got in a state…”
“Still seems unfair,” Gahne sighed, “But! That means you have more time to help me prepare for the debut ball next month! You’re still accompanying me, right?”
“If that’s still what you want,” Nie agreed.
“Of course it is!” Gahne scoffed, “You’re my older sibling. Who else would escort me?”
Nie sighed - it was traditional, and of course, he was happy to do so, but…
“And if anyone badmouths you, I’ll just break their teeth,” Gahne nodded, growling in satisfaction.
Bahr hit her upside the head, “Being an adult means you can’t get away with that kind of nonsense! Regardless of whether or not it’s deserved…”
Gahne whined, “Just one tooth, then…”
“No teeth!” Bahr growled, but without real bite behind it.
Nie snorted, smiling, “I appreciate the thought, but I’m more worried about how it’ll affect you and your future prospects.”
Despite being nearly thirty, no one had made a single offer of marriage toward Nie - which hardly surprised anyone in the Wahnera household and didn’t particularly bother the human. In fact, his soft exclusion from noble society - he still received invitations to the big events, but everyone seemed to prefer he remain away - gave him more time to focus on his career in the Massagist Guild and work on his hobbies. Like fishkeeping.
Gahne growled, “I wouldn’t marry anyone that had a problem with you being my brother in the first place. Better to know upfront, don’t you think?”
“Hear, hear,” Bahr huffed, tapping his cane on the ground for emphasis, “I wouldn’t accept any proposals from someone that didn’t respect you as my grandson, either.”
Nie chuckled, “I know. I just didn’t think it was wise to stir the pot, is all.”
“Oh, but since you’re here now,” Gahne sat up, “Listen to what happened when I went to the market with Fahn today!”
Nie continued to smile as he got properly warmed up, listening to the teenage misadventure his sister recounted to him and their grandfather and forgetting the odd incident that had happened earlier that night.